Jim, one of my best buddies, gets a lot of grief from his family for his banjo playing. Thank goodness he didn’t follow in the footsteps of Bill Benner, fiddle player with Chuck Palmer and his Rangers, who also solos on balloon, “cheek drums,” rubber hose and musical saw.
Chuck Palmer led a five-piece combo called the Rangers that played “citybilly music,” basically what big city dwellers came to perceive as genuine hillybilly / “roots music.” Modified for an urban audience, the music retained enough of its origins to maintain interest for fans and musicologists … and if the focus is on novelty and comedy, this is exactly what was needed for the Panoram screen. The state censorship bureaus decided to turn a blind eye to the outrageous visuals. All the better!
The first citation of Palmer’s group in the entertainment trades notes that Chuck Palmer and his Rangers would appear on television onDecember 27, 1942, channel 4, experimental station W2XWV. The group had a repeat television appearance the following year on the fledgling Dumont Network. Far greater exposure was offered by radio and nightclub appearances. Palmer was performing at the Village Barn in Manhattan in early 1942, and beginning in 1944 had a regular program on radio station WOR in New York City. The group was a natural for the theater stage and smaller nightspots, and they starred in a 1944 Connecticut revue Devil Take a Whittler. In 1946 they began an extended engagement at Gil’s Café in Manhattan and soon after left on a Midwest tour, possibly as a part of a Ringling Brothers circus unit.
Peggy Diehl, “Mrs. America of 1942,” was not working with Palmer at this time and was brought in to provide visual appeal. The balloon props used by Diehl and two unidentified extras certainly push at the limits of taste.
While this Soundies was released as Hillbilly Holiday, it is actually a combination of a handful of traditional public domain tunes, most notably “Hand Me Down My Walking Cane.” All of the members of the combo are noted in the opening introduction for this Soundie.