That ol' Tom Cat
Hey! Wouldn’t it be neat to compare Cliff Carlisle's original Tom Cat Blues from the mid 1930s to the reworked version by the Rooftop Singers? Sure, I’m easily amused.
Cliff Carlisle is probably best remembered as a Jimmie Rodgers style country singer of the 1930s. Lumping him in with the slew of yodeling Jimmie Rodgers tag alongs would be a mistake. Carlisle was one of the better white country blues performers of the ‘30s. Sure he did his share of blue yodels, but heck, it was all the rage at the time. As a child in Taylorsville, Kentucky, Carlisle loved the Hawaiian guitar records of artist such as Frank Ferera. While working on his family’s farm he was surely listening to the rural blues and gospel of hired hands and the string bands that played the barn dances on Saturday nights.
At the age of 16 he struck out on a musical career of his own. He played all the local social events and entered local contests. In 1924 he teamed up with a local construction worker by the name of Wilber Ball. Ball played guitar and sang tenor harmony. The two were perhaps the first blue yodeling duo and were quite popular, touring all across the country for better than a decade. In fact, in 1931 they even recorded with Jimmie Rodgers himself. Not long after their recording with Rodgers, Carlisle took off on his own. His solo career really took off and by the mid 1930s his son joined him on tour. His solo recordings were a bit on the rowdy side of the blues. He must have written nearly 300 songs during this period. His "You'll Miss Me When I'm Gone" was covered many years later by Elvis Presley as "Just Because”. His 1939 song "Footprints in the Snow” has been reworked and is now considered a bluegrass standard. And then there was his “Tom Cat Blues”, covered decades later by the Rooftop Singers. And that old resophonic guitar of his sure does sound sweet.
The Rooftop Singers were Erik Darling (a former member of the Weavers), his friend Bill Svanoe joined in with guitar and the beautiful voice of Lynne Taylor rounded out the trio of folk revivalists. They are best remembered for their 1963 reworked version of the 1920s ragtime song “Walk Right In”, which I have posted here before. I still like their jazzy/bluesy/folky reworking of many great songs from the 1920s and ‘30s.