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10 May 2017


I put up on YouTube a video of Tuba Skinny playing Mother's Son-in-Law at the 2015 French Quarter Festival. To watch it:

You don't have to have a hanker
To be a broker or a banker.
No sir-ee, just simply be
My mother's son-in-law.
Needn't even think of trying
To be a mighty social lion
Sipping tea, if you will be
My mother's son-in-law.
Not got the least desire
To set the world on fire.
Just wish you'd make it proper
To call my old man 'poppa'.
You don't have to sing like Bledsoe*
And you can tell the world I said so.
Can't you see you've got to be
My mother's son-in-law?

(* Jules Bledsoe - a famous Afro-American singer and the original performer of Ol' Man River - was 36 years old at the time when My Mother's Son-in-Law was written.)

The song was composed by Alberta Nichols, who had studied piano at the Louisville Conservatory. The lyrics were written by her husband, Mann Holiner. As a partnership, they wrote over 100 songs, mainly for Broadway shows. Alberta died in 1957.

The song can be performed either as My Mother's Son-in-Law or Your Mother's Son-in-Law - according to the gender of the singer.

When they recorded it for their Garbage Man CD in 2011, Tuba Skinny played a vigorous version in which Kiowa Wells, their guitarist at the time, featured prominently. They played the song in keys that some Bb instrument players would consider tricky, starting with several choruses (including one vocal from Erika) in E minor and then switching to A minor for the finish - with Erika singing the words for the final part of the Chorus.

Watching again my video of Tuba Skinny playing the song at the French Quarter Festival in April 2015, I was struck first by the amazing energy and drive of the performance. But I then noticed it had moved on a bit since the 2011 recording. Obviously Kiowa was no longer with the band and greater prominence was given to all the other instruments, Shaye being especially busy. But more than that: I noticed that we now had not one key change, but TWO, each preceded by a 4-bar Bridge. The band started in G minor and then followed the 2011 structure by going into E minor (including a vocal) and ending (after Robin's solo) in A minor (with Erika singing in that key too). It's a truly invigorating performance.

I then checked out Billie Holiday's recording from 1933 (available on YouTube). Sure enough, her performance also went though the keys G minor, E minor and A minor - in that order. So I guess Tuba Skinny took their inspiration from that recording.

By the way, my friend Tony Harris (guitarist) has introduced me to another song that has a similar mood and theme. It is called It's All Your Fault and was composed by Cindy Walker in 1941. Cindy was a good composer and deserves to be better known. This (click on) is a version worth listening to.