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Born Nov 4, 1940 in Lubbock, TX. The venerable Delbert McClinton is a legend among Texas roots music aficionados, not only for his amazing longevity, but for his ability to combine country, blues, soul, and rock & roll as if there were no distinctions between any of them in the best time-honored Texas tradition. A formidable harmonica player long before he recorded as a singer, McClinton's career began in the late '50s, yet it took him nearly two decades to evolve into a bona fide solo artist. A critics' darling and favorite of his peers, McClinton never really became a household name, but his resurgence in the '90s helped him earn more widespread respect from both the public at large and the Grammy committee.
Delbert McClinton was born in Lubbock, TX, on November 4, 1940, and grew up in Fort Worth. Discovering the blues in his teenage years, McClinton quickly became an accomplished harmonica player and found plenty of work on the local club scene, where musicians often made their living by playing completely different styles of music on different nights of the week. His most prominent early gig was with the Straitjackets, the house band at a blues/R&B club; it gave McClinton the opportunity to play harp behind blues legends like Howlin' Wolf, Jimmy Reed, Sonny Boy Williamson II, and Bobby "Blue" Bland. In 1960, McClinton's cover of Williamson's "Wake Up Baby" made him the first white artist to have a record played on the local blues station KNOK. McClinton's harmonica was prominently featured on Fort Worth native Bruce Channel's 1962 number one smash "Hey! Baby"; brought along for Channel's tour of England, McClinton wound up giving harp lessons to a young John Lennon. Upon returning to the States, McClinton founded a group called the Rondells (sometimes listed as the Ron-Dels), which had a minor chart single in 1965 with "If You Really Want Me to, I'll Go." Although the Rondells recorded for several different labels, wider success eluded them and McClinton spent much of the '60s making the rounds of the Texas club and roadhouse circuit, where his reputation kept growing steadily.
In 1972, McClinton moved to Los Angeles, where he teamed up with Fort Worth singer/songwriter Glen Clark as Delbert & Glen. Signed to the small Atlantic affiliate Clean Records, Delbert & Glen recorded two albums in a mostly country-rock vein, 1972's Delbert & Glen and 1973's Subject to Change. Neither sold well and McClinton returned to Texas in 1974, where he was able to land a solo deal with ABC on the strength of his emerging songwriting talent. His first solo album, Victim of Life's Circumstances, was released in 1975; although he was marketed as part of the emerging progressive country movement, McClinton's music was too indebted to blues and R&B to neatly fit that tag. Genuine Cowhide (1976) and Love Rustler (1977) followed to highly positive reviews, if not much commercial attention, and other artists started to mine McClinton's catalog for material; in 1978, Emmylou Harris took his "Two More Bottles of Wine" all the way to the top of the country charts. A switch to Capricorn produced two albums, 1978's Second Wind and 1979's Keeper of the Flame; the former featured his original version of "B Movie Boxcar Blues," later a part of the Blues Brothers repertoire. When Capricorn folded, he moved to the Muscle Shoals Sound imprint and his 1980 label debut, The Jealous Kind, gave him his first Top 40 single in "Givin' It Up for Your Love," which hit on both the pop and country char
Unfortunately, Muscle Shoals Sound folded not long after McClinton's follow-up, 1981's Plain From the Heart, and he subsequently took a long hiatus from recording, concentrating instead on live performances. His next prominent appearance was an acclaimed vocal turn on guitarist Roy Buchanan's 1986 album Dancing on the Edge; that guest appearance helped land him a deal with Alligator. In 1989, McClinton issued the comeback album Live From Austin, which earned him his first Grammy nomination (for Best Contemporary Blues Album). He signed with Curb in 1990, debuting that year with I'm With You, and moved to Nashville, where he soon became a much sought-after songwriter (often in tandem with new partner Gary Nicholson) in the contemporary country field. Over the next few years, McClinton placed material with stars like Wynonna, Vince Gill, Lee Roy Parnell, and Martina McBride, among others. His biggest break, though, came when he was tapped for a duet with Bonnie Raitt on 1991's Luck of the Draw, the follow-up to her much-lauded comeback Nick of Time. The result, "Good Man, Good Woman," brought McClinton his first Grammy for Best Rock Vocal, Duo or Group, which suddenly raised his profile tenfold. He capitalized with 1992's Never Been Rocked Enough, which featured not only his duet with Raitt, but also guest appearances from Tom Petty and Melissa Etheridge, and his biggest hit single since 1980, "Every Time I Roll the Dice." Later that year, he hit the country charts with another duet, this time with Tanya Tucker on "Tell Me About It." The song later appeared on McClinton's next album, 1993's simply titled Delbert McClinton.
Despite enjoying the greatest commercial success of his career, McClinton's relationship with Curb was beginning to sour. His next two albums were released to comparatively little attention and he finally extricated himself from his contract to sign with Rising Tide, a small label associated with Universal. 1997's One of the Fortunate Few was designed to restore McClinton to his early-'90s stature, featuring an array of guest stars, including Vince Gill, Patty Loveless, Lyle Lovett, Pam Tillis, B.B. King, John Prine, and Mavis Staples. It was still definitely McClinton's show, however, and as such it received mostly complimentary reviews; it also sold more than 250,000 copies before Rising Tide went belly-up. McClinton next returned in 2001 on the Austin, TX-based New West imprint with another acclaimed effort, Nothing Personal. It proved to be one of the most popular recordings of his career, gaining substantial airplay on Americana radio and ending up one of the year's biggest hits on Billboard's blues chart; it also won him another Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Album. -Steve Huey
Sam & Kirk McGee
Group Members: Sam McGee and Kirk McGee. Sam and Kirk McGee were one of the earliest country music duos. During the nearly six decades they were active, the McGees performed and recorded as a duo and in conjunction with Uncle Dave Macon's Fruit Jar Drinkers, Bill Monroe's Bluegrass Boys and fiddler Arthur Smith. One of the first acts to become members of the Grand Ole Opry, Sam and Kirk McGee continued to share their unique hybrid of old-timey country music and blues with enthusiastic audiences until the mid-1970s.
Raised on a family farm in Franklin, Tennessee, south of Nashville, the McGees inherited their musical skills from their father, who played fiddle. As youngsters, they often accompanied their father on banjo. By the time they were teenagers, Sam and Kirk were performing at local dances for as little as ten cents apiece.
Inspired by the syncopated music played by black railroad workers who congregated outside his father's store, Sam McGee switched to guitar and developed a soulful style of fingerpicking. A turning point came in 1923 when the McGee brothers attended their first concert and heard a performance by Uncle Dave Macon. They were so absorbed by Macon's playing that they continued to ask to join his troupe until Macon agreed the following year. When Macon joined the WSM Barn Dance, which later evolved into the Grand Ole Opry, the McGees, who joined with guitarist Hubert Gregory and bassist Golden Stewart to form the Fruit Jar Drinkers, were members of Macon's band.
Sam McGee's recording debut came in April 1926 when he recorded several tunes, including "Whoop 'Em Up Cindy" and "Late Last Night When My Willie Came Home," in a New York studio. In May 1927, the McGees recorded with Macon and fiddler Mazy Todd. In addition to serving as Macon's accompanists, the brothers recorded nine duets and three songs with Macon on banjo.
Sam and Kirk McGee continued to explore musical possibilities. In July 1928, Sam used a six string banjo-guitar during a recording session in Chicago. He later became played the first electric steel guitar on a broadcast of the Grand Ole Opry.
In 1931, the McGees teamed with fiddler Arthur Smith to form a new band, the Dixieliners. The group continued to perform together until the late 1930s, when Smith submitted his resignation. In 1957, Sam and Kirk reunited with Smith, continuing to perform together through the mid-1960s, including a memorable appearance at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965.
In the late 1930s and early '40s, the McGee brothers worked with a comedy act, Sara and Sally, before joining Bill Monroe's revue. In addition to playing with Monroe's band, the Bluegrass Boys, the brothers were featured in their own segment of the show. The McGees continued to perform on their own through the 1950s and made numerous Grand Ole Opry appearances as the Fruit Jar Drinkers. They remained active into the 1970s, climaxed by a stunning performance at the Country Music Fan Fair in 1975.
On August 21, 1975, Sam McGee was killed by a tractor accident on the family farm. Kirk continued to perform until the early 1980s. He passed away in 1983. -Craig Harris
Born 1936 in Olivehurst, CA. Died Nov 4, 1990. Phil Baugh was one of the best session guitarists in Nashville during the 1970s and '80s. Born and raised in Northern California, he began playing guitar and performing in churches as a child, which led to band and nightclub gigs. He got his first big break playing with Ray Price, who helped him get a recording contract with Longhorn Records in Dallas. In 1964 Baugh and Vern Stovall recorded the album Country Guitar, which contained two major hits, "Country Guitar" and "One Man Band." In 1965 he was named Best Guitarist by the ACM, Outstanding Instrumentalist of the Year by Billboard, and Instrumentalist of the Year by Cashbox. Baugh rejoined the Ray Price band as a lead guitarist in 1969.
He moved to Dallas two years later and became a prominent studio musician for commercial jingles and album projects. Baugh moved to Nashville in 1975 and there became one of the hottest session players in town. His unique sound stemmed from his invention of the "Phil Baugh Pedal," comprised of six pedals that bent the strings of an electric guitar to produce sounds similar to that of a steel pedal guitar. Baugh formed the Superpickers in 1980, which included steel guitarist Buddy Emmons, drummer Buddy Harmon, bassist Henry Stryzlecki, pianist Willie Rainsford, and percussion/harmonica player Terry McMillian. During the early '80s, Baugh also embarked on a successful producing career. He suffered a coronary in 1985, but continued working on the Nashville Network's Church Street Station. However, he never fully regained his health and died in 1990 at age 53. -Sandra Brennan
Born Nov 5, 1936 in Phil Campbell, AL. As a producer, songwriter and an A&R man, Billy Sherrill was one of the most influential non-performing figures in country music of the '60s and '70s. Sherrill was responsible for shaping the lush Countrypolitan sound, that helped changed the production styles of country music during the '70s. Instead of relying on standard country instruments like steel guitars and fiddles, he recorded with string sections and vocal choruses, often overdubbing parts to give the music a grandiose, epic sound; in essence, it was the country version of pop producer Phil Spector's famous "Wall of Sound." Some critics complained that his style wasn't pure country, yet there is no denying that he helped bring country music to a pop audience with the recordings he made with George Jones, Tammy Wynette, Charlie Rich, and Johnny Paycheck, as well as many, many others. Sherrill also heped build up the Epic artist roster during the '60s, making it into a formidable country label. Furthermore, he wrote and co-wrote many songs that have since become country classics, including "Stand by Your Man," "Your Good Girl's Gonna Go Bad," "I Don't Wanna Play House," "We Can Make It," and "The Most Beautiful Girl."
For someone with such an important place in country music history, Billy Sherrill ironically wasn't interested in the music at all as a child - initially, he was attracted to blues, R&B and jazz. Born and raised in Alabama, Sherrill was the son of an evangelical preacher. Billy learned how to play piano when he was a child, and he often played at revival meetings and funerals his father held. When he was a teenager, Sherrill learned how to play saxophone, and led a jump-blues band that played R&B and jazz. Soon, he was touring the south, playing in R&B and rock & roll combos. Eventually, he was signed as a solo artists by a small independent label in the late '50s, but none of his singles made any impact.
In 1962, Sherrill discovered that an unknown Nashville country artist cut one of his songs when a royalty check arrived in the mail. Encouraged by the royalties, he moved to Nashville to pursue a career in the country music industry. Upon his arrival in Nashville, Sherrill was hired by Sam Phillips to oversee Sun Records' Nashville studios. After Sun and Phillips went bankrupt the following year, Epic Records' Nashville hired him as an in-house producer, and he was assigned to record any artist that all of the label's other producers had already rejected.
Before he moved to Nashville, Sherrill paid no attention to country music, and by the time he was hired by Epic, he was still unfamiliar with many of its production techniques and musical conventions. Instead of heeding the advice of the studio musicians he was working with, Sherrill forged ahead and created his own style, telling the professional musicians what to play. Basing his sound on the work of Phil Spector, Don Law and Chet Atkins, he began pushing the boundaries of the Nashville Sound of the '50s by making the productions bigger and more sweeping. Sherrill also decided to select the songs that his artists would record, often co-writing the songs to suit the singer's style and his own production.
Sherrill's first major hit arrived in 1965, when he overhauled the sound and career of David Houston, who had a hit two years earlier with "Mountain of Love." Houston hadn't had another big hit since that single, but Billy gave him "Livin' in a House Full of Love," which reached number three late in 1965. The following year, Houston recorded the Sherrill/Glenn Sutton song "Almost Persuaded," which spent nine weeks at number one. "Almost Persuaded quickly became a standard, winning the Grammy for Best Country & Western Song and becoming the subject of cover versions by artists as diverse as Louis Armstrong, Louis Prima and Etta James.
Throughout 1966, Sherrill continued working with David Houston and later in the year he discovered Tammy Wynette, an Alabama hairdresser and waitress who entered his office, unannounced, early that year. Wynette had previously approached several other record labels but had been rejected. Sherrill signed her, co-writing "Your Good Girl's Gonna Go Bad" with Sutton with her specifically in mind. The single became a hit upon its early 1967 release, launching a very successful career for Wynette. Over the course of 1967, Sherrill turned out several number one singles by both Houston ("With One Exception," "You Mean the World to Me," which both were number one hits) and Wynette ("I Don't Wanna Play House"), plus "My Elusive Dream," which was a duet between the two vocalists. Also in 1967, Sherrill released the instrumental Classical Country under the name the Billy Sherrill Quintet.
The following year, Sherrill continued to work on recordings by Houston and Wynette, and he signed Charlie Rich, who had previously worked with at Sun, to Epic. Though the first handful of records that Sherrill made with Rich were unsuccessful, the pair would have some major hits during the early '70s. Billy's most successful artists for 1968 remained Houston and Wynette, as David's "Have a Little Faith" and "Already It's Heaven," and Tammy's "Take Me to Your World," "D-I-V-O-R-C-E," and "Stand by Your Man" all reached number one. Not only did he produce those tracks, he wrote or co-wrote the majority of the songs. Sherrill's success with Houston and Wynette continued through 1969 and 1970, with both artists racking up several more number one hits.
Billy signed Barbara Mandrell to Columbia in 1969, and the next year he wrote and produced her first Top 40 single, "Playin' Around with Love." Mandrell's career continued to build momentum for the next four years, before she left Columbia, and Sherrill had a hand in producing or writing most of her hits for the label. Though Barbara would later emerge as a star, the most significant addition to Billy's roster of vocalists was George Jones, who left Musicor for Epic in 1971. At first, the producer and signer didn't hit it off - Jones was accustomed to Pappy Dailey's loose, nearly lazy, production technique and it took some time for him to feel comfortable with Sherrill's painstaking, demanding style - but the relationship would prove to be the most fruitful collaboration either artist would have. Sherrill expanded George's classic ballad style, bringing an epic sweep to his ballads while remaining close to Jones' honky tonk roots. Their first hit single, "We Can Make It," arrived in early 1972, a year after George and Tammy's "Take Me" became a Top 10 hit. For the next five years, Jones not only recorded solo singles with Sherrill, but he also made a series of duets with Wynette, and their hits often reflected the turbulent nature of their romance.
George Jones wasn't the only artist to occupy Billy Sherrill's time in 1972. In addition to Jones, Wynette, Houston, and Mandrell, Sherrill worked with a wide variety of other singers, including Jody Miller, Sandy Posey, Freddy Weller, and the teenaged Tanya Tucker. Billy's career continued to gain momentum over the next two years, as his regular stable of artists continued to have hits, and Charlie Rich finally began to chart with singles from the album Behind Closed Doors. Rich's title track and "The Most Beautiful Girl" became huge hits, reaching not only the top of the country charts, but also the pop charts; the latter also became a number one hit in England. Also that year, he began to write songs for Joe Stampley, who would sign to Epic within two years.
By the time Stampley joined the Epic roster in 1975, Sherrill had become the most reliable hitmaker in Nashville, and both established and developing artists clamored to work with him. Over the course of the latter half of the decade, he not only worked with his old favorites like Wynette, Jones, Rich, Mandrell and Stampley, he also produced or wrote songs for Johnny Paycheck, Marty Robbins, Ronnie Milsap, Janie Fricke, Ray Charles, David Allan Coe, Johnny Duncan, Bob Luman, David Wills, and Kenny Rogers & Dottie West. As the '80s arrived, Sherrill's hitmaking skills began to slip somewhat. Though he was invaluable in George Jones' early-'80s comeback - producing and/or writing hits like "He Stopped Loving Her Today," "I'm Not Ready Yet," "If Drinkin' Don't Kill Me (Her Memory Will)," and "Same Ole Me," among others - Sherrill's songwriting wasn't being covered quite as frequently. Nevertheless, his songs continued to reach the charts, as Moe Bandy, Johnny Cash, Johnny Rodriguez and Lacy J. Dalton made his songs into hits. In addition to his Nashville connections, Sherrill produced Elvis Costello's country album, Almost Blue, in 1981.
By 1980, Billy Sherrill had been named Vice President/Executive Producer of CBS in Nashville, and he stayed in that position for the first half of the decade. In the middle of the decade, he left CBS to become an independent producer, working on Ray Charles' country duets album, Friendship, but he returned to the label in 1986. Though he was signed to CBS for that period of time, he worked infrequently and his productions didn't hit the charts as frequently as they did during the previous two decades, and he soon slipped into retirement. Still, Sherrill didn't need any new hits to confirm his status as one of country music's premier producers and songwriters - his endless string of hits stands as a testament to his talents. -Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Roy Horton developed a love for country music in the Allegheny Mountains of Pennsylvania, where he was born in 1914. Late in the 1940s he entered the Peer-Southern organization, rising quickly to executive status. As a music publisher, he promoted successfully the songs of such country tunesmiths as Lefty Frizzell, Flatt & Scruggs, Bill Monroe, Ted Daffan, Floyd Tillman, the Carter Family, Jimmie Davis and Jimmie Rodgers.
As 1967 Country Music Association board chairman, Horton cut the ribbon for opening festivities at the Country Music Hall of Fame. His devotion to the music industry has helped spread the popularity of country music worldwide. Horton became a Hall of Fame member in 1982.
AKA born: Leonard Slye. Born Nov 5, 1911 in Cincinnati, OH. Died Jul 6, 1998. When Cincinnati-born Leonard Franklin Slye headed west in the spring of 1931, it was as a would-be musician, working jobs ranging from driving a gravel truck to picking fruit in California's Central Valley. In less than two years, he'd co-founded the greatest western singing group of all time, the Sons of the Pioneers, and barely four years after that, he'd started a career as a movie star under the new name Roy Rogers. Ultimately he found great fame as a movie and TV cowboy, and even founded a very successful chain of restaurants.
He was born in Cincinnati, Ohio, the son of Andrew and Mattie Womack Slye. The entire household was musical, and by the time he was a teenager Len could play the guitar and the mandolin. Although he later took on the role of a cowboy before the public, the closest he got to riding the range was working the family farm they had in a small town outside of Cincinnati. By age 19, he'd headed out to California, where chance led him to enter an amateur singing contest on the radio, resulting in an offer to join the Rocky Mountaineers. There he made the acquaintance of Bob Nolan. They developed a harmonious friendship that worked well within the group for several months, until Nolan exited in frustration over their lack of success. His replacement was Tim Spencer, and eventually Slye, Spencer, and another singer named Slumber Nichols quit the Rocky Mountaineers in the spring of 1932 to form a trio of their own, which never quite came off. Slye decided to push on, joining Jack LeFevre and His Texas Outlaws.
In early 1933, he got Spencer and Nolan together to form what was then known as the Pioneer Trio. Their mix of singing and yodeling, coupled with their good spirits, won them a job on radio. Within a few weeks, they were developing a large following of their own on Lefevre's show, with their harmony singing eliciting lots of mail. A fourth member, fiddle-player Hugh Farr, was added to firm up their sound early in 1934. The group's name was altered by accident - on one broadcast the station's announcer introduced them as "The Sons of the Pioneers." The group sold large numbers of records from the very beginning, with the classic Nolan original "Tumbling Tumbleweeds" cut at their very first session. Two more new members, Lloyd Perryman and Hugh Farr's guitarist brother Karl, were added, and by the mid-'30s the sextet was one of the top-selling country acts, performing to sell-out audiences and sought by radio stations and sponsors eager to back them on the air.
During this period, Slye did occasional work as a movie extra and bit player in B-westerns under the name Dick Weston at Republic Pictures, where the reigning king of western movies was another singer, Gene Autry, whose records outsold even the Pioneers'. In 1938, Autry entered into a contractual dispute with Republic that resulted in his failure to report for his next movie. Republic, anticipating the dispute, had put out the word - apparently more as a ploy than a real attempt at replacing their top male star - that they were looking for a new leading actor for their westerns. Slye tried sneaking onto the lot with a group of extras and was caught, but a sympathetic director permitted him to take a screen test. He tested extremely well, and got the part. At the time, the Pioneers had just signed a contract with Columbia Pictures to appear in and play musical support to Charles Starrett in a series of B-westerns, and he was forced to leave the group in order to sign his own contract at Republic.
A new name was required and "Roy Rogers" was selected, the Rogers coming from Will Rogers and Roy coming off of a list. He made his debut in Under Western Stars; not only did it introduce Roy Rogers as a new star, but also his horse, Trigger. A longterm contract followed, and for the next 13 years, he was one of the studio's mainstays, rivaling and later surpassing Autry at the box office. By 1940, Roy Rogers was successful enough to approach Republic with a request for a salary increase. The studio was notoriously reticent on such matters, and he was denied any raise. But in lieu of the request, he extracted a much more valuable concession - the rights to the name Roy Rogers and all merchandizing that went with it. The early '40s saw Rogers turn into a national institution. His westerns became even more popular and accessible once they were taken out of the "historic" west of the nineteenth century, and moved into the modern west, which allowed for more freedom in plotting and dialogue. With director Joseph Kane helming his movies, Rogers became the undisputed "King of the Cowboys" after Gene Autry joined the U.S. Army Air Force in 1942. By 1944, however, the movies and records represented only a small part of the success that Rogers had achieved. The merchandizing of Roy Rogers memorabilia and other items - not just toys, but cereals and electric ranges - coupled with a syndicated radio show made him one of the most familiar figures in popular culture throughout the war years.
In 1944, with his first teaming with featured actress Dale Evans, the next major element in his screen success was in place. Their relationship was, at first, purely professional, but their chemistry on screen was undeniable, and Republic was soon pairing them up regularly. With the return of master action director William Witney from service in the war during 1945, Rogers' film career was poised for success for years to come, as Witney toughened up the Rogers movies and elevated their action sequences. All of this success, and the whirlwind of activity surrounding it, was negated by the death of Rogers' wife Arline from an embolism following the birth of their son Roy Jr. on November 3, 1946. Rogers continued making movies and recording, along with his personal appearances and radio broadcast. In the course of their work together in pictures, he and Dale Evans (who had already been designated "The Queen of the West" by Republic's publicity office) became ever closer. Finally, on December 31, 1947, the two were married. They made movies together for the remainder of the 1940's, and when the market for B-westerns began to disappear with the advent of television, Rogers followed the lead of western star William ("Hopalong Cassidy") Boyd and devised a television series of his own. The Roy Rogers Show, starring Rogers and Evans and co-starring Roy's Pioneers replacement Pat Brady, went on the air on NBC in December of 1951, beginning a seven-year network run that introduced his work to yet another generation of fans.
His first solo recordings featured backup by Hugh and Karl Farr and Bob Nolan, and the complete Pioneers supported him in most of his recording sessions for the remainder of 1937 and 1938. Later on, however, Rogers was backed by Spade Cooley and his Buckle-Busters as well as various anonymous studio orchestras, although Karl Farr would turn up on his sessions as well into the 1940's. On record as a solo artist, Rogers was never as successful as the Pioneers or Gene Autry, although he did have one promising early hit in 1938 with "Hi-Yo Silver," which reached No. 13 on the charts. Even Rogers' sessions on his own recordings with the Sons of the Pioneers, however, little resembled his earlier work as a member of the Pioneers, for his was now the lead voice. And where Bob Nolan and Tim Spencer (the principal songwriters within the group) never strayed too far from some contact with the reality of the West, Rogers' music quickly took on the aura of more typical Hollywood western songs, pleasant but not generally profound. His covers of songs such as "Don't Fence Me In" are probably the best remembered versions, thanks to his movies, and as songs like "San Fernando Valley" or "Home In Oklahoma" reveal, he had an extremely appealing tenor voice, not as memorable as Gene Autry's voice but very pleasing to the ear nonetheless. Perhaps the most well known of all Rogers' songs was one written by Evans and (originally) recorded by them together, "Happy Trails," which became the theme of the Roy Rogers Show. From the 1950's onward, his repertory included country music as well as western songs and spirituals, the latter often recorded with Evans.
Rogers continued to record into the 1970's, and he scored a hit in 1972 with "Candy Kisses." Roy and Dale continued making personal appearances, often in the context of religious broadcasts and gatherings, as well as television broadcasts, into the early 1990's. Rogers' main influence was in keeping the image of the singing cowboy alive. Along with Autry, who retired from personal appearances at the end of the 1950's, he was one of the most popular western stars ever to record, and was an influence on an entire generation of country-and-western singers that followed. In 1988, Roy Rogers was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame, giving him a second spot (the first having come as a member of the Sons of the Pioneers, who had been elected some years earlier). Two years later, the next generation of country musicians, incuding Emmylou Harris and Randy Travis, participated in a most unusual record, The Roy Rogers Tribute, covering Rogers' best known songs with him, including an all-star rendition of "Happy Trails." Two years later, Rogers, his wife, and eldest son recorded a new album of spiritual songs.
Rogers died at his home in Victorville, California, on July 6, 1998. -Bruce Eder
Born Nov 6, 1932 in Tabor City, NC. A descendant of the famed Confederate general, Stonewall Jackson was one of the more popular country music stars of the early '60s, scoring a handful of Top Ten country hits and becoming a fixture at the Grand Ole Opry.
Jackson began singing professionally in the mid-'50s, moving to Nashville in 1956. Once in Nashville, he made a couple of demos for Acuff-Rose. Wesley Rose heard the demo and set up an audition for Jackson at the Grand Ole Opry, and he soon became the first entertainer to join the Opry without a recording contract. After the audition, he was assigned to perform on the Friday Night Frolic before his official Opry debut. Backed by Ernest Tubb's Texas Troubadours, he proved so popular that the audience demanded four encores.
Eventually Jackson hit the road with Tubb. By the beginning of 1957, Stonewall signed a recording contract with Columbia Records, and cut his first record, "Don't Be Angry," in early 1957. The follow-up, Jackson's cover of George Jones' "Life to Go" became the singer's first major hit, peaking at number two in early 1959. It was followed by "Waterloo," which became his first number one hit, spending five weeks at the top of the country charts and hitting number four on the pop charts. Jackson then had a string of Top 40 hits that was highlighted by "Why I'm Walkin'" (number six, 1960), "A Wound Time Can't Erase" (number three, 1962), and "Loeona" (number nine, 1962). Jackson's second number one hit, "B.J. the D.J.," arrived in early 1964.
During the latter half of the '60s, he reached the upper reaches of the Top 40 less frequently, scoring only one Top Ten hit - 1967's "Stamp Out Loneliness" - during the last five years of the decade. By 1970, he wasn't even hitting the Top 40. He bounced back briefly in 1971, when he covered Lobo's "Me and You and a Dog Named Boo." In 1973, he had his last hit with "Herman Schwartz," which reached number 41. After that, Jackson quietly entered semi-retirement. He continued to record occasionally, releasing albums like the inspirational Make Me Like a Child Again. He also re-recorded versions of his old hits, and privately published his autobiography, From the Bottom Up, in 1991. -Sandra Brennan
Born Nov 6, 1941 in Monahans, TX. Guy Clark doesn't just write songs, he crafts them with the kind of hands-on care and respect that a master carpenter (a favorite image of his) would have when faced with a stack of rare hardwood. Clark works slowly and with strict attention to detail - his output has been sparce since he first signed to RCA in the early '70s - but he has produced an impressive collection of timeless gems, leaving very little waste behind. His albums have never met with much commercial success, but the emotional level of his work consistently transcends sales figures and musical genres.
He remains the kind of songwriter whom young artists study and seasoned writers (and listeners) admire.
Clark was born in the West Texas town of Monahans, where he was raised mostly by his grandmother (his mother worked and his father was in the Army) who ran the town hotel. One of her residents was an oil-well driller who would later end up the subject of one of Clark's most moving and stunningly beautiful songs, "Desperados Waiting for a Train." Many of Clark's songs, in fact, have centered around his days growing up in West Texas, including "Texas 1947" (from his debut album) and the 1992 song "Boats to Build," which hearkened back to a summer job he once had as a teenager on the Gulf Coast.
The first songs Clark learned were mostly in Spanish. Later, when he moved to Houston and began working the folk-music circuit, he met fellow songwriter Townes Van Zandt (the two often toured together until Van Zandt's death in 1997) and blues singers Lightnin' Hopkins and Mance Lipscomb. It was here that Clark began playing and writing his sturdy brand of folk- and blues -influenced country music.
In the late '60s, Clark moved to California, living first in San Francisco (where he met and married his wife Susanna, a painter and songwriter) and then in Los Angeles, where he worked in the Dopera Brothers' dobro factory. Tiring quickly of Southern California (sentiments he expressed in another of his classics, "L.A. Freeway"), he and Susanna packed up and headed for Nashville in 1971, where he picked up work as a writer with publishing companies and, eventually, a recording contract with RCA. Clark's first album, Old No. 1, came out in 1975, a few years after Jerry Jeff Walker had turned "L.A. Freeway" into a minor hit. By this time Clark was considered one of the most promising young writers in country music, and while he didn't live in Texas anymore, the state's influence still ran thick in his blood.
Clark recorded one more album for RCA, Texas Cookin', in 1976 before switching to Warner Bros. for his next three albums, released between 1978 and 1983. Three of his songs from these albums cracked the Top 100. By the mid-'80s, however, a number of his songs had been made into hits by country stars such as Johnny Cash, David Allen Coe, Ricky Skaggs (who took "Heartbroke" to number one), George Strait, Vince Gill, and the Highwaymen.
Clark continued to work as a writer but didn't record again until 1988's Old Friends, released by Sugar Hill. He then switched labels once more, this time to Asylum, who released his 1992 album Boats to Build as part of their acclaimed American Explorer series. His eighth album, Dublin Blues, came out in 1995, and among its finely crafted moments is a re-reading of one of his most enduring songs, "Randall Knife," about the death of his father. Cold Dog Soup followed in 1999. -Kurt Wolff
Born Nov 6, 1941 in San Antonio, TX. Died Nov 18, 1999 in Taos, NM. Guitarist, composer, arranger, and songwriter Doug Sahm was a knowledgeable music historian and veteran performer equally comfortable in a range of styles, including Texas blues, country, rock & roll, Western swing, and Cajun. Born November 6, 1941 in San Antonio, Texas, he began his performing career at age nine when he was featured on a San Antonio area radio station, playing steel guitar. Sahm began recording for a procession of small labels (Harlem, Warrior, Renner and Personality), in 1955 with "A Real American Joe" under the name Little Doug Sahm. Three years later he was leading a group called the Pharoahs. Sahm recorded a series of singles for Texas-based record companies including "Crazy Daisy" (1959), "Sapphire" (1961), and "If You Ever Need Me" (1964).
After being prompted in 1965 to assemble a group by producer Huey Meaux, Sahm asked his friends Augie Meyers (keyboards), Frank Morin (saxophone), Harvey Kagan (bass) and Johnny Perez (drums), if they would join him. Meaux gave the group the name the Sir Douglas Quintet. The group had some success on the radio with "The Rains Came," but Sahm later moved to California after the group broke up, where he formed the Honkey Blues Band. He reformed his Quintet in California and recorded a now-classic single, "Mendocino." The resulting album was a ground-breaking record in the then-emerging country-rock scene. The Sir Douglas Quintet followed Mendocino with Together After Five, another album that led them to a larger fan base.
But it was Atlantic Records producer Jerry Wexler who realized that country rock sounds were coming into vogue (and there was no place in Nashville for people like Sahm), so he signed both Sahm and Willie Nelson. One of his greatest albums, Doug Sahm and Band, (1973, Atlantic) was recorded in New York City with Bob Dylan, Dr. John, and accordionist Flaco Jiminez, and a resulting single, "Is Anybody Going To San Antone?" had some radio success. The Sir Douglas Quintet got back together again to record two more albums, Wanted Very Much Alive and Back To The 'Dillo.
Among Sahm's most essential blues records are Hell of a Spell (1980, reissued in 1999), a blues album dedicated to Guitar Slim, and his Grammy-nominated studio album for Antone's, The Last Real Texas Blues Band. For his other material, there are several good compilations, including The Best of Doug Sahm (Rhino). SDQ '98 followed. Sahm died November 18, 1999; the posthumous The Return of Wayne Douglas appeared the following summer. -Richard Skelly
Born Nov 7, 1914 in Bulls Gap, Greene County, TN. Died Aug 29, 1987 in Knoxville, TN.
Archie Campbell, a star and chief writer for Hee Haw beginning in 1968, also recorded several hits for RCA during the '60s. Born on November 7, 1914, in Bulls Gap, TN, Campbell studied art at Mars Hill College, North Carolina, and in 1936 went to work for WNOX-Knoxville's Mid-Day Merry Go Round. He moved to WDOD-Chattanooga in 1937 and stayed until 1941, when he joined the Navy. Campbell returned to WNOX after World War II, and added a Knoxville TV show called Country Playhouse in 1952. The show ran for six years, after which he moved to Nashville to join the Grand Ole Opry.
Archie Campbell signed to RCA Victor in 1959, just after his Opry debut.
He reached the Country Top 25 in 1960 with "Trouble in the Amen Corner," but later singles flopped. He moved to Starday in 1962, but found no success there either. Another stint with RCA beginning in 1966 brought the Top 20 entry "The Men in My Little Girl's Life." Two other singles - "The Dark End of the Street" and "Tell It like It Is" - hit the Top 30 in 1968, but Campbell's chart activity declined after he joined Hee Haw in 1968. He has recorded several comedy/music albums, including Bull Session at Bull's Creek (with Junior Samples) and a self-titled album for Elektra in 1976. He also hosted the TNN interview show Yesteryear during 1984. -John Bush
A top session man-particularly in association with Marty Robbins, with whom he worked and performed for many year, guitarist-singer Bobby Sykes has also enjoyed a recording career of his own on labels such as RCA-Victor, Sims, and Starday during the 1960's. Bobby Sykes was already a member of Robbins' band, and Robbins had enjoyed a string of hits in country and rock 'n roll, and one western hit, "The Hanging Tree," when Sykes and singer-guitarist session man Jim Glaser suggested that he record a complete album of western songs. The result was Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs and its follow-up, which opened up a whole new and very fertile field of music for Robbins and hundreds of other country performers in the decades to come.
Sykes and Robbins were thick as thieves where music and politics were concerned. In 1964, Robbins wrote a pair of topical songs, "Ain't I Right" and "My Own Native Land," attacking Communist sympathizers and anti-war protesters and implicitly supporting the presidential candidacy of Barry Goldwater that year. Columbia was afraid of the potential political repercussions of Robbins releasing the songs, and instead Sykes recorded them for the Sims label-using the alias "Johnny Freedom"-in a voice so similar to Robbins that for many years the single was mistaken for a Marty Robbins release.
Sykes' own singles on the Jed and Dollie labels during the late 1950's and 1960's include the ballads "A Touch of Loving" and "Until You're In My Arms" and the classic "Diesel Smoke and Dangerous Curves," a favorite pick of car- and truck songs compilers and country music enthusiasts. He also recorded for Starday, including "Place for Girls Like You," which opens up the multi-artist compilation The Wonderful World of Country Music, released in the mid-1970's. Additionally, Sykes also recorded a dozen or more country numbers for RCA through Reader's Digest for that publisher's release Country and Western Jamboree, six songs in collaboration with singer Lou Darnell and six more solo, ranging from songs by Pete Seeger ("On Top of Old Smokey"), Pee Wee King ("Bonaparte's Retreat") and Jimmie Rodgers ("In The Jailhouse Now") to Hank Williams ("Your Cheatin' Heart"), Jimmie Davis ("You Are My Sunshine"), and Floyd Tillman ("I Love You So Much It Hurts"). His most visible work, however, remains the playing and singing he did on numerous Marty Robbins singles and albums, and their CD reissues. -Bruce Eder
AKA born: Alvin Pleasant Delaney Carter. Born Apr 15, 1891 in Maces Springs, VA.
The patriarch of America's first family of country music, A.P. Carter led the Carter Family from 1926 to the group's breakup in 1943. A collector of hundreds of folksongs from Britain as well as the Appalachian Mountains, Carter adapted those songs into his own originals and wrote many country classics, including "Wabash Cannonball," "Will the Circle Be Unbroken," "Keep on the Sunny Side," "Foggy Mountain Top," "Worried Man Blues," "I'm Thinking Tonight of My Blue Eyes," and "Wildwood Flower." Born in the Clinch Mountains of Virginia in 1891, Carter played fiddle from an early age, learned songs from his parents, and sang with two uncles and a sister in a gospel quartet. At the age of 20, Carter met Sara Dougherty while selling fruit trees and writing songs in his spare time.
They married several years later and began playing around the region. Maybelle Carter, Carter's sister-in-law, joined the group as well just before their audition for Victor Records in 1927. The recordings went well and Victor released three records that quickly became hits. Signed to a long contract, the Carter Family became a popular act by the end of the '20s, though the Depression hurt their fortunes, as fewer Americans bought records. Though Carter and Sara separated in 1932, the Carter Family continued recording during the '30s, for ARC and Decca, as well as Victor. Carter and Sara finally divorced in 1939 and Sara officially retired from the group four years later. While Maybelle toured with her three daughters, Carter ran a country store in Virginia until 1952, when he re-formed the Carter Family with Sara and several of their grown children. They recorded over the course of the next four years, but disbanded in 1956. Carter died in 1960. -John Bush
Born Nov 9, 1944 in Mehan, OK. James Talley is a man of many roles - singer-songwriter, guitarist, and recording artist. He can sound like a rival to Stevie Ray Vaughan on numbers like "Bluesman," or a genuinely soulful John Denver on numbers like "Alabama Summertime," and has also crossed swords with Steve Goodman on "Everybody Loves a Lovesong" - and he's written one romantic masterpiece, "Up from Georgia," one of the most achingly beautiful love songs to come out of modern country music. Anyone not having heard of him, however, can be forgiven, for although he's an American and has played throughout the United States, his work mostly appears on the German-based Bear Family label. He's represented by live albums, a couple of studio releases, and one expensive box-set concept album, The Road to Torreon, for which he wrote songs to accompany a group of photographs from the American Southwest. Nashville City Blues was released in 2000. -Bruce Eder
(1908-1970) Paul E. Cohen, a Chicagoan by birth, managed Decca Records' Cincinnati branch in the late 1930s, following earlier service with Columbia. He took charge of country recording at the end of World War II and guided Decca's continuing thrust into the country market with Red Foley, Ernest Tubb, Kitty Wells and others. The New York-based Cohen was quick to sense Nashville's potential as a music center and frequently recorded artists there after 1947.
Handing the reins of Decca's country department to his assistant Owen Bradley in 1958, Cohen moved to Nashville to found his own label, Todd Records. In the 1960s he ran the Nashville offices of Kapp Records and ABC-Paramount. A former president of the Country Music Association, Cohen was elected to Hall of Fame membership in 1976.
Lulu Belle and Scotty
Formed 1933. Though there were literally thousands of duos performing country music in the 1930s, the husband and wife team of Lulu Belle & Scotty were able to set themselves apart through their wholesome lovers image and through Scotty¹s original compositions - some of which became standards such as "Have I Told You Lately That I Love You" and "Mountain Dew." The couple met as young supporting players on Chicago¹s National Barn Dance program, and their professional partnership quickly blossomed into a romance. For nearly a decade from the late Œ40s through the late Œ50s, the duo performed regularly in the Chicago area, even hosting their own variety program. But with the dawn of the rock & roll age, the couple felt its days were numbered and subsequently retired from music. -Steve Kurutz
AKA Yvonne Vaughn. Born Nov 10, 1949 in Mount Airy, NC. In the early '70s, Donna Fargo was an unusual country star for a couple of reasons. She was one of the few female country singers to write her own material, and one of the few country singers of any sort to cross over to the pop charts in a big way, which she did in 1972 with "The Happiest Girl in the Whole U.S.A." (number 11) and "Funny Face" (number five). She never made the pop Top 40 again, but placed over a dozen more singles in the country Top Ten in the '70s, most written by herself. As an artist, she was squarely in the mainstream, her slightly lisping voice delivering upbeat, sweetly produced homilies to romance, home, and America. She faded after developing multiple sclerosis in 1979, although she continued writing and performing. -Richie Unterberger
Born Nov 9, 1895 in Attica, IN. Died May 9, 1968 in Virginia Beach, VA. Known as the "Solemn Old Judge," that's exactly what Grand Ole Opry announcer George Hay represented to the country music community. Originally a print journalist, Hay switched to radio when the paper he was working for, Memphis, TN's Commercial Appeal, bought a station. Over time Hay developed his Judge persona - blowing a steamboat whistle during every on air appearance as a trademark - and when he took a job hosting the popular Chicago-based show National Barn Dance, Hay had himself a national audience. It wasn't until he relocated to Nashville's WSM in 1925, however, that Hay's legend in country & western circles was cemented. After WSM aired an opera before his Barn Dance show, Hay joked that his show was a Grand Ole Opry. The name stuck and Hay was invited to act as the announcer and booking agent for the nascent variety show. Though a beloved figure, Hay's nickname was all to truthful, and he proved unable to change with the times, complaining when the western swing stars of the '30s and '40s used electric instruments, and he eventually left his MC duties at the Opry in 1947. -Steve Kurutz
AKA born: Arnim LeRoy Fox. Born Nov 9, 1910 in Graysville, TN. During the '40s and '50s, Curly Fox and Texas Ruby were the preeminent husband and wife team in country music. Fox remains one of the great hillbilly fiddlers, while Ruby was one of the first female singers to become a major star.
Curly was born Arnim LeRoy Fox in Graysville, Tennessee. His father, a barber, taught him to play the fiddle, with help from James McCarroll of the Roane Country Ramblers. He began his professional career playing and traveling with Chief White Owl's "Indian" medicine show. Fox soon began working with Claude Davis and the Carolina Tar Heels in Atlanta and founded the Tennessee Firecrackers. He played and recorded with the Shelton Brothers in New Orleans from 1934 to 1936, also recording three singles himself. In 1937, Fox met Texas Ruby (born Ruby Agnes Owens in Wise County, Texas) at the Texas centennial celebration. Ruby, a true cowgirl and sister of radio cowboy Tex Owens, had sung several times on the Grand Ole Opry and various radio stations with Zeke Clements and His Bronco Busters. Soon after meeting Fox, the two married and began appearing on the Opry from 1937-39 and again from 1944-48. In between, they worked in Cincinnati and at other major stations as well.
The duo did make some recordings, but according to Fox, Ruby's throaty contralto didn't sound as good on records as it did on the radio. Her best recordings were made for King in 1947. In 1948 the couple moved to Houston, where they lived and worked for ten years bringing country music to local television. In 1960, they returned to the Grand Ole Opry. Unfortunately, Ruby's health was failing, so Fox often played alone. They did manage to record an album for Starday in 1963, but shortly thereafter, Ruby burned to death in a mobile home fire while her husband was playing on the Opry. Fox continued his solo career for a while after her death, but then left for Chicago to live with one of his daughters. Though he too suffered ill health, he made some albums and occasionally appeared live. He returned to his hometown in the mid-'70s and worked with a local bluegrass band before retiring to live with an older sister. -Sandra Brennan
AKA Clara Ann Fowler. Born Nov 8, 1927 in Muskogee, OK. The best-selling female singer during the 1950s, Patti Paige in many ways defined the decade of earnest, novelty-ridden adult pop with throwaway hits like "The Doggie in the Window" and "I Went to Your Wedding." By singing a wide range of popular material and her own share of novelty fluff, she proved easily susceptible to the fall of classic adult pop but remained a chart force into the mid-'60s.
Born Clara Ann Fowler in Muskogee, Oklahoma, she began singing professionally at a radio station in Tulsa, and took weekend gigs on the side. (After being billed as Patti Paige for a program sponsored by Page Milk, she decided to take the name even after leaving.) Paige toured the country with a band led by Jimmy Joy and ended up in Chicago by 1947, where she sang in a small-group outing by Benny Goodman and gained a recording contract with Mercury. Her first hit, "Confess," came that same year and made her the first pop artist to overdub harmony vocals onto her own lead. After a few more successes, Paige gained her first million-seller in 1950 for "With My Eyes Wide Open I'm Dreaming," which cashed in on the novelty effect of overdubbing (the added touch came with listing it as "the Patti Paige Quartet"). Also in 1950, "All My Love" became her first number one hit and spent several weeks at the top. That same year produced the biggest hit of her career, "The Tennessee Waltz." Notched at number one for months, it eventually became one of the best-selling singles of all time and prompted no less than six Top 40 covers during the following year.
During 1952-53, Patti Paige scored two more huge hits, with "I Went to Your Wedding" and "The Doggie in the Window," both of which spent more than two months at number one.
She gained her own television program, The Patti Paige Show, in 1955 and moved into full-lengths with In the Land of Hi Fi and Manhattan Towers. Paige also proved more resilient to the rise of rock & roll than most of her contemporaries, hitting big in 1956 with "Allegheny Moon" and "Old Cape Cod" the next year. Indeed, she kept reaching the charts (if only in moderate placings) throughout the '60s, paced by the Top Ten theme to the film Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte in 1965. Though she stopped recording for the most part in 1968, she continued performing into the '90s. -John Bush
Born Nov 10, 1948 in Fort Worth, TX. Singer/songwriter Hugh Moffatt was born in Fort Worth, Texas and learned to play piano and trumpet as a boy. Influenced by the Sons of the Pioneers, Moffatt performed in a high-school group specializing in big-band swing music. During the late '60s he moved to Houston, where he listened to blues, learned to play guitar, and joined the pop band Rollin' Wood. After a brief move to Austin, Moffatt headed for Washington, D.C. in 1973 but paused in Nashville; after seeing Stringbean and Marty Robbins perform at the Grand Ole Opry, he decided to stay and try writing songs.
As a songwriter, Hugh Moffatt was heavily influenced by Kris Kristofferson and later Ed Penney, who became his mentor. In 1974, Ronnie Milsap recorded Moffatt's "Just in Case" and scored a Top Five hit.
In 1977, he signed a recording contract with Mercury and had a minor hit with his debut single "The Gambler," but his second single went nowhere and he was dropped. In 1978, Joe Sun recorded Moffatt's "Old Flames (Can't Hold a Candle to You)," his most famous song. In 1980, Dolly Parton recorded it and had a number one hit. Several artists had success with Moffatt's songs during the early '80s, including Lacy J. Dalton with "Wild Turkey," Alabama with "Words at Twenty Paces," and Johnny Rodriguez with "How Could I Love Her So Much." Around that time, Moffatt founded the four-piece band Ratz, who recorded the five-song EP Puttin' on the Ratz in 1984. He cut some solo tracks in 1986 and signed to Philo/Rounder the following year; using some of his unreleased tracks, he completed Loving You. In 1989, he released another album, Troubadour, and then cut Dance Me Outside (1991) with his sister Kate. In 1996, he returned with The Life of a Minor Poet. -Sandra Brennan
Born Nov 10, 1921 in Senath, MO. Died May 26, 1984. Born in Senath, Missouri, on November 10, 1921, Onie Wheeler recorded traditional country, bluegrass and rockabilly (for Sun) in a career that stretched from a small radio show in Missouri all the way to the Grand Ole Opry. He played guitar and harmonica as a child, but never performed professionally until after service in World War II. Beginning in 1945, he worked radio broadcasts in Missouri, Arkansas, Michigan and Kentucky. Wheeler formed the Ozark Cowboys five years later with Ernest Thompson and brothers A.J. and Doyal Nelson. The Cowboys played clubs in Texas in 1952, and were encouraged to travel to Nashville by Little Jimmy Dickens.
After reaching Music City, Onie Wheeler and the Cowboys found a deal with Columbia. He recorded in 1953, and though his material wasn't successful, Lefty Frizzell reached the Country Top Ten a year later with Wheeler's "Run 'Em Off." By the mid-'50s, his repertoire began to lean toward rockabilly; he signed to Sun Records in 1957, and toured with Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins. He spent some of the late '50s in California, but returned to Nashville to record for Epic, Starday, United Artists and Musicor during the '60s. Wheeler toured with the bands of George Jones and Roy Acuff, and finally hit the charts himself when "John's Been Shucking My Corn" placed modestly in 1973. He even watched his daughter Karen place three singles on the charts during the mid-'70s. Wheeler owned and operated a guitar repair shop during the late '70s and early '80s, working occasionally with Acuff on the Grand Ole Opry. He was playing at the Opry with Rev. Jimmie Snow in May 1984 when he collapsed and died on stage. -John Bush
Born Nov 14, 1917 in Oklahoma City, OK. Died Oct 1974. One of the finest steel guitarists in country music's history, Noel Boggs incorporated jazz influences - from his friend Charlie Christian - into Western swing on his over 1000 sideman credits. Born in Oklahoma City on November 14, 1917, he began playing guitar as a teenager; by the time he had graduated from high school, he was playing on three different radio stations around Oklahoma City. Boggs toured with Hank Penny's Radio Cowboys during 1936-37, but was back in Oklahoma by 1937. He played with Wiley & Gene and Jimmy Wakely during the late '30s and formed his own band in 1941. By 1944, Boggs joined the king of Western swing bands, Bob Wills & the Texas Playboys. He replaced Leon McAuliffe in Wills' band and played for two years, appearing on many of the Tiffany Transcriptions and several Columbia sessions. Boggs left in 1946 to join another swing giant, Spade Cooley. He played with Cooley's Dance Band until 1954, but suffered a heart attack just one year later. He couldn't play for three months, but formed the Noel Boggs Quintet in 1956. The band recorded several albums for Repeat during the '60s, but a series of heart attacks later limited Boggs' energy to record and tour. He died in 1974. -John Bush
Born Nov 13, 1915 in Olive, OK. Died Jan 15, 1948. If Jack Guthrie is remembered at all today, it is as the cousin of Woody Guthrie, but in his own lifetime, Jack Guthrie was far more commercially successful than Woody Guthrie ever was while he was alive. He was one of the most important and influential country singers of the mid-1940s, and only his early death from tuberculosis prevented his legacy from being better known to the generations since.
Jack Guthrie was born in Olive, Oklahoma in 1915, the son of a blacksmith who also played the fiddle in his spare time. The family led a somewhat mobile existence in the area around Texas and Oklahoma, and Guthrie had little chance to put down deep roots. His main interests as a boy included roping and trick riding, at which he became very good. He also listened to his father's playing and the music of Jimmie Rodgers, and some sources indicate that he was taught guitar by Gene Autry in the years before Autry became a recording star.
The family had little to hold them in Oklahoma during the Dust Bowl era and eventually migrated to California, where they settled in the area around Sacramento. He performed in rodeos and was employed by the National Forest Service through the Works Progress Administration. In 1934, he married Ruth Henderson, and the two worked together for a time in an act together, in which he would use his skills with a bullwhip to snap cigarettes out of her mouth. By most accounts, the marriage was a lasting one, though not always happy, and the two spent a fair amount of time living apart from one another.
Woody Guthrie's arrival in California three years later gave the cousins the opportunity to team up. Their act was heard on radio during the summer of 1937, under the name The Oklahoman and Woody Show - it was a success in terms of listener response and fan mail, but it also paid no money, and the boost it generated for their club performances wasn't sufficient to provide either man with a living. The partnership broke up when Jack took a job in construction to earn more money and Woody found a new partner, Maxine ("Lefty Lou") Crissman, although Jack continued to appear occasionally with the duo. By 1939, Woody had headed to New York, where he first hooked up with the organized Left and political singers like Pete Seeger, and began the main body of his musical career. Jack stayed in California and continued to play before live audiences in bars and other local venues whenever he could, and one of the songs that he picked up was a Woody Guthrie original, "Oklahoma Hills." Jack made some changes and refinements in his cousin's song, effectively earning a co-authorship credit. At that time, California was populated by many thousands of transplanted Oklahomans, and Jack became well known for his version of "Oklahoma Hills."
Guthrie became a well-known figure in the clubs around Los Angeles, where his brand of dance music was extremely popular and his flamboyance made him a memorable figure - at rodeos, he was known for leaving the band and doing some trick riding during a set. By 1944, he was more than ready to begin recording. With the encouragement of Maxine Crissman's sister Mary Ruth, he approached Capitol Records, and she also put up the money for the demo record that he used to get in the door, "Oklahoma Hills." He recruited a band from among acquaintances, did the demo, and went to Capitol.
In 1944, Capitol Records - which had only been founded four years earlier - had begun a new cycle of signing country and blues artists, which included Leadbelly and Merle Travis. Jack Guthrie was one of the new signings, in what turned out to be a seven-year contract. He made his Capitol recording debut in October of 1944 with "Oklahoma Hills," with a backing band called the Oklahomans, consisting of Porky Freedman (lead guitar), Red Murrell (rhythm guitar), Cliffie Stone (bass), and Billy Hughes (fiddle) - he cut the B-side, "I'm Brandin My Darlin' With My Heart," and a cover of an Ernest Tubb number, "Careless Darlin'," at the same session on October 16, 1944. Nine days later, Guthrie had a second recording session that yielded four more songs, including his version of Jimmie Rodgers' "When the Cactus Is In Bloom," a number that highlighted Guthrie's yodeling ability. "Oklahoma Hills" was released early in 1945 and rose to number one on the country charts, spending six weeks in that spot.
Before the song was even released, however, Jack Guthrie had been drafted and was serving in the Pacific, stationed as an entertainer in Special Services on Iwo Jima. He was unable to do anything about his record's success, and this led to decisions that would ultimately have tragic consequences. Desperate to return to the United States so he could resume recording, Guthrie signed up for an additional year's enlistment in Special Services in exchange to being sent Stateside. He returned to the United States in the first days of 1946, and tried to resume his performing career while still in uniform. He was stationed at Fort Lewis, Washington State, and began playing with Buck Ritchey and His K-6 Wranglers in Tacoma, and returned to Capitol on January 29, 1946, for his first recording sessions since October of 1944. His personal appearances were so popular that a publisher felt confident enough to issue a Jack Guthrie songbook that proved very popular locally.
In early 1946, just as he was resuming his career, Guthrie's weight began dropping rapidly, and a civilian doctor diagnosed his problem as tuberculosis. He was immediately released from the army, and had he used this chance to convalesce, it is possible that Guthrie might have made a full recovery. Instead, never believing his ailment to be a serious case of the disease, he kept working, organizing a new band and going out of the road.
And the irony was that he was on his way to stardom. "Oklahoma Hills" brought Guthrie to the attention of Ernest Tubb, who got Guthrie a gig on the Grand Ole Opry and toured with him for two weeks, during which they became good friends. Guthrie's band, which was later inherited by T. Texas Tyler, was a success, though by the time they were back in California in the spring of 1946, his health had begun to deteriorate further. Advised to lay off for a year and go into a sanitarium, he instead insisted on pushing himself to take advantage of the success he had found. Moreover, he never gave up the smoking or drinking that further taxed his system. Guthrie continued recording and performing every chance that he could, and he even turned up in the movie Hollywood Barn Dance, singing "Okie Boogie." He signed a contract that summer to do a movie with cowboy B-movie star Russell Hayden, but it never happened. By the spring of 1947, he weighed less than a hundred pounds, and that summer he entered a veterans hospital near Sacramento and was informed by the doctors that the prognosis was terminal.
This did nothing to slow him down. In fact, the result was the opposite - as all of Guthrie's records were selling and Capitol wanted every side that they could get out of him, he became a willing participant in this musical death march, seeing this as his best chance to leave a lasting legacy. Guthrie's attitude had always been that if he was going to die anyway, that he should make the most of the time he did have.
Additionally, although it sounds grisly in retrospect, the dedication was justified. Even in the songs from Guthrie's later sessions, there is a compelling quality to the music. His easygoing manner, his way with a phrase, and his studio band's virtuosity leave the listener wanting to hear more. The play of the words and music are startling in their attractiveness, and there's hardly a weak number in his output, despite the conditions under which most of it was recorded.
Guthrie continued to record, despite being so weak that his wife had to set up a bed for him in the back of their car when he traveled anywhere. At his final sessions, he had to be transported in an ambulance, and he had to lie down and sleep between songs to regain what strength he still had. He finally amassed a body of more than 30 songs, in addition to radio transcription discs intended for broadcast. Guthrie lingered into the first weeks of 1948 and finally died in a sanitarium on January 15 of that year. Ironically, his records continued to sell for years after his death and remained in print, sometimes in redubbed form with extra instruments added. Meanwhile, Woody Guthrie's reputation as an author of topical and political songs grew in the folk community; the folk music boom of the late 1950s and early 1960s, and the rise of such figures as Bob Dylan, who freely traded on Woody's image and legacy in his early days, eventually eclipsed the memory and reputation of his cousin, at least in the popular culture.
In 1966, Capitol rather belatedly released an LP collection, Jack Guthrie and His Greatest Songs. It helped keep Jack Guthrie's legacy before the public, but it was Arlo Guthrie, Woody's son and Jack's nephew - and the first member of the Guthrie family since Jack to achieve mass popularity and sell large numbers of records to the public in his own musical prime - who played just as large a role, continuing to perform and record his uncle's music into the 1970s. -Bruce Eder
Born Nov 13, 1932 in Florence, AL. Buddy Killen has a long music business career that covers both the creative and business aspects. His name is connected with hits by Elvis Presley, Joe Tex, and Roger Miller, among many others. Killen began playing bass for a comedy group that appeared on the Grand Ole Opry. After the group broke up, he became a staff bassist with the Opry while playing on recording sessions and singing on music publishing demos. In 1953, Killen came to the attention of Tree Publishing founder Jack Stapp who asked him to produce some songs on a young girl singer. Happy with the results, Stapp gave Killen a job with the then up-and-coming Tree that paid 35 dollars a week. The music publishing company didn't have offices back then, so Killen worked out of his home, doing business at the familiar hangouts of the myriad songwriters, publishers, bookers, and others involved in the vibrant country music industry. Tree's first office was a small one-room office Killen shared with a friend; the next was in the Old Hill building at the corner of 7th and Church, between the offices of radio station WSM on 7th and the Ryman Auditorium on 5th.
Killen was a songplugger - he'd try to interest recording artists in covering songs from the Tree catalog. His first success came the next year in 1954 when "By the Law of My Heart" was recorded by Mercury Records bluegrass singer Benny Martin. The first big break for Tree came in January 1956 when a young singer just signed to RCA came to Nashville to record four songs at Methodist Publishing Studios. At this session, produced by Chet Atkins, Elvis Presley recorded "Heartbreak Hotel," a song written by writer Mae Boren Axton and published by Tree. During spring 1956, "Heartbreak Hotel" went platinum, was a hit on country and Billboard's R&B (number three) and pop (number one for eight weeks) music charts. The success of this song allowed Tree to move into new offices in the Cumberland Lodge Building in downtown Nashville.
In 1957, Stapp's friend and fellow owner of Tree, Lou Cowan, had been named head of CBS Television and had to divest his outside interests. Stapp bought Tree from Cowan and another partner Harry Fleishman. Stapp gave Killen 30 percent of the company and made him vice president. That same year, Killen was playing pinball at Tootsie's Orchid Lounge when he met a young man and his wife. He claimed to be a songwriter but was broke so Killen lent him 5 dollars and told him to come by the office and play some of his songs. Roger Miller's songs were soon hits for a number of top acts: "Invitation to the Blues" for Ray Price, "Home" and "Billy Bayou" for Jim Reeves, and "When Two Worlds Collide" for Bill Anderson. In March 1964, Roger Miller went into the studio to record his wacky, off-the-wall songs for Smash Records. His first single "Dang Me" was a number one country hit and peaked at number seven on the pop charts in summer 1964. The follow-up "Chug-A-Lug" went to number one country and number nine pop in fall 1964.
Another Tree staff writer Curly Putman wrote the classic "Green Green Grass of Home," a number four country hit for Porter Wagoner in 1965. The song was a 1966 number 11 pop hit for Tom Jones. Putman would write other great hits: "D-I-V-O-R-C-E" for Tammy Wynette; "My Elusive Dreams" for Marty Robbins, Bobby Vinton, Charlie Rich, Roger Miller, and George Jones; and "I Wish That I Could Hurt That Way Again" (Cook/Putnam) for T. Graham Brown.
1964 is the year Tree moved out of the Cumberland Lodge Building and onto Music Row. "Music Row" was the name given to the area on 16th and 17th Avenues between Division Street and Edgehill where Owen Bradley had set up a studio in his Quonset Hut in 1955. Tree purchased a building at 905 16th Avenue South, about a block from Bradley's studio.
While honeymooning in Daytona Beach, Killen received a call from his assistant Jerry Crutchfield, who excitedly explained that he'd met this great singer named Joe Tex. When he returned to Nashville, Killen met Tex and could see that he was a phenomenal talent. When record labels passed on Tex, Killen formed Dial Records, a subsidiary of Tree Publishing and began recording the singer. After a few unsuccessful singles, Tex wanted out of the deal, but Killen convinced him to let him produce one more session. One of the results of that session was a song called "Hold What You've Got." Killen re-edited the track and Dial got a distribution deal with Atlantic Records. "Hold What You've Got" went to number two R&B, number five pop in early 1965. It was quickly followed up by the double-sided hit "You Got What It Takes" (number ten R&B) b/w "You Better Get It" (number 15 R&B). Tex went on to have 33 R&B charting singles, 28 pop charting singles, including three number one R&B hits. Killen produced all Tex's self-written hits. The gleeful, energetic singer who was born Joseph Arrington Jr. in Rogers, TX, on August 8, 1933, died of a heart attack on August 13, 1982. Not only did Killen miss his great talent, but also his friendship.
In 1968, Tree became an international company when it opened 13 overseas offices. This move was pioneered by Jack Stapp and Tree's New York attorney Lee Eastman who set up business relationships outside the United States to help Tree get exposure throughout the world with its songs.
Tree's next major growth occurred when it purchased the Pamper Music Publishing Company, which included songs by writers like Willie Nelson, Hank Cochran, and Harlan Howard. They had penned such standards like "Crazy," "Hello Walls," "Make the World Go Away," "Pick Me Up on Your Way Down," and "Funny How Time Slips Away." With this purchase, for 1.6 million dollars, the country catalog doubled in size and overnight Tree became the largest music publisher in Nashville and the largest country music publisher in the world.
Tree's next physical move occurred in 1972 when they acquired the Lucky Moeller Talent Agency at 8 Music Square West. Also in 1972, Tree was named country music's number one publishing company for the first time.
After 1974, Jack Stapp became Tree's Chief Executive Officer and Board Chairman, while Killen became president retaining responsible for the creative activities of the company. Stapp died on December 20, 1980, at the age of 67. At this point, Buddy Killen exercised a buy/sell agreement he and Stapp had made earlier and purchased the company and assumed sole ownership. Throughout the 1970s and '80s, Tree acquired a number of publishing companies, including those of Conway Twitty, Jim Ed Norman, and the Blue Book catalog owned by Buck Owens, which contained many of the songs from the Bakersfield group including Merle Haggard, Jim Reeves, Nat Stucky, and Jerry Chesnut, in all over 50 catalogs. The Alabama Music Hall of Fame awarded Killen the Lifework Award for Non-Performing Achievement in 1985.
In 1989, a new chapter in the history of Tree began when Sony/CBS purchased the publishing company from Buddy Killen for 30 million dollars. After the sale of Tree to Sony/CBS, Buddy Killen remained head of the company but by the end of the year had stepped down to pursue other interests.
During fall 1999, Killen released his own CD, Mixed Emotions, and his autobiography, By the Seat of My Pants, co-written with Tom Carter and published by Simon and Schuster. -Ed Hogan
AKA Alvin Junior Samples. Born 1927 in Cumming, GA. Died Nov 13, 1983 in Cumming, GA. Cornball comic/country singer/harmonica player Junior Samples was a beloved performer on the long-running country variety show Hee-Haw, where he was best known for his ability to spin yarns with his authentic, almost incomprehensible Georgia drawl, old-fashioned manner, and bizarre usage of common words. Born Alvin Samples in Cumming, Georgia, he dropped out of school in the sixth grade, and didn't find fame until he was well past forty, when his son found a huge fish head which Samples told friends came from a 22-pound, nine-ounce bass he had caught.
The state Fish and Game Commission sent an interviewer to get the story, so Samples told his tale over the radio in 1966. The tape got to Chart Records, which added background music and released it as a single titled "World's Biggest Whopper." The novelty single made the Top 60 on the country charts and led to several radio and television appearances for Samples, who soon found himself a full-fledged comedian. He signed to CBS's Hee Haw soon after its debut in 1969 and became one of the show's biggest hits, not only for his stories but also for his inadvertent misreadings of cue cards. He stayed with the show until his death in 1983. -Sandra Brennan
AKA William Fries. Born Nov 15, 1928 in Audubon, IA. Essentially a character created by advertising executive William Fries, C.W. McCall was the instrumental figure behind the truck-driving craze that swept America in the mid-'70s. Fries was born November 15, 1928, in Audubon, Iowa, and while he displayed musical promise as a child, he was more interested in graphic design. While attending the University of Iowa, Fries studied music and played in the school's concert band, but his major was in fine arts, and after graduation he began handling the art chores at an Omaha, Nebraska television station. After five years there, he was hosting his own program, on which he drew caricatures of celebrities.
Fries signed on as the art director for an Omaha advertising agency in the early 1960s, and it was there that he created the character C.W. McCall as a selling tool for an area bakery. A trucker for the fictional Old Home Bread company who spent much of his time in a diner called "The Old Home Filler-Up-an'-Keep-On-a-Truckin' Cafe," the McCall character was a huge hit with viewers, and the radio campaign won Fries the advertising industry's prestigious Clio Award. In 1974, Fries decided to cut a record under the McCall moniker, and the single, a monologue with country backing titled after the aforementioned cafe, was a Top Twenty hit. A follow-up, "Wolf Creek Pass," was even more successful.
In 1975, McCall released the album Black Bear Road; the single "Convoy" hit Number One on both the pop and country charts, and a national craze was born. The song proved so successful that it influenced the famed filmmaker Sam Peckinpah to direct the 1978 film Convoy, starring Kris Kristofferson. By the time of the film's release, however, McCall's career was largely over. He released two more LPs, 1975's Wolf Creek Pass and 1977's Roses for Mama, which did spawn a major hit in its title track. But shortly after the latter album's release, McCall turned his back on the music industry to focus on the burgeoning environmental movement and moved to the small town of Ouray, Colorado, of which he was elected mayor in 1982. An attempt at a comeback in 1990 proved unsuccessful. -Jason Ankeny
Songwriter Larry Cordle has numerous hits to his credit, including three that went to the top of the charts. His awards include the 1992 Song of the Year, which Cordle received from the International Bluegrass Music Association for his "Lonesome Standard Time." The song also garnered a Grammy nomination. Despite these high points that mark a successful career in the music business, Cordle later made news with a song that some listeners thought might be biting the hand that fed the songwriter. "Murder on Music Row," a song Cordle co-wrote with Larry Shell, makes no bones about criticizing Nashville for drifting away from the roots of country music. Plenty of people in the industry were aghast and angry over the song's condemnation of the town and of the turn country music had taken in recent years. Probably just as many cheered it. The song wasn't released to radio as a single, at least not officially, and there wasn't even any real promotion to speak of. But the duet by George Strait and Alan Jackson raised the song's profile. It hit a nerve and it hit deep.
The song made it onto the airwaves, landed in the Top 40, and made a lot of people sit up and take notice of the things Cordle had to say about the state of country music. The ripples that spread from the song's impact even led the very industry that the song condemns to acknowledge and honor its honesty. The Country Music Association bestowed a pair of nominations in 2000, one for Vocal Event of the Year and another for Song of the Year. Other artists who have recorded Cordle's songs include Diamond Rio, Ricky Skaggs, Garth Brooks, Trisha Yearwood, George Jones, Loretta Lynn, Alison Krauss, John Michael Montgomery, and John Anderson, among others. Shell Point Records of Nashville issued the album Murder on Music Row, while Sugar Hill Records released three other Cordle albums. His band, Lonesome Standard Time, includes Terry Eldredge on upright bass, lead acoustic guitarist Booie Beech, fiddler Fred Carpenter, mandolinist David Harvey, and banjo player David Talbot. -Linda Seida
Born Nov 16, 1938 in Big Hill, KY
He recorded two albums as a '70s solo artist and played guitar on many famous sessions, but Troy Seals is best known as a country songwriter. During the '70s, he recorded with Doug Kershaw and Lonnie Mack, and released an album each for Atlantic and CBS as well. His hit compositions include "Rattle the Windows" (Shenandoah), "I Won't Need You Anymore (Always & Forever)" (Randy Travis), "Don't Take It Away" (Conway Twitty), "From Seven Till Ten" (Conway Twitty and Loretta Lynn), "Two Old Cats Like Us" (Hank Williams Jr.), "Pieces of My Life" (Elvis Presley), and "Boogie Woogie Country Man" (Jerry Lee Lewis). -John Bush
The Blue Sky Boys
Formed 1936. Disbanded 1976. In the '30s brother duets were common in country music: Among the better known were the Monroes, the Delmores, the Dixons, and the Carlisles. Bill and Earl Bolick, who in 1936 were ready to make their first recording, followed their producer's suggestion that they should be "different" by avoiding the word brother. From "Blue Ridge Mountains, Land of the Sky" they took two words and named their act. But the Bolicks would have been different without the new name. Their intricate yet simple harmonies, their perfectly matching voices, and their unadorned mandolin and guitar instrumental backing set them off from the competition, so much so that two generations of subsequent duet singers echo them, some without realizing it. The Everly Brothers and the Louvin Brothers, themselves recognized as exceptional vocal duets, acknowledge the influence of the Blue Sky Boys. In the '50s, when tastes in country music changed drastically, the Blue Sky Boys retired from music rather than forsake their love of old mountain ballads for the uptempo popularity of electric instruments, drums, and honky-tonk. In the '60s they were coaxed to come out of retirement, playing an occasional college date during the hootenanny phenomenon and recording albums in 1963, and 1965, and 1976.
Born and riased in East Hickory, North Carolina, Bill and Earl Bolick - the fourth and fifth of six children by deeply religious parents - learned how to harmonize by singing hymns and gospel songs at home. Bill learned how to play guitar and banjo from his neighbor, teaching Earl in the process. Earl had been given a mandolin, but he preferred guitar, so the two brothers switched instruments and began performing as a duo. Bill also performed with another local group, the Crazy Hickory Nuts, who happened to land a radio spot in Asheville, North Carolina in 1935. Shortly afterward, the siblings formed the JFG Coffee Boys with Homer Sherrill, a fiddler who played with the Crazy Hickory Nuts, and the new group also had a regular spot on Asheville radio. The group stayed at Asheville for a while, before moving to Atlanta to play as the Blue Ridge Hillbillies. While in Atlanta, the Bolicks split away from Sherrill and recorded several sides for RCA Victor, which were released under the name the Blue Sky Boys.
Over the next four years, the Blue Sky Boys made nearly 100 recordings for RCA that made them one of the more popular brother duos of the period. The Bolicks' career was sidetracked in 1941, when the brothers both entered the military to fight in World War II. Early in 1946, they were discharged, and they returned to playing radio in Atlanta and recording for RCA. Occasionally, the duo recorded with a fiddler, usually Sam "Curley" Parker, Joe Tyson, Leslie Keith or Richard "Red" Hicks. Many of the records from 1946 and 1947, including "Kentucky," ranked among their biggest hits, but by the end of 1947 the duo was growing frustrated at the changing climates in country music and their record label as well. Honky tonk music was beginning to take over the country market, and the Bolicks refused to bend to fit into the new instrumental style. RCA asked them to add an electric guitar and try some newer songs, but they steadfastly refused and didn't even record until 1949. Over the course of the next year, they made a handful of recordings, performing their final sessions for RCA in the spring of 1950.
Frustrated with the changes in country music, the Blue Sky Boys disbanded and retired from music in 1951. For the next 11 years, they were silent, with Bill living and working for the post office in North Carolina and Earl making his residence in Georgia, working at Lockheed Aircraft. Starday Records released an album of Blue Sky Boys radio transcriptions in 1962. The following year, Bill convinced Earl to come out of retirement and record two albums, the secular Together Again and the inspirational Precious Moments, for Starday. Over the next few years, they played the occasional concert and appeared at folk festivals. In 1965, Capitol released a live album capturing the duo at the UCLA Folk Festival. By the end of the '60s, the Blue Sky Boys had retired again. In 1975, the Bolicks were coaxed out of retirement to record an album for Rounder and play several bluegrass and folk festivals. Shortly afterward, Bill retired and moved back to his hometown of East Hickory, while Earl settled in Tucker, Georgia.
No one in country music has done vocal duets better than the Blue Sky Boys. If your taste runs more to Conway & Loretta, George & Tammy, Wynonna & Naomi, listen to the effortless, exquisite singing of Bill and Earl Bolick. See where it all started. -David Vinopal
Born Nov 17, 1938 in Orillia, Ontario, Canada. Canadian Gordon Lightfoot first began to gain recognition in the mid-'60s as a songwriter when his compositions "For Lovin' Me" and "Early Morning Rain" became hits for Peter, Paul & Mary, and Marty Robbins topped the country charts with "Ribbon of Darkness." Lightfoot's own style was understated, his tasteful folk arrangements topped by a gentle burr of a voice. His albums began to appear in 1966, but it was not until the start of the '70s that he became a big success as a performer, scoring in 1970 with Sit Down Young Stranger, which contained his hit "If You Could Read My Mind," a song with a typically flowing melodic line and gently poetic lyrics.
Thereafter, the first half of the '70s were his. Lightfoot hit a peak in 1974 with Sundown, which went to number one, as did the title song when released on a single. Though he had developed a timeless style, Lightfoot was caught by the popular decline of folk-based music in the latter half of the 1970s, and has performed and recorded less frequently since, sometimes trying to conform to perceived commercial trends without success. But concert appearances in the early '90s confirmed that he remains an engaging performer and that his catalog of original songs is hard to match. A Painter Passing Through followed in 1998. -William Ruhlmann
Born Apr 6, 1892 in Fries, VA. Died Nov 10, 1941 in Morganton, NC. Guitarist and harmonica player Henry Whitter was co-billed with G.B. Grayson on a series of popular hillbilly sides recorded for Victor during the late '20s. Born in 1892, he was one of the first folk/countryfigures to use the harmonica rack allowing musicians to simultaneously play guitar and harmonica. Among the songs that Grayson and Whitter made popular were "Tom Dooley," "The Banks of the Ohio," "Train 45," and "Handsome Molly." After Grayson was killed in 1930, Whitter rarely performed and he died in 1941. -John Bush
Born Apr 13, 1913 in Evansville, IN. Wade Ray was a popular fiddler who performed in concert and on radio and television for over three decades; unfortunately, despite his long career, he only cut a few singles in the 1950s and two old-time revival albums during the '60s. He was born in 1913 in Evansville, Indiana, but raised in Boynton, Arkansas. At age four, his parents gave him a homemade violin made out of a cigar box; the following year he was playing a real one on stage, billed as "the Youngest Violin Player in the World." Ray soon gained quite a following, and also learned to play the tenor banjo before joining the Orpheum Vaudeville Circuit and touring Indiana until 1931, when he turned 18. He next joined Pappy Cheshire's National Champion Hillbillies on a St. Louis radio station, and remained there as a musician and musical director until he was inducted into the Army in 1943. He then joined the Prairie Ramblers on the WLS Chicago National Barn Dance, where he recorded and performed with Patsy Montana.
In 1949, he left the show to record with the Ozark Mountain Boys. Ray next appeared on the Rex Allen Show on CBS-TV in Los Angeles, and also made his feature film debut in Hollywood. During the '50s and '60s, he also made guest appearances on the Grand Ole Opry and the Ernest Tubb Show. Between 1951 and 1957, Ray released 23 singles for RCA, but none of them appeared on the charts. In 1966 he cut the album A Ray of Country Sun; his second album, Down Yonder - The Country Fiddlers, featured a number of former country stars. In 1979, he moved to join the KSD-AM St. Louis roadshow, but poor health forced him to leave. Eventually Ray moved to Florida to retire. -Sandra Brennan
Born Nov 18, 1912 in Cullman County, AL. Jimmy Swan rose from dirt farmer's son to band leader, giving jobs to Hank Locklin and Hank Williams in the bargain. At one point, Swan was seen as a potential successor to Williams, but his musical sensibilities, spawned in Birmingham, Alabama before World War II and at the honky tonks around Hattiesburg, Mississippi immediately after the war, failed to match the public's changing taste. As a hillbilly and honky tonk singer, he was initially one of the very few white artists on the tiny Trumpet label (best remembered as the early recording home of Sonny Boy Williamson II), where he had some success in the early 1950s, but he later found his music too out of style to sell in serious numbers.
Swan was born into a farm family, but his father abandoned them before he was old enough to walk, and he was raised in Birmingham, Alabama, where he sold newspapers and shone shoes on the street to help make ends meet, living at near-starvation level after the death of his mother in the late 1920s. Among his clientele during the shoe-shining phase of his life was Jimmie Rodgers, the Singing Brakeman, whom the young Swan encountered in a pool hall, and who also influenced Swan as an aspiring singer. By 1928, when the 15-year-old won a singing contest at a local radio station, he began thinking that he might have a future in music.
Swan ended up living the life of a hobo when things got really bad, riding the rails and ending up in Mississippi just about the time that the stock market crash of 1929 ushered in the Great Depression. By then he was 17, married, and working on various farms - this and the birth of several children was to keep him out of music professionally until early in the 1940s, when he formed his own band. By that time he was living near Mobile, and the guitarist he chose for that first band in 1944 was another Alabama shipyard worker named Hank Locklin. Swan also occasionally availed himself of the services of another guitarist with a future as a singer, Hank Williams, who was knocking around Mobile at the time.
After World War II, living in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, Swan got regular radio gigs on several stations, weeknight shows at various honky tonks, and Saturday night shows at the Hattiesburg Civic Center. By 1948, however, he'd given up music because he didn't like playing the honky tonks and witnessing their drunkenness and violence, and instead became a radio disc jockey. Apart from his Saturday night shows at the Civic Center, he left music, and didn't return full-time until 1952, when Swan become one of a tiny handful of white artists signed to Lillian McMurry's Trumpet Records label.
Swan's first record, the hillbilly ballad "I Had a Dream," was a reasonable success nationally, eliciting covers by several other singers. He also saw some sales in early 1953 with "The Last Letter," a Hank Williams tribute song issued in the wake of the country legend's death that New Year's Day. Suddenly, Swan was in demand over at MGM as a potential successor to Hank Williams, but his contract at Trumpet prevented this hookup with the late singer's label from happening for several years. In the interim, he kept making records for McMurry and even managed an appearance in a low-budget 1954 color Western, Jesse James' Women, starring (and directed by) Don Barry and Peggy Castle, which was shot on location in Mississippi.
By the mid-1950s, when he was finally in the hands of MGM, however, Swan found that the label was looking for a sound different from the one that he was interested in making. The public had started abandoning the hard-country, hillbilly sound that he favored, and was buying more lushly produced pop-oriented records. His former guitarist Hank Locklin, who'd begun a recording career of his own in 1948, was to find success with this softer sound. Swan, however, wanted no part of anything that didn't sound like he did when he played on stage, and was enough his own man to reject this for himself. He was still doing hillbilly-type music late in the 1950s, and even into the mid-1960s, he was making records that could have come out of the 1940s.
By then, Swan had various business ventures working for him, including part-ownership of a radio station, and was becoming concerned with matters beyond music. As a white southerner born early in the 20th century, he'd never accepted the notion of big government as espoused by the Democratic Party, at least in the absence of a crisis on the scale of the Great Depression, or the liberal social policies that increasingly drove the national party. Swan had already run for sheriff locally in Hattiesburg in the mid-1960's. In 1966, seeking to emulate country singer-turned-Louisiana governor Jimmie Davis, and anticipating a similar effort by Tex Ritter, Jimmy Swan entered statewide politics, standing for governor of Mississippi as an opponent of President Lyndon Johnson's Great Society program. He lost, coming in third in the primary, and failed in his subsequent bids for elective office.
By that time, he was retired permanently from music as well, having recorded two abortive sides for a small Mississippi-based label. His music was largely forgotten by then, being hopelessly out of style in the slick, Nashville-dominated world of modern country music. In 1993, neaely 25 years after his retirement from music, Bear Family issued the first comprehensive collection of Jimmy Swan's music. -Bruce Eder
Born Nov 19, 1950 in Fort Worth, TX. Though mainstream success has eluded Katy Moffatt, her blend of country, rock, blues and folk has gathered a devoted following of fans and colleagues just the same. Born in Fort Worth, Texas (her brother is country songwriter Hugh Moffatt.), Katy started out singing Leonard Cohen's "Dress Rehearsal Rag" in a local coffeehouse. In 1969, while studying at St. John's College in Santa Fe, she sang in the movie Black Jack. After making the film, she dropped out of school and moved to Corpus Christi, Texas to work at a local TV station, and also sang with a local blues band. After the station was destroyed by a hurricane, she moved first to Austin and later to Colorado. While singing on a Denver radio station beginning in 1973, she became locally popular and signed to Columbia by 1975. Columbia released her rock-oriented debut Katy as a country album, but one of the singles, "I Can Almost See Houston from Here," still became a low-level country hit. Changing its promotional direction yet again, Columbia released her second LP Kissin' in the California Sun (1977) as a pop album while Moffatt opened for such performers as Charlie Daniels, Warren Zevon, Muddy Waters and Steve Martin and toured with guitarist Leo Kottke. During the rest of the '70s, she worked with Willie Nelson and Andrew Gold, appeared with Poco and John Prine, and toured with Jerry Jeff Walker, J.D. Souther and the Allman Brothers.
Continuing her backup career during the early '80s, Moffatt sang with Tanya Tucker, Lynn Anderson and Hoyt Axton until she gained a contract with Permian Records in 1983. Label president Chuck Robinson valued her distinctive style and set her up with producer Jerry Crutchfield, a partnership that spawned three impressive singles, including "This Ain't Tennessee and He Ain't You" (1984). Even though none of them charted above the Top 70, she was nominated as the ACM's Female Vocalist of the Year in 1985. In the mid-'80s, the Permian label folded and she moved to Philo/Rounder, where her albums gained wider exposure. With her brother Hugh, she recorded the 1991 duet album, Dance Me Outside, and has also done duet work with Tom Russell, Mary Flower and Rosie Flores. Moffatt debuted at the Wembley Festival in England in 1990. Two years later, she snagged roles in the films Honeymoon in Vegas and The Thing Called Love. The LP Angel Town followed in 1998, and the next year Moffatt returned with Loose Diamond. -Sandra Brennan
Born Apr 19, 1941 in Nashville, TN. Died Nov 19, 1992. Although Bobby Russell had a successful recording career, he is best remembered as the songwriter who penned the 1960s hits "Honey" and "Little Green Apples." Born and raised in Nashville, Russell first attracted notice with "The Joker Went Wild," which provided Brian Hyland with a Top 20 pop hit. Two years later, he penned "Little Green Apples" for Roger Miller, which became a Top Ten country hit and crossed over to the pop Top 40. Later in 1968, Bobby Goldsboro earned a number one hit and a gold record for his rendition of "Honey; " O.C. Smith also recorded "Little Green Apples," and had a number three hit. Russell made his own recording debut with "1432 Franklin Pike Circle Hero," which hit the Top 40 on the pop charts.
The following year, he cut two more minor hits, including "Better Homes and Gardens." Two years later, Russell had a major crossover hit with "Saturday Morning Confusion," which reached the Top 25 on the country charts and the Top 30 on the pop charts. In 1973, he penned "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia," and it became a number one hit for his wife Vicki Lawrence; it was also her only hit. Later that year, Russell had a minor hit with "Mid American Manufacturing Tycoon," his final chart appearance. He died of coronary disease in 1992, and two years later was posthumously inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. -Sandra Brennan
Born Nov 21, 1933 in Pauls Valley, OK. Few country singers - let alone female country singers - working since the 1950s have produced a large body of work as enduring as Jean Shepard's. Her voice is pure country - accent on both words. Born in Oklahoma, she grew up in Southern California, where Hank Thompson discovered her. She had her first Top Ten hit in 1953, and her last almost exactly 20 years later. In between, she cut one great record after another, mostly on Capitol Records. Nearly all of them crackle, no matter the topic, with honky-tonk angel spunk.
Born in Oklahoma, Shepard grew up in the area surrounding Bakersfield, California. As a teenager, she began her musical career by playing bass in the Melody Ranch Girls, an all-female band formed in 1948. Hank Thompson discovered Shepard a few years after the group formed. Impressed by her talents, he helped her set up a record deal at Capitol Records, where she worked with Thompson's producer Ken Nelson.
Shepard's first chart appearance was in 1953 as a duet partner with Ferlin Husky, with "A Dear John Letter" and its sequel, "Forgive Me John." Jean and Ferlin toured the country following their hit singles. In 1955, she had her first solo Top Ten single, "A Satisfied Mind," which was backed by the number thirteen hit "Take Possession." Later in the year, she had another Top Ten hit with "Beautiful Lies" / "I Thought of You." Her streak of hit singles led to an invitation to join the Grand Ole Opry in 1956. That same year, she joined Red Foley's Ozark Jubilee and recorded Songs of a Love Affair, arguably the first concept album in country music history. Its 12 songs - which were all written by Shepard - depict a marriage torn apart by a love affair; one side of the album is written from the dissolution of a romance.
For nearly ten years after the release of "Beautiful Lies," Jean wasn't able to get a song into the Top Ten. In fact, she had only two Top 40 hits during that period - "I Want to Go Where No One Knows Me" (number 18, 1958) and "Have Heart, Will Love" (number 30, 1959). She continued to record and tour - she was even named the Top Female Singer of 1959 by Cash Box - but nothing was breaking through to the public. This was primarily because she was a hardcore honky tonk singer in a time that country-pop was ruling the charts. In 1963, her husband Hawkshaw Hawkins died in the same plane crash that killed Patsy Cline. The following year, she retruned to the Top Ten with "Second Fiddle (To An Old Guitar)." The song began a string of hits for Jean. Although many of them failed to chart in the Top 20, she racked up 15 Top 40 hits between 1965 and 1970, including the Top Ten hits "Ill Take the Dog" (a duet with Ray Pillow, 1966), "If Teardrops Were Silver" (1966), and "Then He Touched Me" (1970).
Shepard's hits continued throughout the '70s, though as the decade wore on she hit the Top 40 with less and less frequency. Her last hit single was 1978's "The Real Thing," which peaked at number 85.
During the '80s and '90s, Jean Shepard didn't record but she continued to perform at the Grand Ole Opry and tour, particularly in the U.K., where she had a strong fan base. -Dan Cooper & Stephen Thomas Erlewine
Group Members: Jennifer McCarter, Lisa McCarter, Teresa McCarter. The McCarters were a sister act with a classic country sound who enjoyed brief popularity during the late 1980s. Jennifer McCarter and twins Lisa and Teresa were all born in Knoxville, Tennessee and raised in Sevierville, Dolly Parton's birthplace. They got their start as clog dancers at their county's bicentennial celebration, which led to four years dancing on a Knoxville television show. Their father told the girls that the first to learn to play guitar could have his 1969 Martin; Jennifer won it at age 14, and her younger sisters sang high harmonies while she played and sang lead. The trio became well-known in their hometown, where they sang for tips on the steps of the county courthouse. They moved to Music City in 1987 and signed with Warner Brothers, who were seeking an act like their successful Forester Sisters. Later that year, the McCarters embarked on a worldwide USO tour with Randy Travis.
They made their chart debut in early 1988 with "Timeless and True Love," which hit the Top Five, and later appeared on the Dolly Show at the invitation of Parton herself. The title track of their debut album, The Gift, was an even bigger hit, but their third single, "I Give You Music," only made the Top 30. Over the next two years, the McCarters made one more album, Better Be Home Soon, and scored a few low-level hits. In 1990, they were released from Warner, later focusing on live performances while also breaking into modeling and selling commercial products. -Sandra Brennan
Born Nov 27, 1914 in Bowie, TX. Died 21 Nov 1964. One of the greatest swing fiddlers to ever play, Cecil Brower played in countless Western bands and performed with some of the biggest names in Southern music. Born in Bowie, TX, in 1914, not much is known about his early years. He was trained in Fort Worth by Ocie Stockard, the banjoist for Milton Brown, among others. He learned the art of breakdown fiddling and eventually crafted his own brand of fiddling which was such a recognizable style that it became the high-water mark for fiddlers in Western swing bands. Brower would go on to join several bands, and lent his talents to artists like Elvis Presley, Patsy Cline, Roy Orbison, Marty Robbins, and Brenda Lee, among many others. Brower would go on to play until the early '60s, when poor health began to slow him down. By the fall of 1965, he had passed on, leaving a legacy of fine music and excellent playing that would go unmatched in the Western swing genre. -Bradley Torreano
AKA born: Homer Robert Eanes, Jr. Born Dec 6, 1923 in Mountain Valley, VA. Though never considered a major star, Smilin' Jim Eanes was an influential figure in both bluegrass and country music for over five decades. He was born Homer Robert Eanes, Jr. in Mountain Valley, Virginia and received his first guitar at age nine from his banjo-picking father. While young, Eanes suffered an injury to his left hand; despite the difficulty and pain, he still managed to master rhythm guitar. He spent his early teen years playing square dances with his father's informal string band, and at age 16 joined Roy Hall's Blue Ridge Entertainers at a Roanoke radio station, and remained with the band until Hall died in 1943. Following World War II, Eanes joined Uncle Joe and the Blue Mountain Boys. He also worked briefly with Bill Monroe in 1948.
Eanes made his recording debut in 1949 under his given name, backed by fiddler Homer Sherrill and banjo player Snuffy Jenkins. Eanes organized the Shenandoah Valley Boys in 1951 after getting a radio gig in Virginia; the band cut a few singles on the tiny Blue Ridge label before signing with Decca. Until then, Eanes' music was heavily slanted towards bluegrass, but Decca groomed him to play country music. The singles he released sold well enough, but they didn't make the charts. His contract with Decca expired in 1955 and Eanes, now billing the band as Smilin' Jim and his Boys, began recording with Starday. His debut single, "Your Old Standby," became one of his signature songs. Over the next five years, he and the Shenandoah Valley Boys recorded albums on both Starday and Blue Ridge. Eanes wrote many of his own songs, and one of his best from this period was "I Wouldn't Change You If I Could," which became a number one hit for Ricky Skaggs in 1982.
During the 1960s, Eanes worked as a deejay on different Virginia radio stations; he also occasionally performed, and recorded songs on small independent labels. Eanes recorded his first bluegrass album, Your Old Standby, in 1967. His next two albums, Jim Eanes and Rural Rhythms Present Jim Eanes, featured backing by Red Smiley's Bluegrass Cut-Ups. Smiley and his band appeared regularly on WWVA's Wheeling Jamboree and when Red decided to retire, Eanes took over the band, and renamed it the Shenandoah Cutups. The band cut an album in 1970 and shortly after broke up.
Eanes began hosting festivals and recording bluegrass albums for smaller labels; among them was the excellent Cool Waters Flow. His heavy touring schedule was interrupted in 1978 when he suffered a heart attack. He recovered by the next year and launched a tour of Western Europe, which he repeated in 1980 and 1982; while visiting Belgium, he cut an album with a local band, Smoketown Strut. During the rest of the 1980s, Eanes cut back on his touring, but continued recording. In 1990, he celebrated his five decades in the industry with the album 50th Anniversary. -Sandra Brennan
AKA Roy Claxton Acuff. Born Sep 15, 1903 in Maynardsville, TN. Died Nov 23, 1992. Roy Acuff was called the King of Country Music, and for more than 60 years, he lived up to that title. If any performer embodied country music, it was Roy Acuff. Throughout his career, Acuff was a champion for traditional country values, enforcing his beliefs as a performer, a music publisher, and as the Grand Master of the Grand Ole Opry. Acuff was the first country music superstar after the death of Jimmie Rodgers, pioneering an influential vocal style that complimented the spare, simple songs he was performing. Generations of artists, from Hank Williams to George Jones have been influenced by Acuff, and countless others have paid respect to him. At the time of his death in 1992, he was still actively involved in the Grand Ole Opry, and was as popular as ever.
Originally, Acuff didn't plan to be a singer. Born in the small town of Maynardville, TN in 1903, Acuff sang in the church choir as a schoolboy, but he was more interested in sports, particularly baseball. Not only was he attracted to the sport, he had a wild streak - after his family moved to Knoxville, he was frequently arrested for fighting. Acuff continued to concentrate on playing ball, eventually becoming strong enough to earn a tryout at for the Major Leagues. However, that tryout never took place. Before he had a chance to play, he was struck by a severe sunstroke while he was on a fishing trip; after the sunstroke, Acuff suffered a nervous breakdown. While he was recovering, he decided that a career in baseball was no longer possible, so he decided to become an entertainer. He began to learn the fiddle and became an apprentice of Doc Hauer, a local medicine show man.
While traveling with the medicine show, Acuff learned how to be a performer - he learned how to sing, how to imitate, how to entertain, how to put on a show. Soon, Acuff joined the Tennessee Crackerjacks, who had a regular slot on the Knoxville radio station, WROL. Although he was performing frequently, he wasn't making any significant headway, failing to become a star in Tennessee. One song changed that situation - "The Great Speckled Bird," an old gospel tune that had become popular with the Church of God sect. After another radio entertainer wrote the words out to the song, Acuff began performing it in his shows. Quickly, he became popular throughout the eastern part of Tennessee and was asked to record the song by ARC, a record label with national distribution. Acuff headed north to Chicago for a recording session, which resulted in 20 different songs. In addition to "The Great Speckled Bird," he recorded "Steamboat Whistle Blues" and "The Wabash Cannonball," another Tennessee standard which featured the singer imitating the sound of a train whistle; he also made a handful of risqué numbers during these sessions, which were released under the name, the Bang Boys.
In 1938, the Grand Ole Opry invited Roy Acuff to audition for the show. During the show, he sang "The Great Speckled Bird," and became an instant hit, prompting the Opry to hire him full-time. Before he was given his regular slot, the Opry insisted that he change the name of his band to the Smoky Mountain Boys. The following year, Acuff reassembled his band, with the most notable addition being Bashful Brother Oswald (Pete Kirby), a Dobro player that sang high harmonies.
Roy Acuff became a national superstar during the '40s, scoring a long string of hit records, which included the classics "The Wreck on the Highway," "The Precious Jewel," and "Beneath That Lonely Mound of Clay," among many others. During this time, he discovered that there was a potential goldmine in music publishing. Acuff had printed his own songbook, which sold a staggering 100,000 copies. Publishers in New York tried to acquire the rights to his songs, but the success of the songbook convinced Acuff to hold on to the songs and seek out the help of Fred Rose, a professional songwriter and pianist working in Chicago. The pair founded Acuff-Rose Publications in October, 1942, using Acuff's songs as its base; Rose also added his songs, including "Faded Love," "Deep Water," and "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain." Acuff-Rose was an immediate success and over the next two decades, many of the most popular songs and songwriters were the property of the company, including the songs of Hank Williams, the Louvin Brothers, Don Gibson, Roy Orbison, the Everly Brothers, John D. Loudermilke, Boudleaux and Felice Bryant, and Redd Stewart and Pee Wee King's "Tennessee Waltz."
In the late '40s, Acuff continued to rule the country charts, as well as scoring a number of pop crossovers ("The Prodigal Son," "I'll Forgive You, But I Can't Forget"). For most of the '50s, he concentrated on touring - he didn't have a single charting record between 1947 and 1958, returning with the Top Ten hit "Once More," as well as two other Top 20 singles, "So Many Times" and "Come and Knock." In 1962, he became the first living performer to be inducted to the Country Music Hall of Fame. The '60s yielded some hits, yet he continued to concentrate on touring; by the end of the decade, he decided to leave the road, staying at the Grand Ole Opry.
The beginning of the '80s was a difficult period for Acuff, as he experienced the death of his wife and several long-time band members, including pianist Jimmie Riddle and fiddler Howdy Forrester. In 1987, he released his final charting record, an inspirational duet with Charlie Louvin called "The Precious Jewel."
As his health began to decline in the late '80s, Acuff built a house near the Opry so he could greet friends and fans. He passed away in 1992, leaving behind a legacy that isn't limited to his music. Through his records, his performances and Acuff-Rose, Roy Acuff has had an enormous effect on shaping the role of country music in the 20th century; it is hard to imagine the music without him. -Stephen Thomas Erlewine
AKA born: Donell C. Cooley. Born Feb 22, 1910 in Grand, OK. Died Nov 23, 1969 in Vacaville, CA.
A musician and actor whose often sordid private life tended to overshadow his career as an entertainer, Spade Cooley was the self-proclaimed King of Western Swing, an innovator who at his peak led the largest band ever assembled in the annals of country music. The product of a multi-generational family of fiddle players, Donnell Clyde Cooley was born in Oklahoma in 1910, and at the age of four, his family moved to Oregon. Despite his impoverished background, Cooley was a classically trained fiddler, and by the time he was eight years old, he was performing professionally at square dances with his father John. In 1930, Cooley (who received his nickname thanks to his poker skills) moved to Los Angeles, playing with a number of western-oriented acts. By the mid-'30s, he was working as an actor, with bit parts in several Westerns; for Republic Studios, he served as Roy Rogers' stand-in. He also toured with Rogers as a fiddle player, and handled vocal duties with the Riders of the Purple Sage.
Cooley did not begin a recording career until 1941, when he entered the studio while a member of Cal Shrum's band. A year later, he took control of bandleader Jimmy Wakely's group, the house band at Santa Monica, CA's Venice Pier Ballroom, and their Western swing music began attracting thousands of fans each Saturday night. The densely populated band, home to as many as three vocalists and fiddlers at a time, featured singer Tex Williams and guitarists Joaquin Murphey and John O. Weis. In 1945, Spade Cooley & His Orchestra's first single, "Shame on You," lasted nine weeks atop Billboard's country charts. The first in an unbroken string of six Top Ten singles (including "Detour" and "You Can't Break My Heart"), "Shame on You" would remain Cooley's theme song for years to come. Also in 1945, he married his second wife, Orchestra backup singer Ella Mae Evans. Ultimately, the Orchestra's success led to the dissolution of its most popular lineup; by 1946, Williams, the vocalist on all of the group's hits, was demanding more money, and Cooley refused to pay it. As a result, Williams quit, taking much of the Orchestra with him to form the Western Caravan. In 1947, Cooley began a career in television, hosting a program in Los Angeles titled The Hoffman Hayride. The show's popularity grew quickly, and within months an estimated 75 percent of all televisions in the L.A. area tuned into the show each Saturday night. He also resumed his film career, this time with much higher visibility; in addition to significant roles in a number of Westerns, he also starred in two 1949 short subjects, King of Western Swing and Spade Cooley & His Orchestra.
Throughout the early '50s, Cooley continued to record, but the group's popularity waned as public tastes changed; after a time, he even fired the Orchestra to replace its members with an all-female band. A heavy drinker, Cooley descended into alcoholism as his career declined, and he suffered a series of minor heart attacks. Furthermore, he was facing financial ruin as a result of problems with a planned water theme park to be located in the Mojave Desert. In 1961, his wife Ella Mae left him; after an argument on April 3, he stomped her to death while the couple's 14-year-old daughter Melody looked on in horror. The resulting trial, a media circus during which Cooley suffered another heart attack, culminated in a sentence of life imprisonment. Throughout his term, he was a model prisoner, and thus was allowed to perform at a sheriff's benefit in Oakland, CA, on November 23, 1969. After playing in front of a crowd of over 3,000, Cooley returned to his dressing room, suffered yet another heart attack, and died. -Jason Ankeny
The Johnson Mountain Boys
Formed 1978. Disbanded 1988. During the 1980s, the Johnson Mountain Boys were contemporary masters of traditional bluegrass music who remained faithful to the old styles while keeping the songs fresh and original. The band was founded in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. by vocalist/banjoist/guitarist Dudley Connell, banjoist Richie Underwood, mandolinist David McLaughlin, fiddler Eddie Stubbs, and Larry Robbins on bass. The personnel changed over the years, but the group's sound remained consistent. The Johnson Mountain Boys made their recording debut with a single in late 1978; an EP soon followed and helped build a loyal audience in the D.C. area.
They became festival favorites after the release of their self-titled debut. Their second album, Walls of Time, came out in 1982 and featured Connell, McLaughlin, Stubbs and vocalist/banjoist/mandolinist Tom Adams. The same lineup recorded four more albums during the early '80s. In 1988, the Johnson Mountain Boys announced that they planned to retire after a farewell concert in Lucketts, Virginia. Two years later, the Boys reunited briefly to play two festivals. Eventually, the band became an active performing outfit in the early '90s and released a new album, Blue Diamond, in 1993. -Sandra Brennan
Born Nov 24, 1940 in Jackson, MS. Johnny Carver was best known for his countrified 1973 cover of "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree." He was born in a rural area near Jackson, Mississippi, and grew up surrounded by country music. As a youth, he sang with his family in a gospel quartet in local churches and on the radio. His first band was the Capital Cowboys, who started out playing at drive-in restaurants. A dairy and an ice cream company became their first sponsors, and soon the Capital Cowboys played everywhere the ice cream was sold. Carver hit the road in 1959 and played at clubs and county fairs all over the U.S. and Canada. In 1965, he and his new wife moved to L.A., where Carver headed the house band at the Palomino club and made regular guest appearances on local television shows.
After Carver wrote "New Lips," which became a Top 20 hit for singer Roy Drusky, Imperial Records' Scotty Turner advised him to try his luck in Nashville. In 1967, Carver made his recording debut with a self-titled album, which contained the Top 30 hit "Your Lily White Hands" and led to a gig as an opening act for George Jones and Connie Smith. Through 1970, Carver scored a series of middle-of-the-road hits, including "I Still Didn't Have the Sense to Go" (1968) and "That's Your Hang Up" (1969). After three more Top 50 hits, he moved to ABC in late 1972 and had a Top Five smash with his version of "Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree" while Tony Orlando and Dawn's version of the song was becoming a hit on the pop charts. Carver had a subsequent string of Top 40 hits, including "Don't Tell (That Sweet Old Lady of Mine)" (1974) and a country cover of the pop hit "Afternoon Delight" (1976). Following two Top 40 hits in 1977, "Living Next Door to Alice" and "Down at the Pool," Carver did not have another real hit until 1981 with a cover of the pop group ABBA's "S.O.S.," which made it to the Top 75 and was his last hit. During the early 1990s, Carver played the square and round dance circuit at Branson, Missouri with his Nashville All-Star Band. -Sandra Brennan
"Reflections of my Father, John Dopyera"
by John E. Dopyera (based on Bob Brozman's History and Artistry of NATIONAL Resonator Instruments)
(Brad's note: This information is provided courtesy Peter Gaspar.
Dad was born in Strazia, on July 6, 1893. He was the fourth child in a family of ten and was the eldest son. He had three older sisters. When Dad was about three years of age, the family moved to Dolna Krupa where Grandfather Dopyera became the village miller.
As the eldest son Dad very early on worked with his father in the mill. Dad often commented that most of his skills as a craftsperson were developed working with his father. He also learned five languages as he had to speak with customers who came to the mill who spoke Czech, German, Hungarian, Polish and Russian.
Grandfather, Josef Dopyera appeared to have many talents including that of violin maker. Dad learned his violin making from his father and in fact had made his first violin under his father's tutelage before the age of 14.
All of ten children were born in the "old country". Stephanie, Erma and Laura, then Dad. Rudy and Louis came next then two sets of boy-girl twins, Robert and Valeria and Gabriela and Emil.
I know very little about Grandfather and Grandmother Dopyera except that Grandfather was born in Care', Austro - Hungary and that Grandmother was Catherine Sonnenfeld. A church document indicates they were married in 1887. Family lore has it that Grandfather Dopyera was reluctant to emigrate but was aware that war (World War I) was looming on the horizon and didn't want his sons to serve in the Army.
The family thus left for America in 1908. I don't know if they stayed in New York for a period of time or whether they left directly for the west coast. When they did depart, they boarded a boat for Galveston, Texas and from there took a train across New Mexico and Arizona Indian territories. Grandfather Dopyera, Dad, and Rudy almost immediately took jobs as skilled craftspersons at Pacific Sash and Door in Los Angeles. They worked ten hours for a daily wage of $ 2,50 and, with this income, supported the family.
It is evident from the family pictures that the Dopyeras soon became involved in the broadly defined Slavic community. Russians, Ukrainians, and Serbs seemed abundantly present at the gatherings and in later years Dad's older sister Laura became an official in the National Slovak League of America.
Sometime during the teens, Dad, with his father, started a general cabinet making and repair shop in which they also repaired musical instruments. A second family base had by that time been established in Taft.
During the early twenties Dad and Rudy started manufacturing banjos. How many they made and sold I do not know. It was during this time, however that an incident occurred that was to change the shape of acoustic instrument development and making. Dad told me that one day a vaudeville guitar player named George Beauchamp stopped by his shop to talk about a problem he was having. Mr. Beauchamp indicated that his acoustic guitar was unable to produce enough volume to complete with other instruments in the vaudeville orchestra. (ten years later this problem was "resolved" with the production of electric guitars.) What came from their discussion was the idea of placing aluminum resonators into the guitar body to amplify the sound played on the guitar. Several months of experimenting resulted in a tricone, all-metal German-silver Hawaiian guitar. Dad and Mr. Beauchamp decided to begin, in what was already the National company, manufacturing the instruments in quantity. Major buyers initially were the Hawaiian steel-guitar players - Sol Hoopii for one. The partnership of Dad and George Beauchamp apparently was not destined to endure. Their split was speeded up by what Dad considered as Mr. Beauchamp's not always responsible handling of company finances and by the latter's efforts to project himself as the inventor. Dad suddenly in 1929 resigned as shop foreman and left the company. The development of the DOBRO guitar came about as a direct consequence of Dad's resignation from National. As part of his contribution to the National partnership Dad turned over his patents on the National resonator. Subsequent to his departure from National Dad and Rudy began working on a different version of resonator. Unlike National, DOBRO resonator was concave and the bridge was placed in the center of the aluminum "spider web" arrangement. Because Dad was concerned that National would sue him for patent rights, he placed the patent in Rudy's name.
Dad's brother, Louis, had invested in the National and he also invested, along with brother Bob, in to the DOBRO. Apparently with the onset of the Depression, the National Company began to have financial difficulties and Louis bought them out. He also managed to own more than 50% of the stock in the DOBRO CORPORATION and after several years of manufacturing, he decided to move the company to Chicago. Gradually the whole business shifted to Chicago, manufacturing a wide variety of guitars until they could no longer get materials due to the advent of World War II.
At this point I will leave the history of the DOBRO and focus on some personal reflections about Dad, his personality and the events I personally knew about from the 1930s onward.
Dad married my mother, Elizabeth Vera Candee, in 1927. He got to know my mother, according to family lore, through knowing Grandmother Candee first. Subsequent to Dad's illness during his late twenties, he began to explore non-medical aspects of health and along with his explorations he discovered Christian Science. Grandmother Candee was a Christian Science practitioner. Dad claimed that he was cured of his difficulties through his association with her. Somewhere along the line through his contact with Grandmother Candee, he met my mother. My mother, aside from being a good cook and good traditional Christian, also played piano. An early picture of Dad and Mom shows Mom playing piano and Dad, the violin.
My brother, Joseph, was born in August of 1928 and I, a year later. We were obviously too young to be very aware of the tumult going on during this period with Dad's departure from National and the start up of the DOBRO COMPANY. I do remember going to the DOBRO factory with my mother on many occasions to pick up my father after work. I can still picture the racks of freshly produced guitars and I can still smell the paint that came out the lacquer room.
I have several strong memories of Dad during my childhood days in Los Angeles as always trying things out, both in the shops and elsewhere. He was frequently involved in developing experimental instruments, doing custom work for clients. Dad was also always exploring ideas. He was very curious. He joined the Masons and the Rosecrucians. He "read" widely . He was a health food faddist before anyone knew there was such a thing as a health food. Throughout his life he was preoccupied with diet and with observing the effect of what he ate on his health. He was a good cook, creating wonderful potato pancakes, strudles, poppy seed pastries, honey cakes. *He also liked gardening.
During 1937 - 1938 three events occurred which were significant for our family. Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia, Grandfather died, and a great aunt on my mother's side of the family also died. This latter loss led to a journey cross country which drew us away from Los Angeles. My mother inherited much of my great aunt's estate and she, therefore, needed to go to Springville, New York to take care of those matters. We were gone for three months - June, July and August of 1940. On the way back to California, we drove to Grants Pass, Oregon. Dad's brothers, Rudy and Ed, had moved there shortly before. The fact that Ed and Rudy were in southern Oregon plus the possibility of war led my parents to decide to move there as well. We returned to Los Angeles so that Dad could straighten out business affairs and in August of 1941 we moved north. When the war started in December, Dad and Mom felt they had made a good decision. We had a large garden and my mother canned extensively. We had a cow and raised chickens, ducks, geese. With our own eggs, milk and produce we were able to be much more self-sufficient than in the city. Dad almost immediately acquired a rental shop in Grants Pass in which he did various repairs and did other kinds of building and repair work as well as some retail sales. Dad's curiosity about non-conventional health care continued throughout his life. He frequently visited chiropractors and started the first health food store in Grants Pass, Oregon, in 1947.
As a child, I remember that my mother and father's relationship was relatively placid. During the time we lived in Los Angeles and Dad had a fairly regular income, his role as family provider was never an issue. If there were major disagreements between them, we as children were not aware of them, with the possible exception of family gatherings when my mother felt excluded because of the family members speaking Slavic to each other. However, after we moved to Oregon, income was always an issue, despite the relative self-sufficiency of rural living. As a teenager, I probably became less aware of Dad's activities and preoccupations. There was a poor match for me with some of the demands in high school and I dropped out of school, as my brother had before me, before finishing. I don't recall that this created any particular concern in the family. When I, in July of 1948, announced to the family that I had joined the Air Force, however, there was a short but bitter verbal attack on my father by my mother. She blamed him for my decision and recounted his many failings as a husband and father.
Later that year, my father returned to California, divorcing my mother and leaving her and my sister, Anne in Grants Pass. I was in the Air Force and had little communication with Dad. I believe he was embarrassed about his spelling, for he lacked in ability to write, other than phonetically. I visited my father during couple of my leaves when he was living in El Monte, California. He had remarried and seemed very satisfied with his new life. His wife, Eva, was pleasant and I enjoyed my visits.
In subsequent years, I was discharged from the Air Force, received a high school equivalency, married, received a Ph.D. from Syracuse (NY) University and pursued a career as a psychologist. My visits to my Dad and other west coast family members were infrequent. During these years, Dad and Eva moved to Escondido, CA and he constructed yet another shop within which he did a retail and repair business with musical instruments and continued the innovate development which was a part of his endeavors. His wife, Eva, died suddenly of a heart attack in 1964. Fortunately, he had many good friends in Escondido and an active life which he greatly enjoyed as long as his age and health permitted. While living in Escondido, Dad enjoyed some the attention which came his way as a result of his earlier endeavors. Many people who had never met him before called or stopped by his shop to visit him and ask him questions about their instruments. It was during this time that Beverly King, editor of the DOBRO NUT invited Dad to respond to questions for a questions and answers column in her publication.
As Dad began to age and it became clear to my sister and I that a time would come when he would need some assistance. It became more and more difficult for Dad to manage for himself in Escondido. When his brother, Rudy, however, became ill, he went to live with Dad and somehow Dad cared for him until Rudy's death in 1978. They had always been very close. Despite his apparent gregariousness, Dad was a very shy and gentle person. My guess is that his strong relationship with his brother Rudy was that they complemented each other. Rudy was Dad's extreme opposite. They must have spent thousands and thousands of hours during their lifetimes, experimenting and solving problems. Rudy's death must have created a tremendous void for Dad. My brother, Joe, died after a very brief illness the same year. Dad was greatly shaken by the losses. My sister Anne, who continued to live in southern Oregon, visited, put things in order from time to time and attempted to arrange for outside help. These were difficult times. By 1980, it became impossible, and Dad at age 86, went back to Oregon to stay. Anne and I sorted with trepidation through the clutter and richness of the life accumulations of our Uncle Rudy and our father. Finally, effects related to the development and museum display. Dad thus went back to Grants Pass where the remainder of his life, to age 94, was spent. He died January 3, 1988.
It is my personal opinion that Dad never completely acclimated to "modern life". He seemed always to be somewhat dismayed at what he saw in the world around him and suspect that this contributed to his intensity about life. Considering that his lifetime spanned the period from small village feudal life in Austro-Hungary to the fast-moving high-tech milieu of Southern California, this is perhaps not surprising.
Although he known as the inventor of the resophonic system, his own primary identity was with violins. He though of himself as a violinist and violin maker. Even though, in objective terms, his major contribution was with guitars, he also had at least three patents relating to violins and several violin-related innovations that he never patented. His success were well-mixed with disappointments. The rewards he gained from his work on the National and Dobro resophonic guitars were not financial. He realized few financial benefits. His rewards were ample, however, in what mattered to him most - the appreciation of those who enjoyed using and listening to these instruments. In that regard he was very successful.
AKA Edward Thomas. Born Nov 27, 1941 in Brooklyn, NY, Died May 7, 1998. One of country music's most innovative artists during the late '70s and early '80s, Eddie Rabbitt has made contributions to the format that have often gone overlooked. Especially in songs like the R&B-inflected "Suspicions" and the rockin' "Someone Could Lose a Heart Tonight," Rabbitt challenged the commonly recognized creative boundaries of the idiom.
Hailing from Brooklyn and New Jersey, Rabbitt moved to Nashville in 1968. Though it took a few years to get his recording career off the ground, he paid the rent through songwriting, authoring Elvis Presley's "Kentucky Rain" and Ronnie Milsap's "Pure Love." Eddie continued to write professionally until 1975, when he signed with Elektra Records' newly established country division. Initially, Rabbitt made recordings that were decidedly country - mostly uptempo material, like "Two Dollars in the Jukebox" and "Drinkin' My Baby (Off My Mind)" - with thick, inimitable harmonies, most of them overdubbed by Rabbitt himself. However, with the assistance of his then-associates David Malloy and Even Stevens, Rabbitt's records became "progressively progressive." In 1976, he started a string of Top Ten hits that ran uninterrupted until 1989. During that time, he had 16 number one singles, including "Drinkin' My Baby (Off My Mind)" (1976), "You Don't Love Me Anymore" (1978), "Every Which Way But Loose" (1979), "Drivin' My Life Away" (1980), "I Love a Rainy Night" (1980), "Step By Step" (1980), and "You and I," a 1982 duet with Crystal Gayle.
In the late '80s he returned to more traditional sounds, as his country shuffle "On Second Thought" demonstrates, but it was too late for Rabbitt to return to the top of the country charts, since he had already been supplanted by a newer generation of artists. The terminal kidney ailment of his son also factored in his decision to only sporadically record and perform during the '90s. In 1997, Rabbitt was diagnosed with lung cancer; the disease claimed his life on May 7, 1998. The LP From the Heart was issued posthumously. -Tom Roland
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