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 might expect.
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 information.
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.
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 was country.
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 this time.
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.
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