Eck" Robertson and Country Music
The above photo is one of "Eck" Robertson and his wife Nettie, dated in 1907, posed with their instruments, he with his fiddle and she with a guitar. This suggests that Robertson began his musical career long before June, 1922, the date he recorded "Sallie Goodin" in New York City.
Robertson was descended from a long line of fiddling ancestry that can be traced back to his grandfather, Joe Robertson who was fiddling in Texas before the Civil War. According to Author, Charles Wolfe, in his publication, "The Devil's Box," Robertson had decided by the time he was sixteen to make a living playing music. He and his wife began performing together as a team as early as 1906 playing the fiddle and piano at silent movie houses with him often dressed as a cowboy. By 1919, he was involved in the contest circuit and the Confederate soldier's reunions that led him, finally, to the Victor recording studios. Bill C. Malone notes that Robertson was the first to use radio to promote himself and his recordings. In March, 1923, Robertson played his longbow version of "Sallie Goodin" on WBAP in Ft. Worth. In any event, by the time he began recording in the early 1920s, he had established himself with a career as a professional fiddler and began recording with the intent of using this medium to enhance this profession.
Many who have been keeping up with traditional old time fiddling have been content to conclude that it was Robertson who actually created the Texas style of old time fiddling. He was a major contributor to the innovation but as Mark O'Conner stated in his commentary in " the Devil's Box," that Robertson should be credited more with jump starting recorded country music than attributing the Texas style of fiddling entirely to him, and it was indeed, "Eck" Robertson who opened the door to an entirely different style of recorded music and an interesting line-up of recordings by a significant number of Texas fiddlers from the early 1920s onward. The story of Robertson's initial encounter with the recording industry has often been re-hashed and re-told many times and historians and researchers have exhausted the archives looking for recordings that pre-date June, 1922, the date "Sallie Goodin " was recorded. Fiddlin' John Carson's recording of "Little Old Long Cabin in the Lane," recorded a few months after "Goodin" is the closest. If all the old cylinder recordings could be researched, one might find a recording that may resemble what might be labeled as "country," but that has not been done and cylinder records were out of style by about 1910. There wa,s at least, one cylinder recording of a fiddle tune that dates back to about 1903, "Fisher's Hornpipe." Unfortunately, the fiddler on the recording was un-named and the fiddling was accompanied by what seemed to be, a full orchestra. After the 1922 recording session, Robertson did not record again until 1929. But during the interim, he was witness to an impressive number of Texas fiddlers who followed him in recording activity. The list includes:
- W. B. Chenowith (Okeh and Paramount records, 1924-1927), a novelty fiddler who called himself "The Texas Fiddling Wampus Cat."
- Captain. J. M. Bonner (Victor, 1925) a real Confederate veteran, best known for his pioneer radio broadcasts over WBAP in Ft. Worth in 1923. He recorded with a harp-guitar accompaniment and one of the earliest recordings of "Dusty Miller."
- Daniel Huggin Williams (Columbia records 1927 and more), fiddler for the East Texas Serenaders perhaps best known for their 1927 recording of "Shannon Waltz."
- W. N. "Nat" Bird (Brunswick, 1929), a Dallas contest fiddler who recorded a "Hornpipe Medley" and "Medley of Old Fiddle Favorites."
- Hugh Roden (Okeh, 1929), another contest fiddler who is said to play the instrument in 52 different positions and who recorded under his own name as well as with his stringband, the Texas Nighthawks.
- A. L. "Red" Steeley (Brunswick 1929), from the Arlington area, with J. W. Graham had a Ft. Worth radio show known as the "Red Headed Fiddlers." They are also known for versions of "Cheat 'em" and "Texas Quickstep."
- Oscar Harper (Okeh 1928), a barber from Terrell, a formidable contest opponent, and who was an acquaintance of Prince Albert Hunt. Harper recorded an influential version of "Beaumont Rag" and best known for his recording of "Kelly Waltz."
- Prince Albert Hunt ( Okeh 1929), the colorful medicine show fiddler best known for his "Blues in the Bottle," and another composition entitled "Houston Slide," who was murdered outside a "Deep Ellum" saloon in East Dallas in 1931.
- Samuel Morgan Peacock (Vocalion 1928-29), another barber from Cleburne who was one of the first to play on Ft. Worth radio under the name Smith's Garage Fiddle Band, and the first to record "Beaumont Rag."
- Robert Cook (Vocalion 1928), a Dallas contest fiddler who recorded a couple of fiddling medleys.
Note the concentration of recorded fiddling activity from 1927-1930. This was mainly the result of the new recording technology, acoustic to electronic, that came into use after 1926 and made it easier to produce higher quality recordings. But this will be short-lived because the depression of the 1930s will severely curtail recording activity and most certainly denied those such as Major Franklin who was winning contests as early as 1930, an opportunity to begin recording after about 1930-31. The preceding commentary is courtesy of Charles Wolfe and the "Devil's Box" and Bill C. Malone's book, "Country Music USA."