Classic Country: Legends of Country Music

By Charles K. Wolfe | Go to book overview

Brown’s Ferry Four

The line between classic country and classic gospel sometimes gets pretty fuzzy—witness the work of the Bailes Brothers, the Chuck Wagon Gang, James and Martha Carson, the Oak Ridge Boys, Jimmie Davis, and others. Until recently, many country listeners’ polls routinely selected as their “favorite gospel group” an act led by Grandpa Jones and called The Hee Haw Gospel Quartet. Though that venerable show has drifted into a state of permanent rerun, the quartet still remains a popular feature: four men and one guitar doing the classic gospel songs of Albert Brumley, Thomas Dorsay, Vep Ellis, and others. But what many younger fans may not recognize is that this quartet is itself a continuation of an earlier quartet, one that in the 1940s made country music history and set the style for a whole generation of groups to follow: the Brown’s Ferry Four.

The original Brown’s Ferry Four was formed during the turbulent days of World War II, and existed in various forms until the mid-1950s. It is best known for the forty-five songs it recorded for the King record label out of Cincinnati—songs that became best sellers, records that were played to death by radio stations and even worn out in jukeboxes. This original quartet was composed of four men who went on to become country music legends: Grandpa Jones, Merle Travis, and Alton and Rabon Delmore, who had pioneered close-harmony duet singing on the Grand Ole Opry in the 1930s. Later on, the quartet included, at various times, other greats like Red Foley, Clyde Moody, Zeke Turner, Red Turner (no relation), and Louis Innis. It was the work of these men that forged the Brown’s Ferry Four sound—and defined what many fans think of when they hear the term “country gospel.”

The story of the group starts in June 1943, when Grandpa, Merle, and the Delmores all found themselves working at station WLW in Cincinnati. The war was well under way, and young men were being

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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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