June 29, 2021 Record Uploads

I mentioned the 1920 Joseph Samuels record a while back, with Medley of Country Reels on one side and Medley of Country Jigs on the other. Our record player had a bit of trouble with it when it got near the center, but we were able to listen to most of the record, and my brother uploaded it so that everyone can enjoy it: Joseph Samuels, medley of reels and jigs.

Here are the songs in the medleys:

Medley of country reels: Keltons Reel, The Devil’s Dream, Arkansas Traveller, Old Zip Coon, Chicken Reel, and Half Penny Reel.

Medley of country jigs: St. Patrick’s Day In The Morning, Mysteries Of Knock, Moll In The Wad, Tivoli, Jackson Fancy, Garry Owens, and Haste To The Wedding.

Most of these songs trace back to the 1700s-1800s, except the Chicken Reel, which was published in 1910.

I wasn’t familiar with “Moll In The Wad,” but according to Tune Arch, it’s been around since the late 1700s. “Printed versions are in John Ives’ Twenty-four Figures of the Most Fashionable Country Dances…Cotillions (New Haven, CT, 1799), the Phinney’s Select Collection of the Newest and Most Favorite Country Dances (Ostego, N.Y., 1808).”

This fits in nicely with yesterday’s post about the very long history of country dance music that greatly predates the 1920s, when many claim that country music began.

We also uploaded the accordion album Neapolitan Favorites from 1951 by Nick Perito. This one has nothing to do with country music, but this is a cool record we inherited and it’s pretty uncommon. It’s an album of accordion instrumentals. Nick Perito was best known for his work with Perry Como.

June 28, 2021 18th Century and Earlier Country Dances

“Country dance” music has a very deep, rich history that often gets pushed to the side by those who try to define “real country” as primarily storytelling music, even if they begrudgingly and slightly acknowledge instrumental fiddle tunes and square dance music in the 1920s country music timeline. The Grand Ole Opry itself owes to “barn dance” heritage.

Fiddle players still play European tunes from hundreds of years ago, but you’re more likely to hear these tunes at an “old-time and bluegrass” event than at mainstream country concerts.

CSUFresno: Some British Isles Country Dances of the Eighteenth Century has a huge list of songs from the 1700s, some of which were covered by country artists in the 1920s and later, and some are still played today.

Beyond the modest number of “familiar” tunes, there are song titles that wouldn’t sound out of place in any era of country music: “The City Bully,” “Corn Market,” “The Country Attorney,” “Country Bumpkin,” “The Country Garden,” “Country Spinnage,” “Countrey Kate,” “The Cow bit off the miller’s thumb,” “Honest Farmer,” “Pig in the Parlour,” “Piss Upon The Grass,” etc.

CSU Fresno: Country Dance Tunes, mostly published in England prior to 1730

Yes, there were books of “country dance” music hundreds of years ago. Let’s look at some of the pre-1730 song titles:

“Country Abigail,” “Country Farmer,” “Country Farmer’s Daughter,” “A Country Dance,” “Country Coll,” “Country Courtship” (better known today as Irish Washerwoman), “Devil’s Dream” (also very well known still), “Haymakers,” “The Shepherd’s Daughter,” and “Saturday Night and Sunday Morning.”

The Roud Folk Index covers many songs from hundreds of years ago. If you’re looking for arrangements of the really old songs, then Tune Arch and ABC Notation are good places to look.

June 27, 2021 Robert’s Ramblings

The Grand Ole Opry’s televised hour last night was a tribute to Connie Smith, featuring Connie and her husband Marty Stuart and guests Lee Ann Womack, Mandy Barnett, and the Tennessee Mafia Jug Band. Dolly Parton and Tanya Tucker also sent in video clips honoring Connie.

As expected, Marty and Connie and friends put on a fine Opry show. Lee Ann and Mandy each sang one of Connie’s hits. Mandy has played the Opry as a guest hundreds of times, and it’s beyond my comprehension why she has not been offered membership. Lee Ann has also performed as a guest on the Opry for many years. I’ve pretty well given up trying to figure out what if any sort of logic goes into the Opry membership process. Congratulations to Carly Pearce, who was inducted into the Opry last week. I saw Carly in Nashville during CMA week in 2017, before she had any radio hits, so it’s really something to see how much her career has progressed in the last four years. Nothing whatsoever against Carly, but hopefully, some of these guests who have performed on the Opry stage for a much longer time will also receive their due.

The Tennessee Mafia Jug Band was a regular part of the Marty Stuart Show, but I hadn’t seen or heard much from them since, so it’s great to see them again. The Grand Ole Opry radio show went national in 1939 and the archives of the old shows are available on the Internet Archive and the CMHOF web site. On a lot of those shows in the 40s-50s, there are segments by Pap and His Jug Band or Roy Acuff’s Jug Band. Here is a picture of Elvis Presley with Roy Acuff and Pap’s Jug Band in 1955. Here’s Roy Acuff’s Jug Band covering Chuck Berry in 1956. There are some clips of Roy Acuff’s Open House, an Australian TV show filmed in 1959, in which you can see everything from washboard to a giant harmonica. Roy himself plays tambourine in one of the clips.

Back to last night’s Opry…
One of the things that stood out to me about Connie Smith’s set was the choice of instruments. Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives were there, with Gary Carter on steel guitar. There was also a piano player and a string section (a cello and three violins or violas – I didn’t get a close look). What surprised me a little was the use of timpani for one of the songs. You don’t see those kettledrums in country music all that often these days. I know that Marty Stuart had some timpani on his albums. I’ve always liked the sound, so that was a pleasant surprise.

I’ve listened to a lot of Willie’s Roadhouse on SiriusXM lately, and my favorite radio show is Ranger Doug’s Classic Cowboy Corral. They dig way back into history, but also have a lot of fun. They’ve played Carson Robison a good bit lately, and Ranger Doug is in the process of writing a book about him.

I’ve mentioned that I like making noise with easy, inexpensive instruments. A few days ago, I bought a musical calculator. As with the kalimba, melodica, and Stylophone, I was immediately able to pick out a few easy tunes on it. I can definitely recommend these instruments if you’re looking for something inexpensive, easy, and fun. Back in the 1920s, inexpensive instruments like harmonica, ukulele, and Jew’s Harp showed up in country music a good bit. I made a quick medley from very old songs (Turkey In The Straw from around 1820, Darling Nellie Gray/Faded Love tune from probably 1830, and College Hornpipe/Sailor’s Hornpipe from the 1790s): Robert’s Calculator Fun Medley. I took the cover picture in Tomball, Texas. The statue was originally supposed to be an anthropomorphic pickle, but an Italian restaurant tried to change it into a pizza guy.

June 25, 2021 Brave Combo Polka

I know there are lots of country albums out today, but I haven’t had the time to listen to any of the new material. There are plenty of lists of new albums on other sites. As usual, I’ll keep an ear open and add any videos of interest to my 2021 Country Videos list on YouTube.

Last night, I saw Brave Combo at Summer In The Park in San Marcos. This Texas polka band has been around since 1979, won a couple of Grammy awards, and appeared on an episode of The Simpsons. Their style of polka incorporates rock and roll, Latin styles, and anything else they feel like. They even sang one in Greek. They didn’t do any country crossovers, but I cover a bit of everything here. They put on a fun show and used a wide variety of instruments. When’s the last time you heard a polka band use a Jew’s Harp or harmonica ? They used valve trombone and on one song, the piccolo trumpet. When I was young, I took trumpet lessons from someone in the local orchestra, and I enjoyed trying a piccolo trumpet. It’s been a very long time since I’ve seen anyone play one.

June 22, 2021 Cimbalom

Henry Ford’s Old Time Dance Orchestra made recordings in 1925-1927. The band featured a fiddle, a sousaphone, a (hammered/true) dulcimer, and a cimbalom. The terms cimbalom and dulcimer are often used interchangeably, but the concert cimbalom is basically the Hungarian deluxe version of a dulcimer. There are pictures of Henry Ford’s group online, where you can clearly see both the cimbalom and dulcimer they used.

Although dulcimers vary in size, a range of 2 .5 octaves is pretty common. The cimbalom often has 125 strings covering 4.5 octaves, plus a damping pedal.

A piano is rather like a giant dulcimer with a keyboard interface and pedals, so the pedal makes a lot of sense, and some modern dulcimers have adopted damping mechanisms.

One of the Henry Ford’s Old Time Dance Orchestra records in 1927 was “Hungarian Medley,” so the cimbalom was especially in its element.

Although the concert cimbalom is quite common in parts of central and eastern Europe, it’s quite uncommon in American country and old-time music. There are tons of YouTube videos of skilled cimbalom players covering all sorts of music. In the nineties, Czech bluegrass-fusion group Teagrass had some cimbalom. Even the Blue Man Group has used the cimbalom. For whatever reason, you don’t see a lot of hammered dulcimer of any sort in the US anymore outside of old-time gatherings or dulcimer-specific events. It’s a cool instrument with a tremendously long history.

I’ll also mention that one of the songs that Henry Ford’s group recorded was Varsovienne. This song goes by many names and has been around since the mid-1800s. The Rollfast Ramblers did this one a couple of days ago as “Put Your Little Foot,” and they mentioned its popularity during the Civil War. The earliest recorded version I found of the tune was by Conway’s Band in 1915 as “Varsoviana.” Adolph Hofner, Pee Wee King, Cliffie Stone, Lawrence Welk, and many others recorded versions of the tune.

June 21, 2021 W.B. Chenoweth

William Benjamin Chenoweth (1867-1946) is unfamiliar to most fans of country music, since he recorded just a few songs in the mid 1920s. He was better known as an inventor.

Chenoweth was from the Dallas area, and is credited with inventing a six-cylinder engine and the first intercity bus line in Texas. He also built a flying machine in 1908, a tractor design in 1918, and studied atmospheric electricity in 1920.

An article in a Monroe, Louisiana newspaper in 1926 mentions that he had spent some time in Monroe at the cotton mill. Known as the “Texas Fiddlin’ Wampus Cat,” Chenoweth was back in Monroe with his banjo-playing ten-year-old son Joseph at the Saenger Theatre.

Here’s a quote from the Monroe article: “In 1920, Mr. Chenoweth produced atmospheric electricity, after several experiments, and it is his belief that the day will come when gasoline-driven vehicles will be replaced by vehicles that will be propelled by electricity.”

The UCSB cylinder archive lists W.B. Chenoweth’s recordings from 1924-27. The 1924-25 recordings in Dallas were listed as “Chenoweth’s Cornfield Symphony Orchestra,” and the 1926-27 recordings in Chicago were listed as “The Texas Fiddlin’ Wampus Cat and His Kittens.”

The Monroe article mentions that Chenoweth was an accomplished fiddler known as the “Texas Fiddlin’ Wampus Cat.” The wampus cat is an interesting figure in southern folklore, so it seems only fitting that this brilliant and obscure old Texas fiddler chose such a title. The “Cornfield Symphony Orchestra” is also interesting, because there weren’t many hillbilly acts referring to themselves as orchestras in 1924. Judge Sturdy’s Orchestra recorded in 1925, and Vernon Dalhart recorded with with orchestras even before 1920.

It appears that the only Chenoweth record currently on YouTube is the Chenoweth Cornfield Symphony Orchestra’s 1924 instrumental cover of “Last Shot Got Him.” The original version of this song was by Eddie Morton in 1912, and is well worth checking out, because it is a cowboy-themed song.

June 20, 2021 The Rollfast Ramblers at Devil’s Backbone Tavern

If you like western swing and classic country, then Texas is one of the best places to look. Usually, when country sites refer to the “Texas/Red Dirt Scene,” they’re referring to the sorts of modern acts that are regularly featured on Texas Regional Radio, but there are pockets of more traditional acts here in the Lone Star State. When I say “traditional,” I mean acts who really dig into the thirties and forties and in some cases much earlier.

The Rollfast Ramblers are one such act. One bit that caught my attention is that they use a six-string banjo, as that’s something you don’t see in many western swing bands. Although they’re firmly rooted in tradition, they also write their own original songs, which fit right in. The fiddle player Alexa Dee mentioned that her grandmother was a songwriter who sold songs to Acuff-Rose.

The Devil’s Backbone Tavern has a rich history, and they pull in a lot of quality acts. One particularly welcome addition since my last visit a couple of years ago is air conditioning. That might sound trivial, but it makes a whole lot of difference when you’re there in the afternoon.

June 16, 2021 Buck Wild Instruments

Growing up in the seventies and eighties, I thought of Buck Owens as “that guy on Hee Haw.” Of course, there’s a whole lot more to his career than Hee Haw or even his big hits that helped define the Bakersfield Sound. After all, Buck Owens was the guy who went to Japan and did the Tokyo Polka. In the late sixties into the early seventies, Buck Owens incorporated a wide variety of instruments, some of which aren’t all that common in country music. The Praguefrank Buck Owens discography has a lot of the details.

In 1970 and 1971, the Bakersfield Brass released albums of country songs with brass instruments. The second album earned a Grammy nomination for country instrumental album. The Bakersfield Brass was essentially Buck’s version of Danny Davis’ Nashville Brass. In addition to their own two albums, the Bakersfield Brass showed up on some of Buck’s other work, like his 1972 album “Live At The Nugget.” Also in 1972, the Bakersfield Brass version of “Sally Was a Good Ole Girl” was among the songs that made the trip on the Apollo 16. Episode #178 of the Buck Owens Ranch Show featured the Bakersfield Brass, and it’s available on YouTube. Don Markham of the Bakersfield Brass joined Merle Haggard’s band in 1974, and was a very important part of Merle’s sound.

I’ve mentioned before that Buck Owens was the first country star to purchase a Moog synthesizer, and that Jeff Haskell released a full album of Moog covers of Buck Owens songs called “Switched On Buck.” As the above discography shows, Jeff Haskell and the Moog showed up on Buck Owens’ own discography a little, though I’ve yet to hear any particularly prominent examples other than the “Switched On Buck” album itself.

The tambourine made its way into Buck Owens recordings in 1967, and you can see a couple of tambourines in use on episode 162 of the Buck Owens Ranch Show, which is on YouTube. Although the tambourine is an ancient instrument with thousands of years of history, it wasn’t used a whole lot in country music. The Byrds had the huge hit “Mr. Tambourine Man” in 1965, and after that, the tambourine became a lot more common in all types of music. Flatt and Scruggs covered the song and had some tambourine in 1967, so there’s a prominent bluegrass example. In 1902, Arthur Collins recorded the song “The Man Who Plays The Tambourine,” and that’s the earliest reference to the instrument on a record, as far as I’m aware.

In 1968, Earl Poole Ball played the celeste on a few Christmas songs. Earl still plays regularly in Austin. Celeste has a “toy piano” sound, and especially shows up on Christmas songs and children’s songs, though there are also examples in different types of music.

Also in 1968, Earl Poole Ball played the electric harpsichord. “Who’s Gonna Mow Your Grass” was a big hit that had both the electric harpsichord and fuzz guitar.

In 1969, Jerry Wiggins played the bongos. There are some earlier examples in country music, but bongos are not particularly common in country music. A couple of prominent country bongo examples are Jean Shepard in 1964 with “He Plays The Bongo (I Play The Banjo)” and the 1961 Johnnie and Jack song “Uncle John’s Bongos.”

In 1970, notice the specifically credited “drumsticks on electric guitars.”

In 1972, Farfisa organ makes an appearance on “Made In Japan.” This was Buck Owens’ last number one as a solo artist. Does anyone know of any other country hits featuring the Farfisa ? Here’s Marty Stuart’s cover. In 2008, Brad Paisley featured Farfisa on a song.

Mellotron is credited in a 1974 session, so there’s yet another bit that doesn’t show up very often in country music. Mellotron has made a bit of a comeback in recent years thanks to “retro” producers like Dave Cobb.

Buck Owens’ catalog is much more varied than most realize, and there are probably even more items of interest from the Buck Owens Ranch Show, which aired 1966-1972.

June 15, 2021 Bud Isaacs (1928-2016)

Fretboard Journal interviewed Bud Isaacs in 2012, and that’s a good starting place. Long story short is that his pedal steel guitar on Webb Pierce’s 1954 mega-hit “Slowly” had a tremendous influence on Nashville country music, but he quickly moved on to the Ozark Jubilee. Bud Isaacs got $41 for his part on “Slowly,” according to the Fretboard Journal interview.

Bud Isaacs also released music as an artist: Best of Bud Isaacs. There’s an interesting variety of styles, from a polka to a cowboy conga to Hawaiian to South African.

The Ozark Jubilee Digitization Project uploaded a segment of the Ozark Jubilee from April 7th, 1956 yesterday that includes Bud Isaacs playing “Boing!” Introduced as a pinball machine song, it’s an instrumental featuring steel guitar and Jew’s Harp, though only the steel guitar and a pinball machine are shown.

In general, instrumental albums were quite popular in the fifties. A lot of the top musicians put out their own records, but instrumentals have fallen out of favor to such a degree that you don’t hear them much even on the “oldies” channels. The last instrumental country number one was Buck Owens’ “Buckaroo” in 1965, and it’s the one you’re most likely to hear on a classic country station.

From 1970-2011, there was a Grammy award category for Country Instrumental Performance, so that’s a good place to look for “modern country instrumentals.” Even these fairly recent examples of country instrumentals rarely get played or promoted today, so if you’re looking for something different, take a listen.

June 12, 2021 Texas Rockabilly

Let’s kick things off with an article about the history of rockabilly music from Teach Rock.

Rock music “evolved” to something far away from early rock and roll and rockabilly, while country music absorbed a good bit of it. Now, you’re probably more likely to find rock and roll alongside country than with modern rock music. See Ameripolitan as a prime example.

Modern rockabilly events like Viva Las Vegas, Nashville Boogie, and Ameripolitan often incorporate other “50s vintage” items like classic automobiles and fashion.

In Texas, rockabilly acts play the same venues as country acts. Look at the calendar at Gruene Hall, for instance. Linda Gail Lewis plays there tomorrow, Lance Lipinsky the next day, Two Tons of Steel the next day, and The Georges the day after that. All are billed as rockabilly. I’ve seen all of these acts more than once.

Linda Gail Lewis is based in Austin and plays a similar style of music to her big brother. She has spent a lot of time in Europe. Her daughter Annie Marie & Annie’s husband Danny B Harvey often perform with her, but they are also very accomplished rockabilly artists themselves.

Lance Lipinsky is originally from Wimberley, Texas and he still plays often in central Texas. A few years ago, the highly energetic piano player won an Ameripolitan award, and he’s probably best known for portraying Jerry Lee Lewis all over the country and internationally.

Two Tons of Steel has done rockabilly and Texas country since 1990. This San Antonio act is especially well known for its residency at Gruene Hall. Their “Two Ton Tuesday” summer series has been a very popular attraction at Gruene since 1995 and they’re still going. They’ve performed at the Grand Ole Opry, won an Ameripolitan award, toured internationally, and have appeared in an IMAX film.

On Thursday night, The Georges were part of the 35th annual San Marcos Summer In The Park concert series. I had seen them at Gruene Hall three or four years ago, so it was good to see them again. I saw both Two Tons and Lance Lipinsky at Summer in The Park a couple of years ago. The Georges have had a residency at Gruene Hall since 2010, and two members of the four-man group used to be in Two Tons. Their music doesn’t appear to be on streaming services, but they do have albums. The lead singer can sing in Spanish, so he’ll throw in a bit of Freddy Fender, too.

This is just a small sample of the many rockabilly acts who are very much a part of the Texas music landscape. Another good place to look is the Devil’s Backbone Tavern for events like “Barrelhouse Tuesdays.” On July 13th, they have Earl Poole Ball and Linda Gail Lewis on “dueling pianos.”

The Bopflix YouTube channel has a whole lot of rockabilly material, and El Toro Records also has a good bit (plus El Toro also represents the traditional country group Country Side of Harmonica Sam).