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The Carlisles

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Cliff Carlisle (b. Clifford Raymond Carlisle, 6 May 1904, near Mount Eden, Spencer County, Kentucky, USA, d. 2 April 1983, Lexington, Kentucky, USA) and Bill Carlisle (b. William Carlisle, 19 December 1908, Wakefield, Kentucky, USA, d. 17 March 2003, USA). Born in a log cabin on a tobacco farm, Cliff developed an early affinity for yodelling blues music and the Hawaiian guitar, which led to him becoming one of the best steel guitarists to play in country music. He is also considered a pioneer of the dobro and a fine yodeller and singer of most types of country songs, comedy and blues. During the 20s, he and singer/guitarist Wilbur Ball toured with vaudeville shows and in 1930 appeared on WHAS Louisville as the Lullaby Larkers. Mainly because of Cliff’s yodelling abilities, they first recorded for Gennett Records in 1930, and, in June 1931, with Cliff playing steel guitar, they accompanied Jimmie Rodgers on two recordings in Louisville. Between 1933 and 1936 Cliff also recorded several risqué ballads, including his self-penned ‘Mouse’s Ear Blues’, sometimes using for these a pseudonym such as Bob Clifford or Amos Greene. Bill Carlisle, who had joined his brother in the late 20s when they formed the Carlisles, also recorded as a solo artist in 1933, gaining success with his recording of ‘Rattlesnake Daddy’. They toured extensively throughout the Midwest and for some years were based at Charlotte. Cliff’s son Tommy first performed with them when he was three years old and later recorded as Sonny Boy Tommy, singing such songs as ‘Lonely Little Orphan Child’ and stayed with the group until he joined the US Army in the 40s. They signed with RCA - Victor Records in 1936 but during their years together recorded for most major record labels. Their song content changed during the next few years, even including gospel material in lieu of the risqué numbers. In the late 40s, recordings on King Records of ‘Rainbow At Midnight’ and ‘Tramp On The Street’ made the US country charts before Cliff nominally retired in the early 50s. Bill formed a new Carlisles group. He soon established a reputation for humorous songs and attained major chart success with self-penned numbers such as ‘Too Old To Cut The Mustard’, ‘Is Zat You, Myrtle?’ and a country number 1, ‘No Help Wanted’. In 1952, a duet recording of the first song was also a US Top 10 country hit for Ernest Tubb and Red Foley and a US pop hit for Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters. In 1953, the ‘Carlisles’ joined the Grand Ole Opry and when the band finally disbanded in the mid-60s, Bill stayed on, appearing at times with his children Billy and Sheila. His 1966 Hickory recording of ‘What Kinda Deal Is This?’ made number 4 on the US country charts. Cliff continued to write songs and in the 60s made some concert appearances and recordings with his brother, and after a gap of 40 years, appeared with Wilbur Ball at the San Diego Folk Festival in 1971. Soon afterwards his health began to deteriorate and Cliff Carlisle died following a heart attack in April 1983. Bill continued to appear on the Grand Ole Opry and make public appearances.

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