Slim Bryant: Guitarist who had his roots in the earliest days of country music

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The Independent Online

Slim Bryant was one of the last surviving links with the earliest days of country music, a time when the genre was still labelled as "hillbilly".

A fine guitarist known for his pioneering use of single-string solos and sock rhythms, he was, for many years, the last surviving musician to have recorded with Jimmie Rodgers, the man now revered as the "Father of Country Music".

He was born Thomas Hoyt Bryant, the eldest of six sons, in Atlanta, Georgia in 1908. His father played the fiddle, but Slim, as he was nicknamed, didn't take up music until he was in his teens. Although drawn to jazz as a youngster – the singer and guitarist Nick Lucas was a particular favourite – he also bore witness to the evolution of commercial country music in the region and would later recall performances by notable early stars such as Fiddlin' John Carson.

On graduating from high school he met a sometime member of the Skillet Lickers, the fiddle-player Clayton McMichen, and became a member of his group, the Melody Men. He toured with this outfit, soon to be renamed the Georgia Crackers, and played at radio stations in Cincinnati, Cleveland and New York. While appearing on the Chicago radio station WLS's National Barn Dance in 1933, he proved influential in the emerging playing style of a young guitarist named Les Paul.

In 1932 Bryant was hired to play guitar on a number of sessions by "America's Blue Yodeler", Jimmie Rodgers. Although the sides cut were of variable quality, they did include "Whippin' That Old T.B.", "Gambling Bar Room Blues", "No Hard Times" and Bryant's own, rather sentimental, "Mother, the Queen of My Heart" which tells the story of a gambler who reforms when he sees his mother's face on a card during a poker game.

His tenure with Clayton McMichen's Wildcats enabled him to indulge in his taste for swing stylings and also saw him working alongside his bass-playing brother, Raymond "Loppy" Bryant. In time, he and McMichen collaborated in reworking an old blues tune, "In the Pines". As he later recalled for the BBC series Folk America (2009), he first heard the song as a child, courtesy of the young black man who delivered the family's ice; it went on to become a bluegrass standard.

In 1939, he and the Wildcats parted ways with McMichen and, after a brief tenure at the Old Dominion Barn Dance in Richmond, Virginia, headed for Pittsburgh where he would be based for the rest of his career. From 1941 until 1960 they performed daily on the early-morning show on KDKA radio's Farm Hour and in January 1949 appeared on the very first television show broadcast in the city. They recorded only sporadically, enjoying their greatest commercial success with the novelty number "Eeny Meeny, Dixie Deeny" (1946), but did cut a substantial number of transcription discs for distribution to radio stations across the US.

Although he effectively retired from performing in the late 1960s, Bryant continued to teach guitar into his 11th decade and remained an invaluable source for musicologists keen to gain insights into country's distant past.

Thomas Hoyt ("Slim") Bryant, singer and guitarist: born Atlanta, Georgia 7 December 1908; married (one son); died Pittsburgh 28 May 2010.

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