Point of View
answers the following question...
Who plays the Jaw Harp?
by Tony King
When the preacher said "Wade do you take Wilma to be your old lady",
Jake was already 6 years old wondering why all the relatives were sittin'
on one side of the Crickle Creek church.
Jake loved Church, not because of any affinity with the Lord, but
because he loved music, and was crabbier than a bear with a sore ass if
he didn't get to sit behind the organist on a Sunday.
Music didn't exactly run in the family and the idea of music to Wade's
ears was his pick up truck, which he said "you could hear a long time
'fore you saw it"
There wasn't a hell of a lot to do once you turned off the paved road in
Crickle creek Arkansas other than puddychuckin' and fiddlefartin' and
since music made young Jake hornier than a two peckered billy goat, his
folks figured they should get him an instrument to keep his hands
occupied in a more dignified manner.
An organ was out of the question on account of its size, which Jake was
tore up about and finally his parents had eliminated all other
instruments on account of their budget.
Jake was devastated and for two weeks he hauled himself around like a
snakes ass in a wagon rut.
It was finally Uncle Cletus came up with the idea of giving Jake his jaw
Since he was no longer in Jail and had no further need of it, the jaw
harp became the property of Jake who was happier than a nine headed cat
in a fish market.
Uncle Cletus never learned to play it officially and he passed the time
in jail pretending the jaw harp was his sweetheart Tabitha.
Suffice to say the lessons he gave Jake on how to play it were just
The upside of Crickle Creek was that in between whitlin' and fixin to
die there was a huge hunk of time left in between to practice, which
He applied himself with the tenacity of chewing gum to a boot and soon
mastered the tongue action. After a few years he could finally do it
without going cross eyed and dribbling too much. He could play the words
to the Lord's Prayer so folks could hear it clearer than when Reverend
Wesley was talkin' it!
As Jake got older though his playing hit a hurdle. His teeth defied
gravity until finally he could eat corn through a picket fence. This
meant he kept hitting the tongue of the harp with his teeth. As his
heart was set on being a bonafide player he hatched a plan to remedy it.
He went up to the tavern and got so drunk he couldn't hit his own ass
with a two gallon scoop shovel. He then emptied the family repertoire of
cuss words in the direction of Bathtub Billy Baisden who obliged by
punching out all the offending teeth with one swing. Jake was lucky to
pull it off though as Bathtub Billy was a man noted not just for his
short fuse but also for his short attention span. The tricky part was
"getting' him angry 'fore he forgot why"
Jake was now good enough to win the Ozark Mountain Championships Best
Rising Hilly Billy Award despite the nerves getting to him.
When he received the award he said "My tongue twisted around my eye
teeth and I couldn't see what I was playin'"
From then on Jake was busier than a flea in a 'coon hat factory, playing
festivals and giving master classes from the Appalachians to Alabama.
When asked where people like the jaw harp, Jake used to say "anywhere
where folks will shoot each other over a picnic table"
The master classes consisted of him saying "Can y'all see what I'm doin'
inside my mouth? …..well neither can I…? " Followed by his famous laugh
"he-yuck he-yuck he-yuck he-yuck he-yuck he-yuck he-yuck he-yuck he-yuck
he-yuck he-yuck he-yuck" He modeled his laugh on "tryin' to start the
tractor on a cold morning"
His left eye would wander 'round the room in time to the music whilst
his right eye stared straight ahead. Asked why, he would say "guess I'm
checkin' for exits 'case things don't pan out"
His technique consisted of "hit the tongue of the harp with your gun
finger and try stuff that doesn't make folks wanna leave. If they start
leavin', change what you're doin' til folks starts a comin' back"
Jake played on 500 albums and was famous for "gettin' on albums without
'em knowin". He did this usually with the co-operation of the sound
engineers or mixers. He 's in the background of some very famous albums
if you have the ear.
To name just a few, he played on Miles Davis "kind of Blue", Elvis
Presley's Hound Dog, "Frank Sinatra's - Fly me to the moon" and even the
Chicago Symphony doing Beethoven's Fifth, where he hid behind the
timpani going "he-yuck he-yuck he-yuck he-yuck he-yuck he-yuck he-yuck
he-yuck he-yuck he-yuck he-yuck he-yuck" in time to the music, and
didn't even get to play his Jaw Harp.,
He was in the remake of Deliverance, entitled Fedex, in which he played
"Dueling jaw harps" by himself with two jaw harps, about which he said
"he was busier than a one legged man at a butt kickin' contest"
He won a Grammy for his album "Sister, where art thou?…In the kitchen
you dang fool"
He released a box set of his albums, simply titled "Y'all"
He lived to a ripe old age and put the secret down to "He ain't done
His wife of 70 years Martha Mae said he was "too dang busy playin' the
jaw harp to drink hisself to death"
His headstone in the Crickle Creek Cemetery simply says
"He-yuck he-yuck he-yuck he-yuck he-yuck he-yuck he-yuck he-yuck he-yuck
he-yuck he-yuck he-yuck"
© 2011 Tony King
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