The little historical town of Natchitoches lies on the banks of the beautiful Cane River (Louisiana), and it was there that Bill Nettles was born on 13 March 1903 (another source mention 1907)
Bill was a member of U.S. marine and he took a part in World War I. Then he got a job as brakeman on the Pacific railroad line and around this time he met his future bride, Emma Lou Rich from Arcadia, Louisiana: on 19 December of 1922 in Shreveport they were married. He and his wife had four children, the eldest of whom, Bill Jr. (1926), enlisted in the Marines in 1943, reported missing at Okinawa albeit surviving and returning home in 1945. He was the inspiration for Bill writing « God bless my darling he’s somewhere ».
Emma Lou Rich was Bill’s dream maid, tireless manager and director of his Fan Clubs, she wrote the paper « Nettle ’em » which would significantly support his success.
Bill’s interest in music was initially satisfied by purchasing records of his favourite singer Jimmie Rodgers, as well as buying platters by Jimmie Davis, Gene Autry and Cliff Carlisle.
Then in 1934 Bill teamed up with his brother Norman to form the Nettle Brothers, with Norman on guitar and himself on mandolin. Unlike many popular duos of the time (Shelton Bros, Monroe Bros, Callahan Bros or Blue Sky Boys, etc.) Bill and Norman refrained from duetting on vocals, which made them stand out from the run of the mills outfits trying to imitate the well known names. Thus it was not long before an offer came their way to appear on radio in Shreveport on KWKH, at that time starring a favourite artist of Bill’s, Jimmie Davis. It was he who got their recording contract with Vocalion (1937).
The first session, held in Dallas in June 1937, yelded their first single, « Shake it and take it (like the doctor said – on later issues) »/ »My cross-eyed Jane » which saw Bill vocalising as well as playing mandolin. Augmented by brothers Norman on guitar and Luther on bass with Doc Massey on fiddle, Bill produced a lively performance, reflected in the sales of the record.
The group recorded another session in San Antonio as well as another in Dallas, and all in all eleven singles (a total of 22 sides) were recorded between 1937 and 1938. While their record sales did not set the world alight, their popularity on the radio continued to increase with appearances on KRMD and KXBS (both out of Shreveport, La.), KALB (Alexandria, la.) and KVDL (Lafayette, La.)
Shake it and take it (1937) download
No daddy blues (1937) download
Early morning blues (1937) download
Gradually the membership of the band increased to the stage where it became known as the Nettles Brothers String Band, and early in 1941 they were signed to the Bluebird label, cutting their first session on June 3rd. Once again the venue for recordings was Dallas with Lonnie Hall (violin), Reggie Ward (string bass) and Jim King (steel guitar) making up the five pieces band. By the time of the second session in October, the line-up had changed to the extent that the steel was gone, Hershell Woodall was on bass instead of Reggie Ward. A lead guitarist and a banjo player were also featured.
Nettle Brothers: Fannin’ Street blues download
She’s selling what she used to give away (1938) download
Sugar baby blues (1938) download
Bill had started writing songs as early as 1924 when trying to appease his wife after a domestic tiff and writing « My sweet pot of gold ». His pen gained more prominence as his group’s name spread, and other artists started recording his songs. Among the first were Red Foley and Wilf Carter who, as Montana Slim, cut « Too many blues » on Victor (20-2364). Bill’s original version came on Bullet 637 in 1946. Despite being a prolific writer, Bill had failed to copyright any before « Just before we said goodbye ».
Too many blues (Bullet 637): download
It is worth noting that whilst the first records to appear on Vocalion in 1937 were credited to « Bill Nettles & his Dixie Blue Boys », the Bluebird recordings were credited to « the Nettles Brothers ». Bill had in fact played mandolin on a Vocalion session as early as 1935, backing Jimmie Davis and Buddy Jones. Also the Jimmie King who played steel guitar on the first Bluebird session was the father to Claude King, the C&W singer/songwriter of « Wolverton mountain » fame.
Nettles’s beautiful « Have I Waited Too Long? » was introduced at KWKH in 1943 by Radio Dot and Smoky, and later became Faron Young‘s theme song. Along with Harmie Smith, Bob Shelton, Dick Hart, young Webb Pierce, and host Hal Burns, Nettles & His Dixie Blue Boys helped to launch a twice-weekly Louisiana Hayride program on KWKH in the summer of 1945 that predated the more famous auditorium show by almost three years.
Faron Young: Have I waited too long (Gotham 415-A) download
After the Bluebird sessions Norman retired from the band, which late in 1945 was signed to RCA-Victor, reverting his name to « Bill Nettles & his Dixie Blue Boys » with brother Luther back on bass. However the rest of musicians were local Dallas sidesmen from the musicians’ union. « They were long haired usicians and did not fit in with Bill’s style. He hated these Victor records », wrote his widow Emma Lou. RCA’s and Bill’s personal conceptions differed completely, in fact recordings were by then « mainstream pop ». So greatly was he disillusioned with RCA that Bill broke his contract and went to Bullet Records.
It’s not clear whether this experience with RCA persuaded Bill to reform his own band, but he went to Bullet with a radically new line-up. Danny Dedmon joined as lead guitarist and became a mainstay of the Dixie Blue Boys along with fiddle player Robert Shivers. In between changing of recording labels, Bill moved the family from Shreveport to Monroe, La., where with the exception of short breaks he woud live for the rest of his life. He also started appearing at the local radio station KMLB, where he was to record sometimes. By this stage Bill and his wife had four children. The eldest, Bill Jr. never got deeply involved in his father’s musical career. However one of the remaining children, Loyce (born 1929), became a featured singer in her dad’s band, billed a « The Little Dixie sweetheart ». She became a permanent along with her piano playing husband, Pal Thibodeaux, when the Dixie Blue Boys recorded for Imperial.
Nettles & His Dixie Blue Boys helped to launch a twice-weekly Louisiana Hayride program on KWKH in the summer of 1945 that predated the more famous auditorium show by almost three years.
Bill cut three sessions with Bullet from Nashville. The first date for Bullet was already on 7 July 1946, probably at Jim Beck’s studio in Dallas, as Beck had a tie with Jim Bulleit. « High falutin’ mama » (# 637) was a prime example of uptempo bluesy country. « Too Many Blues » was recorded by Wilf Carter, as told earlier. Other two songs of the session, « You’re breaking my broken heart again » and « Hungry » (#638) were equally good. Both later sessions held in Jackson, Ms., and in Houston, Tx. remained unissued.
High falutin’ mama (Bullet 637) download
Hungry (Bullet 637) download
Danny Dedmon: Gin drinkin’ mama (Imperial 8065) download
Bill Nettles: « Ain’t no tellin’ a woman will do » (Imperial 8032) download
Danny Dedmon: « The blues keep hangin’ on » (Imperial 8058) download
After a fleeting stay with Red Bird, an affiliation which failed to produce any released material, Bill Nettles then signed with Imperial, as did Danny Dedmon, recording in his own right with a band credited as « The Rhythm Ramblers », actually the Dixie Blue Boys. Dedmon recorded 19 sides for Imperial, albeit only 9 were with Bill Nettles, all cut in Beaumont, Tx. On a couple of Bill Nettles’ singles, daughter Loyce was allotted the vocal duties.
Euell was the third of the Nettles’ off-spring. He too was born in Shreveport in 1935. Thus he was barely fourteen when he played on Bill’s first Mercury session in April 1949, giving the family a 50% share in the group personnel. Not only did he pay guitar, but Euell also doubled as chauffeur and handyman. His versatility extended to playing bass, fiddle and drums. During his three years stint in U.S. Army in Paris, France, he met his Spanish wife to be.
At the first Mercury session Bill recorded the highly promising « Hadacol boogie ». Covered by Jesse Rogers on RCA (32-0001), whose version outsold Bill’s, It had also a version by Professor Longhair (Roy Byrd), who combined it with Bill’s third Mercury session « Hadacol bounce ».
A tune he wrote and recorded for that label, « Hadacol Boogie« , in a Monroe radio station in 1949, was a celebration of Dudley LeBlanc‘s restorative elixir. It went to # 9 on the country charts. (« Hadacol Boogie » is alleged to be the first song that Jerry Lee Lewis performed in public, in 1949. Occasionally Jerry will perform the song on stage, though he never recorded it.)
Presumably encouraged by this hit, Mercury had on 3 February 1950 ensured in Cincinnati, Ohio that their musicians parade horses (Jerry Byrd, Tommy Jackson and Zeb and Zeke Turner) were sent into the ring for « Push and pull boogie » (Mercury 6330). Turner’s guitar intro is similar to that of the Delmores’ « Blue stay away from me » or early Hank Williams’.
Yet another recording session could not bring more hit. Bill took his residence at radio station KLMB, Monroe on with their own group. The only new name was Sam Yeager who played the guitar. Although « Hadacol bounce » should been even better than the « Hadacol boogie » according to Mercury, it failed.
Push and pull boogie (Mercury 6330) download
In 1953 Bill had one of his short spells away from Monroe when he was sponsored by the Surety Gas Co. To appear on WRBC out of Jackson, Miss. Whilst there he cut a session for the local Trumpet label. Sadly nothing was ever issued from these recordings and undoubtedly « When my kitten starts cattin’ around » sounds intriguing. Maybe it was due to the fact that Bill moved on to another radio station elsewhere that caused Trumpet to lose interest, for it was around this time that he moved to KOGT in Orange, Texas, then to KOBX inBeaumont, Texas, finally KFRO in Long View, Texas. It seems likely that this exposure around the Texas area brought Bill to the attention of Starday Records, where he cut the fine « Wine-o-boogie » and « Gumbo mumbo » (# 174). The session included an unissued re-recording of « Shake it and take it » and was probably held at Gold Star studio in Houston (1954), with regular local musicians, Hal Harris (lead guitar), Doc Lewis (piano), Red Hayes (fiddle) and Herbie Remington (steel) providing the backing.
Wine-o boogie (Starday 174) download
Whilst the advent of rock’n’roll put a brake on Bill’s recording activities, perhaps inspired by his youngest daughter Shirley (born 1936) married to Rev. Gerard Lewis (a first cousin of Jerry Lee Lewis, and a fine piano player in his own right), Bill was « saved » and
baptized in 1958, subsequently becoming a devout Christian. Around 1957/58 The Dixie Blue Boys were performing on radio as a sacred group, before Bill disbanded the group and effectively retired from business.
Early 60s he cut in Monroe a whole lot of tracks for an unknown label (private recordings?), all of which do remain untraced and unissued.
In 1965 he was talked into a comeback and appeared on his own Nettl label. His preoccupation with the Vietnam War caused him to re-do his old song as « God bless my darling he’s somewhere in Vietnam ». Sadly this revival (3 singles) was short lived : Bill Nettles died on April 5 1967.
Old age pension blues (Nett 10005) download
Throughout his life he wrote over 300 songs, and had 155 published by leading publishers. It is worth looking at some of the artists who made use of Bill as composer :
Be nobody’s darling but mine – Roy Acuff
Old age pension check – Roy Acuff
Old age pension blues – Shelton Brothers
Louisiana moon – Gene Autry
I still believe in you – Charlie Mitchell
It’s nobody’s fault but my own – Will Johnson
Our last goodbye – Stanley Brothers
Honky tonk blues – Al Dexter
Just forgive and forget – Jimmie Davis
Nobody’s darling but mine – Jimmie Davis (huge 1941 hit)
Answer to blue eyes – Johnnie & Jack
No time for tears – Bill Boyd
Too many blues – Montana Slim, Red Foley
Have I waited too long – Faron Young
I just don’t know why but I do – Jenx Carman.
Of the Dixie Blue Boys, Danny Dedmon, Pal Thibodeaux and Norman Nettles recorded in their own right.
Nettles loved to write « answer » songs, such as « Answer To Blue Eyes », « It’s Your Turn To Walk The Floor For Me », « I Hauled Off and Loved Her », and even answered his own songs: « (I Want To Be) Somebody’s Darling » and « Hadacol Bounce ».
Reprinted (with written permission) from Adam Komorowski’s article in Hillbilly researcher n° 7 (1988), based on a unpublished text written by Emma Lou Nettles for the 60’s magazine « Western Coral ». Many thanks to Ronald Keppner (Germany) for the loan of rare 78 rpm.
Discography (from Praguefrank): Bill Nettles