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Mountaineer Jamboree

Mountaineer Jamboree: Country Music in West Virginia

Ivan M. Tribe
Foreword by Robert C. Byrd
Copyright Date: 1984
Edition: 1
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Mountaineer Jamboree
    Book Description:

    Jamboree! To many country music fans the word conjures up memories of Saturday nights around the family radio listening to live broadcasts from that haven of hillbilly music, West Virginia. From 1926 through the 1950s, as Ivan Tribe shows in his lively history, country music radio programming made the Mountain State a mecca for country singers and instrumentalists from all over America.

    Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper, Little Jimmy Dickens, Hawkshaw Hawkins, Red Sovine, Blaine Smith, Curly Ray Cline, Grandpa Jones, Cowboy Loye, Rex and Eleanor Parker, Lee Moore, Buddy Starcher, Doc and Chickie Williams, and Molly O'Day were among the many who came to prominence via West Virginia radio.

    Wheeling's "WWVA jamboree," first broadcast in 1933, attracted a wide audience, especially after 1942, when the station increased its power. The show's success spawned numerous competitors, as new stations all over West Virginia followed WWVA's lead in headlining country music.

    The state also played an important role in the early recording industry. The Tweedy Brothers, Frank Hutchison, Roy Harvey, Blind Alfred Reed, Frank Welling and John McGhee, Cap and Andy, and the Kessinger Brothers were among West Virginians whose waxings contributed to the state's reputation for fine native musicianship. So too did those who sought out and recorded the Mountaineer folksong heritage.

    As Nashville's dominance has grown since the 1960s, West Virginia's leadership in country music has lessened. Young performers must now seek fame outside their native state. But, as Ivan Tribe demonstrates, the state's numerous outdoor festivals continue to keep alive the heritage of country music's "mountain mama."

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4886-1
    Subjects: Music, Performing Arts, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. ix-x)
    Robert C. Byrd

    People often ask me, “What is folk music?” “What is country music?” “What is bluegrass?” “What kind of music do you have in West Virginia?" These are not easy questions to answer, and they will perhaps never be answered to everyone’s satisfaction. But Ivan Tribe’s meticulous study,Mountaineer Jamboree,is a welcome contribution in showing what a many-splendored thing country music in West Virginia has been.

    At the base of it all stands the folk music—that rich repository of song and tune expressed and shared by people for their own enjoyment and satisfaction. Whether sung or played, whether performed...

  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. 1. The Mountaineer Folk Music Heritage
    (pp. 1-18)

    Back in 1918 a lady named Anna Davis Richardson accidentally encountered two elderly women in Clarksburg, West Virginia. The first, Rachel Fogg, had migrated to the city from the rural county of Upshur some decades earlier with her blacksmith husband. Mrs. Fogg had a daughter named Viney who played the mouth-harp. The other lady, Nancy McAtee, some years older, had grown up in more distant Randolph County but had lived for some fifty years in a tiny shack between the railroad track and the Monongahela River in Clarksburg. Both women lived in relative poverty in different—albeit equally unfavorable—neighborhoods...

  6. 2. Pioneer Recording Artists
    (pp. 19-42)

    The formal recording of what we now call country music began in June 1922 when the Victor Talking Machine Company received the duo of Alexander Campbell “Eck” Robertson and Henry C. Gilliland—both old-time fiddlers—into their New York studios. The pair had recently performed at a Civil War Veterans’ Reunion and then decided on their own initiative to see if they could make phonograph records. Victor engineers allegedly recorded the young Texas cowboy Robertson and the elderly ex-Confederate Gilliland to get rid of them. They subsequently released two fiddle solos by Robertson and two twin fiddling pieces without much...

  7. 3. WWVA and the “World’s Original Jamboree”
    (pp. 43-72)

    Although the phonograph recording industry discovered West Virginia musicians a bit earlier and carried their sounds a greater distance, the newer medium of radio reached a much larger audience. Listeners began to hear country music radio broadcasts as early as 1922. A few years elapsed before a significant number of Mountain State families had receiving sets, and in many rural communities neighbors gathered at the home or store of an owner to take their turns at listening with the earphones to the voices and sounds coming over the airwaves. By 1930 only 23.4 percent of the families in the state...

  8. 4. Tune In: Radio to 1942
    (pp. 73-109)

    While WWVA has undoubtedly played a more significant role than any other broadcasting unit in the Mountain State, other stations have also featured a great deal of live country music in their programming. By the end of the 1920s four additional radio transmitters had gone into operation, three of which attracted many listeners in adjacent states as well as their own. Although the Great Depression hit West Virginia hard, the number of radios increased and in the middle and later 1930s more radio stations took to the airwaves.

    Huntington, considerably newer than West Virginia’s other cities, surpassed Wheeling as the...

  9. 5. Stay Tuned: Radio after 1942
    (pp. 110-137)

    World War II caused many alterations in the pattern of hillbilly radio entertainment that had evolved prior to the December 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor. Gasoline shortages curtailed or ended personal appearances by musicians and the large crowds that had flocked to jamboree shows like the “Old Farm Hour” or “Sagebrush Roundup.” Manpower shortages led many musicians into defense plants or military service. The music itself increased in popularity, however, and, as has been shown by developments at WWVA, served as a morale booster. Those musicians able to remain active found more popularity and prosperity than before and the...

  10. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  11. 6. Country Comes to Television
    (pp. 138-152)

    Television came slowly to West Virginia. The decade of the 19S0s proved to be a transitional period from one form of home entertainment to another although developments generally lagged somewhat in the Mountain State. This was so in part because, to a much greater degree than with radio, television receivers depended upon local stations. A radio owner in West Virginia did not have to listen to local stations, but unless a television station existed within a hundred miles, and usually less (because of the rough topography) little reason existed to own a set. Thus, neither the geography nor the continuing...

  12. 7. The Renaissance of Folk and the Rise of Bluegrass
    (pp. 153-168)

    As country sounds moved increasingly in the direction of mainstream popular music after the beginnings of the rockabilly era, not only in West Virginia but in the United States as a whole, movements soon appeared that looked toward more tradition-rooted styles. Although the manifestations of this trend became obvious at the end of the 1950s, its origins went back a great deal further. The folk revival essentially evolved from the interests and studies of urban intellectuals and scholarly folklorists, whereas bluegrass emerged from commercial country music as a sort of reactionary yet innovative styling. While neither movement originated in the...

  13. 8. West Virginia and the National Country Scene
    (pp. 169-182)

    When the Bailes Brothers left WSAZ Huntington for WSM Nashville in October 1944, they represented part of what would become a trend in country music circles—that many of the stronger acts in the trade would become affiliated with the “Grand Ole Opry.” As events began to unravel in the coming years, some of the Mountain Staters who gained the widest recognition were those gravitating toward the southern metropolis soon to be called Music City U.S.A.¹

    The Bailes Brothers may have blazed the trail to Nashville for West Virginia musicians but, somewhat ironically, Homer, Johnnie, Kyle, and Walter did not...

  14. 9. Retrospect
    (pp. 183-186)

    A look back over a half-century of commercial country music in the Mountain State covers a wide range of time, territory, and style. It extends from the time when Philip Tweedy first set his talented sons up on the back of a flatbed truck to Terry Gregory singing her latest hit, “I’m Taking a Heartbreak.” The economics may vary from a penny placed in a tin cup for a blind singer like John Unger, Alfred Reed, or David Miller to the six-figure gate receipts of a huge festival like Jamboree in the Hills. The locale could be anyplace from a...

  15. 10. Afterword
    (pp. 187-192)

    In the dozen years that have elapsed since the original publication ofMountaineer Jamboree,both continuity and change have characterized the country music scene. For instance, “Jamboree U.S A.” has moved into its seventh decade—utilizing the same format that it has had since the early eighties. Doc and Chickie Williams appear on the same show once or twice a year with a few other older performers, and there is also an annual bluegrass night in the winter months. The rest of the time, guest stars dominate the stage, with their summer extravaganza Jamboree in the Hills as the number...

  16. Notes
    (pp. 193-208)
  17. Bibliographical Note
    (pp. 209-212)
  18. Discographical Note
    (pp. 213-216)
  19. Index
    (pp. 217-243)