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Clarence Ashley

A medicine show performer in the 1910s and 1920s, Clarence (Tom) Ashley influenced the urban folk revival when his early recordings were included on the Folkways album Anthology of American Folk Music in 1952. Although he had retired from the medicine show circuit in 1943, he made a successful comeback in the early '60s when he recorded a pair of albums that introduced influential flatpicking guitarist Arthel "Doc" Watson.

Ashley, who took his last name from the maternal grandfather who raised him, was inspired by the jokes and songs that he heard played by transients who boarded in his family home. His mother's two older sister taught him songs and instructed him on the banjo. Joining his first medicine show in 1913, Ashley traveled by horse and buggy through the southern Appalachian region, playing songs while "the doc" sold his elixirs. In 1914, he married Hettie Osborne and settled in Shouns, TN.

Although he supplemented his income as a musician by farming and working at a sawmill, Ashley continued to perform. By 1927, Ashley was performing with numerous string bands, including the Blue Ridge Entertainers. He recorded as a member of Byrd Moore & His Hot Shots and the Carolina Tar Heels. His solo debut came in 1929 when he recorded "The Cuckoo Bird" and "The House Carpenter" for Columbia. Signed to a solo contract by both Columbia (as Clarence Ashley) and Victor (as Tom Ashley), he recorded for both labels until 1933.

Retiring from the medicine shows in 1943, Ashley bought a truck and, with his son J.D., hauled coal, furniture, and lumber. His performances were limited to working as a comedian with Charlie Monroe's Kentucky Partners and the Stanley Brothers.

While his songs were revived by string band instrumentalists in the 1950s, Ashley disappeared almost completely from the music scene. Attending the Union Grove Old Time Fiddlers Convention in 1960, he met folklorist Ralph Rinzler, who, with folk song collector Eugene Earle, set up a recording session at Ashley's daughter's home in Saltville, VA. Ashley invited Watson to accompany him on guitar. The session marked the acoustic guitar debut for Watson, who had previously played electric guitar in rockabilly and country bands. Beginning in 1961, Ashley and Watson, joined by fiddler Fred Price, performed at northern folk festivals, coffeehouses, and clubs. Their concert at New York'sTown Hall was recorded and released as their second album. Ashley recorded an additional album with fiddler Tex Isley. ~ Craig Harris
full bio

Selected Discography

x

Track List: Rough Guide To Jimmie Rodgers

Disc 1

1. Mule Skinner Blues (Blue Yodel #8)

2. Somewhere Down Below The Mason Dixie Line

3. Frankie And Johnnie

4. Waiting For A Train

5. Any Old Time

6. Why There's A Tear In My Eye

7. My Blue-Eyed Jane

8. In The Jailhouse Now, No.2

9. In The Hills Of Tennessee

10. T.B. Blues

11. Away Out On The Mountain

12. Dear Old Sunny South By The Sea

13. Blue Yodel #1 (T Is For Texas)

14. Miss The Mississippi And You

15. Ben Dewberry's Final Run

16. I'm Lonely And Blue

17. Jimmie Rodgers' Last Blue Yodel

18. When The Cactus Is In Bloom

19. My Little Old Home Down In New Orleans

20. Gambling Bar Room Blues

21. My Little Lady

22. Jimmie The Kid

23. Yodeling Cowboy

24. My Rough And Rowdy Ways

25. I'm Free (From The Chain Gang Now)

26. Keep On The Sunny Side

29. Chevrolet Car

31. Sweet Sarah Blues

32. Sweet Sixteen

33. The Wagoner's Lad

34. My Name Is Ticklish Reuben

35. Ash Can Blues

36. Death Of John Henry (Steel Driving Man)

38. Pretty Polly

40. Worried Blues

41. It Ain't Gonna Rain No Mo'

42. Sugar Baby

44. Goodnight Darling

45. Gonna Swing On The Golden Gate

48. Angeline The Baker

49. Dark Hollow Blues

50. Just A Melody

Disc 2
x

Track List: Anthology Of American Folk Music

Disc 1

1. Henry Lee

2. Fatal Flower Garden

3. The House Carpenter

4. Drunkard's Special

5. Old Lady And The Devil

6. The Butcher's Boy

7. The Wagoner's Lad

8. King Kong Kitchie Kitchie Ki-Me-O

9. Old Shoes And Leggins

10. Willie Moore

11. A Lazy Farmer Boy

12. Peg And Awl

13. Ommie Wise

14. My Name Is John Johanna

Disc 2

1. Bandit Cole Younger

2. Charles Giteau

3. John Hardy Was A Desperate Little Man

4. Gonna Die With My Hammer In My Hand

5. Stackalee

6. White House Blues

7. Frankie

8. When That Great Ship Went Down

9. Engine 143

10. Kassie Jones

11. Down On Penny's Farm

12. Mississippi Boweavil Blues

13. Got The Farm Land Blues

Disc 3

1. Sail Away Lady

2. The Wild Wagoner

3. Wake Up Jacob

4. La Danseuse

5. Georgia Stomp

6. Brilliancy Medley

7. Indian War Whoop

8. Old Country Stomp

9. Old Dog Blue

10. Saut Crapaud

11. Acadian One-Step

12. Home Sweet Home

13. Newport Blues

Disc 4

3. Rocky Road

4. Present Joys

5. This Song Of Love

6. Judgement

7. He Got Better Things For You

8. Since I Laid My Burden Down

9. John The Baptist

10. Dry Bones

11. John The Revelator

12. Little Moses

13. Shine On Me

14. Fifty Miles Of Elbow Room

Disc 5

1. The Coo Coo Bird

2. East Virginia

3. Minglewood Blues

5. James Alley Blues

7. I Wish I Was A Mole In The Ground

8. Mountaineer's Courtship

9. The Spanish Merchant's Daughter

10. Bob Lee Junior Blues

11. Single Girl, Married Girl

12. La Vieux Soulard Et Sa Femme

13. Rabbit Foot Blues

14. Expressman Blues

Disc 6

1. Poor Boy Blues

2. Feather Bed

3. Country Blues

4. 99 Year Blues

5. Prison Cell Blues

6. See That My Grave Is Kept Clean

8. Way Down The Old Plank Road

9. Buddy Won't You Roll Down The Line

10. Spike Driver Blues

11. K.C. Moan

12. Train On The Island

13. The Lone Star Trail

14. Fishing Blues

x

Track List: Classic Mountain Songs From Smithsonian Folkways

1. Omie Wise

2. Sugar Baby

3. I Am A Poor Pilgrim Of Sorrow

4. Sixteen Tons

5. John Henry

6. Lost Indian

7. Southbound

8. High On A Mountain

9. Coal Creek March

10. Coal Miner's Blues

11. Railroad Blues

12. Cuckoo Bird

13. Conversation With Death (Oh Death)

14. Lone Prairie

15. Rain And Snow

16. I Wish I Was A Mole In The Ground

17. Moonshiner

18. Wildwood Flower

19. Barbry Ellen (Barbara Allen)

20. Daniel Prayed

21. Wreck Of The Number Nine

22. Red Jacket Mine Explosion

23. Kingdom Come

24. Amazing Grace

x

Track List: Classic Old-Time Music From Smithsonian Folkways

1. Sugar Hill

2. Bill Morgan And His Gal (My Name Is Morgan But It Ain't J.P.)

3. Country Blues

4. Little Sadie

5. Susannah Gal

6. Wednesday Night Waltz

7. Cyclone Of Rye Cove

8. I'm Leaving You This Lonesome Song

9. Carroll County Blues

10. Don't Let Your Deal Go Down

11. Trouble In Mind

12. Chilly Winds

13. Going Down The Road Feeling Bad

14. Pretty Polly

15. Bonaparte's Retreat

16. Concord Rag

17. John Henry

18. Bowling Green

19. Fine Times In Our House

20. Streets Of Glory

21. Policeman

22. Love Somebody (Soldier's Joy)

23. House Of David Blues

24. Ship In The Clouds

25. Late Last Night

26. Look Down That Lonesome Road

27. Down Yonder

28. Jaybird March

29. John Brown's Dream

x

Track List: Close To Home: Old Time Music From Mike Seeger's Collection, 1952-1967

1. In The Sweet Bye And Bye

2. Tie Your Dog, Sally Gal

3. Banjo Instrumental

4. Lost Train Blues

7. Old Gambling Man

9. Shout Little Lulu

10. He Will Set Your Fields On Fire

12. Going To Lay Down My Burdens

13. John Henry

14. Pretty Fair Damsel

15. It's These Hard Times

17. Jackson Schottische

18. Lone Prairie

19. Molly Put The Kettle On

27. Red Wing

29. Blackberry Blossom

30. Alabama Gals

31. Old Joe Clark

32. Sugar Baby

33. Queen Sally

34. Poor Orphan

37. He Said If You Love Me, Feed My Sheep

38. I Would Not Live Always

x

Track List: Friends Of Old Time Music: The Folk Arrival 1961 - 1965

Disc 1

1. I'm Troubled

2. The Country Blues

3. Going Down To The River

4. East Virginia Blues

5. The Storms Are On The Ocean

6. The Dream Of The Miner's Child

7. Soldier's Joy

8. Coffee Blues

9. Live And Let Live

10. Lonely Tombs

11. Rockin' Boogie

12. Brown's Dream

13. Down South Blues

14. Knoxville Blues

15. Have A Feast Here Tonight

16. Riley

17. Buck And Wing

Disc 2

1. Hell Among The Yearlings

2. Amelia Earhart's Last Flight

3. The Brakeman's Blues

4. Foggy Mountain Top

5. Hicks' Farewell

6. Jordan Is A Hard Road To Travel

7. Write Me A Few Of Your Lines

8. Bimini Gal

9. Shady Grove

10. Grey Eagle

11. Walkin' The Dog

12. San Francisco Bay Blues

13. Short Life Of Trouble

14. John Henry

15. Kneelin' Down Inside The Gate

16. Tell Me Why You Like Roosevelt

17. Bury Me Under The Weeping Willow

18. Mansions For Me

19. Before This Time Another Year

Disc 3

1. My Creole Belle

2. "Guitar Lesson"

3. Cincinnati Blues

4. Poor Boy In Jail

5. He's Solid Gone

6. Maggie Walker Blues

7. Chevrolet

8. Rising Sun Blues

9. Lord, Build Me A Cabin In Glory

10. Frankie And Albert

11. Hard Times

12. The Miller's Will

13. The Coo Coo Bird

14. Double File

15. The Wandering Boy

16. Stranger Blues

17. I Saw The Light

18. Sugar Hill

19. Amazing Grace

x

Track List: Galax, Virginia Old Fiddler's Convention

1. Turkey In The Straw

2. Whoa Mule

3. Bill Cheatham

4. The Sweetest Gift A Mother's Smile

5. Cumberland Gap

6. Walk In The Parlor

7. John Henry

8. Cricket On The Hearth

9. Columbus Stockade Blues

10. Concord Rag

11. Blackberry Blossom

12. Paddy On The Turnpike

13. Wandering Boy

14. Stoney Creek

15. Cackling Hen

16. Bill Cheatham

17. Seeing Nellie Home

18. Leather Britches

19. Sally Ann

20. Honeysuckle Rag

21. Old Man At The Mill

22. Walking In My Sleep

23. Kingdom's Come

x

Track List: People Take Warning 3: Man Vs. Man

Disc 1

2. Wreck Of The Old 97

3. Bill Wilson

4. The Crash Of The Akron

5. The Fate Of Talmadge Osborne

8. Fate Of Will Rogers & Wiley Post

9. Down With The Old Canoe

10. Wreck Of Number 52

11. Kassie Jones Part 1

12. Kassie Jones Part 2

13. The Brave Engineer

14. The Sinking Of The Titanic

15. Fate Of Chris Lively And Wife

16. Wreck On The Mountain Road

17. The Unfortunate Brakeman

19. The Fatal Wreck Of The Bus

20. Last Scene Of The Titanic

21. Casey Jones

23. The Titanic

24. When That Great Ship Went Down

Disc 2

1. The Story Of The Mighty Mississippi

3. Dixie Boll Weevil

5. Ohio Prison Fire

6. Memphis Flu

7. Explosion In The Fairmount Mine

8. Storm That Struck Miami

9. When The Levee Breaks

10. Alabama Flood

13. High Water Everywhere, Part 2

14. Ryecove Cyclone

15. McBeth Mine Explosion

16. Dry Well Blues

17. Baltimore Fire

18. Tennessee Tornado

19. Dry Spell Blues, Part 2

20. The Santa Barbara Earthquake

21. The Death Of Floyd Collins

22. The Porto Rico Storm

23. Boll Weavil

24. The Flood Of 1927

Disc 3

1. Peddler And His Wife

2. The Little Grave In Georgia

3. Kenney Wagner's Surrender

4. Henry Clay Beattie

5. The Murder Of The Lawson Family

7. Railroad Bill

8. Frankie

9. Trial Of Richard Bruno Hauptmann, Part 1

10. Trial Of Richard Bruno Hauptmann, Part 2

12. Darling Cora

13. Billy Lyons And Stack O' Lee

14. Tom Dooley

17. Fingerprints Upon The Windowpane

18. The Bluefield Murder

20. Fate Of Rhoda Sweeten

21. Dupree Blues

22. Poor Ellen Smith

x

Track List: The Rose And The Briar: Death, Love And Liberty In The American Ballad

1. Barbary Allen

2. Pretty Polly

3. Ommie Wise

4. Little Maggie

5. Frankie

6. Deliah's Gone

7. Wreck Of The Old '97

8. Dead Man's Curve

9. Buddy Bolden's Blues (I Thought I Heard Buddy Bolden Say)

10. The Coo Coo Bird

11. Volver Volver

12. The Foggy, Foggy Dew

13. Black, Brown, And Beige, Pt. IV (Come Sunday)

14. El Paso

15. Trial Of Mary Maguire

16. Down From Dover

17. Sail Away

18. Lily, Rosemary And The Jack of Hearts

19. Nebraska

20. Blackwatertown

Comments

Report as inappropriate
ahomer
Clarence Ashley, along with Doc Boggs, Roscoe Holcomb and others of the mountain south are the crossroads of blues, old british isles tunes, bluegrass, the roots of roots music. The use of the banjo owes much to the instrument's African origins, but it's incorporated into the tradiions of he British Isles.

Great stuff--

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