Pass it Around

"If I made records for my own pleasure, I would only record Charley Patton songs." - Bob Dylan

African-American Banjo Quintet 1930s Original Photograph collection Jim Linderman


Join as we celebrate, well...I would say the opening of Olin's Frozen Custard Stand, but what we are really celebrating here is the American Dream. A white family in brand new "open for business" form and their Icy new Custard stand, with a most remarkable "colored" band ready to entertain the crowd when they arrive.

In one photograph showing a span of no more than 50 feet, we see enough real American history to last a lifetime.

Photographs of seemingly "rural" African-American professional musicians in 1930s are rare as can be. And professional they are, make no mistake. There is even a piano and drum set on that puny stage, and what I would give to have a listen as I try the custard. I would not be surprised one bit if a few of the stand workers broke out into a dance later, and trust that was the primary skill of the performers.

Make them dance.

As musicianers, the job would have been to play all the current hits for their audience, including standards...but I'm going to say some of them brought the blues.

Music is certainly not the only harmony here.

Now allow me some some speculation which might be of interest to record collectors, fans of the blues and more. Although frozen custard was invented in Coney Island in 1919, it really took hold in Wisconsin a decade later. That's right. Wisconsin. Soon small custard stands spread over the state. Now do I KNOW this is Wisconsin? Nope. But there is another reason besides custard I suspect as much.

Paramount Records was located there. Everyone from Blind Lemon Jefferson to Robert Johnson (with Charley Patton in between) went up to Wisconsin to make 78 records which created the earliest aural record of the Blues.

Were these musicians up north to record?

I try to be fact based, but this is too good a story not to surmise, and even if not true, it is one hell of a photograph.

Additionally, there was a connection between an "Olin" and the underground railroad. Smoke that too.

By the way, I found no record of "Olin's Custard" but someone knows, so PLEASE let me know? Likewise, if any blues scholars recognize this most remarkable band, get in touch. The Wisconsin connection is too obvious to ignore, but for all I know the scene depicted is Michigan (where the photograph was found) and the Olin name turns up in both places.

But a Custard Stand in Wisconsin with Paramount performers passing through is the stuff of legends.

Anonymous Photographer "Custard Stand with African-American Musicians" circa 1930 Original Photograph with handwritten notation on reverse. Collection Jim Linderman