Gus Mueller

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Despite the sound of his name and having worked for one bandleader who called himself "Baron," Gustave "Gus" Mueller was not a clarinetist from the German free jazz scene. He was originally…
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Despite the sound of his name and having worked for one bandleader who called himself "Baron," Gustave "Gus" Mueller was not a clarinetist from the German free jazz scene. He was originally a New Orleans jazz artist, birthed into the Big Easy back in the late 19th century, his eventual migration to Chicago following a fairly typical pattern for both white and black performers from the South. His main collaboration of note was with bandleader Paul Whiteman, where he was featured alongside players such as pianist Roy Bargy, trumpeter Bunny Berigan, and trombonist Tommy Dorsey. Yet few would argue that his efforts as a composer were of much more importance to the history of Western civilization: this is, after all, the man who wrote "Wang Wang Blues," not to mention "New Wang Wang Blues."

Mueller certainly couldn't have envisioned the enormous bang-bang other artists would get out of interpreting these titles -- including a cover version from Spike Jones himself -- back around 1912 when the clarinetist was a member of Papa Laine's Reliance Bands. By the middle of that decade Mueller had headed north to Chicago with Tom Brown's Band, moving on to associations with Baron Long, among others. The First World War put a halt to gigging temporarily, Mueller joining the U.S. Army. In 1919 he was back in action, heading to California and then the East Coast with Whiteman. Mueller worked with Whiteman until 1924 and pretty much settled in California after that. His performing activities had always been diverse -- historical accounts of the early Chicago scene mention the clarinetist playing for a combination of roller skaters and dancers at an amusement park. Jazz biographer John Chilton may raise a few eyebrows, however, with his description of Mueller "mostly gigging with hill-billy bands" in the '40s, the presence of both a hyphen and a clarinet enough to make a real hillbilly choke on his chewing tobacco. When money from gigs was scare, Mueller worked as a plumber.