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Jug Band Pioneer Will Shade Honored With Grave Marker


Early twentieth-century Memphis musician Will Shade slipped into obscurity after a prolific recording career in the 1930s, and then into an unmarked hole in the ground following his death in 1966.

Shade's music with the Memphis Jug Band -- an outfit that featured homemade instruments like the jug, washtub bass, washboard, and comb in addition to guitar, banjo, harmonica, and kazoo -- sounds archaic by today's standards, but in their heyday of the late '20s and early '30s they celebrated the wild and wooly life on Beale Street, singing the joys and darkness of booze, voodoo, and legal cocaine.

An eclectic group of fans attired in bowler hats, vintage ties, and flapper gowns gathered at the Shelby County Cemetery last Saturday morning to pay Shade tribute and dedicate the new monument that marks Shade's grave. Chicagoan Arlo Leach led a fund-drive to purchase the stone and emceed the tribute.

After a few words of remembrance, the celebrants broke out their harmonicas, jugs, guitars, kazoos, and mandolins and regaled Shade's spirit with a few of his compositions, improvising verses to commemorate their affection for Shade or the day's occasion.

Following the jam, a toast was proposed, and cups of brandy (Shade's poison, so to speak) circulated. Celebrants drank and spilled shots on Shade's stone that evaporated quickly into the breeze.

University of Memphis ethnomusicologist David Evans summed up Shade's audience as "the movers and shakers in Memphis, as well as those who were moved and shaken."

--Preston Lauterbach

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