Lemon Nash
  • Bourbon Street Parade
  • Papa Lemon's Blues
  • Serenading with Frank Wagner
  • Grave Digger's Blues
  • Trouble With the Man
  • What Was a Medicine Show Like
  • Bowleg Rooster, Duckleg Hen / Sweet Georgia Brown
  • 25 $ a Night
  • Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out
  • Anybody Seen My Kitty
  • Please Give Me Black and Brown
  • Barrelhouse
  • Let the Good Times Roll
  • What a Friend We Have in Jesus
  • Way in the Hee Hi Hoo
  • We Played Everywhere
  • I'm Blue Every Monday
  • Stagolee
  • The Battlefield
  • Rabbit Brown
  • If You Could Fight Like You Can Love
  • Those Drafting Blues
  • Spano's and Fox
  • Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen
  • Big Rock Candy Mountain
  • The Jiggler Vein and the Raincoat
  • Brownskin, Come and Go With Me
  • Bourbon Street Parade
    Genre: Jazz
    MP3 (02:10) [4.97 MB]
  • Papa Lemon's Blues
    Genre: Blues
    MP3 (02:28) [5.64 MB]
  • Serenading with Frank Wagner
    Genre: (Choose a Genre)
    MP3 (01:09) [2.62 MB]
  • Grave Digger's Blues
    Genre: Blues
    MP3 (03:08) [7.17 MB]
  • Trouble With the Man
    Genre: Jazz
    MP3 (01:23) [3.17 MB]
  • What Was a Medicine Show Like
    Genre: Speech
    MP3 (00:41) [1.55 MB]
  • Bowleg Rooster, Duckleg Hen / Sweet Georgia Brown
    Genre: Jazz
    MP3 (02:00) [4.59 MB]
  • 25 $ a Night
    Genre: Speech
    MP3 (01:57) [4.48 MB]
  • Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out
    Genre: Blues
    MP3 (02:19) [5.31 MB]
  • Anybody Seen My Kitty
    Genre: Jazz
    MP3 (01:00) [2.28 MB]
  • Please Give Me Black and Brown
    Genre: Blues
    MP3 (02:23) [5.45 MB]
  • Barrelhouse
    Genre: Speech
    MP3 (00:58) [2.21 MB]
  • Let the Good Times Roll
    Genre: Country Blues
    MP3 (01:45) [4.03 MB]
  • What a Friend We Have in Jesus
    Genre: Gospel
    MP3 (02:18) [5.26 MB]
  • Way in the Hee Hi Hoo
    Genre: Jazz
    MP3 (02:24) [5.51 MB]
  • We Played Everywhere
    Genre: Speech
    MP3 (01:10) [2.69 MB]
  • I'm Blue Every Monday
    Genre: Blues
    MP3 (02:42) [6.18 MB]
  • Stagolee
    Genre: Blues
    MP3 (02:42) [6.19 MB]
  • The Battlefield
    Genre: Speech
    MP3 (01:05) [2.47 MB]
  • Rabbit Brown
    Genre: Speech
    MP3 (01:01) [2.31 MB]
  • If You Could Fight Like You Can Love
    Genre: Jazz
    MP3 (01:39) [3.78 MB]
  • Those Drafting Blues
    Genre: Blues
    MP3 (02:18) [5.27 MB]
  • Spano's and Fox
    Genre: Speech
    MP3 (02:27) [5.62 MB]
  • Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen
    Genre: Blues
    MP3 (02:10) [4.96 MB]
  • Big Rock Candy Mountain
    Genre: Folk
    MP3 (02:49) [6.44 MB]
  • The Jiggler Vein and the Raincoat
    Genre: Folklore
    MP3 (01:55) [4.4 MB]
  • Brownskin, Come and Go With Me
    Genre: Jazz
    MP3 (02:18) [5.26 MB]
Biography
Longtime New Orleans resident Tom Stagg remembers seeing Lemon Nash hanging with the regular crowd around Jackson Square in the late 1960s. Alongside the usual brass bands and hustlers, there was Ruthie the Duck Lady, who wore roller skates and a wedding dress, a row of ducks waddling behind; Mississippi bluesman Babe Stovall, playing guitar behind his head for a growing number of hippies; street evangelist and folk artist Sister Gertrude Morgan, routinely harassed by the musicians she tried to overpower with her gospel; and a man known only as Grandpa, owner of the longest tongue in the world — “a massive, dreadful tongue, like a cow’s tongue” — that he would roll out all the way to the horror of young ladies. Somewhere in that scene, playing a number or two on ukulele then moving on, was the guy they called Papa Lemon. Jackson Square was not his first variety show.

In the 1920’s, Lemon travelled with a medicine show selling blood tonic for an Indian chief and a legless cowboy. Later, he took to the road with at least three different circuses. But over the years, with the exception of two stints on the railroad and a stretch with the Merchant Marine, he was more than likely to be found hustling tips in the streets and barrooms of New Orleans, sometimes in a small group, sometimes on his own. “We’d go anywhere,” he tells us. “We didn’t have no special place. Anywhere we could get a dollar, we’d go there and play.” More often than not, that meant down in the Vieux Carré on Bourbon or Decatur Street. And it is in New Orleans at Tulane's Hogan Jazz Archive where Lemon Nash lives on today in a series of interviews conducted by the archive’s late founder and head curator Richard B. Allen.

On three occasions between 1959 and ‘61, Allen sat down with Lemon to ask him about his life, acquaintances, and music. It was part of a long-term effort by Allen and historian Bill Russell to build a large archival collection of jazz oral histories. Several of the songs and all of the interview segments on this record come from those sessions. The rest come from the collection of Dr. Harry Oster, founder of FolkLyric Records and dedicated field recorder of Louisiana music, who caught up with Lemon in April and October of ‘59.

The Hogan tapes comprise six reels, totaling nearly four hours. Allen leads the interviews, with Russell present but mostly quiet at the first and last sessions. A few others (particularly Allan Jaffe) chime in with questions on the final tapes. Their avid curiosities about the bars, brothels, and musicians of the early jazz scene drive Lemon’s street-level recollections. As the sessions unfold, and Allen’s pour gets heavier, a long gone world and its inhabitants emerge:

Here comes Victor recording artist Rabbit Brown, composer of “James Alley Blues,” in his frock tailcoat, raising a false fire alarm to get a ride back into town with his fireman friends from the station. There lies Barrelhouse, “one of the lead serenaders and fish fry kings,” passed out on the floor with an empty bottle of Sweet Lucy wine. Where the Superdome stands today, we now find the Battlefield, a tough red-light district known for its dives, dance halls, and theaters, and where the famous “sixteen shooter” Winchester rifle, in Lemon’s telling, is standard issue. Out on Bourbon Street, Earl Roach blows his fist “just like a trumpet,” then heads with Lemon down to the Absinthe House before cutting over to Pat O’Brien’s. Honky tonks, cabarets, bootleg houses and good time houses: Lemon brings them all to life with colorful detail. He also takes us through a little bit of his medicine show routine, and tells us a few tales from his time away from New Orleans — like that regrettable night at Pickett’s Hall in Knoxville, Tennessee, when in the excitement of a fatal stabbing, some terrible guy stole his coat and hat.
Lemon Nash was born on April 22, 1898 in Lakeland, Louisiana, not far from Baton Rouge. As a young child, he was brought to live in New Orleans, where his mother ran a rooming house. Among the musicians he recalled hearing in his early years were Buddy Bolden, Buddie Petit, Papa Celestin, and Bunk Johnson. There was music in the family, too. Three of his uncles had a string band, and young Lemon followed suit, picking up guitar and then mandolin before settling, around 1917, on what would become his signature instrument.

Public fascination with the ukulele had been building for nearly forty years — growing steadily, it seemed, from the very moment in August of 1879 when a group of Portuguese workers arrived in Honolulu from the island of Madeira carrying with them a little four stringed instrument they called the machete. Interest spread fast among the locals and soon jumped to the mainland, where, in 1893 at the Chicago World’s Fair, the ukulele made its official stateside debut. By the turn of the century, Hawaii's annexation to the United States and a booming tourist trade with the West Coast were contributing to a growing appetite for Hawaiian music. Sales of Hawaiian records, especially those featuring steel guitar, soon grabbed a huge share of the budding market, and while by contrast there were very few ukulele records even made, the instrument itself was flying off the shelves. Down in New Orleans, a teenager was getting ready to jump on board: “Uke was so famous out here at the beach and different places,” Lemon explained,” I saw everyone was playing the ukulele, so seemed like they all liked the ukulele so I got with the uke.” Guitar would always be in the mix, and soon an added banjo, but the ukulele remained a Lemon constant for the next fifty years.

If the ukulele was reaching its height of popularity in the early ’20s, the medicine show tradition, its own peak already thirty or forty years past, was in sharp decline. Still, around this time Lemon hit the road with the Big Chief Indian and Western Cowboy show selling Royaline Blood Tonic throughout the South. “They had the old Indian man, Chief Half Moon,” he explained, “and a cowboy that lost both his legs riding wild horses. They was in partnership together. We was the string band: we had a mandolin, ukulele, guitar, and a fella with a trumpet.”

Borrowing from minstrel shows, vaudeville routines, Wild West exhibitions, and Native American culture, the musicians, comedians, dancers, and other performers drew crowds at a time when entertainment was not yet widely available at the twist of a dial. Tonics, laxatives, bitters, salves, and other patent medicines were advertised to cure everything from indigestion to madness. The shows were free, but the medicine was a buck a bottle. From Lemon’s perspective, business was never better. It was his job to prime the pump for the pitchman with music and comedy, and then to get out there among the gathered crowd, hand out the medicine, and collect the cash. Standing among the people was a shill, or a plant, there to testify on cue about the miraculous effects of the medicine. “Man,” Lemon recalls, “I come back with my two hands I couldn’t hardly hold them dollars.”
Over the years, Lemon spent more time out on the road with traveling shows, including the John Robinson, Downie Brothers, and Sells-Floto circuses. For a while he hovered around Tennessee, working out of Nashville with a nine-piece band and doing live radio ads for a music store. In the 1940s, he logged eight years with the Merchant Marine, sailing out of Norfolk, Virginia, up to New Haven and Boston. Of course he had his ukulele with him, and the other sailors were more than happy to throw a little something his way for a number.

In the late fifties, Lemon was a regular drop-in at Larry Borenstein’s art gallery at 726 St. Peter Street in the French Quarter. Jam sessions featured Kid Thomas, Billie and DeDe Pierce, George Guesnon, and bazooka player Noone Johnson, among others. Some forty years later, 504 Records issued eleven Lemon cuts recorded informally by Borenstein at his gallery. These and one track on Oster’s Storyville LP The Country Blues represent the only other commercially available recordings of Lemon Nash. In 1961, Allan and Sandra Jaffe took over the lease of 726 St. Peter, officially changing its name to Preservation Hall. Tom Stagg and pianist Lars Edegran both remember Lemon, well dressed in suit and hat, playing his ukulele for tips on the sidewalk out front.
Papa Lemon died December 29, 1969. A paid obituary says he will be sadly missed by his sister, aunt, uncles and cousins, and includes one of only two known photos. The other is on the cover of this record. You might also imagine him with shoe polish on his face, white on his lips, and a beaver hair Indian wig flaring up wild like Dr. Jeekyl’s in the movie, while he passes out bottles of that good ol’ Royaline Blood Tonic to rubes everywhere.
— Adam Machado
23
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  • Profile Last Updated:
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