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!).
Your comment is welcome: use the “Submit a comment” button below. Thanks!
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.
R. D. Hendon & his Western Jamboree Cowboys were one of the most popular western bands in South East Texas in the first half of the 1950s. Their renown never really extended much beyond the Houston area, but that sort of regional fame was the norm in an era when the country music scene was far les centralized and national stardom was a far more rare thing han it became in later decades. The group served as training ground for such performers as the great songwriter and singer Eddie Noack and the guitarist-vocalist Charlie Harris – neither a household name then and now, but this is not a reflection of their abilities or relative importance – and also included a number of less known but no less talented performers, such as guitarist-vocalist Harold Sharp, fiddler Woody Carter and guitarist Hamp Stephens.
R. D. Hendon himself was rarely an active participant in the band – he had, by all reports, an almost singular lack of musical ability or talent – though he did in his later stages attempt to drum and sing with the group and recorded a recitation under the name the Western Rambler. Nor were the Western Jamboree Cowboys the smoothest and slickest of Houston’s numerous top-notch western dance bands. They were more a classic honky-tonk band than a western swing band like Dickie McBride or Benny Leaders’ groups ad excelled the closer they stuck to that classic, earthier sound. The Cowboys’ performing days came to an abrupt halt in September of 1956 when Hendon, long a troubled man, took his own life, but in the preceding half decade they laid down a number of fine recordings – including a couple of undisputed classics.
Rigsby Durwood Hendon was born around 1914 in Marquez, Texas, and grew up in the Houston area. He served in the Navy and worked as an oilfield roughneck before entering the night club business. The growing popularity of the house band, the South Texas Cowboys, at his Sprinx Club led Hendon to purchase a larger club, the Old Main Street Dance Hall, better known, as Andrew Brown has pointed out, by its street address, 105½ Main. « Hendon gave the club « a western theme » Brown adds, « and rechristened it the Western Jamboree Night Club. The band’s name change followed suit and, by 1950, the club was drawing huge crowds six nights a week. » The band began broadcasting on Houston’s KLEE, where Hendon also nabbed a slot as a disc jockey, and began recording around the start of 1951.
The band’s first recordings were for Sol Kahal’s local Freedom label (# 5033), which had been in operation since 1948 and began a hillbilly series a year or so later. »Those tears in your eyes » b/w « No shoes boogie » was actually issued under bandmember Charlie Harris‘ name, with Hendon and the band receiving secondary credit. The disc is a classic, « No Shoes Boogie » being, Brown writes, »an excellent example of the hard-rocking, shuffle-beat swing that was common in Texas before rock and roll. » In addition to Harris, who wrote and sang both songs and supplied incisive, hot lead guitar, the band at this time included Johnny Cooper, guitar; Theron Poteet, piano ; Tiny Smith, bass ; and Don Brewer, drums. Regular steel man Joe Brewer was replaced on this session by former Texas Playboy, the legendary and still active Herb Remington, who played one of his most exciting solos here.
Soon after, Hendon & the Cowboys joined a number of other Houston acts – including Jerry Jericho and Hank Locklin – in the stable of Bill McCall, the canny and ruthless West Coast label owner whose long-term relationship with the legendary Houston distributor and record man Pappy Daily yeilded a number of excellent recordings on McCall’s Four Star, Gilt-Edge and associated custom and radio-play labels. From the beginning, the Cowboys’ recordings were generally issued in Four Star’s quasi-custom « X » series, but several issues also wound up being issued on the label’s main series and this saw wider distribution.
The Four Star recordings were inaugurated by another coupling that featured Charlie Harris, who was soon to leave the group. « Oh ! Mr. President » (4* X-20) was a rush-job in the spring of 1951, a rare, overtly political song dealing with the firing of General MacArthur by President Truman. This was followed by an excellent coupling that featured long-time bandmember Johnny Cooper, « The Wandering Blues » b/w « Marking time » (4* X-24).
Cooper was soon replaced by Eddie Noack, already a veteran of the Houston recording scene and by mid-1951 the Western Jamboree Cowboys had settled into a classic lineup. Vocals were divided among Noack, Cecil « Gig » Sparks and Harold Sharp, with the two former supplying rhythm guitar and Sharp playing a sturdy lead. Don Brewer played steel, Tiny Smith played bass (Sparks and Smith had recently joined the band from Leon Payne’s group). A slew of strong recordings followed, including Noack’s classic debut, « I can’t run away » (4* 1590) , and two versions of the pretty « This moon won’t last forever ». The first version featured Harold Sharp (4* X-33) and a guest appearance of one of the song’s writers, trumpeter-bandleader Gabe Tucker, while a remake (4* 1590) marked the brief return of the peerless balladeer Charlie Harris and boasted a fiddle solo by former Floyd Tillman band mainstay Woody Carter, who joined the band for a few months during 1951-52 and was featured on the fiddle tune « Nervous Breakdown ».
Starday sides featured old hands like Harold Sharp and Gig Sparks, but later sides feature new bandmembers Taylor and Jack Rodgers. Hendon had a small hit in 1956 with « Lonely nights » (Starday 248) and another good tune was « Return my broken heart » (# 167).
Hendon’s suicide came not long after the final Starday release and occurred at a time of great musical upheaval. Rock and roll had arrived with a vengeance and it would have been interesting to see if Hendon would have managed to ride the storm of changing tastes – at the same time, the dancehall scene was being decimated by television and other factors. At any rate, Hendon was certainly game to try something new – his second Starday release found him trying his hand at singing rockabilly on the odd, uneven « Big Black Cat »(Starday 194) – although it’s obvious that Hendon was not a talented vocalist, as on the unissued-at-the-time « My old guitar » (during the song he even loses several times the tempo!).
Sources : the main biography went from Kevin Coffey for the Cattle CD 329 (2006), and some additions from Andrew Brown. As usual, a solid help was given by the indefatigable 78rpm-owner Ronald Keppner out of Frankfurt, Germany, thanks to him. Four Star X-20 was given by Steve Hathaway. Then my own researches and archives.
MERLE KILGORE is not a newcomer. He met in the ’60s and ’70s a lot of success as a songwriter in Nashville : wrote « Ring of Fire » for Johnny Cash, and « Wolverton mountain » for Claude King. But I am more interested with his beginnings for Imperial records, seemingly all cut at KWKH in Shreveport, La. Here’s « Everybody needs a lttle lovin’ » that Merle released on # 8300. A Rockabilly guitar
Tillman Franks on double bass with Johnny Horton
(fine solo), propelled by a thudding bass (Tillman Franks?) over an urgent vocal. Later Wyatt Merle Kilgore (his actual name, being born in Chickasaw, OK. In 1934) turned frankly towards Rock’n’roll with tunes like « Please please please », cut in New Orleans in Jan. 1956 with an-all Black group, that of Dave Bartholomew, and « Ernie » . So eclectic was the man ! He was also a board member of the Hank Williams Montgomery museum, being very close to Hank’s family. He was back to his Country roots in 1959 with Country rockers on the « D » label (‘Take a trip to the moon »). Died of a lung cancer in 2005.
I didn’t find anything on the next artist : TROY JORDAN & His Cross-B-Boys, except to location of the label: Midland, Texas. So can only comment both sides of his disc issued on Tred-Way 100. The A-side is a good uptempo, « Who Flung that mater », with a too-discrete steel-guitar and well-sung, although nothing rxceptional. B-side is really fine bluesy a tune: guitar, steel, a piano solo, lazy vocal for « Don’t cry on my shoulder». Jordan was a distant cousin of the Carter Sisters, so it may be they are the right way for a research on him.
HILLBILLY HERMAN, & his Tennessee Valley Boys, despite his name, is a Blugrass artist in 1966, who offers « Today I watched my dreams come true » (Breeze 366, located in Livingston, TN), a solid uptempo, with great backing in the background The main instrument is a very nice mandolin ; alas the guitar solo is very insipid. The Breeze label had issued a very rocking version of “Wreck of the old 97” (# 381) by Jim Sebastian. A record to watch for. In the meantime, do YouTube searching! Herman had an elusive issue on Hatfield (no #)[untraced]
Howdy, folks. After being one long month away [for a thermal cure – everyone has to coddle himself, no?], finally I got back home. And I hope you are waiting for this early November bopping (and Rocking) fortnight’s favorites selection. Let’s not deceive any of you.
Up in Michigan, CAL DAVIS & his Tennessee Kings on the full of good music label Fortune (# 185) gives us a lovely uptempo (nimble lead guitar which has 2 soli ; good steel which has its solo too) « Partnership love affair » from 1956. I’d like to hear more by him..
« Don’t go back again » is the next song, and a shuffler from 1959 by GEORGE KENT, cut in Dallas, TX. issued on Maverick 1001. The duet vocals are a bit poppish at times, but are backed by two solos of steel and fiddle + loud drums. Flipside « Move on » is a fine uptempo too (hear it on YouTube). Kent went later to do mainstream country on Mercury in the ’70’s.
Really early (1948) let’s take care of JACK HOLDEN & the Georgia Boys on the famous Red Barn (associated to White Church for the sacred sides) label from Kansas City, which had also in its roster Jimmie Skinner (his first sides), Byron Parker and the Blackwood Bros. Holden made a serie of records containing all « Mama ». Here we hear to « Mama quit teasin’ me » (# 1151) and « Mama I’m sick » (# 1152). Fine shufflers, containing choruses in unison. The fiddle well to the fore is played by Wayne Midkiff. After that Holden also cut 6 discs for RCA (1951-52) then disappeared completely. During those years (1948-52) Holden had radio shows on WEAS (Decatur, Georgia), WATL (Atlanta, Georgia too); he was also associated to the Renfro Valley Barn Dance (in Kentucky or Ohio), and was heard on two Kansas radio stations: WIBW (Kansas Roundup) and WIBW (Topeka).
Back to bopping music with a Roswell, New Mexico Mystic label (# 5828) : RICKY McKINNEY do offer a sort of happy bluesy uptempo with « Washday blues », which reminds me other domestic affairs like « Super market day » by Jimmy Key (Hi Lite). Anyway McKinney may have some sort of connexion with Norman Petty, as his record is registered by Nor-Va-Jak music.
The next two tracks were cut in 1962 and RCA custom recordings. Until that, nothing is really interesting. But wait a bit: both sides are hillbilly gospel. And another teasing detail: side A has a Columbus, OH. location, while side B is out of Delberton, W. Va. It’s the kind of details which bring more appeal to a record, moreover very nice sacred harmony vocals (spare instrumentation, only guitar). Oh yes, the artist is called LLOYD FARLEY & His Revelators, on The Revelators label, no #. « How long » is the faster of both, although the mid-paced tempo « The Lord will make a way » is equally good.
From Texas (Houston area, I guess) comes PAUL WILSON who performs «The blues you gave me » on Picture 1001. This record is typical, although having been issued in ’59, of ’60s Nashville Country : good vocal (but nothing exceptional), steel as the driving force of the track, then drums and piano. Wilson had another later on the Country Town label (# 105) and «Hippie invasion”.
Final cut by HOUSTON [Bob] MILLS: the moving ballad « They turned the lights out down at Joe’s » from 1966 on the Tom Big Bee label # 101 (I remember this label is from Pontotoc, North of Mississipi.). It released also Robert Mills (obviously the same artist) on # 101 (reverse by Deborah Aycock – wonder if she is related to Earl, whose ground was rather Houston area, if one excepts his Dixie recordings – cut in Gallatin, TN.?). Another interesting figure on Tom Big Bee (# 102) was the Sun wild man Jimmy Wages (& Tune Masters), who does anyway very average Country music here (# Tom Big Bee 102). Lastly James Mask (Tom Big Bee 111) does a good version of Rocky Bill Ford “Beer drinking blues“.
That’s it, folks. As usual, comments, additions, corrections are welcome. Bopping.org is en route for a re-organization within the very next months : it would give more fun for you visitors to run through the 300++ articles. More on that in a near future.
Sources : Hillbilly Researcher (Red Barn and Jack Holden) + Praguefrank huge discography ; many YouTube shots, too numerous to recommend any of the generous uploaders. 45Cat was very useful. Then, many, many researches, mostly out of my own archives, to build something of interest around each artist mentioned. I hope you like the feature. In the meantime, bye-bye..