The Leake County Revelers were an old-time string band from the 1920s and 1930s. Its members were Will Gilmer (1897–1960), fiddle; R. O. Moseley (1884–1931), mandolo (a banjo-mandolin hybrid); Jim Wolverton (1895–1969), five-string banjo; and Dallas Jones (1889–1985), guitar. Only Wolverton was actually from Leake County. All the other members lived in or near Sebastapol in Scott County.
The band formed in 1926 and went on to record forty-four 78s for OKeh and Columbia Records between 1927 and 1930. The band does not seem to have toured or recorded as widely as contemporaries such as Narmour and Smith, who recorded as far afield as New York and San Antonio; most of the Revelers’ recordings were made in Atlanta and New Orleans.
Despite remaining close to home, the Revelers were probably the most sophisticated and distinct of all the era’s old-time string bands. Discovered by H. C. Speir, a Jackson record store owner and talent scout better known for finding blues artists, the Revelers played tunes with relaxed, easy tempos and complex vocal arrangements. This style set their recordings apart from other string band 78s of the era, which tend toward raucous breakdowns and field-holler-style singing. In addition to such standards as “Leather Britches” and “Listen to the Mockingbird,” they recorded an extensive array of ragtime blues, vaudeville tunes, and waltzes.
Gilmer, the most restless and best-traveled of the Revelers, spent time in Texas, where he learned “Wednesday Night Waltz,” a compelling but oddball tune that includes sections in both waltz and breakdown timing. It became the Revelers’ best-selling record, topping 195,000 copies sold by 1931, and one of the best-selling string band recordings of all time. Their works have been rereleased by Document and County Sales (and included in many compilation packages), and they have a large audience even today. Contemporary bands play “Monkey in a Dog Cart” and other Revelers’ tunes as part of a general revival of Mississippi fiddle tunes.
In the 1930s the Revelers were recruited to play at whistle stops and schoolhouses as part of one of Huey Long’s Louisiana gubernatorial campaigns. Frank Buckley Walker, a talent scout for Columbia Records, remembered, “They would attract the crowd, and when they had the crowd there, Huey used to speak to them about how wonderful a governor he’d make and he was elected hands down. But it was really the Leake County Revelers that won the election.”
Under the name Leake County String Band, descendants of the band members provided music for the 1976 movie Ode to Billie Joe.
- Eugene Chadbourne, AllMusic.com website, www.allmusic.com
- Mississippi Country Music Trail website, www.mscountrymusictrail.org
- Mississippi String Bands, vols. 1 and 2 (1998), liner notes
- Frank Buckley Walker, interview, Johnson’s Depot website, www.johnsonsdepot.com