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Friday, May 02, 2008

Country Washburn (1904-74)

Joseph Washburn was born December 28, 1974, in Houston, Texas. Joe was an "only child" in Port Arthur, Texas, where his father was the postmaster. He learned to play the tuba in his school band and also learned how to play the double bass. He also enjoyed singing. From his high school band director, he learned how to arrange music for any combination of instruments.

After graduating from high school, Joe ventured off to New York to seek work as a musician. A stylish guy, he didn't look the way he talked, with his slow Texas drawl. He looked like everyone else. He was given the nickname "Country." He played in several bands.

Eventually, he joined up with the Ted Weems Orchestra. The Weems orchestra would gain notoriety for being the band that backed up Elmo Tanner when he was whistling the song "Heartaches." Country was arranger, tuba player, bass player, singer, and announcer for the band (people accepted his Texas drawl). Country had his own theme song with the band, "Good Morning, Good Evening, Good Night!"

In 1940, the Ted Weems Orchestra was on a radio quiz show, Beat the Band. Contestants would hear song titles, then try to guess how the tune went. Johnny Carson would do the same thing many years later on the Tonight Show on NBC-TV. Country Washburn sometimes had a segment on the show in which he told the audience a song title and then played it on his double bass. Beat the Band was sponsored by Kix cereal.

In 1942, Spike Jones, who was the drummer for the John Scott Trotter Orchestra (Bing Crosby's group), had a wild idea for starting a new band. It would use the instrumentation from twenty years earlier, which would mean that a tuba was used for the bass instrument, instead of the string bass. Spike had gotten to know Country well in New York. He invited him to be his tuba player and do his arrangements. Country said he'd do it but he would just be the tuba player when he played with the band and would not draw attention to himself. Spike called that a deal. The later tuba players with the group were a little more outlandish, compared to Country's conservatism.

The group became known as the City Slickers. The musicians were all the best Spike could get. Spike, himself, was an excellent drummer. More will be said about him in the page about Spike Jones. However, it should be noted that the group was so popular, they were even featured in the Dick Tracy comic strip. In the one seen here, "Joe, the bass horn player" refers to Country Washburn. The City Slickers were very popular on radio, TV, and even in the funnies.

Country "retired" from the City Slickers in 1949. Actually, CBS Radio in Hollywood hired him as a staff conductor. On most of the shows he worked on from that point, his name wasn't mentioned. However, there was a daily afternoon musical show, Alka Seltzer Time (starring Martha Tilton and Curt Massey) in which he was the bandleader. When the show moved to Mutual (at KHJ in Hollywood), Country went with it. When the show went off the air, he came back to CBS (at KNX), where he retired in 1959.

Country eventually moved to a retirement community in Orange County, California (Rossmoor Leisure World), with his wife. He died on January 21, 1974, at the age of 69 of a heart attack in Santa Ana, California.


For those who don't know, the first Friday in May is International Tuba Day. If you haven't already wished the tubists in your life Happy Tuba Day, then do it now, even if it's days, weeks, or months late. They will appreciate your effort.


Ted Hering said...

Just an addition to the musical career of "Country" Washburne: He teamed up in 1947 with fellow Spike Jones bandmember, Red Ingle, to produce comedy records as "The Natural Seven." It was Joe's idea to use Jo Stafford as the hillbilly singer on "Tim-Tay-Shun."

Ted Hering said...

Just an addition to the musical career of "Country" Washburne: He teamed up in 1947 with fellow Spike Jones bandmember, Red Ingle, to produce comedy records as "The Natural Seven." It was Joe's idea to use Jo Stafford as the hillbilly singer on "Tim-Tay-Shun."

aroonie said...

Joe "Country" Washburne was also a fine Dixieland tuba/bass player. For a good example of his jazz playing seek out recordings he made with Pete Daily's Chicagoans. Plenty on YouTube.

Unknown said...

Foster Carling wrote lyrics with Country Wasburn, among others. I was Fosters writing partner in the 1970s until Fosters death and have his music files.

Unknown said...

If interested in FOster and COuntrys work together contact to contact FOster Carlings final writing partner.

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