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Chronicles of Knox Music History

The UT Jazz Giants (circa early 1960s)
The late, great jazz legend Bill Scarlett was for decades a fixture in the Knoxville jazz scene. Scarlett, a native of Arkansas, fell in love with jazz after catching a Benny Goodman gig at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Several years later he found himself in a band with Art Pepper. Shortly after moving to Knoxville in 1957, Scarlett formed the University of Tennessee Jazz Giants, a hot jazz band consisting of UT students, professional jazz musicians, and UT faculty. The Giants could often be found playing around town during the 1960s and ’70s at long-defunct but fondly-recalled local jazz venues such as Gordon’s Blue Note and The Town House. Pictured here is an early version of the band. Scarlett can be spotted in the lower left-hand corner.
—Brad Reeves

For more info on TAMIS, go to: 
tamisarchive.org.

The UT Jazz Giants (circa early 1960s)
The late, great jazz legend Bill Scarlett was for decades a fixture in the Knoxville jazz scene. Scarlett, a native of Arkansas, fell in love with jazz after catching a Benny Goodman gig at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Several years later he found himself in a band with Art Pepper. Shortly after moving to Knoxville in 1957, Scarlett formed the University of Tennessee Jazz Giants, a hot jazz band consisting of UT students, professional jazz musicians, and UT faculty. The Giants could often be found playing around town during the 1960s and ’70s at long-defunct but fondly-recalled local jazz venues such as Gordon’s Blue Note and The Town House. Pictured here is an early version of the band. Scarlett can be spotted in the lower left-hand corner.
—Brad Reeves

For more info on TAMIS, go to:
tamisarchive.org.

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  • Maynard Baird and His Southern Serenaders (circa 1929): Knoxville’s great jazz-age band on the stage of the original Riviera Theatre. A popular territory band, Baird’s group toured all over the country during the 1920s and early 1930s, eventually cutting some hot sides for Brunswick-Vocalion Records during the prolific St. James Hotel Sessions of 1929-30. Band members identified in the photo include Maynard Baird, banjo, Joe Parrott Sr., drums, V.A. Johnston, piano, and junior hoofer Little Jackie Comer, future impresario of the Deane Hill Country Club.
  • Ridgel’s Fountain Citians (circa 1930)
One of the best and most influential of the Knoxville-based string bands, Ridgel’s Fountain Citians recorded eight exciting up-tempo old-time numbers for Brunswick-Vocalion records during the now-legendary St. James Hotel Sessions. And you can hear all of them by visiting Jeff Bills’ Lynn Point Records website (lynnpoint.com). 
Note the stylish modern-day attire commonly worn by string bands of the era—no hokey hillbilly get-up for these fellows! The Fountain Citians consisted of Leroy Ridgel (back row), Charles Ridgel, Millard Whitehead, and Carthel Ridgel (seated).
—Bradley Reeves

For more info on TAMIS, visit 
tamisarchive.org.
  • The Dixieland Swingsters (circa 1937)

The house band for the WNOX Mid-Day Merry-Go-Round, the multitalented Dixieland Swingsters effortlessly bridged the gap between the popular, jazz, and country music heard on the long-running Knoxville radio program. In fact, the Swingsters stayed with the program from its 1936 beginning until its demise in 1962. A little-known fact is that the band cut a sizable series of hot platters for RCA-Bluebird records during the late 1930s. These vintage 78s are near impossible to find today, but contain some of the best vintage jazz and pop recordings you’ve never heard! The band line-up pictured here is Dave Durham, trumpet; Larry Downing, vocals and guitar; Harry Nides, fiddle; Jerry Collins, piano; Cliff Stier, bass; and Buck Houchens, clarinet. 
—Bradley Reeves

For more info on TAMIS, visit tamisarchive.org.
  • Ida Cox (circa 1944)

One of the great female blues singers, Ida Cox was a contemporary of Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, and Mamie Smith, recording a series of classic raw blues discs for Paramount Records during the 1920s. After years on the road, Cox settled down to live with her daughter in Knoxville after suffering a debilitating stroke during the 1940s. It was here that the forgotten and presumed-dead singer was rediscovered by local radio announcer Lynn Westergaard during the early 1960s. Westergaard convinced Cox to return to the recording studio, where she cut one final LP of classic blues performances.

—Brad Reeves

For more info on TAMIS, go to tamisarchive.org.
  • Mayfield Day at the Mid-Day Merry-Go-Round (circa 1953)
What could say East Tennessee more than country music and Mayfield Ice Cream?
The 1950s-era cast of the WNOX Mid-Day Merry Go-Round radio program plugged the Athens, Tenn.-based ice cream company in this rare promotional photo. And what an all-star cast of country music greats it is! Identified are Ray “Duck” Atkins, Charlie Hagaman (back row), Don Gibson, Jack Cate, Jack Shelton, Honey Wilds, Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, Dave Durham (middle row), Carl Story, Benny Sims, Red Rector, Fred E. Smith, Lowell Blanchard, Jerry Collins, George “Speedy” Krise, Claude Boone (bottom row).
—Brad Reeves

For more info on TAMIS, go to
tamisarchive.org.
  • The Tennessee Barn Dance (circa 1944)
The WNOX Tennessee Barn Dance was the Saturday night version of the weekly radio program The Mid-Day Merry-Go-Round. This hugely popular and long-running radio program was broadcast from the old Lyric Theatre (formerly Staub’s) on Gay Street during the 1930s and 1940s. The live performances usually packed the theater with ticket buyers. Host Lowell Blanchard would, on occasion, mix and match musicians with the hope that a certain band line-up might gel and catch on with the public. Identified here are Wally Fowler (sitting), Tony Cianciola, accordion, and a very young Chet Atkins on (what else!) guitar.
—Brad Reeves

For more about TAMIS, visit tamisarchive.org.
  • Little Robert (1949)
Just about everyone in Knoxville knew about Little Robert Van Winkle during the 1940s and 1950s. This popular top-notch bluegrass performer and part-time comedian had an average upper body, but his legs were only seven inches long. Van Winkle was already an accomplished radio performer when he arrived in Knoxville during the latter 1940s. Starting out as a cast member on the WNOX Mid-Day-Merry-Go Round, he quickly graduated to leading his own band, then eventually wound-up as a regular performer on the Cas Walker radio and television shows. Van Winkle is attributed with co-writing the classic Bill Monroe tune “Close By.”  No recordings of Little Robert are known to survive, but he has achieved a certain degree of immortality due to a brief mention in Cormac McCarthy’s novel Suttree.
—Bradley Reeves

For more info on TAMIS, visit tamisarchive.org.
  • Cas Walker Show on WROL (circa 1941)

Lowell Blanchard and the WNOX Mid-Day Merry-Go-Round weren’t the only source of good country music in Knoxville. The Cas Walker Farm and Home Show on rival station WROL was a popular (albeit lower-budget) alternative to the Scripps-Howard giant. Walker began broadcasting on Knoxville radio around 1929, and would continue his country music-themed programs on both television and radio well into the 1980s. Through the decades, Walker would discover a multitude of country music legends such as Carl Smith, the Everly brothers, and of course, young Dolly Parton. Identified in this photo is Buster Moore, later of Bonnie Lou and Buster fame (back row), and Knoxville radio favorite Little Miss Helen. Helen Moyers would later change her name to Penny Jay and become one of Nashville’s top songwriters, composing classic country music tunes such as “Don’t let Me Cross Over” and “Widow Maker,” among others. Can any sharp-eyed Metro Pulse readers help identify the other members of this early Walker band?
—Brad Reeves


For more info on TAMIS, visit: tamisarchive.org
  • The UT Jazz Giants (circa early 1960s)
The late, great jazz legend Bill Scarlett was for decades a fixture in the Knoxville jazz scene. Scarlett, a native of Arkansas, fell in love with jazz after catching a Benny Goodman gig at the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Several years later he found himself in a band with Art Pepper. Shortly after moving to Knoxville in 1957, Scarlett formed the University of Tennessee Jazz Giants, a hot jazz band consisting of UT students, professional jazz musicians, and UT faculty. The Giants could often be found playing around town during the 1960s and ’70s at long-defunct but fondly-recalled local jazz venues such as Gordon’s Blue Note and The Town House. Pictured here is an early version of the band. Scarlett can be spotted in the lower left-hand corner.
—Brad Reeves

For more info on TAMIS, go to: 
tamisarchive.org.
  • The Generation Gap

Knoxville’s own version of the Partridge Family was quite popular on the local scene for several heady years during the early to mid 1970s, cutting records, making television appearances, and performing live gigs around town. Hot-pants-clad and go-go-boot-wearing matriarch Wilma Thress and her three children—Mitzi, Michael, and Jeff—were each accomplished musicians blessed with a groovy fashion sense. Watch the Generation Gap in action in a rare video clip on the Metro Pulse website! (Brad Reeves)


For more info on TAMIS, visit tamisarchive.org.
  • The glory days of the Fort Sanders music scene personified! Smokin’ Dave and the Premo Dopes brought along a unique style—a raw, stripped-down sound, complete with wry, witty, sometimes bitingly sarcastic lyrics. Band members Todd Steed, Dave Nichols, and Dug Meech quickly gained a reputation for their high-energy live performances and Knox-centric lyrics that most locals could identify with (anyone recall “Longbranch Daze”?). Steed continues this fine musical tradition with his latest band, The Suns of Phere. 
This photo was taken on the rooftop of old campus favorite Sam and Andy’s Restaurant around the time of the Dopes’ first LP Live and Not Lern, released in 1987. 
According to Steed, “The Dopes were the first non-employees allowed on the roof since the streaking craze of the 1970s. I wiped that bull down before I got on!”
—Brad Reeves
For more on TAMIS, visit tamisarchive.org.

From the vaults of the Tennessee Archive of Moving Image and Sound, an ongoing series looking at Knoxville musicians through history.

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