For example, we came across this reference in the September 22, 1945 issue of Billboard Magazine that includes “John Reedy’s troupe from Harlan, Ky” among the grandstand attractions in Pennington Gap, Virginia alongside “Grandpappy Jones and Company from Grand O’l Opry” (p. 52) and other popular artists.
The last reference is from a full-page Starday ad for the label's LP series of “Country,” Western,” “Bluegrass,” and “Sacred” recordings, which includes the Reedys’ version of “Oh Death” on the Tragic Songs of Death and Sorrow compilation (image source: Gary Reid).
As we have noted in previous posts, Bill Monroe has often been mis-credited with writing John Reedy’s gospel song “Somebody Touched Me.” Gary B. Reid includes two index references for "John Reedy" that point to a couple of substantial discussions that clarify this and an inverse erroneous credit in his book, The Music of the Stanley Brothers (2014). He also mentions yet another mis-credit by someone named "Ahmet Ertegun" who we also learned had copyrighted the song in 1954 and 1958.
Reid not only cites John Reedy's authorship of the song, but he repeats anecdotal evidence that suggests the possibility that the Reedys and the Stanley Brothers produced their early historical recordings on the same date (March 1, 1949), which could support Frances' stories about playing with them in Bristol, Tennessee. He writes, "Yet the song was actually written by eastern Kentucky musician John Reedy and was recorded by him and his Stone Mountain Hillbillys for Twin City Records, allegedly on the same day that the Stanley Brothers recorded 'White Dove'" (pp. 124-125).
Reid later corrects a reversal of mis-credit in which John Reedy is incorrectly listed as the author of "Oh Death." He goes on to discuss a detailed history of the song, but what is most interesting is that he credits Frances' mystery vocals on their Starday recording of the song as "the model for the Stanley Brothers' rendition" (p. 178)!
On the music-listening front, there are some new developments with a couple of Frances' recordings, including one of her own songs. Last year we were contacted by Timothy Kane and Annika Iltis, co-directors of a documentary called "The Barkley Marathons: The Race That Eats Its Young" about the most difficult trail race in the world, which happens to be in Appalachian Tennessee. They were planning to use an old gospel song called "I Feel Jesus" recorded by Jimmy Murphy and his wife Flo on the soundtrack,* and they had come across the same song title on our project blog and asked if might be the same song written by Frances. We confirmed that the lyrics were the same and that they knew each other well, and they expressed interest in listening to and possibly using the original version on the Starday SEP 209 recording. They commented, "It seems that a lot of the information about the music of Appalachia has been lost. Thank you so much for all of your hard work and amazing research."
We were able to share a digitized version of the 45 rpm recording as well as a digitized reel-to-reel home recording of the song with Timi playing washboard in the background. Interestingly, they in turn shared a recent cover of the song, titled as "Oh My My" by Anna and Elizabeth, and we quickly realized that we knew who they were already! I saw Anna perform as part of her public presentation for her Appalachian Sound Archives Fellowship in 2008-09, and we saw both of them perform at the Clear Creek Festival a couple of years ago.
Anna and Elizabeth are well-known young musicians who participate in contemporary sub-cultures that preserve and perform “traditional” music, so it was quite interesting to listen to their old-timey version of the song in contrast to Frances' original recording from the early 1960s, which at the time was a very contemporary country version with a Honky Tonk flavor. The Barkley Marathons documentary that includes the song will premiere at the Nashville Film Festival in mid-April.
We were pleased to receive a response from Reid thanking us for "the clarification on the vocals on the Reedy recording of 'Oh Death'," and he informed us that this version of the song "was included in a single CD collection last year called '18 Best of Starday Gospel.' Catalog number GUS-2345." He also indicated that he is currently "a co-producer on an upcoming 4-CD set of classic bluegrass that was recorded for the King and Starday labels. Among the cuts chosen for inclusion is the Reedy cut of 'Oh Death'." Reid said, "The bluegrass collection is still a work-in-progress," so we look forward to updates about this future release. He also told us that he had "visited and enjoyed the blogspot site a number of times... VERY interesting." Many thanks to Reid for offering numerous insights and clarifications and for sharing the full-page image of one of the pages from the October 1962 issue of the Country Music Promoter.
Months later, we are still reeling with gratitude from this abundant holiday cornucopia of acknowledgement for Frances and John Reedy. We admire the work that so many people have done to tell the story and sing the songs of Appalachian and Bluegrass music traditions. We are exploring a possible opportunity for sharing some of this work and some of our own with a visual anthropology audience. So we will post an update when more information is available on this potential project. Meanwhile, thanks to everyone who contributes to and transmits the greater knowledge about Appalachian music, migration, and memory.
* We learned that the Jimmy Murphy cover of "I Feel Jesus" (with Flo on vocals) was an unreleased Starday recording that was later included on an Ace Records CD compilation of his Starday and REM sessions (CDCDH-714).