Early Commercial Country: "Hillbilly Music"
  1. In the early 1920s the commercial music industry was dominated by New York music publishing companies who had no interest in "race records," "hillbilly music," or any other alternative to the popular music of the time.
    1. The American Society of Composers, Authors, and Performers ensured the payment of royalties to member publishers and composers for the use of their material; they were also effective in excluding the works of non-members from the major music halls. Virtually all country, blues, and jazz composers were excluded from membership until the 1940s.
    2. The American Federation of Musicians, which had contracts with most major performance venues that permitted only members to perform, used sight-reading tests to effectively bar most country music performers from membership. In the South and Southwest regions, howver, the union had less control and country performers could more easily find work.
    3. Performance opportunities for country performers included community dances, fiddling contests, "street-corner" musicians, and social and political events, and as an attraction for salesmen (most typically the sellers of patent medicine).
  2. American popular music was urban-oriented, with marketing directed toward areas of greatest accesibility and highest population density, and (presumably, at least) people with the most disposable income.
    1. Decisions about what constituted the "country" market had yet to be made. Interestingly, however, record company executives made the strategic decision to market white and African American recordings separately.
    2. Although distinctions were made between "rural" and "urban" preferences, the South was not identified as a separate region in terms of marketing or musical influences. Some researchers are critical of the notion of the "Southernness" of early country, although the music quickly became identified with the South.
  3. The rapid growth of radio as a means of entertainment and information exchange, particularly for rural areas, radically trnsformed the entertainment industry.
    1. Although the lowest percentage of radio ownership overall was found in the South, it still fared better than the phonograph as a source of cheap and abundant entertainment. Moreover, live music broadcast over the radio sounded better than phonograph records of the period.
    2. The first radio station to feature the emerging music was WSB in Atlanta, which began broadcasting March 16, 1922.
    3. Much of the programming on early country stations centered around live performances. Programs were not necessarily aired at consistant times.

    4. George Hay
    5. the Radio Barn Dance:
      1. January 4, 1923, WBAP in Fort Worth featured a 90-minute program of square-dance music. This was the first of the radio barn dances, and it most likely triggered the wave of such programs.
      2. Chicago station WLS aired a show beginning around April 19, 1924 that eventually became Radio Barn Dance, the first such show to gain national recognition. Its repertory was broader than most shows in the barn dance format, however.
      3. George Hay moved from Chicago and Radio Barn Dance to Nashville and the new station WSM. He started a program called WSM Barn Dance; its first show on November 28, 1925 featured Uncle Jimmy Thompson and his niece, Eva Thompson Jones. Two years later Hay renamed the show the Grand Ole Opry. Until Roy Acuff joiuned the Opry, Uncle Dave Macon was the star vocalist on the program.
    6. Radio provided an outlet for country artists to promote their music to larger audiences.
  4. The recording industry suffered temporary setbacks in the early 1920s and were forced to increase their efforts to find new markets.
    1. According to Malone, the recording of early "rustic" talent was at least partly a byproduct of the search for African American talent to meet the demand for "race" records.
      1. Mamie Smith's recording of "Crazy Blues" prompted a search by Ralph Peer and others for "native singers in their own habitats."
      2. The white "hillbilly" recording industry resulted partly from this search.

    2. "Eck" Robertson
      Claims for the earliest country recording might include:
      1. Fiddlin' John Carson's recording from mid-June 1923. Although the record executive from New York considered the result "Aweful," he agreed to a pressing of 500 copies, and then a thousand more, for sale in the Atlanta region.
      2. Alexander Campbell "Eck" Robertson and Henry Gilliland, while playing at a Civil War veteran's reunion in mid-June 1922, travelled to New York to audition for the Victor company. Although recorded before Carson, this recording may have been released later. Robertson's rendition of "Sallie Gooden" is still considered a classic.
  5. Concerning the term "hillbilly:"
    1. Varying sources for the word have been advanced. Its first known use in American print comes from The New York Journal, April 23.1900. A "Hill-Billie" was described as "a free and untrammelled white citizen of Alabama, who lives in the hills, has no means to speak of, dresses as he can, talks as he pleases, drinks whiskey when he gets it, and fires off his revolver as the fancy takes him."
    2. It may have its origins as a Scottish colloquialism, combining "hill-folk," a derogatory term reflecting religious/political differences, and "billie" as a synonym for "companion" or "comrade."
    3. Its attachment to the music is at least partly due to the term's inclusion in the names of two bands:
      1. In January 1925, a Al and Joe Hopkins, Tony Alderman, and John Rector recorded for Okeh. Ralph Peer christened the group "The Hill Billies" based on an off-hand comment by Al Hopkins.
      2. According to Wayne Daniel, a group known as "George Daniell's Hill Billies" deserves priority for the name because of an early (probably Feb. 18, 1925) appearance on WSB.

  6. Vernon Dalhart
    Some important figures include:
    1. Ralph Peer.
    2. Fiddlin' John Carson (see Malone, p. 37-8).
    3. "Eck" Robertson.
    4. Uncle Dave Macon.
    5. Vernon Dalhart.
    6. the Skillet Lickers (see Malone, p. 52-3).
    7. Bradley Kincaid (see Malone, p. 55).
  7. The issue of "authenticity" in early country music: was hillbilly music "constructed" by the radio and recording industries, or did it merely reflect the rustic music of the time?

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