Archive for the ‘Bill Helms’ Category

Bill Helms

March 9, 2013


from JEMF Quarterly, Vol. Ill, Part 2—December, 1967—No. 8:

On August 28, 1963 collector Bob Pinson interviewed Bill Helms at his home in Thomaston, Georgia. Helms had recorded for Victor in 1928 as Bill Helms and his Upson County Band. In 1931 he recorded for Columbia with the Hometown Boys.

Bill thinks he first met McMichen and Puckett at Manchester at a convention in 1926. Puckett had heard of Helms and asked him to come to the convention. A lot of people from Thomaston knew Riley, so someone probably told him about Helms. Two weeks after Manchester they went to a convention at Macon.

Fellow named Bud Silvey used to run a lot of conventions—had two sons, Paul and Hoke Rice. Most of the dances Helms played at were with a fellow named Vaughn Green, guitar player—this was in the early ’20’s before he started with the conventions and working with Riley.  He and Vaughn used to play six nights a week for months and months.

Remembers hearing some of Puckett and Tanner early records with Puckett on banjo on a phonograph owned by an old darkey out in the country.    After that Riley got a guitar and started to learn–learned by himself, no one showed him anything.

Then he and Puckett worked together, Helms often worked black-face.  His brother Cliff had a different style, McMichen taught Bill how to use a bow to get better results. Told him to hold it back at the frog so it wouldn’t bounce and squeak, and to take longer strokes. Met McMichen at that convention in Macon.  Bert Layne, Fate Morris Lowe Stokes and Gid were there also.

Recorded for Columbia with Riley and Gid.  Gid used banjo then, capoed down like a mandolin. Frank Walker chose the name Home Town Boys. Because they already had so many bands  “Riley Puckett and the something-or-others, ” didn’t want to use his name this time.

Met Jimmie Rodgers at a convention in Chattanooga, He needed a mike to sing. Sang with his head down—couldn*t face the audience. Helms thought he had stage fright. For the fiddle conventions, they would hire Helms and pay his way (e.g., to Chattanooga) .    Fellow in Columbus named Charlie Lodge hired him and Puckett and six others Fate Norris was there too, had a musical soap box–made out of soap boxes with a pocket knife, and strings from mandolins, guitars, fiddles, and autoharps.  Had pedals and knee pads.   Played two instruments with his feet, played a mouth harp.

Helms, Tanner and Puckett played a route through north Georgia which Gid had booked up for them. Adults payed 25 cents, children 15 cents admission to these shows. In some places they’d make as much as $300 to $400. Helms made his living as a musician for about fifteen years.