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As with any endeavor standards are set and standards are met, This holds true for Herman Crook and his legendary string band. For over six decades, The CROOK BROTHERS BAND enjoyed unequalled staying power in an industry whose shooting stars often descend as quickly as they rise.
In the genre of American Country Music The Crook Brothers Band are truly pioneers. A Charter Member of The Nashville Barn Dance and the Grand Ole Opry, Herman's hoedown band was the first band to join the WSM Barn Dance after Dr Bate's band. Whereas most bands of the early Grand Ole Opry featured a fiddle as their lead instrument, Herman and his brother Matthew spotlighted the Harmonica. The perfect synchronization of the twin harmonicas was a sound never before heard by most people on the radio. This sound propelled The Crook Brothers to Stardom in the 1920,30,and 40's and set them apart from other bands. It was the sound of the highlands, the gentle rolling hills of middle Tennessee, where the essence of the Square Dancers reside.
Photo Left to Right: Herman Crook, Earl White, Hubert Gregory and Lewis Crook
Their father died when Herman was three years old, and his mother moved the family to Nashville, where she herself died some eight years later, about 1909. Herman was reared by older brothers and sisters. Herman and Matthew began playing the Harmonica as boys, watching and learning from an older brother.
It was this band that attracted the attention of Judge Hays of WSM's Barn Dance in the summer of 1926 and they made their debut on July 24 that year. This gave the Crooks seniority over all the other bands except Dr. Bates. During the early years the Crooks appeared on rival Nashville stations. Herman recalled appearing on WBAW (" Harry Stone was the announcer at that time. they were located over a piano store in Nashville. (" We often put on and hour program there".)
During 1928, the Crooks managed to appear as often as any band on WSM and still be regulars on the WLAC competing Barn Dance. One reason for this according to Herman is that WSM began paying the artists in 1928, soon they found so many artist wanting to play that the station had to devise Platoon system with most bands playing every other week. On alternate weeks, the Crooks, along with Paul Warmack, the Binkley brothers, Theron Hale and others had no hesitation about appearing on WLAC radio.
In 1929 an unusual coincidence occurred that was to have a lasting and major impact on the band. At a fiddler's contest in Walterhill, Tennessee, Herman ran into his old friend and mentor Dr. Humphrey Bate. The good doctor had with him a young man from his hometown who was named, coincidently, Lewis Crook. He was no relation whatsoever to Herman and Matthew, but they were soon attracted to him and to his two-finger banjo style. Lewis was a tall , gangly youth who had been born into a family of sharecropper's in Trousdale County in 1909.
About a year after Lewis joined Herman's band, Matthew left for a regular full time job with the Nashville Police Department. This made Herman full leader of the group and changed the complexion of the band. Unable to find a satisfactory harmonica player, Herman added a fiddle player and began developing a style build around the odd tonal texture of the harp and fiddle playing together.
The result was an unusual, but effective, string band
sound. For a time, Kirk McGee was the fiddler, and when he quit to join
the Dixie liners, he was replaced by Floyd Ethridge, who remained with
the group through the I930's. He was a native of McEwen, Tennessee (born
, and came from the same West Tennessee-Dickson County
area that spawned Arthur Smith and Howdy Forrester. Ethridge, in fact,
had performed with a young Arthur Smith at local square dances and fiddling
contests in Dickson and in Humphrey's County. He had a fondness for playing
in a fast, high style, relying, as did Smith, on quick fingering of the
E string, complemented by Herman's equally deft, smooth harmonica playing.
On old breakdowns like "Soldier's joy," "Sally
Gooden," and "Fire on the Mountain," the new
band was hard to beat. To round out his crew, Herman hired guitarist Blythe
Poteet, Kirk McGee's cousin, born in Franklin in1909 Blythe had
absorbed much of the McGee's' music and had even recorded with Kirk and
Sid Harkreader in separate sessions in1928. He had been performing on
the Opry since 1932, when he was only twenty-three, playing
for a time with Uncle Dave Macon. Blythe brought all this experience to
the Crook band, and this gave Herman protégés from three of the Opry's
most famous stars: Dr. Bate (Lewis), Arthur Smith (Floyd), and the McGee's
The four recordings in the 1928 Victor session,
all done with the pre-Lewis Crook ensemble, were all instrumentals featuring
a twin harmonica lead. One was "My Wife Died on Friday Night,"
learned from Dr. Bate. The Crook version, though, very stylistically
miles away from anything that had ever be done with the tune before.
The four recordings in the 1928 Victor session, all done with the pre-Lewis Crook ensemble, were all instrumentals featuring a twin harmonica lead. One was "My Wife Died on Friday Night," learned from Dr. Bate. The Crook version, though, very stylistically miles away from anything that had ever be done with the tune before.
The Crook Brother cut three more records in the 1928 session they were "Job in Getting There", "love somebody" and Going across Sea" This band continued playing on the Grand Ole Opry for over 62 years
Herman, died June 10, 1988 after more than 62 consecutive years of playing music on the Grand Ole Opry. Lewis Crook continued to play until he passed away in 1996.
More about Herman
"Herman Crook, a gentleman who defines honor, dignity and class. He is truly missed"...
The music heard on this page, Tennessee Waltz, is played by Mr. Earl White, fiddle player and band member of the Legendary Crook Brothers Band. Earl's version of the Tennessee Waltz is available through this web site.
Herman M. Crook
Crook Brothers Band
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