Uncle Dave Macon - Biography
By J Poet
David Harrison Macon, better known as Uncle Dave Macon, was known as The Dixie Dewdrop When the WSM Barn Dance became The Grand Ole Opry, Macon was on the first program and became the Opry’s first superstar. He dressed like a working class farmer (which is what he was most of his life) flashing his with his gold teeth, plug hat, chin whiskers, gates-ajar collar and friendly smile. He made more than 350 78-rpm records for Vocalion, Brunswick, Gennett, Bluebird and other labels and he was one of the charter members of the Grand Ole Opry Hall of Fame and was inducted into the Country Music Hall Of Fame in 1966.
Macon was born in the small town of Smartt Station, TN in 1870. He was the son of a Confederate Army Captain John Macon and grew up in the Nashville hotel his father owned. The musicians and performers he met inspired him and he began playing the banjo at 16.
Macon saw his father get stabbed to death at the hotel. Afterwards, his mother moved the family to a farm in Readyville and after he married he moved to Kittrell, and lived there the rest of his life. Macon owned the Macon Midway Mitchell Mule and Wagon Transportation Company and hauled goods for a living in the days when wagons were still horse drawn. On weekends he sang for spare change in front of the Murfreesboro courthouse. He was known as an expert musician and street performer, but didn’t turn pro until he was 50 years old. Around 1920, motorized trucks started to chip away at Macon’s hauling business. He had started playing as a duo with fiddler Sid Harkreader and joined a touring vaudeville company doing comedy and playing traditional music. The Loew’s vaudeville circuit hired Macon and Harkreader for a week’s worth of shows in Birmingham. They were so popular it led to a month long run.
In 1925, Macon was the only professional performer hired for a new radio show, the WSM Barn Dance, which became The Grand Ole Opry. The show’s MC, George D. Hay, nicknamed Macon the Dixie Dew Drop. He was also known as the King Of the Hillbillies and The Grand Ole Man Of the Grand Ole Opry. Macon was now making his living touring the south headlining or playing banjo with the Delmore Brothers and Sam and Kirk McGee. He also made 78-rpm records for many companies often accompanied by his son Dorris on guitar, and future legends Roy Acuff and Bill Monroe. He called his band the Fruit Jar Drinkers.
In 1940, Macon and Roy Acuff and his Smoky Mountain Boys and Girls made a film for Republic Pictures, Grand Ole Opry. It has the only known footage of Macon performing. He continued recording until his death and had a repertoire of songs including folk, Gospel, topical songs, blackface minstrel songs, blues and popular favorites. He collected old songs and played Banjo in dozens of styles from claw hammer to the single note runs known today as Scruggs style. His style bridged the old time music of the pre-recording era and what became country music. He was also a good pianist and composed many of his own tunes. His hit records include “Keep My Skillet Good and Greasy,” “Chewing Gum,” “Take Me Back to My Carolina Home,” “Bully of the Town,” “Late Last Night When Willie Came Home,” “Rock About My Saro Jane,” “Buddy, Won’t You Roll Down the Line,” “Sail Away, Ladies,” “When the Train Comes Along,” “Cumberland Mountain Deer Chase,” and “How Beautiful Heaven Must Be.” Many of his tunes became standards during the folk revival of the 60s.
In the 40s, his banjo playing faltered, but he remained a powerful singer and comedian and was still performing on the Grand Ole Opry when he was 80. In l952, he became ill and died in Rutherford County hospital. Macon died just as the era of the LP was dawning, but his recordings have been preserved and remastered many times. For a comprehensive overview pick up Keep My Skillet Good and Greasy (2004 Bear Family) a nine CD set that includes 256 songs, everything Macon was known to have recorded. Smaller compilations include Uncle Dave Macon: Country Music Hall Of Fame (1992 MCA), two Greatest Hits compilations Go Long Mule (1995 County) and Travelin’ Down the Road (1995 County) and Classic Sides 1924-1938 (2004 JSP UK) a smaller four CD 100 song selection.