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Roy Acuff: The Great Roy Acuff / Songs of the Smokey Mountains / The Voice of Country Music

Roy Acuff
The Great Roy AcuffSongs of the Smokey MountainsThe Voice of Country Music

To hell with Roosevelt. To hell with Babe Ruth. To hell with Roy Acuff.” Perhaps the mark of a real musician is to have enemy troops on the other side of the globe taking your name in vain as they raise their bayonets and charge into battle to slaughter and be slaughtered. Though the battlefields of WWII are in a universe that does not include Nashville, USA, Roy Acuff was there in spirit. Allegedly, Japanese troops screamed this as they entered a battle in Okinawa.

Life on Earth depends on the sun, and so does a large chapter of country music history, i.e. The Grand Ole Opry and Roy Acuff. Acuff, a natural athlete, excelled at sports and at one time was being courted by the New York Yankees. When sunstroke laid him low, and confined him to bed for an extended period of time in the late 20s, he turned to the fiddle. Eventually, he finagled his way onto The Grand Ole Opry stage and, with his popularity, brought to it a level of national prominence.

This trilogy of Acuff recordings rereleased by the Dualtone label is a solid handshake with the man pitcher Dizzy Dean designated as the “King of Hillbilly Music”. Songs of the Smoky Mountains is certainly the strongest of these releases. This album is a collection of many of the hits that Acuff rode straight to stardom, “Wabash Cannonball”, “The Precious Jewel”, “Fire Ball Mail”, and the one that launched him in the first place, “The Great Speckled Bird”. These are re-recordings of the originals, which might leave you hungry for the first versions. They were recorded in 1955 with Acuff’s touring band, the Smoky Mountain Boys, which included dobro player Pete “Bashful Brother Oswald” Kirby. Dobro became a trademark of Acuff’s version of country. In the studio Acuff maintained his signature spontaneity; “My policy in the studio is that once you to do a number, put everything you’ve got into it and don’t say, ‘Well, we can always do it over.’ Let’s do it right the first time and to hell with the rest.”

The Voice of Country Music and The Great Roy Acuff aren’t loaded with hits, but they have their shining moments as well. Acuff’s work on the kazoo on “Sixteen Chickens and a Tambourine” being one such hilarious example. Other standout tracks are a great cover of The Louvin Brother’s “Streamline Heartbreaker” and a traditional song, “Whoa Mule”, which was arranged by Acuff. These two albums, by no means bad, come across a filler material compared to Songs of the Smoky Mountains. Of course, filler from the mouth of Roy Acuff is worth listening to, but start with Songs if it’s your first Acuff album.

Acuff’s greatest legacy is probably his song publishing company. As Jeff Tweedy crooned in his Uncle Tupelo phase, “Name me a song everybody knows, and I bet you it belongs to Acuff-Rose.” Acuff started the company with Fred Rose in 1942 after seeing how quickly a book of his own music sold. And then a tall lanky dude from Alabama showed up, and interrupted a heated ping-pong match between Fred Rose and his son. In tow was the Alabaman’s wife, Audrey, who insisted the men should listen to her husband sing. Liking what they heard, the song publishers signed him. His name? Hank Williams.

Acuff Rose was just sold a few weeks ago for over a 100 million dollars. It’s safe to say that Roy Acuff’s footsteps were fossilized in country music forever just by virtue of his publishing company. Hell, they even own “The Hokey Pokey”.

Acuff was the fourth person to be elected into the Country Music Hall of Fame and it’s first living member. Acuff didn’t just record some good songs, he helped country music reach a point where it became known as a valid art form. Get to know him, you won’t be disappointed, and you definitely won’t want to run a bayonet through anyone.