The Old-Time Herald Volume 11, Number 4

Essential Hillbilly Commercial Recordings on 78s
By Ron Cole
Labels from the collections of Peter Honig and Sarah Bryan

The purpose of this list is to inform the reader of commercial country recordings from the 1920s and 1930s that record collectors feel are absolutely essential listening material. Contributors to this article were limited to choosing artists who recorded country music (from individuals to full string bands), before the 1940s. Record collectors and companies (of 78 rpm records) commonly refer to this category as “pre-war hillbilly.” Most of the material on this list came from right around the time of our country’s Depression, because the consensus among many record collectors is that this was the heyday of old-time commercial music.
Ernest Rogers
The Mythological Blues
Golden Melody Boys
Gonna Have ‘lasses in the Morning
Dr. Smith’s Champion Hoss Hair Pullers Just Give Me the Leavings
The Cofer Brothers
Little Janie Green
Bela Lam and his Greene County Singers
May Dearest May
Parker and Woolbright
The Old Arm Chair
Georgia Yellow Hammers
White Lightning
Download all 7 mp3s
(161mb zip file)

First of all, I would like to apologize to anyone who would have wanted to be a part of this article and did not get to participate. My contributors were 78 rpm recording enthusiasts born between 1930 and 1960. I chose this group because I don’t know who the “experts” are in the generations after me. I opted for listeners who would have had little bias towards any particular genre or geographic location. I looked for a cross-section of old-time listeners/musicians from all around the country to contribute, but towards the end of my search, I had many folks whom I admire greatly volunteer their lists, so things came out geographically lopsided. I requested lists from those who know that listening carefully is an art. They’ve spent many an hour reflecting and discussing particular sections or instrumentation on a record, perhaps trying to understand the very essence of what the original musicians themselves were creating at the time. For the true 78 lover, this often has nothing to do with learning the tune. It’s just all about listening.

Criteria: Everyone who contributed was asked to choose the top ten recordings that are their personal favorites, rather than recordings they might think were the best overall. Many contributors had a hard time choosing just ten, but I was confident that the recordings that fell through the cracks for some would be chosen by others. I think this was quite often the case.

The final list order is mostly random. However, I did start with the tunes and songs that were chosen more than once. Originally, I had planned on printing just 100 titles for this article. However (and thankfully), more lists came to me than I had planned. So I had to remove a few choices to keep things under control. The few that were removed did not qualify under the “hillbilly” definition—and please keep in mind, this term was not of my own designation, but one that was defined by the original record companies of the early 20th century.

Regarding the current availability of these favorites, I searched exclusively online, and looked first for CDs to purchase before finding individual mp3s. When there was a choice of CDs to list, I chose one CD from a variety of modern labels that re-issue old-time music. If you are not familiar with or are unable to find any particular label I have listed, you can to contact me. For many of the chosen selections, try going to one of these Web addresses:

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