Two fiddlers performed together at the Old Confederate Soldiers’ Reunion in Richmond, Virginia during the third week of June, 1922. 34-year-old Texas fiddler Alexander Campbell “Eck” Robertson was one and 77-year-old Henry Clay Gilliland from Oklahoma (and a former Confederate soldier himself) was the other.
When the festivities ended, the duo took the train to New York City. Henry knew a lawyer in New York named Martin W. Littleton, who had done some legal work for the Victor Talking Machine Company. Eck and Henry were hoping that Martin could get them an audition at the well-known record company based in Camden, New Jersey.
On Thursday, June 29, Martin introduced Eck and Henry to “that man (who) was running the shop in the Victor office.” Right on the spot, the manager told Eck, “Get your fiddle out and start off on a tune.” Eck hesitantly complied but didn’t even get half way through “Sallie Gooden” before the manager stopped him and said, “Come back in the morning at nine o’clock and we’ll make a test record.”
On Friday, June 30, 1922, Eck Robertson and Henry Gilliland recorded “Arkansaw Traveler,” “Turkey In The Straw” and two other fiddle duets in the Camden, New Jersey recording studio of Victor Records. The next day – Saturday, July 1, 1922 – Eck went back to the studio and recorded “Sallie Gooden,” “Ragtime Annie,” “Done Gone” and three other solo fiddle pieces.
These recordings stand as the first commercial recordings in the history of Country music.
Victor Records released the first record from these sessions – “Sallie Gooden” backed with the duet “Arkansaw Traveler” – on September 1, 1922.
Victor Records #18956 – a 2-sided, 10 inch, 78-rpm disc – was the first commercial record ever released by a Country musician.
In an April, 1923 Victor Records advertisement for Instrumental Records, “Sallie Gooden” is described as: “a medley of jigs and reels, in the very best style of the travelling cowboy fiddler, with almost continuous double-stopping, one string being used for a kind of bag-pipe drone-bass, and the other to carry the melody.”
Author Tony Russell writes in his 2007 book Country Music Originals: “’Sallie Gooden’ is not just good for its time, it is great for all time, a small but perfect masterpiece of American music.”
Listen for yourself.
Here’s Henry and Eck from the B-side.
The sources for the quotes and information used in this post are: Country Music Originals: The Legends and The Lost (2007) by Tony Russell; the Eck Robertson page on the Old Time Music website; the Henry C. Gilliland page on the website of the Oklahoma Historical Society; and Wikipedia.
“Good music doesn’t get old.”
Ferdinand Joseph “Jelly Roll Morton” LaMothe (1885-1941)