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Backstage at the Georgia Music Hall of Fame: Hall of Fame Collection Goes Digital

For Georgia Music Magazine.

The curatorial staff at the Georgia Music Hall of Fame is in the midst of a project that will digitize a significant portion of the more than 30,000 items in the museum’s archives. Among those items are photographs, letters, sound recordings, oral histories, posters and videos that bring to life the story of Georgia’s rich musical history and illustrate just how the musicians, writers, producers, engineers, promoters and even lawyers of the state have shaped American music and influenced popular culture worldwide.

“We hope that by completing this digitization project, we will make the archives at the museum more accessible to the public, especially to those who are interested in delving beyond the limits of a tour through the exhibits,” says museum curator Jared Wright. “We hope to make the Zell Miller Center for Georgia Music Studies a hub of musical knowledge not just for visitors, but in the online community as well.”

Among the artifacts recently digitized are candid photos of a young Johnny Jenkins-Macon’s left-handed guitar wizard whose early band, the Pinetoppers, featured none other than Otis Redding. It was with this band that Redding would travel to Stax Recording Studios for the first time, at the end of the session recording “These Arms of Mine,” which would go on to be his first major hit. The digitization of oral histories also unearthed an interesting interview with Jim Haney, notable for his guitar work with Patsy Cline’s band, who shares many memories of her rise to national stardom, including listening to pre-release tapes of the song, “I Fall To Pieces.” Haney moved to Georgia after Cline’s tragic death in a plane crash in 1963 at the age of 30.

Another nugget is a rare copy of the song “Don’t Knock Elvis,” in which 1987 inductee Felton Jarvis, who produced the majority of Presley’s releases in the ’60s and ’70s, defends his friend in song, saying that Elvis is a “regular guy” who “respects all people” and would “help and feed you .. . if you were blind, sick and hungry.” Jarvis, an Atlanta native, felt Elvis had taken a hit in the press for what many viewed as youth-corrupting stage performances.

Thanks to a loan from Georgia fiddler Randall Franks, the curatorial staff has recently completed the digitization of materials relating to the career of 1991 Hall of Fame inductee, Joseph ‘Cotton’ Carrier, a pioneering Atlanta broadcaster, songwriter and promoter.

Photographs, postcards and letters document Carrier’s travels throughout the western United States in 1937 and ’38, including a trip to Yellowstone National Park and a stint in Washington state picking fruit and “doing anything that needs doing” to keep at work, including filling in as a musical guest on local radio stations.

Letters also chronicle Carrier’s return to his home state of Kentucky, where in Hopkinsville he joined the band Goober and His Kentuckians, which played regularly on radio station WHOP, and met his future wife, Jane, the band’s accordionist known as “Little Sister Lillie.” At the time Jane was married to Goober, whom Carrier referred to as a “dirty rot” in a letter to home dated May 14, 1941, but she and Carrier wed within a year. They traveled together to Atlanta to appear on WSB’s new Barn Dance program, with Cotton as master of ceremonies and fiddle player and Jane as accordion player for the Hoot Owl Hollow Girls. Though service in WWII briefly interrupted Carrier’s musical career, he picked up right where he left off after his discharge from the military. Hand-typed travel and financial logs meticulously detail hundreds of shows throughout the southeast, where Carrier and his band appeared with artists such as Lefty Frizzell, Ernest Tubb, Hank Snow, Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs, Chet Atkins, Ray Price and Webb Pierce. In one letter, he boasts of outdrawing Bill Monroe at a particular venue.

Later, Carrier would try his hand as a songwriter for the newly formed Lowery Publishing Company, where he composed the company’s first hit, “I Have But One Goal,” recorded by the Smith Brothers in 1953. In 1963, he traveled to England with Lowery artist and Georgian Tommy Roe on a tour that included the Beatles as the opening act.

“Carrier’s story is integrally intertwined with the history of Georgia’s music,” Wright says. “It’s fantastic to see how these stories unfold and relate to each other as we search through the archives.” The Georgia Music Hall of Fame will begin making a portion of its archives available to researchers online in 2011.

[For Georgia Music Magazine, 2013]