“Narmour and Smith: A Carroll County Story,” pt. 1

by

 

by Robert Crumb

“Narmour & Smith: a Carroll County Story,” written in November 1997, revised in February, 1999

Thanks to Harry Bolick for finding this and making it freely  available.

By SUSIE JAMES CARROLLTON

Coleman Narmour recounts this story his father, fiddler Willie T. Narmour, told him about the origin of his enduring hit tune, “Carroll County Blues”: “He said he was leaving Leflore one fall. He’d taken a wagonload of cotton to the gin that morning. You’d have to wait your turn in line, so between sundown and dark his cotton had been ginned, and he and his mules were heading on back home. A little black boy was sitting on a train depot with a jew’s harp, trying to mock a train. From that he got the tune, and got to fiddling the next day on the “Carroll County Blues.” Willie Narmour and his partner, Shell Smith, recorded the song in 1929 and went on to make a slew of other records before first, the Depression nearly squeezed life out of the recording industry; then, changing times altered the quality and tastes of it.

“Carroll County Blues” became legend and was subsequently recorded by many other musicians. Regionally at least, it’s in live repertoires, a rousing hillbilly, then redneck standard. Yet Narmour’s daughter, Hazel Wiggins of near Holcomb, will say quickly and decisively, “Nobody else can play  “Carroll County Blues”. And there wasn’t a ‘Carroll County Blues’ until they went to the studio and recorded it.” Sounds mysterious, doesn’t it?

Smith and Narmour, buddies, dirt poor farmers, played guitar and fiddled for country dances. They were a county item long before they were discovered by scouts from Okeh Records at a fiddling contest at Winona in 1927. Such contests, Wiggins recalls, “Daddy always won, until they wouldn’t let him enter anymore.” Neither wanted to go on tour. While stories of how they entertained their fellow passengers during train trips to recording sessions regaled their families and friends, the truth is, Narmour and Smith were home boys.

Narmour’s daughter shared memories of her father working out tunes, for which he and Smith had no names, and which they couldn’t commit to paper, because neither could read nor write music. Names of these nostalgic tunes were created simply because there had to be titles for the record labels.  Titles, such as “Captain George Has Your Money Come”, “Who’s Been Giving You Corn?”, “Where the Southern Crosses the Dog”, “Sweet Milk & Peaches Breakdown” and “Winona Echoes Waltz” were products of discussions between the recording people and the artists “on the spot”, Wiggins said.         

TO BE CONTINUED

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5 Responses to ““Narmour and Smith: A Carroll County Story,” pt. 1”

  1. Mark Narmour Says:

    This is Mark Arlin Narmour, Montgomery, AL. Susie, if you read this please call me at 334-303-8191.

    • Susie James Says:

      Mark, I hope I didn’t misunderstand Laura Oakes the other day and understand your name to be “Mike”. I just now saw this post! Maybe will see you in Carrollton, Miss., Saturday, Oct. 4, 2014.

  2. larry ledlow Says:

    This is interesting. My folks are from Georgiana,AL and Hank Sr. was born not far from there. His grandmother had a boarding house and he lived there a lot while his mama was off somewhere else.
    Mama and Daddy knew the Williams family but didn’t know Hank personally, but everybody knew everybody back in the depression.
    So I like to hear these stories as they bring back many memories of the greatest generation.
    Hank and Elvis had that certain ole poor boy southern heritage that shaped their lives and music

  3. Mark Narmour Says:

    This is Mark Arlin Narmour, 46, and I live in Deatsville, AL. I am the great grandson of Willie T. Narmour. My dad is Charles Arlin, Uncle is Wesley Allen and grandfather was Charles Arlin Narmour, Sr. Music is a very important part of my upbringing and happiness, and I have researched Willie T. extensively. We have some very talented, self taught musicians and singers over here in the “Montgomery area Narmour clan.” I love to research my heritage and look forward to the day we get an invite to Mississippi. I believe I was around 5 when I attended Uncle Sam’s funeral in Greenwood, MS.

  4. Mark Arlin Narmour Says:

    I am the great grandson of Willie T. Narmour, Mark Arlin Narmour, 46, from Montgomery, AL area. My grandfather, Charles Arlin, is Coleman’s brother. We have a bunch of talented, self taught musicians over here in the Alabama Narmour clan. I look forward to being invited back to Mississippi by some of my blood kin. Haven’t been to Greenwood since I was five, when Uncle Sam died.

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