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them have been recorded by more than one company—by the leaders and by obscure little corporations which you've probably never heard of and which buy up the master rec-cords from the big companies and make their own records. Twenty-five companies made The Wreck of the Shenan­doah and one company alone sold more than 150,000 copies of The Santa Barbara Earthquake.
It all started when one firm at the repeated urging of scattered dealers took a chance and recorded a ballad relat­ing The Wreck of Old Southern Ninety-Seven. The origin of this song is obscure. Since it leaped into popularity, several persons have arisen to claim it, but no one has been convicted. Anyway, it deals with an old story and was probably an old song. Save for the part it played in launch­ing them, it doesn't belong with the others.
With this ballad, the phonograph companies found they had opened a new market, one they had not dreamed ex­isted; a wide market among the folk of the mountains, of the mining districts and the timberlands. Plain folk to whom the story is the important part of any song; who like the accompaniment simple and the words understandable.
So they began to cast about for other ballads and when the supply was not available they had to find someone to turn them out to order. The new supply dealt with old or recent events but adhered to the old ballad form.
It is not as easy as you might think to produce a ballad that will touch the hearts and the pocketbooks of the simple folk. You mustn't be sophisticated and you mustn't sound insincere. To find the author of such songs you'd expect at least to have make a muleback journey over mountain trails to the cabin of a whiskered patriarch.
But I located the writer of many of the most popular ones, a youngish man with brisk and businesslike offices in a New York hotel. His name is Carson J. Robison and for all he works within a stone's throw of Tin Pan Alley (and many would like to measure it that way for themselves) he has the right background. He was born in Chetopa, Kansas, the son of an expert fiddler of the old school. As a young­ster he heard his father's fiddle and listened to his mother's singing of the old songs to the strains of a wheezy melodeon.
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E-Book - An Annotated Compendium of Old Time American Songs by James Alverson III