Saturday, 11 December 2010

Truckin' in Lunar Caustic

Say listen,' Battle demanded, 'let's have some truckin' -don't you know any truckin',' 'Very nice,' said Mr ... 'Yeah, yuh give us truckin',' said Battle. Malcolm Lowry Lunar Caustic

I fell on this below while searching for references to Lunar Caustic on the Net:

OK, so this made me wonder about the phrase "keep on truckin'". With a bit of Googling: it's from a dance popular in the 1930s. A song entitled "Truckin'" was written by Ted Koehler and Marty Bloom written "Cotton Club Parade of 1935 (lyrics: “It spread like a forest blaze,/Became a craze,/Thanks to Harlem now,/Everybody's truckin'.” Like other black slang usages, "truckin'" got picked up by the hippies of the 1960s, most notably by Mr. Natural, drawn by R. Crumb in the first issue of ZAP Comix, Feb. 1968. It was in wide countercultural usage by the time the Grateful Dead recorded their "Truckin'" in 1970.

I also found "truckin'" used by one of my favorite authors, Malcolm Lowry, in his book Lunar Caustic, published posthumously in 1963 but started in 1934 (based on Lowry's "deliberate pilgrimage" to Bellevue Hospital about that time), in which "truckin'" is used to refer to a style of jazz piano playing, rather than dance.

So it seems to me the name of the black dance is older than the 1935 song, and is more likely to derive, via a jazz piano style, from the "traffic, intercourse, communication, dealings" usage you cite, than from the wheeled or vehicular sense.
Language Hat

I have been aware for some time that Lowry was partially familiar with African-American idioms in speech and music which he may have picked up on his trips into Harlem or from his residency in Belle Vue. How extensive his knowledge was is open to debate because terms like truckin' were already spilling into the mainstream by the mid-30s. I will return to his other references to African-American culture in later posts.

Here are some other thoughts from The Big Apple:

“Truckin‘“ or “Truck on Down” (1935)
The dance "Truckin" or "Truck on Down" was popularized in Harlem in 1935. Various Harlem spots and entertainers took credit for popularizing it.

(Oxford English Dictionary)
truck, n.
U.S. A popular dance (see quots.). Cf. TRUCK v.2 5, TRUCKING vbl. n.2 2.
1935 Sun (Baltimore) 15 Nov. 14/6 The truck, or truckin', that jerky yet rhythmic dance which combines a bend of the body, a tightening of the hand muscles and a slight strut with the legs, hit the theaters, sidewalks, gin taverns and dance floors of Harlem last summer. 1937 N.Y. Amsterdam News 4 Sept. 12/2 Add a bit of the Shag, the new dance sensation that has pushed the 'Truck' out of the limelight, throw in a bit of the Suzi-Q for a spice and then top it all off with the 'Truck'.

19 July 1935, Washington Post, "Broadway" by Ed Sullivan, pg. 19:
I like best the "Truckin' Down" number led by Cora La Redd. "Truckin'," in Harlem, is a description of a peculiar slouchy walk, and the new dance has the same contagion of rhythm that made an instantaneous hit of the Black Bottom when Tom Patricoa and Ann Pennington brought it to town. With one shoulder hoisted, the dancers do a spraddle-legged walk that finally gives you a terrific yen to try it yourself.

1 September 1935, Chicago Defender, pg. 8:

NEW YORK CITY, Aug. 30. -- Every once in a while Harlem brings some new innovations to the theatre in the form of a dance or a musical tune. Whatever Harlem seems to suggest in the form of something different is readily accepted by Broadway and is then passed on to other cities.

At the present time the newest creation is a dance called "Truckin'" and its sudden popularity and source of origin evidently has all of the newspaper colony in a quandry as to whom should go the credit of beingthe originator.

Writers In Mizz

Most of the writers are in a veritable mizz and have been firing back at each other in their daily releases. Ed Sullivan gave the credit to Cora La Redd of the Cotton Club. Walter Winchell thought that the dance had its conception some five or six years ago, at the old Connie's Inn, which, according to dates, would have been about the time that "charleston" gave way to the "Lindy Hop," although the Lindy did not reach its peak of popularity until 1932.

Allan McMillan, Chicago Defender correspondent, who has kept a complete file of theatrical doings over a period of ten years, says that all of the writers are wrong about the originator of this new dance craze called "Truckin'" because the original idea was introduced by Chunk Robinson, who is at present the comedian starred in the revue at Small's paradise.

Willie Bryant Made It

Robinson saw an aged longshoreman down at the docks shuffling along with a truck laden with four bales of cotton. Robinson noticed that the fellow had an in-and-out movement to his feet and because of the terrific load he was straining with his left shoulder pivoted a trifle higher than his right. This actually accounts for the stance of the new craze which now has Broadway as coo coo as Harlem. Nearly every night club production in Harlem has a "Truckin'" number

According to the data of McMillan, the dance was introduced by Chunk Robinson on the Columbia Burlesque chain of theatres as far back as 1928. There wasn't any particular name for the dance but Chunk continued to do it because it made the people laugh. It also resembled the old "Buzz" step that was recorded back in the old minstrel days of 1915.

Last year when Allan McMillan was appearing at Small's as host, Chunk Robinson and Willie Bryant were playing in the dressing room and unconsciously went into the routine of the present dance termed as "Truckin' On Down." Willie Bryant then decided to make the step popular, the results of which were that Noble Sissle and Flournoy Miller produced a unit "Truckin' On Down:" Noble Sissle composed a song, "Truckin' On Down';" recently published by Handy Brothers Music company; Ted Koehler and Leonard Harper built a huge production number in their recent revue around "Truckin';" practically every kid on the streets of Harlem ranging in ages from six to twelve may be seen in his or her version of "Truckin'"...the grown-ups are singing it...and on Broadway the cry is where did this "Truckin'" come from?

14 September 1935, Chicago Defender, pg. 8:
Here's How
Got Famous

Chicago Defender,
Chicago, Ill.

Dear Sirs:

I would like for you to know the history of the dance called "Trucking."

The first revival of the dance was done on May 3, 1935 at the Harlem Opera House in the show called "Truck on Down." That's where I revived the dance and made it the talk of Harlem when we popularized it at the Harlem Opera House. Its first big moment was here. The title was given it by Red and Struggle, and they named it "Truck on Down," almost two years ago in Philadelphia. The dance originally came from a man named Buzz Barton. It was then called the "Buzz."

Miss La Redd says she originated the dance and the Cotton Club it was originated there. The first song "Truck on Down," was written by Noble Sissle and Harry Brooks. Therefore, by my being the first to popularize this dance five months ago, I claim myself the original reviver of the dance and named it "Truck on Down." I am now at the Cotton Club doing my dance to the tune of Ted Cola's "Truck."

I wish that you would take this matter into consideration immediately as we are seeming to have an awfully big battle at the Cotton Club as to whom the credit belongs.

Yours sincerely,

Henry (Rubber Legs) Williams.

Here's Cora in action

Here's Duke Ellington and his Orchestra - vocal Ivy Anderson - Truckin' - Brunswick 7514 - 1933:

All-female dance band of the 30s. Leader and singer Ina Ray Hutton with their version:

The word Truckin' was also used in the classic number by Eddie Kendricks which was the name of the Radio Merseyside soul show in the 70's hosted by Terry Lennaine - so we come back to Lowry's Liverpool!:

Let's go pout with a bit of counter culture which Lowry would have signed up for even got skeletons thrown in!!!:

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