Archive for June, 2008

Brother Duets in Country Music, 1920-1959

June 27, 2008

The focus of my investigation for vocal duos in popular music after the advent of rock and roll is the Everly Brothers. Don and Phil Everly recorded their first hit, “Bye Bye Love,” in 1957. The song made it into top chart positions on both the pop and country charts. They were essentially part of the brother duet trend in country music which began as early as the mid-1920s and saw its greatest flowering in the 1930s.

Below is a list of the brother duet acts in country music that I have found so far. I will keep adding to the list as I chase down all of the information. Here’s a map that pinpoints the birthplaces of these duets.

Allen Brothers
Austin Allen (b. Monteagle Mountain, TN, d. 1959, Williamston, SC)
Lee Allen (b. Monteagle Mountain, TN; d. 1981, Lebanon, TN)
First recording: 1926 or 1927, Columbia
Noteworthy songs: “Bow Wow Blues,” “Skippin’ and Flyin’,” “Jake Walk Blues”
Vocal style: Austin sang lead, Lee occasionally added tenor harmony

Delmore Brothers
Alton Delmore (b. 12/25/1908, Elkmont, AL; d. 1964)
Rabon Delmore (b. 12/3/1916, Elkmont, AL; d. 1952)
First recording: 1931, Columbia
Noteworthy songs: “Brown’s Ferry Blues,” “Big River Blues”
Vocal style: Alton usually sang lead, they would often switch high and low harmony parts

Shelton Brothers
Other performing names: Lone Star Cowboys, Sunshine Boys
Bob Attlesey (b. 7/4/1909, Reilly Springs, TX; d. 1983?)
Joe Attlesey (b. 1/27/1911, Reilly Springs, TX; d. 12/26/1980)
First recording: before 1933, Bluebeard (as Lone Star Cowboys)
Noteworthy songs: “Just Because,” “Deep Elem Blues”
Vocal style:

Callahan Brothers
Homer Callahan
Walter Callahan
First rec.: 1934

Blue Sky Boys
Bill Bolick
Earl Bolick
East Hickory, NC
First recording: 1936
Vocal style: Earl sang baritone, Bill sang tenor.

Monroe Brothers
Charlie Monroe
Bill Monroe
First rec.: 1936
Vocal style: Charlie sang lead, Bill sang tenor (high) harmony

Dixon Brothers
Howard Dixon
Dorsey Dixon
Darlington, Sc


Louvin Brothers
Ira Loudermilk (b. 4/21/1924, AL; d. 6/20/1965)
Charlie Loudermilk (b. 7/7/1927, AL; d. )
Noteworthy songs: “When I Stop Dreaming,” “Cash on the Barrel Head”
First recording: between 1945 and 1949, Apollo Records
Vocal style: Ira sang tenor, noted as being fairly high; Charles sang lead (melody tenor)

Stanley Brothers
Ralph Stanley
Carter Stanley

Lilly Brothers
Everett Lilly
Mitchell Lilly



All Music Guide

Malone, Bill C. Country Music U.S.A., 2nd rev. ed., Austin: University of Texas Press, 2002.

Further updates to this list will be in the page version.



The Voice(s) – Part 2

June 23, 2008

Simon Frith (Chapter 9, “The Voice,” in Performing Rites [Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996], 183-202) identifies four ways in which the voice can be discussed and understood: as a musical instrument, as a body, as a person, and as a character. For the most part, Frith, too, is concerned with one voice; he does address multiple voices briefly—I will return to this later. My purpose here is to examine Frith’s points from the perspective of two voices presented as one, whether in unison or not—it’s more important here that they are understood to be equal in the context of the duo. In other words, I am not considering backup voices or anonymous harmonies or double-tracking of a single voice. And I am assuming that any duo that presents itself as a duo allows audiences and listeners to conclude that the members of the duo have equal standing within the duo, whether that is the case or not in reality.

In the first category of understanding, the voice is a musical instrument. Voices can never simply be sound or wordless instruments. Whether we can understand the words being sung (because they are in a foreign language or are nonsense syllables like scat singing), we always read something from the sound made by the voice; we hear meaning and intention. I don’t think multiple voices really changes Frith’s argument here.

The voice as body, on the other hand, reads somewhat differently with two voices. Following Roland Barthes logic, Frith notes that the voice is the “sound of the body.” The voice gives us “access to [the body] without mediation” (191). From the perspective of the listener, this raises questions such as which body is being “accessed”? The connections can be to one or the other of the singers. Listeners may adopt different listening positions over time, connecting with one and then another and then back to the first one. A listener could also connect with both simultaneously, merging them into one entity. The grain of the voice gains an additional dimension in the case of the vocal duo.

When we sing along (moving our position from listener to participant or imitator), we believe we experience the same sorts of physical events that the singer is experiencing. While we may have been able to feel a simultaneous connection to the physical worlds of both singers when simply listening, once we begin to engage our own bodies in the experience, we must choose. Unlike the singers themselves, though, we can shift from one singer to the other, from one physical experience to another, at will.

We can “hear” characteristics such as gender, sexuality, and race. Further we believe we can hear something about the person in the voice. With two voices, the same still holds, but we must also determine what the relationship is between the two voices. What we believe we hear in the voices may be augmented or confirmed by external sources (or maybe it’s the other way around—we read or learn about the relationship then “hear” it in the interaction of the voices). Two voices suggests an intimacy, whether it is sexual, familial, or simply as friends. Three or more voices shifts into the territory of the corporate voice with a pragmatic division of labor—the intimacy is lost or suppressed.

Finally, the voice becomes a character. It can be the voice of the protagonist or narrator, the person the song is about, the singer as a public persona, but the voice can also, through its own characteristics and suggestions of personality, be its own character. With more than one voice involved, is there only character, the result of combining the two voices, or are there two characters? A third possibility is that all three exist and it may depend on the listener. It may also depend on how the music is structured (homophonic versus contrapuntal, one sound versus differentiated sounds).


The Voice(s) – Part 1

June 23, 2008

Roland Barthes sought to understand the “very precise space (genre) of the encounter between a language and a voice” (“The Grain of the Voice,” 1977, reprinted in On Record: Rock, Pop, and the Written Word, ed. Simon Frith and Andrew Goodwin [London: Routledge], 294, emphasis in original). He refers to this as the grain of the voice and likens it to “the materiality of the body speaking its mother tongue, perhaps the letter, almost certainly significance” (295). In other words, the voice is the physical embodiment of the music, it is what gives it meaning in the case of vocal music, not necessarily the specific text. 

Barthe examines this grain in terms of one voice. I, on the other hand, am interested in the “voice” that is created when two or more voices combine (but most specifically two voices). The issue becomes slightly more complex. First our position relative to the “voice” changes. In the typical discussions of the listener’s position, there is a one-to-one connection between the listener and the singer. I favor the model of a triangle with the listener, the singer, and the work itself at the vertices.

With an additional voice, we now have to understand the relationship between each singer and the listener, between the singers themselves, and between the singers and the work itself (works?). Conceivably the work itself is now understood in multiple ways by the listener.


Time Machine – Cereal

June 17, 2008

In the 1950s cereal manufacturers in the United States discovered kids. It’s hard to image now that cereal used to be a dry 😉 and boring product aimed at adults. It’s not clear to me at this point precisely what prompted the realization on the part of the Kellogs and Post Cereal that a vast untapped market lay waiting to be plumbed. 

The cereal makers made at least three strategic moves in order to increase sales based on children and youth:

  1. They added SUGAR–and lots of it.
  2. The created mascots and characters to sell their products, ones that appealed to children, like Tony the Tiger and the Trix Rabbit.
  3. Advertising and product placement on television. Characters like Snap, Crackle, and Pop appeared in advertisements on shows like “The Howdy Doody Show.” The Kellogg’s Frosted Sugar Flakes commercial below may have run during “Adventures of Superman” (1952-1958), starring George Reeves.

Well, if that isn’t something to look forward to–being Supergirl!


The Time Machine – Best Sellers

June 13, 2008

I have been examining life during the late 1950s and early 1960s from as many angles as possible. Today’s trip back on the time machine was to visit the best sellers of that era. According to the “Best-Selling U.S. Hardcover Nonfiction Year-by-Year, 1912-2002” list, apparently culled from Publisher’s Weekly, the Bible (RSV) was the winner from 1952-1954. This is the first appearance of the Bible on this list; the next was in 1961 (The New English Bible: The New Testament) and the last was in 1972-1973 (The Living Bible, or the hippie Bible as some called it). The full Protestant version (Old and New Testament) of the RSV Bible was first published in 1952.

Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s book of reflections and essays, Gift from the Sea, was the best seller in 1955 and Dan Dale Alexander’s Arthritis and Common Sense in 1956, just one of his several common sense health books of the period. 

Finally we enter the period I am most interested in, 1957, and after years of war memoirs, a cookbook, the Bible, and books about health, we have–for two years running, no less–Art Linkletter’s Kids Say the Darndest Things! This book was an outgrowth from his popular TV series, House Party, where Linkletter interviewed children. In later years, he teamed with Bill Cosby to present a show by the same name as the book. 

The teenage culture is clearly making its mark in 1959 when Pat Boone’s ‘Twixt Twelve and Twenty: Pat Talks to Teenagers holds the top spot. I can’t seem to find a summary, but given what I know of Pat Boone, I can only imagine what kind of advice is being handed out. If I find time, I will look for a copy in the library. 

You can almost feel the innocence about to be shattered here. The fact of the popularity of Boone’s book suggests to me that parents, those good, upright, Christian, law-abiding, authority-bound parents were feeling the first quivers of the teenage cultural explosion that was about to bear down on them. Even Linkletter’s book hints at the way the morality line is fading in the sand: “darndest”? We know what he really meant to say. And what are those kids saying? They’re saying grown-up, edgy things in cute, innocent voices. That they are talking at all is a contrast to earlier generations who advocated that children should only speak when spoken to. You can almost hear the crack in the wall.


Getting Started

June 5, 2008

This post is mainly to help me navigate and learn the Word Press blogging tools. I couldn’t get this blog name over at where I have other blogs. But “A Change Would Do You Good,” so they say.