SHORTY LONG & the Santa Fe’ Rangers: Pennsylvania hillbilly by a former Italian immigrant and classical violinist!
A native of Reading, Pennsylvania, Shorty Long was the leader and organizer of the Santa Fe’ Rangers. When he was just 14, his parents, who were musically inclined, sent him to study music at the College of Rome where he got an education in classical music. They said he graduated cum laude as a violinist. During that time it seems he had formed a hillbilly music band that shocked his ‘serious- minded’ parents and the professors. That classical musical training just added to the bands musical sounds.
Shorty Long could also play the accordion, and sang both solo and tenor lead in his combo. He was with radio station WEEU in Reading from about 1946 and by 1951, seemed to be still there. His fan mail was said to be phenomenal.
Prior to returning to his hometown of Reading, he had also appeared on the WSIL Hayloft Hoedown and also the WLS National Barn Dance during the Alka-Seltzer sponsored portions. He also played to rave reviews at New York City’s Paramount Theatre when he was featured with the Foy Willing Trio on the Andrew Sisters’ “Eight-To-The-Bar Ranch Show”.
Shorty spent his summers at his Santa Fe Ranch which was on Rt. 422 just outside of Reading. It may have been some place where entertainment was held as they mention he played host to the big names in the entertainment field. He also appeared in the movie, “Powder River Gunfire”.
He had also just signed a recording contract with RCA Victor then, too. And in his song folio of 1951, was a recent addition to the King record label. (BIOGRAPHY TAKEN FROM: hillbilly-music.com)
Shorty Long, Country Musician, Composer
By Nathan Gorenstein, Inquirer Staff Writer
POSTED: October 27, 1991
Shorty Long, 67, a country-and-western musician whose songs were played by Roy Acuff and who backed up Elvis Presley on recordings of “You Ain’t Nothin’ But a Hound Dog” and “Don’t Be Cruel,” died Friday October 25th, of complications from cancer at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Reading, where he was born.
Mr. Long, whose real name was Emidio Vagnoni, lived in Exeter Township and for many years ran the Santa Fe Ranch, a 20-acre family entertainment park. He played country and gospel, and staged family comedies with his wife, the former Gladys Ulrich, whose stage name was Dolly Dimples.
Although Mr. Long never officially changed his name, most of his fans only knew him as Shorty Long, a stage name he adopted 50 years ago.
Mr. Long’s original music training was in the classical tradition, and included a stint at the Conservatory of Rome, where his parents enrolled him for violin studies when he was 16.
Despite that – and playing violin with the Reading Symphony Orchestra for a period – he decided to pursue “hillbilly and western music,” as country music was called in the 1940s.
Only 5-foot-6, Mr. Long told interviewers how he’d gotten his name.
In the 1940s, at the start of his career, a fan approached him for an autograph. Because friends had already given him Shorty as a nickname, he signed “Shorty” – only to have the fan complain that the autograph was inadequate without a second name.
“So I wrote Long,” he recalled in a 1956 interview. “That happened to be the name of a girl I was going with at the time.”
Mr. Long opened the Sante Fe Ranch in 1948, emphasizing country music. In 1967, he and his wife purchased a 67-acre tract in New Tripoli, Lehigh County, and opened Ontelaunee Park, where top-name country music entertainers performed.
He sold the second park in 1982.
Mr. Long played steel guitar, wrote songs and recorded for a number of major labels. He also played violin, piano, bass, organ and banjo in recording sessions for a number of artists, including Presley.
His songs were recorded by Roy Acuff, Marty Robbins, Hank Snow, Jimmy Dickens, Pee Wee King, Jim Reeves and Hawkshaw Hawkins.
In 1955 he was cast as the lead in a Frank Loessner musical, The Most Happy Fella, and was declared a “showstopper” by columnist Walter Winchell.
Long stayed with the Broadway production for about four months, but later said homesickness for his wife and his country-and-western group, “The Santa Fe Rangers,” brought him back to Berks County.
It was during his stay in New York that he played piano and other instruments on such Presley songs as “Hound Dog” and “Don’t Be Cruel.”
In 1984 Mr. Long was presented the Outstanding Italian American Citizenship Award of Berks County by the Spartaco Society.
In a 1982 interview, Mr. Long said, “I wanted to be remembered as someone who always wanted to be with my family, the thousands of people who let me entertain them.”
It has not been very easy to assemble a story of Shorty Long. Indeed the biography and the obit above did help a bit. But what more ? Virtually all I know about him came from his records, and luckily they are quite a lot, in very different styles. Let’s try at one go a classification and an appreciation of Long’s music.
His first Signatures/Hi-Tone sides from 1947 (with Riley Shepard) are exuberant: lot of accordion (Long?), lot of reels (« Sheppard’s Scottische ») or traditionals (« Boil them cabbage down »). I really would like to listen to their treatment of the blues standard « Sweet Corinna blues » (untraced – someone can help?). Anyway nice songs are also present, typical ’40s hillbilly : « Airmail special on the fly » or « After all these years », which remind me a lot of the music that another Pennsylvanian cut at the same time : Bill Haley & His Four Aces of Western swing, early in his career (1949-50) on Keystone, or Cowboy label.
Riley Shepard & Shorty Long “After all these years”
Riley Shepard & Shorty Long “Boil them cabbage down”
On the Cowboy label, precisely, Shorty Long and the Santa Fe’ Rangers (at this point, not to be confused with Virginian Melvin Price‘s band, who cut on the Regal label as well as Blue Hen, among others, although later in the ’50s) recruited an already 30 to 32 years old singer (born 1918), Jack Day, or the alreay unknown Pee Wee Miller (although Day was present in the writers’ credit) for several sides. Fine uptempo sides with main instrument being accordion well to the fore (a fact which may wonder if Shorty Long was not playing it himself), good and firm singing by Day on « I round up the stars » and « I’ll go on loving you », or Miller in « You’ve got my heart in trouble ». Later on, Jack Day woud pursue a long career, although not very prolific recording-wise, on Coral ( his « Mule boogie [is this the Roy Hall tune on Bullet?]/Coyote blues » sounds promising..), Mercury (a cover of Bob Newman‘s « Lonesome truck driver’s blues »), and finally in late 1959 on Arcade 155: the fine « Rattle bone boogie » (flipside I’d like to hear is an instrumental, « Rappin’ the bass », well before the rap craze, of course).[March 24, 2018. You name it, I find it. Here’s “Rappin’ the Bass”, indeed an instrumental, rather average]
Shorty Long and Santa Fe’ Rangers [Jack Day, vocal] “I round up the stars”
Shorty Long and Santa Fe’ Rangers [Pee Wee Miller, vocal) “You’ve got my heart in trouble”
Jack Day, “Rattle bone boogie”
Get back to Shorty Long – as he aimed to be called then by fans. We find him next on Decca in 1948 for very slow sentimental songs. Long has a fine voice, mellow and easy, but…no uptempo : he’s crooning. Best song to emerge is the standard « I love you so much it hurts ». In 1949-50, he went to RCA-Victor, and all the songs I’ve heard are similar in style and I can think in confidence that Long pursued on slow ballads on the label.
We find him next on King Records, out of Cincinnati. It’s still now unclear where he recorded, either in Cincinnati or Nashville, TN. But he must have used studio musicians : on the labels, « The Santa Fe’ Rangers » have disappeared. All in all, he had better moments then, and went straight on the hillbilly bop bandwagon. My favorites are « Calm, cool and collected » (# 889) and the two-sided # 953. « Just like two drops of water » is a good uptempo ballad, well in the style of the King label circa 1950-52. The best side is however the powerful train song « Good night Cincinnati, good morning Tennessee » (my first exposure to Shorty Long’s music in 1978). Nice steel, infectious rhythm, a little classic !
Scotty Evans, “Three times seven” (Arcade 115)
Shorty Long, “Good night Cincinnati, good morning Tennessee”
I’d like to hear also « Hillbilly wedding » (# 949), which escaped to my research until now ; it must have had some success, since this tune was reissued on # 1076 in 1952.[It’s here, without scan: a gentle hillbilly jiver]
Shorty Long & Dolly Dimple “Hillbilly Wedding”
1953, down in Tennessee ; first for the Gallatin Dot label ; « Pretend » and « Crying steel guitar waltz » (# 1153) are highly forgettable, slow sentimental ballads. “Crying” was covered by Pee Wee King with a reasonable dose of success in May 1953.
Second session is a lot more interesting for the Knoxville small Valley label. From then on, I guess it’s a turn in Shorty Long’s career. « I got nine little kisses » is a jivey little rocker, a la Bill Haley (Essex period – actually the song reminds me « Crazy, man, crazy »). Chorus, string-bass, lead guitar and a happy vocal by Long. Its flipside « Who said I said that » is an equally good jiver.
Shorty Long “Who said I said that“
The Davis Sisters covered “Just like me” (RCA 47-5843) in 1955, and the pair offered Martha Carson “I just found God” (RCA EPA 674) in 1956.
Back to the big RCA-Victor label, this time I think in NYC in 1954, until 1957. Long went more and more pop, after 1956; anyway he had still fine sides, like the train song « Standing in the station » (with a male/female chorus doing train effects – Boudleaux Bryant had already given Long the song “Who said I said that” on Valley) or the mambo-beat « Make with me de love » or on the X label in 1955 ; Long teamed with Bob Newman as « The Dalton Boys » for the great two-sider « Roll, Rattler, roll » b/w « Just like me » (X 0045).
Shorty Long, “Make with me de love”
The Dalton Boys “Roll, Rattler, roll”
Shorty Long, “I got it”
Shorty Long, “Luscious”
Shorty Long, “Redstone John”
The Davis Sisters covered “Just like me” in 1955 on RCA 47-5843, while the pair offered “I just found God” to Martha Carson (RCA EPA 674) in 1956.
Late January 1956 as pianist he backed Elvis Presley during the mammoth session with saw « Blue suede shoes », « Shake rattle and roll », etc. cut He maintained to have played on « Hound dog », although Gordon Stokes of the Jordanaires held the piano stool for this August 1956 session.
Apart from a fine, very Everly-ish « I got it » (unissued at the time – I don’t know where the Youtuber found it), and a big band-ish « Luscious » (I believe this is the Roy Hall song – B-side of “Blue suede shoes“: the writer is the same, Greg Callahan) , other tracks are « Vacation rock » (curiously issued as B-side to « I got nine little kisses » on the Valley bootleg issue in 1978) which is a belter, as « Burnt toasts and black coffee » (RCA 47-6572). Last good track Long could have cut was Cliff Crofford’s « Another love has ended », alas ruined (to my ears) by over-production and noisy brassy backing. Final track of interest came in 1958 on the Birmingham, AL. K-Son label (distributed by RCA): Shorty Long delivers an honest white-rocker with lot of saxes. Nothing of an earthquake however!
Shorty long issued several albums during the ’60s and ’70s along with his wife Dolly Dimples, and was active in music nearly until his death in 1991.
This article would have proved impossible to settle down without the invaluable help of collector Ronald Keppner, out of Frankfurt am Main in Germany. Thanks Ronald for the sounds and scans.