Not to be confused with Nat King Cole’s bass player in the ’50s, this Charlie Harris is a Texas music legend who has been active in genres such as Western swing and country & western for at least half a century. One of Harris’ biggest fans is country icon Willie Nelson. The red-headed stranger took time in a 1974 written tribute to Bob Wills to also lavish praise on a group known as the Texas Top Hands. This is one of at least two legendary Texas music outfits that this guitarist has played with; another is Ray Price & the Cherokee Cowboys Band. This Charlie Harris has nothing to do with the one on King (early ’60s) or Golden Eagle label, neither more with Bob Tucker, who cut for State # 4002 the great bopper « Quit Draggin’ Your Feet ».
With Ray Price, Harris took on the important responsibility as frontman, stepping forward at the start of the show to warm up the audience and set the stage for the arrival of the headliner. He also took on this role with country star Stonewall Jackson. Fiddlers Johnny Bush and Buck Buchanan were also members of the Texas Top Hands who continued to be Harris’ associates in the Price outfit. The magnificent Johnny Bush — one of the only people with this surname that Texans are really enthusiastic about — actually played drums in the Texas Top Hands before he switched to fiddle. (Bush and Jimmy Day played together in 1997 in the Offenders, a Texas superband project that also involved Nelson and many others.) In the much dimmer past, Harris also worked in Western swing combos led by Adolph Hofner.
No biographical statistics on Harris are available, except he was a Texas native, and must have been in his early ’20s at the beginning of the 1950’s.
First record which Charlie Harris appears on is a R. D. Hendon’s Western Jamboree Cowboys disc in 1950, on the Freedom label. The origins of the Western Jamboree Cowboys, one of Houston’s most popular and prolific post-war country groups, can be traced to 1947, when some young musicians formed a group to appear at a small downtown nitery called the Sphinx Club, which was run by R.D. Hendon, an ex-oilfield roughneck and Navy veteran from Marquez, Texas. By 1949, the band who called themselves the South Texas Cowboys, were proving so popular that Hendon realized he needed a much bigger club to accommodate the crowds. So he purchased the Old main Street dance Hall – better known by his street address, 105 ½ Main – gave it a ‘western’ theme 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. In addition, the band broadcast live over KLEE, where Hendon also worked as a disc jockey. Hendon insisted on putting his name up front as the band’s leader, although his complete lack of musical talent prevented him, for the most part, from being much more than an announcer.
« No shoes boogie » (Freedom 5033), probably the Cowboys’ earliest recording, was virtually an advertisement for the Western Jamboree Club and is unquestionably one of the best Freedom records, an excellent example of the hard-rocking, shuffle-beat swing that was common in Texas before rock and roll. Recorded at Gold Star and released in March 1951, « No shoes boogie » features one of the best of Hendon’s ever-changing lineups. In addition to the excellent vocal and hot electric guitar work of Charlie Harris, the group included Theron Poteet (piano), Johnny Cooper (rhythm guitar), Tiny Smith(bass) and Don Brewer (drums). As often was the case on Freedom sessions, the band’s regular steel man (Joe Brewer) was replaced on this date by former Texas Playboy Herb Remington. Remington’s fills behind Harris’ vocal and his dazzinly fast single-string solo rate among his finest, most exciting performances. Flipside by comparison is a tame weepy ballad, « Those Tears In Your Eyes »
After the Freedom session, the Western Jamboree Cowboys recorded numerous sides for Four Star (Charlie Harris vocal), Gilt Edge, Blue Ribbon, Shamrock and Starday and featured such musicians as singer-guitarist Eddie Noack, the underrated Harold Sharp and trumpeteer-vocalist Bill Taylor.
The Four Star recordings were inaugurated by another coupling, yet under the name « R. D. Henden »[sic] that featured Charlie Harris on vocal, 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. «The flipside « Don’t Say No » was a real weeper, again sung by Harris, and musically forgettable.
After leaving the Cowboys, Charlie Harris went on to work with Gabe Tucker in Houston, Walt Kleypas and Adolph Hofner in San Antonio, and later played and recorded with Ray Price, among others. The almost ten-years tenure of the Western Jamboree Cowboys came to an abrupt end when R. D. Hendon, who’d always suffered from bouts of depression, committed suicide on September 8, 1956. The Western Jamboree Club remained vacant for several years after his death and was eventually demolished around 1960, symbolizing the end of an era.
While largely a sideman, Harris also stepped forward to host his own television show out of Corpus Christi, an endeavor that managed a secure broadcast spot for a surprisingly long time.
Bass player Gabe Tucker was a familiar band leader and promoter frequently seen in the Nashville area: indeed he had been a part of the original Nashville edition of Eddy Arnold’s Tennessee Plowboys. He recorded at least one Texas session himself which he sent in to Dot (located in Gallatin, Tennessee). Randy Wood (Dot’s owner) created a short-lived 200 serie for bought material and released Gabe’s (& His Musical Ramblers) fine bluesy « It’d surprise you » (Dot 201), which became a popular song for others : Red Sovine had his own version on M-G-M (# 11214) ; the Tucker labelmate Margie Day, fronting the Griffin Brothers, cut her own, R&B style (Dot 1094). It was actually covered by female singers like Rosalie Allen (on RCA-Victor), who found it an ideal song to air the woman’s point of view. The Gabe Tucker sides represent the only truly authentic (Texas) Western swing on Dot Records. The trumpet had been popular for a good amount of years but was going out of style by the time this record appeared. Charlie Harris takes all the vocals but is not credited on the labels, including the interesting novelty « Cracker barrel farmer » (# 201), with the unusually clever lyrics and the songs clicked despite their old-fashioned sound.
From a different session and better recorded, « You better do better baby » (# 204) is another classy performance by Harris which could just possibly originate fom a Nashville session. It’s backed by the fine uptempo ballad « Rainyday Sweetheart ».
From various Dot sessions came also the fast « Jive Around Old Joe Clark » and the excellent shuffler « Streamline Country Girl » (# 1097).
Harris was apparently Tucker’s front man, this time credited, for another performance on the Gaylord [real forname to Tucker] Music label (# 4926), two nice ballads and again classy performances : « I’m Reaping Heartaches Over You » and « You’re The Only Love ».
We only find Harris again on vocal for « Sing A Sad Song », cut during a Ray Price session in December 1964 for Columbia, again a ballad, a genre in which he’d excel.
One can come across two more 45s by Harris on the Mega label in the early ’70s (untraced).
Sources : From Andrew Brown & Kevin Coffey notes to « Heading back to Houston » Krazy Kat 12 ; YouTube’s « Hillbilly Boogie1 » chain ; my own archives ; 78-worlds (Gaylord and Dot label scans) ; Ronald Keppner for Gaylord sound and Freedom B-side ; Steve Hathaway for 4* X-20 soundfiles ; Eugene Chadbourne, All Music Guide.
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.
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).
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 ».
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).
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!).
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.
« 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.
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.
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.
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 ‘.
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!