A blues with a yodel : it may not sound much now, but in the 1920s a lot of careers were carved out of that curious amalgam. Jimmie Rodgers started it, and after him went Gene Autry, or Jimmie Davis, or Cliff Carlisle. The latter yodeled the longest and the best.
Raised in the countryside outside Louisville, Kentucky, Carlisle would say later : « My music is a cross between hillbilly and blues – even Hawaïan music has a sort of blues to it. » Teaming first in the early Thirties with the singer-guitarist Wilbur Ball, he went on the vaudeville tent show circuit, and afterwards he told they had actually been the first yodeling duet.
Then in 1930 he recorded in a Jimmie Rodgers vein (« Memphis yodel »), but with a distinctive touch on the Dobo resonator steel guitar. At this point he was also making a name on Louisville stations (WHAS and WLAP), billing himself and Ball as the « Lullaby Larkers ». That’s how his career took off.
In 31 or 32, he was in New York, extending his own port-folio, and recalling Jimmie Rogers singing a number about a rooster : « What makes a Shanghai crow at the break of day ? To let the Dominicker hen know the head man’s on his way.. » Ralph Peer wouldn’t let him record that, because it was kind of a risqué tune at that time, but finally he let Carlisle go. Hence « Shanghaï rooster yodel n°2 ».
In 1932 Carlisle was working solo, but in the years that followed he was often partnered by his younger brother Bill. On one of their records they even staged a fight over who would do what. « Hold it, buddy, » says Cliff indignantly as Bill starts to yodel. « This is my « Mouse’s ear blues », and I’ll do the yodeling. » It isn’t the only unusual feature. « Moose’s ear blues » is, probably uniquely in the corpus of recorded hillbilly music, a song about defloration. « My little mama, she’s got a mouse’s ear, but she gonna lose it when I shift my gear. »
By the mid-’30s, when he was working on WBT in Charlotte, North Carolina, and recording for Bluebird and Decca, Cliff was making a fair bid to corner the hillbilly disc market in sniggery songs about roosters and ashcans (there was an occasional double entendre loitering in this vicinity), and humorously violent tales of marital discord like « Hen pecked man », « Pay day fight » or « A wild cat woman and a tom cat man », where Cliff’s boisterous flights of fancy are powered by the twin engines of his Dobro and Bill’s inventive flat-picked guitar. By the end of the decade he had been on four record labels and made almost 200 sides. He and Bill had a cross-section of country music just prior to WWII. So it was hardly surprising that their family group, the Carlisles, with various sons and dauhters, was popular on the Grand Ole Opry and had hits in the ’50s with « Too old to cut the mustard » and « No help wanted ».
In the mid-’50s Cliff retired to a quiet life of painting, fishing and church work. He did the occasional comeback on not very memorable albums for small labels, even reuniting with Wilbur Ball and playing for college audience or folk festivals.
(Freely adapted from the chapter devoted to Cliff Carlisle in Tony Russell’s « Country music originals – The legends and the lost »)
Here are some selections of Carlisle’s work in very different styles.
From 1932, backed by a wild slapping-bass, for the evergreen « Goin’ down the road feelin’ bad ».
Howdy, folks ! This is the third fortnight’s favorites selection for 2017, and as usual many a not-so-known artist or recording.
I will focus on a steel guitarist from way up North, TINY MURPHY, originally from Kentucky. He cut with his Bar 69 Boys two discs on the Chicago blues label United, a fact not so uncommon for the era (early ’50s) when small specialized labels didn’t hesitate to « cross » the invisible barrier between Hillbilly and Rhythm’n’Blues. United (founded by a Lou Simpkins) had in its stable several well-known artists like Roosevelt Sykes, Robert Nighthawk or Tab Smith and Jimmy Forrest. Tiny Murphy would cut 4 sides late 1952 for them, whose 3 are here. Vocally same, as Murphy sings in a semi-spoken style, very usual at this time ; jazzy sounding for « It’s all your fault » (# 132) and « Nicotine fits ». The latter was a ‘cover’ of Ramblin’ Jimmie Dolan who had issued May 1952 his original version on Capitol 2244. Then an instrumental, « Hot steel » (# 136) is a fast showcase for Murphy, who evokes various steel guitar virtuosi of the era, without forgetting himself ! Enclosed is a rare French issue coupling « Nicotine fits boogie » and « Hot steel boogie« , much rarer than the original United U.S. counterpart..
We found Tiny Murphy later on the Ronel label (# 109) in the same style for « 42 », while the flipside « I just can’t imagine » is a bit crooning, with an accordion backing (1954). After this issue, the track goes cold. One more detail : Tiny Murphy was steel player for Dolph Hewitt at an unknown occasion.
« 42 »
Finally a Starday custom from New York on the Reed (# 802) label (not the Alabama one) : BILL LOOP and his Seneca Indian Boys and «My Foolish heart » has a rural sound and a nice vocal. Disc from September 1959. « My foolish heart »
Howdy folks, here’s the new batch of Bopping goodies early this month.
From Arkansas, a state not already known for its music. Nevertheless one can find with Internet some very nice records. I knew HERSHEL PARKER for years (through a Tom Sims’ cassette) and his « Hey-Pa » on the Fort Smith, Arkansas, Pla-an-tak (# 510-25) label. Very solid Country bop from the early ’60s. He also had on the Fort Smith UBC label (# 1023) the fine double-sided (one side uptempo, the other a great ballad) « Can’t go home tonight » (very sensitive ballad with fiddle and steel solos) backed with the upt. « I can’t forget« . I couldn’t find a picture n the net but the music only. All sides from early ’60s. UBC also issued Bob Calloway‘s fine Rocker « Wake up, little boy blue » in 1960. See arkansas45s.blogspot.com for information on Arkansas labels.
Seemingly a Tennessean, HOMER MONROE cut in Chattanooga, TN, the nice « Headin’ on down the line » on the Spann label (#1764). We find him once more – same piano to the fore, so he’s presumably playing it – on an Alabama Silvia label from Silvania for « It’s many a mile from me to you » (# 1161), Country Drifters backing him. Judging by the sound, I’d assume both records being from the late ’50s.
Homer Monroe « It’s many a mile from me to you » download
On the Linda label – there has been a few by the same name: « Country Music From Midway USA » – REBEL WRIGHT offers « I’m a long gone daddy » (not the Hank Williams’ song) (# 002B) and finally from « the heart of Dixie » on the Bama label (# 00001B) (not THE Bama label for Hardrock Gunter‘s « Birmingham Bounce » from 1951) by LEFTY PRITCHETT and the Country Kats, « Just an ole has been« . Enjoy the selections, bye! Next fortnight early January 2014. Have a Boppin’ Xmas and a happy Hillbilly New Year! Rebel Wright « I’m a long gone daddy » download
Howdy, folks! Here we go with 6 « new » Hillbilly Bop goodies from various sources, spanning nearly 20 years from 1949 to 1967. Let’s begin with Indiana’s BLANKENSHIP Brothers. They were a group doing Bluegrass and Rockabilly, as late as 1960. I’ve chosen « I Just Got One heart« , the B-side to their most famous and best tune « That’s Why I’m Blue » (Skyline 106). Way up North in the Detroit, Michigan area. Hillbilly was concentrated on Fortune Records (Jack & Devorah Brown), and the label saw many, many fine releases by Southerners who did entertain the Ford car workers. Many good Fortune sides are to be found in the excellent NL Collector serie « Boppin’ Hillbilly« (« Detroit in the 50’s« , 3 volumes), and here we have one of the earliest sides (Fortune 141, 1949) by EARL SONGER, « Mother-In-Law Boogie« . Songer himself was from West Va. and came to Detroit in the late 30’s; being a fan of Bill Cox, he was a one-man band (vocal/guitar/harmonica), before teaming with Joyce (born in Tennessee). Together they recorded many songs on Fortune: 7 disks within 2 years. Immense success.
Next we have TOMMY JACKSON and « Flat Top Box » from Lexington, KY (Sun-Ray 131) as late as…1967. Great guitar, very modern in style, altho’ the Hillbilly spirit remains untouched. Back to Indiana with the prolific Hodges Brothers Band, fronted by RALPH HODGES for a little classic on Whispering Pines 201, « HONEY TALK » with the buzzing guitar and swirling fiddle. That’s a crossover between Hillbilly and Rock’n’Roll, what they call sometimes Hillbilly Rock. They had a good amount of albums recorded by Chris Strachwitz for Arhoolie in the 1970’s.
And then we have a woman – and God knows they were THAT uncommon in Hillbilly! JEANIE CHRISTIE on the Blue Sky label out of St. Cloud, FLA from 1958: « Flying High« . Great and firm vocal, a solid steel-guitar throughout. A nice record!
Finally in Virginia for the tiny Liberty label (no connection with the California concern), HENDER SAUL, « I Ain’t Gonna Rock-Tonite« , one of my all-time faves in Hillbilly Rock. Forceful vocal, nice lyrics, great interplay between guitar and fiddle.
I really hope you will enjoy the selections, and you will comment after a listen or two. You can download everything, of course!
« Lâche pas la patate » (Don’t loosen the potatoe) to quote Cajun Jimmy C. Newman, and keep on Bopping!
Sources: various CDs. Pictures as usual from the excellent Terry Gordon’s site « Rocking Country Style ». Take a look at it!