Chapter 4: School, Cornets and Guitars (Book Excerpt)

The thought of the inferiority of the Negro is drilled into him in almost every [classroom] he enters and in almost every book he studies. If he happens to leave school after he masters the fundamentals, before he finishes high school or reaches college, he will naturally escape some of this bias and may recover in time to be of service to his people.
— Carter G. Woodson, The Mis-education of the Negro
Chris Thomas King at 5-years-old performing on his horn December, 1967.

Chris Thomas King at 5-years-old performing on his horn December, 1967.

My First Cornet

Growing up in a house with five sisters wasn’t easy. I grew up with three older sisters, Yolanda Ann, Michelle Rose, and Joylyn Marie, along with two younger sisters, Jenean Isabelle, and Charlette Blanche. Tammy, (Ernest Jr.) my older brother, played the trombone in McKinley’s marching band, which was funny, because Tammy had no front teeth. How he got his lips to buzz pressed against the mouthpiece—without front teeth for support—I couldn’t tell you. But he did. Soon, I too, wanted to play a horn.

Donald Washington, born 1945, dad’s youngest brother, spent a lot of time at our house babysitting while our parents worked. Don was always enjoyable to be around. He was like a big kid himself, very playful. But when pushed, Don wouldn’t hesitate to discipline us. Not physically, mind you, but in timeout. We couldn’t partake in the games and fun until we learned our lesson.

The first instrument I was formally introduced to, the cornet trumpet, was the original lead instrument of the blues. In the 1890s, when all musical instruments were still acoustic—decades before the powerful electric guitar— the blaring cornet soared over the ambient noise of honky-tonk dancers and gamblers. The cornet’s high notes could travel for miles in the stark quiet night of gas-lamps, horses, and buggies. Before the advent of dense urban industrial noise, the cornet-trumpet was the tonal identifier of the band. The best cornetists, and later, the best trumpeters, had special leadership status by default.

Uncle Don played trumpet in the marching band at McKinley Senior High. He was a very talented musician. Upon graduation Don was offered a music scholarship to Florida A&M—A Historically Black College with a dynamic marching band. However, Don’s father, my dad’s stepfather, Papa Gus, the Deacon, had recently passed away. Don’s mother, my grandmother, naturally wanted her baby boy to go to a nearby school. Mama Willie influenced Don to turn down the Florida scholarship and stay close to home. So, Don enrolled in nearby Southern University, also a Historically Black College with a marching band on par with rival Florida A&M. However, Don was drafted into Vietnam before he could finish college. Nonetheless, he served proudly. While stationed in Japan he joined the military brass band.

Whenever I was dropped off at grandmother’s house—she would often babysit me while both my parents worked—I couldn’t help but notice Mama Willie’s mantel. It was adorned with pictures of uncle Don in his military uniform posed with his trumpet. Flanked by an American flag, he looked sharp in his military attire. I wanted to follow in Don’s footsteps. When he was released after serving during the Vietnam War, around 1969, I was in, maybe, first or second grade.

After Don returned home he purchased a Volkswagen Beatle. A German economy car best known in America as the “Love Bug” due to the Hollywood movie series which made the Volkswagen Beatle iconic. The Beatle was popular among college kids and hippies alike. It was an eye-catcher. It must have been a real girl magnet, too.

I was really excited the day I learned Don brought home a present for me. A golden cornet he had purchased in a pawnshop while in Osaka, Japan. I took to it right away. It made the most horrible noise, irritating everyone around me. I loved it!

Don commenced to dropping by each Saturday afternoon, picking up my brother and I, for music lessons. Riding in his cool hippie love bug was a special treat. Don had moved back in with his mother upon his return. Mama Willie’s health was beginning to fail, so Don looked after her. Don and his mother were very close.

Mama Willie would often make a big pot of red beans when she knew we were coming. Her secret ingredient—I didn’t figure out until years later—was a scoop of brown sugar. We’d study music all evening in the back room of Mama Willie’s house using Don’s collection of music books and recordings he had accumulated over the years. Mama Willie’s stance against the blues had softened since my dad, as a teenager, had been beaten over the head with a broom or shoe for listening to that “devil’s music.” Perhaps it had become more mainstream with the success of gospel-tinged melodies by Guitar Slim, Ray Charles, and Sam Cooke. Or maybe it was the late Papa Gus who had been most repulsed by the blues. My suspicion is that her youngest son, Donald “Ducky” Washington, could do no wrong in her eyes.  

Uncle Don had an extensive record collection of LPs. He encouraged me to go through his records and play them anytime I wished. He admired all the great trumpet players such as Roy Eldridge, Clifford Brown, Miles and Dizzy. He taught me to appreciate the orchestrated blues of Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Ray Charles, too. He also had old 78-rpm records—perhaps left over from dad. I learned to play some of my first solos backed by those old phonographs. I had heard live blues in my home from the time I was born. But this was the first time I was fully aware of the artistry behind the recordings. I began to pay close attention to the subtle differences in style. Each artist had his own sound. I wondered how they did it. I was enthralled. Records seemed to be magical. I knew then, that one day, I too, wanted to become a recording artist.

I would go to the old wooden gramophone, still in the back room, with its big brass horn protruding out. I’d place a needle in the sound box, wound up the gramophone spindle, then move the tone arm over some old crackling 78’ to play recordings by Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five, including his landmark recording,” West End Blues.” Don would tell me stories about the musicians, which I found fascinating. Don could play King Oliver and Louis Armstrong’s tunes on his trumpet with relative ease.

I learned that Louis Armstrong, as a young boy around my age, while in a waif’s home for wayward boys, had first picked up the cornet. He had switched to the louder trumpet by the time he began recording in the early 1920s. My little cornet had a compact shape and mellow tone compared to its longer louder relative, the trumpet. Nevertheless, for a little boy, just learning to play the blues, the petite cornet seemed the perfect fit for my small frame.

My uncle, trumpeter Donald “Duck” Washington in military uniform posing with my older brother Ernest “Tammy” Thomas Jr. holding his trombone.

My uncle, trumpeter Donald “Duck” Washington in military uniform posing with my older brother Ernest “Tammy” Thomas Jr. holding his trombone.

Uncle Don promised that once I learned my scales and got through my basic lesson books, learning treble clef, bass clef, every-good-boy-does-fine, (an easy technic to remember the alphabets for the treble staff, E, G, B, D, F) he’d teach me to play from ear. Although I was smitten with the records, I imagined playing like Don, my first musical mentor, not the records.

The cornet, like the trumpet, is a demanding instrument. One must practice often. Not simply to develop great technique, which is important, but to keep one’s upper lip muscles in shape. A trumpeter must routinely workout his embouchure by exercising the lip muscles, much like an athlete. The trumpeters’ embouchure must be in top shape to hit the high notes and maintain a pleasing tone. I would practice my lessons all week trying to perfect warm tone and finger speed. Then I’d return to my uncle’s house the following week, hungry for more lessons and stories about the great trumpet players.

 

Buddy Bolden

 

In the 1890s, the city of New Orleans became a hotbed of talented cornetests and trumpeters. The proliferation of brass musicians was due in part to fierce competition amongst numerous benevolent societies to book the hottest brass bands, to attract dues-paying members. More than 200 Negro benevolent societies and clubs were active in the city, including lodges of the Odd Fellows, Masons, Knights Templar, and The Eastern Star. There were baseball clubs, rowing clubs, militia clubs, religious societies, orphan aid societies, and so on. Members pooled money together to provide each other healthcare, banking, insurance, and general uplift.

There was an abundance of gigs for brass musicians which helped to sharpen their skills. Music tastes had changed little over the years. High society balls required the obligatory waltzes, reels, schottisches, quadrilles, and marches. Parties of common folk required a ragged rhythm.  The cakewalk dance became a national craze and competition. The cakewalk was a common folk burlesque, mocking formal Victorian elites. First price was a cake. Ragtime, an energetic catchy new style with a strict classical esthetic, was just starting to catch on.

Then, around 1893, nurtured by saliva and sweat from the horns of countless parade bands, something miraculously appeared on the scene, a black rose, Charles “Buddy” Bolden. The “black rose” sprouted up through a crack in the cobblestone streets of New Orleans. Seeds he planted are still in bloom. The echoes from his cornet still haunts the Crescent City. Though Buddy Bolden remains a ghostly figure to many, to his contemporaries; those that heard him play, he was undeniably the original soothsayer of the blues. 

Bluesman Buddy Bolden holding his cornet trumpet 1895.

Bluesman Buddy Bolden holding his cornet trumpet 1895.

Buddy Bolden, born September 6, 1877, first began performing in public between 1893 and ’95 for parades and dances—many dances were held in uptown churches that also doubled as community centers. We can only imagine what Buddy Bolden’s music sounded like, because he left no written scores and made no audio recordings during his short career (1894-1907) because the recording business was in its infancy. There is only one known picture of the mysterious blues musician circa 1895. Therefore, we must rely on the accounts of musicians who played in his band and fans who heard him perform to reconstruct his legacy.

What did Bolden look like? Well, according to trombonist Kid Ory, he was “brown-skinned, had brown hair and brown eyes, no beard. Hair wasn’t black, was not exactly red, never combed it, always the way it was cut,” Ory recalled years later[i].

What songs were in Bolden’s repertoire? Bolden’s signature song was “Funky Butt,” aka “Buddy Bolden’s Blues,” which had a vulgar lyric about the stench of a sweaty juke joint he happened to be playing one night[ii].

 

I thought I heard Buddy Bolden say,

Funky butt, funky butt, take it away.

You’re nasty, you’re dirty, take it away.

I thought I heard Buddy Bolden shout,

Open up that window and let the bad air out.

                                    Buddy Bolden’s Blues —Jelly Roll Morton

 

What effect did Bolden’s music have on those who heard him?

According to Clarinetist George Baquet (1881-1949), who played with Buddy Bolden, he was a crowd pleaser. “One of his popular songs was “Make Me A Pallet On The Floor,” said George, describing the first time he heard and played with Buddy Bolden at Odd Fellows Hall. “Everybody rose and yelled out, ‘Oh, Mr. Bolden, play it for us, Buddy, play it!’ I’d never heard anything like that before,” said Baquet. “I’d played ‘legitimate’ stuff. But this, it was something that pulled me in. They got me up on the stand and I played with them. After that, I didn’t play legitimate so much[iii]

Legitimate meant strict conformity to the written score. Buddy Bolden, in contrast, did not rely on written scores. Bolden subverted the tyrannical written score, relying instead, on improvisation. Even though Buddy Bolden could read music—Bolden was regularly listed in the newspaper as a music instructor—he was not one to write his compositions down on paper.

At the turn of the century, legitimate musicians who could read and write music looked down on Bolden’s new blues style initially. They believed blues music lacked proper technic, discipline, and social grace. Contrarily, from Bolden’s point of view, legitimate musicians lacked the funky uninhibited feeling of the blues which his Back O’Town fans demanded.

During this period, playing by ear was a new idea for bands and orchestras. Fakers—as those who couldn’t read music were called—weren’t often invited to play high society gigs. Most legitimate players, such as drummer and violinist, John Robichaux (1886-1939) were conventionally trained. Robichaux was often hired to play highbrow gigs for elite balls. The John Robichaux Orchestra, a rival of Bolden’s Band, specialized in quadrilles, waltzes, schottisches, and cotillions, same as Bolden, but they didn’t play them in the new bluesy style Buddy Bolden was developing. Moreover, the Robichaux Orchestra played neither slow-drags nor ribald tunes, both of which, due to their Victorian highbrow aspirations, was considered uncouth.

 

The Black Rose

 

I would argue, it was no coincidence, that in 1896, a discordant sound, soon to be called the blues, began reverberating across New Orleans. The irony is not lost that the birth of the blues, coincided with the landmark decision Plessy v. Ferguson. It was the same year the term Creole, was stripped of its value. Following Plessy v. Ferguson, New Orleans became Americanized. Suddenly, Negro Creoles were forced to live under the same race-based American laws as black Americans.

Many jazz biographers tend to overemphasize the rift between Creoles of color and black Americans, creating a false dichotomy of hatred between the two communities based on their complexions; light-skin v. dark-skin. What caused the tension, however, was the encroachment of white Americanization on the Creole way of life. 100 years earlier, during the Louisiana purchase, Negro Creoles were more educated than white Americans immigrating to Louisiana. They were more skilled, had more businesses, and were wealthier than white New Orleans immigrants. By 1896, since many Negro Creole families, regardless of skin tone, were never enslaved or denied education, it stands to reason, they were further ahead than their black American neighbors, who were, after-all, but one generation removed from slavery. Needless to say, neither white skin nor light skin, makes one more intelligent, yet such ideology—a vestige of Anglo-America’s chattel slavery institution—was imposed on the Creole way of life. The “separate but equal” ruling, outlawed marriage between blacks and whites, further alienating those Creoles who happened to be of mixed heritage.

Originally, Creole was a term to identify descendants of Africans born in Spanish Louisiana or other Spanish territories. Therefore, nearly all musicians who gave birth to the blues were Creole, in accordance with its original definition. Hence, I will not continue to divide each musician by who is Creole and non-Creole. As I see it, from Buddy Bolden to Louis Armstrong, and Sidney Bechet to Jelly Roll Morton, they were all Negro; Creole; colored; African American, and black.

America broke treaties with Native Americans. Therefore, it should come as no surprise, the US would rescind its tolerance for Creole culture. Sadly, Negro Creoles, in the aftermath of Plessy v. Ferguson, were forced to ride in the back of streetcars. Moreover, they were forced into segregated schools, waiting rooms, railroad coaches, elevators, witness stands, and public restrooms. Consequently, it is no coincidence that, just as tyrannical race-based laws and the Puritan value system of the United States, threatened to destroy the Creole way of life, the defiant blues rose up, and said, “oh, hell no!”

 

Bolden’s Creole Blues

 

At Lincoln Park, which opened in 1902, Buddy Bolden’s new blues style inspired young musicians that went to the park to hear him blow. Lincoln Park featured a pavilion and skating rink. It was operated by the black community. Buddy Bolden’s stentorian cornet echoed for miles away. Lincoln Park’s popular Sunday dances, sometimes billed as a “battle of the bands,” showcased the best orchestras from around the city. Buddy Bolden’s irresistible sound and flashy showmanship proved him to be the crowd favorite. He won most of his battles, earning the legendary moniker “King Bolden.” Buddy Bolden also played at Union Sons of Honor Hall, aka Funky Butt Hall, squared by Perdido, South Liberty, Gravier, and South Franklin Streets, in the Back O' Town district. A tenement just down Perdido Street at 1303, was where little Louis Armstrong, age one or two, would grow up.

Contrary to popular myth, Bolden’s Band didn’t play in the vise district of Storyville, he performed around the edges, in honky tonks and juke joints. Bolden was also known to hold court at Masonic Hall in Algiers. Moreover, according to several eyewitness accounts, Bolden’s band, between the years 1902 and 1905, performed on train excursions to Baton Rouge from the baggage car. At stops along the way, he entertained. Kid Ory said he saw Buddy perform at a stop on one of those excursions in his hometown LaPlace, Louisiana.

Bolden also performed regularly in West Baton Rouge in Plaquemine Parish for dances. Trumpeter, Charlie Love, born in 1885, in Plaquemine, Louisiana, recalled a personal encounter with Bolden one night when Bolden had a busted valve on his horn. “You wanta borry mine, I’ll go get it,” little Charlie said. “[Bolden] say, ‘Yes, I can use it.’ I jumped on my bicycle and I rode home down by the levee. Rushed back to the bandstand. Buddy held my cornet up and laughed at it and he say,” ‘Look what this boy done brought here. How in the world I’m gonna play this?’ And he takes it out and made out with it and finished the job with it.”

Pianist Clarence Williams, who would later become one of the greatest blues composers, said, about his childhood encounter with Buddy Bolden, “I came to New Orleans in 1906, when I was 14 years old. It was after I heard Buddy Bolden; when he came through my hometown, Plaquemine, Louisiana, on an excursion, and his trumpet playin’ excited me, so that I said, ‘I’m goin’ to New Orleans.’ I had never heard anything like that before in my life[iv].”

There is no evidence Bolden left the state of Louisiana, as many Louisiana musicians he inspired would do in the 1910s for greater fame and fortune[v]. Buddy Bolden’s distinctive musical approach was subsequently developed into a bluesy musical language by those who heard or played with him, such as Kid Ory, Bud Scott, Mutt Carey, and trombonist Bill Matthews. According to Matthews, “on those old, slow, low down blues, he had a moan in his cornet that went all through you, just like you were in church or something.”

It’s also reported that Buddy’s band did not play extended solos, yet their music featured some improvisation. “Everybody was crazy about Bolden when he’d blow a waltz, schottische or old lowdown blues,” Bill Matthews reminisced, “Louis Armstrong, King Oliver, none of ‘em had a tone like Bolden.

Buddy Bolden didn’t play in the upper registers of the trumpet-like Armstrong would do later in the 1920s, Bolden’s tone was mostly in the middle register. Bill Matthews went on to say, “Bunk Johnson got his style following Buddy with his sweetness, but could never play rough and loud like Bolden[vi].” Regrettably, we will never have the pleasure of hearing him for ourselves. There were some whispers long ago that a recording was made of Buddy Bolden but subsequently lost. It’s highly unlikely he would have had the opportunity to record due to the rarity of orchestra recordings at that time.

By 1906, Buddy Bolden, at the age of 29, was prone to erratic behavior. He had been living too fast, binge drinking, not sleeping for days at a time.

“Fella’s knew he was kinda losing his mind” recalled trumpeter, Charles Love. "He had a way of calling his girl on his trumpet. He’d go outside” and serenade her with a particular riff, and she’d usually answer to it. One night, he went out and called her on his horn, and she didn’t come. And man, he went to pieces. Got to rubbing his head and carrying on. He got mad, threw his horn down. Bam! Jumped up. Kicked it!” Took an’ “bent it all to pieces. Man, that’s when it come out, that he’d gone crazy[vii].”

Unfortunately, Charles Buddy Bolden, following bouts of depression due to an undiagnosed mental illness—but reported to be caused by alcoholism—was arrested for a domestic disturbance and later committed on June 5, 1907, to the Insane Asylum in Jackson, Louisiana. He would spend the rest of his life there. On November 4, 1931, the last petal fell from the Black Rose. Buddy Bolden, the first man of blues, only a shell of his former self, passed away[viii]. He was 54 years old.

 

School Daze

 

At about eight years old, I knew I wanted to be a musician and recording artist, but not necessarily a blues artist. I knew my dad and his friends played blues but I didn’t distinguish their music by genre or style. I didn’t even know music had different names like classical, jazz, and rock and funk. My parents never pushed or prodded me to learn an instrument. Instead, they hoped I would one day go to college or trade school. They hoped I would learn skills that would help me land a good paying job. My parents knew all too well, music didn’t pay, especially the blues.

My musical curiosity was insatiable. Though I was taking lessons on the cornet, I wasn’t settled on any one instrument. I would test myself on any instrument I could get my hands on. Lucky for me, dad had many instruments in the house. He housed all the back-line instruments for his band, drums, guitar, bass, accordion, and amps. We had a B3 organ too, with a Leslie speaker. Dad had played the B3 to accompany his singing. I would mess around with the B3 organ, but my feet barely touched its foot pedals. B3 was not the instrument for me.

Dad was a novice on guitar when I was in my formative musical years. But when the guitar became the dominant instrument in the blues and popular music in the late sixties, he began taking the guitar seriously. Dad would visit Earns, an elderly musician who lived on West Johnson Street in South Baton Rouge, for regular guitar lessons.

Before long, I developed an obsessive interest in dad’s guitar. Though dad showed me some basic things, I never took formal guitar lessons, I would go to dad’s room and fool around on his rose-colored Gibson 335 when he was away at work. I became pretty good on it. As my little fingers grew stronger my ambitions grew too. I would bend his strings. I broke a few, too.

When he came home from work one day and found his strings busted he got upset with me. He had warned me not to mess with his guitar. But that didn’t stop me. I played it every chance I got whenever he was away. I discovered I could transpose the scales and songs I learned on the cornet to the guitar. Also, the guitar could play chords, which sounded full. Like a piano, it was a complete instrument. Perfect for unaccompanied performance. Whereas, the cornet could only play one note at a time. Besides, if you wanted to sing while playing the horn, you had to remove it from your mouth and sing with no musical accompaniment.

Before long I was accompanying my dad on gigs here and there. I accompanied him to honky-tonks and country juke joints around South Louisiana and Mississippi, performing guitar tricks which seemed to come easy. Though I wasn’t playing anything sophisticated while doing tricks, my showmanship was enough to delight audiences. I played the guitar behind my back and with my teeth or tongue. Patrons would throw money, egg me on. I happily obliged, gaining a reputation as a child wonder. I was a budding multi-instrumentalist, though my only formal musical training had been with the cornet. It was the year or two I spent taking lessons from my uncle Don, that prepared me for McKinley Junior High’s marching band.

Bob Johnson, a stern disciplinarian, had been the band director at McKinley Junior High for a long time. He may have been there for over forty years before I arrived. He might even have taught at McKinley back when my dad was in school. All the kids called him “Bubblehead.” Mr. Johnson sported heavy black rimmed glasses. Always conservatively dressed, Mr. Johnson wore a white neatly pressed short sleeve shirt, thin black tie, and starchy black pants everyday as though it was a uniform. Mr. Johnson kept a few sharpened pencils in his shirt pocket. He had a large bald spot in the crown of his head. I don’t know why we called him Bubblehead. It may have been because veins would pop out of his head when he got upset. Sometimes, he’d get so angry with us; he’d get right in our faces and yell like an army sergeant. It wouldn’t have been so bad, except that spit would spray from his mouth into your face when he was angry. The class would all laugh at whomever was getting chewed out or showered in spit, but it wasn’t funny whenever I was that person.

I played the first-cornet in the marching band as a seventh grader, a big accomplishment. When I would play the “Star Spangled Banner,” I could hit the triple-C at the end—a high screeching note which takes several years to master. To hear me hit the high notes at the finale of the anthem was impressive to Mr. Johnson. But I lost interest in the cornet as my chops and reputation on the guitar grew. The guitar made a lot of noise; a lot of racket. If I’d put all my energies into the cornet, who knows, I may have become another Buddy Bolden, King Oliver, or Louis Armstrong, leading a hot Louisiana blues band with my horn. But the guitar had become the loudest and most popular instrument in modern music, capturing my imagination.

Uncle Don, after serving in the military, joined my dad’s band, which also featured a short-tempered blind tenor saxophone player named, Tagnough, who would drink too much on gigs, then threaten to kick everyone’s ass in the car on the ride home. The drive home was always amusing. There was always one guy in the station wagon who took Tagnough’s insults serious and fired verbal jabs back at him, heightening the tension. The testier the argument got, the more the others would laugh, which only further antagonized the blind saxophonist. Who would hit a blind man anyway? I must admit though, Tagnough had a dirty mouth. He possessed the quick wit of a bleu comic. He was hilarious, a lovable rogue. Don and Tagnough were the horn section for my dads’ band. But horns were on their way out of the blues by 1969. The guitar had become the dominant solo instrument replacing the trumpet and sax solo on blues recordings. Because of this, Don, a fine trumpeter, did not record often with my dad, even though he had been a regular in his band.

In the fifties, back when my dad was an unseasoned jump blues singer—before he picked up the guitar—the saxophone had its moment as the hot thing in popular recordings. Louis Jordan of “Caledonia” fame, helped lead the way for the instrument in popular music, while Charlie Parker’s holistic approach to the sax, maximized the instrument's potential. A jump blues singer, such as Big Joe Turner, a pioneering Kansas City shouter, would perform a jump tune, the saxophone player would always play the break. The sax man would solo, even dropping to his knees in heightened passion, wailing, the crowd would eat it up. The new rock and roll audience were excited most by showmanship, not competitive technical wizardry.

Therefore, guitarists that combined musical prowess with showmanship, such as Chuck Berry, in the fifties, and Jimi Hendrix in the sixties, found tremendous commercial success. The guitar became the kingmaker of solo instruments. The trumpet had reigned since the birth of the blues, but now it was relegated to the sidelines. Miles Davis, a fearless artist, attempted to transform his approach and adapt his style to compete with modern electrified guitar blues, but the trumpet, like all brass instruments, wasn't suited to wah-wah pedals and distorted amplification.

While these changes were taking place, the electric guitar helped to transform dad’s image from a jump blues singer, to a swamp blues guitar man. Dad concluded, due to popular demand, he had to ask his brother to put down his trumpet and take up the bass guitar if he still wanted to play in his band. The paradigm shift in blues tastes created stress between the two brothers.

Folk purists’ fixation on primitivism—believing it equaled authenticity—helped to marginalize blues to rural country aesthetics with a preference for acoustic guitars played by men wearing overalls; dressed like farmhands. Thus, excluding urban bluesmen like B. B. King, Bobby "Blue" Bland, and others, who featured big brass horn sections. Following the folk revival era, the trumpet which was once the most expressive instrument in blues, disappeared as a solo instrument in blues altogether.

Meanwhile, the harmonica, an instrument associated with hobos and drifters, became the only acceptable horn in a blues band. Little Walter, a harmonica great from Marksville, Louisiana, did for the harmonica what Miles Davis tried, but failed to achieve, with the trumpet, he electrified it. Little Walter played the harp through a microphone plugged into a guitar amplifier, added a large amount of reverberation and created an amazing new instantly recognizable tone. Little Walter made the harmonica a lead instrument and a permanent fixture in electric blues bands.

Don was deflated by his demotion. Yet he took up the bass guitar, adapted to the changing times, and carried on. Uncle Don’s heart and talent were in the trumpet, but the trumpet could not compete with the electric guitar. Dad encouraged me to put down the cornet also if I wanted to lead a band. The powerful electric guitar was the new kingmaker of the blues. I picked up the guitar and didn’t look back. Besides, the guitar felt natural anyway. I soon became a professional, earning money as a sideman, behind my dad and others at a tender age.




[i]. Marquis, Donald M. "How and What He Played." In Search of Buddy Bolden: First Man of Jazz. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1978. 92. Print.

[ii]. cite Empire of Sin

[iii]. Marquis, Donald M. "How and What He Played." In Search of Buddy Bolden: First Man of Jazz. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1978. 99. Print.

[iv]. Shapiro, Nat, and Nat Hentoff. Hear Me Talkin' to Ya; the Story of Jazz as Told by the Men Who Made It. New York: Dover Publications, 1966. Print.

[v]. Marquis, Donald M. "How and What He Played." In Search of Buddy Bolden: First Man of Jazz. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1978. 57-58. Print.

[vi]. Marquis, Donald M. "How and What He Played." In Search of Buddy Bolden: First Man of Jazz. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1978. 100. Print.

[vii]. Music of New Orleans, Vol. 4: The Birth of Jazz, Buddy Bolden. Various Artists

Folkways Records FW02464 / FA 2464 1959

[viii]. Marquis, Donald M. "How and What He Played." In Search of Buddy Bolden: First Man of Jazz. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1978. 131. Print.