Young Will Shade was a Memphis-born musician who played a bunch of instruments. A serious harmonica player. He’d been dabbling for a while when he heard a recording of a new type of music by a group called the Dixieland Jug Blowers. Hearing that, Will knew he could make a living by rustling up some street musicians from his hometown. And so the Memphis Jug Band was born.
The group had a revolving membership of blues masters over their 40-year reign on Beale Street. Memphis Minnie. Furry Lewis. Hattie Hart. All the best on the Memphis scene joined up with Will Shade at some point to blow a little jug. But during all those years, Shade remained the backbone of the group, writing and arranging most of their songs. Not to mention totally changing the game with his harmonica playing.
Here’s one of the Memphis Jug Band’s more famous tracks. From 1928, “Stealin’ Stealin’.”
Will Shade was born February 5, 1898 in Memphis, Tennessee. He’s best known as the founding member and backbone of the Memphis Jug Band. He was a composer, penning songs like “Stealin, Stealin” and “On the Road Again,” and a multi-instrumentalist praised for his influential harmonica technique.
After hearing recordings from a Kentucky jug band, Shade brought the music to some initially reluctant friends, who joined up to found one of the first jug bands on Beale Street. Active for over 40 years, between 1927 and 1934 alone the band recorded more than 100 sides. Though their popularity waned in the late thirties, Shade kept the flame alive. When ‘60s folk-blues revivalists went to Memphis, they found him still blowin’ on Beale Street. He even appeared on the comeback album of his old rival Gus Cannon—of Cannon’s Jug Stompers. Will Shade died in 1966 and was buried in an unmarked grave. In 2008, Shade fans pitched in to buy him a headstone.