This & That

Story published: 02-26-2014 • Print ArticleE-mail Story to a Friend

Dusting off the old record player

By Jack Swift

Handed down to me from my parents were some old 78-rpm records. Most of them were recordings of country or gospel songs with a few orchestra-style offerings as well. Those records were like nothing we see today. About the only thing those records have in common with the 45-rpm records, the 33 1/3-rpm records and the modern CDs (Compact Discs) are that they are round. And they were most certainly unlike the 8-Track or Cassette Tape recordings. Now there are new and improved electronic means of listening to music.

The recording industry was in its infancy in the ‘20s. Through the efforts of Ralph Peer of RCA, a recording session was held in Bristol, Tennessee in 1927. That session is often referred to as the “Big Bang” of country music. A session conducted by a representative of Columbia Records was held in Johnson City in 1928 further popularizing that type of music.

Anyway, the records I have include some of the most popular country acts of that time including Jimmie Rodgers (yes, that’s how his name was spelled), The Carter Family, Gilliam Banmon (G. B.) Grayson, Henry Whitter, The Cartwright Brothers, Fiddlin’ John Carson, Uncle Dave Macon, The Hill Billies, Vernon Dalhart, The Calahan Brothers, The Chuck Wagon Gang and others. Some of the record labels around then were Columbia, Victor, Radiex, Okeh, Romeo, Gennett, and Vocalion. I have a record that features The Monroe Brothers (Bill and Charlie) on the Bluebird label but I seem to have misplaced it for the time being.

I do have two records featuring G. B. Grayson and Henry Whitter. One of their songs titled “A Dark Road is a Hard Road to Travel,” is on the Victor label as is “The Red and Green Signal Lights.” The other is on the Gennett label featuring “Nobody’s Darling,” on one side and Handsome Molly” on the other side.

The duo of G. B. Grayson and Henry Whitter made many recordings in the three years they teamed up in the musical industry. Whittier played the guitar and harmonica and Grayson played the fiddle and sang lead vocals. My understanding the two were the first to perform the highly popular “Tom Dooley.” Of course that was a long time before The Kingston Trio made it famous.

Grayson was born on November 11, 1887 in Ashe County, North Carolina. He died in an auto accident near Damascus, Virginia on August 16, 1930. He was blinded in early childhood. He played for parties, on street corners and other gatherings.

Whitter was born in 1892 in Fries, Virginia, in Grayson County. He died in 1940. The songs recorded by the two musicians has had an influence on music and musicians continuing up to today. Many of their songs were about trains, train wrecks, lost love and other themes. Both men were songwriters as well as professional performers.