Ernest Stoneman (#3)

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Ernest and Hattie Stoneman

from JEMF Quarterly, Vol. Ill, Part 1 — September, 1967 — No. 7:

Notes from an interview with Ernest (Pop) Stoneman on March 27, 1964 at UCLA by Eugene Earle.

In 1924 Pop was working as a carpenter in Bluefield, West Virginia. He went down to the Warwick Furniture Company one day, and heard Henry Whitter’s first recording, Okeh 40015 {“The Wreck of the Old 97” and “Lonesome Road Blues”). Pop felt that Whitter sang “through his nose so bad” that he could do at least as well, if not better, than Whitter.

Pop claims that everybody thought a hillbilly sang through his nose as a result of Whitter’s vocal style.    (Pop makes it clear that he grew up with Whitter and worked in the textile mills with him and that his criticisms were not personal remarks.)

 
After deciding he wanted to record, Pop wrote both Columbia and Okeh in New York. He continued working in Bluefield, saving money for the trip while waiting for the companies’ replies. Early in the summer he received those replies, Columbia setting up a September first appointment, and Okeh telling him to “come up any time.” From July 4 through the rest of the summer he worked at Bluefield to sup- port himself, his wife, and two children. He built a rack for his harmonicas and practiced several songs using autoharp accompaniment.

Pop told Okeh’s Ralph Peer that “any song with a story will go to the people’s hearts, because they love stories. They love stories of tragedy, a wreck or something. And if it ain’t all there, it ain’t no good.”

In September, 1926, he made his first recordings for Victor.  Peer, who had left Okeh and was working for Victor, asked Stoneman to rerecord the songs that had been recorded acoustically by the Powers Family.    (By September, 1S26, Victor had shifted from Acoustic to electric recording.)

Peer gave Pop copies of the Powers’ records and a portable phonograph which Pop took back to the Camden Hotel in Camden, H.J. After listening a short while, Pop realized that they would need a banjo player for these sides. He sent home for his wife’s brother, fifteen-year-old Bolen Frost, and had him placed in the railroad conductor’s care. However, Bolen forgot to bring his banjo, and Peer had to borrow a vl50 Keystone Special banjo for him. Pop noticed that it had gut strings, so he had to go downtown to buy steel strings for it.

After recording for Edsion in 1926, the band went to a bank in New York to cash their check. They carried their instruments into the bank with them along with their luggage, and Pop went up to the teller while the rest of the members waited. At this moment, the police walked up to them and demanded identification. When the police realized that they were really musicians, they explained that they had been suspicious because, earlier in the week, a nearby bank had been robbed by a gang that carried their firearms in instrument cases.

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One Response to “Ernest Stoneman (#3)”

  1. Reed Martin Says:

    can one of you folks posting this story send me your email address? thanks.

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