Sid Harkreader Biography
Macon Meets Harkreader
Uncle Dave traveled with touring companies, building up an audience with his old-time music and comedy stage show. According to Charles Wolfe, in 1923 Macon was playing informally at Charlie Melton’s barbershop in Nashville when Sid Harkreader came in with a fiddle under his arm. The two began working together and Harkreader, who played guitar and sang as well as fiddled, accompanied him on a series of Leow’s theater concerts.
Harkreader, who was one of the first Country performers on WSM in Nashville, and had a significant recording and performing career in the 1920s had this to say in his memoirs, Autobiography of Sidney J. Harkreader:
"My mission, my desired goal, and joy in life is to give to the people my talent which I believe is the gift of God which he gave to me. It makes me feel so good inside knowing that God is with me wherever I play my fiddle before an audience. It seems that God is releasing all I have to give each time I play for people. I am thinking and praying that someday before I die, my hopes and prayers will be answered and that I'll go down in history as the greatest fiddler (by the help of God) in my profession, and I'll have the joy of knowing that I have, at least, made people happy along the way, and I'll never be forgotten. I love people, I love music, and God made me that way. How can I lose? I hope someday I can be crowned the greatest fiddler, if not in this world, then in the world to come."
Harkreader’s Early life
Sidney J. Harkreader (Feb 26, 1898 - Mar 19, 1988) known as "Fiddlin'" Sid Harkreader, grew up in the farmlands of Middle Tennessee's Wilson County. Unlike many Country musicians, no one in Harkreader's immediate family played or sang. His great-grandfather had apparently been a fine violinist, and Harkreader's father hoped that somehow this talent might be passed down to his offspring through the bloodline. Young Sid learned to play fiddle from a neighbor and also an elderly worker on his father’s farm. He played at square dances and was delighted to make between ten dollars and 20 dollars per night. Harkreader sang and also learned to play the guitar. During World War I, he left his father's farm to work at a munition plant just outside of Nashville.
Harkreader’s Early Career-Recording Sessions
After the chance meeting with Macon at Melton’s Barbershop, Harkreader began accompanying Macon on his Loew’s Circuit tours. In 1924 Sam McGee [see: McGee’s Biography further down] joined the tour and occasionally replaced Sid. The same year Sterchi Brothers Furniture company, regional distributors of Vocalion Records, paid for Macon and Harkreader to travel to NYC to record. In July, 1924 Macon cut fourteen songs and eight were with Harkreader (see list below).
On April 13, 1925 at the second session with Uncle Dave Macon, Harkreader cut his first solo sides singing and playing guitar: “Dark Eyes” and “Dying Girl’s Message.” Following the first recording session with Macon, the fiddler was approached by a Paramount talent scout who offered him a cool grand to cut 24 sides. He took along banjo player Grady Moore for the first set of sessions done in June, 1927. After Paramount released his songs under their Broadway label under the name Harkins and Moran, Sid took them to court and won a settlement. Despite the lawsuit, the following April Paramount again invited Sid to record; this time with Blythe Poteet, Sam McGee’s cousin, (Moore was too sick to travel) backing him up on guitar and fiddle. Many of Harkreader’s Paramount songs were songs he played with Uncle Dave you can compare the songs below in the next paragraph. Most of these tracks were reissued in the '70s by County on their Early Nashville String Band series, and some material by Harkreader has also been released by the JEMF label, which also printed the delightful booklet Sid Harkreader's Memoirs. Harkreader did one last session with Macon, which was Sid’s last session, in June, 1929 but most of the songs were not released.
Sid Harkreader and Uncle Dave Macon Discography (July, 1924-April, 1926) Vocalion:
All-Go-Hungry Hash House; Arkansas Travelers; Bile Dem Cabbage Down; Chewing Gum; Darling Zelma Lee; Down by the Old Mill Stream; Down By The River; Down in Arkansas; For Goodness Sakes Don't Say I Told You; From Jerusalem To Jericho; Girl I Left Behind Me; I Don’t Reckon It’ll Happen Again; I Tickled Nancy; Jonah and the Whale; Life and Death of Jesse James; Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane; Love Somebody; Man That Rode the Mule Around the World; Mister Johnson; Muskrat Medley; New Coon in Town; Old Dan Tucker; Old Ship of Zion; Put Me in My Little Bed; Over the Mountain; Rooster Crow Medley; *Run Jimmie Run; Save My Mother’s Picture From The Sale; Soldier's Joy; Station Will Be Changed After Awhile; Tennessee Jubilee; Watermelon Smilin’ On the Vine;
Sid Harkreader Discography (April 1925-April, 1928) Vocalion & Paramount: A Trip To Town; Bits of Blues; Bully Of The Town; Chin Music; Dark Eyes; Don’t Reckon It’ll Happen Again; drink Her Down; Dying Girl’s Message; Gambler’s Dying Words; Hand Me Down My Walking Cane; He’ll Find No Girl Like Me; I Love The Hills Of Tennessee; In The Sweet Bye And Bye; John Henry; It Looks To Me like A Big Time Tonight; It Won’t Be Long Now; Kitty Wells; Land Where We Never Grow Old; Lazy Tennessee; Life’s Railway To Heaven; Little Rosewood Casket; Mocking Bird Breakdown; My Little Home In Tennessee; Old Joe (Clark); Old Rugged Cross; On the Bowery; Only As Far As The Gate; Picture From Life’s Other Side; Red River Valley; *Run Jimmie Run; Sweet Bird; Take Me Back To My Carolina Home; Traveling Coon; Wang Wang Blues; Way Down In Jail On My Knees (Lonesome Road Blues); Where Is My mama; Where The River Shannon Flows; Will There Be Any Stars In My Crown;
Sid Harkreader and Uncle Dave Macon Discography (June 1929) Brunswick/Vocalion: Darling Zelma Lee; Hush Little Baby; Over The Mountain; Put Me In my Little Bed; Since Baby’s Learned To Talk; Uncle Dave’s Travels (Skit w/Dialogue) Part I; II; and IV.
Harkreader and Macon-WSM and the Grand Ole Opry
What many people don’t know is Uncle Dave played with Sid Harkreader on WSM for a Policeman’s Benefit Show on Nov. 6, 1925 billed as “An Evening with WSM.” George Hay was hired on Nov. 9th and his first broadcast with Uncle Jimmy Thompson was Nov. 28, which is known as the beginning of The Grande Ole Opry. Harkreader was one of the first historic country players to broadcast live over Nashville's radio stations WDAD and WSM.
Fiddlin’ Sid Harkreader remembers listening to Opry shows: “The old crystal radio set was attached to a window sill and had earphones. Only one person could listen to the broadcast. The crystal set was replaced by an upright cabinet battery radio, which could be heard all over a room. It had a volume control and people thought it was the grandest thing in the whole world, but the batteries didn’t last long. Country people would gather at the country store or at a neighbor’s house to listen. Large crowds would gather on Saturday night to hear the Grand Ole Opry.”
Harkreader began his informal association with the Opry and WSM in 1925 and he was there in December 1927- the night Hay uttered the immortal words: “"For the past hour, we have been listening to music taken largely from Grand Opera. From now on we will present the 'Grand Ole Opry.'"
“I played two tunes on my fiddle the night the Opry was named,” recalled Harkreader. “The others who were in the studio that night were Dr. Humphrey Bate and his Possum Hunters, Burt Hutcherson, and DeFord Bailey, George Wilkerson and his Fruit Jar Drinkers, and the Binkley Brothers. [But at that time] everyone who could play an instrument or sing old-time country music was welcome. No one at any particular time. All they needed to do was just go by the station, and it was almost certain that they would get on the air.”
Harkreader finally landed a regular spot on the Opry in 1931 after the teamed up with guitarist Jimmy Hart.
In 1935 he formed a string band called Sid Harkreader and his Company. He left the Opry in 1937 to tour full-time.
Harkreader’s Later Life
Harkreader's main base of operations remained in the Nashville area, where he continued making appearances at the Opry until as late as 1969. His departure coincided with one of the venue's regular attempts at modernization. Harkreader continued to perform occasionally around Nashville.
Nashville guitarist Mark Brine recalled the fiddler: “I had the great fortune of knowing Fiddlin' Sid Harkreader during the last decade of his life. I first met Sid at Tootsies Orchid Lounge on Nashville's lower Broad Street, where I was performing regularly as a soloist.” In the summer of 1979 Brine set up a private recording session with Sid: “After we had gotten two takes down, the telephone rang. Sid was talking to the caller and at last returned to the room sayin', " … that was some fella named John Hartford. He wants to come by and play some music with me. Did you ever hear of him?" I couldn't believe my ears!” After Hartford came by Brine captured them on his reel-to-reel: “And, man-o-man, might I say them two fellows were cookin'! I was doing my absolute best to just keep up with them. And, I do mean that!”