ROY PALMER and the State Street Ramblers
Jazz Archives #1000(10”)
Roy Palmer (tb) Jimmy Blythe (p) (probably Frank Melrose on some numbers); unknown banjo Ed Hudson (vcl) on #5 possibly Albert Bell (kazoo) Darnell Howard (cl & as) Jimmy Bertrand (wshbrd)
Richmond, Indiana; March 13, 1931
1. I Want to Be Your Lovin’ Man (2:37) (Jimmie Blythe)
2. Sic ‘Em Tige (2:57) (Roy Palmer)
3. South African Blues (3:14) (Junie C. Cobb)
4. Tiger Moan (2:45) (Tony Cingerana)
5. Careless Love (3:21) (traditional)
6. Georgia Grind (3:03) (Frank Melrose)
7. Kentucky Blues (2:54) (----)
8. Barrel House Stomp (2:36) (Lester Melrose)
When Turk Murphy, undoubtedly the foremost current exponent of the non-modernized, tailgate trombone, was once asked that inevitable and somewhat tired question about who might be his all-time favorites on his own instrument, he varied the standard procedure by coming up with an answer that was one-half surprising. One of his selections was, naturally enough, Kid Ory. The other was a choice you might have had a hard time guessing – ROY PALMER.
Palmer’s name, if little more, is known to even the moderately thorough follower of traditional jazz. It turns up in the index of most histories, and in the more complete discographies. But most people are understandably vague about the man, and about the wonderful, vigorous, truly humorous things he could accomplish with a trombone. His handful of records are among the rarest, and this LP will surely provide many with their first opportunity to appreciate a musician who is among those to whom the vastly overworked description, “a neglected giant of jazz,” can very legitimately he applied.
Palmer had a long history as a jazz man. He was from New Orleans, and played with the best of them, in some of the toughest dives, in the roaring years of the Storyville era. His rough and gutteral trombone was part of a band led by Richard M. Jones that included Freddie Keppard, Sidney Bechet nd later Jimmy Noone; he played at Pete Lala’s Café and at George Fewclothes’. He was also among the earliest to leave New Orleans and explore a bit: first briefly, on the river boats, then more extensively on a long vaudeville tour with a band that included two legendary river-boat 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 for odd, playing at the De Luxe Café on the South Side along with Wellman Braud on bass and a girl piano-player named Lil Hardin (later the second Mrs. Louis Armstrong).
Palmer fitted perfectly into the South Side style that was evolved, during the decade that followed, in that rough and sprawling Negro district. It was a unique king jazz – almost as different from the original close-knit New Orleans ensemble pattern as it was from the increasingly smooth performances of the Negro cabaret and vaudeville-theater orchestras of the ‘20s. A Loosely woven, informal music, strongly rhythmic, with large elements of the blues in it, and with no nonsense about such things as arrangements. The South Siders just went on pounding out their blues and stomps, without worrying about the fact that most of them were pretty rough, unpolished musicians, whose fame was extremely localized at best. The played around town and worked up record dates with excessive casualness (discographers have despaired of deciding with any accuracy or conviction on exact personnel for most of their sides) and they produced some of the very best good-time jazz ever crated.
Very often they played in the “skiffle” style of the records that make up this LP – the word is of indeterminate origin and refers to relaxed get-togethers featuring such ‘illegitimate’ instruments as washboard and kazoo, where even the standard horns carry on in unorthodox fashion, as the mood strikes them, with little regard for the ways in which they’re supposed to be played.
This would seem to have suited Roy Palmer just fine, for almost the only occasions on which he turns up on records is with groups like this one. Here his deep-reaching, gravelly trombone can really let go: punching and pounding and obviously finding great enjoyment in the vigorous beat: adding a raucous comic touch at all times. He is easily the dominant voice here: gutty and low-down and strong, often seeming to dig down under the rest of the band to lift them up and carry them along with him. An early dim photograph of Palmer shows a stocky, wide-faced, pleasantly unhandsome man who looks as if there’s a rich and powerful vein of humor barely concealed beneath the stilted pose musicians almost invariably seem to assume for group photos.
“The State Street Ramblers” was a name for varying personnel on a number of records. The talented blues pianist Jimmy Blythe was their most constant figure, and probably the leader and organizer of record dates. These numbers were made for the Gennett company’s subsidiary Champion label and apparently represent a trip from Chicago to the studios at Richmond, Indiana where so much great jazz was put on wax. The Gennett ledgers indicate that the session was arranged for by Frank Melrose (piano-playing brother of the music-publishing Melrose and the only white jazzman to break across the Chicago color line with any regularity). There’s reason to suspect that he sat in for Blythe on some of these numbers, but there’s no way of rally knowing. As usual, it’s hard to tell exactly who was on hand. The kazoo, making like a cornet but having much more fun, might be Albert Bell. Other possibilities are that it’s Darnell Howard, one of the top-ranking Chicago reed players, slashing away on clarinet and sax; and the remarkable Jimmy Bertrand, doing an amazing variety of things on washboard, as he did on many Blythe records. The trombone, though, is unquestionably Palmer – no one else ever manhandled that horn quite so happily…
(A note on the original Champion label numbers of these recordings: Lovin’ Man, 162793: Tiger Moan, 162474; Careless Love, 164645; Georgia Grind, 162796: Kentucky Blues, 162307: Barrel House Stomp, 163208,
The rarety of these records is indicated by the fact that collectors. Usually they are listed in the discographies only as appearing in the Champion 40000 series, which are actually late-1930s reissues.)
LP produced by Bill Grauer
Notes by Orrin Keepnews
Cover by Robert J. Lee
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are released by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS
125 LaSalle Street New York 27, New York