The Jesters

The Jesters, l. to r. Jerry Phillips, Billy Wulfers, Eddie Robertson, Teddy Paige

                The Jesters with Sam C. Phillips.

Jesters promo 45 with Jim Dickinson’s scrawled autograph.

“The best performances never get recorded, the best recordings never get released and the best records don’t sell”, so proclaimed the late Memphis musician/producer/philosopher Jim Dickinson the last time I saw him alive. Never was that adage so true than in Memphis where Dickinson plied his trade for four decades.
Today’s subject, a great Memphis garage band who called themselves The Jesters (not to be mistaken for the Jesters from Brooklyn who covered the Diablos’ The Wind, or or the Jim Messina led surf group, or Charley Pickett’s cousin Mark Markem & the Jesters who cut the all time classic Marlboro Country or any any of the other dozens of group who had previously used that name) are one of the greatest examples of said truism, even though they did release one of the greatest 45’s of the era, and the last great Sun record.
The aforementioned Jim Dickinson is of course, part of the story, since the Jesters’ only released platter was as much his record as theirs, although in fact the only time he ever played with the group on whose contribution to the pantheon of sides he sang and pounded piano, was the January 1966 day it was recorded at (the second) Sun Studio (639 Madison) in Memphis.
 I, as they say, digress.
  The Jesters were formed in 1964, led by guitarist Edaward LaPaiglia aka Teddy Paige, who had previously led a teenage aggression called the Church Keys, and was heavily into the ‘5’ Royales (then living in Memphis and recording for the Home Of The Blues label), Carl Perkins, Bo Diddley and Freddie King. Paige hooked up with singer Tommy Minga,  previously of the Escapades, and added rhythm guitarist Jerry Phillips, son of Sun Records Sam C. (and fresh from a stint as a fake midget wrestler), bassist Bill Wulfers and drummer Eddie Robertson in short order. Their set list was heavy on old blues, R&B and rockabilly tunes as well as originals, some  re-writes of classic R&B tunes, some quite unique, and short of British Invasion hits that were the staple on most local white groups at the time.
  At this time Jerry’s older brother Knox Phillips was pretty  much running the show at the much diminished Sun Records, Sam was disillusioned and bored with the record biz and preferred to concentrate on his radio stations, and Knox began recording the Jesters.  Tapes from two sessions with eleven tracks from the original band have survived,  as well as the two sides issue on 45, although these would not see release until the late 1980’s when they were first issued on Charley’s Sun: Into The 60’s box set and later in 2009 on the Ace/Big Beat CD Cadillac Men:The Sun Masters which added four Escapades tracks to fill out the CD.
 The sides with Tommy Minga singing are all first class, snot nosed, garage howlers–  What’s The Matter Baby, Get Gone Baby, Strange As it Seems, the original, Minga fronted version of Cadillac Man, a version of Bill Doggett’s Hold with added lyrics and retitled The Big Hurt, the ‘5’ Royales Slummer The Slum barely re-written as Stompity Stomp, as well as versions of Boppin’ The Blues, Night Train From Chicago, Heartbreak Hotel and the Bo Diddley cop– Jim Dandy and Sweet Sixteen would all fit perfectly on any volume of Back From The Grave (Crypt). Certainly had it been released at the time What’s The Matter Baby could have given the Standells, Shadows Of Night, Knickerbokers and other crude hitmakers of that year a run for their Beatle boots.
  How and why Tommy Minga’s voice was deemed unsuitable for issued wax is unclear, but once it was decided to bring Jim Dickinson in on piano and lead vocals, Cadillac Man was transformed into another creature all together. Rather than a snarling, Them/Rolling Stones styled garage rocker, it became a throw back to an earlier era at Sun, that of full throated screamers like Sonny Burgess and Billy Lee Riley. Sam Phillips was said to be highly excited by the possibilities, and secured Jim Dickinson (who had previously cut two singles under the tutelage of Sun alumni Bill Justis) contract release and put the band back in the studio to cut a b-side, a version of Little Walter’s My Babe (itself a version of Sister Rosette Tharpe’s version of the old gospel standard This Train). Cadillac Man b/w My Babe was issued by Sun in 1966 and died a quick death.  In a year (’66) that saw the Shadows of Night, 13th Floor Elevators and Standells hit the charts, the Dickinson led version of Cadillac Man had probably less commercial appeal than the material cut with Tommy Minga singing. It was also the beginning of the end for the Jesters. There would be no follow up. At some point they recorded a version of Smokey Robinson’s What So Good About Goodbye with Jimmy Day singing, but it too sat on the shelf for decades.
 The band, with Minga back in front, briefly resumed gigging, but soon fell apart. Lack of success had halted their forward motion, and when a rock’n’roll group is not moving forward, it is dying.
 By late ’66 it was over for the Jesters, Tommy Minga put together a new version of the Escapades. They released two singles I Tell No Lies (issued on both Arbert and XL) and Mad Mad Mad (Verve) both in late ’66. Teddy Paige played some sessions, ending up on discs by David Allen Coe and Cliff Jackson, left music to work construction and eventually relocated to the U.K where he was said to have taken to wandering around in medieval minstrel garb, complete with saber. He was briefly institutionalized in the nineties after a run in between said sword and a neighbor.  Jerry Phillips would find work at the family radio stations, the other two got real jobs.
  The Jesters were among the best and most unique garage bands in that peak year for garage band rock’n’roll. Paige’s guitar playing is especially noteworthy, he works in quotes from Lowman Pauling, Freddie King, and Bo Diddley, yet still retained a unique and biting sound. Tommy Minga too had his own style, having perfected the requisite ‘teenager with hard on who hates his parents’ delivery. Jim Dickinson would of course go on to long and colorful career, recapped after his 2009 death here. Had What’s The  Matter Baby been issued on 45, it may have been a hit, or sold so few copies that it would got for $500 on Ebay today, either way, the best sounds the Jesters left behind are among the best garage punk I’ve ever heard.

Pat Hare

Blues Unlimited on the road: Little Jr. Parker, standing (far left), Bobby “Blue” Bland, kneeling (far left), 
Pat Hare, standing (far right). South Carolina, 1952.

Clipping from St. Paul Dispatch, Dec. ’63 concerning Hare’s double murder.

Pat Hare (right) with James Cotton, 1959
Pat Hare: A mean little shit, Memphis, 1955.

Muddy Waters at Newport, 1960, Pat Hare on guitar (to Muddy’s right).

Pat Hare was born Auburn Hare, December 20, 1930 in Cherry Valley, Arkansas where he was raised by his grandmother on a plantation owned by a Mrs. Fay Van, he had had a brother who died at the age of six.
In 1940, the family moved to a farm near Parkin, Arkansas, and around the same time young Auburn, whose grandmother nicknamed him Pat, started playing guitar. In his teens he took lessons from Joe Willie Wilkins, who played in Sonny Boy Williamson (Rice Miller)’s band, appearing on Sonny Boy’s King Biscuit Flour radio show. He also fell in with Howlin’ Wolf, and played in Wolf’s band on weekends around the Forrest City/West Memphis area while still in his teens. He also played minor league baseball, and drove a “big John Deere tractor” on the farm.  He was already developing into something of a bad drunk, a mean little shit who at one time climbed up on a chair to punch Howlin’ Wolf who towered over him (and probably could have killed him bare handed had he retaliated).
Wolf took him back to his family and recommended they give him a whupping. There are other stories about young Pat Hare, it’s hard to tell which ones are true and which are exaggerations, athough there’s probably at least a kernel of truth to most of them– that he took a few shots a Wolf with a pistol, that he attacked a man with a rake, breaking his own finger in the process (one of his little fingers was bent and would remain so for the rest of his life).  Wolf kept him on, using him for his own radio show that broadcast from West Memphis’ KWEM, and Hare also appeared on the radio with James Cotton, Willie Nix, Joe Hill Louis and later on Memphis’ all black WDIA playing behind his cousin Walter Bradford.
  Pat Hare made his recording debut backing up Bradford on a session held at Sam C. Phillips’ Sun Studio in the spring of 1952. The record– Walter Bradford’s Dreary Nights b/w Nuthin’ But The Blues (Sun 176) is so rare that no one has actually ever seen a copy. Hare claimed to have played on several of Howlin’ Wolf’s RPM sides cut around the same time (the ones produced by Ike Turner and recorded at KWEM’s studio), but Wolf’s guitarist of the time Willie Johnson claims that he played on the sides in question. To my ears it sounds like Johnson, although their playing had many similarities. Both musicians could play complicated jazzy leads which would be followed up by crude, violent fills and chord crashes. Both used an extremely distorted tone (in day and age well before the invention of foot pedals and distortion boxes which are standard fare for any guitarist for the last forty years).  Pat Hare had left Howlin’ Wolf’s band (or more likely, was fired) in 1952, and it was then he joined up with Little Junior Parker’s band, staying with them until April of ’53. Parker shared his band with Bobby “Blue” Bland, and they toured together as “Blues Unlimited”. When not touring, he would return to the family farm, and play around Memphis working with various musicians including Johnny Ace, Rosco Gordon, Ike Turner, and James Cotton whose band became his most regular gig of the time. He also became the favorite session guitarist of producer Sam Phillips who had just opened his studio on the corner of Union and Marshall in Memphis and was leasing tunes to RPM in Hollywood and Chess in Chicago, and then releasing them on his own Sun label. Hare appeared on sides by Rosco Gordon, Little Junior Parker (including this one which appeared on Duke– Sittin’ Drinkin and Thinkin’), Walter Horton, Big Memphis Ma Rainey, Kenneth Banks and others. One of the greatest thrills for young Pat Hare however was getting to play with one of his musical heroes– Memphis Minnie who had retired to Memphis and  whom Hare backed at a Memphis gig one weekend in 1953.
At Sun he appeared two early James Cotton singles, which in retrospect, would be the greatest recordings ever issued under Cotton’s name– My Baby b/w Straighten Up Baby (Sun 199) and Cotton Crop Blues b/w Hold Me In Your Arms (Sun 206). What  made these discs so special was Hare’s demonically, distorted guitar attack, it sounded as if  his strings were made of barbed wire, most especially on Cotton Crop Blues.
Another excellent session for Sun was led by harmonica player Coy “Hot Shot” Love. It would produce another disc of singular greatness– Wolf Call Boogie b/w Harmonica Jam (Sun 196).  Here’s an alternate take of Wolf Call Boogie for those who prefer to lead an alternative lifestyle.
In May of ’54, Sam Phillips decided to record Pat Hare under his own name. James Cotton was scheduled to play harmonica on the session but the two got into a fist fight that day, and Cotton disappeared. Instead, Hare is backed up by Israel Franklin on bass and Billy Love on piano on the two tunes.  The first is a monstrous reading of Dr. Clayton’s Cheatin’ & Lyin’ Blues, re-titled on the tape box I’m Gonna Murder My Baby, it was and still is, one of the most foreboding and ominous recordings in the entire blues canon, along with Bonus Pay which is actually a cover of Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson’s Ain’t Gonna Be That Way.  Phillips chose not to release Hare’s disc which would not be heard until it slipped out on a bootleg on the Redita label in 1976, and later appeared on Charley Records’ Sun Blues Box in the eighties. I paraphrase the late, great, Memphis institution Jim Dickinson– “the best performances don’t get recorded, the best recordings don’t get released, the best releases don’t get heard”. However, like, say Robert Johnson (whose first LP, issued twenty four years after his death sold only a few thousand copies in the first few years on the market, but by the late 80’s would become a platinum, million selling, box set) the few who heard I’m Gonna Murder My Baby knew it was something special and they all told someone else who told someone else and eventually it would become something of an underground blues hit amongst hardcore fans and collectors. Perhaps helped along by the way history would play itself out.
  Meanwhile, Pat Hare had become a full time musician, and he would appear on many other discs, most notably Bobby “Blue” Bland’s hit Further Up The Road (Duke 170) where his guitar is featured prominently and Little Junior Parker’s I Wanna Ramble (Duke 137), one of his best discs, Hare adds his own unique attack to a riff developed by Floyd Murphy on Parker’s earlier Sun recordings Mystery Train and Love My Baby. Hare went back on the road with the Blues Unlimited tour until Bland fired him sometime in 1957. It was the same year that James Cotton, who had joined Muddy Waters’ band brought Pat to Chicago to replace Jimmy Rogers in, what was known to their contemporaries as Muddy Waters’ Drunk Assed Band. He would play with Waters for the next few years, appearing on the Muddy Waters Live At Newport and Muddy Waters’ Sings Big Bill LP’s.
Pat Hare did not get along with Leonard Chess and was not featured much on the Chess discs he plays on, although Hare has some nice moments on the Sings Big Bill album, the first Waters LP to be recorded in stereo. His trademark distorted sonic attack is replaced by a cleaner, low volume sound. Probably at Leonard Chess’ insistence, trying to make  him sound more like Jimmy Rogers who favored a more twangy sound.  Hare shines brightest on Hey Hey and Moppers Blues from Muddy Waters Sings Big Bill.
 Somtime between 1960-63 (the exact date is unclear) came the first “incident” to hint that Hare, who was fairly mild mannered when sober, was becoming an out of control drunk. Having left his wife in Cleveland, Hare had a girlfriend in Chicago named Louise Kennedy. They fought a lot, Hare often accused her of cheating. One night he couldn’t get her on the phone so he went to her apartment with a loaded Winchester rifle and emptied it through her front window. She was home, but just too afraid of Hare’s temper to answer the door. The police put out a warrant for Hare, who first hid with Muddy Waters then went back to Memphis to stay with Joe Willie Wilkins. Finally, in ’63 he returned to the family farm in Parkin, it was there that former Muddy Waters sidemen Mojo Burford and Jojo Williams tracked him down. They were starting a new band in Minneapolis and brought Pat north to play with them.  Soon they were gigging at Mattie’s Bar-B-Q in South Minneapolis.  Pat Hare was drinking heavily and often had to be sent home for passing out on the bandstand.  Once, after being sent home for two nights running, Hare demanded that Burford pay him anyway. When Burford refused Hare threatened to shoot him. Things would get worse from here, much worse.
 On Sunday afternoon, Dec. 15, 1963 Hare spent the afternoon drinking wine with well known blues drummer S. P. Leary (who was in town working in band with former Howlin’ Wolf guitarist Willie Johnson and Elmore James’ former sax player J.T. Brown). Pat Hare at the time was living with a married woman named Aggie Winje.  Pat called a friend of Aggie’s named Pat Morrow who drove him to a third friend’s house where he drank a half pint of gin. There the two proceeded to the house of James McHie, who was Hare’s boss at his day job as a window washer.  James McHie wasn’t home, so Hare told McHie’s wife to bring him to his apartment when he got in, explaining he was having trouble with Aggie who wanted to return to her husband. When Hare got home he took a couple of potshots at Aggie who ran out to Morrow’s car and asked if she’d take Hare with her, she was throwing him out. Morrow took off leaving Aggie with Pat, who had worked himself into a lather. Hare got a phone call at a neighbor named Charles Cook’s apartment, and while he was on the phone Hare told Cook– “That woman is going to make me kill her”.  The phone call was from Pat Marrow’s husband who was looking for her– “You got the wrong Pat”, Hare told him.  Hare returned to his and Aggie’s apartment where they continued to fight, soon, more shots were heard. A woman named Florence Whipps called the police. Officers James E. Hendricks and Chester Langaard responded within minutes.  Officer Hendricks, armed with a shotgun  headed to Hare’s apartment and was heard to say “Give me the gun”, followed by three shots. When Office Langaard, a few steps behind his partner arrived to see Hendricks on the floor and Hare pointing a pistol at him. Aggie was on the couch with two bullet holes in her. Langaard shot Pat Hare twice and called for back  up. Two ambulances arrived, the first took away office Hendricks who died en route to the hospital. Aggie and Pat were taken to General Hospital and both underwent surgery.  Aggie would die on January 22, 1964.  When questioned, Hare remembered only that he was drunk and claimed to have no recollection of shooting anyone.
 At the trial Pat Hare waved his rights to a jury trial, and the judge was Tom Bergin, a former cop. The trial, held February 14, 1964 lasted all of one day and Pat Hare was found guilty of first degree murder of Officer Hendricks while at the same time pleading guilty to third degree murder in the case of Aggie Winje’s shooting. He was sentenced to life in prison and was sent off to Stillwater State Prison, changing his stage name to 21961-E.  In prison Hare joined AA and quit drinking,  he played in the prison band– Sounds Incarcerated, playing jazz, country, blues, and rock’n’roll to fellow inmates and later the band was allowed to travel outside the prison, appearing at public events, concerts, hospitals, and other venues.  Hare was denied parole in 1974, and in 1975 he was diagnosed with lung cancer. He was operated on and had part of one lung removed.  In 1977 the cancer returned and he was given chemotherapy for cancer of the throat and underwent a second surgery, this time having the muscles from the left side of his neck and under his tongue removed. He was transferred to a minimum security prison. He was often allowed to leave the prison to perform music, even appearing with Muddy Waters at a local concert where Muddy was opening for Eric Clapton.
He was filmed in 1980 for a local Minnesota tv show called PM Magazine, and was about to be given a medical pardon when he succumbed to cancer on September 26, 1980. By the time of his death, the ironic story of Pat Hare and I’m Gonna Murder My Baby had entered blue lore. There was an interview with him, done in prison, that appeared in Living Blues magazine, and later a long feature about him in Juke Blues (the later being the source for the names and dates in this posting).
His Sun material would be re-issued many times, including on a Japanese P-Vine LP called Memphis Aggressive Guitars Vol. 1. So goes the story of Pat Hare, killer blues guitar player.

Doctor Ross

Doctor Ross holding his weapon at parade rest.

Waving goodbye, the last photo taken of Dr. Ross, 1993 (photo by Dan Rose)

Playing left handed and upside down.

Some European TV Show, mid-60’s.

In his final months, still rockin’….

Charles Isaiah Ross was born in Tunica, Mississippi on October 21, 1925. That’s on Highway 61, about 40 miles south of Memphis, a few miles east of the Mississippi river. He wasn’t a real doctor, the title added to front of his name was a nickname said to come from his habit of carrying his harmonicas and a bottle of booze in a black, doctor’s bag. He was one of eleven children who grew up on a plantation, working the fields. His father Jake taught him to play harmonica. He did two stints in the army and by 1951 was back in Mississippi trying to make a living with his harmonica. Soon he was appearing on various radio stations including KFFA in Helena, Arkansas (where Sonny Boy Williamson hosted the King Biscuit Flour Hour), KLCN in Blyetheville, Arkansas, WROX in Clarksdale, Mississippi, and WDIA in Memphis where he was billed as “Medical Director of the Royal Amalgamated Association of Chitlin’ Eaters of America”. In 1951 he was one of the first musicians to be recorded by Sam Phillips at his newly christened Memphis Recording Service, and on November 21st of that year recorded several songs, two of which Phillips would send north to brothers Leonard and Phil Chess in Chicago who released them on their Chess label– Doctor Ross Boogie b/w Country Clown (Chess 1504), on which Ross was accompanied by only guitarist Wiley Galatin (although the label credited “his Jump and Jive Boys”, only Ross and Galatin can be heard on the record). It was a good a start in show biz, although not a hit, it was certainly a unique sounding record. Although quite rare today in its original Chess pressing, someone must have bought it because Phillips called Ross back for another session in early ’52, this time Ross was playing guitar himself, upside down since he was left handed, and brought along pianist Henry Hill and the clattering washboard playing of Reuben Martin. Five or more songs were recorded that day, none of which saw release until the 70’s when they’d show up on various Arhoolie and Charley albums, the best of which was a version of Polly Put The Kettle On, a song much older than the blues. A year later Phillips had Ross back in the studio again, this time without the piano player, and among the tunes he waxed were his first Sun release– Chicago Breakdown b/w Texas Hop (Sun 193), a clattering, rocking, boogie on both sides of the shellac. Another year passed, by now Ross was mastering his one man band approach to music, playing guitar, harmonica and drums simultaneously. But when Phillips recorded him in July of ’54 (only weeks before Elvis’ first session) he used Tom “Slam Hammer” Troy on second guitar and drummer Bobby Parker, although I can’t hear a second guitar, perhaps one of them was unplugged. The disc issued from that session– Boogie Disease b/w Jukebox Boogie (Sun 212) was an absolute classic, and perhaps the finest song ever written about the clap (the Flamin’ Groovies would re-arrange it and record it as Dr. Boogie on their 1971 classic Teenage Head, giving themselves writing credit). “I may get better, but I’ll never get well…gimme one of them penicillin shots”! shouts the good Doctor over a distorted blues shuffle. Phillips would record Ross only one more time in a solo session from which no discs would be issued until the titles showed up on an Arhoolie LP (and later extended CD) in the 70’s and the Charley Sun Blues Box in the 80’s.

Meanwhile, Ike Ross as his friends knew him packed up and headed north looking for work, landing in Flint, Michigan (later home to ? & the Mysterians, the greatest and longest running American rock’n’roll band ever, and Terry Knight & the Pack who would morph into Shea Stadium packing Grand Funk Railroad). Ross got a job on the G.M. assembly line, which he would hold down for the next thirty years, from here on music would be a sideline.
On the music front, in 1958, Doctor Ross tried his hand at the record biz, releasing his next disc on his own DIR (guess what that stand for?) label– Industrial Boogie b/w 32-20 (DIR 101). Although recorded with just an acoustic guitar, Industrial Boogie showed the change in his music working on the assembly line brought. His sound now had the churning, propulsive rhythm of an automobile plant. But running your own label after eight hours on the line is hard work, and he would release no more discs on DIR. In 1959 he was recording for Jack and Devora Brown’s Fortune label, and backed by a group called the Orbits, about which we know nothing other than their name, he cut his greatest masterpiece– Cat’s Squirrel b/w The Sunnyland (Fortune 857), it’s thundering beat takes the normal blues/boogie shuffle and turns it into a supercharged throb. The tune would be covered by U.K. rock bores Cream in ’68, I hope Ross got a big check out of that deal.
Doctor Ross was back in Fortune’s back room studio in 1961 where he recorded with Little Joe’s Band, a double sided winner– Cannonball b/w Number’s Blues issued on Fortune’s HiQ subsidiary (HiQ 5027), and again in ’63 recording as a one man band on Call The Doctor b/w New York Breakdown (HiQ 5033). His fourth session (date unknown) saw him backed by a group called the Disciples of Soul and the single issued as Fortune 538– Sugar Mama b/w I’d Rather Be An Old Woman’s Baby Than An Young Girl’s Slave was released. Fortune had amassed enough tunes to issue an LP, bearing the same unweildly title as his last b-side, it featured such classics as I Am Not Dead and My Black Name Ringing as well as the best of his Fortune 45’s.
By 1965 the white blues audience had “rediscovered” (as if he’d been lost) Doctor Ross, who was recorded solo at the University of Chicago and then again for the Testement label. He began doing package tours of Europe were he entertained other blues singers on the tour bus by dancing something called “The Flying Eagle”. He cut an LP on Blue Horizon called The Flying Eagle, so rare only a handful of copies have ever been seen. He also cut live LP’s in Germany, Switzerland and maybe a few others I missed out on. He even had a track on the Grammy winning LP Rare Blues in 1981. In Japan, P-Vine issued a now rare LP of his best Sun recordings. Despite all this activity he still worked at G.M. to pay the rent and it’s unlikely he ever saw any royalties other than some songwriting mechanicals for Cream’s version of Cat Squirrel. He finally retired from G.M. in 1992. A year later, a day before he was to begin filming his first film role, in Dan Rose’s Wayne County Ramblin’ (an indie feature starring Iggy Pop along with appearances by Jeff “Mono Man” Connelly, the late Bill Pietsch, the Dirtbombs’ Mick Collins, Nathaniel Mayer (the narrator), Tav Falco, Lorette Velvette, and Otha Turner amongst others), he died of a heart attack. I was supposed to have him on my radio show a few days later. Doctor Ross was as great and unique an artist as had ever been heard in American music, and one of only two to have cut sides for both Sun and Fortune Records, perhaps the two greatest and strangest labels ever (the other was Johnny Powers). An illustrated discography can be found here. Doctor Ross, they sure don’t make ’em like that anymore. Come to think of it, they only made one of ’em like that back then.
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