Pop Eckler

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A beloved figure in country music, this Kentucky artist was one of the great bandleaders. Pop Eckler and the Young 'Uns was a group made up totally of players from Kentucky, and received massive airplay…
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A beloved figure in country music, this Kentucky artist was one of the great bandleaders. Pop Eckler and the Young 'Uns was a group made up totally of players from Kentucky, and received massive airplay in the mid-'30s at a time when the whole nation seemed to be going cuckoo for country puffs. Eckler also was involved in the formation of several other bands, including the Pine Ridge Boys, who in a series of sides for the Victor label from 1939 to 1941 cut the first recording of the popular standard "You Are My Sunshine." Eckler's greatest legacy, however, was his own work as a songwriter. Several of his songs have been covered by artists from the world of country, bluegrass, and pop. Born Garner Eckler, he had his first big success with a program on WLW in Cincinnati called Happy Days in Dixie. When it began airing nationally on NBC, it meant Eckler could drop the railroad job that up until then had always pushed music into a hobby status.

This exposure also brought Pop and the Young 'Uns an offer from station WSB in Atlanta. The band was heading for Georgia, collectively in a financial state that would make the average punk tour look like a jet set jaunt. It was 1936, the depression was in full swing, and the bandmembers had literally not a dime to chew on between them. Somehow the tour was organized to begin with 11 days off in a row, at least establishing something in common with a Do-It-Yourself punk rock tour. Soup beans were the entire diet of the group during this period, or so the story goes, not providing detail about how this might have affected the atmosphere in general. On the 12th day, the group gigged, the members making four dollars each -- once again, reasonable pay for a band on the road in the '80s as well. The members were able to dine on steak with these wages back in the '30s, however. The Kentuckians got a following going and before long the group was performing three shows a day, seven days a week. Sometimes, each of the three shows was held in a different town, so zip up, thou punkers who whineth about intense touring schedules.

The main members of Eckler's group were fiddler "Curley" Collins, bassist Tex Foreman, guitarist and singer Kay Woods, and the fine banjoist Red Murphy. As a bandleader, Eckler is said to have been wonderful, encouraging the young players and taking a personal interest in every aspect of their development. In the case of fiddler Collins, it was the bandleader that encouraged him to take up fiddling in the first place, and he continued to take a great interest in the young man's accomplishments on the instrument. When Collins won the National Fiddlers Contest in Atlanta, acing out some 84 other contestants, Eckler was so happy he bought the fiddler a beautiful new instrument. The group had a good run, but following six years of overexposure a form of rigor mortis set in on the behalf of the public. It was said that it was impossible to find anyone on the streets of Atlanta that had not seen the band at least ten times, or that wanted to see them again. Attendance dropped off and the bandleader made a foolhardy decision to relocate to Wheeling, WV, and join the cast of WWVA in 1943. It was not a good time for new ventures in the music business, as the outbreak of war disrupted everything. The Young 'Uns began to go their separate ways and Eckler was called back to his old railroad job in support of the war effort. His music lived on in the subsequent decades through the efforts of various performers who remembered the sounds they heard growing up and wished to pay tribute with their own cover versions. "Money, Marbles and Chalks" seems to be considered this artist's out-and-out classic, and it is easy to see why. It is one of those rare country songs that says a great deal without seeming to say much, going so far as to reduce entire concepts about life to the level of tiny objects, especially pieces of chalk so small they "won't write anymore."