It’s a cold English winter morning. It’s raining as if God has overdosed on diuretics. But it’s okay, because Clarence Williams is on the CD player. If someone asks you what goodtime music is, play them this.
Clarence Williams was something of a musical odd job man in the 1920s and ‘30s, working as publisher, pianist, composer, singer and bandleader. His ensembles often had more vitality than ability but here the spirit shines through every time.
You might know “Cushion Foot Stomp” (if not, you will do when you’ve heard three versions of it in fifteen minutes) and “High Society”. (In fairness “Cushion Foot Stomp” is the only number that is duplicated and then by different lineups). You might also know King Oliver (early employer of, and influence on, Louis Armstrong) who plays cornet on two tracks, Buster Bailey and Benny Moten on clarinet, and the pianist Claude Hopkins, also a bandleader in his own right.
You probably won’t have heard of Clarence Lee, who takes some of the vocals. I had never heard of him before and I’d like to forget his existence again as soon as possible. Margaret Webster sings the innuendo-laden “I’ve Got What It Takes” and “You’ve Got To Give Me Some”, both of which are better known in definitive versions by Bessie Smith. Webster however makes a reasonable fist of them. The other singer is Williams himself, whose efforts are enthusiastic (to be diplomatic). Much of his singing is wordless. It might be over-generous to call it scatting, as it just sounds as if he didn’t want to waste money on a lyricist.
Thanks to the usual high standard of Document’s work this music sounds clear and immediate, and very sprightly for an eighty year old.
Various lineups from 1927 to 1929 are presented here – Williams’ Washboard Band, his Washboard Four, his Washboard Five and the Dixie Washboard Band – but Floyd Casey is the washboard player throughout, and despite the title no jug players are credited or audible on this CD. Those of you who are particularly keen on jugs (stop tittering, you at the back) might be better served by later volumes. Bring them on, I say.