Fiddlin' John Carson claimed he had been born in Blue Ridge, Georgia, perhaps to make himself more attractive to his core audience. In fact, Carson was born near the town of Smyrna, Georgia. He moved to Marietta
as a boy and got work on the Marietta and North Georgia Railroad. It was while he was in Marietta that he began to take a serious interest in music in the late 1880's. He honed his talent by playing fiddle at political rallies, dances, house parties, and "fiddler's conventions" in the Marietta area.
Carson's first brush with fame came in 1913, during the Leo Frank trial
. Frank was tried and convicted of murdering Mary Phagan, a 13-year old worker in the National Pencil Factory. Carson wrote a 16 stanza ballad entitled Little Mary Phagan
, which portrayed Mary as a sweet young girl and Frank as a fiendishly evil brutalizer. Carson would play the song as boys tried to sell sheet music to the crowd for 10 cents a sheet. The song was incredibly popular and would be sung for decades after.
In 1922, at the dawn of the radio era, Fiddlin' John Carson was a Cabbagetown (Atlanta) housepainter. He requested time on WSB. Noted Georgia broadcaster Lambdin Kay granted his request and in exchange for some whiskey Fiddlin' John played "Little old Log Cabin in the Lane." He continued nearly weekly performances for the rest of the year and by May, 1923 the Atlanta Journal claimed that Carson was the most popular performer on the radio station.
An Atlanta furniture dealer named Polk C. Brockman, who also served as New York's Okeh Records local talent scout and distributor persuaded the record label to come to Atlanta to record Fiddlin' John. In a makeshift studio Carson recorded Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane
and The Old Hen Cackled and the Rooster's Going to Crow
. Ralph Peer, who produced the session, thought Fiddlin' John sounded "awful." Still, at Brockman's request, Okeh Studios produced a promotional run of 500 records, which Brockman quickly sold. The record company then produced a national run in the thousands, which also sold out. Although they did not realize it at the time, Brockman and Peer had participated in musical revolution -- Fiddlin' John Carson had just begun a commercial field known as "hillbilly music" or "old-time music."
Perhaps Carson was hitting a note with many of the "new" Atlanta residents, displaced farmers. Atlanta was at the height of a tremendous period of growth and many of the people moving to the city were Georgia farmers looking for jobs.
Carson recorded an additional 150 songs for both Okeh and Bluebird Records until 1934 and is generally credited as being the first country music performer. He was popular throughout the 1920's, when Okeh billed him as the "King of the Mountaineer Musicians." Among his noted tunes are Little old Log Cabin in the Lane
, The Farmer is the Man That Feeds Them All
, and You Will Never Miss Your Mother Until She Is Gone
Carson did venture into recorded comedy skits as well, but these have been pretty much forgotten with time. They mostly revolved around north Georgia and its moonshine business.
Fiddlin' John was accompanied by his daughter, "Moonshine Kate" in many of his performances and records. He was also accompanied by a musical group known as the Virginia Reelers, friends who would rotate in and out of the group depending on availability.