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Earl Johnson question

GUEST,Richie 31 Aug 07 - 11:53 AM
GUEST,Hootenanny 31 Aug 07 - 12:22 PM
GUEST,Richie 31 Aug 07 - 05:21 PM
Mark Ross 31 Aug 07 - 06:05 PM
GUEST,Hootenanny 31 Aug 07 - 06:23 PM
GUEST,Richie 31 Aug 07 - 08:22 PM
GUEST,Richie 31 Aug 07 - 08:32 PM
GUEST,Richie 31 Aug 07 - 09:17 PM
Stewie 31 Aug 07 - 11:21 PM
Stewie 31 Aug 07 - 11:34 PM
Stewie 01 Sep 07 - 12:14 AM
GUEST,Richie 01 Sep 07 - 08:23 AM
Fred McCormick 01 Sep 07 - 09:39 AM
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Subject: Earl Johnson question
From: GUEST,Richie
Date: 31 Aug 07 - 11:53 AM


Does anyone know of any interview old-time fidler Earl Johnson (and his Dixie Entertainers) did?

Are there any good bios (prefer not on the internet) in books? what happened to Johnson after 1930 when he stopped recording?

Does someone know to what extent and what recordings he made with Fiddlin' John Carson?

Does anyone know about The Dixie String Band that Earl first recorded with in 1925? I know Red Henderson played guitar and Arthur Tanner banjo. Who else played fiddle- Clayton McMichen?

When (and what bands) did Johnson play with Fate Norris?



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Subject: RE: Earl Johnson question
From: GUEST,Hootenanny
Date: 31 Aug 07 - 12:22 PM

I suggest you get a hold of or check out in your library Tony Russll's Country music discography which will give you all the recording dates. Don't think there are any published interviews but you could try the book 'Fiddlin Georgia Crazy' about John Carson.This might include some info on Earl Johnson.


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Subject: RE: Earl Johnson question
From: GUEST,Richie
Date: 31 Aug 07 - 05:21 PM

Thanks Hoot,

I don't think Tony Russell knows the other fiddler in that session but he might know the date. I have it as June 7, 1925, which needs corroboration. At the session was the first recording of Chinese Breakdown.

I'll check out Fiddlin' Gone Crazy because all these musicians were from the Atlanta area except maybe Byrd Moore Earl's first guitar player.

Ther's not much on Moore and no one lists him as living in Georgia, but I guess he had to since he played with the Dixie Entertainers.

Still don't know enough about the Dixie String Band other than five or six rotating players. McMichen is listed as belonging so I'm guessing it has to be before the Skillet Lickers in 1926-27.


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Subject: RE: Earl Johnson question
From: Mark Ross
Date: 31 Aug 07 - 06:05 PM

Byrd Moore may have been from North Carolina. I seem to remember that Clarence Ashley played with him in Byrd Moore's Hotshots.

Mark Ross

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Subject: RE: Earl Johnson question
From: GUEST,Hootenanny
Date: 31 Aug 07 - 06:23 PM

Speaking strictly from memory I believe it was Moore who did a disappearing trick and nobody knew where he went.


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Subject: RE: Earl Johnson question
From: GUEST,Richie
Date: 31 Aug 07 - 08:22 PM

I have some notes on Byrd Moore; I'll post it later. Maybe you can add to it. Here's the first section of my notes on Johnson:

Atlanta was the hub of early Country Music in the 1920's. The Georgia Old-Time Fiddlers' Convention was a nationally covered event and WSB radio began broadcasts country performers in 1922 like Fiddlin' John Carson, Rob and daughter Roba Stanley, Riley Puckett, Gid Tanner, Clayton McMichen and Earl Johnson. The major recording companies Columbia, Victor and Okeh all did "field" recordings in Atlanta. They set up portable studios hoping to discover another Fiddlin' John Carson or Riley Puckett.

Earl Johnson formed his own band after winning first prize at Georgia Old-Time Fiddlers' Convention in 1926. He was tired of playing second fiddle in the shadow of Fiddlin' John Carson. Earl Johnson and his Dixie Entertainers played the wild an exuberant style of music that typified the Atlanta string band sound. They were more than just a clone of Gid Tanner and His Skillet Lickers, the Atlanta super-band that had struck pay dirt in the early "hillybilly" market.

The Dixie Entertainers brought their own songs to the recording table and on Feb. 21, 1927 they began their recording career with Okeh, the label that had discovered Fiddlin' John Carson. By now Ralph Peer was gone and had found greener pastures with the Victor label. Later that summer he would host the "big bang" of Country Music in Bristol and with The Carter Family and Jimmie Rodgers' song copyrights securely under his belt would become Country's most powerful recording mogul.

Earl Johnson was born Robert Earl Johnson on August 24, 1886 in Gwinnett County, Georgia. He learned violin techniques under the tutelage of his father and a correspondence course and formed his first group with his brothers Albert (banjo) and Ester (guitar). When both of his brothers died in 1923, he played second fiddle with the then well known Fiddlin John Carson and his band the Virginia Reelers, and occasionally played with the popular Georgia Yellow Hammers (Phil Reeve, the Yellow Hammer's manager, guitarist and singer, was born in 1896. A man of many talents he was also a piano tuner and organized a brass band. In 1916 he was a known as a yodeler, and later became manager of Johnson's group. Reeve had contacts with Victor records and later managed other Atlanta artists).

Johnson had a reputation that he could play both classical violin pieces and standard fiddle tunes. After trying classic violin he supported the traditional ways of playing the fiddle, according to Earl Johnson: "Back when I was younger I got the idea that violin music might be better than fiddle music so I gave it a good try. I studied several months under a well-known teacher and the longer I worked the more I realized that the fiddle furnished the superior type of music. The violinist doesn't play his own music he translates somebody else's ideas. And he concentrates so hard on getting his notes, his rests and all the other details the way the composer wrote them that he can put himself into the music. But a fiddler can cut loose, if he doesn't like the tune he can improve on it."

WSB and Fiddlin' John Carson:
Radio station WSB, "The Voice of the South" was sponsored by The Atlanta Journal, the newspaper that "covers Dixie like the dew." The first broadcast was March 15, 1922 and the varied programming included Country Music, indicative of the progressive spirit of the station's general manager, Lambdin Kay, known as "The Little Colonel" throughout the world of radio. Fiddlin' John Carson is thought to have been the first country musician on WSB. The unconfirmed date of his first performance was on his birthday, March 23, 1922 only one week after the station opened.

Like Fiddlin' John Carson and Gid Tanner, Earl Johnson became a fiddler on WSB as early as 1922 the first year they broadcast. Through his connections at WSB and the Atlanta Fiddler's Convention, Johnson became friends with Carson and was invited him to become part of his string band the Virginia Reelers in 1924. [Fiddlin' John Carson and His Virginia Reelers: John Carson - voice and fiddle, Earl Johnson - fiddle, Moonshine Kate Carson - guitar or banjo, T. M. "Bully" Brewer - guitar or banjo.]

Some of the songs Johnson recorded by the Virginia Reelers were "Christmas Time Will Soon Be Over," "Did he Ever Return," "Don't Let Your Deal Go Down," "Peter Went Fishing," and instrumental like the "Arkansas Traveler." Through John Carson's Virginia Reelers recording sessions with Okeh Earl Johnson established a working relationship and had no trouble scheduling his own band with Okeh. Johnson still continued his sessions with the Carsons and the Virginia Reelers. Both bands recorded two sessions for Okeh in Atlanta from October 7-11, 1927.

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Subject: RE: Earl Johnson question
From: GUEST,Richie
Date: 31 Aug 07 - 08:32 PM

Byrd Moore did play with Tom Ashley and fiddler Clarence Greene in Byrd Moore and his Hot Shots. They were "dicovered" by Frank Walker with Columbia in the famous Johnson city sesions in 1929.

Amazingly Moore recorded or played with:

Fiddlin Powers Family
Earl Johnson
Dock Boggs
Clarence Ashley
Melvin Robinette
Burnette and Rutherford
Clarence Greene and Jess Johnston

A drifter and itinerant musician, Byrd Moore was born (as William B. Moore) in 1899 in Blackwater, VA. A gifted guitarist and singer, he drifted through Virginia, Kentucky, Georgia and Tennessee most of his life, making money as a barber when he wasn't playing music. He lived in Whitesburg, KY where he married in the early 1920's.

When he was in KY he lived briefly with the family of The Fiddlin' Powers and taught Carrie Bell Powers to play guitar. In the mid-1920s he played regularly with Dock Boggs in and around Wise Co. Moore worked regularly and recorded with fiddler Melvin Robinette in 1929. He also spent some time performing with Burnette and Rutherford in Monticello KY.

He recorded for Okeh as a side-man for Clarence Greene and Jess Johnston. During the 1930s he was married to a bootlegger in Esserville, VA. By the 1940s he was burdened by a difficult drinking problem and diabetes. In the late 40s he was found broke and in ill health in a Wise County Poorhouse where he died in 1949.


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Subject: RE: Earl Johnson question
From: GUEST,Richie
Date: 31 Aug 07 - 09:17 PM

This is the second installment of my notes on Earl Johnson:

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.

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).

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Subject: RE: Earl Johnson question
From: Stewie
Date: 31 Aug 07 - 11:21 PM

Russell does not know the identity of the second fiddler in Dixie String Band. He gives the recording date as 'c June 1925', probably NY. He lists 6 recordings under 'Dixie String Band' name. There are another 6, also 'c June 1925' issued as 'Arthur Tanner', with Johnson and Henderson accompanying him. At the same time, there was also Earl Johnson and Lee Henderson 'Merry Widow Waltz'.

Russell's entries for this band are under his Arthur Tanner discography. He does not list 'Chinese Breakdown'. The 6 recordings cited are: 'Atlanta Special', 'Chickens Roost Too High for Me', 'Leather Breeches', 'Soldier's Joy', 'Show Me the Way to Go Home' and 'Birmingham Rag'. Also 'Whoa, Mule, Whoa' issued under Tanner's name. Russell notes that there are several untraced matrices that are probably by the group.

In Russell's entries for Earl Johnson and Fate Norris, there are no recordings listed where they played together.

In respect of Johnson playing with Carson, Russell gives:

FJC & His Virginia Reelers Atlanta session 1 July 1925, 'Earl Johnson and/or T.M. Brewer fiddle on: 'Flat-Footed Nigger', 'Bully of the Town', 'Hop Light Lady', 'The Hawk and the Buzzard', 'Hell Broke Loose in Georgia'.

Fiddlin' John Carson Atlanta session 10 October 1927, Johnson played fiddle on: 'Old Joe Clark', 'Gonna Swing on the Golden Gate' and 'If You Can't Get the Stopper Out Break the Neck'.

FJC Atlanta session 11 October 1927, Johnson played on: 'The Smoke Goes Out the Chimney Just the Same', 'Goind Down to Cripple Creek, 'Quit That Ticklin' Me', 'It Won't Happen Again for a Hundred Years or More', 'Christmas Time Will Soon Be Over' and 'Run Along Home, Sandy'.

Fiddlin' John Carson Atlanta session 10 August 1928, Johnson on: 'Moonshine Kate' and 'John Makes Good Licker'.

In his biography of Carson, Earl Wiggins notes that, early in his roadshow career, Carson was accompanied by 2 men named Earl Johnson and that the Carsons 'a half-century later distinguished them by calling them 'Fiddlin' Earl' and 'Freckle-Faced Earl'. The latter Earl Johnson 'was a comic, sometimes in blackface, and a player on the one-string, cigar-box fiddle and the musical saw'. [G.Wiggins: 'Fiddlin' Georgia Crazy' Uni Illinois Press 1987, p66].

There are a few paragraphs on Johnson in 'Georgia Stringbands: A Brief Survey by Tony Russell' in 'Old Time Music' No.4 Spring 1972'. I will reproduce them below (if my fingers stand up to the typing):

Meanwhile Okeh continued to record Carson's Virginia Reelers, and signed Earl Johnson's band. Carson had established himself early with his broadcasts on WSB Atlanta, the first of which was on September 9, 1922 reported thus in the next day's Atlanta Journal:

'Another week of splendid progress woundup at WSB with a whirl of good music and entertaining novelties ... For instance, Fiddlin' John Carson, champion southern bowman, fresh from Fannin County and keyed up for the oldtime fiddlers' convention in the auditorium September 28 and 29, is an institution in himself and his singing of 'The Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane' and the playing of 'The Old Hen Cackles', by Fiddlin' John and his four cronies, T.M. Brewer, of Knoxville, guitarist, L.E. Akin, of Hall County, banjoist, and Earl Johnson, of Gwinnett County, was enough to put any program over with a rush'.

Here again was the line-up of two fiddles, banjo and guitar, and it was to be used on a number of Carson's band sides, of which Okeh issued 50-odd between 1924 and 1930. Earl Johnson was second fiddler, playing the high part, and Brewer and Akin - the rest of the '22 radio band - may have been on the records too, though it is possible that John's daughter Rosa Lee (Moonshine Kate) sometimes played the banjo.

Rythmically the Virginia Reelers were more earth-bound than the Skillet Lickers, for their banjo-guitar 'rhythm section' was rather static than dynamic. Thus, their recordings of 'Jesse James'/'Swanee River' (1927, Okeh 45139) are a little too explicitly underscored, though they remain nice melodic versions of the tunes, and the latter has very pleasant vocal harmonising. From a later 1927 session came 'Gonna Swing on the Golden Gate'/'Hell Bound for Alabama' (OK 45159). The former is a variant of 'Hold the Woodpile Down' and one of the most joyfully performed stringband recordings I know. Earl Johnson's demented arabesques over Carson's statement of the melody greatly enhance the general brio. 'Hell Bound', based on an old coon shout, is a splendid example of a north Georgia band at its most energetic, and the controlled tension and insistent forward movement are admirably captured. Almost as good is 'Christmas Time Will Soon Be Over' (OK 45273, Cy 514), recorded a couple of days later. Again, Johnson decorates furiously at the top of the acoustic range, while further down Carson leads with authority ...

Earl Johnson's records, with bands called either The Dixie Entertainers or The Clodhoppers, do not usually feature twin fiddles, but give more attention to the banjoist (Emmett Bankston, on at least some sessions), who plays in a hard, percussive, frailing style. They also have adept guitarists, such as Red Henderson and Byrd Moore. Henderson, an Alabamian, may be heard on 'Earl Johnson's Arkansas Traveler' (1927, OK 45156, Cy 514); Moore, a Virginian, was on at least two earlier sessions, occasionally taking the vocals. (He also recorded for Gennett and Columbia, with Clarence Greene, Clarence Ashley and others). Excellent examples of Earl Johnson's excitable, nervous manner are 'Leather Breeches'/'Red Hot Breakdown' (1927, OK 45209, Hi HLP8003) and, from the same date, 'All Night Long' (OK 45383, OT X101). Johnson was probably of an age midway between that of Carson (b. 1868) and that of McMichen (b. 1900), but he seems to have inclined towards the repertoire of the older man, and his recorded work includes little of the popular and jazz material which McMichen employed. Like Carson, he eschewed waltzes, preferring traditional fiddle tunes and the brisker melodies of the minstrel shows.

It should be kept in mind that the above comments by Russell were made 34 years ago! In his recently-published discography, Russell does not indicate Johnson on fiddle on 'Christmas Time Will Soon Be Over'. However, given his strong comments in the article above, I included it among the 11 October 1927 titles.


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Subject: RE: Earl Johnson question
From: Stewie
Date: 31 Aug 07 - 11:34 PM

In his discography in the insert for 'Fiddlin' John Carson Vol 5' Document DOCD-8018, Russell has Johnson on fiddle for 'Christmas Time ...' and also on 'The Little Log Cabin By The Stream'. The entry for the latter in Russell's recent discography, 'Country Music Records, also does not indicate Johnson. Curious!


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Subject: RE: Earl Johnson question
From: Stewie
Date: 01 Sep 07 - 12:14 AM

My apologies, Richie. There is no confusion - I misread Russell's discography. Therefore, to the titles given for the 10 October 1927 session add: 'Did He Ever Return', 'Engineer on the Mogull' and 'Hell Bound for Alabama'.

For 11 October 1927 titles add: 'Turkey in the Hay', 'Little Log Cabin in the Stream' and (the already-added) 'Christmas Time Will Soon Be Over'.

No additions to the 10 August 1928 session.


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Subject: RE: Earl Johnson question
From: GUEST,Richie
Date: 01 Sep 07 - 08:23 AM

Thanks Stewie,

According to Meade The Dixie String Band's "Atlanta Special" is their name for the bluegrass standard "Chinese Breakdown."

All the best,


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Subject: RE: Earl Johnson question
From: Fred McCormick
Date: 01 Sep 07 - 09:39 AM

You might have checked this out already but the booklet notes to Document DOCD-8005 Earl Johnson Vol 1 refer to an article by Donal Lee Nelson. "Earl Johnson-Professional Musician. JEMF Quarterly X:4 No 36. Winter 1974.

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