I decided that since I so brazenly hijacked the ax of the washboard player in Chubby Carrier‘s band — his name is Earl Sally, by the way — the least I could do is make an effort to learn a little more about the instrument.
First off, its proper Cajun-French name is the frottoir, or, in English, the rubboard. Its origin as a clothes-washing tool is all but lost in the mists of time — for which we can be grateful, n’est-ce pas? 😉
The rubboard has no wooden frame like a washboard typically does; it’s simply a sheet of corrugated metal, with large curved “hooks” at the top that go over the player’s shoulders. It’s much more comfortable to wear than it looks — at least that’s my recollection, which was, I confess, slightly margarita-enhanced. 😛
The instrument was designed specifically for zydeco music, the product of a collaboration in the mid-1940’s between zydeco musicians (and brothers) Clifton and Cleveland Chenier, and their metalworker friend Willie Landry. Willie’s son Tee Don Landry carries on the family tradition, making rubboards by hand in Lousiana. His website has the rest of the rubboard story, plus videos demonstating rubboard playing!
I checked them out, because I was curious to see if my attempt at wielding the spoons was even in the ballpark. Here’s the basic zydeco beat:
Hmm… that’s not too complicated — steady eighth notes with one hand, single strokes on beats 2 and 4 with the other. For those of you who are hip to the notation jive, it looks like this:
I believe, though, that when I had my big moment in the spotlight, it didn’t occur to me that the hands could be so independent. Shame on me, I’m a pianist! But like I said, there were extenuating circumstances. To the best of my recollection, I did something kinda like this:
Not as interesting, but the enthusiasm was there!
Couple more rubboard fun facts that I learned from Tee Don’s site:
- The Smithsonian now has a rubboard in its collection, thanks to Tee Don’s advocacy.
- There’s a rubboard specially designed for women, with an attractive shapely design. But I have to ask: where are the matching shoes and handbag?! 😉
So there you have it: my tequila-fueled antics led to a musical learning experience! Please, kids — don’t try this at home! 😀
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Here’s another term you can use to increase your musical street cred: any brass or single-reed instrument can be referred to as a “horn,” even if that’s not its proper name. Trumpet, clarinet, sax — but not oboe, as far as I know. Those double-reed players are sticklers for precision! 😉
 Landry, Don. “Key of Z Rubboards Made by Tee Don.” Key of Z Rubboards Made by Tee Don. 25 Jul 2008.