Douglas Clifton Bragg was born on April 13, 1928, in the small East Texas town of Gilmer. He was among four children born to Bonnie and James Claudie Bragg. He attended Gilmer public schools and developed an interest in music during his teen years. He started performing in and around Tyler during the late 1940’s. His first marriage produced five children, all of whom were boys. By the early 1950’s Doug was appearing on the Big “D” Jamboree and working days as a meat cutter.
After nearly forty years of silence, one of country music’s truly engaging performers of the 1950’s has begun to find posthumous representation on various CD releases. Douglas Bragg was a regular member of the Big “D” Jamboree and he also made frequent appearances on the Louisiana Hayride. His singing and showmanship garnered an impressive following in the region where he appeared. Bragg’s versatility was such that he was known for his fine yodeling, his masterful recitations and singing of straight country love songs, yet he was equally at home performing novelty numbers or rockabilly. Doug Bragg was a handsome man of dark complexion and slight build with a big voice and a winning personality. All of his peers who were interviewed for this article remember Bragg as someone they liked very much.
For several years into his music career, Doug sang other people’s material, either covers or originals written for him, such as the Johnny Hicks song, “Texas Special”. Doug enjoyed moderate success with his Coral recording of this number and also his cover of “Daydreaming”.
All through Doug’s years of performing, he continued his daytime profession as a butcher. From 1953 to 1958 Doug and his friend Louis Haden worked together as butchers at an A&P Food Store in Dallas. By 1953 Doug’s marriage to Pinkie, his first wife, had ended in divorce. Doug met the woman who was to become his second wife, Monte Oleta Petty, at a drive-in restaurant that she owned. After their marriage, together with her young son, Eddie, they lived in a garage apartment in Dallas. This apartment caught fire one day while both of them were at work and Eddie was in child care and the Bragg family lost everything they had. Shortly after that they became neighbors to their friends Louis and Alice Haden.
Doug’s musical life became more fulfilling for he had begun to write and perform his own material. Although the recordings of these songs credit Doug as the sole author, Alice Haden revealed that Doug’s wife, Oleta, had become involved in the songwriting. Doug and Oleta often worked together on new material. Alice remembers that Oleta would often show her their works in progress. Oleta, who now lives in Brownsboro, said:
“I’ll never forget how ‘Unfinished Castle’ was written.” She and Doug had gone for a drive one day when he parked under the shade of a tree. It was there that together they wrote this song. Another of their successful collaborations was the song, “Daydreaming Again”.
Several of the Bragg originals such as “Whirlwind”, “Calling Me Back”, “One More Mistake”, “You’ll Have To Give (Just A Little)”, and “Remember” possess a disarming charm and reveal an unusual depth in lyric content.
His song, “You’ll Have To Give (Just A Little)” makes no conventional use of rhymes. I loved this song even before I realized that fact. The words he has chosen to tell a story leave the story open to different meanings, depending on the listener’s individual interpretations. I almost feel as though I could write a chapter-length study of this song (a song which few people have heard!) Probably no one else would find this song as fascinating as I do.
By the late 1950’s Doug was performing many more original songs. He had formed a six-piece band, The Drifters, which included a fine lead guitarist, Earl Martin, and a pedal steel player, Frank White. Doug had stopped appearing regularly on the Big “D” Jamboree because he was traveling with the band to fulfill engagements booked by promoter Pappy Daily. Doug was now recording on Daily’s “D” label based in Houston, and his original songs were gaining wider exposure through these recordings.
Near the decade’s end Doug had settled in Brownsboro and had finally won custody of his five sons from his first marriage. His second marriage had produced one son, Monte, born in 1956. This gave the Bragg family a total of seven boys, including Oleta’s first son, Eddie. Meanwhile the gigs were geographically scattered. Doug built a trailer for hauling the band’s instruments. Earl Martin remembers that it was a hard life, traveling so much of the time. Sometimes while on the road Doug would get an idea for a new song and have it completed before the trip’s end.
Perhaps no one could better attest to Doug’s showmanship and his positive attitude than guitarist Earl Martin. Earl described the band’s arrival for a gig at a military base where they were to play the NCO club. Doug and the band members were weary from a long, tiring trip, and they had arrived just shortly before they were to start playing. They then discovered that there was no functioning microphone at the club. Performing as a group without a mike for the vocals was out of the question. Telling his band not to worry, Doug took out his guitar and worked the job as a single, singing his heart out as he moved through the audience.
“At one point,” Earl said with amazement, “he got down on his knees, belting out a song and the crowd loved it! He put on a hell of a show all by himself …. I had never seen anything like it! Doug saved us that night.” Earl also stated that Doug always “sang from the heart” and that he was an even-tempered man, a pleasure to know, and a good person to work with.
Among the stage shows on which Bragg occasionally appeared was Cowtown Hoedown in Fort Worth. This show lasted from 1955 until the early 1960’s. When Doug appeared on the Hoedown he received star billing with his name on the marquee of the Majestic Theater. This elegant showplace had a seating capacity of 1,565 people.
In 1960 or 1961 Bragg decided to retire from the music business. Although he had gone much further than many who seek stardom, there had been no major breakthrough . . . no major hit record. With a wife and seven children to support, he chose to spend more time at their Brownsboro home, raising a family and working at his longtime profession as a butcher. During his last years he worked at a Safeway Grocery in Tyler and only performed in his local area at various social functions.
Oleta was aware of warning signs regarding Doug’s health. He had complained of chest pains on a few occasions. Despite Oleta’s concern, Doug would not go see a doctor. One night he got up from bed, then fell in the hallway as he was stricken with an apparent heart attack. He died the next morning in a Tyler hospital. The date was March 13, 1973, exactly one month before his forty-fifth birthday.
Of all the Bragg children, only the youngest son has pursued a career in music. Monte Clifton Bragg was named after both his mother and father. Monte was seventeen years old at the time of his father’s death. Doug had taught Monte the basics of playing the guitar and had coached him in singing. He also shared with Monte many stories from his music years. He told Monte of his relationships with many famous people, including Elvis Presley at the Louisiana Hayride.
Monte has recorded a cassette album and more recently a CD, which was produced in Nashville. Both albums include some of his father’s songs and the CD is dedicated to Doug Bragg and The Drifters.
Doug Bragg’s music (an appreciation by Bopping’s editor)
There are three different periods in the recording activity of Doug Bragg. First a hillbilly bop session, which took place in Jim Beck’s studios in Dallas, TX on January 2nd 1955, and which provided 4 songs for Coral Records. Of the tracks recorded on this occasion the best two are the version of Bud Deckleman then Memphis hit « Daydreamin’ » (on the Meteor label). Bragg does a fine job on this shuffler, more sustained than the original. Another goodie of the session is « Barbed Wire Love » (what a title…) , a fast bopper with a call-and-response format ; Charles Streight is good on guitar as Carroll Hubbard on fiddle. The remaining tracks, « The Texas Special » (a fast train song) and the average « Tiger Lily », without being tame, are less convincing.
The second period occurred early in 1958, when Bragg cut 4 sides for the famous (also elusive) Dixie label. Out-and-out rockers, all three I heard are very good : the fine, medium paced « Red Rover » or « Lovin’ On My Mind » (2002), and « Pretty little devil » (with girl choruses) (2004), from Madison, TN, but I wonder if they were not actually cut in Texas.
Third period finds Doug Bragg in Houston on the Papy Daily D label. The best song is the clickety « If I Find My Dream Girl » (1018) and the new version of « Daydreaming Again ». On D 1087 there is also a very solid uptempo country blues, « When the blues come walking in ». And he left behind him two fine unissued cuts, « Don’t Do That Again » and « One More Mistake » (both on Bear Family “complete D singles” boxset). Finally Bragg was on D 1045, “I’m All Alone/Calling Me Back” (the podcast to “I’m all alone” stands below). Bragg also appeared on Skippy late in 1959 with a female vocalist, for « Juvenile Baby », which I couldn’t track down. Scoop (Feb. 10th, 2015): Finally found the Skippy record – at last mp3 and scans. Average ’57 R&R by a 10-years old girl…
Cherri Robbins, “Juvenile baby”
Doug Bragg “I’m All Alone” (D 1045)(added Aril 2, 2018)