Bob Newman & The Georgia Crackers
Bob Newman should have been a millionnaire : he was one of the best Country music composers of the Fifties, under his name or his aliases (Lee Roberts). His rich, vibrant voice could have given him a far more successful career than he had. He remains a minor Hillbilly Bop artist.
However, he didn’t begin as soloist, but in the shadow of his elder brothers, Hank (born Henry, 1905) and Slim (born Marion Alonzo, 1910) in a trio, The Georgia Crackers . They came from a town near Macon, Ga. where Bob saw the light of day on October 16, 1915. Hank & Slim formed a duo during the Thirties, in the manner of the then immensely popular Jimmie Rodgers, and toured extensively in the Midwest and the South. Vocalion label recorded them in 1934 in New York. Later on, they settled down in Columbus, OH, where they founded a club, the G-Bar-C.
Bob joined the duo in 1935, and acted as bassist and comedian, and during the latter part of the decade they played and sang harmony vocals in the style of the Sons of The Pioneers : they not particularly shined.
Sufficiently enough because, during WW.II, when Bob and Slim were drafted, Hank joined the…Sons of The Pioneers ! After the war they reformed, and their reputation kept on growing. In Hollywood, they acted as The Georgia Crackers (for the music part ) in three low-budget Western movies starring Smiley Burnette in 1947. RCA Victor offered them a contract and they cut a handful of tracks, mostly novelties – Bob was lead singer on several. He’s even got lucky when his own composition « Leaf of Love » was cut by both Gene Autry and Tex Williams. On his part, Slim had been singing in front of the Smokey Rogers’ Western Caravan (Master Tone and Aladdin labels in 1946), without much success. The Crackers had also they regular Melody Round Up radio shows on KXLA in Pasadena, Ca. These Georgia Crackers are not to be confused with Emmet Miller’s Georgia Crackers of the same name, who had records on OKeh during the ’30s.
In the early Fifties, the trio came back to Columbus, Oh. And, thanks to former Georgia Crackers fiddle player/pianist « Shorty » Rogers, Bob got in touch with Sydney Nathan, owner of King Records in Cincinnati, who cut him in September 1950. Actually a split-session was held with Rogers, during which Bob recorded several uptempo novelties : « Leftover Hash »
and « Quarantined love » (his own composition) were encouraging enough to let Nathan him split another session with Shorty Rogers in February 1951. This time he was backed by top musicians, Jerry Byrd on steel-guitar, Louie Innis on rhythm-guitar, Tommy Jackson on fiddle, and former Crackers (and native of Columbus) lead guitar player Al Myers. This guy had precise and clean guitar style à la Merle Travis. Bob Newman of course sang and played double-bass. He was most associated for the rest of his life with « Lonesome Truck Driver’s Blues », which became a modest hit, recorded by others (including Bill Monroe). With understated Bob Newman vocal, wooly Jerry Byrd steel-guitar, this song is one of his finest. It became a sort of truck driver’s anthem, as several years later, « Truck Drivin’ man » (Terry Fell) or « Six days on the Road » (Bill Dudley). The same session offered « Turtle Dovin’ » with fine piano by Shorty Rogers. (October 4th, 2012) I found another Georgia Crackers record dated 1952 under the name of HANK & SLIM’s GEORGIA CRACKERS, proof that they had not disbanded even if Bob Newman was pursuing his career on King. It’s on the Nashville based Red Robin label (apparently a Jim Bulleit one), and songs (alas, unheard) are “I Love My Neighbor/I Dreamed About Mom“. A side is written by Newman under Lee Roberts pseudonym.
March 1951, two more split-sessions were held for Bob, this time with steel-guitar player ‘Red’ Embry. Bob cut the novelty « Rover, Rover » and the bluesy « It Hurts Me ». Also the vigorous « I’m gonna Give A Dose Of Your Own Medicine », driven by the aggressive steel-guitar. But due to recent success, King launched him into a full session (October 1951), which issued the powerful « Hangover Boogie » – with scintillating Al Myers lead-guitar and Bob’s pulsating bass, this is one of Newman’s best moments in Hillbilly Bop.
Next March 1952 saw Bob with enthusiastic vocal backed by members of Pee Wee King’s Golden West Cowboys for the energic « A-round the Corner », and the no less powerful « Sand Boogie ». June 1952, another session (King had apparently faith in Newman) and a topical, but unusual Korea War inspired song : when most composers had patriotic songs, « Greetings » (not a Newman composition) talked about draft-dodgers. « Phfft ! You were gone », another novelty, was sold by Bob (alias Lee Roberts) and he didn’t get a dime when about twenty years later the song became a hook on « Hee Haw » TV-show. Bob, according to Hank’s widow, was a big spender : he would sell a song for, say, $ 1,500, then throw away $ 2,000. He sold « Shut Up And Drink Your Beer » to Merle Travis, and « Crying Steel Guitar Waltz » to Jean Shepard. That’ s why he never made a living of his songs. Al Myers explained that Bob Newman didn’t know how to pursue his carreer, and that’s the main reason why King didn’t renew his contract in August 1952. He continued to tour with the Georgia Crackers. A short snippet in Billboard ( June 19, 1955) said he had joined Shorty Long’s Santa Fe Rangers – and had a baby daughter. At the same time he cut with Long a very fine and fast Hillbilly bop duet, under the name of “The Dalton Boys“, “Roll, Rattler, Roll” (“X” 4x-0045).
He began to drink, and suffered of sinus, so he told . « He used to black out – many people thought he was drunk », recalls Al Myers. It’d affect his driving, and that’s when he decided to go to Arizona, what he did in 1957-1958. The doctors found he actually had a nerve crossed in his brain, what was solved by a surgery.
Sage label of California did cut a revamp of « Hangover Boogie », when Newman had teamed with the Arizona Hayriders : drummer Keith Kolby, Billy Grammer (of « Gotta Travel On » fame ?) on guitar, and on steel-guitar Red Embry whom Bob had brought from Ohio. During some time, the formula did well, and the Hayriders had many shows (Kolby had one record on his own) in the area. In 1959, King reissued « Lonesome truck driver’s blues » paired with « Haulin’ freight », two truckers’ favorites. Bob was at last gaining some success. He found also some work at KHAT, as disc-jockey with a pure Hillbilly show very popular in the region ; Bob would comment news (he called Krushev « Old Baldy »), and receive friends at home for barbecues and beer. Yet despite his popularity he slammed the door of the station after a dispute with the management. He returned to Ohio during the early Seventies, and briefly reformed the Georgia Crackers with his brothers, but quickly disappointed was back in Arizona and tried to make a living in managing a trailer park where he lived and died of a heart attack on October 8, 1979.
Biography based on the notes of Rick Kienzle for the Bear Family album « Hangover Boogie »(BF 15168) from 1984 and my own researches.
article revised November 12, 2011, and Dember th, 2011. Also December 11, 2016
a 45 to avoid on G-Bar-C (which seems to have been the Crackers’ label, as well as their casino/dinner club). It’s completely popppish! As the New Georgia Crackers on Olimpic. It’s poppish too.