The Delmore Brothers
Alton Delmore (Dec. 25, 1908-June 8, 1964)
Rabon Delmore (Dec. 3, 1910-Dec. 4, 1952)
The Delmore Brothers were two of the top harmonizers of early country music, drawing musical influences from both the gospel and Appalachian folk traditions. Alton Delmore and his younger brother Rabon were also skilled songwriters, penning literally hundreds of classic country songs that have stood the test of time.
Perhaps most importantly, however, the Delmores were among the very few early traditional country acts to change with the times. In fact, they were often in the musical vanguard in terms of pioneering some of that progress. Their recordings from the latter half of the 1940s blended traditional country with bluesy riffs and boogie-woogie beats. In this respect, the Delmore Brothers established a musical foundation for rockabilly and early rock ’n’ roll, rating among some of rock’s most significant white progenitors.
The Delmores were born into poverty as the sons of tenant farmers in Elkmont. Performing on guitar and vocals from early childhood, they were playing as a pair by the time Rabon was turned ten. Alton would write most of the duo’ original material, although Rabon was an equally competent writer. In the early 1930s, the duo was confident enough to enter professional music, auditioning for Columbia Records in 1931 and trying out for Nashville radio station WSM the following year.
The brothers recorded often while performing live on a number of radio stations throughout the 1930s. They gained their greatest early fame, however, from their long-running tenure with the Grand Ole Opry from 1932 through 1938. Their music emphasized soft, beautiful harmonies, accomplished guitar picking and compelling original compositions. In an unusual approach for that time (or any other), the Delmores would switch high and low harmony parts from song to song (or even within the same song), although Alton would usually sing lead. Whether performing their own songs, traditional tunes or gospel numbers, the Delmores brought a bluesy feeling to both their vocals and their instrumentation. In addition, their down-to-earth lyrical concerns – which address themes of commonplace struggles and lost love with grace and good-natured humor – rarely resorted to the maudlin or overwrought.
In 1944, the Delmores signed with King Records, inaugurating an era which found them delving into more modern and innovative forms of country. Although their first sides for the label adhered to a fairly strict traditional mold, by 1946 they had expanded their acoustic two-piece arrangements into full-band backup, featuring bass, mandolin, steel guitar, fiddle, harmonica and additional guitars. Some of those additional guitars were supplied by up-and-coming country artist Merle Travis, who credited Alton Delmore as a key influence.
Perhaps the most vital musician on those sides was Wayne Raney, who played a “choke” style of harmonica – a style heavily influenced by the blues. The Delmores also leaned increasingly toward uptempo material that reflected the upsurge in Western swing and boogie-woogie. By the end of 1947, they had added electric guitar and drums to their sound. Raney (who also sang) in effect acted as a third member of the Delmores in the late ’40s and early ’50s, when they plunged full-tilt into that sound with “Hillbilly Boogie,” “Steamboat Bill Boogie,” “Barnyard Boogie,” “Mobile Boogie,” “Freight Train Boogie,” even “Pan American Boogie.”
By the early 1950s – just after their signature tune “Blues, Stay Away from Me” climbed to No. 1 on the country charts – the Delmores’ commercial success began to fade. After the death of his young daughter, Alton drank heavily, and Rabon died of lung cancer at the age of 42. Alton – like longtime accompanist Raney – went on to record as a solo act in both the gospel and rockabilly fields before moving to Huntsville to work for the post office and teach guitar. He completed his autobiography, Truth Is Stranger than Publicity, with his son Lionel shortly before his death at the age of 55. By that time, the Delmore Brothers’ work had already influenced the harmonies of sibling acts like the Louvin Brothers and the Everly Brothers.
In 1971, The Delmore Brothers were inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. Twenty years later, they were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
Song Title Recording Artist Chart* Year
Blues Stay Away From Me Delmore Brothers 1 1950
Freight Train Boogie Delmore Brothers 2 1946
Beautiful Brown Eyes Jimmy Wakely 5 1951
Freight Train Boogie Red Foley 5 1947
Blues Stay Away From Me Eddie Crosby 7 1949
Blues Stay Away From Me Owen Bradley Quintet 7 1950
Pan American Boogie Delmore Brothers 7 1950
Beautiful Brown Eyes Rosemary Clooney 11 1951
*Chart position is based on Billboard Magazine Pop, Country, R&B, & A/C Charts. Other music industry charts may have shown higher chart positions.
Source: Alabama Music Hall of Fame
Alton Delmore (December 25, 1908 - June 8, 1964) and Rabon Delmore (December 3, 1916 - December 4, 1952), billed as The Delmore Brothers, were country music pioneers and stars of the Grand Ole Opry in the 1930s. The Delmore Brothers, together with other brother duets such as the Louvin Brothers, the Blue Sky Boys, the Monroe Brothers (Birch, Charlie and Bill Monroe), the McGee Brothers, and The Stanley Brothers, had a profound impact on the history of country music and American popular music.
The brothers were born into poverty in Elkmont, Alabama, as the sons of tenant farmers amid a rich tradition of gospel music and Appalachian folk. Their mother, Mollie Delmore, wrote and sang gospel songs for their church. The Delmores blended gospel-style harmonies with the quicker guitar-work of traditional folk music and the blues to help create the still-emerging genre of country. In addition to the regular six-string acoustic guitar, the duo was one of the few to use the rare tenor guitar, a four-string instrument that had primarily been used previously in vaudeville shows.
In 1925 Alton wrote his first song "Bound For the Shore" at the age of 13, (co-written with his mother). It was published by Athens Music Co.
The Brother's did their first recording session for Columbia in 1931, recording "I've Got the Kansas City Blues" and "Alabama Lullaby", which became their theme song. They signed a contract with Victor Record’s budget label Bluebird in 1933 and became regulars on the Grand Ole Opry variety program. Within three years, they had become the most popular act on the show. Disagreements with Opry management led to the brothers leaving the show in 1939. While they continued to play and record music throughout the 1940s, they never achieved the same level of success they had with the Grand Ole Opry.
In 1941, their song "When It's Time For The Whippoorwill To Sing" made the Billboard "Hillbilly" top three.
Their best-known song, "Blues Stay Away From Me," is regarded by some as the first rock and roll record. It was covered by Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps and by The Everly Brothers.
Rabon died of lung cancer in 1952. Following Rabon's death, Alton suffered a heart attack, the loss of his father and his daughter Susan, all within a three-year period. He moved back in Huntsville, Alabama. He taught some guitar, did odd jobs, and devoted his creative energies to writing prose. He wrote a series of short stories and his autobiography, Truth is Stranger than Publicity, published posthumously in the 1970s.
Over the course of their careers, the Delmores wrote more than one thousand songs. Some of the most popular were Brown’s Ferry Blues, Gonna Lay Down My Old Guitar and Fifteen Miles from Birmingham.
The Delmore Brothers were inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame in 1989 and the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001. Their pioneering contribution to the genre has been recognized by the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.
Bob Dylan was quoted in the Chicago Tribune, on November 10th 1985 as saying "The Delmore Brothers, God, I really loved them! I think they've influenced every harmony I've ever tried to sing." 
1^ Alabama Music Hall of Fame entry for The Delmore Brothers.
2^ a b c Native Ground Delmore Brothers entry. Accessed January 10, 2009.
3^ a b Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame list of awards. Accessed January 10, 2009.
4^ a b c d Country Music Hall of Fame entry for The Delmore Brothers. Accessed January 10, 2009.
Delmore Brothers website maintained by Alton's daughter
Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame
Alabama Music Hall of Fame
Rockabilly Hall of Fame
Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum
Great stories listed under "Scrap Book" at http://www.delmorebrothers.net/