John McGhee

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The distinctive sound of this early country and gospel recording artist's voice might have been a bit much for the radio speakers in the '20s and '30s. Yet so powerful was the effect this music was having…
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The distinctive sound of this early country and gospel recording artist's voice might have been a bit much for the radio speakers in the '20s and '30s. Yet so powerful was the effect this music was having on what was a new national broadcast audience that nobody was talking about hi-fi quality, saving that issue for the cocktail-soaked '50s. The early recordings of John McGhee and his frequent partner Frank Welling, as well as their broadcast efforts together and independently over several West Virginia stations, inspired many country performers. Red Sovine, for example, has credited Welling as one of his great influences, although he didn't go so far as to record a talking blues in the man's honor, saving that distinction for his daughter's "Teddy Bear." Welling teamed up with McGhee in the early '20s and the two began what would be a long performing collaboration with local Baptist church performances. Between 1928 and 1933, the pair had nine different recording sessions for the Starr Piano Company and Paramount alone, cutting more than 150 different tracks such as "She's My Mama, and I'm Her Daddy," "Are You Washed in the Blood," and "Whistling Rufus." The title of a reissue collection of the duo's tracks on the Old Homestead label pretty well sums it up: Sacred, Sentimental and Silly. When these records were originally released, however, the record companies attempted to hide the fact that these different types of songs were being created by the same recording artist. The gospel tunes were released under their own names, while the secular material came out under the band name of the Red Brush Rowdies, featuring a distinct country & western sound, including fills from the adept fiddler Miller Wikel. McGhee perhaps had more enthusiasm with a cowboy hat on his head than he did doffing it to enter a church, as he shows up on many Red Brush Rowdies tracks where his partner Welling chooses to sit out. A third type of material included labor songs, such as "North Carolina Textile Strike," which the record company felt were a bit controversial, so they were camouflaged for release under the pseudonym of the Martin Brothers. McGhee bailed out of the collaboration for Welling's final recordings, which were done with bass singer and trumpeter William Shannon.