Various – Texas HillBillies – 1922-1937 – 4CD
This collection of 93 instrumentals and songs provides a tantalizing glimpse into the string band music performed by Texas ‘hillbilly’ musicians in the 1920s and 1930s. An eternity of musical secrets is locked within these discs that beg for further study and sleuthing, and will keep the listener mesmerized for a lifetime. These musicians from the pre-war era drew from very old folk traditions while they forged new pathways with boundary breaking experimentation. A journey far back into the depths of an early Texas, when the music was resonating with echoes of the elders and the birthing pangs of young bloods. A magical place where you’ll find as much diversity within the early string band traditions as you find in the history of popular Texas music itself.
AC (Eck) Robertson: 1. Sallie Gooden - Lewis Brothers: 2. Sally Johnson - 3. Bull at the Wagon- Prince Albert Hunt’s Texas Ramblers: 4. Blues in a Bottle - 5. Traveling Man - Red Headed Fiddlers: 6. Paddy on the Hand Car - 7. The Steeley Rag - Cartwright Brothers: 8. San Antonio - 9. Zacatecas - East Texas Serenaders: 10. Dream Shadows - 11. Babe Fox Chasers - 12. Eighth of January - 13. Forked Deer - Oscar & Doc Harper: 14. Beaumont Rag - 15. Billy in the Low Ground - East Texas Serenaders: 16. Gulf Waltz - 17. Mineola Rag - Red Headed Fiddlers: 18. Texas Quickstep - 19. Never Alone Waltz - AC (Eck) Robertson: 20. Ragtime - Annie Henry C Gilliland & AC (Eck) Robertson: 21. Turkey in the Straw - East Texas Serenaders: 22. Acorn Stomp - 23. Shannon Waltz -
WA Hinton: 1. Leather Britches - Dick Devall: 2. Tom Sherman’s Barroom - Henry C Gilliland & AC (Eck) Robertson: 3. Arkansaw Traveler - Smith’s Garage Fiddle Band: 4. Cuban Two Step Rag - Red Headed Fiddlers: 5. Cheat ’Em - 6. Far in the Mountain - East Texas Serenaders: 7. Sweetest Flower - 8. Combination Rag - MS Dillehay: 9. Mexican Beans - 10. Mother-in-Law - Cartwright Brothers: 11. Utah Carrol - 12. Get Along Little Dogies - Hugh Roden & His Texas Night Hawks:13. Possum Rag - 14. Crazy Rag - East Texas Serenaders: 15. Del Rio Waltz - 16. East Texas Drag - Oscar Harper's Texas String Band: 17. Sally Johnson - 18. She Gave Up - Smith’s Garage Fiddle Band: 19. Beaumont Rag - 20. Twinkle Twinkle Little Star - Eck Robertson & Family: 21. The Island Unknown (Pt 1) - 22. The Island Unknown (Pt 2) -
Arthur Miles:1. Lonely Cowboy (Pt 1) - 2. Lonely Cowboy (Pt 2) - Lewis Brothers: 3. Caliope - 4. When Summer Comes Again - Fiddlin’ Jim Pate: 5. Prisoner Boy - 6. Texas Farewell - Cartwright Brothers: 7. On the Old Chisholm Trail - 8. When the Work’s All Done This Fall - AC (Eck) Robertson: 9. Sally Johnson and Billy in the Low Ground - 10. Done Gone - Prince Albert Hunt’s Texas Ramblers: 11. Wake Up Jacob - 12. Waltz of Roses - Red Headed Fiddlers: 13. Ragtime Annie - 14. Texas Waltz - East Texas Serenaders: 15. Arizona Stomp - 16. Shannon Waltz - Eck Robertson & Family: 17. Brilliancy Medley - 18. Amarillo Waltz - East Texas Serenaders: 19. Three In One Two-Step - 20. Meadow Brook Waltz - Oscar & Doc Harper: 21. Dallas Bound - 22. Terrell Texas Blues - Eck Robertson & Family: 23. Brown Kelly Waltz (Pt 1) - 24. Brown Kelly Waltz (Pt 2) -
Hugh Roden & Roy Rodgers: 1. Chicken in the Garden - Prince Albert Hunt’s Texas Ramblers: 2. Houston Slide - Smith’s Garage Fiddle Band: 3. Tom & Jerry - Eck Robertson & Family: 4. There’s a Brown Skin Girl Down the Road Somewhere - Oscar & Doc Harper: 5. Twinkle Little Star - 6. Bitter Creek - Solomon & Hughes: 7. Ragtime Annie - 8. Sally Johnson - Capt MJ Bonner: 9. Yearling’s in the Canebrake / The Gal on the Log - 10. Dusty Miller / Ma Ferguson - Oscar Harper’s Texas String Band: 11. Kelly Waltz - 12. Bouquet Waltz - East Texas Serenaders: 13. Ozark Rag - 14. Louisa Waltz - Eck Robertson & Dr JB Cranfill: 15. Great Big ’Taters - 16. Run, Boy, Run - Fox Chasers: 17. Red Wing - 18. New Broom - Red Headed Fiddlers: 19. St Jobe’s Waltz - 20. Fatal Wedding - Cartwright Brothers: 21. Mammy’s Little Black-Eyed Boy - 22. Pickanniny Lullaby - East Texas Serenaders: 23. Beaumont Rag - 24. Serenaders’ Waltz -
Texas is legendary for bestowing upon the world a diverse cornucopia of musical pioneers such as Scott Joplin, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Gene Autry, Lydia Mendoza, George Jones, Flaco Jimenez, Roy Orbison, Ornette Coleman and countless others. Texas is also known for its string band music. Musicians such as Bob Wills and Benny Thomasson were expert old-time Texas fiddlers who have become identified with more popular expressions of Texas music such as western swing and Texas contest style, although both musicians were rooted in something much older. As an old-time fiddler I reside in a realm that reaches far back into the depths of an early Texas, when the music was resonating with echoes of the elders and the birthing pangs of young experimentalists. A magical place where you’ll find as much diversity within the early string band traditions as you find in the history of popular Texas music itself. Rags, breakdowns, animal sounds, waltzes, songs, yodels, early blues, throat singing, ballads, banjos, primitive drones, cellos, unearthly guitar progressions, groundbreaking fiddling, old-world accordion, polished country jazz and so much more. These ‘hillbilly’ musicians from the pre-war era drew from very old folk traditions while they forged new pathways with boundary-breaking experimentation.
This collection of ninety-three instrumentals and songs provides a tantalizing glimpse into the string band music performed by Texas ‘hillbilly’ musicians in the 1920s and ’30s. A collection of this magnitude will keep the listener mesmerized for a lifetime. For musicians like myself, there is an eternity of musical secrets locked within these four volumes that beg for further study and sleuthing. The music is sourced from the most pristine sounding 78s known to exist. Famed collector Chris King hand-picked and transferred these recordings from his personal archive as well as from Dave Freeman’s and Nathan Salsburg’s collections. The restoration and remastering is impeccable. As a 78 collector myself, I felt the need to convey the experience of listening to this music as if one just returned home with a new glossy disc, giddy with anticipation to hear the sounds born from the pleasurable intercourse of stylus into waxen groove. With that inspiration, I sequenced the set by pairing the sides of a single record together. The aforementioned listener can briefly immerse herself in the sounds of a particular artist before moving on to the next record. It also gives one insight into how the early record companies paired their sides for public consumption nearly one century ago. In a small handful of cases, there are single sides on this set. They have been meticulously arranged together at the beginnings of volumes 1, 2 and 4, enhancing this curated experience even further.
The earliest issued country fiddle recording happens to be one of the wildest virtuosic pieces ever recorded. As if its historical significance is not enough, Eck Robertson’s Sallie Gooden hurls the listener through a dimension of spiraling variations and creative sparkle that carved the path for countless Texas fiddlers. This singular moment in time, featuring just a solo fiddler, is one of the highest points of artistic expression on a country record. AC (Eck) Robertson of Amarillo (1887-1975) came from a family of fiddlers and turned professional at the age of 16. He played for silent movie theaters, traveled through Indian Territory as part of a medicine show and eventually caravanned his way to New York hoping to record for Victor. The ‘cowboy fiddler’ donning the garb of a ‘Western Plainsman’ won the record company over instantly and country music history was soon made. Throughout this set, we’ll encounter his solo recordings Sallie Gooden and Ragtime Annie, his duet recordings Turkey in the Straw, Arkansaw Traveler, Sally Johnson/Billy in the Low Ground and Done Gone, and his family band recordings The Island Unknown, Brilliancy Medley, Amarillo Waltz and Brown Kelly Waltz. All recorded between 1922 and 1929.
In potent contrast to the cosmic virtuosity of Eck’s Sallie Gooden, we encounter one of my personal favorite records of the genre: Sally Johnson from the Lewis Brothers. This particular piece of sonorous Texas booty happens to be one of my prized record possessions. Unlike Eck’s refinement and quasi-futuristic touch, the Lewis Brothers’ approach to their duets seems to be born from an earthy grunge and spiritual beauty that lies dormant in modern-day Texas fiddle music. Dempson Lewis’ manic, unbridled fingering and bowing brings to mind an unhinged monkey injected with ungodly amounts of adrenalin, hoping to escape a maze with no prospect of an exit. Denmon’s chaotic and liberal use of an antagonizing, dissonant E major chord mixed with a propelling strum pattern accentuates the frantic, dark fantasy of their sound. This is sublime stuff. The other side of this record, Bull at the Wagon, retains the immediacy, power and looseness of their style while leading the listener into an increasingly more sophisticated three-part melody. Each cycle of the tune concludes with Dempson’s fiddle imitating the sound of a bull. I see Joe Bussard’s face every time I hear it. On Disc 3 we’ll encounter their lesser-known record showcasing the brutally powerful and strange schottische Caliope along with the crooked swelling waltz When Summer Comes Again. The brothers focused their playing within their community for dances and Dempson even won a fiddle contest in El Paso in 1928. After winning the prize, a $300 saddle, he placed it on a car, mounted it and had himself driven around while playing his fiddle. The following year, they recorded these four sides and even turned down an invitation to travel to Chicago and play professionally. They chose to stay at the ranch in Crowflat and not leave their mother’s side.
The stark contrast between the first two tracks, Sallie Gooden and Sally Johnson, should serve as a reminder that there was never a unifying Texas ‘sound’ during this era. As one absorbs the offerings of this set, the stylistic differences among these artists will become glaringly obvious, especially when comparing several unique approaches to the same tunes such as Sally Johnson, Beaumont Rag, Billy in the Low Ground, Ragtime Annie and Kelly Waltz.
David Bragger, The Old-Time Tiki Parlour (Los Angeles), 2018