Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Unusual Instruments: Washington Phillips Medley

Ray Skjelbred: Washington Phillips Medley

Not only is the dolceola a little known instrument, it is hard to find recordings of it. It is a combination of a piano and a zither that was made and sold for $25 (shipping included) for a few years around 1905 by a company in Toledo, OH. The zither, in turn, is a relative of the lyre, and there are some musical authorities that group the autoharp, the guitar and the piano in the same family of instruments: all having “struck strings” in common. I think you’ll note that it sounds a little like a harpsichord.

I ran across this musical contraption when I learned that Ry Cooder’s version of Tattler was based on a song by a gospel preacher-musician by the name of Washington Phillips. Phillips’ story is a curious one, and he is apparently mistakenly credited with playing the dolceola on his recorded music.

Andy Cohen and Ray Skjelbred are among the few musicians I have been able to find that play the doceola. There are YouTube videos of each of them where you can hear and see the instrument in action. The recording above is an mp3 converted from one of those videos. The purchase link is to Ray’s website where he provides an email address to help you buy a CD directly from him.

And, since I have mentioned Washington Phillips – both in the name of Ray’s song and my search for the real dolceola sound, here is an original recording by Phillips (Paul and Silas).

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