Saturday Single No. 548

So, San Francisco songs . . .

One that shows up eleven times here on the EITW digital shelves is “San Francisco Bay Blues,” originally recorded in 1954 by Jesse Fuller and released the next year on Working On The Railroad, a 10-inch vinyl release. It doesn’t sound at all like the blues, as you likely know, being much more jaunty with a more complex chordal structure.

I could probably write several posts about Fuller, who was born in Georgia in 1896 and died in Oakland, California, in 1976. After years of working numerous jobs – many of those years spent working for the Southern Pacific Railroad (according to Wikipedia) – he began working as a musician in the early 1950s. Here’s what Wikipedia says about his music:

Starting locally, in clubs and bars in San Francisco and across the bay in Oakland and Berkeley, Fuller became more widely known when he performed on television in both the Bay Area and Los Angeles. In 1958, at the age of 62, he recorded with his first album, released by Good Time Jazz Records. Fuller’s instruments included 6-string guitar (an instrument which he had abandoned before the beginning of his one-man band career), 12-string guitar, harmonica, kazoo, cymbal (high-hat) and fotdella. He could play several instruments simultaneously, particularly with the use of a headpiece to hold a harmonica, kazoo, and microphone. In addition, he would generally include at least one tap dance, soft-shoe, or buck and wing in his sets, accompanying himself on a 12-string guitar as he danced. His style was open and engaging. In typical busker’s fashion he addressed his audiences as “ladies and gentlemen,” told humorous anecdotes, and cracked jokes between songs.

The fotdella mentioned in that passage is what most folks remember about Fuller beyond “San Francisco Bay Blues.” The instrument was basically a foot-operated bass instrument, with bass piano strings struck by the use of pedals. (See photo below.)

Jesse Fuller

As for “San Francisco Bay Blues,” the website Second Hand Songs lists 55 recorded versions. There’s at least one more out there (most likely more than that), but that’s a good place to start. The first cover listed there came from Ramblin’ Jack Elliott in 1957. The Journeymen, the Weavers, Tom Rush, the New World Singers, Joe & Eddie, and Burl Bailey & The Six Shooters all followed in 1963. The most recent cover listed there is from Tommy Thomsen in 2015.

The versions here include one by Elliott from 1961, one by Fuller live at the Newport Folk Festival in 1964, and versions by Richie Havens, Glenn Yarbrough, Hot Tuna, Phoebe Snow, Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton, and Peter, Paul & Mary. I also have a version by a group called the Nomads. That one was released on the Pharos label in 1964 (with “Oh, Jennie” on the flip), and the record label as shown for both tracks at Discogs notes something intriguing: “Produced by Jackie DeShannon.”

That version of the Nomads – one of at least twenty-seven groups with that name whose records are cataloged at Discogs – had already released “Last Summer Day/Icky Poo” on the Prelude label in 1963 (both available on YouTube). And a cursory bit of searching brings nothing more about the group this morning than a mention in a biography of DeShannon of her producing the group, which we already knew.

I might dig for more as time moves on, but what we know – along with the record’s traditional kazoo solo – is good enough for me: “San Francisco Bay Blues” by the Nomads is today’s Saturday Single.

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2 Responses to “Saturday Single No. 548”

  1. Kerill Mc Closkey says:

    Hello Whiteray,

    I would like to get in contact with you, where can I talk to you online ? (e-mail, Facebook…)

    Best,

    Kerill

  2. whiteray says:

    Hi, Kerill! You can leave a message for me at the blog’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/EchoesInTheWind

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