Hodgepodge: Johnny Reynolds

I guess I’m always thinking about ideas for columns I might write – right away or in the future.

I often jot an idea or a name down, sometimes with other notes. I found one of those notes a few days ago.

Johnny Reynolds – it said on the note, so I started looking for things I had written before about my friends Johnny and Ruby Reynolds, and searching my mind for memories.

Finding Johnny at a Porch Sale

I found a column that I wrote about going to a neighborhood porch sale that featured a painting depicting jazz musicians. From that column: “As I got close enough to get a good look I received a real surprise. Two of the musicians in the painting were immediately recognizable as my good friends, Johnny Reynolds and Dick Sheridan.”

The man who was holding the yard sale, Tom Ladd, and who was also the artist of the painting, said, “I used my artistic license that day; I love New Orleans jazz, and decided to paint a couple of New Orleans jazz legends into the painting of local musicians.”

Joining Reynolds and Sheridan, it looks like Burt Dunlap hiding behind his tuba. They were all members of the Soda Ash Six Dixieland Band, shown that day at the gazebo at Hiawatha Lake at Syracuse’s Onondaga Park.

They were joined by legendary New Orleans musicians, Willie “Bunk” Johnson and George Lewis. Ladd said a figure in the background holding a trumpet was intended to represent another New Orleans legend, Buddy Bolden.

In the early 1980s, I started seeing ads in the Syracuse newspapers for the Bearcat Jass Band, and we started going to the Dinkler Motor Inn in Syracuse every Friday night to listen to them.

Oh, Johnny! Oh, Johnny!

Johnny Reynolds, playing with the Bearcats, was my first real connection to the kind of music I enjoy most – call it traditional or classic jazz, call it New Orleans jazz, or America’s original jazz, or even call it Dixieland if you must. It is the kind of music I heard the first time I ever saw Johnny Reynolds.

We entered the Dinkler through the back parking lot, and had to walk up a long hallway to the lounge and the music.  Halfway up the hall I started to hear the wonderful sounds of traditional jazz, and at the same time I was drawn by the trombone playing and the singing of Johnny Reynolds.

It was my introduction to that kind of music – and to Johnny. Along with his singing, he played a very exciting, exuberant jazz trombone with the Bearcats, one of this area’s pioneer traditional jazz bands.

That was only the beginning of my love for the kind of music that Johnny did so well. No one I ever listened to could sing the lyrics of those old jazz songs quite like Johnny.

Dick Sheridan started playing a small tenor ukulele as a pre-teen. From there it was on to folk-style guitar, the larger baritone uke, then the tenor and 5-string banjos.

He started his playing career with a college campus band. The Soda Ash Six was organized about 1960 with a first job at Song Mountain in Tully.

“We played for free beer that first year,” Dick said. “Then it was dinner, free ski passes, and finally $15 a person.” The Song Mountain job lasted 10 years.

‘I’ll Have to Update My Resume’

When I told Dick that he was playing in the same band with Bunk Johnson and George Lewis in the painting I saw, he said, “I guess I’ll have to run home and update my resume.”

Bunk Johnson and George Lewis are both New Orleans legends. Johnson was born in New Orleans about 1879. He said he began music lessons at the age of seven and began to study his instrument, the cornet, a year later. He was successful early and enjoyed a revived career in the ‘40s.

George Lewis was born in New Orleans in July 1900. He taught himself to play the clarinet when he was 18, and he played with several New Orleans bands during the ‘20s and ‘30s.

In 1942, after Bunk Johnson became a famous name, Lewis became a part of Johnson’s band and toured with them. In 1946, he returned to New Orleans and received national attention in the ‘50s as one of the most popular figures of the New Orleans revival movement.

What a find. Local and New Orleans legends together at last.

(Note: Parts of this article were previously published in Hodgepodge on June 23, 2007).

Johnny, Ruby and Barney

I also found this column from May, 1988 about the whole Reynolds family – Johnny, Ruby, and even their dog, Barney:

I have a friend, Ruby in Syracuse, whose dog, Barney, is very attached to her husband, Johnny.

So attached, in fact, that on last Christmas Eve, when Ruby and Johnny were getting too affectionate under the mistletoe to meet Barney’s approval, the protective canine intervened and sent Ruby to the hospital to get her arm stitched back together.

Presently, Ruby is laid up for several weeks recuperating from the results of a fall in her home a few weeks ago. Ruby says she isn’t sure of what happened. All of a sudden she was on the floor and three bones in her lower leg were broken.

I think Barney tripped her.

Thanks, Ralph

I received a nice letter recently from reader Ralph Riker of Silver Springs, Fla.  Ralph says he spent about 25 years of his life in Cincinnatus, N.Y., which makes me think, Ralph that you may have met up with Spiegle Willcox, who was a world traveler but a native and lifelong resident of Cincinnatus.

Ralph also mentions that he remembers when the price of soda went up from 10 cents to 15 cents and a big sign was hung on the front of the soft drink machine he used outside the hardware store in Cicero apologizing for the change.

Ralph, I remember when soda was 5cents and I don’t remember that there were vending machines back then.

Roy Hodge 

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