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Cliff Carlisle

White country bluesman Cliff Carlisle was among the most prolific recording artists of the 1930s; a blue yodeler in the tradition of Jimmie Rodgers, he helped pioneer the popularity of the Hawaiian steel guitar in country music, while the ribald imagery of his material established him among the wittiest and most reckless composers of his day. Born in Taylorsville, KY, on May 6, 1904, as a child Carlisle was enamored of the Hawaiian guitar recordings of Frank Ferera, and eventually placed a steel nut under the strings of his own guitar to achieve a similar sound. Rural blues was also an early influence, and while working on his family's farm he also absorbed the inspiration of old-timey string bands and sacred songs; he began his performing career at the age of 16, performing socials and local talent contests alongside a cousin, Lillian Truax. After Truax's marriage disbanded the duo, in 1924 Carlisle began collaborating with Wilber Ball, a construction worker who also played guitar and sang tenor harmony; over the course of the decade to follow, the duo regularly toured the vaudeville and tent show circuit, performing across the country as quite possibly the first blue yodeling duet team.

In 1930, Carlisle and Ball debuted on Louisville radio WHAS, a fledgling station their popularity helped establish; that same year Carlisle made his first recordings on the Gennett and Champion labels, virtually all of them firmly in the tradition of Jimmie Rodgers. In 1931, he and Ball actually recorded with the Singing Brakeman himself; that same year Carlisle also cut "Shanghai Rooster Yodel," the first in a series of ribald barnyard-themed outings that served him throughout his career, and might have influenced similar tracks by Charley Patton ("Banty Rooster Blues") and Howlin' Wolf ("Little Red Rooster"). Upon signing to ARC in late 1931, Carlisle's career truly took flight, as he landed a regular spot on Charlotte, NC, station WBT, followed by subsequent gigs at Chicago's WLS and Cincinnati's WLW. His younger brother, Bill, replaced Ball as rhythm guitarist circa 1934, and when Carlisle resumed recording in 1936 after a lengthy hiatus, his material became even saltier -- "Get Her By the Tail on a Down Hill Drag" was a classic barroom boast, while "That Nasty Swing" employed metaphorical imagery of surprising explicitness. (He typically recorded his more blue material under a variety of pseudonyms, including Bob Clifford and Amos Greene.)

During the mid-'30s, Carlisle's son -- billed as "Sonny Boy Tommy" -- began regularly appearing on live dates and recording sessions, a situation that often ran afoul of individual states' child labor laws. The recordings Carlisle made with his son were typically mild and innocuous, but his solo sides continued to get down and dirty -- "A Wild Cat Woman and a Tom Cat Man" offered a cartoonish portrait of domestic disputes, while the snarky "You'll Miss Me When I'm Gone" was later covered by Elvis Presley as "Just Because." In 1939, he recorded "Footprints in the Snow," later to become a bluegrass standard; the song offered clear proof that consumers' appetite for blue yodels was on the wane; in the years to follow, Carlisle was a regular on WMPS in Memphis, but by the early '50s he was essentially retired from the music industry, having recorded well over 300 sides during his heyday. He was rediscovered a decade later when the Rooftop Singers covered his "Tom Cat Blues," leading to a handful of reunion performances with Wilber Ball and even the recording of new material for the Rem label. Cliff Carlisle died in Lexington, KY, on April 2, 1983; he was 78. ~ Jason Ankeny
full bio

Selected Discography

x

Track List: Volume 2: When I Feel Froggie I'm Gonna Hop

Disc 1

1. T For Texas

2. Down In The Jailhouse On My Knees

3. Blue Yodel No. 6

4. Just A Lonely Hobo

6. On My Way To Lonesome Valley

7. I'm Lonely And Blue

8. Never No Mo' Blues

9. Crazy Blues

10. Hobo Jack's Last Ride

11. Alone And Lonesome

12. When You Wore A Tulip

13. Birmingham Jail

14. Shine On Harvest Moon

15. The Plea Of A Mother

16. When The Cactus Is In Bloom

17. She's Waiting For Me

18. The Cowboy Song

19. Childhood Dreams

20. The Fatal Run

21. Nobody Wants Me

22. Memories That Make Me Cry

23. Desert Blues

24. Childhood Dreams

Disc 2

1. Where Southern Roses Climb

2. Box Car Yodel

3. Birmingham Jail No. 2

4. Alone And Lonesome

5. Going Back To Alabama

6. The Written Letter

7. My Two Time Mama

8. Just A Lonely Hobo

9. My Lonely Boyhood Days

10. Roll On Blue Moon

11. Hobo Jack's Last Ride

12. Dream A Little Dream Of Me

13. Louisiana Blues

14. Wreck Of No. 52

15. I'm Glad I'm A Hobo

16. Ramblin' Jack

17. Fussin' Mama

18. Longing For You

19. The Rustler's Fate

20. The Little Dobie Shack

21. Blue Eyes

22. The Vacant Cabin Door

23. End Of Memory Lane

24. Looking For Tomorrow

Disc 3

1. Traveling Life Alone

2. Ramshackled Shack On The Hill

3. Don't Marry The Wrong Woman

5. Georgia Moon

6. Dollar's All I Crave

7. On The Lone Prairie

8. The Bunch Of Cactus On The Wall

10. Valley Of Peace

11. Will You Meet Me Just Inside

12. Jesus My All

13. Won't Somebody Pal With Me

15. Hen Pecked Man

16. So Blue

17. Look Out I'm Shifting Gears

18. In A Box Car Around The World

19. Two Little Sweethearts

20. A Little White Rose

21. The Flower Of The Valley

22. Just A Song At Childhood

23. They Say It Is The End Of The Trail Old Paint

24. My Old Saddle Horse Is Missing

25. That Good Old Utah Trail

Disc 4

1. When I Feel Froggie I'm Gonna Hop

2. Shufflin' Gal

3. When I'm Dead And Gone

4. Just A Wayward Boy

5. There's A Lamp In The Window Tonight

6. Ridin' That Lonesome Train

7. A Little Bit Of Lovin' From You

8. Blue Dreams

9. Rocky Road

10. Sweet As The Roses Of Spring

11. The Poor Widow

12. Your Saddle Is Empty Tonight

13. Lonely

14. The Gal I Left Behind

15. Ridin' The Blinds To The Call Of The Pines

16. When The Old Cow Went Dry

17. Deep Sea Blues

18. My Little Sadie

19. Flag That Train

20. Go And Leave Me If You Wish To

21. You'll Never Know

23. I Believe I'm Entitled To You

24. She Waits For Me There

x

Track List: Blues Yodeller And Steel Guitar Wizard

1. Memphis Yodel

2. No Daddy Blues

3. Hobo Blues

4. Columbus Stockade Blues

5. Shanghai Rooster Yodel

6. I Don't Mind

7. High Steppin' Mama

8. It Ain't No Fault Of Mine

9. That Nasty Swing

10. Get Her By The Tail On A Down Hill Grade

11. My Lovin Kathleen

12. A Wild Cat Woman And A Tom Cat Man

13. You'll Miss Me When I'm Gone (Just Because)

14. Rambling Yodeler

15. When The Evening Sun Goes Down

16. Handsome Blues

17. My Rockin' Mama

18. Pay Day Fight

19. My Travelin' Night

20. Trouble Minded Blues

21. Pan American Man

22. I'm Saving Saturday Night For You

23. Footprints In The Snow

24. Black Jack David

x

Track List: A Country Legacy (1930-1938)

Disc 1

1. A Wild Cat Woman And A Tom Cat Man

2. Memphis Yodel

3. Desert Blues

4. High Steppin' Mama

5. Rambling Yodeler

6. Dear Old Daddy

7. Seven Years With The Wrong Woman

8. Gamblin' Dan

9. Handsome Blues

10. When The Evening Sun Goes Down

11. That Great Judgement Day

12. Goodbye Old Pal

13. I Want A Good Woman

14. My Lovin' Kathleen

15. You'll Miss Me When I'm Gone

16. Nevada Johnny

17. There Is No More That I Can Say

18. Prepare Me O Lord

19. Roll On, Roll On

20. When It's Round Up Time In Heaven

21. Home Of The Soul

Disc 2

1. Ash Can Blues

2. Mouse's Ear Blues

3. That Nasty Swing

4. Sal's Got A Meatskin

6. Onion Eating Mama

7. It Takes An Old Hen To Deliver The Goods

8. Shanghai Rooster Yodel

9. Chicken Roost Blues

10. Wigglin' Mama

11. Sugar Cane Mama

12. Tom Cat Blues

13. No Daddy Blues

14. Hobo Blues

15. Rooster Blues

16. Guitar Blues

17. It Ain't No Fault Of Mine

18. Shine Your Light For Others

19. Two Eyes In Tennessee

20. The Blind Child's Prayer

21. When The Angels Carry Me Home

Disc 3

1. Columbus Stockade Blues

2. Shanghai Rooster No. 2

3. The Brakeman's Reply

4. Waiting For A Ride

5. Hobo's Fate

6. Cowboy Johnny's Last Ride

7. Get Her By The Tail On A Downhill Grade

8. My Travelin' Night

9. True And Trembling Brakeman

10. Hobo Blues

11. Pan American Man

12. Pay Day Fight

13. Far Beyond The Starry Sky

14. I'm Saving Saturday Night For You

15. Dang My Rowdy Soul

16. My Rocky Mountain Sweetheart

17. Goin' Down The Road Feelin' Bad

18. Georgia Moon

19. I Don't Mind

20. I'm Sorry Now

21. Lonely Orphan Child

Disc 4

1. Trouble Minded Blues

2. A Mean Mama Don't Worry Me

3. Why Did It Have To Be?

4. When It's Round Up Time In Texas

5. Shine On Me

6. A Stretch Of 28 Years

7. Footprints In The Snow

8. Gonna Raise A Ruckus Tonight

9. Going Down The Valley One By One

10. Memories That Haunt Me

11. Black Jack David

12. Going Back To Alabama

13. Lonesome For Caroline

14. Uncloudy Day

15. Broken Heart

16. Shot The Innocent Man

17. Girl In The Blue Velvet Band

18. Sally Let Your Bangs Hang Down

19. Where My Memory Lies

20. New Memories Of You That Haunt Me

21. On The Banks Of The Rio Grande

Comments

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Midnight rider
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In the tradition of Jimmie Rodgers but with a whimsical bent. I like ole Cliff a lot.
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Fun
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apmountainmu s i c
awesome music
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I like me some cliff Carlisle
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jenthornton7 2
All these great artists were my grand folks ages... Learned so much from them and country ways that still get me through ... Still hear my Mama yodeling and singing hymns doing chores or sewing for me... Precious memories...
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This is country
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jcarltone3
a great yodeler but still there was no one like roy rogers
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I love this music!!!
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Very interesting essay,anothe r unsung pioneer of music.
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hgreen22
simple great music
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topten
I love this sort of music!

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