Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Sounds of Virginia: Roanoke Jug Band


Each time I visit Roanoke I stop in at the amazing Virginia Museum of Transportation. The museum is located adjacent to the original Norfolk & Western (now Norfolk Southern) Roanoke Works. The N&W was known across the country for its steam locomotives, and the Roanoke Works, with its thousands of employees, designed, built and maintained their famous A, J, and Y6 class locomotives. In fact, long after most railroads had turned to diesel-electric for locomotion the N&W stayed true to steam and continued to build new locomotives at the Roanoke Works until 1953.

The railroad and the coal that it hauled made Roanoke attractive to manufacturers and the area became a major manufacturing center. In 1917 American Viscose built a large rayon fiber plant in Southeast Roanoke. At its peak the plant employed over 5,000 workers.

The Roanoke Jug Band was formed primarily by employees at the American Viscose rayon plant. During the work week they toiled as machinists, carpenters, and other tradesmen, but come the weekend they were playing at the dance halls and square dances throughout the city. The Roanoke Jug Band were: Ray Barger (guitar), Mahon Overstreet (guitar), Clyde Dooley (banjo), Walter Keith (banjo), Billy Altizer (fiddle), and Richard Mitchell (banjo-mandolin). Notice that there was not one jug blower listed! The band used the name for its novelty effect. For each show they would place a jug on the stage. One would assume that they had passed that jug amongst themselves backstage before the show.

The Roanoke Jug Band performed at dances, civic events, and also on Roanokeā€™s WDBJ radio station. In 1929 they were invited to ride on one of those N&W trains to Richmond for a recording session with Okeh Records. It was their first time playing more than fifty miles from Roanoke. The session yielded four sides, all of which were issued by Okeh.

The Roanoke Jug Band returned to their day jobs and weekend gigs in Roanoke and continued to play well into the Great Depression. Roanoke, because of its large industrial base, was not as hard hit as other areas during the Depression. In fact it was increasing hours at work, and the need to spend some time with family that finally forced the members to disband. A sentiment I am all too familiar with lately.

The Digital Library of Appalachia has some wonderful interviews with Ray Barger recorded in 1977, click here for the list.

Roanoke Jug Band - Johnny Lover.mp3
A dance tune complete with calls.

Roanoke Jug Band - Triangle Blues.mp3
A lively little number.

4 Comments:

Blogger Black Dog said...

Mornin' ED, You're the roanoke star and if I say so myself Virginia's favorite son. The latest articles are terrific. Glad to see you found the good medicine tune to get history rolling again on the Blue Line.
Have a fine day.

all thoughts fly... k.

October 04, 2007 3:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for such interesting shares.

October 04, 2007 4:02 AM  
Anonymous Dan said...

As I listen, I try to picture being part of the audience when these gentlemen played live, or on the radio. Everyone had to have been tapping their toes. It would have been impossible not to. If only film footage was available!

October 04, 2007 6:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Speaking of toe tapping, the recording engineer allegedly wrapped towels around the feet of some of the Roanoke Jug Band members to keep their foot stomps from being heard!

October 05, 2007 10:33 AM  

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