The Carver Boys

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The Carver Boys that recorded a series of sides for Paramount in the late '20s was just one chapter in a family history that included bands performing under this name back into the 1800s. The family's…
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The Carver Boys that recorded a series of sides for Paramount in the late '20s was just one chapter in a family history that included bands performing under this name back into the 1800s. The family's musical patriarch was Lorenzo Dow Carver, who was born in Kentucky in 1874. He led bands made up of various combinations of family members throughout that state and neighboring Tennessee from 1900 through approximately 1910. The family's most famous performing member was Emmy Carver, best-known to the bluegrass and old-time music world as the raucous, banjo-picking Cousin Emmy. Lorenzo Carver's cousin was the highly entertaining Noble "Uncle Bozo" Carver, who formed the family's next generation combo with brothers Warren Carver and Noble Carver, born in 1891 and 1896, respectively. It was this group that was eventually approached by Paramount scouts, leading to a recording session which produced not only a number of fine records but also a great deal of confusion, much of it typical of the music business during this era.

Uncle Bozo began performing when he was only 11, finding a willing and enthusiastic audience at local schools for his guitar picking, singing, and dancing. By 17, he had climbed up the ladder of available gigs to reach the height afforded by appearances at state fairs throughout Kentucky. Beginning in 1922, he worked for some seven years in various medicine shows, including Dr. Kelso's Medicine Show, which was based out of Indianapolis. It was in the late '20s that several men representing the Paramount company drove down from New York City looking for possible musicians to record. A taxi was apparently dispatched to the Carver farm in order to bring the young men these scouts had heard about to a meeting in the nearest town, Glasgow. This meeting concluded in an agreement that the boys would go north to record,for money, but nobody in the family really believed anything would come of it. About a month later, the men returned, this time to actually make preparations for a recording session to be held about three weeks later in Richmond, IN. Between eight and 11 sides were eventually cut, depending on who is doing the research, and the titles included classics such as "Wreck of the Old 97," "Log Cabin in the Lane," "Whang Whang Blues," and the racing saga "Timbrook and Molly." For some reason, a totally crazed version of "Pop Goes the Weasel" was not released until many years later. Harmonica historians are particularly fond of "Harmonica Sisco Blues," an improvisation by Warner Arthur that was created when the producers realized they were one track short. In typical recording business fashion, the naïve musicians turned down a royalty agreement in exchange for a one-time payment. Although the sum the Carver Boys received was more money than any of them had ever seen at once, it is still doubtlessly a trifle compared to what the sales of these records might have eventually earned for them. Exact sales figures are impossible to come by, of course, because the company not only kept no reliable manufacturing and sales figures, but also pressed the group's tracks under several other names. Uncle Bozo told many tales of coming upon this sort of surprise, such as in 1937 in a Wheeling, WV, record store where the clerk suggested he check out a good old-time recording by a group called the Cramer Brothers. This turned out to be one of the tracks the Carver Brothers had recorded, and it wasn't the end of the masquerade by any means. A few years later, he found another such disc, this time by the Carson Brothers, but once again one of the Carver Brothers recordings. There is also a branch of the old-time music research tree that believes the three Carver Brothers were black, based on the theory that a sideman on one of the group's recordings identified as Joshua White was actually the famous blues artist Josh White and that there was no way he would have recorded with the brothers had they been white. This type of thinking is of course typical of endless efforts by certain ethnomusicologists to segregate black blues and white old-time music, and while there are those who believe the White in question was actually someone else who was white, not black, there has been enough evidence that it really was the famous bluesman collaborating with a white group to justify including some of the tracks in collections of early Josh White material.

Uncle Bozo was the one member of this trio whose career continued after the Paramount recordings, no surprise since the audience must have had no idea whether it was the Carvers, Cramers, or Carsons that they liked listening to. He made no more recordings, but joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1932, working with several touring Opry ensembles over the next few years. He evolved into radio work and in the '50s hosted the popular Uncle Bozo and His Radio Show on Glasgow's WKAY. He always had to have another job going, however, these side careers including managing hotels and theaters and selling insurance. In 1957, he became an assistant manager for an insurance company.