About The Group
The Roane County Ramblers were a quality East Tennessee fiddle band that recorded a dozen high quality tunes on Columbia Records in 1928 and 1929. The respected fiddler James McCarroll (B: April 27, 1892 — D: September 10, 1985) was their nominal leader. McCarroll's skills were ably supported by Luke (Luther Claude) Brandon (B: February 27, 1901 — D: October 5, 1976) on guitar, (William) Howard Wyatt (B: October 17, 1907 — November 20, 1961) on banjo, and John Kelley (B: April 15, 1900 — D: October 1985) on mandolin.
A little later Arnim LeRoy "Curly" Fox (B: November 9, 1910 — D: November 10, 1995) joined as a second guitarist on their second session. He went on to be a nationally renowned fiddler. Also at their second session, Wyatt and Brandon recorded a pair of duets.
Their first two recording sessions included the four mentioned above. The first was October 15, 1928 in Johnson City, TN. The second session was April 15, 1929 in Atlanta, GA. Their third session included Curly Fox and was on October 21, 1929 in Johnson City, TN.
Their recording session was mentioned in the Knoxville newspapers. They had recently won a string contest at Crossville and were "under contract" with Columbia Phonograph Company. Their first recordings were made on Monday, October 15 in Johnson City, TN. A news article said the group was then made up of J. R. McCarrol, violin; John L. Kelly, mandolin; Luther Brandon, guitar and vocals; and, Howard Wyatt, banjo and vocals. It was reported a second session was to be done in New York city after the release of the Johnson City recordings.
The noteriety gained from that session led to an appearance on WNOX in Knoxville on Monday night, December 17, 1928. A short article indicated they would "...present a varied program of selections including many old-time dance tunes, banjo and guitar solos and several vocal numbers."
The Ramblers "motored to Decatur" and won an old-time fiddling contest on February 28, 1929. They won $25 in gold. The quartet that won was the same as the recording session in 1928. An article reporting on the contest indicated that their recordings had sold over 200,000 copies, citing Frank B. Walker, manager of the New York Columbia studios. They were scheduled for another contest in Dayton High School on March 9.
For a time, Howard Wyatt was away from the group. He was a staff entertainer on radio stations WAIU and WCAH of Columbus, Ohio. He rejoined the Ramblers for a recording trip on October 22 in Johnson City, TN. At that time, the Roane County Ramblers were in their second year of their contract with Columbia.
The group was part of an old-time fiddler's championship at Memorial Auditorium in Chattanooga in November 1930. The audience was reported to be about 450 people. A watch was to be awarded to the winner. Among the fiddlers appearing were Clayton McMichen, Riley Puckett, Johnnie Barfield Austin Allen, Lowe Stokes, Jess Young, Virgil Hanbey, Grover Rand and others.
After their affiliation with Columbia ended the Ramblers continued to work as a local fiddle band. McCarroll commanded considerable respect as a local figure and later appeared briefly in a scene in the Ingrid Bergman and Anthony Quinn film "A Walk in the Spring Rain." Fox's later career is discussed in his separate entry.
In June of 1969, a new trio appeared on the musical scene that also used the name "Roane County Ramblers." The trio was made up of George Del Porto, banjo; Terry Linginer, guitar; and, Jim Rogers on guitar. Their musical stylings included "...folk, folk-rock and topical songs in a vocal-instrumental format."
In the late 1960's, County Records reissued the Ramblers Columbia recordings.
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