L to R: Luke Brandon, Jimmy McCarroll, Howard Wyatt, John Kelly
James “Uncle Jimmy” McCarroll, a Kingston area farmer, is remembered as one of the most outstanding area fiddlers of the last century, employing both inventive and time-honored techniques to form his unusual style, often compared to that of the great Georgia fiddlers Earl Johnson and Clayton McMichen of the Skillet Lickers. Still an active and strong player until shortly before his death in 1985 at the age of 93, he performed with The Roane County Ramblers and as a solo player at festivals in the area.
An early incarnation of The Roane County Ramblers with Jimmy McCarroll, Luke Brandon, John Kelly and Howard Wyatt , released twelve sides in the late 1920s, of which the most successful was Jimmy’s composition “Southern No. 111,” a virtuoso piece celebrating the rail line from Danville, Kentucky to Knoxville.
Folklorist Bob Fulcher had been searching for Tammie McCarroll and her father for some time when they had a chance encounter at a park festival. ” He was passing a note to someone with a list,” says Tammie, “and I saw ‘Southern No. 111’ on the list. I said to him “Excuse me — would that be the name of a song?” He said “Why yes, it is. Do you know anything about it?” I said “I know the man that composed it.” He said, “That man was a genius!” It brought tears to my eyes to hear him say that, I was so close to my grandfather. I took it all for granted when I was growing up you know. I thought everybody played guitar every Saturday night with their family band.”
Luther “Luke” Brandon , a barber in Rockwood born in 1901, was the guitarist on the early recordings. His guitar style was influenced by black bluesmen he met as a young man working in the coal mines. He passed his musical skills on to his son, who started out playing with The Roane County Ramblers in 1930 at only five years old, the same age that Tammie McCarroll began playing with a later version of her grandfather’s band. The younger Luke Brandon went on to become a professional musician in Nashville, playing everything from “hillbilly jazz” in the style of Chet Atkins to country and rock.
The Roane County Ramblers play “Southern No. 111.”
Recorded Oct. 15, 1928, Johnson City, TN.