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Cliff Carlisle


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Cliff Carlisle (May 6, 1903, Taylorsville, Kentucky – April 5, 1983, Lexington, Kentucky) was an American country and blues singer. Carlisle was a yodeler and was a pioneer in the use of the Hawaiian steel guitar in country music.

Carlisle grew up in Kentucky, and began performing locally with cousin Lillian Truax at age 16. Truax’s marriage put and end to the group, and following this Carlisle began playing with Wilber Ball, a guitarist and tenor harmonizer. The two toured frequently around the U.S. playing vaudeville and circus venues in the 1920s.

Carlisle and Ball first played at Louisville, Kentucky radio station WHAS in 1930, which would make them local stars, and later that year they recorded for Gennett Records and Champion Records. They recorded with Jimmie Rodgers in 1931. Toward the end of 1931, Carlisle signed with ARC and was offered performance slots on several radio stations nationwide, including WBT (Charlotte, North Carolina), WLS (Chicago) and WLW (Cincinnati). Cliff’s brother Bill became his guitarist after Ball left in 1934. During the 1930s Carlisle, who recorded a large amount of material despite a hiatus from 1934 to 1936, frequently released songs of a frankly sexual nature, including songs with barnyard metaphors (which became something of a trademark).

Carlisle toured with his son, “Sonny Boy Tommy”, to occasional consternation from authorities in areas where this contravened local child labor laws. He continued to perform on WMPS in Memphis, Tennessee for several years in the 1940s, but by the 1950s had retired from music.


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