Charlie Burse was a wild-living, hard-drinking, bad-tempered man whose redeeming feature was an extraordinary skill on guitar, banjo, mandolin and ukelele, the latter giving rise to his stage-name, the ‘Uke Kid’. It was his good fortune to meet up with the level-headed, business-minded multi-instrumentalist Will Shade, who managed and played with his Memphis Jug Band. Will overlooked Charlie’s personality defects and the two unlikely friends went on to play together for almost 40 years.
In 1939, Charlie formed his own band, The Memphis Mudcats, which did a lot of Jug Band material, but featured sax instead of harp and string-bass rather than a jug, so it sounded more urban and modern. They recorded for Vocalion Records, and their version of ‘Bottle Up and Go’ became a classic, although their ‘hokum’ tunes like ‘Weed Smokin’ Woman’ and ‘Good Potatoes on the Hill’ also sold well. When this venture ran out of steam in WWII, Charlie went back to playing on the street and at parties with Will. They were ‘re-discovered’ there by Sam Charters in 1956 and recorded again together, and with various incarnations of the old Jug Band. The best of these albums, the riotous ‘Beale Street Mess Around’ with a cast of veterans, was not released until 1975, ten years after the ‘Uke Kid’ had passed away.