Wednesday, December 22, 2004


flying home

The Blue Sky Boys, Kentucky.
Gene Autry, Little Big Dry

For the last post before Christmas, here are two celebrations of home.

The Blue Sky Boys were not from Kentucky--Bill and Earl Bolick were born in Hickory, North Carolina. They began singing in 1935 as another of the country "brother" acts so popular in the 1930s, and chose their slightly abstract touring name in part to stand out against the likes of the Shelton Brothers and the Rice Brothers and the Monroe Brothers. Earl played guitar, Bill mandolin; Earl sang lead baritone, Bill provided tenor harmony.

After the Bolicks came back from the war, they found things had changed. Under pressure from their record company to make songs about catting around and drinking for honky-tonk jukeboxes, the Blue Sky Boys instead became ever more fervent purists. While their old rivals the Delmore Brothers incorporated electric guitar and hillbilly stomp to reinvent their sound, the Bolicks' only concession to modern tastes was to add an occasional fiddle and bass. This constant war with record companies led the Blue Sky Boys to ultimately quit the game in 1951, though they re-formed a few times in the 1960s and 1970s.

"Kentucky" was recorded on May 7, 1947, in New York, with Samuel Parker helping on fiddle. One slight sign of racial progress--the original song's line about "darkeys singing in the silvery moonlight" was replaced by the Bolicks as "voices singing." The song is basically out of print, as I got it off a Smithsonian Country Music LP set, and I can find no place to find it on CD other than a massively comprehensive and massively expensive CD set.

Where the Blue Sky Boys turned Kentucky into a lost Eden, Gene Autry's Little Big Dry is not even a backwater, which gives the singer a humble pride.

Autry needs no introduction--he, along with John Wayne, Randolph Scott, John Ford and Roy Rogers, turned the dirty and chaotic settling of the American west into the country's national mythology. He was also the best singer among them.

"Little Big Dry", recorded on December 5, 1947, can be found here. It was used in the odd film "Riders of the Whistling Pines", which featured Autry flying a DDT-spraying plane.

Merry Christmas, and see you in a week.

No comments: