Besides the assassination of John Lennon, perhaps the greatest tragedy in 20th century music history is the fact that practically nothing is known about the Fruit Jar Guzzlers. The name suggests an appetite-satisfying kinship with Gid Tanner & His Skillet Lickers, an old-time music group from the same era about which much more is known. Yet the name Fruit Jar Guzzlers would have also been a perfectly acceptable name for a punk rock or new wave band, and it is in fact a bit of a surprise that the name wasn't appropriated by such an outfit, considering that none of the original participants or their relations seems to be laying claim to it. "Any reader's comments that can shed light on this band would be most welcome," was the desperate comment in the otherwise extensive liner notes to the important historic collection entitled Paramount Old Time Tunes: An Album of Recordings Originally Made in the 1920s and 1930s on the JEMF label. These initials stand for the John Edwards Music Foundation, an organization that publishes a magazine as well as records, and would certainly have found out something about the Fruit Jar Guzzlers if there was anything to be found. The group cut more than a dozen sides for Paramount in 1928, the recording sessions held in Chicago. The material includes a great deal of the classic old-time repertoire, such as "Old Joe Clark," "Kentucky Bootlegger," "Stack-O-Lee," "Cripple Creek," and "Cacklin' Hen," and some of the records were also released by the Broadway label under a different combo name, the Panhandle Boys. This was a routine practice among labels during this era, allowing artists the opportunity to compete with their own records disguised behind pseudonyms, although not every artist that was given this treatment knew anything about it. The big, sizzling clue in this frying pan of mystery is the crediting of the songs the group recorded to the songwriting team of Stevens & Bolar, which most old-time music buffs assume must have been members of the group. Although judging from music industry standards when it comes to publishing, these could also have been the names of just about anyone involved in the production. A more minor, but perhaps eventually informative clue, was found in the home of the cousin of Cleve Chaffin, another of the old-time musicians recorded by Paramount during this period. The cousin owned a test pressing of the song "John Henry," which had the following note scribbled on its label in pencil: "John Henry," sung by Cleve Chaffin. The matrix number of this test pressing, however, was the same as that given to the Fruit Jar Guzzlers' recording of "Steel Driving Man," which anyone with even a tiny amount of American folk songs would know is the same basic song. This clue suggests that Chafin, a West Virginian, might have been part of the Fruit Jar Guzzlers outfit. The clue would achieve added significance if anyone could confirm that the band hailed from the same state as Chafin, yet nobody seems to know where they came from. The loveable Uncle Dave Macon may have created additional confusion by calling one of his backup outfits the Fruit Jar Drinkers, perhaps suggesting more self control than the Fruit Jar Guzzlers, a detail that is probably overlooked completely by some listeners who think it is the same band. A radio documentary about the early days of recording in Nashville identified the track "Bake That Chicken Pie" as being by Uncle Dave Bacon & the Fruit Jar Guzzlers. If it is Uncle Dave Bacon as in the Southern style of "country ham" bacon, the heavy salt content would certainly lead to guzzling, not drinking, yet this still doesn't seem to be the same group that recorded for Paramount. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, fruit jar to fruit jar, the band remains a mysterious musical drink with an undoubtedly sticky bottom.
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