Baton Rouge Rag

Baton Rouge Rag (mp3) performed by Oscar “Buddy” Woods with Kitty Gray and her Wampus Cats. Recorded October 30, 1937 in San Antonio, Tx.; Kitty Gray, vocal and piano; Oscar Woods and Joe Harris on guitar.

I picked up an album called Texas Slide Guitars: Oscar “Buddy” Woods & Black Ace and dug it enough to get to know all the songs. There’s one that always catches my ear even though it sounds different than the others, or maybe because it sounds different. The song is called “Baton Rouge Rag” and it’s credited to Kitty Gray & Her Wampus Cats with Oscar “Buddy” Woods.

I’ve been wanting to learn the song on guitar so I looked it up to see if I could find sheet music or other recordings. What I found was a 1940 field recording.

Baton Rouge Rag (mp3) performed by Joe Harris. Recorded October 1940 in Shreveport, Louisiana.

So who wrote the song? Well, at the end of the 1940 recording there’s a short interview. Alan Lomax asks Joe Harris where the song comes from. Harris first says he wrote it and then says he learned it from a trumpet player back in 1907, 33 years before during the heyday of ragtime. Harris doesn’t say and probably doesn’t know who the composer was, and he’s spent so many years digesting and reframing the song that he considers it his own composition in a way.

Between these two recordings a transcription should be very doable. I didn’t find any sheet music source or other record of the composition, so it’s inspiring that this tune survived by being passed from musician to musician.

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