Joe 'Country' Washburn
Born: Dec. 28, 1904 in Houston, Texas
Died: Jan. 21, 1974
Joseph Washburn was born December 28, 1974, in Houston, Texas. Joe was an "only child" in Port Arthur, Texas, where his father was the postmaster. He learned to play the tuba in his school band and also learned how to play the double bass. He also enjoyed singing. From his high school band director, he learned how to arrange music for any combination of instruments.
After graduating from high school, Joe ventured off to New York to seek work as a musician. A stylish guy, he didn't look the way he talked, with his slow Texas drawl. He looked like everyone else. He was given the nickname "Country." He played in several bands.
Eventually, he joined up with the Ted Weems Orchestra. The Weems orchestra would gain notoriety for being the band that backed up Elmo Tanner when he was whistling the song "Heartaches." Country was arranger, tuba player, bass player, singer, and announcer for the band (people accepted his Texas drawl). Country had his own theme song with the band, "Good Morning, Good Evening, Good Night!"
In 1940, the Ted Weems Orchestra was on a radio quiz show, Beat the Band. Contestants would hear song titles, then try to guess how the tune went. Johnny Carson would do the same thing many years later on the Tonight Show on NBC-TV. Country Washburn sometimes had a segment on the show in which he told the audience a song title and then played it on his double bass. Beat the Band was sponsored by Kix cereal.
In 1942, Spike Jones, who was the drummer for the John Scott Trotter Orchestra (Bing Crosby's group), had a wild idea for starting a new band. It would use the instrumentation from twenty years earlier, which would mean that a tuba was used for the bass instrument, instead of the string bass. Spike had gotten to know Country well in New York. He invited him to be his tuba player and do his arrangements. Country said he'd do it but he would just be the tuba player when he played with the band and would not draw attention to himself. Spike called that a deal. The later tuba players with the group were a little more outlandish, compared to Country's conservatism.