Stringin’ Along, Singin’ A Song

They hailed out of Cochran, Bleckley County, Georgia, the hamlet of Carey to be specific.   Described as a hybrid between Jimmie Rodgers and the Sons of the Pioneers, the Georgia Crackers were one of the best of a myriad of country and western groups which toured the honky tonks, barn dance halls and hay rides of the South and the Mid-West during the 1930s and 1940s.  This is the story of the Newman brothers, Hank, Slim and Bob, and their musical career.

The oldest son of Walter L. and Mary F.  Newman, Henry J. “Hank” Newman, was born in 1905.   Marion Alonzo “Slim” Newman and Robert “Bob” Newman came along in five year intervals.  Times were tough and the family moved to Hawkinsville in hopes of just  getting by.  The boys loved the sound of the guitar.  The boys saved their woeful wages earned from cropping tobacco and mail ordered a guitar.  A coin toss decided who would play first.  Hank won and became the lead guitar of “The Newman Boys.” Short in stature but tall in his vocal ability, Hank became the group leader and soloist.  Slim, described as the “matinee idol of the trio,”  played second guitar.  Bob chose the bass fiddle.  At six feet two inches tall, the youngest Newman was as tall as his instrument.  As the group clown, Bob entertained audiences with his “dead pan” humor and comedic songs.

Hank was the first to play as a professional.   After stints at WCOC in Meridian, Mississippi and at KWKH in Shreveport, Louisiana, Hank joined Slim at WRDW in Augusta, Georgia.   In 1930, Hank and Slim made the momentous choice to move north to Ohio.  The duet enjoyed successful engagements at WTAM in Cleveland before making Columbus their permanent home in 1931.  Hank and Slim toured across the Midwest under the sponsorship of Georgie Porgie Breakfast Food and Texas Crystals.   The boys spent short periods playing on radio shows in Atlanta, Ga., Charlotte, N.C., Wheeling, W. Va. and in Reading and Lancaster in Pennsylvania.    As “Hank & Slim,” the boy’s recording came in 1934 when they cut eight songs for the Vocalian label.

Bob joined the group at the age of twenty.  By the end of the 1930s, the group changed their name to the “Georgia Crackers.”   Touring through hundreds of Midwestern cities and towns, the group acquired a strong following.  Within ten years, the Newman boys became the senior group of the cadre of musical groups on WHKC, the Mutual Radio affiliate in Columbus and were often compared to the “Sons of the Pioneers,” the definitive group of the country western ilk .  The top country and western band in Ohio hired Winnie Waters as a novelty violinist and Hal Snyder as a guitarist.

Then came 1941 and World War II, and the group was forced to disband.  As the war was ending, the Newmans reunited and added Allan Myers on lead guitar and Johnnie Spies on accordion.  The late 1940s saw the acceleration of one of the most popular movie genres, the “singing cowboy pictures.”  Columbia pictures hired the “Georgia Crackers” to sing and to act in its series of Durango Kid movies. Charles Starrett starred as “The Durango Kid” in three movies with the Newmans. The boys first picture came in 1946 in “The Fighting Frontiersmen.”  The following year, the trio appeared in “South of the Chisolm Trail.”  In their final screen appearance, the Crackers appeared in “Desert Vigilante” in 1949.  The Durango Kid movies resurrected the musical careers of the Crackers.

The boys had a regular radio show on KXLA in Pasadena, California.  Slim ventured into a solo career.   After two years of studio recording sessions, the group released twelve new songs.  The boys returned to Columbus, where they appeared daily on WHKC and across the country on the Mutual Radio Network.   The Crackers remained in Ohio until 1958 when Bob’s declining health and new music styles caused the demise of the group.

Bob Newman, the songwriter of the group, was the last and perhaps the most successful Newman in his solo career.  He recorded more than two dozen songs.  One of his biggest hits was “Lonesome Truck Driver’s Blues.”  Perhaps his most famous song came to popularity in the late 1960s.    The emergence of the country music television show Hee Haw brought country music to its greatest popularity to date. Comedians Archie Campbell and Gordie Tapp and a host of guest stars appeared in between musical selections and comedy sketches with a Bob Newman classic.   That song was one of those songs many people couldn’t get out of their minds, singing it over and over again in their minds or out loud.  The chorus went, “Where oh where are you tonight?  Why did you leave me here all alone? I searched the world over and thought I found true love. You met another and Phftt you were gone.”  Bob also penned “The Leaf of Love,” which became a hit for Gene Autry.

Even before the group broke up, Hank, Slim and their wives opened a restaurant in Columbus.  Bob, moved to Phoenix, Arizona where he worked as a DJ and a trailer park manager.  The group reunited in the late 1960s for one final album.    Hank died in 1978.  Bob died fifteen months later in 1979. Slim, the last member of the group, died in 1982.

This is the story of a group of young boys from Bleckley County, Georgia, who loved to sing. During the tough times of the Depression, they brought  joy and laughter to thousands of their fans across the country.

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