It's not difficult to master, but it is fun to play, holds quite a lot of interest for both band and audience, and lends itself to effective improvisations on easy chord sequences.
It was the pianist / music entrepreneur Clarence Williams who composed the piece (with Agnes Castleton adding words) in 1927. And he recorded it in New York in April that year. Playing as his Washboard Five, he used the following from his pool of many musicians: Ed Allen on cornet, Buster Bailey on clarinet, Cyrus St. Clair on brass bass, Floyd Casey on washboard and himself on piano. You can listen to that famous recording BY CLICKING HERE.
The tune is played in Eb, though some later bands modulate into Ab for the final theme.
It opens with an 8-bar Introduction of ladder-climbing semi-tones.
Then comes Theme A (very simple because it uses a standard 12-bar blues chord sequence). The pretty little triplet riffs are best played on a clarinet, with a (muted) cornet backing in the even-numbered bars.
This is followed by Theme B which consists of 24 bars. The chord sequence is again virtually the standard blues changes, but spread (by doubling all bars) over the 24 bars. This theme has a stately melody best played on a trombone or tuba or a clarinet in its chalumeau register, with other instruments (e.g., a muted cornet again) providing some pretty decoration.
Usually Theme B is played twice before Theme A is repeated.
Then there is a 4-bar Bridge leading into Theme C. This offers a very simple riffy 16 bars (8 + 8) using one of the most familiar of all chord sequences, known to jazzers as the Salty Dog Chord Progression: VI7 | II7 | V7 | I. It lends itself to a Break on Bars 7 and 8.
Bands tend to stick on this theme with various improvisations. When they have had enough, they go into the 4-bar Coda, which (unusually) begins with 3 bars played by the washboard alone, with the full band joining in on the final bar.
So: there's plenty of fun to be had.
And if you would like to hear a version with the full vocal, try the one recorded by Sara Martin. It's on YouTube.
|At the piano: Clarence Williams|
My book Playing Traditional Jazz is available from Amazon.