Skillet Lickers Biography

The original members were James Gideon Tanner (6 June 1885, near Monroe, Georgia, USA, d. 13 May 1960, Winder, Georgia, USA; fiddle, vocals), Riley Puckett, Clayton McMichen and Fate Norris (banjo, harmonica, vocals). The members had been performing in various combinations around Atlanta before 1924, but it was in that year that Tanner (a fiddle-playing chicken farmer) and the blind guitarist Puckett recorded to become Columbia Records’ first hillbilly talent.

In 1926 with McMichen and Norris, they recorded for the first time as Gid Tanner And The Skillet Lickers. Over the years there were line-up variations and other important members included Lowe Stokes, Bert Layne (both outstanding fiddlers), Hoke Rice (guitar), Gid’s brother Arthur (banjo, guitar) and teenage son Gordon (d. 26 July 1982; fiddle). By 1931, in some combination or other, they had cut 88 sides for Columbia - all but six being released. Their material included fiddle tunes, traditional ballads and pop songs, plus little comedy skits such as their noted ‘A Corn Licker Still In Georgia’. In 1934, Gid Tanner And The Skillet Lickers were credited with a million-selling record for their recording of ‘Down Yonder’ (Gordon Tanner was the featured fiddler on the recording). (In 1959 pianist Del Wood also sold a million with her version of this tune.)

After the Skillet Lickers disbanded in the 30s, Tanner returned to chicken farming until his death in 1960. McMichen went on to a successful career with his own band the Georgia Wildcats (which at one time included Puckett) and held the title of National Fiddling Champion from 1934-49. Gordon Tanner, who later led the Junior Skillet-Lickers, died following a heart attack in July 1982. Bill C. Malone suggests that ‘much of the band’s popularity can be attributed to the energetic personality and showmanship of Tanner who whooped, sang in falsetto and in general played the part of the ‘rustic fool’. McMichen is reputed to have suggested that ‘Tanner’s fiddle playing was just as unrestricted and tended to detract from the overall quality of the band’. In the 80s, Tanner’s grandson, Phil, led a band known as the Skillet Lickers II.

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

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