Roy Acuff’s Long Lost Country Smut Comedy Songs

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Roy Acuff may have been the model of good clean family fun and old-fashioned entertainment for the majority of his country music career, but at the beginning of his legendary, Hall of Fame-caliber run was an era of music that was quite the opposite of the accepted Acuff character, or the wholesome nature of his performance home of the family-friendly Grand Ole Opry.

Acuff helped make the Grand Ole Opry famous as much as anyone, and he also helped co-found the important publishing house Acuff-Rose (which later became Sony ATV). Roy Acuff is one of the most important figures in country music history, yet his legacy always seems to be overshadowed by the likes of Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, and other early country music superstars. Without Roy Acuff, there may have never been a country music industry. He was country music’s first commercially-successful “mainstream” music star, and he relied on quality music, original songs, undeniable talent, and unique business smarts for a music performer to get country music to the masses. His career and efforts laid the foundation for how music in country and beyond would be managed from a publishing standpoint all the way up until the present day.

Though many reserve the term “King” in country music for either “King” George Strait or for Hank Williams, Roy Acuff was officially the first “King of Country Music” and he was known as such for many years, even though it was self-anointed dictum on an album cover where it started. Acuff was a major influence on Hank Williams, even though Acuff publicly and privately chided Hank for his personal behavior. Roy once famously said to Hank Williams “You got a million-dollar voice and a ten cent brain.” Acuff did what he could throughout his career to keep country music wholesome, and it’s believed Roy played a role in getting Hank thrown off the Grand Ole Opry for his personal behavior and drunkenness. Acuff even disowned one of his grandchildren for getting arrested for drug possession years later.

However back before Acuff was doing everything he could to keep country music squeaky clean, he was performing, and even recording songs so full of sexual innuendo it might have even made Hank Williams blush. Roy Acuff was 20 years Hank’s senior, and had started in the music business when the Vaudeville stage shows were still very much a mainstay of American entertainment. Acuff traveled around as the music act for magical elixir shows, and much of what was considered country or hillbilly music at the time included comedy as part of the routine. Most every country band had a funny guy (usually the standup bass player) and a foil. Front men were also expected to be able to tell jokes between songs and keep the crowd on its toes.

Before Roy Acuff launched his Smoky Mountain Boys band, he toured the American South as “Roy Acuff and the Crazy Tennesseans,” and smut songs were very much a part of their musical routine. Though information is scant about Roy’s early career, some accounts say that sexually-implicit songs were the centerpiece of some early shows. Roy first gained the attention of country music at large in 1936 with the hymnal song “Great Speckle Bird,” which unlike most country music at the time, was full of metaphor. Though Roy Acuff found his first success with a religious song, he likely learned how to write songs that said one thing, but meant another through his smutty material.

Also in 1936, needing to fulfill a 20-song contract with the American Recording Company or ARC, Roy Acuff and his band went into the studio and cut two songs from their ribald material, “When Lulu’s Gone,” and “Doin’ It The Old-Fashioned Way.” Later Acuff did what he could to disavow from the material, but it was cut to vinyl for folks to listen to, and has been preserved up to today.

I wish I was a milk cow, down on my Lulu’s farm
I’d never kick when Lulu comes to polish up my horn
Bang away my Lulu, bang away good and strong
What you gonna do for banging when Lulu’s gone

“Doin’ It The Old-Fashined Way” was much more subtle, but the people who listened to this music knew what to listen for. Remember, this was material recorded way back in 1936 when such things were kept well hidden. Other early country performers were known to perform smut songs upon occasion, but few if any made it onto recordings.

In February 2016, comedian Ben Hoffman performing under the moniker Wheeler Walker Jr. released a completely ribald and sexually explicit album called Redneck Shit. David Allan Coe’s country music career has regularly been dogged by the burden of his two x-rated records that included all kinds of sexual language and racial slurs, while remaining underground favorites of many. Country artists like Larry Pierce, Shel Silverstein, The Beaumonts, Folk Uke, Rebel Son, and countless others have re-ignited country music’s ribald past in song during their careers as well.

It also makes you reconsider when a modern mainstream band like Florida Georgia Line includes a line like “Stick the pink umbrella in your drink,” or Steven Tyler’s “Free fallin’ into your yum-yum.” Is it truly uncharted territory, or is it something country music has always done? The major difference is that Roy Acuff, David Alan Coe, and Wheeler Walker Jr.’s salacious material was never meant to find its way onto mainstream radio.

Country music didn’t just start at the Bristol Sessions. The “Singing Cowboys” of the silver screen in Hollywood, and Vaudeville actors, comedians, and entertainers turned musicians were very much a part of country music’s founding. And Roy Acuff, the “King of Country Music,” didn’t just participate, but arguably founded country music’s smutty past, for better or worse.