JazzTimes 10: Intoxicating Tracks About Alcohol

Songs to choose when breaking out the booze

On Jan. 16, 1919, Nebraska became the 36th state to ratify the Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution—Prohibition. One year and one day later, alcoholic beverages would become illegal to manufacture, transport, or sell in the United States.

We all know what happened next. The new law backfired spectacularly, encouraging people to drink, enriching the gangsters who supplied them, and setting up the 1920s to be a decade-long party. Jazz provided its uproarious soundtrack—it’s no coincidence that the period was called “The Jazz Age,” nor that the music’s success came hand-in-hand with a nationwide, if clandestine, alcoholic spree. Before, during, and after Prohibition, jazz and alcohol have usually been a pair, to the delight of some and the dismay of others. Here are 10 songs that drive home the point.

  1. Preservation Hall Jazz Band: “The Bucket’s Got a Hole in It” (New Orleans, Vol. II, Columbia, 1981)

Most of the world knows this as a country-folk standard, made famous by Hank Williams in 1949. Rumor has it, however, that ur-jazzman Buddy Bolden wrote “The Bucket’s Got a Hole in It,” making it the primordial jazz-and-booze song. Whether it’s a Bolden original or not, “Bucket” comes out of the New Orleans musical tradition—Clarence Williams, the great early jazz and blues pianist/composer, copyrighted the song in 1933. Who better to interpret such a tune than the Preservation Hall Jazz Band? Their 1981 recording has a suitably woozy vibe in its front line (trumpeter Percy Humphrey, clarinetist Willie Humphrey, trombonist Frank Demond), with Allan Jaffe’s tuba bobbing merrily behind them. Percy Humphrey’s vocal, growling and slurred, is the capper. Perhaps this bucket’s already had plenty of beer.

Preview, buy or download New Orleans, Vol. II on Amazon!

Michael J. West

Michael J. West is a jazz journalist in Washington, D.C. In addition to his work on the national and international jazz scenes, he has been covering D.C.’s local jazz community since 2009. He is also a freelance writer, editor, and proofreader, and as such spends most days either hunkered down at a screen or inside his very big headphones. He lives in Washington with his wife and two children.