Archive for the ‘Ernest Stoneman’ Category

Ernest Stoneman (#5)

June 6, 2013


from Reed Martin:

The Stoneman brood was so huge that when each kid got old enough to hold a stringed instrument, they were encouraged to sit and play string music with their parents.   When they moved to Maryland, most all of them played music.  Pop didn’t have any skills except music and carpentry, when he could find work,  so when there was a chance to make a little money, he and the oldest kids would go play music jobs.

Pretty soon the younger kids got to be good musicians, too.  Pretty soon the Stonemans had three bands all within their family.  The “A” band featured Pop with Scotty on fiddle.  If the job did not pay enough to interest the “A” band, then you  got the next oldest musicians, known as the “B” band.   If you had hardly any money at all, you got the kids who were able to play, but not top notch…..the “C” band.

In the history of old time music how many other families had THREE working bands within their own family?

Evidently they got a job to play at some big “do” in Laurel, Maryland.  The “A” band was to sit on a hay wagon and play into microphones.  Somewhere during the evening they took a break, and Pop introduced the band members…….”This is ______, my son on bass, this is my daughter ________on mandolin, this is my daughter________playin’ the banjo…..”

And some guy yells out  “You sure got a lot of kids!”

And Pop yells back, “Hell — hundreds of times we never got nothin’.”


Stoneman #4

May 6, 2013


from Reed Martin:
“Pop” Stoneman and wife produced something like 21 or 23 children.  One of them was the lady bluegrass picker on HeeHaw.
I used to go around teaching clawhammer banjo many years ago and met her on the “circuit.”   She was an absolute treasure trove of great stories, like gluing her fingerpicks on with crazy glue so they would come off while she was playing.
They never came off, but she sure tore up her fingers after she got off stage !

The original Stoneman family was in debt, while living somewhere along the N.C. /  Virginia border.  Ol’ “Pop” figured that it was getting time to move elsewhere and vacate on his debts.   ‘Bout that time the law figured out what he was a-fixin’ to do so they started for his home.  Pop sent one sibling off in a car with some of the kids, another with yet more of the kids, and his wife off with another bunch of the brood, and then he started off with the rest.

Along came the Sheriff and stopped him.  “You owe some folks money, Mr. Stoneman” they told him. He replied that he was just on his way to pick up some money from a friend so he could square up his bills, and they were welcome to follow along if they wanted.

So Pop drove over to a friends house and went inside. He came out and went up to the Sheriff and said to him, “You are out of your jurisdiction now, aren’t you?  We passed out of your county about two miles ago, so you can’t arrest me – ain’t that right?”

The sheriff had to admit that he was correct, so Pop and his car full headed up the road for Laurel, Maryland…..their new home.

Ernest Stoneman (#3)

April 7, 2013

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.

Ernest Stoneman (#2)

May 9, 2012

Unsung Father of Country Music: Ernest V. Stoneman,” 2-CD Box Set; 44 Page full-color booklet,  5-String Productions (5SPH001)

By David Cantwell

One of 2008’s best country reissues, maybe even the best, is Ernest V. Stoneman: The Unsung Father Of Country Music, 1925-1934. The 46-track collection is smartly packaged, including a small hard-bound book with lots of photos. But it’s the savvy selection of some too-long-unavailable early sides of Ernest “Pops” Stoneman that excites. There’s his first recording and biggest hit, “The Titanic”; duets with his daughter; fuller string-band arrangements with the Dixie Mountaineers; short comic plays such as “Old Time Corn Shuckin’, Parts 1 and 2″; and even two versions (cut six years apart) of Stoneman’s “All I’ve Got’s Gone”, which remains among country music’s great poverty songs – and one of its catchiest tunes, too.

This is truly an essential, not to mention long overdue, collection. There is, however, the matter of that title. Not “An Unsung Father of Country Music” but “The Unsung Father” – a choice of article clearly intended to not so subtly dispute the long-since-established paternity rights of one Jimmie Rodgers.

The cover’s bold claim is fleshed out in a liner-notes essay by Henry Sapoznik (the man behind that amazing and essential You Ain’t Talkin’ To Me: Charlie Poole And The Roots Of Country Music set from a few years back). Sapoznik argues that it was only pioneering record producer Ralph Peer’s “post-mortem marketing of Rodgers that firmly established the Singing Brakeman as the putative Father of Country Music” and that “Peer crafted Rodgers’ legend…while having eschewed Stoneman’s, whose recorded output dwarfed Rodgers.” In other words, if Ralph Peer had chosen to mythologize Stoneman rather than Rodgers, or if he’d just let history take its un-manipulated course, then we would likely be hailing “Pops” as the father of the music, not Jimmie.

This is needless overreaching. It is well past high-time that fans and historians paid attention to Ernest Stoneman, and Sapoznik is to be commended for his efforts on Stoneman’s behalf. But to press the case for Stoneman by insisting upon a diminution of Jimmie Rodgers is merely to redress one injustice by perpetrating another.

No musical genre (not even bluegrass) can have a lone inventor. That caveat made, there are good reasons why Rodgers is considered the Father of Country Music and why Stoneman is not. The title of Father here has nothing to do with who came first, of course. If that were the case, we’d be calling John Carson daddy, or Eck Robertson, or, for that matter, Vernon Dalhart (if only we acknowledged the pop essence of even the earliest commercial country music). (more…)

Ernest Stoneman #1

December 15, 2011

The Stonemans is an eye-opening slice of Americana—a trip through nearly twenty years of country music history following a single family from their native Blue Ridge Mountains to the slums of Washington, D.C., and the glitter of Nashville. As early as 1924 Ernest V. “Pop” Stoneman realized the potential of what is now known as country music, and he tried to carve a career from it. Successful as a recording artist from 1925 through 1929, Stoneman foundered during the Great Depression. He, his wife, and their nine children went to Washington in 1932, struggling through a decade of hardship and working to revive the musical career Pop still believed in. (from

Book available here.

Ernest Stoneman was the King.  Here is “The Pretty Mohea,” a two hour Hollywood epic distilled to  3:31.