The Old-Time Herald Volume 11, Number 8

Feature
A Tale of Two Technologies:
Rediscovering the Buffalo Ragged Five, Pioneering Country Gospel Recording Artists
By Jerry Zolten
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The Howard Funeral Home Quartette, a later incarnation of the Buffalo Ragged Five. l to r, Jack Skeen, Andy Wilder, Edd Scalf, Carlie Parker.courtesy of the Golden Family

In Buffalo, Kentucky, in 1931, the Great Depression had settled in. The rural crossroads in Whitley County -- then just a church, a schoolhouse, and a store that doubled as a post office -- sits in the rugged southeastern hill country on the Tennessee border, where theCumberland coal plateau gives way to the Daniel Boone National Forest.

A Depression-era newspaper story told of East Kentucky coal miners living on dandelions. The folks around Buffalo fared a bit better, because there, at least, the terrain favored some farming. People had food to eat and livestock to tend, but the occupation of farming was still far less than lucrative.

In these troubled times, however, there were bright spots, among them the budding country music industry taking shape in Nashville, 200 miles to the west. The distance may have been far, but the airwaves brought it as close as the radio that sat on the table in the front room of many a home. Since 1927, broadcasts of the Grand Ole Opry over Nashville’s WSM had been stimulating an expanding market for the music of rural America. Some early Opry performers – fiddler Uncle Jimmy Thompson, Dr. Humphrey Bate and his Possum Hunters, the Crook Brothers, Sam and Kirk McGee – had already made names for themselves through their recordings on nationally distributed labels like Columbia, Brunswick, Victor, and Vocalion.

By the early ‘30s, the one-two punch of radio and records had produced a number of significant country music stars like Uncle Dave Macon, the Carter Family, and Jimmie Rodgers. Possibilities were in the air. A good musician with the help of a record might be able to get on the radio and make a decent living. Back in Buffalo, Kentucky, that thought was not lost on a group of young singers who decided to have a go at becoming country music recording artists.

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