When I was working on Flora Redux, I was doing a little research on Jake and the jake leg, when I came across the band The Jake Leg Stompers.
First some history stuff: for those of you not around during Prohibition, Jamaican Ginger was a patent medicine that caused paralysis in those unfortunate enough to drink copious amounts of it. Despite it's high alcohol content, Jake's supposed medical qualities had exempted it from the Volstead Act, and thus made it very attractive to imbibers. Previously safe, a change in the medicine's formula in the late 1920s adulterated the liquor with a compound that caused the drinker's legs to be come partially paralyzed and floppy. When the effects of Jake became widely known, it caused a great scandal, and the medicine was outlawed. Still, this was a bit late to help those who were now permanently paralyzed. (In 2003, Dan Baum published an excellent article on Jake Leg in The New Yorker.)
The affliction spawned a series of blues songs about the Jake Leg. Which brings me back to the Jake Leg Stompers. They're a band of musicians out of Tennessee, who play old timey instruments and sing old timey songs in old timey harmonies. Or, as they describe it: Chicken-fried, Pre-war, Hokum-billy jug music. And Jake Songs, too, from which they take their name.
And they are super fantastic wonderful!
I picked up their first cd, Guaranteed Absolutely Pure, last summer and I've probably played it about a zillion times since I got it. One of the super cool things about the Jake Leg Stompers is that they don't just play old timey music; they also try to duplicate old recording techniques and instrumentation. So their songs sound like they are broadcasting out of some far distant swampy past, where the stockings are rolled, the fans are waving lazily, and the revenue man is looking to spoil every one's fun. Their cover of Fats Waller's The Viper's Drag is sure to get your heels a-clacking, and their rendition of the traditional blues song The Saint James Infirmary makes me want to howl with despair every time I listen to it. And yes, that's a good thing!
My only complaint about the Jake Leg Stompers is that they only had one cd. But now, with the release of their latest disc, Hot Feet, my feverish prayers have been answered. Bring out the jug, and bring on the band. I'm there.
And I urge you to get yourself over to cd baby and be there too. Bands this good, whose music is an obvious labor of love, deserve our support. (And while you are at cd baby, check out their other bands--great stuff.)
"Masterful, mysterious, and melodious--music that seems to have drifted out of a swamp fever dream, the aural equivalent of a will-o-wisp, frightening yet irresistible." The Arivaipa Jump-Up
"Rhythms for the snake-bit, guaranteed to get yer poison pumping." The Califa Lyric Opera Revue
"Yee-fracking-ha!" The Pudding Pie Conniption.