Musician. Although largely forgotten today, Chris Bouchillon probably ranks as South Carolina’s first notable country music personality. He was the first person to popularize “the talking blues” form of song delivery. Bouchillon was born on August 21, 1893, in Oconee County. In the early twentieth century his family moved to Greenville, where his father, John, found work at the Mountain City Iron Foundry. The elder Bouchillon played the old-time banjo and taught his sons—Charley, Uris, and Chris—the basics of traditional string-band music. In July 1925 the boys went to Atlanta and made four recordings for the Okeh label as the Bouchillon Trio, but only one of these recordings was ever issued.
In November 1926 Chris returned to Atlanta for the first of six sessions for Columbia Records. His initial effort resulted in “Talking Blues” and “Hannah (Won’t You Open That Door),” both of which went on to become highly successful and widely copied numbers that sold nearly 100,000 copies. One of his 1927 recordings, “Born in Hard Luck”/“The Medicine Show,” also did quite well, racking up sales in excess of 40,000 at a time when anything that sold more than 20,000 copies could be considered a hit. In all, Bouchillon cut thirty masters for Columbia through October 1928, of which twenty-two were released. On one session his wife assisted on vocals, and his brothers perhaps assisted on another. All of his recorded repertoire could be classified as humor-oriented and probably had origins in vaudeville or minstrel shows.
With the onset of the Great Depression, Bouchillon’s recording career terminated. He owned and operated a dry cleaning establishment in Greenville, seemingly without knowledge of how influential his early recordings had been. He spent his last years in obscurity in Florida and is believed to have died in West Palm Beach in September 1968. In 1987 Old Homestead Records of Brighton, Michigan, released a vinyl album containing eighteen of his recordings.
The Original Talking Blues Man. Brighton, Mich.: Old Homestead, 1987. Sound recording.