Sorting political fact from fiction, and having fun while we're at it. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
The musical history of the Washington area goes deeper than Duke Ellington and Chuck Brown. But much of the music recorded here in the 20th century, from early rock and roll to bluegrass to jazz, was forgotten about long ago. Kojo chats with Jay Bruder, the host of “The Hometown Special” on WAMU’s Bluegrass Country, about the recorded musical history of the nation’s capital.
- Jay Bruder Host, The Hometown Special, WAMU's Bluegrass Country
D.C.’s Music Playlist
Listen to some of the District’s most famous tracks in our Spotify playlist below.
Jay Bruder of WAMU 88.5’s Bluegrass Country offers this playlist as an introduction to the D.C.’s rich musical history.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. So much of Washington's musical history is defined by legendary artists who grew up in and around the nation's capitol only to create, perform and take off far, far away from the city they once called home. The Duke Ellingtons, the Marvin Gayes, the Dave Grohls.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIBut throughout the 20th century, D.C. contributed a great deal to the early recorded history of blues, gospel, bluegrass and rock 'n roll. Many of these works and the artists who performed them faded from popular memory some time ago. But one local radio host is doing everything in his power to reintroduce listeners to sounds once recorded in the area where he grew up and the stories behind them. All the while reconnecting audience to tunes like this.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIHe joins us in studio. Jay Bruder is the host of the Hometown Special on WAMU's Bluegrass Country. Hi, Jay. How's it going?
MR. JAY BRUDERKojo, great to be here.
NNAMDIWhat we just heard was the Rambler Trio with Arthur Smith "Guitar Boogie" recorded here in the D.C. area back in the 1940s. It seems like every single lick, every single crackle of this recording contains some kind of story of its own. When you listen to something like this, what do you hear?
BRUDEROh, I hear a whole bunch of stuff. One, we know that -- we don't know -- we know very little. We know that the record came out on a label called Super Disc and Super Disc, at one point in time, was owned by the Feld Brothers who had Super Drug up on 7th and T. And we believe the record was recorded when Arthur Smith was at the Navy Yard around September, 1946. And it was one of the first -- no, I shouldn't say that, but it was one of the first post-war records coming out of Washington that really took off across the country. And of course it's such a simple song that influenced generations of guitar players.
NNAMDIThis song was recorded above a pharmacy in Washington, D.C.?
BRUDERThat I don't know.
NNAMDIThat's what I heard. D. C. does not exactly have the reputation that a place like New York, L.A., Nashville or Austin has as a destination for recording music, but was that always the case?
BRUDERNo. You know, curiously if we go back to the very beginning when Edison invented his talking machine, the first place he brought it to demonstrate was right here to Washington because he thought it was so serious it needed to be placed in front of the federal government. And of course he didn't think it was for music. He thought it was for dictation and recording important speeches. But eventually people caught on. And by 1889, he'd incorporated nationally. And there was a Columbia Phonograph company.
BRUDERAnd when we think of Columbia, we think of, you know, Simon and Garfunkel and Bob Dylan and all that. Well, no. It started right here in Washington, D.C. It was the most successful of his franchises. And I'm going to play a little clip that Dave Govinonni (sp?) has kindly loaned me, because I don't have any cylinders. And I have to do the announcement ahead of time because it's almost impossible to hear first time through.
BRUDERBut the announcer, and he always announced a cylinder, the following band selection, Sousa's latest musical hit. Now this is 1895 and they're already talking about musical hits. It's called the "King Cotton March."
NNAMDIThis is before the turn of the 20th century.
BRUDERAnd Washington was then the center of the recorded world.
NNAMDIWe're talking about now the "King Cotton March."
NNAMDI"King Cotton March" is apparently one of the pieces that put Sousa on the path to the massive amounts of popularity he would later achieve. It seems like a pretty good start for a musical recording in D.C.
BRUDERIt was. And then they were recording onto little cylinders. And then Emile Berliner started recording onto disc. And that happened in Washington, D.C. But things moved very quickly. And by 1896, '97 Columbia had decided that New York was more important than Washington for music. And so they left and Berliner was gone by about 1900. And that left Washington without a major recording power, so to speak. And sadly, it stayed that way -- even though there were studios here in town, it stayed that way until the 1940s.
BRUDERBut we did have one other -- well, we had many other occasions where people from Washington went to New York. You talked about Ellington and we have Claude Hopkins and it goes on and on. But we actually had a record that was made from Washington.
BRUDERA radio preacher "Elder" Lightfoot Solomon Michaux was on network radio. And he was apparently recorded over the network wire by the folks at Victor up in Camden, N.J. And so I'd like to play just a little clip of his theme song called "Happy Am I."
NNAMDIWell, "Elder" Michaux, from what I read, was a man who denounced singing, he denounced dancing, he denounced, it seems, all kind of entertainment. But here he is making music.
BRUDERYeah, and he did it on the radio for years. You may remember but when I was a little kid we used to hear him -- WJSV became WTLP and he used to be on the radio every Saturday or Sunday morning for decades.
NNAMDIWhat -- how would you describe his genre of music? Is that what we call gospel today?
BRUDERWell, I would put it as spiritual broadly.
NNAMDIOkay, spiritual. I wanted to get back to the first thing we played though, Guitar Boogie because that was released back in 1948.
NNAMDI'46. And when I was growing up in the '50s in Guyana, South America, there was a group called the Ramblers. It was a string band that played music just like this. And apparently this song, this guitar boogie apparently influenced a whole lot of people during that entire era, including people like Chuck Berry.
BRUDERYeah, that riff was so basic that young guitar players were taught it. As a matter of fact, I remember a man down in Elizabeth City, N.C. handed me his instruction book for his new students and the first song was "Guitar Boogie." That's (word?) and Sawyer's Guitar Shop.
BRUDERBut it was such a basic song that everybody starts off with that. In the rock 'n roll bands they needed something like that as kind of a warm-up song. So all across the country that song was recorded and re-recorded and given a new title. But it's the same basic song.
NNAMDI"Guitar Boogie." Let's play a little bit of it again so people can understand the influence that it had.
NNAMDIOur guest is Jay Bruder. He is the host of the Hometown Special on WAMU's Bluegrass Country talking about the history of recording music in Washington, D.C., a history that he has dedicated much of his life to researching. We're inviting you to join the conversation by calling 800-433-8850. Did you grow up in Washington? Where did you learn about music that was recorded or created here? Was it from the radio, TV? Was it from going to shows? Give us a call, 800-433-8850. You can send email to firstname.lastname@example.org or send us a tweet @kojoshow.
NNAMDIThere were Big Band leaders who were a big part of D.C.'s musical history but Duke Ellington, Jim Europe, Claude Hopkins, they all headed for New York City when that era of jazz was taking off in the 1920s. Did any of those huge names do any recording here?
BRUDERI think at times they did, especially later on. I think Ellington might've come back to make different recordings here. But most of their work in their professional life was in New York although I have to give Ellington credit for really staying in touch with the Washington community, of canvas the Afro American from the '30s into the 1950s. And Ellington was consistently coming back to town for significant engagements.
NNAMDIHe considered Washington his home base even though he was in New York so much of the time. But after we played Happy I Am, which was one done by the "Elder" Solomon Michaux, around that time in the 20th Century there was a young Turkish man growing up here in Washington, D.C. named Ahmet Ertegun. He was exposed to American jazz. He was getting a prep school education here at the Landon School. He eventually founded Atlantic Records. He got, he said, his real education at the Howard Theater.
BRUDERAt the Howard Theater and at the Quality Music Shop, which was just down the street from Super Disc on 7th and T. And one of the first ventures that Ahmet and his brother Nesuhi got involved with involved Max Silverman, otherwise known as Waxy Maxy...
BRUDER...to his friends and to his commercial folks. And then Herb Abramson was a man who had actually more practical experience in the music business. They tried to launch a label here in Washington in '46. They called it Quality after the Quality music shop. And Herb said only a handful of these records were ever made. And I'm very grateful to be able to play just a tiny bit of a song called "Thursday Evening Blues." It was recorded up in New York City but there's definitely a Washington label.
NNAMDI"Thursday Evening Blues."
NNAMDI"Thursday Evening Blues," Ernie Fields and his orchestra.
BRUDERWith Mel Moore on vocal and is the start of the (word?) recording career here in Washington, D.C. in 1946.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. After that when we come back, we'll continue our conversation with Jay Bruder. He is the host of the Hometown Special on WAMU's Bluegrass Country. Questions or comments, give us a call, 800-433-8850. Were there people who recorded music in D.C. who you were sure were going to make it nationwide? What happened to them eventually? What drew you to their music? Give us a call, 800-433-8850. You can send email to email@example.com go to our website kojoshow.org and join the conversation there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about the history of recorded music in Washington and how it influenced the rest of the nation and the world with Jay Bruder, host of the Hometown Special on WAMU's Bluegrass Country, who has spend a significant part of his life researching the history of recording music in Washington. Jay, at a certain point in the mid 20th century there were a number of people who emerged into the recording industry who were determined to make hits out of the D.C. musical universe. Who was Lillian Claiborne?
BRUDERLillian Claiborne was a most remarkable person. She had grown up mostly around Washington, D.C., been married in 1918 and moved with her husband to New York City. When her father died in '43 she came back to town determined to bring all that sophistication she had picked up in New York back to Washington. And she started recording society bands like Tiny Meeker and other people like Bill McCune from New York City. And it didn't work the way she thought it would work.
BRUDERAnd she found that she had a niche recording what were then called hillbilly bands like Buck Ryan and his Radio Playboys from Frederick and a wonderful gospel group called The Progressive Four who had already been on Washington radio. I'd like to play a little taste of "I Cried Holy" Lindsey Wilson on lead vocal.
NNAMDI"I Cried Holy" by The Progressive Four.
BRUDERAnd that's so wonderful that that record has survived. But Kojo, I'd like to play another example from a related -- not a related company, but a company about the same time, Lloyds of Washington, D.C. And I didn't know where these people really were from except for an address, which was 616 Massachusetts Avenue. And (unintelligible) my buddy went down there to try and find it. He couldn't find it. I finally found in the phonebook the Lloyds Novelty and Curio Company. And this record, you have to listen closely and I'm only going to play a taste but listen to the start, which is kind of sad.
BRUDEROkay. Now, Kojo, you heard that little grind as we did the start-up.
BRUDERAnd the reason is the first third of the record is missing. It's a 78 and it broke. And there was no other known surviving copy.
NNAMDIThe Silvertones, "One Day." Lloyd's Novelty and Curio is where...
BRUDERThey made their own records. They sold trinkets out of the shop and they had records pressed up. And I -- we think it's the late '40s. We have never found a date for these records.
NNAMDISo the label with Lloyd's Novelty and Curio?
BRUDERIt just says Lloyd's Spiritual, Washington, D.C. And so we're just on the lookout for these records to make sure that, as Dick Swatzard (sp?) always says, once they get copied then we know they're going to stay. But when there's just one or two lying around, they get broken and you lose them.
NNAMDIWho else was part of this hunt to make a hit record in D.C.? It's my understanding that there was a label based in Chevy Chase. Was that the one we just heard?
BRUDERWell, no. Lloyds was downtown but there was a pressing plant up in Chevy Chase called Paragon. And they pressed for a number of people but I think the people most involved in hit records in Washington were the Feld Brothers who had Super Drug and Super Music. And the 1948 date is significant. That's when they sold Super Disc. But they had another label called Scoop. And they used a recording engineer named Ben Adelman up in Silver Spring, Tacoma really. And then put together a band with a youngster named Bill Grammer. And let's just play a taste of Bill Grammer and the Shenandoah Mountain (sic) Boys with a real survivor on the tracks. Go ahead, please.
NNAMDIOkay. Now, Kojo, on the steel guitar there -- and I know you're not a huge fan of country music -- is a real survivor because we've got a guy named Jimmy who is still alive, 97 years old, Jimmy Fontus (sp?) down in Florida. And he was playing steel on that with Bill Grammer. And then the flipside of that is his brother Teddy -- his younger brother Teddy, still lives here in town. And Teddy was playing at the club Caverns in 1952 and '53. So his brother doing steel guitar with Bill Grammer and then Teddy playing jazz in a small trio. So just remarkable connections here in Washington.
NNAMDIIt's my understanding that one of the people who was influenced by Bill Grammer was no other than Buddy Holly.
BRUDERI'm sure. I'm sure that Buddy and Billy -- I mean, Buddy listened to everybody. He was a musical sponge.
NNAMDII'm glad you mentioned the name Dick Spotswood. For those of our listeners who may not know who Dick Spotswood is, well, you should because he's one of the legendary voices here at WAMU who's been spinning tunes for decades. He has a legendary ear for the obscure. You grew up here in Northern Virginia. Where did you access and discover this music?
BRUDERYou know, when I was in high school in the early 1970s, we were doing the first wave of the '50s revival. And I, through my sisters, discovered Alan Lee's radio show on WGTB Georgetown University Radio. And then after that Dick Lillard had his show on WMOD. And those are the two guys who got me interested. And then eventually I found Spotswood and that took me into the earlier music. And I've been progressing ever since.
NNAMDIWhen I first got into this business, the name Dick Lillard was very familiar to me. What was the media environment like generally? How did kids at the time in general access this music? On radio or on TV?
BRUDERWell, in the 1950s they certainly had a host of radio stations. And I can't even begin to run them all down, but WOK and WOL and WEAM. And radio was big here in Washington. And, you know, people still talk about it very, very fondly what a profound impact. But there were TV shows. And we'll get to that in, I think, just a minute.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones and fast forward I think to 1974 for Steven in Washington, D.C. Steven, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
STEVENHello, Kojo. This is on topic in that in '74 I was a member of a small professional choral ensemble named "The Greg Smith Singers which still exists. And we recorded in the Renwick Gallery two full albums of late 19th century popular or I think you would call it parlor music of the Steven Foster ilk. And the kinky thing about it was that there was blasting going on for the Metro construction. So we made our recordings between 12:00 midnight and 4:00 am at the Renwick Gallery.
BRUDERThat's a wonderful story.
NNAMDIThank you very much because any other time we'd have been hearing your music with some interesting background playing.
BRUDERAnd, you know, shades of a man named Ben Adelman who had a studio in Tacoma next to the railroad sighting. And every time a train went by he had to stop the tape.
NNAMDIHey, thank you very much, Steven, for sharing that story with us. You too can share stories if you have them by calling 800-433-8850. We're talking with Jay Bruder. He's the host of the Hometown Special on WAMU's Bluegrass Country about the history of recording music in Washington, D.C. You said we're going to talk about TV. Let's talk about that, some of the TV shows that people learned music from here in Washington.
BRUDEROkay. Well, we're going to skip ahead to track 13. There was a man named Bob McEwen. He ran a show called the Capital Caravan on the Dumont Network which was channel 5. And people are amazed when I say this because people think black variety TV in Washington Teen-O-Rama. Well, yes Teen-O-Rama, very important, Bob King, great show. I never really got to see it. I was too young.
BRUDERBut starting in the summer of 1953, Washington had a half hour black variety TV show on Saturday afternoons, every Saturday afternoon. And it was live -- of course, you know, there was no video tape so it was all live music. One of his favorite groups was called The Three of Us Trio. So if we could just give a little taste of that.
NNAMDIOkay. Why have I never heard of this show or this song, 1953?
BRUDERWell, this song, Big (word?) is a neat little song. So I’m going to dance around your question. I'll get to all parts of it. The Three of Us Trio, kind of a jazzy group, a little vibraphone in the back there, they recorded for June Norton, the vocalist who used to work with Ellington, very much around town when you first came to Washington. And the record got buried. It didn't do well. But Bob McEwen's Capital Caravan kind of faded from sight in the early 1960s. The show lasted until '59 and then it was forgotten.
BRUDERAnd so much of this knowledge was common knowledge. And you know that common knowledge is very easily ignored because it doesn't get recorded. But I love that record. That's, I think, a great Washington sound. And we were talking about survivors a minute ago, Kojo. And I'm going to jump back to the year 1952 and we talk about Mrs. Claiborne.
BRUDERHer big coup was getting a number of acts signed to RCA Victor. And so I'd like to play a song. The vocalist is Tommy TNT Tribble who is still alive, 93, here in Washington, D.C. And it sounds a little bit like Louis Jordan. It's called "I Get My Kicks in the Country."
NNAMDITNT Tribble. He gets his kicks in the country. Why do you call him a survivor?
NNAMDIWell, one, he's alive. And sadly so many of his contemporary...
NNAMDINinety-three years old in Washington.
BRUDERYeah, so many of these contemporaries of that era of the transition from race music into rhythm and blues are gone. And quite an accomplished artist. I think these RCA titles are just great recordings. And then in the 1960s, he and a guy named Phil Flowers worked 14th Street, Rands and (word?) Room and all of those joints down there. And TNT will tell you that he really forced the issue of integration. He said to the owners, I'm not going to play this place unless you let blacks and whites sit side by side in this venue. And he was able to force that issue in the '60s when, of course, all that was in tumult here in Washington.
NNAMDIOkay. Who's Frank Motley?
BRUDERFrank Motley was TNT's counterpart. He came from Cheraw, N.C. (sic) or -- yeah, North Carolina -- no, South Carolina, I'm sorry. And he was a contemporary or more protege of Dizzy Gillespie. He played trumpet and he liked to play two trumpets at the same time. And on this cut you'll hear him and The Heartbreakers, a vocal group out of Washington, doing two trumpets at once.
NNAMDIFrank Motley and The Heartbreakers. When two-horn Motley gets hot...
BRUDERI think that was a little bit too progressive for RCA to put out in 1952.
NNAMDI...at that time. On to the telephones. You too can call us at 800-433-8850. Let's go to Dominick in Springfield, Va. Dominick, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DOMINICKYeah, I'd called you earlier with the movie thing because I'm a published author, but I was too late anyway. But your guest speaker was -- he mentioned Alan Lee. That's how I got -- he's the one that influenced me to like old music. Well, you know, music from the '50s and stuff. When I heard him on WPSW in 1978 when they first started I was about 12 years old back then.
DOMINICKAnd Alan Lee's -- I think if it's the same person, he's the one that has the record shop out in Silver Spring.
BRUDERYeah, and Alan today has a radio show up in Baltimore. He's on Baltimore AM radio.
DOMINICKYeah, that is a great guy. He doesn't -- he looks young as I don't know what. I mean, for -- because he was -- you know, I was 12 when I first heard him and he looks younger than me.
BRUDERHe does not age.
NNAMDIWell, let's see, I was a regular listener to Alan Lee also. Want to move on now to vocal groups?
BRUDERYeah, you know, Washington has a tremendous tradition going back probably into the 1800s of vocal groups. And I love this record. Les Moss who ran Roadhouse Oldies for many years actually found this recording at a junk store. It's been dumped by the owner of Circle Recording. Circle was a little studio right up from the GW University Hospital on Washington Circle. There actually was a recording studio right there in the early '50s.
BRUDERAndy Magruder is a lead singer. If you hung out in that part of Foggy Bottom in the summertime of 1952, you would've heard these guys on the street corner.
NNAMDIWhat are they called?
BRUDERThe Blue Jays.
NNAMDIThe Blue Jays and "Could I Adore You."
BRUDERKojo, I think that's pretty good for four young men from Francis Junior High School. They were like 12, 13 years old when they had the initiative. They used to collect soda bottles on the street to get the deposit money and then go up to Circle Recording and make these acetates.
NNAMDIRight over here at 24th and N. Street Northwest, Francis Junior High School. Okay. The Clovers, they had some monster songs nationwide. They were kids from what high school?
BRUDERI think they went to Armstrong.
NNAMDIThey were at Armstrong High School?
BRUDERYeah. And I don't pretend to know the whole Clover's history. I do know that Ertegun -- Ahmet Ertegun always said he had to teach them how to sing blues. And certainly their first record was just sweep pop ballads. Because that was the style. That's what people did. But they had a number of great records. Did you ever get up to the Pig Foot, Bill Harris' club?
NNAMDII sure did.
BRUDERWell, Bill Harris was of course their guitar player. And I never knew this, but Dick Spotswood (sp?) swears that his wife's name was Fannie. And that this record is all about Miss Fannie.
NNAMDIMiss Fannie. We'll go into the break on "Miss Fannie" by the Clovers.
NNAMDIWell, if you know anything about the history of "Miss Fannie," you can give us a call. 800-433-8850. Was she, in fact, Bill Harris' wife, who owned the Pig Foot. You can also send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. We're talking with Jay Bruder. He is the host of The Hometown Special on WAMU's Bluegrass Country. Did you grow up in D.C.? Where did you learn about music that was recorded or created here? Radio? TV? Is it from going to shows? Give us a call. 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about the history of popular recorded music in Washington D.C. with Jay Bruder. He is the host of The Hometown Special on WAMU's Bluegrass Country. And Jay has spent a great deal of his life researching and documenting the history of music recording in Washington D.C. By the way, if you've been listening to all the songs we've been playing and trying to figure out where to get a list, well, we've posted a Spotify playlist so you can hear all of the music featured on today's broadcast at our website, kojoshow.org. You can also go there to join the conversation. You can call us at 800-433-8850. Or send email to email@example.com.
NNAMDIAnd Jay Bruder, where else can they hear this music?
BRUDERWell, Kojo, on Sunday night on 105.5, I'll make sure that I play all of these songs at full length.
NNAMDI7:00 p.m. Where are we going next?
BRUDERWell, you know, you can't play Washington rock and roll without playing the Rainbows, which is -- they are really the iconic Washington group. A man named Donald Watts was on piano. He has a fantastic introduction. People who dance tell me you can't dance to this record. But it's still popular to this day. "Mary Lee," by the Rainbows.
BRUDERThat's somewhat of a Washington classic. The hand dancers, I don't know how they dance to it, but they do. And you can't play Washington music...
NNAMDIWait a minute. The hand dancers can dance to anything.
BRUDERAnything, okay. But that was another theme of Washington music. Those people had worked with Mrs. Claiborne. She hadn't gotten them a release. So they went up to find Bobby Robinson in Harlem and they've recorded for his Red Robin label. And it really wasn't a national hit, but it certainly was a big hit in Washington and Baltimore. But, you know, Kojo, I'm with Bluegrass Country, and I'm so grateful for the opportunity to play pretty much whatever I like. But Washington has such a tremendous history with country and bluegrass music. And certainly WAMU is really featured into the development of bluegrass as a nationwide and international genre.
NNAMDIHey, Katy Daley was born and raised right here.
BRUDERYep. And, well, I remember when she used to do the bulletin board for Ray Davis.
NNAMDIYes, she sure did.
BRUDERYeah. But one of the legends of Washington bluegrass were the Country Gentlemen. And the story is fascinating. Buzz Busby, who's one of the real Washington music characters, had a steady gig at the Admiral Grill out on Bailey's Crossroads. And after the gig, three of the band members decided they wanted to head out to North Beach, which was, you know, where people went to basically have a good time, right? You know, get drunk, listen to other bands. And they didn't make it back in one piece.
BRUDERThey had an accident, which knocked the band out. And that left a couple of band members trying to get the gig back together. Bill Emerson was the banjo player. Of course, he was very young and, you know, didn't go out drinking all night. So Bill was left to put the band back together. And he did find a couple people, Charlie Waller and John Duffey. And they had to fill this gig at the Admiral Grill. So they became the Country Gentlemen.
BRUDERThey liked the sound. They went up to Ben Adelman, they made a recording with lots of echo. And they had it pressed up by Starday and started to put it on the quote, quote, "Dixie" label. It's called "Goin' To The Races," the start of a Washington bluegrass tradition.
NNAMDIThe Country Gentlemen.
NNAMDIOkay. Where are we going next, Jay?
BRUDERWell, Kojo, go get back into the rock and roll mode. It's interesting that bluegrass and rock and roll, especially rockabilly, seem to draw off some of the same audiences. But in Washington, we had a real healthy black rock and roll scene. And one of them was a man who'd become very famous in the 1960s, Billy Stewart.
BRUDERBut in 1956, he was hanging out with Bo Diddley, who had a house on Rhode Island Avenue and all the groups that used to hang out there to record songs. And I'm going to play this a little bit backwards. You'll recognize the hit record, which is not Billy Stewart, because it's been a national hit and was in "Dirty..."
NNAMDIIt was a national hit in Guyana, South America, where I was.
BRUDEROkay. So it's an international hit and it's currently in a TV commercial. It was in the movie, "Dirty Dancing." And then I'm going to play a song called "Billy's Blues," which is Billy's original version.
NNAMDIBut we will start with the big international hit first.
NNAMDINow, when I was a kid, this was Mickey & Sylvia.
BRUDERMickey & Sylvia.
NNAMDIWe assumed that Mickey & Sylvia were, well, a married couple, but they were not.
BRUDERNo. It was Mickey Baker and his little protégé, Sylvia Robinson. And there's a long story, which I won't go into. But the bottom line is, he heard Billy Stewart with Bo Diddley's band and Jody Williams, a very talented guitar player. Billy and Jody spent the summer of 1955, when that Rainbows record was breaking, they spent that summer coming with a new guitar link. And here is what they came up with, "Billy's Blues."
NNAMDIThat's the same lick, but that explains the answer.
BRUDERThat's the lick. And there was a suit. And apparently Bo Diddley took charge of the suit and settled out of court.
NNAMDIThere was a lawsuit and then Billy Stewart, of course, went on to greater things before his tragic death.
BRUDER"Summertime" and "Walking in the Park" and...
NNAMDIWay too young, ultimately.
BRUDERYou know, we could do so much more. But let's do one more thing. You remember I played "I cried Holy" by the Progressive Four, that very nice gospel record we played early on? The second lead voice was a man named Harmon Bethea. And after he'd been around a long time, about December 1966, he took a song -- and it had been out in '61 as kind of a teenage rock and roll song and he turned it into somewhat of a civil rights commentary. And Harmon had an incredibly great sense of humor. So this is Harmon Bethea as Mask Man and the Agents.
BRUDERAnd the Agents. I remember that name, Mask Man and the Agents.
BRUDERAnd do you remember? This song was called "Roaches." And they came on the Bob King TV show and they had those little bug sprayers with the can screwed on the bottom and the pumps. And they used to go around dancing with the bug sprayers.
NNAMDIHere's the song, "Roaches."
NNAMDI"Roaches," The Mask Man and the Agents. What a fascinating history. A lot of you have been waiting to talk with Jay Bruder, so let's get to it. Here's Bob in Wheaton, Md. Bob, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BOBWhat a great subject. I'm enjoying this. And I never thought I would hear the name Dick Willard (sp?) on the radio again. That was doing in the...
NNAMDIDick Willard, my man.
BOBThe middle seventies on WMFD. And then they unceremoniously dragged the tone arm across a Jerry Lee Lewis record and they became WMZQ. But after listening to Dick Willard, it was never the same. Can you play a late, great tune for us?
BRUDERNot -- not today. But that's really easy. Sunday night at 7:00 on 105.5, bluegrasscountry.org.
BOBI'll be there.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. On to Henry in Washington D.C. Henry, your turn.
HENRYWhat a great show. This may be a little bit out of the genre but the punk scene in the sixties and seventies, I'm sure there -- was recording a lot of records. I'm thinking of Fugazi, Brendan Canty. There's a fabulous following for a documentary that's being done. I know Sam Levan (sp?) is working on it with a group. And I went to one of their showings and it was packed with guys -- people 50, 60 years old in Washington who still feast on this music. Can you talk to us a little bit about your -- with punk (unintelligible).
BRUDERYeah. And what I would say is punk is the one community where I'm very heartened that the community has paid attention to its own musical history. "Dance of Days" is a wonderful photographic book. All the labels like Dischord and Wasp and all of those labels have really preserved their history. So that's the one place where I'm heartened to know that this stuff is going to be properly preserved.
NNAMDIAnd something we discuss quite a lot on this show. Here is Duncan in Baltimore, Md. Hi, Duncan.
DUNCANHi, Kojo. Tremendous show. I dropped in about half way and heard some jump blues. And trust me, I'm going to be reviewing your -- hopefully you've got this online for me to review and take some notes.
BRUDERAnd then I'll be redoing all these songs on Sunday night.
DUNCANExcellent. Again, you caught my attention with the jump blues. But I want to mention some local bands from the eighties, when I used to go see shows around Washington. Trouble Funk put on some of the best shows I ever saw.
DUNCANDown at the 9:30 Club, the band called The Good Guys out of northern Virginia. The old Roxy, Uptown Rhythm Kings put on a heck of a show. Butthole Surfers, you talking about punk. The D.C. music scene was tremendous in the eighties.
NNAMDIAnd that's one of the things we talked about for the whole show. But we're running out of time very quickly. And before we go, Jay Bruder, tell us a little bit about Little Willie Hickerson.
BRUDERLittle Willie was Frank Motley's original tenor sax player. He had a routine where he used to start in his tuxedo and end up in his boxer shorts and wingtips as he was blowing the closing solo. In 1955 he got up to a record company in New York called the Jaguar Company. And his signature piece is "Blow Little Willie, Blow."
NNAMDIAnd blow Little Willie, as he said, blow.
NNAMDII'm afraid that's all the time we have. Jay Bruder is the host of The Hometown Special on WAMU's Bluegrass Country. You can hear more of this music here -- there at 7:00 Sunday night.
BRUDERSeven o'clock Sunday night, 105.5 FM, 93.5 up in Frederick and Hagerstown. Streaming around the world on bluegrasscountry.org.
NNAMDIAnd you can find the playlist at our website, kojoshow.org. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
Most Recent Shows
The author talks about writing, his ties to the region and literacy advocacy.
Kojo explores how much input the public should have in public art projects and how that squares with the visions of the artists who do the work.
The Arlington County Board halted two long-planned, but long-controversial streetcar projects, saying voters had spoken this month against moving forward. We examine the implications of the decision.