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The Mitchell Brothers (Sunshine Ramblers)

by Joyce Cauthen

The Sunshine Ramblers, who recorded for the American Record Company in 1937, consisted of brothers Eddie and Albert Mitchell and friend Buster Bynum. Eddie and Buster are now deceased and the following information comes from Albert Mitchell of Moulton, Alabama.

Albert and Eddie Mitchell were born in the Wheeler community of Lawrence County, Alabama. Eddie was 2 years older than Albert, who was born in 1917. In their mother's family were people who played fiddle, banjo and guitar at family gatherings. Albert thought their music was the most wonderful thing he had ever heard. When he was 12 he and Eddie decided to become musicians themselves. There was a black, blind musician in the area that people would pick up and take to play for parties. Albert's family brought 'Blind Jack" home to teach the two boys a few chords. Eddie mail-ordered a violin, but couldn't learn to play it. Albert took to it immediately and became the band's fiddler while Eddie played rhythm guitar. The two boys would come in from the fields for lunch and would practice their playing and singing instead of resting like the others did.

They were already good singers. They had attended singing schools during four or five summers where they learned to read shape notes and sing Southern gospel music from the paper-back books produced by companies like Stamps-Baxter. Albert sang tenor and Eddie sang high tenor. They did not perform gospel music, however. They played breakdowns and sang country music they learned from records of the Delmore Brothers (from nearby Limestone County), Bill Monroe, Roy Acuff, the Carter family, and anybody else who was making records at the time. They listened to the Grand Ole Opry, but according to Albert, 'We lived so far in the country we couldn't get it until Wednesday." Albert entered many of the numerous fiddlers' conventions held in the area and won first place at all but one.

Also Eddie wrote his own songs and they worked out harmonies that suited them. They, with Buster Bynum on mandolin, performed as the Sunshine Ramblers at school programs, parties, dances, and fiddlers' conventions and gained enough local fame that when Mr. R.W. Calaway, a talent scout for American Record Company came to Alabama looking for performers with original songs, someone told him about the group. He called and asked them to come to Birmingham to record. They'd never been there before, but they accepted the offer. They recorded the three songs they had written and to fill out a second side, they performed a unique, personalized version of a well-known song,"Ragged but Right." In theirs the protagonist was a thief and a burglar who went to Atmore, an Alabama prison.

The recordings sold well. They were paid half a cent for each record sold and received a royalty check once a month. Albert recalls that one of the recordings sold 55,000. It was played in juke boxes and on all the radio stations in the area. Even with their new-found fame, the rough road conditions and lack of reliable transportation kept them home but busy with local events. They were due to return to Birmingham the following year with more songs to record and Albert cannot remember why they did not. They also had an audition for the Grand Ole Opry scheduled, but Buster Bynum's mother was buried on that day. They did not reschedule the audition.

In 1939 Albert married the lovely Glen Cagle. By that time Eddie was a barber and Albert decided to become one also. They two worked together for a long time before Eddie took up another career. Albert continued and developed a large barbershop in downtown Moulton with a beauty shop run by Mrs. Mitchell on the second floor. In the following years he played in several bands, on the radio, at the Moose Club, at street dances, at the county fair, etc. There were later years he did not play much, but now often plays violin in church, where he has always been a member of the choir. He plays waltzes, hymns, and a mean "Chicken Reel."

Based on an interview by Joyce Cauthen in Moulton, AL, March 22, 2003. Reprinted by Permission.