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I'VE GOT THE BIG RIVER BLUES (1933) by the Delmore Brothers

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Published on Nov 9, 2009

I am a big fan of Doc Watson's performance of 'Deep River Blues'. In finding out about it's origins, I came across the Delmore Brothers, who did a version in 1933 entitled 'I've Got the Big River Blues'. I really like their close harmony singing and their straightforward approach to music, which morphed from rootsy country ballads to later up tempo tunes which were clearly influential on the development of rock and roll.

The Delmore Brothers were Alton and Rabon Delmore, and were country music pioneers and stars of the Grand Ole Opry in the 1930s. They, together with other brother duets such as the Louvin Brothers, the Blue Sky Boys, the Monroe Brothers, the McGee Brothers, and The Stanley Brothers, had a profound impact on the history of country music and American popular music, in general. The brothers were born into poverty in Elkmont, Alabama, as the sons of tenant farmers amid a rich tradition of gospel music and Appalachian folk. Their mother, Mollie Delmore, wrote and sang gospel songs for their church. The Delmores blended gospel-style harmonies with the quicker guitar-work of traditional folk music and the blues to help create the still-emerging genre of country. In addition to the regular six-string acoustic guitar, the duo was one of the few to use the rare tenor guitar, a four-string instrument that had primarily been used previously in vaudeville shows. In 1931 The Brother's did their first recording session for Columbia; cutting, "I've Got the Kansas City Blues" and "Alabama Lullaby" which became their theme song. In 1933 they signed a contract with Victor Records budget label Bluebird, during which they recorded this song. They became regulars on the Grand Ole Opry variety program. Within three years, they had become the most popular act on the show. Disagreements with Opry management led to the brothers leaving the show in 1939. While they continued to play and record music throughout the 1940s, they never achieved the same level of success they had with the Grand Ole Opry.

In 1946 they expanded from their acoustic two-piece arrangements into a full band, with bass, mandolin, steel guitar, fiddle, harmonica, and additional guitars. Some of those additional guitars were supplied by Merle Travis. 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 towards uptempo 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 back beats and bluesy structures. (Source - Wikipedia).

I have done a slideshow video using every image I could find of the Delmore Brothers. Comments are welcome.

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