Fred Kirby, the N. Carolina Troubadour (1937-1952)



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cliff Carlisle & guitar

Cliff Carlisle

Fred (Frederick Austin) Kirby was born on July 19, 1910 in Charlotte, North Carolina. His father worked as a preacher and he had nine brothers and sisters. When he was a kid, Fred’s mother taught North Carolina maphim to play the guitar, and she later also helped him to master the fiddle. Fred became involved in the music business by accident: in 1927, while living in Florence, South Carolina, he joined his nephew to visit a friend at local radiostation WBT, and while singing some of his songs in the lobby of the station, Fred got noticed by a WBT employee. Fred was hired on the spot to make regular appearances on one of the station’s shows, and would remain to work for almost 20 years. In the early 1930s Fred lived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he worked with people like Cliff Carlisle and with bands like “The Briarhoppers”, “The Smiling Cowboys” and “The Carolina Boys”.fred Kirby pic

Fred’s first recordings date from 1932 for the ARC label, but none of them have ever been released. In 1936 Fred signed with Victor’s Bluebird. His first recordings with Bluebird were “I’m A Gold Diggin Papa” and “The Lonesome Lullaby“. Next year he’d cut a session for Bluebird with Cliff Carlisle, which saw him duetting with Carlisle for « Cowboy’s Dying Dream ». It was even released in U.K. on Regal Zonophone. In 1938 Fred got signed by Decca where he recorded 16 songs. Quite a prolific artist in those days..Everyone then was yodeling, from Jimmie Rodgers to Gene Autry; so also did Kirby.

I’m A Gold Diggin’ Paparegal Kirby cowboy'sbluebird Kirby diggin'

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“Cowboy’s Dying Dream”

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In 1939 he and Don White, a musician from West Virginia with whom he had gotten acquainted in the early 1930s, moved to Cincinnati, Ohio to work for radiostation WLM as the “Carolina Playboys”. The following year, Fred moved to St. Louis to join radiostation KMOX. In St. Louis he gained local fame for selling over 5 million dollars worth US War Bonds during the war

In 1943 Fred moved back to Charlotte, North Carolina and returned to his previous employer : WBT radio. Shortly after, he and Don White regrouped as the Carolina Playboys and in the years after the War they both recorded for the Sonora label, both as the Carolina Playboys and separately. It was with Sonora that Fred recorded his most successful song, “Atomic Power” (Sonora 7008) in May 1946: that song was later recorded by many other artists, including Rex Allen and Red Foley. Later on Kirby released a Decca issue, «  Precious Lord I’ll Be There  » (Decca 46083), giving an indication of his forthcoming career, secular as well as religious.

sonora Kirby atomicKirby standing corralAtomic Power”

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 During 1949, he was approached by M-G-M executives and signed a contract for 4 tunes to be recorded. The very best of them were the coupling of M-G-M 10474, the energetic «  Juke Box Jackson From Jacksonville  » and the amusing «  My Little Dog Loves Your Little Dog  ».m-g-m Kirby Jacksonville

Juke Box Jackson From Jacksonville”m-g-m Kirby dog

My Little Dog Loves Your Little Dog”

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Next year, on July 25, 1950 Fred signed a contract with Columbia to record 4 songs during the very same year. His first recording session was done some ten days later, on August 4 and Columbia released all four songs that were recorded on that occasion. «  My Zig Zaggin’ Baby  » (Columbia 20764) and «  My Red Hot Potato  » were good boppers (fine guitar).

Columbia Kirby zig“My Zig Zaggin’ Baby”Columbia Kirby potato


Cash Box Feb. 9th, 1950

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“My Red Hot Potato”

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In June 1951 Columbia prolonged Fred’s recording contract for another year, but it wasn’t until July 9, 1952 before Fred did another recording session. During that session, eight songs were recorded Columbia Kirby souland six of them were actually released by Columbia., among them the religious bopper «  My Soul Is Not For Sale  », also «  When The Devil Sends His Columbia Kirby devilCalling Card  » (Columbia 21056) ; “We’re No Longer Sweethearts” and “A Pocket Full Of Candy” remained unissued. This 1952 session turned out to be his last one for Columbia: due to the lack of success of his records, Columbia decided not to renew his contract. Later on Fred had a release on Gotham (a NYC/Philadelphia label) with the evergreen “Wreck Of The Old 97” (# 404), a very good version.l

My Soul Is Not For Sale”Gotham Kirby wreck

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When The Devil Sends His Calling Card”

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“Wreck Of The Old 97”

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In the early 1950s Fred again started working for WBT radio, but this time he mainly concentrated on radioshows for the younger audience. Later, when television became more popular he was very successfully as a producer and presenter of specialised kiddie shows: his “Junior Rancho” would run for over 20 years. Nevertheless, Fred’s radiowork lasted even longer: his shows were broadcasted until the spring of 1991. In the 1990s, Fred’s health progressively declined: he suffered from Parkinsons disease, which eventually forced him to move to a nursing home where he died on April 22, 1996.

 

Sources: biography mainly from W. Agenant “Columbia 20000 serie”; additions from “hillbilly-music.com”; pictures from google. Soundfiles and label scans from the indefatigable Ronald Keppner: my warmest thanks to him, whom the feature could not have been written and completed without. ; also some help from UncleGil Rockin’ archives. The rest is a matter of time and…love! Please leave a comment below!

Early February 2018 bopping and romping fortnight’s favorites

Howdy ! This is the early February 2018 fortnight’s favorites selection. Let’s begin with a Western swing Houston scene veteran : DICKIE McBRIDE, here late in his career ( October 1951). Billed with his wife Laura Lee (who is absent here), he delivers a powerful and moving « I love you boogie » on M-G-M 11056. Fine steel and piano, and a lot of yells and whistles from apparently McBride himself.

I love you boogie

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Another veteran, out of the Gospel and Bluegrass field : MAC ODELL (rn Odell McLeod), who was born in 1916 in Roanake, Alabama. His career had a large stretch between New Orleans and Michigan, before he settled down in Nashville, as « Ole Country Boy » in the late ’40s. He recorded first at Mercury, then landed at King , but had poor sales as an artist. More as a songwriter for others : « The battle of Armageddon » for Hank Williams, or « The glorybound train » for Roy Acuff. At King, he was firmly Bluegrass, backed by Don Reno and Red Smiley. Here is his fast half-talked «Penicillin » from September 1953 on King 1251. O’Dell has deceased in 2003.

Penicillin

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Billboard December 2, 1948

Red Barn was a regional Kansas City concern, important for example for the first Jimmie Skinner sides of the late ’40s. The name ELMO LINN may be an obscure one ; he had however two interesting issues on this label. « Lorita » (Red Barn 1188A) is a medium paced shuffler with steel. Vocal reminds a bit Ernest Tubb. The flipside « Line on the highway » is a fast guitar backed tune. « Heart full of love » (Red Barn 1195) comes next, with again that shuffling rhythm. Later on Linn went to Westport (pop country).

“Lorita”

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Line on the highway”

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Heart full of love

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From Lorain, Ohio, VERN TERRY on the Athena label (a Starday custom) from 1959. « Miss you » is a good slowie, the instrumentation is minimal, echo is on the vocal, and steel is to the fore. (# 804). The flipside « Someone new » is an uptempo shuffler. Good steel and fiddle.

Miss you

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Someone new

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From Nashville, RAY BATTS in 1954 for two sides on the Excello label # 2028. The marvelous bopper « Stealin’ sugar » : complete with steel and piano. It has moreover nothing to do with the Merle Lindsay tune (MGM 10795) of the same name. The flipside, « Maybe it’s you, sweetheart » is a shuffler. Batts had also on Bullet 754 the great double-sided « Bear cat daddy/Wild man boogie », reviewed in « Bullet – always a smash it », published here in May 2012.

Stealin’ sugar

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Maybe it’s you, sweetheart”

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Finally two R&B rompers by BILLY TATE, whom I don’t know anything about. The songs do speak for themselves : « Love is a crazy thing » [as Blind Billy Tate] on Herald 411, with a tremendous wild sax solo ; then « Right from wrong » on Peacock 1671 from 1957.
Love is a crazy thing

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Right from wrong”

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Sources : Mac O’Dell on Warped (VMOMC) for biog. details ; YouTube for many a tune ; 78worlds (Ron Keppner) for label scans. HBR label scans and music for Elmo Linn.

If you enjoy something here, please leave a comment below. And ask for something you would like to hear (and download) : maybe I can help.

early February 2015 fortnight favorites

Women only this time !

LITTLE AUDRY first on the Nashville Walker label (#130) from 1965. A very melodic weeper with a lot of echo for « How can the ashes burn ».

walker  audry  how

Little Audry

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Wanda Ballman

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WANDA BALLMAN is no unknown. She had more than one issue, e.g. on Starday custom serie # 528 (August 1955) for « Think it over », which bears on label a collective personnel. Very solid mid-paced vocal, a short steel guitar solo over basic instrumentation.

 

 

SALLY MASSEY obviously on her own Sa-Ma label (no #). Two well sung hillbilly weepers : « « Ole Michigan moon » and « Saving all my kisses ».

On the Arkansas Vaden label (# 101), one JERRI PATTERSON tells « That’s why I think of you » in a lovely bopping style.

Sally Massey “Ole Michigan moon”

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 Sally Massey “I’m saving all my kisses”

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Sa-Ma massey michigan

 

Vaden that's
Jerri Patterson

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Mary Ann Johnson

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m-g-m johnson teardrops

Another unknown MARY ANN JOHNSON has a bluesy weeper with « Blue teardrops » (MGM 11927). Nothing spectacular, a nice little record.

LITTLE RITA FAYE does offer « Rock City boogie » – I don’t know if it’s the Tennessee Ernie’s song – on MGM 11505. It’s a bluesy shuffler, with steel and a barely audible fiddle.
Little Rita Faye

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MGM faye - rock
Source : Internet

Early November 2014 fortnight favorites: a bunch of Bluegrass 78rpm!

Howdy folks ! With just an exception, only 78rpm this time.

Let’s begin with the legendary JIM EANES in one of his earliest efforts on the Blue Ridge (#301) label. It’s happy hillbilly bordering to bluegrass (sometimes difficult to distinguish, but who cares?) : « A sweeter love than yours I’ll never know ». Fine solos : banjo, mandolin over chorus vocals.

blue ridge eanes sweeter
Smilin’ Jim Eanes “A sweeter love than yours I’ll never know

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Lucky Leroy “Now get join’

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Lucky Leroy “All tied up”

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go-lish leroy goin'

Thanks to Hillbilly Researcher and Allan Turner, LUCKY LEROY and two sides on the Illinois Go-lish label « Now get goin’ » and « All tied up ». Solid hillbilly from 1955.

On the Mutual label (uncertain origin, probably Chicago, or generally Illinois), CLAUDE YATES & Bowes Brothers for « Stop knocking at my door » (#214) : as label implies, « hot banjo picking ».

Same label, FRED MURPHY for the very inspired « I want to be ready » (#210).

Bowes Brothers “Stop knocking at my door”

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Fred Murphy “I want to be ready

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mutual bowes brothers  doormutual murphy ready
A return to Blue Ridge with LARRY RICHARDSON (& Happy Smith) (#306) and « I’m lonesome ». High-pitched vocal, again that mix of hillbilly and bluegrass music.

Finally for the season, HAPPY WILSON on M-G-M 10877 « The haunted house boogie ».
Larry Richardson “I’m lonesome

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Happy Wilson “The haunted house boogie”

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blue ridge  richardson lonesome
mgm  wilson haunting

late March 2014 fortnight’s favorites

Let’s begin this new favorites selection with the first (?) record by an artist who would have much, much later fame as Boxcar Willie. Here he’s named MARTY MARTIN on the Honeycomb label and he sings a good “Mobile, Alabama blues”.

honey comb 102 marty martin Mobile, Alabama blues

poor boy 105 les & hlen tussey they went around

MGM 4070 arthur smith guitar and piano boogie

Marty Martin “Mobile, Alabama blues”

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Les & Helen Tussey “They went around”

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From Indiana in 1960 we find on the Wayne Raney‘s label Poor Boy LES & HELEN TUSSEY doing the nice rockabilly “They went around“.

Next is a famous ARTHUR SMITH on a rare French MGM Issue for the instrumental “Guitar and piano boogie”. Title says it all.

 

Arthur Smith “Guitar and piano boogie”

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Finally, thanks to a Mr. Noel T, I put my hands on two rare JESS WILLARD disks. First the completely unknown G&G 107 double-sider “I’m branding my darling with my heart” (earlier cut by Jack Guthrie) and “Hillbilly heaven” (this is apparently not Eddie Dean’s song). Both sides are gentle hillbilly boppers from 1957. G&G was a parent label to Ka-Hi which Willard had “I’m telling you” on. Second is the Sundown 126 “Cops and robbers/Night time is cry time” from 1959, posthumously issued. Alas, both sides are completely pop.

Jess Willard “I’m branding my darling with my heart”

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g&g107A Jess Willard hillbilly heaven
Jess Willard “Hillbilly heaven”

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g&g107b jess willard I'm branding my darling with my heart

 

 

 

 

Jess Willard “Night time is cry time”

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Jess Willard “Cops and robbers”

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sundown 126A Jess willard night time is cry time

sundown 126B Jess willard cops and robbers