Sunday, January 10, 2010

"Washington Square" -- The Village Stompers (music)

Dick Brady (trombone), Ralph Casale (banjo), Frank Hubbell (trumpet), Joe Muranyi (clarinet), Al McManus (drums), Lenny Pogan (guitar), Don Coates (piano), and Mitchell May (reeds, winds).
Allmusic Guide

Around 1963, the people who thought rock music was just a fad were probably feeling that their prediction was vindicated.  The early rock and roll of the 50s was being diluted.  Elvis had gone into the army and came out a balladeer.  Chuck Berry was in jail.  Jerry Lee Lewis was under a cloud of scandal.  The Everly Brothers were has-beens.  The Four Seasons were rock and roll's biggest act.* 

The hip kids were moving away from rock and toward folk music, with people like Bob Dylan and Peter Paul and Mary looking like the next big thing in music.

Into this atmosphere came the Village Stompers.

At the same time that folk music was becoming popular on college campuses, there were some other genres that were also filling coffeehouses.  And one of these was Dixieland jazz.

Yes, the Village Stompers were a Dixieland jazz band,** though they're often categorized as folk.  They had played in various venues until coming together in New York in 1963. They recorded an album and released the title tune as a single***.

"Washington Square" was a sensation.  The song is an instrumental with a tune that you just can't get out of your head -- simple, yet catchy and played out on a banjo.

The song reached #2 on the top 40 charts.  On the strength of that, the album reached #5, but the rest of the album wasn't just fill.  It included "Midnight in Moscow" (now a Dixieland standard and a favorite of mine), "Blowin' in the Wind", "If I Had a Hammer," and even "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport."  In other words, nothing but fun, catchy music.

But the Village Stompers ran into trouble.  A few months after their success, Beatlemania and the British Invasion hit the US, and the fortunes of a Dixieland jazz band that everyone thought was folk was not bright.  Their second album, More Sounds of Washington Square, barely charted and though there were some well-regarded singles, the group never had another hit and broke up in 1966 (though they re-formed recently and are available for concerts).

Maybe Dixieland was never going to catch on, but "Washington Square" and the Village Stompers made a valiant effort.


*Though Motown was just getting started, and the Beach Boys were on the scene.

**Nowadays, I'd expect a group by that name to be heavy metal.

***The name of the group (which connected them with Greenwich Village, the center of folk) and the song (Washington Square is in Greenwich Village) were instrumental in their being considered a folk group.


the drifter said...

Paved the way for Al Hirt

ΜΟΛΩΝ ΛΑΒΕ said...

Thanks for the bio on this group. They are going to make an appearance in the next day or so at my portal.

Unknown said...
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Anonymous said...

Whether it's folk music or not, it's a great song.

Doug Rhodeside

UltimateLadBrad1953 said...

I was 10 when I first heard,"Washington
Square," and it's been one of my ALL-TIME FAVOURITES,instrumental or with words,of the last half-century of listening to music.(I'll be 60 July 6).