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Born Aug 27, 1917 in Cobb County, GA. Died Jul 29, 1954. A blind country minstrel content to perform on radio broadcasts rather than record his material, Pete Cassell impressed many listeners with his near-perfect pitch and self-taught musicianship. Born in Georgia on August 27, 1917, Cassell was blinded in his infancy, and received his education at special schools in Georgia. He specialized in law, but turned to performing after teaching himself to play guitar and sing. He first appeared on radio in the late '30s for WSB-Atlanta, and spent the rest of his life in roughly year-long stints for stations in Georgia, West Virginia, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Missouri and Wisconsin. Between the migrations, Pete Cassell recorded sporadically for Decca, Mercury and Majestic, from March 1941 to 1949. None of his sides became popular, though Cassell was a hit for nearly every station he performed with, including Wheeling, WV's talent-packed WWVA. He died of coronary thrombosis in 1954. In 1993, Old Homestead released a collection entitled Pete Cassell, Blind Minstrel. -John Bush
Born Aug 8, 1932 in Atlanta, GA. Died Jul 29, 1988 in Nashville, TN. Though he didn't take up the steel guitar until the early '50s, he quickly became an accomplished and influential player. As a session player, he recorded not just with country artists but such pop singers as Bob Dylan (John Wesley Harding, Nashville Skyline), and Ringo Starr (Beaucoup of Blues). At one point, he played on 59 of the 75 records on the country singles chart. In addition to session work, Drake was a producer, studio owner, part owner of a record company and a recording artist in his own right. -Jim Worbois
Born Mar 31, 1933 in Maces Springs, VA. Died Jul 29, 1999 in Goodletsville, TN. A member of country music's most famous family, Anita Carter found success of her own as a folk solo act during the early '50s and late '60s. The Carter Family had ruled country music during the 1930s, but broke up in 1943 after patriarch A.P. Carter and his ex-wife Sara decided to retire. Sara's cousin Maybelle, the third member of the Carters, re-formed the group the same year - as Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters - with her daughters Helen, June and Anita. The sisters had sung on Carter Family radio broadcasts in 1935, and the new group more than made up for the break-up of the originals. The Carters performed on radio from Virginia, Tennessee and Missouri during the late '40s, but moved to the Grand Ole Opry in 1950.
In 1951, Anita stormed the charts on a one-off duet with Hank Snow; both "Bluebird Island" and its B-side "Down the Trail of Achin' Hearts" reached the Country Top Five. During the mid-'50s, she also performed with the teen trio 'Nita, Rita & Ruby, but spent most of her time with the Carters. The group continued to be popular on the Opry and even opened for Elvis Presley in 1956-57. After A.P. Carter's death in 1960, Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters became the Carter Family and performed more contemporary country than gospel.
In 1961, the Carters began a long-running association with Johnny Cash by appearing on his roadshow. They recorded the Country Top 15 single "Busted" with Cash in 1963, and after June Carter married him in 1967, the Carters appeared on his ABC-TV show from 1969 to 1971. Though the Carter Family continued to record - usually with Johnny Cash - during the early '70s, they disbanded in 1969. Mother Maybelle became recognized as a major figure in the folk revival that year, appearing with Sara at the Newport Folk Festival and on the Rounder album, An Historic Reunion.
Meanwhile, Anita had begun to record for RCA in 1966, hitting the country charts with "I'm Gonna Leave You." Another single charted in 1967, and her duet with Waylon Jennings on "I Got You" reached number four in March 1968. Later in 1968, Anita moved to United Artists, but several singles proved unsuccessful. She recorded for Capitol in the early '70s and almost hit the Top 40 with "Tulsa County." Her last chart appearance with the Carter Family, "Praise the Lord and Pass the Soup," was released in August 1973. In July of 1999, ten years after the release of the collection Ring of Fire on the Bear Family label, vocalist Anita Carter passed away in Tennesse. -John Bush
AKA Roberta Streeter. Born Jul 27, 1944 in Chickasaw County, MS. Bobbie Gentry was best-known for the late-'60s hit "Ode to Billy Joe." Born Roberta Streeter, she was raised in Mississippi by her grandparents, and taught herself to play piano by listening to the church accompanist. Her family moved to Palm Springs, California when she was 13 and during her early teens she taught herself the banjo, guitar, bass, and vibes. She began her performing career in a local country club while still in high school. To help pay for college, she would sometimes sing in night clubs, and eventually transferred to the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music. Following school, she performed in local theater and was a dancer in Las Vegas, taking her stage name from the movie Ruby Gentry.
In 1967, she signed to Capitol, where she recorded her debut single "Ode to Billy Joe." It was a tremendous hit and stayed at the top of the pop charts for a month and then crossed over to become a Top 20 hit on the country charts. The follow-up, "I Saw an Angel Die," was a flop but "Okolona River Bottom Band" made it to the Top 60. By late 1968, it looked as if the suspicions that Gentry was only a "one-hit wonder" were true. However, "Mornin' Glory" - a duet with Glen Campbell - reached the Top 75 on the pop charts while the B-side of the single, "Less of Me," nearly reached the Top 40 on the country charts. It set the stage for their hit cover of the Everly Brothers' "Let It Be Me," which reached number 14 on the country charts in 1969; a year later, the duo took "All I Have to Do Is Dream" to number six on the country charts. She and Campbell continued recording together until 1979.
Gentry had a number one hit in the United Kingdom in 1970 with her cover of Burt Bacharach's "I'll Never Fall in Love Again." While her popularity was declining in America, her star in Great Britain was on the rise. She began appearing on numerous TV shows there, including an appearance on the Tom Jones Show which led to her own self-titled British variety show. Later Gentry began appearing on Armed Forces Radio where she was a popular emcee. After a brief marriage to Jim Stafford in the late '70s, she basically retired from the music industry and became involved in television production. -Sandra Brennan
Stacy Dean Campbell
Born Jul 27, 1967 in Carlsbad, NM. Singer/songwriter Stacy Dean Campbell was first inspired to become a musician by his father Buddy, a gospel singer. Raised by his grandparents in Carlsbad, New Mexico, he grew up enamored of the music of Marty Robbins, whose smooth crooning influenced Campbell's own vocal style. Encouraged by his brother Spencer, himself a professional musician, Campbell moved to Nashville to pursue a career in country, and soon earned a songwriting contract with Tree Music. In 1992, he released his debut solo record, Lonesome Wins Again; the follow-up, the eclectic Hurt City, appeared in 1995. -Jason Ankeny
Homer & Jethro
Formed 1932. Disbanded 1971. Known as 'the thinking man's hillbillies,' Homer Haynes and Jethro Burns got a lot of mileage out of an act that shouldn't have lasted or gone as far as it did, at least on the surface of things. Certainly there were other, far more established duos mining similar turf on the country music circuit, with Lonzo and Oscar leading the way. But Homer & Jethro were far more than just two hayseeds doing cornball sendups of pop tunes. Underneath the cornpone facade were two top flight musicians with a decidedly perverse sense of humor and a keen sense of satire.
Homer D. Haynes was the older of the two men, born in Knoxville, Tennessee on July 27, 1918. Jethro was born with the decidedly non-show biz moniker of Kenneth D. Burns also in Knoxville on March 10, 1923. The duo met in their early teens and started playing music together almost immediately, with Haynes on guitar and Burns alternating between mandolin and banjo.
Our first glimpse of them is in the mid-'30s, working on local radio station WNOX as part of a larger group, the String Dusters. One night, the boys heard a radio broadcast of a pop singer doing a broad - and fairly denigrating - takeoff of a hillbilly singer singing a country tune. Using exaggerrated vowel and consonant stressing (trademarks of bluegrass singing) and deliberately going off key as much as possible, the singer's performance irked the duo to no end. They decided right then and there that payback was the only logical solution to this kind of insult. From here on out, they would take current popular songs and send them up as hillbilly renditions, performed in deadpan earnest by Haynes and Burns, who now took the stage name of Jethro. They started working in the act while the rest of the group took a break during the broadcast. The new duo's 'intermission' turn proved to be immensely popular and within four years' time, their characters and their timing were fully honed to a razor edge.
By 1938, they had broken off from the String Dusters and moved up to the more prestigious Renfro Valley Barn Dance, later broadcasting on the Chicago-based Plantation Party. World War II split the duo up, with Homer serving in Europe and 'Jethro' serving in the Pacific theater. Getting back together after their respective discharges, they started up their radio appearances again, this time working on the Cincinnati based Midwestern Hayride. Their recording careers also began during this time period, signing with King Records out of Cincinnati, issuing several 78s between 1946 and 1948. By the end of the year, country producer legend Steve Sholes had signed them to RCA Victor, where they would spend the rest of their recording careers, cutting records - especially in the '60s - as if nothing could contain them. The duo joined up briefly with Spike Jones & His City Slickers, appearing in the stage show for a while, recording at least one session with him in 1950 ("Pal-Yat-Chee"), and letting Jones' agency handle all their bookings.
It was in the late '40s into the 1950s, basing themselves out of the Windy City, that the duo hit their true stride. Their first big hit was a take off on "Baby, It's Cold Outside" with a quite young June Carter contributing on vocals. The success of this single brought them to the attention of powerful radio station WLS, thus securing Homer & Jethro a regular spot on the National Barn Dance. Joining in 1949, the duo would stay faithful to the original version of the Grand Ole Opry, staying with the show until 1958. The national hookup did wonders for their career, which got an added boost when they started working double duty as regulars on Don McNeil's Breakfast Club, one of the top-rated morning-radio chat shows of its time, also based out of Chicago. The 1950s found them scoring big with numerous guest shots on television. The beauty of Homer & Jethro (as opposed to another country novelty act) was that they could work anywhere and be understood. They could be on the bill with Roy Rogers or trading cornball putdowns with Jimmy Dean or slickly one-upping Johnny Carson and they always held their own. As time went on, their act became more deadpan and if anything, even more polished, as if to distance themselves from everything else that had existed before them in their little corner of the country world. State-fair work was replaced with the glitzier surroundings of Las Vegas and the like. RCA Victor Living Stereo album covers aside, Homer & Jethro never had to dress up in bib overalls and play hicks to get their act over. If anything, the straighter they dressed, the straighter they acted, the funnier they were.
They were still singing with broad accents, but the satires were getting more acerbic with each release, giving rise to their lasting sobriquet as 'the thinking man's hillbillies.' Their satire of Patti Page's "How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?" (Homer and Jethro'd into "How Much Is That Hound Dog in the Winder?") became their first crossover hit in 1953. In 1959, the duo won their first - and only - Grammy award for "The Battle of Kookamonga," their hilarious spoof of Johnny Horton's "The Battle of New Orleans," a country crossover record that cut a wide swath on the charts that year.
When Southern country humor became a small phenomenon of the 1960s with the success of television shows like The Beverly Hillbillies, Petticoat Junction, and Green Acres, Homer & Jethro's career went into overdrive. They (and RCA Victor) released an avalanche of records like there was no tomorrow, issuing eight albums of new material between between 1966 and 1967 alone. Their studio efforts were produced by Chet Atkins with the cream of Nashville sidemen and one album, Playing It Straight, found them in an all-instrumental setting, showing there were chops a-plenty behind the cornball vocals and broad satires. The duo also participated in a wildly successful advertising campaign in the mid-'60s for Kellogg's Corn Flakes, even issuing an album based on the ad's catch phrase, Ooh, That's Corny! to brisk sales.
The duo continued until Homer's death in 1971. Jethro Burns went into semi-retirement for a few years, being coaxed back into show business by folk singer Steve Goodman, who brought him out on tour, spotlighting him to much recognition as a fine jazz-influenced mandolinist. Homer & Jethro were inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001. -Cub
Coon Creek Girls
Formed 1937. Disbanded 1957. One of the most famous all-female string bands in country, the Coon Creek Girls were also among the first female groups to play their own instruments and focus on authentic mountain music, instead of sentimental and cowboy songs.
The founding member of the long-lived group was Lily May Ledford. Born in Pilot, Kentucky, she was the daughter of poor tenant farmers who frequently played string band music; consequently, Lily May learned how to play guitar and fiddle as a child. By the time she was an adolescent, she had formed the Red River Ramblers with her sister Rose and her brother Cayen, and the group began playing local square dances. The Ramblers auditioned for talent scouts in 1935, and Lily May was chosen to appear on WLS Chicago's Barn Dance. During her performance, she caught the attention of announcer John Lair, who became her manager; in the process, he landed her a regular spot on the Barn Dance, where she became so popular that the station's magazine based a comic strip on her.
Born 1965 in Maceo, KY. Marty Brown, a native of the tobacco-farming community of Maceo, KY, is the kind of guy myths spring up around. He hitchhiked into Nashville with little more than his guitar, a cheap demo tape, and a knowledge of the music industry he'd picked up from TNN. (He's said to have accosted producer Barry Beckett at a music-biz function and said, "I know you! I saw you in a video.") It turned out that was enough. A featured segment on the network news show 48 Hours and an unannounced visit to performing rights organization BMI led to a scramble to sign Brown to a recording deal.
Brown's pinched voice is a throwback to an earlier time, sort of a Kentucky hill version of Jimmie Rodgers. He recorded three albums for MCA and won a small but strong fan base through a national tour with Jimmie Dale Gilmore and, later, a couple of solo tours playing at Wal-Marts across the country. But while his albums and concerts were critically acclaimed, Brown never had a radio hit, and MCA eventually dropped him. In 1996, however, he was snatched up by the Oakland, CA, indie label High Tone (onetime home to Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Joe Ely, and Robert Cray). He released his first High Tone album, Here's to the Honky Tonks, in the fall of that year. -Brian Mansfield & Kurt Wolff
Born Jul 25, 1948 in Chicago, IL. Died Sep 20, 1984 in Seattle, WA. Growing up in what he called "a Midwestern middle-class Jewish family," Steve Goodman began playing the guitar as a teenager. He was influenced by the folk revival of the early '60s and by country performers such as Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams. Ater attending college in the mid-'60s, he turned to playing in Chicago clubs by night and writing commercial jingles by day. In 1971, he opened for Kris Kristofferson and was seen by Paul Anka, who financed demo recordings that led to a contract with Buddah Records and the release of Steve Goodman, which featured his train song "The City of New Orleans," a Top 40 hit for Arlo Guthrie in 1972 and now a folk standard. Goodman made a second album for Buddah, Somebody Else's Troubles (1973), then broke with the label, which went on to issue an outtakes record, The Essential Steve Goodman (1975).
Goodman moved to the singer/songwriter-oriented West Coast label Asylum for his first charting album Jessie's Jig & Other Favorites in 1975, the same year that "outlaw" country singer David Allen Coe made the Top Ten of the Country charts with a cover of his "You Never Even Called Me by My Name" from the Steve Goodman album. Goodman's subsequent Asylum albums were Words We Can Dance To (Apr. 1976) (featuring "Banana Republics," popularized by Jimmy Buffett), Say It in Private (Oct. 1977), High and Outside (Feb. 1979), and Hot Spot (1980). None became a major commercial success, but Goodman established himself on the national club and festival circuits, frequently appearing with mandolin player Jethro Burns, formerly of the country duo Homer & Jethro.
Goodman turned record producer for his friend and fellow Chicagoan John Prine on Prine's 1978 album Bruised Orange. In 1983, Goodman followed Prine in establishing his own independent label, Red Pajamas, which released the live Artistic Hair and Affordable Art (1984). Goodman died of leukemia after battling the disease for many years. Red Pajamas released Santa Ana Winds (1984) posthumously, as well as a double-disc LP drawn from a concert in his memory, A Tribute to Steve Goodman, which featured John Prine, Bonnie Raitt, and others. After a second posthumous release, Unfinished Business, Red Pajamas licensed the Asylum material and put out two Best of the Asylum Years compilations. -William Ruhlmann
AKA The Silver Fox. Born Dec 14, 1932 in Colt, AR. Died Jul 24, 1995 in Hammond, LA. Charlie Rich was simultaneously one of the most critically acclaimed and most erratic country singers of post-World War II era. Rich had all the elements of being one of the great country stars of the '60s and '70s, but his popularity never matched his critical notices. What made him a critical favorite also kept him from mass success. Throughout his career, Rich willfully bended genres, fusing country, jazz, blues, gospel, rockabilly, and soul. Though he had 45 country hits in a career that spanned nearly four decades, he became best-known for his lush, Billy Sherrill-produced countrypolitan records of the early '70s. Instead of embracing the stardom those records brought him, Rich shunned it, retreating into semi-retirement by the '80s.
Charlie Rich began his professional musical career while he was enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in the early '50s. While he was stationed in Oklahoma, he formed a group called the Velvetones, which played jazz and blues and featured his fiancee, Margaret Ann, on lead vocals. Rich left the military in 1956, and he began performing clubs around the Memphis area, playing both jazz and R&B; he also began writing his own material. Rich managed to land a job as a session musician for Judd Records, which was owned by Judd Phillips, the brother of Sun Records founder Sam Phillips. Around this time, saxophonist and Sun recording artist Bill Justis heard Charlie play at the Sharecropper Club and asked the pianist to write arrangements for him. Sam Phillips saw Rich perform with Justis at a club gig and asked him to record some demos at Sun Studios. Phillips rejected the resulting demos, claiming they were too jazzy. After absorbing some Jerry Lee Lewis records Justis gave him, Rich returned to Sun quickly and became a regular session musician for the label in 1958, playing and/or singing on records by Lewis, Johnny Cash, Justis, Warren Smith, Billy Lee Riley, Carl Mann, and Ray Smith. He was also writing songs, including "Break Up" for Jerry Lee Lewis, "The Ways of a Woman in Love" for Johnny Cash, and "I'm Comin' Home" for Carl Mann, which was later cut by Elvis Presley.
In August of 1958, Rich released his first single, "Whirlwind," for the Sun subsidiary Phillips International. Throughout 1959, he recorded a number of songs at Sun, though only a handful were actually released. Rich didn't have a hit until 1960, when his third Phillips International single, "Lonely Weekends," became a Top 30 pop hit. However, none of its seven follow-up singles were a success, though several of the songs would become staples in his set, including "Who Will the Next Fool Be?," "Sittin' and Thinkin," and "Midnight Blues." In the early '60s, Rich's career remained stalled. He left Sun Records in 1964, signing with Groove, a newly-established subsidiary of RCA. His first single, "Big Boss Man," was an underground, word-of-mouth hit, but its Chet Atkins-produced follow-ups all stiffed. On Groove, he jazzily interpreted standards, but he also performed a handful of originals, including "Tomorrow Night" and "I Don't See Me in Your Eyes Anymore." Groove went out of business by the beginning of 1965, leaving Rich without a record contract.
Under the direction of Shelby Singleton, Smash Records signed Charlie Rich early in 1965. Singleton and Rich's producer Jerry Kennedy encouraged the pianist to emphasize his country and rock & roll leanings. The first single for Smash was "Mohair Sam," an R&B-inflected novelty number written by Dallas Frazier. "Mohair Sam" became a Top 30 pop hit, but none of its follow-ups were successful. Again, Rich changed labels, moving over to Hi Records where he recorded straight country, but none of his singles for the label made any impression on the country charts.
Despite his lack of consistent commercial success, Epic Records signed Charlie Rich in 1967, mainly on the recommendation of producer Billy Sherrill. Sherrill helped Rich refashion himself as a Nashville-based, smooth, middle-of-the-road balladeer. At first, the singles were only moderately successful - "Set Me Free" and "Raggedy Ann" charted in the mid-40s in 1968 - but persistence paid off in the summer of 1972, when "I Take It On Home" rocketed to number six. "I Take It On Home" set the stage for Rich's big breakthrough into the mainstream, 1973's Behind Closed Doors album. The title track from the record became a number one hit early in 1973, crossing over into the Top 20 on the pop charts. Following the success of "Behind Closed Doors," RCA re-released "Tomorrow Night" and it reached the Top 30, but it was "The Most Beautiful Girl," the proper follow-up to his first number one single, that established him as a star. "The Most Beautiful Girl" spent three weeks at the top of the country charts and two weeks at the top of the pop charts. Behind Closed Doors won three awards from the Country Music Association that year: Best Male Vocalist, Album of the Year, and Single of the Year for the title track. The album was also certified Gold, Rich won a Grammy for Best Country Vocal Performance, Male, and he also took home four ACM awards.
After "The Most Beautiful Girl," number one hits came quickly - "There Won't Be Anymore" (re-released from his RCA sessions), "A Very Special Love Song," "I Don't See Me in Your Eyes Anymore" (also from RCA), "I Love My Friend," and "She Called Me Baby" (RCA) all topped the country charts, and several of the songs also crossed over into the pop charts. Mercury began re-releasing his Smash recordings and two of them - "A Field of Yellow Daisies" and "Something Just Came Over Me" - became minor hits. All of this success led the CMA to name him Entertainer of the Year in 1974.
Rich didn't quite dominate the charts in 1975 as he did the previous year, but he did have three Top Five hits: "My Elusive Dreams," "Every Time You Touch Me (I Get High)," and "All Over Me," plus the Top Ten "Since I Fell For You." Even though he was at the peak of his popularity, Rich had begun to drink heavily, causing considerable problems off-stage. His destructive behavior culminated at the CMA ceremony for 1975, when he presented the award for that year's Entertainer of the Year. Instead of reading the name of the winner, he set fire to the certificate that named the new winner, who happened to be John Denver. Fans and industry insiders were outraged, and Rich had trouble having hits throughout 1976 - none of his singles cracked the Top 20.
The slump in his career couldn't be completely attributed to Rich's behavior. His records had begun to sound increasingly similar, as he and Sherrill were working over the same territory they began exploring in 1968. There were exceptions - such as 1976's acclaimed gospel record, Silver Linings - but it took Rich until 1977 to break back into the Top Ten with the number one "Rollin' with the Flow."Early in 1978, he signed with United Artists and throughout that year, he had hits on both Epic and UA. Rich worked with Larry Butler at United Artists, a producer that had a similar style to Sherrill. Epic continued to have hits, as "Beautiful Woman" reached the Top Ten in the summer and a duet with Janie Fricke, "On My Knees," became his last number one hit that fall. "I'll Wake You Up When I Get Home," taken from the Clint Eastwood movie Every Which Way But Loose, was a number three hit early in 1979; it would be his last Top Ten single.
Rich struggled to have a big hit throughout 1979, but none of his singles were anything more than a minor success. In 1980, he switched labels to Elektra, resulting in the number 12 single "A Man Just Don't Know What a Woman Goes Through" in the fall of that year. One more Top 40 hit followed - "Are We Dreamin' the Same Dream" early in 1981 - but Charlie Rich decided to remove himself from the spotlight. For over a decade, Rich was silent, living in semi-retirement and only playing the occasional concert. He returned in 1992 with Pictures and Paintings, a jazzy record produced by journalist Peter Guralnick and released on Sire.
Pictures and Paintings received positive reviews and restored Rich's reputation, but it would be his last record. Charlie Rich died from a blood clot in his lung in the summer of 1995, when he was travelling to Florida with his wife Margaret Ann. -Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Born Jan 11, 1911 in Hillsboro, TX. Died Jul 25, 1967 in Tulsa, OK. As the lead singer for the classic lineup of Bob Wills' Texas Playboys, Tommy Duncan was the definitive western swing vocalist. Crossing the smooth croon of Bing Crosby with the twang of Jimmie Rodgers and the bluesy inclinations of Emmett Miller, Duncan had a warm, distinctive and welcoming voice that helped the Playboys crossover to a wider audience. Not only was he a wonderful, trend-setting vocalist, Tommy also wrote many of the Texas Playboys' biggest hits, including "Time Changes Everything," "Stay A Little Longer," "Take Me Back to Tulsa," "New Spanish Two Step," and "Bubbles in My Beer." Throughout the '30s and '40s, he was remained with Wills, leaving in 1948 when tensions between the two musicians became too great. Following his departure, Duncan launched a solo career that resulted in one major hit single, "Gamblin' Polka Dot Blues." Throughout the '50s, he sang both as a solo artist and a member of the Miller Brothers Band. In 1960, he and Wills patched up their differences and recorded several albums. Following his reunion with Wills, he began touring as a solo artist, and he remained on the road until his death in 1967.
Tommy Duncan was hired by Bob Wills in 1933 to fill the vacant spot left in the Light Crust Doughboys by vocalist/pianist Milton Brown, who had left the band when W. Lee O'Daniel, the sponsor of the group's radio show, refused to let the band play dances. Wills auditioned a total of 67 singers before hiring Duncan. Later that year, Wills was fired from the radio station by O'Daniel for showing up drunk, Duncan chose to join Bob's new band, the Texas Playboys, instead of staying with the Lightcrust Doughboys.
Once the Texas Playboys settled in Tulsa in 1934, Duncan moved to permanent lead vocalist, leaving the piano to Alton Stricklin. Over the next eight years, the group had a regular show on Tulsa's KVOO and recorded a number of hit singles for the American Recording Company, including "Right or Wrong" and "New San Antonio Rose." In 1942, Duncan left the band to join the Army and fight in World War II. Tommy's departure began a wave of defections from the Playboys, as many of the members enlisted in the service. The Playboys' popularity crumbled with the absence of so many key musicians, yet they bounced back up the charts once Duncan and several other members rejoined following the end of the war.
Duncan stayed with Wills until 1948, when the fiddler fired the singer, believing that Tommy was commanding too much attention. Upon leaving the Playboys, Duncan formed a Western swing band with several former members of the Texas Playboys and signed to Capitol Records. "Gamblin' Polka Dot Blues," his debut single, was a hit upon its summer release in 1949, peaking at number eight on the charts. After touring with the band during 1948 and 1949, Duncan joined the Miller Brothers Band in the early '50s. Over the course of the early '50s, he recorded with the Miller Brothers on Intro Records, as well as solo for Coral. During the latter half of the decade, Tommy recorded for a variety of small labels, including Cheyenne, Fire, and Award. Despite his constant touring and recording, Duncan failed to have much success, primarily because western swing had fallen out of favor with many contemporary country fans.
Wills and Duncan patched up their differences and reunited in 1960, recording a number of sessions that were released as albums and singles over the next two years. One single, "The Image of Me," became a minor Top 40 country hit in early 1961. Following his brief reunion with Wills, Tommy continued to tour as a solo artist throughout the rest of the decade, usually employing a house band as his supporting group. In 1966, Duncan released his last single, "I Brought It On Myself" / "Let Me Take You Out," on Smash Records. The following year, he suffered a major heart attack and died in July, leaving behind a legacy of classic recordings and songs. -Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Born 1957 in Plant City, FL. Like many children of famous fathers, Pam Tillis was forced to overcome several obstacles to establish herself as an individual artist and not simply the daughter of country vocalist Mel Tillis; eventually, she earned her own identity, which led to a string of country hits in the early '90s.
Though born in Plant City, Florida, Tillis was raised in Nashville, where she made her debut on the Grand Ole Opry stage at the age of eight. As a child she took classical piano lessons, and began playing guitar at age 12 by watching an instructional show on television. Tillis made her professional debut during a talent contest at Nashville's Last Chance Saloon when she was a teenager. Despite a natural affinity for country music, she also found herself drawn to other genres; she was a rebellious teen, partying too hard and running wild. At the age of 16, she suffered a nearly fatal car crash that left her face badly shattered, forcing her to undergo painful reconstructive surgery for the next five years. Tillis persevered, however, and while attending college, she founded the High Country Swing band and performed in a folk duo with Ashley Cleveland. In 1976, she dropped out of school to become a songwriter, taking a job at her father's Sawgrass Music publishing house. Barbara Fairchild recorded one of her early tunes, "I'll Meet You on the Other Side of Morning."
Eventually, Tillis wanted to find her own musical identity, so she formed the Pam Tillis Band and moved to San Francisco. She soon changed the group's name to Freelight, and the band became an experimental free-form jazz and rock outfit. In 1978, she went back to Nashville, becoming a back-up singer for her father and fronting her own R&B band. She also continued to write, providing pop singers like Gloria Gaynor and Chaka Khan with successful songs. Tillis made her own recording debut in 1983, releasing Beyond the Doll of Cutey. A year later, she had her first charting single with "Goodbye Highway," which inched its way to number 71. It took another two years before she reappeared on the charts with the moderate hit, "Those Memories of You." Throughout the latter half of the '80s, she had a string of minor country hits. During this time, she also wrote commercial jingles, wrote songs for Tree Publishing, and performed in Las Vegas.
For a brief time at the turn of the decade, Tillis flirted with pop music, but she decided to return to her country roots in 1990, when she signed with Arista Records. "Don't Tell Me What to Do," her first single for the label, catapulted to number five, becoming her first genuine hit. For the next few years, she had a steady stream of hit singles, highlighted by "Maybe It Was Memphis," which reached number three in early 1992. That same year, she released Homeward Looking Angel and in 1993 it too went gold. In 1994, her album Sweetheart's Dance reached the country Top Ten; in 1995, she released All of This Love. Every Time followed in 1998 and Thunder and Roses in early 2001. -Sandra Brennan
Max D. Barnes
Born Jul 24, 1936 in Hardscratch, IA. Max D. Barnes may not have released many records, but he left an important mark on contemporary country music. As a songwriter, Barnes composed many familiar songs of the '80s and '90s, receiving 42 songwriter awards in his career. Artists like George Jones ("Who's Gonna Fill Their Shoes"), Waylon Jennings ("Drinkin' and Dreamin'"), Conway Twitty ("Red Neckin' Love Makin' Night"), Keith Whitley ("Ten Feet Away"), Randy Travis ("I Won't Need You Anymore (Forever and Always)"), Vern Godsin ("Way Down Deep," "Slow Burnin' Memory"), Pam Tillis ("Don't Tell Me What To Do), and Vince Gill ("Look at Us") have recorded his songs, as have many others. Although he has had a couple of minor hits himself (most notably "Allegheny Lady" in the mid-'70s), his true legacy lies in his songs, not his records.
Barnes grew up in Iowa, receiving his first guitar from his sister Ruthie Steele at age 11. Shortly afterward, his parents were divorced. He moved to Omaha, Nebraska with his mother and two younger brothers. At 16, he dropped out of school and began singing in a local nightclub. During this time, he formed a band called the Golden Rockets, which featured his future wife Patsy as lead singer. Max and Patsy quit playing clubs after the birth of their son, Patrick. At first, Max worked for an Omaha concrete company, but the family soon moved to Long Beach, CA, where he was the foreman at a lamp factory. After a while, he quit, spending his summers in Omaha and his winters singing in California. By 1962, he saved up enough money to by a night club near Lake Okiboji, Iowa, but he sold it after eight months. Again, the Barnes family moved back to Omaha, where Max spent nine years driving as a truck driver.
Barnes' musical career didn't really begin until 1971, when he recorded a single for Jed, "Ribbons of Steel"/"Hello Honky Tonk." He followed it with "You Gotta Be Putting Me On"/"Growing Old With Grace," which was released on Willex. Following some words of encouragement from songwriter Kent Westberry, Barnes moved to Nashville in 1973. Max became a staff writer for Roz-Tense Music, which led to Charley Pride recording two of his songs. Soon, he moved to Gary S. Paxman Music, then to Danor Music. While he was with Danor, Barnes wrote nearly 30 songs recorded by other artists, including several hit singles; on one occasion, he had five of his songs on the charts simultaneous. He also co-wrote many songs with Troy Seals, one of the co-owners of the publishing company. Sadly, tragedy befell the Barnes' family, as the eldest son Patrick died in a car accident in 1975. Max wrote about the incident on "Chiseled in Stone," which was co-written with Vern Gosdin, who had a hit with the song in 1989.
In 1976, Max signed a publishing deal with Screen-Gems EMI, which helped him secure a recording contract with Polydor. Released the following year, Rough Around the Edges spawned the minor hit "Allegheny Lady," which scraped the bottom of the charts. If he didn't have hits with his own records, he did have hits with his songs, as Conway Twitty brought several of Max's songs to the charts, including the Loretta Lynn duets "I Can't Love You Enough" and "From Seven Till Ten," and the solo "Don't Take It Away," which hit number one. -Stephen Thomas Erlewine
AKA Foy Willingham. Born 1915 in Bosque County, TX. Died Jun 24, 1978. Singer, songwriter and actor Foy Willing was best known as the founder of the Riders of the Purple Sage, a popular cowboy band known for their close harmonies and appearances in low-budget Westerns from the '40s and '50s. Born Foy Willingham in Bosque County, Texas, he began as a soloist and member of a gospel group on local radio. In 1933 he began appearing on a radio show in New York City, but left in 1935 to work as a radio announcer back in Texas. In 1940 Willing moved to California, and a year later he founded the Riders of the Purple Sage. They were primarily a radio group, but in 1944, they made their feature film debut in Cowboy from Lonesome River, a Western featuring Charles Starrett. The following year, the band began appearing regularly on the All Star Western Theater.
They continued appearing in films through the decade and in 1948 became Roy Rogers' new backup band after the Sons of the Pioneers left. Over the years they had a few hits, including "Have I Told You Lately That I Love You," "No One to Cry To" and "Cool Water." The Riders of the Purple Sage disbanded in 1952, and Willing retired from active performing. During the late '50s and early '60s, the group occasionally reunited to record and perform, and Willing went on to appear at Western festivals during the 1970s. -Sandra Brennan
The son of the legendary Earl Scruggs, singer/songwriter Randy Scruggs was for several decades one of Nashville's most sought-after producers and session players, collaborating with everyone from Waylon Jennings to George Strait to Emmylou Harris during a prolific career dating back to the 1970 release of All the Way Home, a collaboration with his brother Gary. Finally, in 1998, Scruggs recorded his debut solo LP, the all-star Crown of Jewels. -Jason
The Davis Sisters
Formed 1949 in Lexington, KY. Disbanded 1953. Known to country fans mainly as the act in which Skeeter Davis originally rose to fame, the Davis Sisters' career would have surely been much more influential and successful if tragedy hadn't derailed them just after their first hit. Although they only had one big single ("I Forgot More than You'll Ever Know," in 1953), their outstanding close dual harmonies helped link the Appalachian harmonies of the Delmore Brothers with the more modern ones of subsequent acts like the Everlys. They were also among the earliest female country singing stars of the post-World War II era, and occasionally went into a boogie mode that foreshadowed the rockabilly movement by a year or two.
The Davis Sisters were in fact not sisters at all. Betty Jack Davis and Mary Frances Penick met in high school in Kentucky in the late '40s, soon forming a close friendship and musical partnership. Penick changed her name to Skeeter Davis for professional purposes, so that the duo could be billed as a sister combination. By the early '50s they'd performed regularly on radio shows in Cincinnati and Detroit, and made their first studio recordings in Detroit. By 1953 they were recording for RCA, backed by Nashville session players such as Chet Atkins. The mournful "I Forgot More than You'll Ever Know" was a big hit that made them immediate stars; just as interesting, in retrospect, was the flip side, "Rock-A-Bye Boogie," which anticipated the rockabilly revolution with its frenetic rhythms and Les Paul-influenced electric guitar runs.
That first RCA session was to be Betty Jack's last, as the pair were involved in a serious auto accident in August 1953; Betty Jack died instantly, though Skeeter would recover. With the support of the Davis family, Skeeter continued the act with Betty Jack's older sister, Georgie. The reconstituted Davis Sisters continued to record through 1956, performing in the same harmony style that Skeeter had formulated with Betty Jack. These outings were quite respectable mixes of traditional country ballads with slicker, more uptempo fare, but there were no more hits, and Skeeter couldn't fully re-create the artistic and personal spark she had enjoyed with Betty Jack. While Georgie retired from music, Skeeter would by the 1960s become one of the most successful women singers in the country-pop field. -Richie Unterberger
Born Apr 2, 1931 in St. Louis, MO. Died Jul 31, 1987. Kenneth Ray "Thumbs" Carllile was an innovative guitar player and songwriter. The son of an impoverished Illinois tenant farmer, he began playing music at the age of eight after his sister Evelyn won a dobro for selling balm. He used the new instrument so much that his irritated sister hid the steel bar, but the resourceful young man began using his thumbs to practice.
When his father gave him a Silvertone guitar, Carllile's thumbs were too short and fat to make it around the neck, so he began playing it on his lap like a dobro. Carllile's family moved to Granite City, Missouri when he was ten. There he made his debut playing "Sweet Georgia Brown" during a Ferlin Husky performance. He was tossed out of high school at age 16 for refusing to shave and then began performing regularly with Husky until being discovered by Little Jimmy Dickens during a performance in St. Louis. Dickens was impressed and gave Carllile the nickname "Thumbs," a moniker Carllile never really liked.
From 1949 to 1952, Thumbs played with Dickens' Country Boys. In 1952, he began a two-year stint in the Army's Special Services. He was stationed in Stuttgart, Germany when he met and married singer/songwriter Virginia Boyle in 1955. After his discharge, Carllile played with Bill Wimberley's Rhythm Boys and Red Foley's Troupe. As a soloist, he regularly appeared on the Ozark Jubilee. He met guitar great Les Paul, who was impressed by both Boyle's writing and Carllile's skill and took them to his home recording studio to lay down enough tracks for two albums. Later that year, Carllile sang a duet with Ginny O'Boyle, "Indian Girl, Indian Boy."
Two years later he joined the Wade Ray Five and Ray's Las Vegas band. Carllile joined Roger Miller in 1964; later, Miller helped Carllile sign with Smash Records, where he released two albums, Roger Miller Presents Thumbs Carllile and All Thumbs, in 1965. During 1966, he released several singles, including "Let It Be Me," "Caravan," "Blue Skies," and "Hold It." In 1968, he made the album Walking in Guitar Land. Although no singles were released from it, three songs, "It's a Good Day," "Work Song" and "High Noon," found favor with the public.
In 1986, Carllile, whose daughter Virginia had a minor hit with "Stay Until the Rain Stops" in 1980, underwent surgery for colon cancer. After recovering, he began playing on Sagebrush Boogie in Atlanta. In 1987, Carllile was preparing to perform as the opening act for Michael Hedges when he suffered a massive coronary and died. -Sandra Brennan
AKA James Travis Reeves . Born Aug 20, 1924 in Galloway, Panola County, TX. Died Jul 31, 1964 in Nashville, TN. Gentleman Jim Reeves was perhaps the biggest male star to emerge from the Nashville Sound. His mellow baritone voice and muted velvet orchestration combined to create a sound that echoed around his world and has lasted to this day. Detractors will call the sound country-pop (or plain pop), but none can argue against the large audience that loves this music. Reeves was capable of singing hard country ("Mexican Joe" went to number one in 1953), but he made his greatest impact as a country-pop crooner. From 1955 through 1969, Reeves was consistently charted in the country and pop charts - an amazing fact in light of his untimely death in an airplane accident in 1964. Not only was a presence in the American charts, but he became country music's foremost international ambassador and, if anything, he was even more popular in Europe and Britain than he was in his native America. After his death, his fanbase didn't diminish at all, and several of his posthumous hits actually outsold his earlier singles; no less than six number one singles arrived in the three years following his burial. In fact, during the '70s and '80s, he continued to have hits with both unreleased material and electronic duets like "Take Me in Your Arms and Hold Me" with Deborah Allen and "Have You Ever Been Lonely?" with his smooth-singing female counterpart of the plush Nashville Sound, Patsy Cline, who also perished in an airplane crash, in 1963. But Reeves' legacy remains with lush country-pop singles like "Four Walls" (1957) and "He'll Have To Go" (1959), which defined both his style and an entire era of country music.
Jim Reeves was born and raised in Galloway, Texas, where he was one of nine children. Tragically, his father died when Jim was only ten months old, forcing his mother to farm to raise her family. At the age of five, he was given an old guitar and shortly afterward, he heard a Jimmie Rodgers record through his older brother. From that moment on, Reeves was entranced by country music and Rodgers in particular. By the time he was 12 years old, he had already appeared on a radio show in Shreveport, Louisiana. Though he was fascinated with music, Jim also was a talented athlete and during his teens he decided he was going to pursue a career as a baseball player. Winning an athletic scholarship to the University of Texas, Reeves enrolled at the school to study speech and drama, but he dropped out after six weeks to work at the shipyards in Houston. Soon, he had returned to baseball, playing in the semi-professional leagues before signing with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1944. He stayed with the team for three years before seriously injuring his ankle and thereby ruining his chances of a prolonged atheletic career.
For the next few years, Reeves went through a number of bluecollar jobs while trying to decide on a profession. During this time he began singing as an amateur, appearing both as a solo artist and as the frontman for Moon Mullican's band. In 1949, Reeves cut a number of songs for the small independent Macy label, none of which were particularly successful. In the early '50s, Jim decided taht he would make broadcasting his vocation, initially working for KSIG in Gladewater, Texas, before establishing himself at KGRI in Henderson. Over the next few years, Reeves was a disc jockey and newscaster at KGRI, moving to KWKH in Shreveport, Lousiana in November of 1952, becoming host of the popular Louisiana Hayride. Late in 1952, Hank Williams failed to make an appearence on the show and Reeves sang in his place. Jim's performance was enthusiastically received and Abbott Records immediately signed him to a record contract. "Mexican Joe" was Reeves' debut single for Abbott and it quickly climbed to number one in the spring of 1953, spending nine weeks at the top of the charts. It was followed by another number one hit, "Bimbo," later in 1953, establishing that Jim was not a one-hit wonder; later that same year, he was made a full-time member of the Louisiana Hayride.
During 1954 and 1955, he had four other hit singles for Abbott and its parent company Fabor before RCA signed him to a long-term deal in 1955; that same year, he joined the Grand Ole Opry. At RCA, Reeves began to develop the distinctively smooth, lush and pop-oriented style of country that made him a superstar and earned him the nickname Gentleman Jim. Peaking at number four, "Yonder Comes Aa Sucker" was his first Top Ten hit for RCA in the summer of 1955. It kicked off a remarkable streak of 40 hit singles, most of which charted in the Top Ten. Many of his singles also became pop crossovers, which indicates exactly how much a pop influence there was on Reeves' music. Indeed, Jim's vocal style derived from the crooning of Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby, and early in his career he abandoned cowboy outfits for upscale suits. In the process, he brought country music to a new, urban audience.
Throughout the '50s and early '60s, Reeves' racked up a number of major hits and country classics like "Four Walls" (number one for eight weeks, 1957), "Anna Marie" (1958), "Blue Boy" (number two, 1958), "Billy Bayou" (number one for five weeks, 1959), "He'll Have to Go" (number one for 14 weeks, 1960), "Adios Amigo" (number two, 1962), "Welcome to My World" (number two, 1964), and "I Guess I'm Crazy" (number one for seven weeks, 1964). "Four Walls" was the turning point in his career, proving to both Reeves himself and his producer Chet Atkins that his main source of success would come from ballads. As a result, Reeves became an even bigger star, not only in America but throughout the world. Reeves toured Europe and South Africa, building a strong following in countries that rarely had been open to country music in the past.
Jim Reeves was at the height of his career when his private plane crashed outside of Nashville on July 31, 1964. The bodies of Reeves and his manager Dean Manuel were found two days later and was buried in his homestate of Texas. Though Reeves had died, his popularity did not vanish - in fact, his sales increased following his death. Throughout the late '60s, RCA released a series of posthumous singles, many of which - including "This is It" (1965), "Is It Really Over?" (1965), "Distant Drums" (1966), and "I Won't Come in While He's There" (1967) - hit number one. The previously unissued songs were frequently mixed in with previously released material on album releases, making his catalog confusing, but profitable for RCA. The flow of unreleased Reeves material did not cease during the '70s or '80s - in fact, there wasn't a year between 1970 and 1984 that there wasn't a Jim Reeves single in the charts, either at the top of the charts or in the lower regions of the charts. Reeves was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1967 and two years later, the Academy of Country Music instituted the Jim Reeves Memorial Award. Though the flood of unreleased material ceased in the mid-'80s, the cult surrounding Jim Reeves never declined, and in the '90s, Bear Family released Welcome to My World, a 16-disc box set containing his entire recorded works. -David Vinopal
Born Aug 24, 1897 in Evansville, IN. Died Dec 1, 1954 in Nashville, TN, "Name me a song that everybody knows/And I'll bet you it belongs to Acuff-Rose" sings Uncle Tupelo's Jeff Tweedy in his 1994 tribute "Acuff-Rose," and it's not much of an overstatement. In tandem with publishing partner Roy Acuff, composer Fred Rose contributed some of the most enduring songs in the annals of country and popular music, in the process nurturing the careers of numerous aspiring writers and performers, including the legendary Hank Williams. Born in Evansville, IN, on August 24, 1897, Rose studied piano as a child and was playing professionally by the age of ten; five years later, he traveled to Chicago to pursue a singing career, performing in nightclubs and recording player-piano rolls for the QRS company alongside future jazz titan Fats Waller.
Making his debut recordings for Brunswick during the 1920s, Rose also launched his career as a songwriter, scoring early success with "'Deed I Do," "Honest and Truly," and "Doo Dah Blues." He briefly played piano behind Paul Whiteman before returning to Chicago to form the Tune Peddlers with singer/whistler Elmo Tanner; the duo soon landed a regular radio spot on WKYW and with Tanner's departure, Rose hosted his own weekday program, Fred Rose's Song Show.
After moving on to CBS affiliate WBBM, Rose - smarting from the breakup of his second marriage - relocated to Nashville in 1933, bringing the Song Show with him to local station WSM. His stay in Music City lasted less than a year, however, and he bounced around from Chicago to New York before finally settling in Hollywood and writing songs for Gene Autry, netting an Academy Award nomination for his "Be Honest With Me" from 1941's Ridin' on a Rainbow. Around that time, Rose returned to Nashville and WSM, becoming the station's staff pianist; in the fall of 1942, he teamed with Grand Ole Opry star Roy Acuff to form Acuff-Rose Publishing, the first music publishing firm centered in Nashville and the first devoted to country songs. As administrative duties began eating away at Rose's creative energies, in 1945 he relinquished day-to-day operations to son Wesley and returned to songwriting, reeling off a string of hits, including "Pins and Needles," "No One Will Ever Know," "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain," "Roly Poly," "It's a Sin," "Texarkana Baby," "Waltz of the Wind," "We Live in Two Different Worlds," and "Afraid."
In 1946, Hank Williams arrived at the Acuff-Rose offices and after a brief audition, Rose signed the singer on the spot, initially adding him to a stable of staff writers that included Pee Wee King and Redd Stewart. A pair of singles for the Sterling label soon followed and when Williams signed to MGM in 1947, Rose became his manager and producer, also co-writing classics including "A Mansion on the Hill," "Kaw-Liga," "Crazy Heart," "Settin' the Woods on Fire," "I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive," and "Take These Chains From My Heart." Rose also possessed an extraordinary gift for placing Acuff-Rose material with pop singers and among the crossover hits the company administered were "You Belong to Me," "Tennessee Waltz," "Your Cheatin' Heart," "Slow Poke," and "Hey Good Lookin'." Rose died of a heart attack on December 1, 1954, at the age of 57; in 1961, he was posthumously honored (along with Williams and Jimmie Rodgers) as one of the first three inductees into the Country Music Hall of Fame. -Jason Ankeny
Born Dec 17, 1934 in Cass County, TX. Died Aug 24, 1988. Nat Stuckey originally worked as a DJ before forming his first country band in the late '50s and becoming a regular on the Louisiana Hayride show. It was during this time that he was signed to the Paula label out of Shreveport, LA, and scored a minor hit with 1966's "Sweet Thang." The song was not nearly as popular as his next hit, however. Unfortunately for Stuckey's performing career, it wasn't him who made it famous. The song was "Waitin' in the Welfare Line" and it was a hit for Buck Owens. Though Stuckey profited from the publishing royalties, it did little for his own recording career, and beyond a few minor hits such as 1968's "Plastic Saddle" and "Sweet Thang and Cisco," Stuckey never broke through as a performer in his own right and soon disappeared from country music altogether. -Steve Kurutz
Group Members: George York and Leslie York. The York Brothers played together from the '30s through the '50s, developing a musical style which grew from traditional country into a more contemporary sound. Both George and Leslie York were born in Lawrence County, Kentucky and were heavily influenced by the Delmore Brothers. As a young man, George worked in coal mines and later began his music career in Denver, Colorado, playing in local clubs and on the radio in the evenings. Leslie, who was seven years younger, got his start after winning a talent contest in Lexington, Kentucky. Not long afterward, the brothers teamed and played together on a station in Portsmouth, Ohio. They then moved to Detroit, where their music caught fire with the Southern transplants who had come to work in the burgeoning auto industry.
The Yorks made their recording debut in 1939 and had success with "Going Home" and the controversial, slightly racy "Hamtramck Mama," which was banned in the Polish-American Detroit suburb of the same name. The notoriety got the brothers signed to Decca in 1941, where they released six singles, including "Speak to Me Little Darling." Just as they were becoming popular, World War II erupted, and both Yorks served in the Navy until the war's end. They then joined the Grand Ole Opry and began recording for King in 1947, where they found success with such outspoken tunes as "Let's Not Sleep Again" and "Mountain Rosa Lee." They also became interested in rhythm and blues, a musical style that influenced some of their later songs like "Tennessee Tango" and "River of Tears."
George and Leslie returned to Detroit in 1950, where they stayed until 1953, moving to Dallas to work on local television. They recorded on King until 1956 and then started their own label. Around this time, George began having problems with his voice, so Leslie took over the lead parts. Eventually, the York Brothers went their separate ways; George ran a Dallas night club before his death in 1974, while Leslie worked different jobs until passing on a decade later. -Sandra Brennan
AKA Sol Williams. Born Aug 23, 1917 in Ramsey, Fayette County, IL. Died Oct 11, 1985. Although not nearly as well known as figures like Bob Wills, the Maddox Brothers, and Merle Travis, Tex Williams was an important western swing performer. Like all of the aforementioned musicians, he helped develop country music from its rural, acoustic origins to a more danceable, citified, and electrified form with a much wider popular appeal. At his peak in the late '40s, he also recorded some of the most enjoyable country swing of his time, distinguished by his talking-blues vocal delivery. Much of his style can be heard in the western swing-influenced recordings of revivalists like Asleep at the Wheel, Commander Cody, and Dan Hicks.
The singer and guitarist caught
his first big break after moving to Los Angeles in 1942. At that time California was populated by many former Texans and Oklahomans working in the defense industry, creating a need for western swing entertainment in a region not noted for country music. One of the musicians on this circuit was fiddler Spade Cooley, who employed Jack Williams as his singer, nicknaming him "Tex" to ensure easy identification by the many Texans in their audiences. Several of Cooley's mid-'40s Columbia singles featured Tex on vocals.
Capitol offered a contract to Williams as a solo artist, which strained the relationship between Tex and the tempestuous Cooley to the breaking point. Cooley fired Williams in June 1946, a move which backfired badly, as most of Cooley's band opted to follow Tex rather than remain with their difficult boss. Cooley achieved his greatest subsequent notoriety when he was convicted of beating his wife to death in a drunken fit in 1961.
Tex's renamed backing band, the Texas Caravan, was one of the best units of its kind. Numbering about a dozen members, it attained an enviable level of fluid interplay between electric and steel guitars, fiddles, bass, accordion, trumpet, and other instruments (even occasional harp). At first they recorded polkas for Capitol, with limited success. They found their true calling when Williams' friend Merle Travis wrote most of "Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette)" for him, emphasizing Tex's talking-blues delivery and heavier boogie elements. The song was a monstrous commercial success in 1947, and indeed one of the biggest country hits of all time, making #1 on the pop charts.
That set the model for several of Williams' subsequent hits: hot western swing backup, over which Tex would roll his deep, laconic, easygoing narratives of humorous, slightly ridiculous situations. As enjoyable as these were, they were just one facet of the Texas Caravan's talents. The outfit were also capable of generating quite a heat on boogie instrumentals and more straightforward vocal numbers in which Williams actually sang rather than spoke.
Williams' commercial success began to peter out in the early '50s, and he left Capitol in 1951. He continued to record often in the 1950s, mostly for Decca, without much success; in 1957, the Western Caravan disbanded. He pressed on, however, returning to Capitol in the early 1960s, and recording a live album that included Glen Campbell on guitar. He had one final country hit, the memorably titled "The Night Miss Ann's Hotel for Single Girls Burned Down," which entered the Top 30 in 1971. -Richie Unterberger
AKA born: Hamilton K. Wilson. Born Aug 23, 1922. "Smiley" Wilson was born Hamilton K. Wilson in Etowah County, Alabama, and attended school near Gadsden, Alabama. At 17, he was a member of Tex Bynum's Rogers County Cowboys, and later worked for two years with Gene Durnel's Rio Grande Rangers. In 1947, Wilson was appearing on WBXL radio in Peoria, Illinois, and cutting records for the Apollo label. By 1949, Wilson was leading his own band, the Range Partners, based at WRAL in Raleigh, North Carolina, and also appearing on the Louisiana Hayride out of Shreveport. Wilson recorded the song "Juke Box Boogie," a hot piece of early rockabilly, in 1950, which was licensed by Ivin Ballen for his Gotham label but never issued. He also managed an appearance in the movie Square Dance Jubilee, produced by Robert L. Lippert and directed by Paul Landres (Go Johnny Go), also featuring Spade Cooley, Cowboy Copas, and The Tumbleweed Tumblers, in 1949. Wilson also played with the Circle 3 Ranch Gang. -Bruce Eder
Little Jimmy Dempsey
Born Aug 23, 1937 in Atlanta, GA. Little Jimmy Dempsey began his professional singing career at the age of five as a performer on radio stations in his native Atlanta, which led to appearances on national broadcasts with such luminaries as Bob Hope, Eddie Cantor and Phil Harris. From 1946 to 1948, Dempsey starred in his own Atlanta radio show. He became the lead guitarist for the Longhorn Ranch Boys, a popular Atlanta bar band, during the 1950s, and in 1958 began leading the Cherokee Country Boys, with whom he made his recording debut. In 1962, Dempsey left the group to found his own trio. Among his best-known singles were "Bop Hop" and "Rhode Island Red," as well as humorous originals such as "Bessie Was a Good Old Cow" and "Betcha Can't Eat Just One." From the late '50s through the early '60s, Dempsey was part of the Ernest Tubb Radio Program; he also appeared on a German show, American Music. In 1968, he hosted his own syndicated television program before vanishing from the music and entertainment scene. -Sandra Brennan
Rex Allen, Jr.
Born Aug 23, 1947 in Chicago, IL. Rex Allen Jr. is the son of Rex Allen, the country music singer who scored seven country hits between 1949 and 1968, the biggest of which was 1953's "Crying in the Chapel," which crossed over to number eight in the pop chart. Allen Jr. was born in Chicago and traveled with his father from the age of six. He took up the guitar and later worked as a rodeo clown. Moving to Nashville in the late '60s, he broke into the country charts himself with "The Great Mail Robbery" in 1973 and first reached the country Top Ten with "Two Less Lonely People" in 1977. -William Ruhlmann
Born Sep 28, 1926 in Liberty, MS. Died Aug 24, 1998 in Jackson, MS. If Homer & Jethro are the Abbott & Costello of country humor, then Jerry Clower is certainly country's answer to Bob Hope. As its crown prince of comedy, the rotund comic has made many generations laugh with his down-home humor but he has never crossed over, making him country's best-kept comic secret. A virtual mainstay on any number of shows on The Nashville Network, Clower relates stories dealing with all the issues, but in a G-rated style that's one part Will Rogers, the other part Andy Griffith.
Raised in rural Mississippi, Clower originally planned on a career in agriculture and during his youth was actively involved in the 4-H club. After graduating, he joined the Navy, and after that attended Southwest Mississippi Junior College. He received a football scholarship and studied agriculture at Mississippi State University. He then obtained what must be the perfect job for a storyteller: he became a fertilizer salesman. In 1970, following a speaking engagement to a farm group in Lubbock, TX, a local disc jockey encouraged Clower to make a comedy album. The deejay then taped Clower's next talk and sent it to MCA who called back and offered Cline a contract. His record debut was Jerry Clower from Yazoo City, Mississippi, Talkin'. Like the 22 albums to come, this was taped before a live audience - because he thinks laugh tracks are dishonest - and featured songs and stories based on his past and present experiences with Southern country life. He also has a raft of interesting characters such as the lively, fictional "Ledbetter" family whose members frequently appear in the stories. His debut album was not nationally distributed, yet through word-of-mouth sold 8,000 copies and eventually spent several weeks on the Billboard charts. Among his best known routines is "Coon Huntin' Story."
In 1987, he deviated a bit from his usual schtick to begin his album Top Gum with a rap song. After his 1979 album Greatest Hits went gold in 1992, Clower signed a new contract with MCA the following year. When not performing live and recording, Clower hosted the nationally syndicated radio show Country Crossroads plus a syndicated television show. He has also written three best-sellers: Ain't God Good, Let the Hammer Down and Life Everlaughter. The subject of an award-winning documentary (Ain't God Good), Clower himself has received many honors for his good work: in 1976, he was awarded the national "4-H Alumni" award by the Future Farmers of America; his fans and the major trade magazines named him "Country Comic of the Year" ten years in a row; Yazoo City, Mississippi named a boulevard after him; he also earned the "Christian Service Award" from the Southern Baptist Radio and Television Commission; and was awarded an honorary doctorate from Mississippi College. -Sandra Brennan & Larry Lapka
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