The 1937 Flood Watch
The 1937 Flood Watch Podcast
"Buddy Bolden's Blues"

"Buddy Bolden's Blues"

#257 / Sept. 22 Podcast

The story of Charles Joseph “Buddy” Bolden — also known as King Bolden — is the story of jazz itself at its very beginnings. A trumpet player in New Orleans in the first years of the 20th Century, Bolden influenced several generations of jazz players.

No recordings of Bolden exist, but the great Jelly Roll Morton called him “the most powerful trumpet player I’ve ever heard.” This tune was Bolden’s only known piece of original music, a song that he called “Funky Butt.”

Jelly Roll later recorded it with the opening line, “I thought I heard Buddy Bolden say,” and that is why it has come down to us with Morton’s title: “Buddy Bolden’s Blues.” Jelly Roll was the only person recording the tune who actually heard Buddy play it.

About Buddy

Bolden and his band were at their peak in New Orleans from around 1900 to 1907. He was known for his loud sound and his imaginative improvisational skills, a style that had a profound impact on younger musicians who crowded around to hear him.

Buddy is credited with (1) creating a looser, more improvised version of ragtime and (2) adding to it blues played by brass instruments. He also was said to have adapted ideas from gospel music that he heard in uptown African-American Baptist churches around the Crescent City.

The Butt that was Funky

Bolden’s best-known number, "Funky Butt," is perhaps the earliest reference to funk in popular music. So, let’s address that name.

Several theories exist… and, ahem, some of them are even printable. Jazz guitarist/banjoist Danny Barker, for instance, said “funky butt” was a reference to the olfactory effect of an auditorium packed with sweaty people "dancing close together and belly rubbing."

Dance definitely seems central to the story. Others say the name refers to a specific dance in which women lifted their skirts, revealing their petticoats, then moved their hips suggestively. Particularly popular among burlesque dancers of the day, “The Funky Butt” is believed to have begun in the 1890s, which is about the time little Buddy Bolden was growing (and probably looking) up.

The Club that was the Butt

Incidentally, a popular jazz club in pre-Katrina New Orleans was called “Funky Butt,” in honor of Bolden.

The venue, located on North Rampart Street at Congo Square, featured a lounge, patio, balcony, restaurant and music club called The Danny Barker Music Room. It was famous for a sassy drink known as “Sweet Brown Juicy Booty.”

Unfortunately, the August 2005 hurricane that devastated New Orleans destroyed the club. The following year, an attempt was made to reopen, but it failed to get a musical license (during this period the inside of the building was stripped).

Our Take On the Tune

Multiple variations of Buddy Bolden’s song have circulated over the years. The Flood learned its version from a 1961 Folkways recording by bluesmen Rolf Cahn and Eric von Schmidt (the same wonderful old disc that inspired two other Flood standards, our takes on “Make Me a Pallet on Your Floor” and “Lazarus,” featured in earlier podcasts).

“Buddy Bolden’s Blues,” which has drifted in and out of our repertoire over the years, drifted back in earlier this month on a sultry summer night that had a decidedly New Orleans tang to it.

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The 1937 Flood Watch
The 1937 Flood Watch Podcast
Each week The 1937 Flood, West Virginia's most eclectic string band, offers a free tune from a recent rehearsal, show or jam session. Music styles range from blues and jazz to folk, hokum, ballad and old-time. All the podcasts, dating back to 2008, are archived on our website; you and use the archive for free at: