This bluegrass duo, which managed to rope in some wild and even unidentified pickers for their recording sessions, was heavily responsible for bringing the country duet to the New England area. A part of the United States that eventually evolved into a bluegrass and country music stronghold, the New England states were once so devoid of bluegrass that listeners who weren't in the know would never have identified Jerry Howarth or Schuyler Snow as being from New Hampshire. Their voices just sound too high and lonesome, more like Tennessee, North Carolina, or West Virginia. But no, the pair of close harmony singers hailed from Portsmouth, and part of their appeal is a complex series of yodels done in tandem, a swab of vocal trickery that has perhaps never been matched -- not that anyone would want to try. Early press coverage of the duo was a complete lie, claiming that Jerry and Sky were brothers from Tennessee. Although not related, the two were friends who had grown up together and developed mutual interests in music at an age when most youngsters do. Howarth was a fanatic about the yodeling cowboys, such as the Albertan Wilf Carter or the entertaining Western singer Elton Britt. Schuyler, on the other hand, was more interested in groups such as the Delmore Brothers, which he had heard broadcast on local radio. Jerry and Sky got on radio themselves in 1938, over Portsmouth's WHEB. Like many country performers of this time, they put across a cowboy image, complete with photographs in which they posed with horses, Snow nervously looking like he's afraid of being kicked.
That most un-cowboy of towns, Boston, proved to be the team's base for most of their musical career. They broadcast on a series of stations including the entertaining sounding WEEI, as well as WBZ. When some of these shows were picked up the Mutual Network, it meant a wider listening audience throughout the New England states. The duo spent time in Albany, and toured as far north as the Canadian Maritime provinces and as far south as Washington, D.C. It was the New York song publisher and songwriter Bob Miller that got the pair into the recording studios, arranging a session in 1945 for Sonora. This label was based out of Chicago and had recorded acts such as Fred Kirby, Whitey and Hogan, and the Carolina Playboys. The premiere studio effort resulted in Jerry and Sky's most popular song, a ditty entitled "Sparkling Brown Eyes." This song was originally written by Billy Cox in the '30s, and popped up as a country hit in someone's hands every decade or so (in the '70s, Dickie Lee charted with a cover version.) Several uncredited New York musicians were involved in a brain-shattering version of "Orange Blossom Special" that was taped during these sessions -- if it was the '70s rather than the '40s, one would swear the violinist was avant-garde noise maestro Polly Bradfield. Mandolinist and dobro player Ralph Jones was credited on these sessions; he was a West Virginian who had been playing with the pair for several years. On later recordings, Jerry and Sky began making use of their own band, the Melodymen, featuring Jones once again as well as Allen Arthur on fiddle. Tex Logan also played fiddle with this group -- perhaps he was attracted to the "sky" element in the band name, since he later became a rocket scientist.
Following more than a dozen sides cut for Sonora, the group switched to the much bigger Decca in 1949, taping two different sessions, including much material that was never released at the time. Jerry and Sky kept working into the mid-'50s. They began to get hurt by the cancellation of various live radio shows, but began touring military bases until they decided to wind down their performing activities. Howarth stayed with radio work, and in the '70s managed a station in Quincy, MA. Snow went to work for Dale Carnegie Schools and quit performing in public. Several New England bluegrass acts such as Joe Val and the New England Bluegrass Boys have credited the duo as important influences. ~ Eugene Chadbourne