Welcome to Mellow's Log Cabin. This blog's purpose is to supply information on a diversity of American southern music - ranging from country, blues, old-time and folk to R&B, rock'n'roll and rockabilly. I regularly present my research results about artists, labels, shows and also give guest writers a chance to publish their texts here on occasion.


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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Down Yonder

"Down Yonder" by L. Wolfe Gilbert 

Another bobsluckycat post presented by Mellow's Log Cabin!

Recently, while rummageing through the collection, I came across the 45 EP on Republic Records by Del Wood from 1953 which contained the original version by her hit record of "Down Yonder" from 1951-52. I played the record and got to wondering about it since it was now a very old and in the public domain standard. So I did some research and here's what I now know.

L. Wolfe Gilbert was a Russian born, American raised songwriter who found early success in 1912 with "Waiting For The Robert E. Lee", which became a hit and stardard. In 1921, he did a follow-up of sorts in "Down Yonder". By this time he was already an established songwriter of note. Gilbert would go on to write a wide variety of hit songs and well known pieces including "Ramona", "Green Eyes', and even the theme for the Hopalong Cassidy TV Show in the early '50's and the list goes on. This was to be, in his mind anyway, a minstrel show type song and perfect for the vaudville of its day. It had a very short lyric set and the melody was simple enough that Rag Time and Old Time Country musicians could learn it by ear fairly quickly. Which they did. Unfortunately, I have no early recordings to show this, but it was a favorite dance piece as an instrumental as well.

Gid Tanner and his Skillet Lickers - Down Yonder (Bluebird BB-5562), 1934

Gid Tanner
In late March of 1934, A very popular rural group reformed for a lengthy recording session in San Antonio Texas, they were Gid Tanner And The Skillet Lickers which had been on Columbia Records for many years previous to this and now were cutting records for RCA Victor. The group was known for rural music, fiddle tunes and heavy doses of comedy as well. The group consisted of Gid Tanner, fiddle and occasionally banjo, his son Gordon Tanner on fiddle (actually a better fiddler than Gid), Riley Puckett a blind guitarist and well known in his own right and Ted Hawkins on mandolin. Their recording of "Down Yonder" (RCA Bluebird 5562, recorded on 03-29-1934) was the biggest seller the group had and was quite probably the record used by many later musicians to learn the tune.

In 1951, a rag time piano player named Del Wood prefessionally (Polly Hazelwood) was playing on studio sessions and was signed to Tennessee Records. The A&R men at Tennessee wanted Del to record another piece of music which she did not know, so "Down Yonder" was chosen instead and with the addition of some rhythm accompanyment became an instant hit record on both the Pop music and Country music charts on Billboard. It entered the charts on 08-24-1951 and stayed in the charts for 25 weeks, well into 1952. Her version peaked at number 4 on the Pop charts and it was the preferred version by radio deejays and jukebox operators across the nation. Several cover versions in several different styles came out by late fall and stayed for varying lengths of time in the Billboard charts, but none touched Del Woods' version. Cashbox for the week of 12-15-1951 gave the the song the #1 position on its charts based on the aggregate totals of the original and cover versions of the song. Del wood would eventually sell over a million copies and earn a "Gold Record" which was an unheard of feat in 1951.

Del Wood - Down Yonder (Tennessee 775), 1951

Spade Cooley
One week after the Del Wood version went on the charts, Spade Cooley recorded a cover version for Decca Records in Hollywood CA on 07-31-1951. This was a very well done version in the popular Western Swing style of the day, but Decca A&R decided against releasing it until much later on an album. It still is, however, a very good version. Cooley had a large band with many well known musicians and a large California following via his long running TV show, not too well known outside the area. After leaving Columbia Records and splitting with Tex Williams, his recording output which included backing such stars as Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, The Sons Of The Pioneers and others on both RCA Victor and then Decca was not the stuff hit records were made of.

In 1960, an early "garage" band, Johnny & The Hurricanes out of Toledo Ohio, having had hits with Warwick Records in 1958 and 1959, signed with Big Top Records, a division of Hill And Range Publishing Company and their first release was "Down Yonder" (Big Top 3036 May 1960) and with the addition of a typmpany for accent had a hit record that went to the top 15 in the USA in June and #9 in the U.K. at the same time. It was a raw rock-n-roll record to be sure with solos by sax, guitar and organ at full speed. Now a well received oldie after 50 years.

Red Foley - Down Yonder (Decca LP Dear Hearts and Gentle People), 1962

Red Foley
In 1961-62, In Nashville a trend was emerging called "town and country' which had a heavy dose of pop music to it and the biggest stars at the time gravitated to it. Red Foley did a version of "Down Yonder" for a 1962 album with a full chorus which gives us the only vocal version in this mix and it is about as "town and country" as it gets.

To further illustrate the popularity of "Down Yonder" in the 1960's, I've chosen two recordings from 1967 which are vastly different but both probably are under the umbrella of Country music. The first version is by Wade Ray on fiddle, Sonny Osborne on banjo, "Jethro" Burns on mandolin and probably Buddy Spicher on second fiddle and other unamed players, and is a very good version in Bluegrass which was on an RCA Camden budget label release, later re-released on Pickwick.

The second 1967 version is by guitarist Jimmy Bryant which was recorded in Los Angeles for an Imperial Records LP #12360. This version has a jazz sound to it by the addition of a flute and some different percussion, but still "country" don't you think?


Anonymous said...

thanks for the research! I've been playing this song for years with oldtime musicians, and never known where it came from. The Skillet Likkers' version remains my favorite

Fred said...

I really enjoyed hearing the different versions one after the other. One of the best-selling versions from 1921 (by the Peerless Quartet on Victor) can be found on the Internet Archive (https://archive.org/details/PeerlessQuartet-DownYonder1921).

Best wishes.

Anonymous said...

The contemporary version would be this one, by Vassar Clements on the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band's "Circle" recording. It is the template for most every bluegrass fiddler who plays it.