Although musicians had been recording fiddle tunes (known as Old Time Music at that time) in the southern Appalachians for several years, It wasn’t until August 1, 1927 in Bristol, Tennessee, that Country Music really began. There, on that day, Ralph Peer signed Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family to recording contracts for Victor Records. These two recording acts set the tone for those to follow – Rodgers with his unique singing style and the Carters with their extensive recordings of old-time music. Jimmie Rodgers Known as the “Father of Country Music,” James Charles Rodgers was born in Meridian, Mississippi on September 8, 1897. Always in ill health, he became a railroad hand, until ill health caught up with him and he was forced to seek a less strenuous occupation. An amateur entertainer for many years, he became a serious performer in 1925, appearing in Johnson City, Tennessee and other places.
In 1926, Rodgers and Carrie, his wife of 6 years, moved to Asheville, North Carolina, and organized the Jimmie Rodgers’ Entertainers, a hillbilly band comprising Jack Pierce (guitar), Jack Grant (mandolin/banjo), Claude Grant (banjo), and Rodgers himself (banjo). Upon hearing that Ralph Peer of Victor Records was setting up a portable recording studio in Bristol, on the Virginia-Tennessee border, the Entertainers headed in that direction. But due to a dispute within their ranks, Rodgers eventually recorded as a solo artist, selecting a sentimental ballad, “The Soldier’s Sweetheart,” and a lullaby, “Sleep, Baby, Sleep,” as his first offerings. The record met with instant acclaim, thus causing Victor to record further Rodgers’ sides throughout 1927, including the first in a set of 13, Blue Yodel # 1 (T for Texas) Rodgers, who died in 1933, never appeared on any major radio show or even played the Grand Ole Opry during his lifetime. But he, Fred Rose, and Hank Williams were the first persons to be elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1961, which is indicative of his importance in the history of Country Music.
The Carter Family One of the most influential groups in country music was The Carter Family (A.P., Sara, cousin Maybelle, and others). The Carters first recorded for Ralph Peer for Victor on August 1, 1927–the same day that Jimmie Rodgers cut his first sides–completing six titles, including “Single Girl, Married Girl,” at a makeshift studio in Bristol, Tennessee, known as the Bristol Barn Sessions. Sara and A.P. obtained a divorce during 1936, but continued working together in the group, which now included Anita, June, and Helen (Maybelle and Ezra Carter’s three daughters) and Janette and Joe (Sara and A.P.’s children). From 1936-39, the Family cut for Decca, and after that for Columbia and again for Victor.
The last session by the original Carter Family took place on October 14, 1941, and the Family disbanded in 1943, having waxed over 250 of their songs and one of their signature songs, “Sunny Side of Life” , recorded in 1928. Also included is a video clip from the 1950’s of Maybelle’s daughters June, Helen, and Anita who carried on this legacy for more than two decades after the original Carter’s left the studio. Bill Monroe The virtual base on which the whole of bluegrass music rests, William Smith (Bill) Monroe was born at Rosine, Kentucky, on September 13, 1911, the youngest of eight children. Brother Charlie was next youngest, having been born eight years earlier. This gap, coupled with Bill’s poor eyesight, inhibited the youngest son from many of the usual play activities and gave him an introverted nature which carried through into later life.
Aside from his musical family, one of Monroe’s early influences was a black musician from Rosine, Arnold Schultz. Bill would gig with him and rated him a fine musician with an unrivalled feel for the blues. At this time he also started to hear gramophone records featuring such performers as Charlie Poole and the North Carolina Ramblers. In 1934, Radio WLS in Chicago, for whom the three brothers (Birch on fiddle, Charlie on guitar, and Bill on mandolin) had been working on a semi-professional basis, offered them full-time employment. Birch decided to give up music, but Charlie and Bill reforemed as the Monroe Brothers. In 1938, they went their separate ways.
Bill formed the Kentuckians and moved to Radio KARK, Atlanta Georgia, where the first of the Blue Grass Boys line-ups was evolved. Bill also began to sing lead and to take mandolin solos rather than just remaining part of the general sound. In 1939, he auditioned for the Opry and George Hay was impressed enough to sign him. By 1945, Monroe’s style had undergone several changes. Most notable was the addition of Earl Scruggs, with a driving banjo style, putting the final, distinctive seal on Monroe’s bluegrass sound.
Flatt and Scruggs remained with Bill until 1948. Among Monroe’s best known songs from the period is “Blue Moon of Kentucky.” Included here is another of Monroe’s hits: “I’m Going Back to Old Kentucky.” After signing with Decca Records in 1949, Monroe teamed with Jimmy Martin, and entered into his golden age for compositions. He wrote “Uncle Pen,” “Roanoke,” “Scotland,” “My Little Georgia Rose,” “Walking In Jerusalem,” and “I’m Working On a Building,” the last two being religious ‘message’ songs, always part of the Monroe tradition from the earlier days. Bill Monroe was elected to the Country Music Hall Of Fame in 1970. His contribution to country music is inestimable.
On August 13, 1986, one month to the day before his 75th birthday, the US Senate passed a resolution recognizing “his many contributions to American culture and his many ways of helping American people enjoy themselves.” It also said, “As a musician, showman, composer, and teacher, Mr. Monroe has been a cultural figure and force of signal importance in our time.” Flatt and Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs pioneered a particular type of bluegrass under Bill Monroe’s leadership — especially Scruggs’ “three-finger banjo” technique — and thus helped to popularize bluegrass immensely. Both came from highly musical families. Lester’s parents both played the banjo (in the old ‘frailing’ style) and Lest practiced on both guitar and banjo. Earl came from an area east of the Appalachians which was already using a three-finger style on the five-string banjo. In 1943, Lester and his wife Gladys were hired by Charlie Monroe.
Lester sang harmony and played mandolin. He tired of the travelling and quit, then procured a position with a North Carolina radio station. It was there that he received a telegram from Bill Monroe asking Lester to come and play with him on the Grand Ole Opry. Earl had played with his brothers from the age of six and by 15 he was playing on a North Carolina radio station with the Carolina Wildcats. After the war, Scruggs appeared with John Miller on Radio WSM in Nashville.
Miller then stopped touring and Earl, out of work, was hired by Monroe. In 1948, within weeks of each other, Earl and Lester resigned from Monroe to escape the constant travelling (Monroe has always been a dedicated touring man). Almost inevitably the two then decided to team up and do some radio work. They recruited ex-Monroe men Jim Shumate (fiddle) and Howard Watts (a.k.a. Cedric Rainwater on bass), and then moved to Hickory, North Carolina, when the were joined by Mac Wiseman.
That year, 1948, they made their first recordings for Mercury Records. The band took its name from an old Carter Family tune, “Foggy Mountain Top,” calling themselves the Foggy Mountain Boys. In 1950, they were offered a lucrative contract by Columbia Records, a recording association that was to last for 20 years. In 1953, the band began broadcasting “Martha White Biscuit Time” on WSM, a show which not only ran for years, but which saw them come into country music prominence. Flatt and Scruggs and their band became members of the Grand Ole Opry in 1955, and were winning numerous fan polls and industry awards.
They consolidated their position as leaders of the bluegrass movement and sold a vast number of records. By the end of the ’60s (mainly pushed by Earl), they began experimenting with new folks songs, drums and gospel-style harmonies in an effort to build on a younger audience. Some of their older fans were unhappy about the changes, and in 1969, they split up. Lester, who died in 1979, returned to a more traditional sound, forming the Nashville Grass, composed mainly of the Foggy Mountain Boys. Earl defiantly went off in new directions with his Earl Scruggs Review.
In recent years, Scruggs has cut back on his activities, while his sons have made their mark as songwriters, producers and multi-instrumentalists in country music. Perhaps no other institution is more synonymous with country music than WSM Radio’s Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee. Since 1925, it has featured country music acts on it’s stage for live Saturday night broadcasts. This program has introduced the nation to most, if not all, of the greats of country music. To this day, membership on the Opry remains one of a Country Music artist’s greatest ambitions.
The Opry began as a show with primarily part-time artists who used the show to promote their live appearances throughout the South and Midwest, but with the help of Roy Acuff, the professionalism of country music became established at the Opry. We’ll be adding more features on the Opry and WSM soon! Roy Acuff The King of Country Music could well have become another Lou Gehrig or Babe Ruth. Born in Maynardville, Tennessee, Roy Claxton Acuff seemed destined to become an athlete. Following a move to Fountain City (near Knoxville), Acuff gained 13 varsity letters in high school, eventually playing minor league ball and being considered for the New York Yankees. Sever sunstroke put an end to that career, confining Acuff to be for the better part of 1929 and 1930.
By 1933, Acuff formed a group, the Tennessee Crackerjacks, in which Clell Summey played dobro, thus providing the distinctive sound that came to be associated with Acuff (and later provided by Pete ‘Bashful Brother Oswald’ Kirby). Acuff married Mildred Douglas in 1936, that same year recording two sessions for ARC (a company controlling a host of labels, later merged with Columbia). Tracks from these sessions included two of his greatest hits: “Wabash Cannonball” (featuring vocals by Dynamite Hatcher) and “The Great Speckle Bird.” Making his first appearance on the Grand Ole Opry in 1938, Acuff soon became a regular on the show, changing the name of the band once more to the Smoky Mountain Boys. He won many friends with his sincere, mountain-boy vocal style and his dobro-flavoured band sound, and eventually became as popular as Uncle Dave Macon, who was the Opry’s main attraction at the time. During the ’40s, Acuff’s recordings became so popular that he headed Frank Sinatra in some major music polls and reportedly caused Japanese troops to yell ‘To hell with Roosevelt, to hell with Babe Ruth, to hell with Roy Acuff’ as they banzai-charged at Okinawa. These years also saw some of his biggest hits, including “Wreck on the Highway” (1942), Fireball Mail (1942), Night Train to Memphis (1943), and two tracks included here: “Tied Down,” “That’s What Makes the Jukebox Play,” and his classic “The Precious Jewel”. Acuff’s tremendous contribution to country music was recognized in November 1962, when he became the first living musician to be honored as a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame.
He guested on the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s triple album set “Will The Circle Be Unbroken?” in 1972, lending credence to contemporary and country-rock music. He continued to appear regularly on the Grand Ole Opry throughout the ’70s and ’80s, but cut down on his previously extensive touring schedule, until by the early ’90s his only appearances were infrequent guest spots at Opryland. He died on November 23, 1992 following a short illness. The songs of Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, and the Sons of the Pioneers put the Western in Country and Western Music. Much of this music was written for and brought to the American public through the cowboy films of the 30’s and 40’s and was widely popular.
Roy Rogers Known as the “King of the Cowboys,” and a major western movie star between 1938 and 1953, Roy Rogers started out as Leonard Slye in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1911. Influenced by his father, who played mandolin and guitar, Rogers began playing at local functions during the 1920s. After stints with such groups as the Rocky Mountaineers and the Hollywood Hillbillies, he formed his own band, the International Cowboys. Later — with the aid of Tim Spencer and Bob Nolan — he formed the Sons of the Pioneers. Though this outfit established a considerable reputation, Rogers set his sights higher and began playing bit parts in films, first under the name of Dick Weston, and then assuming his guise as Roy Rogers, eventually wining a starring role in “Under Western Skies,” a 1938 production.
With his horse Trigger and frequent female partner, Dale Evans (whom he married in 1947), and occasional help from such people as the Sons of the Pioneers and Spade Cooley, Rogers became Gene Autry’s only real rival, starring in over 100 movies and heading his own TV show in the mid-1950s. Rogers was a recording artist with RCA-Victor for many years. He later recorded for Capitol, Word and 20th Century. Even in 1980, then signed to MCA, Rogers was still charting. He and the Sons of the Pioneers teamed up once more for “Ride Concrete Cowboy, Ride,” a song stemming from the movie “Smokey and the Bandit II.” Inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1988, three years later he was back in the country charts with “Hold On Partner,” a duet with Clint Black from Rogers’ “Tribute” album.
This classic album had the 80 year-old cowboy duetting with such current stars as Lorrie Morgan, Kathy Mattea, Ricky Van Shelton, Randy Travis, Restless Heart, and the Kentucky HeadHunters. The part-owner of a chain of restaurants, a theme park, and his own world wide web site (www.royrogers.com), Rogers is estimated to be worth over 100 million dollars. Gene Autry Orvon Gene Autry, the most successful of all singing cowboys to break into movies was born in Tioga, Texas, September 29, 1907. Taught to play guitar by his mother Elnora, Gene joined the Fields Brothers Marvelous Medicine Show while still in high school, but after graduation in 1925 became a railroad telegrapher with the Frisco Railway in Sapulpar, Oklahoma. Encouraged by Will Rogers following a chance meeting, Autry took a job on Radio KVOO, Tulsa, in 1930, billing himself as “Oklahoma’s Singing Cowboy,” and singing much in the style of Jimmie Rodgers.
In 1929, he began recording with labels such as Victor, Okeh, Columbia, Grey Gull and Gannett (often under a pseudonym). Shortly thereafter, Autry began broadcasting regularly on the WLS Barn Dance program for Chicago, his popularity gaining further momentum with the 1931 release of “Silver Haired Daddy of Mine,” (penned by Autry and frequent partner Jimmy Long, a former boss of Autry’s on the Frisco line), a recording that eventually sold over five million copies. Next came a move to Hollywood where following a performance in a Ken Maynard western “In Old Santa Fe,” he was asked to star in a serial “The Phantom Empire.” Thereafter, Autry appeared in innumerable B movies, usually with his horse, Champion. His list of his records during the ’30s and ’40s — he was easily the most popular singer of the time — is awesome, including “Yellow Rose of Texas” (1933), “The Last Roundup” (1934), “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” (1935), “Mexicali Rose” (1936), “Back In The Saddle Again” (1939), “South Of The Border” (1940), “You Are My Sunshine” (1941), “It Makes No Difference Now” (1941), “Be Honest With Me” (1941), “Tweedle-O-Twill” (1942), and “At Mail Call Today” (1945). Elected in 1969 to the Country Music Hall of Fame, Autry has also had three other million-selling discs in “Here Comes Santa Claus” (1947), “Peter Cottontail” (1949), and nine million-seller “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” (1948).
Writer of scores of hit songs, Gene Autry has also starred at a series of annual rodeos held in Madison Square Garden, is the majority owner of the California Angels baseball team, and even had an Oklahoma town named after him. Sons of the Pioneers Originally a guitarist/vocals trio when formed by Roy Rogers, Bob Nolan and Tim Spencer in 1934 as the Pioneer Trio, the name changed to Sons of the Pioneers in deference to the American Indian heritage of members Karl and Hugh Farr. The Sons did extensive radio work during the ’30s and recorded for Decca, Columbia and RCA. Films also figured large for them and they appeared in many of those featuring Rogers. Sons of the Pioneers recorded many of the songs associated wit h this style of music, “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” and “Cool Water,” the latter of which is found in this exhibit.
A word should be said about Bob Nolan, who composed both the hits above. His songwriting may be the finest ever to appear in country music. A brilliant poet with an inventive ear for melody and harmony, he virtually invented the sound and style of western harmony singing single-handedly. He supplied the once thriving field with the great majority of its classic songs, which in addition to the above, include “Trail Herding Cowboy,” “A Cowboy Has To Sing,” “One More Ride,” “Way Out There,” and “Song of the Bandit.” Tim Spencer died in 1974 at the age of 65, but the Sons were still performing at that time, led by Lloyd Perryman, who had originally joined the group back in 1936, and died in 1977 at the age of 60. The Sons of the Pioneers were elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in October, 1979. Bob Wills (1905-1975) This very popular style of Country Music developed in Texas and Oklahoma the 1930’s and saw enormous popularity in the 40’s. The style is a blend of big band, blues, dixieland, and jazz, among others.
Musically, it contributed the drums and Hawaiian Steel Guitar to Country Music. It was a Saturday night dance type of music which combined the style of jazz and big band swing with the culture of the Southwest. Bob Wills, born east of Kosse, Texas in an area known as The Moss Springs Community, is known as the “King of Western Swing”. He perfected this style in the late 1930’s with his band the “Texas Playboys.” Many of his greatest hits were recorded between 1936 and 1943. They include “San Antonio Rose” and “Take Me Back to T ulsa.” Find included here a less well-known, but nonetheless typical Wills recording called “Liza, Pull Down the Shade” from 1938. Perhaps no other style of country music has had a greater influence on today’s artists than the style known as Honky Tonk.
Honky Tonk music embodied the spirit of dancing and drinking, and of loving and then losing the one you love. Its greatest practitioners owe their singing style to Jimmie Rodgers and much of the music to the steel guitar and drums of Bob Wills and Western Swing. Hank Williams One of the most charismatic and enduring figures in country music — his Opry performance of June 11, 1949, when his audience required him to reprise “Lovesick Blues” several times, is still considered the Ryman’s greatest moment — Hank was born Hiram King Williams in Georgiana, Alabama on September 17, 1923. Barely a teenager, he won $15 singing “WPA Blues” at a Montgomery amatuer contest, then formed a band, the Drifting Cowboys, which played on station WSFA, Montgomery, for over a decade. Switching from Sterling Records in 1946 to the newly formed MGM label in 1947, Williams was booked as a regular on KWKH’s Lousiana Hayride.
After having scored with his recording of “Lovesick Blues,” he signed a contract with the Grand Ole Opry in 1949. After the runaway success of “Lovesick Blues,” he began cutting Top 10 singles with almost monotonous regularity. With Fred Rose masterminding every recording session, arranging, playing, producing, and often participating in the songwriting, such hits as “Wedding Belles, “Mind Your Own Business,” “You’re Gonna Change, and “My Bucket’s Got a Hole In It” all charted during 1949. More hits followed including Jambalaya, Honky Tonk Blues, Tear in My Beer, Baby We’re Really In Love, and “Honky Tonkin’.” Ironically his 1952 hit “I”ll Never Get Out of This World Alive” was released just before his death on New Year’s Day, 1953 from a heart attack brought on by drinking. He and his Drifting Cowboys had been booked to play a show in Canton, Ohio, and Williams hired a driver to chauffeur him through a snowstorm to the gig.
He fell asleep along the way — but when the driver tried to rouse him at Oak Hill, West Virginia, Williams was dead. After his death, his records continued to sell in massive quantities. “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” “Take These Chains From My Heart,” “I Wont Be Home No More,” and “Weary Blue From Waitin'” all charted during the year that followed. The last months of Williams life, though financially rewarding, were ultra-tragic. A drug user in order to combat a spinal ailment caused by being thrown from a horse at the age of 17, he was fired from the Grand Ole Opry in August 1952 because of perpetual drunkenness.
He was also divorced and remarried soon after. Despite his troubles, Hank was well loved by the country music fraternity. Over 20,000 people attended his funeral in Montgomery, at which Roy Acuff, Carl Smith, Red Foley, and Ernest Tubb paid tribute in song. Elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1961, his plaque reads: “The simple, beautiful melodies and straightforward plaintive stories in his lyrics of life as he knew it will never die.” Ernest Tubb Born in Crisp, Texas in 1914, Ernest Dale Tubb was the sixth member to be elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame and a regular member of the Opry from 1943 to the time of his death. Tubb’s boyhood hero was the great Jimmie Rodgers. Although he had dreams of emulating Rodgers and sang at various local get-togethers during his early teens, Tubb was almost 20 before he owned his first guitar. After limited success during the 1930s, Tubb’s recording of “Walking the Floor Over You,” a self-penned composition released in autumn 1942, became a million-seller, helping him gain his first appearance on the Opry in December.
He gained reulgar memebership during 1943. Also, in 1947, he opened the first of his now famous record shops and commenced his Midnight Jamboree program over WSM, advertising the shop and showcasing the talents of up and coming country artists. From then through 1969, Tubb became the charts’ Mr. Consistency, thanks to such discs as “Goodnight Irene” (with Red Foley in 1950), “I Love You Because,” “Missing in Action,” “Two Glasses Joe” (1954), Half a Mind, Thanks A Lot, Mr. and Mrs.
Used-To-Be (with Loretta Lynn in 1964), and “Let’s say Goodbye, Like We said Hello.” An tireless tourer, he and his Texas Troubadours played around 300 dates a year. Much loved, when he set out to record his “Legend and Legacy” album for First Generation records in 1979, virtually everyone who was anyone in Nashville dropped by to see if they could help out. The album line-up eventually featured the names of Willie Nelson, Loretta Lynn, Vern Gosdin, Chet Atkins, Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, Charlie Rich, Johnny Paycheck, Linda Hargrove, Marty Robbins, Conway Twitty, the Wilburn Brothers, Ferlin Husky, Waylon Jennings, Charlie Daniels, George Jones, and many, many others. When he died, on September 6, 1984, the whole of Music City mourned the man writer Chet Flippo once accurately described as “honky-tonk music personified.” Lefty Frizzell Acquiring the nickname ‘Lefty’ after disposing of several opponents with his left hand during an unsuccessful attept to become a Golden Gloves boxing champion, the Corsicana, Texas-born (1928) singer-songwriter-guitarist began life as William Orville Frizzell. A childhood performer, at 17 he could be found playing the honky-tonks and dives of Dallas and Waco, molding his early, Jimmie Rodgers-stylings to his environment, thus formulating a sound that was very much his own.
In 1950, Frizzell’s Columbia recording “If You’ve Got the Money, I’ve Got the Time” became a massive hit, claiming a chart position for some 20 weeks. The ex-pugilist followed this with two 1951 No.1s in “I Want to be With You Always,” and “Always Late.” He became an Opry star, and throughout the rest of the decade he continued to supply a series of chart high-flyers, many of these in honky-tonk tradition. The ’60s, too, found Frizzell obtaining more than a dozen hits, though only “Saginaw, Michigan” — a 1964 No.1 — and “She’s Gone, Gone, Gone” (1965) proved of any consequence. His last hit for Columbia was “Watermelon Time in Georgia” (1970). After joining ABC Recrods in 1973, Frizzell began to make a comeback with “I Never Go Around Mirrors,” and “Lucky Arms” (both 1974), and “Falling” (1975), when he died after suffering a stroke on July 19, 1975. Elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1982, Frizzell’s influence has played a major role in much of the country music of the ’90s.
You can hear strains of his work in the style of Merle Haggard, George Strait, Keith Whitley, and lately in the music of Clint Black and Doug Stone, among others. The Nashville Sound is a blend of pop and country that developed during the 1950s. The music in this era was an outcropping of the big band jazz and swing of the ’30s, ’40s and early ’50s, combined with the storytelling of honky-tonkers. Jim Reeves Originally a stone country singer, smooth-toned Jim Reeves from Texas reached amazing heights as a pop balladeer and since his death in an air crash his fame has burgeoned into cult proportions. Born in 1923 in Galloway, Panola County, Texas, Reeves was just as interested in sport as in music and became the star of the Cathage High School baseball team, although he still performed at local events.
He entered the University of Texas in Austin, and his baseball prowess as a pitcher soon attracted the attention of the St. Louis Cardinals scouts who signed him to a contract. An unlucky slip gave him an ankle injury that halted one career and gave rise to another. In 1947, after marrying a schoolteacher, Mary White, Jim moved to Shreveport and ended up with a job as announcer on KWKH, the station that owned the Louisiana Hayride. It was one of Reeves’ jobs to announce the Saturday night Hayride show and he was even allowed to sing occasionally.
One night in 1952, Hank Williams failed to arrive and Jim was asked to fill in. In the audience was Fabor Robinson, owner of Abbott Records, who immediately signed Reeves to a contract. After a number one record with “Mexican Joe” (1953), RCA signed him in 1955 amid considerable competition. That same year, he joined the Grand Ole Opry at the recommendation of Ernest Tubb and Hank Snow. The February, 1957 release of “Four Walls” proved the real turning point in Ree …