Sunday, September 13, 2020


I'd like to open by quoting band leader Jack Norton, who literally wrote the book on Fisher. The 800+ page paperback Cornstars: Rube Music in Swing Time was published in 2020. More here.

"[Freddie Fisher] was a man who possessed an encyclopedic knowledge of jazz and pop music and had such a profound respect for the music that he simply had to make it his own and in doing so he inverted our understanding of jazz, of pop culture, of social taboos. Freddie Fisher made comedy into a high art and literally farted in the face of progressive jazzers and rich tourists everywhere."
Freddie "Schnickelfritz" Fisher is an anachronism today. The last popular comedic musician is probably Weird Al. Back in the 1980s there was a brief resurgence of comedic music in the tiny sub-genre of "joke-thrash" including bands like Scatterbrain, Gwar, Mr Bungle, Musky Pup, and Ugly Kid Joe. The rest of the silliness seems to have been relegated to the kids music section. Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa are already long behind us. But back in the 1920s and 1930s we were awash in "novelty orchestras" and in the 1940s comedic music continued to be big. It wasn't just Spike Jones. The culture of the era permitted artists to record silly singles alongside more romantic jingles. So it was also the Hoosier Hot Shots, Al Jolson, Fats Waller, Eddie Cantor and let's not skip Freddie "Schnickelfritz" Fisher.

The word Schnickelfritz derives from the Pennsylvania Dutch, from a cognate of the German word schnickschnack meaning chatter. It is a term of endearment meaning rascal, or scamp, but more literally something like "chatterbox." But Freddie wasn't from the Amish country. He was born and reared on a farm in Lourdes, IA. Before you Google it, that's 60 miles North East of Mason near nothing in particular.

Miggs Durrance (1957)
His father wanted him to play the piano, and somehow they compromised on a clarinet. Little did he know that Freddie would go on to record two hundred songs for Decca. When he was 21 Freddie got a job in an Orpheum Circuit band.  Starting around 1934, he led the house band at the Sugar Loaf Tavern. They began playing on KWNO. Adverts from 1934 list the band as "Schnickelfritz and his band." Their corn pone shtick included comedy and music a bit of horseplay and a lot of innovative percussion instruments. They spent over two years there.

In 1937 they began recording for Decca. They made live appearances on KSTP and WEAF. After a time they made the big move and relocated the group to St. Paul, where they played at the Midway. It was there that Rudy Vallee caught the increasingly popular show and signed them up for their first film appearance. He would go on to appear in at least 12 films between 1938 and 1949. More here.

That first film appearance too the group to Hollywood. But while they were in Hollywood, the band fell apart. There was some kind of rift between Stan Fritt and Freddie Fisher. Fisher got a little more screen time in that first film, but later Rudy Valee invited Fritt to appear on WOW without Fisher.  

The schism eventually created two bands: The Korn Kobblers, and Freddie Fisher's Schnickelfritzers. There was regarding the use of the original name. It seems that Stan wanted to call the band The Original Schnickelfritzers. Freddie sued, and they backed off,  but he still had to start over.  Freddie stayed in Hollywood a while and his new band began a residency at a jazz club called the Radio Room at 1539 Vine Street right in Hollywood. They continued to tour but some of the magic was gone. Freddie even recorded a few straight jazz tunes like Mood Indigo.

Maybe it was charisma, or maybe his business acumen, but Stan Fritt took most of the band members with him and moved to the east coast, where they formed the Korn Kobblers. They continued to record for Okeh and Decca and they were relatively successful. The Korn Kobblers probably peaked during their 1948-49 television show Kobb's Korner on CBS. It aired Wednesday evenings over 175 radio stations. More here.

In 1952 (or 1954) Fisher quit professional music and opened a fix-it shop of sorts in Aspen, Colorado.  It is a town that appreciated it's eccentrics. reputedly it was a part junkyard and part inventor’s shop. He started a less ambitious band with his son, King Fisher and played the Red Onion locally. Those that were unfamiliar with his musical career knew him from his cranky and profane letters to the editor of The Aspen Times. In 1974 many of those letters and a collection of anecdotes were collected into the now somewhat rare book Fisher the Fixer.

In 2004 Jack Norton organized a tribute to Freddie Fisher on what would have been his 100th birthday. [SOURCE] On Friday, June 11th, they appeared on KFAI in Minneapolis and played two Schnickelfritz recordings.  To top that off they also played a shows at the Arts Center Acadia Cafe and Theatre in Minneapolis and held a screening of rare films featuring Freddie Fisher and the band.


  1. Don't leave us hanging! On June 11th, the *what* appeared on KFAI? :-)