Classic Country: Legends of Country Music

By Charles K. Wolfe | Go to book overview

Darby and Tarlton

Historians love to talk about the influence of the blues in early country music, and it is true that many legends, from Jimmie Rodgers to Fiddlin’ Arthur Smith, featured blues in their repertoires. But when you look at the actual singing style of most of these early stars, very few sound like such singers as Blind Lemon Jefferson or Robert Johnson. One notable exception is the team of Tom Darby and Jimmie Tarlton, country music’s first really great duet team. They recorded over sixty songs for three major labels in the period from 1927 to 1933, and were best known for their two-sided Columbia hit “Birmingham Jail” and “Columbus Stockade Blues.” It was one of the best-selling records of the 1920s, and the first version of two songs that have become standards. In later years, acts like Willie Nelson and Danny Davis reworked “Columbus Stockade Blues,” and “Birmingham Jail” became so much a part of the country repertoire that many people consider it a folk song. Built on Tom Darby’s incredible lead singing and Jimmie Tarlton’s pioneering slide guitar work, the duo’s sound was one of the loosest, most soulful, most unpredictable in classic country music. And their repertoire was quirky, eclectic, and vast, ranging from real country blues to old Victorian parlor songs.

Jimmie Tarlton was born the son of sharecropper parents in Orange County, South Carolina, in 1892. From his mother he learned to sing old ballads; from his father he learned to play the archaic fretless banjo. He also learned the guitar, and by the time he was twelve he was playing in the open tuning and slide style he had picked up from black musicians in North and South Carolina and Georgia. At seventeen he left home, determined to make his living as a musician. Like many early country musicians, he spent time in the textile mills of the Piedmont region of North Carolina, and then took off “busking”—traveling around the country playing on street corners, in bars, at county fairs, wherever he could find listeners willing to pitch a nickel into his

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Classic Country: Legends of Country Music
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Introduction vii
  • Part I - From the Hall of Fame 1
  • The Carter Family 2
  • Roy Acuff 19
  • Lefty Frizzell 27
  • Grandpa Jones 33
  • Pee Wee King 38
  • Bill Monroe 44
  • Hank Snow 50
  • Kitty Wells 56
  • Part II - From the Victrola 63
  • Fiddlin’ John Carson 64
  • Vernon Dalhart 70
  • Riley Puckett 76
  • Charlie Poole 82
  • The Georgia Yellow Hammers 85
  • Darby and Tarlton 89
  • Part III - From the Airwaves 93
  • Lew Childre 94
  • The Blue Sky Boys 97
  • Brown’s Ferry Four 103
  • Cousin Emmy 106
  • The Monroe Brothers 109
  • Wayne Raney 114
  • Karl and Harty 117
  • Bradley Kincaid 125
  • Part IV - From the Shadows: Unsung Heroes 129
  • Tommy Magness 130
  • Arthur Q. Smith 143
  • Zeke and Zeb Turner 146
  • Johnny Barfield 152
  • The Rouse Brothers 155
  • Seven Foot Dilly 165
  • The Jordanaires 175
  • Deford Bailey 178
  • Emmett Miller 182
  • Tommy Jackson 185
  • Jimmie Riddle 188
  • Part V - From the Stage: Classic Country 193
  • Curly Fox and Texas Ruby 194
  • The Delmore Brothers 197
  • Don Gibson 203
  • The Louvin Brothers 215
  • The Statler Brothers 221
  • Martha Carson 236
  • The Carlisles 239
  • Albert E. Brumley 243
  • Stringbean 247
  • Part VI - From the West 257
  • Girls of the Golden West 258
  • Billie Maxwell 261
  • Red River Dave 265
  • Skeets Mcdonald 268
  • Part VII - New Fogies 273
  • Hazel and Alice 274
  • Doc Watson 279
  • Roy Harper 285
  • The Freight Hoppers 294
  • Acknowledgments 300
  • Index 301
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