Wednesday, December 01, 2004


look to the west

Delmore Brothers, Mobile Boogie.

By 1947, the Delmores, Alton and Rabon, had come a great distance from their birthplace of Elkmont, Alabama. They had been one of the many brother acts that were a staple of 1930s country, and had headlined at the Grand Ole Opry from 1932 to 1938. But after the war, the Delmores transformed themselves into a hillbilly boogie band; indeed, they wrote the song that gave the movement its name in 1946.

The Delmores had had a rough time in the early '40s, bumming around for work, and then Rabon had to go solo for a time when Alton was drafted. By ’45, they had settled in Memphis, were recording for King Records, one of the great postwar independent labels, and were imbibing Memphis’ concoction of blues and boogie. Their music became faster, electrified and grittier.

Alton, eight years Rabon's elder, had taught Rabon how to play guitar, and their typical sound was for Alton to drive the rhythm while Rabon played lead. However, on occasion, they dueled each other for the lead, and there is no better example than “Mobile Boogie.” Alton solos first, to Rabon’s hollering encouragement, until Rabon pushes in with a whoop and powers through his solo, seeming to pluck his strings with steel-tipped fingers. After a verse and chorus, the brothers rock out together, crafting some of most swinging guitar lines ever recorded.

Here is the best collection of the Delmores' postwar work.

The above painting, Edward Hopper's Pennsylvania Coal Town, can be seen at the Butler Institute of American Art, in Youngstown, Ohio.

No comments: