Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Before country part 1 (1891-1909)

Edison Male Quartet - A Flower From Home Sweet Home (1907)

Edison Male Quartet - My Old Kentucky Home (1902)

Byron Harlan - Hello Central Give Me Heaven (1904)

Billy Murray - Casey Jones (1909)

It is admitted that the first documented country recording was Eck Robertson's Victor session in june 1922.

But what was there before ?

In the first years of the phonograph industry, before World War I, record companies only focused on an urban audience. They had not realized yet the importance of the rural population, at least as a specific audience.
As Bill C. Malone writes in Country Music USA (the main source for this post),
"Rustic types were staples of American entertainment, but these were usually sophisticated entertainers, such as John Denman or Cal Stewart(hear his "Uncle Josh In A Barber Shop"), who merely acted the parts of hayseed and rubes. Folk and rural songs likewise were not absent (...) but they were generally done by urbane song-and-dance men like Billy Golden (hear his "Turkey In The Straw" from 1891) or the Edison Male Quartet (see songs above)".

Out of curiosity for these unknown names, I went to archive.org and picked a couple of Edison Male Quartet tunes. These guys are really exciting to hear. Weird to hear music from cylinders more than a century old ! What I like the most is the man barking his announcements in a great sergeant-major style...

I listened to a few songs, then other ones, then others, and tried a little research on the Web. With the help of this page at bluegrassmessengers.com, I found so many great songs that I decided to make a little compilation you can download, in addition to the tracks posted above, featuring songs I think influenced country music. I only included tracks from the turn of the century (1891-1909). Of course, there will be (at least) a volume two.

Although, like Malone says, the instrumentation and performing style have nothing to do with hillbilly music, you'll find folk or Southern ballads ("My Old Kentucky Home", a great version of "Casey Jones") and many sentimental ballads, some of which were covered by country and hillbilly singers ("Silver Threads Among the Gold", with a melody that reminds me of "Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain", "Hello Central Give Me Heaven", later sung by the Carter Family), more satirical comedy sketches about hillbillies ("Arkansas Traveler"), and a lot of vaudeville and minstrel shows artists like Byron G. Harlan. There also were tons of terrible "coon songs", but i didn't include them; I didn't know they were SO popular in 1900 !!

The sentimental "pop" ballads, along with the old folk traditions, were an undeniable influence on country music too.

Here's what you'll find :

Before country vol. 1 (1891-1909)

Billy Golden - Turkey in The Straw (1891)
Cal Stewart - Uncle Josh In A Barber Shop (1896)
JJ Fisher -The Girl I Loved In Sunny Tennesse (1899)
Joseph Natus - A Bird In A Guilded Cage (1900)
Edison Male Quartet _ My Old Kentucky Home (1902)
Arthur Collins - Oh Didn't He Rambled (1902)
Richard Jose - Silver Threads Among the Gold (1904)
Byron Harlan - Hello Central Give Me Heaven (1904)
Len Spencer -Arkansaw Traveller (1904)
Haydn Quartet - My Grandfather's Clock (1905)
Edison Male Quartet - A Flower From Home Sweet Home (1907)
Ada jones & Bill Murray - Rainbow (1908)
Will Oakland - The longest Way 'Round Is the Sweetest Way Home (1909)
Bill Murray - Casey Jones (1909)
Arthur Clough - Put On Your Old Gray Bonnet (1909)



Anonymous said...

You should look out for Harry C. Browne, his version of "Carve That Possum" is amazing.

Nicolas said...

I'm listening to it right now and it's great !

I have to remember to put in in the next update.

Paul said...

Thanks Nicolas. This is great.

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