Gerald « Jerry » Irby’s career in Country music spanned almost forty years. The list of artists he worked with during that time reads like a WHO’S WHO of Western Swing. It ranges from the likes of Ted Daffan to lesser known Western swing performers such as Bill Mounce And The Stars Of The South. In 1937 Irby was « pickin’ and singin’ » with the Bar X Cowboys, a first rate Houston based outfit which featured among its number Elmer and Ben Christian, and singer/guitarist Chuck Keeshan, the latter having worked with Leon « Pappy » Self, and who is to found, along joined Ted Daffan’s band, The Texans. Irby also spent sometime, in the late thirties ans early forties, with another Houston based ensemble, The Texas Wranglers. This outfit comprised of a number of noted Western swing musicians, including steel guitarist Bob Dunn, bassist Hezzie Bryant, vocalist/guitarist Dickie McBride, Leo Raley (mandolin), Gary Hester (fiddle) and Johnny Thames (banjo). These boys, at one time or another, had played alongside the likes of Floyd Tilman, Aubrey « Moon » Mullican and Cliff Bruner.
During his tenure with the Bar X Cowboys and the Texas Wranglers, Irby recorded with those outfits for DECCA. He was also the featured vocalist on at least one of Bill Bounce’s BLUEBIRD releases.
America’s entry into the Second World War in 1941 heralded the end of an era. A number of Western swing outfits disbanded as members of those bands were drafted. The recording ban of 1942 further compounded matters. However, all was not gloom and doom. With industry on a war footing the economy boomed. The public at large, having shrugged of the last vestiges of the depression, wanted to be entertained. As the war drew to a close the recording industry, which hiterto had been monopolised by a handful of record companies, started to grind in action again when the recording ban was lifted. Small independant record companies sprang up across the country to challenge the monopoly that major labels like DECCA and RCA-VICTOR had once enjoyed. It was these small idependant companies who more or less set the trends in the post war years.
One of the first record companies to be set up in Texas was Bill Quinn’s GULF label. Based at 3104 Telephone Road in Houston, GULF made its debut on the scene in the fall of 1945. Quinn, who later ran the legendary Goldstar studio, and label of the same name, recorded a number of fairly well known Western swing acts, including Al Clauser, Moon Mullican and Jerry Irby. It was Irby’s waxing of his self penned ditty career. « Nails In My Coffin », a classic song which is now a standard number in Country music, was a regional hit, albeit a modest one, for Irby. « Nails In My Coffin » has been recorded, with varying degrees of success, over the years by countless Country singers.
The Los Angeles GLOBE label, a newly formed independant recording company, latched on with Jerry Irby’s success with « Nails In My Coffin » and promptly signed him to a recording deal. They wasted little time in having Irby re-record « Nails In My Coffin » for release on GLOBE. Irby’s band at that time, The Texas Ranchers, including his old compatriot Elmer Christian, steel guitarist « Deacon » Evans, and pianist Pete Burke. The latter musician, Pete Burke, is worthy of special mention as his distinctive performances on the pianoforte is to be heard on scores of Irby’s recordings. Burke himself later made some solo recordiongs for the HUMMINGBIRD label. It is also likely that Irby and his band are featured on Elmer Christian’s GLOBE recordings.
Houston record distributor H.B. Crowe was the next person to take an interest in Irby. In 1947 Crowe recorded Irby, and Elmer Christian, at a session in Houston for MERCURY. Guitarist/fiddler Woodrow « Woody » Carter joined the line-up of Irby’s band for this session. Carter was to remain with Irby’s band for a little over eighteen months or so before embarking on his own, short lived, solo career.
When Lewis R. Chudd launched his IMPERIAL label out on the West Coast in 1947, one of the first Country/Western Swing artists he recorded was Jerry Irby. During his relatively brief stay with IMPERIAL, Irby cut some twelve sides for the label. He was also the featured vocalist on Elmer Christian’s release, on which he was backed by the Bar X Cowboys.
Jerry Irby’s next recordings were made in Hollywood in October 1947, for M.G.M. Unfortunately his initial contract with this label was short lived, because the musician union called yet another recording ban for 1948. However M.G.M. , who sensed Irby’s potential, acquired a number of Irby’s GLOBE and IMPERIAL masters and reissued that material.
Whilst the recording ban was in effect Jerry Irby appears to have made a handful of recordings for a couple of small, non union labels. Irby’s HILLBILLY HIT PARADE, and his CIRECO releases seem to date from this period. Not much is known about his release on HILLBILLY HIT PARADE, it is without question his rarest disc, even rarer than his neo rockabilly offerings on labels like JER-RAY, POLLY and J+B. Fractionnally more, although that not much more, is known about his CIRECO releases. There were three known releases on the label. The first was by Irby, the second featured Irby on one side, and Texas Bill Strength on the other (this was Strength’s first recording), and the third was by Dickie McBride.
The year 1948 also witnessed Irby’s venture into the night club business. The trade paper BILLBOARD reported that Irby had purchased a club in Houston and had renamed the venue « Jerry Irby’s Texas Coral ». This spacious club, able to accomodate up to 1000 visitors, was open seven nights a week. Irby himself performed at the club three nights, whilst Floyd Tilman and Leon Payne were booked to perform there the rest of the week.
When the recording ban was lifted, late in 1949, Irby was back in the studio recording once again for M.G.M. However his days with M.G.M. were numbered. He cut just two sessions for the company before leaving the label in search of pastures new. His search for a new recording contract took him first to Bill McCall’s 4 STAR label, where he cut two singles, then to his old friend H.B. Crowe in Houston, who had just formed his own label – HUMMINGBIRD.
Irby was reunited with another old friend, Ted Daffan, a few years later when he joined the rost of artists who had been signed by Daffan. Irby recorded for his newly formed DAFFAN label. Following his spell on DAFFAN Irby recorded for a slew of small concerns, most of which were based in the Houston area, like HI-LO, POLLY, J+B and JER-RAY. Then there followed a period of inactivity, at least as far as the recording scene was concerned, before Irby resurfaced in the early 70s cutting material for BAGATELLE. Unlike his earlier recordings, Irby’s BAGATELLE material was of a non secular nature. Irby had become a born again christian and was using his talents as a singer/songwriter to praise the works of the Lord. Why after all, as someone once said, should the devil have all the good tunes.
“Jack, ain’t you ever coming back” (Hummingbird 1001)