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A History of Country Vol. 2: Depression Years – 1930-36

August 12th, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

The titles of posts in this series may be a bit confusing. They will refer to the timespan covered in the mixes. But this post looks at the era from about 1930 to about 1941. The next post will include the 1937-41 mix, but the text will be a sidebar to this article, also referring to 1930-41. I hope that makes sense…

Record sales collapsed dramatically with the Depression, with sales dropping from 104 million in 1927 to just 6 million in 1932. Some records still sold prodigiously, of course. Gene Autry”s That Silver-Haired Daddy Of Mine (released in 1931 but becoming a mega-hit a couple of years later, it is sometimes considered the first honky tonk record, a decade before that sub-genre really took hold) sold a million copies, as did Patsy Montana”s 1935 hit I Want To Be A Cowboy”s Sweetheart.

The 1930s saw the rise of the singing cowboys, combining the motion pictures with records.  There had been singing cowboys before, like the real cowherder Carl Sprague, and the frontier ballads (lovingly collected in the 1910s by John Lomax) contributed to the country repertoire. The breakthrough, however, came with the movie cowboys. The first was Ken Maynard, but more successful were Autry, Tex Ritter (father of the late actor John Ritter) and Roy Rogers, perhaps the most commercially savvy of the lot. Various other country stars made cameos in Hollywood over the years, including Patsy Montana, Pee Wee King, Red Foley, Bob Wills, Ernest Tubb and Jimmie Davis. The movie cowboy imagery had an enduring influence, especially in the Stetson hats that periodically become obligatory country uniform and the garish rhinestoned outfits taken to a ludicrous extreme in the 1960s by Porter Wagoner.  The cowboy song has made periodic comebacks, led by the likes of Marty Robbins in the 1950s and Willie Nelson in the “70s. Apart from Patsy Montana (from Bill Clinton”s hometown of Hope, Arkansas), there were singing cowgirls too, such as Louise Massey and Kitty Lee. The era was a good time for harmonising sibling acts such as the Monroe Brothers (future bluegrass legend Bill and brother Charlie), the Allen Brothers, The Blue Sky Boys, the Delmore Brothers, and  the Coon Creek Girls (three of whose five members were the Ledford sisters).

A massively influential form of country that infused the genre with jazz, blues and pop had its origins in the 1930s: western swing, a term that would be coined only in 1944. Its progenitor was Milton Brown. Brown had just found success when he was killed in a car crash in 1936 at the age of 33. Bob Wills, a member in Brown”s previous band, took the baton and popularised western swing. The charismatic fiddler (who adds the cartoonish falsetto asides in the records) and his Texas Playboys “” with their country string and swing horn sections “” had enduring success, but had their biggest hit early: 1940″s New San Antonio Rose, with Tommy Duncan on vocals. By then several western swing acts had come and and some already gone. Coming in the wake of Brown and Wills were acts such as cliff Bruner, Hartman’s Heartbreakers, the Light Crust Doughboys, Swift Jewel Cowboys, Hoosier Hot Shots, the Tune Wranglers and Hank Penny, who in his long career would staddle various forms of country. Some country artists, such as Patsy Montana and Louise Massey, would dabble in western swing occasionally.

1940s country legend Merle Travis defined western swing this way: “Western Swing is nothing more than a group of talented country boys, unschooled in music, but playing the music they feel, beating a solid two-four rhythm to the harmonies that buzz around their brains. When it escapes in all its musical glory, my friend, you have western swing.” When rock & roll broke big in the 1950s, Wills caustically remarked that he and his likes had been playing that already in the 1930s. Arguably, Uncle Dave Macon (born in 1870!) was the first rock “˜n” roller; he was the first country singer to feature the word “rock” in a songtitle, back in 1927.

The Depression gave rise to a series of songs with socialist undertones (though nobody would call it that), and not only by Woody Guthrie. Socially critical songs preceded the Depression, of course. Bob Miller, a collaborator with Irving Berlin, wrote Eleven Cent Cotton and Forty Cent Meat in 1928, for example. In 1932 he called people to come out and vote in the election that brought Franklin D Roosevelt into the White House, with the promise that “the poor forgotten man” is “gonna cause a change”. Bob Miller also predicted the 1937 assassination of Louisiana”s wealth redistributing governor Huey Long in his 1935 song The Death Of Huey P Long. Even the fun-loving Uncle Dave Macon sang about living in hard times. Woody Guthrie was regarded as a country singer, and articulated the injustices of capitalism and society in ways that anticipated the schism between country and folk music.

1. Jimmie Rodgers & Louis Armstrong – Blue Yodel No 9 (2:39)
2. Allen Brothers – New Chattanooga Blues (3:04)
3. Charlie Poole – It’s Movin’ Day (3:26)
4. Bud Billings & Carson Robison – When Your Hair Has Turned To Silver (3:45)
5. Ken Maynard – The Lone Star Trail (3:12)
6. Cowboy Ed Crane – Starving To Death On A Government Claim (2:58)
7. Three Tobacco Tags – Aint Gonna Do It No More (2:54)
8. Gene Autry & Jimmy Long – That Silver Haired Daddy Of Mine (2:46)
9. Glen Rice and his Beverly Hill Billies – Ridge Runnin’ Roan (3:12)
10. Jimmie Rodgers – I’m Free (3:05)
11. Delmore Brothers – Brown’s Ferry Blues (2:33)
12. Ernest V. Stoneman – All I Got’s Gone (2:54)
13. Sons Of The Pioneers – Way Out There (3:20)
14. Gid Tanner and his Skillet Lickers – Soldier’s Joy Breakdown (2:54)
15. Milton Brown and his Musical Brownies – Garbage Man Blues (2:42)
16. Shelton Brothers – Ridin’ On A Humpback Mule (2:37)
17. Patsy Montana and the Prairie Ramblers – I Wanna Be A Cowboy’s Sweetheart (3:07)
18. Carter Family – Can The Circle Be Unbroken (Bye And Bye) (3:10)
19. Coon Creek Girls – Pretty Polly (2:52)
20. Blue Sky Boys – I’m Here To Get My Baby Out Of Jail (2:54)
21. Milton Brown and his Brownies – Yes Sir (Just Because) (2:41)
22. Bob Wills – Steel Guitar Rag (2:46)
23. Hartman’s Heartbreakers – No Hugging Or Kissing (2:40)
24. Jimmie Davis – Mama’s Getting Hot And Papa’s Getting Cold (2:54)
25. Monroe Brothers – Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms (2:28)
26. Hartman’s Heartbreakers with Betty Lou – Feels Good (2:33)
27. Sons Of The Pioneers – Tumbling Tumbleweeds (2:35)

(includes front and back covers. PW here)



Previously in A History of Country
More CD-mixes


  1. Rick
    August 12th, 2010 at 01:41 | #1

    If any one is interisted in a little background on on the Hartman’s Hartbreakers, They were actually Smokey Wood & His Woodchips, they recorded a total of 10 songs all with “Betty Lou” all 10 were recorded in one day in 1937, the reason for the name change is all 10 songs are of a sugestive nature. Cheers, Rick

  2. George
    August 12th, 2010 at 13:06 | #2

    Thanks for a great compilation, much appreciated. I have been reading your blog for a long time, keep up the good work.

  3. bostig
    August 12th, 2010 at 13:27 | #3

    Impressive article. Look forward to the rest.

  4. halfhearteddude
    August 12th, 2010 at 21:32 | #4

    Great stuff, Rick. I like their songs so much, I included two of them.

  5. Rick
    August 12th, 2010 at 23:38 | #5

    I agree Betty Lou’s vocal on these tracks is wonderful, btw if you don’t have all of them lmk, can send you any you are missing, Cheers

  6. August 13th, 2010 at 19:50 | #6

    Your work leads the way old boy.

  7. Don
    August 14th, 2010 at 03:05 | #7

    Love the Country history. It’s an area that I don’t know enough about, and I eagerly await the next volume.

    I also appreciate the ‘In Memorium’ feature, some of these people were never stars but had one or two records that we enjoyed. Their accomplishments should not go unrecognized.

  8. Kimmie
    August 16th, 2010 at 17:18 | #8

    dear dude, thanks! this series is great.

  9. W
    August 16th, 2010 at 22:54 | #9

    These two compilations are fantastic. Really well done, and informative. Thanks so much! W.

  10. patrick
    September 18th, 2010 at 20:06 | #10

    No ‘Great Speckled Bird’? I feel Ray Acuff’s version from 1936 should be on this comp.

  11. Dave M.
    December 6th, 2011 at 18:05 | #11

    Dude — This series is fantastic! I’ve been working my wary backward starting with volume 13 and while I knew a lot, your great essays and thoughtful arrangement of tracks have filled in gaps and provided much-needed context.

    I’m having trouble opening volume 2, though…. I use 7-zip File manager and keep getting a “cannot open out file…” message for all 27 tracks although the cover art and .txt files open fine. Any tips?

  12. halfhearteddude
    December 6th, 2011 at 18:43 | #12

    Thanks for the kind words, Dave. The file extracts fine for me. Try WinRar (it’s free and a lovely unpacking utility).

  13. GP
    June 2nd, 2012 at 16:29 | #13

    Great compilation!

    I have just one correction and a question.

    Huey P. Long died on September 10, 1935, the day after the release of the record, and two days after being shot, and not in 1937 as stated above. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Huey_Long

    And why do you believe it was Bob Miller who wrote the song? I am not saying he didn’t, but I wanted to know where you found that out, because I have been trying to figure out who wrote that song and have been unable to dig anything up. The 78 only mentions the singer Hank Warner.

    Thanks for any insight you can give me on the song and for all the great work you did on these compilations.

  14. halfhearteddude
    June 2nd, 2012 at 19:43 | #14

    I got that bit of info (including the date) from “Country Music: The Complete Visual History”, by Paul Kingsbury & Alanna Nash (eds), 2006, published by DK, apparently for the Country Music Foundation Inc. It’s on page 96 in a chapter written by Ronnie Pugh, who appears to have a huge reputation as an expert on Depression-era country.

  15. Lucy
    May 4th, 2020 at 03:44 | #15

    Would it be possible to get a repost?

  16. halfhearteddude
  17. Lucy
    May 11th, 2020 at 03:07 | #17

    Thank you!

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