Hutchins Library
Special Collections & Archives
Guide to the Doc Roberts Papers

photo of Doc Roberts and Edgar Boaz

Accession Number: 75
The Doc Roberts Papers
Papers, 1910-1938
Bulk Dates: 1924-1935
1.2 linear feet
Online Catalog Record (BANC)

Overview & Series Description
Box List

Overview of the Collection

The papers of Dock Philip ("Doc") Roberts were placed in the Berea College Department of Special Collections and Archives in October of 1998 by James Roberts, Dock Roberts' son, and were opened for research in November of 1998.

Dock Philip Roberts-- (b. 1897, d. 1978) Roberts was born in Madison County, Kentucky, and was among the state's first traditional musicians to be recorded commercially. His father died at an early age, leaving Dock and his brothers to take care of the family's farm. However, Roberts also found time to learn music and by age seven had begun playing the fiddle. He picked up songs from local fiddlers, and tried to emulate their styles. Early on, he met Owen Walker, an African-American fiddler who, Roberts said, greatly influenced his playing style and repertoire. In 1925 a neighbor, Dennis Taylor invited Roberts to join Welby Toomey and Edgar Boaz in a commercial recording venture for the Gennett Recording Company in Richmond, Indiana. Later he also recorded for the Paramount and American Record Companies. Among his best known tunes are: "Way Down South in Dixie," "All I've Got's Done Gone," "Deer Walk," and "Brick Yard Joe." He recorded 80 instrumental sides and as many more on which he played backup.

Roberts was most active professionally through about 1934. With Asa Martin, Ted Chestnut, son James, and other musicians he made many stage appearances throughout Kentucky. Healthy record sales brought brief forays into radio including the WLS National Barn Dance in 1928. He also had programs in Council Bluffs, Iowa, in 1932, and Lexington, Kentucky, in 1934 on WLAP. It was the Chicago and Council Bluffs experiences perhaps, that made clear to Roberts that show business success wasn't important enough to him to put up with city noise and being away from home and family. He and his Kentucky Thorobreds were well received over WLAP weekday mornings and on a Saturday night barn dance program which in turn brought good paying local bookings. However by 1935 he had decided to give full attention to farming, keeping his hand in musically only with guest appearances on WLW and WHAS, and with son Donald, playing for local square dances.

The folk revival of the 1960s and the achievement of academic respectability for the study of country music led to Robert's rediscovery (in his early 60s) when he had all but given up fiddling. Folklorists and historians such as Archie Green, Norm Cohen, and Charles Wolfe and a host of fans and fiddlers beat a path to his door. The results were lengthy treatments of his tunes and talent in Green's Only A Miner, Wolfe's The Devil's Box, the JEMF Quarterly, and recording reissues on the Davis Unlimited, County, and Morning Star labels. In 1974 a reunion concert with son, James, and Asa Martin was held at Berea College. Roberts died in 1978 at age 82.

The business correspondence, record company royalty statements, and radio listener fan mail contained in this collection will help serve those who wish to study Roberts and/or the commercialization of traditional music during the years 1925 to 1934.

Important subjects covered in the collection include: country music in America from the early 1920s through the 1930s and information on the commercial recording activities of the Starr Piano Company of Richmond, Indiana.

Musician and other corespondents include: Green Bailey, Ted Chestnut, Asa Martin, Dick Parman, Paul I. Burks, F.W. Edwards, Jack W. Elliott, James T. Ellis, Roland Gaines, Bradley F. Kincaid, N.B. Knight, B. Roberts, Bob Miller, G.A. Nennsteil, C.A. Nolan, C.D. Shepherd, and D. Taylor.

Related Berea College Archives
Bradley Kincaid Papers, SAA 13

Series Description
3 manuscript boxes

Series I Correspondence from Record Companies Box 1

This series contains information on the companies for which Doc Roberts recorded. Items included are record release brochures and catalogs, recording contracts, royalty statements, and correspondence with the Gennett, American, and Paramount Record Companies.

Series II Roberts' Music and Fellow Musicians Box 2

This series includes song lists, information on fiddlers' contests, and correspondence with fellow musicians. These correspondents include: Green Bailey, Ted Chestnut, Asa Martin, Dick Parman, Paul I. Burks, F.W. Edwards, Jack W. Elliott, James T. Ellis, Roland Gaines, Bradley Kincaid, N.B. Knight, B. Roberts, Bob Miller, G.A. Nennsteil, C.A. Nolan, C.D. Shepherd, and D. Taylor

Series III Fan Mail Box 3

The bulk of the fan mail in this collection is from 1934, and is addressed to Doc Roberts and his group, The Kentucky Thorobreds, when they played on Lexington, Kentucky radio station, WLAP.

Series IV Ephemera and Envelopes Box 3

Items include bank statements, catalogs, consumer brochures, and mailing envelopes that Roberts saved throughout the years.

Box List

Series I Correspondence from Record Companies Box 1

Box 1
  1. Agreements with the Starr Piano Company: September, 1925- April 1930
  2. Gennett Correspondence: 1926-1927
  3. Gennett Correspondence: 1928
  4. Gennett Correspondence: 1929
  5. Gennett Correspondence: 1930
  6. Gennett Correspondence: 1931
  7. Gennett Correspondence: 1932-1934
  8. Release Sheets (Gennett Records), March 15, 1929- February 1, 1930
  9. Gennett Record Catalogs: January, 1928-January, 1930
  10. Gennett Royalties: July 1, 1928- February 8, 1934
  11. Misc. Envelops from Gennett
  12. Misc. Items Associated with Gennett
  13. Correspondence with Paramount Record Company: 1927-1929
  14. Paramount Record Co. Envelopes and Misc. items
  15. Brunswick Record Company Correspondence
  16. Vocalion and Melotone Record Company Brochures
  17. American Record Corporation: Misc. Documents
  18. Correspondence with the American Record Corporation: 1930-1934
  19. Champion Record Release Brochures: Oct. 1928-March 1930
Series II Roberts' Music and Fellow Musicians Box 2

Box 2
  1. Song Lists
  2. Fiddlers' Contests Information
  3. Correspondence with Green Bailey: 1928
  4. Correspondence with Ted Chestnut: 1927-29
  5. Correspondence with Asa Martin: 1928-31; 1934
  6. Correspondence with Dick Parman: 1927-30; 1934
  7. Correspondence with Paul I. Burks: 1927-1928
  8. Correspondence with F.W. Edwards: 1927
  9. Correspondence with Jack W. Elliot: 1928
  10. Correspondence with James Tandy Ellis: 1927
  11. Correspondence with Roland Gaines: 1931
  12. Correspondence with Bradley Kincaid: 1930
  13. Correspondence with N.B. Knight Variety Store: 1930
  14. Correspondence with Burton Roberts
  15. Correspondence with Bob Miller
  16. Correspondence with G. A. Nennsteil (Sterchi Brothers): 1926; 1927
  17. Correspondence with: C.D. Shepherd: 1927
  18. Correspondence with: C.A. Nolan: 1928; 1931
  19. Miscellaneous Personal Correspondence: 1912; 1930; 1934; n.d.
Series III Fan Mail Box 3

Box 3
  1. Fan mail: 1927-1930
  2. Fan mail while at WLAP: April, 1934
  3. Fan mail while at WLAP: April, 1934
Series IV Ephemera and Envelopes Box 3

Box 3, cont.
  1. Envelopes addressed to Roberts at WLAP
  2. Misc. Envelopes
  3. Samples of Envelopes from the Starr Piano Co.
  4. Samples of Envelopes from the Starr Piano Co.
  5. Samples of Envelopes from the New York Recording Laboratories
  6. Ephemera
  7. Photographs
  8. Published discography
  9. Published interviews and articles
  10. Home Disc Recording recorded 5-15-54 by James Roberts. Six fiddle tunes by Doc Roberts accompanied by James Roberts: Cripple Creek / McMitchum's [McMitchen’s ?] Reel / Martha Campbell / Buck Creek Girl / Over the Waves.

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