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Music

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Exploring Old Time Recordings and Artists 

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Tennessee Chocolate Drops

Knox County Stomp

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Tennessee Chocolate Drops consisted of brothers Howard & Roland Armstrong, and Carl Martin. They recorded two tunes, "Knox County Stomp" and "Vine Street Rag" (also listed as Vine Street Drag), named for the street in Knoxville where the band often played, during the now famous Knoxville Sessions (1929-1930), produced by Vocalion Records, at the St. James Hotel. The Bear Family CD set from this event is appropriately titled “Knox County Stomp”.


Vocalion was one of several record companies trying to capitalize on the new and developing market for the popular category of "country" music. Their approach was to record music on location in strategically chosen Southern cities, rather than to recruit artists to go to their studios in New York City. Knoxville, Bristol, and Johnson City were among the towns chosen for sessions, which captured what are now seen as legendary performances. Let writer/historian Jack Neely take you back to the 1929-30 music scene in Knoxville in this excellent 2016 article.


Vocalion, at the time, primarily made “race records,” featuring Black artists and marketed to the Black community. It is interesting to note that Vocalion released the Chocolate Drops recordings twice- once under the band name "Tennessee Trio" for their old time series, and again as "Tennessee Chocolate Drops" for their race records. Vocalion was acquired by Brunswick (not a coincidence: they made phonographs) in 1930, and by 1936-37 became the go-to label for smaller blues, swing, and country bands.


Howard Armstrong, who grew up in Campbell County- LaFollette, TN, continued to perform with Carl Martin and Ted Bogan as "Martin, Bogan, & Armstrong", mostly in the Chicago area, performing at the World's Fair in 1933 and continuing until the start of WW II. The trio reunited in the early 1970s, and enjoying the folk music revival, released two records. Armstrong and Bogan also appeared at the World's Fair in Knoxville in 1992.


Howard Armstrong, an accomplished visual artist who mastered 7 foreign languages and 22 musical instruments, released his debut solo album, Louie Bluie, in 1995. There are also two documentary films about his life, Louie Bluie, and Sweet Old Song. He died at the age of 94 in 2003. The Louie Bluie Music & Arts Festival is a continuing tribute to Howard Armstrong, and their website has a great bio page.  The Tennessee Historical Society also produced a video entitled "Howard “Louie Bluie” Armstrong and the Black String Band Tradition" as part of their History of Tennessee music project.


Knox County Stomp

1930


Vine Street Drag/Rag

with photos of 1930's Knoxville

Knox County StompDom Flemons
00:00 / 02:06
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