Born Noble F. Stover on Nov. 16, 1928 in Huntsville, TX, Smokey had his own band and was playing the honky tonks of Texas at 16. In 1949, a new radio station went on the air in Pasadena, TX where he landed his first deejaying job at KLVL-AM, an on-the-air learning experience. A year later, KRCT-AM in Baytown, TX lured him away. Over the next year, Smokey’s show became so popular, the station changed their format to country and hired two more deejays. Meanwhile late 1951, backed by his band, The Stampede Wranglers, he cut his first sides for the Kemah, TX Stampede label (# 101)[Galveston Cty, Houston vicinity] : « I’m planting a rose/It’s the natural thing », two good boppers – side A is mid-paced, side B is a fine Hank Williams inspired Honky tonker. Of course this label was that of a future promising Rockabilly & Country performer, Glen Barber. Imperial picked the Stampede masters up and reissued them (Imperial 8141) in December 1951. According to Michel Ruppli, the fiddler was Sleepy Short.
In 1954, he moved on to KBRZ-AM in Freeport, TX where he stayed for three years except for a six-month interval in 1956 when he helped launch KLOS in Albuquerque, NM.
In the meantime he was signed by producer J.D. Miller out of Crowley, La. on his Feature label, and recorded two songs, among them the better side was « Go on and leave my baby alone », a fine uptempo with great steel a la Don Helms (Drifting Cowboys’ member). Flipside is a quieter mid-paced ballad, « That’s how true my love is for you »
The initial pressing order by J. D. Miller (dated January 1954) for “Go on and leave my baby alone” was for 800 78s and 500 45s – rather more than Miller’s usual order. Fiddle and guitar are by Doug and Rusty Kershaw respectively (later cutting records on Hickory on their own right), with steel guitar by Louis Fourneret.
Later he became a well-known Texas D.J., remembered by Eddie Noack as having played Elvis Presley’s first Sun release twenty times a day! He had a fan-club in Baytown, Texas, in 1954 and two years later had a show, “Smokey’s Big Stampede” on KRBZ, Freeport, Texas, switching to KVET Austin later in the same year
Circa May 1955, Stover entered the Starday studio in Beaumont, TX, and recorded two songs in the same pattern as the previous ones : once more a mix of slow and fast sides. The A side «You wouldn’t kid me, would you » is the good bopping one ; now the B side was a ballad, on a theme that seemed to please him, because he made another version of «It’s easier said than done » 4 years later on Ol’Podner. “You wouldn’t kid me, would you, baby“
In 1958, he moved to KCIJ-AM in Shreveport, LA to be near the Louisiana Hayride, hoping the move would push his singing career. Seven months later, the station changed owners who brought in their own deejays. With the help of a friend, Claude Gray, Smokey found a job at WDAL in Meridian, MS where he stayed until late 1959 when he received a call from his old Freeport boss, Ken Ferguson. Ken was opening KMOP in Tucson, AZ and wanted Smokey to be his sign-on man. Smokey hit the airwaves there in Jan. 1960 and remained there for eight years when he took a couple of years out to concentrate on his singing and songwriting.
In the meantime (1959), he recorded 6 sides for the small Ol’Podner label located in Lake Jackson, TX. All these sides are pretty traditional for the era (fiddle omnipresent). Stover’s voice reminds one at times of Eddie Noack, while « Ballad of Jimmy Hoffa » is a rocker sung in duet, like George Jones’ « White lightning ».”My building of dreams” is another song to watch.
Other songs during the ’60s are more and more country-pop oriented, and one can retain the better ones, like «One thing in common » (Sims 172), or the fine Indian country-rocker « On the warpath » (Toppa 1061) from 1962, and « I want the cake, not the crumbs » (Boyd 153) . His most elusive record was made for Na-R-Co (# 105) and « Remember me/This hurt inside me ». He succeed as a songwriter when George Jones in 1962 chose his « Sometimes you just can’t win » he had already cut on Toppa #1061.
On Jan. 1, 1970, Smokey went back on the air at KRZE in Farmington, NM. A year-and-a-half later, his mother’s illness forced him back to Houston, TX. He more or less retired from radio then until 1992 when a friend built a new station, KVST in Conroe/Huntsville, TX. Smokey went on the air there in early 1993 and ran a midnight ’til 6 am show for a year until it “got old” and he re-retired. In 1995, Ernie Ashworth lured him to Gallatin, TN to get the “Country Classic” station of WYXE off the ground. Smokey enjoyed romping and stomping with the Oldies for about eight months when he hung it up and returned to his native Texas where he’s retired from radio, but still pickin’ and singin’ every weekend. His latest recording is titled, « I May Be Getting Older, But I Ain’t Stopped Thinking Young ». Also Eagle in Germany issued a White rocker « Let’s have a ball » by him, but I doubt he ever cut this song. You can judge by yourself.
It’s hard to figure out what’s going on here. There were four versions of « Big door »…a sort-of « Green door » sequel.The first version appeared in 4 Star’s AP (Artist Promotion) and was by the writer, Gene Brown. Some say that Eddie Cochran is on guitar. That version reappeared on 4 Star (# 1717) and reappeared yet again identical on Dot, the label that had scored with « Green door ». At almost the same time, circa April 1958, that 4 Star licensed Brown’s master to Dot, Jack Tucker‘s version appeared. Was this the same Jack Tucker who worked hillbilly nighspots in Los Angeles for many years ? Probably. According to Si Barnes, who worked for both Jack Tucker (real name Morris Tucker) and his brother, Hubert, aka Herb [« Habit forming kisses » on Excel 107, 1955: see elsewhere in this site the Rodeo/Excel story], the Tuckers were from Haleyville, near Oklahoma City . Jack (rn Morris) was born on April 19th, 1918.
Both brothers led bands in Los Angeles, playing spots like the Hitching Post, Harmony Park Ballroom, and so on. Jack had a Saturday night television show on Channel 11. Tommy Allsup graduated from Herb Tucker’s band, and according to Barnes, Herb led the more musically sophisticated outfit. Jack Tucker, said Barnes was « pretty much stuck on himself. A very basic guitar player and vocalist. He was really limited in musical talent. I’m surprised he let the band record [Bob Wills‘] « Big beaver » [at the same session as « Big door»]. He didn’t understand the Wills beat or anything about that style. Jack was a two-chord guy. Both Herb and Jack faded out in the early 1960s when the ballrooms closed or switched over to rock ».
Nevertheless, Tucker’s recording career was quite extensive. There was a demo session for Modern in 1949 and his first 4 Star record was a reissue of a 1953 disc for the 4* custom Debut label. Other records, usually with the Oklahoma Playboys, appeared on Starday (1954), RCA’s « X » imprint (1955), Downbeat, with Bob Stanley (1956), Audie Andrews on Debut, himself on Bel Aire and Nielsen (1957). Guitarist Danny Michaels remembered that Tucker was playing at the Pioneer Room on Pioneer Blvd, when they did the 4 Star session. According to Michaels, he played lead and Al Petty played steel guitar, but he couldn’t remember the others. Following Tucker’s brief tenure with 4 Star, he recorded for Ozark Records in South Gate, California. One of their singles (with Don Evans on lead guitar), « Lonely man » was acquired by Imperial. Another, « Honey moon trip to Mars », may have been revived by Larry Bryant (Santa Fe 100, or Bakersfield 100).
Tucker appears to have bowed out with a clutch of records for Toppa in 1961-1962, and later for Public! and Young Country. He had backed Lina Lynne (later on Toppa 1008) on Jimmy O’Neal‘s Rural Rhythm label, and Bill Bradley on Fabor Robinson‘s Fabor label in 1957-58.
Tucker died on September 26, 1996, but no one has an idea what he was doing between the mid-60s and his death.
Notes by Colin Escott to « That’ll flat git it vol. 26 » (Four Star). Additions by Bopping’s editor.
The music of Jack Tucker (by Bopping’s editor)
To follow Barnes’ assertion about limitations both on guitar and vocal of Jack Tucker, one must although admit his discs were good enough to have him a comfortable discography over the years 1953-1965. I cannot at all judge his talent but I’d assume his music is generally pretty good hillbilly bop or rockabilly.
First tracks I discuss are his « X » sides (# 0093) from 1954 : the fast « Stark, staring madly in love» has a tinkling piano and a loping rhythm, a fine side, and the equally good « First on your list » (much later re-recorded on Public!). Both are billed X songs by Allan Turner.
This is without forgetting two 1949 demo tracks for Modern : apparently Dusty Rhodes is on lead guitar for the instrumental « Dusty road boogie », and Jack Tucker is vocalist for a version of Hank Williams’ « Mind your own business ».
Later on, we had Tucker on Starday 136 : « Itchin’ for a hitchin ‘ » and « I was only fooling me », typical hillbillies on the Beaumont, TX label – probably recorded on the West coast, as later did Jack Morris [see the latter’s story elsewhere in this site].
More earlier on the 4 Star OP (« Other People ») custom Debut label (# 1001), later reissued on the regular 4 Star X-81, Tucker had cut in 1954 « Too blue to cry », a good song with band chorus, and had backed a fellow Oklahomian Audie Andrews on the same Debut label (One side written by NY entrepreneur Buck Ram).
In 1956 Bob Stanley [not to be confused with the pop orchestra leader] on Downbeat 204 had « Your triflin’ ways/Heartaches and tears », backed by Tucker and his Oklahoma Playboys : two very nice Hillbilly boppers: Stanley adopts the famous growl-in-his-voice, a speciality of T. Texas Tyler. Both of them had also a disc on Downbeat 203 (still untraced). Jack Tucker backed also in 1957 Lina Lynne on the fine bopper « Pease be mine » (Rural Rhythm 513 [see above].
Same year 1957 saw Tucker record two sides among his best on the small California Bel Aire (# 22) label, « Let me practice with you » and « Surrounded by sorrow », good mid-paced boppers (fine steel). His band, “The Okla. Playboys“, backed Roy Counts on two excellent boppers on Bel Aire 23: the medium-paced “I ain’t got the blues“, and the faster “Darling I could never live without you“, both have strong steel guitar. Tucker also had « Hound dog » on the Nielsen 56-7 label (untraced).
1958 saw the issue of « Big door » already discussed earlier (plus the B-side « Crazy do » a good instrumental), as the other 4 Star record, « Big beaver /Nobody’s fool» (4 Star # 1728), both average instrumental sides.
In 1959 Tucker had three records on the Ozark label. The original of « Honey moon trip to Mars » (# 960) [later by Larry Bryant on Santa Fe/Bakersfield – otherwise, who came first?]
then « Lonely man » (# 962), which was picked by Imperial and reissued (# 5623), finally # 965 and the ballads « Don’t cry for me/Trade wind love ».
insert of an Ozark issue, found on the Net
In 1960-1961 Tucker had four Toppa records. All are fine boppers, despite a tendancy to go pop, and include Ralph Mooney on steel guitar at least on # 1030 : « Oh what a lonely one ; one is » , “When the shades are drawn” (# 1041), « Just in time » (# 1052) and « It’s gone too far » (# 1106).
I mention quickly the following issues, less and less interesting (more and more poppish) on Public! (a new version of « First on your list ») and Young country (even an LP # 103) along the ’60s.
“First on your list”
Sources: Colin Escott notes to “That’ll flat git it vol.” (Four Star); 45cat and 78-world sites; Toppa’s best 3-CD;; Roots Vinyl Guide; YouTube; Praguefrank’s country discography (discography); my own archives and records;
BROCK WILLIAMS offers « What am I » (# 1001), a nice little rocker, with a little echo, over a good guitar and an assured vocal. The flipside, « Touch of perfection » is a perfect mid-paced bluesy ballad. Wally Black on # 1002 remains untraced (« She’s comin’ home »).
We jump to # 1003 by ERNIE MATHIS : very nice fast, piano-led « Lonesome wheels » and the more slowish « So am I ». Later on he was on Fable. That was the last Toppa issue reviewed by Billboard in 1958.
Next offering is a double sider by REX BINGHAM. He goes a bit poppish with male chorus, but has the strong help of Ralph Mooney on steel (two solos) for « Just like before » and « The fire is burning low » (# 1011). He had a « Blind blind heart » in 1959 on Rex 100, which was reissued on Toppa 1028. Was it a sublabel ? « Linda » (# 1012) by LUTHER WAYNE is a fast poppish ditty, quite listenable although.
Two ballads, « Help me forget him/Another woman’s man » (# 1013) by JANET McBRIDE are lovely again with strong help from steel guitar player Ralph Mooney. Later on she cut at Sims and duetted with Billy Barton. WALLY BLACK returns with the fast « I’m a country boy » (# 1014).
And now a comparatively well-known artist, DICK MILLER. He had had already records on M&M, Stanchell and Aggie [see elsewhere his story in this site], as well as around the same time as his Toppa output, on Sundown. His two songs on Toppa are well-sung ballads over the same instrumentation as previous label’s issues, « Make room for the blues/My tears will seal it closed » (# 1016) [the latter was also picked up by Mercury and reissued on # 71658, July 1960.
DANNY BURKE next (# 1017) comes with again two nice rockaballads, « Wasting my time/Walking in my sleep ». Then CLYDE PITTS offers an out-and-out rocker, « Shakin’ like a leaf » (# 1018) complete with sax and chorus. # 1019 by BILL BROCK : he delivers a fine ballad with the unusual backing of fiddle and steel paired in « I can’t come home ». Same format for # 1020 and DON RICE : « Fire without a flame » and, at last, the fast « Weather man ».
The veteran TEXAS BILL STRENGTH brings the fast « Watching the world go by » (# 1021). « Too young to love » (# 1023), a bit poppish (although a good piano backing) come to light with DON HOLIMAN. # 1024 by CHARLIE WILLIAMS is a sincere ballad « World’s champion fool », revived on # 1048 by Dick Miller. Jimmy Snyder (# 1025), Polly Tucker (# 1026, also on Pep), The Horton Bros. (# 1027) left invisible tracks. Then there is a gap until # 1029 : JANET McBRIDE returns in the same style as her # 1013 issue with « Sweethearts by night ».
Another well-known name now on # 1030 : JACK TUCKER . Nice Country-rocker with « No city love you’ll find ». And the final offering is # 1031 by LUTHER WAYNE ; « White line » is a good guitar led little rocker [a Jack Morris’ tune on Sage ], while « The blues got me down again » is a passable effort.
All in all, the Toppa label was a County pop one, and the outstanding tracks, according to bopping.org standards, are uncommon. Nevertheless in the regard to the backing, all issues are great. The story did go on, and many good tracks were later cut : Smokey Stover and « On the warpath », more Jack Tucker tunes, Don Rice and « Hideaway heartaches », more Dick Miller (« Back into your past »), Bud Crowder and « Room for one heartache », to name just a few. Fact is the label deserves to be examined, as it contains many good surprises.
Just another word. Toppa had two sublabels early into the ’60s : Toppette and Fedora. I don’t know why several artists of main Toppa artists were assigned to its sublabels, although they had the same style as on Toppa.
Sources: Steve Hathaway for some records, Kent Heineman (“Armadillo Killer”) for several more. 45cat.com for more than a label scan. Youtube was also of help. And many, many small facts from my own archives or direct from Internet. And a lot of work to set up this article, but this was a labor of love..
Some real rarities this time, several being medium-paced. The name JACK HOLDEN does ring a bell ? With his brother Fairley he had on the White Church (ca. 1946-48) label some issues. We find him in 1948 on the sister label RED BARN (# 1152), located in St. Louis, MO, whom he released three singles for. Red Barn « Mama I’m sick » is a fast, typical late ’40s sounding bopper. Call-and-response format, it includes a vocal backed only by a powerful rhythm guitar and a great fiddle (Wayne Miskiff?). Holden appeared on Cincinnati « Renfro Valley Barn Dance ». Love his style.
Then in Louisiana’s West Monroe. Jiffy was a short-lived affair, however important by the quality of its issues, and the celebrity of some names, Jimmy Pickard, Tommy Spurlin or Jimmy Simpson. Here is the least known ED RAYBORN & his Southern Hillbillies, and the good medium paced « I’ll go on hurting » (# 208). Nice fiddle/steel and sincere vocal.
Kustum appears to have been a subsidiary to Jiffy, yet had only one issue # 4000 (an ambitious numbering) by DAVID CRAIG and the medium uptempo « Just forget it » : nice vocal & steel. Craig was also on Imperial (“Replace my heart” # 8284): hear him on a future Fortnight.
ERNIE HUNTER next was a long-time fiddler for various Starday sessions. Here he’s the leader for the very first Houston Longhorn label ( 503) « At ease my friend » (1957). Uptempo medium paced, piano led with confident vocal and steel. Hunter also appeared on a Gold Star custom Rainbow issue (# 1203/1204).
On the Rose City label (unknown location, # 1004), there’s nothing particular with « At the drug store cowboy’s ball » by ROY JACKSON. With much accordion, this record surely dates from the late ’40s. Good hillbilly bop.
There were at least two SNUFFY SMITH : one on Star Talent and own Snuffy Smith label ; the other on Western. I don’t know. Or his record which is called « Johnny Acton » is actually titled « Snuffy Smith » ? Anyway it’s great fast Rockabilly, urgent vocal backed by steel and a very nice lead guitar. Oops, Kasko label # 1644.
Finally on the Covina, CA. Toppa label (# 1014), let’s get late ’50s Hillbilly. Very intricating : piano, bass figure lead guitar, steel (solo) and..claphands and screams. It’s « I’m a country boy » by WALLY BLACK. He had already cut for Fable « Rock and roll mama » and apparently knew how to rock.
Source: main is Youtube (my favorite chains), also own researches on the Net.
Texas Bill Strength (Aug. 28, 1928 ~ Oct. 1, 1973): Although much better known for his career as a radio personality, Texas Bill Strength also cut a series of country and rockabilly efforts, including a session for the legendary Sun Records backed by former Elvis Presley guitarist Scotty Moore. Perhaps his biggest success came as a songwriter, having penned the blockbuster hit, « He’ll Have to Go » for Jim Reeves [actually written by J. Allison & A. Allison].
Born August 28, 1928 in Bessemer, Alabama, Strength was sixteen when he won an amateur contest at Houston’s Joy Theater. Local station KTHT was in the market for a cowboy act and soon he was working part-time on the air. In 1945 Strength began working as a DJ full-time for St. Joseph, Missouri station KFEQ, followed by a stint singing for Sioux Falls, South Dakota radio KSOO. After tenure with Denver’s KMYR, he returned to Houston, in quick succession appearing on KLEE, KATL and KNUZ. During that time, Strength also cut a serie of minor singles for the 4-Star label. Among them were « Who’s the lucky one » and « I’m doing a peach of a job ». By September of 1949 Bill was in Birmingham, Alabama doing daily radio programs at WRBC, which was a network of thirty-seven stations throughout the Southeast. In late 1949, Bill’s career had taken him back to Houston, Texas. Bill was one of the mainstays at a new venue in Houston along with others such as Floyd Tillman and Leon Payne. In early 1950 he was hired by the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) to promote the organization via radio and convention.