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Hittin' The Jug



Drinking Moonshine


Hittin’ The Jug is a composition by tenor saxophonist Gene Ammons. It appeared on his historic 1960 album Boss Tenor. The Quintet on that album were: Gene Ammons (tenor sax); Tommy Flanagan (piano); Doug Watkins (bass); Art Taylor (drums) and Ray Barretto (congas).

Listen to the track. One comment on YouTube says: 'One of the swing-ingest, slow pokey blues by Gene and Ray Barretta on those probing congas! Mr Gene Ammons was the best of the best. This is great stuff and very sadly not played anymore. I can listen to this till the cows come home!'



You can be forgiven for thinking that ‘Hittin’ The Jug’ refers to drinking booze. After all, many years previously in 1936, Stuff Smith and His Onyx Club Boys had recorded Old Joe’s Hittin’ The Jug





Stuff Smith at the Onyx Club


The website tells us: ‘.... Stuff Smith was undoubtedly one of the three great swing violinists of the early 20th century. He was an African-American, born Hezekiah Leroy Smith, in Ohio; his nickname came from his habit of referring to other people whose name he couldn't remember as "Stuff". His first notable work was with the Alphonso Trent Orchestra in the 1920's; at the time it was not uncommon for dance bands to have a violionist who could contribute occasional swing solos. It was not until 1936 that he got his major break; he formed a band with his lifelong friend, trumpeter Jonah Jones and as a sextet they took a residency at New York's Onyx club, where their driving rhythm, exciting performance and good humour made them a hit with audiences and critics. Two of their most successful recordings of the time were I'se a Muggin and You'se a Viper. ... he continued to find work with a variety of line-ups, including recording sessions with Dizzie Gillespie, Oscar Peterson, Nat Cole, Ella Fitzgerald and even Sun Ra ...’


With these tunes referring to drugs (‘Muggin’ and ‘Viper’) it is easy to see how Old Joe could also be into alcohol, unfortunately there do not appear to be lyrics to help us, but there is another reference that could be involved. On the website there is a debate about the term ‘Bussin Juugs’ from a song by rapper Gucci Mane:



'bussin should be interpreted as busting (it's written as "bustin" on Gucci Mane's t-shirt in the official video of the song). juugs is also Gucci Manesometimes spelled joogs. I believe it derives from the word "drug". As a noun, it seems to mean something like a small-time drug dealer, or the act of selling a small quantity of drugs. It can also be used as a verb which means to engage in the activities of a small-time drug dealer (for example, when Gucci says "I juug so good").

It is used in all of these ways in the song:

In the song, Gucci Mane seems to be describing his life as a small-time drug dealer. In the chorus, his girlfriend says to him that he's "just another damn juug," to which Gucci responds that he's more like a plug, a higher-up drug dealer or supplier.

I have not been able to find online a reason why the word 'jug' should be used in relation to drugs. The nearest I have found is a reference to intravenous injection of drugs into a person's jugular vein - but that sounds a bit much. The link between 'jug' and a jug of alcohol seems far more straightforward. Perhaps someone knows more?


But returning to Gene Ammons’ composition, perhaps we have something of a play on words here. Gene Ammons was nicknamed ‘The Boss’ but also carried the nickname ‘Jug’.

The saxophonist was the son of boogie-woogie pianist Albert Ammons. One biography describes how ‘Ammons was born on April 14, 1925, in Chicago, Illinois. His father was Albert Ammons, generally considered one of the top players of jazz boogie-woogie piano. The elder Ammons introduced boogie-woogie to an audience at New York City's Carnegie Hall as well as playing at President Harry Truman's inauguration in 1949. His son, however, chose to play the tenor saxophone rather than piano after hearing Lester Young play. Gene Ammons studied music with instructor Captain Walter Dyett at Du Sable High School in Chicago. While still in high school, Ammons performed and recorded with his famous father and later did a cross-country tour with King Kolax. With Ammons, the King Kolax Band played such important jazz venues of the 1940s as the Savoy Ballroom in New York City.

'When he was 19, he joined the Billy Eckstine band, where he played alongside Charlie Parker and, later, Dexter Gordon. Considered by many jazz historians and critics as the first bebop big band, Eckstine's group was the training ground for some of the Gene Ammonsmost important and progressive jazz musicians of the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, including Ammons, Parker, and Gordon, as well as Fats Navarro, Art Blakey, Miles Davis, Howard McGhee, and vocalist Sarah Vaughan ....

' ..... Despite an ongoing dependency on heroin beginning in the mid-1950s and several subsequent arrests and two prison sentences that together totaled nearly ten years, Ammons was a tremendously prolific recording and touring artist, a fact worth noting because many of his recordings remain in print or were remastered and reissued decades after his death ... Ammons appeared with the Eckstine band in the 1946 film Rhythm in a Riff. During this period, Ammons acquired the nickname "Jug" from Eckstine, who, according to American National Biography, told Ammons, "'You have a head like a jug,'" when straw hats ordered for the band did not fit Ammons. Eckstine disbanded the group in 1947, and Ammons then led a group, including Miles Davis and Sonny Stitt, that performed at Chicago's Jumptown Club ....’




Here is a clip from the movie Rhythm In A Riff





Whether in Hittin’ The Jug the reference is to drugs, Ammons himself, or both, we might never know.

Eugene ‘Jug’ Ammons died from cancer on 6th August 1974 at the age of 49. He is buried in Lincoln Cemetery, Illinois where his headstone reads ‘Eugene ‘Jug’ Ammons - The Song Is Ended ... But The Melody Lingers On ...’

Vocalist King Pleasure recorded Ammons’ Hittin The Jug retitled as the vocalese song Swan Blues in 1962:




The lyrics seem a long way from the original title:

You know I hate to leave you baby but I'm leavin' anyway --  So long
You knew I'd have to leave you baby when you treated me this way -- Don't cry
And if it's written for us baby maybe some old rainy day -- I'm gone
Perhaps you'll understand the reasons why you're drivin' me away -- Farewell
Then maybe we could be together in the same old crazy way ...

Gave you money, comfort too
loved you only, only you dear
But you didn't care a thing about me
All you wanted was to have your fun without me
Oh My darling, how could you hurt me so
Baby when all I did was love you
Oh, what a terrible, terrible feeling

Now baby I’m going away
Dry your eyes and don’t you cry because your tears won’t make me stay ...

Full lyrics here

King Pleasure’s lyrics begin with “Goodbye.....” In an Allmusic review of Gene Ammons' final recording, they stated "It is ironic that on tenor saxophonist Gene Ammons' final recording date, the last song he performed was the standard "Goodbye." That emotional rendition is the high point of this session... It's a fine ending to a colorful career".

Listen to Gene Ammons' Goodbye.



Wikipedia says of Gene Ammons ‘Gene Ammons is remembered for his accessible music, steeped in soul and R&B’.


Gene Ammons

Gene 'Jug' Ammons



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More Tracks Unwrapped:

Lover Man
I Found A New Baby
Just A Gigolo
Milneburg Joys

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