Archive for the ‘Rosa Lee Carson’ Category

Moonshine Kate Reminisces

March 23, 2013


from JEMF Quarterly Vol II, Part 1—Novenber, 1966:

(On August 27, 1963, Archie Green and Ed Kahn interviewed Rosa Lee Carson Johnson, better known to record fans as Moonshine Kate, in her home in Decatur, Georgia. Here is an excerpt from their tapescript.)

Kate was not with her father at his first recording and it was not until later that she recorded with him. They had a group called the Virginia Reelers: Earl Johnson, fiddler; another Earl Johnson, blackface comedian, played the 1-string fiddle; she played banjo and sometimes guitar. Gid Tanner was with their band at one time and so was Puckett. Other guitarists with them were Peanut Erown and Bully Brewer. Brewer, Peanut Brown, Earl Johnson and Earl Johnson travelled with them. She doesn’t know how they got to be named after the state of Virginia, but they did a lot of playing there.

Early recordings of John Carson and Moonshine Kate were made on Whitehall Street and Brockman was in charge. She sat in the middle, the others stood on either side of the mike. She goes on to describe her recollections, she never used a horn, but her dad did. The man gave them a green light to start and a red light told them they had just a few more seconds left. They always practiced their selections at home before they recorded and timed it.

John Carson enjoyed hillbilly music most. He wasn’t ashamed of that word. What is hillbilly music? You don’t find any of it now. When she and her dad were making music it was good old mountain music; his favorites were “Old Joe Clark,” “Little Old Log Cabin,” and “Maggie.” He won his prizes playing “Sally Goodin.    Hillbilly is the way they played it years ago; it’s just old-timey music, and anything he would play was a hillbilly song, because he was a hillbilly.

Archie asked her how did her dad feel when the music began to change from the old time style. He used to laugh; said it was silly for those boys to play and call themselves hillbilly. She did hear someone on the Opry on TV play “Sally Goodin” just like her father played it. What makes the style? It must be the way you handle the bow. Like guitar-playing, if it’s electric isn’t hillbilly.    Hillbilly has to be in your bones, that’s all there is to it. When her dad was young, they were called fiddles; now they’re called violins, but a violin is different.


Moonshine Kate

March 6, 2012

Rosa Lee Carson (1909-1992), better known as Moonshine Kate, was one of the first women to record country music during the 1920s and one of the genre’s earliest female comedians. Her father, Fiddlin’ John Carson, made the first successful country record in 1923 and went on to become one of the most extensively recorded country stars of the 1920s. Rosa Lee Carson sang and played guitar and banjo with her father and his band, the Virginia Reelers, first on radio broadcasts and then on more than 100 recordings for the OKeh and Bluebird labels between 1925 and 1934.

Rosa Lee Carson, born in Atlanta on October 10, 1909, was the youngest of nine children of Jenny Nora Scroggins and John Carson. She began singing and buck-and-wing dancing at stage shows and political rallies as part of her father’s musical act when she was five years old. By the age of fourteen she was already proficient on the guitar and the banjo. During the early 1920s she began performing with her father on Atlanta’s flagship radio station, WSB, and touring with him and the Virginia Reelers at stage shows throughout Georgia and the Southeast. After graduating from high school, Carson became a permanent member of her father’s band.

Carson made her recording debut in June 1925 at the age of fifteen, when she accompanied her father on guitar on four songs for OKeh Records. At the session she also recorded two solo sides, “The Lone Child,” a Tin Pan Alley song about a ragged, wandering orphan boy, and “Little Mary Phagan,” a sentimental ballad, composed in 1915 by her father, in response to the Leo Frank case.

For the next nine years Carson accompanied her father and the Virginia Reelers on tour and on recording sessions in Atlanta, New York, New Orleans, Louisiana, and Camden, New Jersey. In addition to the recordings she made with her father, she also recorded a handful of solos and duets on which she sang lead, including “The Drinker’s Child,” “Texas Blues,” “The Last Old Dollar Is Gone,” and “The Poor Girl Story.” In 1928 Polk Brockman, OKeh’s Atlanta records distributor and talent scout, gave Carson the nickname Moonshine Kate to enhance her hillbilly image, and she embraced it proudly for the rest of her life.

Between 1928 and 1930 Carson performed with her father on eighteen skit recordings for OKeh Records, including “Moonshine Kate,” “John Makes Good Licker,” and “Corn Licker and Barbecue, Parts 1 & 2.” These skits, combining comedic dialogues with brief musical interludes, revolved around the manufacture and consumption of moonshine whiskey in the north Georgia mountains. On them, she played Moonshine Kate, the spirited, sharp-tongued hillbilly daughter of her father’s moonshiner character.

After the collapse of record sales during the Great Depression ended their recording contract, Carson and her father worked as campaign entertainers for Eugene Talmadge‘s 1932 Georgia gubernatorial campaign and in several of his subsequent campaigns for governor and U.S. senator. When she wasn’t performing, Carson worked for the Atlanta Department of Recreation during the 1930s and 1940s. In 1944 she married Wayne Johnson, an Atlanta machinist. She lived briefly in Portland, Maine, where her husband was stationed in the navy during World War II (1941-45), but after his discharge they returned to the Atlanta area.

After retiring, Carson and her husband ran a fishing lodge on Lake Seminole, near Donalsonville. In later years she gave numerous interviews about early-twentieth-century Atlanta and its old-time music scene, including a series of oral histories with Gene Wiggins for his 1987 biography of her father, Fiddlin’ Georgia Crazy. In 1983 Carson and her father were among the first group of old-time musicians inducted into the Atlanta Country Music Hall of Fame. She died in 1992 in Bainbridge at the age of eighty-three.