Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Sounds of Virginia: Dee Stone

Ever since I posted the rare 78 by Dee Stone with Ted Prillaman and the Virginia Ramblers from our friend Wes’ great record collection (for the original post click here), I have heard from a few riders on the Bus with a little more information on Dee Stone and Ted Prillaman. Scott Baldwin, guitarist and jug blower with the talented New Roanoke Jug Band (more about the NRJB later this week) wrote to tell me that their fiddler/washboard player, Jay Griffin, last saw Ted Prillaman and the Virginia Ramblers play in the 1970s. He reports that Gray Craig was playing fiddle with the Ramblers at that time. Another rider, Chuck, sent me a few cuts by Dee Stone, two of which I did not have. Then I heard from the man who so kindly leant the record for us to share. Wes says he remembers that Dee Stone owned a record company in Roanoke.

So, it looks like Roanoke, the “Star City of the South”, is the next stop for the Old Blue Bus.
Roanoke was originally established as the village of Big Lick in 1852. Square in the middle of the Blue Ridge Mountains, halfway between the northern end in Maryland and the southern end in Tennessee, and located along the Roanoke River, Big Lick was well located as a transportation hub. In the early 1880s, the Shenandoah Valley Railroad and the Norfolk and Western Railway selected Big Lick as the junction of the two roads. The village of Big Lick became the town of Roanoke in 1882. As the railroad brought jobs and people to the area Roanoke quickly became a bustling city. In 1884 Roanoke was chartered as an independent city. The growth of Roanoke was so fast that it was nicknamed the “Magic City.”

The story of Dee Stone and the odd Liberty label on the record has piqued my interest, so I have attempted to do a little research on my own. Dee Stone, a Roanoke native, was a very popular fiddler in the years following WWII. Stone did own a record company as Wes had remembered, but the name of the short-lived label was Mutual Records. Mutual operated out of Roanoke around 1948-1949 and lasted not much more than a year. According to a wonderfully researched article by music writer, Dick Spottswood, for Bluegrass Unlimited magazine, Feb. 2005 issue, “Dee Stone’s own Mutual label began in 1948-1949 in southwest Virginia and joined forces with a California speculator who contributed some local music. Mutual lasted for a year or less; its releases are rarely seen today.” (To read the full article “RICH-R-TONE, MUTUAL, AND BLUE RIDGE: HISTORIES AND INVENTORIES” click here.)

This leads one to wonder: could that “California speculator” have been Simon Waronker, founder of the famous Liberty Records in California? Waronker didn’t start Liberty Records until 1955. The dates don’t work out. But for a label known mostly for its pop releases, I’ve noticed some odd listings in the early Liberty catalog. Perhaps one of the other founders of Liberty dabbled in the small record company from Roanoke before joining forces with Waronker.
Examples from the Liberty catalog:
LRP-3004 - I Hear a Rhapsody - John Duffy (1955)
LRP-3011 - Songs for a Lazy Afternoon - Rod McKuen (1956)
LRP-3031 - Moods for 5 P.M. - John Duffy (1957)
LRP-3357/LST-7357 - 5 String Banjo Greats - Various Artists (1964)

I am probably way off the trail here, but there has to be an explanation of the odd Liberty label Dee Stone used on this record when the name of his record company was Mutual. I have found a few leads in Roanoke that I hope can help clear up this mystery. I’ll keep everyone on the Bus up to date should I find a fresh trail.

The area of southwest Virginia, northeast Tennessee, east Kentucky, northeast North Carolina, and south West Virginia is a fairly small area of rugged mountains and is steeped in musical traditions. These old, locally produced and thinly distributed records from the area represent some of the finest in traditional Bluegrass and would be lost forever if not for collectors such as Wes.

My thanks to Wes, Chuck, and Scott for their contributions.

Dee Stone with Ted Prillaman’s Virginia Ramblers – Square Dance Polka.mp3
The mysteriously labeled record from Wes’ collection that started this journey.

Dee Stone & his Melody Hillbillies – Pilot Mountain Rag.mp3

Dee Stone & his Melody Hillbillies – Mountain Swing.mp3

Dee Stone & his Melody Hillbillies – Highway 220.mp3

True treasures from the basement!

The Roanoke Star was erected on top of Mill Mountain in 1949. Mill Mountain is within the city limits and the star, lit every night, can be seen from most of the city and valley.

Just a note of trivia: Liberty Records was founded by chairman Simon Waronker, president Alvin Bennett, and chief engineer Theodore Keep. Ross Bagdasarian (also known as David Seville), named his “Chipmunks” cartoon characters after the Liberty Records executives: Alvin, Simon, and Theodore. All of the “Chipmunks” records were on the Liberty label.


Blogger Mr. Beer N. Hockey said...

Dee Stone from Big Lick? You're not fiddlin' about with your Virginia musical history are you Ed?

October 02, 2007 10:47 PM  
Blogger Ed said...

I couldn't make up a story this good.

October 03, 2007 6:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ed... I have hanging in my living room an electric star that was sold by the Roanoke Chamber of Commerce in 1948 to raise money for the building of the Mill Mountain Star. It's been in my family since it's original purchase by my Grandmother (a Roanoke native), who passed it to her second son, my uncle Jimmy, who passed it on to me when he passed away almost three years ago. It's a neat story - but man does it burn hot. I can't leave it plugged in very long!
Welcome back to the plant btw.

October 03, 2007 1:04 PM  
Blogger Ed said...

Hi Tootie,
That's a great family souvenir.
Better be careful when it’s plugged in, even the big one on Mill Mountain had to be rewired in the ‘70s.

BTW- I won’t be back to A plant for a few more weeks. I was just there yesterday to do some field work.

October 03, 2007 2:41 PM  
Anonymous Dan said...

Thanks for the trivia on Liberty Records and David Seville. That's the stuff that could win a person Final Jeopardy! When I heard Highway 220, I thought that it was true Rock & Roll. Funny how that sound was around long before it was coined as a phrase. Great info, and great posts as usual.

October 03, 2007 5:40 PM  
Blogger lynne said...

What a wonderful way to start the day. Had a spot of trouble with Pilot Mountain Rag though Ed.
PS Yes Etta Baker's Fingerpickin' was a little ambitious, he he.

October 03, 2007 8:08 PM  
Blogger Ed said...

Hi Lynne,
I was moving files around just about the time you posted your comment. Sorry if it affected the tunes. I'll try to be more careful.

You get a tip of the hat from me just for attempting to emulate Etta Baker's style.

October 03, 2007 8:48 PM  

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