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Tracks Unwrapped

Call Of The Freaks



King Oliver Call Of The Freaks



The Call Of The Freaks is a really catchy tune but it has some interesting yet disturbing historic references.

It was composed by Paul Barbarin, drummer with King Oliver's band from 1925 to 1927. Paul was born in New Orleans where he was a member of the Silver Leaf Orchestra and the Young Olympia Band. He moved to Chicago in 1917 and worked with Freddie Keppard and Jimmie Noone before joining King Oliver. In 1927 the band went to New York, but Oliver disbanded it to do freelance jobs. In the later 1920s, King Oliver was struggling with playing his trumpet because of his gum disease, so others took the trumpet solos, including Louis Metcalf. King Oliver reunited the band in 1928, recording for Victor Talking Machine Company one year later.


Listen to King Oliver's recording of Call Of The Freaks in 1929 with King Oliver (leader); Louis Metcalf (trumpet); J.C. Higginbotham (trombone); Teddy Hill (tenor sax); Charlie Holmes (alto sax, clarinet); Luis Russell (piano); Wiliam "Bass" Moore (bass); Paul Barbarin (drums). There were 2 takes of this recording for the Victor label, this is the second take.




I cannot discover for sure why Paul Barbarin chose The Call Of The Freaks as the tune's title, but we have a clue in this version of Call Of The Freaks by Red Nichols the following year, 1930. The introduction, transcribed from a Brunswick Heat radio series talks about how Red Nichols had been inspired by a visit to a circus. The disturbing pictures with the video set the scene.





Wikipedia sums up the story of circus and fairground Freak Shows:

'In the mid-16th century, freak shows became popular pastimes in England. Deformities began to be treated as objects of interest and entertainment, and the crowds flocked to see them exhibited ... As well as exhibitions, freak shows were popular in the taverns and fairgrounds where the freaks were often combined with talent displays. For example, in the 18th century, Matthias Buchinger, born without arms or lower legs, entertained crowds with astonishing displays of magic and musical ability, both in England and later, Ireland.....'American Freak Show 1941


'It was in the 19th century, both in England and the United States where freak shows finally reached maturity as successful commercially run enterprises.....During the late 19th century and the early 20th century freak shows were at their height of popularity; the period 1840s through to the 1940s saw the organized for-profit exhibition of people with physical, mental or behavioural rarities. Although not all abnormalities were real, some being alleged, the exploitation for profit was seen as an accepted part of American culture. The attractiveness of freak shows led to the spread of the shows that were commonly seen at amusement parks, circuses, dime museums and vaudeville ....'

'The showmen and promoters exhibited all types of freaks. People who appeared non-white or who had a disability were often exhibited as unknown races and cultures. These “unknown” races and disabled whites were advertised as being undiscovered humans to attract viewers. For example, those with microcephaly, a condition linked to intellectual disabilities and characterized by a very small, pointed head and small overall structure, were considered or characterized as “missing links” or as atavistic specimens of an extinct race ....'



Here is a short documentary from HBO in 1982 - Some Call Them Freaks.




'During the first decade of the twentieth century the popularity of the freak show was starting to dwindle. In their prime, freak shows had been the main attraction of the midway (a place at a fair or circus where rides, entertainment, and booths are concentrated), but by 1940 they were starting to lose their audience, with credible people turning their backs on the show. In the nineteenth century, science supported and legitimized the growth of freak shows, but by the twentieth century, the medicalization of human abnormalities contributed to the end of the exhibits' mystery and appeal. ..... 'During the start of the 20th Century, movies and television began to satisfy audiences' thirst to be entertained. People could see similar types of acts and abnormalities from the comfort of their own homes or a nice theater, they no longer needed to pay to see freaks. Though movies and television played a big part in the decline of the freak show, the rise of disability rights was the true cause of death. It was finally viewed as wrong to profit from others' misfortune: the days of manipulation were done .... '

I'd like to think that this is the case today, but it seems that we have not totally got rid of racism, antisemitism, etc. and there are still shows on television such as My 600lb Life and The Undateables. How far are these sympathetic documentaries that help us support people with different life experiences?


When King Oliver disbanded his Orchestra in New York City, pianist Luis Rusell set up his own band and Paul Barbarin joined him. In September 1929, they recorded the tune but now it was called The New Call Of The Freaks. Lyrics had been added that brought a different slant to the tune.

'Stick out your can, here come the garbage man.'


Here is the Luis Russell version with Bill Coleman , Henry "Red" Allen (trumpet); J.C. Higginbotham (trombone); Albert Nicholas (alto sax, clarinet); Charlie Holmes (alto sax, soprano sax); Teddy Hill (tenor sax); Luis Russell (piano); Will Johnson (banjo, guitar); George "Pops" Foster (bass); Paul Barbarin (drums, vibraphone).





Garbage Man





The tune gradually became known as The Garbage Man. I noticed one comment on YouTube that said 'According to a documentary by the late George Melly, this is all very rude and doesn't necessarily involve the opposite sex. It's a great tune though!'








Which brings us to a 1931 version by the Washboard Rhythm Kings - the first recording of the tune that I heard many years ago. It starts with a knock on the door and the words:


"Garbage, lady, stick out your can. Her come the grb man"
"No, get away from my door. I ain't got no garbage!"




By 1936 the Chicago band 'The Harlem Hamfats' were pushing the lyrics a little further

Stick out your can
Can you take it?
Yeah man
Stick out your can, ain't nobody can stick it out like you can

It came out on at least 2 albums - Let's Get Drunk And Truck and Those Dirty Blues





Eighty three years later, here is the great Tuba Skinny New Orleans band playing Garbage Man Blues in 2019





In 1932, MGM released a movie called Freaks. The whole movie is on YouTube, but here is a short clip. '... Filmed in Los Angeles in the fall of 1931, Freaks was given test screenings in January 1932 that received harsh reaction from audiences, who found the film too grotesque. In response to this, the 90-minute feature was significantly cut, and additional alternate footage was incorporated to help increase the running time. The final abridged cut of the film, released in February 1932, runs only 64 minutes; the original version no longer exists ....' (Wikipedia).




One of the most successful films of 2017 was The Greatest Showman. Telling the story of circus man P.J. Barnum, it features a troupe of 'freaks' who eventually convince Barnum (Hugh Jackman) to re-build the circus after a fire. The movie brings empowerment to the troupe in this clip and the song This Is Me (I can only find a version with the lyrics).





So how far the tune Call Of The Freaks has changed to become Garbage Man to forget its origins, I cannot say. Should we just forget how it started out?

The Call Of The Freaks is a good tune and should be played - here is Bent Persson playing it at the Whitley Bay Jazz Festival, but when it is performed today as The (New) Call Of The Freaks, perhaps an introduction might acknowledge its origins?





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More Tracks Unwrapped:

Short'nin' Bread
Jimmy Blanton and Jack The Bear
Hittin' The Jug
St James Infirmary

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