Slim Bryant

Influential Guitarist who wrote the country classics "Mother Queen of Hearts" and "In the Pines" 

Country band leader, singer, influential guitarist, and song writer Slim Bryant was a Pittsburgh radio and television star for two decades.  He wrote classic country tunes that have been recorded and performed by over 150 national artists.  In the 1920s Slim played and recorded with Jimmie Rodgers, the Depression-era singer and "blue yodeller" who was the first star of country music.  Bryant's song "Mother, the Queen of My Heart" was recorded by Jimmy Rodgers, the Grateful Dead, Bill Monroe, Flatt and Scruggs, and others. His song "In the Pines" is another country classic was recorded by Jimmy Rodgers, Hank Snow, Merle Haggard, Bill Monroe, the Grateful Dead, and Jerry Lee Lewis.  Slim’s recording of his song “Yum Yum Blues” hit the Billboard charts.  Another of Slim’s tunes "Eeny Meeny Dixie Deeny" was a substantial hit for both Slim and vocalist Zeke Manners. Slim wrote 200 country songs along with many commercial jingles.

Slim is credited for introducing single string guitar solos into popular music. In the book "Country Music U.S.A." historian Bill Malone wrote that Bryant "began playing single-string solos and 'sock' rhythm [a percussive closed-chord style] long before most guitarists."  Guitarist Les Paul said that Slim Bryant was his idol.  Gibson guitar honored Bryant making him a sponsored Gibson guitar artist. 

Learned Jazz Guitar in the Atlanta Country Scene

Thomas Hoyt "Slim" Bryant, the first of six sons, was born in Atlanta on December 7, 1908, the son of Posey and Auroria Bryant. His father and electrician by trade played old-time fiddle.  His mother played guitar and piano.  Slim began playing guitar as a boy teaching himself from a book. After high school graduation he became an electrician estimator.  He spent his spare time hanging out with Atlanta’s most popular hillbilly band, the Skillet-Lickers.  Beginning in 1929 he spent sixteen months studying guitar with renowned Atlanta jazz banjoist-guitarist Perry Bechtel.  

Slim’s musical influences were jazz pioneer Eddie Lang and pop singer Nick Lucas. In an interview Slim said about Lucas, "I never heard anybody who could sing and then play a chorus. I copied his accompaniment because he was better than country music. I helped introduce this into country music."

Music historians report that Slim Bryant was the first country guitarist to replace simple accompaniment with complex jazz and pop chords.

In the late 1920s and early ‘30s Atlanta was a hotbed of country music.  Slim, as a guitarist began  performing with many of Atanta’s great musicians. At age 20, Slim made his first recording playing and singing on the song “Ain't She Sweet” with the Harmony Boys string band.  He played with Elmer McMichen’s string band on Atlanta’s WSB. 

The Georgia Wildcats

Slim quit his electricians job in 1931 to join the Melody Men, a popular new string band lead by the Skillet-Lickers' fiddler Clayton McMichen. Slim spent the next six years in McMichen’s band that was later renamed the Georgia Wildcats.  McMichen’s Wildcats  recorded for Columbia Records in the fall of 1931, The band left Atlanta to appear on radio stations in Cincinnati, Chicago, St Louis, Louisville, Cleveland, New York and elsewhere. The Georgia Wildcats appeared live on KDKA in Pittsburgh in 1931.  They became regulars on the "National Barn Dance" show on Chicago's WLS.  As a teenager guitarist Les Paul listened to WLS regularly to hear his idol Slim Bryant's guitar playing.  

The Georgia Wild Cats' hip swinging jazz flavored country style was a unique regional sound that differed from the Western Swing music of Texas,  The Georgia Wildcats were one of the most as widely heard and influential bands in the Midwest and Southeast in the 1930s.

Recording with Jimmy Rodgers

Clayton McMichen was a friend of the first country star Jimmie Rodgers. They had appeared together.  Rodgers hired McMichen for a recording session in 1932.  McHichen brought Slim Byrant along to the session.  Rodgers picked Bryant and McHichen up in Washington D.C. and they rode in his chauffeured limo to a studio in Camden, N.J.  Rodgers who was suffering from tuberculosis focused on singing and asked Sling to play the guitar.  Slim replicated Rodgers distinctive guitar style on the recordings of Rodgers's songs “No Hard Times”, “Whippin'That Old TB”, and "Peach Picking Time in Georgia" was another of  They recorded 10 songs over six days.

The trio also recorded a tune written by Bryant titled “Mother, The Queen of My Heart” , which became a standard played by country radio DJs on Mother's Day. The song tells the story of a gambler who reforms when he sees his mother's face on a card during a poker game.  

Rodgers also recorded “In the Pines” an old blues tunes that McMichen and Bryant arranged together.  Slim said he first heard the song as a child, from a  young black man who delivered the family's ice.  It has become a bluegrass standard recorded by many artists.   

In the summer of 1932 Byrant appeared with Rodgers at several vaudeville venues. Rodgers invited Bryant and McMichen to accompany him on a tour of Britain, but the tour never took place as the singer died of tuberculosis in 1933.

Georgia Wild Cats Record for Decca

After their stint with Jimmy Rodgers, McMichen and Bryrant continued to tour with the Wildcats.  In 1934, Slim’s younger brother Raymond "Loppy" Bryant joined the Wildcats' as bassist.   The Wildcat released recordings of their blend of country, pop and jazz for Decca Records in 1937 and 1939,  The original Georgia Wildcat broke up in 1937, when McMichen left to form a 12-piece dance band in Louisville.  

The Bryant brothers and guitarist Jack Dunigan, formed a new band with Louisville tenor banjoist Jerry Wallace.  They appeared on KDKA radio in Pittsburgh billed as Slim, Jack and the Gang.   While in Pittsburgh the band added gifted fiddler Kenny Newton of Apollo, Pa and renamed the group the Wildcats.  They left Pittsburgh to appear in Richmond, but were unable to work due to a musicians' strike.  While they were on hiatus, Loppy Bryant and his first wife who was from Zelienople, visited Pittsburgh. They stopped in to KDKA to visit program director George Hyde.  Hyde invited the band back to Pittsburgh. The band arrived back in Pittsburgh on Aug. 10, 1940.  Brant said in an interview "I liked Pittsburgh.  I liked KDKA's 50,000 watts."

Awaking Pittsburgh with the KDKA Farm Hour

In June 1941, they became the studio band for the new "KDKA Farm Hour" that aired Mondays through Fridays at 6: a.m .  The Wildcats played 11 songs between the news and farm reports.  At at precisely 6:23 a.m  they always played a hymn.  Slim Bryant and the Wildcat played during the KDKA radio Farm Hour for nearly 20 years.   The Wildcats become popular entertainers at theaters, parks, carnivals, dance halls and festivals throughout Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio.  Slim called himself “the country Lawrence Welk.” As his band entertained crowds with a variety of current hits (country and pop), standards, polkas, jazz, and cowboy songs.

Accordionist Al Azzaro joined the band, when guitarist Jerry Wallace joined the Marines during World War II,   The band’s repertoire included Bryant singing novelties; Bryant and fiddler Newton played swinging instrumentals, Newton crooning country ballads. Loppy singing Jimmie Rodgers-style tunes, and Azzaro's playing polkas.  Wallace played electric guitar and everyone harmonized.  Each member of the band was a soloist.   The morning show became popular Pittsburgh tradition and the Wildcats gained national exposure.

National Syndication of the Wild Cats

The Wildcat recorded 287 songs in New York that were syndicated to radio stations nationwide through the NBC song library on discs. The LP-like discs were 15-minute shows featuring country  pop, Western, polkas, gospel and jazz songs.  In 1946, the Wildcats recorded 16 songs for Majestic Records.  One song from those sessions "Eeny Meeny Dixie Deeny," became a regional hit in the Pittsburgh area, but the struggling Majestic label could not press enough records to market it nationally.  Singer Zeke Manners covered the song making it a national hit on RCA. 

First Pittsburgh Television Broadcast

In 1949 Slim Bryant and His Wildcats appeared live from the Syria Mosque on the first television broadcast ever in Pittsburgh’s history 1949.  That was the beginning of the ten years of appearances of WDTV which became KDKA-TV in 1955.  The half hour show sponsored by Iron City Bar initially ran on Saturday nights and later moved to Fridays.  It ran on Thursday on WTRF in Wheeling.  On the show The Wild Cats performed with their guests that included Gene Autry, Eddy Arnold, Tex Ritter, Les Paul, Joe Negri, Burl Ives, Rosemary Clooney and Snooky Larson, and more.  It ran until 1958 when national network programming replace locally produced show. 

The Wild Cats landed a recording contract with MGM in 1955.  They also made appearances the ABC network's "Jubilee U.S.A.".   The band continued appearing on stage at Pittsburgh area amusement parks and at East Coast and Midwestern fairs. 

The Wildcats ended their “Farm Hour” run on KDKA in 1962, when the station replaced them with recorded music.  The Wildcats disbanded.  Slim and Mary Jane, opened Slim Bryant's Card and Gift Shop in Dormont.  Slim gave guitar lessons at the store, teaching hundreds of students.  Slim was inducted into the Atlanta Country Music Hall of Fame in 1985

The British record label BACM (The British Archive of Country Music) released  two CD set of 31 of the Wildcat’s NBC recordings entitled “Hoyt Slim Bryant & His Wildcats” 2007, when Slim was 78. . Slim wrote music and or words for a several of the songs including "Thunderstorm" "Penny Ante Polka" and "My Saddle, My Bronco and You.

Slim played his guitar into his 90s, retiring only when he was slowed by by arthritis.  Slim was interviewed about his career in 2009 by the BBC for their series “Folk America”.  Slim died at age 101 in 2010. 

Mother, Queen of My Heart -Written by Slim Bryant
Slim Bryant and the Wild Cats -KDKA

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