abner jay

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Abner Jay - One Man Band CD:
90 SEK /

The ultimate one-man-band wild man from the 1920-1990s Abner Jay was the most unusual music talent the world has ever seen and a true southerner. His original LPs are now sought after and very rare, making this CD reissue very welcome.

"Describing himself as "the last great Southern black minstrel show", Abner Jay was a travelling one-man band and revenant folk spirit who performed lugubrious versions of original blues, traditional American spirituals alongside his own material in a baritone several leagues below Johnny Cash. By slowing his source material to a laggard, awkward lollop, Jay rescued it from decades of blacked-up virtuoso mimicry, refocusing attention on its ragged edges, emotional depth and complex humanity. Jay joined Silas Greens Minstrels in 1932 on the back of a huge repertoire of banjo and old-time songs learnt from his grandfather, who had been a slave in Washington County, Georgia. He went on to lead the WMAZ Minstrels on Macon radio from 1946-56 before going solo and touring the country in his portable 'log cabin', complete with its own PA system, from where he would perform and sell cassettes and LPs, when not in residence at Tom Flynn's Plantation Restaurant in Stone Mountain, Georgia. Jay died in 1993 and since then his LPs have become almost impossible to track down. Anthony Braxton described Jay as an "American master" and his banjo, guitar and harmonica playing is every bit as idiosyncratic and unmediated by the tyranny of 'correct' technique as Braxton's own. And the tongues given voice to here are drawn from deep within the murk of centuries," David Keenan, Great Lost Recordings, The Wire, October 2003.


ALBUM OF THE MONTH in VICE issue Vol 10 # 11 / USA

Dusted Magazine/USA
Abner Jay's extensive bread-crumb trail of albums, disseminated via his own Brandie Records imprint, represents one of the most individual takeson traditional song form to have risen from the 20th century. Jay spent several decades (the 1930s through the 1950s) working in touring minstrel shows, resurrecting the spirit of his late grandfather through songs passed down through generations. But it was when Abner Jay started traveling and performing solo in a portable home fleshed out with a public address system that his work really started to elevate. Jay's take on traditional American music - blues and spirituals - was accurately captured by writer and musician David Keenan in a recent issue of The Wire as "slowing (them) ... down to a laggard, awkward lollop". Jay plucked his banjo with an insistent gait while maintaining a ponderous rhythm on a bass drum and hi-hat combination powered by his feet. But it's the combination of Jay's harmonica playing, which shivers between the gaps offered up by his slowly unfurling blues phrases, and his deep and rich vocals,  that gives One Man Band its affecting qualities. Jay's work continually encircles similar themes: sex and relationships, the everyday and the social, drugs and depression. Abner Jay's stories frame his songs in such a way that the heart-breaking melancholy of his singing can slip by. But it's in that see-sawing sense of emotional tension that Jay's music is at its most powerful. This is best exemplified by Jay's delivery near the end of "I'm So Depressed", where he unspools an aching vocal performance and then destabilizes the song's very title by offering a generous handful of rough laughter slipped between key phrases. The beautiful uncertainty in that performance can be found throughout One Man Band, humanizing the 13 songs collected here and exposing the generosity at the heart of Jay's music. His music seems to be saying, with its very fibre, the simplest and most universally relevant things: each experience has its opposite, and it is this dialectical relationship that energizes music which holds sympathy for humanity as its strongest suit./Jon Dale/Dusted Magazine

Time Out/UK:
Billiant! A compilation of impossibly rare stuff from America’s best ever long-necked, six-string electric banjo/swamp guitar/hambone/harmonica/bass-drum and cymbal-playing traveling minstrel. Emerging from south Georgia some time back in the 1920s, shifty-eyed Jay proceeded to purvey a variously dirty and tender vaudevillian one-man band show right through to the '60s (which was when he was mostly recorded). One of the last minstrel musicians, he is assumed long dead, though no one seems to know for sure. Actually, not too much of anything is known about him. Original liner notes from a late ´50s album stated that "Abner is now enjoying his seventh wife, and he claims she is just about wore out too". Notes from the later "Swaunee Water And Cocaine Blues" elucidate a little more. "He was raised laying on his belly, drinkin' water from the old Swaunee River. Jay claims the secret for his good health and being the father of 16 young 'uns, and gonna git some more, is layin on his belly drinkin' water from that ol Swaunee River." And there's a picture of him on the sleeve doing just that. This is truly wonderful stuff. Even if some of the lewd spoken-humor has worn kinda thin in the intervening years, what can't be denied is the exaggerated sense of life and spark and fun and sheer holy drollery. A real loss and a find. /Ross Forune/Time Out

abner jay

An itinerant musician who worked out of his car, signing banjo driven Stephen Foster songs interspersed with filthy jokes, he called himself the Last of the Minstrels - is that a triumphant sobriquet or a resigned one? At least he didn't have to paint his face, although that might have extended the early Seventies allegory. Could you imagine stopping for gas along some Florida interstate in 1972 and have this guy drive up to you, open up the trunk of his car, pull out a banjo and a few autographed record albums, and then start singing "I'm So Depressed"? I mean, if Bongo Joe was considered louche back
in the Sixties, imagine this guy. Jay also somehow became a hero to Anthony Braxton of all people, which underlines that life is not so much about those who can and those who try, as those who win and those who lose. To the victors the spoils, to the rest of us spoiled meat. -- D. Strauss/Exberliner

The Brainwashed Brain/USA
Abner Jay was a classic ragtime song-and-dance man, learning his trade with Silas Green's Minstrels in the 1930's and WMAZ Minstrels in Macon during the 40's and 50's. Lap dissolve to the late 60's, and Abner Jay had transformed himself into a one-man-band and traveling nostalgia revue, issuing a series of private press LPs that now trade hands for ridiculously high prices. Sweden's Subliminal Sounds recently released this compilation, collecting material from three of Jay's best albums. Jay billed himself as America's Last Minstrel Show, and he played an energetic combo of finger-picked banjo and harmonica, working the bass drum with a foot pedal. He introduced each song with bad puns and raunchy jokes, his deep Southern drawl a deliberate caricature of old-time Uncle Tom minstrelsy. It would be tempting to dismiss Abner Jay as a politically-incorrect anachronism, were it not for the obvious talent and intelligence with which he approaches his racially-charged material. By fearlessly accentuating the house Negro stereotypes that defined and imprisoned black performers in the post-Civil War South, Abner Jay is able to transcend them, exorcising the pain of his ancestry. Nowhere is this more clear than in the heart-breaking song "I'm So Depressed," a track so beautiful and haunting that it floored me upon first listen. Beginning as a traditional-sounding blues lament, Jay's voice suddenly shifts into a high lonesome wail, choking back tears and belting out a series of deeply felt emotional cries that express an ancient sadness. "I was born during the hard depression days...My folks were sharecroppers/We had nothing, we had nothing, we had nothing/But grasshoppers/Looking back over my life/O lord, I'm so depressed." On "Swaunee," Jay talks at length about his beloved Southern river, it's legacy and importance. Jay's narration is layered over an atmospheric instrumental track punctuated by the chorus of the traditional song, treated to sound like an old 78. Because of my penchant for outsider music, I have heard hundreds of hyped reissues of vanity pressings and much-vaunted musical oddities. Rarely have I heard anything as impressive as Abner Jay's evocative, recollective race-folk. One Man Band is currently the only widely available edition of his music, making it absolutely essential. - Jonathan Dean/The Brainwashed Brain