We Cats Will Swing for You, Vol. 1: 1939-40

We Cats Will Swing for You, Vol. 1: 1939-40

by The Cats & the FiddleThe Cats & the Fiddle


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Following almost directly in the wake of the Spirits of Rhythm, that combination string band and harmony vocal group from the early 1930s, the Cats and the Fiddle updated the formula to fit the hepcat jive and swing of the late '30s and early '40s. The origin of the name can be found within Mother Goose, as in "Hi Diddle Diddle, the Cat and the Fiddle." Formed and led by singing guitarist Austin Powell, the group initially consisted of guitarist Jimmy Henderson, bassist Chuck Barksdale, and little Ernie Price who handled a diminutive member of the guitar family known as a tipple. No violin was employed in the group until much later; the use of the word "fiddle" referred directly to Barksdale's bass fiddle. This band has been variously ignored, misidentified, and misunderstood for many years, and the emergence of an early 21st century juvenile bluegrass group calling itself the Cats and a Fiddler has added confusion to an already muddled picture. The Cats and the Fiddle's first 32 Bluebird recordings were reissued on a double-LP during the '70s, spilling the beans as it were about one of the best kept secrets in all of mid-20th century African-American entertainment. Unfortunately, perhaps the producers of that edition chose to title it after the group's first big hit, Henderson's sentimental "I Miss You So," passing over much better and more attention-getting options from the playlist including "Gang Busters," "Killin' Jive," "Nuts to You," "Public Jitterbug No. 1," or most logically "We Cats Will Swing for You," which is exactly what the Fabulous label chose to call their three-part history of this interesting band when virtually their entire known output was reissued on compact disc in 2003. Volume One contains everything they recorded during 1939, despite an erroneous reference on the album cover to the following year; (if you want to hear recordings from 1940, go directly to Volume Two). In addition to a half-dozen of Powell's novelty jive routines, this segment of the story includes the wistful "Chant of the Rain," Tampa Red's groovy "Mr. Rhythm Man," and the old blues standard "I'd Rather Drink Muddy Water," which might be the best little record the Cats ever managed to make. "Muddy Water" continues to show up on historic rhythm & blues collections, most pointedly RCA Bluebird's When the Sun Goes Down, Vol. 4: That's All Right, and even a cursory sound byte will demonstrate exactly why.

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