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Tune History

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The Stories Behind Your Favorite Tunes


Knoxville Rag

Richard Burnett, Byrd Moore, and Dick Taylor

Knoxville Rag was recorded for Gennett Records in Richmond, Indiana, on October 29, 1928, played by the trio of William B."Byrd" Moore  1889-1949 (guitar), Richard "Dick" Burnett 1883-1997 (banjo), and Dick Taylor (fiddle) as the B side of Gennett 6760. It was also issued as the B side of Supertone 9310 (Sears, Roebuck and Co.) showing the artists to be The Southern Kentucky Mountaineers - who were Taylor, Moore, Burnett, and Leonard Rutherford. The A side of the Supertone record was Cumberland Gap. Regarding the Cumberland Gap recording: Burnett used various mechanical devices and made unusual effects with his voice as part of his stage performances, which are often confused for bad singing or a poor recording (mp3 below). The A side of the Gennett record, "Goodnight Waltz", names only Rutherford (fiddle) and Moore (guitar) as artists. Additional biographical information on Dick Taylor is very scarce, although he is credited on several Gennett recordings.

The significance of Knoxville in the title of this tune is not clear, but Burnett performed from Ohio to Florida, so the “big city” of Knoxville would have been one of his stops. Could it be that the tune was “collected” in Knoxville? Was it a studio creation during the recording session? We don't know for sure, but Burnett generally gets writing recognition for Knoxville Rag.

Burnett, from Monticello, Kentucky, was blinded by a shotgun blast to the face when he was robbed in 1907. As a result, he became known as "Blind Dick Burnett". He collected songs as he traveled and sold "ballets" (single sheets with the words to the song printed on them) to earn extra money. He teamed up with 14 year old Leonard Rutherford, and Burnett agreed to teach Rutherford how to play the fiddle in exchange for assistance getting around. This partnership lasted 35 years. Learn lots more about Burnett and Rutherford on their MUSIC page. Byrd Moore performed and recorded with many of the top artists of the time, but drinking and diabetes took its toll, and he died in a Wise County (VA) poorhouse in 1949.

Knoxville Rag

Burnette, Moore & Taylor 1928

Cumberland GapBurnett, Moore & Rutherford
00:00 / 02:51
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