Saturday, October 31, 2009

Mac and Curly: Curly Fox


Hi,

On the left is a photo of Curly Fox. Curly was a fiddler who crossed paths with Mac many times. Fox along with his wife, Texas Ruby, became Country Music stars in the late 1930s and 1940s from their appearances on the Grand Ole Opry.

Fox was first inspired to become a professional performer when the Skillet Lickers came to Graysville TN for a road show. Curly, who played fiddle and guitar, was used by Mac and Bert to fill in on guitar for Riley Puckett.

Larry Sunbrock used Curly to play in his staged fiddle contests in the mid 1930s against Natchee the Indian and sometimes against Mac or both. [see last blog]

Curly was a fiddler strongly influenced by Mac and Lowe Stokes. Bert Layne, who was a better teacher, also helped Curly learn new tunes. Here are two bios on the early years:

Arnim Fox grew up in the East Tennessee community of Graysville learning to cut hair and play fiddle from his father the town barber. He also learned some fiddle techniques from James McCarroll of the Roane County Ramblers, one of the truly great fiddlers of the roaring 20’s. Fox served something of an apprenticeship with McCarroll’s band. Curly also got an early taste of professionalism by joining an “Indian” medicine show run by a “Chief White Owl” with whom young Arnim journeyed as far north as Indiana.

According to one familiar story, the youth yearned for a professional career in music from the time Gid Tanner’s Skillet Lickers came through Graysville playing a show and stopped in the elder Fox’s barbershop. Not long afterward, Curly set out for WSB Atlanta, where he joined Claude Davis and the Carolina Tar Heels (not the Victor recording act), acquired the nickname “Curly” and later started his own band called the Tennessee Firecrackers.

About 1934, the Shelton Brothers came to Atlanta and Curly joined forces with them, going to WWL New Orleans. He remained with the Sheltons long enough to do a pair of Decca sessions in 1935 and 1936, including six sides recorded under his own name. Leaving the Sheltons in 1936, Curly traveled for a while with promoter Larry Sunbrock, who staged a series of fiddling contests featuring Curly, Natchee the Indian (aka Lester Vernon Storer), and other noted fiddlers. At the Texas centennial celebration in 1937, Curly met the husky-voiced, cowgirl singer known as Miss Texas Ruby.

The following biography was used when Texas Ruby and husband Curly Fox appeared onstage as Grand Ole Opry guests on November 8, 1947.

Arnim Leroy "Curly" Fox grew up in the hill country of southeast Tennessee, where he worked at everything from saw mill to genson gathering. The evenings were spent making music at the barber shop. Besides learning to play the guitar and fiddle, Curly also got to be right handy with the razor and shears as an apprenticed barber. He followed the trade at various times in the following years, since making a living sawing a fiddle was a tough row to hoe in those days. On rare occasions, traveling string bands would come through the little town, pick and sing a few tunes, and pass around the hat to get a few nickels for gas and eats. Of course, they could always bunk up with the country folks who were glad to have them stay and play a few more tunes.

One evening while Curly and his dad were having one of their regular sessions of tune picking and singing, an old T-model Ford thundered up and came to an abrupt halt in front of the barber shop. Emerging from the steam and dust stirred up by the spitting Tin Lizzie were several dusty but otherwise well-dressed men carrying some of the finest looking banjos, guitars, and fiddles the Foxes had ever laid eyes on.

The men came into the shop flashing those personality smiles and talking freely. They proceeded to wipe the dust from their instruments, all the while insisting that Curly and his dad fiddle a tune or two. This they did without delay, and right proudly, too, since they were called the very best by the natives. Both Curly and his dad played either fiddle or guitar. So, since the old man happened to have the fiddle, he put if up against his chest and flogged a couple of hoe downs, squeaking loud and long in the smoke-filled room. At the end of the self-styled rendition, Curly insisted that the strangers play one. So, they proceeded to play with skill and tone, the likes of which Curly and his dad had never heard before.

The newcomers turned out to be one of the greatest string bands of all times, "The Skillet Lickers," famous for their recordings and later for their radio shows. Watching these professional music makers gave Curly food for thought. Immediately, he stopped holding the fiddle against his stomach as he sat cross-legged, and began holding it under his chin and standing erect. In the years that followed, through hours of practicing, he developed a double stop style of noting and unique bow movement. These have been copied by many and mastered by very few. Today, Curly Fox is without doubt one of the nation's most colorful fiddlers and versatile entertainers.

Mac: More on Sunbrock and Natchee


Hi,

I've found a bit more about notorious promoter Larry Sunbrock and Natchee the Indian.

On the left is a photo (click to enlarge) of the Skillet Lickers in 1931 when they appeared on WCKY Covington. This was the group Larry Sunbrock promoted and managed that led him into music/event promotion.
From left to right: Bert Layne, Riley Puckett, Clayton McMichen and Slim Bryant.

Even though the Skillet Lickers had broken up (Gid Tanner and McMichen never played after the last 1931 Columbia session), for promotion purposes the Skillet Licker name was used on WCKY on radio and by Larry Sunbrock for road shows. After all, Bert, Mac, and Riley were three former members. The Skillet Licker name was used again for the 1934 Bluebird recordings even though Mac didn't play.

As I said in my earlier blog Natchee the Indian's real name was Lester Vernon Storer. Storer was a trick fiddler that played "arranged" fiddle competitions against Clayton McMichen, Curly Fox and other fiddlers. Larry Sunbrock was the promoter for the arranged contests and the first prize was awarded based on audience approval. Sunbrock would place his hand over the head of each finalist and whoever received the loudest response won. Whether they won or lost the fiddlers received a flat fee from Sunbrock.

The contests, held in the 1930s, were promoted on radio and drew huge crowds. Merle Travis reported a crowd of around 5,000 at one contest between Mac and Natchee. Larry Sunbrock reported that in St. Louis they drew 24,000 people in one day.

Curly Fox said Natchee the Indian had a "capitivating style but he only knew ten tunes." Not much is known about Natchee (Lester Storer). Records indicate that Lester V. Storer died Dec. 21, 1970 in Santa Clara. What he was doing or how he ended up in California I don't know.

In the 1930 census Lester V. Storer's home was Springfield, Clark County, Ohio. He was 16 and his birth year was 1913 or 1914. He lived with his mother Anna L. who was 61 (born about 1869) and his older brother John E. Storer who was 19. At the time Lester was a laborer in pump shop. His father, George V. Storer must have died by 1930 or left the household.

In the 1920 census his name is listed as Lester T Stoves [Lester V Storer]. The middle intial should be a V and the last name was illegible. They lived in Bratton, Adams County, Ohio. Lester was 6 years old and his brother John was 10. His father, George V. was 46 and his mother, Anna L. was 50. Both parents were born in Ohio. A Charles E, Messinger, who was 16, lived with the family.

Clearly Sunbrock, who reported that Natchee (Storer) was 3/4 Apache, was doing this as a publicity stunt. In 1947 Nachee was still being promoted by Sunbrock. [See: Billboard‎ Magazine - Jan 25, 1947 - v. 59, no. 4] Banjo Murphy teamed with Nacthee and his Arizona Indians, a show being managed by Larry Sunbrock. They traveled from coast to coast, putting on fiddle, yodel, banjo and singing contests. Members included Cowboy Copas and Red Herron.

Natchee drifted around after the 1940s and little is known about him. He reportedly lived in Chicago in the 1950s and turned up in Kentucky- dirty, broke and hungry- at Bert Layne's house [Juanita Mcmichen Lynch]. According to John Harrod, Natchee had a son that lived in California and he moved out there. He died there in 1970. Anyone that has more info let me know.

Lawrence Henry Sunbrock AKA Larry Sunbrock was born around 1912. Records show Larry divorced his wife Georgia Sunbrock in 1952 in Orange County. Sunbrock, who was based in Orlando Florida promoted rodeo shows, circus shows, rock concerts, sporting events, race track events, country concerts, country jamborees and fiddle contests.

I have a copy of Robert Shelton's 1966 The Country Music Story which has one of the few printed reports from Sunbrock about his role in promoting country events on page 221:

One of the old-timers in country music promotion is Larry Sunbrock, now based in Orlando, Florida. He wrote me:

"In 1930, I was running, at eighteen, The Metropolitan Theater in Cincinnati and starving during the Great Depression, taking in about $20 a night at the movies. Then I heard of the skillet Lickers playing at WCKY [McMichen, Layne, Riley Puckett, this was in 1931] I booked them into the theater and grossed $400 a night for three nights. I took them on the road as manager and we played theaters, armories etc. for several years. In 1933 Natchee, the Indian (whom I named) played a fiddlers' contest against Clayton McMichen and Natchee won. I lined them up again in Louisville, Nashville, Cincinatti, Atlanta and elsewhere and made a barrel of money and friends. In St. Louis I had 24,000 people turn out for two shows in one day of a band, fiddlers' and yodelers' contest.

From such sucesses I started barn dances all over the midwest, but never had enough sense to capitalize on it. In 1935 Cowboy Copas joined me and Natchee and we then used Curly Fox as a fiddling champion against all comers.

I was the first to take hillbilly music out of the barns and put it in auditoriums. Oscar Davis and Joe Franks all followed me."

It was Sunbrock's promoting skills that led to Mac, Bert and Slim landing a better paying position at WLW in Cincinnati. For a short time there were two Skillet Licker bands playing at rival radio stations- Mac, Bert and Slim (with Johnny Barfield) playing at WLW and Riley and Gid Tanner playing at WCKY.

Sunbrock went on to promote many different events. He seemed to become entangled in legal disputes wherever he went.

Billboard Magazine Dec. 13, 1947: Larry Sunbrock was brought up for trial in Special Sessions Tuesday in a caase stemming from the short-lived Big Top Circus he promoted here (Orlando) in 1943. [Sunbrock filed bankruptcy papers to avoid paying the debts he incurred. After negotiations he was ordered to pay $10,000]

Here's a report from an Orlando Paper dated Sept 1959 (perhaps date should be Sept 1948)

[[• An Attorney representing Lawrence H. Sunbrock said there was “no Florida law on which to base a misleading advertising charge” on the Orlando promoter.

The claim was made by attorney Harry H. Martin in motions filed in Criminal Court to quash two charges brought against the 48-year-old Sunbrock by the Duval County Solicitor’s Office.
The charges against Sunbrock alleged that on the past Dec. 30 he caused to be published in local newspapers advertisement of the public performance of a rodeo which contained “untrue, deceptive and misleading assertions.”

Sunbrock was arrested the night of Dec. 31 shortly before his widely advertised “national championship rodeo” was slated to open a four-night run with three afternoon performances at the Gator Bowl (now Municipal Stadium).

Local authorities did not allow Sunbrock to present the show whose performers were to include Dennis Weaver, who played “Chester,” Marshal Dillon’s sidekick, on the television series “Gunsmoke.”

Martin’s motions to quash included a ground that the charges were not founded on any Florida criminal law. In other words, he explained, there was no Florida statute covering the situation alleged in Sunbrock’s case by the County Solicitor. Martin also said the charges written by the solicitor failed to allege what claims in the newspaper advertisement were false. ]]

I'm currently trying to gather more info on Larry Sunbrock. I know he owned some property in the Orlando area (Rodeo Ranch). According to Billboard‎ Magazine - Aug 18, 1956 - "Off the road for the first time in 25 years, Larry Sunbrock, veteran rodeo and thrill show owner, is now operating two speedways in Florida."

If anyone has info on Sunbrock please email me.

Richard

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Mac and Slim: Decca 1937


Hi,

On the left is copy of a Decca 78 recorded by Clayton McMichen in 1939 at the last Decca session. This medley of fiddle tunes is one of six fiddle tune medleys (18 tunes) all done at the last session.

In 1937 McMichen landed a recording contract with Decca. On July 27, 1937 The Wildcats headed for New York where they recorded Farewell Blues; In The Pines; Chicken Don’t Roost Too High; I Want My Rib; Georgiana Moon; Bile Dem Cabbage Down; Sweet Bunch Of Daisies; Frankie and Johnny; Under The Old Kentucky Moon; and Yum Yum Blues.

According to Merle Travis and Charles Wolfe he was present at the recording session. Merle said that his first recording session was playing guitar on McMichen’s recording of “Farewell Blues.” According to Rich Kienzle article on Slim Bryant: Slim, Loppy and Kenny Newton reunited with Mac that summer. Gary Cinell and also Tony Russell do not list Travis as being part of the session.

In my last interview I told Slim the songs on the session he said, "I played on all them." When I asked Slim about Merle he said, "Merle wasn't there." [Juanita confirms: She was with Mary Jane (Slim's wife) who was sick with euremic poisoning, while Mac and Slim were in NYC recording.]

Several songs from this session have become old-time standards. McMichen's "Georgiana Moon" is a fiddle standard today. According to Mac: "It was one of the most beautiful tunes I ever wrote in my life. We were going to get rich off it- huh! We didn't sell enough to pay for the first pressing. I got about 75-80 cents for writing it."

Mac and Slim also wrote lyrics for the tune and included them in their 1934 songbook. I also used Georgiana Moon as of the melodies I selected to arrange and record for my Mel Bay book, "American Fiddle Tunes for Acoustic Guitar." The book features fingerstyle arrangements of fiddle tunes.

More to come,

Richard

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Mac and Slim Split- The Grand Ole Opry 1936

Hi,

On the left you can see the performers on the 1936 Grand Ole Opry (click to enlarge). I'm not positive but it look like Mac is on the front row (Third from far right) seated with his fiddle.

Slim Byant and McMichen briefly parted ways in fall of 1936. With Mac's blessing he took Loppy, Jack Dunigan, Kenny Wallace, and another fiddler and dubbed themselves Slim, Jack and the Gang. Slim went back in St. Louis and appered on KWK radio.

According to Slim the group went briefly back to Louisville, then in early '37, Slim's band returned to Pittsburgh and KDKA. In Pittsburgh they teamed up with singer/fiddler Kenny Newton then returned to Louisville during the summer.

Meanwhile McMichen reorganized the Wildcats with bassist Bucky Yates, a highly talented young fiddler from Kokomo, Indiana named Carl Cotner and guitarist Blackie Case. By the fall of 1936 McMichen and his new Wildcat line-up which was now, Carl Cotner, Red Penn, Joe Bowers, Blackie Case were in Nashville where they landed a spot on the Grand Ole Opry.

"The Opry didn't pay much," said Juanita McMichen Lynch, "so they had to do road shows and hurry back to the Opry to play on radio. It wasn't long before Daddy gave up on it- he was losing money playing there."

Juanita remembers moving to Nashville and going to school there in the fall. The Wildcats were headquartered in Nashville until the Spring of 1937 when the Ohio River flooded. In 1937 a young guitarist named Merle Travis joined the group. They moved to Covington, KY across the river fron Cincinnati where they appeared on WLW. [See: earlier blogs on Merle Travis]

More to come,

Richard

Eight More Miles To Louisville- Mac and Slim

Hi,

By 1934 Mac and Slim were heading back to Louisville:






Eight more miles and Louisville will come into my view
Eight more miles on this old road and I'll never more be blue
I knew some day that I'd come back, I knew it from the start
Eight more miles to Louisville, the home town of my heart.

The Georgia Wildcats moved for the second time to Louisville in 1934, which would eventually become McMichen's home base, and were featured on WHAS. They acquired a new stand-up bass player, Slim's younger brother Raymond "Loppy" Bryant.

"Mac went on a vacation back to Atlanta," said Slim Bryant. "When he came back he brought Loppy with him. I ended up teaching him bass and he took right to it."

When the Skillet Lickers regrouped in 1934 at the request of the Bluebird label who were trying to record all the Country stars of the 1920s, McMichen did not participate- he was busy playing with the Georgia Wildcats on WHAS. The 1934 line-up of Georgia Wildcats included McMichen and Slim Bryant, Jack Dunnigan guitar and singer, Pat Berryman on banjo, violin, and mandolin and Loppy Bryant on bass. Foster Brooks was the announcer, sometimes Dave Durham played Sax and trumpet.

In 1934 Mac and Slim published their songbook, Clayton McMichen and his Georgia Wildcats with Hoyt 'Slim' Bryant Folio of Songs. The 20 songs include two instrumentals, two songs they called traditional country songs like "Careless Love" and "Johnson's Mule" (really Thompson's Mule by Westendorff) and the rest they claim to be original but clearly "In The Pines" and "Riding On A Humpbacked Mule" should be considered traditional.

Their "In The Pines" version opens with the traditional chorus but uses different verses so it's clearly a rewrite. Their two biggest hits are included: Slim's "Mother of My Heart' and Mac's "Peach Pickin' Time." The songbook includes a lyric arrangement of Mac's great fiddle tune "Georgiana Moon" titled "Dreamy Georgianna Moon," a song I've never heard sung on a record.

In 1935 The Georgia Wildcats did a short stint at KMOX in St. Louis. "We performed the Uncle Dick Slack Show from a furniture store," recalled Slim. The experience paved the way for McMichen's later shows at Howell's Furniture in Louisville.

Alabamian promoter Joe Frank was Gene Autry's manager at WLS Chicago where McMichen and his Wildcats played for about a year until the fall of 1933. Frank moved to Louisville in early 1935. Joe lived at 3rd and St. Catherine and McMichen lived around the corner. Frank brought Gene Autry to Louisville on March 18, 1935 while they waited for Gene's first western movie in Hollywood to begin. Autry was in Louisville for a five weeks then left for Hollywood.

Pee Wee King, who later penned the immortal Tennessee Waltz, played accordion for Gene Autry briefly then followed Frank to Louisville after Joe organized a band and called King down to play. King joined The Log Cabin Boys and they played on WHAS along with McMichen's Georgia Wildcats.

WHAS also featured The Callahan Brothers; Bob Atcher and the Atcher family; Cousin Emma; Asher Sizemore and Little Jimmy. Dale Evans was even there in 1935.

"When Mac lived in Louisville, he owned the town," said Pee Wee. "Everybody loved him and his music." According to King, McMichen's shows on WHAS used slapstick comedy, animal noises and hee-haws between musical numbers.

More to come,

Richard

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Mac and Slim- The Windy City Part 2; Back to NY

Hi,

Here's one for the Guinness Book of Records: First live performance from an airplane!

Yes, Mac and Slim were there. Here's the promo photo for the event from WLS. Mac and Slim are in their checkered shirts Slim is seated and Mac is behind him. Jack Dunnigan is on right with guitar. Also on the flight was future country star Red Foley (standing with guitar on left).

On opening night of the Chicago World's Fair in 1933, Clayton McMichen and his Georgia Wildcats broadcast a segment of the WLS "Barn Dance" from an airplane circling Chicago. A Century of Progress International Exposition was the name of a World's Fair held in Chicago, Illinois from 1933 to 1934 to celebrate the city's centennial which opened on May 27, 1933.

"We were the first musical group to play from an airplane," explained Slim. "We played and so did Red Foley. It was broadcast down to the stage on the Eighth Street Theater."

"In the Fall of 1933," said Bryant, "the fairs were closing down and the bookings at WLS had dried up so we (Georgia Wildcats) headed for NY landing a job at WGY in Schenectady. Jack Dunnigan and I think Bert Layne stayed on in Chicago for a while, I was offered a job at WLS but I went to NY with Mac."

In 1926, WGY became an early affiliate of the NBC Red Network, and after the split of the sister NBC Blue network into today's ABC Radio, WGY remained with NBC radio until it folded in 1989.

"We stayed at WGY through the winter and then we went to the Village Barn in NY," said Slim. "We were guests a few times on what they called the 'Yankee' radio network (WMCA)." "Dick Powell was the MC in NYC," remembered Juanita, "and Alice Faye was a showgirl trying to make it. Dad said NY was was too tough with a family; cost too much to live."

The Georgia Wildcats headed back south; to the city that would eventually become their home: Louisville.

More to come,

Richard

Mac And Slim- To the Windy City



Hi,

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,

Richard

Mac and Slim and Jimmie- Part 2 In The Big Apple

Hi,

On the left is a photo of The Singing Brakeman, Jimmie Rodgers. Here's a guy dying of tuberculosis and he's smiling, thumbs up. Rodgers was a good singer, and yodeler. Whatever talent Rodgers lacked as a musician could be overlooked because of his courage.

In 1932 and for the second time in his career, Clayton McMichen was working for Jimmie Rodgers. The biggest opportunity for Mac and Slim Byrant was Jimmie wanted to record some of their songs.

"I got a royalty check last week," said Slim Bryant. "Every Mother's Day the country stations play it. It's been recorded by 178 different artists and the first was Jimmie Rodgers."

The song Slim wrote that Rodgers recorded was "Mother Queen of My Heart." It became Slim's biggest hit and Mac's song "Peach Pickin' Time in Georgia" was also recorded by Rodgers in that session and became Mac's biggest hit.

Here are the stats for the Victor sessions in Camden NJ: Aug. 10, 1932 Jimmie Rodgers recorded "In the Hills of Tennessee" (unissued) with Clayton McMichen fiddle, Dave Kanui- steel guitar; Oddie McWinders- banjo; Slim Byrant- guitar, George Howell- stand up bass; Recorded Aug 11: “Mother, the Queen of My Heart” (Victor 23721); “Rock All Our Babies to Sleep” (Victor 23721); “Whippin’ That Old T.B.” (Victor 23751); “No Hard Times” (Victor 23751). Recorded August 15: “Long Tall Mama Blues” (Victor 23766); “Peach-Pickin’ Time Down in Georgia” (Victor 23781); “Gambling Barroom Blues” (Victor 23766); “I’ve Only Loved Three Women” (Bluebird 6810)

McMichen had a short fiddle solo on Rodgers' version of St. James Infirmary, a rewrite Rodgers titled, "Gambling Barroom Blues." Mac also contributed two songs. The first one was recorded as “Prohibition Has Done Me Wrong” but not issued possibly because of copyright conflicts with Columbia. According to Juanita McMichen Lynch, Peer thought it was "too contoversial for the times." The master was put aside and then accidentally lost. A similar version was done later by Ernest Tubb. The second song Mac contributed was the popular “Peach Pickin’ Time Down In Georgia,” a song that was recorded a year earlier with Hugh Cross that McMichen copyrighted.

While in the New York area McMichen, Byrant and McWinders played a few vaudeville gigs and contacted Bob Miller, author of “Twenty-One Years” and sometime recording director with Columbia. Through Miller they were signed to record some twenty-four sides for Crown, an independent cut-rate label for Victor owned by Peer’s competitor, A & R man Eli Oberstein.

The sides for Crown include some great old-time songs. The Crown songs were: Georgia Wildcat Breakdown; Hog-Trough Reel; Wreck of the Old 97; Singing an Old Hymn; Way Down In Carolina; Back In Tennessee; Arkansas Traveler; Old Hen Cackled; Give The Fiddler A Dram; Ider Red; Blue Hills Of Virginia; Down The Ozark Trail; Counting Cross Ties; Log Cabin in The Lane; Where The Skies Are Always Blue; Bummin’ On The I.C. Line; Red Wing; All I’ve Got Is Gone; Down In Old Kentucky; Yum Yum Blues; Smoky Mountain Home; I Don’t Love Nobody; Old Joe Clark; When The Bloom Is On the Sage.

Peer set up another Rodgers session with another group of NY musicians. Because of Byrant’s innate ability to follow Rodgers, who played his own rhythm, Peer said of Bryant “he’s our regular guitar player.” Mac didn't play on the session.

About Byrant's last NY session with Rodgers on Aug. 29 he said, "We'd go over the songs for a while until Jimmie was ready. They were done in pop music style." The four songs produced were “In the Hills of Tennessee” (Victor 23736) written by Billy Hill; “Prairie Lullaby” (Victor 23781); “Miss the Mississippi and You” (Victor 23736); and “Sweet Mama Hurry Home (or I’ll Be Gone)” (Victor 23796). "Jimmie asked me and Mac to go to England on a tour," said Bryant, "but he was so sick the doctors wouldn't let him go. It was a shame I was looking forward to going. After Rodgers went back to Texas he send me a one penny postcard, thanking me. I still have that postcard."

More to come,

Richard

Mac and Slim and Jimmie- 1932

Hi,

On the left is a picture of Jimmie Rodgers, the Father of Country Music. Rodger became famous in 1928 with a series of hit songs- starting with his megahit, "T for Texas" also known as Blue Yodel Number 1. Jimmie was largely a blues oriented pop singer. He wrote or reworked blues and pop songs attaching his famous blues yodel as a fill at the end of the verses.

Rodgers was one of the few musicians still able to sell records in the Great Depression. By 1932 he was still one of the biggest stars in music and the biggest in country music. The problem was- he was dying of TB. Ralph Peer, who managed Rodgers and the Carter Family, tried to have Rodgers record regularly for Victor. Ralph had a deal with Victor- he received no salary for managing their 'country music' division, but instead got the royalties from record sales.

In the late 1920 Peer was receiving royalties of $250,000 a quarter which today translates to a figure around $60 million a year. Peer needed Rogers to do a session in the summer of 1932 so Rodgers called his good friend and pal Clayton McMichen to join him in Victor's Camden Yard studio located in a revamped church in New Jersey.

When Rodgers called Mac on the phone they briefly discussed some of the recording details. Mac wanted to bring the Georgia Wildcats but Jimmie didn't think Peer would pay for the whole band. Peer had already arranged for session players including banjoist Oddie McWinders. Since Mac had played had on Jimmie's 1929 winter tour Peer and Rodgers just wanted Mac to play the fiddle- not the band. Mac finally asked if he could bring Slim, his guitar player. Rodgers, who played guitar, but not well, was slated to play the guitar and sing.

Jimmie wrote to Mac: “Mr. Peer says he wonts [sic] me to do at least 10 numbers so if you have anything of your own be sure to bring it along because I'm pretty sure I can get several of your songs recorded.” Regarding Bryant, Rodgers wrote: “I will pay his expenses if he cares to come along with you and takes a chance on working with us.”

In August 1932 Clayton brought Bryant with him and they met Jimmie in Washington, DC. After being chauffeured to Victor studios in Camden, New Jersey, the men rehearsed with Oddie McWinders (banjo) Dave Kanui (steel guitar) and George Howell (string bass). They tried to record "In the Hills of Tennessee" but when the first session produced no suitable takes, Ralph Peer dismissed Kanui and Howell.

[Banjoist Oddie McWinders, whose real name was Odie Winders, was born in Todd County, KY on March 9, 1887 to Susie Bell Rager. Nothing is know of his father whose last name was Winders. Oddie was nationally recognized for his banjo picking and owned one of finest banjos. He also recorded the Crown sessions with Mac and Slim. He died shortly thereafter on Sept 24, 1933. One song in his repertoire was "Bound To Ride" which has become a bluegrass standard.

I have a copy of Jimmie's letter, dated July 27th, 1932 to Mac. Here's what Jimmie says about Odie: "I am planing to have a good banjo player to go with us. You may know him, his name is Oddie McWindows (sic). And boy can he play a banjo? I'll say he can. Mac, he plays a banjo old style and also plays all the popular stuff. I mean takes solos and plays leads. He beats any dam thing I ever heard of playing a banjo- baring no body... ]

Rodgers was so sick he could only play the guitar for short periods of time. When the pain from his TB got bad, Mac gave him shots of morphine. Even when he was feeling well Rodgers played his own rhythm on the guitar. Jimmie would leave out beats and add them whenever he felt like it much as the traditional bluesman of the day. Playing with him was not easy.

Slim just listened and whenever Rodgers changed chords Slim would change. Slim became so good at following Rodgers that Jimmie called Slim, "his guitar player." A month later when Mac and Slim were still in NYC recording a session for Crown Records, Peer called Slim to do another session with Jimmie, this time without Mac. Peer had lined-up some New York session players. Peer asked Slim if "he could keep up with these New York players?" Slim replied, " I can play with anyone."

More to come,

Richard

Mac and Slim: On the Road Again-Georgia Wildcats


Hi,

By May 1931 Slim Bryant had quit his electrician job in Atlanta. He was now a professional musician first briefly at WCKY in Covington, and then at WLW Cincinnati. McMichen had formed his Georgia Wildcat band with Slim (Guitar), Bert Layne (fiddle), Pat Berryman (banjo), and Johnny Barfield (Guitar). Bert Layne, Mac's brother-in-law didn't stay long in Cincinnati.

In the above picture taken in late 1931 or early 1932 at KDKA. The Georgia Wildcat line-up was (left to right) Pat Berryman, Clayton McMichen, Johnny Barfield and Slim Bryant.

By the fall of 1931 McMichen and Bryant were back in Atlanta making records. On Oct. 26, 1931, McMichen and his Georgia Wildcats with Slim Bryant and Bert Layne did a session for Columbia. The cut their jazzy western number "When the Bloom is On The Sage" and Slim's "Yum Yum Blues." Two days later they cut one of Mac's favorite fiddle compositions, "Wild Cat Rag" with a nice guitar solo by Slim and "Sweet Florene."

In between the Wildcat sessions, Mac (as Bob Nichols) cut 4 sides with Riley Puckett: "Devil's Dream," "Durang's Hornpipe," "Longest Train (In the Pines)," and "That's No Business Of Mine (Nobody's Business)." Possibly because of the economy, they were never issued.

One song Mac claimed he wrote and Slim as well, was "In The Pines." Slim and Juanita McMichen Lynch (Mac's daughter) are still getting royalties for the song. To be fair- they did a rewrite on the song, changing most of the lyrics. Mac regarded it as his and Slim's song. It was first released as "Grave In The Pines" done by Clayton as Bob Nichols, vocal with a simple guitar accompaniment (by Slim?), in 1930.

Surely Clayton knew of other versions existed before his "Grave in the Pines." Dock Walsh recorded "In The Pines" in 1926 for Columbia, hence Clayton's title. Somehow even Bill Monroe credits Clayton for the song even though Monroe doesn't use Clayton's lyrics. ["In the Pines/Longest Train", also known as "Black Girl" and "Where Did You Sleep Last Night?," is a traditional American folk song which dates back to at least the 1870s.]

Later in 1937 Mac recorded the song with his Georgia Wildcats as "In the Pines" and it appears in his 1934 songbook. For more info and lyrics: http://bluegrassmessengers.com.temp.realssl.com/in-the-pines--version-2-clayton-mcmichen.aspx

After the session in Atlanta and just before Christmas in 1931, the Wildcats we moved to Pittsburgh's KDKA, the first radio station in the country. After a brief stay at KDKA (see photo take above) the Wildcats played at Cleveland's WTAM in 1932 before getting the call from Jimmie Rodgers in the summer of 1932.

More to come,

Richard

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Mac and Slim: On the Road Again


Hi,

By 1931 the Great Depression had brought the record industry to its knees. People just didn't have money for records. They did listen to the radio, and the radio needed music- back then there was only live music. WSB, the Atlanta station, didn't pay their old-time performers. Mac's band, The Home Town Boys, would continue to play on WSB off and on until 1931. According Clayton from Clayton McMichen Talking: "We kept playing up there [WSB], goin' up there, and we got tired of playing for nothin'. We'd quit and then go back."

Slim and Mac decided to try their luck elsewhere. They headed for Cinncinati Ohio and WLW, a station that paid a salary to their performers. "We knew that there was money in radio so we started looking for work," explained Bryant. "In early 1931 McMichen, Bert Layne, a singer named Cox, and me went to WLW in Cincinnati. They didn't have a place for us right then because they had just signed Otto Gray and his Oklahoma band. So we went back across the Ohio River and auditioned at WCKY in Covington, KY."

WCKY was interested in hiring the band, if they could bring popular Skillet Licker singer Riley Puckett. Cox, who already had a good job in Atlanta, dropped out and Riley agreed to go. So a new band was formed, named "The Skillet Lickers" with three original members; Bert Layne (fiddle), Mac (Fiddle), Riley (guitar and vocals) and Slim Bryant (guitar). Junaita gave me an original silver point photo on the WCKY Skillet Lickers.

At WCKY The Skillet Lickers got a weekly salary and a percentage of the money they earned playing shows around town. The station owner had several theaters and they played any venues they could find. At one show in Cincinnati there was a line of people three blocks long waiting to get in. Word of the sold out show got back WLW Cincinnati management and they offered The Skillet Lickers an opportunity at WLW for more money and a better percentage of our receipts.

Because they had a contract with WCKY they hired a lawyer and Mac agreed to leave Riley Puckett at WCKY. Gid Tanner and Bill Helms came up to play with Riley and WCKY kept the Skillet Lickers on their station. Slim, Bert and Mac went on to WLW. Mac picked up banjoist Pat Berryman and guitarist Johnny Barfield for the WLW show.
According Mac from Clayton McMichen Talking: "Gid and Riley couldn't do what Clayton and Bert and Slim could do. We's on WLW and they's on WCKY. And oh we gave em a lickin'."

With two Skillet Licker groups playing on the radio Mac changed his band permanently to The Georgia Wildcats.

Mac and The Skillet Lickers- Part 5


Hi,

This is my last installment for now of Mac and The Skillet Lickers.

On the left you can see a photo of Slim Byrant who became Mac's guitarist for most of the 1930s. Here's a trivia question for you: When did Slim Byrant first play with the Skillet Lickers?

You can check some of the great articles on Slim by Rich Kienzle but you won't find the answer there. I actually found it out from Slim, himself.

The year was 1929 and Slim was invited by McMichen to do a road show with the Skillet Lickers. Slim had met Mac through Mac's uncle Elmer. Elmer and Slim cut one record for Okeh on March 15, 1929. This is what Slim related to me about the Birmigham show: "The deal was we'd all go down the Birmingham and divide up what ever money we made. So I took off work on Wednesday and Thursday and we played at this big festival. All the Skillet Lickers were there, Uncle Dave Macon and the McGees. I had to go back to Atlanta to play a baseball game, so I left. I never got paid a dime for the show."

Besides the Skillet Lickers, members of the Skillet Lickers played and recorded with any number of spin-off bands. Mac's main two bands were McMichen’s Home Town Boys and McMichen’s Melody Men (Usually a trio with Riley Puckett; sometimes Bert Layne as McMichen- Layne String Orchestra or Lowe Stokes). Mac did several duo projects usually under the alias of Bob Nichols: Riley Puckett and Bob Nichols (Clayton McMichen); Claude Davis and Bob Nichols (Clayton McMichen); Bob Nichols (Clayton McMichen) and Hugh Cross. Mac played with the Georgia Organ Grinders (1929 featuring McMichen- Fiddle; Bert Layne- Fiddle; Lowe Stokes- Organ; Fate Norris Banjo; Melvin Dupree- Guitar; Dan Hornsby- vocals) and also
Oscar Ford (McMichen, Bert Layne, Riley Puckett).

When Mac started playing with Slim, he found his perfect playing partner. Slim played jazz, knew modern chord comping and could play old-time country. By now it was 1930 and the record industry which was king in the mid to late 1920's was quickly slowing down. On Bryant's birthday, Dec. 7, 1930, Slim was included in his first recording session with Mac cutting a jazzy version of "When The Bloom is on the Sage." McMichen used his nickname as the new band name that weekend. "He called us McMichen's Georgia Wildcats with Slim Bryant," recalled Bryant. "I never asked him to put my name in there—he just did it."

The Skillet Lickers were over as far as Mac was concerned. Columbia, reeling from the depression, turned once more to their cash cow- the Skillet Lickers- hoping they could save the company. Mac, who was well paid for his sessions, couldn't turn down the kind of money they offered. He had a family to feed. On October 24, 1931, the original Skillet Lickers (with Clayton McMichen) made their last recordings: “Miss McLeod’s Reel,” “Four Cent Cotton,” “Molly put The Kettle On,” “Sleeping Lulu,” “McMichen’s Breakdown,” and “Whistlin’ Rufus.” The Skillet Lickers would record one last time in 1934 but not with Mac.

The band was still famous and the individual members, mainly Riley Puckett and Mac would form bands that would be called the Skillet Lickers. At one time in 1931 there were two bands with original members named the Skillet Lickers that played at rival radio stations: WCKY (Riley and Gid) and WLW (Mac with Slim, Barfield and Berryman). So Slim played on the radio on two bands named the Skillet Lickers, first at WCKY (Mac, Riley, Layne, Bryant) and then at WLW.

This prompted Mac to finally adopt his earlier band name, The Georgia Wildcats, based on Mac's nickname.

More to come,

Richard

Mac and The Skillet Lickers: Part 4- The Music


Hi,

This Blog we'll look at some Mac and the Skillet Lickers complete songs. Then we'll look more closely at Mac's two favorite fiddle contest songs.

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.

Here is a complete list of their recording under the name The Skillet Lickers, I've included the 1934 session even though bert Layne and Clayton were no longer present and the band actually split up in 1931.

Complete Songs recorded by the Skillet Lickers: Alabama Jubilee; Baby Lou; Back Up And Push; Be Kind to a Man When He's Down; Bee Hunt On Hill For Sartin Creek; Big Ball in Town; Billy in the Lowground; Black Eyed Peas and Cornbread; Black-Eyed Susie; Boil 'Em Cabbage Down; Boll Weevil Blues; Bonepart's Retreat; Broken Down Gambler; Buckin' Mule; Buffalo Gals; Bully of the Town; Bully Of The Town No. 2; Cacklin Hen and Rooster Too; Carroll County Blues; Casey Jones; Charming Betsy; Chicken Reel; Cindy; Coon From Tennessee; Corn Licker Still in Georgia (skit; Part I- Part XIV); Cotton Baggin'; Cotton-Eyed Joe; Cotton Patch; Cripple Creek; Cumberland Gap (On A Buckin‘ Mule); Dance All Night with A Bottle In Your Hand; Darktown Strutters Ball; Day At The County Fair; Devilish Mary; Dixie; Dogs on a Coon Hunt; Don't You Cry My Honey; Don't You Hear Jerusalem Moan; Down Yonder; Drink 'Em Down; Everyday Will Be Sunday, By & By; Fiddlers' Convention In Georgia; Flatwoods; Flop Eared Mule; Fly Around My Pretty Little Miss; Football Rag; Four Cent Cotton; Four Thousand Years Ago; Georgia Man; Georgia Railroad; Georgia Waggoner; Giddap Napoleon; Girl I Left Behind Me; Git Along; Going Down Town; Goodbye Booze; Hand Me Down My Walking Cane; Hawkins’ Rag; Maple Leaf Rag; Hell Broke Loose in Georgia; Hen Cackle; Hinkey-Dinkey-Dee; Hog Killing Day; I Ain’t No Better Now; Ida Red; I Don't Love Nobody; I Got Mine; I Shall Not Be Moved; It Ain't Gonna Rain No Mo'; I'm S-A-V-E-D; I'm Satisfied; It's A Long Way To Tipperary; Jeremiah Hopkins Store At Sand Mountain; John Henry; Johnson's Old Grey Mule; Just Give Me the Leavings; Keep Your Gal At Home; Kickapoo Medicine Show; Leather Breeches; Liberty; Man In The Woodpile; Miss McCleod's Reel; Mississippi Sawyer; Molly Put the Kettle On; Nancy Rollin; Never Seen the Like Since Getting Upstairs; New Arkansas Traveller; Night in Blind Tiger; Old Dan Tucker; Old Grey Mare; Old Joe Clark; Old McDonald (Had a Farm); On Tanner's Farm; Original Arkansas Traveller; Pass Around The Bottle And We'll All Take a Drink; Please Don't Get Offended; Polly Put the Kettle On; Polly Wolly Doodle All The Day; Possum and Taters; Possum Hunt On Stump House Mountain; Practice Night with Skillet Lickers; Prettiest Little Girl in the County; Pretty Little Widow; Prohibition, Yes or No; Prosperity And Politics; Ricketts Hornpipe; Ride Old Buck to the Water; Rocky Pallet; Rock That Cradle Lucy; Roving Gambler; Rufus; Run Jimmie Run; Rye Straw; Sal's Gone (Down) to the Cider Mill; Sal, Let Me Chaw Your Rosin Some; Settin' In The Chimney Jamb; She'll Be Coming Around The Mountain; Shortenin' Bread; Show Me The Way To Go Home; Skip To The Lou My Darling; Sleeping Lulu; Smoke Behind the Clouds; Soldier's Joy; Soldier, Soldier (Won't You Marry Me); Streak O' Lean, Streak O' Fat; Sugar In The Gourd; Sweet Bunch of Daisies; Taking The Census; Tanner's Boarding House; Tanner’s Hornpipe; Tanner's Rag; There'll Be A Hot Time In The Old Town Tonight; They Gotta Quit Kicking my Dog Around; Tra-Le-La-La; Turkey in the Straw; Uncle Bud; Watermelon Hanging On the Vine; Where Did You Get That Hat; Whoa, Mule, Whoa; Wild Horse; Work Don't Bother Me; Wreck Of Old Ninety-Seven; Ya Gotta Quit Kicking My Dog Around.

Let's look at two of the songs that were important to Clayton throughout his career that he recorded with the Skillet Lickers.

Bile Them Cabbage Down recorded by the Skillet Lickers in Oct. 1927. This was one of Clayton's show pieces. He used the song to win many of his competitions. Curiously he doesn't includes it in his 1934 songbook. Then he says in his 1959 interview that Bile Dem Cabbage Down was one of his songs, indicating that he wrote it. He said he wrote it in 1938 or 39 when he was refering to his Georgia Wildcats recording for Decca in 1937. Somehow, the fact that he recorded the song with the Skillet Lickers was completely erased from his memory. He had been bitter for many years about the Skillet Lickers- it was his band and Gid somehow got all the credit.

Mac's attachment to the song is similar to other early country artists like the Delmore Brothers who, once they recorded a song, it was their property, even if they didn't write it. Sometimes by writing a new verse or two that was enough for them to feel like they'd written the song.

The sense of ownership was strong. I heard, and this is not substantiated, that Mac wouldn't let other performers play or record Bile Them Cabbage Down and was even in some verbal and legal scuffles over the song. [Hannah Boil Dat Cabbage Down was published by Sam Lucas in 1878] The surprising thing is Mac, who was friends with Fiddlin' John Carson, must have know Carson recorded the song in 1924. Other Atlanta performers like Earl Johnson played and recorded it. This was a song the top fiddlers in Atlanta knew- so it's hard to understand Mac's lapse.

Pretty Little Widow was recorded by the Skillet Lickers in 1928 when Lowe Stokes was aboard. This is another of Mac's show pieces and contest numbers. In the 1959 interview he relates that it was one his father's songs. He taught it to Mac circa 1910 when the youngster would accompany his father and family to the local dances. Mac, his father and uncles played fiddle and his mother played straws. His grandmother used to play banjo but she was getting older now and didn't play publicly anymore.

In the interview Mac relates how the folks in Nashville [Hank Garland and Red Foley] copied his father's song and called it "Sugarfoot Rag." Mac bemoans the fact that even if he raised hell there's nothing that can be done about it. [The song was first recorded by Fiddlin' John Carson in 1925 as "Old Frying Pan and Old Camp Kettle."] The Skillet Licker's excellent version includes some banter at the beginning and verses sung by Riley Puckett. [For a complete transcription see my web-site: http://bluegrassmessengers.com/pretty-little-widow--version-1-skillet-lickers.aspx ]

Pretty Little Widow- Skillet Lickers 1928
Mac to Bert: Well Zeke, how're you doing with the little widder now?
Bert as Zeke: Oh boy fine, fine.Mac: They tell me you're gettin' up quite a case up there is that so?
Bert as Zeke: You bet.
Mac: I just learned a new tune called the "Little Widder," I'm gonna play it for you and her. Riley you sing it now.
Riley: Let's go

(Fiddle)

Lawd Lawd, what a pretty little widder,
If I was a young man I'd go and git 'er.

(Fiddle)

Lawd-- what a pretty little widder,
Black my boots and I'll go and git 'er.

(Fiddle)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Mac and the Skillet Lickers- Part 3 Corn Licker Still


Hi,

The famous “Corn Licker Still in Georgia” series of fourteen skits (fourteen sides; seven 78s) originally recorded between 1927 and 1930 consisted of rural humor and social commentary at its best mixed with great fiddling by Clayton McMichen, Bert Layne, Lowe Stokes, and Gid Tanner, the popular crooning of Riley Puckett, and the banjo of Fate Norris and sometimes Gid Tanner. According Clayton from Clayton McMichen Talking: "The Corn Licker Still was Bert Layne and my idea. We had a brother-in-law down there in Georgia that did actually make liquor."

According to Mac, Wilber C. "Bill" Brown, an A&R man with Columbia Records, took the idea and wrote our scripts for the band members. Another contributor was recording engineer, part-time vocalist Dan Hornsby, who appeared as Tom Sly. Frank Walker, head of the division, also had a hand in the scripts.

Corn Licker Still in Georgia became the Skillet Lickers biggest selling series, reportedly selling over a million units. Not only were the skits funny with great music but they were crafted on personal experience. Clayton McMichen and Bert Layne were two of the Skillet Lickers who actually made money from running moonshine. It must have been doubly funny to them.

According to Juanita McMichen Lynch (Clayton's daughter) it was a family operation; her uncles would make it and Clayton would help with the supplies and sell it. Bert Layne told Stephen Davis in an interview, "Me and Mac would go out there (to the still) and buy it, you know. We'd give him $4 for a gallon and we'd take it to Cartersville and sell it for $8." On one trip Clayton was forced to carry two one-gallon jugs to Cartersville under his sister's large overcoat. One jug went to a restaurant and another to the 5-and-10 cent store!

According to Juanita, "Clayton used to even sell moonshine to the policemen. But they always had to worry about revenuers." Bert Layne said one day their car, which was loaded with moonshine, slipped off the road and was stuck in the mud. A revenue officer happened by and Clayton, fearing the consequences of getting caught, lifted the car right out of the mud- by himself. Later Clayton remarked, "My boot tracks was in that clay for six months afterwards!"

Here is an example of the dialogue found on the skits:

As the routine opens, Riley Puckett is leading a few of the Skillet Lickers in an old lament called "Rye Whiskey." A sharp knock at the cabin door brings the music to an abrupt halt. " Hear, hear! We can't have all that fuss around here," protests fiddler Clayton McMichen. "If we're going to make this liquor, why, let's make it and get through with it. You go up there on the hill and bring that thumper keg down here and bring that rye paste with you."

After the still has been assembled, the distilling begun, a customer satisfied, and a few fiddle tunes played, the inevitable happens. "All right, you boys, stick 'em up, there, we got you covered!" a revenue officer barks. "Who's running this place?"

"I'm running it myself," McMichen answers in a slow, sly drawl. "What kind of a run you got started?" "We got about five hundred gallons done run off."

"I'm sorry," says the officer, "we'll have to bust you up and take you down to Gainesville."

But the wily McMichen is ready for him. "Well, looks like there's some way to get out of this," he says, offering the officer a taste.

Though he refuses at first, the revenuer is finally obliged to comment, "Well, that is pretty good liquor, I'll admit that! What's all these instruments doing around here?"

"All right boys, come on play him a little tune," McMichen exhorts. "Whoop it on up. It's either play or go to jail." After more product demonstrations and a rousing rendition of "Pass Around the Bottle," the officer is won over.

"Tell you what I'm going to do, Mac," he proposes, "I'm going to let you off this time if you'll give me about ten of those cans. Can you do that?"

"I'll give you a hundred if you want," McMichen replies happily.

"I want you to keep quiet from here on," the officer warns. "Good luck to you boys!" Of course, the narrow escape calls for a celebration and the band strikes up the old fiddle tune "Katie Hill."
The next time they come in contact with the law, the moonshiners aren't so lucky, and for a while they find themselves on the chain gang. Nevertheless, a public letter-writing campaign gets the popular string band paroled.

"Now you boys go home," the warden tells them, "and remember, don't make any more corn liquor."

"We're through for good," McMichen promises. Back home in the mountains, however, the musical moonshiners distill some potent economic theory. "We got about five, six hundred bushels of corn out yonder in the crib that's going to ruin if we don't do something with it, " McMichen observes.

"I don't think there's no use to try to farm no-how as long as Prohibition's in effect," banjoist Fate Norris comments.

"What's the use to try and sell corn for two dollars a bushel in the ear when you can get $20 for a can?" asks Riley Puckett.

More to come,
Richard

Mac and The Skillet Lickers- Part 2


Hi,

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,

Richard

Mac and the Skillet Lickers- Part 1



Hi,

Clayton McMichen was one of the founding musicians in the early country music supergroup, The Skillet Lickers.

In the photo from left to right: Gid Tanner (fiddle); Clayton McMichen (Fiddle); Riley Puckett (seated with guitar); Fate Norris (Banjo).

Missing from the photo is Bert Layne (fiddle) who played on the first sessions.

In the early 1920s Atlanta was the "country music" capital of the world. There was Georgia Old-time Fiddler's Convention that drew huge crowds was held yearly in Atlanta. WSB radio began broadcasting local country musicians; Fiddlin John Carson was featured on the first broadcast and Clayton's "Home Town Boys" on the second broadcast. Riley Puckett joined Clayton on subsequent broadscasts and the Home Town Boys became one of the featured and most requested stars on WSB.

Then Okeh Records and Ralph Peer sent Polk Brockman to Atlanta with a portable recording system in 1923. They waxed several songs by Fiddlin' John Carson and to Peer's surprised scored a huge hit with Carson's "Little Old Log Cabin in The Lane." The floodgates were open, other record companies started searching for "country music" talent.

Columbia Records hired Frank Walker to head up their "old-time songs" or "songs from the hills" country music division. Walker knew Riley Puckett was one of the biggest starts on radio station WSB so he sent for Riley to come to New York.

McMichen wrote John Edwards on Jan 5, 1958 that Columbia had wanted the duo based around him and Puckett but McMichen was out of town at the time they scheduled a session with Riley so Gid Tanner went instead.

On March 7 and 8, 1924 Gid Tanner and Pucket waxed their first sides for Columbia in New York City. Among the songs were "Chicken Don't Roost Too High," "I Don't Love Nobody," and Black Eyed Susie." When these songs were successful they were called back to NYC in Sept. 1924 and recorded 14 more sides.

Walker meanwhile obtained a portable recording system similar to Ralph Peer's at Okeh and started making trips to Atlanta to do field recordings. While in Atlanta in April 1926 Walker scheduled McMichen and Puckett to do a session and decided to combine the best Atlanta musicians in one group. That group included his recording stars Tanner and Puckett while adding McMichen (fiddle) and Fate Norris (banjo).

McMichen, who was never satisfied with the playing of Gid Tanner, brought in his brother-in-law Bert Layne. McMichen was used to playing with Layne, who played a lower harmony part to Mac's lead. Layne occasionally played lead on waltzes but for the most part he played lower harmony.

Because Mac had cut some recorded for Okeh with his Home Town Boys in 1925 he was under contract with them at the time of the April 1926 Skillet Lickers' recordings. Putting Mac's name could jeopardize the session so Walker named the group, Gid Tanner and His Skillet Lickers with Riley Puckett.

The 1926 session scored a string of hits eclipsing anything Columbia has done up to this point- even Charlie Poole's huge hit, "Don't Let Your Deal Go Down." Mac became very unhappy that his name was not on the records and that Gid Tanner was getting credit for the fiddling.

At his insistance his name was included in the next session but according to Mac, the damage was already done. He would remain bitter about this for years and later commented, “Two or three in there couldn’t play” and that he didn’t like playing with Gid Tanner and Fate Norris because “they was just thirty years behind us in the music business.”

McMichen came up with the name The Skillet Lickers, a variation on the name of his earlier Lick the Skillet Band which was based on the earlier local assemblage with Fiddlin' John Carson known under the Lick Skillet Orchestra name. Fate Norris played with Mac in that early group. The name "skillet lickers" refers to the impoverished rural settlers where the skillet had to be licked clean in order to feed everyone.

It's important to note that Columbia paid musicians a flat fee to record while at Okeh, Ralph Peer gave the musicians a cut of the royalties. Okeh recording star Ernest Stoneman was making $6,000 in royalties alone by 1927 which was more than triple the wages a normal working job at the mill. Okeh's Henry Whitter got rich from the "Wreck of the Old 97." The record reportedly topped seven million units and according to Whitter, his royalties exceeded “twenty-three thousand dollars,” a huge fortune at that time (approximately $400,000 today). Henry, who didn't even write the song, bought a brand new car and quit his job. He was now a recording star.
When Columbia's Charlie Poole had a huge hit with "Don't Let Your Deal Go down" he received a flat fee of $75 which he split three ways- his take, $25. The record sold 102,000 units, making a huge profit for Columbia (the average record sold 5,000 units). Naturally Poole wasn't too excited to record again- he realized how much money Columbia made from him on that one record.

McMichen was on hire by Columbia Records from 1926 until 1931 when the depression stopped making records profitable. He was paid a larger than average flat rate (Layne in an interview gives $1,000 as a figure but this is surely wrong and was just given by Layne as an example of the flat fee which varied among artists) and made good money recording.

More to come,

Richard

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Juanita McMichen Lynch


Hi,

Juanita McMichen Lynch was born in 1924 and is the eldest of two daughters born to Clayton McMichen and Daisy Satterfield McMichen. Junaita, pictured holding Clayton's fiddle, lives near Battletown, KY with her husband Clifford Lynch and their little dog.

Daisy Satterfield (Mac's wife) was Aline Satterfield's sister. On Sept. 17, 1920 fiddler Bert Monroe Layne married Aline Satterfield. "Uncle Bert and Daddy used to play together all the time," said Juanita. "Now Aline Satterfield, his wife, we called her Aunt Dooley. We'd have big dinners over at the house for all the musicians and Aunt Dooley would cook." Bert Layne, known as "Uncle Bert" to Juanita and others, was born Dec. 14, 1889 in Arkansas and died 0ct. 22, 1982 at Juanita's homestead in Battletown, Kentucky.

I interviewed Junaita several times for my upcoming article on Clayton in the Old-Time Herald. She and her husband Clifford were very helpful. Giving me access to boxes and boxes of Clayton's newspaper clippings and articles. I even has some of her manuscript that she started writing about her famous father. Clayton was recently proclaimed fiddler-of-the-century by National Traditional Country Music Association. Even though Clayton was a great fiddler, the award is a little over the top. He's certainly one of the top old-time fiddlers of all time.

I became interested me in Clayton when I moved to Louisville, a stone's throw from the bar Mac owned in the 1940s. Mac moved to Louisville more or less permanently around fall of 1937. He lived in Louisville until around 1968 when he moved to Battletown KY. Mac died in 1970. Juanita, who has lots stories about her dad and his friends, graduated from High School in Louisville in 1942.

"Daddy married my mother, who was Aunt Dooley's sister, when she was just 16 years old." Now Bert Layne was Mac's brother-in-law. Mac and Daisy had two daughters, Daisy "Jaunita," born Dec. 24, 1924 and Nina "June," born Jan. 31, 1926.

Because of Mac's restless nature and his search for new radio positions the McMichen's moved frequently. "I was daddy's little girl," said Juanita. "I went everywhere with him. June usually stayed home with Mama but I went with Daddy. We moved 22 times by the time I finished high school."

The family dinners in Atlanta were attended by the hosts- Layne and McMichen and many of the local musicians including Fiddlin' John Carson, Riley Puckett, Gid Tanner, Hugh Cross, Earl Johnson, Lowe Stokes, Slim Bryant, Kasper Malone, and Boss Hawkins.

Slim Bryant, who became Mac's guitarist in his Georgia Wildcats Band (and for a short time he was a Skillet Licker in 1931 at WCKY) first met Mac at one of the dinners around 1929. I also interviewed Slim who is now over 100 years old.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Hell Broke Loose in Georgia: Lowe Stokes and Mac

Hi,

Here's a photo of Mac's Hometown Boys (click to enlarge) a band he started in the early 1920s. Was it the first country swing band?

On July 7, 1925 McMichen’s Home Town Boys recorded their first sides at Columbia’s Atlanta studio. Above is a photo of the performers (from left to right): Mac (fiddle); Lowe Stokes (guitar) Bob "Punk" Stevens (banjo) and Bob Stevens Jr (clarinet).

The songs were "Alabama Jubilee," "Bully Of The Town," "Silver Bell," and the song that became McMichen's first solo hit and one he would become identified- "Sweet Bunch Of Daisies." The song was a tribute to Clayton's wife, Daisy, and became his theme song on his radio shows in Louisville.

Over a month later on August 25, tragedy struck. Bob Stevens Jr was killed in an auto wreck while Mac was driving, bringing an end to the band. "They were going to a show and got in a bad car wreck," said Juanita. "At first they got out of the car and thought no one was badly hurt but turned out young Bob had a broken neck and he just dropped down and died on the spot. His dad went back home, he never got over it." [Juanita McMichen/Lowe Stokes].

Lowe Stokes was not a regular performer in Mac's Hometown Boys. Lowe was playing guitar for Mac because they were friends and at one time roomates for a year. In fact, Stokes was one of the best fiddlers- period. No one portrayed the tune "Hell Broke Loose in Georgia" better than Stokes. The wild and wooly Stokes was crazy as hell and loose in Georgia. According to Bert Layne, Lowe had more "nerve" than any man he knew.

Lowe Stokes born May 28, 1898, was the sixth of seven children born to Jacob Stokes, who was a fiddler and farm laborer, born in 1848. The Georgia Old-Time Fiddlers' conventions has been credited with launching his career when he defeated Fiddlin John Carson to win the coveted 1924 fiddle competition. To prove that was no fluke, Lowe won the next year.

Whne Stokes beat Carson in 1924 he won playing Carson's tune "Hell Broke Loose in Georgia." Many credit Lowe with inspiring the Charlie Daniels’ song "The Devil Went Down To Georgia" which is reportedly loosley based on the famous competition.

After poet Stephen Vincent Benet read a 1924 article in the Literary Digest describing Stokes victory, he penned his 1925 poem, "The Mountain Whippoorwill" (Or, How Hill-Billy Jim Won the Great Fiddlers' Prize) which begins:

Up in the mountains, it's lonesome all the time,
Sof' win' slewin' thu' the sweet-potato vine.
Up in the mountains, it's lonesome for a child,
Whippoorwills a-callin' when the sap runs wild.

Stokes learned the long bow style from Joe Lee then moved from Cartersville to Atlanta. He met T.M. "Bully" Brewer who invited Lowe to stay with him. Brewer, an accomplished guitarist and singer, wanted to learn the fiddle. "You can come on home with me," said Brewer, "and teach me to play the fiddle and you can stay with me forever."

Although Stokes lived with Brewer for three years, he began his recording career with fellow fiddle genius Clayton McMichen, who quickly became Lowe’s regular sidekick, his roommate for one year and protege. Lowe, who also hung around Mays Badgett's fiddle repair shop, probably met Mac there. Mac began visiting the shop in 1916.

In 1928 he replaced McMichen’s cousin Bert Layne and became the third fiddle in the Skillet Licker band. Frank Walker, Columbia's A & R man, started a Skillet Licker session with two fiddles instead of three. Walker knew something was missing so he sent Mac to find Stokes. With the talented Stokes in the line-up, Stokes played lead and Mac the high harmony.

Charles Wolfe wrote that "Often Stokes used a mute on his bridge to better match McMichen's sound; [Stokes] also said that this idea of [McMichen playing a close harmony to the individual notes of the melody] came from his listening to jazz fiddler Joe Venuti, who was then in his heyday." [Charles Wolfe: The Reluctant Hillbilly]

By 1930 Stokes was married and lived in Chattanooga, Tennessee. He was offered a retainer by Brunswick to back up any singer or group that need a little punch. [Charles Wolfe: Classic Country]

On one tour around 1930, the trouble-bound Stokes was stabbed perilously near the heart as the nasty consequence of a love triangle, then in a drunken altercation at a bootlegging joint a few days later was shot in the upper arm while still healing from the earlier wound. "Lowe knocked him clear out of the place and onto the ground out there," said Layne, "and he'd shot Lowe. It hit him about here in the arm so Lowe he liked to beat him to death with his own gun."

The Skillet Licker session of December 7, 1930 was Stokes last as a leader, and it was almost his last, period. On Christmas Day that year he was involved in a shooting incident near Cartersville, Georgia. Stokes never cared to talk about it afterwards.

According to Juanita, "Lowe was a ladies man. He was always getting into a scuffle over some woman. He was with some woman when her husband come home and pulled out his pistol. Lowe tried to grab the gun but the gun went off and blew off most of his hand. When Daddy heard about it he went to Lowe's house in Cartersville to find Lowe sitting in chair in his front yard drinking whiskey- while the doctor was taking the rest of his hand off!"

According to Bert Lane, after hearing the news, Bert hurried to Cartersville and found Stokes "sittin' up in a barber chair getting a shave! I never saw a man with such a nerve in all my life." Within a year or so he was playing again, using a prosthetic metal attachment devised for him by McMichen.

More to come,

Richard

You Are My Sunshine; Mac and Bud

You are my sunshine, my only sunshine,
You make me happy...

For years "You Are my Sunshine" was the theme song for the Governor of Mississippi, Jimmie Davis. For years Davis, a recording artist, guitarist and singer claimed he wrote the song. Would he lie to us? What does Jimmie Davis have to do with Clayton McMichen?

"Mac" and "Bud" were good friends once. This was in Atlanta, Georgia in 1921. Mac was the secretary and Bud was the president but they weren't politicians like Davis. They started a rival competition to the Georgia Old-Time Fiddler's Convention.

On Sept. 29, 1921 the Atlanta Journal reported: On the eve of the opening of the 1921 old-time fiddlers' convention, it is announced that a rival organization was formed on Wednesday night which purports to be the real thing and says the existing bunch of fiddlers will not be recognized by them as the 'Old-time fiddlers' of Georgia. "John Carson and Gid Tanner can't hold a light to "Bud" Silvey and "Mac" McMichen," said J.J. Owen stated Thursday morning.

According to one report, Lowe Stokes (and Mac through Lowe) was influenced by long-bow fiddler Joe Lee but there's another Atlanta area fiddler who was an influence. That's right--- Bud Silvey.

Beginning in 1913 and running until 1935 the Georgia Old-Time Fiddle Contest was the premiere old-time event in the country. The annual fiddlers' conventions were held in the old Atlanta City Auditorium (the lobby and front offices of which later became Georgia State University's Alumni Hall) at the corner of Courtland and Gilmer streets.

A typical convention began on a Thursday and ended the following Saturday night. The Thursday and Friday night programs were exhibition, or warm-up, programs and featured string bands, comedians, dancers, singers, and other types of entertainers in addition to the fiddlers. The contest, held on Saturday night, was usually followed by a square dance in the auditorium's Taft Hall (later Veterans' Memorial Hall). Crowned state champions included J. B. Singley (1913), Fiddlin' John Carson (1914, 1923, 1927), Shorty Harper (1915, 1916), John Silvey (1917), A. A. Gray (1918, 1921, 1922, 1929), F. B. Coupland (1919), R. M. Stanley (1920), Lowe Stokes (1924, 1925), Earl Johnson (1926), Gid Tanner (1928), Joe Collins (1930), and Anita Sorrells Wheeler (1931, 1934).

John H. Silvey, who I assume was related to the 1917 winner, had one son born in 1874- Rufus Marion Silvey. John fought in the Civil War when he was young man and was injured in the battle of Manassas. Rufus Silvey's son, nicknamed Bud was named after his father. Bud was born on Oct. 9, 1892 in Rome, Georgia.

The huge Georgia competition was dominated by Fiddlin' John Carson, A.A. Gray and Gid Tanner, the older crowd favorites. There's a record of McMichen entering the contest two times: In 1915, two weeks after his 15th birthday, McMichen placed 8th in the fiddle competition out of 75 entries. In 1922 he won 2nd place for his rendition of Arkansas Traveler.

The confident and brash young McMichen felt that he was among the top fiddlers yet the top prize was going to the most popular fiddler- not the best performer. No one knows what happened to the rival fiddle contest Bud and Mac organized for one year in 1921. Their fledgling competition couldn't compete with the huge popular contest.

Bud Silvey married the Rice Brother's mother when they were both young. He encouraged them to become musicians, taught them, performed with them and shaped their careers. From the Rice Brothers, Jimmie Davis got the song, "You Are My Sunshine." He paid Paul Rice for it in 1939. Curiously, the Rice Brothers didn't even write the song.

The following is from: The Rice Brothers Hillbillies With Uptown Ambitions By Wayne W. Daniel

Hoke Rice was born January 8, 1909, some 50 miles northeast of Atlanta, Georgia, in Hall County. Four years later, on July 23, 1913, while the family was still living in the same Chestnut Mountain community near Gainesville, Paul was born. Their father, a preacher and cobbler, repaired soles during the week and saved souls on Sundays. From their mother, who played five-string banjo, fiddle and piano, the Rice brothers inherited their musical talent.

Around 1920, when Hoke was 11 years old and Paul was about seven, their parents separated. Mrs. Rice later married a textile mill mechanic and part-time musician named Rufus M. "Bud" Silvey. He subsequently encouraged and helped shape the musical development of his two stepsons. In pursuit of his textile trade, Silvey and his family lived in several small towns in Georgia. Silvey's musical enterprises, which later included Hoke and Paul encompassed a wider circuit and took them to small towns in several Southeastern states.

In his late teens, Hoke took guitar lessons from a classical and pop-oriented guitarist, thus laying the foundation for the jazz and pop stylings that characterized the music of his professional career. By 1929, after having served his musical apprenticeship with his stepfather, he was making a name for himself in the Atlanta area as a solo performer. Into the early 1930's he was a sought-after guitarist by record company executives who brought their portable equipment to the city to record local artists. He recorded with both blues and hillbilly performers and fronted his own band as a vocalist on several records. In addition, he could be heard regularly on Atlanta radio stations.

Paul Rice, like his brother Hoke, also broke away from his stepfather in an attempt to establish an independent career. In the 1920's he worked on WSB and recorded with Fiddling John Carson and with Gid Tanner. In Gainesville, Georgia, while working in a textile mill, he organized his own band to play at dances for mill employees.

Sometime in 1939, Hoke and Paul returned to Shreveport, Louisiana, where they became regular performers on KWKH. They performed on the popular KWKH Saturday Night Roundup, staged in the larger towns around Shreveport, such as Monroe, Louisiana; Dorado, Kansas; and Lufkin, Texas. For a while Hoke and Paul also appeared daily over KTBS on a mid-morning program sponsored by Southern Maid Donuts. For this show they were billed as The Southern Maid Donut Boys.

While in Shreveport they became associated with country singer, recording artist and politician Jimmie Davis, two-time governor of Louisiana. Paul may have wished later that they hadn't. As the acknowledged composer of "You Are My Sunshine," Paul sold the song to Davis for whom it became a hit record and tremendous money-maker. According to a story in the Shreveport Times of September 16, 1956, Paul sold the song to' Davis and his partner Charles Mitchell for $35, money he needed to pay his wife's hospital bills. The Rice Brothers' bass player, Reggie Ward, told writer Louise Hewitt that "they asked me to sign as a witness the typed document transferring all rights to Davis and Mitchell."

Friday, October 9, 2009

Larry Sunbrock, Natchee The Indian & Mac- Part 3

Well that's show biz!

You can see from my last blog that Clayton "Mac" McMichen wasn't above having a little fun and making a little money. Same with Sunbrock. He staged a huge fiddle competition extravaganza in West Virgina with Clark Kessinger later that year (1937). Dubbed by True Magazine "the greatest cowboy conman," Sunbrock's ill-fated rodeo and swing concert at Municipal Stadium in 1939, with Benny Goodman and his Orchestra, was, no doubt, one of the most unusual jazz gigs in Cleveland history.

I asked Juanita McMichen Lynch if Sunbrock had ever scammed Mac. "Why heavens no," she replied. "Larry knew Mac would kill him. They were always straight with each other."

Larry continued promoting his circus and wild west thrill shows through the 1940s and 50s, offering his "rubes" a thousand dollars if they could stay on a Brahma bull named "Big Sid" for ten seconds.

In the 60s Sunbrock turned again to music promotion, sponsoring shows with the Dick Clark Unit, which featured leading artists like Bobby Vee. He even held a rock n'roll extravaganza with rock bands sandwiched around a 20 minute poetry recitation by Cassius "I Am the Greatest" Clay (Muhammed Ali). Clay traded "good-natured banter and insults" with the sold-out audience. Of course his all-time great promotion occured in 1965 (see first Sunbrock blog), when he promoted an all-star country music show in Birmingham, Alabama, faked a heart attack, fled with the proceeds in a hired ambulance, and never paid the artists, including country music legend Red Foley.

Was Natchee a real Apache Indian? Larry Sunbrock would never confess. You can read his newspaper article in the last blog. Perhaps I should shed some light on this mystery man.

Natchee the Indian was born Lester Vernon Storer around 1913 in Peebles, Ohio. He was an old-time musician whose tricks included loosening the bowstrings and playing with the bow on back side of the fiddle and the strings against the fiddle strings. The trick fiddler was popular in West Virginia and southern Ohio in the early 1930s before being hired by Sunbrock to play against the top fiddlers including McMichen, Curly Fox and Clark Kessinger.

In the mid-1930's Natchee and guitarist Lloyd "Cowboy" Copas traveled with promoter Larry Sunbrock, whose staged fiddle contests were fixed (most of the fiddlers were paid a flat fee by Sunbrock regardless whether they won or lost. Curly Fox was paid a fee of $250). There is some doubt that Natchee, who dressed as an indian, was even an Indian; he was rumored to be either Italian or Greek.

To add to the confusion, he worked on radio with "Indian Bill and Little Montana" (Bill and Evalina Stallard). He also worked around Dayton and Cincinnati with Emory Martin and with Jimmie Skinner. Aside from all rumors, people who saw Natchee remembered him for his showmanship. By the 1950s was found living in Chicago.

Juanita McMichen Lynch, Clayton's daughter knew him. When I asked her about Natchee she handed me a photo of him (see last blog) and related how Natchee turned up broke and dirty at Bert Layne's door. Dooley (Bert's wife, who was her mother's sister) let him in- he hadn't eaten or bathed in days. After he showered and ate they turned him loose, never to see or hear from him again.

It was a far cry from his hey-day in the 1930s when thousands and thousands of admiring fans cried his name...

All the good times are passed and gone,
All the good time are o'er.