Dave McCarn

David McCarn was born in 1905 in Gaston County, North Carolina. In 1917, at the age of twelve, McCarn began working as a doffer at the Chronical Mill in nearby Belmont, and spent much of the 1920s and 1930s working at a succession of textile mills in and around Gastonia. In order to at least temporarily escape the depressing factory work, McCarn began rambling at an early age and kept doing so for much of the rest of his life. Being a part-time hobo he developed a deeper interest in music and so he picked up the harmonica and even taught himself some rudimentary guitar chords. His harmonica technique was strongly influenced by his work mate Gwen Foster, who taught Dave to blow harp in those days' very common 1st position ragtime style. At an age of 21, Dave McCarn wrote "Cotton Mill Colic", a very pessimistic song that got recorded in 1930. It's about the work and living conditions of cotton mill employees which pretty much tells everything about his personal viewpoint on his workplace. Folkarchive.de's got the lyrics - for those willing to have another look at 'em. Later he formed the Yellow Jackets - the band's only song I know of so far, "Huskin' Bee", is to be found on the "Black and White Hillbilly Music"-sampler (in case you know where to find some more pls comment!) on the TRI Trikont label. In May 1931 McCarn made another four recordings and this time he had his friend Howard Long (1905-1975), a working collegue and also Yellow Jackets band member, accompanying him on guitar. Amongst these was "Bay Rum Blues" - a quite twisted description of a beaverage made from this popular hair tonic and aftershave lotion. They also made a re-recording of "Cotton Mill Colic", named "Serves 'em fine" - this time with slightly different lyrics and applying harmonica. Although these recordings didn't quite sell those days we can be lucky to still being able to listen to McCarn's heritage as an excellent harmonica player, but also as a critically thoughtful and yet very humorous person. David McCarn died on November 7, 1964, of aspirated pneumonia, resulting from cirrhosis of the liver, at the age of fifty-nine. Here's all the legal cuts I found which are relevant from a harmonica player's perspective:

Please enjoy!


John said...

Hi, nice site and nice write up on Dave McCarn. I am wondering whether the Yellow Jackets on the Trikont comp (and at least one other comp, and archive.org) is the Dave McCarn band. Do you know for sure? Actually, now I'm wondering if that track is from "The Yellow Jackets" at all, or if it's actually the 1929 recording from (Walter) Coon's Joy Boys. I have the latter recording and the Trikont track on the PC upstairs but it's late & I gotta get to sleep. I'll check it out & report back.



dornford1 said...

The Yellow Jackets who recorded for Gennett are nothing to do with the band of that name McCarn played with, which did not record. They were from southern Illinois, I believe. And the "Huskin' Bee" track referred to is in fact (as the previous commenter says) by Walter Coon's Joy Boys from Michigan.