John V. Walker: Corbin’s Finest

by

Corbin-Ramblers

 from JEMF Quarterly Vol. 8, Part 3 Autumn 1972 No. 27:

excerpt from JOHN V. WALKER: CORBIN'S FINEST by Donald Lee Nelson 

In 1930, in the company of four other musicians, John Walker went to Knoxville 
to become a part of a rather strange incident. The four others included Alex Hood, 
Clyde Whittaker, Emory Mills, and another guitarist named Bert Earls. 

Under the sponsorship of a Middlesboro piano company, the group, called Alec 
Hood's Railroad Boys (since all were employed by the L § N) were to record ten 
numbers for the Vocalion Company. 

When they arrived at the recording studio they were told that a group which 
included Lowe Stokes and Slim Miller were working on a skit called "The Hatfield-
McCoy Feud." The Hood musicians were pressed into service as actors in the skit, 
which was practiced all day before satisfactory takes were made. 

Mr. Walker recalls them sending out for yards and yards of calico to tear for 
simulated fighting, and using pads and paddles for sounds as gunfire and running. 
His own line was "Stand back boys, I'll shoot." 

It was not until late evening that the "Feud" session was completed, and the 
Railroad Boys were told to cut two numbers, and then there would be a supper break, 
after which they were to return and do the other eight pieces. 

Since they had a train to catch they were unable to work on the after-dinner 
session. Hence, only two sides were put on wax. "L § N Rag" was a popular fiddle 
tune of the area which was usually called "Sleeping Lulu." It was recorded under 
this title by fellow Kentuckians Richard D. Burnett and Oscar Ruttledge. 

The other side of the disc was "Corbin Slide." Originally titled "The Last 
Old Dollar" it was frequently heard around Corbin as the mainstay of another 
good local fiddler named Tom Grugg. Grugg was very jealous of the tune, however, 
and 
would immediately stop playing it if he saw another musician trying to learn 
it. 

The record had some impromptu talking on it, and this was done by Mr. 
Brown, the man in charge of the recording studio--probably the talking itself 
was to break up the straight instrumentalism of the number. The band returned 
to Corbin that night, and was never recorded again. Their namesake. Alec Hood, 
a yard foreman, died in 1954. 

The best known group to which John V. Walker belonged, however, was the 
one which bears his name. Walker's Corbin Ramblers was formed about 1930, 
and consisted of local musicians and railroaders Mack Taylor, guitar and vocal; 
Johnny Hampton, fiddle; Charley Ellison, fiddle; Mr. Walker, fiddle; and his 
brother Albert, tenor guitar and vocal. 

In January of 1934 Walker's Corbin Ramblers journeyed to New York City 
to record. According to W. R. Calaway, Vocalion's A & R man, the total outlay 
for the group, which included Taylor, the Walker Brothers, and Larry Hensley, 
a mandolinist who was brought along for the session, was between four and 
five hundred dollars. This included train fare, hotel bills, and food. 

Hensley was a miner from Wallin's Creek, in Harlan County, Kentucky, and 
brought along several of the numbers that were recorded by the band: "Stone 
Mountain Toddle," "E Rag," "Scottdale Stomp," "Mandolin Rag," and of course 
"Wallin's Creek Blues." 

After a four day session, the Corbin Ramblers returned to their home town 
and railroading, and never recorded again.
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