Country Music History – Essential Recordings from 1931 to 1933
As reflected by the paltry number of entries below, the music industry was still reeling from the Great Depression during the early 1930s and fewer records were released. The deaths of Charlie Poole in 1931 and Jimmie Rodgers in 1933 created a talent void that would eventually be filled by an exuberant Texan named Bob Wills.
1. “Bandit Cole Younger, Edward L. Crain. Edward Crain was an East Texas ranch hand who struggled with manual labor due to asthma. Crain supposedly was encouraged to transition to the music business by Jimmie Rodgers, who left railroad work because of tuberculosis. He was billed as “The Texas Cowboy” and is best remembered for his song “Bandit Cole Younger.” Cole Younger was a member of the Confederate Army turned Confederate guerilla who teamed up with Jesse James after the Civil War to commit criminal acts against leaders of the Union Army. Crain’s song portrays Younger as being more contrite about his outlaw ways than reality suggests, perhaps reflecting the complicated emotions that many Southerners have traditionally had concerning what some labelled as the War of Northern Aggression.
1. “Miss the Mississippi and You,” Jimmie Rodgers. Jimmie Rodgers was racing the clock against his fatal disease in 1932, he recorded twenty songs that year in three separate sessions. He picked up two compositions from Tin Pan Alley writer Bill Halley, “Roll Along, Kentucky Moon” and “Miss the Mississippi and You.” “Miss the Mississippi and You” is a nostalgia song with a sweet lilt, written from the perspective of a city dweller who misses his rural roots. It’s been covered by many artists, perhaps most effectively by Rosanne Cash from her 2009 album “The List.”
2. “Mother, Queen of My Heart,” Jimmie Rodgers. Sentimentality has always been a part of country music and on this Slim Bryant penned story song, a son ignores his dying mother’s wishes to avoid drinking and gambling. On his last big bet, he gambles everything he owns, draws the winning card, then gives his ill-gotten gains away in honor of his mother’s wishes.
3. “Peach Pickin’ Time in Georgia,” Jimmie Rodgers. “Peach Pickin’ Time in Georgia” was written by fiddler Clayton McMichen, who had been a member of Gid Tanner’s Skillet Lickers and was leading the Georgia Wildcats when his band accompanied Rodgers in the studio in 1932 (Slim Bryant, noted in the previous entry, was also a member of the Georgia Wildcats). “Peach Pickin’ Time in Georgia” follows a traveling farm worker, happily following the crops around the country with a goal of purchasing a wedding ring for his love. The most famous cover versions of “Peach Pickin’” come from country music’s legendary Merles – Travis and Haggard.
4. “Sunbonnet Sue,” Fort Worth Doughboys. Western swing developed as rural musicians tried to emulate on string instruments what they heard from the big band jazz music of the era. Kansas born musician Carson Robinson, who accompanied Venon Dalhart from 1925 to 1928 to include performing on “Wreck of the Old 97,” recorded an early version of Western swing on his 1929 release “Nonsense,” credited to Carson Robinson’s Kansas Jack-rabbits. Bob Wills and Milton Brown met in Fort Worth in 1930 and began working together in medicine shows and on radio. In 1931, their band was hired by W. Lee “Pappy” O’Daniel to promote his light crust flour on Fort Worth radio. They became known as the Light Crust Doughboys, but recorded the vaudeville era composition “Suebonnet Sue” as the Fort Worth Doughboys. Although vocalist Brown is missing his Mississippi gal, “Suebonnet Sue” is a breezy dance number. How influential were the Light Crust Doughboys? There is still a band working under that name in Texas in 2016.
1. “Goodnight Irene,” Leadbelly. Huddle William Ledbetter, professionally known as Lead Belly or Leadbelly, was no stranger to violence, music, or the Louisiana state penitentiary. He was in his mid-40s when folkorists John and Alax Lomas visited him at the Louisiana’s Anglo Prison Farm. “Goodnight Irene,” a fatalistic love ballad, was one of the songs recorded during their session. It’s a song that Leadbelly’s uncle may have learned from touring minstrel performers and taught to his musically inclined nephew. The Weavers, a folk group that included Pete Seeger in its ranks, scored a #1 pop hit with “Goodnight Irene” in 1950. Ernest Tubb and Red Foley scored a #1 duet country hit with the song later in 1950 and it has also been covered by Johnny Cash and Gene Autry.
2. “I’ve Got the Big River Blues,” The Delmore Brothers. The Delmore Brothers grew up in rural Alabama and started their recording career in 1931. During the 1930s, they became the most popular act on the Grand Ole Opry (they later discovered that the publicity didn’t make up for the lack of compensation). The Delmore Brothers brought the four string tenor guitar sound from vaudeville into country music and had a water tight close harmony singing style. Alton Delmore was also a master of the flat picking guitar style and his work significantly influenced Merle Travis. “Big River Blues” may have been inspired by the disastrous 1927 flooding of the Mississippi River, leaving the Delmore Brothers with dreams of returning to Muscle Shoals.