Who was/is Die Nilsen Brothers ? - CDs, Vinyl LPs, DVD and more

The Nilsen Brothers

When Chris Howland brought a copy of Tom Dooley of the Kingston Trio from England to Cologne for his radio show, Electrola took notice. It had taken over the German distribution of the Capitol label on which the Kingston Trio's ballad had been released. The sad story of Thomas C. Dula (1844 - 1868), who was accused of the violent death of his lover Laura Foster, was one of the traditional folk songs in the Appalachian Mountains in the eastern USA. But it was the Californian trio that presented the song so forcefully that it sold several million copies and marked the start of an incomparable career. The Cologne record company remembered that Howland's German spoken introduction to the Japanese Farewell Song had been well received. So 'native speaker' Allen Grace was engaged by the BBC to speak explanatory words for the German release of the American record. It began like this: "Tom Dooley hangs his head, because he knows: Tomorrow he must die - tomorrow he must die..." And then Grace, who had moved the action from North Carolina to Tennessee because of a misunderstanding with the English lyrics, told a noose on an oak tree was ready for Tom Dooley.

Whether the German intro had a sales-promoting effect for the Kingston Trio can no longer be verified. But one can understand the consequences this decision had for the record company. Electrola producer Nils Nobach brought a trio into the recording studio, which he called Nilsen Brothers after his first name. Their Tom Dooley, in which the drama also took place again in Tennessee, reproduced the American narrative analogously. And to make it sound authentic, the recording also got an opening line spoken by a Nilsen Brother with an American accent: "I, the sheriff, had to sentence Tom Dooley to death." No one minded the 'Americanization' of the German language if they could make a buck off it.

The lines "All over Tom Dooley.... tomorrow da bist du tot" were so catchy that the whole republic shared in Tom's fate. Not even the clichéd images that were held in store for America could change that. "Behind the blue mountains, waits a little house, behind the blue mountains you are no longer at home.... Have another whiskey, drink it with you alone." The Nilsen Brothers reached the first place of the hit parade with their version even before the Kingston Trio. They didn't have much of that, though. Pepe Ederer (March 21, 1932), Gerd Gudera (September 29, 1933) and Walter Leykauf (June 8, 1935) received a fee of 800 DM for their singing. However, their Tom Dooley sold 800,000 copies.

The paper 'Leg auf' introduced 'Das Barometer der Schlager-Popularität' in April 1959. This was to be based on the 'Automaten-Markt' test, on information from the record companies and on surveys at various radio stations such as RIAS, WDR, Munich and SWF. The Nilsen Brothers took the top spot in this first poll, with the Kingston Trio original landing in third place. The success was so overwhelming that Electrola immediately launched a follow-up song: Tom Dooley II, again with an introductory lyric spoken in an American accent. The hanged Tom was now called out in honor: "Tom Dooley, it wasn't you, Tom Dooley, it came to light, you're a good man!" This should have been said in the 19th century at the trial of Dooley! In fact, today it is believed that he was actually innocent and Laura Foster was stabbed to death by a rival. The Nilsen Brothers remained true to their image and published other plays in the Western genre (The Cowboys of the Silver Ranch with Angèle Durand). When the big success failed to materialize, they changed their name a few times and went to Switzerland.

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