More than Meats the Eye

By Joel Okida

Sausage_Grinder_-_Delicious_MomentsSex, drugs, and rock and roll. Yes, they’ve been around for a long, long time. Ian Dury wrote a song about the lifestyle. Eric Bogosian did a one-man show on it. Too many hair bands have worn it on their sleeve or inked it on their ____ (fill in the first thing that comes to mind). But back when hooch, a snort of stardust, and carnal pleasures, were sold under the counter, down the alley, on the wrong side of the tracks, and in the back seat, songs about said vices were sung with a very thin negligee of metaphor and without the help from high definition video accompaniment. Because of strict censorship, there was a thing called imagination (read: dirty mind) which made this music titillate ones cerebellum as it traversed the tenderloin district.

At long last, local irreverent, old timey, blues, hillbilly ‘jass’ and ragtime restoration band, Sausage Grinder, helps resurrect the aforementioned subject matter and adjusts the slogan, making it palatable for the nostalgic and the serious vintage popular music aficionado. For the great unwashed, for those living lives of quiet desperation, and for those longing for those glorious years when poetic license could slip a sly remark in the window thru innuendo, Sausage Grinder cranks out their first recording, Delicious Moments. And by doing so, they have eliminated those grossly overused words of the slogan and bring you---- that’s right: Sex, Drugs and Jug Band music. Besides, with a name like Sausage Grinder, what do you expect? These juicy red hots aren’t about knackwurst… well, don’t go there. Let’s just say that they aim to scatter a fair sampling of the scatological with spot on musical embellishment.

In essence, the band covers race music from the 1920s and 30s: hokum, rags, and struts; more specifically the ‘blue’ in African American blues tunes of the era. It’s all performed completely unabashed, with wide-eyed winks, a squeeze here and a naughty nudge there. The one original tune, Why Do I Have to Bend Over, written by vocalist and banjo player, Bobby Reed, as you might imagine, is not at all out of place with the other classic offerings of risqué musings.

Because of the subject matter, there is always the risk of leaning heavily on the novelty aspect, which is certainly part of the hook of the song and the popularity of such music then and the burgeoning interest, now. But the band also demonstrates the skill and technique required for each selection and the genre(s) represented. The arrangements reflect the instrumentation and strengths of the band members. In other words, where songs may have originally been written for or performed by piano, orchestra, or string band, Sausage Grinder gets a strong lead from David Bragger’s fiddle and plenty of guitar, banjo, banjo-uke, mandolin, harmonica and jug blowing to take charge of any given tune. They’re gritty and witty, thank you.

Back in the early 1930s, “Banjo” Ikey Robinson wrote My Four Reasons and Frankie ‘Half-Pint’ Jaxon, a female impersonator animatedly sang this song with boyish glee. Here, Reed gives it a gruff ‘manly’ bellow and the band swings it hard and fast. Who knows what could happen in the live rendition though?

With Fourth Street Mess Around, a hit for the Memphis Jug Band back in 1930, and a popular old time staple in recent times, vocalist Chris Berry sings it straight-faced while fiddler, Bragger, plays it with serpentine phrasing, a hint of the Far East coiling in the middle of Berry’s lead vocals while the chorus of Reed and Margie Royall chime in at opposite ends of the octave scale. The expressive growl of Reed should be mentioned as it adds a splash of the hard stuff to his turns at the mic especially here, in his own, Why Do I have to Bend Over?, and the final cut, Tapping That Thing.

Little Brother Montgomery, the great barrel house piano player wrote Good Grinding, and here the rolling keyboard is substituted by the fiddle, harmonica, and Royall’s urgent vocals which praise a certain act with no degree of uncertainty. Did we mention there’s a double entendre or two or fifteen in these song selections?

You low down alligator

just watch me sooner or later

gonna catch you with your britches down.

Written by “Georgia” Tom Dorsey, Black Eye Blues, was a hit for Ma Rainey and featured the slide guitar of Tampa Red back in the day. Vocalist Royall is no Ma Rainey, but then again no one was then or is today; however, the song is served up with no less swagger from Royall and more fine fiddling from Bragger.

The instrumental, Peacock Rag allows for some fierce ensemble playing from guitar (Berry), banjo (Reed), and Bragger’s fiddle; all in different tunings.

The farewell lament, Black Mattie, written by Sleepy John Estes, is a good example of the ‘cryin’ blues which Estes might have experienced a time or two living in Brownsville Tennessee after the turn of the century. Life ain’t worth living without the one you love, confesses Berry and the band echoes this sentiment with the music drippin’ with sorrow.

There’s no beating around the ‘bush’ or much pretense at all with the old Mighty Mezz chestnut, If You’se a Viper, by Stuff Smith. It gets the guttural lecture from Reed as if Satchmo dropped in for a vocal possession.

I'm the king of everything.

I've got to be high before I can swing.

Light a tea and let it be.

If you'se a viper.

This homage to the oft associated drug of the Jazz Age, takes a jaunty ride, slowed down from the original Stuff Smith version.

The ensemble gets on a upbeat country roll with the Deep Ellum Blues. This traditional tune identifies where daddy goes for that itch, and lists the many warnings about stopping in Deep Ellum, long ago, a red-light district outside of Dallas, Texas. That country fiddlin’ of Bragger never lets up and a good time appears to be had by Berry and others on vocals. Although it’s not listed, Matt Orkin is the assumed mandolin picker on this. It’s ratcheted up a notch or two more than most of those Jerry Garcia versions, if you’re wondering.

I’m Gonna Bake My Biscuits and Tapping That Thing deliver the salacious goods without much doubt as to what the subject matter might be. Royall gives an earthy declaratory vocal to the Memphis Minnie classic and we believe she will definitely get her baking done in a timely manner. Reed’s emphatic performance of Yank Rachell’s Tapping That Thing, is a wild admission of a certain activity which the band jumps on and wrings out with harmonica, mandolin licks, and the fiddle in hot pursuit.

Like many a musical ensemble, a personal experience with Sausage Grinder can’t be beat, but if you want an introduction and a sampling of some of an earlier era’s clever musical interpretations of naughty proclivities, i.e., a bite of the bawdy, a roar of the ribald, and a toke of the tea, well then grab you some old time jug band music right here! There are many Delicious Moments for your arousal.  Even if you’se not a viper.

Joel Okida is a struggling artist, struggling writer, and struggling musician. It occurs to him that life is all about the struggle. Fortunately, he did not take up acting. However, he's not half-bad as a zydeco dancer and the ability to make a mean gumbo and lovely walnut tortes has gotten him by.