A Cowboy in Search of the Classics…
Marion Try Slaughter
Vernon Dalhart was born in April of 1883 birth name Marion Try Slaughter in the small eastern Texas town of Jefferson, situated close to the Louisiana border – directly east of Dallas, Texas.
As most do – Marion would understandably take a stage name – and his would become Vernon Dalhart – a combination of two small Texas towns neither which is anywhere near Jefferson or one another for that matter.
There were many reasons for country musicians – both solo singers and groups – to assume an alias – not the least of which was that economics dictated the practice – with artists needing to record for various labels to keep food on the table. Large retailer’s in the early days of country recordings (think Sears, Kresgee, Montgomery Ward and Sears-Roebuck), all formed record labels or contracted with recording companies to form labels, to be offered through their hugely popular catalogs as well as in stores serving urban areas.
Below: Montgomery Ward – Banner (S.S. Kresge Company) – Harvard/Oxford/Silverton/Challenge (Sears-Roebuck)
The catalogs were convenient, no necessary, in order to serve rural America during the 1920’s-30’s and 40’s – where most of America resided at the time – though the population was rapidly shifting in the latter stages of the Great Depression and then again when war production beckoned from the big northern cities.
Dalhart was oft criticized for not ‘sounding country’. But it was by design. His musical interests did not initially reside in country or “folk” music as it was referred to early-on. Dalhart loved classical music and pursued that love by obtaining early training in that art form in the city of Dallas. Marrying young (18), he and his wife – Sarah Lee – and children would depart Texas in 1910 and head for the “Big Apple” to further advance his dream with further training.
While in studied in New York, he worked in a warehouse by night. He joined a touring opera – a Puccini creation known as “The Girl of the Golden West”. Not yet having a stage name for inclusion in the opera’s printed program, Marion then selected Vernon Dalhart and that was that!
Dalhart, after completing several opera tours, landed an audition with Thomas Alva Edison – the famed inventor – and landed a contract or reached an agreement to record on the Edison record label. Beginning in 1916 and continuing on for seven years, Marion cut more than 400 tracks – all classical – as a vocalist.
During his early recording years, Dalhart would record several genres, pop, ‘negro’, opera and somewhere along the way – began singing not only as Vernon Dalhart but taking on scores of country aliases. Although he had trained his voice away from a Texas accent, he could easily slide back into that role effortlessly. During the 1920’s and 1930’s he reportedly released more than 5000 78 rpm singles!
His very first recording to “chart” was titled “Till the Clouds Roll By” on the Emerson label – It peaked at number 10. The country or folk charts really weren’t firmly established until Billboard Magazine began formally publishing them in January of 1944 calling their chart the “Most Played Juke Box Folk Records” – sometimes listing as few as two positions and no more than 8.
Prior to the Billboard Charts – and a bit later Cash Box – rankings were based on sheet music sales and then disc sales and juke box plays as reported most likely to the big publishing arms – ASCAP but more often for country BMI.
Dalhart placed only 18 recordings on the charts but his popularity by far transcended “hit records”. He is credited with having recorded the first “million selling country single” with 1925’s “Wreck of the Old 97”. Versions were released on Edison, OKeh and Victor – with Victor being the most sold version via stores and catalog.
His recording career had many ups and downs, with slack periods, but he always managed to get back into the studio one way or another.
His life is well-documented in a book authored by Jim Palmer titled “Vernon Dalhart – First Star of Country Music”.
Vernon Dalhart Recording Aliases
Al Craver, Arthur Seelig, Arthur Stevens, Billy Burton, Billy Clark, Billy Jones, Bob Massey, Bob McFarland, Charles Dickson, Charles Harrison, Charles Hilton, Charles Vaughn, Claude Reese, Confidential Charley, D. Bud Bernie, Dan Hilly, Dick Morse, Dick Nelson, Donald Baker, Eddie Powers, Eugene Buckley, Frank Allen, Frank Evans, Frank Harris, Franklyn Baur, Fred Clark, George Beaver, George Kay, Guy Massey, Happy Jim Parsons, Harry Crane, Harry Curtis, Harry Jockin, Harry Moss, Harry Raymond, Harry Topping, Henry Beaver, Henry Gray, Henry Irving, Herbert Moorhouse, Howard Wilson, Hugh Donovan, Hugh Latimer, Irving Kaufman, Jack Manning, Jack Shea, Jack Wilson, James Cummings, Jep Fuller, Joe Sargent, John Andrews, Jos. Elliott, Lamereau, Lem Greene, Mack Allen, Marion Try Slaughter II, Marvin Young, Ned Cobben, Noel Taylor, Ralph Wright, Ray Wynn, Robert White, Robert Wood, Roy Butler, Shaw And Kerr, Sid Turner, The Sparrow, Tom Frawley, Tom Watson, Vel Veteran, Warren Mitchell, Wolfe Ballard
Dalhart in Groups:
Birmingham Blue Buglers, Dalhart’s Texas Panhandlers, Gladys Rice And Vernon Dalhart, Red Flame Kazoo Travelers, The Arkansas Trio, Vernon Dalhart & His Big Cypress Boys, Vernon Dalhart And Company, The Cramer Brothers
Dalhart By Any Other Name