The Blue Sky Boys
1939-1949 Radio Broadcasts
4 CD Set

 
 


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THE BLUE SKY BOYS
By Dick Spottswood

They had what they call a close-harmony style, a sound that only brothers could get.  You could hear a lot of church in their singing.  And there was a quiet grace in the way they blended their instruments with their voices.  Like they was born to it.  But any musician will tell you how hard it is to make it sound so easy...They had about the most perfect harmonies around.  What Carter and me liked most was, you could understand every syllable of what they were singing.  They never slurred their words; they had the best diction outside of a grammar class, and they always stayed true to the song and the story.

Ralph Stanley, in Man of Constant Sorrow: My Life and Times, by Dr. Ralph Stanley with Eddie Dean.  Gotham Books, 2009, p. 142

When Bill and Earl Bolick returned from World War II and the army in 1945, their future looked unpromising.   Since 1941, they’d fought in Europe (Earl) and the South Pacific (Bill), while nearly all pre-war Blue Sky Boys records vanished from the catalog.  Newer western and honky tonk styles gave their austere hymns and heartbreak songs minimal juke box potential, and  Billboard condescendingly dismissed them as “strictly from the haystacks,”  claiming their appeal was limited to the “old folks at home.” 

Bill fought back in a 1947 song book editorial, excoriating “bum and hobo songs of the bar room and Honky-Tonk nature [that] do not carry the quality or character that you will find in the songs handed down to us by our Pioneer ancestors.”  Still, tension between traditional and modern styles persisted after RCA Victor re-signed the Blue Sky Boys in 1946, and producer Steve Sholes had limited success when he tried to persuade them to update their style.  

 On returning home, Bill and Earl reunited with fiddler Sam “Curly” Parker, who had first joined them on WPTF in Raleigh, NC in 1940.  In addition to providing tasteful obbligatos behind their singing, Curly sang lead on trios while Earl sang bass and Bill sang tenor.  Regrouping at the Bolick family home in Hickory, NC, they were pleased to discover that their music still sounded good, and they decided to keep performing if they could find steady work.

After auditioning for WBT (Charlotte), WWVA (Wheeling), WRVA (Richmond, VA), and WVOK (Birmingham), they rejoined WGST in Atlanta, where they’d already worked from 1936 through 1939.  They were welcomed back with daily pre-recorded fifteen minute shows, sponsored by Willys Jeep distributor Jack Briscoe, whose on-air ads proclaimed the versatility of combat vehicles repurposed for civilian and agrarian use. The shows were captured on sixteen-inch lacquers at 33 1/3 rpm and dubbed for three more Georgia stations.  The format called for quick ads to begin and end every show, with a longer pitch midway through.  “Are You from Dixie” opened and closed each show, and an instrumental version of it midway served as a bed for live local promotion.  Earl (in his comic Uncle Josh caricature) then would razz Bill for a minute or so before the music resumed.   Even with all that, there was usually time for three or four  songs per show, with abbreviated fiddle tunes that ran out the clock and closed each broadcast at 14 ½ minutes.  The Bolicks and an announcer normally completed five shows in a single afternoon.  Bill said the work was challenging: 

Imagine, if you can, doing five fifteen minute programs in one afternoon.  On four or five occasions we did as many as ten programs in one day.  It was very tiresome saying the same thing, listening to the same commercials, trying to work out something with Uncle Josh, singing songs you didn’t have time to rehearse and hadn’t sung in some time.  Luckily we didn’t make too many mistakes.  A number of times we were almost finished with a program when they would tell us they were having technical problems and we would do the same program again

Although the Blue Sky Boys were active RCA artists from 1946 to 1950, their broadcasts did little to promote their new records, and only a few RCA titles are duplicated here.  Bill didn’t care for a number of songs Steve Sholes was pitching, and those he considered second rate were rarely performed again. 
Instead, their broadcasts revisited traditional songs and hymns that were responsive to listener tastes and their own.   By the time of these broadcasts in 1946-49, their voices were mature and their confident performances rarely less than immaculate.  RCA wouldn’t let them record vocal trios, but their radio and live shows featured them regularly, with Curly Parker (and later Leslie Keith) singing lead to Bill’s tenor and Earl’s bass.  They especially liked trios on hymns, and the format suited a lot of secular material just as well. Five (RIGHT?) complete broadcasts are included in this collection, including complete auditions from 1939 and 1941.

Country music acts usually fade into obscurity once their careers end, but Blue Sky hymns, heart songs and vocal harmonies still set the gold standard, even though it’s been forty years since their last records.  Colin Escott has testified that “their unerring sibling harmony was almost dreamlike and made them perhaps the all-time finest brother duet.”   Who could disagree?

 

Dick Spottswood is the author of The Blue Sky Boys (University Press of Mississippi, 2018).

 

Disc 1
New York, NY. (for WGST) Dec. 18, 1947: Bill & Earl Bolick with Joe Tyson
1. Theme (Are You from Dixie?)
2. Precious Memories
3. Dust on the Bible
4. Songbook pitch
5. Turn Your Radio On
6. Only One Step More
7. Theme (Are You from Dixie?)
WGST, Atlanta GA, Oct. 18, 1947: Bill & Earl Bolick with Sam “Curly” Parker
8. Theme (Are You from Dixie?)
9. Jeep commercial
10. I'll Meet You in the Morning
11. Short Life of Trouble
12. Jeep commercial & music bed (Are You from Dixie?)
13. Uncle Josh goes rabbit hunting
14. Just One Way to the Pearly Gate
15. Mississippi Sawyer
16. Jeep commercial
17. Theme (Are You from Dixie?)
WPTF, Raleigh, NC 1941: Bill & Earl Bolick with Sam “Curly” Parker
18. Theme (Are You from Dixie?)
19. Black Mountain Blues
20. The Hills of Roane County
21. A Beautiful Life
22. Uncle Josh proves his mental ability
23. Worried Mind
24. Skip to My Lou
WGST, Atlanta GA, Dec. 26, 1946: Bill & Earl Bolick with Sam “Curly” Parker
25. Theme (Are You from Dixie?)
26. Are You Building on the Rock?
27. Speak to Me Little Darling
28. Uncle Josh at Christmas / How Beautiful Heaven Must Be
29. Two Little Rosebuds
30. Down Home Rag
31. Theme (Are You from Dixie?)


Disc 2
Excerpts from various live broadcasts: Bill & Earl Bolick with Sam “Curly” Parker
WGST, Atlanta GA 1946-1947
1. An Empty Mansion
2. I'm Going Home This Evening
3. Uncle Josh wants to sing Part 1
4. They're All Going Home but One
5. Where Shall I Be?
6. Uncle Josh wants to sing Part 2
7. Only Let Me Walk with Thee
8. Get Along Home Cindy
9. Uncle Josh wants to sing Part 3
10. No Place to Pillow My Head
11. Getting Ready to Leave This World
12. I'm Just Here to Get My Baby Out of Jail
13. Take Up Thy Cross
14. Uncle Josh wants to sing Part 4
15. Sourwood Mountain
16. Great Granddad
17. Uncle Josh wants to sing Part 5
18. There's No Other Love for Me
19. Uncle Josh and the red suspenders
20. If I Could Hear My Mother Pray Again
21. Sweet Allalee
22. Midnight on the Stormy Deep
23. Ragtime Annie
24. Lorena
25. Crying Holy unto the Lord
26. Uncle Josh and the Halloween party / You Give Me Your Love and I'll Give You Mine
27. The Blood of Jesus
28. Uncle Josh figures his income tax
29. There's Been a Change
30. Bring Back My Blue-Eyed Boy to Me
31. Sally Goodin
WNAO, Raleigh NC 1949
32. Old Time Camp Meeting
33. Uncle Josh and the Big Possum / The Sinking of the Titanic
Place and date unknown
34. Goin' to Georgia (Leslie Keith banjo & lead vocal)

Disc 3
WCYB, Bristol, VA 1949 Bill & Earl Bolick with Sam “Curly” Parker (unless otherwise noted)
1. Amazing Grace
2. You Branded Your Name on My Heart
3. The Sweetest Gift, a Mother's Smile
4. Old Time Camp Meeting
5. Uncle Josh goes fishing / Chapel in the Hills
6. Listen to the Mockingbird
7. I'll Be No Stranger There
8. What Does the Deep Sea Say?
9. The Girl I Left Behind Me
10. I'm Going to Write to Heaven for I Know My Daddy's There
11. One Cold Winter's Eve
12. Roll On Buddy
13. This Train
14. The B-I-B-L-E
15. Just a Little Talk with Jesus
16. I Wish I Had Never Seen Sunshine
17. Lonesome Road Blues (Bill & Earl Bolick with Leslie Keith)
18. Little Joe
19. Oh Those Tombs
20. East Tennessee Blues
21. Alabama
22. Come to the Savior
23. Hop Light Ladies
24. The Royal Telephone
Bill & Earl Bolick with Leslie Keith:
25. Old Joe Clark
26. Short Life of Trouble
27. Just Tell Them That You Saw Me
28. Take Me Back to Tennessee
29. Whispering Hope
30. This Evening Light
31. Goin' Around This World Baby Mine


Disc 4
WCYB, Bristol, VA 1949 Bill & Earl Bolick with Sam “Curly” Parker
1. Golden Slippers
2. You Can Be a Millionaire with Me
3. Nine Pound Hammer
4. If We Never Meet Again
5 Beautiful.
6. Kentucky
7. I Dreamed I Searched Heaven for You
8. Cumberland Gap
9. The House Where We were Wed
10. I'm S-A-V-E-D
11. Worried Man Blues
12. The Last Mile of the Way
13. Two Little Rosebuds
14. I'm Troubled, I'm Troubled
15. Rubber Dolly
16. We Parted by the Riverside
17. Uncle Josh and the big fish / The ABC Song
18. Uncle Josh threatens to quit / Unloved and Unclaimed
19. Sweetest Mother
20. Kneel at the Cross
21. She's Somebody's Darling Once More
22. Since the Angels Took My Mother Far Away
WGST, Altlant GA Nov. 20, 1939 Bill & Earl Bolick with Red Hicks
23. Introduction (John Fulton)
24. Theme (Are You from Dixie?)
25. Will You Miss Me When I'm Gone?
26. Kickin' Mule
27. I Told the Stars About You
28. Fisher's Hornpipe
29. I Need the Prayers of Those I Love
30. Ida Red
31. Roll On Buddy
32. Theme (Are You from Dixie?)