On this Mother’s Day, I take a moment away from Old Time Blues’ usual dedication to long gone musicianers to spend a moment of appreciation for all the beloved mothers of the world, not least my own.
A portrait of motherhood in the roaring twenties.
Though nowadays rather receded from their former stature within popular culture, there once existed nearly an entire genre of “mother songs” dedicated to maternal appreciation, songs like Fiddlin’ John Carson’s “You’ll Never Miss Your Mother ‘Till She’s Gone”, Jimmie Rodgers’ “Mother, the Queen of My Heart”, and Rudyard Kipling’s “Mother o’ Mine” to name just two of many. Hundreds—if not thousands—of songs were published and recorded in the first decades of the twentieth century celebrating the love of a son (or daughter) for his mother. Indeed, many of them tended a little on the sappy side, but the sentiment behind them, generally, was honest and sincere, and represented a culture which rightfully valued a mother’s love. The record published herein contains two such songs, originally published in the early decades of the twentieth century, in honor of dear old mother, as sung in duet by the so-called Cullen Brothers (though in fact they were not really brothers and only one was a Cullen).
Supertone 9741 was recorded on May 23, 1930, presumably in Richmond, Indiana. The “Cullen Brothers” are in fact Billy Cullen and Barney Kleeber. The instrumentalists on piano, violin, and guitar are unidentified. The same pairing was also issued on Champion 16045, credited to its true artists, and the “A” side also appeared on Superior 2513, credited to “Ward and Scott”.
Firstly, Cullen and Kleeber sing Arthur Dewey Larkin’s composition “Mother Dear (Do You Hear Me Calling You)”, originally published in 1922.
Mother Dear (Do You Year Me Calling You), recorded May 23, 1930 by the Cullen Bros.
Next, from 1914, they sing H.C. Weasner’s “Just a Dream of Mother” on the “B’ side.
Just a Dream of Mother, recorded May 23, 1930 by the Cullen Bros.
One of the truly great folksingers to record in the 1920s—years before the folk revivals of the early 1940s or 1960s—was Bradley Kincaid. Popular on radio and records, and with a successful series of songbooks, he helped to disseminate the numerous American folk songs he had collected and bring them to the listening public in a way that academics like John A. Lomax and Carl Sandburg could not approach, and he always he did so in a most respectful and dignified manner. We have briefly discussed Kincaid once before on Old Time Blues, but that was in the early days, before the now high standard of quality had been established, and the accompanying text was rather lacking, so now let us direct our attention once again to the “Kentucky Mountain Boy”.
Bradley Kincaid, as pictured in Favorite Mountain Ballads and Old Time Songs, 1928.
William Bradley Kincaid was born on July 13, 1895, in the village of Point Leavell in Garrard County, Kentucky, in the foothills of the Appalachian mountain range. One of the ten children of poor farmer William P. Kincaid, he received little formal education in his early years, but began his musical pursuits at a very young age, when his father—an amateur musician himself—traded one of their hound dogs for a guitar to give to young Bradley (or so the story goes). When old enough to work, he got a job at a lunch counter in nearby Stanford, Kentucky, but soon left the position to fight for Uncle Sam in the German War. On his return home, he took a job at a Cincinnati tailoring firm. He also continued his education at Berea College, having attended their Foundation School for two years prior to his service to complete the sixth through eighth grades. While there, he began to collect songs and became more seriously interested in folk music; he also met music teacher Irma Forman, whom he would later marry. From Berea, Kincaid moved onward and upward to the YMCA College in Chicago in 1924, where he earned a four year degree in 1928. As a singer in the YMCA College Quartet, he made his radio debut on Sear-Roebuck’s radio station WLS in Chicago in 1926. Soon afterward, he began appearing on the station regularly as a cast member of the National Barn Dance program on the recommendation of the Quartet’s manager. Soon, the fan mail began to pour in—Kincaid reportedly received 100,000 letters in every year of his time on the Barn Dance.
As a professional singer, Kincaid repudiated the “hillbilly” stereotype (or “Hilly Billy,” as he put it) that was so prevalent since country music styles first found commercial success, instead presenting himself as an educated and sophisticated folksinger—pioneering (alongside Buell Kazee and Bascom Lamar Lunsford) a similar mold to that in which folk musicians like Pete Seeger would model themselves in subsequent decades. A year into his tenure on the National Barn Dance, Kincaid made his recording debut for the Starr Piano Company, manufacturers of Gennett records and their numerous client labels. The year after that, he published his first songbook, titled Favorite Mountain Ballads and Old Time Songs, the success of which made it the first in a series of thirteen, and which purportedly made him the first of many country singing stars to do so. Additionally, “Bradley Kincaid Houn’ Dog” guitars, manufactured by Harmony, were sold by Sears-Roebuck, the proprietors of the station that hosted the National Barn Dance. Kincaid departed WLS and the Barn Dance in 1929 and made for WLW in Cincinnati and a Brunswick Records deal. Subsequently, he performed on WGY, Schenectady, and WHAM, Rochester, in New York, and began recording for RCA Victor’s Bluebird label in 1933, and for Decca in ’34. For the latter, he made a series of Irish records rather outside of his typical repertoire. After leaving completing his Decca recordings in 1935, Kincaid did not record again for quite some time. While appearing on WBZ in Boston alongside banjo player Marshall Jones, he nicknamed the young musician “Grandpa” for his cantankerous demeanor. In 1944, Kincaid joined the Grand Ole Opry on WSM in Nashville, Tennessee, holding that position for five years. After World War Two, he recorded again for Majestic Records in 1947 and ’47, and briefly for Captiol around 1950. Thereafter, he bought and owned WWSO in Springfield, Ohio, from 1949 until 1953, at which point he retired from performing professionally and opened a music store. He recorded occasionally during his retirement, in 1963 and ’73, and sang for small audiences, but mostly enjoyed a quiet life. In 1988, at the age of ninety-three, Bradley Kincaid was seriously injured in a car accident, from which he never fully recovered. He died the following year, on September 23, 1989, in Springfield, Ohio, the town he had called home for some forty years.
Supertone 9208 was recorded around February 28, 1928, and December 19, 1927, respectively, in Chicago, Illinois. Bradley Kincaid sings and accompanies himself on his “Houn’ Dog Guitar”. It was also issued on Silvertone 5187 and 8218. Split up, side “A” also appeared on Superior 2588, while side “B” appeared on Gennett 6363 and Champion 15502, and on Melotone 45008 in Canada.
Firstly, Kincaid sings a charming rendition of one of my favorite cowboy songs: “Bury Me On the Prairie”. Kincaid’s pleasant tenor voice and straightforward delivery afforded him widespread appeal with early radio audiences.
Bury Me On the Prairie, recorded c. February 28, 1928 by Bradley Kincaid.
Nextly is the old folk song “Sweet Kitty Wells”, notably the namesake of the popular country singer of the 1950s onward, recorded at Kincaid’s very first recording session.
Sweet Kitty Wells, recorded c. December 19, 1927 by Bradley Kincaid.
For your listening pleasure, after a brief and unintentional hiatus, I offer this fine folk record on this nice Gennett Supertone by WLS artist Chubby Parker.
Frederick R. “Chubby” Parker, born in 1876, was a Chicago-based banjo player and folk singer popular on the National Barn Dance on WLS radio in the 1920s, which was a precursor to the famous Grand Ole Opry. Parker was born in Lafayette, Indiana, and graduated from Purdue in 1898 as an electrical engineer. He reportedly worked as a circus performer, and later as an electrician, patent attorney, and inventor in Chicago before turning to radio. Parker became a very popular performer on WLS and allegedly received almost 3,000 fan letters in one week in February 1927. He left radio and recording after 1931, with one final appearance on WLS in 1936. He died in 1940.
Supertone 9188 was recorded on February 26, 1927 (perhaps the same week he got all those letters) in Chicago, Illinois, recorded by the Starr Piano Company, producers of Gennett Records. Radio station WLS (an acronym for “World’s Largest Store”) was owned by Sears, Roebuck & Company, and they were eager to market records by their popular radio artists on their record labels such as Silvertone and this Supertone.
Parker’s “I’m a Stern Old Bachelor” is probably the first recording of this folk song, but I can’t guarantee it, and I haven’t researched it in depth.
I’m a Stern Old Bachelor, recorded February 26, 1927.
Parker’s excellent “Bib-a-Lollie-Boo” has the distinction of being featured on Dust-to-Digital’s fine multimedia set “I Listen to the Wind that Obliterates My Traces”, and features some gems of lyrics that can be found in the little widget that displays song lyrics at the top of the home page of this site.
Bib-A-Lollie-Boo, recorded February 26, 1927 by Chubby Parker.
Carson Robison and Frank Luther as “Bud and Joe Billings”. From Victor catalog, 1930.
So far I’ve mostly shared jazz records, so I think it’s about time I broke the monotony with something a bit different, so here’s one of my favorite country records, by Frank Luther and Carson Robison.
Carson Robison started out his lengthy and prolific recording career as a guitar player for vaudevillian Wendell Hall in 1924, becoming a studio guitarist and whistler for Victor records. Later that year, he was teamed up with the classically trained hillbilly singer Vernon Dalhart, beginning a partnership that lasted until an acrimonious parting in 1928, and would define “citybilly” music. Soon after, Robison joined forces with minister-turned-singer and fellow Kansan Frank Luther, who had previously sung with the Revelers and as a popular dance band vocalist, and the pair went on to supersede Dalhart as some of the nation’s foremost country recording artists. Their partnership lasted until 1932, when Robison set sail with a new group to bring hillbilly music to the British Isles. Luther continued to record domestically.
Supertone S2061 was recorded on May 21, 1929 and December 10, 1928, respectively, in New York City. The two sides were originally issued apart, with the first side on Brunswick 425 and the second on Vocalion 5278. This Supertone was released around 1931, and draws its masters from the Brunswick/Vocalion catalog rather than the original Gennett masters, after the Brunswick Radio Corporation (a subsidiary of Warner Brothers Pictures) acquired the contract from the Starr Piano Company.
On the first side of Supertone S2061, Frank Luther and Carson Robison perform “Left My Gal in the Mountains”, one of many country songs written by Robison and recorded by the duo on numerous labels. The accompaniment—made up of Earl Oliver on cornet, probably Roy Smeck on steel guitar, and an unknown clarinettist and guitarist—adds a little jazz to the song.
Left My Gal in the Mountains, recorded May 21, 1929 by Frank Luther and Carson Robison.
On the flip-side, Luther, accompanied by Robison on guitar, sings Harry McClintock’s famous “Big Rock Candy Mountains” in an almost flawless imitation of Mac.
The Big Rock Candy Mountains, recorded December 13, 1928 by Frank Luther.