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The Delmore Brothers

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Biography

The Delmore Brothers are not nearly as well-known as such early country giants as the Carter Family, Jimmie Rodgers, Bob Wills, and Hank Williams. The reasons for this, upon close inspection of their work, are not readily apparent. They were one of the greatest early country harmonizers, drawing from both gospel and Appalachian folk. They were skilled songwriters, penning literally hundreds of songs, many of which have proven to be durable. Most important, they were among the few early traditional country acts to change with the times, and pioneer some of those changes. Their recordings from the latter half of the 1940s married traditional country to boogie beats and bluesy riffs. In this respect they laid a foundation for rockabilly and early rock & roll, and rate among the most important white progenitors of those forms. The Delmores were born into poverty in Elkmont, AL, as the sons of tenant farmers. Alton (b. December 25, 1908) would write most of the duo's original material, although his younger brother Rabon (b. December 3, 1916) was also a competent writer. Performing on guitar and vocals from early ages, they were playing as a pair by the time Rabon was ten years old. In the early '30s, they were confident enough to enter professional music, auditioning for Columbia in 1931 and successfully auditioning for Nashville radio station WSM the following year. Throughout the 1930s, the Delmore Brothers recorded often, as well as performing on several radio stations. They probably gained their most early fame, however, from their long-running stint with the Grand Ole Opry between 1932 and 1938. The music emphasized their beautiful soft harmonies, accomplished guitar picking, and strong original compositions. Unusually for that time (or any other), the Delmores would switch high and low harmony parts from song to song (or even within the same song), although Alton would usually sing lead. Whether performing their own songs, traditional ones, or gospel, they brought a strong bluesy feeling to both their music and their vocals. It's that element, perhaps, that enables the Delmores, more than many other acts of the time, to speak to listeners of subsequent generations. Not to be underestimated either are their down-to-earth lyrical concerns, which address commonplace struggles and lost love with grace and redeeming, good-natured humor, rarely resorting to cornball tears. In 1944, the Delmores signed with King, inaugurating an era which found them delving into and innovating more modern forms of country. Although their first sides for the label stuck to a traditional mold, in 1946 they expanded from their acoustic two-piece arrangements into full-band backup, with bass, mandolin, steel guitar, fiddle, harmonica, and additional guitars. Some of those additional guitars were supplied by Merle Travis, who credited Alton Delmore as a key influence. In retrospect, however, the most important backup musician on these sides was Wayne Raney, who played a "choke" style of harmonica that was heavily influenced by the blues. The Delmores were also leaning increasingly toward up-tempo material that reflected the upsurge in Western swing and boogie-woogie. By the end of 1947, they were also using electric guitar and drums. Raney (who also sang) in effect acted as a third member of the Delmores in the late '40s and early '50s, when they plunged full-tilt into hillbilly boogie. These are the most widely available and, in some ways, best Delmore Brothers sides. They were also the most successful, and in the late '40s the brothers reached their commercial peak, releasing a series of hard-driving boogies with thumping backbeats and bluesy structures. Arguably they milked the cow dry, recording "Hillybilly Boogie," "Steamboat Bill Boogie," "Barnyard Boogie," "Mobile Boogie," "Freight Train Boogie," and even "Pan American Boogie." These were usually exciting performances, though, featuring extended guitar solos that clearly looked forward to the rock era. Listen, for instance, to the lengthy guitar breaks of "Beale Street Boogies" (unreleased at the time) -- very few, if any, white or black artists were riffing so extensively in 1947. And of course "Beale Street" itself was a tribute to the most famous musical street in Memphis, the city that did so much to cross-fertilize black and white roots music into what became rock & roll. The Delmores didn't stick entirely to boogies during the King era, also releasing some slower bluesy material. One of these, the original "Blues Stay Away From Me," became their biggest hit, and indeed the most famous Delmore Brothers song of all, often covered by subsequent country and pop artists. Interestingly, the Delmores continued to record gospel on the side, as part of the Brown's Ferry Four, a quartet which also included (at various points) Grandpa Jones, Merle Travis, and Red Foley. As influential as the Delmores' King sides may have been on the future of American pop, the Delmores themselves would not be able to capitalize on that future. By the early '50s, their commercial success was fading. After the death of his young daughter, Alton drank heavily; worse, Rabon died of lung cancer on December 4, 1952. Alton (like longtime accompanist Wayne Raney) did record some material as a solo act, in both the gospel and rockabilly fields. Alton was way too old to begin a new career as a rockabilly singer, though, and he didn't record much for the last decade of his life. He wrote the autobiography Truth Is Stranger Than Publicity (published posthumously in 1977 by CMF) before dying on June 9, 1964. By that time the Delmore Brothers' work had already proven extremely influential, particularly on the harmonies of fellow sibling acts the Louvin Brothers and the Everly Brothers. They left behind an extraordinary lengthy and consistent body of recorded work -- virtually none of their sides are lousy, at least the ones which have been reissued. Much of the Delmores' early material, unfortunately, can be hard to locate, although many of the King sides have been reissued on CD. ~ Richie Unterberger
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Top Tracks

  1.   Track
    Popularity
  2.   Gospel Cannonball
  3.   Don't You See That Train
  4.   Hummingbird Special
  5.   Till the Roses Bloom Again
  6.   False Hearted Girl
  7.   Happy on the Mississippi Shore
  8.   It's Takin' Me Down
  9.   I'm Lonesome Without You
  10.   When It's Summertime in a Southern Clime
  11.   No Drunkard Can Enter There
  12.   You Can't Do Wrong and Get By
  13.   Lonesome Jailhouse Rock
  14.   Over the Hills
  15.   The Frozen Girl
  16.   See That Coon in a Hickory Tree
  17.   Gonna Lay Down My Old Guitar
  18.   Don't Let My Ramblin' Bother Your Mind
  19.   Will You Be Lonesome Too?
  20.   Make Room in the Lifeboat for Me
  21.   Harmonica Blues
  22.   She Won't Be My Little Darling
  23.   Everybody Loves Her
  24.   There's Trouble on My Mind Today
  25.   Good Time Saturday Night
  26.   She Left Me Standing on the Mountain
  27.   Honey I'm Ramblin' Away
  28.   When It's Time for the Whip-Poor-Will to Sing
  29.   Wonderful There
  30.   Freight Train Boogie
  31.   Trouble Ain't Nothin' but the Blues
  32.   Little Girl, You're Mean to Me
  33.   Bury Me Under the Weeping Willow
  34.   Lonely Moon
  35.   The Girls Don't Worry My Mind
  36.   Are You Marching With the Savior
  37.   Go Easy Mabel
  38.   The Girl by the River
  39.   Pan American Boogie
  40.   Lonesome Yodel Blues
  41.   Ramblin' Minded Blues
  42.   Hillbilly Boogie
  43.   I Don't Know Why I Love Her
  44.   Singing My Blues Away
  45.   I'm Mississippi Bound
  46.   That Yodelin' Gal -- Miss Julie
  47.   Blow Yo' Whistle, Freight Train
  48.   Brown Ferry Blues
  49.   Love Letters
  50.   Peach Steel Boogie
  51.   Peach Street Boogie
  52.   When They Let the Hammer Down by Wayne Raney
  53.   Lost John Boogie by Wayne Raney
  54.   Gotta Have Some Lovin'
  55.   Git Along
  56.   Tennessee Choo Choo
  57.   The Only Star
  58.   Sweet, Sweet Thing
  59.   Some of These Days You're Gonna Be Sad
  60.   This Train
  61.   Weary Day
  62.   They Say It Is Sinful to Flirt
  63.   The Weary Lonesome Blues
  64.   The Nashville Blues
  65.   The Fugitive's Lament
  66.   Take Me Back to the Range
  67.   Take It to the Captain
  68.   Take Away This Lonesome Day
  69.   Singing My Troubles Away
  70.   Rounder's Blues
  71.   Red River Valley
  72.   Promise Me You'll Always Be Faithful
  73.   Mississippi Shore
  74.   Midnight Train
  75.   Long Journey Home
  76.   Lonesome Jailhouse Blues
  77.   I Need the Prayers of Those I Love
  78.   I've Got the Kansas City Blues
  79.   Hi De Ho Baby Mine
  80.   Bury Me out on the Prairie
  81.   Brown's Ferry Blues
  82.   Born to Be Blue
  83.   Blues Stay Away from Me
  84.   Blue Railroad Train
  85.   Barnyard Boogie
  86.   Baby Girl
  87.   Boogie Woogie Baby
  88.   Peach Tree Street Boogie
  89.   Mobile Boogie
  90.   I'll Be There
  91.   Blues You Never Lose
  92.   The Storms Are on the Ocean
  93.   I Ain't Got Nowhere to Travel
  94.   'Dis Train
  95.   Nothing But the Blues
  96.   Rainin' on the Mountain
  97.   Field Hand Man
  98.   Brown's Ferry Blues #2
  99.   I'm Going Back to Alabama
  100.   Midnite Special
  101.   A Better Range Is Home
  102.   Careless Love
  103.   The Budded Rose
  104.   Wabash Blues
  105.   Leavin' on That Train
  106.   Keep the Camp Fires Burning
  107.   Brother Take Warning
  108.   Prisoner's Farewell
  109.   Silver Dollar
  110.   Real Hot Boogie by Wayne Raney
  111.   God Put a Rainbow in the Clouds
  112.   Hillbilly
  113.   Memories of My Carolina Girl
  114.   Baby You're Throwing Me Down
  115.   No One
  116.   The Love I Cast Away
  117.   15 Miles from Birmingham
  118.   Used Car Blues
  119.   See That Coon In The Hickory Tree
  120.   Brown's Ferry Blues (Pt. 2)
  121.   Lorena, The Slave
  122.   Steamboat Bill Boogie
  123.   I Long to See My Mother
  124.   Southern Moon
  125.   Goodbye Booze
  126.   Heavenly Light Is Shining on Me
  127.   I'm Going Away
  128.   Catfish Baby by Wayne Raney
  129.   I Let the Freight Train Carry Me On
  130.   Lonesome Yodel Blues - No 2
  131.   I Won't Be Worried Long
  132.   The Wrath of God
  133.   I'm Worried Now
  134.   Happy Hicky - The Hobo
  135.   Muddy Water
  136.   I've Got the Big River Blues
  137.   There's Something About Love
  138.   I've Got the Railroad Blues
  139.   Blow Your Whistle, Freight Train
  140.   In the Blue Hills of Virginia
  141.   Going Back to the Blue Ridge Mountains
  142.   Blues Stays Away from Me
  143.   Kentucky Mountain
  144.   Life's Too Short
  145.   In That Vine Covered Chapel in the Valley
  146.   Where Is My Sailor Boy
  147.   The Lover's Warning
  148.   Will the Circle Be Unbroken
  149.   Jack and Jill Boogie by Wayne Raney
  150.   Down South
  151.   The Dying Truckdriver
  152.   Home on the River
  153.   Freight Train Blues
  154.   Gambler's Yodel
  155.   Old Mountain Dew
  156.   How You Gonna Get Your Lovin' Done
  157.   Happy Hickey -- The Hobo
  158.   Back to Birmingham
  159.   Please Be My Sunshine
  160.   There's a Lonesome Road
  161.   You Can't Do Wrong
  162.   Heartbreak Ridge
  163.   I Swear by the Stars
  164.   Quit Treatin' Me Mean
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