Hillbilly Music
Source & Symbol

Exhibit
Biographies
Sounds
Images
Guthrie Meade:
Country
Music Sources
About
the Site

Archie Green: "Hillbilly Music: Source & Symbol"

Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four
Part Five
Notes

 

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), 416-22.
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), 8.
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 The most comprehensive and valuable current work on Southern Highland literature is Cratis Deal Williams' unpublished New York University dissertation, "The Southern Mountaineer in Fact and Fiction" (1961).
12 McIlwaine's 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.
16 Variety (November 2, 1955), 52; letter to me, November 4, 1957.

(Top of Page)


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.
20 Fortunately, 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.
23 Brockman 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 crossed' attitude…."
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 material.
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.

(Top of Page)


33 Stoneman's recollection of his own role in the naming of the band differs from Alderman's in time sequence.
34 Alderman 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 term, bluegrass.
38 Unfortunately, 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.
40 Talking Machine World, XX (November 15, 1924), 51.
41 William Cobb, "Cousin Am and Cousin George," American Mercury, XV (October, 1928), 207-14.
42 "Uncle" Dave Macon can be heard on a 1963 Folkways LP reissued from various labels (RBF 51).
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.
44 Talking Machine World, XX (May 15, 1924), 153; (June 15, 1924), 17, 66; (September 15, 1924), 58.
45 Talking 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.

(Top of Page)


49 Jenkins' 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.
59 Talking 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.

(Top of Page)

"Hillbilly Music: Source and Symbol" by Archie Green
Journal of American Folklore 78:204:228