July 2002 

Since the very beginning, blues has been produced on some very odd musical instruments. At first would-be musicians had to make do with whatever they could find to create music and that included such household items as pots and pans, bottles, rubber bands, cigar boxes, wires, jugs, slide whistles and tire pumps to name only a few. People were bound to find a way to make music even if all they had was a comb and a piece of paper.

Youngsters on farms unwrapped the wires that held their mom’s broom together and nailed them to the barn wall where they created sounds by striking the wire and sliding various objects along it. Thus was the beginning of the slide guitar. Early blues recordings featured jug bands, jews harps, fife and drums, and kazoo’s along with brass, woodwinds and of course America’s most popular instrument back then, the piano.

In time, almost every instrument known to man was used to play the blues from the accordion to the xylophone and all the others too. If you don’t believe me, check out Rufus Harley sometime. He plays blues on the bagpipes!

One of the strangest bands to ever play the blues or anything else came along in the twenties. The band was composed of two sisters named Daisy and Violet Hilton. Daisy played alto sax, violin and several other instruments and Violet accompanied her on the piano. The Hilton Sisters band was an odd-looking outfit too as the two girls were Siamese twins—joined at the hip!

The Hiltons had been born in England, but were brought to America at an early age to seek their fortune on the stage. They broke into vaudeville and were quite successful along the eastern seaboard. By the time Daisy and Violet were 15, they were among the highest paid performers in the nightclub and vaudeville circuit earning as much as $5,000 per week. Blessed with beauty, the Hilton twins also possessed an array of talents; they performed acrobatic tricks, played many musical instruments and had marvelous singing voices. Bob Hope taught them how to dance the Black Bottom. They even appeared in two movies, Freaks and Chained For Life.

Each girl tried to respect the other’s privacy (what there was of it). They said they just tuned out mentally when necessary. Violet said she would just not pay attention when Daisy had a date. Sometimes she would read or take a nap. Famed magician Harry Houdini, who took an interest in the girls, taught them his technique of self-hypnosis.

The sisters led a busy social life and received a number of marriage proposals. Eventually they both married although some 20 states turned down their applications for marriage licenses. Both sisters were taken to the cleaners by their husbands and they ended up broke in Charlotte, North Carolina where they settled down, got jobs at a fruit stand and lived quietly until an influenza epidemic felled them in 1969. 

Then there was a man who went on the Original Amateur Hour and played the blues by rapping on his head with wooden spoons . . . but that’s another story . . .