Archie Lee

by David Bennett                                                                              November 2014

[Note: this dulcimentary was last updated 15 November 2014. Continue to check back periodically as I may very well get some new material. If you have anything you’d like to contribute let me know. ]

The first time I heard the name “Archie Lee” was when Karen & I went to the Archie Lee Memorial Dulcimer Festival a few years back. This is an annual event sponsored by the Ala-sippi Dulcimer Association each October. It used to be held at the Tishomingo State Park in Mississippi, on the Natchez Parkway, but has moved to Fulton, Mississippi.

The first few times I attended this event I didn’t know a thing about who Archie Lee was. All I knew was that since a dulcimer festival was named after him Archie Lee must have been an important person in local and regional dulcimer lore with an interesting background, and as I learned, he was.  So, with my interest in mountain dulcimer history and access to the Internet I set off to learn all I could about Archie Lee…

 Archie Laine Lee

July 26, 1920 – September 4, 2001

Archie Lee was born in Clinton, Kentucky and lived for a time in Albany, Kentucky, near the Kentucky-Tennessee border.  Over the course of his life Archie also lived in Ocala, Florida; Memphis, Tennessee; Red Bay & Russellville, Alabama; and San Antonio, Texas.

In the early 1940s, prior to going into the Army, Archie played a comedic character named “Little Clifford” on a popular radio program, Renfro Valley Barn Dance. More about this later in this article. 

During World War II, Archie served in the Army as a corporal and he was awarded a Purple Heart.

Archie and his wife Annie lived for a time in Red Bay, Alabama, which is right on the Mississippi state line. Archie was the editor of the Red Bay News and was known by the locals as “Old Arch.” Readers of the paper looked forward to his weekly homespun philosophy in his column, “Archways.

From at least 1955 through 1958, Archie performed at the Florida Folk Festival held at the Stephen Foster Memorial in White Springs, Florida. At these festivals, Archie played his grandmother’s dulcimer that has an 1817 date on it.

For a while Archie was president of the Ala-Sippi Dulcimer Association. He was also active in the Southern Appalachian Dulcimer (SADA) club in the Birmingham, Alabama area as well as being involved with clubs in the Huntsville area.

Not long before Archie’s death in 2001, Archie and Annie moved to San Antonio, Texas, to be near their son. Archie and Annie are both buried in the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio, Texas.

Here is a video of Archie playing his dulcimer:

In the photo gallery below click on the first photo then right arrow “>” to advance to next photo. Press the esc key to exit the photo gallery.

The following video link is really just audio though as it plays it does display the name of the song and the date Archie performed it. This link plays songs of Archie’s performances from 1955-1958 at the Florida Folk Festival held at the Stephen Foster Memorial in White Springs, Florida:

 

Lack of pen didn’t stop reporting

September 7, 2013
By Nina Keenam, Andalusia Star News
 
There I was sitting next to a column in the making. And I was unprepared. No purse, no pen, no notepad. It was time to improvise. I borrowed a pen and moved everything off my placemat so I could make notes on it. Then I turned to guitarist, dulcimer player and newspaper columnist Archie Lee. “Tell me about yourself,” I said to the man who had played Little Clifford on the Renfroe Valley Barn Dance in the early 1940s.
 

I found myself sitting next to the amiable Mr. Lee at a meal attended by close to one hundred dulcimer players, spouses and friends during the 1991 Southern Appalachian Dulcimer Festival. The people who play the delightful musical instrument called the lap dulcimer are a lot like Methodists. (Well, some are Methodists.) No matter their denominations, they like to get together and they like to eat. We had gathered in the restaurant at Tannehill Historic State Park following the final festival performance.

A column topic seldom just sits down beside me. I could not pass up the opportunity. I had to interview him. I had heard the Renfroe Valley Barn Dance on the radio when I was a child. Archie told me that he did pantomime on the radio and people came to performances to see what he looked like. “Aunt Idy,” a blues singer, who acted country on her role in the show, scolded him over such antics as eating goldfish and Aunt Idy’s hat. He claimed he landed the role for his comedy act because of his skinny legs.

Lee’s dulcimer connection was part of his heritage. His grandmother left him one, but at the time, it meant nothing to him. When he heard a dulcimer recital at the University of Kentucky by a Dr. Grimes of Nashville, it piqued his interest in the instrument. He pulled his grandmother’s dulcimer out of the attic and discovered it was dated 1817. When he told me about it, he said it was the oldest authenticated dulcimer in existence. Mr. Lee showed it to the audience during his performance at the festival that year. I later got a close look at it. Since he already played the guitar, I assume that it must have been easy for him to quickly learn to coax sweet sounds out of that dulcimer.

Years back when the Lees moved to Alabama, they could not find any dulcimer players. As time passed, dulcimer groups started up. He told me he belonged to six and was president of the annual Alasippi Dulcimer Association Festival held at Tishomingo (Mississippi) State Park.

Folks who live in the Red Bay area of Alabama knew Lee as “Old Arch.” They looked forward to his weekly homespun philosophy in his column, “Archways,” in the Red Bay News.

I do not know when Mr. Lee died, but he apparently endeared himself to dulcimer enthusiasts. They remember him through participation in the Archie Lee Memorial Dulcimer Festival at Tisimingo every October. [Source: http://www.andalusiastarnews.com/2013/09/07/lack-of-pen-didnt-stop-reporting/ ]

Archie Lee and band

Note by Archie Lee, Dulcimer Players News, Summer 1985 Issue Vol. III Number 3, page 5.

Dear DPN:

It’s a long way back when you’re banged up badly. It takes surgery, medication, physical therapy and a lot of good old TLC. My wife Anne and I have come a long way, but we’re still a long way from home, following our three-car collision last summer. We both had dislocated hips, broken ribs, cuts, bruises. etc.; and we each had some other broken bones of our own, with Anne getting the worst of it. Thank heaven I could use both hands. You’ll see why.

The first week or so were spent with the surgery and medications mostly, but from that point on the boredom and discomfort from the traction set in. A dulcimer played a big part in my therapy, starting about then; and I’m sure it helped Anne a lot, too. If I’d never had any benefit from having been brought up in dulcimer country and playing one from the time of my last two years of college up to that point, it would still have been worth all the effort of trying to control that picking hand, telling folk what it was, repeating that and then spelling it out. Dulcimer therapy did a LOT for us.

Had I not been numbered among the dulcimer pickers of our beloved “Ala-Sippi,” it would have been much different, I know. But, there it was, time for the first annual dulcimer festival at Meridianville, just a few miles up the road from Huntsville and the hospital where they took us in Decatur, AL. All our friends from the Southern Appalachian Dulcimer Association and the Ala-Sippi Dulcimer Association were invited and most of them were going.

It was natural that they should stop in and see us on the way up that Saturday. Martha Jean Crain and her mother. Mildred, of Dolomite, AL brought with them a nice looking walnut dulcimer. I finally was persuaded to pick it a little there among all my wires, pulleys, etc. I soon saw I really wasn’t too sick to do so, although I’d have said so beforehand, perhaps.

After a nice visit, they started to leave and I handed the instrument to them. “No. We want you to have it. – said Martha Jean.

I couldn’t believe my ears, but after objecting rather weakly to their giving us such an expensive gift, we told them so long with tears in our eyes. They’d said they couldn’t sell it because the fingerboard had slipped and was not exactly in the center. I know they could have, though. It could be off nearly one-eighth of an inch, but doesn’t show at all.

Every day, regardless of how much I was hurting or how bored and tired I felt, I managed to play that instrument a bit: and every day it lifted my spirits. By the time I got home six weeks after the accident, I was playing better than I’d ever played and knew more tunes. It also made me some friends in the hospital that I’d never have had otherwise.

We’ve all perhaps quoted the line: “Music hath charm to soothe the savage beast,” but I mean it more now. Since taking an early semi-retirement. I’ve been taking my dulcimer more seriously than ever. I hope to be meeting some more of you pickers: for if I didn’t know it before my dulcimer therapy, I certainly know now that you’re a very special breed of people.

 Archie L. Lee
Red Bay. AL
 [Source: http://issuu.com/dulcimerplayersnewsinc/docs/120823173715-9a3ab6e9e05540d8a1331a5579a84cac]
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

[Authors note: At the risk of creating a controversy when no controversy exists, that I know of,  my attempt is to head off any real controversy as dates and history can at times be contentious.  Regarding the information below about the 1817 date given for the mountain dulcimer Archie inherited from his grandmother I want to state upfront that I have never personally seen this mountain dulcimer, and even if I had, I am neither a mountain dulcimer historian nor expert, therefore I cannot, with any authority, comment on the validity of the 1817 date one way or the other. I use the 1817 date exclusively in this dulcimentary as that is the date given consistently over time by Archie Lee. I acknowledge some folk may think the 1817 date might possibly be relative to something else or it could conceivably be 1877 instead of 1817, I have no way of knowing. The 1817 date, I think, is not out of the realm of possibility considering that it is only 15 years older than another dulcimer that is dated around 1832. So in this light, my main interest here is to tell Archie Lee’s story as I have learned it from Archie himself from the videos and audio above, and from his writings as well as from his son, and others who personally knew Archie.  Again, my intent here is not to make the case for, nor debunk the possibility, that the date for the mountain dulcimer is indeed 1817. I suspect that no one will ever know for sure on this side of heaven and so we will have to rely on the information from Archie as he understood it from his grandmother and what appears to be written on the actual instrument. It is unquestionably a very old Appalachian dulcimer ~~David Bennett]

 The following article was printed in Dulcimer Players News (DPN) Fall 1985, Vol. II, No. 4, page 15 and was also printed in The Story of the Dulcimer by Ralph Lee Smith, 1986, Crying Creek Publishers, Appendix E, pages 89-90:

Grandma’s Dulcimer

Archie Lee
Red Bay, AL

It wasn’t easy getting Grandma to play the old family heirloom mountain Archie Lee07dulcimer. All the days of my childhood in south-central Kentucky I can remember its being taken down from the top of the tall cherry secretary only on three or four occasions.

It was a great treat for all of us when Grandma took the instrument down and played one or two old fiddle tunes. Grandma didn’t know any tunes except dance tunes, I feel certain, and she didn’t feel they were the sort of music a Christian lady like her should be playing.

My younger sister and a cousin of the same age would pester Grandma until they wore her resistance away. Finally she would give in and play. Usually nobody heard her but those two girls, but, thank heaven, a couple of times I got in on the performance too.

Just what she played, I’m not sure. I do remember two tunes that were played almost every time – Bonaparte’s Retreat and Sweet Sixteen. Sweet Sixteen is more commonly known as Soldier’s Joy today. She sang that one, ‘I’ll be 16 in ’92. (repeat, repeat), I love somebody but I won’t say who.”

I’m now the proud possessor of not only the old cherry secretary, but also the dulcimer which is also made of cherry. It’s teardrop-shaped and the top is made from one piece of wood. The fingerboard is raised and hollow like modern ones, without any cutouts under it, with two small soundholes between frets.

Although Grandpa Lee was a carpenter in the off-season between crops, he did not make this instrument. It was made at least one generation before he came along. The date on the back is 1817. The maker, we think, was Soll Guffey of Rowena, Kentucky on the Cumberland River some ten miles from where Grandma and her second husband, Jesse Thrasher, lived in adjoining Clinton County. KY. They called the place Puny Ridge, not completely without reason.

The name, Guffey, was originally McGuffey or possibly MacGuffey. It was Scotch-Irish, as were a majority of the names of the folk in the Cumberland Foothills.

Most of this information comes from a faded inscription on the back of the instrument. Since it was written in artistic, but hard-to-read Spencerian penmanship, I can’t be too certain about some of the things written in small print.

The instrument itself has changed color considerably, I’m sure. The top and sides are as dark as most walnut, but the back was not varnished. After giving it a lot of thought and consulting a few people I trusted, I finally decided to remove the several layers of crackled varnish, which improved the tone as my consultants had suggested it would. That tone, incidentally, is not bad at all, but a couple of the staple-type frets under the melody string do need repositioning.

This is the lightest full-sized instrument I’ve ever picked up, due partly to the fact that it is so old. But, in addition, it has no bracing whatever inside.

How was I chosen to inherit Grandma’s prize possession? Several other grandchildren rated it as much as I, but I happened to be the only one who was very musical. One song I sang for Grandma with my guitar wrapped it up for me. It was a song I learned from Bradley Kincaid, who was heard every day on WLW in Cincinnati when I was a 10-year-old. Methodist Pie was my magic password. I still sing it at area festivals from time in time.

Archie Lee is president of the Ala-Sippi Dulcimer Association and a regular al Birmingham. Huntsville and Tuscaloosa festivals

Source: http://issuu.com/dulcimerplayersnewsinc/docs/120823173721-9ce667d75f66416a83ce1ddda6271ff3]
 
Here are some new photos of Archie Lee’s dulcimer that his grandmother gave him sent to me from his son, Laine. Click on thumbnails for larger image:

Regarding the mountain dulcimer Archie received from his grandmother, Archie’s son, Laine Lee, told me the following:

“I often heard him explain that he had never encountered another mountain dulcimer besides his own that could be rotated 180 degrees to generate a tonic minor triad. He mentions that property in the Wayfaring Stranger segment you linked, but I can’t tell you whether there were any other changes in technique that were required to play those minor key songs. That’s one thing I wish I had talked to him about in more detail.”

Ralph Lee Smith corresponded with Archie Lee in 1986 wrote in his book The Story of the Dulcimer (now out of print) regarding Archie’s dulcimer: 

 “Although the instrument was apparently made in Kentucky, it belongs to the Virginia style and tradition… If Archie’s dulcimer was made in 1817, it pushes the Virginia tradition back some fifteen years from the instrument made by John Scales. One should presumably allow an additional period of time for the Virginia tradition to migrate to Kentucky by way of an early settler. We thus find ourselves approaching the turn of the century in our backward quest. Our inquiry seems to end where it began — in the mists of the 18th Century Appalachian frontier.”

 Ralph Lee Smith devotes much more analysis to this dulcimer in his book referenced above.
 

Archie Lee19

Karen and I paid a visit to the Red Bay Museum as part of our research on Archie Lee and visited with Scotty Kennedy. Scotty went to school with Archie’s son, Laine.

The Red Bay Museum is worth the trip if you are ever in the northwest Alabama or northeast Mississippi area. The museum has everything from local artifacts to an extensive Tammy Wynette collection.

 On display at the Red Bay Museum is a photo of Archie Lee in his capacity as editor of the Red Bay News along with a mountain dulcimer donated by Archie’s son. The dulcimer on display is a fine instrument but in case you were wondering it is not the dulcimer that once belonged to Archie’s grandmother.  A wooden dulcimer case made by Hollis Long is part of the exhibit. Also on display are some carved wooden roosters made by Archie and sold by Annie at local festivals.

The museum is open on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1:30-4:00 PM. For more info see http://www.redbaymuseum.org

In the photo gallery below click on the first photo then right arrow “>” to advance to next photo. Press the esc key to exit the photo gallery.

Archie Lee got his entertainment start during “Radio’s Golden Age.”

Back when I was growing up, particularly in the 1970s, variety shows on television were popular though they have pretty much faded away.  Variety shows were made up of a “variety” of acts of musical performances and short comedy skits.  The variety format made its way from Victorian era stage to radio to television.  (source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Variety_show)

As already noted, the genesis of the television variety shows was Vaudeville , a theatrical genre of variety entertainment made up of a series of separate, unrelated acts grouped together on a common bill. It was popular from the 1880s until the early 1930s when it was declining, presumably because of the popularity of motion pictures and radio programs.

[As  Vaudeville declined] some of the most prominent vaudevillians continued the migration to cinema, though others found that the gifts that had so delighted live audiences did not translate well into different media. Some performers fashioned careers out of combining live performance, radio and film roles. Vaudeville influenced the succeeding media of film, radio, and television. [Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vaudeville%5D

One of the many popular radio shows and one that Archie Lee became a part of was the Renfro Valley Barn Dance.  The Renfro Valley Barn Dance was a country music stage and radio show originally carried by WLW-AM in Cincinnati, Ohio on Saturday nights. It debuted on October 9, 1937, from the Cincinnati Music Hall and moved to the Memorial Auditorium in Dayton, Ohio. 

The show later moved to larger quarters near Mt. Vernon, Kentucky in November 1939 and was carried by WHAS-AM in Louisville, the NBC Radio Network and WCKY-AM in Cincinnati.
 
The program is no longer broadcast, but a live show bearing its name takes place on Saturday nights at the Renfro Valley Entertainment Center in Renfro Valley, Kentucky. A sister program, the Renfro Valley Gatherin’ (established in 1943), continues to air. [Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Renfro_Valley_Barn_Dance%5D

All this serves as an introduction to Archie Lee’s next article.

Delaine Chafin sent me the following articles that Archie Lee wrote around 1985:

DULCIMORE FOLKLORE

RADIO: HOW WE GOT LIKE WE ARE      (Part 1 of 2)
By Archie Lee

Much as I’d like to claim the honors, I’m afraid my own birthday was not the greatest and most far-reaching one of the year 1920. I shared my nativity with commercial radio. It was in 1920 that the first commercial broadcast was made. The Long Island real estate firm that put it on the air was swamped with business and the race was on!

Nobody had a pattern to go by, but they all knew this was something big, and they all thought they could be successful with it, too. And many of them were.  Some, of course, were on their way to a long, hard road of hand-to-mouth existence.  For quite a few, that was all there ever was. For others, the road of hardship finally led to success in their later years. Some rose and fell, of course, but still had lots of memories for their old age.

You’d have to say, I suppose, that your ole scribe fell into that latter category, more or less, without ever tasting real hardship or financial success in any great degree. I DID, however, reach a sort celebrity status, and had a feeling of some success in the field of radio entertainment.

By the time I reached my teens, a number of things were established in radio. Country and folk music- then known as “hillbilly” or “cowboy”, had picked up a large following all over the country. Pioneers of that field were WES, Chicago; WLW, Cincinnati; WGY, Schenectady, N.Y.; WSM, Nashville; and a few more. I knew of these most. My favorite station then was WLS and the National Barn Dance.

While WSM was finding Uncle Dave Macon and the Crook Brothers Band, perhaps; WLS found Uncle Ezra, the Hoosier Hotshots, Lula Belle and Scotty Wiseman, and a group whose development eventually crossed my path. But WLW, with its 500,000 watt transmitter, first slapped me in the kisser with the singing and guitar picking of Bradley Kincaid. (Gosh! It’s hard to believe he celebrated his 90th birthday recently!)

Because of Bradley and his renditions of “Barbara Allen”, “Methodist Pie”, “Little Whitewashed Chimney”, and many, many others, my folks were persuaded to order that $9.98 guitar with the palm trees painted on it, from Sears, Roebuck. Like the first verse of “Old Chisholm Trail” I might have said: “On a 10-dollar horse and a 40-dollar saddle, I’m off to punch them long-horned cattle!”

Not many people enter directly into big-time TV today, without some preparation of some kind; and neither did folk go into big- time radio back then without some. But there were no schools for it, so we got our experience wherever we could find it. As is sometimes the case today, some experience could be gotten in school. There was more of it back then, as the Friday afternoon program was an institution at almost all of them and most had a morning chapel program at least once a week. Singers and players surely were called upon to do their thing. Some were even bold enough to call upon those in charge.

When you felt confident enough to “turn pro” there were the pie suppers and box suppers at the one-room schools. Since my dad auctioned off pies and boxes, I got in on a lot of those. Not only did I get the chance to conquer my timidity by performing publicly, but I got to play with some good oldtime musicians and learn lots of tunes, jokes, and lyrics I could use later.

Some of the fiddlers I played with at pie suppers played for square dances, too, and before long I made my debut at that. Sitting and banging on two chords for 20 minutes at a time wasn’t too exciting, but the partying was. Before I got a chance at radio, I’d already been playing for round dances, too, with what we called an orchestra. I did most of the solo vocals there, as well. All of this experience would have been invaluable to most radio musicians, but I didn’t go into radio as a musician, but as a comedian.   Well, I’d done a little bit of comedy.

Things don’t really change all that much, you know. It’s still WHO you know that’s important. And I had a cousin who had gone through a process similar to what I’d had with the pie supper circuit, only he’d sung gospel music. Like his dad and his dad’s two brothers (one of whom was my granddad), Reual Thomas had finally made it as a regular on the Renfro Valley Barn Dance with his 76 Quartet. When an opening came up in a comedy act he recommended me to John Lair, owner of the show, and the tourist attraction in the central Kentucky area (and former MC of those Cumberland Ridge Runners up at WLS).

Aunt Idy and Little Clifford were the headliners at Renfro. This old country woman (who was anything but that in real life) brought in her big, dumb, overgrown young’un to the barndance each Saturday night, and he did things like eating the decorations off her hat, or bowing and ripping his pants.  He was seldom heard on the air, but the laughter and screams WERE. Many fans came to the barndance or to our personal appearances just to see what in the world Little Clifford looked like, and what it was he did that was so funny.

Reual had seen me in some school plays, etc., and thought I could be funny. So John and Idy (Margaret Chapman) decided to give me an audition. Apparently he had left it up to her. On a Sunday afternoon in 1940, I went with Reual to her home in Berea. “Pull up your pants, and let me see your legs”, she commanded. Little Clifford wore short pants, you see. Well, he’s not too fat, but maybe we can fatten him up some”, and we play Defiance, Ohio; Wednesday Sandusky (on Lake Erie), and Thursday we’ll play Madisonville, KY”, she explained.

My pay would be $25.00 a week, with $1.50 per night when we stayed in a hotel. There were very few motels then, and no interstate highways, as we know them now. There was no hotel between Sandusky and Madisonville, because we drove about 20 hours and just got there in time to wash up and eat before the show. I was the relief driver for Gene Cobb, an old minstrel man who knew everything about show business. We became the closest of friends, despite the difference in our age…….

To be continued in the next issue………..

DULCIMORE FOLKLORE

RADIO: HOW WE GOT LIKE WE ARE  (Part 2 of 2)
by Archie Lee

At Renfro Valley, and later in handling bookings for the VFW in my hometown of Albany, KY, I got to meet most of the oldtime country (“hillbilly”) entertainers at one time or another.

I was most closely associated at Renfro Valley with Homer and Jethro, Gene Cobb, Slim Miller, Ernie Lee (Cornelison), the Coon Creek Girls, Granny Harper, and Aunt Idy, of course. At times I roomed with Billy Sheets and his trained dog, Rex, and Harmonica Bill Russell. Aytchie Burns, Jethro’s bass-playing brother, also was a roommate at times, but Gene Cobb was the most frequent to room and eat with me.

I did the Little Clifford act with three of the above, Idy, Granny, and Homer (after Idy died and Jethro had been drafted). Also, I did it with one other you wouldn’t know. There had been a few other Little Cliffords before me, but there were none afterward. I was the last. When I left to enter the army in 1943 that was it. (I gave ‘40 as the year I started at Renfro in the last column, but it was really 1941, I think). I stayed at Renfro about three months after Idy’s death, going on the road with a tent show, which was very well received.

That experience with the tent show was worth a lot to me, not so much from a material standpoint, as from the satisfaction it gave my stage-struck heart. I was convinced – and still an – that I was born a generation too soon. I should have lived in the days of circuses and vaudeville. That’s what that show was – a combination of the two. I was fascinated by the way the canvas crew could move from one town to the next every day, sleep in the trucks, eat at the cookwagon, and seem to stay healthy. There WAS a lot of turnover in personnel, though.

Our little cast changed little in the tent, and we got to feel like family. I rode with Homer Haynes and his wife, the former Elizabeth Coleman – singer of sweet country songs, and with Lily and Daisy of the Coon Creek Girls. In fact, Lily and Glen Pennington, whom she later married, got together at this time. Glen sang bass with my cousin, Reual’s, quartet, and later built a second barn back at the – valley and provided more modern country music for those who loved it. Their son became a part of the popular country rock band, EXILE. I had a couple of extra jobs around the tent. I took tickets for the main show and hawked tickets for the “concert” or after show put on by the tent owners.

The earlier experience on the road for Renfro Valley are some of my greatest memories, too, of course. One can hardly help liking the attention we got from the fans. And I didn’t have to earn mine. The name was already established, and I started signing autographs after the first show, with few people ever knowing I was not the same fellow they’d seen before. Some probably thought I lost some weight.  And, they were nice in so many ways!! Some even took us home with them for dinner. We got to see a lot of other shows free, and just about all the movies.

The places we played were mostly movie theatres, I suppose, but there was a lot of other experience, too. Finding a place to put on my costume wasn’t always easy. Then, again, we sometimes played a house that had been built for live entertainers, and got to enjoy luxurious dressing rooms. But, perhaps the most exciting thing about my whole tour of duty at Renfro was getting to meet so many really big name performers who’d come backstage to visit, It’s been too long to recall more than half of those stars, I guess, but I can recall meeting Red Foley, Whitey Ford (the Duke of Paducah), Merle Travis, Uncle Dave Macon, Cousin Emmy, Bill Monroe, Archie Campbell, Bill Carlisle, Lasses and Honey, Monk and Sam, Minnie Pearl, String Bean – the list could go on and on. In later years, I met almost every major artist at the Grand Ole Opry up to about 1950. And entertainers are just about the most likeable people you’d ever want to meet – at least, they were back then.

Show folks are colorful, as if I had to tell you. Some took their color with them to the grave. Take my partner, Aunt Idy, for instance. She was buried in a bright red dress, and for funeral music Homer, Jethro, Slim Miller, and Aytchie Burns (I think it was) played and sang the country hit of the day, “Sweethearts or Strangers”. Remember that one? I do, and I hope to bring you more of my golden days of country memories in later columns.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Lisa Haug, whose father was a cousin of Archie Lee’s, has graciously sent me the following information/article and the accompanying photos:

The Ed in this story is my step uncle.  His name was Edwin Campbell.  I do genealogy that is how I can put it all together.  Now the picture of Edwin Campbell and Archie Lee where they opened a Radio & record shop, I don’t know much about it.  I took the picture from my grandmother’s book “Things I Remember About Clinton County” by Ella Andrew Nunn.  Ella was Edwin Campbell’s mother.  Ella married Blaine Granville Campbell first then she married William Harvey Nunn about 1925 which is my grandfather who owned the Newspaper in town and I think what I just sent you was from a newspaper clipping that my mother had saved.  My grandmother was 92 or 93 when she wrote the book and died at 94. 

The following, referring to Edwin Campbell, is reprinted from the Red Bay Ala. News, written by the editor, Archie Lee, a native of Clinton County, KY. [Edwin Campbell died in April 1980, so we know this article was written after that date]:

DIFFERENT AS DAY and night, my old buddy, Ed and I didn’t seem to be able to go our own ways for a long time. Oh, since 1950 I doubt if we’ve spent half a day together in all, but the bond was still there after all those years. It really started when we finished high school at Albany in ’38. We’d been friends long before that, but not close ones. In fact, his mother was one of my mom’s best friends when they were young. But in the fall of ’38, I enrolled at Western (Ky. State Teachers College, it was then) and he was a few days ahead of me at the Bowling Green Business University in the same city. Knowing hardly anyone else in that strange place, it was quite natural that we should spend a lot of time together.

DIFFERENT PEAS, SAME POD

WHEN I DROPPED OUT of school in ’40, Ed also, was back in Albany, Ky. We shared a common avid interest in Indian relics, which we surface-hunted together, and playing the same kind of swing and country music on guitar. We even formed a small music group and played the pop songs of the day with some more good ol’ buddies. Yet, with all our shared interests and experiences, we were different, as I’ve said, especially in appearance. I was 6’2″ with my shoes on and weighed a bit more than I do now (around 220, maybe). Ed stood maybe 5’8″ and didn’t weigh a lot over 100. Our personalities were every bit that different too.

BUT, THE BOND GOT STRONGER

EXCEPT FOR that year I spent with the Renfro Valley Barn Dance, we were together almost every day and even that year we spent as much time together as possible. And the thing that halted my entertaining career brought us right back together-World War II. Being the same age, we were in the same draft call. Not only that, but we both were sent to the 83rd Infantry Division. For the next three years, plus, we were neighbors among strangers again; he in the 330th Infantry and I in the 321st Infantry, both in Cannon Company. Following the five major campaigns in Europe, he was one of the other two Albany boys out of the five that started, who came home. (At least one more who came to the 83rd as a replacement did make it.)

WHY TRY TO BUCK FATE?

WE DECIDED, I suppose, that there was no way we could avoid one another, anyhow, so we went into business together in the post-war boom years in Albany. We started with one old juke box and wound up with about a dozen and about a similar number of arcade games and some venders. Closing time at the office didn’t separate us for long, as we played music and went on dates together after hours. Many blood brothers were never half as close.

THEN THE GAP WIDENS

BY 1950, business was falling off and we had to find other sources of income. The boom was over. He’d married a neighborhood girl and a Miss Anne B. Davis, the medical technologist at the local hospital, had caught my eye. About the time I got consent to marry her and return to college, Ed went to Cleveland, Ohio, to work. We kept in touch as much as we could (without writing, which I don’t think either of us EVER did.) But he soon returned to Albany, took a job in the courthouse and later ran for and was elected circuit court clerk. Meanwhile, I’d lived in some half a dozen states, before finally settling in Franklin County, Alabama. We’d led different but similar trails, in many ways.

SIMILARITIES CONTINUE

ABOUT THE TIME I learned that I was a diabetic, Ed found that he had emphysema. Health problems got worse for each of us. I don’t know the details, but I suppose he went to the hospital around the same time I did. Two weeks later I was at home feeling so well that it was hard not to overdo while impatiently pacing the floor at home.

THE SAME DAY I returned home, they returned Ed’s once wiry body to the sweet Kentucky soil from which it came.

REST WELL, adopted brother.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Delaine Chafin reminiscing about Archie Lee at the October 20, 2012 Archie Lee Memorial Dulcimer Festival

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 Delaine Chafin wrote,

“…I have one other thing I have tried to find, it’s words to a song Archie liked to end our gigs with, a song called ( Leave E’m With A Smile ). I know the tune and play it sometimes, but a chromatic dulcimer is needed, so Hollis Long made him one. In an interview by a lady from a Mississippi TV station said on the air that Archie liked his chromatic dulcimer as much as his wooden one. It’s no trouble to see that Archie was always a comedian, everywhere he went.” 

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Special thanks to the following for providing me with much (OK, a lot) of the information in this dulcimentary:

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2 thoughts on “Archie Lee

  1. Excellent article on Archie Lee; I feel like I know him and regret that I didn’t ever get to meet him. Thanks for your “inquiring” mind!!

  2. Interesting read, the song title for the music played in video is a gospel tune called Give The World A Smile that Delaine Chafin was looking for. by the way as a new dulcimer player I love your site.

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