by Kerry Blech (Old Time Herald volume 6, number 6)
John Dilleshaw – Seven Foot Dilly-1929-1930, Complete Recorded Works in Chronological Order
Document 8002 (CD reissued from 78s) (78:10)
John Dilleshaw-guitar, speech, vocal; Pink Lindsey-fiddle, guitar, mandolin, bass; Harry Kiker-fiddle; Shorty Lindsey-(tenor) banjo; Joe Brown-fiddle; Ahaz. A. Gray-fiddle, vocal; Archie Lee, Bill Brown, and Hoke Rice-speech; probably Lowe Stokes-fiddle.
While in Chicago in 1972 visiting a 78 collector friend in his basement apartment, decorated floor-to-ceiling with vintage musical artifacts, he put a disc on, having intuited some of my interest. The tube amplifier translated that signal: “All right boys, we come up here to play for these folks up here on Dog River; now let’s get started. What’ll be a good tune to get started with? ‘Lye Soap!’ ‘Lye Soap.’ Bust Down!!!” and that was my introduction to Seven Foot Dilly and His Dill Pickles, a breakdown band in the North Georgia fiddle band style, with hot flatpicked runs by leader John Dilleshaw that would make Riley Puckett envious, a pulsating bowed bass, a ripplingly rhythmic tenor banjo, and some of the finest country humor and commentary one will ever encounter. I fell in love with a band’s sound and didn’t rest until I had heard everything by them. Now, you too can be inspired by this reckless band, as all their recordings are contained on this one silvery disc.
What was it about the sound of the Dilleshaw ensembles? The rhythm section, for sure. They had a wonderfully effervescent dance beat, with a unique underpinning of that bowed bass, that lively tenor banjo, and the accents and counterpoint of Dilleshaw’s left-handed guitar-playing. And Dilleshaw had a talent (or his A&R men did) for attracting great fiddlers to his recording sessions. A.A. Gray, Joe Brown, and most of all, Lowe Stokes, were already legends in the southeastern part of the United States by the time these discs were cut. And Pink Lindsey and Harry Kiker were no slouches either.
The band mixed some chestnuts, usually with some little hook in them to make them stand out from the crowd, with rather rare tunes. “Streak O’ Lean” might fall into the former category, as it was a popular regional piece that was recorded under various titles by John Carson and the Skillet Licker circle, among others. But the A-minor section is almost jarring behind Gray’s rhythmic bowing. “Kenesaw Mountain Rag” should be easily identifiable as a version of “Cumberland Gap,” but with masterfully subtle variations from the standard melodic course.
And of course they had their own takes on “Chinese Breakdown” and “Wyzee Hamilton’s Breakdown” (also known locally as “G Rag”), but rather than telling you which of their fanciful titles overlaid these familiar tunes, I’ll let you discover that for yourselves. In addition to their personalized stamp on the familiar, their rarities included “Sand Mountain Drag,” “Bibb County Hoe Down” (perhaps the best breakdown ever recorded?), and “Hell Amongst the Yearlings,” among others. I’ve not heard these melodies elsewhere. (more…)