On August 7, 2014, the Birthplace of Country Music Museum, located in the heart of Bristol, TN/VA, opened its doors to a host of expectant, enthusiastic visitors.

The facility is aptly named because a short journey from the new 24,000 square foot two-story building to the surrounding countryside reveals a treasure trove of early country music history. Most of it is displayed in some capacity at the new, well-researched history edifice.

Using a vacated older building, planners magically transformed the two floors into a cornucopia of relics, music samples, photographs, films and much more. It is so impressive that you have to see it to believe it.


The Museum as It Appears at Night

The museum tour begins by entering their Orientation Theatre to watch “Bound to Bristol,” a 13-minute film shown every 20 minutes and narrated by John Carter Cash, the son of Johnny Cash and June Carter.

The famous 1927 Bristol Sessions, conducted by Ralph Peer of the Victor Talking Machine Co., are largely credited for the city's designation as the Birthplace of Country Music. Names like The Carter Family (“The First Family of Country Music”), Jimmie Rodgers (“The Father of Country Music”), Ernest Van “Pop” Stoneman (recording artist of country music's first commercial decade) and others made their bow that momentous summer. They were accordingly rewarded with much-sought-after, highly fragile 78-rpm records.

I made my first visit to the museum, a nonprofit Smithsonian Institute affiliate, from Columbia, SC soon after it opened in Aug. 2014. I was immediately impressed with the ample parking lot in front with easy access to the facility. When I entered the building, my wildest expectations were surpassed.


(L to R) Mother Maybelle and Sara of the Famous Carter Family

During my second trip there this summer, I was greeted by Dr. Jessica Turner and Dave Lewis. I was there to revisit the museum and to loan them two vintage musical instruments from my family's collection. The first one, a dark-colored fiddle, contained the words, “Charlie Bowman” and “1934,” each letter carefully etched inside one of the f-holes. The second was an accordion that was played by Charlie's second oldest daughter, Jennie Bowman Cain, as she performed in Bristol over WOPI and numerous other venues across the country.

The two items will be employed by museum personnel in whatever capacity they deem best, one proposal being to include both in a future collage of old-time instruments. Their “Loan Agreement Form” is very accommodating, with numerous options, all aimed at making it easy and risk-free for folks to loan or donate artifacts to the museum.

According to a brochure, the building, formerly the site of Goodpasture Motors Co., “tells the history of these recordings, explores how sound technology shaped their success and has evolved, and highlights how this rich musical heritage lives on in today's music. Through images and artifacts, interactive exhibits, and film and sound experiences – along with a variety of educational programs, music programs, and community events – the exciting story of this music and its far-reaching influence comes alive!”

As you make your way through the well-organized rooms, you have the opportunity to observe and listen to artists, most of whom are deceased. Perhaps you regularly heard these entertainers on radio, television, phonograph records, tape recorders or at live performances. Hearing their music again, watching their videos, viewing photos of them and reading text is almost like attending a homecoming, with them being there in spirit. There is so much to see and hear in just one visit, strongly suggesting return trips.


Country Music Events by Year

An impressive elongated exhibit board near the lobby presents significant country music events, spanning the years from 1865 to 1938. Appropriate historical information is provided about the happening regarding the events such as “1925 – The Grand Ole Opry broadcasts began on radio station WSM.” Another one stated, “1902 – “Thomas Edison improves wax cylinder records through the 'gold-moulded process.'” To provide points of reference, some events were non-music related such as “1886 – The Statue of Liberty is dedicated in New York.”

Another display panel titled, “What Is a Hillbilly?” drew my interest. The explanation is far from being a simple one. The word has an ongoing complex and contradictory history and various social, economical and cultural changes have continued shifting its meaning. It is a must read and something to ponder. 

Two recording of “The Stars and Stripes Forever” are played to compare the before and after audio difference between old sound technology and new state-of-the-art, developed by Bell Laboratories and Western Electric Co. Fortunately the new expertise became available in time for The Bristol Sessions.

Another popular feature is an exhibit of various instruments used in country music, a history of their origin and how they impacted the Bristol Sessions. Mentioned are fiddle, banjo, harmonica, autoharp, bones, Jew's harp, kazoo, mandolin, and piano. In case you are not familiar with bones, read the explanation on the museum display to see how and by whom the instrument was played in traditional old-time country music.

One popular display lets you and others in your group sing along into a microphone with prerecorded gospel music singers. When it is played back, you won't believe what comes out of the speaker. Get ready for a “buckle busting” laugh. Definitely do not skip this one.

Another prominent exhibit that caught my eye was a gorgeous hand-crafted quilt, donated to the museum by the Bristol TN/VA Chapter of the Embroiderers' Guild of America. Putting it together took the coordinated efforts of two diverse specialty groups, embroiderers and quilters. The text explains how the numerous fabrics in the quilt commemorate those from the 1800s to the present.

An unusual device allowed guests to send a postcard to someone back home by simply selecting the card of their choice, filling out the appropriate message and touching the card on the machine to automatically send it.

During your visit at the museum, don't forget to read the visitor comments on the large green board titled, “Join the Stay, Bristol,” and to post your comments as well. One entry stated: “Loved it very much. Very awesome. Their music is timeless. Thank you for the display.” Several visitor locations were noted during one of my visits: England, Kentucky, Texas, Nashville, Florida, Pennsylvania and Germany, to name a few.

The Birthplace of Country Music Museum's New Radio Station Using Vintage Equipment

Of much interest to country music fans is a vintage radio station, appropriately named WBCM, aimed at creating worldwide broadcasts. The station and online media center allows listeners to listen at 100.1 FM, online, and through an app on their mobile devices. Future programming will focus primarily on American roots music, with free streaming programs that include three channels:

“1. Classic (the greats, and more obscure artists of old-time, bluegrass, and country music, including archival material and rare recordings from America's past),

“2. Americana (a diverse selection of contemporary artists, as showcased at the annual music festival Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion music festival) and

“3. Live and Local (live original programming focusing on local and regional music and culture from yesterday and today. This is the programming of the physical station at the museum).”

WBCM's first station launch was on Thursday, August 27, 2015 from 4-7 pm. Much is in store for this rebuilt station. See www/ for information about upcoming programming and events.

Don't depart the premises without exploring the museum's gift shop containing an impressive selection of authentic items that celebrate Bristol's deep music roots, ranging from handcrafted items made by local artisans to music-themed jewelry. They also have an impressive selection of books and music.

Take advantage of the Birthplace of Country Music Museum for a rewarding educational and entertaining music excursion back to the country music of yesteryear. Rest assured, “y'all” will not be disappointed.

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In 1987, former Press Lifestyles Editor, Anne M. Newton, interviewed Jack Q. Williams, who worked for the Southern Railway, about his participation in the 1926 Johnson City Kindergarten Orchestra. 

Williams' most blatant memory about the musical experience had to do with his thumb and an automobile. Charlotte Brown, director of the Orchestra, provided transportation for those students needing a ride.

“I remember her driving a two-seated touring car,” said Jack. “She picked us up and drove us to orchestra practice and afterward took us home.” He lifted his right hand and said, “See that thumb. occasionally, that bruise mark on it starts growing and splits the nail.”

“I got it mashed in her car. She drove a vintage car with doors that opened backwards (known as suicide doors because they were hinged from the rear rather than the front. Once, as I was getting in the car, someone closed the door on my thumb. It was in there from the time we left for school until the moment we got home. I never said a word.”

Jack said it was the most painful 10-minute ride he'd ever taken. He admitted that he showed no emotion, being too bashful to say anything.

Johnson City Kindergarten Orchestra Classmates, Columbus Powell School, 1926

In May 1926, when Williams was only 5 years old, a photographer came to Columbus Powell and took several pictures of the melodious group. Jack marveled that Ms. Range, their teacher, somehow worked magic to keep everyone tranquil and in their designated position. “Knowing those boys,” he said, “I don’t know how we posed so well for the picture. Maybe she used a black snake to keep us in line. That would have certainly worked for me.”

Although the students in the photo are not individually identified, the 1926 Johnson City Kindergarten Orchestra consisted of Jimmie Joe Biddle, director; Maurie Wody, S.T. Williams, Florence Greenway, Margaret Norris, Francis David MaGill, Emma Good, Jack Q. Williams, Kenneth Shell, Marie Truman, Mildred Truman, Charlotte Brown, Billy Payne, Perry White, Isabelle Robinson, Anne Jennings, Lester Hyder, Betty Hargen, Jean McCormick, Pauline Bowery, Betty Preas, Charles Dubbs, Roland Johnson, Virginia Rumley, John Wallin, James Coleman, Jane Jones, Guy Blackwell, Melba Loudy and Thomas MaGill.

The Knoxville Sentinel included a story about the Kindergarten Orchestra in their June 12, 1926 issue. According to the paper, the orchestra performed numerous times for local audiences and state bodies meeting in convention in Johnson City over several months.

The group, made up of 30 young musicians, ranged in ages of from 4-6. The newspaper noted that it was, perhaps, one of the very few, if not the only organization of its kind in the United States. Song-o-phones, similar to those in a regular brass band, were used by the children in the orchestra.

Jimmie Joe Biddle, seen up front wearing a black suit and bow tie, was the orchestra’s 5-year-old director, “who wielded his baton with the dignity and grace of a professional.” The paper also described a young “wee miss” who read notes from the piano score as she skillfully played the xylophone.

Their repertoire included the “Blue Danube Waltz,” “La Paloma,” “Stars and Stripes Forever” and other patriotic melodies. Williams barely remembers what they played, just that they had so much fun.

“At that time, I don’t know what songs we knew,” he said. It didn’t really matter because I always had fun, I’ve had fun all my life.”

Williams went through the 3rd grade at Columbus Powell, then left for Boone, NC in 1929. His family returned to Johnson City six years later and he enrolled in Junior High and Science Hill High School, reuniting with many of the same people he knew in the Kindergarten Orchestra.

If any of my readers has additional information about this unique orchestra, please share it with me.

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Recently, Kitty Cornett contacted me saying, “I have been trying to track down a local violin maker in Johnson City, who's long gone by now, but may still have family living in Johnson City.” After acquiring her mother's old violin, she spotted inside one of the two F-Holes the words: “E.W. Hinkle,” '”H”,' “Johnson City, Tenn.” and “1933.”

Top: Kitty Cornett Holds Her Mother's Restored Violin. 

Bottom: Beautiful Wood Design on Back of Unrestored Violin.

Kitty would like to know if anyone has information about this person. She also wants to know the significance of the letter “H.” My hasty response to the 1977 Science Hill High School graduate was that the only vintage violin maker I knew about was Virgil C. O'Dell, who operated from his residence at 207 W. Pine.

However, after perusing my “Yesteryear” collection, I located a Jan. 11, 1934 Johnson City Chronicle newspaper clipping concerning an E.W. Hinkle. The article's subtitle, read: “Hotel Manager Is Making Beautiful Violins, Cabinets.” I further located his name in two city directories.

“One of the newest and most interesting of Johnson City's industries,” said the piece, “is a violin-making shop operated by E.W. Hinkle at the Fountain Square Hotel (109 Fountain Square, west side). Hinkle, who is also an expert cabinet maker, made two magnificent secretaries for Christmas gifts for members of his family.

“He has produced fine rolling desks, cabinets, etc., but his pet hobby is making violins of the Stradivarius style. His instruments, according to expert violinists, have an exceptionally fine tone and resonance due to the skill with which the backs and bellies are hand shaped. Hand-made violins are generally much finer and more expensive than factory-made instruments for that particular reason.

“Factory-made instruments where the backs and bellies are machine cut, the thickness of the wood is necessarily the same. But with hand-made instruments, the back and belly are of varying thickness ranging from 3/64 inch to 9/64 inch, this variation being accomplished by hand shaving of the wood, according to the location, particularly on the belly.

“Hinkle imports from Germany the wood used for the bellies and, of course, also uses considerable ebony. He is experimenting with instruments made almost entirely of wood from this section (East Tennessee) and has made two instruments of very good tone using local wood. Very shortly, he intends to make an up-town display of his violins and invites musicians to inspect and try them out. It is purely a hobby with him, as he has never attempted to commercialize his work.”

Ms. Cornett, an Assistant Director in the Graduate and Executive Education Programs of the College of Business at the University of Tennessee, provided additional information that included several photos of the four-stringed instrument before and after she had a reputable professional business restore it.

“Note that the back of the violin looks like a striped tiger, she said, “and if you look closely, there are two thin lines that outline the edges of the back. I originally thought they were painted on but figured if that were true, they would have rubbed off by now. The newspaper article makes me believe they are ebony.”

Top: Hinkle's Writing Visible Inside F-Hole of Violin.

Middle: Kitty's Mon, Jane; Aunt Pat; and Their Grandmother.

Bottom: Cowan Moss III at About 9 Years of Age.

(Photos Courtesy of Kitty Cornett).

Ms. Cornett's parents grew up in Johnson City, as did their parents. Her mother, Jane Perdue Lewis Cornett, who was born in 1921, took violin lessons under a qualified music teacher. However, she detested the experience, later telling her daughter that she was never a good violin player and always occupied a “second chair” position in the school orchestra.

During the height of the Great Depression, the youngster, who by then was in high school, was finally relieved of her misery when Jane's parents let her quit taking lessons. In retrospect, she knew the real reason was the poor economy. The violin thus abruptly went silent.

Kitty related how she came in possession of the unfretted fingerboard instrument. Her cousin, Cowan Moss III (son of Dr. Cowan Moss, Jr. and Pat Lewis Moss Rowan) came home one afternoon and announced to his parents that he wanted to learn how to play a musical instrument.

Since Jane still possessed her violin, she and Pat agreed that he should learn to play it. The two ladies had the violin spruced up and restrung for the youngster. The instrument was about to arise from its deep slumber.

Cowan recalled that his “violin career” started in the early 1960s when he was in about the 4th grade at Fairmont School where there was a sincere effort to establish an orchestra. However, by the time he went to North Junior High, they had a decent orchestra, which the lad joined. He said that he was always in the second chair section Junior High and Senior High schools.

Young Moss noted that South Junior High’s orchestra was the better of the two, which was evident when they were combined at Science Hill.

Kitty said to this day she can still visualize him in her mind's eye as he hurriedly carried the violin case and metal music stand with sheet music “flying in the air.” As an aspiring violinist, he often improvised his own songs.

Cowan's family members frequently begged him to play their favorite violin “hit” of his, a made-up composition that was appropriately titled, “Cats and Dogs.” It was so-named because its wailing sound resembled that of a fight between the two animals. The young man so seriously performed his homemade composition that he took no notice of his siblings and cousin writhing in the floor, laughing hysterically.

One favorite memory that Kitty's mom and aunt shared was when Cowan’s orchestra was performing at a concert. The two ladies had the starting time wrong and made a grand entrance just as the performance was concluding. Kitty said the two pulled off quite an act when they convinced Cowan that they heard every note he played and that he was brilliant.

By the time the young man entered high school, the demand on his time had greatly increased. Therefore, after limping through his sophomore year, he finally bailed out of the orchestra, causing the violin to go silent again.

Kitty recalled the day after the violin had been restored. The store owner's assistant tuned it and played it, propelling once again beautiful music into the heavens. Although the instrument had been dormant for about 45 years, she described it as being an emotional moment for her. To her untrained ear, it sounded wonderful.

If anyone has knowledge of Mr. E.W. Hinkle or would like to comment on this story, please drop me a note.

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In the early 1970s, my wife, Pat, and I occasionally drove to Nashville to see the Grand Ole Opry, which was located then at the downtown Ryman Auditorium. Recently, I uncovered a souvenir program from a visit we made there on Saturday, March 27, 1971.

Although there was one Friday Night Opry performance (7:30-10:30) and two Saturday Night Opry shows (6:30-9:00 and 9:30-midnight), we always chose the second Saturday night one because we wanted to see our favorite singer, Marty Robbins. The singer performed toward the end of the show because he was a racecar driver in Nashville and often had to make a mad dash to get to the Opry stage for his allotted air time.

Marty, a definite crowd pleaser, frequently went past his designated time slot, something that only he could get away with. During one show on a cold, snowy night, he turned the stage clock back one hour; the audience loved it.

Food items (and prices) at the snack bar were Coca Cola (.15 and .25), popcorn (.15), peanuts (.10), hamburgers (.25), hot dog (.25) and candy (.10). They also sold a souvenir program for .25 that listed the performers for both nights. 

During our visits to the Grand Ole Opry (GOO), we always managed to buy a Goo Goo candy bar from the snack bar. It still stands tall as my favorite delicacy. It was marketed as “The “Original Southern Confection with Real Milk Chocolate.” Created in Nashville in 1912 by Howell Campbell and the Standard Candy Company, it is still very much alive and well. Its catchy jingle was “Go get a Goo Goo … right now.”

The first show that Saturday night featured 26 acts:

6:30-6:45 (Mrs. Grisson's Salads): Billy Walker, Del Wood, Ray Pillow).

6:45-7:00 (Rudy's Farm): Jack Greene, Jeannie Seely.

7:00-730 (Luzianne Coffee): Bill Monroe, Earl Scruggs, Ernie Ashworth, The Carlisles.

7:30-8:00 (Standard Candy Company): Bill Anderson, Jan Howard, Grandpa Jones, George Morgan, The Crook Brothers, Tennessee Travelers.

8:00-8:30 (Martha White Flour): Roy Acuff, Tex Ritter, Loretta Lynn, Willis Brothers, Lonzo and Oscar.

8:30-9:00 (Stephens Work Clothiers): Porter Wagoner, Dolly Parton, Hank Locklin, Justin Tubb, Stringbean, Fruit Jar Drinkers.

The second show that Saturday night was comprised of 28 acts.

9:30-10:00 (Kellogg's): Bill Anderson, Jan Howard, Willis Brothers, Ray Pillow.

10:00-10:15 (Fender Guitar): Bill Monroe, Earl Scruggs, Del Wood, Carlisles.

10:15-10:30 (Union 76) Billy Walker, Grandpa Jones, Ernie Ashworth.

10:30-10:45 (Trailblazer Dog Food): Roy Acuff, Grandpa Jones, Ernie Ashworth.

10:45-11:00 (Beechnut Chewing Tobacco) Porter Wagoner, Dolly Parton, Stringbean, Crook Brothers, Tennessee Travelers.

11:00-11:30 (Coca Cola) Tex Ritter, Loretta Lynn, Hank Locklin, George Morgan, Sam and Kirk McGee, Fruit Jar Drinkers.

11:30-1200 (Lava Soap) Marty Robbins, Justin Tubb, Lonzo and Oscar.

Sadly, most of these stars are deceased. Two revered groups that performed that night were the Crook Brothers and the Fruit Jar Drinkers. The first one consisted of Herman Crook, Lewis Crook, Bert Hutcherson, Jerry Rivers, Staley Walton and Goldie Stewart. The second one featured Sam McGee, Kirk McGee, Dorris Macon (son of Uncle Dave Macon) Claude Lampley, Hubert Gregory and Tom Leffew.

When the Opry concluded around midnight, we walked around the corner from the Ryman to the free standing room only Midnight Jamboree radio broadcast at the Earnest Tubb Record Shop on Broadway.

Our finale in the early morning hours was to walk (yes walk) back several blocks to our motel, Tudor Inns of America, and listen to Ralph Emery play records over his live WSM radio broadcast. 

After finishing this article, I am ravenously motivated to climb in my car and “Go get a Goo Goo … right now.” 

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The Original Carter Family, who resided in Maces Springs adjacent to Clinch Mountains, became a legend in the early country music field. The original singers, comprised of Mother Maybelle Addington Carter; her brother-in-law, A. P. Carter; and his wife, Sara Dougherty Carter, produced a vast assortment of country music hits. A.P acquired an remarkable collection of songs that he either wrote or rescued from obscurity.

The Original Carter Family (Maybelle, Sara, and A.P.)

In later years, Mother Maybelle carried on the Carter Family style of music with her three attractive and talented daughters: June, Helen and Anita. They became featured performers on ABC-TV’s “The Johnny Cash Show” that comprised 58 episodes, running from June 7, 1969 to March 31, 1971. Adding to its attractiveness was the fact that it was taped at the famed Ryman Auditorium in downtown Nashville, Tennessee, early home of the Grand Ole Opry. Johnny had a special fondness for the Carters, especially June Carter, whom he married in 1968.

Mother Maybelle invented the folk-guitar style of picking known as the “Carter lick” or “Carter scratch,” a designation that still bears her name. Throughout her life, she had no intention of abandoning the country music audiences who held the original threesome in their hearts for three generations.

The Carters commanded an audience that bridged a wide generation gap from folk coffeehouses to civic auditoriums. Maybelle’s highly familiar rendition of “Wildwood Flower” would enchant a sophisticated class of UCLA students one moment only to stir a group of southern hillbillies the next.

The Carter girls entered the act when their mother felt in her heart they were ready to perform: Anita at age 4, Helen at 6 and June at 10. Each of the girls played several instruments, ironically disclaiming the piano, the only instrument on which they received formal training.

In the winter of 1938-39, the Carter family left the beautiful Clinch Mountains  and moved to Texas. Living at a San Antonio boarding house, Helen, Anita and June received training by recording radio transcriptions in the basement of a house. They later progressed to radio stations in Del Rio, Texas; Charlotte, NC; Richmond, VA.; and Knoxville, TN.

By 1951, the group had been invited to perform on the Grand Ole Opry, an American icon. A few years later, they returned to Texas to play before 40,000 wildly cheering fans in the Cotton Bowl. June's personal hits included “Music, Music, Music.” and “Baby, It's Cold Outside,” the latter featuring zany country comedians and song satirists, Homer and Jethro.

June next studied dramatics in New York and continued with tours and personal appearances on major network television shows. She rejoined the Grand Ole Opry in 1958.

As a writer, June won three BMI awards for “Ring of Fire of Fire,” which Cash recorded; “The Matador;” and “Wall to Wall Love.” Maybelle could play about any instrument that could be picked and a few that couldn't. Urged on by a college crowd, she once played five-string banjo nonstop for an hour and a half. She also mastered the acoustical instruments of guitar, fiddle and autoharp.

In 1951, Mother Maybelle hired a then-unknown electric guitar player, Chet Atkins, to travel with the Carter Family. Because of his natural talent and affiliation with the famed group, his name didn’t remain unfamiliar very long. He soon became a smooth electric guitar player legend in his own right.

Maybelle, along A.P. Carter, Sara; and daughters, Helen, June and Anita became the next generation Carter Family. She was born May 10, 1909 in Nickelsville, Virginia. A singer of traditional ballads of the hills and an accomplished musician, she broke into commercial music after marrying Ezra Carter in 1926.

With her musically inclined in-laws, she traveled from her home in Poor Valley that was adjacent to the Clinch Mountains to Bristol, Virginia to make their first recording, an RCA release called “Bury Me Under The Weeping Willow.” Forty-three years later, the Original Carter Family became the first group ever named to the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Mother Maybelle's demise occurred from respiratory complications at Nashville Memorial Hospital on  October 22, 1978 at age 69. The Carter Family style of old-time music is still revered and appreciated to this day.

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I was asked to give a brief address to the attendees at the Johnson City Sessions VIP celebration on Oct. 20 at the Venue in the downtown King Center. Subsequently, I was requested to repeat my speech in my Yesteryear column. Here is a slightly abbreviated version of it:

“My name is Bob Cox, a retired chemical engineer for Eastman Chemical Company, now writing local history articles for the Johnson City Press, something I have been doing for about 9 years.

Six of my family members participated in the 1928/29 Columbia Records sessions. Fiddlin' Charlie Bowman, my great uncle, was my grandmother's brother and leader of The Bowman Brothers, a string band comprised of three of his four brothers: Elbert, Walter and Argil. Charlie's two oldest teenage daughters, Pauline and Jennie, became known as “The Bowman Sisters” and traveled extensively with their father on Loews vaudeville circuit in the 1930s.

As an Appalachian historian, I stress to my readers the need to “capture and preserve” area history. It has been said that all of us represent a library. At birth, our libraries contain no books, but as we age and acquire knowledge and experience, we begin to add new “volumes,” to our “shelves.” Over time, our libraries become packed full of volumes. But as we approach old age, we start to lose books, sometimes at an alarming rate due to memory loss. When we die, our libraries go dark and shut down forever. Hang on to that thought; I will return to it.

Let me comment on the Bear Family Records project. The slick-page color book contains 8 chapters: 1. “Can You Sing or Play Old-Time Music?” (from a newspaper ad from 1928); 2. “Gathering Flowers from the Hillside” (critical prior planning and strategy for locating known and obscure musicians; 3. Frank Walker (A&R (artists and repertoire) talent scout for Columbia Records’ Country Music Division); 4. Bill Brown (Frank Walker's assistant); 5. The  Artists (1928 sessions, 334 E. Main Street) 6. The  Artists (1929 sessions, 248 W. Main Street) 7. The Songs (100 selections); and 8. Discography of the Sessions (1928-29). Each recording gathering is identified in the book along with the artist(s) and the recording dates. The CDs were digitized from the original recordings and sound terrific.

When I learned of the upcoming Bear Family Records box set, I was delighted, being knowledgeable of the many high quality sets already in distribution, including the 1927 Bristol Sessions.

I wish to offer my readers a challenge. Purchase a box set and strive to “meet” the folks in the book and on the CDs. Take a three-dimensional journey back in time with photos, text and music. I began with selection 1 on CD 1 titled, “My Boyhood Days” by the Shell Creek Quartet and am progressing toward selection 100, “Smokey Blues” by Ellis Williams. As I listen to each song, I simultaneously read about them in the book and inspect their photos in minute detail, using a magnifying glass. I am interested in their clothing, their musical instruments, their facial expressions, the area around them, any animals present such as dogs or chickens and anything else I can find.

To accomplish my worthy goal, it will take a while, but hopefully I have a while. So far, I have listened to all of CD 1: Shell Creek Quartet, Grant Brothers & Their Music, Roane County Ramblers, Renus Rich & Carl Bradshaw, Clarence Greene, The Wise Brothers, Proximity String Quartet, Greensboro Boys Quartet and Richard Harold.

My favorite group name in the entire compilation is Ephraim Woodie and The Henpecked Husbands. As I read and listen, I try to remember that these were individuals who walked our streets, purchased items from our stores, attended our schools, joined our churches and played music all across our mountainous area. But eventually, these folks got old and went away, closing their libraries.

I have some great news. Because of Bear Family Records,  many of the “books” in their libraries have been reopened. Let me encourage you to garner the gold from this magnificent collection. This was a great week in the history of Johnson City. Our thanks go to Ted Olson, Tony Russell and Richard Weize (owner of Bear Family Records) for the box set and for honoring us with their presence. 

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The Johnson City Sessions' celebration has come and gone after much advanced publicity, four days of interviews, speeches and old-time music performances that included the rollout of the Bear Family Records box set. Several of my Bowman family members and I were privileged and honored to be among the participants.

Richard Weize, founder of Bear Family Records, captured and preserved the old-time music from the 1928 and 1929 Columbia Record sessions. This included the conversion of the original vintage 78-rpm records to digital format, documenting the musicians' personal stories and acquiring timeworn photographs of the performers. The compilation is a high quality set of four CDs (100 songs), accompanied by a corresponding book of old photos and informative text.

In today's column, I wish to single out some behind-the-scenes individuals, both living and deceased, whose contributions to the project were noteworthy. 

When I learned that there were no recordings available for the box set for two of my family members, Pauline and Jennie, known professionally as the Bowman Sisters, I sent Richard a CD of their four songs from my heirloom record collection. To my dismay, Richard called me saying that my records were too scratchy for inclusion in the collection and it appeared that the box set would regrettably go forward without the Bowman Sisters' songs.

Fortunately, Mary Lou Weibel, Charlie Bowman's youngest daughter, came to the rescue. She possessed a set of relatively good quality discs that she acquired from eBay. Richard sent a recording engineer to her home in Atlanta to transcribe them. As a result and to our delight, the Bowman Sisters' music was included in the project. 

One bit of data that was conspicuously missing was the location of the 1929 make-shift studio. A newspaper ad in the fall of 1928 confirmed the address of the first sessions to be 334 E. Main Street. Pauline once told me that the 1929 recordings were conducted in a building on the north side of W. Main Street, just east of and within walking distance of the intersection with W. Watauga Avenue.

Renowned country music historian, Charles Wolfe, learned from Jack Jackson, a participant at the 1929 sessions, that the site was a vacated store building that had been used for a cream separating station. He described it as a relatively small old red brick structure with a front section about 10 by 12 feet in front, then a wall and a small window that resembled a bank teller's window and an entry door into the building.

When I was in Johnson City last February, I contacted Bill Durham, a SHHS classmate of mine who grew up in the W. Main Street area, to see if he knew which of those buildings might be the one in question. We drove there early one morning and, in the sheer peacefulness of the town, took photos of every structure on that block.

Bill then called Eddie Baldwin, a friend of his who also grew up in that neighborhood. Bill gave him a verbal description of the building and asked if he had any thoughts about which facility might be the one for which we were seeking.

With little hesitation, Bill and Eddie mutually agreed that the studio was located at 248 W. Main Street, which at the time of the recording sessions would have been a relatively new building. The structure, which today is painted white, is the property of the West Main Street Christian Church that borders on Sidney Street.  

Bill recalled going by the edifice many times in his youth when it was the Rowe Radiator Repair Co. A current photo of the building is included in the box set. Bill further recalled that the structure was a large open room with a partitioned restroom in one corner. A roll-up door was located on the east side for automobile entry.

My final contributor was Clarence Howard Greene, son of Clarence Horton Greene who recorded “Johnson City Blues.” I became acquainted with him through the efforts of Alan Bridwell. The younger Clarence walked in the same footsteps as his famous father, becoming a great musician of old-time music in his own right. He sent me a CD of his songs along with several old photos that I forwarded for use in the sessions project. Sadly, Clarence died a couple years ago. 

Thank you Bear Family Records for the wonderful box set and your participation in the corresponding four-day city celebration.

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 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).

As a child in the late 1940s, I became a devotee of 10-inch 78-rpm records after my Grandmother Cox gave me her collection of discs that she stored in a sturdy fabric case with a hinged lid. Cardboard dividers inside the case separated and identified the selections. During this time, I was recovering from a bout of rheumatic fever that greatly restricted my physical activity, including walking, for six months. I spent hours sitting in a chair while being entertained by my close proximity combination radio and record player console.  

I handled my fragile collection carefully and kept them inside the case when not in use. Records came in paper sleeves with circular cutaways that allowed the labels on both sides to be visible. Each side of the disc was limited to about three minutes of playing time.

By the 1950s, I had graduated to 7-inch 45-rpm records, even though 78s had by then become unbreakable. The 45s attracted the younger crowd with its trendy compactness and unique large hole in the middle. Newer phonograph models had to be redesigned to play them. Otherwise, the user had to put an insert in the larger hole or place a small round disc about the size of the hole on the turntable.

For a period of time, manufacturers released selected hit songs at both 78 and 45-rpm speeds while consumers began making the transition to the newer format. The 78s were rapidly heading toward extinction.

Next came 12-inch 33.3 records, known as “long play” records that typically contained six songs per side for a total of about 30 minutes of music. This new multi-selection format quickly became popular with record aficionados.

The fourth speed on the selector lever was for 16-rpm records, which arrived in 1953. I never owned any records with this speed. Why then was this speed put on record players? Truthfully, some manufacturers omitted the 16-rpm speed option on their machines. Although I cannot recall ever seeing a record of this speed in racks at the Music Mart, Smythe Electric or other downtown record shop, I suspect the businesses had some behind the counters for sale to customers who requested them.

The16-rpm records had a distinct market. The plus for the slower speed was much longer playing time; the minus was decreased sound quality, but the products did not necessitate this. Also, they were generally pressed as monaural (one-track) instead of stereo (two-track). They were ideal for low volume “dinner” (a.k.a. “elevator” and “filler”) music because one side would play for an entire meal without anyone having to change it. If a family held a Christmas outing at their home, they could play 16-rpm records of holiday favorites that would set the tone for the evening with infrequent attention to the machine.

The records also offered an advantage to the blind who were able to listen to them for long periods of time without having to change sides or disks.

My column photo shows four additional uses of 16-rpm records (left to right, top to bottom): sets containing the “Spoken Bible”; Edison recording of Ernest “Pop” Stoneman, known as the Blue Ridge Mountaineer, singing hillbilly ballads; children’s records such as “Be a Train”; and “The Audio Book of Great Essays.” Older folks may recall when 16-rpm records were used to distribute political campaign speeches. Also schools incorporated them in classrooms to teach foreign languages.

As the parade of progress marched along, next came reel-to-reel, 8-track and cassette tapes, but that is the subject of another column.  

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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.


The Bowman Sisters: Pauline Bowman Huggans (left) and Jennie Bowman Cain

Pauline traveled with her legendary father, Fiddlin’ Charlie Bowman, and sister, Jennie Bowman Cain, with a group known as the Blue Ridge Ramblers on the Loews Metropolitan Theatre Vaudeville Circuit in 1931-32. They performed on stages all across the east that included New York City. The sisters were billed as part of the 12-member Ramblers and separately as the “Bowman Sisters.” The group later switched to the Smalley Time Vaudeville Circuit.

After arriving in vaudeville, Aunt Ween developed a crush on Jack Pierce, a fiddler who played in several bands including the Tenneva (Tenne for Tennessee and va for Virginia) Ramblers that once teamed up with The Father of Country Music, Jimmie Rodgers (a.k.a. The Singing Brakeman and The Blue Yodeler).

In the mid 1920s, Charlie and three of his brothers, Elbert, Walter and Argil, participated in political rallies in East Tennessee for the Honorable B. Carroll Reece, a U.S. Representative from the first district of Tennessee who served three terms (1921-31, 1933-47 and 1951-61). After the couple died, Pauline routinely put flowers and maintained an American flag on their graves at Monte Vista Cemetery.

Pauline did something surprising in 1934. She took a break from vaudeville and returned to Gray to visit her mother, Fannie Bowman, who lived with several of her children in a rustic two-story log house on Roscoe Fitz Road. She arrived unannounced and peeked into the kitchen to see her mother laboring over the old wood stove preparing a meal. She was stirred at Fannie’s dedication to her family but saddened by the excessive wrinkles in her weary face. At that moment, she vowed never to return to vaudeville. She would honor that commitment.

Pauline’s husband, Jimmy James (stage name), was playing trombone with the Frankie Carle Orchestra and came to Johnson City to convince his pretty wife to return with him on the road tour. Pauline later commented how difficult it was to give up the man whom she dearly loved to be with her mother, but she knew it was the right thing to do. Also, she was thankful to be back in the serene beautiful mountains of East Tennessee.

In 1954, Pauline owned the Green Bean Restaurant at 514 W. Market Street. It was less than a half-mile from my home so I frequently went there to eat. My standard fare was a hamburger and French fries, so when I came through the front door, she immediately threw a beef patty on the grill. Her café had a jukebox along the right side that contained mostly country and western selections such as, Ernest Tubb’s “ I’m Walking the Floor Over You,” and Lefty Frizzell’s “If You’ve Got the Money (I’ve Got the Time).”

In later years, Pauline would occasionally call me and tell me she had just made a big pot of my favorite pinto beans seasoned with a Smithfield hambone. Once, I drove to Johnson City and consumed several plates of beans that were complemented with some tasty cornbread and cold milk. Pauline was 90 years old and in declining health, but her memory was sharp. With each visit, I quizzed her about her vaudeville experiences. She sometimes repeated herself, but she never contradicted anything she had previously said. Her recall of names and groups was remarkable.

I miss my Aunt Ween. I also miss her hamburgers and French-fries from the Green Bean, her entertaining and informative vaudeville stories, her singing with Jennie in her living room and especially that big pot of Smithfield hambone flavored pinto beans and cornbread. 

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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.

“The article mentioned the very talented Butch Swaney who played trumpet when we could get him. He usually brought Teresa Alley, a superb pianist, with him. Ivan Tipton, a gifted classical pianist (trained in the classics), often complained about having to play popular music.

“The Collegians specialized in ‘Big Band’ numbers and used sheet music with typical arrangements. Whenever possible, because of the higher fees paid, we attempted to utilize a full set of players that included five saxophones (two alto, two tenor and a baritone) plus at least three trumpets and two trombones. It became my lot to play baritone sax whenever we employed a full complement of instruments.”

Stroup said that regardless what music they played, they tried to emulate the band that originally performed the number. Glenn Miller arrangements were the hardest to follow, at least for the saxophone and clarinet players, because the arrangements often had the latter instruments playing at the highest part of their range.

Glenn commented that with such a variety of talented piano players, they were able to play current popular tunes using only a piano, bass and drums. This allowed the other musicians to take a short break.

According to Stroup: “George mentioned Warren Weddle, who is fondly remembered by a host of Science Hill High School graduates. During our 60th reunion of the Class of 1951, many people talked about their memories of playing in the band or orchestra. Our bandleader’s philosophy was to accept all students and play a wide selection of music throughout the year rather than concentrate on a few members that the band could play in competitions.

“Mr. Weddle also worked with the Red Shield’s Boy's Club, when it was located at 228 W. W. Market, and formed a “dance band” there as well. I was fortunate enough to participate in that group.  The club’s director got us on the program for the National Boy's Club convention in Washington DC one year. Bob Byrd was the drummer.

“It was also very nostalgic to see Don Shannon's name mentioned by George. Don lived next to me in the Holston Apartments on W. Main. Mr. Weddle assigned me the task of getting him to band parades on time. For several years, Don was the drum major and it was essential for him to be prompt. He was tremendously talented but had absolutely no sense of time. He was very good on alto sax. Incidentally, Don's mother, Nell, was a niece of J.J. Paige, the carnival owner who wintered in Johnson City.”

The “Mountain Mischief” brochure is from a performance presented by the Junior Service League at Science Hill’s auditorium on April 10-11, 1964. This was three years after the relocated school opened its doors. Information on the front cover of the publication gives specifics of the production crew: Choreography and Direction by Joe Landis; Produced by Jerome N. Cargille, 140 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York; Orchestra by “Butch” Swaney Orchestra; Rehearsal Pianists, Mrs. Edwin L. Pace and Mr. Cecil Gray; Professional Photography, Clifford Maxwell Studio; Cover design and Art Work, Frank Webb; and Makeup, Deeya Cosmetic Studio.  

Identification of individuals in the top photo (left to right): Front row: 1. Glenn Stroup, 2, Buddy Beasley, 3. Don Shannon and 4. (unknown). Second row: 5. Earle Guffey, 6. Gordon Vest, 7. Joe Goolsby and 8. Larry Burleson. Third row: 9. Teresa Alley, 10. Don Barnett and 11. George Buda.

Personnel in the bottom photo: Front row: 1. (unknown), 2. (unknown), 3. Buddy Beasley and 4. Glenn Stroup. Second row: 5. Larry Burleson, 6. Bill Green, 7. Earle Guffey, 8. George Buda, 9. Ambers Wilson and 10. (unknown).

Glenn noted that many of the people in the photos went into military service bands. George Buda and Earle Guffey were in Army bands and Larry Burleson left college to join the Navy and played in a Navy band. Buddy Beasley joined the Air Force after college, became a fighter pilot and was killed in a non-combat flight accident.

It is sad to see several unknowns in the photograph. If Press readers can identify any of them or have addition info to share about the once popular band, please share it with us. We appreciate George Buda, Ambers Wilson, Sarah Booher and Joe Henley (who started his own band in 1955 and played music for 40 years) for assisting with this article. 

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