By Greg Tucker, President Rutherford County Historical Society
The legendary David Harrison Macon (1870-1952), a Rutherford County icon known far and wide as Uncle Dave Macon, was the first “full-blown star” of WSM’s Grand Ole Opry. He also fathered seven sons.
Archie Emery Jesse Macon was the oldest of the Macon siblings. During his youth, Archie helped his father run a mule-powered freight line between Murfreesboro and Woodbury. A few local folks still remember that Dave sat up on the wagon singing, playing his banjo-and drinking. Biographer Charles Wolfe quoted Archie: “We hauled everything … something that paid good in those days, and still does-Jack Daniel No. 7-hauled to Woodbury for 25 cents a gallon.” (Rutherford County Historical Society Publication #35, 1995).
But even better money may have come from hauling the untaxed product out of Cannon County, some of which Uncle Dave would himself enjoy along the way. Archie had a different bent, however, and eventually relocated to the Blackman community. He was a skilled blacksmith, but made his living primarily as a farrier. “He shod horses all over the area,” remembers his cousin Charles H. (“Bud”) Richardson.
(Uncle Dave married Matilda Richardson, sister of Ruel Elmo Richardson, father of Bud and Walter Richardson. For the Richardson brothers, Uncle Dave was a real “uncle.”)
Archie tended to the hooves of work and pleasure horses. “If a horse had a bad gait, Archie could fix it,” remembers Jerry Boney. “He could even correct the natural gait of a walking horse.” But Archie wouldn’t put the heavy, built-up shoes on a walker. “Seems like he believed it wasn’t good for the horse. He was always kind and gentle with the animals.”
Archie also enjoyed church services and revivals. According to Blackman native Larry McDonald: “Archie would sit in the front row and sing louder than anyone.” Archie raised three children — Wren, Robert and Ramsey. Archie’s grandchildren have kept the family’s music tradition performing at the annual Uncle Dave Macon Days celebration in Murfreesboro.
Johnny was a carpenter and fence builder. He had two sons — J. D. Macon and Sam Macon. “I grew up playing and schooling with J. D. and Sam,” recalls cousin Bud. Johnny married twice and died relatively young with cancer.
Glenn Samuel (“Book”) Macon was the uniquely talented son who stayed home. He never married and lived with his parents in the big house near
Kittrell for most of his life. His later years were spent in a small house built behind the big house on the family farm. He was a natural musician. “He could play anything,” recalls his cousin, “and many thought he was a better musician than his father.”
Book was ambidextrous and played the banjo left and right-handed. “Book had his ways, though. He never dressed up for any reason, and he never would play music in public. He wasn’t even comfortable jammin’ if someone was there that he didn’t know good,” explains Bud.
Cousin Walter Richardson recalls that after Uncle Dave’s death, Roy Acuff and Brother Oswald from the Grand Ole Opry came to visit Book and tried to convince him to perform. He declined, saying he would not like the travel and schedule. Those who knew him figured he was just too shy to ever play for an audience.
Like his father, Book enjoyed a bit of drink and usually had a jug handy when he was playing with “the boys.” He liked his beer down at the Little Brown Jug. Frankie Pope was a favorite drinking buddy and a skilled guitarist. Buddy Cox often joined in on the fiddle. Jam sessions were usually at Cox’s house, when not at Book’s place.
Book was also a celebrated baseball player back when the community ball teams were a primary source of entertainment and community pride. He played for the Readyville club sponsored by Henry Holmes, owner of a repair shop across from the Readyville post office. “Book was an intimidating pitcher that could throw right or left-handed with equal speed and control,” remembers cousin Bud. He was also pretty strong with the bat.
“I was just a child,” notes cousin Walter, “but I remember a July Fourth game where Book hit a ball foul and it knocked a big plug of bark off a hackberry. Left a mark like a bull’s-eye.” (The Readyville ball diamond was near the river across from the lumber company.)
Book did a stint in the Army as an engineer “building bridges.” According to his cousins, he did some carpentry work for folks around Kittrell. “I don’t know how he got his nickname,” says Bud. “I never saw him with a book.”
Unlike his brother, Dorris Vanderbilt Macon, a guitarist, enjoyed performing and accompanied his father on stage and in recording sessions. Uncle Dave’s performances were not just song and instrument. is act drew on the old-time minstrel style with a touch of vaudeville slapstick. He punctuated his music with jokes, shouts, instrument juggling and slapping, gospel one minute and off-color the next. Dorris played straight man for the jokes, added sound effects, and when Uncle Dave was loud and in high spirits, Dorris would urge him on: “Rave on, Pa, ra-a-ave on!” The audiences laughed, shouted and applauded.
(A story is told that when Uncle Dave first saw a performance by a young banjo master named Earl Scruggs, he remarked: “He ain’t one bit funny!”)
Dorris lived in Woodbury with his wife, but had no children. “Cousin Dorris would come by the house on Saturday afternoon and pick up all us cousins,” recalls Bud. “He would take us to Nashville, buy us a restaurant meal and take us backstage at the Opry.”
Esten Gray (“Doad”) Macon was the quiet brother-a relative intellectual, bald and blind or nearly blind in one eye. He was “called” to the ministry and preached at a number of area churches. “Doad could quote the King James Version word-for-word and never look down at the book,” remembers cousin Walter. “He would preach for an hour or more without notes.” His sunrise services in the Kittrell Cemetery were always well attended.
Doad was also a school teacher and early in his career substituted all over the county. One morning he got a call to fill in at Murray School on the Bradyville Pike. The ground was snow-covered that morning and travel was difficult, so Doad walked from his home in Kittrell to the Murray community (about 4 miles). He arrived mid-morning while the students were at recess. After removing his coat and boots, Doad stepped out on the porch and sounded the bell calling the students back to class. He was immediately pelted from three directions by a barrage of well-aimed snowballs. Amidst youthful laughter, the young teacher stepped back into the building, brushed off the snow, put on his coat and boots, and — without a word — began his walk back to Kittrell. Ralph Puckett remembers the incident: “I was one of the younger kids and didn’t throw any snow, but I sure did laugh.”
Doad served for a time as principal at Kittrell. Robert Stroop remembers that Doad was always concerned and suspicious whenever he saw a number of the boys in a tight group. “He assumed we were doing or plotting some mischief. Just for aggravation when we knew he was watching, we would gather like we were talking or smoking. He would come over to investigate, and we would get a good laugh, expecting he couldn’t punish us for doing nothing.”
Cousin Bud remembers that Doad did give a few whippings, but “they never hurt.” Doad married late and had no children.
Paul Franklin (“Cat”) Mason was the youngest. His cousins remember him as a heavy drinker, and “he cussed a right smart.” One of his buddies was well-digger Vernon Haynes. Cat spent a lot of time hanging around the Haynes home on Bradyville Pike.
One evening he passed out in the Haynes living room. Ms. Annie (the lady of the house) ordered him out. George Haynes and Ray Puckett drug him out and drove him home. When they got to his father’s house, they banged on the locked door. Uncle Dave responded: “Who’s there?” Haynes answered saying they had brought Cat home. Uncle Dave shouted from inside: “Is he drunk?” Hearing an affirmative reply, Uncle Dave shouted: “Keep him, we don’t want him here.”
Cat was a veteran of World War II and Korea. He married and had one daughter, but soon after his father’s funeral in 1952 he disappeared. According to cousin Walter: “Cat and Otto Gammon left Murfreesboro on a Greyhound bus headed for Chicago. They stopped at a bar and Cat said he was going to the bathroom. He disappeared.” Gammon returned alone and told of the disappearance. Some years later, Raymond Bilbrey reported seeing and talking to Cat at a restaurant in Harlan, Ky., but Cat was never again seen or heard from in Rutherford County.
Harry Richardson Macon was “his brothers’ keeper.” Third-born Harry went to work as a young driver for Wilson trucking. “No heaters in those early trucks, and Cousin Harry would keep a lit coal oil lamp on the floor next to him for warmth.” He moved to Nashville and lived in a hotel room when he was off the road. For most of his career, he drove a “transfer truck” between Nashville and St. Louis. He never married.
“Harry looked out for our mother after my father died,” explains cousin Walter. “He would come to see us about every two weeks bringing groceries
and such. On these visits, he would load the kids in his car and take us to town for ice cream.”
Greg Tucker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.