Originally created 01/25/02

Ramblin' Rhodes: Georgians were present at the birth of country music



It was 55 years ago that Grand Ole Opry star Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys performed at the Southeastern Fiddlers Convention in Augusta.

His band for the Jan. 28, 1947, show in the City Auditorium (later renamed Bell Auditorium) included guitarist Lester Flatt, banjo player Earl Scruggs, fiddler Robert Russell "Chubby" Wise and bass player Cedric Rainwater (whose real name was Howard Watts).

Mr. Flatt and Mr. Scruggs left the group the next year to form the Foggy Mountain Boys, with Mr. Wise and Mr. Rainwater.

According to an advertisement I found through The Augusta Chronicle's new Web archive search site, augustaarchives.com, "fiddlers from all over the country" were in Augusta for the convention in 1947.

Such performances had long been popular in Augusta and the South.

The Old Fiddlers' Convention had lasted four days at the Grand Opera House (at Eighth and Greene streets) in mid-March 1915.

"Such well-known old fiddlers as John Carson from Blue Ridge Gap (Ga.) will be on hand with his famous hound dog, Jim," The Chronicle reported.

"Gid Tanner from Gainesville (Ga.), who it is said possesses a double-barreled voice, and J.C. Strickland from the regions of Sand Mountain (Ala.) will be thar (that's the way it was published) with his trusty old fiddle. Mr. Strickland is a brewer of corn juice, and he can make some juice it is said; however, as a fiddler he is best."

The names of John Carson and Gid Tanner may be unfamiliar, but both are important figures in country music history.

Mr. Carson, who was inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in 1984, is said to have made the first commercial country music recordings and have given birth to the country music industry.

In 1923, furniture dealer Paul Brockman talked Ralph Peer, president of Okeh Records, into bringing his recording equipment to Atlanta to record Mr. Carson.

Mr. Peer set up a studio in a vacant building on Nassau Street on June 14, 1923, and recorded Mr. Carson playing Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane and The Old Hen Cackled and the Rooster's Going to Crow. The initial pressing of 500 records sold out in a month, and Okeh Records invited Mr. Carson to record 12 more songs in New York City.

Mr. Carson never enjoyed financial success from his pioneer work. He was almost penniless when he died on Dec. 11, 1949, after spending his last years as an elevator operator in the Georgia Capitol.

James Gideon "Gid" Tanner fared a bit better because he kept his day job as a north Georgia chicken farmer.

Nine years after playing at Augusta's fiddlers' convention in 1915, 38-year-old Mr. Tanner was invited to record in New York for Columbia Records. He took along his friend, blind singer and guitarist George Riley Puckett.

On March 7, 1924, Mr. Tanner and Mr. Puckett became the first Southern country artists to record for Columbia Records. They came back home and formed the Skillet Lickers band, with which they made several hundred more recordings.

Mr. Puckett was inducted into the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in 1986, followed by Mr. Tanner in 1988.

Don Rhodes has written about country music for 31 years. He can be reached at (706) 823-3214 or at ramblin@morris.com.