Clayton McMichen Collection

The following brief biography of Georgia fiddler Clayton McMichen was written by Dr. Fiddle contributor Patrick Towell:

From the day of his humble beginning on the 26th of January 1900, William Daniel Bragg Clayton “Pappy” McMichen was surrounded by the Old Time fiddling of his father and uncle, as well as his grandfather's banjo. Though he didn't take up the fiddle until he was eleven, it didn't take Clayton long to master the Old Time repertoire, and by his early teens, he was captivating local and familial audiences with tunes like Fire in the Mountain, Soldier's JoyDurang's Hornpipe, and the Arkansas Traveler. Clayton and his family moved to Atlanta in 1913, and it was there that he would discover his calling: Jazz.

Frequenting Mays Badgett's violin shop, Jazz clubs, and the famed Georgia Old Time Fiddlers Conventions, Clayton gained a reputation as a champion fiddler, and in 1923, was dubbed the North Georgia Wildcat after his victory at a Macon Fiddlers Convention. It was also in these places that he was exposed to a variety of music that would influence his music in later years.

He formed his first group, the Hometown Boys, in 1918, and the group first appeared on Atlanta radio on September 18th 1922, just months after Fiddlin' John Carson made history as the first Old Time musician to be broadcast over WSB. His reputation as a performer drew the attention of Columbia Records scout Frank Walker in 1925, and Clayton was invited to record with a new group the company was putting together, whose sole purpose was making “Hillbilly Music” for commercial sale. That group was the Skillet Lickers, the most successful string band in the String Band era. Before Clayton's arrival, the lineup consisted of Gid Tanner and Riley Puckett, Columbia's first country musicians (who had recorded in March of the previous year) on the fiddle and guitar, and Fate Norris, an instrumentalist from Chattooga County in North Georgia, himself a veteran of the Medicine Show and Blackface circuit, who had often performed on the streets of Atlanta with Gid. Clayton brought his brother-in-law Bert Layne on board to fill the position of third fiddle. Though Clayton & Gid came from separate generations, they both had a similar approach to Old Time music, and their heavy bowing blended together to make an original, iconic sound, which was complimented by Fate Norris' rhythmic banjo style. That same sound would be emulated by Old Time string bands from all over the United States during the 20's, most notably by fellow Georgia musicians Robert Earl Johnson & His Dixie Entertainers.

Though Clayton took the lead in most of the Skillet Lickers recordings until the addition of Lowe Stokes in 1928, the group was billed as Gid Tanner & His Skillet Lickers or Gid Tanner & His Skillet Lickers with Riley Puckett for many years due to Gid's seniority with Columbia, and the success that the two had brought the company with their initial recordings in 1924. This left Clayton very bitter toward the company and Gid, and it wasn’t for years into group’s tenure that the records were finally stamped “Gid Tanner & His Skillet Lickers with Riley Puckett & Clayton McMichen”.

It should also be noted that Clayton disliked the approach Gid & Fate took to their music, namely Gid's falsetto, whoopin' and hollerin', and their repertoire, containing songs like Old McDonald Had a Farm, and She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain, which he felt was outdated, and a deterrent to success, via expansion to a wider audience than simple country folk. He tried for many years to convince Frank Walker to allow the Skillet Lickers to record jazzier arrangements of Old Time tunes, as well as his own music, but Columbia wouldn't have it. He made them too much money as an Old Time musician. In short, he felt that his growing reputation as a Hillbilly with the group was holding him back from making use of his diverse, virtuosic skills as a fiddler, and that no one in the professional world would take him seriously. He would harbour bitterness toward the hillbilly image and many Georgia Old Time musicians for years after his Country career.

Though Clayton had not been fully recognized for his contribution to the group, it was ultimately his run with the Skillet Lickers that helped him to get his foot in the door of the recording industry. In 1931, the Skillet Lickers disbanded, and Clayton would finally form his own group, the Georgia Wildcats'. A group that recorded what he wanted, including his own compositions Dear Old Dixie Land, Georgiana Moon, and popular tunes of the day like Alexander's Ragtime Band and Is There Still Room for Me 'Neath the Old Apple Tree?  Clayton continued to play with the Wildcats into the 1940s, and eventually settled in Battletown, Kentucky. He gave up playing music full time, and ran a bar and a welding shop for a while. Clayton appeared on dozens of Old Time, Country, and Jazz recordings throughout the 20s and 30s, including those of Jimmie Rodgers. He also appeared at the Newport Folk Festival in 1964. He passed away on January 4, 1970.

This collection is graciously sponsored by Patrick Towell.

20 tunes found in this collection.

Click on table headers to sort tunes.

Name Type Key Date Added Date Updated
Arkansas Traveler, Soldier’s Medley Part Two Reel or Breakdown D 2014-11-03 2014-11-03
Bonaparte's Retreat March D 2013-07-28 2014-10-13
Durang's Hornpipe, Fiddlin’ Medley Part One and Reprise Hornpipe D 2014-05-16 2014-10-13
Fiddler's Dram (Jenny Lind), Turkey Medley Part Three Polka G 2014-10-28 2014-10-28
Fire on the Mountain, Fire Medley Part One Reel or Breakdown A and D 2014-10-13 2014-10-13
Ida Red, Fire Medley Part Two Reel or Breakdown A 2014-10-13 2014-10-13
Mississippi Sawyer, Soldier’s Medley Part Three Reel or Breakdown D 2014-11-03 2014-11-03
Old Hen Cackle, Turkey Medley Part Two Novelty Tune G 2014-10-28 2014-10-28
Old Joe Clark, Old Joe Clark Medley Part One Reel or Breakdown A mixolydian 2014-10-28 2014-10-28
Peter Went Fishing, Sourwood Medley Part Two Reel or Breakdown A 2014-10-13 2014-10-13
Pretty Little Widder (Widow), Old Joe Clark Medley Part Two Reel or Breakdown A mixolydian 2014-10-28 2014-10-28
Run, Jimmy, Run Reel or Breakdown D 2013-08-11 2014-10-13
Rye Straw, Fiddlin’ Medley Part Three Reel or Breakdown D 2014-05-16 2014-10-13
Sally Goodin, Fire Medley Part Three Reel or Breakdown A 2014-10-13 2014-10-13
Shortenin’ Bread, Old Joe Clark Medley Part Three Reel or Breakdown A 2014-10-28 2014-10-28
Soldier’s Joy, Fiddlin’ Medley Part Two Hornpipe D 2014-05-16 2014-10-13
Soldier’s Joy, Soldier’s Medley Part One Hornpipe D 2014-11-03 2014-11-03
Sourwood Mountain, Sourwood Medley Part One Reel or Breakdown A 2014-10-13 2014-10-13
Sugar in the Gourd, Sourwood Medley Part Three Reel or Breakdown A 2014-10-13 2014-10-13
Turkey in the Straw, Turkey Medley Part One Reel or Breakdown G 2014-10-28 2014-10-28