Date Posted: 2006-12-21

I wrote an article aout the Original Salty Dogs for the Mississippi Rag in 1975 and it seemed amazing that a jazz band would stay together 28 years- it seems even more amazing that I wrote that article 31 years ago and here we are in 2006 and the Salty Dogs are still around, one year shy of sixty years in the “music business.’ Pretty good for a college dixieland band!
When I first started collecting jazz records in the 1960s the Salty Dogs were sort-of unrecorded legends. There was an album on Audiophile of one of the later Purdue-based bands and there was a very active band in the Chicago area which had not recorded.
Now it turns out there were a lot of Salty Dogs records-- various sessions have been coming out on CD fairly regularly as alumni of the band issue tapes they squirreled away in some cases for as long as fifty years. Our release this time out includes no less than four CDs by the Salty Dogs, an amazing tribute to one of the more popular traditional jazz bands in the business.
In 1947 college campuses were full of returning veterans, eager to get on with their lives. They were a relatively serious student body--many were trying to start families while taking classes and the returning GIs were a bit older than the norm for college students.
Nevertheless there was still room for fun on campus. A group of Purdue University students started a dixieland band, originally called the West Lafayette Philharmonic Sextet. Back in those days most college campuses had a dixieland band and some of the campus groups became well known through off-campus appearances and recordings-- the West Lafayette Philharmonic basically played for their own amusement. Its organizers were Birch Smith, who played cornet and trombone and Dick Mushlitz, who played the washboard, though he learned the banjo shortly after when the band acquired a “real” drummer. Others in the group included Howie Simpson, cornet; Bob Berg, trombone; Johnny Palmer, piano; and Cliff Selman, drums.
The band became a semi-official student group when the Purdue Jazz Society was formed a year or two later. The group was by this time known as the Original Peerless Jazz Band, and they held their own on their first public appearance on the same bill with the Doc Evans Band at a campus concert.
The band at this time could best be described as a jam-dixieland group- some of the members were New Orleans purists- cornetist Birch Smith, and clarinetist Buzz Reynolds, who came on board in 1949 and served as a leader for a while. The band were becoming campus fixtures, appearing at beer-soaked fraternity parties and occasional school-sponsored events.
The band became known as the Salty Dogs when they began accepting off-campus jobs. The Original Peerless Jazz Band name was apparently the property of the Purdue Jazz Society and by default the property of the University. Rather than get into a dispute with the University, the band began billing themselves as the Salty Dogs when they appeared at various taverns, at first around Lafayette.
The band survived the graduation of its earliest members, and, while some players changed from year to year the band kept going on. The returning Dogs would look over the freshman class each year and pick up whatever they needed that year to fill out the band.
They even attracted some teenaged fans from the local area- John Cooper and Jim Snyder were in high school when they began to follow the band and they’d occasionally get to sit in during some of the band’s fraternity house jobs.
The band during this period (ca. 1951) included John Ely, trumpet; Birch Smith, cornet and bass trombone; Buzz Reynolds, clarinet; Walt Dornbusch, piano; Jack High, bass; Dick Mushlitz, banjo; Enos Barrett, drums, and either Ralph Maxson or Pete Bartley on trombone.
By 1953 most of the original band were gone- several of them had settled in the Chicago area and had begun working small jobs there, so there was in effect a band and a half. The Chicago guys would occasionally fill their ranks from the Purdue band or use local Chicago musicians, which included people like cornetist Bill Price, clarinetists Frank Chace and Darnell Howard, and pianists Don Ewell and Don Gibson.
The Chicago guys got an agent, Hank Magner, and he lined up work for them all over Chicago’s southwest suburbs, working the Sabre Room, the Hunt Club and the Red Arrow, among other venues.
The band during this time was principally influenced by George Lewis. Lewis was popular, getting a lot of college bookings, and his records were readily available.
During most of 1954 the band played at the Hunt Club in Berwyn IL, now known as Fitzgerald’s. During the school year they played Sundays only but in the summer most of the guys rented rooms in Chicago and the band played all weekend. One of the band’s regular fans, Andy Hoigaard of Oak Park, asked the guys if they’d ever heard of Lu Watters. They hadn’t, and he invited them to his house to hear some records. He had all the West Coast 78s, autographed by Watters’ band. Most of the guys took to the sound immediately and they all taped the records. Others, like clarinetist Buzz Reynolds and trumpeter John Ely, were more in tune with what the band had been doing, and ultimately retired from the band.
The first Salty Dogs record (a 45 rpm double EP) was issued in 1954 by the Reamers Club, an organization that raised money for athletic scholarships. The album, The Salty Dog Express, sold out quickly in the campus bookstores and the Student Union.
In 1954 the band also got to meet one of their idols, Turk Murphy, for the first time. Some drove to Milwaukee to hear the Murphy band at the Three Dolls Cafe, They were underage and couldn’t get in but after some pleading from some of Murphy’s men the owner relented and let them stand in the lobby for a set. They got to know Turk’s sidemen pretty well, and tuba player Bob Short even stopped in South Bend to visit the band while driving back to San Francisco.
The band reactivated founding member Birch Smith around 1955 as he was living in the Chicago area; Bill Price, the man they’d been using on Chicago-area jobs had taken a demanding day job. They used Darnell Howard on clarinet until he left for San Francisco and a job at the Hangover Club, and after he left they used Frank Chace on Chicago-area jobs. They were getting good bookings around Chicago, even a chance to work at the Blue Note, Chicago’s most prestigious jazz club.
Smith started Winding Ball Records in 1955 and recorded a session with the band that wasn’t issued until it appeared on CD a few years ago.
There began to be two different bands about this time- one in Chicago made up largely of graduates of the Purdue band, and a group at Purdue that worked campus jobs- there was some overlap and occasional misunderstandings. People would call Purdue looking for a band for a Chicago job and get the campus band, as to Mary Lou Bilsborough, the social director at the Student Union who received most of the calls, the campus group were the real Salty Dogs. There were even instances where the campus band would play a job for a few weeks, lose it, and find they’d been replaced by the Chicago group. Gradually the Chicago band adopted the Original Salty Dogs name to differentiate them from the campus band, but there were still misunderstandings.
About 1958 the campus band had dwindled to almost nothing by a series of graduations and John Cooper, who was leading the band, put an ad in the student newspaper looking for new blood. He had over a hundred musicians show up for the first audition. He had them fill out a questionnaire then had them play the Saints endlessly while he walked around the room listening to them. He found enough players to get the band back in business.
The group got another chance to make a record for the Reamer Club in 1958, this time at the Universal Studio in Chicago. The personnel for this record included Lew Green, trumpet; Russ Dagon, clarinet; Jim Snyder, trombone; Jim Jones, banjo; John Cooper, piano; Jim “Whip”Williams, tuba; and Joel Jensen, drums. This session, including some previously unissued material, has been reissued on CD by Jim Jones of Yestertunes. There were some hard feelings at the time of this recording as the sponsors wanted a Purdue-only group and the Chicago contingent, some of whom still worked campus jobs, were not even aware there was to be a recording until shortly before it happened.
The Chicago band continued along, though they had personnel problems as well. These were solved by gradually absorbing musicians from another Chicago group, the Chicago Stompers, led by trumpeter Fred Sadock. This was a very good band and four of their members, clarinetist Kim Cusack, drummer Wayne Jones, tubaist Mike Walbridge and pianist-trombonist Jim Dapogny, wound up in the Chicago band,
This 1958 edition of the campus band lasted until about 1961 when Lew Green and John Cooper graduated and moved to Chicago. There were only two Dogs left on campus- trombonist Tom Bartlett and Dick Connors, tuba. Darrell Guimond, who’d played trumpet a few years earlier, returned to the band and two substitutes from prior years, pianist Brent Dickson and drummer Bob Lord, became fulltime members. There was a lot of rehearsing to be done, but they got the band back into shape.
The campus band got a chance to record again in 1963- Waukesha WI record dealer Bob Rippey was a big fan of the band and promoted a series of concerts for them, and invited E. D. Nunn of Audiophile Records hear the group. He was impressed and made arrangements to go to Lafayette IN to record them. The record, Audiophile AP-82, was the first Salty Dogs record to achieve general distribution. The personnel included Darrell Guimond, trumpet;Larry Wilkins, clarinet; Tom Bartlett, trombone; Brent Dickson, piano; Lynn Oberholtzer, banjo; Steve Ley, tuba and Bob Lord, drums.
This particular group dissolved shortly after the recording as Lord, Bartlett and Dickson graduated and Guimond moved out of the area. The group reorganized with Oberholtzer switching to piano, Ley switching to trombone. Al King came in on trumpet, Dick “Muncie Slim”Weimer joined on clarinet, and Bob Rucker played the tuba. They found a drummer, Yoichi Kimura, when he walked into one of their rehearsals. He’d been active with the New Orleans Rascals in Japan and came to Purdue for graduate school. This group traveled to California for the Rose Bowl and made a very scarce record for Cuca, a Wisconsin label better known for polka records. This was about the end of the campus band- the 1960’s saw reduced interest in jazz among the college students-- everyone wanted to be in a rock band.
The Chicago band began the 1960s with a series of regular jobs- the band at this time included Lew Green, trumpet; Kim Cusack, clarinet; Eddy Davis, banjo; John Cooper, piano; Mike Walbridge, tuba; Wayne Jones drums and a succession of trombonists, including Jim Beebe, Ralph Hutchinson, Bill Hanck and Doug Finke until Jim Snyder moved back the Chicago area and rejoined the band in 1963.
About the same time the band took their first extended job playing at Paul’s Roast Round in Oakbrook. This was a restaurant with a nice music room. The band played there for all weekends of 1963 and attracted a number of new fans.
The Chicago band was still unrecorded at this point. Wayne Jones was filing detailed reportage in Coda Magazine covering the entire Chicago scene and it was apparent the Dogs were busy, but still unheard outside their domain in the southwest suburbs of Chicago.
This was remedied in 1964. Clancy Hayes was finishing a month at the Plugged Nickel in Chicago with a pickup band including sometime Dogs Bill Hanck and Jim Dapogny, and the Dogs suggested recording with Hayes to Delmark Records impresario Bob Koester. They all met at the Plugged Nickel during the last week of Hayes’ engagement- most of the Dogs sat in and Hayes agreed to the recording.
The Dogs were understandably nervous, making their recording debut alongside a veteran like Hayes. There was time for only one rehearsal- they ran over a few numbers in Wayne Jones’ basement then spent the evening talking over old times with Hayes, who was there at the beginning of West Coast traditional jazz with Lu Watters.
The recording session went well-- Hayes, who’d been recording for twenty years sensed their unfamiliarity with the process and was very patient and kept everything relaxed. The session was soon issued and got good reviews, as neither Hayes nor the Dogs had done any recent recording. There were additional sessions in 1966 (for GHB and Blackbird) and in 1969, 1972 and 1975 for GHB.
The band spent most weekends of 1969 in residence at Sloppy Joe’s, a cavernous nightclub at Dearborn and Hubbard in Chicago’s Near North area. There were two personnel changes at this time- Tom Bartlett returned from a stint with the Army in Panama and replaced Jim Snyder on trombone. Jack Kuncl assumed the banjo chair when Bob Sundstrom, who’d replaced Eddy Davis in 1963, left for Rhode Island. The Sloppy Joe’s experience was good for the band as they got to play together twice a week for a year and the band was very solid after that much regular work. The Salty Dogs band that existed at the end of 1969 is the same band that gathers a few times a year thirty-seven years later.
The Salty Dogs began appearing at festivals in 1969, in those days chiefly at the St Louis Ragtime and Traditional Jazz Festival held annually on the Goldenrod Showboat. The St Louis fest was very popular in those days and attracted a large number of groups giving the Dogs a chance to get together with other groups, even getting to play alongside their idol Turk Murphy. The Dogs even got to supply a musician to Turk when Mike Walbridge spent most of 1969 playing the tuba with Murphy.
The Dogs made their final personnel change in 1974 when they added a vocalist, Carol Leigh, to the lineup. Ms. Leigh began her musical career in San Francisco during the 1950s and knew everyone on the San Francisco jazz scene. She was touring Holiday Inns with a piano player when he quit suddenly- she called her agent who suggested she find work in Chicago as there wasn’t much doing in California. She got a job at the Gaslight Club and began exploring the Chicago scene. She met the Dogs at a concert at the Big Horn on December 16, 1973; she sang a couple of numbers and things went well. She went to St Louis with them in the summer of 1974 and has been a regular with the band ever since.
The band ceased being a working group (in the sense of having regular gigs) in the early 1970s when it became geographically dispersed- Lew Green moved to NY in 1972 and some of the others followed suit- Kim Cusack settled for a while in Michigan and Minnesota while Carol Leigh married clarinetist Russ Whitman and moved to Connecticut. They continued to be very busy recording for a number of labels and became a very popular fixture on the traditional jazz festival circuit.
For a number of years there’s been also a group known as the Chicago Salty Dogs, generally the Salty Dogs with Bob Neighbor (or more lately, Art Davis) on trumpet and without Carol Leigh, basically everyone who was living in the Chicago area. This group also makes festival appearances as well as appearing at Chicago-area jazz clubs.
One highlight for the band was a weekend gig at the Emporium of Jazz in Mendoza MN in the February 1973. The Hall Brothers band had an out-of-town booking and hired Turk Murphy and the Dogs for the weekend. It may have been the only time Murphy was hired to play with another band since he founded his band. The Dogs were apprehensive but after a couple of numbers Turk figured out they were sincere in their assimilation of his music and he and the band became close friends.
The band were involved in two tributes to Chicago jazz veterans. Jack Kuncl and Tom Bartlett became friendly with Banjo Ike Robinson, who was still playing at a suburban restaurant over sixty years after setting the jazz world on fire with his sensational recordings with Jabbo Smith. They decided to record a CD featuring Ike with the Dogs. They selected some numbers representing highlights of Ikey’s career and started rehearsing. Unfortunately Ikey’s wife became ill and passed away and soon after that Ike became ill as well. The band had recoded backgrounds to which Ike would add vocals and/or banjo playing, but he died before they could finish the project. The members of the band finished the job as a memorial tribute, closing the set with an eerie number featuring the band merging with a recording of Ike from a rehearsal.
The Salty Dogs were also close to Franz Jackson. Back in the 1950s both were featured at the Red Arrow, a popular lounge in Stickney IL and some of the Dogs worked with Franz over the years. They finally got together in Delmark Records’ Riverside Studio in 2000 for a recording. Franz, who was nearing ninety, played tenor and soprano sax with the band,and sang some cheerful, gruff-voiced vocals. Jackson and the band sounded like they’d been working together for years and Jackson sounded like he was several decades short of ninety.
The Salty Dogs celebrated fifty years as a band in October 1997 with concerts at Purdue and for the Illiana Club of Traditional Jazz at Chicago Ridge IL. There was a tremendous outpouring of musicians, with appearances from no less than twenty-eight (of perhaps ninety) former Dogs who were still playing. The concerts were organized in a sort of chronological fashion with groups of various eras reassembled. It was amazing to see how many of the former players were still active with other bands, though, as Jim Snyder once said, “once a Salty Dog, always a Salty Dog.” The band has had a remarkably low mortality rate, with four of the originals- Mushlitz, Smith, Reynolds and Maxson still playing.
The Salty Dogs’ personnel has been unchanged since the early 1970s. The band generally includes:
Lew Green, trumpet. Lew came on board at Purdue in 1957, and became part of the Chicago group when he graduated in 1961. He comes from a musical background- his uncles were the Green Brothers, a popular xylophone novelty band in the 1920s. In addition to working with the Dogs, he’s recorded a CD with his wife, a pianist, and appears from time to time with Frederick Starr’s Louisiana Repertory Jazz Ensemble.
Kim Cusack, clarinet. Kim joined the Dogs about 1959, after working with some of the band in the Chicago Stompers. He’s worked with a number of groups in addition to the Dogs and he’s made a number of records with a wide variety of groups.
Tom Bartlett joined the band while at Purdue in the late 50’s. He took his trombone along on assignments with the Peace Corps and the Army and when he returned from Panama in 1969 he was a finished musician. He also plays with the Red Rose Ragtime Band, a local Chicago group, and with the Yerba Buena Stompers, an all-star San Francisco style group led by John Gill.
John Cooper has the longest time with the band, over fifty years at this point. He played the piano with the Purdue band and then switched to the Chicago band when he graduated.
Jack Kuncl took over the banjo spot from Bob Sundstrom in 1969, and he trained with Eddy Davis, who had preceded Sundstrom. He’s an avid jazz fan and can often be found sitting in with bands all over the country.
Mike Walbridge joined the Dogs about 1961 and has been the band’s tuba player ever since, except for two sojourns with Turk Murphy, once on cornet, and once on tuba. He’s led the Chicago Footwarmers, a hot dance orchestra, for many years.
Wayne Jones has been Chicago’s leading traditional jazz drummer for many years, working with the Red Rose Ragtime Band, West End Jazz Band and Jim Dapogny’s Chicago Jazz Band in addition to his work with the Dogs. He worked a job or two every month with Franz Jackson at Andy’s until recently.
Carol Leigh still lives in Connecticut and takes occasional jazz club jobs in the East; she’s also taken tours to Europe and Japan and recorded several albums in addition to her work with the Dogs. Carol is a wonderful entertainer and has a seemingly endless repertoire of great numbers from the 1920s and 30s.
The Salty Dogs still assemble for recordings or concerts several times a year, and have devoted fans all over the world.
They have made a number of recordings over the years, and no label has recorded the Salty Dogs more than GHB. We’ve been recording them since 1966 and are proud to announce four new CDs from the group with this release, including one of their earliest sessions, some wonderful recordings previously issued only in Australia, and a concert set from their well-remembered appearances on the Goldenrod Showboat in St Louis.

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