Hillbilly Music: Source and Symbol, Notes
1 New York
Journal citation from Mitford Mathews, A Dictionary of Americanisms
(Chicago, 1951), 808; Harben from William Craigie, A Dictionary of
American English (Chicago, 1944), 1248; Hibler from James Masterson,
Tall Tales of Arkansaw (Boston, 1943), 274-5; Carr from "A List
of Words from Northwest Arkansas," Dialect Notes, II (1904),
2 Tobacco song
reported by Nannie Fortson from her father's singing: Western Kentucky
Folklore Archive, University of California, Los Angeles. Texas couplet
from John and Alan Lomax, American Ballads and Folk Songs (New
York, 1934), 51; these lines had previously appeared in Thomas Talley,
Negro Folk Rhymes (New York, 1922), 43.
3 Alfred Holt,
Phrase Origins (New York, 1936), 164.
4 Joseph Hendron,
"The Scholar and the Ballad Singer," in The Critics and the Ballad,
ed. MacEdward Leach and Tristram Coffin (Carbondale, Illinois, 1961),
5 A WNS feature
by Margaret Anderson, Champaign-Urbana Courier (June 19, 1962).
6 Charles Seeger's
comments in "Conference…on Folklore," Journal of American Folklore,
LIX (1946), 512; D.K. Wilgus, Anglo-American Folksong Scholarship
Since 1898 (New Brunswick, New Jersey, 1959), 433.
7 "Folk Singing,"
Time, LXXX (November 23, 1962), 60.
8 Academic inattention
can be measured by: (I) contrast between bibliography on jazz-blues and
hillbilly; (2) the first major compilation on Mass Culture, ed. Bernard
Rosenberg and David White (Glencoe, Illinois, 1957) contains but one peripheral
reference to hillbilly music; (3) no hillbilly records were reviewed in
the Journal of American Folklore until April, 1948, a quarter-century
after they began to circulate.
9 David Riesman,
Individualism Reconsidered (Glencoe, Illinois, 1954), 185.
10 Kemble citation
from A.N.J. Den Hollander, "The Tradition of ‘Poor Whites'," in
Culture in the South, ed. W.T. Couch (Chapel Hill, North Carolina,
1934), 416. See also F.L. Owsley, Plain Folk of the Old South
(Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 1949).
11 Shields McIlwaine,
The Southern Poor-White: From Lubberland to Tobacco Road (Norman,
Oklahoma, 1939). The most comprehensive and valuable current work on Southern
Highland literature is Cratis Deal Williams' unpublished New York University
dissertation, "The Southern Mountaineer in Fact and Fiction" (1961).
poor-white analogs are taken from Southern fiction. Ozark speech reveals
two dozen additional terms, acorn-cracker to weed-bender, in Vance Randolph
and George Wilson, Down in the Holler (Norman, Oklahoma, 1953),
252. McIlwaine and Randolph, of course, do not exhaust the list!
13 Kyle Crichton,
"Thar's Gold in Them Hillbillies," Collier's CI (April 30, 1938), 24-5,
reprinted in Linnell Gentry, A History and Encylopedia of Country,
Western, and Gospel Music (Nashville, 1961), 39-45.
14 In this paper
I refer to record companies by their labels rather than full corporate
names. Company genealogies are exceedingly complex and are developed elsewhere.
See Oliver Read and Walter Welch, From Tin Foil to Stereo (Indianapolis,
1959), 399-407, 484-9. Generally race and jazz discographers fill in corporate
genealogy in their compilations. See for example Dan Mahony, The Columbia
13/14000-D Series: A Numerical Listing (Stanhope, New Jersey, 1961).
Because of the crucial importance of the Okeh label to my study I have
outlined a brief chronology in Appendix III.
15 Samuel Charters,
The Country Blues (New York, 1959), is praiseworthy of Peer and
makes a start at an appraisal of his role.
(November 2, 1955), 52; letter to me, November 4, 1957.
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17 No discography
of this corpus is available. Scattered references to songs and singers
can be found in Jim Walsh's biographical series on popular artists in
Hobbies from 1942 to present.
18 Jim Walsh,
"Late Carson Robison Pioneered Hillbilly Disc Biz 30 Years Ago," Variety
(April 24, 1957), 45.
19 Much of the
narrative in this paper comes from oral interviews listed in Appendix
I. The arrangement of material from Brockman and others interviewed is,
of course, my own.
the Atlanta Constitution found its own station WGM newsworthy.
Byron Warner's Seven Aces had come together in the spring of 1922 when
the station was launched and the band was billed as the nation's second
radio orchestra. Constitution stories on the Aces' radio program are useful,
today, to establish the chronology of Okeh's 1923 Atlanta expedition.
See: (June 12), 18, (June 14), 16, (June 19), 7, (June 21), 18, (June
22), 16, (August 3), 9.
21 The Atlanta
Journal gave even more coverage to its station WSB than the rival
paper to WGM. Journal radio news for 1922-23 is particularly
valuable, today, to document pioneer broadcasts of traditional folksong.
The specific Journal story cited on the Okeh expedition is (June
15, 1923), 4.
22 The precise
date of Carson's recording debut has long eluded discographers. (Okeh
ledger files of the period are lost; letter to me from Helene Chmura,
Columbia Records librarian, March 28, 1961.) However, hillbilly research
can ride piggyback on jazz discography. Brian Rust, Jazz Records A-Z
1897-1931 (Middlesex, England, 1962), lists master numbers for Warner's
Seven Aces' first released record, "In a Tent/Eddie Steady" (Okeh 4888)
8376/8378. This disc can be compared to Carson's first record, "Log Cabin/Old
Hen" 8374/8375. The Constitution stories cited in footnote 20
indicate that Warner finished recording on Thursday, June 14.
recalled Peer's initial response to Carson's singing in interviews. In
Brockman's first letter to me, September 3, 1957, he wrote: [Carson's
disc] "was recorded by the Okeh Company at my insistence with a ‘fingers
24 In addition
to interviews, three Atlanta Journal Magazine feature articles
on Carson have been of particular value: (April 2, 1933), I, (March 18,
1934), 9, (April 16, 1939), 7.
25 The date
of Whitter's first recording is a real discographic mystery. Brockman
clearly recalls that Hager recorded Whitter in New York before the Atlanta
expedition. In Whitter's only folio, Familiar Folk Songs (Jefferson,
North Carolina, ca. 1935), the author asserted a March 1, 1923, recording
visit to New York City. However, his first released disc, "Lonesome/Wreck,"
bears master numbers 72168/72167, which indicate a December, 1923, session.
Either Whitter's March test pressings were not assigned master numbers
until December, or he was called back to New York to re-record his own
26 All Okeh
supplements, brochures, and catalogs quoted from or cited in this paper
are from the private collection of Jim Walsh, Vinton, Virginia. A microfilm
reel of these holdings is deposited at the John Edwards Memorial Foundation,
University of California, University of California, Los Angeles.
27 The usage
old time in a musical context is not cited in standard dictionaries.
28 The first
use of the term singing community is unknown to me.
29 A&R man,
the acronym or initialism for Artist and Repertoire man (talent scout-recording
producer-studio factotum), does not appear in standard American references
for alphabetic designations. The earliest usage I find is in Talking
Machine World, XX (July 15, 1924), 106.
30 Letter to
me, May 6, 1961. A photograph of the Victor studio in which the string-band
recorded is found in Oliver Read, The Recording and Reproduction of
Sound (Indianapolis, 1952), 15.
31 My treatment
of this core anecdote comes from Tony Alderman. It is confirmed by Charlie
Bowman (who recalled it from the telling of Al Hopkins). One "folk" variant
by Clarence Ashley has already appeared in an educational film The
Roots of Hillbilly Music in the "Lyrics and Legends" series produced
in 1962 by WHYT-TV, Philadelphia.
32 As with Carson
and Whitter, I lack documentary evidence for exact date of first recording
by The Hill Billies. Again, jazz research is of great help. Albert McCarthy
and Dave Carey, Jazz Dictionary (London, 1957), list a discography
for The Goofus Five – a unite of a larger group, The California
Ramblers. The unit recorded "Alabamy Bound/Deep Blue Sea Blues" (Okeh
40292) master 73099/73100 on January 14, 1925. This disc can be compared
to The Hill Billies' first release, "Silly Bill/Old Time Cinda" master
73118/73122. Hence, the latter probably recorded on January 15, 1925.
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recollection of his own role in the naming of the band differs from Alderman's
in time sequence.
preserves a set of Hill Billies band photographs, including one of John
and Joe Hopkins, John Rector, Uncle Am Stuart, John Carson, and himself
at the May 8, 1925, Mountain City convention. After my first meeting with
Alderman, he generously presented me with a full set of his pictures,
and I have used them to supplement interviews. Many of the photos were
taken by Alderman including the very first of the band in Galax about
March, 1925. It was sent to New York and used as the model for Okeh's
publicity sketch. Alderman recalls photographing himself in the band by
using his own delayed action camera.
35 My personal
debt to the late Charlie Bowman is great. Although I began piecing data
for this paper together in 1956 I had no direct lead to The Hill Billies
until corresponding with Bowman following his letter-article to Joe Nicholas
in Disc Collector, Issue 16 (January, 1961).
36 Because vital
statistics for many persons named in this paper are not readily available
I have included a log of such data in Appendix II.
37 Just as The
Hill Billies' name "got away" from the band (Alderman's phrase), a similar
process took place three decades later when another band's name, Bill
Monroe and His Blue Grass Boys, "got away" to become a generic musical
records by most of the pioneer hillbilly performers are out of print and
their reissues have not kept pace with jazz or blues reissues. A private
LP disc by the Folksong Society of Minnesota, Gid Tanner and His Skillet
Lickers, dubbed from early recordings, was pressed in limited quantity
in 1962. It is an excellent sample of the music considered here. Frank
Driggs, Columbia Records, has announced a three-part set of hillbilly
reissues, including many artists named in this paper, for 1965 release.
39 To my knowledge
only three pioneer hillbilly singers made the transition from pre-1925
discs to LP records: Samantha Bumgarner, Banjo Songs of the Southern
Mountains (Riverside RLP 610) reissued (Washington WLP 712); Bascom
Lamar Lunsford, Smoky Mountain Ballads (Folkways FA 2040), and
Minstrel of the Appalachians (Riverside RLP 645) reissued (Washington
VM 736); Ernest V. Stoneman, The Stoneman Family (Folkways FA
2315) as well as the more recent Starday and World-Pacific albums.
Machine World, XX (November 15, 1924), 51.
41 William Cobb,
"Cousin Am and Cousin George," American Mercury, XV (October,
42 "Uncle" Dave
Macon can be heard on a 1963 Folkways LP reissued from various labels
43 W.C. Handy,
Blues: An Anthology (New York, 1926), 42, 94. I am indebted to
Bob Hyland for help in establishing "Hesitation Blues" history.
Machine World, XX (May 15, 1924), 153; (June 15, 1924), 17, 66; (September
15, 1924), 58.
Machine World, XX (November 15, 1924), 178.
46 John Cohen,
"Fiddlin' Eck Robertson," Sing Out!, XIV (April, 1964), 55-9.
47 Jim Walsh,
"Vernon Dalhart," Hobbies, LXV (May, 1960), 33-5, 45; continued
in seven following issues.
48 George Kay,
"Those Fabulous Gennetts," Record Changer (June, 1953), 3-13,
asserts for the Gennett label "the start of the hill-billy catalogue"
in August, 1922, based on Wendell Hall's recording of "It Ain't Gonna
Rain No Mo'" in Richmond, Indiana, prior to covering his own song for
Victor in Camden, New Jersey. I find no evidence to support this claim
for Hall or Gennett.
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own account of the composition of "Floyd Collins" was sent by D.K. Wilgus
to G. Malcolm Laws, Jr. for use in the revised edition of Native American
Balladry (Philadelphia, 1964), 51.
50 Jim Walsh
indicated to me that James Edward Richardson, Victor's supplement writer
between 1917-28, was the best in the business. It can be said, in retrospect,
that he was ahead of folklorists by many decades in his sophisticated
treatment of hillbilly ballads.
51 William Wooten,
"An Index to the Films of John Ford," Special Supplement to Sight
and Sound, Index Series 13 (February, 1948), 5, lists Hill Billy
as a five-reel Universal film. However, George Mitchell, "The Films of
John Ford," Films In Review, XIV (March, 1963), 130, does not
list this item. Correspondence from Mitchell, July 29, 1963, and Wooten,
September 15, 1963, lead me to believe that Hill Billy was a working title
for a film actually released in 1918 under the title The Scarlet Drop.
52 See George
Fenin and William Everson, The Western: From Silents to Cinerama
(New York, 1962), 193-225, for music in western movies.
53 Fenin and
Everson, 181-90, for the cowboy's dress.
54 For the development
of regional folk drama see Archibald Henderson, Pioneering A People's
Theatre (Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 1945); Samuel Selden, Frederick
Koch: Pioneer Playmaker (Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 1954). For
hillbilly drama on Broadway see Arthur Quinn, "New Notes and Old in the
Drama," Scribner's, LXXVI (July, 1924), 79-87.
55 Lane's book
was one of along line of mountain novels that used folklore themes; see
Arthur Palmer Hudson, "The Singing South," Sewanee Review, XLIV
(July, 1936), 268-95. For an excellent criticism of Ozark dialect used
by novelists and dramatists, as well as perceptive asides on the show
business hillbilly, see Vance Randolph and George Wilson, Down in
the Holler (Norman, Oklahoma), 122-48.
56 This paper's
focus is on record industry events after 1923. The combination hillbilly
music could have been made earlier in time at any place where southern
mountain or rural folksingers gathered to entertain. A study of the roots
of hillbilly entertainment in all its professional forms is needed. The
work of the Weaver Brothers and Elviry, a Missouri Ozark trio, needs particular
attention. The group mixed country music and rural humor on the vaudeville
stage before 1923.
57 "The Mountain
Whippoorwill" has been widely reprinted since first publication in Century
Magazine, LXXVII (March, 1925), 635-9. For commentary see Charles
Fenton, Stephen Vincent Benet (New Haven, 1958), 143-9, 392.
John Flanagan first directed my attention to this poem; see his "Folk
Elements in John Brown's Body," New York Folklore Quarterly,
XX (December, 1964), 243-56.
58 Peter Tamony,
"Jazz the Word," Jazz, I (October, 1958), 33-42.
Machine World, XX (December 15, 1924), 207; XXI (April 15, 1925),
50; (November 15, 1925), 186; (December 15, 1925), 177.
60 "Heard on
the Radio," Ohio State Journal (January 11, 1926), 6.
61 A significant
facet of my interview with Green was his comment that in the 1920's he
accepted race records as folksongs because he identified them with Negro
spirituals which were "folk," but nothing in his education or experience
before 1923 had given him a base to which to relate hillbilly records.
He did not place them in a folkloristic context until 1939 when records,
including hillbilly items, were packaged in albums for sale to urban audiences
who "enjoyed folksongs."
62 Bradley Kincaid,
Favorite Old-Time Songs and Mountain Ballads, Book 3 (Chicago,
1930), 6; John Lair, "No Hill Billies in Radio," WLS Weekly,
I (March 16, 1935), 7; George Hay, A Story of the Grand Ole Opry
(Nashville, 1945), 37.
63 Typical of
academic criticism of hillbilly music is the view stated by West Virginia
Professor Patrick Gainer when interviewed by G.C. McKown, New York Times,
Section II (June 30, 1957), 7.
64 Jean Thomas,
The Singin' Fiddler of Lost Hope Hollow (New York, 1938), 205.
65 In addition
to participants whom I interviewed, collectors who shared tapes and records,
and scholars whose works are cited in this paper and footnotes, I am indebted
to Fred Hoeptner for his article which advanced some ideas presented here,
"Folk and Hillbilly Music: The Background of Their Relation," Caravan,
16 and 17 (April and June, 1959). The late John Edwards and I corresponded
on many of the problems discussed in this paper. Gene Earle, D.K. Wilgus,
and Ed Kahn helped me formulate ideas during 1961, 1962, and 1963 field
trips. Harlan Daniel and Ronald Foreman helped "talk" the paper through
its writing stage. The Modern Language Association (Washington, D.C.,
December 29, 1962) provided an opportunity to read a portion of this paper.
Finally, I am indebted to my colleagues Mrs. Barbara Dennis and Mrs. Judy
McCulloh for criticism and cheer.
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"Hillbilly Music: Source and Symbol" by Archie Green
Journal of American Folklore 78:204:228