Story: The Guitar of Mr. Gaines

So, there's a good story, here, and it's only made possible by the leavings found inside my 1934 Gibson L-50 (click to see the guit) that I've becoming very familiar with by way of having just put down all the guitar & vocal tracks for a new album with it this week.

Here are those leavings:

Click the pic for a bigger view, but basically what we have here are a bunch of radio station IDs. Just for fun, WCMI is in Kentucky, WMMN is in West Virginia, WLBC is in Indiana, and WSAZ is also in West Virginia.

The biggest clue to the original owner of my guitar is the big WCKY (in Ohio) header with "Laynes Mt. Fiddlers" scrawled beneath.

After some poking around, the "Laynes" turns out to be "Layne's" as in Bert Layne (click here for one bio, click here for another), who played in the famous Skillet Lickers and was a sometimes-band leader.

Apparently, in the mid-30s, Bert was in a trio with two guitarists: Garner "Pop" Eckler (click for bio) and Roland Gaines. Bert came up with a stage name for the two of them, "The Yodeling Twins," since that's what they did together. The trio itself was known as Layne's Mountain Fiddlers or Bert Layne and his Mountaineer Fiddlers or Bert Layne and his Mountain Fiddlers... your pick!

You can gather that information here, here, and here.

Now, you can bet that I started going through all the photos I could find of those two guitarists online and I quickly crossed "Pop" Eckler off the list because he wasn't fitting in with the guitar's story. So, I focused on Roland and found this...

Now friends, I'll bet you that's the same guitar, though it still has its pickguard in this old photo. How many 1934 Gibson L-50s (they're very distinctive) could have been traveling in that circuit? That photo (c.1940-ish), as well as a brief writeup about this band -- The Mountain Rangers -- can be credited to this website (click here).

I bought the guitar from a seller in Kentucky and according to Roland Gaines' obit, which confirms earlier parts of this story, he was born there and left family there as well. Unfortunately Roland passed in 1980 so I can't just call him up or write him a letter and ask him!

...which brings us to the part of this where Mr. Gaines was performing regularly with the Renfro Valley Barn Dance (a radio and stage show), originally aired on Cincinnati's WLM, then after 1939 on WHAS and, back to square one, WCKY. Click here and here for that info.

I was having a hard time finding recorded music of either Gaines & Eckler as "The Yodeling Twins" or perhaps when they were performing with Layne, but I did spy this fantastic article which led me inevitably to YouTube, which is the only place I could find audio readily available of Roland singing with the (somewhat more famous) Prairie Ramblers on this one recording.

And guess what? This song is totally timely. With the wind whipping and moaning wildly outside right now, knocking loose stuff off our porch and howling on the tin, this whole detective story is sending some small chills down my spine.

Here you are with that video, and please enjoy the tune's silliness, though I can't say much for the photos chosen...

From what I gleaned in the nice write-up about this song, it was recorded in 1935 but then unreleased for some 46 years! Talk about shaking some chains, huh?

I just have to say that it's pretty exciting to think that this guitar ran around in the hands of musicians (and a musician) that I like to think I have a pretty big musical debt and connection to. It just makes the playing that much more enjoyable!

Edit: I realized that heck, there are no lyrics or chords for this tune anywhere, so here they are:

"GHOST IN THE GRAVEYARD" by The Prairie Ramblers

Progression is like a Cab Calloway blues:
Gm - D7 // Gm - D7 // Gm - C - Bb // Gm - D7--

it was a dark and stormy night
not a star was in sight
in a graveyard by a church
way up on the hill

well the ghosts come out to play
then I thought I heard one say
I've caught you
I'll keep you always will (? oh I will?)

now I've got you where I want you
I'm gonna keep you where I've got you
for you're the one that shot my
great grand-pa

now I told you I would get you
now if I saw you now I've got you
for you're the one that stole my
great grand-ma

on that very same night
that old tomcat started a fight
and this is the way
it all did sound to me

(cat hisses roowwws)

now I couldn't stand there
I didn't like them cats you should know that
and I didn't like them ghosts either so
I looked down at my feet and I said feet come on now
and do your duty
and carry me on home
well that ghost looked up to me and says

I've got you where I want you
I'm gonna keep you where I've got you
for you're the one that shot
my great grand-pa 


Gadaya said...

Great story Jake and a great song for Halloween!
(By the did you get my last mail?)

Antebellum Instruments said...

Thanks! Of the several hundred instruments I work over to resell each year I barely ever find any evidence as to who owned it previously. When there's enough information to start doing detective work, the instruments really start coming alive.

RE the email -- I did get it, but if you didn't get my reply, it's probably stuck in my drafts folder. I'll send that right over. :)

Charlie said...

Yes great story Jake, it must have been a buzz seeing that photo and realizing it was the same guitar you had!

Tricorn The Impaler said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Erik Gaines said...

My Grandfather, Roland Gaines was an amazing musician in many ways. I have a few hours of session and radio available if anyone is interested. Have many family photos and outtakes of some silly stuff they played together!