Regular visitors to the GMC might remember that I’ve always had a fondness for clarinetists, having been one myself (a bad one) and even claiming a sort of spiritual link to Benny Goodman. We’ve also featured a lot of masters of the licorice stick, but it’s been a while since our last so I thought maybe it was time we add another — Buster Bailey, a brilliant instrumentalist who often played alongside another recently spotlighted performer, John Kirby.
A native of Memphis, William C. ‘Buster’ Bailey was yet another early bloomer, just in his mid-teens when he first began appearing with the legendary W.C. Handy during World War I. Within a couple of years he had moved to Chicago, spending the early 1920s gaining experience with early stars like King Oliver (while playing next to a young Louis Armstrong) before eventually following his muse to New York. It was there that he would build his name over the next decade or so while working with guys like Fletcher Henderson, but it was his partnership with John Kirby that would be a key to his success.
Although it was usually billed as the John Kirby Sextet, Bailey was really the co-star of the group and occasionally led them as Buster Bailey and His Rhythm Busters. But he was active in other areas too, even forming his own band for a while, and he also spent a lot of time working with Red Allen. But by the post-war years he was beginning to become more and more identified with Dixieland, and he mostly pursued that style from then on. He continued to be musically active into the 1960s, and was 64 when he died in 1967.