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John Christopher Haddox
Associate Professor, School of Design and Community Development

The Williamson Brothers and Curry

On the morning of 26 April 1927, Logan County string band The Williamson Brothers and Curry stepped into an OKeh Records studio in St. Louis and recorded six songs that have been recognized as major contributions to “old time” music.  With accompanying guitar, fiddle, and ukulele (probably a banjo ukulele or tenor ukulele), they sang Cumberland Gap, Warfield, The Fun’s All Over, Lonesome Road Blues, The Old Arm Chair, and Gonna Die With My Hammer In My Hand, a version of John Henry that has become a classic of American rural music partly because it is a truly unique rendition and partly because of its inclusion in the 1952 Anthology of American Folk Music, a collection of eighty-four 1920s and early 1930s recordings that provided a major impetus for the folk revival.  Like those of Frank Hutchison, their recordings exhibit significant African American influence.

They had made the connection with OKeh Records through their friend and fellow Logan Countian Frank Hutchison who had previously recorded for OKeh in New York on two separate occasions, and he accompanied them to St. Louis and recorded eight songs of his own there.

The Williamson Brothers and Curry were Ervin Williamson playing guitar, his brother Arnold playing fiddle, Arnold Curry playing the ukulele, and a Mr. Kirk who occasionally performed with them.   Apart from their 1927 recording session, the band was active in playing at dances and for audiences in the coalfields, traveling at least as far afield as Bluefield in Mercer County. They also knew and played with many other well-known Logan County musicians, such as Dick Justice and Aunt Jennie Wilson. 

William Ervin Williamson was born in Wayne County in 1900 and his brother Arnold was born there in 1904.  Their father Charles Williamson and grandfather Moses “Preacher Mose” Williamson spent much of their lives as farmers in the Grant district of Wayne County, though occasionally turning up at Harts Creek in Logan County.  But sometime between 1917 and 1920 Charles moved his family to the Mud Fork coal camp of Shamrock in Logan County, where for many years he and his sons worked in the coal mines there.   Ervin died in 1972 at the age of seventy-two.  Arnold Williamson died in 1998 at Mount Gay and was buried in the Highland Memory Gardens Cemetery in Chapmanville.

Arnold Curry was born in 1906 in the Logan Magisterial District, near Mud Fork.  In 1910 his father was a farmer there but by 1920 Mr. Curry and his father and older brother were working with him in the mines; in 1930 he was still a miner at Mud Fork.  In 1935 he passed away and was buried in the Baisden Cemetery in Logan County.

 Williamson Brothers and Curry with Mr. Kirk

The Williamson Brothers and Curry.  Left to right, Ervin Williamson, Arnold Williamson, Arnold Curry, and as yet incompletely identified Mr. Kirk*, who occasionally performed with them and and can be heard on the St. Louis recordings.  Photograph courtesy of Bill Williamson.

—Gloria Goodwin Raheja, February 2021, with additions on Mr. Kirk by Chris Haddox added in June 2021. 

Sources:  Raheja’s research for her book Logan County Blues, Frank Hutchison in the Sonic Landscape of the Appalachian Coalfields.  

*On June 20, 2021, the identify of Mr. Kirk was clarified.  Chris Haddox was engaged in a conversation with Leila Gore, a relative of Arnold Curry.  Haddox asked if she had any idea who this Mr. Kirk might be, and she replied that she had Kirk’s in her family line.  It occurred to Haddox to ask fellow researcher, Brandon Ray Kirk, if he could identify the Mr. Kirk in the photo.  The above photo was shared with Brandon Ray Kirk, who identified him as his great-uncle Albert Kirk.  Albert’s daughter corroborated the identification.    Below is a picture of Albert Kirk (center face) as he appeared in a 1932 gathering of Deputies for Sheriff Joe Hatfield of Logan.  This image is on display at the Chief Logan State Park Museum in Logan, WV. 

Albert Kirk in Sheriff Deputy Picture 1932 Logan

-Image on display at the Chief Logan State Park Museum, July 2021   

Listen to some Williamson Brothers and Curry here! 

Williamson Brothers and Curry Gonna Die With My Hammer In My Hand

Williamson Brothers and Curry Warfield

Williamson Brothers and Curry The Fun's All Over

Additional Photos of Ervin Williamson

(provided by Raymond Williamson and Brayden Williamson)

Ervin Williamson as older man

Ervin Williamson on couch with banjo

Ervin Williamson as young man

Ervin as older man in room with banjo

Ervin Williamson Headstone Forest Lawn Cemetery, Logan, WV

-Ervin Williamson and Ethel Mae Williamson headstone at Forest Lawn Cemetery, Logan, WV.  Photo 2021 by Chris Haddox

Arnold Curry 

Not much is known about Arnold Curry.  Census records tell us he was living in Logan in 1920 and working as a coal miner in Verdunville in 1930.  He married Evelyn T. Hanna from Stone Branch, WV, in 1927.  Aside from the the more well-known Williamson Brothers, Curry and Mr. Kirk picture above, this is the only image of Arnold I could locate. Sadly, he died in a car accident on Mudfork at the young age of 29.  Here is a picture of Arnold and his mother, Phebe (Phoebe) from a family history site.  The identities of both were confirmed by two relatives of Arnold. 

-Written by Chris Haddox, June 2021

Sources:  Public Records; Conversations with Leila Gore, family relative; Conversation with Katherine Muncy (Arnold's neice). 

Arnold Curry young man with mother Phoebe

-Photograph of Arnold Curry and his mother, Phoebe, from Tim Moon's Ancestry site.  Obtained July 2021. 

Arnold Curry news of death

Arnold Curry Headstone at Baisden Cemetery, Mudfork, WV

(anonymous contributor on Find A Grave) 

Arnold Curry Headstone