Archive for the ‘Skillet Lickers’ Category

Four generations of Tanners keep Skillet Lickers alive

March 26, 2015

John Bohn Fleet Stanley, left, plays a Drobo guitar, Larry Holcombe plays bass guitar, Phil Tanner plays guitar and Phil’s son Russ Tanner, right, plays fiddle as members of the Gwinnett County musical group, the Skillit Lickers



James Gideon Tanner — better known as Gid — was a farmer in Dacula and played the fiddle on the side.

By 1926, he and other musicians such as Clayton McMichen on fiddle and Riley Puckett on guitar, created a group called Gid Tanner and the Skillet Lickers, recording country and bluegrass music from 1924 to 1934. The men sold millions of records for their songs, like “Down Yonder” and “Pass Around the Bottle and We’ll All Take a Drink.”

The original group members eventually dispersed while Tanner’s son Gordon took the reins with a new round of performers until he passed away in 1982.  Four generations later, thanks to the younger Tanners wanting to take over, The Skillet Lickers are still alive and well and performing on a regular basis.

“According to historians, they were one of the most famous string bands of that era,” said Phil Tanner, who is a third generation member of the group. “My dad (Gordon) continued the group on. He was 15 or 16 years old when (The Skillet Lickers) recorded their last recording session in San Antonio, Texas, and he was the lead fiddle player.”

Nowadays, Phil Tanner, his son Russ and friends Fleet Stanley, Larry Holcombe, Joel Aderhold and Brian Morgan still meet in The Chicken House — yes, that was once an actual chicken house — behind the Tanner house off of Auburn Avenue in Dacula to pick, string and sing old-time tunes from Gid Tanner’s time.  The men tune their instruments under a tin roofed porch before “jamming.” Before they had this playing space, they practiced in the house.

“I think it got so crowded in the house, (we) had to do something,” Stanley said. “They had quit laying chickens and hens, so we started playing out here. When I’d come home (from living in Washington, D.C.), this is where we’d play.”

“Ran the chickens out and put a floor in,” Phil Tanner said with a laugh.

When the shack was converted in 1955, Phil Tanner and Stanley remember two oil drums that were cut in half with smoke stacks out the roof, which kept them warm during the winter months.

“If you sat too close to the drums, you were too hot and if you sat too far away, you were too cold,” Stanley said. “You’d rather be too hot so you could feel your fingers.”

Now almost 50 years later, the guys don’t really remember how they got in the group — or when, for that matter,  Stanley and Phil Tanner knew each other from high school and had a band together. Holcombe would jam with the guys at The Chicken House for fun and never left. Russ Tanner, well, he’s just part of a family with music in his blood.

“Shoot. I guess I’ve always tagged along. I don’t know when it was an official start or not. Maybe in the ’80s,” Russ Tanner said while holding his hand-crafted fiddle. “I’ve just always been around it, so I guess I didn’t know any different.”

As times are changing, so is the music. The men believe that this old-time genre is being left behind.  “We figure when the older generation is gone, there won’t be any demand for us,” Stanley said. “People don’t know the older style guitar and music.”

But a fifth-generation Tanner has begun to take an interest in the music. Phil Tanner’s 13-year-old granddaughter plays the fiddle for different events.  “She already knows how to play ‘Down Yonder,'” Stanley said of the young musician.



Music of Georgia

February 27, 2015


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Russ Tanner (fiddle) and Phil Tanner at Tanner’s Chicken Shack in Dacula, GA


Music from Georgia: World Routes, An Appalachian Road Trip, Episode 3 of 3

Musician and writer Banning Eyre heads to the American state of Georgia, gateway to the Deep South, and southern end of the Appalachian Mountains, to record some of the unique vocal music that has been preserved in the area, and meet the personalities who have kept the traditions alive.

Banning drops in to the converted chicken shack that is home to Phil Tanner and the Skillet Lickers, to hear them in their weekly session. Phil is the grandson of chicken farmer Gid Tanner who in 1924, with the original Skillet Lickers, became the first southern rural artist to record for the Columbia record label, and whose blend of music and comedy sold millions.

He meets 92 year old blind gospel legend Sister Fleeta Mitchell, who still sings and plays the piano alongside her musical companion the Revd Willie Mae Eberhardt, herself in her late 70s. Together they recall disturbing tales of life in the south, and the songs that gave people hope.

The Myers Family and Friends, a singing family of guitar playing ladies, recall the songs they sang as children for corn shuckings and bean stringings, and local artist and folk song collector Art Rosenbaum talks about the unique character of North Georgia, and picks a tune on one of his many banjos.

As well as the banjos and the ballads, Banning also attends the 141st Annual Alpharetta June Singing, and discovers that the 19th Century tradition of congregational ‘shape note’ singing still lives on in the south.

Listen here.

Swamp Opera

August 1, 2014


edited from “78 Blues,” by John Minton:

His musical success notwithstanding, Gid Tanner never gave up the homeplace, contenting himself with traveling to fiddle on the streets of Atlanta when it was too wet to plow.  Despite his best efforts, Clayton McMichen could never pursue music as is sole profession, even after decades as a major recording artist and radio star.  He ended his own days as a welder.

If the phonograph record enabled the Skillet Lickers to visit an audience beyond the wildest imaginings of previous generations of southern fiddlers, the hillbilly record radically restricted that listenership.  As Mac discovered to his lasting chagrin, New York violinists waxed hot jazz for mass consumption; Georgia fiddlers canned corn for folks downhome.

At their best, Skillet Licker records precariously balanced the coarse (epitomized by Tanner) and the fine ( what Mac wanted), crafting timeless art from the common-as-dirt dilemmas of the prewar South.  The records are enduring portraits of their makers, especially of Clayton McMichen, who despite his aversion to corny fiddling, despite his affection for symphony orchestras, found himself relegated to the role of a miserable squatter, fiddling endlessly in a dismal swamp where even frogs were out of their element.

Years later, Mac dressed his feelings in that very idiom, dismissing his music as a ludicrous compromise of coarse and fine:

“I notice in my thirty-five years of show business that there’s 500 pairs of overalls sold to every one tuxedo suit.  That’s why I stick to swamp opera.”






Gid Tanner Interview, pt. 2

March 28, 2013


Part 2 of Gid Tanner’s (1885-1960) final 1959 interview features him doing some fiddling.  Thanks again to Matt Downer, Itamar Silver, Dave Leddel, and interviewer Oscar Huff  :

Listen to part 1 here


In later years when Gid had false teeth, he would take them out so he would look funny. The story goes that a lady walked up to him and after looking at his mouth shouted, “You haven’t got any teeth!” Gid replied, “No ma’am, I was born that way.”

Although Gid stopped recording, he remained active and attended fiddle competitions. As late as 1955 when he was 70 years old, Gid won the Old-Time Fiddler’s Contest in Atlanta. He died in 1960, just three weeks shy of his seventy-fifth birthday.

Gordon Tanner

February 27, 2013
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Gordon Tanner

from “Down Yonder: Old Time String Band Music from Georgia (Folkways 31089):


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Gid Tanner Interview: Part I

February 18, 2013


Part 1 of 2 – Second part forthcoming.  Sincere thanks to Matt Downer for sharing this interview, Dave Leddel and Itamar Silver for their help, Oscar Huff for getting there just in time, and Gid Tanner for his endless inspiration.

from The Southern Folklife Collection (UNC):

Gid Tanner, Anglo-American fiddle player, and member of the Skillet Lickers, a string band from north Georgia active in the 1920s and 1930s.

Oscar Huff’s 1959 recording of an interview with Gid Tanner (1885-1960), including a discussion about hunting and Tanner’s hunting dogs, his fiddles, and his early recording and musical experiences.


A Corn Licker Still in Georgia

April 22, 2012

by Richard Matteson (

The famous “Corn Licker Still in Georgia” series of fourteen skits (fourteen sides; seven 78s) originally recorded between 1927 and 1930 consisted of rural humor and social commentary at its best mixed with great fiddling by Clayton McMichen, Bert Layne, Lowe Stokes, and Gid Tanner, the popular crooning of Riley Puckett, and the banjo of Fate Norris and sometimes Gid Tanner. According Clayton from Clayton McMichen Talking: “The Corn Licker Still was Bert Layne and my idea. We had a brother-in-law down there in Georgia that did actually make liquor.”

According to Mac, Wilber C. “Bill” Brown, an A&R man with Columbia Records, took the idea and wrote our scripts for the band members. Another contributor was recording engineer, part-time vocalist Dan Hornsby, who appeared as Tom Sly. Frank Walker, head of the division, also had a hand in the scripts.

Corn Licker Still in Georgia became the Skillet Lickers biggest selling series, reportedly selling over a million units. Not only were the skits funny with great music but they were crafted on personal experience. Clayton McMichen and Bert Layne were two of the Skillet Lickers who actually made money from running moonshine. It must have been doubly funny to them.

According to Juanita McMichen Lynch (Clayton’s daughter) it was a family operation; her uncles would make it and Clayton would help with the supplies and sell it. Bert Layne told Stephen Davis in an interview, “Me and Mac would go out there (to the still) and buy it, you know. We’d give him $4 for a gallon and we’d take it to Cartersville and sell it for $8.” On one trip Clayton was forced to carry two one-gallon jugs to Cartersville under his sister’s large overcoat. One jug went to a restaurant and another to the 5-and-10 cent store!

According to Juanita, “Clayton used to even sell moonshine to the policemen. But they always had to worry about revenuers.” Bert Layne said one day their car, which was loaded with moonshine, slipped off the road and was stuck in the mud. A revenue officer happened by and Clayton, fearing the consequences of getting caught, lifted the car right out of the mud- by himself. Later Clayton remarked, “My boot tracks was in that clay for six months afterwards!” (more…)

Skillet Lickers on JSP

April 10, 2012

GID TANNER AND THE SKILLET LICKERS: ‘Old Timey’s Favorite Band’ (JSP-77155-4-CD set)


One hundred songs and fiddle tunes are spread out over 4 CDs in this wonderful bargain set that features the music of probably the most popular old time string band of  the “golden age” of country music.  Rather than present the recordings in chronological order, the compilers have infused each disc with varying amounts of tracks from different stages of the group’s Columbia and Bluebird work.  For example, the first CD starts with 7 of the group’s finest fiddle tunes like ROCKY PALLET, HELL BROKE LOOSE IN GEORGIA and SOLDIER’S JOY, then, after a CORN LICKER STILL In GEORGIA skit there are a handful of their popular and huge selling early pieces like BULLY OF THE TOWN and PASS AROUND THE BOTTLE (with Riley Puckett featured); then there are 6 cuts from their 1934 Bluebird sessions that featured Gid, son Gordon Tanner, Puckett and the fine mandolinist Ted Hawkins, and the disc finishes with 4 more multi-fiddle pieces like NANCY ROLLIN’ and DEVILISH MARY.  The same formula is pretty much repeated on the other 3 CDs, and editor Pat Harrison has provided good notes (though hard to read) for each of the discs.  Lots of wonderful fiddle work here, especially by the great Lowe Stokes and Clayton McMichen.  Lovers of the Skillet Licker sound will have a field day here.

“78 Blues”

March 3, 2012

“78 Blues: Folksongs and Phonographs in the American South,” by John Minton (University Press of Mississippi, 304 pages)

Mike Seeger interviewing Frank Walker of Columbia Records about the Skillet Licker skits of the 1920s:

Available here.

Homage to the Skillet Lickers

September 21, 2011

HEAH HEAH presents “The Greatest 1920s String Bands,” produced by A.N. Baycu

Prettiest Little Girl in the County

October 6, 2009

Prettiest Little Girl In the County