Before Americana, before Outlaw Country, before Nashville even; there was Jimmie Rodgers, The Carter Family and importantly The Delmore Brothers. From a dirt poor Alabama farming family, these boys fused blues, folk and gospel to create their close vocal harmony sound and help define a genre which came to be known as country music. Unlike their contemporaries, they also mixed in a tenor guitar, giving perhaps the first example of heavy twang – a cornerstone of what we all love about Americana.
Grand Ole Opry radio stars from the 1930s, they recorded for a host of emerging labels (Columbia, Bluebird and King). Arguably, they were the biggest stars of the genre during those Depression years. It’s hard to beat that sibling kind of harmony singing – so closely intertwined that it’s tricky to say which notes are coming from which voice. Add in the aforementioned twang and the steady sock acoustic guitar, perhaps a bit of fiddle. Maybe Mr Hank Williams might even have picked up a few pointers from them? Just listen to the heavy guitar and mournful vocals on ‘Blues Stay’ away From Me’ (1949), also the jumping riffs on ‘Freight Train Boogie’ (1949), probably their best two releases, with the latter covered by Gene Vincent, Johnny Burnette and cited by some as ‘the first rock n roll record’ (though that’s a debate best saved for another time).
Rabon Delmore died aged 36, before Elvis ever found his ways to Sun Studios. Brother Alton, subsequently retiring from the business, passed away just as the Fab Four were hitting the USA. It took until 2001 for them to be introduced to the Country Music Hall of Fame. Without the Delmores there’d be no Louvins, Everlys, subsequently no Gram Parsons and a big hole in this Americana business we enthuse about. Even Bobby Dylan said that every harmony vocal he knew originated from The Delmore Brothers. This writer proudly revels in the oldest, rawest examples of roots music and heartily recommends any Delmore’s ‘Best Of’, such as Ace Records 1993 ‘Freight Train Boogie’. You might even try to track down some old, old vinyl releases – the boys would’ve wanted it that way!