Okeh 45114 – Frank Hutchison – 1927

The last time we heard from the “Pride of West Virginia”—our old pal Frank Hutchison—he gave us two fine songs, joined on one by Sherman Lawson on fiddle.  Now let’s hear from Frank again with two of his most famous performances, played on slide guitar.

Willis Franklin Hutchison was born most probably on March 20, 1897 in Beckley, Raleigh County, West Virginia, but soon relocated to Logan County.  He later dedicated his “Logan County Blues”—a re-working of the tune called “Spanish Fandango”—to that location, in which he spent most of his life.  He learned the blues from local black musicians, and was an excellent guitarist, playing in regular style and flat on his lap using a pocketknife as a slide, and also possessed formidable skill on harmonica.  Like fellow folk musician “Dock” Boggs, Hutchison made his living as a coal miner, and only musicianed on the side.  He was said to have been a large (but slim) fellow with red hair and an extroverted personality, and reportedly walked with a limp, likely a result of an injury in the mines.  In September of 1926, Hutchison became one of the pre-Bristol sessions “hillbilly” musicians on records when he traveled to New York City for a session with the Okeh record company, producing in that session but a single disc.  That was not to be all for Frank Hutchison however, he returned to the city to record again in January of the next year, producing his notable rendition of “Stackalee” included on Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music and eight other titles.  Thereafter, he continued to record for Okeh, in New York and “on location”, until 1929, ultimately leaving a legacy of more than forty recorded sides in all.  After the conclusion of his recording career, Hutchison moved from Logan County to Ohio, but soon settled in the small town of Lake, West Virginia, where he worked as postmaster and operated a store.  A fire claimed Hutchison’s property in 1942, after which he moved to Dayton, Ohio, reputedly entertaining on riverboats.  Frank Hutchison died from liver disease on November 9, 1945.  He was inducted into the West Virginia Music Hall of Fame in 2018, seventy-three years after his passing.

Okeh 45114 was recorded on April 29, 1927 in St. Louis, Missouri by Frank Hutchison.  It’s worthy of note that both sides are remakes of his first two sides, which were recorded acoustically on September 28, 1926 and released on Okeh 45064.  In my opinion as well as that, I’m sure, of many others, these sides are considerably better and more polished performances than that original record, in addition to being unquestionably superior quality recordings, technically speaking.

First, Hutchison plays what may well be his most famous song, which earned him the scholarly recognition of being one of the earliest white musicians to play the country blues: “Worried Blues”.

Worried Blues, recorded April 29, 1927 by Frank Hutchison.

On the other side, Frank plays another one of his finest, the classic “The Train That Carried the Girl From Town”.  “Breakfast on the table, coffee’s gettin’ cold, some old rounder stole my jelly roll.”

The Train That Carried the Girl From Town, recorded April 29, 1927 by Frank Hutchison.

Okeh 45313 – Frank Hutchison – 1928

Born on this day (March 20) was Frank Hutchison, one of the outstanding players in early recorded music, and one of the earliest white musicians to record blues.

Hutchison was born in 1897 (per his birth certificate, though some sources suggest an 1891 date, see Mr. Scott’s comment below) in Logan County, West Virginia.  He made his living working in the coal mines, but was also a versatile musician, skilled in guitar, which he frequently played using a slide, harmonica, and vocals.  In September of 1926, Hutchison made his first recordings for the Okeh Phonograph Company, starting with one of his most famous numbers, “Worried Blues”.  From 1926 to 1929, Hutchison cut forty-one sides, all for Okeh, and appeared on Okeh’s “Medicine Show” a set of records highlighting Okeh’s top hillbilly artists, much like Columbia’s “A Corn Licker Still in Georgia” series, and so forth.  After making his records and ending his work in the coal mines, he opened a store and served as postmaster of Lake, West Virginia.  Tragically, Hutchison lost everything and became an alcoholic when the store burned down.  He later relocated to Ohio and worked as a musician on riverboats.  Hutchison died of liver disease in 1945.

Okeh 45313 was recorded September 10 and 11, 1928 in New York City by Frank Hutchison.  These were Hutchison’s only sessions in 1928, and the latter was his second to last session overall.

As were a great many of Hutchison’s recordings, the humorous “The Burglar Man”—an old time song also recorded by the likes of Uncle Dave Macon—is nothing short of a guitar masterpiece.  This side was recorded on the latter date.

The Burglar Man, recorded

The Burglar Man, recorded September 11, 1928 by Frank Hutchison.

On his rendition of the old minstrel song “Alabama Girl, Ain’t You Comin’ Out Tonight?”, Hutchison is joined by Sherman Lawson on fiddle.  This one is one of three issued Hutchison sides to feature Lawson.  This side was recorded on the September 10 date.

Alabama Girl, Ain't You Comin' Out To-Night, recorded

Alabama Girl, Ain’t You Comin’ Out Tonight, recorded September 10, 1928 by Frank Hutchison.

Updated with improved audio on September 11, 2017, and on October 29, 2017.