Friday, October 16, 2009

Mac and The Skillet Lickers- Part 2


This is the second installment of Mac and The Skillet Lickers. If you listen to Clayton in his 1959 interview with Bob Pinson and Fred Hoeptner, McMichen essentially viewed the Skillet Lickers as his band. This is perfectly understandable- Riley Puckett was a member his Hometown Band, Fate Norris played with Mac's Lick the Skillet Band, Bert Layne was Mac's brother-in-law and played in many of Mac's bands. Only Gid Tanner was not part of Mac's bands.

So the Skillet Lickers was Mac's band with Gid Tanner added. When the band was called Gid Tanner and His Skillet Lickers by Frank Walker, I'm sure Mac hated it. The listening public figured that fiddler Gid Tanner was the lead fiddler and leader of the group. Riley Puckett's name was tacked on to make it: Gid Tanner and his Skillet Lickers with Riley Puckett. Even Riley became an afterthought and Gid Tanner was the name associated with the group. Mac considered Gid a "fair country comedian" but not much of a fiddler.

On April 17, 1926 Gid Tanner and his Skillet Lickers cut their classic first eight sides: “Hand Me Down My Walking Cane,” “Bully Of The Town,” “Pass Around the Bottle,” “Alabama Jubilee,” “Watermelon on the Vine,” “Don’t You Hear Jerusalem Moan,” “Ya Gotta Quit Kickin’ My Dog Around” and “Turkey in The Straw.” Their first single, “Bully of the Town,” backed by “Pass Around the Bottle,” was a huge hit, selling over 200,000 units and causing the Skillet Lickers to eclipse Charlie Poole and his North Carolina Ramblers as Columbia’s hottest Country artists. Other songs from that session, "Soldier's Joy" and “Turkey in the Straw,” sold well and “Watermelon on the Vine” became another hit.

The Skillet Lickers were one of the few groups with three fiddlers. Usually Mac and Gid would play the melody and Bert Layne a lower harmony part. Gid would sometimes play a high harmony part and sing in falsetto. Even though Tanner was regarded as an accomplished old-time fiddler, McMichen was more versatile, played louder, and was more dynamic. According Clayton from Clayton McMichen Talking: "I could play louder than the rest of 'em. I played the old man's fiddle. They brought it over from Italy- Antigino Fierini made in Bologna, Italy, in 1723...played it on all them Skillet Lickers records." [Clayton's father, Mitchell was a trained violinst and fiddler, who played Viennesse waltzes as well as standard fiddle repertoire]

When Layne dropped out in 1928, Frank Walker wanted to add another fiddle to match their early sound so they stopped the recording session until Mac located Lowe Stokes. In the new Skillet Licker line-up Lowe played lead and Mac high harmony while Gid doubled or played another part. Riley Puckett was the lead singer but also shared some of the vocals with Tanner. Gid, the clown of the group, sometimes added a high falsetto over Riley’s vocal lead.

Richard Nevins, who wrote about the Skillet Lickers in 1973 when he wrote the song notes for the County Records reissues, credits Stokes for Mac's new longbow style. He says the addition of Stokes "who employed the finest gliding bow strokes" makes the last Skillet Licker sessions the best.

When Bert Layne recorded with the Lickers and Stokes was in the line-up, the trio of fiddles consisted of Stokes (lead); Mac (high harmony) and Bert Layne (Low harmony). Fate Norris wasn't present and Gid Tanner filled in on the banjo. The three fiddlers used organized harmony part plus their bow strokes were in the same direction, making this some of the finest fiddle music in early country music.

More to come,


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