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.
Al Dexter, “Diddy, Wah, Diddy With A Blah! Blah!”
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.
“Kilroy’s Been Here”
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.
“Aubrey Gass Vocal“, “Fisherman’s Boogie”
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 ».
Tom O’Neal “Too Many Tickets”
We now jump to one of the most famous Aubrey A. Gass records (backed by the Hel-Cats), this is on the Irving, TX Helton label released in 1965. « Corn fed Gal » is present in two recent compilations : a rocker with swooping piano (# 671-103), backed with a new version of « Kilroy’s Been Here ».(a good guitar ; piano is replaced by a discreet steel). Same label had Grady Owen (ex-Gene Vincent‘s Blue Caps bass player in 1958) (# 102) with « Vietnam 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.
“Corn Fed Gal“(Helton version)
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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