New Orleans has jazz. Nashville has country. The Delta has blues. Garnavillo, Iowa (population 745) has corn.
Thanks to the homegrown, farm-shucked comedic jazz of two heartland boys, a new musical genre called Corn plowed its way up the charts and across the globe in the 1930s. From the obscure tractor-dotted landscape of the Midwest to Hollywood, Manhattan, Europe, and all points in between, this is the comedic tale of stolen creative genius, betrayal, quirky passions, rags-to-riches luck - and perhaps even murder - which will knock your socks off. You may have never heard of Freddie Fisher’s Schnickelfritz Band and Stan Fritts and the Korn Kobblers, but the cornball jazz and novelty swing of these two groups would go on to have a profound influence on the landscape of American pop culture. Artists as diverse as Frank Zappa, Harry Nilsson, The Beatles, Tiny Tim, Captain Beefheart, OutKast and Weird Al Yankovic all call themselves fans of Fisher and Fritts: now you can find out why.
“Cornstars" is a sweeping overview of American musical entertainment set in the later days of minstrelsy through the early days of television. Emmy Award winning author Jack Norton crafts a painstakingly detailed account told on vaudeville stages, over the airwaves of early radio stations, in the grooves of brittle old 78 rpm records and on the silver screens of Hollywood’s golden era. A treasure trove of Americana.
They were bands with names like: Schnickelfritz, Korn Kobblers, Spike Jones and his City Slickers, Hoosier Hot Shots, Ezra Buzzington’s Rube Band, Five Harmaniacs, Captain Stubby's Buccaneers, Kidoodlers, Sweet Violet Boys, Pappy Trester's Screwballs, Cackle Sisters, Fiddle Bow Bill's Dew Valley Acorns, Crazy Tooters, Darrell Fischer's Log Jammers, Nebraska Sandhill Billies and Mrs. O’Leary’s Famous Musical Cow. Their sound was usually centered around the “whiz-bang”, an intricate musical washboard, along with traditional Dixieland jazz band instrumentation augmented by highly visual, Rube Goldberg-like comedic creations such as: the tootaboot, the horse collar, the squeezarina, the skoocherphone, the greasybell and the blow-chicken. Yes, the blow-chicken was the name of a real instrument used by these jazzmen in the 1930s. Today these bands, instruments and the music they made are largely forgotten.
Norton’s spotlight focuses on two musicians: Freddie Fisher, an eccentric jazz clarinetist and impresario from Garnavillio, Iowa and his bandmate Stan Fritts, a gifted trombonist that gave up a career of farming corn in rural Lyons, Nebraska - so he could make musical corn on stages coast to coast, first in territorial jazz bands and eventually with his own band at the Metropolitan Opera House. Without realizing it, the author uncovered a true story of the American dream. From their humble beginnings playing rural barn dances in Winona, Minnesota to recording over 200 sides for Decca Records and earning a film contract with Warner Brothers Studios, readers will recognize a real-life Horatio Alger tale if there ever was one.
Iconic legends appear, including: Rudy Vallee, Jack Dempsey, The Warner Brothers, Max Fleischer, Jack Benny, Laurel and Hardy, Bing Crosby, Guy Lombardo, Captain Kangaroo, Busby Berkeley, Lawrence Welk and other past celebrities.
Amidst the comedic cornball chaos of Fisher and Fritts emerged two spectacular musical groups: The Schnickelfritz Band and the Korn Kobblers. Norton details their meteoric rise and unprecedented fall, thanks to knowledge gleamed from the musicians’ personal scrapbooks, rare first-hand accounts from band members, friends and fans, and nearly two and half decades worth of personal research in dusty libraries and archives around the world. Norton’s book is 180,000+ words and includes more than 950 photos which illuminate this edition.