“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Fries in Grayson County, Virginia — The American South (Mid-Atlantic)


Center of Early Recorded Country Music

Fries Marker image. Click for full size.
By J. J. Prats, May 26, 2013
1. Fries Marker
Inscription. On 10 Dec. 1923, millhand Henry Whitter of Fries, Virginia, recorded nine songs in New York City for OKeh Records. Released early in 1924, the coupling of “Wreck on the Southern Old 97” and “Lonesome Road Blues” became one of the first successful country recordings. Whitter recorded more than 100 songs from 1923 to 1930. Whitter’s success inspired others who had worked with him at the Fries Textile Plant to travel to New York and audition. Ernest V. “Pop” Stoneman made his first recordings in Sept. 1924, eventually exceeding Whitter’s output. Likewise, Kelly Harrell traveled north in 1925 and continued to record throughout the 1920s.
Erected 2002 by Department of Historic Resources. (Marker Number UE-6.)
Location. 36° 42.992′ N, 80° 58.9′ W. Marker is in Fries, Virginia, in Grayson County. Marker is at the intersection of West Main Street (County Route 1001) and Scenic Road and Ivanhoe Road (Virginia Route 94), on the left when traveling west on West Main Street. Click for map. If you are arriving at Fries on Route 94, it is at today’s entrance to the town, on the right. Marker is in this post office area: Fries VA 24330, United States of America.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers
New River Train Song and Fries Markers image. Click for full size.
By J. J. Prats, May 26, 2013
2. New River Train Song and Fries Markers
are within 6 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. “New River Train” Song (here, next to this marker); a different marker also named Fries (approx. 0.4 miles away); First Court of Grayson County (approx. 3.9 miles away); First County Seat (approx. 4.4 miles away); The Railroad: Lifeline to the World (approx. 4.6 miles away); Galax (approx. 4.6 miles away); Galax: Home of Traditional Mountain Music (approx. 4.8 miles away); a different marker also named Galax (approx. 5.2 miles away). Click for a list of all markers in Fries.
More about this marker. This marker replaced an earlier marker at this location with the same number, title and subtitle. It read “On March 1, 1928, in New York City, Henry Whitter of Fries, Virginia, recorded two songs ‘The Wreck of the Old Southern 97’ and ‘Lonesome Road Blues.’ These were among the first successful country recordings by a country artist. His records inspired many other local artists to record, including E. V. ‘Pop’ Stoneman and Kelly Harrell. All the men were employees of the Fries Textile Plant.”

Henry Witter is featured on the marker pages for markers UE-2 and UE-7 nearby. This marker page features Pop Stoneman and Kelly Harrell.
Also see . . .
1. Pop Stoneman (1893–1968). This Wikipedia entry includes a photograph of Mr. Stoneman. “Born in a log cabin in Monarat (Iron Ridge), Carroll County, Virginia, near what would later become Galax, Stoneman was left motherless at age three and was raised by his father and three musically inclined cousins, who taught him the instrumental and vocal traditions of Blue Ridge mountain culture. He became a singer and songwriter, and proficient musician on the guitar, autoharp, harmonica, clawhammer banjo, and jaw harp.” (Submitted on June 6, 2013.) 

2. Ernest V Stoneman: John Hardy. MP3 file from a 78 RPM record on the Internet Archive.

John Hardy was a wont and a reckless man
And he carried two guns every day.
He killed two men in Shawnee town
And tomorrow will be hung, poor boy,
Tomorrow will be hung.

John Hardy was a reckless gambling man,
He lived in a gambling town.
And now he’s been on to be hung,
For he shot another gambler down, poor boy,
He shot another gambler down.

John Hardy had a wife and she lived in the west
She always dressed in blue
And when she heard of Johnny’s death
She said “John Hardy I was true to you, poor boy,
John Hardy I was true to you.”

Friends and relations were standing around
Said, “John, what have you done?”
“I killed two men in Shawnee town
And I’m standing on my hanging ground, poor boy,
Standing on my hanging ground.”

They took John Hardy to the river side
He’s willing to be baptized.
The land where dying John Hardy said,
“I want to go to heaven when I die, poor boy.
Want to go to heaven when I die.”

He said “If I die a gambling man,
Go bury me under the sand.
A pick and shovel at my head and feet
And a deck of cards in my hand, poor boy,
A deck of cards in my hand.”
(Submitted on June 6, 2013.) 

3. Kelly Harrell (1889–1942). Wikipedia entry. “Harrell was born in Draper’s Valley, Wythe County, Virginia and from his early teens worked in various textile mills. In early 1925, when Harrell was already 35 years old, he went to New York and recorded four tracks for Victor Records, among them ‘New River Train’ (made famous by Bill Monroe and ‘The Roving Gambler.’ He recorded for OKeh later that year, including a version of ‘The Wreck of the Old 97’ and ‘I Was Born 10,000 Year Ago’ (the latter often known as ‘The Bragging Song’ and recorded by Elvis Presley, The New Christy Minstrels, Odetta and several others). He made more records for Victor in 1925, 1926, 1927 and 1929. ‘The Butcher’s Boy’ and ‘I Wish I Was Single Again’ on Victor 19563 on 1/7/25. ‘The Dying Hobo’ (1926) is a variant of the traditional English folksong George Collins. ‘My Name Is John Johannah’ was recorded in 1927 at RCA Victor’s studios in Camden, NJ, with Posey Rorer on fiddle, Alfred Steagal on guitar, and R.D. Hundley on banjo. Variations of this song (‘Maggie Walker Blues,’ ‘State of Arkansas,’ ‘For Dave Glover’) were performed and recorded by Bob Dylan.

“After 1929, his recording career came to a halt, owing to his inability to play an instrument—Harrell always required backing by other musicians, and the Great Depression had so damaged the recording business that Victor was unwilling to pay the cost of hiring backup musicians.” (Submitted on June 6, 2013.) 

4. Kelly Harrell: Charley, He’s a Good Old Man. MP3 of a 78 RPM record on the Internet Archive. (Submitted on June 6, 2013.) 
Categories. Arts, Letters, Music
Credits. This page originally submitted on , by J. J. Prats of Springfield, Virginia. This page has been viewed 347 times since then and 67 times this year. Photos:   1, 2. submitted on , by J. J. Prats of Springfield, Virginia. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016.
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