4 Oct 2022

East Hickory, North Carolina

The Blue Sky Boys revisited. Perfect release to complete the Bear Family ''Sunny Side Of Life'' release, well collected.

'A wonderful insight into the unique sound of the Blue Sky Boys on Radio. Classic material with the guys own special vocal style with the added support by Curly Parker. Perhaps only The Louvin Bros came anywhere near this vocal style ? For real collectors of True 'Country Music' from those far off early days. Can't recommend this set enough.' JRC

''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).

The Blue Sky Boys
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Blue Sky Boys were an American country music duo consisting of the brothers Earl Bolick (November 16, 1919 – April 19, 1998) and Bill Bolick (October 28, 1917 – March 13, 2008), whose careers spanned over forty years.

The brothers were born and raised in East Hickory, North Carolina, as the fourth and fifth siblings in a family of six children. Their parents, who were deeply religious and belonged to the First Church of God, taught them to sing hymns and gospel music. A neighbour taught Bill how to play guitar and banjo while Earl on the other hand learned to play mandolin and guitar. Eventually, they decided to switch instruments and Bill chose the mandolin while Earl concentrated on the guitar. They made their radio debut in 1935 at local radio station WWNC in Asheville, North Carolina as part of the "Crazy Hickory Nuts". Sponsored by the "J. F. Goodson Coffee Company and together with Homer Sherrill of the "Crazy Hickory Nuts" they formed the "Good Coffee Boys" in the late 1935. Six months later, in June 1936, the Bolick brothers moved to Atlanta, Georgia to perform at radio station WGST. Because they were sponsored by the "Crazy Water Crystal", they had to perform using the name "(Crazy) Blue Ridge Hillbillies".

In Atlanta, the Bolick brothers went to RCA Records for an audition. At first, Eli Oberstein, the A & R man, was reluctant to hear the brothers sing, accusing them of copying the Monroe Brothers. He changed his mind when he heard them sing and immediately signed them to a recording contract. A discussion arose concerning what they should call themselves. Since they couldn't use the previous name "the Blue Ridge Hillbillies" - it had been taken by Homer Sherrill when the brothers left WGST - they decided to use "Blue Sky Boys" as their name. Their choice of name came from the nickname of western North Carolina: "Land of the Blue Sky".

They made their first recordings in Charlotte, North Carolina on June 16, 1936. Their first record "Sunny Side of Life" coupled with "Where the Soul Never Dies" became an instant success. It sold so fast the brothers were dubbed "The New Hillbilly Kings. Between 1937 and 1941 the group recorded about 100 songs for RCA to considerable success on the hillbilly music circuit. Between 1941 and 1946 both brothers served in the military; after their discharges they returned to Atlanta and resumed recording with RCA. Some of their sides featured fiddle playing from Leslie Keith, Sam "Curly" Parker, Joe Tyson and Richard Hicks. They enjoyed a number of hits just after the war, but disliked the burgeoning honky tonk style and refused to record it. When RCA asked them to play with an electric guitar, they refused and stopped recording until 1949. Due to personal issues, the Blue Sky Boys retired in 1951.

Bill became a postal clerk in his birth state and Earl took a job at Lockheed Aircraft in Atlanta. When Starday Records released an LP of their radio recordings in 1962, they decided to reunite and record again. Two LPs of new material followed, one secular (Together Again) and one religious (Precious Moments). They occasionally played live at folk festivals, and during a trip to California to perform at the UCLA Folk Festival, the brothers spent two days in the studio recording an album for Capitol Records. But by the end of the 1960s they had decided to call it quits again.

Once more, in 1975, they were convinced to record again, this time for Rounder Records, and another round of folk and bluegrass circuit touring ensued. Following this, Bill moved back to his birthplace and lived in Longview, North Carolina, while Earl retired to Tucker, Georgia.

In the 1990s, Copper Creek Records issued a series of four albums with live radio transcriptions from the 1940s.

Blue Sky Boys – 1939-1949 Radio Broadcasts

Label: Patuxent Music – CD-280
Format: 4 x CD, Compilation
Country: US
Released: 2018
Style: Country, Bluegrass

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?)

Some of these recordings, principally from the period at WGST, Atlanta, 1946-1947 and that at WCYB, Bristol in 1949, were released previously by Copper Creek Records and on other labels.