Spotted in a old drum journal (I need to start taking better notes on details…!)
Spotted in a old drum journal (I need to start taking better notes on details…!)
World, I’d like to introduce you to ‘Construction of, and performance on, the early drum kit’, which has been viva’d, and edited. On the the next thing, whatever that may be!
What I actually came on here to do was part of me spring cleaning my PhD folder, tidying up bits & pieces floating around, files I didn’t use, etc.
And one of those things I didn’t use, was matching a photograph to a section in Hoagy Carmichael’s autobiography, so before I forget and lose this math-up, I’ll post it here!
The exact recordings made from this photograph can be found in Rust’s discography (see highlighted section)
And, pairing data from a totally different source, here is Hoagy Carmichael talking about the recording session, as pictured above:
“Curt Hitch and His Happy Harmonists, a band from Evansville that played Wolverine style, were in town to play a dance and they heard the tune. Curt said they were going to make some records for Gennett and he wanted me to fix up another tune for him and he would record Washboard Blues. He needed a fast one, a hotsy number, too, so I worked out another as best I could to his specifications.
We named the new tune Boneyard Shuffle as a sequel to Riverboat Shuffle and with these two tunes we lit out for Richmond, Indiana, and the Gennett recording studios.
I was plenty nervous in anticipation of this my first recording and the studio, a dreary-looking place with horns sticking oddly from the walls, didn’t have the effect of soothing me. But, still, it was a magic spot, too. It was a station on the highroad. Here one’s efforts were given permanence—at least they were put on wax.
But the horns sticking from the walls looked spooky and I was pretty upset by the time we were ready to make test records.
We ran through the tunes for the technician. He, like everyone else except Harry, picked Boneyard Shuffle as the best number. Mainly, I think, because Boneyard was a hotsy-totsy number and everything had to be hot in those days—at least we all thought it did. In fact, the technician was very dubious about using Washboard at all, and when he found, in timing it, it was twenty seconds too short he was ready to toss it out entirely.
Just twenty seconds. The time it takes you to let your eyes drift away from these lines and light a cigarette. Twenty little beats of your pulse. I didn’t realize my future hung on those twenty seconds but I felt then that my life did.
“He’ll put in a piano solo,” Curt told the technician.
Oh, he would, would he? Sure, Hoagy’ll put in a piano solo for you. Hasn’t got time to run down to the corner and buy one. He’ll make one for you here. He makes three or four every morning before breakfast. Nothing to it.
I looked at him and felt whiteness around my mouth. “I can’t make up a piano solo part,’’ I said, then suddenly added, “with you mugs standing around breathing down my neck. Go out for a minute.”
They left tactfully. I was left with the piano. And I tried to think of a piano solo. Instead I thought of my mother, I thought of my little sister’s funeral, my mother playing hymns on the old golden oak. I thought of Monk, I thought of Larry—” ashes to ashes”—I thought of Wad —“our music’s sick . . . .” I thought of Bix—“I am not a swan.”
I thought of everything, like the drowning man go ing down for the classic thrice, my fingers number on the keys, my mind going around, time running out on me. Scared, worried. And then I hit the keys.
Five minutes later I called the boys back in, the technician gave the signal and we were making a record.
Harry Wright started the introduction on the clarinet. I can see him now, standing there and blowing those plaintive notes; so young, so new to this business. He could hardly hold the reed in his mouth, and I’ll never know why you couldn’t hear our knees knocking together on the record. Maybe they shook in rhythm.
The cornet was taking it easy, saving his lip for the lead parts, and the piece went along.
Then it was time for the piano solo. What had I picked out while the boys were out of the room? Would I be able to repeat it? If I could repeat it, what was it? My hands were damp when I hit the keys, getting into the start of something, somehow. And then it was done. I was entirely unconscious of what I had played. We staggered through the last chorus. It was finished.
The technician, obviously still unimpressed, said he wasgoing to play it back. “You can hear it now,’’he said, “and make any changes.” We looked at him. Makechanges. What changes? How could we change it?
Hot, quiet, breathless—and then we were hearing ourselves play.
It all sounded strange. I tried hard to believe I was hearing my piece, my Washboard Blues, but it was difficult.
And then, suddenly, the tune caught me! And came my piano solo. I didn’t recognize a note of it. The record stopped.
There was a war whoop. We danced around the studio, berserk. We weren’t “lukewarm and beserk,” but red-hot and berserk. The record, we thought, was terrific.
Now, as an aside, I’d like to add a note here. You as a reader, if you have an interest in music of that sort, might have recognized the piano solo that I didn’t recognize. And the reason you might is because I took the theme of that piano solo, a few years later, and built it into a song and a guy named Johnny Mercer wrote a swell lyric for it and we called it Lazy Bones.
We didn’t change Washboard.
Harry Hostetter got a copy of the record and he wrapped it in an old shirt and kind of gentle like took it out and laid it in our car. And a few days later he took it down to a stonecutter in Bedford, Indiana, named Fred Callahan, a friend of his, and Fred he played the record a couple of times and he laid down his chisel and took up a pen and he wrote a lyric for it about an old colored woman scrubbin’ clothes. And he did a beautiful job.”
“The days are passed when the activity of the trap drummer was a gauge of his usefulness, but effects, when they are novelties, work in well.”
March 24 1917 Moving Picture World
I’ve recently had access to a vast number of silent cinema publications (see my previous posts form these sources)—Billboard, Exhibitors Herald, Motion Picture Magazine, Picture Play, Variety, Motion Picture and Film Review, Motion Picture Classic, Photodramatist, Picture Goer, Reel Life, and Moving Picture World—and I’ve been scanning them all for anything to do with drums. Some of these publications span over a decade (and I’ve had a lot of help from OCR word-searching!). I’ve now read hundreds of articles on the role of the trap drummer in the cinema. It is well known that the drummer was often the one who provided the sound effects for these moving pictures; a train whistle every time a train appeared on-screen, a bird whistle/baby-cry/gun-shot, every time a… etc.
(See Nick White’s website for a great collection & demonstrations of these traps)
However most of the articles I’ve read, published at the time of these pictures, are more critical than complimentary. It seems that these effects were received at the time as comical sound effects rather than legitimate on-screen sound. Trap drummers working these cinemas had an effect for almost anything, and were too eager to use it whenever the opportunity presented itself. Rather than the trap drummer enhancing these pictures, it seems that these were often misplaced, ill-judged, and provided the wrong response from the audience (especially as we moved closer to the end of silent cinema and these films strived for more than just novelty light entertainment).
Writers for these magazines as well, as members of the public writing in, all seem to say the same thing, painting a very different picture from the much simpler view of drummer’s role in the cinema that I’d had previously. I’ll share one of the longer, more detailed articles, that echoes what the others are saying, too.
Moving Picture News, August 23 1913, Vol VIII, No 8, p23
From Moving Picture World, Dec 18, 1912. Vol. 6, No. 24. p22–23
Variety (Jan 28, 1911, Vol XXI no 8)
This did make me laugh. In Exhibitor’s Times (March 24, 1913, p15), an entire page was given to ranting about inadequate cinema trap drummers. My favourite example is below:
In a 10-cent Broadway house the trap drummer did even worse. It was in a Colonial film. A man comes to the door of a house, and, taking hold of the old hammer, he raps on the door. The drummer paid no attention to the epoch of the picture, but he used the modern electric door bell. Needless to say that the audience had a good laugh.
Exhibitor’s Herald, December 31 1921 (p56)
“THE CLEMMER THEATRE, SEATTLE … attained very nearly the zenith in realism with its lobby for Universal’s “The Fox.” In a machine gun nest over the box office the sound firing was produced with a snare drum attached to a vacuum cleaner.”