Frank Hutchison Biography

20 March 1897, Raleigh County, West Virginia, USA, d. 9 November 1945, Dayton, Ohio, USA. Hutchison grew up in Logan County and first played harmonica when aged eight but inspired by bottleneck-style guitar playing he turned to that instrument. Hutchison probably used a penknife more than a bottleneck but soon began to achieve satisfactory results. He first earned a living by working either in the mines or in work connected with the coal industry. He married in 1917 and seeking a living from his music, eventually attracted the attention of OKeh Records. Between 1926 and 1929, he recorded 32 sides of which 29 were released. They included his version of ‘Railroad Bill’ and novelty numbers that featured both his guitar and harmonica playing such as ‘K.C. Blues’ and ‘C & O Excursion’. On a session in 1927, he recorded six sides with three other local musicians who included brothers Irving and Arnold Williamson (b. 1904; fiddle). Among the sides (recorded as the Williamson Brothers And Curry), was one of the earliest recorded versions of ‘John Henry’, although it was then recorded as ‘Gonna Die With My Hammer In My Hand’. (The Williamsons were active for many years in Logan County but made no further recordings.) Hutchison also recorded six sides for OKeh Records’ Medicine Show series. Another Logan County musician, Sherman Lawson (b. 1894; fiddle), played on his final recordings.

Throughout the 20s, Hutchison made his living from his music. A white man mixing in ‘blackface’ comedy he played at small mining camp theatres and in cinemas between or before films. In 1932, when the Depression badly affected Logan County, he relocated to Chesapeake, Ohio where, for a time, he worked as a crew member and entertainer on steamboats. Later he opened a small grocery store and post office in Lake, West Virginia but lost everything when it burned down in April 1942. He returned to Ohio, settling in Dayton, where he died from liver cancer in 1945.

Although at the time of his death perhaps few remembered him, Hutchison had recorded some songs that in some form or other would last for years to come in country music. Among these were ‘Coney Isle’ that in 1961, slightly altered and then called ‘Alabam’, became a number 1 for Cowboy Copas and ‘The Train That Carried My Girl From Town’ which Doc Watson later recorded with lasting success. Several of Hutchison’s recordings have appeared on compilation albums by labels such as Old Homestead (Early Recordings From West Virginia). County (Mountain Blues and Old Time Guitar), Folkways Records (American Folk Music Volume 1), Vetco (Songs Of The Railroad 1924-1934) and in the UK CBS Records (Black, White And Blues). In 1973, Rounder Records released an album of 16 of his recordings. Hutchison who became known as the Pride Of West Virginia is rated because of his individual style as one of the most unusual old time musicians of the 20s.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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