WHO WERE THE ROUSE BROTHERS?
Article by Jacob Katel
The Rouse Brothers were hard drinking fiddle demons who lived in the Everglades amongst the outlaws and wetlanders, shack shakers, and juke jointers. They were party lifers, and money spenders. And chart topping songwriters.
Their toil produced “One of the top 10 country songs of the century” according to ASCAP (the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers), and they are featured in the Smithsonian Museum’s music library.
Ervin T Rouse (sometimes spelled Erwin Rouse) is the man responsible for the “Orange Blossom Special,” covered on over 200 records and made most famous by the man in black, Johnny Cash, but also by hillbilly hall-of-famer Bill Monroe and His Bluegrass Boys. The Rouses astutely maintained their rights as songwriters; Every time Johnny Cash sings it, they get paid.
The earliest known recording was cut by Ervin with backup fiddle from his brother Gordon Rouse, and lyrics from his brother Jack Rouse. This record by The Rouse Brothers came out on RCA’s Bluebird Records under matrix number 8218 in 1939.
The song is a frenetic archetype of bluegrass virtuosity; a fast and furious anthropomorphized rendition of the great train ride south on the Florida East Coast railway conceived of by Flagler and built mostly by the African-Americans and Bahamians, and also Chinese who set their forces of construction into making Miami the bold metropolis it is today.
Way back in 1953, BILLBOARD Magazine called the Rouse Brothers “Hillbilly recording artists.” They were born in the mountains of Craven County, North Carolina, and hit the road as kids to play in Vaudeville shows, but not long after scoring their hit with Orange Blossom Special, they moved to the Everglades.
The Rouse’s cut lines on the edge of society, supposedly blowing their royalty checks on new Cadillacs every quarter, or at least making a reputation for drinking hard and hellraising their way into the city for concerts, and also meetings and recording sessions with Henry Stone.
They even brought him new generations of Rouse to record. In a 2013 interview, Stone remembered, “Elaine Gay, she was a daughter of one of the Rouse brothers, about 11 or 13 years old, real country, real country folk, and I recorded her. They brought her to me dirty, bare feet, and she had a great little country sound. She had a great little country sound. I sent her up to King Records, but she never broke through.”
In the 1950’s the Rouse Brothers themselves recorded a series of classic cuts for Henry Stone’s Rockin’ and DeLuxe labels.
Some of the songs were pressed up on 78rpm shellac and introduced to distribution. Others never left the confines of the magnetic Scotch recording tape that houses their ever wailing souls even today.
Thanks to Henry Stone Music USA Inc. and the HistoryMiami museum, some of these recordings will finally see the light of day at Gramps in Wynwood.
ANALOG ARCHIVES: A NEW EVENT SERIES PRESENTED BY HISTORYMIAMI MUSEUM
February 24, 7:00pm. Gramps, 176 NW 24th St, Miami, Florida 33127
Discover Miami’s musical roots with classic analog recordings by the legendary Henry Stone in the 1950s. Digitized from original tapes by City of Progress Studio with a Knight Foundation grant, these recordings showcase Miami’s dynamic music history and include rock and roll, bluegrass, soul, and country western artists and songs.
Free to the Public
From 1946 to 2014, Henry Stone ruled the Florida music industry with an iron fist, a brick of cash, and a warehouse full of vinyl. HSM is the last of over one hundred record labels he personally founded. This record label includes works from every decade in his sixty-five year career right up until today. Licensing available for film, samples, advertising, movies, video games, and more. Family owned and operated.