That would be the Ossman-Dudley Trio, which a hundred years ago, some readers may recall, recorded a few sides with harp guitar accompaniment (“St. Louis Tickle” being their biggest hit). I admit that I thought about it, as the name reads pretty strange. So what’s going on?
Well, Ossman is easy – he’s Vess Ossman, the “Banjo King” of the turn of the last century. Dudley, it seems, was unknown until more recent times. He is one Audley Dudley, and plays mandolin on the recordings. So, the third guy to make it a trio must have been the unknown, perhaps work-for-hire harp guitarist…simple!
Except…I found out just this week who it was, and it’s a surprise twist.
I received an out-of-the-blue email from the harp guitarist’s granddaughter just this week, and she has quite the story for us. In fact, it includes a complete 1953 article in a record collector magazine from extensive autobiographical letters written at the time by his wife. In reading it, one realizes that A) It was a big mystery to record collectors and early banjo fans in 1953, and B) it remains a mystery, as the article was soon forgotten, and somehow the collective knowledge of that magazine’s dedicated readers never found its way into the record books. In fact, I just checked Wikipedia (which, yes, I loathe, but just in case…) and – sure enough – no one mentions the harp guitarist.
I was thinking of not telling you yet, but I fear some readers may lose sleep over it. So I’ll include just the “reveal” from the lengthy article:
The “mystery” which for years has surrounded the Ossman-Dudley Trio in the minds of thousands of record collectors will be a mystery no longer.
Vess Ossman’s partners in the trio were two brothers. Audley Dudley played the triple-string mandolin, and George N., the harp-guitar. And there, with the addition of the immortal Sylvester Louis (Vess) Ossman, you have the Ossman-Dudley Trio! Now that I look back on the mystery which is a mystery no longer, I wonder why it never occurred to me that there might be two players named Dudley in the trio.
Hah! Simple! (But you didn’t guess it, did you? Be honest) Googling again specifically for “George Dudley” + Ossman, I found that someone in the interim (after 1953) did become aware of the guitarist George Dudley, and speculated that either Dudley or Roy Butin was the harp-guitarist in the trio. This brief credit has been duplicated in several articles, likely copied from the first writer. The 1953 article author had guessed either Roy Butin (who “forty-odd years ago, was probably the best-known guitar player in America”) or Parke Hunter, a multi-instrumentalist and frequent partner of Ossman’s.
So, somebody has recently gotten close, and now we can put it to rest. However, there is still zero information published on (or an image of) either George or the Dudley Brothers.
Strange that George’s name and that of the Dudley Brothers is unknown, as they were well-established, popular entertainers even before Ossman came calling, and subsequently after. Their career was long and interesting – and important – George was one of the very first harp guitarists (the first?) to be recorded. For this reason, and the wealth of now re-discovered biographical information (his wife had amazing recall!), I want to take my time and properly present this as a future Feature Player article.
Oh, and it’ll include a photo of the harp guitar…and you are absolutely not going to believe it.