Harlem Hamfats

Formed: 1936 in Chicago, IL.
Active: 1936–1938.
Label: Decca.

Styles: Acoustic Chicago Blues, Dirty Blues, East Coast Blues, Regional Blues.

Band Members: Fred Flynn, Herb Morand, Horace Malcolm, John Lindsay, Kansas Joe McCoy, Odell Rand, Pearlis Williams, Ransom Knowling.

Despite their name, the Hamfats were based in Chicago, Illinois, and were perhaps the first group created (by J. Mayo Williams) solely to make records. With some variation, the personnel consisted of New Orleans trumpeter Herb Morand, the brothers Joe and Charlie McCoy on guitar and mandolin, clarinettist Odell Rand, pianist Horace Malcolm, John Lindsay or Ransom Knowling on bass, and Pearlis Williams or Fred Flynn on drums. Morand and Joe McCoy (as 'Hamfoot Ham') handled the vocals. The Hamfats blended New Orleans jazz with blues, the primary aim being to provide entertaining, danceable music. Their first release, 'Oh! Red', was a considerable hit in 1936, and was frequently reworked, both by the Hamfats themselves and by others. They recorded extensively, and were also used as studio accompanists until 1939, by which time Morand had returned to New Orleans, and changing fashions had made their sound no longer commercially attractive.

The Harlem Hamfats Biography by Jim Powers

The Harlem Hamfats were a crack studio band formed in 1936 by black talent scout Mayo "Ink" Williams. Its main function was backing jazz and blues singers such as Johnny Temple, Rosetta Howard, and Frankie "Half Pint" Jackson for Decca Records; the Hamfats' side career began when its first record "Oh Red" became a hit. Despite its name, none of the band's members came from Harlem, and none were hamfats, a disparaging term referring to indifferent musicians. Brothers Joe and Charlie McCoy were blues players from Mississippi; leader Herb Morand, Odell Rand, and John Lindsay were from New Orleans; Horace Malcolm and drummers Pearlis Williams and Freddie Flynn were from Chicago. This territorial disparity created a sound which blended various blues styles with New Orleans, Dixieland, and swing jazz. The band's high-spirited playing and excellent musicianship compensated for what some critics have called lack of improvisational skill. The Hamfats' music has been somewhat neglected over the years. The vocalists tended to be derivative of other popular singers of the day such as Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller, and various blues singers. The lyrical content of their songs often revolved around subjects like drinking and sex, leading some to dismiss them as a lightweight novelty act. Although it is not seen as an innovative group, the Harlem Hamfats' riff-based style was influential to Louis Jordan, early Muddy Waters, and what would eventually become rhythm & blues and rock & roll.