For much of the material in this essay I am indebted to online musicologist ‘Sean’, who also brought Jibbs McCallister to my attention.
In October 1972, 37 years to the day last week, a temporary worker brought in to the Yazoo offices to catalogue a job-lot of donated shellac sides failed to extinguish a cigarette correctly and, in what has now become known as the Great ’72 Barn Fire (although it was no barn but a lock-up in the West Village), an entire department of Yazoo’s archive was destroyed. It could have been worse, or so many have observed. Once the smoke cleared, almost all the destroyed records came from the section named ‘Problematic’. These were the scratched records, the poor performances by forgotten jug and hoss-tube artists, the discs without labels and, famously, a near-complete set of White Star shellacs by Jibbs McCallister. Rumours persist that this was no accident.
Exactly. McCallister is as forgotten today as he was notorious in his time. In the categorisation frenzy of the 60s folk revival Jibbs was most commonly referred to as a Zydeco fiddle player but even this apparently simple piece of information crumbles when examined. The reference originates from a taped interview with folklorist Stuart Palmer. Palmer asks Jibbs what style he plays and Jibbs, slurring, apparently replies ‘Zydeco fiddle’ but recent digital analysis has suggested he may have said ‘psycho fiddle’ or even ‘zygote feel’ although the latter theory has few adherents within professional studies (Greil Marcus excepted). Continue reading