Zero to 180 – Three Minute Magic

Discoveries of a Pop Music Archaeologist

“C Jam Blues”: From the Father of Hillbilly Jazz

I had a nice laugh when I realized that this fiery little instrumental in the key of C was, indeed, not the world’s first waltz to be played outside of 3/4 time but instead an error in the track listing on the album jacket.  Thus, despite this song being listed as “Gravy Waltz,” I’m pretty certain this is actually the next track in the album’s running order – the jazz standard, “C Jam Blues” by Duke Ellington:

This track comes from 1974’s double album, Hillbilly Jazz, by the “Father of Hillbilly Jazz” himself, Vassar Clements — who first appeared on the Grand Ole Opry in 1949 fiddling with Bill Monroe — joined by D.J. Fontana on drums, Doug Jernigan on steel guitar, David Bromberg on guitar, and other musical friends.

Hillbilly Jazz LP

Vassar Clements:  Fiddle, Viola & Vocals
D.J. Fontana:  Drums
Doug Jernigan:  Steel Guitar, Resonator Guitar
David Bromberg:  Guitar
Michael Melford:  Guitar, Mandolin & Piano
Ellis Padgett:  String Bass
Kenneth Smith:  Electric Bass
Benny Kennerson:  Piano
Gordon Terry:  Vocals

Hillbilly Jazz was issued on Flying Fish; Margie Barnett’s profile of the ‘up and coming’ indie label for Record World‘s April 8, 1978 edition — “Flying Fish:  Broadening the Appeal of ‘Folk’ Artists” — includes this related passage:

One of the characteristics of the records we put out is a prolonged life span in sales, reports [president/owner, Bruce] Kaplan.  “We have albums four years old that still sell 700-1,000 copies per month.  The sales seem to level off the second or third year and keep going at a steady rate.”  The best selling album is Hillbilly Jazz by Vassar Clements and David Bromberg, one of the first LPs released by Flying Fish.

While Clements’ music mostly enjoyed release on independent, folk-oriented labels (Rounder, Old Homestead, Mind Dust, Flying Fish), Vassar did manage to release a few 45s on a couple major labels of note:

Vassar Mercury 45 IVassar Mercury 45 IIVassar MCA 45aVassar MCA 45b

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