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Pre-History of the Jam Session

Posted by brae on Saturday, March 12, 2016


Gak’s belly was full.  He leaned back against the cave wall and belched contentedly. It had been a good hunt.

Oog, Gak’s cousin, tossed the remains of his ostrich leg into the fire and reached for his thumping stick. There was nothing he loved more than kicking back after a feast and getting a groove going with the old thumping stick.

With a grunt he rolled a log close and began thumping…

“Crack, thud…crack crack, thud… crack, thud…crack crack, thud…”

Gak looked up and grinned toothily from across the cave.

“Umgah”? He queried.

He always liked it when Oog got a good thump going. Grabbing his own thumping stick, a lovingly chewed oak branch, he chimed in on a boulder next to him.

Somewhere in the distance a pterodactyl screamed. Gak and Oog’s shadows flickered on the stone walls behind them, and their thumping echoed out of the cave and over the tops of the giant ferns, and up toward the orange moon.

Crack, thud…crack crack, thud…the pounding grew louder and faster. Their eyes shut in concentration; furry foreheads beaded with sweat, the cavemen were oblivious to everything but the pounding beat of their thumping sticks. They were Jamming…!

This was of course before the time of Barg the Builder. Barg was an innovative caveman from the next cave-hood over, and was always fashioning things from stuff like skin, teeth and stumps.  Most of the other cavemen considered him a few boar teeth shy of a full necklace, and were fond of grunting behind his back.

But then one day Barg came up with this modified stump idea:  he hollowed it out and strapped a skin over the top of it. It made an awesome boom when hit with a thumping stick, and was a game changer for the cave jams.

Now all the cool cave jammers had to have one of Barg’s Thumping-Stumps. It just wasn’t enough to whack your stick on a regular stump anymore, and it wasn’t loud enough either. You had your own Thumping-Stump or you wished you did.

Pretty soon it was no secret and everyone was making them, and they kept getting cooler.

Thumping-stumps were decorated with tribal patterns of mammoth blood, and carved with the symbols of their builders.

There were smaller ones for higher sounds, and huge ones for making bigger boomier thumps, and the cave jams were becoming groovier with all kinds of new sounds from better thumpers.

Of course it was only a matter of time before some upstart cave-entrepreneur combined the thumping-stump with a bow string, and presto, the prehistoric guitar was born!

The Cro-Magnon music scene had just evolved from Jamming ‘Level One’ to ‘Level Two,’ or from rhythm to pitch, and the world would never be the same.

Fast forward 10,000 years:

A swaybacked hippy school bus is parked besides the Sacramento River, blending in with the valley oaks and wild grapes.  Several ragged little kids scuttle around in the undergrowth, foraging for roots and berries. Emerging from the bus, a hippy elder waddles down to the river to bathe. The morning sun sparks and glitters on the water and the smell of incense mixes with swamp grass. It is a good day.  I was there.

I was the one with the funny hat, sitting in a field with a notepad and gazing off into space.

The eldest of six wild kids, I was writing lyrics and humming melodies for as long as I can remember. All of us took to one talent or another, largely because the only other option was, well, foraging for roots and berries.

Being home schooled and raised on a bus, we didn’t have a lot of typical socializing. We made up for it with imagination and music. Although at the time I felt like a freak, looking back now I wouldn’t trade it for the world because I did nothing but music.

My first musical memory is being dragged along by the hand through an outdoor market, and passing by a string band with a loud and twangy banjo. We stopped for a few minutes, and I felt the notes bouncing off of my ear drums like hail. I didn’t know what it was, but I did know one thing: it was the coolest sound in the world.

I guess I wouldn’t shut up about it because a few weeks later my dad brought home a decrepit old banjo from a pawn shop. It was missing strings and a bridge, but I had a blast banging away on the drum head like a bongo and grinning like an idiot. It was my thumping-stick!

After a while I got bored of playing it like a drum, and asked my dad for some strings. He told me to go look for some.

“But dad” I whined, “Where am I gonna find strings?”

Dad muttered something cosmic and tugged his beard.

“Go look son. They’re out there somewhere”. He turned back to his book, a tattered copy of the Egyptian Book of the Dead.

I guessed by his body language we were done with the conversation, as he was now lighting incense and reciting something in Sanskrit.

“Fine.  I’ll go look for banjo strings in the middle of the forest, dad” I mumbled, and headed out into the woods.

Using my feral hippy kid instincts, I headed toward the river, as that was where I usually found anything useful. This particular river happened to be more of a muddy drainage ditch called Jacks Slough, and was inhabited primarily by hobos, fishermen and junkies.

After passing several hobo nests, I encountered a gaggle of drunken red necks attempting to fish. They were in a tree trying to rescue their snagged lines, and I watched them injure themselves for a few minutes before it hit me, like a bolt from the blue: I would string my banjo with fishing line!

Just as necessity is the mother of invention, then the desire to Jam is the mother of all things musical. From Gak’s Thumping Stump to my pawnshop banjo, throughout the ages we have fashioned objects of musical delight, so the jamming may continue…Jam on!

1 comment on “Pre-History of the Jam Session”

GreasyCreek Says:
Monday, March 14, 2016 @1:40:00 PM

good genesis story...puts me in mind of the great Louis Armstrong and "How a Song was Born"

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