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Alcohol Prohibition, 1920's; Pot Prohibition now: some humor
4 years ago
| Blue Label

In time for Xmas: a SHAMELESS PLUG for my sister and brother-in-law's Record Company, Voyager Recordings!!!

In 1927, as Americans squirmed restlessly under the iron thumb of Prohibition, Columbia Records offered a welcome dose of comic relief. It came from a colorful string band from North Georgia with an uncommonly colorful name, The Skillet Lickers. Formed in 1925 by fiddler James Gideon "Gid" Tanner and singer/guitarist Riley Puckett, the band started recording for Columbia the following year, and its records were soon selling briskly throughout the South. In 1927 Tanner and his group struck gold with the first of seven 78-RPM records, beginning a 14-part comedic skit about a band of mountaineers trying to make a living from moonshining and music. Under the title "A Corn Licker Still in Georgia," the routine sold well over a million records by the time of its completion in 1930. Now, thanks to Phil and Vivian Williams and their Seattle-based Voyager label, the entire set is available on a single, well researched, and lovingly produced compact disc.

Since its inception in 1966, Voyager has devoted the vast majority of its catalog to live recordings of Northwest-based old-time fiddlers. Its founders' love of the music had been kindled in the early 1960's when Southern string band recordings from the 1920's started appearing on compilation albums. Before long, Phil and Vivian Williams were combing thrift shops in search of vintage 78-RPM treasures. "We started early," Vivian recalls. "We had furnished our house out of junk stores, so we figured we might as well furnish our music library out of them, too."

By the end of the decade, there were dozens of old-time string band re-issues on the market, including one from the Virginia-based County label containing part of the famous "Corn Licker Still in Georgia." By this time, Vivian Williams and her husband had found the entire routine on original 78's. "There was another guy in Bellingham, Howard Myers," she explains. " He had been collecting longer than we had. We had some and he had some, and between us we had the whole set of 14 parts. County had already put out a couple of parts, so we thought, "Why not do the whole thing?"

Predictably, "A Corn Licker Still in Georgia" became one of the most popular items in Voyager's entire catalog. With the vinyl album now long out of print and the CD re-issue boom still in full swing, Phil and Vivian Williams decided it was high time to put The Skillet Lickers' famous skit on compact disc. Consequently, when promotional copies of the new release went out to the reviewers last May, an accompanying press release headline proclaimed, "RE-ISSUED IN RESPONSE TO POPULAR DEMAND!"

As the routine opens, Riley Puckett is leading a few of the Skillet Lickers on in an old alcoholic lament called "Rye Whiskey." A sharp knock at the cabin door brings the music to an abrupt halt. "We cain't have all that fuss around here," protests fiddler Clayton McMichen. "If we're gonna make this liquor, why, let's make it 'n' git through with it." After the still has been assembled, the distilling begun, a customer satisfied, and a few fiddle tunes played, the inevitable happens. "All right, you boys, stick 'em up, there, we got you covered!" a revenue officer barks. "Who's runnin' this place?" "I'm runnin' it m'self," McMichen answers in a slow, sly drawl. "What kind of a run you got started?" "We got about five hundred gallons done run off." "I'm sorry," says the officer, "we'll have to bust you up and take you down to Gainesville."

But the wily McMichen is ready for him. "Well, looks like there's some way to git outa this,: he drawls, offering the officer a taste. Though he refuses at first, the revenuer is finally obliged to comment, "Well, that is pretty good liquor, I'll admit that! What's all these instruments doin' around here?" "Awright boys, come on play 'im a little tune," McMichen exhorts. "Hoop it on up. It's either play or go to jail." After more product demonstrations and a rousing rendition of "Pass Around the Bottle," the officer is won over. "Tell you what I'm gonna do, Mac," he proposes, "I'm gonna let you off this time if you'll give me about ten of those cans. Can ya do that?" "I'll give ya a hundred if you want," McMichen replies happily. "I want ya to keep quiet from here on," the officer warns. "Good luck to you boys!" Of course, the narrow escape calls for a celebration and the band strikes up the old fiddle tune "Katie Hill."

The next time they come in contact with the law, the moonshiners aren't so lucky, and for awhile they find themselves on the chain gang. Nevertheless, a public letter-writing campaign gets the popular string band paroled. "Now you boys go home," the warden tells them, "and remember, don't make any more corn liquor." "We're through for good," McMichen promises.

Back home in the mountains, however, the musical moonshiners distill some potent economic theory. "We got about five, six hundred bushels of corn out yonder in the crib that's goin' to ruin if we don't do somethin' with it, " McMichen observes. "I don't think there's no use to try to farm no-how as long as Prohibition's in effect," banjoist Fate Norris comments. "What's the use to try and sell corn for two dollars a bushel in the ear when you can get $20 for a can?" asks Riley Puckett. 

SHAMELESS PLUG continues!
4 years ago

For Vivian Williams, there's an obvious parallel to be drawn between the Prohibition era and today's ill-fated drug war. In her press release she observes "The band's run-ins and dealings with law enforcement, and their ultimate success in furnishing a commodity people wanted despite the law, are depicted with humor, satire, and an accurate reflection of public attitudes during this period of government repression. At least in this regard, things haven't changed much since the start of the century." (Heritage Music Review)

*****

Seattle's Voyager label has re-issued their old LP album from years ago that contains all 14 parts of a popular recorded skit that was a huge seller in rural America when it was originally on the market from 1927 to 1930 or so. The sketches and patter are often forced and somewhat awkward, but there are many snatches of fine fiddle music from Lowe Stokes and Clayton McMichen along with help from Gid Tanner, Riley Puckett, Fate Norris and other famous musicians from North Georgia and all in all it's an enjoyable period piece. (County Sales Newsletter)

Get it! Get it for Xmas! [See the entire Voyager Catalog on-line]
4 years ago
[If you want to delete this as a commercial plug, it's ok I will understand!]

  

Clayton McMichen - fiddle, Lowe Stokes - fiddle, Fate Norris - banjo, Riley Puckett - guitar

This is the famous skit recorded between 1927 and 1930 by the best known of the early Southern string bands. These originally were issued on seven 78 rpm records, and, at that time, were about the most popular country item on the market, selling over 1 million copies. The skit is about moonshining in North Georgia during Prohibition. In addition to the humor - which ranges from pretty funny to pretty stilted - there are about 40 brief music selections, which include some great fiddling by Lowe Stokes and Clayton McMichen, and some little known tunes. One of the classics of old time music. Digitally remastered and assembled as a continuous skit.

Sound Clip: Rye Whiskey MP3, MP3(LoFi)

What the Reviewers Say Liner NotesHow the Recording Was Made

  
Ain't she cute? My Sis!!!

  
See the Voyager Recordings catalog on-line.
Also includes books and musical compositions.
Wow!
4 years ago

Sounds awesome. Gid Tanner and Riley Pucket are a couple of my old favorites. Congrats to your sister for making this available and placing it in such a cool context. Savin' up for a copy....

For those who haven't heard the Skillet Lickers,
4 years ago

here's an introduction to their music:



This post was modified from its original form on 07 Dec, 20:36
4 years ago

Great post, Barbara! Encore!