Will Shade

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Will Shade
Will Shade.jpg
Background information
Birth name William Shade Jr.
Also known as Son Brimmer
Born (1898-02-05)February 5, 1898
Origin Memphis, Tennessee, United States
Died September 18, 1966(1966-09-18) (aged 68)
Memphis, Tennessee
Genres Memphis blues
Instruments Vocals, guitar, harmonica, and bullfiddle (washtub bass).
Years active 1927–1966
Labels Victor Records (1927-1930)
Champion-Gennett (1932)
Okeh Records (1934)

Will Shade (February 5, 1898 – September 18, 1966)[1] was an African American Memphis blues musician, best known for his leadership of the Memphis Jug Band. Shade was commonly called Son Brimmer, a nickname from his grandmother Annie Brimmer, because "son" is short for "grandson". The name apparently stuck when other members of the band noticed that the "sun" bothered him and he used the "brim" of a hat to "shade" his eyes.[2]

Early life[edit]

William Shade Jr. was born February 1898 in Tennessee to William Shade and Mary Shade (née Hardy). Mary was fourteen years old when she had William. After her husband's death from a gunshot wound in 1903, Mary married a member of the Banks family, but by 1920 she was living as a widow once again. Shade had two half brothers, Henry Banks and Robert Banks. He credited his mother with teaching him how to play harmonica, his first instrument. The genealogy of Shade is being investigated by genealogist Dennis Richmond Jr.[citation needed]


Shade got his first taste of jug band music in 1925 when he first heard recordings by the Dixieland Jug Blowers, a jug band from Louisville, Kentucky. Shade was excited by what he heard and felt that bringing this style of music to his hometown of Memphis, Tennessee,[1] could be promising. He then convinced a few of the local musicians, though still reluctant, to join him in creating one of Memphis's first jug bands.

The original Memphis Jug Band, as it was called, consisted of three other members besides Shade: Lionhouse, whom Shade converted from a whiskey bottle blower to a jug blower; Tee Wee Blackman on guitar; and Ben Ramey on kazoo.[3] Shade himself played the guitar, the "bullfiddle" or washtub bass, and the harmonica, the instrument on which he was most influential.[4] His pure country blues harmonica style served as the foundation for later renowned harmonicists like Big Walter Horton and both Sonny Boy Williamson the original and number two, and Charlie Musselwhite credits him as a mentor. He composed many of the band's songs and sang lead vocal on a handful of their recordings. His distinctive guitar style has also been identified as that of the uncredited accompanist, who backed up the Sanctified Church gospel singer Bessie Johnson on record.

The Memphis Jug Band had a fluid membership during the nearly 40 years that it was active, recording under a number of names and in a variety of styles ranging from blues and rags to gospel.[4] All the while, though, Shade was the backbone of the group, as he was the one responsible for finding new members to keep the band going. While the group performed a combination of traditional and original material, Shade tried, whenever possible, to copyright his music under his name. Besides being the head of the band's music, Shade was also in charge of the business affairs of the Memphis Jug Band, planning gigs and distributing money.[4]

At the band's peak, Shade worked on a weekly retainer with Victor records, and was able to buy a house with his wife, the singer Jennie Mae Clayton, and buy $3000 worth of stock in Victor. However, he lost both the stock and the house shortly after the Great Depression began in 1929.[5]

The band's visibility declined in the mid-1930s due to the overall decline in commercial recordings, a shift in musical taste toward more urbane swing music, and the extent of violence occurring in Memphis. However, blues revivalists found Shade and his old cohorts still playing together into the early 1960s and released several field recordings under the Memphis Jug Band name. The band during this period usually included Shade's long time friend Charlie Burse, whom Shade had picked up in 1928 as a vocalist and tenor guitarist, and sometimes included old rival Gus Cannon.[4] Shade also appeared as an accompanist on Cannon's "comeback" album, Walk Right In, recorded by Stax Records in 1963.

Will Shade's gravestone, Memphis, 2008

Shade died of pneumonia,[1] at John Gaston Hospital, Memphis, in 1966, aged 68, and was buried in Shelby County Cemetery. The fact that this is a public cemetery, and full of unmarked graves,[6] reveals the poverty that Shade faced in his later years. However, in 2008 a group of musicians based at the Old Town School of Folk Music held a fundraiser and purchased a headstone for Shade's grave. The same group sponsored a "brass note" on the Beale Street walk of fame, dedicated on August 1, 2009. Will Shade and his Memphis Jug Band was the first jug band to receive this honor.


Between 1927 and 1934, the Memphis Jug Band recorded nearly 100 sides, making it the most recorded of the pre-war jug bands. In the first four years alone, Shade and his band members recorded at least 60 songs with Victor Records. Over time, the band's style moved to a jazzier beat, as seen in the final 1934 recordings.[4] Famous singles by the band include the "Lindberg Hop", "On the Road Again", "Newport News Blues," "K.C. Moan," and "Stealin' Stealin'".

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Doc Rock. "The 1960s". The Dead Rock Stars Club. Retrieved 2015-10-06. 
  2. ^ https://web.archive.org/20071011112540/http://www.mmguide.musicmatch.com/artist/artist.cgi?ARTISTID=720543&TMPL=LONG. Archived from the original on October 11, 2007. Retrieved October 24, 2007.  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  3. ^ "Memphis Jug Band". Taco.com. Retrieved 2015-10-06. 
  4. ^ a b c d e "Memphis Jug Band - Will Shade". Thebluestrail.com. Retrieved November 19, 2011. 
  5. ^ Charters, Samuel. The Blues Makers, Da Capo Press, part II, p. 22, 1991, ISBN 0-306-80438-7
  6. ^ "Will Shade's grave". Maps.google.com. Retrieved 2015-10-06. 

External links[edit]