The Mitchell Brothers (John & Bill Mitchell) • Newspaper Highlights (1915–1939)

The Mitchell Brothers (John & Bill Mitchell)
Newspaper Highlights (1915–1939)

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Although remembered primarily as members of Carson Robison’s synthetic-cowboy band in the 1930s, that was John and Bill Mitchell’s second act. Their first show-business career had begun much earlier, as a novelty banjo-and-vocal act. They were performing professionally by the time they were in prep school, honed their skills with the University of Washington’s “Pain Killer” Banjo Band in the late ’teens, and by the early 1920s were traveling the vaudeville circuits. By the time Robison tapped the brothers for his Bucakroos in 1932, they had retired from the stage and were running an oil-burner business, but Robison finally persuaded them to join his new band by dangling a trip to England as an incentive.

The Mitchells’ first recording session was brokered by California Ramblers manager Ed Kirkeby, who at that time was still managing other artists as well as his own band. It was held for Pathé on April 26, 1923, according to Kirkeby’s files, and the resulting sides — “Blue Hoosier Blues” and “Banjo Blues” (issued simultaneously on Pathé 021002 and Perfect 11123) — were inexplicably issued under the alias, “McGavock & Tillman” (and later, disguised as “Harper & Coralie” for a Cameo reissue).

In late 1924, the Mitchells signed with Victor and recorded several sides acoustically over a couple of months. Unfortunately, the records were released in February 1925, just as the company was upgrading to electrical recording, and they were deleted when much of the acoustic catalog was purged in 1926. They returned to Victor in October of that year for a final side.

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Capsule biography of the Mitchell Brothers (Kenosha [WI] Evening News, January 26, 1927)

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One of the earliest ads for the Mitchell Brothers (Hot Springs, Arkansas, April 1915), while they were still prep-school students.

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John and Bill Mitchell (left) as members of the University of Washington “Pain Killer” Banjo Band, Decemeber 1919.

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Playing the Liberty in Spokane, Washington, May 1921 (top) and September 1922.

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Seattle, June 1921

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Announcement of the Mitchell Brothers’ first record to be issued under their own name (Victor 19531), January 1925. The recordings were made in New York on November 26, 1924.

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Nashville, July 1926

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The Mitchell Brothers with Carson Robison’s make-believe cowboy band (variously billed as the Pioneers or the Buckaroos), March 1934. Pearl Pickens, who had attended Julliard, and was Bill Mitchell’s wife.

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A 1939 Screen and Radio Weekly account of the Buckaroos’ formation. Note the reference to college graduates John and Bill Mitchell as “a couple of cowhands,” typical of the shtick that went along with synthetic country-and-western groups like Robison’s.    

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MITCHELL BROTHERS: Nobody Knows What a Redhead Mama Can Do

New York: January 9, 1925
Victor 19561 (mx. B 31599 – 2)

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MITCHELL BROTHERS: Popular Medley (Linger While; Doo Wacka Doo; Eliza; Doodle Doo Doo)

New York: January 9, 1925
Victor 19561 (mx. B 31598 – 4)

John Mitchell (tenor vocal, banjo); Bill Mitchell (baritone vocal, banjo)

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