I’m sad to report that “Rock & Roll and Country” - the final presentation in the Miners Hall Museum ‘Music of The Little Balkans’ series - has been postponed until a later unspecified date because of concerns about the coronavirus. I know many were planning to come and hear Jamie Ortolani’s presentation. I’ll keep you posted on its rescheduling.
In anticipation of the program, this past week I’ve been exploring the country and gospel music history of Southeast Kansas. Here’s some of what I found.
According to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame website, Carson J. Robison, who was raised on a farm in Oswego, Kansas, is likely the most recorded singer-songwriter in country music history.
Self taught on guitar, banjo, harmonica, and ukulele, he also learned the unique skill of two-tone whistling, sounding like two people whistling in harmony. He traveled to New York in 1924 where he was in demand as a session musician and whistler on records by superstar Gene Autry and others.
He teamed up with Vernon Dalhart and Frank Luther respectively, as he wrote such hits as ‘The Wreck of Old ’97’ and ‘Barnacle Bill the Sailor.” He later formed his own cowboy band and toured Europe before starring on radio for CBS and NBC, during which time he wrote the classic, “Carry Me Back to the Lone Prairie.”
During WW II Robison created topical songs about the conflict, after which he wrote his biggest career hit, the humorous “Life Gets Tee-Jus, Don’t It.” (There’s a great rendition online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=otIRqLEbr2w by Walter Brennan.) Ever attuned to changing tastes, Robison penned and recorded “Rockin’ and Rollin’ with Grandma” in 1956, the year before his death.
I have no evidence that Robison, when visiting relatives in Oswego, might have dropped by KOAM Radio or the newly established KOAM TV to play on their weekly live music program ‘Circle 7 Jamboree,’ but he just might have.
Maybe even the lunchtime ‘Melody Matinee,’ which was, when it ended in 1985, was the longest running, live, TV music program in the country.
Roy McGeorge, who played guitar and sang on both programs, had quite an extensive career previous coming here - touring the country, making transcriptions, and performing on radio stations with mandolin player, Lonnie Robertson, billing themselves as “Roy & Lonnie.”
They travelled from the Texas / Mexico border all through the Midwest up to Illinois and back, landing on KOAM radio in Pittsburg during the early days of WW II.
Shortly thereafter, Lonnie decided to split with Roy and move on with his wife, Thelma, as “The Down Home Folks” and Roy teamed with another mandolin player by the name of “Little Earl Bledsoe.”
Each weekday at noon, KOAM Radio broadcast a variety program called “Uncle Enoch and the Fiddledusters,” that featured music and comedic skits with Roy McGeorge playing the Uncle Enoch character.
Speaking of characters, A.J. Cripe, founder of A.J. Cripe Bakeries in Pittsburg, Independence and Coffeyville, was the show’s sponsor. A ham and natural showman, he often appeared on both the radio and TV show to promote A.J. Cripe’s Town Talk Bread and sing “The Little Red Fox.”
Besides McGeorge, musicians who moved from KOAM radio to “Circle 7 Jamboree” and “Melody Matinee” on KOAM TV included fiddler Shorty Prewitt (who also drove an A.J. Cripe Bakery delivery truck), guitarist and singer Virgil Glenn, mandolin player Little Earl Bledsoe, guitarist Bill Squires, pianists Vi Clark and Gwen Warden and former movie actor and “Fun Club” host Slim Andrews, “The 49er”, who played everything from washboard and kazoo to banjo and fiddle.
While talking to Roy’s son, Ralph McGeorge, who played bass and sang harmony with several area bands hereabouts over the last 50 years, I learned that the Jamboree crew also included the Brumley brothers, whose gospel musician, songwriter, and publisher father, Albert Brumley, ran a publishing business in Powell, Missouri (in eastern McDonald County where they no doubt tuned into KOAM radio).
Brumley, who published several of Roy McGeorge’s songbooks, was an outstanding composer who penned “I’ll Fly Away” and “Turn Your Radio On,” two classics that have been recorded and performed by countless artists.
Brumley’s son, Al Jr. — who played guitar and had a marvelous singing voice — moved to Bakersfield, California where he hosted a daily TV show and signed with Capitol Records. At a 1963 recording session, Buck Owens heard his younger brother, Tom, playing steel guitar and hired him to play with his ‘Buckaroos’, so he contributed to the group’s ‘Bakersfield Sound” with such hits as “Act Naturally,’ ‘Together Again,’ and “I’ve Got a Tiger By the Tail.” Tom later spent a decade with Ricky Nelson, playing on his classic “Garden Party.”
Well, that’s all for now. I’ll continue to dig deeper into both our area country and rock & roll history in anticipation of the rescheduled presentation at the museum.
In closing, here’s my favorite verse from Robison’s “Life Gets Tee-Jus, Don’t It”: The cow's gone dry and the hens won't lay, Fish quit bitin' last Saturday, Troubles keep pilin' up day by day, And now I'm gettin' dandruff.
J.T. Knoll is a writer, speaker and celebrant. He also operates Knoll Training, Consulting & Training in Pittsburg. He can be reached at 620-231-0499, firstname.lastname@example.org, or 401 W. Euclid, Pittsburg, KS 66762