Frank Hutchison

By Jeff Wickland
Frank Hunchison - The Pride of West VirginiaFrank Hutchison was born in Raleigh County, West Virginia in 1891. The date of his birth cannot be verified but some sources claim he was born on March 20th. Soon after his birth his family moved to Logan County, West Virginia, where he spent much of his life. Before he began playing music professionally, he was believed to have worked as a carpenter, handyman, cook, and coal miner. According to an unnamed Logan County musician, Hutchison walked with a limp, possibly as the result of a mining accident.

Frank HutchisonHutchison’s recordings reflected the diverse tastes of the 1920’s, with musical styles that included traditional folk, country, hillbilly blues, murder ballads, waltzes, ragtime, piedmont blues, gospel and delta blues. He was considered to have been one of the first white bluesmen to have recorded in the pre-war era.

Hutchison was best known for his slide guitar style on pieces such as “Train Carried My Girl From Town,” “K.C. Blues,” and “Worried Blues.” While many blues players used a bottleneck to play slide guitar, Hutchison played lap style, laying his guitar across his lap and playing slide with a pen knife.

Hutchison likely was influenced by African Americans who emigrated from the Deep South to work in the southern coal fields of West Virginia. Henry Vaughn, a black railroad worker who befriended Hutchison at 8 years old, is believed to have been an early inspiration. Bill Hunt (or Hurt), a crippled African American who began playing coal camps around 1910, is thought to have been a large influence and may have taught Hutchison much of the repertoire he later recorded.

Frank Hutchison recorded from 1926 to 1929, although it is unclear how many songs he recorded. Some sources claim as many as 41 but only 32 have been preserved.

In September 1926 Hutchison traveled to New York City to record for Okeh (pronounced “Okay”) Records. After the initial success of his first recordings he returned in January 1927 to cut nine additional songs, including “Last Scene of the Titanic,” a retelling of the disaster which had occurred only 15 years earlier. During this period Okeh Records marketed Hutchison as “The Pride of West Virginia.”

In 1928 Hutchison returned to New York City with Logan County fiddler Sherman Lawson, the only other musician who appeared on a studio recording with Hutchison. Although he did not record with any artists other than Lawson, it is believed he often played with fellow Logan County musicians Dick Justice and The Williamson Brothers & Curry.

Frank Hutchison’s final commercial recording took place on September 24th and 25th, 1929 in Atlanta, Georgia as part of the Okeh Records Medicine Show, which was recorded as a three disc album of music and comedy. The show also featured Emmitt Miller, Fiddlin’ John Carson, Namour & Smith, Moonshine Kate, Bud Blue, The Black Brothers, and Martin Malloy.

Like many musicians of his time, Hutchison’s career abruptly ended in 1929 with the crash of the stock market and the onset of The Great Depression. After his music career ended, he and his family temporarily relocated to Chesapeake, Ohio but soon moved to Lake, West Virginia, where Hutchison reportedly ran a store and was postmaster. During this time it is also believed he worked as a steamboat entertainer. In 1942 the store burned down and the Hutchison’s moved to Dayton, Ohio. Frank Hutchison died Nov. 9, 1945 from liver disease.

Although Hutchison’s career was short lived, his influence has been surprisingly large. Folk icon Doc Watson cited Hutchison as an influence and routinely performed “Train Carried My Girl From Town.” Modern folk legend Kelly Joe Phelps recorded the track as well, which appeared on his 1999 album Shine Eyed Mister Zen. Folk revivalists The New Lost City Ramblers were known to have covered Hutchison’s “Coney Isle.” In 1960 Lloyd “Cowboy” Copas reworked “Coney Isle” and titled it “Alabam.” Copas’ version of the song spent 12 weeks as the number single on the Billboard Hot Country & Western charts. Hutchison’s “Stackalee” appeared on Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music, a collection which went on to inspire the folk revival of the 1950’s and 60’s.

In 1997 Document Records released Frank Hutchison: The Complete Recorded Works Volume 1 1926-1929. In 2005 JSP Records released the box set Worried Blues, featuring all 32 tracks recorded by Hutchison as well as music from The Tenneva Ramblers, The Blue Ridge Highballers, and Kelly Harrell. His work has also appeared on several compilations including Early Recordings of West Virginia, Mountain Blues and Old Time Guitar, American Folk Music Volume 1, Songs of the Railroad 1924-1934, and Black, White and Blues.

*Information for this bio was collected from various sources, some of which conflicted and many of which cannot be verified. Any corrections of names, dates, locations, etc. will be gladly accepted.


Frank Hutchinson, Logan Banner, 25 March 1927

Logan Banner, 25 March 1927.
Clipping courtesy of Brandon Ray Kirk.

Logan County Blues by Frank Hutchison

Frank Hitchison Facebook Page

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11 Responses to Frank Hutchison

  1. Brian H. says:

    sorry to pile on, but Frank’s mother moved with her husband and family to Ohio in 1924, so Frank must have moved in with them or close to them after the fire. http://wc.rootsweb.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/igm.cgi?op=GET&db=meder-dempsey&id=I13899

  2. Brian H. says:

    It’s interesting that Frank took his mother’s maiden name for his last name, so she was probably not married when she had him. She seems to have been married to her first husband a year or less, before marrying her second husband when Frank was two in 1899. Her first husband died of poisoning later the same year. Frank’s mother died in Ohio, so she must have moved there with him, and then she outlived him. He would make a good movie.
    http://wc.rootsweb.ancestry.com/cgi-bin/igm.cgi?op=GET&db=meder-dempsey&id=I13899

  3. Brian H. says:

    i notice the last name is spelled differently on the draft registration and the delayed birth certificate, the signatures are different on the two forms, and the year of birth is different even though the day is the same. Each has a different town, but they are near each other — Surveyor is very small, which may explain the lack of an original birth record, and it is only 7 miles from the city of Beckley, which makes a more familiar reference for people. I can think of logical reasons for the discrepancies, but the signatures still throw me. Also, some current sources say 1891 for some reason though they keep March 20 for the day. Sorry to get hung up on details, but my curiosity is insatiable when I am researching a new musical discovery.

  4. Joseph Scott says:

    A marriage record, the 1920 census, the 1930 census, and his death certificate all suggest that Frank was born in 1896, 1897, or 1898.

    • Bob Piros says:

      Joseph,there is a 1918 signed draft
      card by Frank Hutchison at familysearch.org.
      He stated that he was born on March 20,1896
      in Survey,WV. He was working for the
      Fort Branch WV. Coal Company.
      He stated he had blue eyes & brown hair.
      He married Minnie Garett on April 21,1917
      in Logan,WV. He stated he was 21 & born
      in Raleigh,WV.
      In the 1940 census he said that he was a
      manager for a retail store.
      He & Minnie had daughters Louise &
      Kathlene.

  5. A Great Posting! Thanks for sharing this.

  6. Shelby Burgess says:

    My thanks too!
    I am wondering if Frank did “ridin’ on that New River Train”? That was one of my favorites. i remember as a kid the old time medicine shows. Some music was played; and then the medicine was sold. It was about 40% alcohol, so when taken, it made the person nearly intoxicated. Never the less, it sold well!
    My mom, Carrie (Baisden) Burgess was very good with the slide style guitar. her dad was an old time fiddler. Not much rubbed off on me though! Thanks.

    • Jeff Wickland says:

      I don’t think Frank ever recorded “New River Train,” if that’s the same song you’re talking about. Kelly Harrell recorded a version in ’26 or ’27, which sounds alot like Frank Hutchison. Alot of other people recorded it, too. Bill Monroe, Doc Watson and alot of bluegrass bands. Thanks for the interest.

  7. Dave Ellis says:

    Jeff,

    Thanks for posting this information, I’m sure the research wasn’t easy. Although I’ve never heard Frank Hutchison’s music as I age I find a fondness for the old timers and am enjoying exposing myself to their music.

    Once again, thanks for sharing this.

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