Friday, January 27, 2012
Rubber Dolly Rag
Early in the 1900s, the second strain of “Creole Belles” began to be picked up by fiddlers all across America and the catchy melody began to adopt alternative names including “Back Up and Push” and “Rubber Dolly.” The tune was so popular that most Appalachian string bands who were recording in the 1920s & 1930s released some version of it. Gid Tanner’s Skillet Lickers and Uncle Bud Landress made recordings of this tune in the early '30s. Perry Bechtel and His Boys, known for their recordings on the “Race” and “Hillbilly” series popularized in that era by the record companies, recorded this tune in Atlanta. Some of the most often quoted lyrics are from the Light Crust Dough Boys, a band that featured one of the greatest Texas swing fiddlers of the time – Cecil Brower.
This tune represents one of the most amazing of the many cultural cross-pollinations in our American musical history. After Western Swing bands and Texas Style fiddlers adopted and popularized the tune with its characteristic swing and ragtime rhythms, the great African American jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald recorded it using the white string-band lyrics. Fitzgerald’s “Wubba Dolly” was recorded in 1939. Famed African American blues guitarist and singer Mississippi John Hurt, who often collaborated with Anglo American fiddler Willie Narmour in the early 1920s, brought the original title of this tune to the forefront again by adapting the lyrics of “My Creole Belle” to the new tune and rhythm. Hurt was known for playing square dance and ragtime music during the same period that he was recording early blues music for Okey Records. His interest in different styles of American music resulted in this tune being introduced to a much wider audience. The lyrics of “My Creole Belle” are often sung to the tune of “Rubber Dolly Rag.”
My Creole Belle, I love her well
My darling baby, my Creole Belle
When the stars shine, I’ll call her mine
My darling baby, my Creole Belle.
And the cross-pollination doesn’t end there! Whereas the original “Rubber Dolly” lyrics probably derive from Anglo American children’s games of the late 1800s, they made their way into a Top-10 record in 1965. In that year, African American soul singer Shirley Ellis recorded the Rubber Dolly lyrics used by the Light Crust Dough Boys and other Appalachian string bands as “The Clapping Song.” Folk music pioneer Woody Guthrie, as well as many others, recorded the Creole Belle version also adding to the popularity of the tune among the newer generations.
The appearance of alternate versions of lyrics in American songs, especially originating from different racial groups, is a long-standing American music tradition. However, in this case, having both versions of the lyrics covered by both black and white singers for over a century is particularly interesting. From its very beginning, fiddlers continued to play this tune from coast to coast and generation to generation, establishing it as one of the truly classic examples of the American Music System.
From Book III of the O'Connor Method.