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The Collins Kids
Formed 1954 in California, Larry Collins Lorrie Collins. By the time Lawrence (b. 1944) and Lawrencine (b. 1942) Collins were eleven and thirteen, respectively, they were already tearing it up on country package shows, recording for Columbia Records, and performing on national TV almost weekly. Older sister Lorrie held up the cowgirl fringe-rustling-against-nylons teenage-sensuality department; kid brother Larry was a bundle of hyperkinetic energy, bopping all over the place while laying down exciting, twangy guitar breaks learned firsthand from the "King of Doublenecked Mosrite," Joe Maphis. The Collins' recordings as time went on veered from mawkish brother/sister country-style duets to white-hot rockabilly, and they were just reaching their peak when Lorrie eloped, effectively breaking up the act. Revered by rockabilly collectors the world over, their filmed television appearances and recordings are testimony to the fact that the Collins Kids weren't just "good for their age," they were just plain good, period. - Cub Koda
The Bailes Brothers
Formed 1944. Group Members: John Bailes, Walter Bailes, Homer Bailes, Kyle Bailes. From the mid-'40s through the '50s the Bailes Brothers were among the most popular close-harmony duets. There were actually four brothers - Kyle, Johnnie, Walter and Homer - but they seldom worked together as an entire group, instead pairing off for performances. The Bailes were born and raised in West Virginia, near Charleston. Their father, a minister, died when they were young and their impoverished mother had to struggle to keep them together. (Years later, Walter paid tribute to her trials with his song "Give Mother My Crown.") While working a variety of odd jobs during the Depression, the brothers were inspired to pursue music by the songs of such performers as Billy Cox and Buddy Starcher. They started out on a variety of radio programs, but didn't earn much recognition until 1942, when Johnnie and Walter began working as a duo at WSAZ Huntington. All four brothers played string instruments; after they became popular, they added other members to their group, among them Fiddlin' Arthur Smith.
It was Roy Acuff who got the Bailes their big break when he suggested to WSM Nashville executives that the brothers appear on the Grand Ole Opry. They made their debut on the show in 1944 and stayed in Nashville for two years. They made their recording debut in early 1945 for Columbia; among their first singles were their original songs "Dust on the Bible" and "The Drunkard's Grave." As they continued recording the brothers added more and more original songs, such as "Broken Marriage Vows." In 1947, Walter left to become a minister and Homer became the singing partner of their friend Dean Upson. They made their last recordings for Columbia at the end of the year, later becoming co-founders of the famous Louisiana Hayride show.
The original Bailes Brothers went their separate ways in 1949. Over the next decade, different combinations of Bailes Brothers appeared. In the early '50s Homer and Kyle teamed up to work at a Little Rock, Arkansas station. They also recorded a single. Later Johnnie and Walter reunited and began singing gospel in Texas. In 1953, they recorded three singles for King; Johnnie also cut a few solo records. During the 1960s, they continued the pattern, with Walter teaming up with Kyle and Homer at different times. Johnnie and Homer reunited during the early '70s, and from the mid-'70s through the '80s Walter, Kyle, and former band member Ernest Ferguson frequently played at churches and sometimes at festivals. Homer was busy working as a pastor while Johnnie ran three radio stations. Walter was also an evangelical preacher. In 1976 Walter and Kyle made an album; in 1977, all four reunited for a record, joined by their sister Minnie on a few cuts. After, Walter recorded on his Starlit and White Dove labels, while Homer also recorded solo. Much of the Bailes Brothers' early works are available on anthologies, and some of their records have been re-issued. -Sandra Brennan
Born May 7, 1894 in Alpharetta, GA, died Jul 14, 1946 in East Point, GA. Riley Puckett was one of the pioneers of country music, a singer whose output both as a solo performer and as a member of the supergroup the Skillet Lickers left an indelible mark on the work produced in his wake. He was born George Riley Puckett on May 7, 1894 in Alpharetta, Georgia; though at birth he had the ability to see, a medical mishap during his infancy left him blind. He attended the Macon School for the Blind, where he learned to read Braille and began playing the banjo, followed by the guitar, developing a unique, arhythmic style of playing bass-note runs to bridge chord changes. He also attracted attention at regional fiddling contests.
Puckett made his radio debut with Clayton McMichen's Hometown Band on WSB Atlanta in 1922. He soon became one of the station's most popular performers, and began appearing as a soloist. The next year, he joined with mandolinist Ted Hawkins and fiddler Lowe Stokes to form the Hometown Boys, where his smooth vocal style and yodeling abilities earned the group a devoted following among WSB listeners, who began calling the singer "the Ball Mountain Caruso." In 1924, Puckett accompanied James "Gideon" Tanner to Columbia Records' New York City studios, where he cut his first sides, including a cover of Fiddlin' John Carson's "The Little Old Log Cabin," "Steamboat Bill" and "Rock All Our Babies to Sleep," believed to contain the first-ever appearance of yodeling on a country record. The results proved highly successful, and later in the year a second session followed; accompanying himself on banjo, Puckett recorded, among others, "Oh Susannah" and "You'll Never Miss Your Mother Till She's Gone."
In 1925, Columbia introduced their 15000-D Hillbilly Series, and Puckett quickly became one of the imprint's most successful acts; only Vernon Dalhart sold more records. A year later, he joined the Skillet Lickers, which also featured Gid Tanner and Clayton McMichen, and remained with the group through 1931. In 1927, he also joined high tenor Hugh Cross for the very first recording of "Red River Valley." The duo went on to cut two more sessions together, generating songs like "Gonna Raise a Ruckus Tonight" (released under the name Alabama Barn Stormers), "Call Me Back Pal o' Mine," and "My Wild Irish Rose."
While the onset of the Depression did not crush Puckett's career, as it did to so many of his contemporaries, it did force him to curtail his prolific recording schedule. The records he did cut appeared under a variety of group names and aliases, the most successful being 1931's "My Carolina Home," issued as McMichen's Melody Men. After the demise of the Skillet Lickers, Puckett performed with McMichen's Georgia Wildcats; in 1932, the Skillet Lickers began anew, and Puckett also signed on with Bert Layne's Mountaineers. In addition, he recorded a number of duets with Red Jones, including "I Only Want a Buddy, Not a Sweetheart" and "St. Louis Blues." By 1936, he was touring with former Mainer Mountaineer "Daddy" John Love, and also performed again with Bert Layne. After organizing his own tent show to tour throughout the south, he returned to New York to record with Red Jones, duetting on "Alttoona Train Wreck," "Take Me Back to My Carolina Home," and "The Broken Engagement." Puckett did not record again until 1940, when he cut the pop-oriented "Oh, Johnny, Oh," "Little Sir Echo" and "South of the Border." In 1941, he entered the studio one last time, performing "How Come You Do Me Like You Do," "Railroad Blues" and "Peach Picking Time in Georgia." Puckett continued performing on radio with the Stone Mountain Boys until 1946, when on July 14 he died from blood poisoning as a result of a boil on his neck which was left untreated. - Jason Ankeny
Born May 10, 1921 in Opelousas, LA, died May 7, 1991 in Lafayette, LA. The scraping and scrubbing rhythms of Cleveland Chenier's frottoir (rub-board) were an essential ingredient of the performances and recordings of his younger brother, Clifton, "The King Of Zydeco", for more than four decades. The son of a sharecropper and amateur accordion player, Joe Chenier" and a guitar and fiddle player and dance club owner, Maurice "Big" Chenier, Chenier began playing with his brother in the dance clubs of Lake Charles, Louisiana in 1944. Occassionally, the two teenaged brothers played with Clarence "Bon Ton" Garlow's band. Moving to Port Arthur, Texas to work in the oil refineries, in the late-1940s, Chenier continued to perform with his brother on weekends. Their recording debut came in 1954 when they recorded a single, "Cliston's Blues" and "Louisiana Stomp", in the studios of Lake Charles radio station, KOAK. Except for a brief period in the early 1960s, when he performed with Lightning Hopkins, Chenier continued to work with his brother's group, The Red Hot Louisiana Band, until Clifton's death in 1987. He remained with the band, under the leadership of Clifton's son, C.J., until retiring in 1990. He died the following year. - Craig Harris
(Otis Wilson Maphis) Born May 12, 1921 in Suffolk, VA, died Jun 27, 1986. Joe and Rose Maphis were a popular husband-and-wife act in the late '40s and early '50s, singing traditional material backed by the amazing instrumental talent of Joe, who played everything with strings on it, especially the twin-neck guitar. The honky-tonk anthem "Dim Lights, Thick Smoke (And Loud, Loud Music)" was their big hit. Until his death in 1986, Joe was a sessions instrumentalist, backing such stars as Rick Nelson, Tex Ritter, and Wanda Jackson. - David Vinopal
Born May 12, 1942 in Cape Giradeau, MO. One of rock's more interesting fringe characters, Billy Swan had been in the music business for more than a decade before he landed a surprise number one neo-rockabilly hit in 1974 with "I Can Help." His composition "Lover Please" was a hit for Clyde McPhatter in the early '60s, and he spent the rest of the decade as a combination roadie, engineer's assistant, and songwriter, penning material for Conway Twitty, Waylon Jennings, and Mel Tillis. He played with Kris Kristofferson, Kinky Friedman, and Billy Joe Shaver in the '70s before the success of "I Can Help," whose swirling organ and classic '50s rockabilly arrangement anchored one of the best hit singles of the mid-'70s. Swan recorded a few albums as a solo act that were well received by critics, but he never hit the Top 40 again. Too eclectic to be characterized as a '50s revivalist, he actually mixed country, soul, and pop into his sound more frequently than out-and-out rockabilly. After a few years, Swan returned to Kristofferson's band, where he stayed until 1992. - Richie Unterberger
(Gid Tanner & His Skillet Lickers). Formed 1925 in Monroe, GA, disbanded 1934 in Dacula, GA. The Skillet Lickers were one of the most important and influential string bands of the '20s and '30s. Led by fiddler Gid Tanner, the band combined old-timey country music with a wacky sense of humor and showmanship that made the group one of the most popular country bands in America. The original lineup of the band featured the dexterous and stunning interplay of Tanner, guitarist Riley Puckett, fiddler Clatyon McMichen, and banjoist Fate Norris. From 1926 to 1931, the Skillet Lickers were the most popular country band in the country. Following the original band's dissolution, Puckett and latter-day fiddler Bert Layne led various bands called the Skillet Lickers, but the group wasn't relaunched until 1934, when Tanner formed a new lineup that recorded one final session that yielded their biggest hit, "Down Yonder."
Gid Tanner did have the right to the Skillet Lickers name - after all, he was the musician that sparked Columbia Records A&R representative Frank Walker to assemble the entire band in 1925. Prior to the formation of the Skillet Lickers, Tanner had worked his way up through the conventional circuit of festivals and travelling shows that fiddlers frequented. His first great success arrived in the middle of the 1910s, when he began to regularly win fiddling conventions in Atlanta. In addition to playing, Tanner was also an accomplished comedian, which meant he was an all-around entertainer, capable of winning audiences easily. Eventually, Columbia Records asked him to record for their label, and in early 1924, he travelled to New York with his long-time friend and accompanist, Riley Puckett, where they made a handful of singles.
The following year, Columbia's Frank Walker travelled to Atlanta with the intentions of forming a string supergroup. Remembering Tanner and his records, he asked the fiddler and Puckett to be the core of this group, adding Clayton McMichen and Fate Norris to the lineup. Choosing the name the Skillet Lickers (a tribute to the Lickskillet Band, a string band that used to play fiddler contests), the band recorded and released their first singles in 1926. The Skillet Lickers were an immediate hit, shooting to the top of the charts wil the double A-sided single "Bully of the Town" / "Pass Around the Bottle and We'll All Take A Drink." The single was followed quickly by "Watermelon Hanging on the Vine" / "You," which confirmed their status as hillbilly stars.
With their third single, the Skillet Lickers released their first comedy record with "A Corn Licker Still in Georgia," which alternated music with a comic dialogue about backwoods moonshiners. The record was their biggest single yet, equalled by their second comedy hit, "A Fiddler's Convention in Georgia." Not only did the comedy records sell better than the straight instrumental fiddling records, any single featuring Puckett singing became huge hits.
Along with the success came internal tension within the band. All of their records were credited to "Gid Tanner and His Skillet Lickers," which became a source of irritation to Puckett and McMichen, both of whom felt that they were more integral to the sound of the band than Tanner. A compromise was reached, and the records bore the convoluted credit "Gid Tanner and His Skillet Lickers with Clayton McMichen and Riley Puckett." However, that didn't put an end to friction within the group, who had by then included several new, younger members like fiddlers Lowe Stokes and Bert Layne. The new members want to move the Skillet Lickers toward western swing music. McMichen sided with the newer members, but the remaining trio wanted to stay true to their folk roots. By 1930, the members had begun to part ways, and had stopped touring regularly. In addition to working with the Skillet Lickers, McMichen became a studio musician for Columbia Records and played with Jimmie Rodgers. Finally, he formed a new string-band called the Georgia Wildcats. McMichen nevertheless participated in all of the studio sessions for the Skillet Lickers, which came to a halt in 1931.
Following the disbandment of the Skillet Lickers in 1931, Puckett and Layne both toured and recorded with groups called "the Skillet Lickers," but the name was officially reclaimed by Gid Tanner in 1934, when he signed to Victor's Bluebird label. Tanner assembled a new group of Skillet Lickers - including Puckett, mandolinist Ted Hawkins, guitarist Mike Whitten, guitarist Hoke Rice, guitarist Hugh Cross, and his sons Arthur and Gordon, on banjo and fiddle respectively - and recorded over 30 songs in San Antonio. It was the final time Tanner ever entered a studio. The sessions produced "Down Yonder," which became Tanner and the Skillet Lickers' last big hit.
Following the 1934 session, the Skillet Licker name was retired and not long after that, Tanner retired himself. Puckett, McMichen, and Layne all pursued solo careers. Following Gid Tanner's death hin 1960, his son Gordon continued fiddling, preserving the tradition of his father and the Skillet Lickers. -Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Born Jun 23, 1913 in Gueyden, LA, died May 13, 1981 in Basile, LA. Nathan Abshire helped bring the blues and honky tonk to Cajun music and re-popularized the accordion with his recordings during the 1950s and '60s, but still never managed a living from his music. Born in Gueyden, LA, on June 23, 1913, Abshire began playing professionally in the 1920s, and he first recorded in the early '30s with Happy Fats & the Rainbow Ramblers. Abshire went to work at the Basile, LA town dump around that time, and he held the job for most of his working life.
His fortunes began looking bright by 1936, however, when the Rainbow Ramblers began backing him on sides for Bluebird. After serving in World War II, Abshire cut "Pine Grove Blues" - his most famous single and later his signature song - for D.T. Records. He recorded for Khoury/Lyric, Swallow and Kajun during the 1950s and '60s, meanwhile playing local dances and appearing on sessions by the Balfa Brothers. A renewal of interest in Cajun and folk music during the '70s gave Abshire a chance to play several festivals and colleges, and star in the 1975 PBS-TV Cajun documentary, Good Times Are Killing Me. The title proved prophetic, however, as Abshire fought alcoholism during his last years. Several sessions for Folkways and La Louisienne followed in the late '70s, but he died on May 13, 1981. John Bush
(James Robert Wills) Born Mar 6, 1905 in Kosse, TX, died May 13, 1975 in Fort Worth, TX. Bob Wills' name will forever be associated with Western Swing. Although he did not invent the genre singlehandedly, he did popularize the genre and changed its rules. In the process, he reinvented the rules of popular music. Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys were a dance band with a country string section that played pop songs as if they were jazz numbers. Their music expanded and erased boundaries between genres. It was also some of the most popular music of its era. Throughout the '40s, the band was one of the most popular groups in the country and the musicians in the Playboys were among the finest of their era. As the popularity of Western Swing declined, so did Wills's popularity, but his influence is immeasurable. From the first honky tonkers to Western Swing revivalists, generations of country artists owe him a significant debt, as do certain rock and jazz musicians. Bob Wills was a maverick and his spirit infused American popular music of the 20th century with a renegade, virtuosic flair.
Bob Wills was born outside of Kosse, Texas, in 1905. From his father and grandfather, Bob learned how to play mandolin, guitar and, eventually, fiddle and he regularly played local dances in his teens. In 1929, he joined a medicine show in Fort Worth, where he played fiddle and did blackface comedy. At one performance, he met guitarist Herman Arnspiger and the duo formed the Wills Fiddle Band. Within a year, they were playing dances and radio stations around Fort Worth. During one of the performances, the pair met a vocalist called Milton Brown, who joined the band. Soon, Brown's guitarist brother Durwood joined the group, as did Clifton "Sleepy" Johnson, a tenor banjo player.
In early 1931, the band landed their own radio show, which was sponsored by the Burris Mill and Elevator company, the manufacturers of Light Crust Flour. The group rechristened themselves the Light Crust Doughboys and their show was being broadcast throughout Texas, hosted and organized by W. Lee O'Daniel, the manager of Burris Mill. By 1932, the band were stars in Texas but there was some trouble behind the scenes - O'Daniel wasn't allowing the band to play anything but the radio show. This situation led to the departure of Milton Brown; Wills eventually replaced Brown with Tommy Duncan, who he would work with for the next 16 years. By late summer 1933, Wills, aggrivated with a series of fights with O'Daniel, left the Light Crust Doughboys and Duncan left with him.
Wills and Duncan relocated to Waco, Texas, and formed the Playboys, which featured Wills on fiddle, Duncan on piano and vocals, rhythm guitarist June Whalin, tenor banjoist Johnnie Lee Wills, and Kermit Whalin, who played steel guitar and bass. For the next year, the Playboys moved through a number of radio stations, as O'Daniel tried to force them off the air. Finally, the group settled in Tulsa, where they had a job at KVOO.
Tulsa is where Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys began to refine their sound. Wills added an 18 year-old electric steel guitarist called Leon McAuliffe, pianist Al Stricklin, drummer Smokey Dacus, and a horn section to the band's lineup. Soon, the Texas Playboys were the most popular band in Oklahoma and Texas. The band made their first record in 1935 for the American Recording Company, which would later become part of Columbia Records. At ARC, they were produced by Uncle Art Satherley, who would wind up as Wills's producer for the next 12 years. The bandleader have his way and they cut a number of tracks which were released on a series of 78s. The singles were successful enough that Wills could demand that steel guitarist Leon McAuliffe - who wasn't on the first sessions due to ARC's abundance of steel players under contract - was featured on the Playboys' next record, 1936's "Steel Guitar Rag." The song became a standard for steel guitar. Also released from that session was "Right or Wrong," which featured Tommy Duncan on lead vocals.
Toward the end of the decade, big bands were dominating popular music and Wills wanted a band capable of playing complex, jazz-inspired arrangements. To help him achieve his sound, he hired arranger and guitarist Eldon Shamblin, who wrote charts that fused country with big band music for the Texas Playboys. By 1940, he had replaced some of the weaker musicians in the lineup, winding up with a full 18-piece band. The Texas Playboys were breaking concert attendance records across the country, filling out venues from Tulsa to California and they also had their first genuine national hit with "New San Antonio Rose," which climbed to number 11 in 1940. Throughout 1941 and 1942, Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys continued to record and perform and they were one of the most popular bands in the country. However, their popularity was quickly derailed by the arrival of World War II. Tommy Duncan enlisted in the Army after Pearl Harbor and Al Stricklin became a defense plant worker. Late in 1942, Leon McAuliffe and Eldon Shamblin both left the group. Bob enlisted in the Army late in 1942, but he was discharged as being unfit for service in the summer of 1943, primarily because he was out of shape and disagreeable. Duncan was discharged around the same time and the pair moved to California by the end of 1943. Wills revamped the sound of the Texas Playboys after World War II, cutting out the horn section and relying on amplified string instruments.
During the '40s, Art Satherley had moved from ARC to OKeh Records and Wills followed him to the new label. His first single for OKeh was a new version of "New San Antonio Rose" and it became a Top Ten hit early in 1944, crossing over into the Top 15 on the pop charts. Wills stayed with OKeh for about year, having several Top Ten hits, as well as the number ones "Smoke on the Water," and "Stars and Stripes on Iwo Jima." After he left OKeh, he signed with Columbia Records, releasing his first single for the label, "Texas Playboy Rag," toward the end of 1945.
In 1946, the Texas Playboys began recording a series of transcriptions for Oakland, California's Tiffany Music Corporation. Tiffany's plan was to syndicate the transcriptions throught the Southwest, but their goal was never fufilled. Nevertheless, the Texas Playboys made a number of transcriptions in '46 and '47, and these are the only recordings of the band playing extended jams. Consequently, they are close approximations of the group's live sound. Though the Tiffany Transcriptions would turn out to be important historical items, the recordings that kept Wills and the Playboys in the charts were their singles for Columbia, which were consistently reaching the Top Five between 1945 and 1948; in the summer of 1946, they had their biggest hit, "New Spanish Two Step," which spent 16 weeks at number one.
Guitarist Eldon Shamblin returned to the Playboys in 1947, the final year Wills recorded for Columbia Records. Beginning in late '47, Wills was signed to MGM. His first single for the label, "Bubbles in My Beer," was a Top Ten hit early in 1948, as was its follow-up, "Keeper of My Heart." Though the Texas Playboys were one of the most popular bands in the nation, they were beginning to fight internally, mainly because Wills had developed a drinking problem that caused him to behave erratically. Furthermore, Wills came to believe Tommy Duncan was demanding too much attention and asking for too much money. By the end of 1948, he had fired the singer.
Duncan's departure couldn't have come at a worse time. Western Swing was beginning to fall out of public favor, and Wills's recordings weren't as consistently successful as they had been before - he had no hits at all in 1949. That year, he relocated to Oklahoma, beginning a 15-year stretch of frequent moves, all designed to find a thriving market for the band. In 1950, he had two Top Ten hits - "Ida Red Likes the Boogie" and "Faded Love," which would become a country standard; they would be his last hits for a decade. Throughout the '50s, he struggled with poor health and poor finances, but he continued to perform frequently. However, his audience continued to shrink, despite his attempts to hold on to it. Wills moved throughout the Southwest during the decade, without ever finding a new home base. Audiences at dance halls plummeted with the advent of television and rock & roll. The Texas Playboys made some records for Decca that went unnoticed in the mid-'50s. In 1959, Wills signed with Liberty Records, where he was produced by Tommy Allsup, a former Playboy. Before recording his first sessions with Liberty, Wills expanded the lineup of the band again and reunited with Tommy Duncan. The results were a success, with "Heart to Heart Talk" climbing into the Top Ten during the summer of 1960. Again, the Texas Playboys were drawing sizable crowds and selling a respectable amount of records.
In 1962, Wills had a heart attack that temporarily debilitated him, but by 1963, he was making an album for Kapp records. The following year, he had a second heart attack which forced him to disband the Playboys. After the second heart attack, he performed and recorded as a solo performer. His solo recordings for Kapp were made in Nashville with studio musicians and were generally ignored, though he continued to be successful in concert.
In 1968, the Country Music Hall of Fame inducted Bob Wills and the following year the Texas State Legislature honored him for his contribution to American music. The day after he appeared in both houses of the Texas state government, Wills suffered a massive stroke, which paralyzed his right side. During his recovery, Merle Haggard - the most popular country singer of the late '60s - recorded an album dedicated to Bob Wills, A Tribute to the Best Damn Fiddle Player, which helped return Wills to public consciousness and spark a wide-spread Western Swing revival. In 1972, Wills was well enough to accept a citation from ASCAP in Nashville, as well as appear at several Texas Playboy reunions, which were all very popular. In the fall of 1973, Wills and Haggard began planning a Texas Playboy reunion album, featuring Leon McAuliffe, Al Stricklin, Eldon Shamblin, and Smokey Dacus, among others. The first session was held on December 3, 1973, with Wills leading the band from his wheelchair. That night, he suffered another massive stroke in his sleep; the stroke left him comatose. The Texas Playboys finished the album without him. Bob Wills never regained consciousnesss and he died on May 15, 1975 in a nursing home. Wills was buried in Tulsa, the place where his legend began. -Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Born May 13, 1921 in Dora, AL. Known for his one big hit, 1954s Truck Driving Man, Terry Fell is but a footnote in country history, but an important one nonetheless. His hit literally spawned the whole truck driving saga that is still a major part of country music's lyrical pool. He was also the first to see the promise in a young Buck Owens, signing him to a manager's contract and using him as a lead guitarist on his sessions.
Fell started his recording career around 1945 as a member of Billy Hughes' group for Fargo Records. After the lone Fargo release, Fell recorded for Courtney and 4-Star, kicking up enough noise and sales with the 4-Star singles to get signed to RCA-Victor's new 'X' subsidiary in 1954. It was at his first RCA session held in Hollywood that Fell waxed his first, and biggest hit, the two sided smash "Don't Drop It and the immortal "Truck Drivin" Man. At first, "Don't Drop It was the side to watch, spawning no less than five different cover versions for two different marketplaces. But it was the flipside that became the classic, spawning innumerable cover versions and hitting again on the country charts as late as 1976 for Red Steagall. Fell stayed with RCA and show business for the next five or six years, seeing no more hits but making serious inroads into the behind the scenes side of Nashville. Although he continued to record sporadically for Crest, Lode and even RCA again, he had made the successful move into songwriting and music publishing, earning far more than he ever had as a performer. -Cub Koda
Born May 13, 1954 in Buffalo, NY. In the country music business, multi-talented Ray Kennedy did it all. He was the master of several instruments, wrote and arranged songs, and was a producer and a recording engineer.
He was born in New York to Ray Kennedy, Sr., the National Vice President for Sears and the man behind the Discover credit card. His father's work kept young Kennedy and his family on the move. As a teen, his parents refused to get him a guitar, so Kennedy built his own. He briefly attended college where he majored in business, but at that time he found himself drawn to music and dropped out to play in midwestern clubs. He spent some time in Oregon and in 1980 moved to Nashville where he built his own studio and learned engineering when he began recording his own demos. He got his start as an engineer and was responsible for producing most of Tree Publishing's Pop demos during that time. Pop singer Stevie Nicks recorded one of his songs, "Battle of the Dragon," and Kennedy became a staff writer at Tree where his tunes were occasionally recorded by John Anderson, Charley Pride, David Allan Coe and others. Because his songs weren't selling well enough to suit him, Kennedy decided to become a recording artist and cover them himself.
In 1990, he signed to Atlantic Records and debuted with What a Way to Go. Kennedy not only produced the album in his own studio, he also played all of the instruments but the dobro, steel guitar and Wessenborn. He also penned or co-penned all of the songs on it. Kennedy made his single debut with the album's title track, which peaked on the Top Ten with the album making it to the Top 60. He released two more singles from the album, but they only became minor hits. In 1991, he produced and engineered an album for songwriter Don Henry, Wild in the Backyard. In 1992, Kennedy teamed up with producer/songwriter Monty Powell and made Guitar Man. -Sandra Brennan
Born May 13, 1914 in Mt Juliet, TN. Singer/songwriter Johnnie Wright spent much of his career working with Jack Anglin in the popular duo Johnnie & Jack, and was also the husband of Kitty Wells. He was born in Mount Juliet, Tennessee, and first performed with Anglin in 1936. They teamed up full-time in the 1940s and, except for the time Anglin spent overseas during the war, remained together for over two decades. In 1952, the duo and Wells were invited to join the Grand Ole Opry, where they remained for 15 years. Following Anglin's death in 1963, Wright continued performing and making records. In 1964, he and his Tennessee Mountain Boys had a Top 25 hit with "Walkin', Talkin', Cryin', Barely Beatin' Broken Heart." The following year, he had success with "Hello Vietnam," a number one hit. In 1968, he and Wells recorded an autobiographical duet, "We'll Stick Together," and continued playing live shows together through the early '80s, when they left music to run a souvenir shop. In 1992, the couple and their son Bobby began playing together again. -Sandra Brennan
Born 1942 in Crossett, AR. During the late '80s, K.T. Oslin had a string of hit singles with her pop-inflected modern country. Most of Oslin's material was directed at - in the words of her breakthrough single - "80's Ladies," which meant her songs were about modern women and were recorded with modern equipment, including synthesizers. For a brief time, she was one of the most popular singers in country music, earning four number one singles and two platinum albums. However, her fall from the top was as quick as her rise - by the mid-'90s, she still had a large cult following, but was no longer able to have a Top 40 single.
An Arkansas native, she was born Kay Toinette Oslin, the daughter of a singer and a paper-mill foreman. Her father died when she was five, forcing her mother to abandon her singing career and begin working as a medical lab technician. After moving around the South for a while, Oslin and her mother settled in Houston. Later she studied drama before forming a folk trio with Guy Clark and David Jones in the '60s. She later paired up with Frank Davis, and began recording an album in Los Angeles; it was never released, and she returned to Houston alone. Oslin began appearing in musical productions, including Carol Channing's National Touring Company's production of Hello Dolly!, after she returned to Texas, and went on to appear in the Betty Grable Broadway company version of the play in New York. She remained in the Big Apple for a while, appearing in other shows, singing commercial jingles, and doing session work.
In 1974, Oslin began writing songs, recording a minor hit debut single, "Clean Your Own Tables," in 1981. Meanwhile, country singers Gail Davis and Dottie West had chart success with two of Oslin's songs.
In 1984, she appeared on a public radio broadcast with several established stars, and her song "Come Next Monday" was recorded by Judy Rodman. Two years later, Oslin felt ready to make her own bid for stardom; after borrowing $7,000, she showcased herself in Nashville. Harold Shedd, Alabama's producer, was in the audience, and helped get her signed to RCA. Oslin's first album, '80s Ladies, debuted in the country Top 15 in 1987, becoming the highest-charting debut album for a female since Loretta Lynn's in 1964. The album's title track reached the Top Ten, and Oslin hit number one with its followup next single, "Do Ya." Her successful streak lasted through 1989; in those two years, she recorded three albums and had four other Top 10 hits. Both her first and second album, This Woman, went platinum and her third album, Love in a Small Town, went gold. Oslin released the compilation Greatest Hits: Songs from an Aging Sex Bomb in 1993. Three years later she released the covers album My Roots Are Showing. - Sandra Brennan
AKA The Tennessee Plowboy. Born May 15, 1918 in Madisonville, TN. Eddy Arnold moved hillbilly music to the city, creating a sleek sound that relied on his smooth voice and occasionally lush orchestrations. In the process, he became the most popular country performer of the century, spending more weeks at the top of the charts than any other artist. Arnold not only had 28 number one singles, he has more charting singles than any other artist. More than any other country performer of the post-war era, he was responsible for bringing the music to the masses, to people that wouldn't normally listen to country music. Arnold was initially influenced by cowboy singers like Gene Autry, but as his career progressed, he shaped his phrasing in the style of Pete Cassell. Nevertheless, he was more of a crooner than a hillbilly singer, which is a large reason why he was embraced by the entertainment industry at large, and frequently crossed over to the pop charts. Arnold's career ran strong into the '90s. Although his records didn't dominate the charts like they did during the '40s and '50s, he continued to fill concert halls and reissues of his older recordings sold well.
Raised on a farm in Tennessee, Arnold was given a guitar at the age of 10 by his mother. His father, who had played fiddle and bass, died the following year. Arnold left school so he could help out on the farm. However, he began playing dances whenever he had a chance. Several years later, he made his first radio appearance on a station in Jackson. Arnold then moved to St. Louis, where he played in night clubs with fiddler Speedy McNatt. In St. Louis, Arnold landed a regular spot on WMPS Memphis, spending six years at the radio station. Through the show, the singer earned a dedicated following of fans.
During World War II, Eddy Arnold became part of the R.J. Reynolds' Camel Caravan, which featured Redd Stewart, Pee Wee King's Golden West Cowboys, Minnie Pearl, and San Antonio Rose. The troupe performed for US troops throughout America, as well some selected dates in Panama. After the Camel Caravan, Arnold became the featured singer in the Golden West Cowboys while they performed on the Grand Ole Opry. At first, he appeared under the name "The Tennessee Plowboy," a nickname that followed him throughout his career.
Arnold recorded his first single, "Mommy Please Stay Home With Me," in 1944 for RCA Victor. At RCA, the singer received the guidance of the label's A&R head, Steve Sholes, which proved to be invaluable help for his career.
Eddy Arnold pursued a solo career in 1945, the same year he got married to Sally Gayhart. "Each Minute Seems a Million Years," released on RCA's Bluebird division that same year, became his first charting record, peaking in the Top Five. Arnold's career really took off the following year, when "That's How Much I Love You" peaked in the Top Three, staying there for 16 weeks and selling over 650, 000 copies; its flip-side, "Chained to a Memory," also climbed into the Top Three. Arnold followed the single's success with two number one hits in 1947, "What Is Life Without Love" and "It's A Sin." However, that didn't compare to the success of his next record, "I'll Hold You In My Heart (Till I Can Hold You In My Arms)." The single spent 46 weeks on the charts, with 21 of those weeks spent at the top; it also crossed over to the pop charts, reaching the Top 30. In the process, it became the number one single of the decade.
"I'll Hold You In My Heart" confirmed that Arnold had become a country superstar, as did the performance of his 1948 singles. All of his nine singles went into the top five, and five of them went to number one, including "Anytime," "What a Fool I Was," "Texarkana Baby," "Just a Little Lovin' (Will Go a Long, Long Way)," "My Daddy Is Only a Picture," and "Bouquet of Roses," which stayed at the top for 19 weeks. In total, Arnold racked up over 40 weeks on top of the charts during 1948, becoming the number one country star in America. He headlined all the radio shows and concerts he appeared on, and he was in demand throughout the nation. By the end of the year, Colonel Tom Parker had become his manager; Parker would later become Elvis Presley's manager. Throughout 1949, he continued to dominate the charts, releasing a succession of Top 10 singles, including the number one "Don't Rob Another Man's Castle," "One Kiss Too Many," "I'm Throwing Rice (At the Girl I Love)," and "Take Me In Your Arms and Hold Me."
Eddy Arnold became a familiar face not only to country fans, but to the general public in the early '50s. He toured all of the US, as well as several foreign countries. All of the major television shows of the era, including The Perry Como Show and Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts, featured the singer. Indeed, he became so popular that he was the first country star to have his own television show, Eddy Arnold Time. The show originally aired on NBC, but it later moved to ABC. Through all of this, his string of Top 10 hits remained unbroken, even though he didn't have another crossover pop hit until 1954. Nevertheless, the sheer amount of country hits was overwhelming: in 1950 he had seven, 13 in 1951 (including the number ones "There's Been a Change in Me," "Kentucky Waltz," "I Wanna Play House With You," "Easy on the Eyes," and "A Full Time Job."). The hits, including "Eddy's Song" (composed of the titles of previous hits), "How's the World Treating You?," "I Really Don't Want to Know," "My Everything," "The Cattle Call," "That Do Make It Nice," "Just Call Me Lonesome," and "The Richest Man (In the World)," continued to come in force until 1956.
Between 1956 and 1964, Arnold continued to chart, but he wasn't reaching the Top 10 at the same frequency of the previous decade. During this time, his style was beginning to change, as he was shedding his rootsy style for a slicker, polished sound that was more appropriate for urban settings than rural territories. Arnold became a crooner, complete with subdued instrumental backings, highlighted by gentle steel guitars and the occasional orchestra. The change in musical direction was a major commercial success, sparking a new era of chart dominance that began in 1965 with "What's He Doing In My World." Not only did he return to the top of the country charts, he once again crossed over to the pop charts. Arnold's second streak of major hits ran until 1969. During this time, he earned several number one and Top 10 singles, all of which were pop hits as well, including "Make the World Go Away," "I Want To Go With You," "The Last Word in Lonesome," "Somebody Like Me," "Lonely Again," "Turn the World Around," "Then You Can Tell Me Goodbye," "They Don't Make Love Like They Used To," and "Please Don't Go."
In the early '70s, Arnold continued to appear on the country charts, although his pop hits dried up. The singer signed with MGM in 1972, ending 27 straight years at RCA. Arnold spent only four years at MGM, landing only one major hit, 1974's "I Wish That I Had Loved You Better." Returning to RCA in 1976, he closed out the decade with two hits - "Cowboy" (1976) and "If Everyone Had Someone Like You" (1978). Arnold managed to put two songs into the Top 10 in 1980 ("Let's Get It While the Gettin's Good," "That's What I Get for Loving You"), making him one of the few artists that charted in five different decades. He continued to record in the '90s, although he has yet to chart a hit single. Nevertheless, his concert and television appearances remained popular.
Beginning in the '60s, Eddy Arnold was bestowed with a numerous amount of awards. In 1966, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. The following year, he was the first "Entertainer of the Year" named by the CMA. The ACM gave him the "Pioneer Award' in 1984; three years later, the Songwriters Guild gave him "The President's Award." Perhaps the truest gauge of his success is his record sales. Over the course of his career, he has sold over 85 million records, making him one of the most successful artists of the century. -Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Singer, writer and producer, Ray Doggett was born Elmer Ray Doggett in a little town called Big Spring, Texas, not far from Houston. By playing guitar in several highschool bands he acquired a taste for it and in the mid 50s he tried his luck as a solo artist. In 1956 he had luck with a recording with Spade Records in Houston, Texas. This record company was founded by country and rockabilly singer Bennie Hess and had six releases in 1957; Bennie's own, Vern Pullens, Royce Porter and Ray Doggett's.
He re-opened the label in the 70s when he released some of his old and some new records. Ray Doggett's first record on Spade 1928 was the rockabilly song "Go Go Heart" b/w "Fallin' Teardrops". Unfortunately none of the Spade releases were very successful, because the only distribution company in the area would have been Pappy Daily with whom Bennie Hess didn't want to cooperate at first. So he sold his records himself meeting only little response from the DJ's. Then, when finally a contract with Pappy Daily was established it was already too late and Bennie had to shut down the label.
After his first record on Spade, Ray Doggett started to play as a session musician, like in Royce Porter's second record "A Woman Can Make You Blue" B/W "I End Up Crying" (Spade 1931) which was recorded in the ACA studios in Houston. Ray and Bennie got along quite well, so they released a second record of Ray on Spade 1932 "It Hurts The One Who Loves You" b/w "That's The Way Love Is With Me". All the same this recording was appreciated with a little success, so that Bennie was able to persuade the recording giant Decca to bring out the record in license. Not even this major label could bring Ray to a success.
He had more luck with song writing that with records. Besides his own records, he also co-wrote "On My Mind Again" and "Rakin' And Scrapin" under his pseudonym Elmer Ray. His partners in writing these songs were Slim Willet (singer and owner of several Texas labels, such as Winston and Edmorals) and Dean Beard, who was also the first to record these songs. He further wrote songs for Bob Denton, Ace Ball, Johnny Guidry, Jan Moore, Darrell Rhodes and Bruce Channell.
Musically it went on for him in 1957 with the release of KIX 102 "Love Is Made Of This" b/w "Now It's Over" and TNT 159 "High School Wedding Ring" b/w Whirlpool Of Love", but again he didn't exceed local popularity. On his own label Ray issued Ken-Lee 101 "Beach Party" b/w "So Lonely Tonight", but this didn't change things. So in 1958 he returned to Bennie Hess and his new Pearl label. The first record, Pearl 716 "No Doubt About It" b/w I'm Afraid" was soon followed by the second one "We'll Always Have Each Other" which was coupled with the already twice releases "That's The Way Love Is With Me". After this, the increasing popularity of Ray Doggett caused Top Rank to record his last record on Top Rank 2025, ""Can I Be The One" b/w "Restless Heart".
Being sick of traveling around Ray took to producing other artists. His first attempt a year earlier showed that he had the talent for this. In 1958 he produced his first record for country superstar Kenny Rogers (then Kenneth Rogers) on Carlton 454 "We'll Always Have Each Other", which he had also recorded himself. Ray kept on producing during the 60s, when he produced artists as Tommy Clay, The Counts, Huey Meaux and Lelan Rogers. In the early 80s Ray ran "Big H. Sound Distributors" in Houston, Texas. A publishing company which was resident in the Goldstar Studios. Willi Gutt, 1989 (Source: Doggone It Doggett, Hydra Records BLK7709)>
Ray Doggett passed away Saturday March 16, 2002, he was 67. He died of a massive heart attack in Nashville at his bedside. Courtesy: Paul Allsup (CEO - The Independent Music Association)
Born May 18, 1952 in Pearsall, TX. Out of all the new country singers to emerge in the early '80s, George Strait stayed the closest to traditional country. Drawing from both the honky tonk and western swing traditions, Strait didn't refashion the genres; instead, he revitalized them for a new decade. In the process, he beccame one of the most popular and influential singers of the decade, sparking a wave of neo-traditionalist singers from Randy Travis and Dwight Yoakam to Clint Black, Garth Brooks and Alan Jackson.
Strait was born and raised in Texas, the son of a junior high school teacher who also owned and operated a ranch that had been in the Strait family for nearly hundred years. When George was a child, his mother left the family, taking her daughter but leaving behind her sons with the father. During his childhood, he would spend his weekdays in town and his weekends on the ranch. Strait began playing music as a teenager, joining a rock & roll garage band.
After his high school graduation in the late '60s, George enrolled in college but he soon dropped out and eloped with his high school sweetheart Norma. In 1971, Strait enlisted in the Army; two years later, he was stationed Hawaii. While in Hawaii, he began playing country music, initially with an Army-sponsored country band called Rambling Country. They played several dates off the base under the name Santee. Strait left the army in 1975, returning to Texas with the intent of completing his education. He enroled in Southwest Texas State University at San Marcos, where he studied agriculture. While he was studying, he formed his own country band, Ace in the Hole.
Ace in the Hole made a few records for the independent Dallas-based label D in the late '70s, but they never went anywhere. Toward the end of the decade, Strait attempted to carve out a niche in Nashville, but he failed since he lacked any strong connections. In 1979, he became friends with Erv Woolsey, a Texas club owner that had formerly worked for MCA Records. Woolsey had several MCA executives come down to Texas to hear Strait. His performance convinced the company to sign him in 1980.
"Unwound," George's first single, was released in the spring of 1981 and climbed into the Top Ten. The follow-up, "Down and Out," stalled at 16, but "If You're Thinking You Want a Stranger (There's One Coming Home)" reached number three in early 1982. The song sparked a remarkable string of Top Ten hits that ran well into the '90s. During that time he had an astonishing 31 number one singles, beginning with 1982's "Fool Hearted Memory."
Throughout the '80s, he dominated the country singles charts and his albums consistently went platinum or gold. Strait rarely abandoned hardcore honky tonk and western swing - toward the beginning of the '90s, his sound became a little slicker, but it was only a relative change. George was also one of the few '80s superstars to survive the generational shift of the early '90s that began with the phenomenal success of Garth Brooks. In 1992, he made his first movie, Pure Country, which featured him in the lead role. George released a four-disc box set career retrospective, Strait Out of the Box, in 1995. By the spring of 1996, it had become one of the five-biggest selling box sets in popular music history. Blue Clear Sky, his 1996 album, debuted on the country charts at number one and the pop charts at number seven. In 1997, he released Carrying Your Love with Me following it with One Step at a Time in 1998. Always Never the Same appeared a year later, as did the seasonal effort Merry Christmas Wherever You Are. The simply titled George Strait, featuring the hit single "Go On," hit the shelves in late 2000. -Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Formed 1962 in Missouri, disbanded 1980. During the '60s, the Dillards helped bring bluegrass to a wider audience, both through their records and their appearances on television and film. For the next three decades, the band continued to perform in various incarnations, all the while remaining one of the most popular bluegrass bands in America.
Brothers Doug and Rodney Dillard formed the core of the original lineup of the Dillards. The brothers were born and raised in Salem, Missiouri; while attending grade school, they began playing bluegrass together - Doug played the banjo, while Rodney played the guitar. From the mid- to late '50s, the brothers appeared on the Ozark Mountain Boys' radio program, the Ozark Jubilee. In 1958, Doug and Rodney recorded two singles - "Doug's Breakdown" and "Mama Don't 'Low" - for K-Ark Records. Between 1958 and 1960, the duo played with three bluegrass bands - the Hawthorn Brothers, the Lewis Brothers and Joe Noel & the Dixie Ramblers before forming the first incarnation of the Dillards with Mitch Jayne and Dean Webb.
The Dillards headed to California in 1962. Less than a week after their arrival, Jim Dickson saw them jamming with the Greenbriar Boys and he signed the group to Elektra. After the Dillards inked their deal, they were also hired to appear on the Andy Griffith Show as the slightly demented hayseeds the Darling Family.
In 1963, the Dillards released their first album, Back Porch Bluegrass. That same year, Doug and Rodney joined with Dean Webb, Glen Campbell and Tut Taylor to form the Folkswingers, a side-project that released two albums of string-band music for the World Pacific label during the mid-'60s.
In 1964, the Dillards released Live...Almost! By the time the album was released, the group had amplified their instruments, angering the purists that formed the core of the American bluegrass audience. Nevertheless, they developed a strong fan base. In 1965, they released the album Pickin' and Fiddlin', which featured fiddler Byron Berline. Two years later, Doug and Rodney played on the soundtrack to Bonnie and Clyde; soon after, Doug left the band to form the Dillard & Clark Expedition with former Byrd Gene Clark.
He was replaced by banjo player Herb Peterson and the group recorded their fourth album, Wheatstraw Suite; released in 1968, it featured an increasingly adventurous musical approach, as did its followup, 1970's Copperfields. On these two albums, the Dillards added drums and steel guitar to their sound and began covering rock and folk songwriters like Bob Dylan, Lennon & McCartney, Gordon Lightfoot, John Prine and Tim Hardin. Although neither record was a commercial success, they opened the doors for progressive bluegrass bands in the '70s.
In 1971, the Dillards had a minor pop hit with "It's About Time" and opened for Elton John on his first American tour. The following year, the released Tribute to the American Duck, but didn't release another album for a number of years, at which time the lineup had changed drastically to include Rodney Dillard, banjoist Billy Ray Lathum, bassist Jeff Gilkinson, drummer Paul York, and steel guitarist Buddy Emmons. In 1977, the Dillards released two albums, The Dillards vs. the Incredible L.A. Time Machine and Glitter-Grass from the Nashwood Hollyville Strings; the latter featured John Hartford and a reunion between Rodney and Doug. Three years later, they released Homecoming and Reunion, a document of the band's reunion in Salem on the town's "Dillard Day" celebration on August 8, 1980.
Later that same year, the group released Mountain Rock. Following the completion of the album, York retired from performing and the Dillards restructured their lineup; by the end of the year, the group consisted of Rodney Dillard, Joe Villegas, Eddie Ponder, and Peter Grant. For the next year, the band played a handful of concerts, but soon Rodney turned his attention to his new group, the Rodney Dillard Band.
Throughout the '80s, the Dillards were inactive, but the original lineup occasionally reunited. In the '90s, The Rodney Dillard Band regularly played at Silver Dollar City in Branson, and the Doug Dillard Band was a popular attraction on the bluegrass and folk circuit. -Sandra Brennan
Born May 17, 1948 in Winchester, VA. Country entertainer Penny DeHaven was born May 17, 1948, in Winchester, VA. She sang and performed on local shows as a child, but moved to WWVA's Wheeling Jamboree during the mid-'60s after high school. Using the stage name Penny Starr, she became a favorite and recorded "A Grain of Salt" for the Band Box label in late 1966. The single placed modestly the following year, and after spending two years in Wheeling, she moved to Nashville to sign with Imperial in 1969. Two of her recordings hit the Country Top 40 that year: "Mama Lou" and "Down in the Boondocks."
After a change of labels to United Artists, Penny DeHaven's biggest hit came later that year when "Land Mark Tavern" hit number 20. Though DeHaven never re-entered the Top 40 again - "The First Love" and "Don't Change on Me" came closest in 1971 - she continued to record for United Artists and later Mercury, Starcrest and Main Street. She appeared in several films in the early '80s, and sang "Bayou Lullaby" for the soundtrack to 1982's Honkytonk Man. DeHaven has also guested on the Grand Ole Opry several times. -John Bush
Texas-born Jesse Granderson Turner , a 50-year radio veteran, came to Nashville's WSM in 1944 after jobs on several widely scattered stations. It wasn't long before Opry master of ceremonies George D. Hay asked him to assist with the program, both on network and non-network segments. Turner's easygoing yet efficient style helped convey the show's warm, folksy atmosphere to millions of fans. His colorful commercials for Opry sponsors became as famous as his introductions of the cast. Friend to WSM performers young and old, Turner was known as the "Voice of the Grand Ole Opry." He joined his mentor Hay as a Hall of Fame member in 1981
Born May 17, 1918 in Lyles, Hickman County, TN, died Jan 12, 1978. Paul Warren was an extraordinary bluegrass sideman who played fiddle on scores of radio and television shows and recording sessions; although he was in the music business over 35 years, he never made a solo studio album. Warren was born and raised in Hickman County, Tennessee; his earliest influences were his father, who played clawhammer banjo, and Fiddlin' Arthur Smith. He got his start playing high school dances with partner Emory Martin in the mid-'30s. In 1938, he joined Johnnie Wright's band; by 1940, they had become successful enough to abandon their day jobs and focus full-time on music. He remained with Wright and his Tennessee Hillbillies until entering the Army in 1942, where legend has it that he survived capture and two years in a German POW camp because he entertained the guards by playing "Under the Double Eagle" on fiddle. After his discharge, Warren returned to Wright's band. After Wright formed Johnnie & Jack with Jack Anglin, Warren played behind them until 1953, and also spent a year playing on Kitty Wells recordings like "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky-Tonk Angels" and "Release Me." In 1954, he began his long association with Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs when he replaced Benny Martin in their Foggy Mountain Boys; he appeared on all of their recordings between 1954 and 1969. When Flatt and Scruggs broke up in the late '60s, Warren played in Flatt's Nashville Grass through early 1977 when his health began to fail and he was forced to retire; he died the following year. Although he never recorded by himself, a collection of tunes featuring his work was posthumously gathered by Lance Le Roy, who released them a tribute album in 1979. -Sandra Brennan
Laura Lee Owens McBride
Laura Lee Owens McBride, Western Swing vocalist, was born about 1920 near the Canadian River in Oklahoma, the daughter of Maude and D. H. (Tex) Owens.qv Her father gave up his job as a mechanic to pursue a career as an entertainer. He landed a radio show in Kansas City and in 1934 wrote his most famous song, the country classic "Cattle Call." Owens encouraged his daughter to perform, and by the age of ten she was singing with her sister on their father's radio program and road shows. She formed her own band, the Prairie Pioneers, after her graduation from high school in Kansas City in 1938. The following year she married her father's guitarist, Herb Kratoska. The band moved to California, where they made thirteen movies with cowboy star Gene Autry. Shortly thereafter Laura divorced Herb and moved to Tulsa.
She went to work with a regrouped Pioneers, known as the Sons of the Range, on Tulsa station KVOO. Her spirited singing style was influenced by the big-band vocalists of the thirties and by her aunt, Texas Ruby Owens, who sang with Pappy O'Daniel's Hillbilly Boys (see O'DANIEL, WILBERT LEE). Laura's sassy vocalizing caught the attention of Western Swing giant Bob (James Robert) Wills,qv who was looking for a girl singer to perform with his Texas Playboys. Wills recruited her as the first woman to sing with the Playboys. She traveled with him to California, where they acted in B-grade westerns and toured the West Coast. She also married Cameron Hill, a guitar player with the Playboys. In 1943 and 1944 Laura Lee recorded two programs with Wills for the Armed Forces Radio Service. One of the numbers, "I Betcha My Heart I Love You," quickly became her signature song, and she more than adequately traded jibes with the unrelenting Wills. During this period she toured briefly with Tex (Woodward Maurice) Ritter.qv
In 1945 Cameron Hill took a job playing with band leader Dickie McBride in Houston. Laura Lee followed her husband to Texas and sang with the McBride organization over KTRH. She divorced Hill and married McBride in 1946. They had a daughter, Sharon. Dickie McBride enjoyed celebrity status in East Texas, where he had performed with Cliff Bruner, Floyd Tillman, and Moon (Aubrey Wilson) Mullican.qv Together, Dickie and Laura Lee developed a loyal following from Houston to western Louisiana and north to Dallas. In 1950 she returned to the Playboys for a brief time and rerecorded her classic, "I Betcha My Heart I Love You."
During the 1950s she continued to sing with her husband and held various other jobs, including managing a restaurant and selling real estate in Bryan. She also disc-jockeyed for a short period in the 1950s and worked occasionally with Hank Williams. After Dickie died in 1971, Laura Lee returned to singing and toured for eight years with Ernest Tubb.qv She also participated in numerous Texas Playboy reunions, particularly after Wills's death in 1975, just as the music gained a new appeal. She recorded an album of Western Swing classics, The Queen of Western Swing, for the Delta label in the 1970s. The album featured music by members of the original Texas Playboys. Besides her singing career, Laura McBride managed Walter M. Mischer's resort in Lajitas and Grandpa Jones's dinner theater in Mountain View, Arkansas. In 1980 she returned to the airwaves as a disc jockey in Farmington, New Mexico.
In the 1980s she received numerous awards, including the title of official Texas State Ambassador and election to the Western Swing Hall of Fame in Sacramento, California. On January 25, 1989, she died of cancer in Bryan. With her happy-go-lucky vocals Laura Lee McBride won a large following among Western Swing aficionados. Her performances with Wills in the 1940s opened the doors for women to perform on the road with the Western Swing bands, one of her major, yet least appreciated, contributions to Texas music.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Bill C. Malone, Country Music U.S.A. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1968). Charles R. Townsend, San Antonio Rose: The Life and Music of Bob Wills (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1976). -Kevin S. Fontenot
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