That whistling man with the bones

Freeman David was a shoeshine boy from Alabama. While he worked, he would whistle and tap out percussion with whatever was to hand. He became good at it, a precise whistler and able to play the bones, holding four sticks in each hand rather than the usual two. As a performer, under the name “Whistling Sam”, he worked the circuit in restaurants and nightclubs during and after World War Two. Then, in 1948, he performed one night in a Chinese restaurant in Los Angles, where one of the clientele happened to be a record company executive …

3056-side-aUnder the name “Brother Bones,” he released a whistling, percussive version of the jazz standard “Sweet Georgia Brown”. Released in 1949, it became a huge hit, including in Australia. You know this track, even if you don’t realise it yet, because it was later adopted by the Harlem Globe Trotters as their theme tune.

Planet Vinyl is not usually the place for hits, but David – “that whistling man with the bones,” someone calls him in the introduction – gives such a joyous and original performance that we will make an exception.

A piece of music history trivia: this was the first commercially successful record to use a synthesiser. You can hear it on “Sweet Georgia Brown”, but it is clearer on the B-side, “Margie” The synthesiser was manufactured by Hammond. Called the Novachord, it was a monster: inside were 163 vacuum tubes and more than 1000 capacitors. It is used here subtly, with nice warm left hand notes, filling out the bass sound. I love both tracks, so let’s give it a spin.

3056-side-b

  • Artist: Brother Bones and His Shadows,
  • Title: Sweet Georgia Brown / Margie
  • Format: 10” shellac disc, 78rpm
  • Label: Fidelity
  • Catalogue: FY-1067
  • Manufactured in: Australia
  • Year: unknown (early 1950s?)

Many of the records featured on this blog, and hundreds of others, are for sale via Discogs.

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