Album Review - Making Whoopee

Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band
EMI Australia 7243 814858 2 8

Where else could you find quotes from Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, Thus Spake Zarathustra (2001, A Space Oddyssey) and Entry Of The Gladiators (Thunder And Blazes), emanating from various combinations of traditional (and not so traditional) jug band instrumentation? Well, I don't know where else, but the answer is definitely here, on this album. Your appetite for great washboard, harmonica, kazoo, tea-chest bass and jug, will be amply sated by this combo's musical menagerie, along with infectious rhythm and vocals.

The double album Making Whoopee by the Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band is a CD re-issue of two albums; Smoke Dreams (1973) and Wangaratta Wahine (1974).

Entranced by 78 recordings as a child (and literally from a vaudevillian family) Mic's musical interests even as a teenager were moulded by these influences. He formed his first band, the Jelly Bean Jug Band at age 17. Grabbing a washboard, he told younger brother Jim to learn the harmonica. Jim achieved a prowess and musical maturity on the instrument almost instantly ! The Jelly Bean Jug Band evolved into the Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band.

The band's version of My Canary Has Circles Under Its Eyes caught the Australian public's imagination, and was a timely antedote to the "Glam Rock God" phenomenon of the early seventies. Fuelled by a couple of high-profile dee-jays who gave the single lots of airplay, it was a hit. The album Wangaratta Wahine went double-gold, causing the original release, Smoke Dreams, to follow in its gold footsteps. Captain Matchbox, doing its anti-pop/rock thing, performed in all the sorts of places that the "real" rock bands played, and had the heady lifestyle to match !

The gamut spans absolutely traditional gritty blues, (Sophisticated Mama), quaint parlour toe-tappers (Top Hat), to energised hot club (Nagasaki). Mic is a versatile vocal performer. His sweet tone on "My Canary" quite charms, and he can sound straight out of the 1920s with (or without) a megaphone. Check out hot harmonica action from Jim Conway (later a member of Australian blues outfit The Backsliders). Jug Band Music "...certainly was a treat to me" makes an appearance, but the jug itself is rarely entrusted with the sole bass duties, but rather one (or several) will be added to the general texture. A distinct penchant for soundscapes is evident. The introduction to track Wangaratta Wahine is a tableau of traffic on the Hume Highway (where Wangaratta, or "Wang", can be found en-route), and one motorist's arrival at a roadhouse.

The curious and striking image on the cover (originally on the Wangaratta Wahine album) is by cartoonist/illustrator and poet Michael Leunig, who is now a bastion of creative social comment in Australia. It won the award for Album Cover of the Year in 1974.

Tidbits: Mic once organised the First National Jug Orchestra where some 50 players from several bands were organised into sections (jug section, washboard section), each on its own big band-style rostrum, which played en masse ! Mic does a fire eating act as part of every performance (I know, because I can feel the heat !)

We have a saying in Australia... "Do yourself a favour..." and grab this album.

Carolyn "Cazzbo" Johns

First published in 2001 in The Jug Band Rag (a now-defunct online publication).