In the 1950s, many of us can recall owning a phonograph with a selection lever near the turntable that allowed the listener to chose between four separate record speeds: 78, 45, 33.3 and 16 rpm (approximate numbers).
Today’s column pays homage to my Aunt Ween, Pauline Bowman Huggans, who spent most of her life in Gray (Station) and Johnson City. She acquired the moniker from a young family member who had trouble pronouncing her first name. We called her Aunt Ween until she died in 2003.
Glenn Stroup, an occasional contributor to Johnson City Press’s History/Heritage page, commented on the George Buda feature article. Glenn played with a local band, the Blue Notes, that later became known as The Collegians. He sent me two photographs of the group. “It was a great experience,” he said, “playing in this band because, as valuable as the money was, it was truly enjoyable performing with different musicians and playing a wide variety of popular music.
Old timers will fondly recall the popular 11-piece Marion Mercer Band that featured the bandleader’s equally talented sister Nelle on piano. Debuting in the 1930s, this musical ensemble was the only major one in these parts until its success later spawned other groups. Marion Mercer could play a variety of instruments: trombone, vibraphone, violin, accordion, piano, organ and chimes.
Dr. James Bowman is proud of his late brother, Billy Bowman, a native of Washington County and former resident of Johnson City, whose career as a professional musician was outstanding. According to Jim … “After playing Dobro in his early teens in and around Bristol, especially for fiddler Jack Pierce who had been in Jimmie Rodgers’ 1920’s band, Billy moved to Knoxville for his initial full-time employment as a steel guitarist.
The year was 1927. Charles Lindbergh became the first individual to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean; famed New York Yankee slugger, Babe Ruth, hit sixty home runs in a single season; the Ford Motor Company ceased production of its “Tin Lizzie’ in favor of their highly popular Model T automobile; "The Jazz Singer" signaled the end of silent movies, ushering in the first motion picture with a sound track; and Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry launched its first radio broadcast.
For most of this century, the upper East Tennessee region has truly been blessed with a profusion of high-quality old-time musicians. The mere mention of “old-time music” conjures up images of a string band, casually dressed in characteristic mountain attire, playing distinctive deep-south non-amplified toe-tapping dance music on their well-worn and sometimes hand-me-down instruments.
My mother was a huge fan of big band music in the 1940s, preferring “sweet” as opposed to “swing” bands. Although orchestras tended to focus on one genre or the other, most leaders incorporated a blend of each to satisfy their customers’ voracious musical appetites. Mom’s favorites were Guy Lombardo (“The Sweetest Music This Side of Heaven”), Sammy Kaye (“Swing and Sway with Sammy Kaye)” and Russ Morgan (“Music in the Morgan Manner”).
I was saddened by the passing of Sue Eckstein this past June. She became an ardent supporter of my “Yesteryear” column by acquainting me with numerous local history sources, including a bulky scrapbook that once belonged to her father, Paul Carr, who with his brother, Sam, owned Carr Brothers, Inc.