Montgomery Ward M-7348 & M-7350 – Uncle Dave Macon – 1937

‘Uncle Dave Macon, the Dixie Dewdrop, King of the Hillbillies, and Star of WSM’s Grand Ole Opry!’ Photograph and original caption from Songs and Stories of Uncle Dave Macon, 1938.

The last time we heard from the famed “Dixie Dewdrop”, Uncle Dave Macon, it was with two of his earliest recordings.  This time around, let us turn our attention to thirteen years later, at the height of the Great Depression, and the height of his fame.

In 1938, Macon, a favorite performer in the Southern states who had appeared on WSM’s Grand Ole Opry since its start in 1925, published a book of his songs and stories, fittingly titled Songs and Stories of Uncle Dave Macon.  Selling the books for twenty-five cents each, within its pages Macon reminisced about his early days, writing, “at my advanced age I realize more keenly the great mental powers of youth, and could I command an audience of the youth of our land today, I would say to them: ‘Learn the beautiful things of life in your early years—from Holy Writ we learn.  Remember thy Creator in the days of thy youth.'”  Also included in the folio were twenty-four of Macon’s popular songs, and several pictures of him, some with his son Dorris.  Concurrently, Macon had turned over a new page in his prolific recording career, becoming an exclusive RCA Victor artist in 1935, with most of his recordings appearing on their Bluebird label and client label for Montgomery Ward.

Montgomery Ward M-7348 and M-7350 were recorded on August 3, 1937 in Charlotte, North Carolina, Uncle Dave’s second session for RCA Victor.  Macon is accompanied by his own banjo, an unknown guitar and second vocal (the two likely belonging to the same individual) on M-7348, and an unknown fiddler on M-7350-B.  I would assume the guitarist to be Uncle Dave’s son Dorris Macon, but since this was not suggested in Country Music Records: A Discography, 1921-1942, I assume Mr. Russell had good reason to nix the possibility.

Alongside a large volume of the secular, minstrel type material that he’s probably best remembered for, Macon also recorded numerous sacred songs in his almost fifteen year career as a recording artist.  Straight out of Songs and Stories, on the “A” side Macon recounts the Parable of the Prodigal Son in a jubilant rendition of “Honest Confession is Good for the Soul”.

Honest Confession is Good for the Soul, recorded August 3, 1937 by Uncle Dave Macon.

On “B”, and also in the book, he sings another sanctified song on “Fame Apart from God’s Approval”, but you don’t have to be a religious person to enjoy the gospel as it was preached by that songster from days of old.

Fame Apart From God’s Approval, recorded August 3, 1937 by Uncle Dave Macon.

On M-7350, Uncle Dave first sings “Two in One Chewing Gum”, also appearing in Songs and Stories.  He first recorded “(She Was Always) Chewing Gum” for Vocalion in 1924; the “two in one” part referring to Dave’s humorous rendering of the immensely popular “Nobody’s Darlin’ but Mine” that follows the titular song.

Two in One Chewing Gum, recorded August 3, 1937 by Uncle Dave Macon.

Finally, Dave and an unknown fiddle player get hot on the old-time number “Travelin’ Down the Road”, a melody that’s “just as loose, as loose as a goose!”  This tune is the only one out of these four songs that’s not included in Songs and Stories of Uncle Dave Macon, so I’ll have to offer you all one of his stories instead…

“When prohibition struck Tennessee, and the apple business became an unprofitable one, two Warren county farmers, disgusted with poor land and poorer prices, set out for Texas in a wagon drawn by mules.  In Texas, they were dazed by the enormous plains, rolling away in every direction as far as the eye could see.  Undaunted, they pressed on for West Texas, where reports held out promises of prosperity.

After a week of travel, deeper and deeper into the heart of the great plains, a sand and dust storm came upon them—in a short time they could not see even the tips of the mules’ ears.  One of the men turned to the other and said: ‘Bill, hold the mules, while I get down and pray.’

Bill climbed down, held the mules, and the other dropped to his knees: ‘Oh, Lord, here we are, out in the middle of this prairie; lost!  Lord, we don’t know where we are.  We don’t know.’

Bill was unusually anxious, and interrupted—’Hey, He knows where we are!  Tell Him something, brother, tell him something.'”

Travelin’ Down the Road, recorded August 3, 1937 by Uncle Dave Macon.

Paramount 12389 – Bo Weavil Jackson – 1926

The life and times of the musician known as Bo Weavil Jackson are shrouded beneath a veil of mystery and obscurity; even his true identity remains an uncertainty.  In fact, it would be difficult to know less about a person.  He made six records, had a remarkably poorly lit photograph taken of him, and then disappeared into oblivion.  This intrigue, of course, only serves to enhance his appeal as a bluesman, much as it might confound historians.

The man called “Bo Weavil” is said to have truly been named James Jackson (or perhaps James Butler or Sam Butler) and is believed to have hailed from Alabama, probably born sometime in the 1890s.  Queries of public records reveal far too many possible results to be narrowed down by the few vague details known.  Indeed, he referred to Birmingham in his “Jefferson County Blues”.  He was playing for spare change on a Birmingham street corner when he was “discovered” by record salesman and talent scout Harry Charles in 1926, who referred him to Chicago to make some records for Paramount, by whom he was promoted as having “come down from the Carolinas.”  There, he waxed six sides, including a version of “When the Saints Come Marching Home” and perhaps the first recording of “Crow Jane”, which are counted among the earliest recordings of country blues by a male performer, in the wake of Blind Lemon Jefferson’s historic debut recordings with the same company only a few months prior.  The following month, Bo Weavil headed to New York to cut another six sides for Vocalion (two of which were unissued but exist in the form of test pressings), this time under the moniker “Sam Butler”.  His recordings reveal that he was a nimble slide guitarist with a unique approach to performance, and his repertoire consisted of a mixture of blues and sacred songs.  What became of Bo Weavil after his brief recording career drew to a close is entirely unknown; perhaps he went back home to Alabama, perhaps he started a new life in New York, perhaps he got run over by a freight train trying to hobo his way back south—we may never know.  Purportedly, another man adopted the moniker of “Bo Weavil Jackson” in the Mississippi Delta in the decade following “Sam Butler’s” recording career.

Paramount 12389 was recorded around August of 1926 in Chicago, Illinois.  It is Bo Weavil Jackson’s first released record, consisting of his third and first recorded sides, respectively, and quite certainly his best-selling.

Firstly, Bo Weavil Jackson demonstrates his eccentric and unpredictable slide guitar work on his tour de force “You Can’t Keep No Brown” (though the last line in the song coupled with the absence of the title verse suggests that perhaps it should have been titled “Long Distance Blues”).  He recorded an entirely different version of this song for Vocalion, but this one, if you could compare the two, is the superior version in my opinion.

You Can’t Keep No Brown, recorded c. August 1926 by Bo Weavil Jackson.

On the “B” side, Bo Weavil sings “Pistol Blues”, which is in actuality a rendition of the folk blues “Crow Jane”; while Julius Daniels’ 1927 recording of “Crow Jane Blues” is often credited as the first recording of the song, Bo Weavil’s predates it by more than a year.

Pistol Blues, recorded c. August 1926 by Bo Weavil Jackson.

Lasso L-104 – Buck Roberts and the Rhythmairs – 1948

In Old Time Blues’ tradition of honoring the great figures of Texas fiddle, we have chronicled the lives of pioneers like Eck Robertson and Moses J. Bonner, legends like Bob Wills and Hoyle Nix, and lesser-known outsiders like Elmo Newcomer.  Now, it comes the time to pay due tribute to one of the more recent Texas giants: the late, great Johnny Gimble.

One of nine children of telegraph operator James Frank Gimble and his wife Minnie, John Paul Gimble was born in the East Texas city of Tyler on May 30, 1926, and raised a few miles outside of town in the community of Bascom.  He started out in music young, playing fiddle and mandolin in a band with his brothers that eventually became known as the Rose City Swingsters on local radio and functions.  He distinguished himself from other fiddlers by favoring a five-stringed instrument, as opposed to the typical four-string fiddle.  He parted their company in 1943 to play banjo with singer-turned-politician Jimmie Davis on the trail of his gubernatorial campaign.  At the age of eighteen in 1944, he enlisted in the U.S. Army to aid in the war effort.  Upon his discharge, he returned to Texas to form a new band with his brothers called the Blues Rustlers, but soon struck out on his own once again to join Buck Roberts’ Rhythmairs—one of the top bands in Austin—in 1948.  With the Rhythmairs, Gimble made his first record, fiddling and singing on their only disc on Fred M. Caldwell’s Lasso label.  From there, he was drafted into Bob Wills’ Texas Playboys, a most prestigious position which he held until 1951, though he continued a sporadic association with Wills afterward.  Back home in Texas once again, Gimble married and settled for a time in Dallas, where he worked as a session musician and in local bands such as those of Dewey Groom, Bill Boyd, and Al Dexter at ballrooms and on radio shows like KRLD’s Big D Jamboree and on television.  For part of that decade, Gimble played music part time while also working as a barber in Waco.  In the late 1960s, he moved to Nashville, where he found enormous success as a studio musician on a veritable scadzillion country records.  When he finally returned to Texas again in the 1980s, Gimble established himself as an elder statesman of western swing, playing in groups with the old greats of the genre, until he was the last old great remaining.  He carried the tradition into the twenty-first century, and continued to play quite prolifically until shortly before his death at his Texas Hill Country home on May 9, 2015.  Among numerous pre-and-posthumous honors, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2018.

Lasso L-104 was recorded in 1948, most probably in Austin, Texas.  The Rhythmairs were known to consist of Johnny Gimble, Joe Castle, Gerald “Jerry” Chinnis on fiddles, Eldon “Curly” Roberts on steel guitar, “Pee Wee” Poe on piano, Carlton Roberts on rhythm guitar, Buck Roberts on bass, and Shorty Oakley on drums, though whether all of those members or different members participated in this session is unknown.

On the “A” side, Gimble sings the vocal refrain and does his hep little fiddle-and-humming in harmony thing on “Don’t You Darken My Door Anymore”.  Incidentally, leader Buck Roberts’s grandson Jason today carries on the western swing torch as a fiddler and leader of both his own band and the modern iteration of Bob Wills’ Texas Playboys.

Don’t You Darken My Door Anymore, recorded 1948 by Buck Roberts and the Rhythmairs.

In the tradition of naming waltzes after towns in Texas—like the successful “Bandera Waltz”, “Westphalia Waltz”, and “Houston Waltz”—the Rhythmairs play Johnny Gimble’s instrumental composition, the “Shiner Waltz”, on the “B” side.

Shiner Waltz, recorded 1948 by Buck Roberts and the Rhythmairs.

Royalty RR-906 – “Stick-Horse” Hammond – 1950

Another one of those hidden figures of the blues who made a few records at one session and promptly disappeared into obscurity, few details are concretely known about the life of Texas-Louisiana musician “Stick-Horse” Hammond, who made a small handful of records in 1950 demonstrating a gritty and rather archaic style of rural blues.  As such, the facts presented within this article should to taken as tentative, at best.

One of at least five children of B.B. and Laura (spelling uncertain) Hammond, “Stick-Horse” was born Nathaniel Hammond in Palestine, Texas, on April 16, 1896, (according to public records), though a date in the preceding month has also been proffered, as well.  According to a draft card presumably attributable to the same Hammond, he was of medium height with a heavy build as an adult.  Per the same source, he worked on the Union Pacific Railroad around the time of the First World War, and was at the time living in Denver, Colorado.  Perhaps resulting from that profession, he purportedly lost a leg (much like his white contemporary “Peg” Moreland), and ostensibly adopted the nickname ‘Stick-Horse” from the peg-leg he relied upon thereafter.  Later in life, he reportedly turned to life as a traveling musician, playing around his home state before settling in Taylortown, Louisiana, in the vicinity of Shreveport, where he began farming on the share.  Around 1950, Hammond was “discovered” by country singing star Zeke Clements—who was then appearing on the KWKH Louisiana Hayride—and brought to town to cut a record for former disc jockey Ray Bartlett.  Clements later recalled that “they drove around for two or three days getting him drunk enough to record.”  In all, Hammond produced six sides for Bartlett’s “Job” label, four of which were picked up by larger record companies (Royalty Records of Paris, Texas, and Gotham Records of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, respectively).  Sometime later, the plantation on which Hammond farmed was visited by record executives Stan Lewis and Leonard Chess in hopes of signing the bluesman to the fledgling Chess Records.  Unfortunately for the songster, the big boss ran off the city slickers with a shotgun, swiftly snuffing out any hopes for the continuation of Hammond’s brief career as a record artist.  Remaining in Taylortown for the rest of his life, “Stick-Horse” Hammond died in Shreveport on May 27, 1964.

Royalty RR-906 was recorded at the J&M Record Shop presumably at 728 Texas Street in Shreveport, Louisiana, sometime in the year of 1950.  It was originally released on Job 105.  “Stick-Horse” Hammond sings the blues and accompanies himself on electric guitar.

On the “A” side, “Stick-Horse” sings a low-down country blues rendition of fellow Texan Curtis Jones’s “Highway 51”.

Highway 51, recorded 1950 by “Stick-Horse” Hammond.

On the reverse, Hammond sings “Too Late Baby”, taking after the Black Ace’s (and others’) “You Gonna Need My Help Someday”, and continuing in the popular mold of “How Long—How Long” and “Sitting On Top of the World” influenced melodies.

Too Late Baby, recorded 1950 by “Stick-Horse” Hammond.

Bluebird B-5257 – Fort Worth Doughboys – 1932

Boasting ninety years of continuous operation, and an active recording career only slightly shorter, the venerable Light Crust Doughboys from Burrus Mill of Fort Worth, Texas, can rightly lay claim to the title of longest-running western swing band in the music’s history.

The original lineup of the Light Crust Doughboys, circa 1931; from left-to-right Milton Brown, Derwood Brown, announcer Truett Kimsey, Bob Wills, and Herman Arnspiger.

The progenitor of the Light Crust Doughboys was born when aspiring jazz singer Milton Brown joined forces with Jim Rob Wills and his Wills Fiddle Band (consisting of Wills and guitarist Herman Arnspiger) in 1930.  Finding success in local dance halls, they soon took their act on the radio, bringing on Brown’s younger brother Derwood and fiddler-banjoist-guitarist Sleepy Johnson.  After a brief sponsorship by the Aladdin Lamp Company as the “Aladdin Laddies”, they convinced W. Lee O’Daniel of the Burrus Mill and Elevator Company to take the group on as the “Light Crust Doughboys” in 1931, drawing their name from the brand of flour produced by the mill.  After two weeks of successful broadcasts, O’Daniel canceled their show, citing distaste for their “hillbilly music.”  Fortunately, the will of the people prevailed and the Doughboys were brought back by popular demand (under the stipulation that the boys also work day jobs at the mill).  Though O’Daniel initially forbade his band from recording, the Doughboys managed to get in a brief recording session during the RCA Victor Company’s 1932 field trip to Dallas, cutting one record under the rather thinly veiled pseudonym “Fort Worth Doughboys”.  Not long after that session, the original lineup of the Light Crust Doughboys began to disintegrate under O’Daniel’s rather draconian leadership.  Brown found the arrangement too stifling, and quit the band in 1932 to form his own Musical Brownies, ultimately achieving much greater success than he could have found as a Doughboy and cementing his position as the founder of western swing before his untimely death in 1936.  Wills, on the other hand, was fired in 1933 as an unreliable employee, and thereafter moved to Waco to form his Playboys.  O’Daniel subsequently hired a new group of musicians and evidently retracted his embargo on recording, bringing the group to Chicago for a 1933 session followed by consistent record dates afterward.  W. Lee O’Daniel himself was fired from the Burrus Mill in 1935, after which he founded his own mill and string band to go with it—the Hillbilly Boys—while the Light Crust Doughboys managed to carry on just fine without him.

Bluebird B-5257 was recorded on February 9, 1932, at the Jefferson Hotel in Dallas Texas.  It was originally issued on Victor 23653, which sold a total of 1,246 copies, and also reissued on Electradisk 2137, Sunrise S-3340, Montgomery Ward M-4416 and M-4757, and, in Canada, on Aurora 415.  The Fort Worth Doughboys are Milton Brown, singing, Bob Wills on fiddle, Derwood Brown on guitar, and Sleepy Johnson on tenor guitar.

Whether it is to be considered the first western swing record remains a point of contention among historians of the genre; some argue that the music thereon lacks the improvisational element of jazz music, and thus cannot be considered western swing.  Personally, I am of the “smells-like-a-rose-no-matter-what-you-call-it” mindset, and it sounds like western swing to me.  At the very least, it should be unanimous that it is a crucial predecessor to the subsequent western swing movement.

On the obverse, the Doughboys play Milton Brown’s adaptation of the Famous Hokum Boys’ (Georgia Tom Dorsey, Big Bill Broonzy, and Frank Brasswell) 1930 hokum blues number “Nancy Jane”.

Nancy Jane, recorded February 9, 1932 by the Fort Worth Doughboys.

And on the reverse, they play Brown’s own composition “Sunbonnet Sue”, which to my ear seems to have drawn some melodic inspiration from the 1930 popular song “Sweet Jennie Lee” (who incidentally received mention in the lyrics alongside some other popular gals from songs of the day).

Sunbonnet Sue, recorded February 9, 1932 by the Fort Worth Doughboys.