By Carl P. McConnell
January 24, 1976
Photo from around 1940; Left to Right: Maybelle Carter's brother, Hugh Jack "Doc" Addington (fiddle/guitar), A.P. Carter's sister, Sylvia Carter (autoharp), "Mother" Maybelle Addington Carter (guitar), Maybelle's 2nd cousin, Carl P. McConnell (banjo), Anita Carter, June Carter (mandolin), Helen Carter (guitar).
To go on with the story of these crazy, whirlwind music makings, I can’t afford not to tell you that another one of our meeting places was in Maces Springs, Va., at the home of Doc’s sister, Maybelle Carter, one of the original members of the famous Carter Family. She did all of the fancy lead guitar picking in all of the recordings and elsewhere. She sang the tenor part with Sara and A. P. Carter. Maybelle is not only a guitar picker, but she is a first class old fashioned banjo picker, “hoe-down” style, a piano player second to none, and the best lead autoharp picker to be found, as far as I’m concerned. Maybelle is a natural born country musician, if there ever was such a creature.
Maybelle gave me perfect treatment all of the times that I was in her home. She gave me ten times better treatment than I deserved. Maybelle and her mother had to be the best kind of people to put up with me as much as they did. I spent many weeks with each of them.
It has just now dawned on me that I have failed to mention that there were various other local musicians, with whom we shared these programs. We took turnabout with them at the majority of these music practice sessions. We weren’t making all of the music, by any means.
In the midst of all the corny mountain music making, Doc and Fiddlin’ Jimmy D. Cress spent the months of August and September 1934 at our home. They helped us work on the farm, and each night after supper, we would fiddle and frolic until late bedtime. Most of these nights, we had a bunch of neighbor visitors as an audience. This always stimulates a musician somewhat and makes him put a little more into his picking. As I have already stated, Jimmy D. Cress was a top old time fiddler on a few of the old tunes such as: “Cumberland Gap”, “Cackling Hen”, and others. He also had a couple of tunes on which he did some nice trick fiddling. These two tunes were: “The Drunken Hiccups” and “Pop Goes the Weasel”.
In the spring May 1934, Doc and I went on our first personal appearance. Sara Carter was booked for a Saturday night appearance at the old Odd Fellow’s Hall in Bristol, Virginia. She asked us to go along and share this program with her. Of course, we welcomed the opportunity. Sara opened the program by singing about six or eight of the old favorite ballads and hymns that she was so noted for singing. Then Doc and I came out and sang possibly a half dozen duet numbers. I don’t recall but a couple of these, the “Browns Ferry Blues”, and “I’m Goin’a Quit My Rowdy Ways”. We played a couple of instrumentals, with Doc in the lead on the guitar. I sang a couple of sad songs. This was good experience for us.
Our first radio broadcast was on Station WOPI, Bristol, Va.-Tenn., the first part of the year 1934, on "The Saturday Afternoon Matinee". We appeared on this program nearly every Saturday afternoon thereafter, until the early part of 1936.
I have waited a long time to give you this information, but I’m a firm believer in that old saying, “It’s better late than never”, so here goes. It only took one jam session with Doc to convince me that he was as far ahead of me as day is night on taking leads and doing interludes. So from the very start, I shirked this responsibility and left this part up to him. That is why he has always done, and still does the leading on the guitar and I, the second on the banjo. This is an odd style, as a matter of fact, it is exactly the opposite of what it should be, but it is too late now to try to make the correction. Anyway, shut one eye and plug one ear and you’ll hardly know the difference. Oh yes, I was about to forget something else, and that is – I sing lead and Doc does the tenor part.
Well, in order to shorten the story a bit, Doc and I followed this same routine of picking and singing right on up through the middle of April 1936, when Doc, along with three friends (the Bays Brothers) went to Nobelsville, Indiana, where he got a job in a rubber tire plant. In a short time, he met a girl who soon proved to be his future wife. They were married very shortly and settled down in the area.
It was 2½ years before we were together again to make anymore music. It was the middle of October 1938, when I got word from Doc for me to come out to his place in Westfield, Indiana as quickly as possible. We were wanted in Chicago by the Consolidated Drug Company to do an audition (a tryout for a job with them). We were recommended to the Drug Company by our good friends and kindred, the Carter Family, who was already employed by them. They were, at that time, located on ZERA, Del Rio, Texas.
Well, about two weeks later, we were in the middle of Chicago’s downtown business district on N. Wells Street, in Harry O’Neil’s office. Mr. O’Neil was the ‘Drug Trades’ advertising manager. He had us to sing a couple, accompanied by our banjo and guitar. He told us that he would start us on Radio Station WCFL there in Chicago the next day, with a group of his musicians, for a certain amount each per week. We took him up on his offer. We were on this station only a short time, due to a tough union and the high cost of union membership and dues. We were never in the musician’s union while there and weren’t allowed to use our instruments. We had to sing by the music of the group who was in the union.
After a month’s stay on station WCFL, Doc and I and all of the group were transferred to WHAM in Rochester, N. Y., where we were already full fledged members of that local union upon arrival. We could use our own instruments all the while that we were there, which was only two months.
Doc and I were transferred to WHAS, Louisville, Kentucky, in February 1939. On WHAS, we were on the early “Morning Jamboree” program from 6:30 a. m. to 7:30 a. m. along with a group of other musicians, namely, Uncle Henry’s Kentucky Mountaineers, Sally and the Coonhunter, Sunshine Sue and her Rock Creek Rangers, Gordon Sizemore and Little Betty, Joe and Al, The Chuckwagon Boys, and Pat McAdary.
Doc and I also had a fifteen-minute program alone at 4:15 p. m. on WHAS. Randy Blake was our announcer on both of these programs. We spent more time on Station WHAS than all of these other stations combined. We were making personal appearances all over that area of Kentucky, Indiana, and Ohio, that were within driving range, just so that we were able to make it back in time for the “Early Morning Jamboree”.
I used the old Supertone banjo all of the time until about March 1939, when one day Doc and Dick Hartman began telling me of a good used banjo that they had found at a certain music store and pawn shop over on Market Street, in Louisville, that day. They insisted that it was a very expensive banjo, in excellent, almost new condition, and at a certain give away price. I went with them over to this music store that same afternoon and I have never regretted it. I still have this old Paramount banjo and I have had many buyers and quite a few good offers for it. About a year later, I sold my old Supertone five stringer to Doc’s oldest brother, Dewey.
In July 1939, the Consolidated Drug Company talked us into going back to Chicago to do some recording for them. We were to make some transcriptions for radio use, which were to be used on some of the Mexican stations, just across the Texas State line, inside Mexico. We made 84 fifteen-minute programs, consisting of well over 300 songs. We later learned that this was another one of our bad choices that we seemed so gifted to, because instead of just using these transcriptions for a one year period, as the contract stated, they played (used) them for 20 years, over the following radio stations: ZERA, ZENT, ZELD, ZEAW, and two other stations that I am unable to recall.
The Consolidated Drug Company had a rule to let their live talent take a three month vacation during the summer months of June, July, and August and calling them back about the middle of each September to resume broadcasting.
The first week of September 1939, we got a letter each from the Consolidated Drug Company to report back to Station WHAS, Louisville, Kentucky on September 20 for the fall broadcast. Doc and I remained on the “Morning Jamboree” program at WHAS with the regular group, named above, all that fall and winter, until the first of March 1940.
We were then transferred to Station WKRC, Cincinnati, Ohio, where we had two fifteen minute programs each day, until the last of May when the usual summer vacation season started. I can honestly say that we thoroughly enjoyed every one of these broadcasts and all of these stations mentioned here, and all others not identified. It was indeed a pleasure working with all of the groups of musicians and everyone that were involved in one way or another.
The first part of June 1940, Doc and I hooked up with Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters; Helen, June, and Anita, along with A. P. Carter’s youngest sister, Sylvia, who was a good singer as well as a good guitar and autoharp picker. All summer long, we made personal appearances in the eastern half of Tennessee, southwest Virginia, and all down through North Carolina, clear to the coast, playing school houses, court houses, lodge halls, and an occasional theater. We continued making these shows, right on up into the month of September, when we had to quit in order that the Carter Sisters could attend school at Hiltons, Virginia.
Within a month’s time, Doc and I decided to quit the music racket for the time being. He and his wife and children went back to Indiana where his old job was still awaiting him at the Firestone Rubber Company at Noblesville.
I got a job in December 1940 at the barber trade with the Ballis Barber Shop on Main Street in Kingsport, Tennessee. I had taken a three-month course in barbering in the spring of 1938 at Bristol Barber College in Bristol, Virginia.
This same fall, on November 6, 1940, I was married to Mabel Ruth Moore, after a few short years of courtship. I had known her since I was possibly ten years old. Both of us were born and reared within two miles of each other. We attended about three school terms together.
Mabel’s parents lived on top of Big Moccasin Ridge, about a mile north of my Grandpa McConnell’s home and old mill place. Grandpa’s mill place was about the half way mark between my old home place and Mabel’s.
We were blessed with two sweet children; Ronald Carl, born Tuesday, November 18, 1941 and Theresa Ruth, who was born November 27, 1947, on Thanksgiving Day. While I am on this particular family subject, I will bring it all up to date.
Ronald was married to Martha Coombe, of Rich Creek, Virginia on July 28, 1966. They have two children, Stephanie, 6, and Matthew, 3. They now live in Burlington, N. C. Ronald has an electrical engineering degree including a Ph.D. that he achieved at Virginia Tech. He is employed at the Western Electric, Bell Laboratories, located on Highway 40, between Burlington and Greensboro.
Theresa was married to Charlie Ray Lane on March 18, 1968. They have three children; Tracey Michelle, age 7; Charles Michael, age 5; and David Ray, age 17 months. They live in Kingsport, Tennessee. Charlie is employed at the Kingsport Press.
Theresa has a lot of talent. She plays the piano, electric organ, and picks the guitar. She has a good voice and can sing just about any part that she wishes; as well as any type of music, from hymns, to country – to rock and roll.
In reference to these five grandchildren of ours; I never realized what they were like, or why they were called “grandchildren”, until these of ours came along. Well, they were rightly named, for they certainly are Grand, in capital letters.
My wife, Mabel, is the second child of a family of eight children; four boys and four girls. One brother, Edd, is now deceased. She was born October 24, 1918. Her mother and daddy were good Christian church going people. They were always extremely good to me. Mrs. Moore is still living at the old home place. Mr. Moore passed away Wednesday, January 19, 1966. Mrs. Moore has been a good singer all her life, having a nice voice. I am of the opinion that the musical and singing talent that exists among Mabel’s sisters and brothers came through her mother’s side. Mrs. Moore had some sisters and brothers who sang real well also.
Mabel has three sisters who are good singers and also three of her brothers (Howard, Edd, and Glen) were good musicians and singers. They had a pretty good bluegrass type band, back in the late 30s and 40s. They played regularly, for quite some time on the “Saturday Night Hay Ride” program, which was carried by radio station WKPT, Kingsport, Tennessee an also at Elizabethton, Tennessee on the Saturday morning music show through WJHL radio. Their instruments consisted of two guitars and a mandolin.
Glen and Howard, The Moore Brothers, along with Clarence “Tater” Tate were on the “Mid-Day-Merry-Go-Round”, carried by radio station WNOX, Knoxville, Tennessee for a brief period in the year 1949.
In the past five years, Mabel has been joining with Doc and me on a few songs, forming a trio. She is a good singer and sings lead as well as the tenor-alto part that she uses in these trio numbers. She has been with us on about all of our personal appearances (festivals and television appearances) that we have been making since 1971.
For the past three years, Mabel and her oldest brother, Howard, and I have been doing quite a bit of singing and picking. We started out meeting at each other’s homes, just for fun and
for past time. For over a year, we met about twice each week. The songs we use consist mainly of hymns and gospel songs, with a few country songs added for good measure. I think we have a fairly decent trio, as far as close, smooth harmony is concerned. That is the main goal or should be, in a good quartet, duet, trio, or what have you.
In December 1940, a month after our marriage, Mabel and I moved to Kingsport where I worked at the barber trade until March 1941. We then moved to Gate City, Virginia and I started working at the Cross and Vermillion Barber Shop. I have worked at the barber profession in Gate City ever since except for a one year period, between November 1, 1945 until about November 11, 1946, when Doc and I were again back in the music business.
During this five-year period, from November 1940 to November 1945, I did occasionally meet with some of the boys for jam sessions, getting a little practice along, but never over doing it.
Between November 1942 and September 1945, Doc was in the service and spent the majority of this time overseas, In Italy and Sicily. Something like a month after Doc was discharged, Mother Maybelle asked us to come join her and the Carter Sisters at WRNL, Richmond, Virginia where they had been employed for awhile and were well established. They had been making a lot of appearances each week at schoolhouses, courthouses, and some theaters throughout the surrounding area.
After a little corresponding back and forth between Doc, Maybelle, and myself, we agreed to take them up on their offer. We joined them in November 1945. Mother Maybelle and The Carter Sisters had two daily programs on WRNL; one thirty minute program in the mornings from 6:30 to 7:00 o’clock and a fifteen minute program in the afternoons from 3:45 to 4:00 o’clock.
We played schoolhouses throughout that section, within driving range, all through that winter and spring season. In late spring 1946, when we started playing the parks in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland, we concentrated mainly on the ones in Pennsylvania because that state has more than her share of nice parks.
The most entertaining part of our show was June’s “Aunt Polly” comedy act. She was a natural born clown, if there ever was one. There was none better, no where, and that includes Hollywood.
While on WRNL, Doc and I got an invitation to come over to WRVA and go to work on the “Old Dominion Barn Dance” Saturday night program, then being managed and operated by Sunshine Sue and Rock Creek Rangers. We turned this opportunity down, because we felt obligated to Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters. We also had the honor of going over to the governor’s mansion and entertaining Governor Tuck and a group of his special guests one night.
While we were playing these parks up through Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland, we always transcribed our two daily radio programs a week in advance, to take our place on the radio station while we were away. We finished playing these park dates the first part of September 1946 when suddenly the decision was made that all of us should come back home to the beautiful Clinch Mountain area of Southwest Virginia for a month or so vacation and make personal appearances at a few school houses (and the courthouse in Gate City, as well), which we did. This turned out to be another ending to another chapter of mine and Doc’s corny, “ragtime and mountain music making sprees”.
Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters immediately went back to Richmond, Virginia. However this time, they hired in at radio station WRVA for the Saturday night “Old Dominion Barn Dance” program.
Doc, his wife, and five children again packed their suitcases and headed back to Noblesville, Indiana, to take up where he had left off four years before at the Firestone Rubber Company plant.
Mabel, our son Ronald, and I settled down once again in this area. I went back to work at the Scott Barber Shop in Gate City where I still work to this very day, January 24, 1976.
A lot of time lapsed before we were ever together again for any music making, except for possibly three or four times, when Doc and his family would come in for a few days visit to see his people. We would usually then get together on one of these nights, long enough to strike up a few instrumental tunes and possibly run through a dozen songs. This was about all of the picking and singing that we did together for a period of twenty-five years. That’s such a long time for two musicians to be separated that it sounds like a fairy tale. I agree with that, but figure it for yourself, from November 1946 to September 2, 1971. Actually, just to glance back, it doesn’t seem half that long, but time and tide waits on no man, you know.
During those 25 years, I was occasionally meeting with some of the local musicians for music making’s and jam sessions, but I didn’t over do it by any means. For a period of five years that passed during this 25 year period, I never had my banjo out of the case.
Doc had to retire due to disability and came back here from Indiana in September 1971. He has been making his home here ever since, within a half mile of his old home place site.
In no time at all, we were right back at the same old routine of thirty or so years before, meeting at friends and neighbor’s homes, sometimes two or three nights per week, by requests and invitations, to the extent that we got so far behind with our promises that we couldn’t keep up. It was like those days of thirty years before – we never did get around to filling all of our appointments and promises.
With this practice for about two or three months, we got back into fairly good shape again. We brushed up on a lot of our old instrumental numbers, a lot of our old favorite country songs, hymns and gospel songs that we sang together so often years before.
Beside all of the picking and singing, we were also attending a number of family reunions, homecomings, birthday parties, and doing a little singing at a few of the country churches throughout this area.
After a few short months, we started making a few personal appearances with Janette Carter, A. P. and Sara Carter’s youngest daughter. Janette is an old pro at this country music show business and is a good singer as well as a good autoharp and guitar picker. We played quite a lot of school houses and folk festivals with her, such as: “The Smokey Mountain Folk Festival”, Cosby, Tennessee in July 1972; “The National Folk Festival”, Wolf Trap Farm, Vienna, Virginia in July 1973; “The Cumberland Gap Jubilee”, Lincoln Memorial University, Harrogate, Tennessee in September 1974, and also an appearance at Clinch Valley College.
Doc and I also made three appearances at the A. P. Carter Store Building during the past year. Janette has been holding country music shows on Saturday nights for the past year and a half. We also participated in the "First A. P. Carter Memorial Day" at the A. P. Carter Store Building, August 24, 1975.
We participated in the “Carter Stanley Memorial Day” and Blue Grass Festival in Nora, Virginia on May 25, 1975. We were guests on about seven or eight of Jimmy Smith’s (The Old Ridgerunner) Saturday night television shows on Channel 19, WKPT, Kingsport, Tennessee, during the spring of 1972.
We appeared on Cas Walker’s early T. V. Program as guests on Channel 10, Knoxville, Tennessee in January 1972. My wife, Mabel, appeared with us on all of these appearances, except the Cas Walker T. V. Program.
Doc and I had a gift for making bad choices and mistakes while we were making music.
Mistake No. 1: We had two different chances in 1939 and 1940 to record for “The Blue Bird Recording Company (RCA), which were to be a tryout (test) proposition. We completely ignored these two opportunities, as if they were invitations to donate our services to a “country square dance” somewhere.
Mistake No. 2: In the spring of 1940, we were offered the opportunity by Dick Hartman to go with him to Hollywood and make two movies; one with Gene Autry, and the other with Tex Ritter, with all expenses paid and $1000.00 clear cash. Dick Hartman was the originator and leader of the famous “Tennessee Ramblers” that were on Station WBT, Charlotte, North Carolina in the early 1930s.
Dick and his gang had already gone to Hollywood in 1935 and made two movies with Gene Autry. He had two other contracts and wanted Doc and I to join him and his gang in making these two additional movies. We again gave this unusual opportunity the same reception or brush-off, with no more respect and consideration than we did the recording deal.
Well, I suppose that this just about covers most of mine and Doc’s musical history, as I best recall it and you can form your own opinion; I have mine.
Mabel and I have lived at Hiltons, Virginia since September 1952 in a hollow at the foot of Clinch Mountain, south side, in a ramshackle shack.
Letter from a box Mother pulled from under a bed last year.
Carl and Mabel McConnell
Hiltons, Virginia, 24258
June 6, 1971
Sara and Coy W. Bayes
PO Box 73
Angels Camp, California 95222
Dear Carl and Mabel,
I guess Dale has [not] had that hair cut off yet.
I won't own him until he does.
These hippies out here look terrible, etc.
But nothing we can do about it.
So there you are.
don't know when we will be back your way
not till winter is over no way
write any time.
always glad to glad to hear from any one
Love to all,
Sara and Coy
All Rights Reserved
© R. C. McConnell
Mabel McConnell reminiscing about the Carter Family, Doc & Carl: The Original Virginia Boys and the early days of radio.
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