I’m back in the office today. The real one that is…not my basement one. That means, time to block out all extraneous bullshit going around me with some sweet YouTube tunage, beginning with the ‘The Backbone of America is a Mule & Cotton‘ album by American multi-instrumentalist Abner Jay (click HERE).
I know what you’re thinking, “where in the fuck do you find this music?”
What can I say?
I love it all…mostly. I take notes, I get curious and then I go digging. What’s the worst that can happen? Sometimes it’s ‘meh‘, other times it completely blows (click HERE) but more often than not, I’m usually impressed and/or intrigued which inspires me to keep digging. My it was this incessant digging into early grassroots Americana music that, ultimately, brought me to Abner Jay.
I’m choosing to label it as “Americana” because, really, I don’t know what else to call it.
Jay was born in Fitzgerald, Georgia in 1921 and both his father and grandfather were slaves in Washington County. His grandfather was also a banjo player and imparted a vast repertoire of old-time and folk songs to Abner. Jay began playing in medicine shows at the age of 5 and in 1932 joined the Silas Green from New Orleans Minstrel Show. Jay went on to lead the WMAZ Minstrels on Macon radio from 1946–56 before going solo and then spent many years traveling the American South and playing concerts from his “converted mobile home that opened up into a portable stage, complete with amplification and home furnishings”. That must have been a site to see. These concerts, as evidenced in his recordings, were often equal parts spoken word (jokes, philosophical asides, rants) and eccentric, blues infused folk music. In essence, the dude was a one man band and this album captures some of that dynamism.
Common instruments on Jay’s recordings include harmonica, drum kit, a six-string banjo (that Jay claimed was made in 1748), and the “bones”, which were basically chicken and cow bones that had been bleached in the sun and used to create percussion. Jay’s song repertoire included field songs, Pentecostal hymns and minstrel tunes. He once described himself as the “last working Southern black minstrel”, and in a self-penned leaflet handed out at concerts, he expanded on his biography with claims that he was the “World’s Champion Cotton Picker and Pea Picker, World’s Fastest Tobacco Crapper, World’s Greatest Jaw Bone Player, World’s Fastest Mule Skinner… THE WORLD’S WORSE BUSINESS MAN”.
That’s a hell of a business card.
He also performed original material that was mostly secular, and subjects ranged from politics, relationships, war, the bible, the 1969 moon landing, ethnomusicology, Southern culture and depression. Really, nothing was beyond his scope to sing about. In later years he held a residency, playing shows and selling his LP’s and cassette tapes at Tom Flynn’s Plantation Restaurant in Stone Mountain, Georgia before dying in 1993, and being buried at Rock Hill C.M.E. Church Cemetery, Jacksonville, Georgia.
This album (one of his last) was released in 1976 and compromises of many of the types of songs identified above. The album contains approximately 16 songs; however they are all more or less strung together so at times it is very difficult to tell where one song ends and another begins as all are anchored with one or two beats. Likely, this wasn’t much different than any of Jay’s live performances anyway.
What else is there to say?
It’s a chaotic recording for a chaotic beginning of a chaotic day here at Corporate Hell.