Behind the Songs: The Left-handed, C-flat, Maytag Bass Stove Blues 

The Left-Handed, C-Flat, Maytag Bass Stove. Created by Bill Givens.
The Left-Handed, C-Flat, Maytag Bass Stove. Created by Bill Givens.

This song started with a phone call from an old family friend, Phil Ferrill.  For the record, he was the first person to show me how to play a few chords on a tenor banjo and guitar when I was about 13, I think.

“Steve, how are you? I’ve got something I want to give you. Do you know what the ‘Left-handed, C-flat, Maytag Bass Stove is?’” Oh, yes, I said, I remember it well. But tell me again.

The Left-handed, C-flat, Maytag Bass Stove was not a stove at all, but a homemade musical instrument. But it, indeed, had its origins in a Maytag Stove, so bear with me. The Left-handed, C-flat, Maytag Bass Stove was, in fact, a single-string five-gallon bucket tub bass, made by my father for his friend, Ed Warmann, who was Phil’s father-in-law. Ed didn’t play an instrument but had a deep bass voice and sang pretty well, so my Dad made him the tub bass so he could join in on the Saturday night gatherings at three houses in North St. Louis in the 1960s and 1970s. The three houses were ours, located at 8626 Goodfellow in the North Point neighborhood right on the border of the City of St. Louis and St. Louis County; Ed and Ruby Warmann’s, just about a mile away in Walnut Park; and Julian and Helen Stancil’s apartment, located above Ring’s Grocery Store in the Hyde Park neighborhood where my father delivered mail for several decades. All three men were mailmen, as we called them back then. They were men, after all, as most of the carriers were back then. They delivered the mail by walking it from house to house.

The "L.H" (Left-Handed) model.
The “L.H” (Left-Handed) model.

My father was the only “trained” musician in this group of friends. He played the accordion and played it well. Not just polkas, like most people think when they hear the word “accordion,” but songs from the American songbook, pop tunes of the 30s and 40s. “Saloon music,” he called it, because that’s where he played it when he was young. He put together a band when he was still a teenager called the Shanty Town Boys, and the band varied in size depending on the gig. In a saloon, it was likely just him and a saxophone player or maybe a drummer. Bigger events, like a DeMolay dance, required a few more guys. Anyway, back to those Saturday nights.

Ed, as I mentioned, sang a little and plucked on the string bass. His young son-in-law Phil, a telephone lineman, taught himself tenor banjo tuned Chicago style (like a guitar). So he strummed along. Julian Stancil played a little snare drum and cymbal. Perhaps Julian and Ed switched off between bass and snare, because I have a photo of Julian playing the bass. Memory is a tricky thing.

At the Stencils. From left, Julian Stancil (playing the obscured "bass stove"); Bill Givens on accordion, Phil Ferrill on tenor banjo, Gary Givens on harmonica, and a sullen looking me.
At the Stancils. From left, Julian Stancil (playing the obscured “bass stove”); Bill Givens on accordion, Phil Ferrill on tenor banjo, Gary Givens on harmonica, and a sullen looking me.

I really don’t know for sure how often they got together, but it seems like it was about once a month. To be clear, they were not rehearsing for anything. They just got together at one of their houses and played music and shot guns. Yes, in the middle of the city. Each man had a “pistol range.” My dad and Ed Warmann each had one in their basements and, perhaps unbelievably, the Stancils had their range on the third floor of the building, in the attic above their apartment, which was above the store. How the cops never got called when they started shooting .22, .45 and even black-powder pistols and rifles I will never understand. Maybe they were called and just didn’t care. Maybe all the neighbors just knew what was going on, which is probably the case. It was a much different time.

The women were there, too. They played cards and sometimes cooked and sat around tapping their toes and humming along when the music started. The women didn’t drink much, as I remember, except maybe a few highballs. The men, on the other hand, could put it away, and the table was littered with empty Stag, Falstaff and 905 beer cans, as well cheap whiskey that couldn’t have cost more than a few bucks for a fifth. But I digress yet again.

When Phil and his wife, Joyce, invited Sue and I over for dinner and to pick up the “stove,” he gave me a one-page write-up on the history of the instrument and how it came to be. I’ll let his words do the work here:

We spent many, many nights sitting in the kitchen of an old farm house, located on an 80-acre piece of country property owned by my in-laws, playing music and drinking beer. My father-in-law was a very tall, left-handed gentleman who had a great deep voice. One night while singing along with our music he was sitting next to an old Maytag gas stove in the kitchen. He discovered that hitting the end of the stove with his left hand made a pretty good bass sound and proceeded to play bass for us on the stove. Bill, being the creative individual that he was, started referring to the stove as the “Left-handed, C-flat, Maytag Bass Stove.” He later made the bass instrument for Ed out of an old five gallon can, which he painted black and white with the words “C-flat Bass Maytag, L.H. Model” inscribed on it. We always referred to it as the Left-handed, C-flat, Maytag Bass Stove.

After Ed passed away in 1997, my wife Joyce and I were at her parents’ house helping her mother, Ruby, with some things when I discovered the “bass stove” in a cabinet in the basement. With Ruby’s blessing, I brought it home. I am now passing the “bass stove” on to Bill’s son, Steve, who as it turns out is a hobby singer-songwriter himself. One of Steve’s prized possessions is his father’s old accordion, so this will be a long overdue addition to his father’s memorabilia. 

I was, of course, honored and delighted to receive the “bass stove,” and I promised Phil and Joyce that I would treat it well. (Although how would you mistreat a bucket and a broomstick?) I also promised that this was a story that needed to be shared, and that I would try to write a song about it. It took a few months, but I finally worked up the lyrics, and then John Caravelli and I spent an evening making it all fit together musically within the parameters of a traditional blues tune. The other guys in the band really made it come alive, and we performed it live for the first time about a month ago (see video).

I gave the song the alternative title of “Big Ed’s Blues” in honor of Mr. Warmann, a gentleman, indeed, who taught me to play chess and sit quietly and listen to my elders. I wish I had listened more closely. I wish I had some recordings of those Saturday nights. I wish they were all here to play along.

The Left-Handed, C-flat, Maytag Bass Stove Blues
(Big Ed’s Blues)

Lyrics by Steve Givens
Music by John Caravelli & Steve Givens

Well we were sitting ‘round the table, a-bangin’ out the blues
But Big Ed in the corner, he had nothing at all to do.
He couldn’t play the saxophone, or strum guitar a lick,
So he stretched his legs out to the left and gave the stove a kick…

Oh he’s got the blues, Big Ed’s got the blues,
He’s got the Left-Handed, C-flat, Maytag Bass Stove Blues.

Well he kicked the stove again, and he said, “listen to that!
When I kick the stove it resonates pitch-perfectly c-flat.”
So he moved a little closer, started beating with his hand,
His steady rhythm backing up the banjo and accordion.

Oh he’s got the blues, Big Ed’s got the blues,
He’s got the Left-Handed, C-flat, Maytag Bass Stove Blues.

Oh, oh, oh, play me another arpeggio…
Oh, oh, oh, one more round before we go.
Oh, oh, oh, play me another arpeggio…
Oh, oh, oh, why don’t we take this show on the road?

So if you ever doubt yourself and your place in the world,
Remember that you might have hidden talents to unfurl.
Remember that you must have rhythm beating in your heart,
So kick the stove and find your beat, go move your moving parts!

Oh he’s got the blues, Big Ed’s got the blues,
He’s got the Left-Handed, C-flat, Maytag Bass Stove Blues.

© 2017 Potter’s Mark Music

The Players

John Caravelli, lead guitar
Phil Cooper, keyboards
Pat Dillender, drums
Steve Givens, acoustic guitar and vocals
Gerry Kasper, bass

One thought on “Behind the Songs: The Left-handed, C-flat, Maytag Bass Stove Blues 

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