Friday, April 28, 2006
 
I'D RATHER DRINK MUDDY WATER
The Cats & The Fiddle
Bluebird : 1939
Available on: We Cats Will Swing For You
ASV : 2003
[Buy It]

NUTS TO YOU
The Cats & The Fiddle
Bluebird : 1939
Available on: We Cats Will Swing For You
ASV : 2003
[Buy It]

Watch enough old movies and you'll start running across the Mills Brothers, the Ink Spots, and other vocal groups that thrived just before and during WWII. Today, their music sounds as anodyne as anything by The Four Freshmen. But a few months ago, I sold a bunch of records to a New York record store, and walked out a compilation of RCA & Bluebird-label vocal groups, c. 1939-1952. The Four Clefs, The Four Vagabonds, The Deep River Boys, The Delta River Boys - the stuff was uneven, but at its best, it was rougher and tougher and a lot more alive. The best of the bunch - a quartet - was called The Cats & The Fiddle.

Their music was remarkably swift, smart, self-assured - sometimes it was flawless. These are two early recordings: Austin Powell and Jimmie Henderson singing and playing guitar, Chuck Barksdale playing and singing bass (bass being the "fiddle" in question), and Ernie Price playing the tipple - a sort of ten-string ukulele that no one's played in a generation or two.

Henderson died of meningitis in 1940; his replacement, Tiny Grimes, played a four-stringed guitar, and left TC&TF to play with Art Tatum and Charlie Parker; in 1946, he recorded "Tiny's Boogie" - a hip mention when the "First Rock and Roll Song" conversation came up. A few years later he formed the Rockin' Highlanders, who performed in kilts with a young Screamin' Jay Hawkins on vocals. The Cats themselves broke up in the the early fifties, when Powell joined Louis Jordan's touring band and took the drummer they'd eventually acquired along.

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