Tuesday, February 3, 2009

“The Wampus Cat Stomp”

The primary purpose of this post is to announce another guest blogger appearance by my wife Eberle Umbach. Eberle’s thoughts on Mother Goose, poetry & music, & the subversiveness of the folk process—& more will be posted tomorrow morning. It’s Robert Frost’s Banjo’s second installment of the Women’s Art is Women’s Work series—essays composed by Eberle & our friend Audrey Bilger (of recent Lesley Gore interview fame), which they’ve generously agreed to post in this space.

But as a secondary purpose, I thought we could have a bit of fun along with the announcement. One of the nursery rhymes mentioned in Eberle’s piece tomorrow is the following:

We’re all in the dumps
For diamonds are trumps,
The kittens have gone to St. Paul’s.
The babies get bit,
The moon’s in a fit,
& the houses are built without walls.

This little surrealistic gem has always been a favorite of mine; I believe Maurice Sendak gave it his treatment a while back. It’s always been a favorite of Eberle’s, too. Back when we first got the Alice in Wonder Band together, the group was searching for a name, & one suggestion under consideration was the Wampus Cats. For those of you who don’t know, the Wampus Cat is a creature from Appalachian lore—you can read about its escapades here & here. Thinking this might become the band name, Eberle composed a tune called “The Wampus Cat Stomp” as a possible theme song; she also composed an additional verse of lyrics (I participated a bit on this, but most of the words are hers). This additional verse goes as follows:

One, a terrarium
Two, a lasso,
Three, a geranium in southern France.
Four, a velocipede,
Five, a butterdish,
Six, a canary in a yellow trance.

The “stomp” of the title is slightly misleading if you’re versed in the minutiae of musical terminology. The term “stomp” usually refers to a specific chord progression used quite often in big band & swing, & based on the opening of "King Porter Stomp" by Jelly Roll Morton. But tho “The Wampus Cat Stomp” is modal (& hence doesn’t have a “chord progression” in the usual sense of the term—tho for any sticklers out there, I am aware that a modal tune can be harmonized with chords), the title is catchy.

Anyhoo, the “Wampus Cats” was voted down as a band name, & I’d have to say we went with the better choice by being the Alice in Wonder Band. But I put together a slide show of the Wonder Band performing “the Wampus Cat Stomp” at the Alpine Playhouse in September 02. The pictures of the Alice in Wonder Band were taken by Michael Richardson & Tim Hohs; the other pictures are from Wiki Commons (all public domain) & from My First Picture Book by Joseph Martin Kronheim; this work is from 1893 & can be found here on Project Gutenberg. The band members playing on this recording are: Kati Sheldon: vocal; Lois Fry: violin; Art Troutner: recorder & oboe; Eberle Umbach: marimba; Barb Dixon: washboard & agogo bells; yours truly: banjo; Deb Cahill & Nina Trainor: Boomwhackers®; Deb & Nina also were our fantastic dancers for this number—choreography with Boomwhackers®!

Hope you enjoy, & be sure to check in tomorrow for Eberle’s essay on Mother Goose.


  1. I've noticed that none of the video clips are working right now on Blogger, so I can't see the show, but am looking forward to Eberle's post tomorrow. Eberle is such a beautiful and unusual name, by the way!

  2. Thanks Willow-- the clip seems to be working now. Eberle is her mother's maiden name; it is a beautiful & unusual name-- unfortunately one she has to spell every time she has to give it over the phone!

  3. I really liked this, John. My husband is sitting next to me and he said, "Sounds like fun." I was getting into the rhythm of it and enjoyed the pictures - was that a live finch? Pretty.
    I think I recognized some of those pictures too - I had an old "Mother Goose" book when I was little.
    Is Eberle pronounced E-burl, or E-burl-y? It is very lovely. He picture in the sidebar reminds me somewhat of Emmylou Harris.

    Have you ever seen the film, 'Songcatcher'. If not, I think you find it of great interest.

    Kat (I'll be back for Eberle's post tomorrow.)

  4. Thanks Kat:

    It was a fun song to play; glad you & your husband liked it.

    Eberle is pronounced "ebb-urr-lee." We do get "ee-burl" quite a bit on the phone which invariably means a telemarketer.

  5. Love the music. It sounds almost oriental. At least some of the instruments sound like something I've heard in Kabuki Theatre. I'm probably really off on that, but I do like the sound!

  6. Oh... and I love "wampus cat". That reminds me of some of the names in Old Possums Book of Practical Cats by T. S. Elliot which of course is where the musical "Cats" originated. I have that book & just love the characters in it. I should have put some of it in the silent poetry reading... hmmm, is it to late to add something?
    Very creative name!

  7. Lizzie:

    Thanks for the nice comments about the music. A few of thoughts on the eastern sound-- first, the instrumentation on this (& a number of Alice in Wonder Band numbers) is a bit unusual; second, the recording was a bit primitive-- for instance, to me the banjo sounds like it's being played in an echo chamber; finally, the song is based on what's called a pentatonic scale (an example of such a scale would be the 5 black keys on any given octave on the piano). Pentatonic scales often sound, if not Asian, then at least non-western. The banjo part was a riff based on this scale, as was Eberle's marimba part.

    Thanks again.

  8. marvelous ....thank you so much for this post and the one that follows....they are so rich!!

  9. Thanks to you all for your interest in this!


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