Monday, November 12, 2018

Observing the Stars of Starday Veterans

As we observe Veterans Day this year, I thought it would be appropriate to acknowledge four of the Stars of Starday and thank them for their service to our country: Frankie Miller, Jesse McReynolds, Bill Clifton, and Wade Jackson.

Frankie Miller and Jesse McReynolds served the U.S. Army in Korea between 1952-1954. Both Frankie and Jesse were already recording stars by the time they entered the war, Frankie with 4-Star/Gilt-Edge and Jesse with Kentucky Records, and each continued making music during their time in Korea. Jesse formed a band with Charlie Louvin called the Dusty Roads Boys and entertained the troops, while Frankie entertained his fellow soldiers with his guitar as a forward observer for a Howitzer cannon field battalion, eventually earning a Bronze Star Medal for heroic effort in a combat zone. Frankie remembers, “I had a guitar with me everywhere I went over there. I probably went through four or five guitars because they had a rainy season and man, the glue would just come apart. One day you’d grab the handle of the guitar and it’d be in your hand.” Both Frankie and Jesse scored major label contracts upon their return from Korea and each of them also joined the Starday ranks in 1958.

Bill Clifton joined the U.S. Marine ROTC while a student at the University of Virginia in 1950 and his guitar playing helped him make a few important friends in an otherwise hostile basic training environment. He joined the Marines in the Winter of 1954 and spent much of his time in North Carolina and two summer stints in Puerto Rico, eventually earning the rank of First Lieutenant. He completed his service as a commanding officer of a platoon in the Second Marine Division in June 1956 and began recording for Starday Records shortly thereafter.

Wade Jackson, a 20-year U.S. military veteran, also spent time in Korea around the same time as Frankie and Jesse (preceded and followed by longer stints in Germany). Initially with the U.S. Army under the command of his older brother Marvin Jackson (his younger brother Stonewall Jackson went into the Navy), Wade was injured twice in combat in Korea but remembers that, “I went to the hospital and they got most of [the metal] out.” He told me that, “While during the War in Korea, our company was being held in reserve and a special services show of all GI talent came through to entertain us. They borrowed me, literally out of the foxhole, to continue the rest of their entertainment stops with them. I felt so honored and privileged that my eyes still get a little damp when I think about it.” After the Korean War ended, Wade joined the Air Force and continued entertaining troops around the world as frontman of The String Kings and later The Drifters. He retired as a Sergeant and returned to the U.S. in 1966 and began recording for Starday Records later that same year.

To all four of these great artists, thank you for your dedicated service to our country! And as musicians, thank you for your incredible music throughout the last 60+ years. I am a huge fan of all four of these artists and it is the honor of my life to get to record with them on the new Nate Gibson & the Stars of Starday project. If you’d like to hear our new record, please support our Kickstarter which has less than 2 weeks till close! Many thanks!

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Audio from 2011 Starday presentation at ARSC in UCLA Now Available

One of my favorite things to do is give conference and festival presentations about Starday Records. Last month I was kindly afforded an opportunity to talk about Starday Records at the New England Shake-Up (many thanks again to Beck Rustic and Sean Mencher!) and last week I spoke about Starday at the American Folklore Society in Buffalo, NY. I've been doing it now for seven years and I think I've gotten slightly better over the years, but if you'd like to hear a young me give my first ever conference presentation about the importance of Starday Records, the kind folks at the Association for Recorded Sound Collections were kind enough to upload my 2011 UCLA presentation here:

And if young me was at all able to convince you of the significance of Starday, perhaps old me can also convince you to support the Nate Gibson & the Stars of Starday Kickstarter!

Details here:

Thursday, October 25, 2018

New Kickstarter Rewards, Same Great Music!

Today marks the official 1/2 way point of the Nate Gibson & the Stars of Starday Kickstarter campaign and to try to influence even more of my thoughtful and generous friends to contribute to the cause, I've added 3 brand new Rewards Packages specifically targeted towards my puppet-loving, sport-loving, and baby-loving friends. That should cover just about all of you! 

As of today, you can now get YOUR OWN CUSTOM MARIONETTE with your double-LP pre-order!

Or, you could get a very limited set of Topps baseball cards featuring the Stars of Starday and their athletic highlights on the back (for instance, did you know that among myself and these 14 country, bluegrass, and rockabilly legends we have a National Senior Softball Hall of Famer, a professional boxer, a semi-pro baseball player, a Texas high school quarterback, owner of a champion race horse, a high school basketball phenom, and an AAU Junior Olympics weightlifter, to highlight just a few?), 

Or, you might prefer a charming "It's a Baby!" package featuring a candy cigar, a customized Zippo lighter, and a faux birth certificate. 

And of course, there are still several other great rewards still available including signed 8x10s of the Stars, original Starday 45s, Starday books, and more! 

Check 'em out here:

More details on the new Kickstarter Rewards:

Now that we are officially 50% finished with the campaign, I've come to a grave realization:
We still need to gain $3,500 more dollars to fund the project, but most of the high dollar rewards are gone. 
Yikes! But worry not. In addition to the reward packages that remain available, I've just this evening created three brand new Project Reward Packages that I'm excited about and that will hopefully entice even more folks to contribute to the cause. What are these great new Rewards Packages, you ask?
Do you love the Stars of Starday marionettes and the aesthetic of the entire project? Have you seen the Frankie Miller and Nate Gibson "Rain Rain" video and decided to make puppeteering a career choice? And do you want a marionette made of yourself (or someone else) to make your own art projects? Then this is the package for you!! After you have claimed this prize, contact me with at least 5-10 photos of yourself, and I will work directly with the master maker of the marionettes to get you a custom marionette of yourself that you love. If I can get the photos by the time this Kickstarter ends (Nov. 24), then we can get you your marionette before then end of the year (around Christmas, hint hint). Then you and your marionette can blissfully dance along to the double LP or the digital download till your heart is content! The double-LP and other perks will take longer and will be shipped separately. Included in this reward is the marionette [approximately 2 feet tall, with another foot or two in string length], the double LP, the digital download, the postcard, as well as an instruction sheet on how to use your marionette! [Note: Due to the immense amount of time and effort it takes to mold, paint, sew, and stitch together a marionette from scratch, this package is limited to only 5 buyers. Instruments, mics, backgrounds and other assorted features seen in the music videos are not included]
2. The Starday Sports Lovers Package
Did you know that among Nate Gibson & the Stars of Starday there is a National Senior Softball Hall of Famer, a former professional boxer, a semi-pro baseball player, a Texas high school quarterback, owner of a champion race horse, a high school basketball phenom, and a Junior Olympic weightlifter, among other athletes? If you love sports, country music, and trivia about sports and country musicians, then this is the package for you! You'll get the double LP, the digital download, the postcard, AND the official Topps brand baseball card set featuring 15 cards of Nate Gibson & the Stars of Starday. Only 15 sets available for sale! Extremely scarce!
3. The "It's A Baby!" Package
Sometimes releasing a new record that you have been working on for months and months can feel like giving birth to a baby. OK, probably not exactly like that, but it feels like giving birth to something super significant and it's worthy of celebration. So, this package will help you celebrate that new double LP and digital download with a custom Nate Gibson & the Stars of Starday lighter by Zippo, a candy cigar of Nate's choice, and a faux birth certificate for the Nate Gibson & the Stars of Starday album release suitable for framing in your record room [not to mention that it goes perfect with dim lights, whiskey on the rocks (not included), and some loud, loud music!].
Many thanks again for supporting this project. I'm overwhelmed by the support thus far and I appreciate all of you!

Monday, October 15, 2018

Kickstarter Goal Half Met, and a New Nate Gibson & Frankie Miller Video

Very exciting day--We've just hit the 50% funded mark on the Nate Gibson & the Stars of Starday Kickstarter!

In honor of the achievement, I thought I'd release the first music video from the album: Nate Gibson & Frankie Miller's "Rain Rain," which coincidentally was the first song recorded for the project. I just had to see what a music video would look like with the puppets and I'm really excited with the results [and hopefully we can get funded to make some more!]. Many thanks to everyone who contributed to the making of the song and the video, specifically Frankie Miller, Bobby Trimble, Bobby HortonTom UmbergerKevin SmithCris BurnsCarl Sonny LeylandRachel Tatge, and Marit Barkve Dally! If you tuned in to Bill C. Malone's Back to the Country or DJ Del Villarreal's Go Cat Go shows last week, you've already heard it. But now, for the first time, you get to SEE the Starday marionettes in action! Rain Rain! 

[Note, if you share the video, please kindly also mention the ongoing Kickstarter campaign]

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Marionette Magic and the New Nate Gibson & the Stars of Starday Album Cover

Hooray! The album cover art is complete. I'm mighty excited to be joining a long list of talented musicians who have used marionettes on their album covers. Do you know of any others I have forgotten? There are some pretty incredible visuals and puppets among the covers I found, but I think Ken's Starday marionettes just might be my favorite  To pre-order Nate Gibson & the Stars of Starday and check out some of the cool rewards, please visit the Kickstarter page at And if you're so inclined, every share is greatly appreciated! Cheers!

some other great marionette album art:

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Nate Gibson & the Stars of Starday Kickstarter Goes Live

Hey and howdy friends, I’ve just finished recording a brand new record called Nate Gibson & the Stars of Starday, but I need your help to finish it!

It's been a dream come true to criss-cross the country and record with traditional country music, rockabilly, bluegrass, honky-tonk, and gospel music legends including Betty Amos w/ Judy & Jean, Bill Clifton, Rudy "Tutti" Grayzell, Wade Jackson, Sleepy LaBeef, Little Roy Lewis, Jesse McReynoldsDarnell Miller, Frankie MillerArnold ParkerMargie Singleton, and June Stearns

The record is now completely recorded, but I still need some help to finish it. If you Pre-Order the album (CD, 2xLP, or Digital Download) you can get all sorts of cool incentives and limited rewards via a brand new Kickstarter campaign that just launched today! 

With Kickstarter, it's all or nothing. The project either gets funded or it doesn't, so I greatly appreciate any and all support. But even if you can't contribute to the cause monetarily, just sharing it with your friends would be immensely appreciated. And in case you'd like to watch a goofy video of me in my fancy Union Western Clothing Necco shirt talking about the project and pleading for your help, well that's only on the Kickstarter page.


Starday Records was the largest independent country music record label in the 1950s and ‘60s, releasing a lot of incredible traditional country music, honky-tonk, rockabilly, bluegrass, gospel, and western swing. As my friends know, I’ve been obsessed with Starday Records for many years; I even wrote a book about the label called The Starday Story: The House That Country Music Built (University Press of Mississippi).

In recent years, I've wanted to shine an even brighter light on the music itself, specifically on the many Starday artists who are still alive and still making great music today. So I decided to travel around the country and make a record with some of my all-time favorite Starday artists. Along the way I picked up some incredible studio musicians including Marty Stuart, Kenny Vaughan, Chris Scruggs, and many more, and together we finished the album!


24 Starday songs recorded as duets with the original Starday artists:
  • Betty Amos w/ Judy & Jean - Stars of the Louisiana Hayride and Wheeling Jamboree who were among the first women to write & record their own truck driving songs
  • Bill Clifton - Bluegrass Hall of Famer and International Ambassador of Bluegrass Music
  • Rudy “Tutti” Grayzell - Rockabilly Hall of Famer and Elvis Presley’s touring mate in the mid ‘50s
  • Wade Jackson - Grand Ole Opry Road Show performer and author of “Don’t Be Angry,” a huge hit for his brother Stonewall Jackson 
  • Sleepy LaBeef - Rockabilly Hall of Famer and rock and roll legend
  • Little Roy Lewis - Bluegrass Hall of Famer, Gospel Music Hall of Famer, Georgia Music Hall of Famer, and also the most recorded Starday artist of all-time
  • Jesse McReynolds - Bluegrass Hall of Famer and the longest tenured member of the Grand Ole Opry
  • Darnell Miller - Star of West Virginia's Saturday evening Country Jamboree TV shows and the longest tenured member of the Wheeling Jamboree
  • Frankie Miller - The "Black Land Farmer" himself, star of the Louisiana Hayride and frequent Grand Ole Opry guest
  • Arnold Parker - Rockabilly Hall of Famer and 2018 inductee into America's Old Time Country Music Hall of Fame
  • Margie Singleton - Hit songwriter, renowned session vocalist, and the first woman to record a duet LP with George Jones 
  • June Stearns - The last Smokey Mountain Girl in Roy Acuff’s band and frequent duet partner with Red Sovine, Johnny Duncan, Lefty Frizzell, and many more

What an amazing group of country music stars!! It’s a really fun record with a lot of traditional country music, bluegrass, rockabilly, western swing, honky-tonk, and gospel music legends from the 1950s and ‘60s! I love that all of these artists are still making great music today, 50-60 years after their Starday records first came out, and I really want to help and support all of them in every way that I can. 


It will cost thousands of dollars to pay for the licensing fees for 24 songs (which adds up quickly), the pressing of a gatefolded double-album on vinyl, a CD release, and to make a digital release possible.


Based on estimates I've received from Pirates Press, Discmakers, and the Harry Fox licensing agency, if we raise $10,000, I can do the following:

  • Press 1,000 CDs
  • Press 500 Double LPs
  • Pay for mechanical licensing fees
  • Make a digital download available via Dropbox

If we raise $14,000, I can do all of the above, but also:
  • Produce heavier vinyl pressings
  • Include the retro tip-on cardboard gatefold jackets for LPs
  • Produce full-color LP inserts
  • Produce full-color extended liner notes with lots of photos for the CDs
  • Create download cards and get digital distribution

If we raise $16,000, I can do all of the above as well as create music videos. I've got 24 super-cool Starday marionettes and my plan is make at least 12 music videos (one for each artist or group). The puppets are already completed, but this money will go towards paying for basic video editing help (color correction, cropping, syncing, text and graphics insertion, etc.).

  • Video Editing for 12 music videos

Finally, if we raise, $20,000, well then, I could put that last $4k towards my credit card bill which I haven't been able to pay down since this project began. Boy, wouldn't that be dreamy!?!? I could also use some of that money to pay the costs of shipping 24 marionettes to their real-life likenesses as a Thank You for participating in this project.


Invest $20 or more and you’ll get to HEAR and/or HOLD the new Nate Gibson & the Stars of Starday album!

If you're a fan of Nate Gibson, Starday Records, traditional country music, or any of the artists involved with this production and you are able to contribute more to the cause, additional perks include:

  • The Starday Story: The House That Country Music Built (paperback, winner of the 2012 Belmont Book Award for Best Book on Country Music)
  • Autographed 8x10 prints of the Stars of Starday (a very limited number of signed and stamped prints are available only via this Kickstarter campaign)
  • Autographed Starday 45s by the Stars of Starday
  • Some mighty rare Starday original releases
  • Autographed Nate Gibson CDs, LPs, and 7"s, including some mighty hard-to-find and out-of-print Nate Gibson productions

I’m super excited about this album and I hope you are too. All of the Starday legends sound amazing and I know everyone is going to love it when they hear it. While I’m proud that I’ve been able to self-fund the entire project thus far, my credit can be extended no more! That said, I really don't want to let down the Stars of Starday, and I certainly don't want to deprive their fans of hearing the new record, and so I ask that you consider pre-ordering a copy to help this project see the light of day. Kickstarter campaigns are mighty risky these days, as they are an all or nothing ordeal, but together I am confident that we can meet our goals!

All that said, if this project sounds promising and you know someone else who also likes traditional country music, rockabilly, bluegrass, gospel, honky-tonk, or western swing (or is just a huge fan of marionette music videos), please do let them know about this Kickstarter campaign! Every share helps, and I'll keep updating the site with studio session snippets, interview gems, music video productions, and relevant info about the release as often as I'm able!

It has been an absolute thrill to work on this project over the last two years and I'm really looking forward to the finished products. Many thanks for supporting traditional country music and, of course, thanks for supporting Nate Gibson & the Stars of Starday!

Kickstarter link:

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Ethnic Music of Northern Wisconsin and Michigan Collection Goes Live

Ever wonder what I'm up to in my little ol' studio up here at the Mills Music Library at the University of Wisconsin? Well, now you can hear for yourself because a large chunk of my digitization work on the NEH Local Centers/Global Sounds project just went public. The home page tells you about the overall project and when you click on the Ethnic Music of Northern WI and MI on the right hand side of the page you can browse or search that collection. The Ethnic Music of Northern Wisconsin and Michigan Collection documents traditional music of European immigrant communities in the northern tier of counties in Wisconsin and the western counties of the upper peninsula of Michigan along Lake Superior’s south shore. The collection reflects the mix of musical traditions among the region’s Cornish, Bohemian, Croatian, Finnish, French-Canadian, German, Hungarian, Italian, Norwegian, Polish, Russian, Irish, Slovenian, Slovak, Swedish, Swiss, and Ukrainian immigrant singers, instrumentalists, dance hall veterans, and home performers. There are hundreds of hours of fieldwork recordings--including LOTS of Finnish-American music and some amazing fieldnotes by James P. Leary--searchable already. Whenever you see an event listed as 'Multiple Elements' that means you can hear all the field recordings and interviews (as streaming WAVs), check out the photos and the fieldnotes, and search the finding aid. Lots and lots of great stuff in here pertaining to music and immigration in the Upper Midwest and with much more to come soon! Check it out here: