Hillbilly-Music.comThe People. The Music. The History.
About the Group
About The Group
Hillbilly-Music.com Note: The following was taken from the liner notes of the England Brothers album on Davis Unlimited Records, a copy of which was provided by the son of Orby England. The liner notes were written by the late author, Charles K. Wolfe.
For thousands of people, the phrase "old time country music" does not suggest fiddle bands like the Skillet Lickers, nor the banjo styles of someone like Uncle Dave Macon, nor the lonesome blues of Jimmie Rodgers. Many people associate the phrase with the close-harmony brother duet singing of the 1930's, the type represented by the Delmore Brothers, and many others.
By the late 1930's, radio had made possible a new singing style...soft, smooth, plaintive, and even delicate..and an entire generation of country music developed around the new radio stars with their lilting , sentimental music. Though the "brother duet" style influenced modern country music to some extent, and modern bluegrass to a great extent, it has been one of the forgotten styles in today's renewed interest in country music's roots.
Hardly any of the original brother duets are still around; the Blue Sky Boys still make a few records, but they seldom tour. The fan who enjoys this type of music has generally had to content himself with reissues of the original 78's made two generations ago.
Otis and Orby England hope to remedy that situation. For over 30 years the Englands have been quietly preserving the close-harmony style. Without fanfare, without being self-conscious preservers, the Englands have continued to play the old songs in the old styles, playing in their own front room, on small-town radio stations, and for local gatherings in central Alabama.
Only in the last two years have the Englands begun to make concert appearances at bluegrass festivals and old-time fiddling contests. To say that they call up memories of the Delmore Brothers is understating it; they call up memories of a whole generation of country music that has been unjustly neglected. And the crowds have responded accordingly; the older people, noting the England's checked shirts and Otis' tenor guitar, have on occasion even mistaken them for the Delmores (who have not graced a stage for 20 years); the younger people see in them the origin of much bluegrass and even some rock styles.
And Otis and Orby themselves were as surprised as anyone; for the last decade they had thought their music was "outdated" and had played mainly for their own enjoyment.
Orby and Otis, both now in their fifties, come from Jefferson County, Alabama, from a hamlet named Midway, near Adamsville. Both spent early years working in the coal mines, and today one is a contractor and the other a mine foreman. They began playing in the 1940's, and listened to a lot of groups like the Milo Twins, the Carter Family, the Baker Brothers, the Louvin Brothers, and the Blue Sky Boys, but their prime influence was the Delmore Brothers, from nearby Limestone County, Alabama..
They met the Delmores on several occasions and absorbed much of their style and repertoire; they often perform Delmore style songs that the Delmores never recorded but did often in concerts (such as "Maple on the Hill".) Otis recalls visiting Alton once and learning how to tune his tenor guitar "Delmore style", this involved tuning the bass string to G, and the other three to D-A-E. This tuning made it much easier for Otis to play the kind of runs Rabon Delmore used to make.
But in spite of the fact that many feel the Englands' sound is any uncanny reproduction of the Delmores, the brothers are not so sure, "If people think we sound like the Delmores, that's because they've been dead a long time now", says Otis. His brother Orby adds: I wouldn't want anybody to think that we're trying to mock them, that's impossible. They were one of a kind. We just play some of their songs that we like a lot".
The Englands have played the famous Renfro Valley Barn Dance, and were fixtures on Birmingham radio station "WVOK's Saturday Jamboree" in the 1950's; they have also appeared on Country Boy Eddie's TV show out of Birmingham. For years the people of central Alabama have responded to their old tunes and sweet style, but the Englands felt that their music would have only limited appeal beyond that area.
For a time in the early 1950's they considered going professional, but the sudden rise in rock discouraged this. Except for one small-label 45 single cut in the 1950's, the Englands have never previously recorded.
This is their first album then, and their first introduction to a wider audience. Many of the songs are associated with the Delmore Brothers, although some are taken from the repertoire of the Monroe Brothers and other duos from the 1930's. "Young Hearts" and "Twilight in Alabama" are originals worked up by the brothers themselves' Springtime in the Rockies:" was learned from an old record.
All the songs, though, are reminiscent of a simpler time, when country music was more honest, more pure, and more a music of the heart. And with the England Brothers, such music is in the best of hands.
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