April 30th, 2014
Tradition and Innovation in Country Music
Unlike artists such as Hazel Dickens of West Virginia (1935-2011), who have sustained traditionally oriented musical styles of bluegrass and folk within their work, contemporary country-pop artists such as Taylor Swift and Lady Antebellum have submerged these rural styles to the vanishing point within the stylistic blend of their hybrid music. This is of course the way music evolves, and the audience has moved with it.
There was an earlier time, however, after the “Big Bang” of modern country music in 1927, when commercially successful country artists more or less evoked the sounds of traditional rural music. A collection of music memorabilia recently acquired by the West Virginia and Regional History Center documents two such country artists who are both connected to West Virginia, Cowboy Loye and Buddy Starcher.
Loye Donald Pack (1900-1941) was born in Nashville, Tennessee. After learning the guitar and a repertoire of songs early in life, he then settled into the career of a ranch hand in Nebraska during the 1920s. He later began performing, and eventually arrived at radio station WWVA in Wheeling, West Virginia, in November 1937; his collaborator was a singer known as “Just Plain John Oldham”.
John Oldham and Cowboy Loye, Wheeling, ca. 1937.
Photo from the WV and Regional History Center.
After returning to Nebraska for a short time, he relocated to station WMMN in Fairmont, West Virginia, where he immediately achieved success and popularity, sometimes working with the Blue Bonnet Girls. He passed away in 1941, before having the opportunity to make a record.
In contrast, Buddy Starcher had a long career in country music, including opportunities to make recordings, two of which hit the charts, and to appear on both radio and television, including his own TV show. This blog post, however, can only cover some highlights.
Born Oby Edgar Starcher (1906-2001) in Jackson County, West Virginia, he initially learned the banjo, but later became an accomplished guitarist. His performance on a Baltimore radio station in 1928 was likely the first time a “hillbilly” artist was heard on the air in the region. In 1932 he wrote and performed protest songs for the Bonus Army in Washington, D.C.
Around 1937 Starcher was performing at radio station WCHS in Charleston, West Virginia, and later at WMMN in Fairmont where he became friends with Cowboy Loye.
Buddy Starcher in Charleston, West Virginia, 1937.
Image from the WV and Regional History Center.
In 1946 he recorded the bluegrass standard “I’ll Still Write Your Name In The Sand” which reached no. 8 in the country charts. His recording of “Wildwood Flower” dates from this period as well. He later recorded songs for Columbia, Decca, and other record companies.
After years of working in radio, Starcher moved into the new medium of television in the 1960s by hosting his own show in Charleston, West Virginia. He later worked as a consultant for radio stations, making a specialty of turning ailing stations into successful operations.
He passed away in Harrisonburg, Virginia in 2001.
Buddy Starcher Fan Club Memorabilia, 1944-1946.
Memorabilia of other country artists in the collection.
Blog post by Michael Ridderbusch, Associate Curator, WVRHC.
(Note: the final image in this post has been changed.)