First punning or zany musical group name sought
Posted: 15 February 2010 06:21 AM   [ Ignore ]
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I know some old blues players had descriptive nicknames like Blind Lemon and Gatemouth but I am looking for the first bizarrely named musical group. Was it a rock ‘n’ roll one, which would have to be in the ‘50s? (Earlier big band orchestras had straight names as far as I know - Benny Goodman etc.) Is Bill Haley and the Comets the first?

(A bit later we got Johnny Kidd and the Pirates (pre-Beatles, in the UK) and then flower-power/pschedelic names like Strawberry Alarm Clock. I never realised the Beatles was a lame pun until my mother pointed it out to me in the ‘70s.)

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Posted: 15 February 2010 06:37 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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I thought there was more to it than writing beet- as beat-. As far as I know, the Beatles were named after Buddy Holly’s support group, the Crickets. Could be myth though.

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Posted: 15 February 2010 07:11 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I did a paper on the topic a while back.

There are bands not named after people going back to the 1920s, e.g., The Dixie Hummingbirds, The Inkspots. As for the [name] and the/his [plural object] form, Bill Haley and His Comets is early, but Gladys Knight and the Pips appear in the same year (1952), and Billy Ward and His Dominoes is a few years older.

The tipping point for abstract band names is 1965-66. That’s when things get really weird, with groups like Procol Harum, Moby Grape, and Pink Floyd.

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Posted: 15 February 2010 08:36 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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I always liked the story that John Lennon gave in 1961 about how the Beatles got their name.  “I had a vision that a man came unto me on a flaming pie and said ‘You shall be Beatles with an A’”.

Ever since I’ve thought that “Flaming Pie” would make a great name for a rock and roll band.

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Posted: 15 February 2010 08:54 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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The band I would have formed, had I played an instrument or had the least bit of musical talent, would have been Four-Slice Toaster. (We would have had either three or five members.)

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Posted: 15 February 2010 10:23 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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When I read the initial question, it made me think of Blackbirds, which was not a band, but a series musical reviews akin to the Ziegfeld Follies, but featuring African-American performers. Poking around a little on Wikipedia, I came across references to other African-American groups in the teens and twenties, often performing under supposedly clever names that we’d now find horribly offensive:

African-American Musical Theater note under the subheading “National Recognition.”

I can’t think of comparable white acts from that early period that performed under such pseudonymous names. Perhaps it’s a legacy of the period’s racial attitude, that the individuals didn’t matter as much as the clever concept.

Pete Seeger and others founded The Weavers in the early 40s. Again, Wikipedia says that they had been called The Almanac Singers earlier and (which I’d never heard) took the name from Gerhart Hauptmann’s play, Die Weber. I wonder if there was a route from the truly outcast black groups, to the politically tinged folk group, and then to the rock groups.

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Posted: 15 February 2010 03:18 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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I imagine bands have had humorous names as far back as there has been popular music.  Pulling down my two volumes of “Jazz the World Forgot” (Yazoo 2024 and 2025, and I highly recommend them to anyone with a fondness for early jazz), I find Louis Dumaine’s Jazzola Eight, Roy Johnson’s Happy Pals, Ben Tobier and his California Cyclones, Fowler’s Favorites, George McClennon’s Jazz Devils, The Hottentots, The Whoopee Makers, Dixon’s Jazz Maniacs, Bennett’s Swamplanders, Thomas Morris and His Seven Hot Babies, the New Orleans Owls, the Five Hot Chocolates, and Charles Creath’s Jazz-O-Maniacs.  Those are just the tip of the iceberg—I imagine if you took a musical tour of what we now call flyover country a century or so ago, stopping at all the local juke joints and music halls, you’d find a cornucopia of quirky, parodic, down-and-dirty, and just plain funny names.  Musicians tend to have offbeat and off-color senses of humor, which of course used to get smoothed away when they got recording contracts.

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Posted: 16 February 2010 03:47 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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Gid Tanner and the Skillet Lickers date back to the mid -’20s.

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Posted: 19 February 2010 04:53 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Dave Wilton - 15 February 2010 07:11 AM

I did a paper on the topic a while back.

Very interesting paper, Dave. A couple of small points:

(1) Nonsensical (e.g., The Soup Dragons) – the Soup Dragon was a character in a BBC children’s programme called The Clangers*. So the name was a reference to something “real”, even if that “real” thing was invented nonsense.

(2) “things get really weird, with groups like … Pink Floyd” - Pink Floyd took its name from a couple of old blues musicians, Pink Anderson and Floyd Council, and were originally “The Pink Floyd Sound”, playing R&B songs such as “I’m a King Bee”, so were perhaps more in line with groups named as an homage to R&B music, such as the Rolling Stones and the Pretty Things (named after the Bo Diddley song). Doubtless, however, the slightly psychedelic overtones of “Pink Floyd” appealed to Syd Barrett when he came up with the name.

We could all, I’m sure, list our favourite band names: one of mine, from the 1970s British “pub rock” scene (a highly inventive period for band names) was Duke Duke and the Dukes. The best-ever band name, however, was invented by the late British DJ John Peel as a double spoof on classical music and early jazz: Jimmy Jack Rossini and his Rhythm Pioneers.

* properly just “Clangers”, but everybody in Britain makes it arthrous.

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Posted: 19 February 2010 06:51 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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I always like “Betty Serveert” (Betty serves) which came about when the group was discussing their new name while there was a tennis game on TV in which Betty Stöwe was playing. At a certain moment, when one of the band members asked “so how should we call ourselves?”, the commentator said “Betty serveert”.

Another nice one is “Three Doors Down”. The members were in a taxi on their way to a recording studio, but didn’t have a catchy name yet. One of the guys looked outside and saw a boarded up store. A sign on the boards said “we’re still open, three doors down”.

Okay, one more. One of the members of the Canadian rock group “Nickelback” was working in a coffee shop before he could afford becoming a full time rock musician. A cup of coffee costed 1,95 so usually people payed with a 2 dollar bill, therefore one of the lines he used the most to his customers was “Here’s your nickel back”.

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