Document Records - Vintage Blues and Jazz

Country Music People review of Country Music Pioneers On Edison

Country Music Pioneers On Edison

This is a fascinating - and important - collection of recordings made by the Edison Company between 1922 and 1929. In 1976, collector Marritt Malvern was given the task of transferring a library of Edison masters to archive tape, and Country Music Pioneers is the first (hopefully) in a series documenting this vital part of country and popular music history.
Although the booklet states that 90% of these were unissued, according to the monumental Tony Russell discography, Country Music Records, A Discography, 1921-1942, most have catalogue numbers allocated to them, which would indicate release.
Certainly one artist not even mentioned in Russell's tome is Shirley Spalding whose recording of Somewhere In Dixie, made in 1922,  is the earliest here. So little is known of this musician, if anything, that the CDs artist bio's fail to mention him or her at all. In fact, Somewhere In Dixie is an arresting banjo piece, heavy in the mistrel tradition, that must have been a swansong of that magical minstrel era which, although now regarded as politically incorrect, produced a wealth of music that continues to be sung and hummed to this day.
An odd name to find on this collection is that of Gene Austin, better known as the crooner who enjoyed a multi-million seller with My Blue Heaven during the Charleston era. In 1924, three years before that historic release, he recorded many songs with blind guitarist/harp player George Reneau, two of which are included here, The Railroad Blues and as The Blue Ridge Duo, Lonesome Road Blues. In fact the former title is listed as a Vocalion, not Edison, release by Russell, but perhaps this is an unissued re-cut made by the pair when they recorded for Edison.
Of course, back in the Twenties, it wasn't unusual for the singers and musicians to record the same titles over again for different labels - these were the years before heavy contracts and even heavier lawyers invaded the music business.
The most prolific of these multi-take performers were Vernon Dalhart and his longtime partner Carson Robison who, together and separately recorded under many names. A tune in point is the delightful Just A Melody which the duo first recorded with When You're Far Away on June 16, 1926 for Brunswick. A day later, they were in the studio again recording the same two titles for Columbia. One month on, July 16, finds them cutting the two tunes one more time, now for Okeh, and then finally for Edison, the version here, on July 26.
Garth Brooks had nothing on these guys when it came to marketing.
Dalhart and Robison were at it again with Kinnie Wagner which they recorded for both Columbia and Vocalion two months apart in 1926, although Russell shows no listing for an Edison recording.
A novelty is Nonsense, by Carson Robison's Madcaps, a kind of predecessor to Sid Millward and the Nitwits. It's a wonderful, rollicking instrumental complete with swinging banjo, oboe and bassoon!
Others included here, in a collection to whet the appetite of every serious fan of oldtime music, are the banjoist Fred Van Eps, fiddlers Jasper Bisbee (the oldest entrant at eighty years of age when he recorded The Devil's Dream), Allen Sisson, Posey Rorer, James Powers (Fiddlin' Powers and Family), vocalist and guitarist Frank Marvin (as Frank Wallace) and the most well known, Pop Stoneman as himself and as the Dixie Mountaineers (and are the untraceable Rail Splitters also Stoneman under an assumed name?).
A cracking introduction to the country music history of a legendary record company. Can't wait for volume two.

Many  thanks to Craig Baguley for this review.



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