Appalachia Music

River Of Jordan

On My Way To The River Of Jordan

The song River of Jordan was made famous by The Louvin Brothers. Since Pap sung it too, it’s a song I grew up hearing. Its one of those songs that take me straight back to childhood every last time I hear it.

Chatter and Chitter have been singing the song for a about a year. Tickles me to death that they are continuing Pap’s legacy when they perform the song.

The Louvins wrote so many of the songs they recorded; I assumed they penned River of Jordan too, but I was wrong.

Hazel Houser wrote the song. I’ve haven’t been able to find out much about her. The book In Close Harmony The Louvin Brothers written by Charles K. Wolfe has this quote about Houser:

“The album [Nearer My God to Thee] saw the first time the Louvins recorded songs by a person who was to become one  of their most effective writers, Hazel Houser. Houser provided for this session “Praying” as well as an older song she had written called “Wait a Little Longer, Please Jesus.” (She would soon bring them “My Baby’s Gone.”) At this point the Louvins had never met Hazel Houser. She was from Modesto, California, and published her songs through Central. “Ken would bring’em. ‘Here’s a song you must record.’ He didn’t bring us any trash…”

The website Second Cousin Curly published an interesting post about gospel music and bluegrass performers in June of 2012. At the end of the post, Curly wonders about Houser, much like I have been.

“Anyone could be excused for assuming that “The River of Jordan”— the tune featured in the first video clip— was written by Mr. Anonymous way back when. Turns out the song was penned by Hazel Houser in the middle of the twentieth century. Houser is one of the great unsung songwriters of country and bluegrass. While others were drinking martinis and playing mahjong, this housewife from Modesto, California was turning out timeless compositions, including the country and bluegrass classic “My Baby’s Gone.”

My research has dug up precious little on Houser, beyond the fact that she passed away already many years ago. The music she has left behind offers tantalizing hints of a profound and sophisticated sensibility. Who wouldn’t want to meet the author of the lyric, “Hold back the rushing minutes, make the wind lie still”? That’s a verse that’s closer to Romantic poetry than it is to honky tonk. If anyone has more information on Houser’s life and music, please get in touch.

Yer Pal— Curly”

If anyone got in touch with Curly about Houser they didn’t do it in the comment section of the post. The songs penned by Houser mentioned in this post are so thoroughly Appalachian that it makes me wonder where Houser grew up, but then again maybe that’s just me wanting to project her songwriting talent onto these mountains so I can claim part of it.


Hope you enjoyed the song and the small amount of history I discovered about Hazel Houser. And by all means if you know anything else about Houser please share!


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  • Reply
    David Vowell
    December 1, 2019 at 3:00 pm

    There’s an old Negro Spiritual called “I Stood on de Ribber ob Jerdon” with an arrangement published a few generations ago by Harry Burleigh. He often was voice teacher for classical singers, so the YouTube recording invariably are too highbrow sounding for a spiritual. Here’s a link to a PDF of the sheet music (public domain).

  • Reply
    Louise Leyba
    February 22, 2019 at 7:15 pm

    You might find this of interest (gives quite a bit of detail about her songwriting etc):

  • Reply
    December 31, 2018 at 9:50 pm

    My cousin just came across this post and shared…always so amazing to see fans of my grandmother Hazel Houser. She was so very talented in so many ways and her music lives on incredibly. We are extremely proud and always happy to hear everyone’s versions. The reply above from Shhh is accurate and her…the one Don Casada found is not her. Houser was her married name, Ollar is her maiden name. Happy to share more about her…we have tons of her songs that have yet to be recorded as well that we share every chance we get! Thanks again for loving her music as we do!

  • Reply
    December 8, 2015 at 4:20 pm

    Ted-thank you for the link! Have a great evening : )

  • Reply
    December 6, 2015 at 5:47 pm

    Thanks, Tipper! For anyone interested in following up on Helen Houser — there’s a bio posted at

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    September 1, 2014 at 3:27 pm

    Good going, Shhhhhhhh! – your Hazel is clearly a different one than the one I found and also obviously the one who wrote songs.
    I did run across a couple of advertisements where the writer Hazel Houser was performing in a show that featured Ernest Tubb and the Texas Troubadors in Modesto (entry fee was $1.00)
    But I have to say that I sort of took a liking to my Hazel. She was a pretty and popular girl, as evidenced by being voted San Gabriel Valley May Queen at the age of fifteen. She helped raise her niece Louise after her sister died early and was maid of honor at her niece’s marriage. The two of them often played string duets (violin).
    It was well on into her life, at the age sixty two, that she married her brother-in-law, who’d been a widower for several decades. They celebrated their silver wedding anniversary a few months before she died.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    September 1, 2014 at 1:04 pm

    I have been unmasked! spacial ed is now deceased. He struggled for years with malapropism before succumbing recently.
    Rest in peace my aphoristic Friend!

  • Reply
    September 1, 2014 at 9:42 am

    Loved the subject and posts here, today, and the obituary answered a lot of questions.
    But, what is up with Ed?

  • Reply
    August 31, 2014 at 11:25 pm

    Hope they checked that body of water for gators before the baptism. One was filmed and caught on a fishing pole in Falls Lake about 20 miles north of Raleigh last week. The guy who caught it on a fishing pole called game wardens to come get it. They never showed, and eventually the gator broke the line and swam off. Not good for a lake that regularly has hundreds of swimmers and countless water vehicles on it every summer weekend, now is it.
    Someone said it had probably been a pet someone dumped in the lake, but I’m thinking that’s rubbish, because gators have been seen often in all the NC coastal rivers, and once they get into the fresh water of a coastal river, there’s little to stop them from going all the way up stream as long as the weather and the water is warm enough for ’em.
    They’ve been found in farm ponds and residential development lakes in Central NC too, so they’re among us. Watch out for your toes!!!
    God bless.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    August 31, 2014 at 11:10 pm

    ize jist lisnen two thet song thet thet dawter ov yourn rote bout i got the runs igotta go. hit has a spacel meenin fur me caws i hav thet problum allot two. due yuns hav a bafroom insid soos she haint haffen two clim up the hill whin the presure is on. i no a bout where the wind blows two. the restuv the famlee kan hav Moore ov a problum then u due iffin the wind is bloin bac tord the house

  • Reply
    August 31, 2014 at 9:48 pm

    Really good job on the song Girls.. They still play some of the old Louvin Brothers songs on one of our local radio stations, and they will always be remembered here,, just a short while back it seems,, one of our local DJs (Carol Lynn) interviewed Charlie in the studio,, seemed like a really nice guy.. You can listen to real Country Music if you like on the web,, they are

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    August 31, 2014 at 8:05 pm

    I’ll bet Ed Ammons had a late night last night and didn’t get up until almost 12:00. The only scrambling he did was the ovum of the gallus gallus domesticus to accompany his suidae delights and coffea arabica. Actually he had only a cup of yogurt, and that because his medicine wants to be taken with food. No, he’s not hungover!
    It seems that either Mr. Casada the younger or the commenter immediately following has identified this mysterious and extremely talented songstress. If neither of those leads prove valid, I will not hesitate to avail you of whatever further investigative services are required.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    August 31, 2014 at 5:11 pm

    and girls. I loved the song. I thought at the end of the last verse that Chitter/Chatter (can’t tell them apart) was going to jump right up and head for the River of Jordan. Those are some sweet girls and sweet sounding girls as well. I know Pap is proud!
    Thanks Tipper,

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    August 31, 2014 at 5:04 pm

    It was late afternoon before I accessed the special songs by Chitter and Chatter today. I enjoyed the history of “The River Jordan” and how Hazel Houser wrote it. The girls did a good job playing and singing that song and the others. Best wishes to them as they have entered college. We will be eager to hear more and more from them! Always a good job. Pap and the rest of you have taught them well!

  • Reply
    Judy Mincey
    August 31, 2014 at 4:15 pm

    Love that sweet sister harmony! Thanks for a beautiful rendition of a old favorite.

  • Reply
    Toni Christman
    August 31, 2014 at 3:42 pm

    Hi Tipper – I want to thank you for all your hard work compiling this wonderful blog and writing to some interesting topic every day. I have been working on getting to know my ancestors through genealogy, but sincerely missing the true flavor of all they knew and talked about. Though fully 3/4 of my ancestors came from the Cumberland Gap, I find there is always a ring of the mountains that comes through from any part of the Appalachian/Blue Ridge/Smokies. It does my heart a world of good to hear the same or similar old sayings my grandparents taught me, and to think about all the fine music and cooking I am seeing enumerated here, in the older years of my life. Thank you, thank you! Toni

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    August 31, 2014 at 3:29 pm

    The Pressley Girls did a wonderful job on River of Jordan and all the others that followed. Thanks for the bit of information. I never
    thought of who wrote it, but it’s
    nice to know.
    I like a lot of their songs and
    could listen to ’em all day, but one of my favorites is “Steel
    Rails.” All the family members
    (off camera) really add to the

  • Reply
    August 31, 2014 at 2:38 pm

    Look what else she wrote.

  • Reply
    August 31, 2014 at 2:24 pm

    Hazel Marie Ollar
    Birth: Jun. 3, 1922
    Death: Jun. 14, 1996
    Modesto Bee, The (CA) – June 19, 1996
    Helen Houser-Spencer never knew when her prolific book of gospel and country music songs got recorded until the royalty checks came in the mail. The artists recording her music came from around the world. “She was a fabulous songwriter,” said Chester Smith of Modesto, with whom she sang and wrote songs for his country western band in the early 1950s. “She probably wrote more country gospel songs than anyone. It came by inspiration, not Tin Pan Alley. It was a God-given talent,” he said. Mrs. Houser-Spencer died Friday after a year’s residence at English Oaks Convalescent Hospital in Modesto. She was 74. She was a native of Heavener, Okla. Mrs. Houser-Spencer was one of six children who learned to sing and play music in the church where her father preached. During the Depression, the family trekked to California, and she settled in Modesto after her marriage. Smith said his first big hit was Mrs. Houser-Spencer’s religious song “Wait a Little Longer, Please Jesus.” The song’s popularity has never died, and it’s in the Country Music Hall of Fame as a gospel standard. She was named the Best New Songwriter in 1959 by the Country Music Association. The song was “My Baby’s Gone” and was a hit by Glenn Campbell. Top country artists sang her songs — Ricky Skaggs, George Jones, Buck Owens, Bill Monroe, Merle Haggard, Bob Wills. Smith, who now is general partner and president of Sainte Limited, a broadcasting corporation with a chain of television stations in California and Nevada, took Mrs. Houser-Spencer to Capitol Records, his studio in Hollywood during the 1950s, where she signed a publishing contract. Her stage performing was limited, however, while she was raising her family. “Sometimes she appeared locally with the Maddox Brothers and Rose or worked with Chester Smith and appeared at store grand openings in those days,” said her daughter, Geerie Bell of Modesto. “Many people called it hillbilly music, but she always called it country music.” Mrs. Houser-Spencer had her personal troubles, too, including a divorce. “She was a powerful writer and wrote from her experiences,” Smith said. “She was quiet but very bright and colorful. She wrote happy songs and sad songs.” She and her second husband were founders and owners of Spencer Driving School in Modesto. She retired in 1981 and moved to Mariposa County. She is survived by her son, Douglas Houser of Ceres; daughters, Geerie Bell of Modesto and Charlotte Wooley of Phoenix, Ariz.; brother, Norman Ollar of Valley Springs; sister, Bernice Ustick of Philadelphia, Pa.; nine grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. A funeral will be conducted at 10 a.m. Thursday at Lakewood Funeral Home, Hughson. Visitation will be from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. today at the funeral home. Burial will be in Lakewood Memorial Park.

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    August 31, 2014 at 12:03 pm

    Tipper, I’ll bet your request has folks like Ed Ammons scrambling with delight this morning.
    They’ll likely come up with some more interesting stuff, but here are a couple of tidbits that I managed to find (or deduce).
    Martha Enid Deeter was born on July 19, 1870 in Marion, Marshall County, Iowa (she was a month old when the 1870 census was completed). Her parents were Absalom and Elizabeth Deeter.
    Martha’s father descended from German and Swiss stock who arrived in Pennsylvania between 1727 and 1736. Her mother’s line included German and Czech ancestors.
    By 1880, the Deeters were living in Iona, Jewell County Kansas. According to published family trees, Martha, who went by Mattie, was married to Irvin D. Houser on Dec 23, 1888 in Moscow, Idaho.
    Irvin Houser, of German lineage, was born in 1868, the son of the developer of the Houser Combined Harvester, Daniel Houser.
    By 1890, Irvin and Mattie were living in Los Angeles County California. They spent the remainder of their lives in the area (though moving around a bit). In the 1900 census, Irvin was listed as a farmer and fruit shipper.
    Mattie and Irvin had two daughters, Captola (or Capitola) and Hazel, born in 1890 and 1894, respectively. As best as I can figure, Captola married fellow named Monte Yerkes, and together they had a daughter, Marcella Louise, born around 1914. Captola apparently died after the birth of Marcella Louise.
    By 1920, Marcella Louise was living with her grandparents, Irvin and Mattie and her aunt Hazel. By 1930, the Mattie and Irvin Houser household included still unmarried Hazel, her brother-in-law Monte, and Marcella Louise.
    At this point in my review, it appears that Hazel later (sometime after 1940) married Monte, but they had no children of their own.
    Hazel Houser Yerkes, born Nov 1, 1894 and died Jan 18, 1991 (Social Security records).
    Marcella Louise married a minister, Leonard Seiber Jones, a Presbyterian minister and family counselor. In a newspaper article about Leonard, he noted that while he owned a violin, he just “fiddled around” and that Louise was the real musician in the family. Together, they apparently had three daughters. Chances are good that one or more of the daughters would still be alive; both Louise and Leonard died in the late 90s.
    A family tree published on entitled “van Gorder” and published by owner lauravg includes a number of photos. I’ve retrieved a couple from there and uploaded them to the links below.
    Family photo: Capitola, Mattie, Hazel, Irvin Houser (probably around 1902):
    Hazel Houser:

  • Reply
    eva nell wike, PhD
    August 31, 2014 at 11:12 am

    Tipper: Loved the comment Mr. Steve from TN shared. My brother, Donald, says such funny comments, which is why I visit him any time I get a chance especially if I need to laugh!
    I was once riding along in a tour bus along the banks of the River Jordan. I made the bus driver stop and let me off to step into the River. Our tour guide could not believe what was happening when a half dozen ladies jumped off and came right into the River with me. Lousy a mercy, I would not do that today! A body might get shot!
    HAPPY LABOR DAY and don’t be working too hard.
    Eva Nell

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    August 31, 2014 at 10:42 am

    Tipper–I continue to be unable to listen to any of these offerings, whether on YouTube or through your blog. However, the songs on the Playlist come through just fine. Any thoughts or suggestions for this technically challenged soul?
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Steve in Tn
    August 31, 2014 at 8:48 am

    Thanks for posting. I enjoy learning the history of our music. All songs were written by someone, some by accident. I heard some one ask a singer “is that a real song or just something you made up?”

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