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Biography       Life   *   Music   *   Passion

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.

The Crook Brothers were a natural culmination of a very strong  harmonica tradition in middle Tennessee and one that was responsible for an amazing variety of harp players on the early WSM Barn Dance. The Crook boys simply parlayed this regional fondness into a string band format. The result was a distinctive sound that has endured on the Opry for over sixty two years. Unlike the names of other  bands "Crook Brothers" was not one of the Hayseed names that Judge Hay came up with. (" I couldn't top your real names, anyway") he told Herman.  Mathew was born in 1896 and Herman born 1898 in Scottsboro Tennessee about fifteen mile from Nashville. There were six children in the family , several of whom made music.

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. 

Throughout their long career, The CROOK BROTHER'S String band touched virtually every major City and rural community in the United States and Canada, with the traditional sound of middle Tennessee's old time music broadcasting from the GRAND OLE OPRY every Saturday on WSM radio in the 1920's through 1988 

Herman also had an uncle that lived in Dekalb County, Tennessee who was an important influence. "He was one of the best buck and wing dancer you ever saw recalled Herman".  and he could sing.  He had a voice. It would sound so lonesome, almost a mournful sound. he sang all these old songs, some would go back a hundred years or so. One of my Favorites was 'Put My Little Shoes Away.' He had a cylinder recorder that you cranked by hand, with a large horn or speaker on it and he would play that song on the recorder and sing with it. I listened to a lot of his music and learned a great deal  from him."  As a young man Herman worked at a variety of jobs in Nashville. Soon he was married, and his wife joined him in music making. She could play the piano and guitar and backed Herman at local union halls and house dances in East Nashville. Like other musicians, the Crook were drawn to WDAD before WSM radio opened and played there for weeks before the barn Dance program started.  After a time, Matthew joined Herman and the brothers organized a band that included their twin harmonica sound, two guitars and a banjo. 

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 1908) , 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 (Blythe).

 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.

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NEW YORK TIMES


"Herman Crook, a gentleman who defines honor, dignity and class. He is truly missed"...                                                                

Roy Acuff    1988

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.

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