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Hoe Down! A Barn Dance Saturday Night!


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Hoe Down! A Barn Dance Saturday Night!

 

For all the Saturday night insomniacs, TCM is premiering *Hollywood Barn Dance* (1947) over night. Now, I am not claiming this film is anywhere close to being a "unseen gem" of cinematic excellence deserving of your attention. I am sure it is not - though I admit I've never seen it. But I will say this film, an off-shoot of a popular culture artifact of the depression-era U.S., might be interesting to see, if for no other reason than the music it presents.

 

Starting In the 1920s, radio stations across the country began programming live country music shows - often incorporating the term "Barn Dance" into the title. The first such radio program was the "WLS National Barn Dance" that premiered in 1924. In the midwest, radio station WLS out of Chicago was legendary. It was one of those "clear-channel" radio stations that, on a clear night, could be heard for hundreds of miles. (I used to listen to WLS, but not the "Barn Dance", in central Wisconsin on a small transistor radio in the early 1970s.) The station may have been in downtown Chicago, but the signal travelled far out into the rural areas of the upper midwest. And that is where the program found the audience that would make the "WLS Barn Dance" a popular phenomenon.

 

The "WLS National Barn Dance" and its mix of authentic country music and "down-home humor" was broadcast every Saturday night. The show cultivated a cast of regular performers, with names like Lulu Belle and Uncle Ezra, with whom rural listeners identified with easily. And the musicianship, mostly local, was exemplary.

national_barn_dance_2

 

Yet there was little about the show that couldn't be replicated or recreated by other radio stations across the country using "homegrown talent" from the local station's area. And so they did. In 1927, one of the original creators of the "WLS Barn Dance" when to Nashville and began the "WSM Barn Dance". A few years later that program became "The Grand Old Opry".

http://www.wlshistory.com/NBD/

 

Besides "The Grand Old Opry", there was the "Refro Valley Barn Dance" in Kentucky, the "Louisiana Hayride", the "Tennessee Jamboree" and the "Ozark Jubilee". Each of these regional programs was much like the others. The "Barn Dance" format was "portable" and easy to transplant. It even took root in Hollywood.

 

"Hollywood Barn Dance" debuted on KNX radio, Los Angeles in 1943 and was the replacement for Gene Autry's "Melody Ranch" program which ended when Autry went into the Armed Forces in 1942. The "Hollywood Barn Dance" radio program featured the many country and western stars making B-movies in Hollywood and has been credited with popularizing the "Country Swing" musical genre.

http://rjbocm.com/barn_dances/hollywood_barn_dance

 

HollywoodBarnDance_hlfsht

 

But there is little of the radio show in the film. Like *An American In Paris*, the movie *Hollywood Barn Dance* is a film built around a recognizeable title. The film is about a country-western band but has little to do with its namesake radio show. The film's producer just bought the rights to the title of the program. And while the film features Ernest Tubb, there is no sign this legend ever appeared on the radio show.

http://www.tcm.com/tcmdb/title/78207/Hollywood-Barn-Dance/

 

The "National Barn Dance" also was used as the basis for a film from Paramount Pictures in 1944. Unlike *Hollywood Barn Dance*, the film *National Barn Dance* featured many of the performers from the radio show of that name. Because of its fidelity to the radio show, *National Barn Dance* is probably a "better" film portrayal of the genre and the music featured in those programs. But I have read that *Hollywood Barn Dance* does contain some rare music performances too, most notably Jack Guthrie performing "Oakie Boogie" (or "Okie Boogie"). Guthrie would die the following year in 1948.

 

"Hollywood Barn Dance" left the air in 1948. But the regional-based "Barn Dance" programs continued broadcasting through the 1950s and 1960s. "The Grand Old Opry" is still heard today.

 

The "Barn Dance" format of radio shows played an important role in the popularity and legacy of country music. A television documentary on the "WLS National Barn Dance" was shown on PBS last year. Narrated by Garrison Keillor, the program is much better at explaining the relevance the program, and its imitators, had in the popular culture of the 20th Century.

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"The Hayloft Gang: The Story Of The National Barn Dance" on PBS

http://www.pbs.org/programs/hayloft-gang/

http://hayloftgang.com/

 

One can listen to abbreviated versions of the "National Barn Dance" at Archive.org.

These 30 minute recording were made for distribution on the Armed Forces Radio Service.

Stream eight episodes by clicking here -

http://www.archive.org/stream/NB-Dance

Download the eight episodes here -

http://www.archive.org/details/NB-Dance

 

Kyle In Hollywood

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Glad two of you have taken an interest in tonight's unique premiere.

 

But I don't know that I'll be up late enough to see it myself.

Sorry Ernest Tubb. You may be "walkin' the floor" with someone else tonight.

 

Kyle In Hollywood

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I LOVED it!

Give me a rarity like this over all the over-played big pretentious MGM & WB classics any time (especially post-1960!)

 

THANK YOU, TCM for digging this up for us!

I'd never seen it before and it's a highlight of the TCM month for me.

 

Dig this corny dialogue:

 

Ernest Tubb & his boys: We need money to rebuild a church.

Earle Hodgins: You guys don't look like the church-building type.

Ernest: But we're the guys who burned it down.

Hodgins: Arson?

Ernest: Well, the boss said it was arsonine!

 

(Quoted from memory...I didn't rewind to get the words exact).

 

Love that kind of stuff!

 

And thanks very much Kyle for all the background info and images!

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Radio shows like this were common when I was a kid growing up in the 1940s and early '50s. Some of the shows were broadcast over the larger 50,000-watt radio stations (broadcasting on high power after sunset), and they could be heard over about 1/3 to 1/2 of the nation when the weather was just right. There was also a 100,000-watt radio station, XERF, operating in northern Mexico in Ciudad Acu?a, just across the Rio Grande from Del Rio, Texas, and its programming was both country and Western for American audiences.

 

There were also localized versions of these kinds of radio shows in many different states, usually broadcast by local radio stations in big cities all across the country. The programming was made up of local small-town bands and singing groups. While the New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles radio stations were broadcasting big-band orchestra music from famous nightclubs, the rest of the country was listening to the country and Western bands, but of course those biggest cities also broadcast some country and Western music shows.

 

Back in those days, "Country-and-Western" music was/were more divided than it is today, with Western music being played mainly in Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, and the rural Western states, while Country music was played in states that were mainly East of the Mississippi River, and especially in the South and up into the Midwest. Also, there were plenty of local concerts and bars all over the country that had live bands, and also square dances with mainly Western style music.

 

I was lucky enough to live in Montana, Wyoming, and Nebraska in the late 1940s, where this kind of music was on all the bar and caf? jukeboxes, as well as being on the radio shows. I had a small collection of Tex Ritter records a few years before he recorded the High Noon theme music in 1952.

 

Ernest Tubb, Western style:

 

 

The Carter Family, Eastern country style:

 

 

Bob Wills, Western music with New York big band influence (hey, where are their cowboy hats??):

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YwReZml9acg

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