Reflections

Brown’s Ferry Four Was ‘Scrap Iron Quartet’

By Charles Cooper


Hello everyone, hope you’re having a good week.  
The North Main Methodist church still maintains that graceful look that many churches had in the 19th Century—white frame building with steeple. I hope it always remains the same. It was originally built in the proximity of the Yocona Twine Mill with the hope of ministering to the mill workers and many became part of the congregation.
At one time as you entered the foyer there was a plaque that stated it was erected in memory of Minister Harry Gibbs, who died at his post. Several years ago I happened to go into the church and the plaque was missing and I asked my dear friend, the late Cathy Ward who had been a member for most of her life, to find out what had happened to it.
 She found that it had been moved to a back room with no explanation as to the reason. As the late Paul Harvey would say,” this is the rest of the story.”
Gibbs came from England where the churches were very vocal against social injustice and he found a fertile field with the terrible  conditions of the cotton mill workers—many in his own congregation.
He preached sermons critical of child labor and poor wages, particularly  the practice of forcing the workers to buy at the company store by issuing script instead of cash wages. What I’m going to tell you now comes from conversations I had with two people who were living there at the time—John Strickland and Papa Badley.  
Gibbs was 36 years old, strongly dedicated to his cause but not too strong physically. He decided to confront the owner, Daniel Wagner, face to face and did so on Main street in front of the Wagner store. During a heated exchange Wagner struck Gibbs.  
Gibbs, who was carrying a cane, left and walked back to the parsonage. He died, from what was either a shock or a blood clot, at the parsonage.
I mentioned John Strick-land who was a fine old gentleman and something of a character. He and Joe Dickey were in a car wreck in the 1920s. Mr. Strickland was injured but survived.
His pastor visited him and said, “Brother Strick-land it’s a miracle you survived, the Lord was certainly with you.”
Mr. Strickland replied, “No there wasn’t anybody in there but me and Joe Dickey.”   
Someone whose memory goes back as far as mine commented that I didn’t mention in last week’s column that the Delmore brothers had a quartet called The Brown’s Ferry Four.  I knew about the quartet, but I usually only write about established groups.
The Brown’s Ferry Four was what we always referred to as a “Scrap Iron Quartet,” meaning it was put together with people who normally didn’t sing together.
The Delmore brothers were singing on a radio station in Cincinnati and they got together with Morris Jones, later famous as Grandpa Jones, and depending on which one was available, Merle Travis or Red Foley on bass.
They used no arrangements with only Rabon Delmore  on tenor guitar and singing baritone. Although not as polished as groups that rehearse and rearrange, they sang the songs as written and came up with a great sound. As we all know, Merle Travis, Red Foley, and Grandpa Jones went on to have great careers in country music.
This is why I always welcome your input as it keeps me on my toes. My email address is cncooper1@hotmail.com or write me at P.O. Box 613189 Memphis, TN 38101 and have a great week.

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