Washtub Jerry: It Takes Pluck!

Book review by Elisabeth Steves Ellison
Bassist & Drummer for over three decades
Publised Author in a varity of music-industry periodicals

You don't have to be an Apollo project engineer to be a bassist but it helps.
Part musician's autobiography, and part engineering and construction manual
for the washtub bass, Washtub Jerry: It takes Pluck! means every word in its
title. Washtub Jerry, award-winning washtub bassist, tells an engaging story,
presenting the technical information clearly and his anecdotes with an
infectious affection for his associates. Ample illustrations by friend Bill Leftwich
clarify the construction aspects of the washtub bass, and are both entertaining
 and expressive. Jerry built and practiced the washtub bass for eighteen years
before ever encountering a fellow practitioner. It seems that isolation equaled
limitless possibilities for Jerry, as he methodically designed and tested each
component of the bass and taught himself how to play the instrument and
analyze chords, freeing his ear from the constraints of chart reading. His
journey to acceptance as a bassist instills a new appreciation for the secure
place the double bass holds as a member of the string family and its 400 year
old history. Though many of us have encountered skepticism and a litany of
misnomers from an utterly Philistine public, the dearth of good sense typically
extends as far as confusing a bass with a guitar/cello/set of golf clubs, not, as
Jerry records, mistaking an instrument as a receptacle for banquet dishes. Yet
he emerges with good humor intact and in no instance is his 'pluck' succeeded
by an emphatic 'you, pal!'

The four decades Jerry has been a bassist is about the length of time it
has been since I last wrote a book review, so I looked up a refresher article,
which reminds me to note how this book compares to others on the topic.
Google that: I get all I need to know from looking at the washtub bass pictures
on the covers. Jerry's is a superior piece of engineering and artistry. What can
you expect from a guy who plays bass, electric, piano, ukulele, sings, builds his
own instrument, tunes pianos, fixes accordions, repairs his own car, drives 450
miles one way to gigs, wins awards, publishes an eloquent, charming book about
it all, and -- oh, yeah -- builds a thing that bounces lasers off the moon. I feel like
a bass slob for taking the easy road of a pre-made instrument with the luxury of
a fingerboard. The introduction by Ranger Doug of Riders in the Sky reminds us
to be clear with pronunciation and not call him "Washed Up Jerry." Not a chance
of that! Jerry, just one thing -- leave something for the rest of us to do, will ya?

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