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Thursday, September 1, 2016

Hotel Guests of Country Music Fame

     If you're a country music fan of the golden era in the days of the Grand Ole Opry, then what you're about to read will tickle you pink.

     Lets start with Jimmy Self & The Southern Playboys. Even as a classic country music fan I can honestly say I didn't know who he was. However when I saw his list of singles I did know a few.  So it's like I knew of him, sort of.

Below: Jimmy Self with Guitar on the right.


   When I was combing over these old hotel guest register sheets something caught my eye. Below you can see how Jimmy Self signed in.

   He signed in as Jimmy Self 8 Southern Play Boys and then WSM Nashville, Tennessee. Any self-avowed classic country music lover knows what WSM means. It's only the most famous radio station in the whole dang world that's all. Also it's the home of the Grand Ole Opry. Everybody knows that in the glorious golden days of the Grand Ole Opry, the broadcasts from Ryman Auditorium were on WSM in Nashville, Tennessee. When Jimmy Self checked in with his band they checked into rooms numbered 19, 20, and 22.

     So who was Jimmy Self? Jimmy Self (sometimes spelled Selph), was born June 23, 1915 and died December 28, 2000. He was a versatile American singer who was a country music, rockabilly, and bluegrass musician and occasional vocalist whose career peaked during the late 1940's through the 1950's.  He could play the guitar, drums, accordion, and steel guitar. 

     Self's first release, "That's Why I Worry", was in 1947 on the Majestic Label. He was a member of Curley Williams' band, whom with he recorded several albums.  He also appeared with Dottie Dillard.  On the Coin Label he released titles including "Tom Catin' Around" (1956). He was also a drummer for Hank Thompson and a singer with Milton Estes and the Musical Millers. Self also recorded on the Bullet Record Label, "Dream Castles Shared With You" and "Times A-Wasting, Little Darling". Self's vocal releases included "Say You'll Be Mine" and "Oh Babe". He appeared on and toured with the Grand Ole Opry beginning in the mid-1940's.

Below: Pictured here is Jimmy Self. Of course, when he appeared here in Union Springs he would have been younger than pictured here.

     In 1955, he was a member of the house band on ABC-TV's Ozark Jubilee (Originally known as the Crossroads Boys) with Grady Martin, Bob Moore and Bud Isaccs before he returned to Nashville, Tennessee.  As a Nashville and Hollywood session musician, he backed Red Foley, Don Gibson, Webb Pierce, Ray Price, Molly O'Day and The Browns.

Below: A good example here of the type of signage and promotional posters that would be posted all over town to let folks know about these upcoming tours.

When Jimmy Self came to Union Springs, he was touring on behalf of WSM Nashville, Tennessee. That is a big deal. WSM and The Grand Ole Opry constantly had many country music stars both big named and rising stars out on tour under the name WSM or The Grand Ole Opry, who broadcasted from WSM. That was how the radio station kept its name out there. This was also good for sponsors of the radio station. Seeing how it was a National Radio Broadcast, it was highly beneficial to have its biggest stars on the road singing for WSM so you and I would keep listening to their broadcasts all the time and buying the products that they advertised.
There is no doubt Jimmy Self left a mark on this industry with his music, skill, raw talent and reputation that will forever be remembered by people who find his music, or read about him. Now Union Springs, Alabama can be proud it hosted one of the greats.

Wow. If this were the only interesting thing to have found in the old hotel guest registers I would have been completely satisfied and rewarded for my efforts. Fortunately there is more.

While were on the subject of WSM and The Grand Ole Opry I stumbled upon these names about a hundred pages after finding Jimmy Self, and once again I found myself giddy over this discovery.

Let's take a look at the Hotel Guest Register below.

     Again, I caught those three letters W.S.M. Nashville. This group of performers were touring and performing together on behalf WSM Radio.  On this particular occasion, the hotel clerk wrote in the names, and on who's behalf they were here and of course, the room assignments. There were 6 guests in total. Miss Helen Raney,What looks like Tiny Turner, Cousin Wilbur, Floyd Etheridge, Jack Thompson and Dempsey Watts. As you can see, Miss Raney stayed in #35 This Tiney Turner also had a room to himself. Cousin Wilbur and Floyd Etheridge bunked together in #3 and Jack Thompson and Dempsey Watts to also be bunk mates in room #32.

     When groups of entertainers toured from town to town, WSM show promoters would arrive in ahead of an up coming show.  Posters like these would usually be put up around the town and ahead of the show.

     Of course the above names were much bigger than the ones who appeared here in Union Springs. But make no mistake about it, when a group of performers are put together by WSM or The Grand Ole Opry, they put on a show that would have been quality entertainment.

     So, who were these folks? Well, I began trying to find information about each of these people. I didn't have much luck on four of the six. But I did manage to find some pretty good information on two of them that I felt worthy of mention.

     Let's start with the fact that both Bill "Cousin Wilbur" Wesbrooks and Floyd Ethridge both toured with the Father of Bluegrass, Bill Monroe and The Blue Grass Boys. Both Cousin Wilbur and Floyd Etheridge were the Blue Grass Boys. Ok... and a couple of others.

     The guy riding his bass fiddle is "Cousin Wilber" and the tall guy on the far right is Floyd Etheridge. The guy playing fiddle is Arthur Smith. Then of course, there is the great, Bill Monroe.

     Now lets get them individually. Bill "Cousin Wilbur" Wesbrooks was a Bassist and Comedian. He was considered everybody's cousin which was also the title of his autobiography. "Everybody's Cousin". It is now out of print now, but some copies are still floating around here and there. 

     Cousin Wilbur appeared on all of Bill Monroe's Victor recordings. After "Stringbean", David Ackerman, joined the band, both Cousin Wilbur and Stringbean would perform comedy routines together. After leaving the Blue Grass Boys in 1944, Cousin Wilbur continued on the Opry as a solo performer. In 1947 He married Blondie Leatherman and they began performing as the Cousin Wilbur & Blondie Brooks Show.

     As for Floyd Etheridge, he began touring with Bill Monroe in 1943. He left for a period of time some years later to pursue other opportunities.  He later rejoined the Blue Grass Boys in 1949 and stayed for a while.  He pursued various other projects until he no longer wanted to be on tour and left the Blue Grass Boys. Later in life he continued to play in a band and played in venues closer to home and family.

     I haven't the foggiest idea as to why these six people checked into the hotel in the 1950's representing WSM Radio Nashville, Tennessee. It probably was to entertain at a venue somewhere in Union Springs. I think it is so cool that they were here and stayed at the hotel.

     I  suppose I will conclude at this point. Now you see why I wanted to divide up all of my findings in my study of the old Hotel Guest Registers? These sheets aren't just a bunch of names. They are celebrities, entertainers, business people, educators, newlyweds, auditors, vacationers, and those simply passing through and needing a place to stay. I've got to hand it too Dr. Robert Fleming for his vision. He saw a need for a hotel right in the middle of downtown Union Springs and made it happen. If only he could have known that like the quote from the movie, Field Of Dreams-- "If you build it, they will come." he too served a purpose. If that building could ever be restored back to a hotel, a real hotel or B & B, it would serve a great purpose as it did for so many years.  If you restore it, they will come.  And when they come, it will bring prosperity to so many businesses on Prairie Street and to all types of businesses all over town.  Since the building is for sale right now, there is a very good chance that someone will come along and see the potential for restore the building. The Josephine Hotel deserves to live again and someday I believe she will.
     Be sure to check back soon for the latest blog post and the continuing discoveries of my on-going research.


Unknown said...

I NOTICED THAT YOU IDENTIFIED FLOYD ETHRIDGE AS THE MAN (IN THE FAR RIGHT) PHOTO WITH BILL MONROE. FLOYD (my great-grandmothers brother) was a fiddler. That man in the photo is playing guitar. Floyd Ethridge, did play fiddle with both Arthur Smith and later Bill Monroe.
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Wendy Bredhold said...

Floyd Ethridge was my grandpa's uncle. I think that is him with the fiddle.