Mac and Bob

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Early country music troubadours, helped introduce close harmony and the mandolin into the genre.
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The early country singing team of Mac and Bob, full names Lester McFarland and Robert Gardner, were blind musicians who met at the Kentucky School for the Blind in 1915. While capable of playing numerous instruments -- Gardner played piano professionally even before Mac and Bob formed their duo -- they ultimately settled on the combination of mandolin and guitar, in keeping with sacred duos such as Kim and Nyland; ultimately, they helped to further popularize this format. As a duo, Mac and Bob appeared on the Keith Vaudeville Circuit beginning in 1922, and from 1925 on, on WNOX in Knoxville. Discovered by a Brunswick talent scout in late 1926, Mac and Bob began a long and prolific recording career that resulted in several titles that sold well for Brunswick, including “When the Roses Bloom Again” -- their biggest seller -- and “The Bright Sherman Valley,” a variant of “Red River Valley.”

In 1931, Brunswick was bought out by the American Record Corporation, or ARC, and Mac and Bob were retained on the Sears & Roebuck label Conqueror, which reissued nearly all of their Brunswick records in addition to making new ones through 1935, leading some researchers to conclude that the duo made more records than they actually did. Also on Conqueror, the popular billing of “Mac and Bob” was chosen over their full names, which was the standard on Brunswick. That same year, Mac and Bob were named to the regular roster on the WLS Barn Dance radio program in Chicago. They would make one more recording session after ARC was acquired by Columbia in 1940, consisting entirely of sacred material; their recording career ended when Sears decided to shut down Conqueror in 1941.

In order to help memorize and work out their songs, Mac and Bob used a specially adapted form of Braille. Their relaxed, old-timey performance style never changed over the 30 years that Mac and Bob were active; they sang simple harmony in two parts, and sometimes Gardner sang solo. Their repertoire was wide and included traditional ballads, gospel hymns, and blues, but their treatment of such material was similar without regard to the selection. Although regarded as evergreens, both the style and material began to wear thin by the late '40s, and Mac and Bob retired from the WLS Barn Dance in 1950. Robert Gardner died at age 81 in 1978, and Lester McFarland followed him in 1984, aged 82.