Fri, 23 Aug 2002 12:21:01 -0400
Bill Haesler wrote about "Hambone" (polite snip)
"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."
I think it was indeed a body slapping routine. A rhythmic slapping of
the chest, thigh and top of the leg. Folks who perform it today say that
it had its origins in Africa.
Derique a current hambone performer, talks about Hambone;
"When I was 15 years old I learned Hambone in Berkeley from my next door
neighbor, a little boy about nine years old. I saw children outside
doing Hambone to see who was the fastest. I was interested to learn what
they were doing and the boy who lived next to me -- I don't remember his
name-- but he showed me the basics of hitting your thigh, chest, and top
of your leg to play the basic hambone. Then he showed me the rhythm. and
talked about the history of Hambone, how Africans were brought to
America on the plantations, how the drum was taken away so that they
could not communicate to each other with the drum or have celebrations,
basically trying to strip their cultures down.
In the African culture the drum is a very important part of life, not
only for their celebration and rituals.
I think it has to do with an interconnection, a feeling you can't really
explain. In the African-American culture there is rhythm in everything
And so, according to Derique, the "hambone" evolved. Along with the song
"Hambone, hambone, where you been." etc .
PS. Derique is a relatively famous international hambone performer and
can be contacted at: <firstname.lastname@example.org> or visit his web site at