Jim Wolverton

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This Mississippi banjo player is known as one of the members of the Leake County Revelers, one of the most popular old-time string bands in Mississippi in the late '20s, as well as among one of the earliest…
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This Mississippi banjo player is known as one of the members of the Leake County Revelers, one of the most popular old-time string bands in Mississippi in the late '20s, as well as among one of the earliest groups to make records in that state. Like much of the blues and early country talent from Mississippi, the Leake County Revelers were a discovery of H.C. Speir, who is considered something of the Sam Phillips of Mississippi music in the '20s and '30s. Spier began working in the mid-'20s in the capacity of a "talent broker," or what would later become known in the record industry as an artist and repetory developer, or A&R man for short. He arranged sessions for the Leake County Revelers that were released on Okeh and Columbia. The members of the group, besides Wolverton, were fiddler Will Gilmer, guitarist and lead singer Dallas Jones, and R.O. Moseley on the rarely played banjo-mandolin hybrid. The group became known quickly through their recordings for tunes played in a slow, easy tempo: exactly the opposite of all other string bands, which highlighted rapid-fire breakdown numbers that set fiddlers on a heart attack course. Wolverton recorded some 44 different sides with the band between 1927 and 1930. These recordings met with great success and have also enjoyed several new additional lifetimes through reissue ventures on labels such as Document and County. Not only has the group's entire output been made available via several volumes on these labels, various tracks by the group have shown up on a variety of compilation recordings, including sets focusing on yodelling, early American string bands, and early country music. The group was also quite famous for its original waltzes and complex vocal harmony arrangements, in direct contrast to what has seemed like a distinct lack of vocalizing by other Mississippi string bands. This may have had more to do with the commercial desires of the record labels than the repertoires of the groups, since instrumental repertoire was certainly one of the selling points of most string bands. The blend of Wolverton's five-string banjo and Moseley's small banjo-mandolin is one of the most recognizable aspects of the group's sound, highlighted on tracks such as the ragtime instrumental "Dry Town Blues." Wolverton and company humorously reveal their love of slow tempos by titling a piece of stately, near-classical parlor music "Mississippi Breakdown," even though the piece is as far from a breakdown as New Jersey is from Mississippi. "Wednesday Night Waltz" was the band's biggest hit and one of its first two records issued that was pressed in 1927. The song has been covered by many other artists, particularly fiddlers, and has become a dance warhorse that sometimes appears under the title of "Kitty Waltz." It was performed frequently by Curly Fox on the radio in the '30s and '40s. In the '30s, politician Huey Long hired the Leake County Revelers to play for his campaign, using the down-home music to reinforce his image as a grassroots populist. In the '90s, the group was nominated for the Mississippi Hall of Fame, and has insired such modern-day string band revival groups as the Old Hat String Band and the Hinds County Revelers.