musical lives, remembered in story & sound

Effie Pierson -- 4. On The Radio


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Mixed with the old dance tunes, was an increasing influence of the radio, and the records and songbooks they’d buy. “We would listen to the Delmore Brother’s Records, and copy down the song,” Pauline recalled. They’d listen to their songs on the radio, or off their records, over and over and write down the lyrics. “At one point, we knew three hundred songs.” Effie liked listening to Little Jimmy Dickens, The Carter Family, and Jimmy Rogers. The Delmore Brothers were their favorites. “Nothing can compare with the Delmore brothers… harmony like you wouldn’t believe. They would tear your heart out and do anything they wanted with it,” Lillian said.
The Pierson eventually played on the radio themselves, on WLAP out of Lexington. Effie was on fiddle, with her two musical daughters playing mandolin and guitar and singing, playing early morning radio shows as part of Asa Martin’s Round-Up Gang. WLAP, laughed Pauline, stood for We Let Anyone Play.”  During their radio days, the girls wouldn’t attend school, and the family would go up to Lexington and stay with Effie’s sister, who ran an establishment that rented out cabins. Ed came along, too. “He was our protector… he wouldn’tve let us go by ourselves. Carried a pistol right here on his side.”
At night, they made personal appearances throughout the region, putting on shows in small school buildings all across the central Kentucky countryside. “Asa Martin would book the places for us… and then we’d take off with our instruments tied to the running boards, the back bumper. And we’d go to the school, and come out on the stage, and everybody would be seated, and they’d cheer and cheer.”  They were audiences of all ages, kids, and teenagers, and older people; they’d request songs, “anything that was country.” The shows were, in Pauline’s description, “hillbilly music.” Effie would play fiddle tunes, pick a tune on the banjo, they’d sing; their act, one of a few Asa brought on tour.
They often played at Natural Bridge in Powell County, a tourist site for folks from the cities, where the Ledford Sisters, and Blanche Coldiron, another multi-talented group of young women, often played. Blanche remembered Effie, playing up at Natural Bridge: “Effie played fiddle, and the two girls sang, and he played the guitar.”
The life of a performer, though, “was hard,” in Pauline’s remembrance. “There weren’t any good roads then.” Getting to the little schoolhouses where they played was often an adventure and difficult as well because Effie’s bandmates were her two young daughters: “I guess I was about 10 years old,” recalled Pauline. It was a tiring life; “we had to put on personal appearances at different schools… that just wore us out—you now how kids like to sleep… and there wasn’t much room in the car, to sleep. We had a good crowd everywhere we went, though.”
Lillian remembered playing at Renfro Valley once; she remembered the characters from the radio show, Stringbean Akemon, Red Foley, The Coon Creek Girls. Of the Coon Creek Girls, she said, “This man had a deal with them, wouldn’t let anyone overtake them… so we was kinda under his thumb in a way.” The powers that be didn’t think the market was big enough for two female-powered music groups, she suggested.
Effie knew all those characters, form her circuit on the radio. She said that Cousin Emmy must’ve learned “Ruby” from her. “She never did pick it ‘till after I picked it, down there, before I opened the program,” she said, of a time she opened for a show Cousin Emmy played.
Their family’s radio career with the Round Up Gang, in Lillian’s reckoning, lasted a couple years. They quit, because “it was to hard.” Lillian had health problems, too, that exacerbated the difficulty.