September 15, 2018

78 RPMs 6: Roy Acuff & the Smoky Mountain Boys

Roy Acuff & the Smoky Mountain Boys
side 1: Streamlined Cannon Ball 
Shellac, 10", 78 RPM, Single
photo by Styrous®

Today, September 15, 2018, is the birthday of Roy Acuff. He was an American country music singer, fiddler, and promoter, born 115 years ago. Known as the "King of Country Music," Acuff is often credited with moving the genre from its early string band and "hoedown" format to the singer-based format that helped make it internationally successful. In 1952, Hank Williams told Ralph Gleason, "He's the biggest singer this music ever knew. You booked him and you didn't worry about crowds. For drawing power in the South, it was Roy Acuff, then God."    

Roy Acuff
Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.
photographer unknown 

Acuff was born on September 15, 1903, in Maynardville, Tennessee. His father gave him several records of regionally renowned fiddlers, such as Fiddlin' John Carson and Gid Tanner, which were important influences on his early style.        
In 1932, Dr. Hauer's medicine show, toured the southern Appalachian region, and hired Acuff as one of its entertainers. The purpose of the entertainers was to draw a large crowd to whom Hauer could sell medicines (of suspect quality) for various ailments. While on the medicine show circuit, Acuff met the legendary Appalachian banjoist Clarence Ashley, from whom he learned The House of the Rising Sun and Greenback Dollar, both of which Acuff later recorded. As the medicine show lacked microphones, Acuff learned to sing loud enough to be heard above the din, a skill that would later help him stand out on early radio broadcasts.

 Roy Acuff  
date & photographer unknown

Acuff began his music career in the 1930s and gained regional fame as the singer and fiddler for his group, the Smoky Mountain Boys. He joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1938, and although his popularity as a musician waned in the late 1940s, he remained one of the Opry's key figures and promoters for nearly four decades.            

In 1938, he changed the name of his band to Roy Acuff & the Smoky Mountain Boys, a name that was to stick, and recruited long time band members Bashful Brother Oswald, Howdy Forrester and Jimmie Riddle.       


The popularity of Acuff's rendering of the song The Great Speckled Bird (link below) helped the group land a contract with ARC, for which they recorded several dozen tracks (including the band's best-known track, Wabash Cannonball (link below) in 1936.

Roy Acuff  
date & photographer unknown

 Bang, Bang, Lulu

Needing to complete a 20-song commitment, the band recorded two ribald tunes—including When Lulu's Gone—but released them under a pseudonym, the Bang Boys. I remeber when I was in the boy scouts and we would march in the woods we would sing songs including the tune, Bang, Bang, Lulu, with MANY Stanza variations, which was based on When Lulu's Gone. The one Stanza that has always stuck in my brain is:  

"Lulu had a boyfriend, his name was Diamond Dick 
She never saw the Diamond but always saw the . . . 
Bang, Bang, Lulu
 Bang, Bang, Lulu 
Bang, Bang, Lulu
She'll do it every time!"

When you're twelve years old, with dozens of other boys the same age, you have to prove how manly you are. Of all the versions of the tune I've heard, the one that comes closest to the sound and tempo we sang in the scouts is by the German band, Boney M. (link below).     

Another version, Lulu, was recorded by the very rowdy Oscar Brand on his 1958 Old Time Bawdy Sea Shanties.      

Shellac, 10", 78 RPM, Single
photo by Styrous®

In 1942, Acuff and Fred Rose founded Acuff-Rose Music, the first major Nashville-based country music publishing company, which signed such artists as Hank Williams, Roy Orbison, and the Everly Brothers. It was estimated that Acuff earned more than $200, 000 in 1942.      

This November, 1943, file photo shows Acuff, second from left, performing with the Smoky Mountain Boys at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee. From left are Lonnie Wilson, Acuff, Jimmy Riddle, Pete Kirby, and Velma Williams, partially hidden behind Kirby.


On September 18, 1947, Ernest Tubb and Acuff performed at Carnegie Hall in New York City, NY. It was the first country performance to appear there.     

He was so popular in Tennessee that the Republican Party begged Acuff to run for the governorship in 1948. Acuff garnered more votes than any GOP candidate before him, but it was not enough to win in the then solidly Democratic state.      

Roy Acuff - 1948 
photographer unknown 

His tremendous contribution to country music was recognised in November 1962 when Acuff became the first living inductee into the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville, Tennessee, one of the world's largest museums and research centers dedicated to the preservation and interpretation of American vernacular music. Chartered in 1964, the museum has amassed one of the world's most extensive musical collections.      

date & photographer unknown

In 1972, Acuff's career received a brief resurgence in the folk revival movement after he appeared on the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band album, Will the Circle Be Unbroken. The appearance paved the way for one of the defining moments of Acuff's career, which came on the night of March 16, 1974, when the Opry officially moved from the Ryman Auditorium to the Grand Ole Opry House at Opryland. The first show at the new venue opened with a huge projection of a late-1930s image of Acuff and the Smoky Mountain Boys onto a large screen above the stage. A recording from one of the band's 1939 appearances was played over the sound system, with the iconic voice of George Hay introducing the band, followed by the band's performance of Wabash Cannonball. That same night, Acuff showed President Richard Nixon, an honored guest at the event, how to yo-yo, and convinced the president to play several songs on the piano (link below).    

In 1979, Opryland opened the Roy Acuff Theatre, which was dedicated in Acuff's honor (it was demolished in 2011 after suffering extensive damage in the 2010 Tennessee floods).

date & photographer unknown

In 1991, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts, and given a lifetime achievement award by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the first Country music act to receive the esteemed honor.      
Roy Acuff died in Nashville, Tennessee on November 23, 1992, of congestive heart failure. He was 89 years old.               

side 1: Streamlined Cannon Ball 
Shellac, 10", 78 RPM, Single, Side 1 label
photo by Styrous®

side 2: Mule Skinner Blues 
Shellac, 10", 78 RPM, Single, Side 1 label 
photo by Styrous®


Side 1:

A - The Streamlined Cannon Ball, written by Acuff*
B - Mule Skinner Blues (Blue Yodel #8), written by Rodgers*
Barcode and Other Identifiers

    Matrix / Runout (Side A Label): DAL 949
    Matrix / Runout (Side B Label): DAL 958

Roy Acuff And His Smoky Mountain Boys ‎– The Streamlined Cannon Ball
Label: Columbia ‎– 37012
Format: Shellac, 10", 78 RPM, Single, Reissue
Country: US
Released: 1946
Genre: Folk, World, & Country
Style: Country

Viewfinder links:        
Roy Acuff     
Chickens on Wood String Band        
Net links:        
Roy Acuff Discography 
Alan Cackett ~ Roy Acuff biography 
xRoads Virginia ~ Roy Acuff: Making Hillbilly Music Respectable ~ Roy Acuff Biography    
YouTube links:        
Roy Acuff ~     
             The Streamlined Cannon Ball       
             Mule Skinner Blues     
             The Great Speckled Bird
             Wabash Cannonball  
             When Lulu's Gone     
Boney M - Bang Bang Lulu 1986      
Roy Acuff talks about the new Opry house     
The US Postal Service issued a 37-cent Roy Acuff commemorative stamp in a pressure-sensitive adhesive pane of twenty stamps on September 13, 2003, in Nashville, Tennessee. The stamp, designed by Richard Sheaff, Scottsdale, Arizona, went on sale nationwide September 14, 2003.    

US Postal Service stamp - 1962

Styrous® ~ Saturday, September 15, 2018  


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