Article MT255

When Cecil Left the Mountains

Early recordings of American music

On 17th June, 1937, a trio of musicians from the mountains of Virginia was standing round a microphone in a New York recording studio.  It was not their first, nor indeed their last, foray into a recording studio.  On the 1st August, 1927, the then unknown Carter Family, A P Carter, his wife Sara Carter and Sarah's cousin, Maybelle Carter, had been recorded in Bristol, Tennessee, by agents for the Victor Talking Machine Company, one of whom said, "They just wandered in.  He was dressed in overalls and the women were country women from way-back there.  They just looked like hillbillies!" But, "As soon as I heard Sara's voice, that was it! I knew it was going to be wonderful." Seven years later, they had become experienced recording artists and were, by then, extremely well-known throughout the rural south of America.  One song that they recorded on that hot June afternoon was a version of an old English folksong, The Wittham Miller or The Berkshire Tragedy, a song that had been around since the mid 17th century.  The Carters called it Never Let the Devil Get the Upper Hand of You.

Never Let the Devil Get the Upper Hand of You (Roud 263) sung by The Carter Family.  Recorded 17th June, 1937, Decca 5479, Re-issued on JSP box set The Carter Family, Volume 2, 1935 - 1941, JSP7708.
Versions of Never Let the Devil Get the Upper Hand of You had been taken to America by early British settlers and had become a quite well-known song in the southern Appalachians Mountains, where it was often called The Knoxville Girl.  By chance, the English folksong collector Cecil Sharp had spent a total of 52 weeks in the southern Appalachians during the years 1916-18.  Sharp had been told that many early folksongs could still be found in the mountains and so, along with his assistant Maud Karpeles, he had doggedly trudged across the region, bagging a total of some 1,600 pieces before he became overcome with illness and fatigue.1  At the end of his travels Sharp wrote:
What I want more than anything else is quiet, no children, no Victrolas, nor strumming of rag-time and the singing of sentimental songs - all of which we have suffered from incessantly during the last 12 weeks.  I am sorry to have said goodbye to the mountain people but I suspect that I might have seen the last of them.  There is enough work left, which might be well worth doing, that would take perhaps another year's work but I am satisfied with what I have done and the rest can be left to others.2
The 'Victrolas' that Sharp mentioned were early record players that had been named after a model which was first introduced in 1906 by the Victor Talking Machine Company.  The company used the term in America until the early 1970s.

When Cecil Sharp said that the "rest can be done by others" he was, I presume, referring to other folksong collectors like himself.  And, indeed, others did follow Sharp into the mountains and into other parts of America in search of folksongs.  Two names that stand out are those of John Lomax and his son Alan.  When John began collecting cowboy songs in his native Texas he wrote the song words down by hand.  Later, however, he acquired an early mobile recording machine and, along with a youthful Alan Lomax, toured the American south in search of singers and their songs.3  Some folksong collectors in England had previously used cylinder recording machines to help them take down songs, the composer and pianist Percy Grainger being the best-known.  But Sharp had not liked these machines and, in a lengthy letter to Grainger, had explained why he did not trust the accuracy of the machines.4  The thing that Cecil Sharp could never have imagined was the fact that commercial record companies would also send their staff down into the mountains to record singers and musicians, and, in so doing, they would also help preserve some of the songs that Sharp had been looking for.

On 30th June, 1922, less than four years after Cecil Sharp left the mountains to return home to England, two Texas fiddle players, Alexander Campbell 'Eck' Robertson and Henry C Gilliland visited the Victor Talking Machine Company's recording studio in New York; having travelled there from Texas under their own steam and using their own money.  They recorded four sides of music that day.  The following day Robertson recorded a further six sides without Gilliland, but with a studio pianist, Nat Shilkret.  Victor records later recorded a total of six sides on four 78rpm records.5  It used to be said that these were the first Old-Timey recordings to have been issued commercially.  However Tony Russell has included a white Gospel group, the Vaughan Quartet, in his book Country Music Records. A Discography, 1921 - 19426 and, as they recorded in 1921, Robertson & Gilliland must now be seen in second place, so to speak!  It was also said that the first Old-Timey recordings were actually made by Fiddlin' John Carson when he recorded The Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane and The Old Hen Cackled and the Rooster's Going to Crow for the General Phonograph Corporation c.14th June, 1923.

Clearly, Robertson and Gilliland beat Carson by a year, but, Carson was the first Old-Timey musician to be recorded by a record company when the company was touring the south looking to find, and record, singers and musicians.  Carson was from Atlanta, GA, and a local phonograph and record dealer, Polk Brockman, realized that if he could get some records by Carson he would be able to sell them to his regular customers.  Brockman persuaded the General Phonograph Corporation to come to Atlanta and the two tracks were issued on the Okeh label.  Company representative Ralph Peer (1892-1960) was not exactly impressed with Carson's playing and was surprised when Brockman ordered 500 copies of the record.  Peer was even more surprised when they quickly sold out.  A few weeks later, Peer invited Carson to New York, where he recorded a further dozen sides, all of which were issued and which sold well around Atlanta and other parts of Georgia.  Peer suddenly realized that here was a market worth investigating and promptly set off south in search of other musicians and singers.

Peer soon discovered any number of singers and musicians, both black and white, and other companies were soon copying Peer and sending their agents into the South.  Columbia Record's Artist & Repertoire (A&R) man was Frank Buckley Walker (1889-1963), who was originally from New York State.

In 1962 the late Mike Seeger interviewed Walker, who said that he divided his recordings into four distinct types.

One is your gospel songs, your religious songs.  The others were your jigs and reels, like we spoke of a while ago at fiddler's conventions.  Your third were your heart songs, sentimental songs that came from the heart, and the fourth, which has passed out to a degree today and was terrific in those days, were the event songsfor instance, some of the biggest sellers we were able to bring out was things like Sinking of the Titanic…Everything has a moral in the event songs.  Well, for instance … do you remember the story of the Scopes Trial? Well, who would think of making a phonograph record about that? He said man descended from the ape.  Maybe he did.  Lots of people think so, but the country people didn't believe that at all.  Se we made a record.  We sold 60,000 of them on the steps of the courthouse in Dayton, Tennessee - just during that tremendous trial.  That shows the interest of the people in hearing somebody else recount an event, because remember there were thousands of buyers of phonograph records that had no other means of communication.7
At one point during the interview, Mike Seeger asked, "In the early days, they seemed to record a lot of English kind of ballads." To which Walker replied:
That is right.  That's where so many of these things came (from).  And yet, it's a strange thing that you could take an English ballad of some sort and it got its way to this country and it settled at the foot of a mountain in North Carolina, and it had words put to it by the people in that area down through the years.  And when you go to the other side of the mountain and you find the same tune, the same melody but with a different set of words, to fit their likes or their particular location.  Originally much of that came from England and Wales.
I am sure that Cecil Sharp would have agreed with Walker on this point, although the mention of Wales may have been a little wide of the mark.

It wasn't long before Peer, Walker and other A&R men were regularly making recording trips in the south, looking to record people that they had previously recorded and whose record sales had been good, and also to seek out new talent.  During a two year period the Brunswick/Vocalion Company (actually the Brunswick-Balke-Collender Company) covered the following ground with their recording teams.

Ashland, KY            February, 1928
Atlanta, GA early March, 1928
Indianapolis, IA late June, 1928
Dallas, TX October, 1928
New Orleans, LA early November, 1928
Birmingham, AL mid-November, 1928
Memphis, TN late November, 1928
New Orleans, LA February/March, 1929
Knoxville, KY August/September, 1929
Memphis, TN late September, 1929
New Orleans, LA September-October, 1929
San Antonio, TX October, 1929
Dallas, TX October-November, 1929
Kansas City, MO early November, 1929
Memphis, TN February, 1930
Atlanta, GA March, 1930
Knoxville, TN March-April, 1930
Atlanta, GA November, 1930
New Orleans, LA November, 1930
Dallas, TX November-December, 19308

Prior to arriving in a town the record company would place adverts in the local papers asking any potential musicians to be at a certain place, usually a hotel, so that they could be auditioned.  The companies also relied on local record salesmen, like Polk Brockman mentioned above, to send musicians to these auditions.  Another such person was Henry C Spier from Jackson in Mississippi, who worked with both Ralph Peer and Frank Buckley Walker.  Although Spier is best known for discovering blues singers, such as Skip James, Son House, Charlie Patton, Robert Wilkins and, indirectly, Robert Johnson, he also discovered a number of Old-Timey musicians, such as the Freeny Barn Dance Orchestra and was responsible for at least one of Uncle Dave Macon's recording sessions.9

So who were the people that made the records?  To begin with they were mostly unknown singers and performers, unknown that is to the wider world although many would have been known within their own circle of friends and neighbours.  Many performers only appeared in front of the microphone once and then vanished into who knows where? Who, for example, were the Vass Family, who recorded for Decca Records in New York on 4th August, 1937?  They recorded eight songs, four of which, Paper of Pins, Soldier Won't You Marry Me, Deep Blue Sea and Jimmy Randall (The Pizzen Song) were issued on two 78s.10  Their repertoire of mainly Anglo-American songs (I have not so far managed to hear Jimmy Randall, which sounds like it could be a version of the Child ballad Lord Randall [Child 12]) suggests an Appalachian background and it is tempting to think that they may have been related to the Vass family of Hillsville, VA., one of whom, Ruby Vass, recorded songs for Alan Lomax.  But, so far, I have been unable to link Frank, Emily, Louisa, Sally or Virginia Vass to the Hillsville set.

But things could change for some performers once they had made their first recordings.  Remember that comment about the Carter Family looking "like hillbillies" when they first entered the recording studio? They went on to record around 200 songs in a long recording career and became professional musicians.  Like Uncle Dave Macon, another professional who recorded a similar number of pieces, their repertoire was largely made up of late 19th/early 20th century popular songs and religious songs.  But, unlike Uncle Dave, they also recorded a number of Anglo-American songs, including three Child ballads, versions of The Gypsy Laddie, The Mermaid and The Golden Vanity.  Here are two of these ballads.

Black Jack David (Child 200) sung by The Carter Family.  Recorded 4th October, 1940,; Okeh 06313, Re-issued on JSP box set The Carter Family. Volume 2. 1935 - 1941, JSP7708.
Sinking in the Lonesome Sea (Child 286) sung by The Carter Family. Recorded 5th May, 1935, Decca 5479,; Re-issued on JSP box set The Carter Family, Volume 2, 1935-1941, JSP7708.
These, of course, were not the only Child ballads to be recorded commercially by the early Old-Timey singers.  The well-known ballad Barbara Allen was recorded by no fewer than eight separate performers, including Vernon Dalhart, Newton Gaines, Doc Hopkins, Bradley Kincaid, Frank Luther and Carson Robison.11  George Collins was another popular ballad, one which was recorded on at least eight occasions by Emry Arthur, Elmer Bird, Roy Harvey, Jess Johnston, Riley Puckett, Dillard Smith, the Dixon Brothers and Henry Whitter.12

A specifically American version of the ballad of George Collins was one titled The Dying Hobo, and was recorded by several musicians and singers, including Kelly Harrell.13  Other ballads, such as The Fatal Flower Garden - a version of Little Sir Hugh - and The Old Lady and the Devil were recorded on only one occasion.  The first, The Fatal Flower Garden, was recorded in Memphis, TN, in1929, by a group with the fancy name of Nelstone's Hawaiians.  The second, The Old Lady and the Devil, was recorded by Bill & Belle Reed.14  A version of The Wife of Usher's Well was recorded by Buell Kazee, a singer and banjo player from Kentucky.  There was a second recording, by a Professor & Mrs Greer, although this recording was never issued by their recording company.15  Another ballad, The Mermaid mentioned above, was also recorded twice.  Once by members of the Stoneman Family who came from Galax in Virginia and once by The Carter Family.  Both ballads (The Wife of Usher's Well and The Mermaid) are of interest to me because I collected versions of them when I was in the Appalachians many years ago.  The Mermaid came from Dan Tate of Fancy Gap, VA, a small settlement a few miles from Galax16 and I have often wondered if Dan had heard the Stoneman family version of the ballad.  Anyway, here is Dan's version of The Mermaid, together with the version recorded by the Stoneman Family:

The Raging Sea How it Roars (Child 289) sung by Ernest Stoneman & The Blue Ridge Corn Shuckers.  Recorded 22nd February, 1928, Victor 21648, Re-issued on 5-String diouble CD set Ernest V Stoneman, The Unsung Father of Country Music 5SPH 001.
Professor Child called this The Mermaid because, in some versions, the sailors sight a mermaid, a sign of bad-luck, before their ship is wrecked.  It was published in a Newcastle garland, dated 1765, as The Seamen's Distress, although later broadside printers often called it The Sailor's Caution.  In America the song was often treated comically in 19th century college glee books and it may be that sometimes the American folk versions are serious reinterpretations of these one-time comic versions!  Other ballads, The House Carpenter or Young Hunting for example, were recorded more than once.  These are the words to two of the three versions of The House Carpenter that were recorded.17  The ballad has survived best in America, although the first set, from the Carolina Tar Heels, is slightly confused.
Can't You Remember When Your Heart was Mine? (Child 243) sung by the Carolina Tar Heels.  Recorded 11th October, 1928.  Re-issued on JSP box set Mountain Frolic, Rare Old Timey Classics, 1924 - 1937, JSP77100.
The House Carpenter (Child 243) sung by Clarence Ashley.  Recorded 14th April, 1930, Columbia 15654-D, Re-issued on County CD The Music of Clarence "Tom" Ashley,1929-1933, County CO-CD-3520.
There is a story about Clarence Ashley calling The House Carpenter a "lassy makin'" tune (i.e. a tune sung while making molasses), much to the confusion of the recording engineer.  Years later Ashley would tell how he had confused the naïve 'city slicker' who had no idea what The House Carpenter was about.  In longer versions of the ballad we find reference to Heaven and Hell and, as Professor Child called the ballad James Harris, the Daemon Lover, many scholars believed that there was a supernatural undertone to the story; though recent researchers have knocked this on the head, preferring instead to see the ballad as a warning to married women that they should not stray away from their husbands.  The House Carpenter is another ballad that has survived best in the New World, and the same can be said for the ballad of Young Hunting.
Lowe Bonnie (Child 68) sung by Jimmie Tarlton.  Recorded on 3rd December, 1930, Columbia 15763-D. Re-issued on Times Ain't Like They used to Be, Volume 4, Yazoo CD 2048.
Henry Lee (Child 68) sung by Dick Justice.  Recorded on 21st May, 1929, Brunswick Br 367, Re-issued on Old-Time Music from West Virginia, Document DOCD-8004.
The ballad of Young Hunting must be quite old.  The talking bird motif also occurs in another of Professor Child's ballads, namely The Outlandish Knight (Child 4), which can be dated back for several hundred years.  Young Hunting seldom turns up today in Britain, although it has been recorded from Irish Travellers during the latter half of the 20th century, and is another ballad that appears to have survived better in the New World.  Jimmie Tarlton learnt his version from his mother, who, in turn had the song from her grandmother.  Interestingly, when Jimmy was in the recording studio, with his singing partner Tom Darby, he chose to sing Lowe Bonnie to the tune of The Drunkard's Dream, apparently not wanting Darby to learn his mother's tune! Many years later, in the 1960s when Tarlton was rediscovered by the American folk world, he reverted to using his mother's tune for the ballad.

One of the most interesting, and ancient, of the ballads that Professor Child included in his vast collection of English and Scottish Popular Ballads was a piece that he titled Our Goodman.  The story seems simple enough.  A man returns home to find another man's horse, dog, boots etc, where his own should be.  There follows a formulaic exchange between the man and his wife, who explains that her husband's eyes are deceiving him, and the story ends without rancor, revenge or remorse.  It's a bit of a joke, to be sung in the pub on a Saturday night, although a version collected from George Spicer of Sussex ends with the spoken comment, 'I stayed home Saturday night!'18  And yet, there seems to be something unsaid.  A L Lloyd, quoting the Hungarian folklorist Lajos Vargyas, mentions a possible connection between this ballad and one from Hungary, Barcsai (which has parallel versions in the Balkans, France and Spain).  Here a couple are caught in an adulterous act by a returning husband, who promptly kills both his rival and his wife.  There are even Mongol versions of Barcsai, so who can say where the story really come from?  But, it is still a popular piece in Britain and in North America, and there are several early recordings of the piece, most of which are similar to British versions.  Gid Tanner, John B Evans and Earl Johnson recorded it as Three Nights Experience while Emmett Bankstone & Red Henderson recorded an extended version, Six Nights Drunk, which was issued on two sides of a 78rpm record.19  These, of course, were white musicians.  But, there were also three recordings of the ballad sung by black musicians.  The first, sung by the Texas singer Coley Jones, is similar to the versions recorded by Tanner, Evans and Johnson.20  The two remaining versions, however, were sung by blues musicians and differ considerably from the other versions.

Cat Man Blues (Child 274) sung by Blind Boy Fuller.  Recorded on 29th April, 1936, Vocalion Vo 03134, Re-issued on Document CD Blind Boy Fuller, Volume 2, Document DOCD-5092.
Cat Man Blues (Child 274) sung by Blind Lemon Jefferson.  Recorded on 24th September, 1929.  Paramount Pm 12921.  Re-issued on JSP Box set Blind Lemon Jefferson. JSP7706 (4 CDs).
Nor was Our Goodman the only Child ballad to be recorded by black musicians.  Leadbelly's well-known version of The Maid Freed from the Gallows - he called it The Gallis Pole - is an extremely full version of the ballad, whereas a version recorded by the white musician Charlie Poole is somewhat fragmentary.21

Of course ballads were not the only Old-World songs to be recorded.  Here are a couple of versions of the old highwayman song Newlyn Town, which also goes under many, many other names in Britain and elsewhere.  The Carter Family called it The Rambling Boy, while the Carolina Tar Heels recorded it as Rude and Rambling Man.

Rambling Boy (Roud 1417) sung by The Carter Family.  Recorded on 14th October, 1941, Bluebird BB 33-0512, Re-issued on JSP box set The Carter Family, Volume 2, 1935-1941, JSP7708.
Rude and Rambling Man (Roud 1417) sung by The Carolina Tar Heels.  Recorded on 3rd April, 1929, Victor V-40077, Re-issued on JSP box set Mountain Frolic, Rare Old-Timey Classics 1924-1937, JSP77100 - 4 CDs.
We can clearly see here how this once British song has both retained British elements ("ten thousand pounds") and yet has changed ("I robbed the train") to suit American audiences.  The British phrase "the King's highway", which would mean little to an American audience has, over time, become "the road highway".  In British versions of the song we often find the robbery taking place in "Saint James' square", which can help explain this slightly confusing verse from Wade Mainer's North Carolina set. Other songs show little variation from their British counterpart.  Take, for example, these versions of the songs Two Babes in the Wood and The Miller's Will.
Two Babes in the Wood (Roud 288) sung by The Red Fox Chasers.  Recorded 26th January, 1931, Champion S-16768, Re-issued Going Down to North Carolina, Tompkins Square 2219.
The Old Miller's Will (Roud 138) sung by Carson Bros & Sprinkle.  Recorded 6th December, 1929, Okeh OK45398, Re-issued on Times Ain't Like TheyUsed to Be, Volume 1, Yazoo 2028.
In the full version of the song, the dying miller questions his three sons as to which one will inherit the mill.  As the eldest son says that he will steal all of his customer's corn he is given the mill!  Clearly, in the recording there is only time enough for the miller to speak to one of his sons.  Another song that had to be cut down to fit a three minute side of a 78rpm record was The Nick Nack Song as sung by Ridgel's Fountain Citians, who, presumably, came from Fountain City, a suburb of Knoxville, TN, where their recording was made.  Their song was a version of the Child ballad The Wife Wrapt in Wether's Skin and was also recorded in 1927 as Nickety Nackety Now Now Now by the singer and banjo player Chubby Parker, who also recorded a well-known version of the British song Frog Went a-Courting which he called King King Kitchie Kitchie Ki-Me-O.23
The Nick Nack Song (Child 277) sung by Ridgel's Fountain Citians.  Recorded on 27th August, 1929, Vocalion Vo 5455, Re-issued on JSP box set Appalachian Stomp Down, JSP7761 - 4 CDs.
In the complete song the husband, exasperated by his wife's inability to work on the farm, covers her back with a sheep-skin, which he beats with a stick, saying that he wouldn't beat his wife, but he has nothing against beating an old sheep's skin.  The song, once highly popular (as The Wee Cooper o' Fyfe for example) has, understandably, lost some of its appeal in recent years.

Will the Weaver was another song concerned with marital strife; one where the husband felt obliged to use force against his adulterous wife.  There were two Old-Timey recordings made of the song, Will the Weaver sung by Charlie Parker & Mack Woolbright,24 and David McCarn's version, titled Everyday Dirt.

Everyday Dirt (Roud 432) sung by David McCarn.  Recorded 19th May, 1930, Victor V-40274,; Re-issued Gastonia Gallop, Old Hat 1007.
The well-known North Carolina singer and guitarist Doc Watson later learnt the song from the McCarn recording and it is interesting to see how lines from the song have changed and moved about over the years.25

Other songs recorded on 78s had often more or less died out in Britain by the time the American singers were visited by the recording companies.  Here is a version of the song The Lover's Lament for her Sailor, the words taken from a broadside printed in London by John Pitts between the years 1819-1844.  Pitts' song may be based on an earlier broadside, one titled The Sorrowful Lady's Complaint.  The Pitts' set is followed by a version recorded by the Carter Family

I Never Will Marry (Roud 466) sung by The Carter Family.  Recorded on 17th June, 1933, Bluebird B-8350, Re-issued on JSP box set The Carter Family, 1927-1934, JSP7701.
Another song recorded by the Carter Family, unlike I Never Will Marry, was recorded by several Old-Timey performers.  The Carter family called it Who's That Knockin' On My Window.
Who's That Knockin' On My Window (Roud 711) sung by The Carter Family.  Recorded on 8th June, 1938,; Decca De 5612, Re-issued on JSP box set The Carter Family, Volume 2, 1935 - 1941, JSP7708.
Other early recordings were made by The Blue Sky Boys (Katie Dear), Tiny Dodson's Circle-B Boys (Katy Dear), The Callaghan Brothers (Katie Dear), J P Ryan (The Silver Dagger), B F Shelton (Oh Molly Dear), Kelly Harrell (O! Molly Dear Go Ask Your Mother), The Oaks Family (Wake up You Drowsy Sleeper) and Wilmer Watts' oddly titled Sleepy Desert.26  Many of the singers that Cecil Sharp visited called the song Awake, Awake, You Drowsy Sleepers and on occasion we find the opening line something like this, "Awake, awake, you seven drowsy sleepers", and I have sometimes wondered if this is a reference to the Christian story of the seven sleepers of Ephesus?  Though quite how this would fit into the rest of the song is somewhat beyond me.

For those who don't know the story, here it is in brief.  Sometime around 250CE the Roman emperor Decius started persecuting Christians, including seven men from the town of Ephesus (now in modern day Turkey).  They were asked to recant their faith, but, instead, they went to live in a cave, where, having prayed, they fell asleep.  Decius ordered the mouth of the cave to be sealed.  And it was not opened until some two hundred years later, when the men were found to be still asleep.  They awoke and were amazed to find that their homeland was now a Christian country.  If there is a connection between this tale and with the song, then I would suggest that it is only a passing reference.

B F Shelton's version of this song is interesting, in that parts of the song have been padded out with lines for one or two other songs.  Such things happen in folksong from any oral tradition, singers forget or miss-remember words and lines, but in Appalachian America we find that whole songs can be comprised of verses from several previous songs.

Oh Molly Dear (Roud 711) sung by B F Shelton.  Recorded 29th July, 1927, Re-issued on The Music of Kentucky, Early American Rural Classics 1927 -37, Yazoo 2013.
Some songs, and Cecil Sharp found quite a few in the Appalachians, are comprised solely of 'floating verses' - whole verses taken from other songs to reform a 'new' song.  In Hayes Shepherd's It's Hard for to Love we can find verses from songs such as Ten Thousand Miles and the ballad Lord Gregory.  Shepherd, who like to bill himself as 'The Appalachia Vagabond', was a banjo player and singer from one of the remoter parts of Kentucky (as was B F Shelton) and like many Kentucky musicians had quite a number of ancient pieces in his repertoire.
It's Hard for to Love sung by Hayes Shepherd.  Recorded on 28th March, 1930, Vocalion Vo 5450,; Re-issued on Dock Boggs - Country Blues, Revenant 205 and The Music of Kentucky - Volume 2, Yazoo 2014.
Another song, this time from the Carter Family, was made up solely of 'floating verses'.
Bring Back My Blue-Eyed Boy to Me (Roud 4308) sung by The Carter Family.  Recorded on 15th February, 1929 Victor V-40190, Re-issued on The Carter Family, 1927 - 1934, JSP7701.
In 1941 America entered the Second World War, and things would never be the same again.  For a start, shellac, one of the substances used in the manufacture of 78rpm records, was needed for the preparation of weapons and so became scarce, forcing the record companies to cut back on production.  Many young people left the rural south as they were called up into the forces.  They were either sent abroad or else to towns and cities far away from their original homes.  By the end of the war, people's expectations had changed and so, too, had the music.  Many of the older Old-Timey musicians had either died or else retired.  A few, such as Uncle Dave Macon and The Carter Family, did continue to perform, but there were now new musical forms, such as Bluegrass and Country music, appearing and these began to replace the older musical styles.  True, some Bluegrass performers did look back into their family repertoires for material to record - the Stanley Brothers, for example, recorded the song The Little Glass of Wine on two occasions between 1947 and 1949 and John & Bill Garay recorded a version of Awake, Awake (which they called Little Girl Go Tell Your Mama) for a little-known label, Marlboro Records, which may have been based in Marlboro County, South Carolina.28 But these were exceptions.  Of course, people still sang and played at home, but it was not until the 1960s, when enthusiasts began to seek out long-forgotten recording artists, that Old-Timey music came back into popularity.  And this led to a re-evaluation and a seeking out of the songs that Cecil Sharp had collected all those years ago, so that younger people could once again sing the songs that many of their ancestors had treasured a few generations back.

A Partial Listing of Other Anglo-American Songs Recorded on Commercial 78rpm Records Prior to 1942

The Boston Burglar John Carson Re-issued Document 8016
The Boston Burglar Frank Hutchison Re-issued JSP7743
The Boston Burglar Riley Puckett Re-issued JSP7780
The Butcher's Boy Blue Sky Boys Re-issued JSP7782
The Butcher's Boy Kelly Harrell Re-issued JSP7743
The Butcher's Boy Buell Kazee Re-issued JSP77100 &
Smithsonian/Folkways SFW40090
Coo Coo Bird Clarence Ashley Re-issued County 3520 &
Smithsonian/Folkways SFW40090
Cuckoo She's a Fine Bird Kelly Harrell Re-issued JSP7743
Darby's Ram Bascom Lamar Lunsford Re-issued JSP77100
Dog and Gun Bradley Kincaid Re-issued Revenant 211
Devilish Mary Red Fox Chasers Re-issued Thompkins Square 2219
Devilish Mary Skillet Lickers Re-issued Document 8059
The Foggy Dew Bradley Kincaid No re-issue
The House Carpenter Professor & Mrs Greer Recorded for Paramount, but unissued.
Jimmie and Sallie Dixon Brothers Re-issued Document 8049*
Little Mohee Buell Kazee Re-issued JSP77100**
The Little Mohee Bradley Kincaid No re-issue
Mary of the Wild Moor Blue Sky Boys Re-issued JSP7782
Mountaineer's Courtship Ernest V Stoneman Re-issued 5SPH001 &
Smithsonian/Folkways SFW40090
My Gypsy Girl Charlie Poole Re-issued JSP7734
(Wandering) Gypsy Girl Bela Lam Re-issued JSP7761
Old Shoes & Leggins Eck Dunford Re-issued Smithsonian/Folkways SFW40090
A Paper of Pins Bradley Kincaid No re-issue
Pretty Polly Dock Boggs Re-issued Revenant 205
Purty Polly John Hammond Re-issued Yazoo 2014
Pretty Polly B.F.Shelton Re-issued Yazoo 2013
Pretty Polly Coon Creek Girls No re-issue
Soldier and the Lady Coon Creek Girls No re-issue
Soldier Will You Marry Me Skillet Lickers Re-issued Document 8059
Soldier, Soldier, Will You Marry Me Bradley Kincaid No re-issue
Spanish Merchant's Daughter Ernest V Stoneman Re-issued 5SPH001 &
Smithsonian/Folkways SFW40090
Story of the Knoxville Girl Blue Sky Boys Re-issued JSP7782
The Export Gal Louisiana Lou Re-issued JSP77131
Sweet William & Fair Ellen (2 parts) Professor & Mrs Greer No re-issue
The Three Babes Professor & Mrs Greer Recorded for Paramount, but unissued.
Three Men Went a-Hunting Byrd Moore Re-issued County 3520
The Two Sisters Bradley Kincaid No re-issue
When Willie & Mary
Strolled by the Seashore
McGee Brothers Re-issued Document 8036
Wind the Little Ball Of Yarn Southern Melody Boys Re-issued JSP77131***

* Jimmy and Sallie is somewhat confused, but would seem to be based on a British song or ballad.

** Although The Little Mohee might, on first hearing, appear to be an American song, it is almost certainly a version of the British broadside song The Indian Lass.

*** I am assuming that this is, originally, a British song, although, as I have pointed out elsewhere,29 the song was copyrighted in America in 1884 to a Polly Holmes.  This does not necessarily mean that Ms Holmes actually wrote the song.  But, it could, originally, have come from the States.  It is certainly popular with British singers.

Perhaps I should also include the song The Island Unknown that was recorded on two sides of a 78rpm record by Eck Dunford & his wife (re-issued on County 3515).  Although untraced, the song does sound as though it could have an Irish origin.  And if The Island Unknown, what about The Girl on the Greenbriar Shore (Roud 17338), that the Carter Family recorded in 1941? It is another song that is unique to America, and yet one which also has an Irish feel to it. 

The above re-issue CDs are available from Red Lick Records at:


I would like to thank Frank Weston for his help in transcribing some of the above songs.

Mike Yates - 2.9.10


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