A Skillet Lickers Double Feature – Bluebird B-5433 & B-5562 – 1934

Few old time “hillbilly” string bands of the 1920s and ’30s left behind such illustrious and distinguished legacies (and darned good music, too) as Gid Tanner and his Skillet Lickers.  From their first recordings in 1926, Tanner’s Skillet Lickers established themselves as one of the most commercially successful “hillbilly” bands of the decade.  But as the twenties ceased to roar giving way to depression, the record industry quickly faltered, and so did the recording oriented Skillet Lickers.  The band had their last session for Columbia Records—with whom they had recorded exclusively since their first session—in October of 1931, and broke up thereafter.  Fiddle player Clayton McMichen went on to form his Georgia Wildcats and found success on radio and records through the remainder of the decade.  Come 1934 however, Gid put together a reunion of sorts.  Together with his son Gordon Tanner, old pal Riley Puckett, and mandolin player Ted Hawkins, they traveled to San Antonio, Texas, where the RCA Victor Company was holding a series of recording sessions at the Texas Hotel.  There, they recorded in two sessions on March 29th and 30th a series of twenty four sides, mostly energetic and jubilant dance tunes in stark contrast with the hard times the nation was then facing at the depth of the Great Depression, concluding with two of their classic “skit” records: “Prosperity and Politics” and “Practice Night With the Skillet Lickers”.

Bluebird B-5433 and B-5562 were both recorded on March 29, 1934 at the Texas Hotel in San Antonio, Texas—the same time and place Riley Puckett recorded his famed solo performance of “Ragged but Right” and others.  The former was released on April 18th of that year, and the latter on July 18th.  B-5433 was also issued concurrently on Montgomery Ward M-4845, and B-5562 was reissued widely throughout the following decades on RCA Victor 20-2167 and 420-0569, making it all the way into the 45 RPM era on 447-0569.  The Skillet Lickers are Gid Tanner and his son Gordon Tanner on fiddles, Ted Hawkins on mandolin, and Riley Puckett on guitar.

On B-5433, the Skillet Lickers play two old time fiddle standards, both tunes which they recorded previously in 1930 and ’29, respectively.  First it’s “Georgia Waggoner”, the first side they recorded at the reunion session.  Next, keeping in the same theme, they follow with one of my personal favorites, a high energy rendition of “Mississippi Sawyer”, punctuated by Hawkins’ mandolin.  The band members can be heard talking over the music, lending to an informal atmosphere.

Georgia Waggoner and Mississippi Sawyer, recorded March 29, 1934 by Gid Tanner and his Skillet Lickers.

On B-5562, the Skillet Lickers first play that old 1921 L. Wolfe Gilbert standby, “Down Yonder” (which we last heard played by an unidentified pianist).  This might just be my favorite Skillet Lickers side; I like their 1934 sound with the added mandolin, even though the old mainstays like Clayton McMichen and Fate Norris are absent.  Then, they play another utterly bright and feel-good tune, the traditional fiddle piece “Back Up and Push”.  Though not credited as such in Russell’s Country Music Records, I’m quite certain Riley Puckett’s voice can be heard on this side, hollering some of the calls (“now ladies in the center and gents catch air, hold ‘er Newt, don’t let ‘er rare”).

Down Yonder and Back Up and Push, recorded March 39, 1934 by Gid Tanner and his Skillet Lickers.

Columbia 15324-D – Riley Puckett – 1928

Blanche H. Bailey, the former Mrs. Riley Puckett, and Robert Puckett, at her home in Riverdale, GA. April 29, 1979. From the collection of Roy Robert Puckett, reproduced with permission.

Blanche H. Bailey, the former Mrs. Riley Puckett, and Robert Puckett, at her home in Riverdale, GA. April 29, 1979.
From the collection of Roy Robert Puckett, reproduced with permission.

May the seventh marks the 122nd anniversary of the birth of country music legend Riley Puckett.

George Riley Puckett was born May 7, 1894 in Dallas, Georgia.  He lost his sight as an infant after a doctor threw salt in his eyes as an ill-fated attempted treatment for an eye infection, and was educated at the Georgia School for the Blind in Macon, Georgia (same place where Blind Willie McTell was educated).  As an adult, Riley’s clear baritone singing voice earning him the title of the “Bald Mountain Caruso.”  As talented with a guitar as with his voice, he sang, yodeled, and played both solo and with the string bands of some of the finest fiddle players of their time, Gid Tanner and Clayton McMichen.  Puckett began playing on WSB in Atlanta during radio’s infancy in 1922, and recorded his first sides for Columbia in 1924, backed by Gid Tanner, starting with the same song that began his contemporary Fiddlin’ John Carson’s recording career, “The Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane”.  In the 1920s, Puckett was one of Columbia’s most popular hillbilly artists, but parted ways with the company in 1931, and recorded for a number of other record labels thereafter, ultimately leaving him with a recorded output of several hundred sides, solo and as a sideman.  Puckett continued to record sporadically throughout the Great Depression and into the 1940s.  In 1946, he died of blood poisoning from an untreated boil.

The last time we heard from ol’ Riley Puckett was when we heard him sing one of his most popular and well remembered songs, Ragged but Right.  Now, here’s another of his records that is a little more obscure.

Columbia 15324-D was recorded October 22 and 23, 1928 in Atlanta, Georgia by Riley Puckett.

Last time we heard Kelly Harrell’s “Away Out On the Mountain”, it was sung by Jimmie Rodgers.  As much as I like Jimmie, I think Riley does excellent work with this song too.

Away Out On the Mountain, recorded

Away Out On the Mountain, recorded October 22, 1928 by Riley Puckett.

Next up is “The Moonshiner’s Dream”, taking us back to the days of Prohibition.

The Moonshiner's Dream, recorded

The Moonshiner’s Dream, recorded October 23, 1928 by Riley Puckett.

Bluebird B-5587 – Riley Puckett – 1934

At one of my regular haunts the other day, I happened upon this exceptionally fine copy of what may be considered the great country singer Riley Puckett’s best record.  As it happens, some of Puckett’s relatives in Georgia are close family friends of mine, so I thought it might be nice to whip up a quick post for this fine disc.

George Riley Puckett was born in 1894 in Dallas, Georgia.  He was struck blind after a doctor threw salt in his eyes attempting to treat an infection.  Around the time of his early performances, he was dubbed “The Bald Mountain Caruso.”  Rising to become one of the most popular country musicians of the era, Puckett recorded both solo and with a number string bands, most notably Gid Tanner’s Skillet Lickers, from 1924 until 1941.  He died of blood poisoning in 1946.

On Bluebird B-5587, Riley Puckett plays guitar and sings two of his finest songs, accompanied by the Skillet Lickers’ Ted Hawkins on mandolin.  Both sides were recorded March 29, 1934 at the Texas Hotel in San Antonio, Texas.

On side “A”, Riley soulfully sings and yodels Carson Robison’s humorous tale of salvation on the wonderful “I’m Gettin’ Ready to Go”.

I’m Gettin’ Ready to Go, recorded March 29, 1934 by Riley Puckett.

On the “B” side, Puckett delivers a marvelous performance of one of his most famous songs, “Ragged but Right”.

Ragged but Right, recorded March 29, 1934 in San Antonio by Riley Puckett

Ragged but Right, recorded March 29, 1934 by Riley Puckett