“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Mountain City in Johnson County, Tennessee — The American South (East South Central)

Clarence "Tom" Ashley

Clarence "Tom" Ashley Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Duane and Tracy Marsteller, October 10, 2020
1. Clarence "Tom" Ashley Marker
Clarence Earl McCurry was known professionally as both Clarence and Tom Ashley. His repertoire included many ancient Appalachian and early American songs, and he was the first to record “House of the Rising Sun.” He recorded from 1928 to 1933, and from 1960 until 1963.

McCurry was born in Bristol, Virginia, on a date he reported as Sept. 29. 1895 (although the 1900 Census shows his birth year as 1893). He grew up in his maternal grandfather's boarding house in Shouns, Tennessee, near Mountain City and adopted their surname, Ashley. His grandfather's nickname for him, Tom Tiddy Waddy, led him to go by Tom though he still sometimes went by his given name.

Ashley learned many songs from relatives and boarding house residents. His primary instrument was banjo, although he also played guitar. At age 16, he joined Doc Hauer's traveling medicine show — where music and comedy were used to sell dubious miracle cures — often bringing entertainment to isolated communities. One of the show's artists who Ashley mentored was the future “King of Country Music,” Roy Acuff.

In February 1928,
Clarence "Tom" Ashley Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Duane and Tracy Marsteller, October 10, 2020
2. Clarence "Tom" Ashley Marker
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Ashley went to Richmond, Indiana and made one record for Gennett as Thomas Ashley. That October, he began recording for Victor with the Carolina Tar Heels. As Clarence Ashley, he recorded for Columbia when the company came to Johnson City looking for talent, and he was called back for subsequent sessions. In 1931, he recorded again as part of the Blue Ridge Mountain Entertainers for the American Record Corporation. Across these affiliations, Ashley featured songs that became classics during post-World War II folk revivals: “Dark Holler Blues”; “The Coo Coo Bird”; “Little Sadie”; “Naomi Wise”; “The House Carpenter”; “Old John Hardy”; “Greenback Dollar”; “Short Life of Trouble”; “Corrinne, Corrine”; and “Rising Sun Blues” (later known as “House of the Rising Son,” a No. 1 hit for English rock group The Animals). Some songs were of Anglo-Celtic origin, some were American ballads. and some had African-American roots. Ashley's barbed vocals and forceful banjo playing drew heavily upon African-American influences.

Ashley remained on the medicine show circuit until 1943. By then, the business was in decline. He later worked many jobs, including coal mining. He continued to perform with his own bands and with other artists, including Bill Monroe's
Clarence "Tom" Ashley Marker image. Click for full size.
Photographed By Duane and Tracy Marsteller, October 10, 2020
3. Clarence "Tom" Ashley Marker
A mural of Ashley, by Cristy Dunn, is in the background.
brother, Charlie, and the Stanley Brothers, but he was nearly inactive in music when folklorists Eugene Earle and Ralph Rinzler found him hanging out at a fiddlers festival in Union Grove, North Carolina.

After learning that two of his songs “The House Carpenter” and “The Coo Coo Bird” had been included on the groundbreaking 1952 compilation Anthology of American Folk Music, Ashley quickly embraced a reborn music career. Rinzler produced a “comeback” album, Old Time Music at Clarence Ashley's (featuring then unknown Doc Watson), and Ashley began appearing at coffee houses and folk festivals in North America and Europe. He appeared at Carnegie Hall with Pete Seeger in December 1962.

Ashley had just been offered a second English tour when he died on June 2, 1967.
Erected by Tennessee Music Pathways.
Topics and series. This historical marker is listed in these topic lists: Arts, Letters, MusicEntertainment. In addition, it is included in the Tennessee Music Pathways series list. A significant historical date for this entry is September 29, 1895.
Location. 36° 28.418′ N, 81° 48.283′ W. Marker is in Mountain City, Tennessee, in Johnson County. Marker is at the intersection of South Church Street and Donnelly Street, on the right when traveling south
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on South Church Street. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 122 South Church Street, Mountain City TN 37683, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 14 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. Fighting Bushwhackers (approx. 0.2 miles away); First Baptist Church Bicentennial Celebration (approx. ¼ mile away); Roderick Random Butler (approx. 0.3 miles away); Maymead Stock Farm (approx. 3.4 miles away); Laurel Bloomery (approx. 6.9 miles away); The Trading Ground (approx. 9.3 miles away); “Virginia Creeper” Railroad (approx. 13.2 miles away in Virginia); Christmas Tree Farms (approx. 13.2 miles away in Virginia). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Mountain City.
Credits. This page was last revised on October 15, 2020. It was originally submitted on October 14, 2020, by Duane Marsteller of Murfreesboro, Tennessee. This page has been viewed 108 times since then and 26 times this year. Last updated on October 14, 2020, by Duane Marsteller of Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Photos:   1, 2, 3. submitted on October 14, 2020, by Duane Marsteller of Murfreesboro, Tennessee. • Devry Becker Jones was the editor who published this page.
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May. 18, 2022