Darwin Lee Hill Collection

Darwin Lee Hill - Collection - 12 x 12 (JPEG) - 44 - 4.jpg

Title

Darwin Lee Hill Collection

Description

"The Southern Music Research Center Presents The Darwin Lee Hill Collection." Image by Hollywoody Guthrie, 2024.

Collection overview:

The Darwin Lee Hill “Real Hillbilly” Interviews Collection consists of more than sixty recorded conversations with many of the pioneers, and a few contemporary torch bearers, of classic country music.

For two decades, from 1995 to 2015, Darwin Lee's Real Hillbilly Music Show aired weekly on Poughkeepsie, New York, radio station WHVW, 950 AM. The show’s creator and host, Darwin Lee Hill, is a lifelong, passionate collector and chronicler of vintage country music, and his three-hour Sunday afternoon broadcasts developed a devoted following of listeners in the Hudson Valley. 

Along the way, Hill cultivated relationships with numerous country music pioneers, both celebrated and obscure, many of whom he interviewed for broadcast on the show. The Southern Music Research Center is proud to present, in collaboration with Hill, many of these original, uncut interviews, preserving the conversations for posterity and making them accessible to researchers and fans. Taken together, Hill’s interviews represent a significant oral history of classic country music and give voice, in particular, to some of the genre’s often overlooked personalities. 

Hill’s many guests include songwriter, singer, and guitarist Slim Bryant, who reflects on his own musical journey and his collaboration and friendship with Jimmie Rodgers; Bill Bolick, one half of the legendary brother duo, the Blue Sky Boys; Roy Lee Brown, brother of western swing pioneer Milton Brown and himself an active bearer of the western swing tradition; the groundbreaking electric guitarist Arthur "Guitar Boogie" Smith; several members of Hank Williams’s original Drifting Cowboys, including Hank’s early mentor Braxton Schuffert and the celebrated steel guitarist Don Helms; songwriter Liz Anderson; Starday Records owner Don Pierce; country disc jockey Smokey Stover; bluegrass fiddler Kenny Baker; and such hitmakers as Norma Jean, Hank Thompson, Stonewall Jackson, Billy Walker, and Frankie Miller. Other guests include stars and sidemen from such iconic and influential radio programs as the Wheeling Jamboree, Louisiana Hayride, Big D Jamboree, and Grand Ole Opry. 

Hill’s interest in regional country scenes and artists results in many fascinating glimpses into “hillbilly” acts from New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and other areas typically overlooked in portraits of country tradition. Hill’s own home of Poughkeepsie itself produced its share of traditional country artists, and a few of this collection’s conversations celebrate the local legacies of such unsung performers as Gil Rogers and Tex Roy. Also included are briefer interviews with contemporary bluegrass artists and a younger generation of honky-tonk and western swing revivalists. Often recorded behind the scenes and off the cuff at live shows in the Hudson Valley (in dressing rooms, on tour buses, on the sidewalk, or even in Hill's car, taking shelter from the rain), these quick, informal conversations provide unique snapshots of working musicians’ lives on the road.

With some of these artists, Hill developed long-running, long-distance friendships, and the affection and mutual appreciation between Hill and many of his interviewees comes through in the recordings. Honky-tonker Big Bill Lister became a recurring guest on the Real Hillbilly Music Show and, in addition to offering extensive reflections on his own life and career, appeared often on Hill's annual tribute to Hank Williams. Howard Vokes — the songwriter, performer, and prolific promoter known as “Pennsylvania’s King of Country Music” — was instrumental in connecting Hill with numerous “old-timers” around the country and, in an interview recorded in his home, Vokes performs several songs for Hill’s recorder. A particularly dynamic repeat guest is Yodelin’ Kenny Roberts, who in one interview sings, yodels, and plays guitar over the phone; while passing through Poughkeepsie on another occasion, Roberts and his wife Bettyanne stopped by the WHVW studio in person, and a lively on-air conversation and impromptu concert followed. Since the Roberts’ car was packed too tight for Kenny to access his guitar, a listener arrived at the station just minutes after the broadcast began, loaning his own guitar for the couple’s spontaneous and joyful performance.

Darwin Lee Hill’s reverence for the musicians — along with a less-than-reverent sense of humor and an outspoken contempt for “what passes for country music today” — is evident throughout this collection. As Hill would quickly point out, his lifelong love for music was fostered, from the beginning, by his parents, who are often mentioned in these interviews; his mother — “Jean the Record Queen,” a country DJ herself — also corresponded with a number of the musicians heard here. By giving a regular weekly platform for some of country music’s forgotten originals, Hill — operating from a small and eccentric AM station in Poughkeepsie — established a remarkable area following for performers who had long been abandoned by mainstream radio. Hill received and played several hundred listener requests each year on his show, and his annual list of most-requested artists included (alongside such heavy-hitters as Hank Williams, Merle Haggard, and George Jones) an unlikely cast of listener favorites, including Josie Lou, Sourdough Slim, Big Bill Lister, and Kenny Roberts. (For each of Hill’s twenty years on air, Hank Williams earned the number one spot among top-requested artists; Roberts often followed at or around #2.)

Before or after the interviews themselves, the voice of WHVW station manager J. P. Ferraro may also often be heard. Following their interviews, many guests record brief (and often entertaining) promotional spots for both Hill and Ferraro.

In addition to the interviews, the Darwin Lee Hill Collection includes several photos from Hill’s personal archive, many radio playlists, and a 2002 interview with Hill himself, conducted by Southern Music Research Center director Burgin Mathews. Along with this material, the SMRC acquired in 2023 two full decades of recorded broadcasts of Darwin Lee’s Real Hillbilly Music Show. Select episodes of the show, along with additional interviews and other items from Hill’s extensive personal collection, will be made available here in the future.

Print transcripts of select interviews are included, along with the full streaming original audio of each. Additional transcripts will be added over time and may, in the meantime, be requested at contact@southernmusicresearch.org. Transcripts may contain errors and should be considered as guides, not as definitive. All material is presented for educational purposes and may not be reproduced without permission and appropriate citation.

All interviews, photos, playlists, and ephemera are provided courtesy Darwin Lee Hill, with deepest thanks.

Citation

“Darwin Lee Hill Collection,” Southern Music Research Center, accessed April 18, 2024, https://southernmusicresearch.org/items/show/1573.