Saturday, November 7, 2009

Mac and Sleepy; Part 2


On the left you can see the cover of the 1939 Drifting Pioneers song folio. Sleepy was kind enough to give me a copy.

Featured are the Drifting Pioneers with their coonskin caps. From left to right: Walt Brown (mandolin); Merle Travis (guitar); Sleepy Marlin (fiddle) and Bill Brown (bass).

Merle left the Pioneers in spring of 1937 to join Mac's Georgia Wildcats. Then in the summer of 1937 he rejoined the Pioneers.

Sleepy and Mac crossed paths many times and he eventually ended up playing for Mac in the late 1940s. It didn't last long because Mac, a lifetime drinker, was hitting the bottle hard and Sleepy couldn't get along with him.

Sleepy did relate a story (second hand) about Mac and Natchee. Mac and Natchee were rivals in a series of fiddle competitions sponsored by Larry Sunbrock, even though the contestants were paid a flat fee they still tried to win the audience vote and the competition by fiddling their best.

According to Sleepy, Mac decided he would play a trick on Natchee and put soap on Natchee's bow hair before the big final. Of course Natchee couldn't make much sound with soap on his bow and confronted Mac who was never afraid of a fight. Sleepy said Mac who was only 5' 7" and weighted about 155 pound was no match in a fist fight with the 6' 2" indian. Sleepy said Mac took a beating.

Then in the late 1940s Sleepy started playing the state competition at the Kentucky fair held every year in Louisville. At the time Mac was playing with his big swing band at Howell's Furniture Store while Sleepy started his own band, The Wagoneers, then joined Randy Atcher's band on WHAS and was featured on the Hayloft Hoedown TV show.

Sleepy won the contest at least two times when Mac entered. According to Sleepy, "I beat him one year playing Bile Dem Cabbage Down , which was his contest song. Mac didn't like that much."

Sleepy played on WHAS in Louisville from around 1950 until 1962 on Randy's hit TV show. More on Sleepy later.


Friday, November 6, 2009

Mac and Sleepy: Part 1


I just had lunch with Sleepy Marlin (photo on left), his son Jace, and the fiddle player in my bluegrass band Linda Starks. Sleepy was born in 1915 and was active in Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky in his professional career which began around 1932.

He also played with Merle Travis in their Drifting Pioneers Band which formed in early 1937. They were in Evansville, Indiana when Merle got word via a telegram that Clayton McMichen wanted him to play guitar for the Georgia Wildcats.

The Pioneers didn't want to keep Merle from his chance with a big-time band so Merle headed out in the Spring of 1937, during the late stages of the Flood of 1937, to play with McMichen. Merle didn't stay long with McMichen returning to The Drifting Pioneers in July 1937. Travis would play with Sleepy until 1942 when World War II broke up the band.

Sleepy was one of the premiere contest fiddlers in the nation for many years. He beat McMichen several years at the Kentucky state competition in Louisville the 1950s. He also played with Mac for about 6 months.

Sleepy is in good shape and his sons now carry on the tradition in several bands including "The Marlins," a nationally known cover band and his son Jack's band "The Marlinaires." I'm planning to do an article on him for the Old-Time Herald.

More on Sleepy to come,