The blues of the Mississippi Delta and country sounds of rural Virginia was much too “raw” for most Panoram viewers, and as a result none of this music found it way to the Panoram screen. Yet, an urbanized version of what was called “hillbilly music” … dubbed “citybilly” by some musicologists … was popular in many large cities. Citybilly always had enough twang and corn to distinguish it from swing, yet the bouncy, uptempo feel comes from largely from jazz, even when the music is not jazz-related at all.
A visit to the Village Barn in Greenwich Village was an attraction for both tourists and Manhattan “locals” alike. Opening in the early 1930s, the venue welcomed patrons to its Western-themed floorshows for close to thirty years. One of the featured artists at the club during the early 1940s was Tom Emerson’s Mountaineers.
Tom Emerson was born Tom Vodola in 1900. He made his recording debut in June 1925 and in the early 1930s joined a group called the Mountaineers, a citibilly act which became became a favorite on radio along the East Coast. This success led to tours on the variety stage in both rural areas and urban centers.
By the late 1930s the group was headed by Tom Emerson and billed as Emerson’s Mountaineers. It was featured in short subjects during the late 1930s and in 1939 found itself booked at Meyer Horowitz’s Village Barn, the popular New York City “farm-themed” nightclub. Perhaps the best assessment of the group is offered by country music historian Kevin Coffey, who notes, “They were too corny for jazz guys, and not country enough for country guys. However, I think it [the group’s prominence on film and popularity in East Coast night spots] is … indicative of being in the right place at the right time.” While the band garnered considerable attention during the late 1930s and early 1940s, notices in the trades tapered off as the war began and the band seems to have disappeared from the entertainment scene.
“Little Brown Jug” was a Joseph Eastburn Winner composition from 1869. Long a country, dance and elementary school favorite, the tune would become a huge seller in “swingtime” for Glenn Miller. Our version here is by Emerson’s Mountaineers, produced as a Phono-Vue jukebox short in September 1041 and released as a Soundie during the recording ban. Dated and corny? Yes. But in its own way this Soundie is lots of fun, and it paints a clear picture of what one would encounter at the Village Barn in the early 1940s. Yee haw, and pass the sarsaparilla, please.