The Stripling Brothers


From “With Fiddle and Well-Rosined Bow,” by Joyce Cauthen (University of Alabama Press, 1989, 282 pages)

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In Chicago, on August 19, 1929, the Stripling Brothers recorded sixteen tunes, all of which were released on the Vocalion label. Some also were released on Australian and Canadian labels. The tunes included traditional breakdowns like “Wolves Howling” and “Dance All Night with a Bottle in Your Hand”; four waltzes; and the only two vocals the brothers ever recorded, “Weeping Willow” and “Railroad Bum.”

Before the recording session Kapp informed the brothers that they should not play anything that had already been recorded. “You know, the old-timey pieces like ‘Turkey in the Straw’ and ‘Hen Cackle’ and ‘Leather Breeches’ and all like that had been recorded,” said Stripling. Thus he played several tunes of his own composition, among them the “Kennedy Rag,” named after his hometown, and “The Coal Mine Blues.” The latter was composed when Stripling, a cotton farmer who had never been near coal mines, began playing for dances in the mining camps of Walker County. The tune was very popular among the miners who inspired it. Stripling’s “compositions” were committed to memory and to the recording machine, but not to paper, as he had never learned to read or write music.

The records made in Chicago were well received. Charlie Stripling recalled: “The records come out and made a hit and was selling like hotcake. Every where I went they had ’em and was selling ’em. We could have got on, then, with the Victor Company. That agent come through there. He told us, said, ‘I could take one of these records down there and play it. My company would give you a job, right now.’ ”

However, the brothers had a contract with Brunswick-Balke-Collender. Upon its expiration, Dave Kapp, brother of the Brunswick agent, invited them to record for Decca in New York. There, on September 10, 1934, they played fourteen tunes, ten of which were issued. Except for the traditional tune “Chinese Breakdown,” most were waltzes, fox trots, and “ragtime breakdowns,” such as “Down on the L & N,” that Stripling had composed for round dancing. Kapp was not difficult to please, recalled Stripling: “He’d tell me to play over one, and I’d play over it, and I’d think to myself, ‘Well, he won’t take that,’ but he wouldn’t grumble about it. He’d just say, ‘Okay,’ and then he’d ask me what was the name of it and ask me how come it’s the name it is, and make a record of it then.”



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