Peter Shapiro played a short while with the Charlatans before he formed The Marbles. The Charlatans had a Cowboy look that folks in the Height adopted. They were not Country-Western, but more like a Jug Band. My kindred, Mel Lyman, played in Jim Kweskin’s Jug Band. Jim married Jessie Benton who father painted a mural titled ‘The Sources of Country Music’. In CNN’s piece on The British Invasion, it is said these musicians across the pond reintroduced American Music to America. ‘Act Natually’ is CW. Christine Rosamond would have done well to render Country Art. Rena would have been a star as a cowgirl model.
Another heavy country music influence on the early Beatles’ repertoire came from Carl Perkins. The definitive rockabilly performer, Perkins was a truly original stylist who could write catchy, original songs and play hot lead guitar. He made his breakthrough in 1956 with the original version of Blue Suede Shoes and if it hadn’t been for a car accident, would undoubtedly have become one of the biggest stars of 1950s rock’n’roll music. Perkins sustained a career that stretched over 40 years, performing country, rock’n’roll and gospel, writing classic hits and working closely with Johnny Cash and several other country singers and musicians including The Judds.
George Harrison was a huge Perkins’ fan, and though he took few lead vocals in the early days of the Beatles, he played numerous Perkins-inflected guitar solos, particularly on the Beatles’ versions of rockers like Glad All Over, Matchbox and Honey Don’t. The Beatles also featured the country ballad Sure To Fall (In Love With You), which Perkins had recorded at the Sun Studios in 1956, in their live sets.
Act Naturally” is a song written by Johnny Russell and Voni Morrison, originally recorded by Buck Owens and the Buckaroos, whose version reached number 1 on the Billboard Country Singles chart in 1963, his first chart-topper. In 2002, Shelly Fabian of About.com ranked the song number 169 on her list of the Top 500 Country Music Songs.
The song has been covered by many other artists, including Loretta Lynn, Dwight Yoakam, and the Beatles.
The Charlatans were an influential psychedelic rock band that played a role in the development of the San Francisco music scene during the 1960s and are often cited by critics as being the first group to play in the style that became known as the San Francisco Sound. Exhibiting more pronounced jug band, country and blues influences than many bands from the same scene, the Charlatans’ rebellious attitude and distinctive, late 19th century fashions exerted a major influence on the Summer of Love in San Francisco. Their recorded output was small, with their first album, The Charlatans, not being released until 1969, some years after the band’s heyday. The band is notable for featuring the first commercial appearance of Dan Hicks, later of Dan Hicks and his Hot Licks.
Daniel Ivan Hicks (born December 9, 1941, in Little Rock, Arkansas), is an American singer-songwriter who combines cowboy folk, jazz, country, swing, bluegrass, pop, and gypsy music in his sound. He is perhaps best known for the songs “I Scare Myself” and “Canned Music.” His songs are frequently infused with humor, as evidenced by the title of his tune, “How Can I Miss You When You Won’t Go Away?”
An often-told story about Benton is that he died in his studio just moments before he was to sign his name on his final painting, The Sources of Country Music, which he was making for the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville. The painting had been commissioned two years earlier, in 1973, by the Country Music Foundation, whose board members traveled to Benton’s home in Kansas City, Missouri, and, over a bottle of Jack Daniels, persuaded him to accept the commission.
Though old and frail, Benton was enthusiastic about the project. Decades earlier, his art had been cast aside by critics, who viewed the ascension of Abstract Expressionism and Jackson Pollock, Benton’s student in the early 1930s, as a confirmation that Benton’s popular realism had become quaint and irrelevant. Benton was happy for the opportunity to execute another public work that would address the folk culture he believed superior to the “intellectual curiosities” and “infinitely shaded egotism” of modernist aesthetics.
William Ivey, then executive director of the Country Music Foundation, recalled that Benton decided that the painting “should show the roots of the music—the sources—before there were records and stars.” Benton received $60,000 for the project, with a third of the money coming from the National Endowment for the Arts.
As was his custom, Benton developed the painting from drawings—in this case, some old sketches that he’d made on walkabouts through the Ozark Mountains in the 1920s and some new ones made on a trip to Branson, Missouri, where he observed professional country musicians. The painting depicts more than a dozen figures divided into different vignettes: In the center, a group dances to the sounds of two fiddlers; in the foreground, a man plays guitar and a woman plays a dulcimer; and, alone in the background, an African-American man picks at a banjo. On an elevated stage to the left, we see a choir, and behind it the Wabash Cannonball, the train celebrated in songs by the Carter Family and Roy Acuff, barreling down the tracks.
The painting is distinguished by the rhythmic postures of the figures; the complementary diagonals of fiddle bows, guitar necks, and tilting telephone poles; and the visceral music itself, which seems to swirl through the canvas.
As a child, Benton was exposed to the expert fiddle playing of Pappy Wise, his maternal grandfather, and the piano playing of his mother Lizzie. During the Twenties, when Benton traveled through Virginia and Arkansas on sketching trips, music spilled out of the hills—hymns, bluegrass, and folk. Benton admired the “old boys, with their rheumatic arms,” who improvised and played in keys unlike those heard in the mainstream music of the day. “I like their plaintive, slightly nasal voices,” he wrote in his autobiography, An Artist in America, “and their way of short-bowing the violin.”
In the late Twenties, Benton picked up the harmonica, led an old-time band, and hung around New York’s Greenwich Village with musicians and musicologists such as Carl Ruggles and Charles Seeger. Benton developed a unique tablature system for the harmonica and worked out arrangements for songs such as “House Carpenter,” “Casey Jones,” and “Fair Ellen.” Benton lamented that the “old music cannot last much longer,” continuing, “I count it a great privilege to have heard it in the sad twang of mountain voices before it died.”
Benton was conditioned to admire such rural customs. He was born in the small town of Neosho, Missouri, in 1889, and started to draw at a young age. Besides Custer’s Last Stand, his favorite subject was trains. “Engines,” he wrote, “were the impressive things that came into my childhood. . . . To . . . see them come in, belching black smoke, with their big headlights shining and their bells ringing and feeling of stupendous drama. . . . I scrawled crude representations of them over everything.”
Drama, it seems, was one of his birthrights. He claimed that his “family [was] fated . . . for turmoil,” adding, “I was raised in a family environment which conditioned me very early in my life to accept strife and argument as basic factors of existence.” He was named after his great-uncle, Senator Thomas Hart Benton, a Democrat from Missouri who nearly killed Andrew Jackson in a duel in 1813. Later, in 1817, Senator Benton did kill a man, a St. Louis lawyer named Charles Lucas, in a duel on so-called Bloody Island, a sandbar in the Mississippi River.
Benton’s father, Maecenas Eason Benton, known as the Colonel, was also a Democratic politician, who represented Missouri in the U.S. Congress from 1897 to 1905. Benton and his father bickered constantly. The Colonel wanted his son to be a lawyer, and maybe even to go into politics. When Benton announced that he wanted to be an artist, his father reacted cruelly, mocking his ambition. As Benton remembered it, his father hated artists. “The only ones he had ever come across were the mincing, bootlicking portrait painters of Washington,” he explained, “who hung around the skirts of women at receptions and lisped a silly jargon about grace and beauty. Dad was utterly contemptuous of them and labeled them promptly as pimps.”
Nevertheless, father and son traveled together on political campaigns throughout rural Missouri, where the Colonel brought his populist message to the stump and communed with his constituents at boisterous rallies. The panel Politics, Farming, and Law in Missouri, from Benton’s 1936 mural A Social History of the State of Missouri, represents one such campaign stop. It shows the Colonel at a podium working a crowd of Missouri producers—farmers, loggers, and mothers busy with their babies—while young boys scamper around, oblivious to the goings-on.
One of the most stubborn myths surrounding Benton’s career is that he was a Midwestern artist. Though he moved to Kansas City in 1935, and remained there until his death forty years later, each summer he and his wife Rita lived on Martha’s Vineyard, the quintessential New England island, which they’d started visiting regularly in 1920. For almost thirty years, from 1907 until 1935, Benton enjoyed the life of a cosmopolitan artist, residing first in Chicago, where he studied at the Art Institute, and then in Paris, where he attended various academies and tried his hand at an irresolute bohemianism. He then settled in New York, where he socialized with the leading artists and writers of the day and experimented with modern styles, including Cubism and Synchromism, a peculiar kind of color abstraction developed by his close friend Stanton Macdonald-Wright. Benton was at the center of the New York art world for almost fifteen years, exhibiting at leading galleries, teaching at the Art Students League, professing Marxism, and socializing with the coterie of artists associated with Alfred Stieglitz and his famed 291 Gallery, a modernist sanctuary.
Our cousin, Jessie Benton Fremont, was even more than a Southern Belle. She came from a long line of aristocrats with all the cultural traits that comes with that title. From her mother’s side she learned elegance, sophistication. She was idealistic, with great passion and energy. Above all, she was… ambitious.
Her mother was spoiled rotten. Elizabeth McDowell was well bred, delicate with gentile manners. She summered at the White Sulphur Springs Resort and wintered in Richmond. Her relations were the governors, senators, and congressmen. As late as the 1880s the family still counted two senators and six congressmen. These were the uncles, cousins, and brothers. That does not include their other nobles.
She traveled in a custom London-built coach with an interior of scarlet leather, accompanied by a footmen and maid. When traveling by coach in Virginia she could stop almost anywhere and visit relatives at their “great estates.” Trailing behind the carriage would be a mule drawn wagon loaded with baggage.
“Staunton was also a great thoroughfare for travelers going to and returning from the Virginia springs. During the “spring season,” the town was alive with stagecoaches, besides the private carriages in which many wealthy people traveled. Some of the latter and all of the former were drawn by four horses, and occasionally there was a quite a display of “liveried servants.” (The movies never show these magnificent carriages always being trailed behind with an old mule drawn baggage wagon. I never saw this scene in “Gone With the Wind.”)
This was her world. They were our people, also… a long time ago.
Elizabeth and her husband hated slavery. When Elizabeth’s father died she freed the 40 family slaves. This hatred of slavery would carry through the family.
The romance between Elizabeth McDowell and Thomas Hart Benton is a classic study in opposites attracting. Benton was a frontier brawler, burly, pugnacious and boisterous. In their earlier days, he and his brother, Jesse (for whom Jessie was named) got into a brawl with Andrew Jackson and his friends. Everyone emerged alive after Jesse put a bullet into Jackson’s shoulder. Although the fight took place in a bar room, it was in an elegant hotel. One of the bullets went through the wall and into a room with a mother and her baby. It is not recorded how close the bullet came to the baby. However, no mother likes a bullet fired in anger entering her baby’s room.
Benton pursed the Southern Belle for many years. She finally agreed to marry him when she was at the advanced age of 27. He was older. She agreed to the marriage only after he had attained an acceptable social position and was elected US Senator from Missouri.
Elizabeth did not like the idea of giving up five generations of Virginia aristocracy to live on the wild Missouri frontier. She soon learned to love her adopted country. Such was the wealth that Elizabeth brought to the marriage that the family lived between St. Louis, Virginia, and Washington D.C. They would travel with all the servants money could provide. This shows the immense wealth that flowed from Magdelene.
It was into this family, on their plantation in Lexington, Virginia, that Jessie Benton was born in 1824. This was in the middle of our Woods-Wallace country. Jessie grew up among the powerful in Washington D.C. When her father visited with President Jackson at the White House, Jessie would sit by the president’s side. The president would run his hand through her curly hair.