The Shanty Boys at Camp Robinson Crusoe

The Shanty Boys (08901)

Left to right: Lionel Kilberg, Roger Sprung, Mike Cohen

The Shanty Boys entertained frequently at Camp Robinson Crusoe. This photo was taken in 1956, or possibly 1957, based on the film roll number (089) and other pictures on that roll.

Click here to see what Mike Cohen is up to these days.

The photo doesn't clearly show the instrument that Lionel Kilberg is playing. It's called a "washtub bass", although we at the camp called it a "bucket bass", if my memory is correct. The pole in his left hand has a notch at the bottom, and is standing on the rim of an over-turned galvanized washtub. From the top of the pole, a heavy line (I recall it just being clothsline, but I may be wrong) goes down through the player's hand, and then attaches to the center of the bottom (the top, when it's upside-down) of the washtub. Plucking the line creates a deep thumping sound, whose pitch can be raised by either pulling the pole out (to increase the tension on the line), or sliding the left hand down the pole/line, to shorten the open part of the line. In essence, the line is acting like a guitar string, and the washtub bottom like a sounding board. Note that Lionel is wearing a heavy glove on his left hand, to protect his hand from the friction of sliding up and down the line.

Click here to see a picture of a commercially sold washtub bass. You can click on the image on that page to see an even larger picture. (I am not connected in any way to the seller. He just has the clearest picture of a washtub bass that turned up on the web in a quick search.)

Lionel created (and sold, and perhaps is still selling) his own version of the washtub bass, which he called a "Brownie Bass", named after a dog he'd once had. I found this out from Lee Hoffman's web page, called "My Folknik Days", which is fascinating reading. Scroll down to about the middle (near the picture of Theodore Bikel) for the section on The Shanty Boys (or do a "find" on "Lionel").

Lee notes that Lionel's version always has a rubber miniature fireplug on top, in honor of his dog "Brownie". You can see the fire plug in the picture above. A picture of The Shanty Boys can also be seen on the jacket of their 1958 Elektra album. Click on that link, and scroll way down to the seventh album from the bottom of the page (or, once again, do a "find" on "Lionel"). The Brownie Bass in that photo seems a good deal fancier than the one Lionel used to play at the camp, but it still has the miniature fireplug on top of the pole.

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This page was updated February 21, 2006
A link to Mike Cohen's web page was added June 30, 2007