The Jersey Delta is no stranger to legendary musical performers; men and women whose names are written in the stars. Some who performed at all the great dance halls and festivals from Calzoni to Snatchez; others who never played a paying gig in their lives but provided the music for the barbecues, fish fries and crossroads dances. Here are a few:
RUBEN HARRISON CIRCA 1947
Son of a Scottish father and a Puerto Rican mother, he left home and migrated to the Jersey Delta along with his brother Lupe at the age of 10 and made a living singing and playing guitar on street corners. In 1939 he founded a Zydeco-Mariacci band called "Mas Gordas" which became the most popular band in the history of the Jersey Delta. His son Benny became one of the most highly regarded musicians and producers in the NJ/NY area.
NATE "THE NEWT" CANARIA CIRCA 1957
One of 47 children, he mailed himself from the Philippines Islands to the Jersey Delta in an extra large Express Mail envelope. In 1923 he went on "walkabout" from NJ to Tennesee and back. During his journey he taught Jimmy Rogers to play guitar and schooled A.P. Carter in the art of songwriting. His great granddaughter Lily is featured in The Jackson Whites' video "Salamander Moon.
THE WATCHUNG MOUNTAIN BOOGIE BOYS CIRCA 1974
Legend confirms that they refused to play for money and insisted on being paid in beer or whiskey. The only band in the history of the Jersey Delta to feature the washboard and kazoo as their main lead instruments. Their most popular songs included Petticoat Junction, Theme From Gilligan's Isle, Foggy Mountain Breakdown and I'm Flippin' Out On Angel Dust. Lead kazooist George Unverzagt went on to have a long career as an entertainer and still plays at bars and festivals throughout the Jersey Delta. He is often accompanied by Jackson Whites' mandolinist Jeff Hemmerlin.
CHINK VLIET CIRCA 1966
Nicknamed "Chink" due to his jet black hair and love of Moo Shoo pork, Waldo Vliet was the son of farmers from Somerset County NJ. At the height of his popularity he abruptly quit playing his famous homemade trumpet and devoted the rest of his life to helping his son Dean develop his career as a golfer. He died in 2002 when he forgot to engage the emergency brake and was run over by a cow.
LUPE HARRISON, FATON ROUDE MUSIC FESTIVAL, FATON ROUDE, NEW JERSEY 1963
Widely acknowledged as the most versatile musician in the history of the Jersey Delta. He played 18 different insrtuments (one more than Prince) including guitar, slide whistle, tuba, timbales, jaw harp, piccolo, dulcimer, handsome dougie and bagpipies.In 1970, after an unusually poor performance, he was bludgeoned to death with his own guitar by Mats Van Kull, father of Jackson Whites vocalist Robert Van Kull. At trial several witnesses testified that Harrison's performance had been so bad that he deserved a beating. Van Kull was acquitted and went on to marry Lupe's widow, Virginia.
At the age of 15 he released his first single "Positively Church Street" which shot to the top of the blues, country, soul, and pop charts on every radio station in the Jersey Delta. Known for his marathon performances he once accused Jerry Garcia of being a ":pussy" after Garcia refused to return to the stage for a 12th encore at Unverzagt's legendary "WOW Room" where jam sessions often lasted for weeks at a time. He continues to be the most popular live act in the Jersey Delta and recently released a CD entitled "From The Backroads Of Jersey" In 2016 he was named "Best Male Americana Artist" for The 5th Annual Indie Music Channel Awards.
KUMAR "TAINT" FUNNI CIRCA 1967
In 1965 Ravi Shankar declared funni "the least talented musician in the history of music." At the age of 4 doctors advised his parents that he was profoundly tone deaf and suggested that they forbid him from singing or coming into contact with musical instruments. He defied all odds by recording 22 albums of original compositions which have been covered by Norah Jones, Run DMCand The Iselin Symphony Orchestra. His songs have also been featured in over 100 Bollywood films.
MILDRED BARRELLHAUSEN CIRCA 1936
Born into a wealthy family of socialites in hyde Park, NY she was briefly engaged to a young Franklin Delano Roosevelt before biting his finger to the bone and fleeing for parts unknown with nothing but a suitcase filled with hundred dollar bills. She migrated to the Jersey Delta and became a regular performer in strip clubs such as LaPores, The Dancing Lady Lounge and The Richmond Beer Gardens, where she also became a highly successful prostitute.
Fritz Coleman: Born and raised in Fanwood, NJ, he was nicknamed "Benny Badman" for his reckless lifestyle and total disregard for convention. Between brief periods of success he lived in cars and homeless shelters, traveling from place to place with his dog "Bongwater". A statue of Coleman in the fetal position was erected in the courtyard of Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School along with a plaque which reads "Football's the best, but hockey's better"
Benoit "Frenchie" LeQueef
Many thanks to the Calvert family for submitting this rare photo of Benoit "Frenchie" LeQueef the noted cabaret performer from Little Montreal in the Jersey Delta's great white north. He was known as the most heavily perfumed performer in the history of the Jersey Delta. Legend has it that although he worked in a rendering plant located on the grounds of a feces transfer station it was his employer who sued LeQueef for creating a toxic work environment. He was an enthusiastic supporter of the civil rights movement and is best remembered for his performance at the 1962 Jerseyland Folk Festival where he played a moving 18 minute version of "Oui Shall Overcome."
Bastardo "Cheech" DiQuallo
This photo is courtesy of the D'Amilio Family and features Bastardo "Cheech" DiQuallo crooning "Porco Misera" (Miserable Pig) accompanied by his wife Rosa on the piano. It was taken at the Italian American Hall in Scotch Plains circa 1949. Italian Americans made major contributions to the sound which eventually became know as "Jersey Delta Stoonad"
This photo, submitted anonymously, is alleged to be the only known image of "Lil' Nasty", the mysterious under aged girl who taunted Portuguese residents of Newark New Jersey's Iron Bound Section for a 6 month period in 2009. She would appear with her bullhorn outside of bedroom windows and perform homespun rap songs including "Your Jesus Was A Pimp" and "Hairy Wife, Happy Life", as the homeowners fumed. She was last seen running from the Neighborhood Watch toward Raymond Blvd and has never resurfaced. Her fate remains unknown.
B. Russell "Sprouts" McCann
Thanks to Jackson Whites Guitarist Kevin Hadley for submitting this rare photo of Jersey Delta legend B. Russell "Sprouts" McCann performing his legendary rendition of "Our National Anthem" into "Scarlet Begonias" into "Taps", to close the 1985 Sussex County Music Festival. Less than a dozen people remained to witness this performance which took place a full 3 days after the festival had ended.
Thanks to Race Bannon for this photo of the Great Ollie Charles who is known as the Johnnie Winter of The Jersey Delta. For a 13 year period between 1983 and 1996 Charles played guitar and sang every night at the Chicken Little brothel in Liars Point, N.J. where he also worked as a janitor. On October 1, 1996 he died on stage of malnutrition while performing an extended version of "What is it that tastes like gravy?"
Wyclef Jean was born in 1969 in Haiti, the son of a pastor. His family moved to Coney Island and then to Newark, New Jersey where he worked at McDonald’s to pay for studio time. From an early age he was a musical prodigy and plays 15 different instruments. With his band The Fugees, he wrote and recorded a series of legendary records including “The Score” which sold more than 15 million records worldwide. His eclectic mix of Creole, salsa, reggae, Afro-Cuban, R & B, funk and rap made him a legend in the Jersey Delta. His ongoing efforts as an activist and an educator led to his unanimous induction into the Jersey Delta Hall of Fame. In 2014 the Fattiesburg Free Press honored him with the Lupe Harrison Lifetime Achievement Award for being an incredibly "soulful dude."