The two Stripling Brothers have had the Old Time Blues limelight shined at them once before, when they played for us their tour de force breakdown “The Lost Child”, but, with that article dedicated primarily to the honor of the great record man Joe Bussard, I have yet to delve deeply into the duo’s history. Fortunately, the time has now come to rectify that oversight.
The story of the brothers Stripling began in Alabama, in the county of Pickens, on the eighth of August, 1896, with the birth of Charlie Melvin Stripling. His brother Ira Lee followed him into the world almost two years later on June 5, 1898. As a youth, Charlie learned to fiddle from a neighbor called “Uncle Plez”—properly Pleasant C. Carroll, born circa 1850—who imparted the old-time traditions of the middle nineteenth century on the young man. Soon, brother Ira took up the guitar to back Charlie up, ordering a six dollar instrument from a catalog. Soon the pair was taking on fiddle contests and conventions, competing for cash prizes. Not content with his meager earnings as a sharecropper, Charlie Stripling set out to win the first prizes to help bring the bacon home to his wife and six kids, and so was bent on becoming the finest fiddler in the region. Like quite a few fiddler of his time, he supplemented his old-time repertoire with more modern “fox-trot” melodies to please a less geriatric audience. The team played dances and functions around the area, and began performing on Birmingham radio station WAPI. When the Brunswick-Balke-Collender Company ventured down south to Birmingham late in 1928, the Striplings cut their first record for the company’s Vocalion label. Subsequently, the pair went on to record quite prolifically for regional old-time artists of their day, traveling to Chicago the following year to make a further sixteen sides for Vocalion. Five years later, they traveled all the way to New York to record for the newly founded Decca company, making a total fourteen more sides. When Decca came to New Orleans in 1936, the Striplings had their fourth and final session, rounding out their discography with another fourteen sides. By the end of their recording career, the Stripling Brothers netted a total of twenty-one records, with four sides unissued by Decca. Though the vice grip of the Great Depression took the brothers off of records, and Ira retired from music to dedicate his time to managing the store he owned, Charlie Stripling continued fiddling for the rest of his life. He was joined sometimes by his sons Robert and Lee, and later formed a band when his sons went off to war, but he never made another record. Charlie Stripling died on January 19, 1966. He was survived for a little more than a year by Ira, who passed on March 11, 1967.
Decca 5018 was recorded on September 10, 1934 at the Pythian Temple on 135 West 70th Street in New York City, and is the Stripling Brothers’ first released record on the Decca label. As with all of the Striplings’ records, the instrumentation consists of Charlie on fiddle and Ira on guitar.
First, the brothers break it down on the lively “Possum Hollow”.
Next, they play that ubiquitous fiddle melody, the waltz known as “Wednesday Night”.