Old-time music

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The term old-time music describes a genre of folk music from North America . It is often referred to as hillbilly with a mockery for backwoodsmen and was fundamental to the development of later country music . Old-Time emerged from the folklore of European and African immigrants. It belongs to the genres of American Roots Music .



Unknown old-time musicians from Nebraska about 1908

Old-time music has its roots in the traditional folklore of European immigrants, especially the English , Irish and Scottish . In some regions there was also strong German and French influences, such as Cajun music . In addition, there is a strong proportion of Afro-American musical culture in the old-time, which found its way through the slaves from Africa . Many of the dance melodies of old-time music can be traced back to old Central European forms such as the gigue or the reel .

With its roots in European and African folklore, Old-Time is the oldest music form in the USA alongside the music of indigenous North American peoples. In the 19th and 20th centuries, Tin Pan Alley and Ragtime also flowed into this mix.

While old-time music was widespread throughout the United States in the 18th and 19th centuries, the spread of this music in the 20th century was mainly limited to the Appalachians ( New York State , Pennsylvania , Ohio , Maryland , Virginia , West Virginia , North Carolina , South Carolina , Kentucky , Tennessee , Georgia , Alabama, and Mississippi ).

The Atlanta Fiddler's Convention: 1914 group photo of the attendees

In 1913, the Atlanta Fiddler's Convention first took place in Atlanta , Georgia . At such competitions, musicians - mainly banjo players, guitarists and fiddlers - met and played the old pieces that they had already learned in their childhood. Despite the immense popularity of these Fiddler's Contests, the emerging record industry initially completely ignored old-time music, as did other traditional music genres such as blues and gospel . The music was considered outdated and backwoods.

First recordings (1914–1924)

The violinist Don Richardson from North Carolina made the first recordings of traditional pieces from the rural population between 1914 and 1919 for Columbia Records , OKeh Records and Silvertone Records as well as Phonola and Little Wonder. Richardson played typical old-time pieces like Arkansas Traveler , Mississippi Sawyer , Soldier's Joy or Miss McLeod's Reel . Richardson was not a typical rural musician, but had studied law as the son of a lawyer for three years before he returned to his passion, music. Throughout his career he has directed various orchestras that played classical music. Although Richardson was the first musician to record old-time pieces, he is not mentioned in the professional world; the specialist literature also completely ignores it.

Eck Robertson

In the summer of 1922, friends Fiddler Eck Robertson and Henry Gilliland ventured to New York City to be the first rural musicians to record records. In addition to joint duets by Robertson and Gilliland, Robertson also played a few solo pieces, including Sallie Gooden , which was published on the A-side of Victor Records in April 1923. These were the first commercially available recordings by a rural musician, which laid the foundation for later country music. In general, these and John Carson's recordings are considered the commercial beginning of old-time music and later country music, despite the existence of Don Richardson in the professional world.

Fiddlin 'John Carson
Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane , 1923 ( file info ):

On June 1, 1923, Fiddlin 'John Carson recorded the songs The Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane and The Old Hen Cackled and the Rooster's Going to Crow in a mobile recording studio owned by A&R manager Ralph Peer for OKeh. At first Peer was not at all taken with Carson, he had only accepted him because there were no other musicians available. The 500 pressed records (OKeh 4890) sold unexpectedly well, just like Carson's predecessor at Victor.

Also in 1923, the vaudeville artist, radio host and ukulele player Wendell Hall came on the scene. In early 1923 he wrote the song It Ain't Gonna Rain No Mo ' , which quickly became his trademark. He quickly signed a contract with Victor and recorded the song with Red Headed Music Maker (Victor 19121). Due to his extensive tour in June (he visited 35 radio stations) everyone was talking about the record and it quickly became the hit of the year. Although reverb was not really a rural musician and the ukulele was not a typical instrument of old-time music at the time, It Ain't Gonna Rain No Mo 'is considered a country track.

In late 1923, guitarist and harmonica player Henry Whitter traveled to New York to get a record deal. After initial difficulties, he finally came to Okeh, where he recorded the record Lonesome Road Blues / Wreck of the Old Southern '97 . Released in early 1924, it sold well, although Whitter was not a talented musician.

Vernon Dalhart

Whitter's B-side Wreck of the Old '97 should also prove to be a success for operetta singer Vernon Dalhart . He joined the emerging trend of old-time music and recorded the track along with The Prisoner's Song . First an alternative version appeared on Edison Records , with Frank Ferera on guitar, after good sales Dalhart recorded the song again with Carson Robison on guitar for Victor and achieved the first million seller of country music. The song skyrocketed in sales and was still being played decades later.

Dissemination through the radio

From the very beginning, radio played a decisive role in the development of old-time music and later country music. In 1922, WSB went on the air in Atlanta, Georgia, and soon many old-time musicians would appear on its program.

In January 1923 the Fort Worth , Texas broadcaster WBAP broadcast a kind of barn dance from the studio. In 1925 George D. Hay organized the National Barn Dance from Chicago , which was broadcast nationwide on WLS. A year later, Hay went to WSM in Nashville , Tennessee, where he started a similar show on WSM that would be included in the Grand Ole Opry . While the National Barn Dance was more like a variety show (musicians from other genres also appeared), the Opry only included rural musicians from the start. The first of their kind were Uncle Jimmy Thompson , DeFord Bailey , Uncle Dave Macon and Dr. Humphrey Bate and his Possum Hunters .

1925–1929: "The golden years"

All of these early recordings, from Eck Robertson's unaffected and unpolished recordings in the summer of 1922 to Dalhart's million dollar sales, showed the potential that old-time music, hillbilly or mountain music had - whatever they were called. Two men in particular recognized this quickly: Frank Walker , A&R manager at Columbia Records , and Ralph Peer, also A&R manager, first at Okeh and later at RCA Victor.

Gid Tanner and Riley Puckett
Charlie Poole

Frank Walker had discovered the fiddler Gid Tanner and the blind guitarist and vocalist Riley Puckett as early as 1924 and invited them to the Columbia studio in New York, where the two friends recorded their first eleven tracks in March. Tanner and Puckett later became members of the string band Gid Tanner and his Skillet Lickers , one of the most popular old-time bands in America in the 1920s. Puckett showed his talent for yodelling as early as 1924 and made the first recording with the so-called Blue Yodeling with Rock All Our Babies to Sleep . In 1926, Tanner and Puckett joined forces with Fiddler Clayton McMichen and banjo player Fate Norris to form the Skillet Lickers. Her first single Bully of the Town / Pass Around the Bottle was a hit, as were her subsequent releases. Until 1930 they were the leading group of string bands.

In 1925, a year after Tanner and Puckett's first recordings, another musician found his way to Columbia. Banjo player Charlie Poole traveled from their home in North Carolina to New York with friends Posey Rorer and Norman Woodlieff to audition for Frank Walker. Walker signed the group and released Don't Let Your Deal Go Down / Can I Sleep in Your Barn Tonight, Mister? . The smoother, more melodic sound of the North Carolina Ramblers was so popular with audiences that their single sold over 100,000 copies. After some follow-up successes such as White House Blues and Budded Rose , the Great Depression and Poole's fast-paced lifestyle destroyed his career in 1929. He died in 1931. Poole's recordings were decisive for the later bluegrass , because his three-finger style was adapted by Earl Scruggs and some of his songs like Don't Let Your Deal Go Down and the White House Blues became bluegrass standards.

Charlie Poole as well as the Skillet Lickers triggered a "hillbilly boom". Every record company wanted a piece of old fiddle and old-time music too, and more talented musicians quickly came into the spotlight. Clarence Ashley , Dock Boggs , Lowe Stokes , Earl Johnson , Ernest Stoneman , Doc Walsh , the Georgia Yellow Hammers , Carson Robison , Blind Alfred Reed , Uncle Dave Macon , Buell Kazee , AA Gray , Roy Harvey and Fiddlin 'Arthur Smith were some of them.

Summer 1927: The Bristol Sessions

In response to the great demand for rural musicians, Raph Peer, now A&R manager for Victor, drove to Bristol , Tennessee , and rented an old warehouse where he installed recording equipment. Peer posted advertisements in the newspapers that he was looking for musicians who would record for money. At first it received little response, in the first week only three different bands recorded pieces for Peer. However, after further articles reported how wealthy Ernest Stoneman, who was one of the first week musicians in Bristol, had gotten from his record sales, there was no stopping it: dozens of musicians came to Bristol to audition for Peer. Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family were among them . Rodgers had actually come with his band, but fell out with his partners and instead auditioned alone. The Carter Family was also signed. Other discoveries of the Bristol Sessions were Blind Alfred Reed, Dock Boggs (who, however, recorded there for Brunswick Records ), BF Shelton and Bull Mountain Moonshiners.

Both Rodgers and the Carter Family were not initially “backwoods” enough for Peer, but at the latest when Rodgers had a million seller with his Blue Yodel No.1 , he changed his mind. The Carter Family also had hits in 1928 with Bury Me Neath the Willow Tree and Wildwood Flower . Rodgers and the Carter Family became superstars practically overnight and continued to influence country music generations after them.

1929: Old-Time Music during the Depression

The global economic crisis that followed the stock market crash of 1929 also hit the record industry hard. People ran out of money to buy records; many labels had to close. Inevitably, this also affected Old-Time Music, whose sales fell. Jimmie Rodgers ran into serious financial difficulties and many of his colleagues were terminated. Charlie Poole's last session was in 1929, and the Skillet Lickers also split for good in 1931. The Carter Family had to give up music temporarily around 1929, and AP Carter had a regular job. In 1933 the group broke up completely for some time, but then came back together. One of the few old-time stars, Riley Puckett, was only slightly affected by the economic crisis. His record sales remained stable even though they had declined since 1928.

1930–1936: Success of radio

The bad record sales soon favored the development of the radio. Since records were now too expensive, people preferred to listen to the radio because it was free. The broadcasters and musicians reacted and radio quickly rose to become the number one entertainment medium. Barn dance shows were initiated across America during these years and artists rose in popularity.

But the great streak of traditional, rural old-time music began to wane, as new styles such as western swing , cowboy music and honky tonk emerged and slowly but surely pushed simple old-time music out of business towards the end of the decade. Even so, some old and new musicians were still successful with early music during the 1930s; the “brother act”, duos made up of brothers, became particularly popular. Among the most successful were the Monroe Brothers , who mainly focused on religious songs, the Shelton Brothers , the Blue Sky Boys , the Delmore Brothers, and the Carlisle Brothers .

The Monroe Brothers: Charlie (guitar) and Bill (mandolin)

The Monroes, consisting of Charlie and Bill Monroe , had their biggest hit in 1936 right at the start of their careers with the gospel What Would You Give in Exchange For Your Soul . The two brothers played guitar and mandolin while Charlie was the lead singer and Bill repeated lines in loud falsetto. The Shelton Brothers have also had some success with today's classics such as Sitting On Top of the World and Just Because . The Blue Sky Boys recently received a record deal from all brother duos, but then overtook them all the faster in their popularity. However, her career was ruined by World War II . Rabon and Alton Delmore began their careers around 1930 and quickly became stars of the Grand Ole Opry. They mainly sang old-time music with a strong tendency towards the blues.

Cliff Carlisle

The brothers Bill and Cliff Carlisle also worked occasionally as a duo. Cliff had started his career with the American Record Corporation in 1930 at the worst possible time , and from 1936 onwards he attracted attention with titles such as A Wild Cat Woman and A Tom Cat Man , You'll Miss Me When I'm Gone or Footprints in the Snow do. Bill, on the other hand, had respectable success with Rattlesnake Daddy in 1933 and became a sought-after country boogie in the late 1940s .

Gid Tanner's Skillet Lickers - Down Yonder

With all of these new artists, the old musicians from the 1920s had a hard time staying in business. Fiddlin 'John Carson, for example, continued to make records with his daughter, but they only sold moderately. Gid Tanner had one last big success with the founding of the Skillet Lickers in 1934. The Breakdown Down Yonder sold over a million copies and was even able to keep up with the Carter Family's new recording of Wildwood Flower that same year, which was still pressed in the 1960s.

1939: the end

1939 is widely regarded as the end of traditional old-time music. It was the year that Bill Monroe and his new band, the Bluegrass Boys , joined the Grand Ole Opry and the old old-time music was absorbed into the bluegrass . At the latest at the beginning of the Second World War, the era of old-time was over. The music lost its rural character and more urban styles dominated the music, which slowly took on the name "country". Hillbilly was still a household name for this music until the 1950s.

Aftermath: folk revival and the present

In the early 1960s, many teenagers in the United States turned to more traditional and acoustic forms of music. A number of festivals specializing in folk emerged . One of the rising stars was the young Bob Dylan , who shone in other genres throughout his career. There were also musicians like Pete Seeger , Doc Watson and the New Lost City Ramblers who played traditional old-time music. Old artists like Buell Kazee, Clarence Ashley, Dock Boggs, Cliff Carlisle, Clayton McMichen and especially Bill Monroe became popular again with the young folk audience.

Nowadays, various old-time bands perform mainly at bluegrass festivals and Fiddler's conventions, which are still widespread in the southern United States. One of the most famous old-time bands is the Old Crow Medicine Show . Phil Tanner's Skillet Lickers , Gid Tanner's great-grandson, is also active with an old-time band. Other artists are the Earl Brothers , the Yonder Mountain String Band and the Georgia Potlickers . Well-known events include in Rosine , Kentucky , the weekly Rosine Barn Jamboree , the National Oldtime Fiddlers' Contest & Festival in Weiser , Idaho , the Suwanee Old Time Music Weekend and the Florida Old Time Music Championship .

The terms old-time and hillbilly

Although "Hillbilly" was used from 1925 for the traditional, rural music forms of white residents, the meaning of this term quickly blurred. In the 1930s and 1940s, honky tonk, country boogie and bluegrass were also given the term hillbilly, which makes this term seem imprecise today.

The term hillbilly was first picked up by Ralph Peer in 1925 when Al Hopkins and the Buckle Busters were recording a session for Victor. Hopkins referred to himself and his group as "Hillbillies" (country eggs), which Peer used to market the music.

When we talk about old-time music today, we mean traditional folk music of the 1920s and 1930s.


  • Tony Russell: Country Music Originals: The Legends and the Lost . Oxford University Press, 2007, ISBN 0-19-532509-5 .
  • Tony Russell: Country Music Records: A Discography 1921-1942 . Oxford University Press, 2004, ISBN 0-19-513989-5 .
  • Charles K. Wolfe: Classic Country: Legends of Country Music . Routledge, 2001, ISBN 0-415-92827-3 .

Web links

Commons : Old-time music  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ A b Mark Humphrey: What is Old-Time Music? ( Memento of the original from August 24, 2016 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / www.oldtimemusic.com
  2. Wayne Peas: Old-Time Fiddle for the Complete Ignoramus . Native Ground Books & Music, 2005, ISBN 1-883206-48-0 , p. 64.
  3. Diane Pecknold: The Selling Sound . Duke University Press, 2007, ISBN 0-8223-4080-1 , p. 31
  4. ^ Charles K. Wolfe: Country Music Annual 2002 . University of Kentucky Press, 2002, ISBN 0-8131-0991-4 , p. 216
  5. ^ Wayne W. Daniel: Pickin 'On Peachtree: A History of Country Music in Atlanta, Georgia . University of Illinois Press, 2000, ISBN 0-252-06968-4 , p. 99
  6. ^ Charles K. Wolfe: Classic Country . Routledge Group, 2001, ISBN 0-415-92827-3 , p. 84
  7. ^ Charles K. Wolfe: Classic Country . Routledge Group, 2001, ISBN 0-415-92827-3 , p. 85
  8. ^ Rich Kienzle: The Bristol Sessions . RCA Country Legends; Liner Notes
  9. Diane Pecknold: The Selling Sound . Duke University Press, 2007, ISBN 0-8223-4080-1 , p. 27
  10. ^ Charles K. Wolfe: Classic Country: Legends of Country Music . Routledge Group, 2001, ISBN 0-415-92827-3 , p. 5
  11. allmusic.com
  12. ^ Wayne W. Daniel: Pickin 'On Peachtree: A History of Country Music in Atlanta, Georgia . University of Illinois Press, 2000, ISBN 0-252-06968-4 , p. 110
  13. ^ Charles K. Wolfe: Classic Country . Routledge Group, 2001, ISBN 0-415-92827-3 , p. 197
  14. ^ A b Angela Meier: Bluegrass Music history, stylistic manifestations and peculiarities of American popular music . GRIN, 2007, ISBN 3-638-74502-3 , p. 7
  15. ^ Richard A. Peterson: Creating Country Music . University of Chicago Press, 1997, ISBN 0-226-66284-5 , p. 9