FIDDLIN’ JOHN CARSON, March 23, 1868-December 11, 1949

Fiddlin’ John Carson was the first "hillbilly" recording artist to achieve nationwide popularity. Prior to his appearance on the scene, record companies had employed mainstream singers—the most example being light opera veteran Vernon Dalnart, whose rendition of "The Prisoner’s Song," sold a reputed five million copies, while igniting a rage for country/folk recordings—and professional musicians sight-reading from sheet music arrangements.

Hailing from Fannin County, Georgia, Carson worked at a variety of jobs—horse racing jockey, foreman at a cotton mill, house painting, and moonshining—while winning his state’s fiddling championship seven times. His regional reputation was further enhanced when he began performing on radio station WSB, Atlanta on September 9, 1922. Atlanta phonograph and record dealer Polk Brockman prevailed upon the General Phonograph Corporation to record Carson for its flagship label during one of its southern field trips. The first session, overseen on June 14, 1923 by the legendary producer, Ralph Peer, resulted in the release of "The Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane"/"The Old Hen Cackled and the Rooster’s Going to Crow" (Okeh 4800). Brockman immediately placed an order for 500 copies, and the disc’s success led Okeh to bring Carson to New York City to record twelve (some experts place the total at fourteen) tracks on November 7-8, 1923. In all, he would record approximately 150 discs for the company from 1923-1931, often backed by a string band, the Virginia Reelers. His material included square dances, British folk ballads, cowboy songs, minstrel tunes, Tin Pan Alley fare, and topical compositions celebrating the events of the day. Among his best-selling releases were "You Will Never Miss Your Mother Until She Is Gone" (Okeh 4994; 1924), "Fare You Well, Old Joe Clark" (Okeh 40038; 1924), "Arkansas Traveler" (Okeh 40108; 1924), "John Henry Blues" (Okeh 7004; 1924), and "Old Dan Tucker" (Okeh 40263; 1925).

Carson worked as an elevator operator in his later years. He would intermittently cut material for RCA, much of which updated his earlier recordings. There has been a revival of interest in Carson’s work in recent decades, stimulated by Gene Wiggins’ book, Fiddlin’ Georgia Crazy: Fiddlin’ John Carson, His Real World and the World of His Songs (University of Illinois Press, 1987) and Document Records’ release of his complete recordings in the late 1990s.

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