R.O. Moseley

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One of the distinctive members of the early Mississippi string band the Leake County Revelers, this musician is often credited as Oscar Moseley, Oscar Mosley, and R.O. Mosley. It is all the same man,…
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One of the distinctive members of the early Mississippi string band the Leake County Revelers, this musician is often credited as Oscar Moseley, Oscar Mosley, and R.O. Mosley. It is all the same man, playing the same strange instrument -- a tiny hybrid of the mandolin and banjo that is sometimes called a "banjolin," "mandolo," or just plain "banjo-mandolin." It utilizes the mandolin's fretboad, string setup, tuning, and mini size, while shrinking down the concept of the banjo's resonating head down to appropriate size. The Leake County Revelers was one of the most popular old-time string bands in Mississippi in the late '20s. The group was also among one of the earliest groups to make records in that state, hitting the jackpot with one of the first sides cut, the lovely "Wednesday Night Waltz." Like much of the blues and early country talent from Mississippi, the group was scouted out for recording by H.C. Speir, a pioneer in the business of talent scouting who is considered the Sam Phillips of Mississippi music in the '20s and '30s. He arranged a series of sessions for the Leake County Revelers that were released on Okeh and Columbia. Through these recordings, the string band became known for tunes played in relaxed, slow tempos, which was exactly the opposite of all other string bands of the time that were highlighted by manic fiddle breakdown numbers.

The Leake County Revelers recorded some 44 different sides between 1927 and 1930. Besides the initial success, these recordings have also enjoyed several new lifetimes through reissue ventures. Not only has the group's entire output been made available via several volumes on labels such as Document and County, individual tracks by the group are standout parts of various compilation sets, including anthologies focusing on yodelling, early American string bands and country music, and the history of Mississippi music. The group was quite famous for its original waltzes and complex vocal harmony arrangements, again in direct contrast to what has seemed like a distinct lack of vocalizing by other Mississippi string bands. In this case, the difference may have had more to do with the commercial tastes of the record labels since instrumental repertoire was always one of the selling points of most string bands. The blend of Jim Wolverton's five-string banjo and Moseley's instrument is one of the most recognizable aspects of the group's sound, highlighted on tracks such as the ragtime instrumental "Dry Town Blues" or "Crow Black Chicken." The latter tune, needless to say, is one of many from the old-time string band repertoire that has made the Internet list of "chicken songs." The group humorously revealed its love of slow tempos by titling a piece of mellow parlor music "Mississippi Breakdown," even though the tune is as far from a breakdown as Glasgow is from Mississippi. The previously mentioned "Wednesday Night Waltz" was the band's biggest hit, as well as one of the first two records issued by the group, first pressed in 1927. The song has been covered by many other artists, particularly fiddlers, and has become a dance warhorse, sometimes appearing under the title of "Kitty Waltz." 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 have inspired such modern-day string band revival groups as the Old Hat String Band and the Hinds County Revelers.