Although this might be stretching the string a bit tight, listeners who are not fond of guitar solos might hold a special resentment for this fellow, whose sometimes disputed historic claim to fame is having recorded one of the first examples of "lead" (rhymes with speed) guitar or flat-picking in either genre of country or jazz. The recording in question is "Take Me to That Land of Jazz," released in the early '30s by a band led by fiddler Lowe Stokes & His North Georgians. And it is said that once they heard this side, guitarists were no longer content going strumma-strumma or plinky plinky. Hoke Rice was a versatile guitarist in both country and blues and a valued sideman in various outfits. He may have also had another career as a country bluesman, recording under the name of Slim Barton, frequently in the company of harmonica player Eddie Mapp. However, the verdict remains out on whether the mysterious Barton was actually a bowl of Rice. Unquestioned facts about his career include that he was the leader of Hoke Rice and the Rice Brothers Gang, which recorded a series of sides released by the piano roll company QRS in 1929. These titles include "Waiting for a Train," "Way Down South by the Sea," and "I'm Lonely and Blue." Not much else is known about the Rice Brothers outfit, and they were definitely overshadowed by the later progressive bluegrass outfit of the same name, led by guitarist Tony Rice and featuring several of his siblings. Hoke was also lucky to be one of a special group of madcap old-time virtuosos touring as Gid Tanner & the Skillet Lickers, and in the context of this extremely popular band, he worked with musicians such as fiddlers Clayton McMichen, Bert Layne, and Stokes, as well as guitarists and singers Riley Puckett and Hugh Cross. Unlike the hapless Stokes, Rice would survive the Skillet Lickers tours with both of his hands intact. Picking wasn't Rice's only job as a Skillet Licker. He was also one of the regular vocalists in the group and provided a great deal of the narration and patter involved in this band's famous skits satirizing fiddle contests and other subjects dear to old-time music listeners. In the '30s, Rice was a member of several bands that broadcasted regularly over radio. One of these was the second version of the Carolina Tarheels, under the direction of Claude Davis and also featuring Clyde Keiser on guitar and harmonica, comedian Louie Bailey, fiddler Curly Fox, and Esther Mae Davis, a vocalist known as "the Carolina Sunshine Girl." This group was featured from 1931 through 1934 on WSB in Atlanta and also played regular gigs and dances in that area. It was such a popular band that when the first Carolina Tar Heels, led by Doc Walsh, re-formed in 1932, it was forced to bill itself as the Original Carolina Tar Heels. The important and innovative guitar stylings of Rice have shown up on a variety of posthumous collections and compilations. These include Old Time Mountain Guitar on County, as well as collections of Lowe Stokes on the Document label and of course, a greasy handful of Skillet Lickers' re-releases.
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