Classic Country: Legends of Country Music

By Charles K. Wolfe | Go to book overview

Tommy Magness

“There are three types of history for our music,” said the old man. “There’s mullet history—that’s the kind you tell to people from Minnesota who don’t know what a banjo is. Then there’s book history—that’s where you divide up the music into a different chapter for each legend. And then there’s the shop talk history, stuff the pickers tell each other about the secret history of bluegrass. That’s where you hear about people like Joe Lee, Blue Millhorn, Emmett Miller, Arthur Q. Smith, Kennedy Jones, Mac McGarr, Amos Johnson, and all the rest of those invisible heroes. And don’t forget the one who may have been the best of them all—the fiddler Tommy Magness.”

Bill Monroe never forgot about Tommy Magness. “Tommy Magness worked for me in 1940, and was on my first records,” he recalled. “He had that fine old-time touch, rich and pure, but he was able to put a touch of blues to it. He was the first man I heard play ‘Orange Blossom Special,’ and he could put a lot more in it than they do today. He taught me the song ‘The Hills of Roane County,’ and I taught him to play ‘Katy Hill’ in the bluegrass way.”

Through the 1940s Tommy Magness became one of the most visible fiddlers on the country and bluegrass scene; he played with three of the biggest stars of the time—Roy Hall, Bill Monroe, and Roy Acuff—and helped start the careers of Reno and Smiley. He was instrumental in popularizing two of the best-known fiddle tunes, “Orange Blossom Special” and “Black Mountain Rag.” He was heard on network radio, seen in Hollywood films, spotlighted on major record labels, and toured from Maine to California. His fiddling was a complex bridge between the older Appalachian folk fiddling, the new country music styles of the 1940s, and the even newer emerging sounds of bluegrass. Yet Tommy Magness remained an enigma, never settling in any one band for more than a couple of years, restlessly moving around the South, never get-

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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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