About The Artist
Jonas (Jack) Asa Jackson, nicknamed the "Strolling Yodeler," was an early radio vocalist on Nashville stations, and later at Hopkinsville, Kentucky. Newspapers also spelled his moniker as "Strolling Yodler."
His life's journey saw him in roles as trapper, banjo picker, yodeler, guitar player, welder and manufacturer. But Hugh Walker told readers in a 1952 feature article that he "...had not been able to utilize his great grandpa's perpetual motion machine."
A native of Leesville, Tennessee, he learned to play guitar and banjo in his youth. And when he began to yodel, Mr. Walker wrote, his musical journey took off. He met up with a harness maker in Lebanon by the name of George Jenkins. George played the French harp and was good at it not to mention being seven feet tall. He asked Jack to bring along his banjo and join in a performance on an unnamed Nashville radio station. Research shows George did have his own program over WLAC at one time in 1927. Mr. Walker told readers that in 1926 the static on the radio in the summertime was so bad that folks just did not tune in; some stations even shut down til the fall. "Going on the air was considered a great privilege, but it didn't pay much." He began singing—self accompanied on guitar—on WLAC in 1926 which he did for about three or four years. He also sang sometimes on WSM and other early Nashville stations that did not remain on the air very long. He eventually worked exclusively on WLAC and was termed quite popular in one newspaper.
In 1928, the Victor folks paid a visit to Nashville to record some of the early Grand Ole Opry artists, among the old-time string bands the Binkley Brothers and the Dixie Clodhoppers. Since Victor wanted vocals as well as music, the Binkleys asked Jackson—who they did not even know at the time—to sing with them. His vocals on five of their six released sides apparently helped sales especially on "Give Me Back My Fifteen Cents" and "I'll Rise when the Rooster Crows." Thereafter, he sang with them for a while and also continued as a soloist. Hugh Walker wrote in a 1952 article that Jack got $100 for each song he recorded.
He did personal appearances with Grady W. Moore, a Hawaiian steel guitar player. One such example was an benefit show at the Kittrell High School auditorium in Murfreesboro in early April 1929.
Jack did appear on the Grand Ole Opry several times. His first appearance was on Saturday, January 5, 1929 at 8:15pm. He appeared two more times that month. He next appeared on December 31, 1932. He was on the Opry several months in 1933 and 1934.
The Tennessean told readers that the "Strolling Yodler" was in a three-day contest in Chattanooga near the end of March 1929. Jack won first place in the one-man entertainer class. The column noted that it confirmed his popularity as well as the evidence of the large volume of fan mail he gets. The column noted his next couple of appearances on the air over WLAC.
The next year Jackson went to Johnson City to record for Columbia. That October he did four sides for them that did not sell very well because of the declining economy in 1930 and 1931. One of those recordings gained some publicity. The song, "I'm Just A Black Sheep" was written by Harry Dawson. He was a prisoner in Ohio, writing it in the state penitentiary in Columbus and sang the song over radio station WAIU on the Prisoners' program and it caught on. There was a battle for the song publishing rights; Joe McDanield was finally awarded the rights to print the song and Dawson was expected to receive the royalties.
J. L. West, Jr. told Nashville Banner readers in his "Tuning In" column in April 1930 that Jack had "...been yodling and playing the guitar over Nashville radio station sofr the past four years." At the time, he was on WLAC on Monday, Wednesday and Saturdays. The writer said of Jack, "He has a radio technique that is known from coast-to-coast and his pleasant way of singing some of the popular old ballads has brought him a large following. Readers also learned he won second place in the WLAC radio feature popularity contest.
In October 1930, Jack and Sid Harkreader provided the musical entertainment at the Richland School in West Nashville.
Meanwhile, in 1930 he left Nashville to sing over WFIW (Hopkinsville, KY - about 70 miles northwest of Nashville) a fairly significant country music station in that era. The Nashville Banner reported his departure in December 1930. J. L. West, Jr. noted in his column that his departure was one of the things he regretted happening in 1930. He remained there until 1934 when he left music and became a welder. He opened a welding shop on Gay Street in Lebanon and for 15 years he was "Jack Jackson the Welding Man." Business was so good he had to hire three assistants.
But the welding profession took a back seat in 1949. A fellow named Paul Neal, from Tucker's Cross Roads walked into Jack's shop. Jack had seen a machine somewhre that was for the transplanting of tobacco and tomatoes and wanted to have one made.
Jack took up the challenge and said he'd make one. The machine that Jack made worked so well, that Jack and Paul beame business partners. They built 30 more machines that year and sold them — mostly in Kentucky. In 1949 and 1950, Jack built 120 of those machines, working on his own. Business kept growing and he had to build 120, then 375.
He built a 'shed' that one might actually call a factory reported Mr. Walker in the back of his home. The next season, he had 12 employees and a plan to build 2,000 more that would be sold for about the price of an electric refrigerator. It was called the Jackson Transplanter and his company was the Jackson Transplanter Manufacturing company.
But the story about Mr. Walker's visit with the Strolling Yodeler was not complete. There was one other aspect that Jack wanted to relate to him. The story of his great grandfather, Asa Jackson. He had invented the "perpetual motion machine." Mr. Walker said it was hanging from the roof of the shop. The family legend goes that Asa and his sons with the help of one or two skeptical neighbors built the perpetual motion machine in a cave located between Lebanon and Murfreesboro, not far from where the Veteran's hospital was in 1952. But the family was very secretive about their machine. It is not known if they ever committed a drawing to paper and if it did, it did not survive the years. Jack said that Asa disassembled it every night so that no prowler could see it in its entirety. Perhaps an early form of worrying about industrial espionage. Mr. Walker described the bushel of spare parts he had and explained he did not know how to put together the machine. It appeared to have a "...strange arrangement of spokes, springs and levers. The smaller, simpler wheel was apparently a fly wheel." Jack said he had heard Asa had attempted to 'defy gravity.' He said he didn't understand the principle of the machine, if it ever had a principle. And so Jack left Mr. Walker wondering as one might what ever got Asa to put aside his farming and take up the notion of such an idea for a machine.
Jack met his future wife on a June night in Sumner County at a school house at Cedar Grove, near Gallatin. She was a techer, "sweet-faced blonde" as Mr. Walker put it. She heard Jack's voice and saw his pompadour hair style. She became Jack's wife and later, his partner as a radio team called "Jack and Jill." Research shows that there was a Jack and Jill radio program over WROL and WLW in 1934. But no details as to who the pair was.
His musical reputation was known beyond Nashville due in part to the range of WSM's signal. In July of 1930, he appeared at the Delaware Legion Post No. 19. At the meeting, the post elected its two delegrates for the state wide American Legion convention that was to be held in Fort Wayne, Indiana in August. The Strolling Yodeler Jack Jackson was the featured entertainment after the regular meeting.
During research, it was discovered that a couple of other singers were using the "Strolling Yodeler" nickname. One was Jolly Joe Warner on NBC in Chicago, Ben Childers in Oklahoma, and Lonesome Larry in Wilmington, Vermont.
Jackson spent his later years in Lebanon, Tennessee where he retired, Jack Jackson died there at age 85. Eventually all his efforts were reissued on the Bear Family boxed set, The Johnson City Sessions.
Jack married the former Nellie Sue Bivins (B: October 22, 1909 — D: October 16, 1990)
Evelyn Atzlinger told readers in Jack's obituary in 1994 that in addition to WLAC, WSM and WFIW, he had also worked on 15 other radio stations. He was said to have performed the inaugural song that went over WLAC on its then 5,000 watt transmitter. She wrote that he was chosen as 1930's best "one-man entertainer" at a radio convention in Chattanooga, winning out over 126 artists from 13 states. His show, on the air six nights at week, was said to be one of the most popular of that era.
Credits & Sources
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