On this date 102 years ago Gene Autry, “The Singing Cowboy”, was born in Tioga Springs, Texas. While perhaps best remembered today as a movie cowboy and the singer of holiday classics like “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “Here Comes Santa Claus”, Autry’s success began in the early thirties as “The Oklahoma Yodeling Cowboy”, singing country songs in the style of Jimmie Rodgers, as you can hear in this clip of “The Cowboy Yodel”, from the Bear Family box set That Silver Haired Daddy of Mine (SFC CD-6008), collecting his 1929-1933 recordings: Cowboy Yodel
By the time of his death at the age of 91, the former railroad station telegraph operator who sang “I have no cares like millionaires/ no grief to make me blue” had gone on to become one of the richest men in America, the owner of radio stations, Hollywood production studios, and a major league baseball team.
Additional Gene Autry recordings and material can be found in the SFC 78 rpm Recordings Database, the SFC Song Folio Collection (above), and the Library catalog.
Texas blues singer Mance Lipscomb at the 1970 Beloit Blues Festival, “showing off guitar set into dentures”. From the Archie Green Collection.
It seems that the recording industry’s habit of exaggerating the sound quality of their wares is as old as the recording industry itself. The claims made in this lovely ca. 1928 Edison Records catalog, found in the Eugene Earle Collection, make one wonder how further advances in audio technology could possibly have been made:
To the person who requires music in the most perfect obtainable form, Edison Records have a unique appeal… A special process of recording, developed by Thomas A. Edison, father of the phonograph, is so successful in catching every shade and inflection of the voice or instrument that it preserves ALL the characteristics of the original performance; then, when the record is played, it Re-Creates the music note-for-note and word-for-word with such uncanny fidelity to the original as to baffle skilled musicians and critics; they are unable to distinguish the Artist’s own performance from the Edison Re-Creation of it… Distinguished artists have sung or played in direct comparison to their Edison recordings, and have shown by actual test that “there is no difference”.
Mary Travers, of Peter, Paul & Mary (undated, 1960s).
From the early 1960s until the early 1970s a student group known as the Campus Folksong Club, under the leadership of faculty advisor Archie Green, brought folk musicians from all over the country to perform on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Over the years, the Folksong Club hosted performances by the Stanley Brothers, Flatt and Scruggs, Doc Watson, and in 1965, Louisiana bluesman Robert Pete Williams.
The story of Robert Pete Williams is well known; while serving a life sentence for murder at the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola in the late 1950s, Williams’ songs and stories were recorded by folklorist and ethnomusicologist Harry Oster. Under considerable pressure from Oster and others in the academic community, Williams’ sentence was commuted, and by 1964 he was released from the terms of his parole and allowed to tour outside Louisiana for the first time. We are fortunate that some of these early performances were captured on tape, including the Campus Folksong Club concert featured here, tape number FT-4189/FT-4190 in the SFC’s Archie Green Collection.
Listen to a clip of Robert Pete Williams performing “I’ve Grown So Ugly”, live at the University of Illinois, Feb.12, 1965:
Grown So Ugly
America is suffering a relapse of Beatlemania today, owing to the simultaneous release of a Beatles-themed video game and the latest (and presumably final) CD reissues of the original albums. As you are no doubt aware, the Beatles still consistently show up in surveys as one of the most popular bands in America, 40 years after they made their last record. This 1965 pamphlet, found in the SFC’s Artist Name Files, may help explain the secret to their success:
The Rev. David A. Noebel, Dean of the Christian Crusade Anti-Communist Summer University, explains:
The communists, through their scientists, educators and entertainers, have contrived an elaborate, calculating and scientific technique directed at rendering a generation of American youth useless through nerve-jamming, mental deterioration and retardation.”
This photo was probably taken in 1931, when the cowboy humorist and the singing brakeman toured the drought-stricken Midwest for a series of Red Cross benefit concerts. During performances, Will Rogers would sometimes introduce Jimmie as “my distant son”.
We recently received a copy of Way Out There: The Complete Recordings 1934-1943 (SFC CD-7810), the new Sons of the Pioneers/Roy Rogers box set from German label Bear Family Records. Bear Family boxes are always overstuffed with great material, and this one is no exception, with six CDs and a 160 page hardcover book featuring dozens of photographs and poster reproductions. SFC staff were happy to assist the folks at Bear Family with remote access to material from our 78 rpm record collection during the production of this set.
Listen to the Sons of the Pioneers performing “Way Out There” (from SFC 78-7047): way-out-there
The holdings of the SFC are particularly strong in Sons of the Pioneers material, most notably the Sons of the Pioneers Transcription Discs Collection, featuring many non-commercial recordings from the Lucky-U Ranch radio programs of the 1950’s, and the Elizabeth Drake McDonald Collection on the work of songwriter Bob Nolan.