Many people are unaware the “Conn–Chief”, with the Art Deco-looking exterior, was not the first Chief. Andy Loree has owned all the original and “reproduction” versions. The extremely rare 1924 Conn Basses catalog is the only place he’s seen where the original Chief advertised, and it shares page 19 with the very early and almost-as-scarce Helleberg “Conn H”.
Wessex CHIEF has 32.7 mm rim, 8.6 mm throat, and the same deep funnel cup exactly the same as the original Chief. Fitted with American shank, an adapter for use in Euro-shank receivers is also available (and actually improves response on some tubas).
The mouthpiece is available in silver and gold plated finishes. The gold is actually Titanium Gold which is much more durable than gold metal plating, but has the same feel and hypo-allergenic qualities as “real gold”.
There have been various other reproductions of the CHIEF before, but none were exact copy of the Original version as can be seen from illustrations
Also note that the Original Chief is not the same as “Conn 1″, “Revelation 52″ or “Holton 7″ despite some conjecture to the contrary – Better rim, better tonal centering, and less “woof”!
The CHIEF mouthpiece was designed for John “The Chief” Kuhn who was pictured on the cover of the 1924 Conn Basses catalog.
John led a colorful life as recalled in Timeline of a tuba player (A biographical sketch of John M. Kuhn) by Irina G. Popov
It takes a truly remarkable personality to tame a wild mustang or to be invited to become a part of Philadelphia Philharmonic Band at age of eighteen. It takes a truly brave person to keep a straight face when a rat jumps up onto his lap from a traveling case. It takes a person with a really big heart to fill his house with a relatives from a far country, to find a jobs for them, and to see after their welfare. Who wouldn’t like to have a person like that for a neighbor? Dependable, strong, talented, generous, and let’s add successful, with a great sense of humor, loved by his friends and relatives. This man was John M. Kuhn.
Born oh July 4, 1882 in Poplar, Montana Territory, John was the son of a native woman of the Assiniboine tribe, and a German immigrant father who did not read or write English. The family resided in Wolf Point, twenty miles from Poplar, where John’s father was employed as a laborer by two Indian traders, Charles Aubrey and Thomas Campbell. Besides John, the family included six other children.
John Kuhn’s boyhood fell during the tempestuous years of the last Indian wars, during the extermination of buffalos, and the mass starvation of Plain’s Indian tribes, in the years when the survival of Native traditions came under pointed attack. Transitional times dictated that Native tribes adopt a surrogate lifestyle and the practices of Western origins. The cultural identity of Natives became an item of public interest and debate. To John Kuhn, who was born into a mixed ethnic family, who as a child witnessed the military clashes between US government forces and tribal warriors, his identity never was a question. He always was an Indian, with Indian music in his blood. For the “civilized” world he was, in the first place, an “educated Indian,” a product of government policies, a successful example of the assimilation of a “savage” into a Western culture. However, by his mere presence in the cultural arena of the twentieth century, John Kuhn, as many other Indian musicians, was, in fact, educating the world, and taught to European “intruders” a lesson of great humanitarian value. This bigger picture was missed by many of his contemporaries.
John’s first teachers were Presbyterian and Methodist missionaries that maintained day schools in Wolf Point and Poplar. Lessons there were conducted mostly in indigenous languages. From the late 1880’s, the system of government-enforced boarding schools for Native youth replaced local missionary facilities. Fort Shaw Indian School, Montana, was where John continued his formal training in early 1900’s. The Fort Shaw school’s Indian Band and the football team became important features for promoting the school. Most of the male students participated in both athletic and music programs, playing both football and half-time music. In the Fort Shaw school, John Kuhn formed a lasting friendship with Robert Bruce (Nagiyanpe), a Sioux from Standing Rock Indian Agency who later became a famed military band cornet soloist and a composer.
In 1903-1904 John Kuhn enrolled in the Haskell Indian School, Kansas, to study music under Dennison Wheelock, the renowned bandmaster, composer and attorney, a native of the Oneida of Wisconsin tribe. While there, John Kuhn continued to play football for the Haskell team. With Wheelock’s resignation from Haskell and return to his alma mater in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, John Kuhn also moved to Carlisle as fullback for the Carlisle Indian Institute football team until 1909. He stayed with the football team for over three years, evidently sharing the gridiron name “Little Boy” with another team player, Scott Porter, a native of the Chippewa tribe.
During his stay at Carlisle, Buffalo Bill of the famous “Wild West Show,” recruited John Kuhn to perform as a bronco buster during his European tour from 1902-1906.
In 1909-1911 John Kuhn joined the Bohemian Band, directed by Bohumir Kryl. He became Kryl’s featured tuba soloist under the stage name “Red Cloud.” For publicity reasons, Kryl presented him to audiences as a “full-blooded Sioux.” This biographical misrepresentation of his ethnicity remained with John the rest of his life. In Kryl’s band John made friends with Jaroslav Cimera, the prominent trombone player and composer. While in Kryl’s band John acquired a reputation as a superb musician and a soloist.
In 1911 John became a Member of the Federation of Musicians, Chicago Local 10. His racial affiliation became stated as “white” on his membership documents to ease his acceptance into the Federation.
In 1912, the year when the USS Titanic sank, John married Alice Nall, a Native American girl who worked as a cash register clerk in a grocery store in Chicago. The couple and John’s mother-in-law resided 1446 North Wells Street. This address became their home for many years.
In 1913 John Kuhn with his Sousaphone was featured on the cover of “Memphis Blues” by W.C. Handy among twenty members of the George Evans’ “Honey Boy” Minstrels’ concert band under the direction of Edward V. Cupero. The Minstrels’ vaudeville show featured African-American comedians and singers as a novelty.
In 1914 John joined the band of Patrick Conway.
In 1915 John became a member of John Phillip Sousa Band. He performed with the band at the Panama-Pacific International Exhibition in San Francisco, California under the direction of Camille Saint-Saens. There Saint-Saens presented him his conductor’s baton as a sign of appreciation for John’s musicianship.
On December 31, 1915 John and Alice had their first child, William Walter.
Kuhn stayed with the Sousa Band until 1920, performing extensively as the band’s tuba soloist. He remained loyal to Sousa during 1919 bandsmen’ mutiny. In October 1920 he authored a passionate autobiographical article for the Etude magazine. In it he spoke about the importance of music in Indian tribal traditions and of the influence of Native American music on Western musical genres.
In 1921, his daughter Alice was born. Apparently John decided to travel less and to stay closer to his growing family. As a musician of considerable reputation, he appeared in solo performances in Chicago in concerts with the orchestra under Armin Frederick Hand. Eventually, John became a bandsman of one of the most sought after white dance bands in Chicago under the direction of Isham Jones. Following several years of high productivity and success, Kuhn took part in numerous Isham Jones recordings. “Wabash Blues,” “Copenhagen,” and “Prince of Wails” are among many which featured his playing. He toured with the band throughout England in 1925.
In 1927 the Federal Radio Act ended the anarchy of early radio broadcasts. It opened new opportunities for professional musicians. After the October 24,1929 New York Stock Market crash, the public’s demand for music grew. That was also reflected in radio broadcasts. In 1929 John Kuhn became one of the pioneer musicians on NBC network’s “National Farm and Home Hour” program with its charismatic host Everett Mitchell and the Roy Schields orchestra. The latter became John’s official employer. At the same time, John continued to work for smaller radio programs usually sponsored by private corporations, such as the “Maytag Happiness Hour,” the “Yeast Foamers,” the “Armour Half Hour,” and the “Studebaker Champions,” just to name a few. In 1930 Kuhn also worked for “Empire Builders,” the radio studio that broadcast for the areas along the Great Northern Railway. The studio often featured Native American legends, stories, and real-life reports accompanied by authentic sounds of Indian music and songs.
In 1941 John Kuhn and Jaroslav Cimera co-authored the book Kuhn-Cimera Method for Tuba BBb and Eb.
In 1942-1944, a strike by the American Federation of Musicians against the major recording companies diminished the popularity of band music. The strike, conducted amidst World War II, was labeled “unpatriotic.” However, the strike hardly affected musicians employed in the radio business. John’s radio career as part of the NBC Radio Orchestra lasted well into the1950’s.
In 1951 John’s son William died.
John Kuhn passed away on January 10, 1962 in Chicago from coronary heart disease, just a few hours after his friend and former employer Roy Shields died in Florida. John’s wife Alice outlived him by two years. John and Alice rest next to each other at Acacia Park Cemetery, Chicago.
It takes special talent and perseverance to thrive through turbulent times. John Kuhn, who was born of mixed Native American and German parents, witnessed the effects of Westward expansion through his native Indian territories. In his youth he was sent away from home to attend boarding schools to be educated as what American politicians called a savage. He was annually sequestered in reservation, and counted himself a Reservation Indian on every census. He lived through two World Wars, and was a Chicago resident throughout the Prohibition and the Great Depression. Nevertheless, he became one of the most honored musicians of his times and a legend for future generations. Thrive he did.