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.
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”).
Updated on April 28, 2018.