Cornstars: Rube Music In Swing Time
Garnavillo, Iowa – population 745 – has corn…and we ain’t talking veggies!
That’s right – thanks to the homegrown and farm-shucked comedic jazz of a few heartland boys, a new musical genre called Corn plowed its way up the charts and across the globe in the late 1930s. From the obscure tractor-dotted landscape of the Midwest to Hollywood, Manhattan, Europe, and all points in between, this is the comedic tale of stolen creative genius, betrayal, quirky passions, rags-to-riches luck – and perhaps even murder – which will knock your socks off. You may have never heard of Freddie Fisher’s Schnickelfritz Band and Stan Fritts and the Korn Kobblers, but the cornball jazz and novelty swing of these two groups would go on to have a profound influence on the landscape of American pop culture. Artists as diverse as Frank Zappa, Harry Nilsson, The Beatles, Tiny Tim, Captain Beefheart, OutKast and Weird Al Yankovic all claim themselves as fans of Fisher and Fritts…now you can find out why.
“Cornstars – Rube Music in Swing Time: The Rise and Fall of Freddie Fisher and his Schnickelfritz Band…Stan Fritts and his Korn Kobblers…and the Hillbilly, Cornball, Novelty Jazz Music of the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s” is a sweeping overview of American musical entertainment set in the later days of minstrelsy through the early days of television.
Emmy Award winning author Jack Norton crafts a painstakingly detailed account told on vaudeville stages, over the airwaves of early radio stations, in the grooves of brittle old 78 rpm records and on the silver screens of Hollywood’s golden era. A treasure trove of Americana.
They were bands with names like: Schnickelfritz, The Korn Kobblers, Spike Jones and his City Slickers, The Hoosier Hot Shots, Ezra Buzzington’s Rube Band, The Five Harmaniacs, Captain Stubby and the Buccaneers, The Kidoodlers, The Sweet Violet Boys, Pappy Trester and his Screwballs, The Cackle Sisters, Fiddle Bow Bill and his Dew Valley Acorns, The Crazy Tooters, Darrell Fischer and the Minnesota Log Jammers, The Zobo Band, The Nebraska Sandhill Billies and Mrs. O’Leary’s Famous Musical Cow. Their sound was usually centered around the “whiz-bang”, an intricate musical washboard, along with traditional Dixieland jazz band instrumentation augmented by highly visual, Rube Goldberg-like comedic creations such as: the tootaboot, the horse collar, the squeezarina, the horncycle, the oralhorn, the piperubhorn, the skoocherphone, the greasybell, the tuberina and the blow-chicken. Yes, the blow-chicken was the name of a real instrument used by these jazzmen in the 1930s and 1940s.
And today these bands, instruments and the music they made are largely forgotten.
Refreshingly, Norton’s spotlight focuses on two musicians: Freddie Fisher, an eccentric jazz clarinetist and impresario from Garnavillio, Iowa and his bandmate Stan Fritts, a gifted trombonist that gave up a career of farming corn in rural Lyons, Nebraska – so he could make musical corn on stages coast to coast, first in territorial jazz bands and eventually with his own band at the Metropolitan Opera House. Without realizing it, the author uncovered a true story of the American dream. From their humble beginnings playing rural barn dances in Winona, Minnesota to recording over 200 sides for Decca Records and earning a film contract with Warner Brothers Studios, readers will recognize a real-life Horatio Alger tale if there ever was one.
Iconic legends of entertainment appear throughout this work including: Rudy Vallee, Jack Dempsey, The Warner Brothers, Max Fleischer, Jack Benny, Laurel and Hardy, Bing Crosby, Guy Lombardo, Captain Kangaroo, Busby Berkeley, Lawrence Welk and many other past stars and celebrities.
Amidst the comedic cornball chaos of Fisher and Fritts emerged two spectacular musical groups: The Schnickelfritz Band and the Korn Kobblers. Norton details their meteoric rise and unprecedented fall, thanks to knowledge gleamed from the musicians’ personal scrapbooks, rare first-hand accounts from band members, friends and fans, and nearly two and half decades worth of personal research in dusty libraries and historic archives around the world.
In the end, Norton’s book is over 180,000 words and includes more than 950 rare, never-before-scene photos which illuminate this illustrated edition.
1. Freddie Fisher’s Idea of Jazz
2. Photo Gallery
3. Highway 61, Revisited
4. Stan the Man
5. Freddie the Little Rascal
6. Some Zobo Punks
7. The Birth of the Whiz Bang
8. Ezra Buzzington, Rube Superstar
9. The Five Harmaniacs
10. Laughing Songs and Kidoodlers
11. Schnickelfritz at the Sugar Loaf
12. Fisher and Fritts
13. Midway Gardens and Decca Records
14. Gold Diggers in Minnesota and Iowa
15. A Talking Picture for Warner Brothers
16. The Fall of 1939
17. Schnickel Splits, Korn Kobblers are Born
18. Corn Invades Tin Pan Alley
19. Sweet Violets…and Boys
20. Fisher’s Happy Hours
21. Corn on the Road
22. Marketing Madness
23. Korn Kobblers in the Big Apple
24. Fisher Flounders Out West
25. Darrell the Minnesota Log Jammer, Part 1
26. The Famous Musical Cow
27. Darrell the Minnesota Log Jammer, Part 2
28. Willie the Weeper, or Darrell the Minnesota Log Jammer, Part 3
29. Those Crazy Tooters
30. Cloned Cornstars
31. Kobb’s Korner: TV and Talking Pictures
32. A Captain Named Stubby
33. More Cloned Cornstars
34. The Nebraska Sandhill Billies
35. Stan’s Simple New Life
36. Fisher the Fixer in Aspen
37. Doowackadoodlers, Corn Redux
38. The Last Goodbye
39. Pappy’s Screwball Symphony
40. The End Times
41. Cornstars – Film, Soundtrack Album and Podcast
42. Recommended Books
43. Recommended Films
44. A Note on the Discographies
45. Discography – Freddie Fisher (The Schnickelfritz Band)
46. Discography – Stanley Fritts (The Korn Kobblers)
47. Discography – The Doowackadoodlers
48. Discography – Darrell Fischer
49. Discography – The Crazy Tooters
50. Discography – Roy King and the Komi Kings
51. Discography – The Kidoodlers
52. Discography – Sweet Violet Boys
53. Discography – Captain Stubby and the Buccaneers
54. Discography – Ezra Buzzington
55. Discography – The Five Harmaniacs
56. Discography – Maple City Four
57. Appendix 1 – References
58. Appendix 2 – Magazine Interview with Jack Norton
59. Appendix 3 – Schnickelfritz Lives Again
60. Appendix 4 – Schnickelfest Program Notes
61. Appendix 5 – Corn Comedy
62. Afterword: Can You Do Me a Favor?
63. About the Author