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The washtub bass, or gutbucket, is a stringed instrument used in American folk music that uses a metal washtub as a resonator. Although it is possible for a washtub bass to have four or more strings and tuning pegs, traditional washtub basses have a single string whose pitch is adjusted by pushing or pulling on a staff or stick to change the tension.
The washtub bass was used in jug bands that were popular in some African American communities in the early 1900s. In the 1950s, British skiffle bands used a variant called a tea chest bass, and during the 1960s, US folk musicians used the washtub bass in jug band-influenced music.
Variations on the basic design are found around the world, particularly in the choice of resonator. As a result, there are many different names for the instrument including the "gas-tank bass", "barrel bass", "box bass" (Trinidad), "bush bass" (Australia), "babatoni" (South Africa), "tanbou marengwen" (Haiti) "tingotalango" (Cuba), "tulòn" (Italy), "laundrophone" and others.
The hallmarks of the traditional design are simplicity, very low cost and do it yourself construction, leading to its historical association with lower economic classes. These factors also make it quite common for modern-day builders to promote modifications to the basic design, such as adding a finger board, pedal, electronic pickup, drumhead, or making the staff immovable.
Ethnomusicologists trace the origins of the instrument to the 'ground bow' or 'ground harp' – a version that uses a piece of bark or an animal skin stretched over a pit as a resonator. The ang-bindi made by the Baka people of the Congo is but one example of this instrument found among tribal societies in Africa and Southeast Asia, and it lends its name to the generic term inbindi for all related instruments. Evolution of design, including the use of more portable resonators, has led to many variations, such as the dan bau (Vietnam) and gopichand (India), and more recently, the "electric one-string", which amplifies the sound using a pickup.
The washtub bass is sometimes used in a jug band, often accompanied by a washboard as a percussion instrument. Jug bands, first known as "spasm bands", were popular especially among African-Americans around 1900 in New Orleans and reached a height of popularity between 1925 and 1935 in Memphis and Louisville.
At about the same time, European-Americans of Appalachia were using the instrument in "old-timey" folk music. A musical style known as "gut-bucket blues" came out of the jug band scene, and was cited by Sam Phillips of Sun Records as the type of music he was seeking when he first recorded Elvis Presley.
According to Willie "The Lion" Smith's autobiography, the term "gutbucket" comes from "Negro families" who all owned their own pail, or bucket, and would get it filled with the makings for chitterlings. The term "gutbucket" came from playing a lowdown style of music.
In English skiffle bands, Australian and New Zealand bush bands and South African kwela bands, the same sort of bass has a tea chest as a resonator. The Quarrymen, John Lennon and Paul McCartney's band before the Beatles, featured a tea-chest bass, as did many young bands around 1956.
A folk music revival in the U.S. in the early 1960s re-ignited interest in the washtub bass and jug band music. Bands included Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions, which later became The Grateful Dead, and the Jim Kweskin Jug Band, which featured Fritz Richmond on bass.
A tea chest bass is a variation of the washtub bass that uses a tea chest as the resonator for an upright stringed bass. The instrument is made from a pole, traditionally a broomstick, placed into or alongside the chest. One or more strings are stretched along the pole and plucked.[ citation needed ]
In Europe, particularly Britain and Germany, the instrument is associated with skiffle bands.[ citation needed ]
In Australia it was traditionally used to provide deep sounds for "bush bands", though most such groups today use electric bass or double bass.[ citation needed ] It is also known as bush bass or Tbox in Australia, and was used by the Northern Territory group the Mills Sisters.
Other variations on the basic design are found around the world, particularly in the choice of resonator, for example:
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The banjo is a stringed instrument with a thin membrane stretched over a frame or cavity to form a resonator. The membrane is typically circular, and usually made of plastic, or occasionally animal skin. Early forms of the instrument were fashioned by African Americans in the United States. The banjo is frequently associated with folk, bluegrass and country music, and has also been used in some rock, pop and hip-hop. Several rock bands, such as the Eagles, Led Zeppelin, and The Allman Brothers, have used the five-string banjo in some of their songs. Historically, the banjo occupied a central place in Black American traditional music and the folk culture of rural whites before entering the mainstream via the minstrel shows of the 19th century. Along with the fiddle, the banjo is a mainstay of American styles of music, such as bluegrass and old-time music. It is also very frequently used in traditional ("trad") jazz. Banjo is also a common instrument for Caribbean genres like Biguine, Calypso and Mento.
A jug band is a band employing a jug player and a mix of conventional and homemade instruments. These homemade instruments are ordinary objects adapted to or modified for making sound, like the washtub bass, washboard, spoons, bones, stovepipe, jew's harp, and comb and tissue paper. The term jug band is loosely used in referring to ensembles that also incorporate homemade instruments but that are more accurately called skiffle bands, spasm bands, or juke bands because they do not include a jug player.
The washboard and frottoir are used as a percussion instrument, employing the ribbed metal surface of the cleaning device as a rhythm instrument. As traditionally used in jazz, zydeco, skiffle, jug band, and old-time music, the washboard remained in its wooden frame and is played primarily by tapping, but also scraping the washboard with thimbles. Often the washboard has additional traps, such as a wood block, a cowbell, and even small cymbals. Conversely, the frottoir dispenses with the frame and consists simply of the metal ribbing hung around the neck. It is played primarily with spoon handles or bottle openers in a combination of strumming, scratching, tapping and rolling. The frottoir or vest frottoir is played as a stroked percussion instrument, often in a band with a drummer, while the washboard generally is a replacement for drums. In Zydeco bands, the frottoir is usually played with bottle openers, to make a louder sound. It tends to play counter-rhythms to the drummer. In a jug band, the washboard can also be stroked with a single whisk broom and functions as the drums for the band, playing only on the back-beat for most songs, a substitute for a snare drum. In a four-beat measure, the washboard will stroke on the 2-beat and the 4-beat. Its best sound is achieved using a single steel-wire snare-brush or whisk broom. However, in a jazz setting, the washboard can also be played with thimbles on all fingers, tapping out much more complex rhythms, as in The Washboard Rhythm Kings, a full-sized band, and Newman Taylor Baker.
Bluegrass music is a genre of American roots music that developed in the 1940s in the Appalachian region of the United States. The genre derives its name from the band Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys. Like mainstream country music, it largely developed out of old-time string music, though in contrast, bluegrass is traditionally played exclusively on acoustic instruments and also has roots in traditional English, Scottish, and Irish ballads and dance tunes.</ref> Bluegrass was further developed by musicians who played with Monroe, including 5-string banjo player Earl Scruggs and guitarist Lester Flatt. Monroe characterized the genre as: "Scottish bagpipes and ole-time fiddlin'. It's a part of Methodist, Holiness and Baptist traditions.
The Quarrymen were a British skiffle/rock and roll group, formed by John Lennon in Liverpool in 1956, which evolved into the Beatles in 1960. Originally consisting of Lennon and several schoolfriends, the Quarrymen took their name from a line in the school song of their school, the Quarry Bank High School. Lennon's mother, Julia, taught her son to play the banjo, showed Lennon and Eric Griffiths how to tune their guitars in a similar way to the banjo, and taught them simple chords and songs.
Skiffle is a genre of folk music with influences from American folk music, blues, country, bluegrass, and jazz. generally performed with a mixture of manufactured and homemade or improvised instruments. Originating as a form in the United States in the first half of the 20th century, it became extremely popular in the UK in the 1950s, where it was played by such artists as Lonnie Donegan, The Vipers Skiffle Group, Ken Colyer, and Chas McDevitt. Skiffle was a major part of the early careers of some musicians who later became prominent jazz, pop, blues, folk, and rock performers, The Beatles and Rory Gallagher amongst them. It has been seen as a critical stepping stone to the second British folk revival, the British blues boom, and the British Invasion of American popular music.
Anthony James Donegan, known as Lonnie Donegan, was a British skiffle singer, songwriter and musician, referred to as the "King of Skiffle", who influenced 1960s British pop and rock musicians. Born in Scotland and brought up in England, Donegan began his career in the British trad jazz revival but transitioned to skiffle in the mid 1950s, rising to prominence with a hit recording of the American folk song "Rock Island Line" which helped spur the broader UK skiffle movement.
A bass musical instrument produces tones in the low-pitched range C4- C2. Basses belong to different families of instruments and can cover a wide range of musical roles. Since producing low pitches usually requires a long air column or string, the string and wind bass instruments are usually the largest instruments in their families or instrument classes.
Old-time music is a genre of North American folk music. It developed along with various North American folk dances, such as square dancing, clogging, and buck dancing. It is played on acoustic instruments, generally centering on a combination of fiddle and plucked string instruments, most often the banjo, guitar, and mandolin. The genre is considered a precursor to modern country music.
The Appalachian dulcimer is a fretted string instrument of the lute family, typically with three or four strings, originally played in the Appalachian region of the United States. The body extends the length of the fingerboard, and its fretting is generally diatonic.
The Memphis Jug Band was an American musical group active from the mid-1920s to the late 1950s. The band featured harmonica, kazoo, fiddle and mandolin or banjolin, backed by guitar, piano, washboard, washtub bass and jug. They played slow blues, pop songs, humorous songs and upbeat dance numbers with jazz and string band flavors. The band made the first commercial recordings in Memphis, Tennessee, and recorded more sides than any other prewar jug band.
A folk instrument is a musical instrument that developed among common people and usually does not have a known inventor. It can be made from wood, metal or other material. Such an instrument is played in performances of folk music.
A bush band is a group of musicians that play Australian bush ballads. A similar bush band tradition is also found in New Zealand.
The cigar box guitar is a simple chordophone that uses an empty cigar box as a resonator. The earliest had one or two strings; modern models typically have three or more. Generally, the strings are connected to the end of a broomstick or a 1×2 inch wood slat and to the cigar box resonator.
A string band is an old-time music or jazz ensemble made up mainly or solely of string instruments. String bands were popular in the 1920s and 1930s, and are among the forerunners of modern country music and bluegrass. While being active countrywide, in Philadelphia and its surrounding suburbs they are a huge part of its musical culture and traditions, appearing, among others, in the yearly Mummers Parade.
The diddley bow is a single-stringed American instrument which influenced the development of the blues sound. It consists of a single string of baling wire tensioned between two nails on a board over a glass bottle, which is used both as a bridge and as a means to magnify the instrument's sound.
John B. "Fritz" Richmond was an American musician and recording engineer. Richmond was a washtub bassist and was also a professional jug player.
The Whamola is a bass instrument used in funk-jazz styles of music. The name is a portmanteau of whammy bar and viola.
The pogo cello is a percussion instrument in the idiophone family. This instrument can be heard in the skiffle bands of England, jug bands from the United States, as well as some blues, bluegrass, folk and rock bands. Notable musical groups or persons using the pogo cello in their music are Jim Kweskin's Jug Band, Mojo Nixon, Rend Collective, and Redd Foxx, the famous comedian/singer who starred as Fred Sanford in the television show Sanford and Son.
Mother McCree's Uptown Jug Champions is an American folk music album. It was recorded live by the band of the same name at the Top of the Tangent coffee house in Palo Alto, California in July, 1964, and released in 1999.