For over 91 years, the Skillet Lickers’ storied name has been the subject of much intrigue to music fans. While old-time bands are known for their — shall we say, unique — names, the Skillet Lickers often takes the cake. So, what exactly was Gid and the band drinking when they settled on the ‘Skillet Lickers’ nearly a century ago?
Well, it turns out that the answer is a little more complicated than that. It is believed that the answer actually lies over the state line in Alabama. Take a trip 13 miles west of the Georgia/Alabama state line and you’ll find the unincorporated community of Lick Skillet in Northeast Alabama, just south of Fort Payne (and about 25 miles northwest of Rome, GA). The name of the “town” was the influence behind the Skillet Licker name. The community was reportedly given its name in the early 1920’s, which caught the eye of many people, including Columbia Records’ Artist and Repotoire talent scout, Frank Walker. Walker originally discovered Gid Tanner and Riley Puckett in the 1924 and was there when the band formed two years later in 1926.
In an effort to sell more records, bands during this time were often given very distinctive names in an effort to stand out and garner attention in a growing genre of music. Simply put, it was an early Country music marketing gimmick — and it worked! Who could forget a name like the ‘Skillet Lickers’… and with a name like that, who wouldn’t want to at least listen to one of their songs? There’s no doubt the uniqueness of the Skillet Lickers’ name contributed in at least a minor way to their monumental success in the 1920’s and 1930’s. There’s also no doubt that an unincorporated community of a few dozen people at the crossroads of County Road 127 and County Road 176 in rural Dekalb County, Alabama had some influence, as well.
What’s Lick Skillet like today? Like the Skillet Lickers, the small community is still around, but not much has changed. Today, Lick Skillet is home to a small country church — Mt. Moriah Baptist — along with a storage warehouse, and interestingly enough, a music barn, home to a six-piece Country band on Friday nights and Bluegrass and Gospel singing on Saturday nights. The music barn was founded in the early 2000’s, but a very fitting addition for a town whose name influenced one of the greatest string bands of their time.
So, how did Lick Skillet get its name? Well, that’s an interesting question and an entirely different story. Legend has it that a fight broke out between two men at an area general store when one man grabbed a skillet and hit the other man upside the head (or, to put it more eloquently “licked him with the skillet”). So, in the grand scheme of things — it’s very likely that, if not for a dispute inside a rural Alabama general store in the early 1900’s, Gid Tanner & his Skillet Lickers would have operated under an entirely different name… and who knows, maybe the Skillet Lickers wouldn’t have enjoyed the same success they have enjoyed to this day.