Slap Howdy, voted by fellow seniors most likely to Burn in Hell for Eternity—the dubious distinction appearing in the yearbook, all caps, beneath a black and white photograph of him French kissing interim janitor Mrs. Boosenard—attended prom without a date at Creek Johnson High School. The year was 1958.
At the dance, Slap was enthralled by the opening band: Sweet Lou and the Lousers, a derelict collection of hillbillies who lived in an abandoned flourmill. The Lousers played two stringy songs with dime store instruments. “Skiffle,” they called their music.
After graduation, Slap and boyhood friend, Bly Harper, formed their own skiffle band and called themselves the Blue Barrel Bastards.
Skiffle: jazz deriving from blues, ragtime and folk music characterized by extremely unconventional instruments and sounds.
Slap and Bly, musically inclined since childhood, mastered the crude, organic instruments which epitomized skiffle: near-empty whiskey jug, tin frying pan, antique washboard, silver spoons, metal trash can and kazoo.
Realizing they needed a bigger sound and a ride, the boys recruited their former gym teacher—Hoke Turley, a grizzled, limping salt bag—and started playing small shows on the outskirts of town. Most of these early venues were raucous locales where booze was ladled out of wooden barrels and knife stab replaced the handshake.
Slap played the three-string banjo in the center. Bly stood barn left on the washboard, striking downward thwacks with a broken-off shotgun trigger. Hoke was positioned to the right, spitting into a kazoo, shaking a matchbox and occasionally blowing his moonshine breath into a jug.
Word spread about this odd assembly of players and the Bastards started selling out the small barns and barrelhouses outside of town. They became popular for the song, “Daddy Banged a Time Machine and Knocked Up the Future.” It was, according to Slap who wrote all the lyrics, based on a true story.
Skiffle garnered moderate popularity and other bands earned fervent followings in small towns along the Gulf Coast. Bands such as Gay Grandfather, Molest the Moon, and The Handsome Hanjobs, along with the Blue Barrel Bastards, were all considered pioneers of this organic sound.
In the spring of 1960, Slap and his Bastards went on a sold out three-city tour. All three quit their day jobs, which was the systematic avoidance of looking for day jobs, and became professional musicians.
With the money made touring, the Bastards released their first record in 1961. It was most notable for the song, “Sheriff Arrested Ma’s Ghost for Drunk and Disorderly.” It became the band’s anthem and was requested by pistol fire at all their shows. The song was, according to Slap, based on a true story. Also on that record were the sing-along songs, “Three Legged Whore Named Forgiveness” and “Kissing Aunt Jora Goodnight in the French Way.”
Cocaine became the underground drug of choice for popular musicians during the time, but the Bastards chose the drug less traveled. Hoke, who had been to Africa during the late 1940’s on one of the first documented mail order bride transactions, remembered snorting a gelatinous line of bull semen during the drunken honeymoon. The Bastards had cases of the reproductive liquid flown in and the band became addicted. The semen, taken through the nostril by way of a bendy straw, severely increased testosterone levels, caused hallucinations and spiked the body’s internal temperature by three to five degrees.
The Bastards coined the phrase “nude skiffle” and their attire followed suit; usually they wore nothing more than field hats and lace less boots during their intense performances. The band’s relevance was briefly noted by famed reviewer Thames Yorson in the Backwater Times. After seeing the Bastards play a sold out barn show in Peekalo, Thames wrote the following day: “…the old man, a former gym instructor I believe, kept eye contact with me the entire show which was uncomfortable since he was nude and erect as the microphone stand. He did offer to walk me to my car after.”
In 1965, The Bastards released a two-song holiday record. The songs, which received moderate airplay, were titled, “Santa Came Down the Chimney With a Hooker and Put His Gun in My Mouth” and “Uncle Virgil Made a Baby with the Christmas Tree.” They were, according to Slap, based on true stories.
Record sales were marginal during the late 60’s and early 70’s. The band became lost in a sea of electric instruments and artists who wore clothing in public. In 1974, the Blue Barrel Bastards called it quits after releasing what would be their last album. On it were the songs “Can’t Be My Baby if His Dick’s Bigger Than Mine” and “Who’s Gonna Make the Bull Come This Time?” True stories all, according to the album notes written by Slap.
Tragedy followed two years later when Hoke Turley, in the throes of a bull semen blackout, was killed while attempting afternoon delight with the working end of a combine harvester. He was 72.
Bly Harper was last seen in 1978 at the Quad County Municipal Airport. Witnesses claim he was boarding a Cessna headed for a remote bull farm on the southernmost acre of South America. His whereabouts are still unknown.
Slap Howdy is alive and resides in the small beach town of Sexado, SC. His last documented interview occurred on July 3rd, 2006. The following appeared in the Sexado Sentinel:
“…the musician sat rocking on his porch, 10 pounds light of embarrassing, listlessly turned opposite of me and my recorder. To his right, on a table, stood a glass cup filled with a cloudy sludge. ‘A bit of the hooch?’ I asked. ‘Can’t take it up the nose no more,’ Slap said, ‘doctor said I collapsed something.’ I asked of the Bastards last song, If Heaven Is a Whorehouse, I Hope They Take Coupons. ‘Guess the senior class at Creek Johnson was wrong about you,’ I said. ‘I sure as shit hope so,’ he said scribbling out what appeared to be homemade coupons complete with expiration date. I took leave shortly after, but forgot to ask about Bly. Fifty yards removed from the porch, I turned back, calling his name, but the old musician was gone. And that cup was empty.”
Patrick Walczy lives in Washington, DC. He blogs pancakes with his wife and in 7th grade, he blogged his pants, twice. Also, he has no idea what blog means. Previous work can be found in Hobart.