[Dixielandjazz] Re: Hambone (was Honky-Tonk)

Bill Haesler bhaesler@nsw.bigpond.net.au
Fri, 23 Aug 2002 09:18:59 +1000

Dear John,
I have always assumed it was a dance.
Indeed 'Jazz Dance - The Story of American Vernacular Dance' by Marshall and
Jean Stearns (Schirmer Books [Macmillan] 1968) makes reference to "patting" (a
special routine of slapping the hands,knees, thighs and body in a rhythmic
display) in conjunction with several dances in late 19C, then refers to a 1952
tune (yes 1952) called "Hambone" recorded by Chicago drummer Red Saunders. No
mention however of Lu Watters' great 1949 original tune, "Doing The Hambone".
And what about Hambone Kelly's, the Watters' band venue in El Cerrito? According
to Jim Goggin and Pete Clute in 'The Great Jazz Revival' (1982) Hambone Kelly
was a mate of Watters, a performer from the early minstrel days. To quote: "In
the tradition of a minstrel show, one of the line was introduced as Mr Hambone.
He acknowledged his introduction, bowed,and went into a short body-slapping,
finger-snapping, hollow-jaw thumping and rhythmic tap-dance routine."
The Cassell 'Dictionary of Slang' (Jonathon Green 1998) provides 9 definitions
ranging from the late 19C to the1960s :
*Second-rate actor; a bad 'nigger minstrel', a show off.
*The Black cultural experience. (The stereotyped Black diet is pig-based.)
*A telephone; a trombone.
*Referring to Blacks.
*To live frugally.
*Of a man, to strip off his clothes in public, usually at a drunken party.
(Australian in origin! I can't REMEMBER having done this, but stories have been
circulated.)   8>)
*To trick, to cheat, to show off.
*The knees, the buttocks, the thighs. (Hambones.)  
Kind regards,