The Carter Family was not the only family effort in early country music—far from it, in fact. There was the venerable Stoneman Family, the pioneering Fiddlin’ Powers and Family, and, rivaling or perhaps exceeding the Carters’ popularity as radio entertainers in their time, the Pickard Family.
The Pickards’ story begins with the birth of patriarch Obediah Orlando Pickard in Beardstown, Tennessee, on July 22, 1874. He served in a non-combatant role in the Spanish American War, as a member of the First Regiment Tennessee Infantry Band, at which post he the distinction of playing for Admiral George Dewey. At the turn of the century, he worked, along with the rest of his family, for the U.S. Census Office, and later gave his occupation as a traveling salesman for a collection agency (whatever that is). He married Leila May Wilson on Christmas Day, 1906, and the couple brought Obed Orlando, Jr. (“Bubb”), into the family the very next year. His birth was followed by Leila Mai in 1909, Ruth Carmen in 1912, James Phaney (“Charlie”) in 1914, and Margaret Ann in 1924. Though they had played music amateurly, it was only after tragedy struck that the Pickards entered the music business; following the death of eldest daughter Leila Mai in a shooting accident in 1925, Obed reportedly heard the terrible news over the radio from WSM, Nashville, while traveling for work, and telephoned the station to extend his thanks for bringing the fact to his immediate attention, at which point he was said to have been hired by the “Solemn Old Judge”, George D. Hay. An alternative account suggests that he was hired after Hay visited the bank in which Pickard worked and was recommended to the radio man by his brother Nixon. In either event, Obed Pickard and his family began appearing on WSM in 1926, becoming one of the earliest stars of the program that would soon be known as the Grand Ole Opry. “Dad” Pickard made his debut recordings on March 31, 1927, with four sides for the Columbia Phonograph Company. The rest of the family did the same the following November for the Plaza Music Company, later the American Record Corporation, to whom they were contracted for a total of twenty-five sides between then and 1930, interrupted by a stint with Brunswick that produced an additional eleven. In all, their released output amounted to sixteen records, many issued on a variety of labels with their sides in different configurations. They departed from WSM for a time in 1928 and appeared on WJR in Detroit and WGAR in Buffalo before returning to the Opry in 1931. Leaving the show again in 1933, the Pickards performed around the States for a while, eventually winding up on “goat gland doctor” John R. Brinkley’s border blaster radio station XERA in Villa Acuña, Mexico, just across the border from Del Rio, Texas. Subsequently, they relocated permanently to California by the beginning of the 1940s. There, they made appearances in several motion pictures, recorded again for the Coast label in 1947 and, in 1949, hosted a pioneering television program over KNBH in Los Angeles. Dad Pickard died in Los Angeles on September 24, 1954, at the age of eighty. After his passing, the Family continued to perform professionally at least until the late part of the decade, making some singles for Coral and an album on Verve. Charlie Pickard was the next to go, at the young age of fifty-five on May 7, 1970. Mom Pickard followed on May 5, 1972, back home in Nashville, Tennessee. Bubb, Ruth, and Ann all survived well into their eighties, passing on March 20, 1997, March 13, 1995, and February 4, 2006, respectively.
Domino 4328 was recorded in New York City on February 18, and January 31, 1929, respectively. It was also released on Broadway 8179 (as by the “Pleasant Family”—and that they were), Conqueror 7349 and 7736, Paramount 3231, QRS R.9006, Regal 8776, and with the sides split up on too many issued to list. The Pickards playing here are “Dad” Obed, Sr., on harmonica and Jew’s harp, “Bubb” Obed, Jr., on guitar, and “Mom” Leila on piano, on side “A” only. Dad, Mom, and Ruth sing on the first side, while Dad sings solo on the reverse.
Firstly Dad Pickard sings and picks his Jew’s harp in his take on the old-timer most commonly known as “Johnson’s Old Gray Mule”, rendered here as “Thompson’s Old Gray Mule”, with Mom and Ruth chiming in with a refrain from “Goodbye Liza Jane”.
On the flip, Obed sings solo on “The Little Red Caboose Behind the Train”, honoring the great American railroad men, and set to the tune of the 1871 minstrel standard “The Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane”.