|Emile "Stale Bread" Lacoume
|Razzy Dazzy Spasm Band, 1896; Emile Lacoume is 2nd from left, holding zither.
At various times, some of the other members of the band were: Harry Gregson,
Emile "Whiskey" Benrod, Willie "Cajun" Bussey, Frank "Monk" Bussey, "Slew-foot"
Pete, a boy known as "Warm Gravy" and a singer known as "Family Haircut."
Beginning in the late 1800's, groups of young boys could be found on the streets of
New Orleans, playing homemade instruments and hoping for spare change from
passersby. They used cigar box guitars, cheese box banjos, washboards, string bass
made from a barrel and clothesline chord, kettles, cowbells, stovepipes, gourds filled
with pebbles, and other ingenious instruments. Emile "Stale Bread" Lacoume's Razzy
Dazzy Spasm Band, ultimately became the most famous of these groups. From a 1903
"The most bizarre musical fraternity on record is the Spasm Band of New Orleans. It is
composed of six urchins who divide their time equally between mischief and selling
papers in the day time, but as soon as night falls they blossom forth as full-fledged
members and active players of the Spasm Band. These little fellows all lead nomadic
lives, now taking a day off to pick cotton, now lending a hand on the levee, running
errands for the steamboat captains etc. Their musical instruments are home
manufactured, and, strange to say, the sounds they emit are not inharmonious."
|Emile Lacoume is on the right, Abbie Brunies, left, and
Charlie Cordilla in center; West End resort.
From an article in Everybody's Magazine, 1906, about Sophie Wright, who founded a
school for underprivileged children and adults:
"Loudly one night came a demand at the door for "the teacher," which no one else could
satisfy. To the door went Miss Sophie to meet -- the Spasm Band. In New Orleans, the
Spasm Band was famous, a group of boys who sold newspapers by day and spent half
the night making music on homemade instruments in front of saloons in Storyville,
passing the hat to the habitues of the District. The many attempts to reform them, they
had dodged with ease. They were tough - in fact, the very standard of toughness. And
here they were at Miss Sophie's door, where their leader, "Stale Bread," had led them,
that they might begin their long-delayed education.
"He led them as one might lead a horse to water, but could not make them drink. One
by one, they dropped away again, Slew-foot Pete, Warm Gravy and ZuZu, and the
strong arm of Miss Sophie could not drag them back. Only Stale Bread remained,
displaying remarkable ingenuity in his lessons. Stale Bread had found someone he
could respect in Miss Sophie. And Miss Sophie found this wayward youngster one of the
most fascinating of her charges, so that it is with a catch in her voice that she tells how
blindness came upon him."
Emile Lacoume was blind by the age of 15, but he went on playing banjo, zither, guitar
and piano with various bands in New Orleans until the 1930's. He died in 1946, at the
age of 61, and is buried in St. Patrick Cemetery No. 1. His tomb bears an inscription,
placed there by his daughter, to the effect that he was the "originator of Jazz."
There are people who believe this may be true and people who dispute it, but no one
argues that he was an immensely talented musician, with a flair for the unique. And that
his life, made all the more difficult because of his rough and tumble childhood and his
challenging handicap, was quite remarkable. -- Nancy
|La Vida Dance Hall, New Orleans, 1922; left to right, Eddie Faye,
Harold Peterson, Buzzy Williams, Charlie Fishbein, Florenzo Ramos,
Joe Kenneman, Stale Bread Lacoume.
|Halfway House, New Orleans, 1920; left to right, Emmett "Buck" Rogers,
Abbie Brunies, Mickey Marcour, Stale Bread Lacoume