Hillbilly in Houston: R. D. HENDON & his Western Jamboree Cowboys (1951-56)

R. D. Hendon & his Western Jamboree Cowboys were one of the most popular western bands in South East Texas in the first half of the 1950s. Their renown never really extended much beyond the Houston area, but that sort of regional fame was the norm in an era when the country music scene was far les centralized and national stardom was a far more rare thing han it became in later decades. The group served as training ground for such performers as the great songwriter and singer Eddie Noack and the guitarist-vocalist Charlie Harris – neither a household name then and now, but this is not a reflection of their abilities or relative importance – and also included a number of less known but no less talented performers, such as guitarist-vocalist Harold Sharp, fiddler Woody Carter and guitarist Hamp Stephens.

R. D. Hendon himself was rarely an active participant in the band – he had, by all reports, an almost singular lack of musical ability or talent – though he did in his later stages attempt to drum and sing with the group and recorded a recitation under the name the Western Rambler. Nor were the Western Jamboree Cowboys the smoothest and slickest of Houston’s numerous top-notch western dance bands. They were more a classic honky-tonk band than a western swing band like Dickie McBride or Benny Leaders’ groups ad excelled the closer they stuck to that classic, earthier sound. The Cowboys’ performing days came to an abrupt halt in September of 1956 when Hendon, long a troubled man, took his own life, but in the preceding half decade they laid down a number of fine recordings – including a couple of undisputed classics.

Rigsby Durwood Hendon was born around 1914 in Marquez, Texas, and grew up in the Houston area. He served in the Navy and worked as an oilfield roughneck before entering the night club business. The growing popularity of the house band, the South Texas Cowboys, at his Sprinx Club led Hendon to purchase a larger club, the Old Main Street Dance Hall, better known, as Andrew Brown has pointed out, by its street address, 105½ Main. « Hendon gave the club « a western theme » Brown adds, « and rechristened it the Western Jamboree Night Club. The band’s name change followed suit and, by 1950, the club was drawing huge crowds six nights a week. » The band began broadcasting on Houston’s KLEE, where Hendon also nabbed a slot as a disc jockey, and began recording around the start of 1951.

The band’s first recordings were for Sol Kahal’s local Freedom label (# 5033), which had been in operation since 1948 and began a hillbilly series a year or so later. »Those tears in your eyes » b/w « No shoes boogie » was actually issued under bandmember Charlie Harris‘ name, with Hendon and the band receiving secondary credit. The disc is a classic, « No Shoes Boogie » being, Brown writes, »an excellent example of the hard-rocking, shuffle-beat swing that was common in Texas before rock and roll. » In addition to Harris, who wrote and sang both songs and supplied incisive, hot lead guitar, the band at this time included Johnny Cooper, guitar; Theron Poteet, piano ; Tiny Smith, bass ; and Don Brewer, drums. Regular steel man Joe Brewer was replaced on this session by former Texas Playboy, the legendary and still active Herb Remington, who played one of his most exciting solos here.

« No shoes boogie« 

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« Those tears in your eyes »

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Soon after, Hendon & the Cowboys joined a number of other Houston acts – including Jerry Jericho and Hank Locklin – in the stable of Bill McCall, the canny and ruthless West Coast label owner whose long-term relationship with the legendary Houston distributor and record man Pappy Daily yeilded a number of excellent recordings on McCall’s Four Star, Gilt-Edge and associated custom and radio-play labels. From the beginning, the Cowboys’ recordings were generally issued in Four Star’s quasi-custom « X » series, but several issues also wound up being issued on the label’s main series and this saw wider distribution.

The Four Star recordings were inaugurated by another coupling that featured Charlie Harris, who was soon to leave the group. « Oh ! Mr. President » (4* X-20) was a rush-job in the spring of 1951, a rare, overtly political song dealing with the firing of General MacArthur by President Truman. This was followed by an excellent coupling that featured long-time bandmember Johnny Cooper, « The Wandering Blues » b/w « Marking time » (4* X-24).

« Oh! Mr. President« 

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« The wandering blues »

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Eddie Noack

Cooper was soon replaced by Eddie Noack, already a veteran of the Houston recording scene and by mid-1951 the Western Jamboree Cowboys had settled into a classic lineup. Vocals were divided among Noack, Cecil « Gig » Sparks and Harold Sharp, with the two former supplying rhythm guitar and Sharp playing a sturdy lead. Don Brewer played steel, Tiny Smith played bass (Sparks and Smith had recently joined the band from Leon Payne’s group). A slew of strong recordings followed, including Noack’s classic debut, « I can’t run away » (4* 1590) , and two versions of the pretty « This moon won’t last forever ». The first version featured Harold Sharp (4* X-33) and a guest appearance of one of the song’s writers, trumpeter-bandleader Gabe Tucker, while a remake (4* 1590) marked the brief return of the peerless balladeer Charlie Harris and boasted a fiddle solo by former Floyd Tillman band mainstay Woody Carter, who joined the band for a few months during 1951-52 and was featured on the fiddle tune « Nervous Breakdown ».


« I can’t run away »

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« This moon won’t last forever« (vocal Charlie Harris)

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In late 1952 and early 1953, Hendon briefly recorded for the local Shamrock label, though he later returned to Four Star and several of the Shamrock recordings wound up being reissued on Four Star, as well, including the fantastic « Blues Boogie » (Shamrock X-13, 4* 1644) from fall 1952, which featured the twin electric
guitars of Harold Sharp and Hamp Stephens (who played the deep, boogie bass runs under Sharp’s melody lead) and the band’s new steel guitarist Chet Skyeagle. The fine guitarist Stephens had joined the band after stints with Hank Locklin and Bill Freeman’s Texas Plainsmen, both of whom recorded for Four Star. Spark’s maudlin tale of guilt « Hit and run driver » was issued only on Shamrock, while Jimmy Tyler’s fine «I Ain’t got a lick of sense » was recorded by Shamrock but issued by McCall (4* 1644) . A final Four Star release featured an unidentified vocalist (possibly Chuck Davis) on one of the more western swing orientated songs the Cowboys cut «You crazy mixed up kid » and « Talking to myself » (4* X-86). The last recordings for McCall were a group of covers of current hits issued on EP’s on the Blue Ribbon label. The sessions featured not only Harold Sharp, but also guest vocalists, fellow Four Star artists Jerry Jericho and Rocky Bill Ford. Among the covers were « Hey Joe » (Carl Smith), « For now and always » (Hank Snow), « Free home demonstration » (Eddy Arnold) and « I won’t be home no more » (Hank Williams).

« Blues boogie »

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« Ain’t got a lick of sense« 

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« You crazy mixed up kid »

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« Music making mama from Memphis »(vocal Eddie Noack)

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« Hey Joe » [vocal Jerry Jericho)

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« I won’t be home no more » (vocal Rocky Bill Ford)

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« I’d still want you » (vocal Eddie Noack)

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Like many artists who had come to McCall via Pappy Daily, Hendon signed to Daily’s Starday label as soon as he could free himself of any contractual obligations to McCall – not easy feat in itself. From late 1954 to mid-1956, the Western Jamboree Cowboys cut four singles for Starday. Arguably not as strong across the board as the band’s previous recordings, there were still some fine moments, including Bill Taylor’s « Don’t push me. » (Starday 228) (Taylor would record for Sun Records « Split personality », with the Snearly Ranch Boys as well as working a long stint with Jimmy Heap‘s Melody Masters).

« Don’t push me »(vocal Bill Taylor)

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Starday sides featured old hands like Harold Sharp and Gig Sparks, but later sides feature new bandmembers Taylor and Jack Rodgers. Hendon had a small hit in 1956 with « Lonely nights » (Starday 248) and another good tune was « Return my broken heart » (# 167).

« Bill Taylor & Smokey Jo « Split personality »

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« Lonely nights »

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« Return my broken heart »

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Hendon’s suicide came not long after the final Starday release and occurred at a time of great musical upheaval. Rock and roll had arrived with a vengeance and it would have been interesting to see if Hendon would have managed to ride the storm of changing tastes – at the same time, the dancehall scene was being decimated by television and other factors. At any rate, Hendon was certainly game to try something new – his second Starday release found him trying his hand at singing rockabilly on the odd, uneven « Big Black Cat »(Starday 194) – although it’s obvious that Hendon was not a talented vocalist, as on the unissued-at-the-time « My old guitar » (during the song he even loses several times the tempo!).

« Big black cat »

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« My old guitar« 

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Regardless of what might have been happened had Hendon lived beyond 1956, the half-dozen years in which the Western Jamboree Cowboys thrived remain a testament enough to Hendon and his talented crew.

Sources : the main biography went from Kevin Coffey for the Cattle CD 329 (2006), and some additions from Andrew Brown. As usual, a solid help was given by the indefatigable 78rpm-owner Ronald Keppner out of Frankfurt, Germany, thanks to him. Four Star X-20 was given by Steve Hathaway. Then my own researches and archives.

Bopping in Houston: Hillbilly on Freedom label (1950-52) = the final sides

 

peck touchton pic« Walk ’em off blues » # 5028 by PECK TOUCHTON can only be described by one word – stunning. Pure Hillbilly vocal and tremendous support from the Sunset Wranglers. Next, TOUCHTON‘s « Walkin’ on top of the world » backed with « Sighing trees on a broken heart » (# 5041):both sides are superb Hillbilly, with again the Hank Williams influence apparent, particularly on the former song [alas untraced]. Of course Touchton is known to have had records on Sarg and Starday (the famous « Let me catch my breath », # 160), but these sides are his earliest and probably his best. Also his story is intended as soon as I get enough information. His Sunset Wranglers also backed Johnny Nelms on Freedom.

 

freedom 5028A peck touchton - lonely world

 

freedom 5028B peck touchton - walk'em off blues   « Walk ’em off blues« download

« Lonely world« download

« Walkin’ on top of the world« download

 

 

 

 

The next issue (# 5032) is another unknown item and then we have CHARLIE HARRIS telling us about the « No shoes boogie », a number he co-wrote with R.D. Hendon whose the Western Jamboree Cowboys provide the backing. Probably dating from the late Summer of 1951, this disc (# 5033) has Charlie in tremendous voice (and lead guitar) on a quality fast Hillbilly boogie number while the band who also recorded with Eddie Noack or Bill Taylor as vocalists for Shamrock, 4*, Blue Ribbon and Starday show why so many of the musicians who went through this band were to become stalwarts of later Starday sessions. »No shoes boogie » is an excellent example of the hard-rocking, shuffle-beat swing that was common in Texas before rock’n’roll. The band consists of Harris (on hot guitar), Herb Remington (steel), Theron Poteet (piano), Johnny Cooper (rhythm guitar), Tiny Smith (bass) and Don Brewer (drums). The story of the prolific Charlie Harris is scheduled in this site.

« No shoes boogie »download    freedom 5033A charlie harris - no shoes boogie

Activity at the label at this time is hard to determine as I can find no information at all about the releases from # 5034 to # 5037. Then our old friend BENNY LEADERS returns for a final fling on the label with two musical throwbacks. Accompanied by the Ranger Trio, « Always remember » is a real Western flavored number while « Give my heart a break » (# 5038) is also Western and set to a waltz tempo and also features Benny’s brother Parker Leaders.

 

The very next issue on the label is a real oddity. The group, LOUIS LAMB and his Melody Boys, are completely unknown to me as is the singer on both sides, one DANNY BRYAN. The titles are « Down hill and shady » and « I will trouble you no more » (# 5039). Hot fiddle reminiscent of Cotton Thompson and an ambitious guitar ensemble riffing add style. Lamb was also present on Melody, perhaps a Pappy Daily’s label of1946. There is a gap of nine No’s with regards of the matrices on the label, but, in the run-off area of the first side there is an ACA number while the flipside has the legend JB2 and that leaves me very perplexed.

« Down hill and shady »download

I suspect that the last three issues I know of on the label date from early 1952. And so we come to the last known, to me anyway, release on the label by TEX JONES and his Texas Rangers. « Little darlin’ » # 5042) is a fine Hillbilly bopper with the Texas Trio helping out on vocal while band once again show us how Hillbilly music was evolving in the area and was to become more widely nown throughout the U.S.A., and now further afield, as the ‘Starday sound ‘.

« Little darlin’« download

« A gambler’s last hand« download

 

freedo 5042 tex jones - little darlinfreedom 5042 tex jones - gambler's last hand

 


Just why FREEDOM folded is not known to this writer. Like another independant important company from the same city, MACY’S, it occurred just when the 45rpm record was beginning to exert itself. Admittedly the music scene was changing, and not just with Hillbilly music. We may never be able to find out why but one thing is for sure and that is the fact that Saul Kahal and the acts who recorded for him have left a fine legacy of Western swing and Hillbilly music for collectors to investigate.

 

 

Three features with the precious help of Ronald Keppner and Allan Turner. Help from Krazy Kat CD12 notes (Andrews Brown & Kevin Coffey)

late May 2010 fortnite

Hi! You all. I am a bit early this time, coming back from a trip to find a flat in Vienne, Vallée du Rhône (where I belong), and soon moving from Brittany, before parting early next Friday 14th of May to Paris’ area to meet my girl friend for a few days. All this is a mess! But a whole lotta fun indeed. Here we go with some more music. From 1946-1947 come JERRY IRBY (see his story elsewhere on the site) and one his his early offerings on GLOBE (Pete Burke at the Rolling piano) for « Super Boogie Woogie ». Next we go to a famous entertainer for 6 or 7 years before his suicide (?) I’m told, R.D.HENDON & His Western Jamborees, from Houston. Here is his guitar picker (superb!) CHARLIE HARRIS and the shuffling « No Shoes Boogie » from 1951 (Freedom label), reissued on UK’s Krazy Kat label. On the West Coast with JACK GUTHRIE, too soon deceased, who made superior Hillbilly music as early as 1944 for Capitol records. I chose his « Troubled Mind Of Mine ». Location unknown: Texas maybe. LEON CHAPPEL on Capitol. He begun his career as LEON’S LONE STAR CHAPPELEARS on Decca during the 30’s. You can hear his great « Automatic Mama » (1953), fine Honky Tonk style. On to Louisiana, 1955, with the underrated JIMMY KELLY and « Dunce Cap ». The record came out from Monroe, first on the Jiffy label. It was so good that Imperial picked up and reissued it (more affordable). I finish with a beautiful JACK BRADSHAW 1958 ballad from 1958, way up North in Indiana. Backed by the Morgan Sisters (chorus unobstrusive), his « It Just Ain’t Right » can be found on Mar-Vel’. Enjoy the music. ‘Till then, bye, boppers!

super boogie woogieautomatic mamar.d.hendonmar-vel' 752