LONNIE GLOSSON, the Hillbilly “Talking Harmonica Man”

Lonnie Glosson

Lonnie Glosson (1908-2001)
By the dawn of the twenty-first century, country musicians who had recorded as long ago as the early 1930s were a diminishing band. The harmonica player Lonnie Glosson, then in his nineties, had first been heard on wax in 1932, though few copies of Broadway 8333, «The Fox Chase» and «Fast Train Bues», escaped onto the market. In any case, records were never as important to Glosson as radio. It’s impossible to calculate how many hours on air he logged in a career extending across seven decades. His show with fellow harmonica player Wayne Raney, which ran from about 1947 until past the mid-’50s, was sent out on transcriptions to more than 200 stations in the United States and Canada.
Sponsored by the Kratt Company, manufacturer of hamonicas, the show’s job was to sell the instrument to listeners, with a carrot of a free instruction book. Raney claimed they shifted more than 5 millions harmonicas with their friendly person-to-person approach, which they recreated, years afterward, for a Tv documentary.
A great big happy howdy to you, neighbors. We’re going to be demonstrating the talking harmonica, and we want you to get a pencil and a piece of paper ready, because we’re going to tell you how that you too can have the talking harmonica just exactly like the ones your old friends Lonnie Glosson and Wayne Raney plays.(…)
Glosson was born and grew up in rural Arkansas, where he learned harmonica from his mother and hillbilly songs from the many amateur musicians around. After some teenage years rambling round the country playing for change in barbershops, he settled in St. Louis and made his radio debut, about 1925 or ’26, on KMOX. By 1930 he had moved on up to the WLS National Barn Dance in Chicago, and later put in time on the Renfro Valley Barn Dance, the Grand Ole Opry, and WCKY in Covington, Kentucky, across the Ohio river from Cincinnati.
Anyone in Cincinnati in the late ’40s was likely to hook up with King Records, the city’s premier label for country music and blues. Along with the thirteen-years-younger Raney, Glosson worked for a while with the Delmore Brothers. He also had a hand in writing Raney’s King record of «Why Don’t You Haul Off And Love Me», which vied for top spot on the country chart during 1949 with Hank Williams’s «Lovesick Bues».
When rock’n’roll began to crowd the airwaves in the later ’50s, Glosson and Raney went different ways, Raney to found his Rimrock label and build a recording studio in Concord, Arkansas, Glosson to a seemingly endless itinerary of personal appearances, mostly in schools. As well as his harmonica specialties of fox chases, train impressions, and “I Want My Mama» where he imitates a child crying «I want my mama…I want some water…», he would sing country and gospel songs with guitar. «I still play the tunes I learned when I was growing up in Arkansas», he said in a 1981 interview.

This is the less comprehensive story of Lonnie Glosson’s life, as written by Tony Russell and published in his book: «Country Music Originals – The Legends And The Lost»( 2010).
For more detailed information, here’s a link to a U.S. site devoted to Glosson: http://homepages.rootsweb.com/~young/glossonl/lonnie2.htm

The first Lonnie Glosson recordings were cut in October 1936 in Chicago and are well in the « mountain music » tradition, although a rare Paramount issue did precede it from 1931. «Arkansas Hard Luck Blues” is indeed a medium-paced talking blues, while «Lonnie’s Fox Chase» is quasi-instrumental, or, should one say : harmonica (& guitar) instrumental with yells or interjections. The latter is a theme Glosson will re-record a few times during his career. And that Wayne Raney released (Nov. 1947, King 676) as «Fox Chase».

Glosson cut two sessions during 1947 for Mercury, probably in Chicago. The first one saw him record 4 tracks, backed by « his Railroad Playboys” among them I retain «Lost John» (Mercury 6057), a fast ditty (only detected accompaniment : vocal and harmonica, plus 2 guitars giving the rhythm) , which Wayne Raney chose next year as «Lost John Boogie» (King 719, Spring 1948), also taking the credit. Second song is «It’ll Make A Change In Business» (Mercury 6197, published in 1949). is more conventional honky tonk (bass and steel added + vocal and harmonica of course).

In November 1947, without doubt in expectation of the Petrillo ban (the call for strike of the recording personnel for the whole year of 1948), Glosson was called for a long, eight tunes session. One can retain «What Is A Mother’s Love», a shuffling weeper (steel) (# 6057) ; «West Bound Rocket» (# 6109), a train song, «You’ll Miss Your Dear Old Daddy» is a fine shuffler (# 6197), while «That Naggin’ Wife Of Mine» (# 6345, published 1950) is a fast ditty. «The Fox Chase Boogie» (# 6142) is very fast, not unlike the 1936 version.

The Decca years and the Delmore Brothers

In 1949, Glosson started an association with the Delmore Brothers by the time he was signed by Decca Records. They were playing guitar on some of his records, as himself played harmonica on theirs. They even had their own versions of his songs re-cut.
First coupling gave the lovely shuffling «I’ve Got The Jitters Over You» (Decca 46190) coupled with the more bluesier «Down At The Burying Ground». The cooperation between both Glosson and the Demore went as far as songs were cowritten; actually, Glosson sounds as he were a third Delmore. The target is hit with the following coupling;: «Pan American Boogie» and «Trouble Ain’t Nothin’ But The Blues» (# 46215) was cut by Glosson and by the Delmore Brothers (backed by Wayne Raney) (King 823, December 1949), and both top versions are nearly identical, except for guitar solos in the Delmores’ one. The flipside is taken in the same mood; one can only recognize the Delmores’ harmony vocals.

In the meantime, several months earlier, Lonnie Glosson had contributed to the mammoth Delmore Brothers’ « Blues Stay Away From Me » (King 803, August 1949) and co-written « Why Don’t You Haul Off And Love Me » with his good friend Wayne Raney equally big hit (King 791)(which competed in 1949 with Hank’s « Lovesick Blues » for the best selling Country hit of the year).

Following year (1951) saw Glosson release in the same-format as before «I’ll Love You Till The Cows Come Home» and «I Want you To Know That I Love You» (# 46361), both written and backed by the Delmore Brothers: that’s when their partnership came to an end. Glosson also issued a rather weird instrumental, “Del Rio Blues” named after the radio station location where he worked as a D.J.

In 1950, without doubt because of his contract with Decca, Glosson issued two records on U.S. London (ironically U.S. Decca was originally a sublabel to English London) under a collective name, that of «Hank Dalton and the Brakemen», with the Delmore Brothers and Wayne Raney in disguise. «Hummingbird Special» (London 16032) and Lefty Frizzell’s «If You’ve Got The Money, I’ve Got The Time» , again good shufflers.[according to a visitor, Alain Nicholas, London 16050 was done by Ray Smith on vocal, without Glosson, Raney or the Delmores]

1957-58 records

Then Glosson didn’t record until 1957 on Acme Records in Ohio (2 issues). «The Old Dutchmans Prayer» is half-sung and goes back to 1937 «Arkansas Hard Luck Blues», while «Get In Line With God» is a powerful sacred song (Acme 1145). The second Acme (# 1140) is unheard: first versions of «I Want My Mama» and «Train And Cat Chase Imitation».

On his own label Gloss, he cut an EP in 1958 (Pep-213). «The Fast Train» and «Ozark Fox Chase» are new versions of tunes already played and sung, but «Poppin’ the Blues» is a very fast harmonica/guitar instrumental and the new theme «I Want My Momma» shows Glosson’ versatility. He was about to recut it at least 2 times («No Name» and Starday labels).
Later on Lonnie Glosson released several cassettes of material unavailable elsewhere and are untraced, maybe sold at his gigs.

Two final notes and corrections (Jan. 11th, 2019)

An important visitor (you’re welcome, Alain!) does point that, as early as late December 1947 Wayne Raney had had his version of “Lost John Boogie”. So the meeting of the two men was solid and fruitful.

The same visitor thinks that the vocal on “If You’ve Got The Money, I’ve Got The Time” (London) is not at all sung by Glosson, but by Ray Smith.

Continental, Coral, National artist

This essay is, I’m afraid, far of complete. I tried hard however to set up the fullest story possible of a giant in his own time. Many a record was unavailable, although credited in the HBR tentative encyclopedia of Hillbilly (letter “G”) of Mr. Allan Turner. Several people were of great help: Alain Nicolas (and his great site “Les Delmore Brothers” [in French], alas presently out-of-the-way) for several clippings and images unavailable elsewhere. Merci Alain! The collaboration with Ronald Keppner and Karlheinz Focke, both out of Germany, was also fruitful, as usual. They opened for me their vast library of old and precious 78rm (Mercury, Decca and London soundfiles). The biography was written, as said in introduction, by Tony Russell, and extracted from his book “Country music -the legends and the lost”(2007). And probably one or two other persons who gave me some help at one time or another. This was a labor of love, and took well 2 months to be released. So I hope you will find something of interest in this rough work.