Old-timey banjo player and comedian Louis Marshall Jones, aka Grandpa Jones (1913-1998) started his long, long showbiz career back in the Great Depression, taking on the persona of an old geezer as part of his vaudevillian stage show. Although he stayed true to the music, he had a lot of phases to his career, including postwar stints with the Delmore Brothers and Merle Travis (in the gospel-oriented Brown's Ferry Four) and, of course, his iconic appearances on the Hee Haw TV show. Because of his TV appearances was well-known in mainstream pop culture during the 1960s and '70s, but was better known as a comedic figure... For many country fans, discovering Grandpa Jones's rootsier side is a real delight! Here's a quick look at his work...
Grandpa Jones "An American Original" (CMH Records, 1989)
Best known during the '60s and '70s for his comedic bits on the Hee-Haw TV show, Grandpa Jones' country pedigree goes 'way back to the Depression era, where like hundreds of performers he roamed from radio show to radio show, broadcasting to Mom and Pop audiences for the better part of two decades. Eventually Jones landed a gig on the Grand Ole Opry, in the early '50s, and built his reputation as a comic singer, although he was also a formidable traditional musician. His work -- particularly his 1940s recordings on the King label -- formed a unique bridge between the for-real old-timey music of the hills and the blues-influenced hillbilly boogie and honkytonk country that took root in the postwar years. In the 1970s and '80s, CMH Records recorded a series of LPs with Jones and his family -- this CD boils those albums down to their essentials. Lots of old standards like "Old Rattler" and "Chewing Gum" are included, along with a wealth of more folkloric tunes. Admittedly, he was pretty long in the tooth by this time -- and the reissue art is pretty lame -- but the source material is cool, and since his classic recordings from the 1940s are still pretty hard to come by, this might fill the gaps for curious fans.
Grandpa Jones "Country Music Hall Of Fame Series" (MCA, 1991)
This disc collects all fifteen tracks Jones made for Decca in the late 1950s, and it's a doozy. On several tracks Jones reprises the themes and songs from his '40s heyday, when he recorded with Merle Travis and the Delmore Brothers on the King label. Remakes of old standards "Dark As A Dungeon" and "Mountain Dew" fall a bit flat, although only in comparison to the rawer King originals. Later on, Jones finds his feet with newer material, including a slew of great novelty tunes such as the "protest" song, "Daylight Saving Time" and the rocknroll spoof, "The All-American Boy." Sentimental material provides balance, and tracks like the gospel song, "Falling Leaves" are genuinely haunting. Definitely recommended.
Grandpa Jones "Steppin' Out Kind" (Ace, 2006)
It's been so, so very long since Hee Haw has been on the air that I suppose there's no reason anymore to half-apologize for Grandpa (Louis Marshall) Jones' role on the show... (Don't get me wrong: I loved Hee Haw when I was a kid, but I'm sure for many people it was nothing more than a hallmark of cornball humor...) Anyway, it's been a long time. Finally, Jones' music -- his old stuff, made back when TV was barely a viable medium -- has emerged from underneath the long shadow of his best-known role, and now it's just out there in reissueland, plain old hardscrabble country music, the kind of stuff that only hardcore hick music weirdos (like me) can really get into. Now, if that description fits you as well, and you haven't already delved into Jones' work, then you're in for a treat. This is a top-notch collection of his earliest recordings for the up-and-coming King label, made back in the mid-1940s, when Jones worked closely with King's other country stars, particularly hotshot guitarist Merle Travis and the Delmore Brothers, whose driving rhythmic style trailblazed country music's contributions to the rock'n'roll explosion of the 1950s. Some of that fire is evident in Jones' old 78s, mostly through Travis's peppy, consistently innovative picking, which weaves throughout these discs. The material tends to be a little weird thematically -- Jones cut his teeth in country's vaudeville circuit, and he maintained his novelty-song edge throughout his career -- but he also recorded some great serious material, like his mournful 1946 hit, "It's Raining Here This Morning," and his heartfelt version of "Will You Miss Me When I'm Gone." Jones's raw, plaintive delivery was pure, old-school, pre-honkytonk country, tempered with a strong feeling for the blues... This disc might not be for everyone, but for the right old-timey/country boogie fans, it'll be pure heaven. Recommended!
Grandpa Jones "You're Never Too Old For Love" (BACM, 2005)
Grandpa Jones "Makes The Rafters Ring" (Omni, 2011)
This disc covers some of his later work in the 1960s, on the Monument label, drawing mainly on two albums, Makes The Rafters Ring, from 1962 and 1963's Grandpa Jones Sings Yodeling Hits, which have slicker production than his older stuff, but still resonate with old-timey vigor. Lots of country talent on here working under producer Fred Foster: there are a bunch of hotshot guitarists, including Harold Bradley, Ray Edington, Hank Garland and Merle Travis (with lots of Chet Atkins soundalike riffs), and steel player Jerry Byrd adding a few sweet licks as well. Mother Maybelle and Helen Carter sing backup, along with the then-unknown Glaser Brothers, and of course Jones is fine form -- never a particularly fluid vocal stylist, but a solid performer throughout. This is a nice sampling of his pre-Hee Haw work, material that's kind of off the beaten track for most country fans, and well worth spin or two to enjoy a fun collision of old-school hillbilly twang and new-fangled Nashville pop. Recommended!
Grandpa Jones "...Sings His Greatest Hits" (King, 1957)
Grandpa Jones "Strictly Country Tunes" (King, 1959)
Grandpa Jones "Grandpa Jones Makes The Rafters Ring" (Monument, 1961)
Grandpa Jones "Rollin' Along With Grandpa Jones" (King, 1962)
Grandpa Jones "Sacred Gospel Songs" (King, 1963)
Grandpa Jones "An Evening With Grandpa Jones" (Decca, 1963)
Grandpa Jones "Yodeling Hits" (King, 1963)
Grandpa Jones "Do You Remember (When Grandpa Jones Sang These Songs)?" (King, 1963)
Grandpa Jones "...Sings Real Folk Songs" (Monument, 1964)
Grandpa Jones "The Other Side Of Grandpa Jones" (King, 1964)
Grandpa Jones "...Remembers The Brown's Ferry Four" (Monument, 1966) (LP)
An all-gospel set...
Grandpa Jones "Great Country Songs That Will Live Forever" (King, 1966)
A potpourri-style best-of collection, with unsatisfying edited-down versions of a bunch of his King recordings...
Grandpa Jones "Everybody's Grandpa" (Monument, 1967)
Grandpa Jones "...Sings Hits From Hee Haw" (Monument, 1969)
Grandpa Jones "Grandpa Live" (Monument, 1970)
Grandpa Jones "15 Cents Is All I've Got" (Nashville, 1971)
Grandpa Jones "What's For Supper?" (Monument, 1974)
Grandpa Jones "The Gospel According To Grandpa Jones" (Skylite, 1976) (LP)
Grandpa Jones "Singin' Those Good Old Songs" (CMI, 1977)
Grandpa Jones "The Grandpa Jones Story" (CMH, 1977)
Grandpa Jones "Old Time Country Music Collection" (CMH, 1978)
Grandpa Jones "Family Album" (CMH, 1979)
Grandpa Jones "Family Gathering" (CMH, 1981)
Grandpa Jones/Various Artists "Merle And Grandpa's Farm And Home Hour" (CMH, 1985) (LP)
A down-home jam session with Joe Maphis, Rose Lee Maphis, and Merle Travis... A lot of talented old-timers!
"Everybody's Grandpa: Fifty Years Behind The Mike"
Written by Louis M. Jones & Charles K. Wolfe
(University of Tennessee Press, 1984)
Hick Music Index