Archive for the ‘Deford Bailey’ Category

DeFord Bailey

January 4, 2012

(Thanks to Maz at 
and Andrew and David Morton at for this)

DeFord Bailey ’73 Recordings

In December 1973, David Morton recorded the late DeFord Bailey as a Christmas present for his father.
At there are 21 free tracks downloadable
– a must-have for every harp fan!

DeFord Bailey (December 14, 1899 – July 2, 1982) was a harmonica virtuoso, a blues singer, a guitarist, a banjoist, a composer and a founding member of the WSM Grand Ole Opry.

Bailey performed on WDAD, the first significant Nashville radio station, in 1925. Soon afterwards Dr. Humphrey Bate took him to play his harmonica on the new and much more powerful WSM station. At his first appearance on the “Barn Dance” DeFord immediately impressed the announcer, “the Solemn Old Judge” George Hay, who threw his steamboat whistle high in the air and declared that he was henceforth going to be a regular part of the show.

According to Judge Hay, DeFord was both the inspiration for the naming of the Opry, and the very first performer to play on the newly named show. This occurred in 1927 following a network program with a classical rendition of a locomotive by composer Dr. Walter Damrosch. After hearing the classical version of the train, Hay opened the program by telling the audience that they had been listening to “Grand Opera,” but would now hear “Grand Ole Opry” and introduced DeFord Bailey to play his harmonica version of the Pan American train.

Hay called Bailey the “Harmonica Wizard” and arranged for him to be in the very first recording session in the city that later became Music City USA. That was in the fall of 1928 when Victor came to Nashville at Judge Hay’s request. DeFord recorded eight tunes in this session that was held in the YMCA building. He had previously recorded tunes in Atlanta and New York City sessions arranged by Hay.

The “Harmonica Wizard” performed virtually every Saturday night on the Opry from 1926 until 1941, a record none of the other performers could match, and he was clearly one of the most popular performers on the show. During this time he also traveled extensively over the South and Mid-West with various Opry performers. These included Uncle Dave Macon, Alton and Rabon Delmore, Arthur Smith, Sam and Kirk McGee, Sarie and Sally, Lasses White and Honey Wilds, Paul Warmack and the Gully Jumpers, the Fruit Jar Drinkers, Curt Poulton and the Vagabonds, Clayton McMichen, Ken Hackley, and later Roy Acuff and Bill Monroe.

DeFord was always well received by the audiences when he performed out on the road; but traveling in the 1920 and 1930s, the hey day of Jim Crow, with the all white groups was exceedingly difficult. In the winter he always carried a wool blanket with him in case he had to sleep in the car when the other performers could not find a place for him to stay. Virtually none of the hotels or restaurants would knowlingly allow him to eat or sleep inside as a guest. Uncle Dave Macon would claim that DeFord was his valet in order to get him inside his room and then bring in a seat from the car for DeFord to sleep on. Some restaurants would let him eat in the kitchen, but usually he would eat outside or in the car.

Read entire article here.