Moonshine Kate Reminisces



from JEMF Quarterly Vol II, Part 1—Novenber, 1966:

(On August 27, 1963, Archie Green and Ed Kahn interviewed Rosa Lee Carson Johnson, better known to record fans as Moonshine Kate, in her home in Decatur, Georgia. Here is an excerpt from their tapescript.)

Kate was not with her father at his first recording and it was not until later that she recorded with him. They had a group called the Virginia Reelers: Earl Johnson, fiddler; another Earl Johnson, blackface comedian, played the 1-string fiddle; she played banjo and sometimes guitar. Gid Tanner was with their band at one time and so was Puckett. Other guitarists with them were Peanut Erown and Bully Brewer. Brewer, Peanut Brown, Earl Johnson and Earl Johnson travelled with them. She doesn’t know how they got to be named after the state of Virginia, but they did a lot of playing there.

Early recordings of John Carson and Moonshine Kate were made on Whitehall Street and Brockman was in charge. She sat in the middle, the others stood on either side of the mike. She goes on to describe her recollections, she never used a horn, but her dad did. The man gave them a green light to start and a red light told them they had just a few more seconds left. They always practiced their selections at home before they recorded and timed it.

John Carson enjoyed hillbilly music most. He wasn’t ashamed of that word. What is hillbilly music? You don’t find any of it now. When she and her dad were making music it was good old mountain music; his favorites were “Old Joe Clark,” “Little Old Log Cabin,” and “Maggie.” He won his prizes playing “Sally Goodin.    Hillbilly is the way they played it years ago; it’s just old-timey music, and anything he would play was a hillbilly song, because he was a hillbilly.

Archie asked her how did her dad feel when the music began to change from the old time style. He used to laugh; said it was silly for those boys to play and call themselves hillbilly. She did hear someone on the Opry on TV play “Sally Goodin” just like her father played it. What makes the style? It must be the way you handle the bow. Like guitar-playing, if it’s electric isn’t hillbilly.    Hillbilly has to be in your bones, that’s all there is to it. When her dad was young, they were called fiddles; now they’re called violins, but a violin is different.


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