Gut-Bucket Trombone: ROY PALMER AND IKE RODGERS
Jazz Archives #100(12”)
Side 1: The State Ramblers
Roy Palmer (tb) Jimmy Blythe (p) (probably replaced by Frank Melrose on some selections) unknown (bj) possibly Albert Bell (kazoo) Darnell Howard (cl, as) Jimmy Bertland (wshbrd) Richmond, Indiana; March 19, 1931
Side 2: Ike Rodgers (tb) with Edith Johnson (vcl) and Roosevelt Sykes (p)(on #3,4) Baby Jay (cnt)(on # only) Henry Brown (p)(on #1, 2, 5, 6) August 16, 1929 (#3-6)
Sic “Em Tige” (2:57)
I Want to Be Your Lovin’ Man (2:37)
South African Blues (3:14)
Tiger Moan (2:44)
Georgia Grind (3:02)
Barrel House Stomp (2:36)
21st Street Stomp (2:41)
It Hurts So Good (3:14)
Nickel’s Worth of Liver (2:47)
Good Chib Blues (3:00)
My Man Blues (3:24)
Prison Blues (3:19)
The writers of dictionaries have never been noted for either understanding or perceptiveness in what they have set down about jazz and its various aspects. But the definitions printed on the front cover, from standard source-books, rather surprisingly do describe with striking and concise accuracy the essence of this somewhat strange, more than a little obscure, but very basic form of jazz! (Of course, that “definition” of trombone is strictly our own, and not to be found in any dictionary.)
The music of men like ROY PALMER and IKE RODGERS is quite literally, the “unadorned facts.” The “subject” is primarily the blues and skiffle-music, as they were played and sung in the 1920s (mostly in some pretty tough and unadorned clubs and back-rooms on the South Side of Chicago and in other Midwestern cities), and as they will never be played or sung again. The word “gut-bucket” originally referred very specifically to a pail placed under a keg of beer in New Orleans dives of early jazz days for the purpose of gathering up the drippings until a quantity of something moderately drinkable had accumulated. The word itself, outliving the custom, has stayed on as a very meaningful description of a type of drinking place – and of the music you could expect to hear there.
But the rough and gutteral trombone sounds of Palmer and Rodgers are surely far more explanatory than mere words. These men and their musical backgrounds and settings are of course far from identical. Among the things they do have in common, however, is a direct approach to their music that is perhaps too close to harsh and basic realities for everyone to accept. It can really be said that theirs is a folk music, in the very literal sense that it is the actual music of a fairly close-knit ethnic group, played by and for members of the group as they wanted it – without being in any way tricked out, embroidered upon, or influenced by any outsiders notions as to what it should sound like. It comes very directly out of their lives and their emotions; there is nothing even faintly resembling self-consciousness to get in the way of these “low-down” recordings.
This is not to imply that this is “primitive” or unduly “simple” music. Palmer, Rodgers and their various associates were big-city Negroes and professional entertainers; they knew what they wanted to do and were capable of doing a very effective job of it. Such things as smoothness, musical erudition or sophistication were entirely irrelevant to their purposes, that’s all.
As for differences between the two, you can easily begin with the fact that much is known about the career of Roy Palmer, virtually nothing about Ike Rodgers’. Palmer was from New Orleans and played with the best of them, and in some of the roughest Storyville dives. His trombone was part of a band, led by Richard M. Jones, that included Freddei Keppard, Sidney Bechet and later Jimmy Noone; he played at Pete Lala’s Café and at George Fewclothes. Roy was also among the earliest to leave New Orleans and explore a bit; first briefly, on the riverboats, and then more extensively on a long vaudeville tour with a band that included two legendary riverboat musicians, “Sugar Johnny” on cornet and Lawrence Duhe on clarinet. They touched Chicago in about 1915 – when that town had a couple of early jazz bands but didn’t really know it – and in a couple of years were back to stay, playing at the DeLuxe Café on the South Side along with Wellman Braud on bass and a girl piano player named Lil Hardin (later, of course, the second Mrs. Louis Armstrong).
On these recordings, made at the Gennett studios in Richmond, Indiana, the band is the “State Street Ramblers,” a name used for a variety of recording groups spearheaded by pianist Jimmy Blythe, one of the key figures of the relaxed and rough-hewn 1920s Chicago jazz school that has come to be known as “South Side Style.” Rather typically, this was a “skiffle” date, meaning that such non-standard instruments as kazoo and washboard were include, although the deep-down, tailgate trombone tones of Palmer dominate the proceedings. Also rather typical is the doubt about exact personnel (for the most part, the not-always-consistent recollections of veteran musicians are the discographers’ only sources of information). The 1931 date (taken from the Gennett ledgers, this is guaranteed to be precise) shows this session to be very much the last gasp of an already-doomed era – the Depression had set in; the “Golden Age” of Chicago jazz was over; Gennett, which had recorded so much early jazz, was close to bankruptcy. The blues and stomps, however, have the same romping robustness they had all through the ‘20s, and Palmer undoubtedly sounds very little different than at the DeLuxe. This can be taken either as an admirable example of musical consistency, or as denoting an inflexibility that doomed most “South Side” jazzmen to oblivion as soon as changing times and circumstances destroyed their specific musical setting.
Ike Rodgers is far less available to us on any sort of factual level. A dim early photograph (reproduced in Keepnews and Grauer’s “A Pictorial History of Jazz”) and a few threads of fact tell us that he played in St. Louis, where – if his music is at all typical – there must have flourished very much the same sort of Negro jazz as on the South Side of Chicago. Henry Brown, who appears on most of Rodgers’ recordings, was a rather well-known St. Louis pianist of the day; he was one of several piano players imported from that city to Chicago to record for the Paramount label, and quite possibly Rodgers came along with him.
The fact that no one seems to have set down or to recall any specific or factual information about the man himself seems a fitting part of the picture: Ike Rodgers was a guy who played good trombone, made his records and faded from the scene, thereby becoming almost an anonymous, universal folk-symbol of this type of earthy jazz. Adding to this impression is the curious fact that the two blues singers heard with him here come very close to summing up the basic extremes of the blues. Edith Johnson (Good Chib Blues, Nickel’s Worth of Liver) is the hard, brash girl who is having herself a good time and wants you to know that if you don’t like it, there’ll be another man along right away. The nasal, almost whining voice of Alice Moore (My Man Blues, Prison Blues) is, on the other hand, strictly in the tradition of the aggrieved blues singer proclaiming that everything in general, and her man in particular, has treated her dirty. The deep, all-pervading horn of Rodgers – arrogant or mournful, as the situation demands – underlines their words in indication that he, too, understands the way soft heir world.
It would be wrong, however, to over-stress the idea of Rodgers as a sort of generalized symbol, for these records also suggest that he was a fiercely individual musician. His style and tone seem rough and even crude (George Avakian once wrote, half-seriously, that Rodgers could play only two notes, “but both of them are perfect”), but they are definitely deliberate and his own. And there is clear – if unexplainable – evidence of an unusual personal touch in his having accepted, or perhaps chosen or even insisted upon, this unique (for a trombonist) role as sole horn behind a blues singer; and also in his having joined with Brown in such unprecedented trombone-piano duets as those which open Side 2.
The Rodgers selections were end-of-an-era efforts, much like the Palmers’ having been recorded in 1929, less than two years earlier. (They, too, can be pinpointed as to date, for these sessions were also held in the Gennett studios, which on occasion did work for others.) This coincidental touch seems to complete the picture, further linking the music of these two trombonists as formidable examples of the lusty, robust, unadorned and blues-filled jazz of a time that is gone forever.
Discographical note on original label (and master) numbers;
The Side 1 selections were all released on the Gennett company’s Champion label.
Tiger Moan (mx.no. GN 17619) was on Champion 16247; Barrel House (17620) was on Champion 16320; Georgia Grind 17621/south African (17625) were Champion 16279; Lovin’ Man (17624) on Champion 16350; and Sic ‘Em Tige (17627) on Champion 16464; Nickel’s Worth (GE 1558) was on Paramount 12813; Good Chib (15559) was on Paramount 12864; Prison (15448)/My Man (15449) made up Paramount 12868; 21st Street (15445) made up Paramount 12825; and It Hurts So Good (15446) on Paramount 12816.
(The slight surface noise audible on this LP is due to the limitations of early recording processes; it has not been entirely removed in order to preserve highest fidelity possible and to give more faithful reproduction of original tone qualities.)
LP produced by BILL GRAUER and CHRIS ALBERTSON
Notes written by ORRIN KEEPNEWS
Cover designed by KEN DEARDOFF
Re-mastered, 1961, by JACK MATTHEWS (Components Corp.) on a HYDROFEED lathe
Material on Side 2 reissued by arrangement with John Steiner and Paramount Records.
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are produced by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS, Inc.
235 West 46th Street New York 36, N.Y.