Sunday, October 18, 2009

Mac And Slim- To the Windy City


In our last segment the Slim and Mac where in NYC cutting records Odie McWinders and Bob Miller as the Georgia Wildcats.

After an exciting stay in NJ and NY Slim and Mac ended up in Louisville and WHAS in the fall of 1932. "Then in October Mac went to WLS Chicago with the idea that he would bring us up in the spring after he got established," said Bryant. "We stayed behind still playing as the Georgia Wildcats."

In 1933 WLS (World's Largest store), known as The National Barn Dance, broadcast from the large stage of the Eighth St. Theater in Chicago. Sears moved to the Eighth St. Theater in 1932 so they could do the popular show "live" for paying customers. They had a 50,000 watt clear channel station that could broadcast from coast to coast and be heard in Canada.

WLS featured a large number of groups including Hoosier Sod Busters, Prairie Ramblers with Patsy Montana, and Girls of the Golden West. Gene Autry, who first met Mac in New York was there and making a name for himself. By the spring of 1933 McMichen had brought Bert Layne, Jack Dunnigan and Slim Bryant to Chicago where they performed as the Georgia Wildcats.

[See photo above (click to enlarge) from left to right Bert Layne, Clayton McMichen, Jack Dunnigan, and Slim Bryant)]

The Wildcats formed about the time John Dillinger was on his bank-robbing spree in May 1933. Chicago was and exciting town and WLS was one of the top country radio stations on the planet.

Bill and Charlie Monroe were hired by WLS as part of a dance troupe. In the early 1930s Bill was working in East Chicago cleaning 55 gallon oil drums in a dirty Sinclair "barrell house." Bill lived with his two brothers and two sisters when thye were discovered in 1932 by Tom Owen of WLS who hasd set up a series of dance exhibitions on the Saturday night show. So Birch, Charlie, Bill and a friend, Larry Moore became part of the WLS dance troupe. Bill still worked his Sinclair job but his contact with the performers at WLS changed his life.

Bill Monroe: "Years ago people played a little on the mandolin just to fill-in or be playing. But to have heard really good fiddle players back in the old days- Clayton McMichen and people like that- and to really get on a mandolin and play the old-time notes that's in a fiddle number, has really helped to create an original style on the mandolin."

Gene Autry and Bill Monroe weren't the only future stars impressed with McMichen. A young guitar player at WLS named Lester Polfuss (Rubarb Red AKA the late great Les Paul) kept hanging around watching Slim play guitar. In a 1959 interview Mac said, "Les Paul spent more time in the rehearsal room with Slim than Slim did rehearsing with the Georgia Wildcats." Les has acknowledged Slim as a major influence on his guitar playing.

More to come,


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