This is the second installment of my notes on Earl Johnson:
THE DIXIE STRING BAND:
Johnson recorded in June 7, 1925 for Paramount in Chicago with the Dixie String Band (with another fiddler maybe Clayton McMichen) and Lee "Red" Henderson guitar, Arthur Tanner -banjo and possible Webb Phillips- square dance calls. Some of the songs recorded were "Atlanta Special (Chinese Breakdown); "Show Me The Way To Go Home;" "Soldier's Joy;" "Leather Breeches;" and "Birmingham Rag (which Skillet Lickers called Hell Broke Loose in Georgia)." The session featured the first recording of the bluegrass standard "Chinese Breakdown."
Johnson also backed banjoist Arthur Tanner (Gid's son) singing "Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane" and "Knoxville Girl" at the same session. The Dixie String band later merged with Gibson Kings, the Atlanta duo of Gibson guitarist Charles Brooks and John Dilleshaw. According to Charles Wolfe it was then called the Gibson Kings Dixie String Band. Later incantations of the group included J. F. Mitchell (leader and fiddler); Anita Wheeler-fiddle; Lowe Stokes-fiddle; Charles Brooks-guitar; John Dilleshaw-guitar; F.G. Dearman mandolin; W.M. Powell fiddle; R.J. Bolton banjo. Both Wheeler (twice)and Stokes were championship fiddlers in the state of Alabama.
GEORGIA OLD-TIME FiDDLERS' CONVENTION:
Some of the most important figures in early Country Music received their first significant exposure as performers at the annual Georgia Old-Time Fiddlers' Conventions. Among them were A.A. Gray, Fiddlin' John Carson, Gid Tanner (of Dacula), Riley Puckett, Lowe Stokes, Earl Johnson and Clayton McMichen, all of whom went on to become nationally known radio and recording artists. Every year thousands would attend the Fiddlers' Convention, which was held from 1913 to 1935. Earl Johnson attended regularly from 1920 to 1934.
These events received copious coverage from Atlanta's three daily newspapers and attracted the attention of out-of-state journalists, who reported on them in nationally circulated newspapers and magazines. "It was not a whompus chorus," wrote one journalist, "neither does it resemble a shebang. It's more like a cross between a thing-a-ma-jig and a doo-lollie."
When a sixteen-year-old Lowe Stokes defeated the elder statesman of Georgia fiddlers, Fiddlin' John Carson, at the 1924 convention, the story was printed in the Literary Digest. In 1925 Stephen Vincent Benét published a poem titled "The Mountain Whippoorwill; or, How Hill-Billy Jim Won the Great Fiddlers Prize." The similarity between published reports of the Stokes/Carson contest and the events recounted in "The Mountain Whippoorwill" suggests the likely source for Benét's poem.
Unwittingly, the Country musicians who performed at the Georgia Old-Time Fiddlers' Conventions helped set the stage for the creation of commercial country music that would occur in the next decade; the use of old-time musicians as recording artists and as sources of live talent on radio broadcasts.
The annual fiddlers' conventions were held in the old Atlanta City Auditorium at the corner of Courtland and Gilmer Streets. A typical convention started on a Thursday and ended the following Saturday night. The Thursday and Friday night programs were exhibition, or warm-up, programs and featured string bands, comedians, dancers, singers, and other types of entertainers in addition to the fiddlers.
The contest, held on Saturday night, was usually followed by a square dance in the auditorium's Taft Hall (later Veterans' Memorial Hall).
Audiences for the fiddlers' conventions included former rural dwellers who had recently migrated to Atlanta in search of employment in the city's textile mills and other industries. Among others who attended to these annual musical events were local residents with rural Georgia roots who had become leaders in Atlanta's business and political arenas. On many occasions members of Atlanta's younger and urban-reared citizens came in search of something different in the way of entertainment.
After the Great Depression in 1929 interest in attending the event lessened. With competition from other such sources of entertainment as radio, motion pictures, and phonograph records, the Fiddlers' Convention began to lose its audience, and in 1935 it came to an end. During the conventions' heyday, crowned state champions included J. B. Singley (1913), Fiddlin' John Carson (1914, 1923, 1927), Shorty Harper (1915, 1916), John Silvey (1917), A. A. Gray (1918, 1921, 1922, 1929),, Lowe Stokes (1924, 1925), Earl Johnson (1926), Gid Tanner (1928), and Anita Sorrells Wheeler (1931, 1934).