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The Delmore Brothers

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
full bio

Selected Discography

x

Track List: Classic Cuts, Vol. 3: More From The 1930's Plus

Disc 1

1. I Got The Kansas City Blues

10. Boogie Woogie Baby

16. Pan American Boogie

19. Life's Too Short

Disc 2
Disc 3
Disc 4

25. Steamboat Bill Boogie

x

Track List: Blues Stays Away From Me

Disc 1

1. I've Got The Kansas City Blues

2. Lonesome Yodel Blues

3. I'm Mississippi Bound

4. I Ain't Got Nowhere To Travel

5. Lonesome Jailhouse Blues

6. Brown's Ferry Blues #2

7. Blow Your Whistle Freight Train

8. I'm Going Away

9. Down South

10. I'm Worried Now

11. False Hearted Girl

12. Singing My Troubles Away

13. Weary Lonesome Blues

14. I've Got The Railroad Blues

15. Hi De Ho Baby Mine

16. Baby You're Throwing Me Down

17. Wabash Blues

Disc 2

1. Lorena, The Slave

2. Take Away This Lonesome Day

3. It's Takin' Me Down

4. Lonesome Yodel Blues #2

5. Goodbye Booze

6. Careless Love

7. Over The Hills

8. Rainin' On The Mountain

9. The Storms Are On The Ocean

10. See That Coon In A Hickory Tree

11. Midnight Train

12. I Won't Be Worried Long

13. Mississippi Shore

14. Going Back To The Blue Ridge Mountains

15. Long Journey Home

16. Blues Stay Away From Me

17. Life's Too Short

18. The Girl By The River

x

Track List: Classic Cuts 1933-41

Disc 1

1. I Ain't Got Nowhere To Travel

3. Gonna Lay Down My Old Guitar

5. Brown's Ferry Blues

6. I'm Mississippi Bound

7. I've Got The Big River Blues

8. The Girls Don't Worry My Mind

9. Bury Me Out On The Prairie

10. The Frozen Girl

11. Lonesome Jailhouse Blues

12. Blue Railroad Train

14. Blow Your Whistle Freight Train

15. Down South

16. Brown's Ferry Blues - Part 2

17. I Got The Kansas City Blues

19. The Fugitive's Lament

20. I'm Going Away

21. I Long To See My Mother

22. Lorena, The Slave

Disc 2

1. The Nashville Blues

2. The Lover's Warning

3. I'm Worried Now

4. Take Away This Lonesome Day

5. Promise Me You'll Always Be Faithful

6. Don't You See That Train

7. It's Takin' Me Down

8. That Yodelin' Gal - Miss Julie

11. Lonesome Yodel Blues - 2

14. Take Me Back To The Range

15. No Drunkard Can Enter There

16. Southern Moon

17. False Hearted Girl

18. The Budded Rose

21. No One

Disc 3

2. I Need The Prayers Of Those I Love

3. I've Got The Railroad Blues

4. The Weary Lonesome Blues

5. Heavenly Light Is Shining On Me

6. Wonderful There

7. Singing My Troubles Away

8. They Say It Is Sinful To Flirt

9. Till The Roses Bloom Again

11. Hi De Ho, Baby Mine

12. Goodbye Booze

13. Careless Love (Bring My Baby Back)

14. In That Vine Covered Chapel In The Valley

16. 15 Miles From Birmingham

19. A Better Range Is Home

20. Don't Let My Ramblin' Bother Your Mind

21. Wabash Blues

Disc 4

1. Over The Hills

2. The Dying Truckdriver

5. Rainin' On The Mountain

7. The Storms Are On The Ocean

8. Back To Birmingham

10. God Put A Rainbow In The Clouds

11. There's Trouble On My Mind Today

12. Silver Dollar

13. Old Mountain Dew

14. In The Blue Hills Of Virginia

15. Make Room In The Lifeboat For Me

17. Will You Be Lonesome Too

20. Baby Girl

21. Gospel Cannonball

22. Honey I'm Ramblin' Away

x

Track List: Freight Train Boogie

1. Blues Stay Away From Me

2. Freight Train Boogie

4. Boogie Woogie Baby

5. Rounder's Blues

6. Mobile Boogie

8. Pan American Boogie

10. Brown's Ferry Blues

11. Peach Tree Street Boogie

13. Steamboat Bill Boogie

16. Hillbilly Boogie

17. You Can't Do Wrong And Get By

x

Track List: The Later Years 1933-1952

Disc 1

15. Wonderful There

Disc 2

8. Baby You're Throwing Me Down

17. The Storms Are On The Ocean

Disc 3

1. Prisoner's Farewell

7. Midnight Special

12. Hillbilly Boogie

18. Midnight Train

20. Rounder's Blues

21. The Wrath Of God

23. Freight Train Boogie

Disc 4

2. Mississippi Shore

4. Brown's Ferry Blues

5. Mobile Boogie

8. Barnyard Boogie

13. Peach Tree Street Boogie

14. Blues Stay Away From Me

20. The Girl By The River

Comments

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Sad little tune. Good though.
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When our parents made love they made us to die; now we're friends?
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Stupendous! Wow...
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mattsegel
Awesome music ............ . . . . . . .
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Alright!! Sure wish this type of music and artists were on radio around here. Love it.
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jcarltone3
the harmony sounds like one person with two mouths
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Every year Athens State University in Athens Alabama celebrates with a festival in their honor called Delmore Days.http:// w w w . d e l m o r e d a y s . c o m /
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hermit1927
If the Delmores were alive today, they would be sensational in traditional American music circles. Those not blessed to have heard the Delmores live and in their element will still realize that they were playing rock licks in some songs long before any of the alleged inventors of rock were born. Rock came out of one fascet of country. The term 'rock and roll' was in use long before the egotistical disc jockey claimed to have originated it. It referred to the acts of worshipers in the the sec
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The Delmore Brothers were a top notch harmonizing act of ole timey music. it will live on forever. GOD rest their souls.
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I just gotta say, thank you so much Pandora. For introducing me to these underappreci a t e d masters. I have completely fell in love with their music, too bad that they are virtually almost completely unknown so it is hard to find anything other then "Blues Stay Away From Me" for free online. They have really influenced me and I hope I will have the skill some days to do some Rockabilly or Folk Rock version of "Waiting For That Train" or "When I'm Gone".
Report as inappropriate
Great artists. Glad to see their recordings being reissued.

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