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Dial Harry

Harry Dial was one of the classic drummers of the early jazz world, his specialty keeping time behind artists known for their fun and pep. In fact, a glance at Dial's discography is something like a partial scan of the most entertaining albums of all time, because such a list would surely include sides by two guys named Louis -- Armstrong and Jordan -- as well as Fats Waller and Ella Fitzgerald. Dial was a solid, energetic drummer who pushed the beat forward without cluttering the airspace, leaving plenty of room for Waller's muttered asides or Satchmo's famous behind the beat phrasing. His use of the sock cymbal and his fat, marching band snare drum sound are often imitated. Dial also was one of the rare breed of singing drummers, the vocal side of his talents usually only exposed when he was in charge of the band. He was allowed to make comments on records with Fats Waller, the best example of which is the introduction to the upbeat "Don't Let It Bother You." Waller tells his drummer that he looks glum and asks him if there's anything wrong, to which Dial replies: "Oh man everything's wrong! My old lady done ran off with the iceman. And my daughter ran off with the undertaker. And I'm about to die and ain't got nobody to bury me!" Dial's career as a bandleader included a series of sides for Vocalion beginning in 1930. The group, whose recordings included the deadly "Poison," was known as Harry Dial's Blusicians (sic), and included players such as banjoist Eursten Woodfork, trumpeter Shirley Clay (a man), and the fine alto saxophonist Lester Boone. Some of this material has been reissued on the compilation Chicago 1929-1930: That's My Stuff. He was already recording with Armstrong around this time, and began cutting tracks with Waller as as member of Fats Waller's Rhythm before the middle of that decade. It might have taken him an additional ten years to master the art of playing the maracas, since he seemed to find a way to include the delicate shakers on just about every funny style of music he played with Jordan beginning in the mid-'40s when he enlisted in the Tympany Five. In the late '40s, he took another crack at recording under his own name, producing "Prince's Boogie" for Decca with one of the earliest versions of the catchy "Diddy Wah Diddy" on the flipside. Dial liked to write as well, beginning with a song entitled "Don't Play Me Cheap," recorded by the famous Armstrong. His songs were also recorded by the merely infamous, a category that would not exist if it didn't include a singer named Bea Booze, who cut Dial's "Catchin' as Catch Can" for Decca in 1942. Many years later, the drummer published his All This Jazz About Jazz: The Autobiography of Harry Dial. He is no relation to the young Tennessee blues and country guitarist and songwriter Harry Dial, and also was not the inspiration for the Harry Dial character played on Murder She Wrote by tough guy Vince Edwards. Finally, the dapper, suave Dial would have felt it important that he is most certainly not the Harry Dial who made it into the Guiness Book of World Records by claiming to have gone 78 years without bathing.
© Eugene Chadbourne /TiVo

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