Classic Country: Legends of Country Music

By Charles K. Wolfe | Go to book overview

The Carlisles

For over four decades now Bill Carlisle and the Carlisles have been known as one of the zaniest and most colorful groups on the Grand Ole Opry. In recent years, their fans have been treated to the antics of octogenarian Bill Carlisle racing on stage in a green wig, urging the audience on to a “standing ovation,” and leaping as high as the WSM microphone in the midst of songs like “Too Old to Cut the Mustard.” What leader Bill Carlisle seldom tells the audience is that he and his group have one of the longest pedigrees of any act on the Opry—a pedigree that extends back to the very dawn of country music and embraces some of the raunchiest blues ever cut, rich gospel songs, outrageous novelty songs, and lively tunes that pointed the way to rockabilly and rock ’n’ roll.

Before there was the Carlisles, there was Bill Carlisle and his brother Cliff, two of the biggest stars of the 1930s. Born in Wakefield, Kentucky, in 1908, Bill followed in the footsteps of older brother Cliff, who helped pioneer the Hawaiian guitar and dobro and backed Jimmie Rodgers on several records. In July 1933, Cliff managed to land Bill a record contract with the old American Record Company, and soon the younger Carlisle had a major hit with a song called “Rattlesnake Daddy.” The ARC publicist was soon promoting “Smilin’ Bill” as a successor to blue yodeler Jimmie Rodgers, and was urging fans to see him as a hot young singer of white blues. And as Franklin Roosevelt struggled to get Americans off of soup lines, Bill Carlisle entertained them with off-color blues like “String Bean Mama,” “Copper Head Mama” and “Sally Let Your Bangs Hang Down.” By the end of the decade, Bill had switched to Bluebird and then Decca, and was demonstrating his versatility by recording hits like “The Heavenly Train” and “A Shack by the Side of the Road.”

Though he made dozens of records, Bill was like most of the other country singers of the time: He made his true living from radio. For a time he was at WLAP in Lexington, and then moved on to stations in

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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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