With a stage persona that brought rural electrification to Tennessee early, the legendary “Dixie Dewdrop,” “King of the Hillbillies,” Uncle Dave Macon, has been called the “grandfather of country music” (Jimmie Rodgers, of course, being the “father”), and that’s no stretch; his energetic renditions of old time minstrel ditties and jubilant sacred songs made him an enduring and beloved favorite of Southern listeners from the dawn of radio entertainment until the early 1950s.
David Harrison Macon was born on October 7, 1870, five miles south of McMinnville, Tennessee in small settlement of Smartt Station, son of Martha and Confederate veteran John Macon. In 1884, the Macons purchased a hotel and moved to Nashville. While there, the young Dave learned banjo from circus performer Joel Davidson. After his father was murdered in ’86, Macon and his mother sold the hotel and took up in Readyville. His mother ran a stagecoach inn there, and Dave used his musical proclivities to entertain guests. Soon after, Macon started a mule train, which lasted until the automobile killed off business in 1920. The next year, Macon was hired for his first professional musical engagement. In 1923, Macon was “discovered” by Marcus Loew of the famous theater chain of the same name, and brought into the world of processional vaudeville. Joining with fiddler Sid Harkreader, Macon’s act became a hit, and the Sterchi Brothers Furniture Company arranged a recording session for them with Vocalion in July of 1924. Late in 1925, the fledgling radio station WSM in Nashville started their Barn Dance program to compete the successful show of the same name on Chicago’s WLS, and Macon became one of the first stars of what would later become known as the Grand Ole Opry. In 1927, he formed the Fruit Jar Drinkers with the McGee Brothers and Mazy Todd. After recording for Vocalion from 1924 to 1929, Macon recorded only sporadically in the 1930s, with sessions for Okeh in 1930, the Starr Piano Company’s Champion in 1934 (try to find those records!), and Victor’s Bluebird in 1935 and 1938. Despite slacking off in recording, Uncle Dave continued to perform live for many years. In 1940, he appeared in the Republic Pictures film Grand Ole Opry, accompanied by his son Dorris. Uncle Dave Macon played his last performance on March 1, 1952, and died three weeks later, on the twenty-second, at the age of 81. His life is celebrated annually with “Uncle Dave Macon Days” in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
Vocalion 14848 was recorded on July 8 and 9, 1924 in New York City, “Sung and Played by Uncle Dave Macon (Banjo)”. It was shortly afterward issued on Vocalion 5041, in their “Hillbilly” series. It is comprised of his first and sixth recorded sides, and was his second issued record.
The first side he ever recorded, “Keep My Skillet Good and Greasy” is one of Uncle Dave’s most iconic pieces, and perhaps his best remembered in this day and age. Fourteen years later, the song was published in his official songbook, Songs and Stories of Uncle Dave Macon.
On the reverse, Uncle Dave plays and sings “Papa’s Billie Goat”, a cover of fellow country music pioneer Fiddlin’ John Carson’s recording of the previous year.