Born Noble F. Stover on Nov. 16, 1928 in Huntsville, TX, Smokey had his own band and was playing the honky tonks of Texas at 16. In 1949, a new radio station went on the air in Pasadena, TX where he landed his first deejaying job at KLVL-AM, an on-the-air learning experience. A year later, KRCT-AM in Baytown, TX lured him away. Over the next year, Smokey’s show became so popular, the station changed their format to country and hired two more deejays. Meanwhile late 1951, backed by his band, The Stampede Wranglers, he cut his first sides for the Kemah, TX Stampede label (# 101)[Galveston Cty, Houston vicinity] : « I’m planting a rose/It’s the natural thing », two good boppers – side A is mid-paced, side B is a fine Hank Williams inspired Honky tonker. Of course this label was that of a future promising Rockabilly & Country performer, Glen Barber. Imperial picked the Stampede masters up and reissued them (Imperial 8141) in December 1951. According to Michel Ruppli, the fiddler was Sleepy Short.
In 1954, he moved on to KBRZ-AM in Freeport, TX where he stayed for three years except for a six-month interval in 1956 when he helped launch KLOS in Albuquerque, NM.
In the meantime he was signed by producer J.D. Miller out of Crowley, La. on his Feature label, and recorded two songs, among them the better side was « Go on and leave my baby alone », a fine uptempo with great steel a la Don Helms (Drifting Cowboys’ member). Flipside is a quieter mid-paced ballad, « That’s how true my love is for you »
The initial pressing order by J. D. Miller (dated January 1954) for “Go on and leave my baby alone” was for 800 78s and 500 45s – rather more than Miller’s usual order. Fiddle and guitar are by Doug and Rusty Kershaw respectively (later cutting records on Hickory on their own right), with steel guitar by Louis Fourneret.
Later he became a well-known Texas D.J., remembered by Eddie Noack as having played Elvis Presley’s first Sun release twenty times a day! He had a fan-club in Baytown, Texas, in 1954 and two years later had a show, “Smokey’s Big Stampede” on KRBZ, Freeport, Texas, switching to KVET Austin later in the same year
Circa May 1955, Stover entered the Starday studio in Beaumont, TX, and recorded two songs in the same pattern as the previous ones : once more a mix of slow and fast sides. The A side «You wouldn’t kid me, would you » is the good bopping one ; now the B side was a ballad, on a theme that seemed to please him, because he made another version of «It’s easier said than done » 4 years later on Ol’Podner. “You wouldn’t kid me, would you, baby“
In 1958, he moved to KCIJ-AM in Shreveport, LA to be near the Louisiana Hayride, hoping the move would push his singing career. Seven months later, the station changed owners who brought in their own deejays. With the help of a friend, Claude Gray, Smokey found a job at WDAL in Meridian, MS where he stayed until late 1959 when he received a call from his old Freeport boss, Ken Ferguson. Ken was opening KMOP in Tucson, AZ and wanted Smokey to be his sign-on man. Smokey hit the airwaves there in Jan. 1960 and remained there for eight years when he took a couple of years out to concentrate on his singing and songwriting.
In the meantime (1959), he recorded 6 sides for the small Ol’Podner label located in Lake Jackson, TX. All these sides are pretty traditional for the era (fiddle omnipresent). Stover’s voice reminds one at times of Eddie Noack, while « Ballad of Jimmy Hoffa » is a rocker sung in duet, like George Jones’ « White lightning ».”My building of dreams” is another song to watch.
Other songs during the ’60s are more and more country-pop oriented, and one can retain the better ones, like «One thing in common » (Sims 172), or the fine Indian country-rocker « On the warpath » (Toppa 1061) from 1962, and « I want the cake, not the crumbs » (Boyd 153) . His most elusive record was made for Na-R-Co (# 105) and « Remember me/This hurt inside me ». He succeed as a songwriter when George Jones in 1962 chose his « Sometimes you just can’t win » he had already cut on Toppa #1061.
On Jan. 1, 1970, Smokey went back on the air at KRZE in Farmington, NM. A year-and-a-half later, his mother’s illness forced him back to Houston, TX. He more or less retired from radio then until 1992 when a friend built a new station, KVST in Conroe/Huntsville, TX. Smokey went on the air there in early 1993 and ran a midnight ’til 6 am show for a year until it “got old” and he re-retired. In 1995, Ernie Ashworth lured him to Gallatin, TN to get the “Country Classic” station of WYXE off the ground. Smokey enjoyed romping and stomping with the Oldies for about eight months when he hung it up and returned to his native Texas where he’s retired from radio, but still pickin’ and singin’ every weekend. His latest recording is titled, « I May Be Getting Older, But I Ain’t Stopped Thinking Young ». Also Eagle in Germany issued a White rocker « Let’s have a ball » by him, but I doubt he ever cut this song. You can judge by yourself.
Opal Jean Amburgey (Jean Chapel aka. “Mattie” O’Neil-Holmes-Calogne) was born on March 6, 1925, the youngest of three girls, born in Letcher County, Ky. At the age of 10, Jean wanted to pick and play like her father and grandfather. Her first instrument was the mandolin. “She tuned that mandolin to make it sound like a banjo,” Minnie says, “and with your eyes closed you have thought it was a banjo.” The banjo was a favorite instrument for Jean, but money to buy one with was in short supply during the depression era. Her father made a considerable sacrifice by selling some of his carpentry tools to get money for a banjo.??In 1936, at age 11, Jean began her singing career with her two older sisters in the Sunshine Sisters Band. After two years of daily practice and countless public performances, the highly polished Sunshine Sisters were in great demand.At age 13, Jean would leave home with older sister, Minnie, 18; and sister, Martha,17; to perform daily at WLAP radio in Lexington, Kentucky. They would stay with the station for almost a year. Even at this young age, “She was the star,” says older sister, Minnie. “She sang lead on most of our songs; she had quite the personality.” At age 15, Jean had already performed at literally hundreds of shows, appeared daily on radio stations, sang on barn dances, became a member of the Coon Creek Girls, and was about to begin what she would be most remembered for–WRITING SONGS! When Jean passed away in 1995, she had written well over 400 songs with more than 170 songs recorded and released by major artists such as: George Jones, Jerry Wallace, Eddy Arnold, Hank Snow, George Morgan, Rosemary Clooney, Dean Martin, Jim Reeves, Patsy Cline, Kitty Wells, Connie Smith, Roy Rogers, and Sonny James, just to mention a few.
The Country Music Association would nominate Jean’s 1973 hit “To Get To You” as one of the top five songs in the country that year. Jean held seven BMI song writing awards for her song writing abilities. However, her song writing should not be overshadow the rest of her amazing career. As music historian Robert Oermann says “her saga encompasses virtually every major development in country music’s history – string bands, radio barn dances, television, rockabilly, and the Nashville Sound.” At age 15, “Jean could play anything with strings,” remembers Minnie. The three sisters would move to WSB Radio in Atlanta to set up a barn dance program under the direction of John Lair. Here, Lair would change the Sunshine Sisters’ names to Minnie, Mattie, and Marthy. Jean would take the name “Mattie” and use this name on and off throughout her singing and song writing career. For the next 10 years, Jean would move around from WSB in Atlanta, to WLW in Cincinnati, to the Renfro Valley Barn Dance, to the Grand Ole Opry.
In 1947, Jean would marry Salty(Floyd) Holmes, an original Prairie Ramblers Band member, and a truly great entertainer of his day. The two would appear numerous times on the Grand Ole Opry as “Mattie and Salty” throughout their career.
In 1957, she sang « Ooh-ba La Baby » for the film « Untamed Youth ». A divorce, in 1956, from Salty Holmes would lead Jean to slow her recording career and begin more concentration on writing throughout the 60’s. Before long, dozens of Nashville artists were recording her works. The 1970’s would find Jean excelling as a songwriter and writing some of her biggest hits. Daughter Lana would also become a song writer with songs like, “Sweet Marilyn” recorded by Eddy Arnold; “Hemp Hill KY.” recorded by Hensen Cargill; “Kentucky Ridge Runner” cut by Lester Flatt; and “It’s For My Dad” recorded by Nancy Sinatra.Jean passed away in 1995. She had two children, Kenny Woodruff and Lana Holmes (Chapel). Her songs are still remembered by countless people, click here to see a list.
Special mention needs to be given to Floyd “Salty” Holmes, Jean’s former husband and partner on the Grand Ole Opry. Together, these two entertained thousands across television, radio, and personal concert appearances.
Individually, Salty had a long illustrious past of his own in the entertainment field. Born on March 6, 1909 in Glasgow, Kentucky, Salty was a harmonica “virtuoso” but could also play the jug and the guitar with great talent.
His band, the Kentucky Ramblers, were legendary forming back in 1930. By 1933 The band was playing over WLS Chicago under the name “The Prairie Ramblers.” They hired a new girl, Patsy Montana, to sing with them. Historian, Robert Oermann says about the band, “one of the hottest, jazziest, most accomplished string bands in the history of country music.”
At WLS in Chicago, Salty would become good friends with Gene Autry, Tex Ritter, and Red Foley. 1936 would find Salty and Gene Autry heading for Hollywood to make movies, and then a return trip in 1944. Salty would appear in several B-western movies such as: Arizona Days with Tex Ritter; Sagebrush Hero with Charles Starret; and Saddle Leather Law with Charles Starret.
From 1933-40, The Prairie Ramblers would cut over 100 sessions for Gene Autry and Patsy Montana. They appeared throughout the country with Patsy performing daily at many matinees.
Salty Holmes (with Joe Maphis) “Cannon Ball Special”
Salty and Jean Chapel were married in 1947 until 1956. His career in radio carried him from Chicago, to New York, to Davenport, to Cincinnati, to the Grand Old Opry. In the 50’s, Salty appeared in Las Vegas at the Showboat and the Sahara club in Reno, Nevada.
Floyd passed away in 1971 at Elwood, Indiana.
(biography from Don Chapel, All Music). Additions by bopping’s editor.
Sources: 78rpm-worlds (Ronald Keppner, as usual – many thanks to him), also “45stalker”; Notes and music from Cattle CD 289
The Howington Brothers (Charles « Dub », lead guitar and Roy, bass) were a Washington D.C. act which was signed by Mrs. Lillian Clayborne on his D.C. label. D.C. did mean at the same time ‘District of Columbia’ and ‘D'[for Haskell Davis, publisher]- ‘C'[for Lillian Clayborne, owner of D.C. Records]. Between 1948 and 1950, they cut a dozen sides collector Phillip Tricker called ‘corny’, under the name « HOWINGTON BROTHERS with Their Tennessee Haymakers ». Two of them were issued moreover on the giant Atlantic Records R&B outlet of NYC, and two more on Loop Records, possibly a sublabel to D.C. Their personnel is not entirely known, but consisted of Brownie Galloway on guitar, and a young Jimmy Dean on accordion, plus Herbie Jones on rhythm guitar and George Saslaw (unknown instrument, but steel and mandolin are present on their discs). Later on they went to Decca and Quincy, and even backed George Saslaw on a 60’s Western disc. They came during a burgeoning East Coast Hillbilly scene during 1944-46, which saw WFIL, a powerful Philadelphia station, launch very late 1944 the Saturday night « Hayloft Jamboree » : an immediate success, so much so that American Broadcasting System approached WHIL and they broadcast from mid-1945 the show from coast to coast.
Actually it may well be that Ivin Balle, boss of Gotham, recorded the Howingtons in Philadelphia, then leased the masters to Mrs. Clayborne, according to Phillip Tricker, and the mention on DC 4102A.
A good amount of the Howington Brothers material was made of instrumentals, but vocal duties were shared between Dub and Roy. First D.C. issue by them was a novelty, « Roll The Patrol » (next to the curb, ’cause grandma can’t step that high), which was well received in late 1948 (DC # 4102). This song may well have been connected to another WFIL programme, on an all night hillbilly show called « The Dawn Patrol ». Could it have been used as the theme music ? B-side is a fast « Dub’s Polka », an instrumental showcasing Dub’s agility on guitar, then young Jimmy Dean’s shining on accordion.
We found the Howington Brothers on a Loop release (# 903) from 1949, which seems to be a sublabel to D.C. They do a terrific instrumental, « Haymaker’s Shuffle » and a Roy Howington vocal (« and His Rhythm Boys , Chuck Frazer, Solo Guitar ») (a forgettable weeper) on «A Wondeful Dream ».
The next pairing was issued in May 1952 (but obviously recorded much earlier) and saw « Our Shotgun Weddin’ Day », a great, fast Hillbilly bop opus issued on DC # 4114 (vocal by Roy Howington). Reverse side is another instrumental, aptly named « Easy Pickin’ ». Meanwhile I found a snippet in Billboard mentioning an issue on Loop 4113 with « Haymaker’s Shuffle » and « Hillbilly Wolf », but couldn’t find more details, nor the music or labels. It’s well worth noting that Billy Strickland cut in 1949 on Sylvan (reissued on Regal 5067) a song called « Hillbilly Wolf », written by ‘[Ben] Adelman’, who was the direct partner in Washington of Mrs. Clayborne ; so the link is, albeit tenuous, an interesting one.
Dub Howington is noted in a snippet of the ‘Journal of Country Music‘ (1987) as entertaining New Year’s Eve 1951 : «Dub Howington and the Tennessee Haymakers. The show was aired regionally as part of the Gunther network and, along with Gunther Beer, the show was sponsored by Otho Williams’ Buick and L&M cigarettes. There’s no doubt that for country music, for dancing, drinking, and chasing skirts (or jeans), the place to be on Saturday night was Turner’s Arena »
We jump to 1953, and the recording session the Howington Brothers had in Nashville (July 19) for Decca Records, which provided 4 tunes, 4 Hillbilly Boppers of very high standard : « Tennessee Rooster Fight » has, as awaited, roosters cock-a-doodling and a-hooping, while the fast « Two Faced » goes on with hillbilly humor (great guitar and fiddle) (Decca # 28550). The remaining two sides of the session, « I Got Mine » and « Should I Shoud, should I Shouldn’t » keep the same format, and are equally good boppers (Decca # 29225).
Next record the Howingtons were involved in is that of Luke Gordon singing « Goin’ Crazy » (L&C 550, later reissued with the same # on Starday) ; not suprisingly, since they were Washingtonians and relocated in Virginia (Bristol – see the Billboard snippet on left), and Gordon was a Virginian. Luke
served in the US. Army during the Korean conflict and upon his discharge in 1953 headed for Norfolk, Virginia. After a stint in Tennessee he returned to Virginia and the Washington D.C. area to work with fiddler Homer ‘Curley’ Smith at radio station WGAY, Silver Springs, Maryland and do personal appearances. Curley set up a number of recording sessions for Luke with Ben Adelman and the result was released on L & C and Starday during 1956. Dub Howington played lead on «Goin’ Crazy» ; other members however of the « Tennessee Haymakers » as shown on the label were stranger to original Haymakers. The Luke Gordon “official” site quotes Buzz Busby (mandolin – absolutely inaudible), Homer ‘Curley’ Smith (fiddle), Don West (steel) and Jimmy Stoneman (st-bass). I am propounding in contrary the following personnel: Dub Howington on lead-guitar, George Saslaw on steel, Roy Howington on string bass, and of course ‘Curley’ Smith on fiddle, obviously not forgetting Luke Gordon on singing and rhythm guitar. The session could have been held on April 16, 1955. The reverse side has nothing to do however with the Tennessee Haymakers.
Howington and Gordon joined the newly formed Washington D.C. Saturday night show (aired by WMAL radio station) and guested regularly with Jimmy Dean, already signed to 4-Star Records.
Then Dub Howington did follow Luke Gordon on his own Quincy label, out of the same name town in Kentucky, and cut (in Cincinnati?): «Road Of Heartaches» (this was a revamp of the unissued Atlantic recording of 8 years before) and «Don’t Play With Love» (which had already been used a first time on D.C. 4107). Former tune was a good medium bopper, while the latter was a Rockabilly of high octane. The Howingtons were recycling old material into new stuff! The Quincy 45′ (# 934) is sold between $ 100-125, according to Barry K. John’s book.
Dub Howington also backed Luke Gordon on his second Quincy issue (# 933) coupling two fine boppers, « TheFool That I Am » and « Mustache On A Cabbage head » both cut in 1958, but was not involved in the B-side of the L&C 550 « Don’t Cramp My Style ».
After this last single, I am losing the track of the Howington Brothers. Quite a fair achievement after a 25 years long career.
Sources : mainly DC, Loop and Decca files (sound and scans) from Ronald Keppner’s collection – thanks to him for the care taken at copying those rare records out of his huge and precious collection. Even the odd cassette replacing a broken 78rpm ! The rest does come from my researches and archives. Personal pictures taken from the net or a past Blues & Rhythm magazine issue. Of great help was also the site devoted to Luke Gordon: http://www.hankwilliamslistings.com/ind-lug4.htm, even if I disagree with some details. Any comment or addition/correction welcome!
Every region of the country had their local star- that person that teetered on the brink of stardom. Radio deejay. Recording artist. Performer. Promoter. Talent scout. Music Publisher. Maybe they ran their own label. Sometimes a studio.
They ALWAYS seemed to be one step away from finally making it…. just one step away.
Our local guy was Fred Crawford.
Billboard June 2, 1956
Like many I was first ushered to Fred through the 1956 Starday release “Rock Candy Rock” (# 243), a steady little piano/guitar jiver that has unfortunately overshadowed his stronger country/hillbilly efforts. On the same disc, the B-side “Secret of my heart” is back to Crawford’s hillbilly roots: it is a solid medium paced very strong opus.
I’m not sure when Fred first began his professional career. His obituary mentioned that as an 11 year old he had “You Are My Shine“‘d his way to a talent show victory on Shreveport’s KWKH. Also mentioned in the same obituary is that by age 25 his recording career was underway. Would assume this would have included his incredibly rare 4-Star custom press, « My inky Dinky baby/Empty feeling in my heart » (Promotional OP-163, from 1953) – it may even appear this record was never issued, as no one has ever seen a copy.
Not mentioned is that Fred had a decent string of excellent releases on the infamous Starday label, all of which are WELL worth tracking down. The rockabilly of “Rock Candy Rock” stands in contrast to his other releases for the label. As does the pop effort “By The Mission Wall“, notable for being recorded in Clovis with Norman Petty producing, Buddy Holly playing guitar, and the Bowman Brothers providing back-up vocals.
Not included in the podcasts (altho’ fully downloadable) upon request) are the following Starday tunes: Time will take you off mymind (St. 124), “Empty feeling in my heart” (124)[also done six months before on the elusive Promotional label OP-163,] “I’ve learned something from you” (St 272),”You’re not the same sweet girl” (# 314) Then A- side of ‘D’ label #1158 “Im all alone”, easily available elsewhere this site. As other tracks on AOK being less interesting. Being so much a country boy, Fred Crawford has not been reissued until now (except for the odd tune on compilations), which is a shame, as his music, specially that cut for Starday, is of very high standard.
Fred was born F. Benjamin Crawford on January 24, 1928, and died on January 13, 1998. He’s buried in the veteran’s corner (because of his activities during WWII) in the Colorado City cemetery out of Mitchell County, Texas.
Largely inspired by the posts of two blogs, Lone Star Stomp and Westex, both from Texas and done in the 2007/2010 period (same Summer period).
My most sincere thanks go to Armadillo Killer for sending many a side. Without his help, the article couldn’t be done – at least this way.
(Fred Crawford: a personal appreciation (bopping’s editor)
“You Gotta Wait” (# 170) is just an outstanding uptempo hillbilly call to action, while the flipside « I just need some lovin’ » (written by labelmate Jimmy Walton) is just equally good.
But I feel that Fred’s crowning achievement is “Can’t Live With ‘Em” (# 199) : never has a white boy had such a bad case of the blues. Note that the songwriter is Mineoloa ‘local guy’ Jack Rhodes. Classy backing : a bluesy lead-guitar, a rinky-dink piano, a strong bass.
Billboard July 2, 1954
Other notable records from this era include : the very solid and macho inspired « Never gonna get married again » (# 156), the great uptempo « First on your list » (# 145 : here’s a wild steel guitar over a Hank Williams‘ typical uttering), also cut by Jack Tucker (released on « X » 0193) – no one can say for sure who came first, and the composer of this small classic, Tom Lancaster, doesn’t give any clue.
Eddie Noack‘s written « Me and my new baby » (# 218), and « Lucky in cards » (# 272) are other winners. And there’s no filler or weak track : every B-side is of high standard too, as the fast « Each passing day » (# 156), « Just another broken heart » (# 218) and the great ‘Starday swan song‘, his last on the label : « You’re not the same sweet girl » (# 314)
There was also at least one waxing for the D label : fine 1960 honky tonkers (# 1058) « I’m all alone » and « Charlies gone ». After that Fred was strictly local, recording for Tommy Allsup/Max Gorman’s Westex/AOK stable, Spiral (which was housed in the former AOK studios), Tic-Toc, Lobo, and a label or two more. Among those efforts are a couple of records supporting his beloved Monahans High School football team and an odd little tribute to coin collecting [untraced].
Fred was a songwriter for others too : I found once a song he gave to Smilin’ Jerry Jericho in 1954, the fine uptempo «I Can’t Give You Anything But Me » (Starday 133). Surely there may have been other Fred compos for others. If a visitor finds one, please do advise me of the find with the « contact me » button!
Born 3 February 1927, Ellisville, Mississippi. Died 27 June 1992, Mobile, Alabama.
Luke McDaniel, like many a good singer was born in the good ole southern state of Mississippi, in Ellisville on February 3, 1927. He started in music as a mandolin player, and was influenced by hillbilly singers like The Bailes Brothers. He formed his own band and turned professional in 1945. He opened for Hank Williams in New Orleans in the late 40’s and appears to have become hooked on the lonesome sound of Hank. In 1952 he recorded “Whoa, Boy” for Trumpet Records (# 184) in Jackson, Mississippi. It’s a hillbilly boogie belter (call-and-response format) : strong steel guitar and sawing fiddle over an insistant fast rhythm. The flip side « No more » is a good uptempo hillbilly weeper, nicely done. He also cut as a tribute single, “A Tribute To Hank Williams, My Buddy“, a forgettable morbid slow weeper. The Trumpet records were all high quality hillbilly, but as with many at the time, showed him at this stage as little more than a Hank Williams clone.
In 1953 he was introduced to King Records by fellow artist Jack Cardwell (The Death of Hank Williams/ Dear Joan). He joined King but failed to register any hits despite half a dozen fine singles. He cut them either in radio station KWAB in Mobile, AL ; either at KWKH in Shreveport, La.; either in Cincinnati King studio.
« The automobile song » (King 1336), a fast hillbilly bopper, is done in gaiety, “Money Bag Woman” (King 1380) was particularly strong, fusing his hillbilly with a rhumba beat.
« I can’t go » (King 1276) is also a strong, although ordinary bopper. The mid-paced « One more heart » (King 1426) is less interesting as the slowie forgettable « Let me be a souvenir » (# 1356) and « Honey, won’t you please come home ». « Crying my heart out for you » (# 1356) renews with the « Money bag woman » rhumba beat with a welcome mandolin (maybe played by himself?). « Drive on » (# 1287) is a strong although ‘quiet’ bopper in the Hank Williams vein.
When the King contract expired, he went back to New Orleans where he recorded for the Meladee label in 1955/56 under the alias Jeff Daniels at the legendary Cosimo’s Studio with the pick of the city’s black musicians. Only one single was released, the great frantic “Daddy-O-Rock” coupled with the quieter “Hey Woman” (# 117)
In 54 he joined the Louisiana Hayride in Shreveport and became a part of the touring Hayride show. It was no doubt here that he saw Elvis Presley and started to move towards a more rocking sound. Around this time, McDaniel wrote “Midnight Shift” [a song about prostitution] under the pseudonym of Earl Lee, which Buddy Holly would later record on Decca.
In 1956 Elvis and Carl Perkins urged McDaniels to submit a demo to Sam Phillips. Sam was impressed and signed McDaniel to a contract with Sun Records. It’s unsure whether he cut two sessions or just one at Sun (either September 56 or/and January 57). Nothing was issued though, as Sam and Luke had a financial disagreement. The unissued Sun sides have now seen the light of day thanks to reissue labels like Charly Records (Ferrero/Barbat 600 serie reissues). “Uh Babe” (Sun 620) is seminal-Sun rockabilly with Jimmy Van Eaton on fine form behind the skinned boxes. “High high high” is more a good uptempo rocker and sounds like a cross between Hayden Thompson and Gene Simmons.
Later McDaniel went to pure rock’n’roll on Venus, Astro, Big Howdy or Big B, but never achieved the big time.
Some songs he published : “Out of a Honky Tonk” and “Six Pallbearers” – co-written with Bob Gallion; “Blue Mississippi” and “You’re Still On My Mind”; and finally, “Mister Clock”, co-written with Jimmie Rogers. Another song credited to “Earl Lee” – “Seven or Eleven”, co-written with Jimmie Rogers and someone named Ainsworth, perhaps Arlene Ainsworth.
Biography taken on « Youzeek.com » and « hillbilly-music.com ». Additions from bopping’s editor.
Nothing is known about this important, although quite obscure artist of the 1940’s and ’50’s. Even not any statistic of birth or death, although he was certainly livng in the Dallas, TX area, and was born there during the ’20s. Nothing more is known about his childhood and beginnings in music, so we are forced to deal only with the records he appeared on.
From 1939 until 1952 he was closely associated with another Texan, AL DEXTER and worked with him either as washboard player (in the ’30s), sometimes harmonicist, and in some cases held the vocal duties into the Dexter’s band, « The Troopers », not forgetting he was also songwriter : he was co-writer (with Tex Ritter) of the all-time Hank Williams‘ classic, « Dear John ». But more about that later.
In 1939, he was a member of the Al Dexter’s Troopers, as said before, and offered the group a good selling disc : « Wine, women and song » – recorded in December 1939 and issued on Vocalion 5572, it was covered by Texas Jim Lewis in September 1940 (Decca 05875), and by the Prairie Ramblers (Decca 05878) – the song must’ve looked to Decca’s executives a lucrative seller). When re-recorded by Dexter on Columbia 37062 in April 1945, he was a second time covered (a reissue) by Jim Lewis (Decca 46021). It attracted two more versions in 1946 by Frankie Marvin (San Antonio 107) and Dick James (Coast 234).
Gass gave Al Dexter (or co-wrote with him) two more songs in 1941/42 : « The Money You Spent Was Mine » (Okeh 6206) and « Honky Tonk Chinese Dime »(OKeh 6604). He played the harmonica on « Diddy, Wah, Diddy With A Blah !Blah ! » (Vocalion 6255) – which Dexter re-recorded later on King as « Diddy Wah Boogie » (# 885). Gass also held the vocal duty for « Sunshine » (Vocalion 04988, reissued in 1946 on Columbia 20240), both coming out of a long 8-track June 13th 1939 session.
As far at it concerns records, Aubrey Gass disappeared from the music scene between 1941 and 1946. Was he drafted in U.S. Army during W.W. II such a long time is improbable. Anyway, his first record under his real name was issued mid to late 1946 in Houston by Gold Star (# 1318) and coupled a then-famous for veterans couplet, « Kilroy’s Been Here » and « Delivery Man Blues ». Backed by the Easterners (guitar, bass, fiddle, steel and piano), Gass on alert vocal and harmonica delivers a joyful A-side, although the bluesy B-side is equally at home. Indeed both sides were written by Gass, who saw the following year a reissue of his Gold Star disc on the new DeLuxe (#6001) label, a proof of the popularity of the record.
It must also be noted that a song « Kilroy Was Here » was recorded and released by Paul Page on Enterprise; reviewed by Billboard on August 31, 1946, no one can say who came first for sure.
« Dear John » […] was his biggest song ; in fact, it was the only hit he ever wrote. The first version was by Jim Boyd, younger brother of Dallas-based western swing artist Bill Boyd. Gass apparently knew Jim Boyd, offered him « Dear John », and Boyd recorded it on March 11, 1949. Soon after, Tex Ritter got his finger in the pie. Ritter probably promised to get the song cut by a big name, like himself, or to get Gass a contract with his label, Capitol, if he could get a piece of the song. The fact that Gass recorded « Dear John » for Capitol (# 40239, or # 1427) some five months after Boyd suggests that Ritter lived up to his half of their convenant. Hank Williams later picked (early 1951) up the song, this time co-written « Ritter-Gass ». Note : Jim Boyd’s version is already written by Gass and Ritter…
The session for Capitol took place in Dallas on August 9th, 1949 (Billboard announced both the contact signing and the recording session on Sept. 17) and supplied four more Gass-written songs. The backing of Wesley Tuttle and Group (specially come to Dallas) was made of Gass himself (vocal/harmonica), probably Tuttle (rhythm-guitar), a steel, a bass player and a drummer. First came the already discussed « Dear John » : Gass is full of energy on harmonica, has a husky voice, as on the fast « Look Me Up » and (by far the most hard-rocking tune of the lot) « K.C. Boogie ». The last song, « Gee But I’m Lonely Tonight », is a slowie and Gass doesn’t seems at ease here.
« Dear John » had numerous versions, among them an R&B rendition by Dinah Washington, which climbed at n°3 in the charts. It also had a follow-up in 1953 as « A Dear John Letter », first by Jean Shepard (Capitol 2502).
Next recording session Aubrey Gass collaborated for was done on May 19, 1950 by Al Dexter and his Troopers again. Gass was present, and played some harmonica on several tracks, but still being contracted to Capitol, could not sing at all. He plays (distinct style easily recognizable) on « Blow That Lonesome Whistle, Casey » (King 875)[very near in essence to “K. C. Boogie“], « Walking With The Blues » (which he co-wrote) (King 884), then both sides of King 913 : « Diddy Wah Boogie » and « You’ve Been Cheatin’ On Me ».
Al Dexter & His Troopers, “Blow That Lonesome Whistle, Casey”
At unknown dates he cut several demos at Sellers Studio in Dallas, between 1950 and late 1951. Three of them found their way on the British/Nederland Boppin’ Hillbilly compilation n° 2810. Due to legal rights, we are not allowed to offer these great sides. They are : « Columbus Stockade Blues », « Here Today And Gone Tomorrow » and « Walkin’ Out Of Town ».
But « Counting My Teardrops » and « Fisherman Boogie », cut late 1951 or early 1952, were issued under Gass’ own name by Sellers as acetates, and released just as they were under Al Dexter’s name (« Vocal by Aubrey Gass») on Decca, respectively 28345 and 28137 during the first half of 1952. Both tracks were probably recorded (given date by Michel Ruppli’s book « The Decca label » as Feb. 7, 1952) with the Al Dexter band : trumpet, rhythm-guitar, piano (particularly rolling in « Fisherman’s boogie»), steel, bass and drums and no harmonica at all. This 14 tunes session has no less than 8 unissued tracks, and could well reveal some surprises.
A recent discovery on eBay has surfaced an unissued Audiodisc dated (as handwritten on label) May 23,1956. « Garbage Man » by Gass is a strange novelty : only vocal, harmonica and rhythm guitar. The acetate was gone on December 19, 2017 for $ 118,00.
In 1962 (June) Aubrey Gass gave Tom O’Neal « Two Many Tickets » (released first on Cheatham 104, then reissued on Starday 607), a country rocker ; it’s probably Gass who played the harmonica in this song, as well as on the flipside « Sleeper Cab Blues ».
Further research has unearthed a demo of « Corn Fed Gal », cut for the « Boyd Recording Service » in Dallas. The strange thing is that this version runs at 2 mn 05, while the Helton version has a duration of 2 mn 22. So then, are they the same ? Could it be that the lucky owner of the Boyd record please stand up and say the truth about this point. I am inclined personnally towards two different versions. This demo was sold on eBay in 2010 for $ 136,00.
Last record is on the Swansee label # 1908 (mid-’60s) by Mr. G. « Pork-N-Beans » and « Sittin’n’Thinkin’ » are unheard, both written « Aubrey A. Gass », so cannot comment. Remember (see above) his actual name was Aubrey Andrew Gass.
Sources : my sincere thanks to UncleGil for Bronco Buster, the King Project, the Starday project and BACM music ; many (if not all) label scans do come from 78rpm-worlds ; thanks to ole’ Ronald Keppner for Sellers acetates ; Dave Sichak of hillbilly-music.com for Aubrey Gass only known picture ; Gripsweat site for 1956 acetate ; Colin Escott, « Hank Williams, The Biography » for the « Dear John » story. Billboard books for notifications of releases (Thanks Imperial!).
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