If the term “novelty song” did not already exist, it would have to be coined to describe the repertoire of the Hoosier Hot Shots, a quartet that amused audiences for years broadcasting as an act on the National Barn Dance. They were known for such songs as “I Like Bananas Because They Have No Bones” and “When There’s Tears in the Eyes of a Potato”; and for beginning their numbers with “Are you ready, Hexxie?” to which Hezzie replied on a slide whistle, “Wooo-wooo-wooo-woohoo!” It cannot be doubted that they were an inspiration for Spike Jones and His City Slickers, who were damn funny, but never so funny or meaningful as the Hot Shots at their best.
The Hot Shots were begun by two brothers, Kenneth and Paul (Hezzie) Trietsch, who grew up in a musical family on a farm near Arcadia, Indiana (north of Indianapolis). The brothers began their career by touring in vaudeville with their banjo-picking father. When the father retired, the brothers joined an outfit called the Rube Band, where they became friends with a fellow Indiana musician, Charles (Gabe) Ward. When vaudeville succumbed after the 1929 stock market crash, the Rube Band broke up, and the Trietsch brothers and Ward found a nest with WOWO in Fort Wayne, IN, where an announcer first named them the Hoosier Hot Shots. In 1933 they were picked up by WLS in Chicago for a daytime local program and the National Barn Dance, broadcast over NBC, where I heard them every Saturday night for years. The following year they were joined by a fourth musician, Illinois native Frank Kettering, also an alumnus of the Rube Band.
All four members of the group were multidimensional musicians, playing various instruments (especially brass: Ken played the tuba, and Frank fife and piccolo), but their usual instrumentation was Ken Trietsch on guitar, Gabe Ward on clarinet and saxophone, and Frank Kettering on string bass. Hezzie played an assortment of instruments; although he was a drummer, he was most comfortable with a set of slide whistles and a home-made instrument: a washboard mounted with an array of cowbells and rubber-bulb auto and bicycle horns in various keys, pie tins, wood blocks, and garbage can lids. Hezzie’s musicianship in controlling the slide whistle was truly remarkable. Vocally they were a quartet with an occasional solo. Their performances were meticulously designed and rehearsed to sound spontaneous and helter-skelter. For an example, here’s “She Broke My Heart in Three Places.”