Sam Moore, a Floridian who moved north to play in the Ziegfeld Follies in New York in 1920-21, was the type of guy who liked to make music out of whatever was at hand. Moore's dad told the papers that when Sam was a small boy, he'd seen him "get music out of a pitchfork." It was only a small step from a pitchfork to a saw, and Moore championed the musical possibilities of the household carpentry implement for several years, learning to bow the instrument to produce a warbling, lonesome sound.
Horace Davis, meanwhile, was another child of the South who showed up in vaudeville. He was the great-grandson of Robert E. Lee and a guitar player of some talent. Like Moore, he had a yen for unusual instruments, and he became adept at playing something called an "octo-chorda," an eight-stringed steel-string guitar sometimes referred to as a "harp guitar." Once Davis with his octo-chord guitar found Moore with his saw, a my-chocolate-in-your-peanut-butter moment was sure to ensue.
The team toured vaudeville and were a big hit. On record in 1921, they scored with "Mother Macree," another sentimental Irish tune, and they recorded a bunch more tunes for Victor, Columbia, and Gennett, including this one. On this record, Moore's saw playing is so smooth that it often sounds like he's playing a theremin, the electronic "no hands" instrument developed around the same time. It's a masterful performance, a little silly and a little forlorn, as the end of summer should be. Davis lays back and strums on this one, giving Moore room (on other records, like their famous "Laughing Rag," Davis could go toe-to-toe with Moore).
Sadly, the singing saw would soon decline in popularity, and for awhile, Sam Moore moved onto balloons, making music with spoon-player Carl Freed under the banner "Spooning and Ballooning." Apparently, Moore took rubber balloon music just as seriously as he took saw music, although sadly no records appear to have been made of this act. Moore later moved on to a career in radio. Not much is known about what happened to Horace Davis; one assumes that he traded his harp-guitar for a angel's harp some years ago.
There are no known CD collections of the work of Sam Moore and Horace Davis, but maybe one of these days the singing saw will make a major comeback and the pioneering work of Sam Moore will be recognized. For now, we'll just have to settle for bidding adieu to summer with the sweet and nostalgic strains of Sam Moore's saw in the background.
-Joe McGasko's Free Music Archive blog post, which can be read in full here
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