Hometown Minstrel Band

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A basic aspect of clean-living Americana should be that every little town has its Hometown Minstrel Band -- but in reality there seems to have been only one such outfit which only came along when the…
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A basic aspect of clean-living Americana should be that every little town has its Hometown Minstrel Band -- but in reality there seems to have been only one such outfit which only came along when the minstrel game was about over. The band name was used by one of two ad hoc ensembles involved in a double-gatefold concept album released in 1945 and entitled Al Bernard's Merry Minstrel Show. The project came along a few decades too early to be conceptually linked with Their Satanic Majesties' Request or Tommy, and the Hometown Minstrel Band did not exactly display fantastic timing in regard to the public's desire to buy a record featuring such performers from the '20s minstrel show heyday as singer Al Bernard and banjoist John Cali.

Bernard's normal level of obnoxiousness was toned down somewhat due to changing standards of what was considered permissible in terms of making fun of black people. This and the musicianship involved has driven some record collectors to seek out these sides, originally issued on the Celebrity label. Very little information remains about the original sessions other than a kind of scrawled shopping list of players who were hired. In some cases the actual participation of these names is questionable. Some names may have been added simply to shift money from one column to another in the ledgers. New Orleans jazz fans could get all excited about Fud Livingston being on this list; however, he doesn't appear to have played a note of clarinet as a member of either the Hometown Minstrel Band or the other group credited with participation, the Sunflower Quartet. Players who are audible add a great deal of expertise, meshing nicely with each other. Trumpeter Willis Kelly had played with popular bandleader Artie Shaw, pianist Henry Rowland with swinging Benny Goodman and crooning Perry Como, and trombonist Lou McGarity had played with Goodman as well.