Orthophonic Joy: Disc 1 Liner Notes

 

Orthophonic Joy

 

 


 

Track 1: “Don’t deny yourself the sheer joy of Orthophonic music…”

During the summer of 1927, thanks to Ernest V. “Pop” Stoneman of Galax, Virginia and Ralph Peer, a recording executive at the Victor Company, Bristol, Tennessee became the site of a legendary recording expedition that spanned two weeks. Stoneman knew Peer was interested in the mountain music of Southern Appalachia, so he urged Peer to set up a recording session in the region. Stoneman explained that the poor, hardworking farmers and mountaineers who were also skilled musicians could not spare the time or expense to make the long trip to recording studios in New York City.

The Victor Talking Machine Company had introduced a new product, the Orthophonic Victrola in 1925. This was the first phonograph designed to play electrically recorded discs, an innovation that would sweep the country. The New York Times gave front-page coverage to the first public demonstration of the Orthophonic, with John Philip Sousa declaring, “This is the first time I have ever heard music with any soul to it produced by a mechanical talking machine.”

The public agreed. Advertisements advised customers: “Don’t deny yourself the sheer joy of Orthophonic music.” They did not. When Victor designated November 2nd, 1925 as “Victor Day” as part of a marketing campaign, orders exceeded twenty million dollars.

Peer knew Stoneman was right about the region. Galax, Virginia had already yielded up a tremendous amount of talent. In 1924, a group called The Hill Billies had achieved commercial success and even performed for President Calvin Coolidge. The confluence of cultures in the region included immigrants from England, Scotland, Ireland, and Germany who sang, played fiddles and guitars. Enslaved Africans brought the banjo, and the result was the emergence of a uniquely American musical genre that went by many names – mountain, folk, hillbilly, bluegrass, and country music.

Peer trusted Stoneman. If others would later be credited with paving the way for country music, there’s no doubt that Ernest Stoneman was among the first to clear the path. So Bristol was chosen. Nineteen artists, most of them entirely unknown, recorded 76 songs from July 25th through August 5th in 1927. The unprecedented outpouring of regional talent gathered together in one place would put Bristol on the map to become known as “the birthplace of country music.”

If Bristol is the birthplace, Ralph Peer might be called the attending physician. Peer’s childhood in Kansas City spent in his father’s gramophone store taught him the business side of music. Bristol wasn’t the first place Peer had recorded Southern musicians, but it would be his most aggressive endeavor to date and the one that would forever tie him to country music.

Anyone reading Bristol’s Sunday paper on July 24th, 1927 would have seen Ralph Peer’s ad that read: “The Victor Company will have a recording machine in Bristol for 10 days beginning Monday to record records — inquire at our store.” And inquire they did. From July 25th through August 5th, regional musicians came to audition.

I’m Eddie Stubbs. Let’s set the stage now for those historic two weeks in 1927.

On a Tuesday morning, August 2nd, 1927, The Alcoa Quartet from Blount County, Tennessee was one of the groups that stepped into the temporary recording studio. A regional favorite, the group took its name from Alcoa, Tennessee, so named for the Aluminum Company of America smelting plant there. Two members of the quartet, John Edgar “Ed” Thomas, and William Burrel Hitch, worked at the plant. James Herbert Thomas, Ed’s brother, and John Leonard Wells completed the quartet. Using the seven-shape note system popular at the time, they recorded two songs.

Regional native Doyle Lawson is a bluegrass legend. He and his group Quicksilver are known for their virtuosic a cappella renditions of gospel songs. Here they pay tribute to The Alcoa Quartet singing “I’m Redeemed.”

Narrator: Eddie Stubbs; Script: Cindy Lovell; Background Score: “I’m Redeemed” performed by The Alcoa Quartet

 


 

Track 2: I’m Redeemed

 

Artist: Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver   Trad. Arrangement by: Doyle Lawson

Published by: Colonel Rebel Music (ASCAP) admin by BMG

Lead Vocal: Doyle Lawson; Tenor Vocal: Eli Johnston; Baritone Vocal: Dustin Pyrtle; Bass Vocal: Josh Swift

 


 

Track 3: “All they needed now was talent…”

No headlines announced, “History in the making!” and no company memos have come to light declaring the formalized launch of a major musical genre. In fact, in 1927, there were plenty of distractions to keep folks from getting too excited about a temporary recording studio in Bristol.

Milk cost forty-five cents a gallon, and Kool-Aid hit the market that year at just ten cents a packet. Henry Ford halted production of the Model T automobile and introduced the Model A. Gasoline cost a whopping fifteen cents per gallon. In May, Charles Lindbergh had flown solo from New York to Paris on the first nonstop trans-Atlantic flight. And it would be a couple more years before the Roaring Twenties came to a crashing end, and the Great Depression would grip Americans of every social class with a stranglehold of hopelessness.

But in 1927, things were still looking pretty good.

On the second and third floors of the Taylor-Christian Hat Company, Ralph Peer, his wife, and two recording engineers set up a wooden platform and hung old quilts to reduce echo. They used a pulley and weight system to run the turntable, and Peer had brought an electric carbon microphone and a generous supply of wax discs.

All they needed now was talent.

No one knows who wrote the original version of this next song, but it’s been recorded under a variety of titles down through the years. From its first rendering as “Weeping Willow Tree” recorded by Henry Whitter in 1923 in New York City to “Go Bury Me,” recorded by Fred and Gertrude Gossett in 1930 in Atlanta, Georgia to “Bury Me Beneath The Willow,” sung on this session by the incomparable Emmylou Harris, it’s clear upon hearing it just why so many artists have recorded this song of forsaken love.

Eight versions of the song, including one by the popular Ernest Stoneman, had been recorded prior to that August first evening in 1927 when the virtually unknown Carter Family offered up their version. A.P. Carter happened to be in Bristol and learned of the recording sessions taking place. He hurried home to Maces Spring, Virginia, about 25 miles to the west, and returned with his wife Sara, two of their children, and Sara’s eighteen-year old first cousin Maybelle Addington Carter. Maybelle had married A.P.’s brother Ezra the year before.  Known to the ages now as Mother Maybelle, she was an expecting mother that hot summer night when they gathered in a semi-circle around the new electric carbon microphone for their first recording. Just seven weeks later, her firstborn, Helen, would arrive.

During the recording session, Sara and A.P.’s eight year-old daughter, Gladys Carter, was put in charge of watching her baby brother, Joe. He was only seven months old and not in good humor. They remained outside on State Street with Peer’s wife, Anita, who helped by buying dishes of ice cream for the crying infant. Meanwhile, upstairs, Gladys’s parents and her aunt recorded their first song of the session. Sara and Maybelle had been singing this song since they were little girls. So has Emmylou Harris, who has thrilled millions of fans during her illustrious career with this timeless and haunting tale of heartbreak, “Bury Me Beneath The Willow.”

Narrator: Eddie Stubbs; Script: Cindy Lovell; Background Score: “Bury Me Under The Weeping Willow” performed by The Carter Family

 


 

Track 4: Bury Me Beneath The Willow

 

Artist: Emmylou Harris   Trad. Arrangements by: Carl Jackson

Published by: Colonel Rebel Music (ASCAP) admin by BMG

Lead Vocal: Emmylou Harris; Harmony Vocal: Carl Jackson; Drums: Tony Creasman; Bass: Kevin Grantt; Piano: Catherine Marx; Acoustic Guitar: Carl Jackson; Fiddle: Aubrey Haynie; Mandolin: Adam Steffey; Autoharp: Jeremy Stephens; Mother Maybelle’s Stromberg Guitar: Carl Jackson

 


 

Track 5: “Tonight he is playing the old, old tune at police headquarters…”

The Bristol recording of “Black-Eyed Susie” by J.P. Nester and Norman Edmonds epitomizes early Appalachian music. Their fiddle and banjo breakdown, an early recording of the song, stuck to basics. John Preston Nester, known to his family as “Pres,” was a farmer from Carroll County, Virginia. Like most of his neighbors, he only attended school through the seventh grade. He played the banjo and sang his version of lyrics that day, which have been rewritten countless times down through the years. Accompanied by Norman Edmonds on the fiddle, this was one of two songs released out of the four they recorded on August first.

The earliest known recording of the song is from 1924 by Gid Tanner & Riley Puckett. The Warlick Furniture Company advised Bluefield Daily Telegraph readers in West Virginia to “Cross the Bridge – Save a Dollar.” They offered “Late Releases” of “Standard Records” listing this first recording of “Black-Eyed Susie” and its flipside, “Alabama Gal,” in their advertisement on March 21st, 1925.

Although the song’s origin is unclear, it found its place in popular culture long before it was finally recorded. In the summer of 1869, comedians Stuart Robson and Fanny Davenport performed a burlesque of “Black-Eyed Susie” at Hooley’s Theatre in Brooklyn. When the Whig party became defunct in 1886, The Atlanta Constitution described a funeral held by Coweta Whig party leaders that was punctuated by such toe-tapping fiddle tunes as “Hell Broke Loose in Georgia” and “Black-Eyed Susie.”  A 1920s syndicated column called “Advice to Girls” by Annie Laurie frequently included letters signed by one love-addled “Black-Eyed Susie.”

But perhaps the best story is from 1893 when fiddler Dred Cook, described by the New Orleans Times-Picayune as a “notorious desperado,” temporarily eluded the sheriff of Clayton County, Georgia by jumping off a train traveling in excess of 40 miles per hour. A “quiet looking fellow,” Cook was known for his rendition of “Black-Eyed Susie” and was reported to have taken pains with his fiddle when he jumped. This led the paper to report that “tonight he is playing the old, old tune at police headquarters.”

Marty Stuart is Mississippi born and bred and has been consumed with country music since childhood. He got his first band gig at the age of twelve, playing mandolin with The Sullivan Family. During his adolescence, Marty also played with Lester Flatt and the Nashville Grass. Paul Warren was the group’s fiddler, and “Black-Eyed Susie” was one of his signature breakdowns. In fact, Marty played mandolin on Warren’s recording of the song. Here, Marty continues to honor so many great musical legacies with his rendition of the timeless “Black-Eyed Susie.”

Narrator: Eddie Stubbs; Script: Cindy Lovell; Background Score: “Black-Eyed Susie” performed by J.P. Nester

 


 

Track 6: Black-Eyed Susie

 

Artist: Marty Stuart   Trad. Arrangements by: Carl Jackson

Published by: Colonel Rebel Music (ASCAP) admin by BMG

Lead Vocal: Marty Stuart; Harmony Vocal: Carl Jackson; Drums: Tony Creasman; Bass: Kevin Grantt; Acoustic Guitar: Bryan Sutton; Twin Fiddles: Aubrey Haynie & Andy Leftwich; Mandolin: Marty Stuart; Banjo: Carl Jackson

 


 

Track 7: “An early tradition of scrapping for rights and royalties…”

Early songwriters and singers endured a tradition of scrapping for rights and royalties for their work, many unsuccessfully. Dion de Marbelle, who could play nearly any instrument, wrote “When They Ring Those Golden Bells,” a song found in virtually every hymnal ever published. However, this gifted musician died penniless in 1903, the royalties from all of his songs having been stolen from him.

In his youth, he had worked on Arctic whaling ships and later served in the American navy during the Mexican War. During the Civil War, de Marbelle was a musician in the sixth Michigan infantry regiment. He later toured with an opera company and theatrical troupes before being hired as the first circus clown by James A. Bailey of Barnum & Bailey fame. Eventually, he operated his own circus until he lost everything in a fire in Canada. In 1883, Dion de Marbelle lent his talents to help Buffalo Bill Cody launch his Wild West Show.

Near the end of his life, de Marbelle was living in poverty in an abandoned schoolroom in Elgin, Illinois when he and Buffalo Bill crossed paths one last time. Cody invited his down and out friend to dine with him and Annie Oakley. That evening, according to de Marbelle’s obituary, Cody bestowed his old pal with “a substantial roll of currency” - a testament to their earlier friendship.

When Alfred G. Karnes recorded “When They Ring Those Golden Bells” in Bristol in 1927, the song’s composer had been dead 24 years, and it’s likely no one gave much thought to the song’s origin in the recording studio that historic day. Fortunately, circumstances have changed for songwriters since de Marbelle’s time. In this recording of his most well known song, one of the world’s greatest and most generous singer-songwriters, the iconic Dolly Parton, offers a vocal tribute befitting the stature of the song and the story of its writer.

Narrator: Eddie Stubbs; Script: Cindy Lovell; Background Score: “When They Ring The Golden Bells” performed by Alfred G. Karnes

 


 

Track 8: When They Ring Those Golden Bells

 

Artist: Dolly Parton   Written by: Dion de Marbelle

Trad. Arrangements by: Carl Jackson

Published by: Colonel Rebel Music (ASCAP) admin by BMG

Lead Vocal: Dolly Parton; Harmony Vocals: Carl Jackson; Drums: Tony Creasman; Bass: Kevin Grantt; Piano: Catherine Marx; Acoustic Guitar: Carl Jackson; Low Fiddle: Aubrey Haynie; Dobro: Rob Ickes

 


 

Track 9: “I wish I had some rocks to throw at them…”

All historical events are bookended by “before” and “after” periods, highlighting that defining moment when “it” occurs, when everything changes, and nothing will ever be the same. Fraught with nervous “what ifs” as we look back on history, it’s natural to speculate about alternative outcomes. For the music world, it’s impossible to imagine the “what ifs” had the Carter Family not made it to Bristol that hot July 31st in 1927.

They were a young, hardscrabble family living in Poor Valley, Virginia in the shadow of Clinch Mountain. A.P. was selling fruit saplings when he met Sara in 1914. He purchased a mail order bowl from her to advance their relationship – a bowl he didn’t need – and it worked. They courted and sang together in church and would marry the next year, setting up housekeeping in a two-room log cabin A.P. had quickly built. They had the bare essentials, including a milk cow, a rifle, and a pair of squirrel dogs. And they had Sara’s mail order Sears, Roebuck and Company autoharp, too.

A.P. continued selling fruit trees and added to his income working for a blacksmith and as a carpenter. He and Sara had three children, and for a while she even helped him gather logs from the woods to sell to the Meade Fiber Corporation in Kingsport, Tennessee. In 1926 he turned down a recording offer to play the fiddle, sometimes known as “the devil’s box,” so as not to further upset his disapproving mother. Meanwhile, Sara’s cousin, little Maybelle Addington, had been learning to play the autoharp, the banjo, and the guitar, all by the age of 13. When she married A.P.’s brother Ezra in 1926, she officially became part of the Carter family.

The “what ifs” of their incredible journey and rise to become “the First Family of Country Music” ought to send a shiver down every country music fan’s spine. They left early that morning, a skeptical Sara bringing along her autoharp and Martin guitar, shy Maybelle clutching her little Stella parlor guitar, and A.P. arranging transportation in a borrowed car. A.P. and Sara left Janette, their four year-old, with A.P.’s mother, but they brought baby Joe, who was just seven months old and still nursing and eight year-old Gladys to help keep an eye on him. Maybelle’s husband, Ezra Carter, wasn’t keen on having his pregnant wife bounced along the 25 miles of gravel and dirt roads and balked at the plan, but A.P. pleaded and sealed the deal by promising to clean up a weed-choked plot for Ezra to plant corn.

They headed out that hot morning driving past the general store, the post office, the Friendly Grove schoolhouse A.P. had attended as a boy, and the log cabin where he was born 36 years earlier. When they reached the Holston River, they simply forded it in the old roadster they had borrowed. After all, the closest bridge was 20 miles away. They didn’t get very far on the gravel road when they had their first blowout. A.P. patched the tire and reinflated it, but they would have two more flats along the way. Gladys remembered passing drivers honking at the frustrated A.P. as he fixed the third flat. He shouted back and told his family, “I wish I had some rocks to throw at them.”

Undaunted, they continued down old Highway 411 and finally arrived at Virgie Hobbs’s home around dusk. The entire distance spanned fewer than thirty miles, yet it took them from early morning until dusk, in the hot summer when the days are long, to reach their destination. The next morning they auditioned for Ralph Peer and passed muster. He invited them back that evening to record four songs. “The Storms Are On The Ocean” was the final song they recorded that day, sung here by the wonderfully talented Ashley Monroe.

Narrator: Eddie Stubbs; Script: Cindy Lovell; Background Score: “The Storms Are On The Ocean” performed by The Carter Family

 

 


 

Track 10: The Storms Are On The Ocean

Artist: Ashley Monroe   Trad. Arrangements by: Carl Jackson

Published by: Colonel Rebel Music (ASCAP) admin by BMG

 

Lead Vocal: Ashley Monroe; Harmony Vocals: Carl Jackson; Drums: Tony Creasman; Bass: Kevin Grantt; Piano: Catherine Marx; Acoustic Guitar: Carl Jackson

 

 


 

Track 11: “Any song with a story will go to the people’s hearts…”

Just one month prior to the Bristol Sessions, Victor Orthophonic was advertising new song recordings in various newspapers. They named “Southern Specials,” such as Ernest Stoneman’s “The Story Of The Mighty Mississippi,” “The Poor Tramp,” and “The Fate Of Talmage Osborne.” Ernest V. ‘Pop’ Stoneman was already a star in his own right when he became the first to record at the Victor Talking Machine Company’s Bristol Sessions. Stoneman had worked with Ralph Peer since 1924, and the two were good friends. It had been Stoneman who convinced Peer that the region around Bristol was rich in traditional music.

Stoneman’s inspiration to pursue a career in music came in 1924 while working as a carpenter in Bluefied, West Virginia. Noting fellow musician Henry Whitter’s success with “Lonesome Road Blues,” Stoneman believed he could sing better than his friend and determined to find out if he could forge a livelihood from music. He could and did, traveling to New York City where he turned down a less than generous offer from Columbia only to find fair treatment upon meeting Ralph Peer, who recorded Stoneman on General’s OKeh label. Peer not only paid him well – fifty dollars for two songs plus sixty dollars for travel expenses – he paid royalties on record sales, too.

By the time he arrived in Bristol on July 25th, 1927, Stoneman had recorded 24 songs for Victor and more than 80 for other record labels. In Bristol, Stoneman recorded in various configurations with eleven other musicians. He kicked off the first day of recording with four songs between 8:30 a.m. and noon. They broke for lunch, returning to make another eight recordings that afternoon. Two days later, Stoneman was back in the studio to record four songs with Uncle Eck Dunford and two more with the Blue Ridge Corn Shuckers. Peer was tapping the region’s musical mother lode.

Stoneman once said, “Any song with a story will go to the people’s hearts, because they love stories. They love stories of a tragedy, a wreck of something. And if it ain’t all there it ain’t no good.” He would know. His own life story would have made a great song. Born in a log cabin in Carroll County, Virginia during the Panic of 1893, the worst economic depression the nation had ever experienced at that time, he would lose his mother just three years later when she died in childbirth. His father raised him and his two younger brothers with the help of three cousins, and the music of the Blue Ridge Mountains became his second language.

When he was 25, he married 18-year old Hattie Frost. She was also from a musical family. The nickname “Pop” would become appropriate as they would eventually have 23 children, including 4 sets of twins, but only 13 would survive to adulthood. Hattie’s guitar and vocals can be heard on the 1927 Bristol Sessions, and years later their children would join them in what could be called a second musical career for the family.

But there was no denying Stoneman’s early success. His first big hit was “The Titanic” in 1924. Pop was right – people love stories of a tragedy, and the record sold half a million copies in the 1920s. But when the stock market crashed in 1929, few could afford such luxuries as records. Like millions of others during the Great Depression, the Stonemans endured relentless poverty, losing their home and furniture over a $500 grocery bill they had run up. Before their car could be taken, Pop moved the family from Galax, Virginia to Washington D.C. in 1932. They scraped by, years passed, the Second World War was fought and won, and by 1950, ten of the family members had resumed their musical activities to become, as Pop wrote to Ralph Peer, “the largest family of hillbillys on radio, television and stage in the country.”

Val Storey, Delnora Reed, and Dani Flowers – recording here as The Shotgun Rubies – pay tribute to Ernest Stoneman’s 1927 “I Am Resolved.”

Narrator: Eddie Stubbs; Script: Cindy Lovell; Background Score: “I Am Resolved” performed by Ernest V. Stoneman & His Dixie Mountaineers

 


 

Track 12: I Am Resolved

 

Artist: The Shotgun Rubies   Trad. Arrangements by: Carl Jackson

Published by: Colonel Rebel Music (ASCAP) admin by BMG

 

Lead Vocal: Val Storey; Lead &Tenor Vocals: Delnora Reed; Lead & Baritone Vocals: Dani Flowers; Drums: Tony Creasman; Bass: Kevin Grantt; Piano: Catherine Marx; Acoustic Guitar: Carl Jackson

 


Track 13: “A hoe-down social in a mountain cabin…”

The Tenneva Ramblers was a stringband that included brothers Claude and Jack Grant and Jack Pierce. They were Bristol natives and had met Jimmie Rodgers, a solo act, in early 1927 at a Rotary Club event in Johnson City, Tennessee. Rodgers convinced them to form a new combo, the Jimmie Rodgers Entertainers. Rodgers and Pierce were already in Bristol when Ralph Peer came to town. Jack Pierce’s mother ran a boarding house across from the Taylor-Christian building where Peer was recording, and Pierce’s father’s barbershop was also nearby. The two met with Peer who encouraged them to bring the combo to an audition.

Peer recorded Jimmie Rodgers as a solo act on the afternoon of August 4th followed by the Tenneva Ramblers that evening. Claude Slagle, a banjo player from Bristol, joined the group for their session.

“Sweet Heaven When I Die” is a toe-tapping tune with lighthearted lyrics: “Green backs when I’m hard up / Whiskey when I’m dry / Beefsteak when I’m hungry / Sweet Heaven when I die.” Like plenty of other traditional tunes, the song’s author is lost to time, but the humor has survived the ages influencing other traditional songs.

Newspapers in 1874 began reporting a newsy item, excerpting the song’s chorus and claiming it to be popular “out west” and in Duluth, Detroit, and Wichita. Several North Carolina papers carried this tidbit, but the best story to come out of Southern Appalachia regarding this song was actually reported in the San Francisco Chronicle back in 1895.

Wilbur G. Zeigler, a lawyer and writer who would later survive the famous 1906 San Francisco earthquake, provided an intimate and engaging newspaper account of “a hoe-down social in a mountain cabin – a night trip with mules and horses” where he first learned the song. He had traveled to the mountain region of western North Carolina, and there met a fellow named Joe who invited him to the double-log cabin home of master banjo player Jim Squeezer. Squeezer lived high in the mountains, “over on Camp Branch.”

Zeigler described the hounds that met him at the door that night, the log cabin lit with pine knots, tallow-dip candles, and the hearth fire, and the family that welcomed him – “Mrs. Squeezer with her bonnet on and a snuff-dipped twig of birch in her closed teeth” and four daughters “looking bashful enough to cry if a man said ‘Howdy.’” Joe declared, “Every gal hyar is spry enough to dodge hailstones,” and Zeigler had to agree.

Zeigler’s recollection of the evening was rich in detail, but of all the songs he heard that night, it was the chorus of “Sweet Heaven When I Die” that tickled him enough to commit it to memory. And no wonder.

The Tenneva Ramblers recorded this old favorite during the original Bristol Sessions. Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers have worked up their own unforgettable version of “Sweet Heaven When I Die.” Let’s listen.

Narrator: Eddie Stubbs; Script: Cindy Lovell; Background Score: “Sweet Heaven When I Die” performed by Tenneva Ramblers

 


 

Track 14: Sweet Heaven When I Die

 

Artist: Steve Martin & The Steep Canyon Rangers   Trad. Arrangements by: Carl Jackson, Steve Martin, & The Steep Canyon Rangers

Published by: Colonel Rebel Music (ASCAP) admin by BMG

 

Lead Vocal: Woody Platt; Tenor Vocal: Mike Guggino; High Baritone Vocal: Mike Ashworth; Cajon Drums: Mike Ashworth; Bass: Charles Humphrey III; Acoustic Guitar: Woody Platt; Fiddle: Nicky Sanders; Mandolin: Mike Guggino; Three-Finger Banjo: Graham Sharp; Clawhammer Banjo: Steve Martin

 


 

Track 15: “Daddy never knew when he would come up with an idea for a song…”

Another newcomer to answer Ralph Peer’s audition call to Bristol was a relatively unknown singer by the name of Jimmie Rodgers. Rodgers had performed off and on throughout his youth and had worked occasional odd jobs, mainly with the railroads where he learned blues music while playing with black musicians.

When Rodgers contracted tuberculosis in 1924, he began focusing more on his music. In 1927, he performed on WWNC, Asheville, North Carolina’s first radio station. That summer, he met Jack Pierce and brothers Claude and Jack Grant who had a little string band. Rodgers persuaded them to be his back-up band, and they appeared together on WWNC and played at a resort in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Peer’s talent search seemed like a good opportunity for the group. Rodgers and band-mate Jack Pierce were visiting Pierce’s family on State Street and met with Peer who encouraged them to audition.

Claude and Jack Grant arrived in Bristol to complete the band, but Peer ended up recording two solos by Rodgers, who accompanied himself on guitar. Apparently there was some quarrel over how they were to be billed, and Rodgers parted ways with the group. However, Pierce and the Grant Brothers did record three songs that same afternoon, this time as the Tenneva Ramblers. Rodgers’s recordings took place on August 4th, 1927, and although he earned one hundred dollars for his work that afternoon, his two recordings were not great commercial successes.

But later that fall, Rodgers and Peer met again at the Victor Talking Machine studio in Camden, New Jersey. Jimmie Rodgers recorded “Blue Yodel,” which unofficially became known for its opening line – “T for Texas” – and launched him to instant stardom. Two years later his enormous success allowed him to build a two-story brick mansion in Kerrville, Texas in 1929 where a tuberculosis sanitarium offered hope of a cure. Rodgers dubbed the home “Blue Yodeler’s Paradise.” His daughter, Anita, said he wanted his girls to live in “grand style” and recalled their first Christmas in Kerrville. She said, “I got three dolls – one about as big as I was – a bicycle and roller skates. That meant a lot to me because I’d never had those sort of things before in my life.”

Will Rogers visited the family in January 1931, and Anita recalled, “They laughed and cut up the whole time.” The two years in Kerrville were very good years and especially productive ones for Jimmie Rodgers. Here he wrote many of his most famous songs. Anita said, “There was always a pad and a pencil by his nightstand and mother always carried paper in her apron pocket or her purse. Daddy never knew when he would come up with an idea for a song.”

A gifted and prolific songwriter, Jimmie Rodgers wrote and recorded more than one hundred songs before his death from tuberculosis in 1933. His profound influence touched many great artists – Ernest Tubb, Hank Snow, Bill Monroe, Lefty Frizzell, Merle Haggard, Elvis Presley, Muddy Waters, Bob Dylan, Jerry Lee Lewis, and countless others – including Vince Gill, heard here on “The Soldier’s Sweetheart.”

 

Narrator: Eddie Stubbs; Script: Cindy Lovell; Background Score: “The Soldier’s Sweetheart” performed by Jimmie Rodgers

 


 

Track 16: The Soldier’s Sweetheart

 

Artist: Vince Gill   Written by: Jimmie Rodgers

Published by: Peer International Corp (ASCAP)

 

Lead Vocal: Vince Gill; Drums: Tony Creasman; Bass: Kevin Grantt; Piano: Catherine Marx; Acoustic Guitar: Carl Jackson; Weissenborn: Rob Ickes

 


 

Track 17: “Where the blues meets the church…”

“To The Work” is another old standard from the late 19th century. Frances J. “Fanny” Crosby was a prolific writer, composing more than eight thousand hymns and one thousand poems during her lifetime. Blind since infancy, Fanny wrote her first poem at the age of eight in which she described her condition. She went on to compose such standards as “Blessed Assurance” and “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Savior.” William H. Doane, a frequent collaborator, wrote the music for many of Fanny’s songs including “To The Work.” In addition to writing hymns, Doane was an industrialist and philanthropist. Both he and Fanny supported social causes and various societies to assist those who were less fortunate.

Alfred G. Karnes, the minister who became one of Ralph Peer’s favorite singers, was the first to record “To The Work.” With just his guitar as accompaniment, Karnes performed the hymn as his sixth and last song of the session on July 29th, 1927. This brought the first week of Peer’s field recording in Bristol to a close with more than 40 songs now safely transferred to wax discs.

Legendary blues artist Keb’ Mo’ knows “where the blues meets the church.” He has had a longstanding appreciation for gospel music since childhood. And just as Fanny Crosby, William Doane, and Alfred Karnes worked to make the world a better place, Keb’ engages in his fair share of social activism. An accomplished guitarist since his teens, he also encourages up and coming artists. In the spirit of Ralph Peer’s early talent search, this rendition of “To The Work” features Keb’ Mo’ and includes a young protégé, guitarist Keb’ Hutchings-McMahon, listed here as “Keb’ H-Mac” – just twelve years old at the time of this – his very first studio recording. Here’s “To The Work” as you’ve never heard it before!

 

Narrator: Eddie Stubbs; Script: Cindy Lovell; Background Score: “To The Work” performed by Alfred G. Karnes

 


 

Track 18: To The Work

 

Artist: Keb’ Mo’   Written by: Fanny J. Crosby, words; William H. Doane, music

Published by: Colonel Rebel Music (ASCAP) admin by BMG

Lead Vocal: Keb’ Mo’; Acoustic Slide Guitar: Keb’ Mo’; Acoustic Guitar: Keb’ H-Mc’

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