On Two Guys Named Doc Roberts

There were two performing characters name of Doc Roberts traversing Southern highways and byways back about a century ago. The parallel names seems to have been a coincidence, rather than any attempt by one or the other to cop from the other.

Fiddlin’ Doc Roberts (Dick Philipine Roberts, 1897-1978) was a Kentucky fiddle player who’d been making old time music since childhood. After years of farming and playing music locally he was discovered by record scouts at age 28 (1925) and made his first recordings. 1927 was a pivotal year, in which we he teamed up with no less than three outfits: The Booker Family, a trio called the Kentucky Thorobreds, and finally guitarist Asa Martin, with whom he formed the duo Martin and Roberts, which played vaudeville and local dances, performed on radio, and cut scores of record albums.

Stars of David?

With the addition of Martin’s son James, they became the Doc Roberts Trio, and played a heavy schedule through 1934, taking dates as far away as Chicago and Council Bluffs, Iowa. Roberts disliked travel and big cities, however. After the mid ’30s he turned down lucrative offers in order to stay close to home, where he continued to play the occasional date. His hundreds of recordings from his peak period are what his reputation rests on today.

Whereas, the other guy, Little Doc Roberts operated an Oklahoma medicine show, where he sold a cure-all called “Tay-Jo”. Based out of Oklahoma City, he took his show (and his sales pitch) on to local radio in the 1940s, an example of one of the later players in the snake oil game. In his heyday he was remembered as the popular favorite of some 50 medicine shows operating in the region at the time.

The photo above depicts one of his performances. The climate being what it was I was half-tempted to snip off the fellow on the right in order to avoid the inevitable kerfuffle I get into with racists when I append my apology to whomever this image offends. (It offends ME, for example). We don’t endorse blackface here, but we do feel obligated, without taking pleasure in the fact, to let you know when and where it existed (which was pretty much everywhere in the U.S. for many decades.)

I couldn’t find vital stats on Little Doc Roberts this morning (real name, birth date, death date) this morning, but when I come across that info, I’ll add it.

To learn more about vaudeville and variety arts history please read No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous