Country Music in the Depression

  1. The notion of "authenticity" in the 1930s - Although oral transmission of songs was still prevalent, the repertory began to include songs heard on the radio or from the phonograph.
  2. Country music becomes a distinct, recognisable, and marketable genre in its first commercial decade,
    1. Even during the depression, country music becomes an multi-faceted industry.
      1. Record companies are forced to reorganize, but several are successful.
      2. Sears-Roebuck and Montgomery Wards issue low-priced records, often dubbed from earlier master recordings
      3. Decca is organized in 1934 and offers $.35 records. Its roster soon included Bing Crosby.
    2. Decca's talent scout David Kapp introduces several new acts, many from the Southwest. This introduces music with a more "Western" character, including "cowboy" songs and "hot dance" music.
  3. Radio continued to be an important marketing tool for country artists.
    1. The Saturday night radio barn dances, broadcast on high-powered stations, provided the most exposure. Although the live atmosphere attempted to simulate a barn dance, the formats of most shows were intended for listening rather than dancing, more closely resembling a variety show.

      1. Cast members of National Barn Dance" - click image for more information
        National Barn Dance. WLS was the first radio station to construct a studio theatre, and Alka-Seltzer sponsored a 1-hour Saturday night segment on NBC beginning in 1933. Early performers included:
        1. Gene Autry
        2. the Cumberland Ridge Runners (from Berea and Mt. Vernon, KY).
        3. Founder John Lair eventually started the Renfro Valley Barn Dance.

      2. The Grand Ole Opry - WSM became a 50,000-watt station in 1932, and NBC aired a 30-minute broadcast beginning in 1939.
        1. Although he did not use the term, George Hay was probably "the most self-conscious architect of the radio hillbilly" (Peterson, p. 71). Vaudeville and minstrelcy provided the model for indentifiable, stereotypical characters. The appearance of Opry performers on stage was apparently not a concern until about 1928, when the Opry began to cater to a studio audience.
        2. Some of the early "true professionals" of the Opry included:
          1. the Vagabonds (1931).
          2. the Delmores (1933).
          3. Roy Acuff (1938).
          4. Bill Monroe (1939).
    2. The "Beverly Hill Billies" (1930-33)
      1. Glen Rice of KMPC, Beverly Hills, CA was possibly the most flagrant fabricator of the radio hillbilly.
      2. After a fictitious trip into the Santa Monica hills, Rice claimed to have found an isolated hillbilly community and invited its musicians to perform on radio. The actual performers were Los Angeles area performers and "movie hopefuls."
      3. The popularity of the Beverly Hill Billies on KMPC caused a few problems for Rice; fictitious details about the lives of the musicians prompted responses from the radio audience, who seemed to believe the stories and accept the group as authentic.
      4. Ken Griffis credits the Beverly Hill Billies with establishing country music on the West Coast and contributing to the founding of the Sons of the Pioneers.
    3. the "X-stations" and border radio.
      1. Dr. John R. Brinkley, a quack physician, owned KFKB and developed broadcasts containing vernacular music, advertisements for his products and services, and political content.
      2. After the FRC refused to renew his broadcasting license, he arranged with Mexico to build XER across the border from Del Rio, Texas.
      3. Other advertisers also made use of his station, many of which provided their own acts.
      4. The Carter Family was one of several acts to gain recognition through appearances on the "X" stations.
      5. By 1938 there were 11, several of which had over 50,000 watts of power (the maximum allowed in the US).
    4. The use of microphones, particularly the better quality ones being developed in the early 1930s, made possible a more intimate vocal style as well as the transmission or recording of more subtle or complex harmonies.
    5. The advertising connection and "PI" accounts.
  4. Women gained a measure of acceptance as artists in their own right during the 1930s.
    1. Myrtle Eleanor "Lulu Belle" Cooper.
    2. the Coon Creek Girls.

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