The Leake County Revelers


by Eugene Chadbourne (

The Leake County Revelers was one of the most popular old-time string bands in Mississippi in the late ’20s. The group was also among one of the earliest groups to make records in that state, hitting the jackpot with one of the first sides cut, the lovely “Wednesday Night Waltz.” Like much of the blues and early country talent from Mississippi, the group was scouted out for recording by H.C. Speir, a man who is considered the Sam Phillips of Mississippi music in the ’20s and ’30s. Spier was involved quite early in the game of “talent broker,” the job which would later become known in the record industry as artist and repertory development, or A&R man for short. He arranged a series of sessions for the Leake County Revelers that were released on Okeh and Columbia, and the string band’s reputation spread quickly.

They became known for tunes played in relaxed, slow tempos, which was exactly the opposite of all other string bands which highlighted rapid-fire breakdown numbers. The Leake County Revelers recorded some 44 different sides between 1927 and 1930. Besides the initial success, these recordings have also enjoyed several new additional lifetimes through reissue ventures on labels such as Document and County. Not only has the group’s entire output been made available via several volumes on these labels, various tracks by the group have emerged on a smorgasbord of compilation sets, including anthologies focusing on yodelling, early American string bands, and early country music.

The group was quite famous for its original waltzes and complex vocal harmony arrangements, again in direct contrast to what has seemed like a distinct lack of vocalizing by other Mississippi string bands. In this case, the difference may have had more to do with the commercial desires of the record labels than the repertoires of the groups, since instrumental repertoire was always one of the selling points of most string bands, especially the shenanigans of hellbent-for-leather fiddlers. The blend of Jim Wolverton’s five-string banjo and R.C. Moseley small banjo-mandolin is one of the most recognizable aspects of the group’s sound, highlighted on tracks such as the ragtime instrumental “Dry Town Blues.”

The group humorously reveals their love of slow tempos by titling a piece of stately, almost Baroque parlor music “Mississippi Breakdown,” even though the piece is as far from a breakdown as Seattle is from Mississippi. The previously mentioned “Wednesday Night Waltz” was the band’s biggest hit, as well as one of the first two records issued by the group, first pressed in 1927. The song has been covered by many other artists, particularly fiddlers, and has become a dance warhorse, sometimes appearing under the title of “Kitty Waltz.” It was performed frequently by Curly Fox on the radio in the ’30s and ’40s, and was later recorded by Leroy Canaday. In the ’30s, politician Huey Long hired the Leake County Revelers to play for his campaign, using the down-home music to reinforce his image as a grassroots populist. In the ’90s, the group was nominated for the Mississippi Hall of Fame and has inspired such modern-day string band revival groups as the Old Hat String Band and the Hinds County Revelers.


One Response to “The Leake County Revelers”

  1. The Biting Tick Says:

    I go wild, simply wild, over the Leakers!

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