Now what we have here is a good old-fashioned split release; one artist on one side, a different one on the other. Not just any old split release though, these two sides happen to contain a couple of the hottest hillbilly performances of the Depression years. Two of my own personal favorites at least.
Bluebird B-5403 was recorded on December 6, 1933 in Chicago, Illinois, and November 22, 1930 in Memphis, Tennessee, respectively, and was released on April 4, 1934. The two sides also appeared together on Montgomery Ward M-4750. The Delmore Brothers are Alton on guitar and Rabon on tenor guitar, vocals by both; the Allen Brothers are Austin on tenor banjo and vocals and Lee on guitar and kazoo.
The Delmore Brothers were born into a family of poor farmers in Elkmont, Alabama—first Alton on Christmas Day in 1908, then Rabon on December 3, 1916. Their mother Mollie wrote and sang church songs, and soon Alton joined, publishing his first song with his mother in 1925. They started out their musical career singing at local fiddle contests, and cut their first record for Columbia on October 28, 1931 in Atlanta. Two years later, they secured a contract with RCA Victor’s Bluebird records, and spot on WSM’s Grand Ole Opry. They found their greatest success as Opry members, playing alongside Fiddlin’ Arthur Smith and Uncle Dave Macon, and remained on the show until a dispute in 1939. After parting ways, they continued to The Delmores switched to the King label in 1944, shortly after the label’s inception, with whom they had some of their greatest record successes, including “Freight Train Boogie” in 1946 with harmonica player Wayne Raney, and “Blues Stay Away from Me” in 1949. The Delmore Brothers’ career ended with Rabon’s early death from lung cancer on December 4, 1952. Alton lived on for twelve more years, dying of a heart attack on June 8, 1964.
First up, from their first Bluebird session, Alton and Rabon Delmore sing and play up a real masterpiece on their spectacular and widely imitated hit composition “Brown’s Ferry Blues”, one of twelve sides recorded that day. The Delmores followed up two years later with “Brown’s Ferry Blues-Part 2” and “Part 3” two years after that, and re-recorded the popular tune all the way in 1946 for King Records.
Not to be confused with the Australian duo of the late 1960s, the Allen Brothers—Austin, born February 7, 1901, and Lee, born June 1, 1906—originated from Sewanee, Tennessee, and got their start in music playing in medicine shows and coal mining towns. Sometimes called the “Chattabooga Boys” for their frequent references to the Tennessee town, the duo made their first records for Columbia in April of 1927, and followed up with two further sessions for them until one of their records was mistakenly issued in their 14000-D “race” series rather than the 15000-D “Old Familiar Tunes” series, which seems to have offended the pair, because they threatened to bring a lawsuit against Columbia Records. Instead, they switched to Victor for the vast bulk of their recorded output between 1928 and ’32. They concluded their recording career with a series of sessions for Vocalion in October of 1934 (little did they know, apparently, that around that same time, Vocalion was under the same parent company as their forsaken Columbia). After that, the vice grip of the Great Depression forced them to end their musical careers, and seek employment in the construction game. Austin died on January 5, 1959, while Lee survived into the folk revival of the 1960s, when he was persuaded to perform once again, before his own death on February 24, 1981.
Here, the Chattanooga boys, Austin and Lee Allen sing their second take on this old folk ditty with “A New Salty Dog”. This one was originally issued in Victor’s “Old Familiar Tunes” series, number 23514, in 1931. Their old “Salty Dog” was recorded for Columbia in 1927; in my opinion, the “new” one’s better.