Final Notes, George ‘Speedy’ Krise

George ‘Speedy’ Krise, a pioneer of the Dobro in early country music and the first to record bluegrass on the instrument, died on June 9, 2011, in Portsmouth, Virginia, at 89 years of age. He was laid to rest in his family plot in Hinton, West Virginia, the town where he was born on May 7, 1922.

Speedy’s Dobro playing helped define the sound of the instrument in early country and bluegrass. He learned to play while a kid in West Virginia, picking up licks from Tom Ball, his future brother-in-law, and from Hawaiian 78s. He moved into playing country because, as he remembered, “there was no demand for that traditional Hawaiian music at that time.” He started out playing for Little Jimmie Dickens, the Lilly Brothers, and Walter Bailes at WJLS in Beckley. Speedy recalled he was eating chicken with Little Jimmie Dickens when the news came on the radio that Pearl Harbor had been bombed.

While at WJLS Speedy began playing live shows with Lynn Davis and Dixie Lee (Molly O’Day) and the Forty-Niners. Speedy is now perhaps best remembered for his playing on O’Day’s classic sessions for Columbia Records, in which he helped establish the standard sound for Hawaiian guitar in early country music. This band, the Cumberland Mountain Folks, also included Skeets Williamson on fiddle, Lynn Davis on guitar, and Mac Wiseman on bass.

When O’Day quit playing commercially, Speedy played successively in several other bands, including Carl Butler’s band in 1950-1951. It was with Butler that Speedy first recorded bluegrass music for Capitol records and became a successful songwriter. The Butler sessions included some of Speedy’s songs such as “Heartbreak Express,” “You Plus Me,” “Our Last Rendezvous,” and “Plastic Heart.” Roy Acuff soon recorded "Plastic Heart," and Wiseman had a hit with another of Speedy’s songs, “Goin’ Like Wildfire.” It was on a demo of Speedy’s songs that country star Carl Smith first came to notice as a singer.

Speedy played for a number of years on WNOX in Knoxville as a part of a comedy duo with Fred Smith called the Arkansas Travelers, as a member of Archie Campbell’s band, and for such bands as Jack Shelton’s Green County Boys. Speedy later joined the band of Red and Billy Jean Lydick and the Dixie Drifters at WOAY in Oak Hill, West Virginia. He thereafter retired from full-time music and took a job at the Cook Coffee Company in Akron, Ohio, where he and his wife Freda lived for 44 years. Speedy continued to play music on the side and released a couple of recordings such as Old Time Dobro and More Sounds of Appalachia. Speedy’s life and his significance in early country music were covered in a documentary film produced by Charles Bean and Ray Schmitt of the Library of Congress in 1995.

Speedy was friendly, religious, and welcoming. He leaves behind Freda, three daughters and a son, an expansive family including ten grandchildren, seventeen great-grandchildren, and one great-great-grandchild, and many friends.

Dan Margolies

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