Archive | November 12, 2013

Ballads of the 1920’s…Vernon Dalhart

American singer and songwriter Vernon Dalhart ...

American singer and songwriter Vernon Dalhart (1883-1948) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My last post mentioned one of the old 78 rpm records that I grew up listening to, and as I just learned more about the gentleman who sang it, I thought I’d share the interesting growth of his career and his impact on country music and music publishing as a whole.  The following is excerpted from the YouTube website below one of his recordings:

“Vernon Dalhart (April 6 ,1883 – Sept.14,1948)  was a popular United States singer and songwriter of the early decades of the 20th century. He is a major influence in the field of Country Music.

Dalhart was born Marion Try Slaughter in Marion County, Jefferson, Texas. He took his stage-name from two towns, Vernon and Dalhart in Texas, between which he punched cattle in the 1890s. Dalhart’s father, Robert Marion Slaughter was killed in a fight with his brother-in-law, Bob Castleberry, when Vernon was age 10.

When Vernon was 12 or 13, the family moved from Jefferson to Dallas, Texas. Vernon, who already could play the jew’s harp and harmonica, received vocal training at the Dallas Conservatory of Music.

He saw an advertisement in the local paper for singers and applied and was auditioned by Thomas Alva Edison; he would thereafter make numerous records for Edison Records. From 1916 until 1923, using numerous pseudonyms, he made over 400 recordings of light classical music and early dance band vocals for various record labels. He was already an established singer when he made his first country music recordings which cemented his place in music history.

Dalhart’s 1924 recording of “The Wreck of the Old 97” – a classic American railroad ballad about the September 27, 1903 derailment of Southern Railway Fast Mail train No. 97 near Danville, Virginia – for the Victor Talking Machine Company, became a runaway hit, alerting the national record companies to the existence of a sizable market for country-style vocals. It became the first southern song to become a national success. The double-sided single eventually sold more than seven million copies, a colossal amount for a mid-1920s recording. It was the best-selling single to its time, and was the biggest-selling non-holiday record in the first seventy years of recorded music.

Research by Billboard statistician Joel Whitburn determined “The Prisoner’s Song” to have been a #1 hit for 12 weeks in 1925-26. In 1998, “The Prisoner’s Song” was honored with a Grammy Hall of Fame Award and the Recording Industry Association of America named it one of the Songs of the Century.”

Please spend a few moments listening to a few of the hits recorded by Mr. Dalhart on You Tube. There have since been a Broadway musical and several movies showing different treatments of the story of Floyd Collins’ death.  Yet however you think of Mr. Dalhart, the voice is a classic, the music a tribute to our country’s cultural concerns back in the 1920’s.

Like Fishing? Help me Fish Up an Old 78!

Old Congolese 78 rpm records, being the three ...

One of my better memories of growing up in the countryside near Lexington, Kentucky was learning all the words to my parents’ “platters”—their collection of 78 rpm records.

Songs I learned included Blueberry Hill by Fats Domino, The Death of Floyd Collins sung by Vernon Dalhart, (see my next post) hits by the Andrews Sisters like Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, big bands numbers like Tuxedo Junction, just a really eclectic mix of all my parents’ favorites.

Mom let me spend hours in my chair.  A slightly hyper three year old, I loved hanging sideways in the old maple Boston Rocker, head hanging off the edge, turning the world upside down, playing the 78 RPM records (and later 33 RPM albums) on the victrola.

I was careful with them, almost never let one get scratched, and didn’t play tem too loudly for her comfort.  In point of fact, I think she loved it when I turned them up louder occasionally. I’d sing along to my heart’s content, the little performer in training unaware of the young housewife listening in.

One record, black with a red label, was titled, “The Fishing Song” and was sung by a female, possibly a black woman by her inflection.  She had a trio of back-up singers who were all guys.  I don’t know if my brother has the records now or not, but I haven’t heard the song played in 30 years or so.  I’ve tried googling it, searching through ITunes too, to no avail.  So we’re going on my memory here.

I could sing it for you, but I’ll spare you the pain.  The tune sounded like a swing number, you know, a big band type of sound.  I remember a bass fiddle emphasizing the beat, and the words to the tune went like this:

Once upon a time a little boy was going fishin’ and he asked a little girl to come along,

She said, “Wait till I run and ask my Mommy.’  Presently she came back and sang this song:

‘Mama told me I couldn’t go fishin’ with you.

‘Mama told me I couldn’t go fishing with you.

‘She said us women get the blame when men start playin’ that fishing game, that’s why

‘Mama won’t let me go fishing with you.’  (here the guys echoed “fishin’ with you”)

The trio of guys sings,

‘Hey, Girl, don’t you hear what your Mama say,

‘We’ll do this thing our way,

‘We’ll drive down to old Cape Cod,

‘Cause I’ve got a real nice fishin’ rod,’

(next phrase simultaneous with the girl’s) ‘Hey, Girl, why don’t you let me go fishing with you’

Girls’ line intermingled with the guys’: ‘Oh, no! Unh Uh!  I cain’t fish with you today!’ (echo) ‘Not today’

‘Papa took Mama fishing on the Rio Grande.

‘Papa took Mama fishing on the Rio Grande.

‘He said we’ll catch us a big walleye, well,

‘The fish got away but here am I, that’s why Mama won’t let me go fishing with you.’

‘Mama told me I can’t go fishin’ with you,

‘Mama told me I can’t go fishin’ with you,

‘She said those lines ain’t always made of twine, and

P’apa had more than fishin’ on his mind,’

The whole group ends with a descending trill: “That’s just why I can’t go fishing today……”

I know for sure the song’s title is “The Fishing Song”. I’d like to know the singer, the record label, and where to get a copy of it if possible.  So if you have any idea who sang this please let me know.  Otherwise…beware that Fishing Game!