Sunday, October 6, 2019

The Guitars Of Country Music - Part Two

1940 WLW Boone County Jamboree

During the late 1930’s and '40's Hillbilly radio shows began springing up on stations all over the country.

These included stations in Kansas City’s KMBC with their Brush Creek Follies, WOWO in Ft. Wayne, Indiana with The Hoosier Hop, Cincinnati, Ohio’s Midwestern Hayride on WLW radio, which started as the Boone County Jamboree, The Old Domion Barn Dance from Virginia, St. Louis, Missouri’s Old Fashion Barn Dance, and Charlotte, North Carolina’s Crazy Barn Dance.

Following The Depression, and The Dust Bowl, times were  still bad, and folks could not afford records, but listening to the radio was free. As prices for receivers came down, more people owned a radio. Those that did not, visited their friends that had sets, especially on evenings when popular shows were airing.

Grandpa Jones without
and with makeup

One of the first entertainers that came out of this Post Depression Era, was Louis Marshall Jones. Although he was only in his 20’s, his voice, with it’s mountain-style delivery, sounded like he was an old man. He became known as Grandpa Jones, and was encouraged to dress the part with a false mustache and made up lines in his face when performing.

Ramona and Grandpa Jones
Grandpa Jones got his start on the WLS Barn Dance, and also on WLW’s radio shows.  Later on he was joined by his wife, Ramona Jones, who accompanied him on guitar. Though he usually played banjo, Grandpa also played guitar.

He favored a custom made guitar, model GC-70, made by J.W. Gallagher of Tennessee.

The WLS Barn Dance from Chicago

The WLS Barn Dance was by far the most popular program on Saturday nights during these days.

Red Foley with Gibson SJ-200

The show featured a number of up and coming Country Stars of the day, including Red Foley, who had a hit recording called Peace In The Valley. Foley hailed from Berea, Kentucky and was one of the featured acts at The Renfro Valley Barn Dance. He later was recruited by WLS radio. He played a variety of guitars, that included a Martin D-18, a Guild F-20, and a Gibson SJ-200.

Red Foley
Smooth Trailin' guitar

Many stars inspired companies to make cheap beginner guitars for aspiring young fans. Both Gene Autry and Roy Rogers had inexpensive instruments, and so did Red Foley.

Little Georgie Goebel

Another child star of that era was Little Georgie Goebel, who later became a popular comedian and singer, and had a television show.

Lilly May Ledford and
The Coon Creek Girls

Lilly May Ledford and The Coon Creek Girls, were an all-female Bluegrass act, that even entertained at the White House. They were another act that got their start at Kentucky's Renfro Valley Barndance.

The Coon Creek Girls
The group was made up of Lilly on clawhammer banjo and fiddle, and her sister Rosie Ledford playing guitar, and friends Evelyn 'Daisy' Lange who played upright bass, and Esther 'Violet' Koeler, who played mandolin.

Lilly May and Rosie Ledford

Rosie Ledford played a Martin 00-18, and a Gibson L-5 archtop.

Later on the quartet became a trio when Daisy, and Violet pursued other interests, and sister Susan Ledford was added as the mandolin player.

Gene Autry first crooned his Cowboy songs on WLS and this started a trend of Cowboy singers.  Country Music had moved from the hills of Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia to the prairies of the West

Tex Ritter
Tex Ritter was another Cowboy singer, although he started out as a Broadway stage actor. While going to the University of Austin, he got interested in show business and music.He performed on the WHN Barn Dance from New York City.  Tex was in Western radio dramas and later acted in Western motion pictures. He seems to have favored the large Gibon SJ-200 guitars. He is seen in the photo with 'TEX' inlaid in the instruments headstock. He also played a Martin 00-28.

The Girls of The Golden West
 - Alamy photo

Dolly and Millie Good (actually Goad) performed as The Girls Of The Golden West. They became the archetype for other female Country singers. One of their biggest hits was 'Ragtime Cowboy Joe'. Though they were both from Illinois, they made up a story, and they stuck to it, telling folks that they were both from Muleshoe, Texas.

The Girls of the Golden West
Dolly played guitar and started with a Martin 00-18S, she is also seen with an unidentified archtop. However they are shown in a photo holding a late 1930's rare Gibson 'Century of Progress' guitar.

Patsy Montana
Ruby Blevins from Arkansas changed her name to Patsy Montana, and became a sensation with her group, The Prairie Ramblers, and her yodeling song, ‘I Want To Be A Cowboy’s Sweetheart’. She was friends with the Good sisters. She auditioned at a Chicago radio station to be a crooner, but the producer decided she would be a better Country artist, and he teamed her up with a group. She became a regular on WLS.

Patsy Montana with a Gibson LG-3

She played a variety of guitars, that include Martin 00-28S, a Martin D-18, and a 1950's Gibson LG-3.

Country Music was fast developing a Texas slant.

The Light Crust Doughboys
In the early 1940’s Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys added an element of Swing Music to the mix. Wills actually started the group in the early 1930’s called The Light Crust Dough Boys to play on a Texas radio station.

They eventually became The Playboys, and the Bob Wills and The Texas Playboys.

Bob Wills and The Texas Playboys
This group had a fiddle, played by Wills, a stride piano, guitars, tenor banjo, electric steel guitar and bass. Later on trumpets, clarinets, and saxophones were added, and the guitars all became electric. Eventually several more fiddle players were added to the group.

Bob Wills on the left

Wills was the leader, the fiddle player and definitely the man in charge.  He hired some great singers to front the group. This group changed the course of Country Music.

Eldon Shamblin

Willis band included several excellent guitar players. that mainly came from a Jazz background. These included Eldon Shamblin, who was a jazz player, and used a Gibson ES-125 with a Charlie Christian pickup.

Shamblin with his Stratocaster

One a tour to California, Leo Fender gave him  one of the first Fender Stratocasters to try out. It was a demonstration model, and it had been painted gold. Shamblin played it for the rest of his career, and never had it repainted.

JImmy Wyble

Jimmy Wyble also played electric guitar in The Playboys. He was also a jazz player, and used a number of different guitars that included Gibsons, Epiphone, Hofners, and even a Fender Esquire. 

He is shown here with a beautiful Magnatone amplifier, and what appears to be a Magnatone guitar.

Junior Barnard with Epiphone Regent
Junior Barnard was also a guitarist with the Texas Playboys. Barnard became an inspiration for Charlie Christian, and even Junior Brown. Barnard was an incredibly gifted guitarist, and it is said that he played some of the best solos with the Texas Playboys.

Barnard's Epiphone Regent
Sadly he was killed in an auto crash when he was only 31 years old. He is known for playing his Epiphone Regent that had an add-on DeArmond pickup, plus an Epiphone steel guitar pickup through an Epiphone 15 watt amplifier.

Leon McAuliffe, and Noel Boggs, were the steel guitar players.

Wills had a jazz style that was unlike any Country Music played before. Al the players were expected to improvise a solo.

Wills most famous song was the beautiful New San Antonio Rose.

Meanwhile back at Nashville’s WSM radio, The Grand Ole Opry had become so popular for tourists and visitors that the station and National Life Insurance decided to purchased a Gospel tabernacle known as the Ryman Auditorium. This huge structure seated over 3000 people and folks flocked to it every Saturday night.

Pee Wee King and
The Golden West Cowboys
Julius Frank Anthony Kuczynski grew up in Milwaukee and played accordion in polka bands. He decided that Cowboy Music was the way to earn a living. He had worked in Gene Autry's band and can be seen in some of the stars films. In fact it was Autry who gave him the name Pee Wee King.

Upon leaving Autry's group, King put together a band called The Golden West Cowboys.

Pee Wee King joined The Grand Ole Opry in 1937, and his group became revolutionary to The Opry, and Country Music, because it included electric Spanish and Steel guitars, and drums. Plus the musicians in his group were unionized, and paid, unlike some Opry performers.

But when King first became an Opry member, he was not allowed to use his trumpet player and drummer.

Following the death of President Franklin Roosevelt in 1945. the Ryman was closed for national mourning. However fans still showed up. So the Opry the staff asked Pee Wee if his band would play. He used his full band including drums and horns with no objections. Pee Wee King also was the man that recruited long time Opry member Roy Acuff.

Eddy Arnold

The Golden West Cowboys went on to back up other Nashville stars including Eddy Arnold. Arnold at first played a Martin 00-28S, and later a Gibson SJ-200 with his name inlaid on the fretboard.

Redd Stewart

The guitarist for the Golden Cowboys was Redd Stewart. He started as a teen with Pee Wee King's group as their fiddle, and banjo player. He joined the Army in 1941.

By the time his service ended, Stewart filled a number of positions in The Golden West Cowboys by playing fiddle, and banjo, and later he played guitar, and electric bass.

 Stewart's Epiphone Rivera
Much of his guitar work was done with a Martin DM-3 model acoustic guitar, a 1966 Epiphone Rivera, a Peavey T-60 solid body guitar, a Peavey T-20 bass guitar, and for amplifiers he used a 1960's Fender Super Reverb, and later a Peavey TKO amplifier. Stewart is responsible for a number of songs, but his most famous is Tennessee Waltz.

Hank Williams
One of the most iconic Country singers/songwriters/guitarists was Hank Williams. He recorded 35 Top Ten single recordings. Thirty recording were released during his lifetime and five were released after his early and tragic death.

As a kid, Hank (born Hiram) Williams met a Blues player named Rufus Payne who gave him guitar lessons in exchange for meals, or sometimes money.

In the mid-1930’s, Williams yearned to be on the radio like his hero Roy Acuff, so he took his old Silvertone guitar and stood on the sidewalk in front of radio station WSFA, and started singing for anyone that would listen.

Young Hank Williams

Hank had recently won a local music competition.  Folks hearing him began phoning the station, asking about ‘The Singing Kid’. So the station invited him in to perform on the air. He eventually landed a 15 minute radio show, and was paid $15 a week.

Hank Williams and
The Drifting Cowboys

Williams later relocated to Montgomery, Alabama,  where he got married, and joined The Louisiana Hayride. He put together a band that he called The Drifting Cowboys. And they began to travel the southern United States.

Williams suffered from severe back pain all of his short life and to ease it, he drank.

By 1940, Most of his band members were drafted into the Army during WWII. Hank was deferred because of his back problems. Due to his chronic alcoholism, Williams lost his job with the radio station, but he continued to make hit records.

Williams in Cincinnati at WCKY
In 1947 he went to Cincinnati’s Herzog recording studio and recording Lovesick Blues, Your Cheatin’ Heart, Hey Good Lookin’, and I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry. He was sent to Cincinnati because Fred Rose's band, The Pleasant Valley Boys, lived and worked in this area. Rose knew how good they were and wanted them to back up Williams.

I will interject here that Cincinnati was THE place to go to make records before Nashville became THE place. This was due to the efforts of a couple of men.

King Records - Cincinnati Ohio

Syd Nathan owned a record store, and sold used juke boxes to restaurants. Nathan decided to stock the juke boxes with his own records, and established King Records.

Country singers, and bands such as The Delmore Brothers, Cowboy Copas, Grandpa Jones, Flatt and Scrugs, and many others came to Cincinnati to record and have their records made.. Since Syd Nathan did not have a studio until late in 1947, he sent these acts to Herzog. King Records could press the vinyl, take cover photos, and package the records.

Herzog Studio

 Earl T. Buckey Herzog was a radio engineer at WLW radio, who had rented part of a building near the station, and set up a recording studio. Many of the performers on WLW went there to record. This included Hank William. The tapes were sent to King Records, where they were pressed, packaged, and shipped to stores.

Nashville recording studio founder Owen Bradley, was a driving force to make Nashville the home of Country Music recording, and his initial goal was to keep the hometown musicians from going to Cincinnati.

Hank had auditioned for the Grand Ole Opry, but was rejected. However he did meet Roy Acuff, who liked his music, and voice, but hated his alcoholism. This got him an appointment to meet Acuff partner in music publishing, Fred Rose.

Hank Williams on
the Grand Ole Opry
Rose immediately loved his songs, and voice. Williams was then hired by MGM Records. By 1949, he cleaned up enough to join the Opry.

Hank Williams continued to travel, do shows, write music, and record up through 1952. He died on New Years Day in 1953, in the back of his Cadillac while traveling to a show in Canton, Ohio. He was only 29 years old. During his career Williams played a variety of guitars.

S.S. Stewart Archtop

Though we don't know anything about his Silvertone, we do know that when he showed up to play songs for Fred Rose he did not have a guitar. So Rose gave his $20, and Williams found an S.S. Stewart Archtop that he purchased for $14.  Fred Rose later gave this guitar to his daughter. It is currently on sale at Carter Vintage Instruments in Nashville for $175,000.

Hank with a Martin D-18

Hank also used a Martin D-18.

Hank Williams D-28

For most of his life and career he used a Martin D-28.

Hank with Gibson Southern Jumbo

In the 1950's Hank is seen with a Gibson Southern Jumbo SJ guitar.

Hank with Epiphone Triumph

Some time in 1952 Hank used an Epiphone Triumph guitar that was outfitted with a DeArmond pickup.

Songs just poured out of Hank Williams. Jimmy Dickens recalled riding in a car with Williams when Hank told him, 'You need a number one hit, I'll write it for you'. About an hour later Hank handed him a piece of paper with the lyrics of Hey Good Lookin' on it.  Later on, and before Dickens had a chance to record it, Williams recorded it and had a number one record. Hank was so good, and so proficient with writing songs he became known as The Hillbilly Shakespeare.

By 1953, Hank was gone, and Country Music was changing once again. We will delve into that in The Guitars of Country Music - Part Three.

Click on the links below the pictures for sources.  Click on the links in the text for more information.
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