Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Harlem Hamfats – Let’s Get Drunk and Truck

As the liner notes to this CD says, the Hamfats have been overlooked throughout the years, most likely due to the fact that they are not easy to pin down. Their music is a mix of Dixieland jazz, Swing and urban blues, among other sounds. Most likely known now due to guitarist/singer Joe McCoy, one time husband to Memphis Minnie, the band was formed by trumpeter Herb Morand, along with Joe’s brother Charlie on guitar and mandolin, Odell Rand on clarinet, Horace Malcolm on piano, and rhythm section of Pearlis Williams and John Lindsay on drums and stand up bass, respectively.

Initially created as a back up band for Decca’s roster, the group recorded pre-R&B hits of their own with the title track as well as “Oh!Red”. They recorded over 80 sides within 3 years and this collection gives a general overview of their style.

Opening with the bouncing Dixieland swing of “Oh!Red”, you know right away that you’re getting good-time music that kinda mixes Louis Armstrong with Louis Jordan! This continues with “What You Gonna Do?”, the lascivious “Let’s Get Drunk and Truck” (nice boogie piano work by Malcolm), and McCoy’s more traditional “Southern Blues” (fine guitar work, presumably by Joe). “The Garbage Man” (shades of the Cramps!) pre-dates Louis Jordan by several years, but is very similar in style, down to the call’n’response  vocals and swingin’ rhythms. The boogie through “My Daddy Was a Lovin’ Man” and the instrumental “Hamfat Swing” (Hamfat was a slang term for poor players), trading off the horn section and mandolin on the melody and eventually incorporating everyone in this fun dance number. The horns imitate the “Growling Dogs” of the title, and again, everyone gets a chance to work with the melody. An in-joke, “Hallelujah Joe Ain’t Preachin’ No More” is a jab at Joe McCoy, who cut some gospel tracks as Preacher Joe, done with some very Louis Armstrong-styled vocals.  Another instrumental, “Jam Jamboree” (apparently a “jam session”) precedes the pre-rock’n’roll “We Gonna Pitch a Boogie Woogie”. They continue to boogie-woogie in “Tempo Di Bucket”, then slow it down for the bluesy “Black Gal You Better Use Your Head” before finishing up with the infectious melody and rhythms of the oddly named “Root Hog or Die”.

Really fun stuff here – quite enjoyable Dixieland-styled pre-rock’n’roll swing. Dig it!