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Leake County Revelers

Leake County Revelers - Sebastopol

The most renowned Mississippi string band of the 1920s, the four Revelers—fiddler Will Gilmer, mandolinist R. O. Mosley, banjoist Jim Wolverton and guitarist Dallas Jones—were based here in Sebastapol, and played live across the Southeast. They had a widely heard Saturday night radio show on WJDX in Jackson, and cut 44 diverse instrumental and vocal sides for Columbia and Okeh Records between 1927 and 1930. Their biggest hit, “Wednesday Night Waltz,” was among early country music’s biggest sellers.

Despite the implication of their name, assigned to them by Columbia Records producer Frank Walker, the members of this popular string band of the late 1920s and early 1930s didn’t come from only Leake County. They first came together and were based here in Sebastopol, Scott County, where the oldest of the four, R. O. (Robert Oscar) Moseley (1884-1931), who played the mandolo (a small banjo-mandolin hybrid), ran a hardware and record store. In the late 1920s, Moseley began playing informally with two musicians who actually were from nearby Leake County—Jim Wolverton (1895-1969) who played five-string banjo and farmed in Neshoba County, and the colorful Will (William Bryant) Gilmer (1897-1960), who worked at a drug store next door to Moseley’s hardware store and has often been referred to as Mississippi’s premier fiddler. They were joined in 1926 by guitarist Dallas Jones (1889-1985), also from Sebastopol.

The quartet was playing in local schoolhouses on Saturday afternoons when celebrated talent scout H. C. Speir of Jackson recommended them to Columbia Records. At their first recording session in New Orleans in April 1927, they recorded their hit instrumental “Wednesday Night Waltz,” based on a lilting tune Gilmer had learned in Texas, with a faster breakdown segment added half way through. Backed by the almost as popular “Good Night Waltz,” the record would sell nearly a quarter million copies and become a standard as an instrumental and later in a version with lyrics, recorded by Carson Robison and Frank Luther.

The Revelers would record forty-four sides for Columbia at sessions variously staged in Atlanta or New Orleans through 1929 and at a last session at Jackson, Mississippi, in December 1930. They recorded everything from traditional string band waltzes and breakdowns to strings-and-vocal hillbilly (“Johnson Gal”), harmonizing vocal pop (“My Wild Irish Rose,” “When It’s Springtime in the Rockies”), vaudeville (“They Go Wild, Simply Wild Over Me”), blues (“Make Me a Bed on the Floor,” “Dry Town Blues”), and even a “Rockin’ Yodel.”

The quartet made appearances with Louisiana’s Huey Long during his campaign for governor there in 1928; sales of their records made it possible for the full band to perform live across the Southeast. The four Revelers, who always kept their day jobs, also appeared in varied combinations as duets or as solo acts. The demand for their appearances increased in 1930, when they began a regular 6 to 7 p.m. Saturday night radio show on the 1000-watt, widely broadcast WJDX out of Jackson. Unfortunately, R. O. Moseley’s death the following year marked the group’s end, although Dallas Jones was still making appearances in the 1980s, and descendants, appearing as the Leake County String Band, provided music for the 1976 movie Ode to Billie Joe.

content © Mississippi Country Music Trail