Cataloger’s Corner: Stuart Hamblen for President

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Stuart Hamblen is known today as a singing cowboy who produced radio programs such as “Covered Wagon Jubilee” and eventually “Cowboy Church of the Air.” He was also a major songwriter and recording star—one of the first C&W artists to record for Decca.

A Texas native, Hamblen moved to Los Angeles in the 1920s to start a career in radio. After a brief stint performing with the Beverly Hillbillies, he began hosting his own show. He also began making headlines for his drinking, gambling, and debt-related lawsuits, as well as for owning and training hunting dogs and racehorses. (Incidentally, he was the first person to send a horse to a race on an airplane–Flying Tiger was the name of the airline).

In 1938, Hamblen became one of a series of C&W celebrity-politicians when he ran as a Democrat for congressman of L.A.’s 11th district. (Other examples included W. Lee O’Daniel who served as governor of Texas, Jimmy Davis who served as governor of Louisiana, and Roy Acuff who ran for governor of Tennessee). Hamblen’s candidacy apparently disturbed many Democrats from his district, largely because he campaigned in character, incorporating his guitar and cowboy persona. One Los Angeles Times article referred to him as the “Bourbon candidate for Congress.” Not surprisingly, he did not win.

A decade later, in 1949, Hamblen attended one of evangelist Billy Graham’s tent meetings in Los Angeles—the meeting inspired him to quit drinking and to devote his life to the Christian faith. When his radio station KMTR subsequently asked him to promote a beer brand on air, he refused and lost his show. The beer ad incident put Hamblen on the radar of the Prohibition Party; after General Douglas MacArthur refused the invitation to run as the 1952 Prohibition presidential candidate, Hamblen was recruited for the role. With a retired professor (Enoch A. Holtwick) as a running mate, Hamblen came in 4th place, with 73,412 popular votes.

At the Prohibition Party’s convention, Hamblen played his hit song “It Is No Secret (What God Can Do),” treating it as the theme song of the campaign. At some point during 1951-1952, he used the song as well in a 78rpm recording (likely intended for radio play), entitled “Hamblen for President.” On each side, Hamblen explains his platform and emphasizes that prohibition would not be reinstated if he were elected. A few excerpts from both sides are below.

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The recording is cataloged and available at the Southern Folklife Collection as 78-17711, along with many of Hamblen’s commercial recordings and reel-to-reel tapes of his radio show “Cowboy Church of the Air.”

Songs from Limestone Country

78-178160B

We came across an interesting bit of American industrial history in a recent 78rpm cataloging session in the Southern Folklife Collection: a circa 1948 record promoting the Indiana Limestone Company, featuring on its label a relatively complex illustration of the limestone mining process. Celebrating the 100th anniversary of Indiana’s limestone industry, it includes two songs honoring the state’s favorite sedimentary rock : “Old Limestone Quarry” and “Girl from Oolitic.” (Oolitic is a town in Indiana known for its oolite, a kind of limestone).

We cannot find any information on this release, except that John H. McGee applied for copyright for the two songs in 1949.

We’ve included an excerpt from Side A here, which features an unknown vocalist and big band:

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The record is available at the SFC as call no. 78-17816.

78-17816A

An Alphabet of Treasures: Special Collections from A to Z

78_11104_Ma Rainey_Dream Blues_John Edwards Memorial Foundation Records_20001_Southern Folklife Collection[if you like zooming in on record labels you should click on this photo]

Dream Blues,” 78 rpm disc, 1924
Gertrude “Ma” Rainey with The Pruitt Twins, Paramount Records

As Paramount’s best-selling artist of the early 1920s, vaudeville superstar and “The Mother of the Blues” Gertrude “Ma” Rainey was honored with her own “portrait label” disc, the first of its kind, marketed and sold as a special souvenir for her fans. Rainey is accompanied on these March 1924 recordings by the remarkable Pruitt Twins, Miles and Milas of Kansas City, on banjo and guitar. The disc above is call number 78-11104 from the John Edwards Memorial Collection (20001).

This item is one of many highlights pulled from across the collections in Wilson library currently featured in the exhibition An Alphabet of Treasures: Special Collections from A to Z, which can be seen in Wilson Special Collections Library until April 19, 2015.

Follow the Wilson Library tumblr for more highlights from the exhibit.

And remember to mark your calendars for our very special event with music biographer Barry Mazor and musician Dom Flemons coming up next week.

Ralph Peer and the Making of Popular Roots Music
Friday, Feb. 6, 2015
Wilson Special Collections Library
Pleasants Family Assembly Room
5:30 p.m. Reception (program will begin at 6 p.m.)
6 p.m. Book Talk by Barry Mazor
7 p.m. Concert by Dom Flemons
Free and open to the public
Information: Liza Terll, Friends of the Library, (919) 548-1203

Music scout, record producer, and industry visionary Ralph Peer helped shape and popularize American country and roots music from the 1920s through the ’40s. On Feb. 6, at 6 p.m., a new biography of Peer will be the topic of a talk by the author, Barry Mazor, at UNC’s Wilson Special Collections Library. A concert by musician Dom Flemons will follow at 7 p.m. We’ll have more about the program on Field Trip South tomorrow.

 

Curley Parker & the Garvin Brothers on Cozy Records

Cotton Eyed Joe, Curley Parker & the Garvin Bros.Newly cataloged at the SFC is an obscure bluegrass release on Cozy Records by Curley Parker and the Garvin Brothers, call number 78-17403.

Cozy Records was based in Davis, West Virginia and named after a restaurant in nearby Grafton. It was founded by coal miner and minister John Bava, who’d played and sung along with his wife Lucy in a band called the Country Cousins.

In addition to his record label, Bava also started a magazine called Musical Echoes (printing facilities for which sat in a converted chicken coup), and a music publishing company under his own name. It seems that Bava may have used Musical Echoes partly to promote his compositions among musicians who might perform them. For example, in the SFC’s Sheet Music and Song Lyrics collection, we found this copy of Bava’s composition “Upon the Cross of Calvary” which has a red-and-white sticker referring to Musical Echoes as “song book for the entertainer.”

SFC Sheet Music and Song Lyrics Collection #30013, folder 97

SFC Collection 30013, folder 97

The back cover has been addressed and stamped, with Musical Echoes as the return address. At the bottom, the recipient is told to “request Hank the Cowhand of WMMN, Fairmont, W. Va. to sing ‘Would You Care.’” (Hank recorded this song for Cozy as Hank Stanford & the Sagebrush Round-up some time in the early 1950s; the song was written by Bava).

BAVA-SFC004Cozy recorded local, West Virginia-based talent, as well as musicians who appeared regularly on radio but who’d had trouble making inroads with bigger labels. Besides Hank the Cowhand, Cozy artists included Cherokee Sue, Rita Flory, Rex Parker’s Merry Men, Chuck Palmer & the Cornmuffins, and eventually the Lonesome Pine Fiddlers.

Curley Parker and the Garvin Brothers only made one recording for Cozy Records, “My Guiding Star” / “Cotton Eyed Joe”, released in 1950. Originally from Gilmer County, Georgia, Parker is today best known for having played fiddle with the Blue Sky Boys during the 1940s, as well as for the duo he started with Pee Wee Lambert in 1951. In addition to his musical career, Parker also worked as a land surveyor; ultimately, he phased out professional music appearances in order to focus on his “day job.”

Side A, “My Guiding Star,” features singing by Parker and Earnst Garvin in a song about the unexpected death of the narrator’s fiancé. We’ve included an excerpt here:

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Side B, “Cotton Eyed Joe,” is an instrumental, and showcases Parker’s fiddling technique (as well as that of an unnamed banjoist, presumably one of the Garvin Brothers). The virtuosity is especially apparent towards the end when the tempo verges on breakneck.

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It does not appear that the Garvin Brothers have any surviving output beyond this release.

Our copy of the Parker-Garvin Brothers release came from SFC donor Guthrie Meade and was autographed by Parker. In the image below, you can (sort of) see the inscription on the lefthand side of the label: “To Gus, Curley Parker.”

My Guiding Star, Curley Parker & the Garvin Brothers

78 of the week: Ida Cox and Lovie Austin on Paramount

78_11107_Kentucky_Man_Blues_Southern Folklife Collection, UNC Chapel HillSorry to be so quiet around here lately. Summer in Chapel Hill may be quiet, but activity at Wilson Library intensifies as the temperature goes up. We’ve got exciting news about the SFC 25 year anniversary coming up so stay tuned to Field Trip South over the next few days. You’re going to love it.

78_11107_Death_Letter_Blues_Southern Folklife Collection, UNC Chapel HillBut for this afternoon, to ease back into blogging this week I thought we could start slow with call no. 78-11107 by the remarkable Ida Cox accompanied by the one and only Lovie Austin. “Death Letter Blues” and “Kentucky Man Blues” are but two of 78 sides Cox recorded for Paramount between 1923 and 1929. Enjoy these segments, presented with no noise reduction or post-processing. Love the sound.

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