Early Records of Oldtime Music From East Tennessee

78s of Old Time Music From East Tennessee Available Online

Ambrose "Uncle Am"  Stuart (b.1856)  from Morristown in Hamblen County


was the first Tennessee fiddler to make commercial recordings.  In 1924  he went to New York City to record  for Vocalion Records. He is accompanied on tenor banjo by Gene Austin, who later went on to become a famous popular and country vocalist.

Uncle Am  took part in the famous Mountain City fiddlers contest in Johnson County, TN in 1925. He appears in several photographs with other pioneering recording artists.

Uncle Am is standing second from the right next to banjoist John Rector

Uncle Am Stuart, Old Liza Jane


Left to right: Al Hopkins, John Hopkins, Tony Alderman and John Rector of the original Hillbillies stand next to Uncle Am Stuart and Fiddlin' John Carson from Georgia.


# Artist: Uncle Am Stuart
# Title: Old Granny Rattletrap
# Album: Vocalion 14883
# Year: 1924

# Artist: Uncle Am Stuart
# Title: Grey Eagle
# Album: Vocalion 14839
# Year: 1924

Uncle Am Stuart, Dixie With Variations


Uncle Am Stuart, Rye Straw or The Unfortunate Pup


Jared Dedrick "J.D" Harris (born ca. 1868)  was  from Flag Pond, Unicoi County, Tennessee, not far from Madison County,  North Carolina.

He played with a number of western North Carolina musicians and was a major influence on fiddlers such as Manco Sneed and Byard Ray.

Dedrick Harris  recorded "Whip The Devil Around The Stump" in 1924 with Ernest Helton playing banjo for Broadway Records in New York City:

J.D Harris & Ernest  Helton, Broadway A1964 ca 1/ 1924

Whip The Devil Round The Stump http://snd.sc/fn6KTF

Dedrick  and Demp Harris  were related to the Payne family from Paint Creek in Greene County Tennessee, immediately north of the Shelton Laurel section of Madison County, North Carolina . One of the Payne family's favorite tunes was
"Whup The Devil Round The Stump" ("Whup" is local dialect for "Whip").
This tune is also known as "Booger Man," a regional term for the Devil.)

Here is how the Payne brothers played "Whup The Devil Round The Stump"in 1978http://snd.sc/ggDgnK

In 1925, J.D went to Asheville, North Carolina  where he recorded  for Okeh Records producer Ralph Peer, who later supervised the famous Victor recording sessions in 1927 in Bristol, Tennessee.

J.D. Harris, Cackling Hen,  Okeh 9307 -A-8/29-31/25


In 1925 J.D and Demp Harris took part in the Mountain City fiddle contest along with old time musicians  including Fiddlin' John Carson, Uncle Am Stuart,  the Original Hill Billies, Charlie Bowman,  Fiddlin' Powers and family, Dudley Vance, Clarence Ashley and G.B Grayson, all of whom had or would become commercial recording artists during the

J.D. Harris is standing  second from the right in the top row  of this famous photograph of participants in the 1925 Mountain City fiddlers convention:

J.D. Harris played with Tennessee's famous fiddling governor Bob Taylor, from  Happy Valley  just outside Elizabethton, the county seat of  in Carter County, Tennessee.  Both Bob and his brother Alf Taylor were  notable  fiddlers who served as governors of Tennessee. Unfortunately, no recordings exist of their fiddling, though Alf Taylor did record for Victor with a singing group that performed old spirituals , The Old Limber Quartet,  named after one of his hunting dogs.


Charles Thomas Bowman was born in Gray Station, Washington County, Tennessee on July 30, 1889. Playing old time music was a major form of home entertainment for country people throughout the United States and Canada in those days.

Like Clark Kessinger, little Charlie Bowman started out on banjo but soon switched to fiddle. His first fiddle cost $4.5O; fifty cents was a full days wages for a farmhand at that time.

All but one of the nine Bowman children played music; Charlie and his brothers would later record together as The Bowman Brothers. Charlie made his first recording in 1908 --- on an Edison cylinder phonograph owned by a neighbor! The Bowman Brothers started playing at local dances and other events. They soon began to get paid for playing music; each of them got seventy-five cents,an impressive amount of money back then.

In 1920 Charlie entered a fiddle contest in nearby Johnson City. First place went to Clayton McMichen, a great North Georgia fiddler who later went on to record with Gid Tanner and Riley Puckett, among others. Charlie took second place, winning thirty dollars! He then entered and won so many fiddle contests in East Tennessee and the surrounding region that other fiddlers started to complain about him!

A revival of interest in old time fiddling was growing all across the United States by that time. In 1923 Victor Records offered Charlie Bowman a recording contract, which he turned down. Al Hopkins was so impressed when he heard Charlie play at a Johnson City fiddle contest that he invited Bowman to join the Original Hillbillies, who were already recording for Okeh. Bowman turned down his offer.

But in 1925, Hopkins and Bowman met again at a now historic fiddle contest in Mountain City in remote Johnson County, the easternmost county in the state.
Getting to Mountain City is still not an easy task today, and one can only imagine what it was like to travel there in old fashioned automobiles over narrow primitive roads back in 1925, Nonetheless a number of major figures in early country music managed to get there, including Fiddlin John Carson, who came up all the way from Atlanta, Georgia. East Tennessee fiddlers swept the contest. Dudley Vance from
Chinquapin Grove near Bluff City in Sullivan County took first prize; Charlie Bowman from Gray Station in Washington County took second place, and the very first Tennessee fiddler to make commercial recordings, Uncle Am Stuart from Morristown in Hamblen County, came in third.

Al Hopkins and the Origina Hillbillies were also there. Hopkins invited Bowman to join the Hillbillies again, and this time Bowman accepted. Country music was taking off, and The Hillbillies were very popular. Charlie and The Hillbillies cut several records for Vocalion in New York City, where they also played on local radio and made lucrative appearances at vaudeville theaters.At the height of their popularity, The Hillbillies played for President Calvin Coolidge and also appeared in a short film.

By 1928, though, Charlie Bowman went back home to East Tennessee. That same year Frank Walker of Columbia Records set up a makeshift studio in Johnson City
and advertised for local talent in area newspapers. Charlie and his brothers auditioned for Walker and recorded a number of classic old time songs and tunes for Columbia.

When Frank Walker returned to Johnson City in 1929, the Bowman Brothers made more records for Columbia; that same year Charlie and his daughters Pauline and Jennie traveled up to New York City and cut several records for Vocalion. Unlike many early old time performers, Charlie continued to work as a professional country entertainer through the Great Depression and the austerity years of World War II,
Charlie Bowman finally retired from show business in 1957, He died on May 8, 1962.

To see where Charlie Bowman was born and where he spent his career as a pioneering professional country fiddler, go to: http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?ie=UTF8&hl=en&msa=0&msid=204260625886969314719.0004598ddaba81f5fc83e&t=h&z=6

# Artist: Hillbillies
# Title: East Tennessee Blues
# Album: Vocalion 5016
# Year: 1926

# Artist: Al Hopkins & His Buckle Busters
# Title: Bristol Tennessee Blues
# Album: Brunswick 104
# Year: 1926#

The Hillbillies - Cripple Creek


for bio of Charlie Bowman, see: www.1001tunes.com/fiddlers/bowman.html

 Artist: Charlie Bowman & His Brothers
# Title: Forky Deer
# Album: Columbia 15387 - D
# Year: 1929

# Artist: Charlie Bowman (with Al Hopkins Vocal)
# Title: Possum Up A Gum Stump, Looney In The Hollow (should be Cooney)
# Album: Vocalion 15877
# Year: 1932

# Artist: Charlie Bowman & His Brothers
# Title: Moonshiner And His Money
# Album: Columbia 15387 - D
# Year: 1929

# Artist: Charlie Bowman
# Title: The Hickman Rag
# Album: Vocalion 15877
# Year: 1932

Charlie Bowman  Texas Gals

Charlie Bowman, "Boatin' Up Sandy"

same tune as Payne Brothers, "Sandy River" http://snd.sc/fjFPxA

Dykes Magic City Trio - John Dykes, fiddle; Myrtle Vermillion, autoharp; Hub Mahaffey, guitar


# Artist: Dykes Magic City Trio
# Title: Cotton Eyed Joe
# Album: Brunswick 120
# Year: 1927

# Artist: Dykes Magic City Trio
# Title: Callahan's Reel
# Album: Brunswick 126
# Year: 1927

# Artist: Dykes Magic City Trio
# Title: Huckleberry Blues
# Album: Brunswick 129
# Year: 1927

# Artist: Dykes Magic City Trio
# Title: Shortening Bread
# Album: Brunswick 125
# Year: 1927

# Artist: Dykes Magic City Trio
# Title: Red Steer
# Album: Brunswick 126
# Year: 1927

# Artist: Dykes Magic City Trio
# Title: Frankie
# Album: Brunswick 127
# Year: 1927

# Artist: Dykes Magic City Trio
# Title: Tennessee Girls
# Album: Brunswick 120
# Year: 1927

# Artist: Dykes Magic City Trio
# Title: Poor Ellen Smith
# Album: Brunswick 127
# Year: 1927

# Artist: Dykes Magic City Trio
# Title: Free Little Bird
# Album: Brunswick 129
# Year: 1927

Upper left, Jimmie Rodgers; upper right, Jack Pierce
Lower left, Jack Grant; lower right, Claude Grant, 1927.


# Artist: Tenneva Ramblers
# Title: I'm Goin' To Georgia
# Album: Victor 21645
# Year: 1928

# Artist: Tenneva Ramblers
# Title: If I Die A Railroad Man
# Album: Victor 21406
# Year: 1928

Tenneva Ramblers, Sweet Heaven When I Die ( aka "Beefsteaks")


# Artist: Grant Brothers & Their Music
# Title: Goodby My Honey I'm Gone
# Album: Columbia 15466 - D
# Year: 1929

# Artist: Grant Brothers & Their Music
# Title: Johnson Boys
# Album: Columbia 15466 - D
# Year: 1929

# Artist: Grant Brothers
# Title: When A Man Is Married
# Album: Columbia 15322 - D
# Year: 1928

Grant Brothers, Tell It To Me (with Claude Slagle on banjo)

The Allen Brothers, Chattanooga, TN (southeast Tennessee)

# Artist: Allen Brothers
# Title: Fruit Jar Blues
# Album: Montgomery Ward M-4281
# Year: 1933

# Artist: Allen Brothers
# Title: A New Salty Dog
# Album: Victor 20-2132
# Year: 1947

# Artist: Allen Brothers
# Title: Old Black Crow In The Hickory- Nut Tree
# Album: Bluebird B-5448
# Year: 1930

# Artist: Allen Brothers
# Title: Chattanooga Mama
# Album: Bluebird B-5470
# Year: 1931

# Artist: Allen Brothers
# Title: I'm Always Whistling The Blues
# Album: Victor 23507
# Year: 1930

# Artist: Allen Brothers
# Title: Jakewalk Blues
# Album: Montgomery Ward M-4281
# Year: 1933

# Artist: Allen Brothers
# Title: Shake It Ida Shake It
# Album: Montgomery Ward M-4439
# Year: 1934

# Artist: Allen Brothers
# Title: The Enforcement Blues
# Album: Victor V-40276
# Year: 1930

# Artist: Allen Brothers
# Title: Price Of Cotton Blues
# Album: Victor 23507
# Year: 1930

# Artist: Allen Brothers
# Title: Prisoner's Dream
# Album: Victor V-40210
# Year: 1930

# Artist: Allen Brothers
# Title: No Low Down Hanging Around
# Album: Bluebird B-5448
# Year: 1934

# Artist: Allen Brothers
# Title: I'll Be All Smiles Tonight
# Album: Victor V-40210
# Year: 1930

# Artist: Allen Brothers
# Title: The Rambling Boy ( Fleming & Townsend )
# Album: Bluebird B-5470
# Year: 1930

Clarence "Tom" Ashley was born in Bristol, TN and raised in  Johnson Co., TN


Clarence Ashley-Coo Coo Bird (October 23, 1929)
Recorded on October 23, 1929 in Johnson City, Tennessee.

Clarence Ashley-Dark Holler - Clarence Ashley
Recorded on October 23, 1929 in Johnson City, Tennessee.

Clarence Ashley-The House Carpenter - Clarence Ashley
Recorded on April 14, 1930 in Atlanta, Georgia. This ballad was collected by Child as "The Daemon Lover" (Child No. 243), of which there are several variants.

Clarence Ashley, Old John Hardy

Clarence Ashley-My Sweet Farm Girl - Clarence Ashley
Recorded on December 1, 1931 in New York City. Ashley plays guitar and sings, with Gwen Foster on guitar and harmonica

# Artist: Ashley & Abernathy
# Title: Corrina, Corrina
# Album: Romeo 5192
# Year: 1932

Ashley and Greene Short Life of Trouble

Clarence Greene recorded "Johnson City Blues": http://www.johnsonsdepot.com/oldtime/jcblues/jcblues.htm

# Artist: Ashley & Foster
# Title: Bay Rum Blues
# Album: Vocalion 2611
# Year: 1933

# Artist: Ashley & Foster
# Title: Sideline Blues
# Album: Vocalion 2611
# Year: 1933

Ashley and Foster, When I Had But Fifty Cents

Ashley also played with  Byrd Moore And His Hot Shots
Left to right: Byrd Moore, Clarence Greene, Clarence Ashley

Careless Love

Three Men Went A-Hunting

Fiddler and singer G.B. Grayson was from Laurel Bloomery, Johnson County,
Tennessee. Guitarist Henry Whitter was from Fries, Virginia.

Grayson composed "Going Down The Lee Highway" aka "Lee Highway Blues"
Going Down The Lee Highway


Grayson & Whitter-Handsome Molly - Grayson & Whitter

Recorded on October 18, 1927 in Atlanta, Georgia. G. B. Grayson on vocals and fiddle, Henry Whitter on guitar. "Handsome Molly" is a standard among bluegrass musicians. Some researchers belive that this tune is related to "Farewell Ballymoney," which concerns the lamentations of a young man over his beloved's infidelity.

Grayson & Whitter-Ommie Wise - Grayson & Whitter

Recorded on October 18, 1927 in Atlanta, Georgia. G.B. Grayson on fiddle and vocals. Harry Smith, editor of "The Anthology of American Folk Music," summarized "Ommie Wise" with this headline: "Greedy girl goes to Adams Spring with liar; lives just long enough to regret it." This tune is apparently based on the real life drowning of the pregnant Naomi Wise in North Carolina in 1808.

Grayson & Whitter, He Is Coming To Us Dead

Grayson & Whitter My Mind Is To Marry

Grayson & Whitter, Rose Conley (aka "Down In The Willow Garden")

Grayson & Whitter , I've Always Been A Rambler http://snd.sc/fiMpQI

Ridgel's Fountain Citians (Roy Acuff's hometown near Knoxville, Tennessee)

Bald Headed End  Of The Broom

Nick Nack Song

Roane County Ramblers (Jimmy McCarroll, fiddler)

Everybody Two Step

Roane County Rag

They also recorded "Johnson City Rag" http://snd.sc/ifTA1I

Allen Sisson

Robert Allen Sisson was born in the Boardtown community near Elijay in Gilmer Couny in the mountains of North Georgia on August 31, 1873. When he was still a toddler, Sisson began playing the fiddle. His uncle Ira Arnold Sisson , a former Confederate sergeant, was an excellent fiddler himself. By the time young Sisson was twelve years old, he had already won a reputation as one of the finest fiddlers in North Georgia.

While still a young man, Sisson moved up north to southeast Tennessee where he found work on the railroad serving the copper mines in the neighborhood of Copperhill and Ducktown east of Chattanooga. Sisson kept up his fiddling, though, and in 1921 he won first place in a Tennessee State Old Time Fiddlers Contest.

The post World War I old time music revival gained momentum in the next few years. In 1925, Sisson traveled up to Thomas Alva Edison's recording studio in  East Orange, New Jersey where he recorded ten tunes, including some of his own original compositions. These were the only commercial recordings Sisson ever made.

Sisson's grandson James Carson Sisson notes that his grandfather brought back a radio set when he returned from New Jersey, and that he would invite the neighbors in to listen to music. The recording and broadcasting of old time music continued to blossom until the Great Depression commenced following the stock market crash of 1929.

Allen Sisson and his wife Annie Payne Sisson continued to live in the Copperhill area . Annie died in April of 1951 and Allen died a few months later on September 22 , 1951 in Copperhill, Tennessee. Both of them were laid to rest in a cemetery in Fannin County, Georgia, where she was born and raised.

Allen Sisson (fiddle) with piano accompaniment
"Rhymer's Favorite"
Edison, 1925

Allen Sisson (fiddle) with piano accompaniment
"Grey Eagle" (key of C)
Edison 1925

Allen Sisson, fiddle with piano accompaniment
"Katy Hill" (key of G)
Edison 1925

Allen Sisson, fiddle with piano accompaniment
"Walking Water Reel" (very similar to "Cumberland Gap) (Key of G)
Edison, 1925

Allen Sisson, fiddle and piano accompaniment
"Kentucky Wagoner" (key of C) (also known as "Wagoner," "Tennessee Wagoner," and "Wild Wagoner"
Edison, 1925

You can hear Allen Sisson's unissued recordings of "Kaiser's Defeat Jig" and "Sally Brown Jig" on the Document Records CD COUNTRY MUSIC PIONEERS ON EDISON: http://www.rhapsody.com/album/country-music-pioneeers-on-edison

Tennessee Mountaineers (unaccompanied congregational gospel singers)

At The River

Standing On The Promises

Tennessee Ramblers (from Anderson County, Tennessee)

Preacher Got Drunk


Sketch of Dudley Vance, Chinquapin Grove, Sullivan County, Tennessee by Thomas Hart Benton

Vance's Tennessee Breakdowners
Dudley Vance was the fiddler; his son Red Vance was also a great old time fiddler

Tennessee Breakdown Okeh 81389 9/22/27 http://snd.sc/hXlDlK

Washington County Fox Chase http://snd.sc/hERjSu

Ragged Ann (Ragtime Annie)