If you ever pass Joe Blass on the street, turn around and follow him. You have to. As he walks, notes and stories compiled from 7 decades of String Bands, fall from his pockets. At least, that’s how I imagine it. Few have witnessed so much and known so many people involved in the crazy hobby called Mummery. Joe has lived it since he joined his first string band when FDR was President. “It’s a way for self-expression,” he says.
Ray Endriss (Captain of Quaker City SB from 1931 to1971) was a good friend of mine, ” Joe says casually. Joe Blass knew them all, the lions, the legends, the steady and the loyal. Wearing his Ferko red and even a bolo from an earlier theme, he looks back, fondly remembering his friendships with Bill Ewing, Robert Shannon, Sr., and Jim McKnight. He remembers how social bands were. Maybe more than today. Competition was fierce, too, says Joe, “If you didn’t have that feeling that you want to be a winner, you should stay home.” Joe Blass joined his first band in 1939. World War II was just beginning in Europe. Pearl Harbor was a couple of years away.
Joe would play center banjo for Woodland String Band. But, he quickly took up the saxophone, learning from a teacher who used to play with Tommy Dorsey. Joe tells stories of playing on Sunday afternoons and of learning from Captain Sam Jefferies. His first generation as a Mummer was fast and productive, including organizing Delaware County String Band in the late 1940′s. “Freshmen” was their theme in ’48.
As much as he respected his early Mummer experiences, Joe was drawn to one of the greatest contributors to the String Band epic, Joseph Ferko. “I was always a great admirer of Mr. Ferko himself as a Captain and also the music (that) different musical directors presented to the club.” Joe says he called Mr. Ferko one day and said I’d like to join your band. Says Joe, “The next Tuesday I was a member of Ferko String Band.” Displaying his Ferko patch, Joe says proudly, “It was the best music on Broad Street, ever. No one has ever created a sound like Ferko had.” And Joe heard it from every angle, as a fan standing along Broad Street, as a playing member and from 1969 to 1979, as Captain of the great band. From Woodstock through Disco, there was Joe leading Ferko.
Joe Blass worries that young people today are not having as much fun with Mummery and with the parade itself, not as much fun as folks used to have. It’s worth thinking about. Because Joe said it. It may even be on a note falling from his life-filled pockets.