Welling (b. 16 February 1898, Lawrence County, Ohio, USA, d. 23 January 1957, USA; vocals, fiddle, guitar) and McGhee (b. 9 April 1882, Griffithville, West Virginia, USA, d. 9 May 1945, USA; vocals, guitar, organ, harmonica) were folk artists whose recordings are valuable references. Their principal topics, which centred upon old-time family values, prompted many of their successors to move into tear-jerking songs. There is, though, an honesty to the work of Welling and McGhee that avoids maudlin sentiment.
Welling was raised in a farming community, his father playing fiddle for local dances. When he was in his early teens, the family moved to Huntington, West Virginia, where the boy took up the guitar under the influence of music he heard around his new home. He became a semi-professional musician, playing with bands such as Domingo’s Filipino Serenaders for dances and in vaudeville. He and his brother, E.V. Welling, also broadcast on local radio. Meanwhile, Welling had met McGhee who was a gifted multi-instrumentalist and vocalist. In their work together, McGhee usually sang harmony to Welling’s lead. They were for many years associated with the Baptist Church, singing for and with congregations in West Virginia.
Welling and McGhee recorded extensively for many labels including Brunswick Records and Vocalion Records. Sometimes they used other names, and among their guises were the Red Brush Rowdies, whose music making was more readily associated with early country. Among the duo’s many recordings were ‘Hide Me’/‘He Abides’, ‘I Would Not Be Denied’/‘There’s Power In The Blood’, ‘Have Thine Own Way’/‘I’m Coming Home’, ‘God’s Love’/‘The Hallelujah Side’, ‘Lily Of The Valley’/‘Whosoever Meaneth Me’ and ‘The Eastern Gate’/‘Go By Way Of The Cross’. As the titles of some of these songs suggest, they often favoured gospel music although, in striking contrast to the bulk of their output, Welling and McGhee also recorded (as the Martin Brothers) songs that dealt with important local issues, an example of which is ‘North Carolina Textile Strike’.
Later, the partnership broke up and Welling moved on to record with other artists. For the last 20 years of his life he broadcast over WCHS in Charleston, West Virginia, emceeing and co-producing a show entitled Old Farm Hour. Among singers who have acknowledged a debt to Welling is Red Sovine, who named him and Buddy Starcher as primary influences.