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Country and Western Music in Old Time Radio

National Barn Dance

Music By and For Americans

Jazz is an American art form that has been well studied and analyzed because of its international appeal. Country music shares many of the same influences and origins as Jazz.

Dave Macon, vaudeville, minstrel, and early performer of Opry

Jazz finds its roots in the African American Experience while Country origins are predominantly White. Both began as expressions of joy and sorrow for impoverished and down-trodden immigrant communities trying to adapt to their stations in a new homeland. Both Jazz and Country were developed using whatever instruments were available. 

Simple percussion in both cases, using whatever was available to pound on rhythmically. Jazz developed on cast-off military band instruments left in New Orleans at the end of the Spanish American War. The people living in the hilly regions of the Appalachians, Ozarks, and Great Smokey Mountains of the Inland South relied on more "portable" instruments like guitars, fiddles, mandolins, harmonicas, banjos (which were, in fact, of African origin), and dulcimers which could be crafted locally.

The widespread acceptance of both Jazz and Country resulted not only from the growth of recording technology but from the migration of poverty-stricken Southerners, both White and Black, toward the economic opportunities of the Industrialized Northern Cities. Jazz found acceptance by white Northerners, while Country mostly appealed to the community where it originated.

Hillbilly Roots

Opry AdvertisementThe migration from the British Isles to the New World occurred in many stages. The Eastern seaboard was quickly filled and later migrants, often of poorer means, arriving in the 17th and 18th centuries were often forced to seek the land where they hoped to make their fortunes inland in the mountain regions of Appalachia.

Sadly, what land was available in the mountains was rarely suited to profitable farming. The poor soil might yield a living for a hard-working family, but not much else. However, the people who settled in these regions had the culture of music, family ties, and strong religious faith to keep them strong. According to The New York Journal in an article from 1900, "a Hill-Billie is a free and untrammeled 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". This popular perception ignores the deep cultural and religious beliefs of the region.

One of the earliest successful County or "Hillbilly" acts was The Carter Family of southwestern Virginia. A.P, and Sara Carter, along with sister-in-law Maybelle would have bristled at the Journal's description of their character, having begun their musical traveling to play in churches throughout the central Appalachian region. 

On August 1, 1927, the Carters traveled to Bristol, Tennessee, where they auditioned for producer Ralph Peer at the new Bristol recording Studio. Peer paid the group $50 for each song they recorded, as well as a half-cent royalty on every record sold. The Carters had sold more than 300,000 records by the end of 1930 and would be a major influence on Jimmie Rogers, Carl Perkins, Hank Williams, and Johnny Cash, as well as the Grand Ol' Opry.

Barn Dances on the Air

Red Foley

Besides church services, another popular venue for musicians in the Appalachian region was the Barn Dance. A relatively well-to-do farmer would clear out the largest structure on his property, erect an improvised stage at one end, and invite or hire fiddlers, singers, and other players to entertain the neighbors and friends in a highly anticipated social event. A barn dance was, of course, much less formal than a church service, but was still an occasion to don your best clothes and, perhaps, met eligible suitors. A fun but relatively wholesome affair, the barn dance became a staple of mountain social life.

The National Life & Accident Insurance Company of Nashville, Tennessee, tried broadcasting the feel of a barn dance from their fifth-floor studio on the WSM Barn Dance, which would soon evolve into The Grand Ol' Opry. One of the longest-running programs in broadcast history, the Opry with its blend of Country, bluegrass, and gospel music along with skits and jokes.

The Opry got its name in reaction to a selection of grand opera music which the Red Network scheduled before the Barn Dance broadcast in 1927. The show became the focal point of the Country Music world, with regular performers considered the elite of the music industry. Opry members include The Carter Family, The Delmore Brothers, Bob Wills, Jimmie Rogers, Roy Acuff, Bill Monroe, The Duke of Paducah, Eddy Arnold, Ernest Tubb, The Bailes Brothers, Jimmy Wakely, Red Foley, and many other Old Time Radio favorites.

A Good Myth

Cowboy Church of the AirFurther West, in the region which had been the American Frontier, there was a greater economic opportunity, which attracted settlers from all over, including Appalachia. These former Hillbillies were not the only ones to bring their musical traditions to the West, what would become Western Music was a blend of Hillbilly, African American, Mexican, Texas-German, and other influences.

Central to the Western identity is the myth of the American Cowboy. One part of that myth tells of cowboys on a trail drive, riding around the herd at night while singing soothing ballads to keep the cows calm and prevent stampeding. A more authentic source of Western Music might be found at the end of the trail where the freshly-paid cowboy enjoyed the musical offerings in the "big city" saloons.

The raucous music heard in saloons and other adult establishments became Honky-tonk, the "black-sheep" younger cousin of Grand Ol' Opry style gospel-based Country Music. Honky-tonk combines a "work hard, play harder" ethic with a cry-in-your-beer notion of love and heartache. Although The Opry would remain "family-friendly", Nashville eventually embraced the Honky-tonk sound.

Even further West, Hollywood became fully invested in the Cowboy Legend. Action-packed Western films could be expensive to produce, so the studios created the Singing Cowboy. Western films were popular enough that Singing Cowboys like Gene Autry and Roy Rogers were able to sell millions of records. Even Bing Crosby recorded numerous Cowboy songs.

Appalachian Country and Western Music truly began to fuse with the rise of Western Swing. Bob Wills is widely credited as "The King of Western Swing", a style that owes as much to Dixieland and Big Band Jazz as it does to the Hillbilly Sound. Very easy to dance to, Western Swing brought electric guitars, pedal steel guitars, and even horn to Country and Western Music.

Show Title Dates Music Type Featured Artist Show Premise
All Star Western Theater 1946-
Singing Cowboy Foy Willing Riding the popularity of Singing Cowboy Westerns, All-Star Western Theater combined great Western Music and entertaining frontier sketches.
Arthur Smith's Corner Store and Arthur Smith and His Cracker Jacks 1948-
Country Arthur "Guitar Boogie" Smith Arthur "Guitar Boogie" Smith brought Electric Guitars to the Hillbilly tradition.
Checkerboard Fun Fest Featuring Eddy Arnold 1945 Popular Country Eddy Arnold Purina Millssponsored "Tennessee Plowboy" Eddy Arnold to host the Checkerboard Funfest.
Chuck Mulkern Collection Singing Cowboy Chuck Mulkern The idea of a cowboy riding the plains with an accordion strapped to his back seems a little strange, but Chuck Mulkern made it work.
Country Hoedown - US Navy 1958-
Popular Country Various It seems like a stretch from riding the range to going to Sea for your Nation, but Navy Recruiting has a long history of using Country Music.
Country Music Time (Airforce) 1959-
Popular Country Various The USAF turned to popular Country Artists to attract new recruits.
Country Style USA 1957 Popular Country Cecil Daniels Cecil Daniels helped to get the word out to America's finest young men about the opportunities in the US Army on Country Style USA
Cowboy Church of the Air 1953 Gospel Stuart Hamblen Stuart Amblin was inspired by Rev. Billy Graham to take his ministry to the Airwaves on The Cowboy Church of the Air
Cowboy Slim Rinehart (Sometimes spelled Cowboy Slim Reinhart) Late 1930s to
Early 1970s
Singing Cowboy Slim Rinehart Cowboy Slim Rinehart was a singing cowboy who performed on "Border Blaster" station XEG Monterrey, Mexico.
Crazy Hillbilly Show Early
Popular Country Various The Crazy Hotel in Mineral Wells, Texas, was a popular health spa and Country Music venue.
Crazy Water Crystal Program Early
Country and Western Various The minerals from the Crazy Springs in Mineral Wells, Texas, were sold as a patent medicine and laxative.
Dale Evans Collection 1942-
Down Home Girls Dale Evans Already a popular Radio talent, Dale Evans' career took off when she became Queen to the "King of the Cowboys" Roy Rogers.
Delmore Brothers Post-War Hillbilly Alton and Rabon Delmore Mollie Delmore's boys grew up singing in church and eventually became one of the most popular acts on the Grand Ol' Opry.
Dinner Bell Roundup Time 1946-
Western Various When Cookie rings the bell at the Family Chuck Wagon, tune in some "easy-listening" Western Music on Dinner Bell Roundup.
Faultless Starch Time 1952-
Western Bob Atcher and Mary Jane Johnson When it is time to press your husband's shirts, enjoy some county music, and be sure to use Faultless Starch.
Foy Willing And Riders Of The Purple Sage 1940s Singing Cowboy Foy Willing and the Riders of the Purple Sage The close harmonies of The Riders of the Purple Sage were a staple of Singing Cowboy Western Movies.
Gene Autry 1940-
Singing Cowboy Gene Autry One of the screen's first Singing Cowboy Stars, Gene Autry moved from success to success, from the Melody Ranch radio show to becoming a decorated pilot in WWII to business success after the War
Hillbilly Collection   Hillbilly Various The roots of modern Country Music lie in the hills and hollows of the Ozarks and the Appalachian Mountains
Hollywood Rodeo 1944 Singing Cowboy Tex Ritter Hollywood Rodeo used a rodeo format to showcase the music of Tex Ritter
Johnnie Lee Wills 1933-
Western Johnnie Lee Wills and the Texas Playboys During the Great Depression, Johnnie Lee Wills began playing on radio stations in Texas and Oklahoma before bringing I Sweet Western Swing to Hollywood
Johnny Cash in Old Time Radio 1950s Popular Country Johnny Cash Before he became Country Music Roualty, Johnny Cash was a guitar-playing singer with a talent for honky-tonk
Melody Ranch 1940-
Singing Cowboy Gene Autry If the image of the American Cowboy is based on a myth, the the Singing Cowboy is a complete Fairytale, however, Gene Autry made his Melody Ranch a part of that Fairytale and delighted millions
Melody Roundup 1942-
Popular Country Andy Devine Hosts Our boys overseas loved Country Music, and the Armed Forces Radio Service gave it to them with Andy Devine hosting Melody Roundup.
Mother's Best Flour 1951 Popular Country Hank Willliams Hank Williams kept Nashville housewives company while they baked their families daily batch of biscuits with Mother's Best Flour.
Pat O'Daniel and his Hillbilly Boys 1939 Western Pat O'Daniel and His Hilbilly Boys The O'Daniel Milling Co put Pat O'Daniel and His Hillbilly boys on th air to promote their HillBilly Flour.
Pinto Pete and his Ranch Hands also known as Pinto Pete and his Ranch 1933 Gospel Pinto Pete Time in the saddle lends itself to philosophizing about a Cowboys place in the universe, and Pinto Pete shares his thoughts on God.
Plantation House Party 1943 Popular Country The Duke of Paducah Whitey Ford as the "Duke of Paducah" headlines this bit of cornpone humor and great country music.
Red Foley Show 1950s Western Red Foley "Mr. Country Music" Red Foley also cohosted Avalon Time with Red Skelton.
Renfro Valley Gathering (Renfro Valley Barn Dance) 1943-
Popular Country Various Starting as a regular Sunday gathering of friends in Kentucky, The Renfro Valley Barn Dance still provides weekly entertainment.
Roy Rogers Collection 1944-
Singing Cowboy Roy Rogers Roy Rogers got his big break when Gene Autry walked off the set one day and was soon tagged "King of the Cowboys."
Sage Brush Round-Up 1939-
Western Various Originating from the heart of Hillbilly Country, Sagebrush Round-up featured some great Western Music.
Sunny Valley 1937 Hillbilly The Sunny Valley Boys As the pre-War Industrial boom was reaching Southern California, "Friendly Dentist" Dr. Cowan sponsored the Sunny Valley Show featuring down-home gospel and hillbilly music.
Tennessee Ernie Ford in Old Time Radio Collection 1948-
Popular Country Tennessee Ernie Ford Tennessee Earnie Ford's rich baritone voice helped to bridge the gap between the Traditions of Country Music and the Rebelliousness of Rock and Roll.
Tex Ritter in Old Time Radio 1946-
Popular Country Tex Ritter Tex Ritter quickly rose from local Texas radio to B-Grade Westerns to helping create the Country Music Hal of Fame as one of the greatest of the Singing Cowboys.
The Bailes Brothers 1941 Hillbilly Kyle, Johnnie, Walter, and Homer Bailes The Bailes Boys who grew up in Kanawha County, West Virginia, used music to rise out of poverty.
The Bill Ring Show Hillbilly Bill Ring Bill Ring was a vital part of a "Hillbilly Variety Show" called Korn's-a-Krackin' on Ralph Foster's RadiOzark.
The Carter Sisters 1946 Down Home Girls Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters The Carter Family was one of the earliest successful Country Acts, and when they stopped recording together Maybelle reformed the group with her teen-aged daughters.
The Grand Ole Opry 1939-
Popular Country Various It began in 1925, and people still come from all over to see a broadcast of the Grand Ol' Opry live in Nashville
The Hollywood Barn Dance 1943-
Western Cottonseed Clark Led by Cottonseed Clark, The Hollywood Barn Dance not only featured great country and Western music, it attracted guests from outside the Country Music business.
The Korn Kobblers 1941 Hillbilly The Korn Kobblers Country Music can make you cry in your beer or fall in love, but for The Korn Kobblers, "the most nonsensical band in America", it was just plain fun.
The Lightcrust Doughboys 1946-
Western The Lightcrust Doughboys While in the kitchen each morning, baking biscuits for the family, enjoy the sweet country music of the Light Crust Doughboys.
The Live at Town Hall Party 1959 Popular Country Johnny Cash and Friends Honky-tonk Music was the rowdy little brother to the Barn Dance niceties of The Opry, but that is what they played on The Live at Town Hall Party.
The Old Corral 1941-
Popular Country Various ZIV Syndications got into the Country scene with "Pappy" Cheshire and his National Champion Hillbillies on The Old Corral.
The Ten Two Four Ranch Show 1943-
Western The Sons of the Pioneers Dr. Pepper Sodapop was obviously not medicine, but the 10-2-4 Ranch maintained that drinking one several times each day would make you feel better.
Tito Guizar Collection 1908-
Singing Cowboy Tito Guizar In a nod to his contemporary Roy Rogers, "the King of the Mexican Cowboys" Tito Guizar was one of the first of his race to make inroads into early Hollywood.
Town and Country Time (Army Corp) 1953-
Country and Western Jimmy Dean and the Texas Wildcats Before getting into the Breakfast Sausage business, Jimmy Dean and the Texas Wildcats performed on Town and Country Time for the Army.
Wake-Up Ranch (Wakeup Ranch) 1949 Western Cliffie Stone A West Coast Country Music pioneer, Cliffie Stone shared fun tunes and morning coffee with Los Angeles residents on Wake-Up Ranch.
Western Musical Compilation 1944-
Popular Country Various Here at OTRCat, we celebrate BOTH kinds of Music, Country, AND Western!
Western Party: Cowboy Hit Parade 1948-
Popular Country Various The Western Party/Cowboy Hit Parade preseted the biggest hits in Country Music each Friday night.
WLS National Barndance 1924-
Popular Country Various The National Barn Dance from Chicago station WLS blended Music, comedy, and downhome fun for rural and city folks alike.

Country Western Music Recordings >>

Singing Cowboys of Old Time Radio >>

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