They weren't the first publication and they certainly weren't the last. But
they lasted longer than any of them. Published by the folks at the Charlton
Publishing Corporation or American Folk Publications out of Derby, CT for
many years, this magazine was unique in the sense that it covered the
post World War II era of country music on and through the new century.
One gets drawn to this publication not for its writing, but to see
from a historical standpoint how country music evolved over the years. We're
limiting our review of Country Song Roundup to the first 75 issues of this
publication - covering late 1949 through about 1963.
The first editor of Country Song Roundup was Don Davis - but his name
appeared on the mast head for only one issue, July 1949. In the second issue,
he was listed as the Associate Editor. The next editor was
Harold Hersey who was listed as editor from issues two through eight,
or from August 1949 to October 1950.
Starting with the December 1950 issue (No. 9), Norman Silver began his long
tenure that lasted through issed number 75 and indeed, beyond that. In his
regular column, "The Editor's Memo", we'd sometimes see just a summary of
what the current issue include. In other times, we'd read about their advocacy
of National Hillbilly Music Day that became the Jimmie Rodgers Memorial Day
celebration. Or we'd read about the forming of the Disc Jockey association
in Nashville or the Country Music Association.
Ne never seemed to reveal much of himself, nor did we see too many pictures
of Mr. Silver. But one has to acknowledge his place in this historical era
as the leader of a publication that documented the history not only through
this publication, but through its sister publications such as Cowboy Songs
or Folk and Country Songs or Country Songs and Stars. Interesting that
the longest running country music publication would be based in a small
town called Derby, Connecticut rather than Nashville, Tennessee as one
In the first 75 issues, there were two columnists ran more than any others.
One was Bobby Gregory's Question and Answer Column. This column ran for a
total of 63 issues. In it, Mr. Gregory answered many questions from readers
about various artists. We'd learn about Vernon Dalhart, whom Mr. Gregory
actually worked with, or about various aspects of Jimmie Rodgers' life or
whether Wilf Carter was Montana Slim. In fact, there seemed to be quite
a few questions related to Wilf for some reason.
Bobby would also touch on other aspects such as questions about how to
get songs copyrighted, how to get songs published, how to get started
in the music business as a hillbilly / country singer and other
questions about the music business in general.
The other columnist who appeared the most in the first 75 issues - also in
63 issues, was Country Music Hall of Famer, Pee Wee King. Both his
and Bobby Gregory's column were discontinued in January 1961, in issue number 70.
Pee Wee's column would often give you information about his meeting
and working with various country music acts in the business at the time
as well as well-known pop acts. He would often write of the various tours
he and the Golden West Cowboys were on and mention the various venues
they were playing at.
Pee Wee also would report on his television shows - in Louisville, Kentucky
or in Chicago, Illinois or Cleveland, Ohio. He would mention many of the guests
that made appearances on his show - giving you a virtual list of who's who
in the business through the many years his column ran.
Many will know that Eddy Arnold was a part of his show at the beginning of
his career and Pee Wee never failed to speak in nothing but glowing terms
about his former group member. You would often read about other former
band members and their latest efforts - one gets the feeling he remained
loyal and friends with those he worked with.
Reading along, you'd also see the excitement that he and Redd Stewart felt
when their tune, "Tennessee Waltz" became a gigantic hit. And other tunes
such as Slowpoke or Bonaparte's Retreat.
We also read of his viewpoints on issues of the day - at one time,
there was a bit of competition between the two major song publishing
organizations - BMI and ASCAP. He made it clear where he stood and why.
Another long running column in Country Song Roundup was by the Canadian
star, Earl Heywood. The magazine didn't seem to just cover the Nashville
scene. With Earl's column and later another column called "Up Canada Way",
readers would read about the stars not only from the Grand Ole Opry - but
literally across the country and in our neighboring country up north.
Earl's column documented the comings and goings of the many major
Canadian acts. We'd read about or hear of mentions of the various Canadian
barn dance and jamboree shows and their stars. You'd read of their
latest releases on the Canadian record labels. You would also find
out on occasion that some of the stars from the USA, such as from the Opry
or the WWVA Jamboree were also making tours up North and enjoying
successful runs at that.
Country Song Roundup also did a good job of mentioning many of the lesser
known or local acts that were a part of the music scene. We'd see
this in features such as "Hillbilly Harmony" which essentially was a bit
of a formula type of feature. It would list five groups each issue it ran
along with a photo. But in that little paragraph it gave each group,
you'd learn quite a bit - the members of the group, or their history
prior to that point in time, their latest recordings and achievements.
Another similar type of column was the "Our Album of Country Song Folk"
where we'd read about some new up and coming performer, usually if not
always just male singers. The females would sometimes get mentioned
in other feature columns. But for some reason, this column concentrated
on the male performers.
Jimmie Osborne's "Things I Never Knew" column, essentially what some might
call a "trivia" type column ran for 31 issues. Here, Jimmie would mention
little trivial tidbits about the stars, or historical figures. He might
mention the history of a melody or song, who the other names a star
may have recorded under or other tidbits of information. His column
ran from August 1951 to October 1956.
There is no credit mentioned as to who wrote this column. But Country
Song Roundup made a strong effort to document who the disc jockeys were
in the various markets. In this long running column, we'd often read
of four or five disc jockeys of the day. Many of those disc jockeys
are now in the Country Music DJ Hall of Fame. When one reads these,
one realizes that the disc jockeys of that era often were just as much
a part of the history as the performers for radio was the medium of the
day as opposed to today's television / cable television environment. The
disc jockeys had their style and listeners identified with them and through
them they'd learn about the latest tunes of their favorite artists. Many
of the disc jockeys also were performers. Over time, radio stations went
from "live" performances to a format of playing records. Some of the performers
became adept enough to become a disc jockey when radio stations weren't
featuring live performances any more.
From October 1950 to August 1953, we got to read about basically what
was going on in Hollywood and the West Coast country music scene via
the column by George Sanders. This column is another example of Country
Song Roundup's effort to cover the country music scene beyond Nashville's
city limits. We'd read about the Hollywood Barn Dance or the Town Hall
Party or the latest movie one of the western stars had completed. It was
a bit of a gossip type column, but not in today's tabloidian sense, but
more in terms of who was playing where or having just issued a new
recordings. George was also a performer as was his wife.
Country Song Roundup for some reason, never seemed to document or give
credit to who wrote a story on a an artist or group. But they always
did at least list who was a part of the editorial staff. Once in a while,
you'd see a story with a byline from someone such as Mae Boren Axton
or Floy Case, or at least in the columns that were called "News from the
Four Corners", it would let us know who was the reporter providing the
Country Music fans will recognize many of the people that Country Song
Roundup listed as part of its editorial staff. They range from the legendary
Floy Case who has received accolades during her journalistic career to
Mae Boren Axton, who was also a songwriter. We also saw that the sister
of Hank Williams, Irene Williams Smith wrote a long running column
from March 1955 to January 1961 that was about her brother, Hank Williams.
We also saw numerous others as we see
by the table below (We've listed the editorial staff in the order by the
number of issues their work was listed in). Penny Britt was the wife
of Elton Britt. Others such as Don Larkin, Gene Roe, Joe Allison and
others were also disc jockeys.
Vandervoort II, Paul
Smith, Irene Williams
Axton, Mae B.
Steele, Betty Lou
Looking at who appeared on the covers of the magazine through this period
of Country Song Roundup is a bit of indicator of who was at the top of
the charts or popularity at that time. Later on, when Elvis came on the
scene, the magazine was no different than any other trying to capitalize
on that frenzy by putting him on the cover, even debating whether he was
still country. Hank Snow appeared on the cover or shared the cover of
this magazine 8 times in the first 75 issues. Interestingly those appearances
were spread over a number of years. The first was in February 1951, the last was
in June 1957. Others who appeared on the cover more than five times
were such names as Webb Pierce, Jim Reeves and Carl Smith. Elvis Presley
was also on the cover five times during those first 75 issuesfour times
between August 1956 and August 1957, then only once again, in May 1960
when perhaps it was recognized that Elvis was more 'rock' than he
Dickens, Little Jimmie
5th Anniversary Issue
Flatt & Scruggs
Hamilton, IV, George
King, Pee Wee
Another aspect we can review is who were the other names behind the
mast head besides the editor, such as Norm Silver. Burt Marks
was listed as Business Manager from the first issue in 1949 through
April 1952. Assigned to "Publicity" were Josephine Pilato and Ed Baker,
but this position was listed sporadically over time. Ms. Pilato's name
appeared in the first several issues only while Mr. Baker was only listed
once in this position in July 1955.
Listed as Assistants or Assistants to the Editor were such names
as Diane Teveliet, Marvin Shnayer, Amos Lucarelli, Sam Goldman,
Eileen McGrath, Ed Konick, Leo Dunn, Sam Barstein. Often times,
we'd see a group of two or three names under this title in one issue.
Later, we'd see Ms. McGrath wear another hat for the magazine.
Finally, there is the position of Art Director that the magazine
began to list in its Table of Contents page in February 1952. The
first one listed was Chad Kelly. Later, he shared those duties with
Eileen McGrath. All together, he was in that capacity for 24 issues
of those first 75. One senses that some changes were made in July / August
1955 when first we see Mr. Kelly's name no longer as Art Director and Ms. McGrath
is sharing duties with Vince Varsh. One issue later, Ms. McGrath's name
is not listed and Mr. Varsh is working with John Summers. But in issue
number 48 George Gemery has replaced Mr. Summers and we see Mr. Varsh
and Mr. Gemery's name as Art Director through the rest of the first 75 issues
to February 1962. The relatively little turnover in this area helps
a bit to explain the relative consistent layout of the magazine throughout
Finally, one cannot ignore the main feature of the magazine throughout
its existence. The words to the top hillbilly / country / folk / western
tunes of the day. Here you get a glimpse of the types of sounds being
heard in that era. You also get an idea what the regional and local
stars were singing as they aspired to their own claim to fame. This is
where they would find the words to the songs that they would learn so
they could play them in front of their audiences. And it went beyond
that, too, to the music hobbyist who maybe just tinkered with an instrument
or sang when no one else was around while doing chores. This gave them
the chance to sing along and be a 'star', too. Each issue would include
50 or 60 tunes, from the biggest hits to some that maybe only reached the Top 25
or so. Over 4,500 different songs appeared on the pages of Country Song
Roundup alone during this era.
Credits & Sources
- Hillbilly-music.com wishes to thank Don Wright,
nephew of Orville and Jenny Via for contacting us and providing us with
biographical information about his aunt and uncle as well as sharing
his memories and other images as noted.