Holiday In the Stacks: The Prairie Ramblers 16 inch transcription disc edition

Standard Library Transcription disc label, red, blue and white, song titles.
Cover of Prairie Ramblers songbook. Image of group in red.For your holiday listening pleasure, we pulled the Standard Program Library 16-inch transcription disc pictured above, call number TR1181 from the Southern Folklife Collection Transcription Discs (#30024), by the excellent Prairie Ramblers. The group coalesced in the 1930s appearing on numerous radio stations before settling down at WLS in Chicago. Featuring mandolinist Charles Chick Hurt, bassist “Happy” Jack Taylor, fiddler Tex Atchison, and Floyd “Salty” Holmes, a multi-instrumentalist and master of the harmonica, the group rose to fame after partnering up with a young Patsy Montana. Comfortable jumping from old-time stringband music, to country, to western swing, they went on to appear in numerous cowboy films with Gene Autry and other singing cowboys before splitting up for good in 1947 (well after Montana left to pursue her solo career). There is some excellent biographical information in the Prairie Ramblers Barn Dance Favorites, FL-506 in the Southern Folklife Collection Song Folios (30024). But back to the disc, here are a couple of holiday toe tappers to cut your cookies to:

Listen to “Christmas Chimes”:

Lyrics:
Merry merry Christmas chimes
Merry merry Christmas chimes
Ringing so sweet and so clear
Merry merry Christmas chimes
Merry merry Christmas chimes
Telling of joy and good cheer
When sleigh bells chime at Christmas time
For sparkling snow their music sings
They tell again that story old
Of peace on earth, good will to men
Merry merry Christmas chimes
Merry merry Christmas chimes
Ringing so sweet and so clear
Merry merry Christmas chimes
Merry merry Christmas chimes
Telling of joy and good cheer
The church bells ring their message plain
Upon the clear and frosty air
They voice the hope on Christmas day
That love may conquer everywhere
Merry merry Christmas chimes
Merry merry Christmas chimes
Ringing so sweet and so clear
Merry merry Christmas chimes
Merry merry Christmas chimes
Telling of joy and good cheer

Listen to “Cowboy Santa Claus”:

Lyrics:
We're going to have a sagebrush Santa
He's coming in from Santa Fe
He's a rootin' tootin' rounder
He rides a bronc and not a sleigh
He totes a .44 and a big white hat
And he shoots from where he draws
He's a singin', swingin'
Rawhide slingin', cowboy Santa Claus
Cowbells, cowbells, ringing on the range
Ringing out a melody over the golden plains
Cowbells, cowbells, ringing out because
Everyone is welcoming our cowboy Santa Claus

Inside cover of Prairie Ramblers songbook. Image collage of group with text.
Centerfold of Prairie Ramblers songbook. Image collage of group with text.

Holiday in the Stacks: Country Music Collage

A selection of LP covers for holiday records produced by country music stars, Loretta Lynn, George Strait, Charley Pride, The Judds, Alabama, Kitty Wells, Willie Nelson, Kenny and Dolly, and the Oak Ridge Boys
Nashville really likes holiday records it seems. The collage above is just a few from the Southern Folklife Collection LPs.  We’ve got a few more treats to share over the next few days, but for now, a bit of “A Christmas To Remember” from FC-15906, Kenny Roger and Dolly Parton’s classic Once Upon a Christmas released on RCA in 1984. If you can determine what is happening in the top left image below, please let us know.

Snapshots of Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton enjoying the holidays, from the liner notes to 1984 albumKenny Rogers and Dolly Parton dressed up sort of like Mr and Mrs. Santa Claus sitting in a room decorated for Christmas holidays

Student Television Collection

Over the past two months, we have been processing and arranging the University Archives Student Television at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill collection (#40326) as part of the next phase of our generous grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Photo collage of a U-matic case and tape for "Off the Cuff #19: A Holiday Extravaganza!" One has a drawing of a Christmas tree on the label; the other a drawing of Santa.
U-matic case for “Off the Cuff #19: A Holiday Extravaganza!” featuring drawings on the labels (VT-40326/466).

This collection of video recordings features original, student-produced shows, along with recordings of events and speeches around campus made by UNC Student Television between the years 1983-2010. There are more than 1,600 recordings in the collection on U-matic, VHS, and mini-DV analog formats. A few shows are still running today including General College and Late Night STV. UNC Student Television is a completely student-run television station for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Founded in 1983, it is now one of the largest media organizations on campus.
The finding aid for this collection will be available soon, but until then we thought we’d give you some highlights.
Off the Cuff is a long running sketch comedy show, and the STV collection features around 200 items with related Off the Cuff content. Pictured above and below is a sample of U-matic and VHS tapes found in the collection, all featuring Off the Cuff shows and segments.
Photo collage of U-matic case with sticker that reads "Off the Cuff" on the front, "sometimes comedy" on one edge, and "isn't pretty" on the other edge
U-matic case for “The 75th Off the Cuff Special: 7 years of STV comedy” (VT-40326/167)

Photo collage of VHS case for "Off the Cuff #150: Behind the Music Part 1" Label has a drawing of a monkey on it.
VHS case for “Off the Cuff #150: Behind the Music Part 1” (VT-40326/1478).

General College is another long running show featured in the collection. STV describes it as a “surreal melodrama with comedic elements,” and episodes are sequential by season. Below is a short clip of the General College intro from episode #14 produced in the fall of 1988 (VT-40326/104).

Greetings from the New Arrivals

Andrew Crook filing through tapes in the stacksHello there! My name is Andrew Crook and I’ve been an audiovisual archives assistant with the Southern Folklife Collection since mid-September. Prior to arriving at UNC, I worked as a photo archivist at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Savannah, GA and I am a 2015 graduate of the library science and information science program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (where I got my first taste of audiovisual preservation as a graduate assistant in the university’s library system). I am one of the three new hires working under a generous grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation to help expand the scope of the digitization work undertaken at Wilson Special Collections Library over the next several years. With that in mind, I’d like to use this post as an opportunity to introduce all of us and talk a bit about what we get to do on a day-to-day basis.Mel Meents reviewing videotapes from the Student Television CollectionMel Meents is also working under this grant as an audiovisual archives assistant. Mel is a 2017 graduate of the library and information science program at the University of Illinois and prior to starting at UNC, was employed at the Nashville Metro Archives Audiovisual Conservation Center in Nashville, TN working as a project archivist and digitization technician.
On the ground level, we are both responsible for managing the files produced during our regular digitization projects and preparing them for long-term digital storage. This ongoing process requires us to carry out a number of tasks: including inspecting and editing metadata to ensure that the digital files produced by our engineers are directly tied to their original items, packaging preservation masters with supporting documentation in preparation for long-term storage, producing high quality derivatives of master files for user access and connecting streaming files to the finding aid entries associated with the original items. We have been working on the grant for almost three months and, to date, we have already posted and packaged digital files for around 1300 items: including standout selections from the Archie Green Papers (20002), William R. Ferris Collection (20367) and Apollo Records Collection (20539) and fascinating tapes from the Bushyhead Family Collection (05773). We are also on call to help out with a number of activities to ensure that our rare and unique materials are ready for immediate playback by our audio engineers: including varying degrees of mold remediation and item cleaning.Film cans from the Florentine Films Collection in the stacks at Wilson LibraryAlongside our daily duties, we have undertaken a number of independent projects. For instance, Mel has singlehandedly processed and arranged a large number of items from the Student Television Collection: a collection spanning 25 years worth of student-generated media productions across over 1600 tapes (Mel will be writing in greater detail about this project in the near future, so stay tuned!). I have been barcoding and organizing hundreds of reels in our film collection—including over 700 raw film elements from the Florentine Films collection that were used in the production of Ken Burns’ Baseball documentary—to prepare them for eventual relocation to our off-site cold storage facility. These projects have served to ensure greater access and longevity to the unique materials that are housed in Wilson Library.Dan Hockstein preparing to transfer a tapeAudio engineer Dan Hockstein is another new member of the Mellon Project Team. Dan comes to us from Philadelphia, PA, where he spent time as a QC engineer with George Blood Audio after earning a degree in audio post production and sound design from Emerson College.
Dan is performing parallel transfers—digitizing up to 12 cassettes at a time—to prepare preservation masters derived from the thousands of cassette tapes in the collections. Over the past two months Dan has digitized a large number of items, with highlights from the Bruce Bastin Collection (20428), Jas Obrecht Collection (20512) and Greenhill Family/FLi Artists/Folklore Productions Collection (20542), constituting much of the nearly 600 items that he has transferred to date. Dan actively troubleshoots any potential issues associated with certain objects before playback: a task that sometimes requires him to re-house cassettes or bake the tapes themselves in order to guarantee smooth playback. Dan has also begun working with audio engineer Brian Paulson to develop an automated method to streamline the audio department’s pre-existing metadata workflow.
Our group has definitely hit the ground running and we’re looking forward to helping expand access to the materials held by Wilson library, not to mention those held by our new partners, in the new year!

First Impressions: CMH Records

First Impressions banner featuring Country Music Heritage logo
First Impressions” is an ongoing series on the “first records” of several independent record labels releasing folk, blues, bluegrass, country, and other vernacular musics. Drawing from records and other materials in the Southern Folklife Collection, the focus of this virtual exhibition is on the albums that started it all for these labels in the LP era.


THE ALBUM

LP album cover, features Don Reno holding banjo, Bill Harrell holding guitar, both wearing suits and sunglasses
Don Reno & Bill Harrell & The Tennessee Cut-Ups, Dear Old Dixie | FC-17121

center label from Country Music Heritage first record, wood grain background with silver textIn 1975, country music industry veterans Martin Haerle and Arthur Smith started CMH Records, and Don Reno, Bill Harrell, and the Tennessee Cut-Ups were a perfect fit for the label’s first release. Haerle had many connections from his experience at Starday Records and in the radio business, and Don Reno had performed with Arthur Smith on several occasions. Don Reno, Bill Harrell, and their band were, by 1975, long-established bluegrass musicians. Performing with Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys and, most famously, Red Smiley, Don Reno was a member of the first generation of bluegrass musicians that established the sound of the genre in the 1940s and 50s. Bill Harrell, too, was one of bluegrass’ most popular musicians, most successfully recording and performing with his band the Virginians. CMH, short for Country Music Heritage, aimed to give a home to these prominent, if aging, artists, many of whom had been dropped from the rosters at major labels. Don Reno and Bill Harrell had been performing together for over 10 years by the time they recorded Dear Old Dixie at Arthur Smith Studios in Charlotte, North Carolina. The album features mostly original and arranged tunes by the pair, and Arthur Smith even steps in to join Don Reno on guitar on  “B.G. Chase,” an instrumental he co-wrote with Reno.
Listen to a segment of “B.G. Chase,” from Side 2 of Dear Old Dixie, here:

And here’s “Make Believe (You Didn’t Set Me Free),” also from Side 2:


The label

CMH Records advertisement, album covers and descriptions
An early CMH Records advertisement shows the prominent names in bluegrass already recording for the label. Folder 211 in the SFC Discographical Files (30014).

Country Music Heritage (CMH) Records was founded in 1975 by Martin Haerle, a former vice president of Starday Records, and Arthur “Guitar Boogie” Smith, famed performer, TV host, and composer of “Guitar Boogie” and “Fuedin’ Banjos.” Their vision of the label was to release contemporary country music recordings, with a particular focus on bluegrass music. From the beginning, CMH signed long-established musicians, from the Osborne Brothers, Mac Wiseman, and Lester Flatt to the Stonemans, Benny Martin, and Joe Maphis. Most of these early releases, like Dear Old Dixie, were produced and recorded at Arthur Smith Studios in Charlotte, North Carolina. Soon after the launch of the initial album series (starting with Dear Old Dixie, CMH-6201), CMH began releasing their popular “Bluegrass Classics” double LP series (starting with CMH-9001). These two primary series, featuring modern recordings of bluegrass and country greats, carried the label into the late 1980s. In 1990, after the death of Martin Haerle, his son David Haerle took over operations of CMH. The younger Haerle started the “Pickin’ On” series in the 1990s, which offered bluegrass cover albums of classic and popular songs, from Pickin’ on the Beatles (1999) to Pickin’ on Nirvana (2017). In this same spirit, CMH is now home to other labels offering interpretations of classic music: Vitamin Records, an outlet for the Vitamin String Quartet, releases instrumental interpretations of popular artists from Radiohead to Kanye West, and Rockabye Baby! releases lullaby versions of popular rock songs.


The Artists

Bill Harrell with guitar on stage, promotional photo
Promotional photo of Bill Harrell, Folder 236 in the Art Menius Papers (20406).

Born in South Carolina, Don Reno was raised in Haywood County, North Carolina, where he first picked up a banjo at the age of five. After a decade or two in the country music business, Don Reno achieved lasting fame through his partnership with Red Smiley as Reno & Smiley. Bill Harrell, another successful bluegrass musician, had been touring and recording with his band the Virginians. Reno and Harrell first started performing together in 1964, after Red Smiley retired from music performance. Backed by the Tennessee Cut-Ups, Don Reno could usually be heard playing the 5-string banjo while Bill Harrell joined him on the guitar and sang lead. When Red Smiley returned from retirement in 1969, he performed with Reno and Harrell until his death in 1972. After parting ways in 1977, Reno and Harrell continued to tour and record with their respective bands for the rest of their lives.
Here is a brief segment of an interview between Alice Gerrard and Bill Monroe, from the Alice Gerrard Collection (20006), in which Bill Monroe discusses Don Reno’s impromptu “tryout” for the Blue Grass Boys:

Alice Gerrard: How'd you happen to meet Don?
Bill Monroe: Don Reno?
AG: Yeah.
BM: Oh, uh, I guess he'd heard that, you know, that Earl [Scruggs] had
quit, and he was going to be the next banjo player, you know, whether
or not.
AG: Yeah. [Laughter]
BM: He got into Nashville and we'd done gone, we'd left on Saturday
night, and he -
AG: Oh no...
BM: He followed us right on back into Taylorsville, North Carolina,
and -
AG: Persistent, anyway...
BM: And Earl was working his two weeks down there, and he [Don Reno]
came right down through the audience with his banjo, take the banjo out,
walked right out on the stage where we were.
AG: Oh, that's great, that's really great. And did he just -
BM: Nobody didn't ask him to come out or nothing.
AG: [Laughter] Did it tickle you at the time or were you kinda mad?
BM: No, it came as a surprise, and tickled us, too. But Earl would take
a break while Don would get up and play.
AG: Oh no! That's a riot, Bill...
BM: I tell that on Don now, but you know, that kinda gets away from him,
but that's really the truth.
AG: That's really funny... How old was he then? Do you have any idea?
BM: Uh, I don't know - he's a little older than Earl, or a little
younger, I believe, isn't he?
AG: I guess he's probably a little bit younger. Was he pretty young,
though, when he came? Well, he must have been, to have that much nerve!
I tell you, only a young kid would have -
BM: He wanted that job, though, he knew what it would mean to him.

Listen to the full interview, on FS-20006/8640, here. Streaming access to this recording were made possible through the SFC’s ongoing audiovisual preservation grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.


The local connection

Arthur Smith was born in South Carolina, where he also began his musical career, but he achieved most of his success in Charlotte, North Carolina. After moving to Charlotte in 1943 to appear on WBT radio’s Carolina Calling, and was also featured on the later TV iteration of the show. Arthur Smith’s own The Arthur Smith Show was the first nationally syndicated country music television show, and ran for 32 years. When Smith’s 1955 recording “Fuedin’ Banjos,” which he had recorded with Don Reno, was reinterpreted without credit as “Dueling Banjos” in the 1972 film Deliverance, he successfully sued Warner Bros. for a substantial settlement and a songwriting credit. In 1957, Smith established Arthur Smith Studios in Charlotte, the location of many seminal recordings and prominent radio shows, as well as much of the CMH Records catalog of releases.

In a recording studio, seated in front of microphones, Arthur Smith, late middle aged, wearing headphones, in a red short sleeve shirt and purple boots holds a guitar, Don Reno, wearing headphones and classes, with blue longsleeve shirt, blue pants, and cowboy boots, playing a banjo
Don Reno and Arthur Smith (in the purple boots) in the studio recording “Feudin’ Again” on Nov. 17, 1978. From Roll Film Box P081/120C-2 in the Hugh Morton Photographs and Films (P0081) in the North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives. Search the Hugh Morton Collection here.


Show me more!

There is plenty of more information related to Don Reno, Bill Harrell, Arthur Smith, and CMH Records in the Southern Folklife Collection, as well as an extensive portion of the CMH catalog on LP, CD, and cassette. Check out a few other documents of interest below or search the collection yourself.

Song folio cover, features two red stars, with the faces of Don Reno and Red Smiley on each star
Don Reno & Red Smiley and the Tennessee Cut-Ups, Song and Picture Folio No. 4. Song Folio FL-184 in the Southern Folklife Collection Song Folios (30006).

Cover of a CMH Records newsletter called Midnight Flyer, featuring an illustration of a train
Midnight Flyer, no. 1 (1980). Several of these newsletters can be found in Folder 211, SFC Discographical Files (30014).

Cover of a song folio, featuring Don Reno and Red Smiley dressed as Union and Confederate soldiers leaning against a tree with their guns
Don Reno & Red Smiley: Song and Picture Folio No. 2. Song Folio FL-185 in the Southern Folklife Collection Song Folios (30006).