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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Dusty Owens was born on September 2, 1930 in Fairdealing, Missouri as Robert James Kucharski. Shortly after his birth, his family moved to Flint, Michigan where he spent most of his childhood. When he was 6 years old, Robert took violin lessons in school but he later moved to accordion which seemed to be more to his liking. In 1947, while in High school, he joined a local western band called the O.K. Boys to play the accordion. Later that year Robert became their front man and changed the band’s name to Dusty Owens and his Rodeo Boys.
In 1947 Owens entered Flint Technical High School but he soon dropped out and moved to Saginaw, Michigan, to find a job as a professional musician. It was in St. Joseph, Missouri, while working for radio station KFEQ that he received his first official pay as a musician. When Glen Harris of Shenandoah, Iowa radio station KMA asked Dusty to come work for him, he moved to Iowa. At KMA he got acquainted with the famous Blackwood Brothers Quartet and with Ike Everly, the father of Everly Brothers Don and Phil. Ike was largely responsible for Dusty’s later career: he stimulated Dusty to concentrate on a singing rather than on playing the accordion and he helped him to get his own weekly 15-minute radio show at KMA. Ike treated Dusty as his pupil and took him to all kinds of events that might be helpful for Dusty’s singing career.
In 1949 Dusty Owens recorded several radio transcriptions for “Mother’s Best Flour” as well as for “Lassie Feeds” but when he got married later that year, he returned to Flint to work as an accordion teacher at a local school of music. In 1951, he and his former band the Rodeo Boys regrouped and briefly worked for radio station WHO, Des Moines. Apart from doing their regular weekday radio shows, the Rodeo Boys also were part of the “Iowa Barn Dance Frolic” that was broadcasted on Saturday nights.
In 1953, Dusty and his band joined the Wheeling Jamboree from Wheeling, West-Virginia, which was one of the most famous barn dances at the time. That same year Owens signed a songwriters contract with Acuff-Rose and on October 1, 1953 he signed a recording contract with Columbia Records. It was a standard contract for one year against a royalty rate of 2% of 90% and two one-year options.
On October 28, 1953 Dusty Owens did his first recording session for Columbia, with Hank Williams’ Drifting Cowboys and Chet Atkins providing the back-up. During the session at the Castle studio in Nashville’s Tulane hotel, he recorded four songs that were all self penned. Columbia released “Hello, Operator” and “The Life You Want To Live” (Columbia 21202) in January, 1954 and in May they released “Just Call On Me” and Somewhere She’s Waiting” (Columbia 21260).
The second recording session for Columbia was done on June 3, 1954, and again, Columbia released all four songs.
Don Law decided to exercise the first option in Owens’ contract and on June 21, 1955, he did his third recording session for the label. Only two songs of this session were eventually issued and Columbia didn’t exercise the second option.
In 1956 Owens recorded six songs for his own Admiral label, including his most famous song “Once More” that was later cut by many others including George Jones, Melba Montgomery, the Osborne Brothers, Roy Acuff and Dolly Parton. During the 1960’s he recorded for Wynwood, but the quality of those recordings was inferior to his previous output.
Dusty Owens, a music appreciation (by bopping’s editor)
The Columbia sides (1954-1955) are generally of high standard. Although Owens is more at ease with medium paced tear-jerkers, he offers also some very good fast boppers. Let’s investigate his records side by side.
« Hello, operator » (# 21202) is a fast uptempo with fine fiddle and bass. A steel solo and a brisk vocal. Its flipside «The life you want to live » is a sincere medium paced shuffler.
More of the previous one with the follow-up « Just call on me » # 21260) : a warm voice over a fine fiddle. Its flipside « Somewhere she’s waiting » is an uptempo which shines the steel of Don Helms in.
The last 4 Columbia sides are all medium paced weepers, sometimes very sincere, but excitement is gone, and no song really comes to light.
The Admiral sides are in comparison far superior than the Columbias.
A very great early 1956 fast duet first « It’s goodbye and so long » (# 1000) with Donna Darlene (1938-2017), paired with the all-time hit « Once more » : an energetic blend of duet vocal, fiddle and steel.
« Cure that shyness » (# 1002) has Don Owens solo and is a fast bopper. « A place for homeless hearts » is a medium paced tune with great ‘hillbilly’ voice. « Hey honey » ( 1004) is a good version of the Wiley Barkdull song (Hickory 1074) and dates from 1957. The flip « Our love affair » is a fast shuffler with strong bass.
And mention must be made of the Abbie Neal Rockabilly platters on the label: “Newton’s law” (# 1001), “If again” (# 1006) and “Hillbilly beat” (# 15000). They may come in later fortnight’s favorites.
Biography and Columbia songs taken from W. Agenant « Columbia 20000 serie » blog ; Admiral songs from various sources, mainly YouTube. Labels from 45-cat or 78rpm-world. Dusty Owens pictures from Hillbilly-Music site.
Hello, folks ! This is the first 2018 (early January) fortnight’s favorites’ selection. As usual, a mix of Hillbilly boppers, Rockabillies and Country rockers.
First come WADE JERNIGAN for « So tired », a fine Rockaballad on the Mobile, AL, Sandy label (# 1010). Good steel and extrovert vocal. Despite some research, he didn’t cut any other record.”So tired” was written par Johnny Bozeman, apparently the owner of the label, who recorded “She’s my bayou babe” on the Biloxi, MS. Fine label 1006, and also had “How many/The blues and I” (pop ballads) on Sandy.
Then four tracks by the Virginian KEN LIGHTNER and the Hay Riders. He recorded in 1961 on Dixie (a Starday custom label) # 913 his most well-known track (it even appeared on a volume of the late Cees Klop Dixie CD series), « The Corner of love ». Some would call it a teen rockabilly. It bears though a nice steel battling with a good guitar, even a short piano solo, and to be true, a light vocal. Slowier is the flipside “Am I still the one“, once more with a mellow steel. The same goes for the short (less than 2 minutes) « Mary Ann » on the Wheeling, Wva. Emperor label 220 from 1959 ; again a fine steel, and a very alluring rhythm. Finally on the Kingston # 418 label, the song « Big big love », which is a easy-going country-rocker led by steel again.
On the Kentucky label (# 575) from Cincinnati, BOB MOONEY has an amusing talking blues, « A sucker born every day », which is a tour de force for the steel guitar : it’s litterally cracking and howling. He already had cut “Aubomobile baby“[sic] on Cozy 317/318 in 1953, and “Sucker” was reissued on REM 350 in 1964.
From Louisiana now, two tracks by BUCK WHEAT (rn C.M. Wheat, from San Antonio, Tx). Backed by the Wheatbinders. A lazy Rockabilly/country rocker first with « Texaswoman » on the Goldband label (# 1093, from 1959) ; then « Twitterpated » on the Folk-Star label (# 1303, a subs. to Goldband) : a great piano led shuffle beat, a bluesy guitar solo.
We come to an end with both sides of Columbia 21031 (October 1951) by the MERCER BROTHERS, Charlie and Wallace. They originated from Metter, south of Georgia, and began to appear at the Louisiana Hayride in 1948. « It ain’t no use » and « Tell me who » have a distinguished Delmore Brothers appeal. No surprise, since Wayne Raney himself backed them on harmonica for the session.
This Knoxville bluegrass brother group was largely overshadowed by the Brewster Brothers, with whom the siblings Audie and Earl Webster performed and recorded as part of a unit that was named with a great deal of brotherly love: the Brewster Brothers and Four Brothers Quartet. The implied confusion is enough to make one’s head spin along the lines of a deep shot of the liquor brewed in the hills above Knoxville. The band name suggests the presence of three sets of brothers, four of them related, but in reality there was only the combination of the Webster Brothers and the Brewster Brothers , totalling four. This is by no means the worst mistake in math in terms of bluegrass band names. That honor would probably go to the 7 Flat Mountain Boys, which was usually a quartet. At any rate, some bluegrass fans assume the Webster Brothers were like the Brewster Brothers in that they became prolifically recorded sidemen working in the bands of bigger bluegrass and country names, such as Carl Butler or Red Allen. This premise is normally based on the existence of players such as or Otis Webster or Jackie Webster, but neither of these old-time pickers nor any other Webster was a part of the Webster Brothers unit. Audie Webster played mandolin, guitar, and sang, while his more handsome brother Earl Webster was cut out to be a frontman, learning to handle lead vocals and rhythm guitar in order to live up to expectations. In tandem with the Brewster Brothers, it was the Webster Brothers who got to wear the light-colored suits and the former brothers got the dark stripes. Whatever meaning this might have in the bluegrass hierachy is unknown, but it seems important to mention. Singer Carl Butler, also a Knoxville lad, also formed a working combination with the Webster Brothers, cutting some records with them for Columbia, but owed no strict allegiance to the family. Butler also sang with other area brother groups, such as the Bailey Brothers – who, coincidentally appeared on the Grand Old Opry with the Brewster Brothers — and the Sauceman Brothers. In a sense, the basic concept of the lead vocal in a Knoxville bluegrass “brother” band of the ’50s can be likened to an old-time mystery: one can always assume the Butler did it. One he did with the Webster Brothers was “Somebody Touched Me » a bluegrass gospel warhorse that has been cut in nearly 50 different versions.
The Webster Brothers collaboration with Carl Butler was going on for a full year, between October 1954 and November 1955 – they had already cut themselves 4 sides in March 1954 . During this term they recorded 16 sides, either on the Okeh label (a subsidiary of Columbia), or on the main label. An half was made of religious songs, well settled in Bluegrass tradition, the other included rural Boppers that had an appeal to the white market. Their best songs were : « Kisses don’t lie »/ »I wouldn’t change you if I could » (Okeh 18052)
Years later the Webster Brothers issued in 1962 on the Nashville Do-ra-me label (# 1432) a modern Bluegrass song, « My heart won’t let me forget». One more ’45 on the IHS label and that was it, they disappeared from music scene.
Sources : a biography by Eugene Chadbourne on AllMusic site. Ronald Keppner and 78-world for label scans. Willem Agenant (Columbia 20000 serie) for the music.
Howdy folks ! This is the mid-summer fortnight’s selection. All the tunes were recorded between 1956 and 1961. With the last one we begin : 1961, in London, OH on the Karl label (property of Clay Eager) # 3022. LACY KIRK does a very fine job on « This is saturday night », fast tempo, nice steel and fiddle. Value $ 100-200. The flipside « What happened to our love » is a great sincere ballad.
Next from Chicago: BILLY PRAGER & his Caravans and a wild double-sider from December 1958 on the (R&B) Crystal label (# 106) . The steel guitar is particularly effective and does very strange sounds for « Do it bop », while « Everybody’s rockin’ » is a bit more conventional Rockabilly/rocker. $ 300-400. This Crystal label has nothing to do with the Memphis one of the same name : serie 500 (Jimmy Knight and « Hula bop » or Jimmy Pritchett « That’s the way I feel » – with great swooping piano by some player who sounds very, very much like Jerry Lee Lewis !/Nothing on my mind »).
ONIE WHEELER was a Great. Born in 1927 in Senath, MO. he pursued his career during nearly 50 years, just ending it on the stage of the Friday Night Opry one day of 1984. Here are two sides aimed by collectors, and for good reasons : they are among his best tunes of the ’50s, cut in Dallas in June 1956 for Columbia : « Onie’s bop » and « I wanna hold my baby » (Columbia 21523) are good examples of the commercial Rockabilly a massive major had to offer, the B-side being in my mind the better one.
CLYDE BEAVERS next, on the Georgia (Starday custom) label # 532 from Tennga, Ga. « I won’t always love you » is a bluesy tune over a drivin’ medium rhythm, in all cases a primitive bopper from 1955. Later Beavers specialized himself (’60s) in drinking or smoking songs, like Lattie Moore‘s « Here I am drunk again » or Webb Pierce‘s « Cigarettes and whiskey (and wild, wild women) ».
« Sal’s house » was declined back-to-back of another Dixie (# 121) by CARSON WILLIS from Greer, South Carolina. This « Sal’s house # 1» seems to be a real mess ! Date : 1959.”