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Tune History

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The Stories Behind Your Favorite Tunes


East Tennessee Blues

Charlie Bowman from
Gray Station, Tennessee

East Tennessee Blues was written by fiddler Charlie Bowman from Gray Station, Tennessee.  Now called Gray, the town was once a rural train stop. Today, most consider it to be a suburb of Johnson City due to the tremendous growth of the area. If you have ever been  on I-26 near where it merges with I-81, you went right through Gray. Bowman became known as the "champion fiddler of East Tennessee," having claimed to have won 28 of 32 fiddle contests he entered throughout the south during the 1920s. 

The now-famous 1925 Fiddler's Convention in Mountain City, Tennessee is where Bowman met Al Hopkins and joined "The Hill Billies" (aka "Al Hopkins and the Buckle Busters"). The band had been discovered six months prior by legendary music pioneer Ralph Peer. The group moved to Washington, DC, where the Hill Billies performed over the powerful radio station WRC, gaining national exposure.

They toured heavily, leading them to New York City and recording contracts with the recently merged Brunswick and Vocalion Records.  Vocalion was primarily known for race records, but was one of several record companies trying to capitalize on the popular, developing market for country music.

According to most sources Bowman led, or was associated with, no less than eight professional string bands between 1925 and 1941. He reportedly wrote East Tennessee Blues a few years before performing with the Hill Billies, although it was not named so until suggested by Al Hopkins during the recording session. Bowman agreed to the name, but was supposedly reluctant because he did not think it was a blues number.

Bowman is also credited with writing several other well known tunes, such as “Roll On Buddy'' and “Nine Pound Hammer.”

East Tennessee Blues

Charlie Bowman/The Hill Billies 1926

Charlie Bowman & His Brothers

Roll On Buddy, Roll On

The 1925 Mountain City Fiddlers Convention

Texas GalsAl Hopkins and His Hill Billies
00:00 / 02:54
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