Speed Webb

Biography by

b. Lawrence Arthur Webb, 18 July 1906, Peru, Indiana, USA, d. 4 November 1994. As a child he learned to play both violin and mellophone but eventually took up the drums as his main instrument. After playing…
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Artist Biography by

b. Lawrence Arthur Webb, 18 July 1906, Peru, Indiana, USA, d. 4 November 1994. As a child he learned to play both violin and mellophone but eventually took up the drums as his main instrument. After playing locally for a short time, he studied embalming, intent on a career as a funeral director. However, in 1925 he was co-founder of a band, the Hoosier Melody Lads. Soon, he took over full leadership of the band which quickly built an enviable reputation in Indiana and Idaho as one of the very best of the territory bands. The band, which underwent many personnel changes over the dozen or so years of its existence, made only a 1926 recording session, recording four sides for Gennett which were rejected, and the masters then lost. The band did, however, appear in some early sound movies: Riley The Cop, Sins Of The Fathers (both 1928), His Captive Woman, On With The Show (both 1929).

Although Webb recalled making some later sides for OKeh Records, nothing other than these movies allow a taste of what members of the band regarded as an outstanding outfit. Among Webb’s sidemen, some of whom contributed lively charts, were Teddy Buckner, Roy Eldridge, Reunald Jones, John Nesbitt (trumpets), Henderson Chambers, Vic Dickenson, Gus Wilson (trombones), Leonard Gay, Joe Eldridge, Jimmy Mundy (reeds), Art Tatum, and Teddy Wilson (piano). Despite his enormous popularity and the acclaim with which his band appears to have been received, by the end of the 30s when the swing era was at its height, Webb’s fortunes were at a low ebb. He dissolved his band and resumed his studies in embalming, thereafter building up a large chain of prosperous funeral parlours. While reliance upon hearsay evidence is unwise, the quality of the sidemen named and the arrangers (the Eldridge and the Wilson brothers, Dickenson and Mundy) cannot but support the view that Webb’s band was of great importance, and the absence of any recordings, other than the movie appearances, is a great loss to jazz.