Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Barn Dance on the radio!

In the early days of radio, the recording industry divided music into two primary categories: race music and hillbilly music. If you hadnt' guessed those are euphamisms for black people and white people. For the record, the adjective hillbilly is also derived from music. It's first appearance is in Uncle Dave Macon's "Hill Billie Blues" circa 1924. More here.

The Barn Dance was originated in Scotland in the 1860's. It was also known as the "Pas de Quartre" which basically was a generic term for any American folk dancing. A barn raising was a community event, and afterwards a party was given to all involved hands. Pretty much only the amish build barns in America now so we dont see these so much anymore since the Amish don't allow that deviant stuff goin' on.

Early Country Radio Timeline
1910 John Lomax publishes "Frontier Ballads"
1916 Cecil Sharp publishes Appalachian folk songs
1922 Eck Robertson, cuts the first recording of Mountain music.
1922 WBAP launches first barn dance
1923 Little Old Log Cabin by Ralph Peer is a national hit
1925 Carl Sprague records cowboy songs
1924 WLS debuts barn dance
1924 Vernon Dalhart sells 1 million copies of "The Prisoner’s Song"
1925 WSM launches the barn dance that becomes Grand Ole Opry
1927 Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers cut first records
1928 First record is made in Nashville

Timeline contines here.

Eventually there came to be a multitude of small regional radio barn dance programs, (WRVA for example) but there were 3 big national ones. 820 WBAP-AM in Fort-Worth launched the first barn dance progam in 1923 shortly after WSM debuted hillbilly music. Thsi program really defined the radio barn dance. It even had cadance callers like a typical barn dance. A real barn dance has dance callers. A caller is a musician who shounts out dance movements. These are specificly times and on many old time recordings are ill-timed. [When your club DJ tells you to raise the roof... that's the same thing so dont get smug kid.] Little story here .

In 1922, WSM-AM was the first to broadcast these mountain songs to its audience. WSM is famous world-round for the Opry, the afformentoned Mr. Macon quite appropriately was one of the first stars of the Grand Ole Opry. It was Nashville's first radio station and the Barn dance they began broadcasting in 1923 would eventually change name to "Grand Ole Opry". Until his death in 1952, "Uncle Dave" Macon regularly performed on the radio show.

On April 19th 1924, Chicago's radio station WLS-AM began broadcasting a barn dance that could be heard throughout the Midwest. The WLS National Barn Dance had music, comedy and skits. The program ran for more than 50 years. Regularly featured were : Gene Autry, Lulu Belle and Scotty, Pat Buttram, George Gobel, and The DeZurik Sisters. Read about it here. In 1949, ABC attempted to lanuch a version of the program for TV. Sadly it tanked after only a few months. ABC Moved the program to to WGN-AM in 1960. In 1944,the show's origins were made the topic of a feature film of the same name. It sucked.

The barn dances are largely gone now, but some programs try to keep thatlantern lit like Don & Steve's BIG Fresno Barn Dance on KFSR in Fresno here. [Click the header to hear the Coon Creek Girls on the Renfro Valley Barn Dance on WHAS.]

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous12:46 PM

    One of the venues you list, the world famous Grand Ole Opry is now trying to remove some of the famous older stars from the performing stage.

    Last summer I had a most pleasurable conversation with 79-year-old Charlie Louvin who just released a new CD featuring one song with Elvis Costello. Charlie also did a number of shows with Elvis Presley in the 1950’s. While backstage in southern Wisconsin as he smoked a few cigarettes and signed my guitar and autographs for folks who ambled by, he kept telling me stories about the days traveling and singing with his brother, Ira. I was very interested in his stories and he seemed to get quite nostalgic as he spoke. Many a week would end for the famous brothers as they made a mad dash from far-flung places to get back to “The Mother Church of Country Music”, the Ryman Auditorium, and their set for the Opry stage. To be a member of the Opry one had to perform 26 times a year, and was paid $15.00, a far cry from what could be made on the road. Charlie estimated that an act lost on average over $50,000 per year, but he was proud to be a part of the Opry and never complained.

    But now Louvin and others are losing their health insurance due to limited performances, as salaries from those performances are the basis for coverage from the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. There is something so very wrong with this action by Gaylord Entertainment and what it says about one of our most remarkable slices of Americana, The Grand Ole Opry.