Hillbilly in Houston: R. D. HENDON & his Western Jamboree Cowboys (1951-56)

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.

« No shoes boogie« 

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« Those tears in your eyes »

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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).

« Oh! Mr. President« 

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« The wandering blues »

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Eddie Noack

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 ».


« I can’t run away »

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« This moon won’t last forever« (vocal Charlie Harris)

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In late 1952 and early 1953, Hendon briefly recorded for the local Shamrock label, though he later returned to Four Star and several of the Shamrock recordings wound up being reissued on Four Star, as well, including the fantastic « Blues Boogie » (Shamrock X-13, 4* 1644) from fall 1952, which featured the twin electric
guitars of Harold Sharp and Hamp Stephens (who played the deep, boogie bass runs under Sharp’s melody lead) and the band’s new steel guitarist Chet Skyeagle. The fine guitarist Stephens had joined the band after stints with Hank Locklin and Bill Freeman’s Texas Plainsmen, both of whom recorded for Four Star. Spark’s maudlin tale of guilt « Hit and run driver » was issued only on Shamrock, while Jimmy Tyler’s fine «I Ain’t got a lick of sense » was recorded by Shamrock but issued by McCall (4* 1644) . A final Four Star release featured an unidentified vocalist (possibly Chuck Davis) on one of the more western swing orientated songs the Cowboys cut «You crazy mixed up kid » and « Talking to myself » (4* X-86). The last recordings for McCall were a group of covers of current hits issued on EP’s on the Blue Ribbon label. The sessions featured not only Harold Sharp, but also guest vocalists, fellow Four Star artists Jerry Jericho and Rocky Bill Ford. Among the covers were « Hey Joe » (Carl Smith), « For now and always » (Hank Snow), « Free home demonstration » (Eddy Arnold) and « I won’t be home no more » (Hank Williams).

« Blues boogie »

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« Ain’t got a lick of sense« 

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« You crazy mixed up kid »

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« Music making mama from Memphis »(vocal Eddie Noack)

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« Hey Joe » [vocal Jerry Jericho)

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« I won’t be home no more » (vocal Rocky Bill Ford)

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« I’d still want you » (vocal Eddie Noack)

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Like many artists who had come to McCall via Pappy Daily, Hendon signed to Daily’s Starday label as soon as he could free himself of any contractual obligations to McCall – not easy feat in itself. From late 1954 to mid-1956, the Western Jamboree Cowboys cut four singles for Starday. Arguably not as strong across the board as the band’s previous recordings, there were still some fine moments, including Bill Taylor’s « Don’t push me. » (Starday 228) (Taylor would record for Sun Records « Split personality », with the Snearly Ranch Boys as well as working a long stint with Jimmy Heap‘s Melody Masters).

« Don’t push me »(vocal Bill Taylor)

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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).

« Bill Taylor & Smokey Jo « Split personality »

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« Lonely nights »

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« Return my broken heart »

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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!).

« Big black cat »

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« My old guitar« 

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Regardless of what might have been happened had Hendon lived beyond 1956, the half-dozen years in which the Western Jamboree Cowboys thrived remain a testament enough to Hendon and his talented crew.

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.

Late November 2017 bopping fortnight’s favorites (late ’40s to mid-’60s)

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.

« Everybody needs a little lovin’ »

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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.

« Who flung that mater »

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« Don’t cry on my shoulder »

download= » »>« Texas Millionaire » (Decca 30332, issued 1957) by TABBY WEST is a fast Hillbilly bopper cut in Nashville on January 8, 1956. The voice fits perfectly with the backing instruments, which take the better part of the song : all in all, their solos are beginning at 0’41 et ending at 1’20..West was born in Kingston Springs, TN. and found her way easily to Nashville for a first recording contract in 1954 on Coral Records. There she was paired with Texas Bill Strength (on Coral reords), and backed by the cream of Nashville musicians. I’d like very much to hear « Hillbilly Blues » (Decca 29822) which sounds very promising..

« Texas Millionaire« 

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There may be more than a handful of « Atomic » labels after WWII. This one emanates from Hollywood, Ca. MEL GRIGGS & His Sons of the Saddle released « Goin’ back to Texas » (# 240) seemingly in the late ’40s – the style is easily reconizable, that of a « Cityzed » Hillbilly, with Western Swing overtones. I don’t know anything on this ensemble, and found it a gentle uptempo ; vocal is firm, and reinforced by the group in unison during the breaks. Griggs persevered with « Watchin’ the clouds roll by » (# 241).

« Goin’ back to Texas« 

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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]

« Today I watched my dream come true« 

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Maybe « Hayride boogie » rings a bell for you ? You may remember I had posted the Webb Pierce Story (1949-1950) during the past years ; For contractual reasons (Pierce was still under sontract with 4*), his product was issued under various names, whose this one : TILLMAN FRANKS. Bass player, entrepreneur, band leader, he played a pivotal role in the emergence of the rising « Louisiana Hayride » during the early ’50s. On Pacemaker 1011b, this is a boogie pattern with great guitar by Buddy Attaway [see with the « Artists » search button above for his story]. Indeed there was no place for Tex Grimsley (fiddle) neither Shot Jackson (steel). Pierce re-recorded the song as « Teenage boogie » in 1957, and Franks continued to slap his bass and entertain until the ’80s.

« Hayride boogie« 

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Next artist in discussion will be WHITEY KNIGHT from California, or better say, recording for a Californian label, that of Nielsen. « From an angel to a devil » (# 57/1-2) has steel well to the fore, a relaxed hillbilly bop rhythm : a natural feeling. Not a great disc, but a good one ! Knight had also a rich recording career, appearing on Dot, Sage and Dart.

« From an angel to a devil »

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FRED NETHERTON gives us a fabulous rocker with his version of Carl Perkins’ « Matchbox » : great swooping and hammering piano, a very fine guitar solo, a terrific vocal on Rural lRhythm 540B. A must have ! « Matchbox« 

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Sources : as usual, Internet (45cat, or Youtube) and my own archives. Decca and Imperial data do come from Michel Ruppli’s books. Pictures of Tillman Franks come drom Now Dig This (a 1995 issue).

Early November 2017 bopping and wailing fortnight’s favorites

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..

« Partnership love affair« 

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« 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.

« Don’t go back again »

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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).

« Mama quit teasin’ me« 

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« Mama I’m sick« 

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A woman now, Mz. KITTY KAYE & the Cats from Cleveland, OH. on the Hawk label (# 72053) from 1953. « Fishtruck boogie » is a R&B belter with handclaps and a solid brass section, aided by a good piano.

« Fishtruck boogie »

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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.

« Washday blues »

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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.

« How long »

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« The Lord will make a way« 

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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 ».

« The blues you gave me »

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« They turned the lights out down at Joe’s« 

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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..

Late September 2017 bopping and moving fortnight’s favorites (1950-1965)

 

Howdy, friends ! This is the last selection of fortnight’s favorites for September 2017. I didn’t post a fortnight selection early this month, I was away from my Macintosch and could not but release the story of Freddie Frank, a Texan Hillbilly bopper – I hope you visiting friends and followers have just noticed the article…and liked it! I will be out once more during October, and don’t know how I will manage the blog. In the meantime here I am and well, and ready for this late September 2017 selection, which will last from the early ’50s until 1965.

Here we go with the earliest track, « Why not » on the B&C label # 500 by PAPA CAIRO (misspellt Cario on the label). Indeed he was a Louisianian. Real name Julius Lamperez. He was a steel guitar player and band leader during the early fifties (records on Feature and Colonial among others) and was long associated with the Cajun Chuck Guillory (« Grand Texas » on Modern 612). Here he delivers a decent uptempo ballad, a bit crooning, piano-led with fiddle and steel solo.

« Why not« 

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« Be my Baby »

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« Great Big Moon« 

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From Marshall, Missouri on the Jan label (# 6-58) two tracks by F. D. JOHNSON with the Missouri Valley Boys. First « Be my baby » is a well-tempered (as you would say for Bach’s harpsichord – rock on, J.-S. !) rockabilly with vocal hiccups and a nice guitar solo. The flipsde is « Great big moon », and a good hillbilly weeper : vocal, fiddle solo. One little record to watch, and one wonders if he did something else.

« Mop Bop Boogie »

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« Ramblin’ Blues »

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On the Black side (or the man is White??? vocally he sounds at last) with WILBUR STEINBERG on the Memphis, TN, Hut label (# 4401) for a fast side, « Mop bop boogie », a mover with sax and screams, then a bluesy uptempo « Ramblin’ blues », which goes for the same comment. Two good sides !

Then on to Del Rio, Texas on the Hacienda label. Here he comes, SKEET WILLIAMS for a pleasant ballad (with chrorus and steel), « Lonesome rain » (# 0001). He’s backed by Bob Haltern’s Swing Kings, moreover a band unknown to me. The side was released in 1965 and coupled with « Mary, Mary, Mary Jane », a fast Rockabilly belter with chorus and loud drums. Thanks bebopcapitol !The record had apparently an early release on Royal Scot 102.

« Lonesome rain« 

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« Mary, Mary, Mary Jane« 

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We are reaching the end with VON STEPHENS on the Karl label (London, OH) and « Huckleberry junction » : a decent Hillbilly bopper, steel is present, a short guitar solo. Clay Eager production : someday, I will search on the very interesting Clay Eager.

« Huckleberry Junction »

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That’s all folks. Thanks for your comments, corrections or additions. Sources: as diverse as usual.

Early June 2017 bopping and rocking fortnight’s favorites

Howdy, folks ! This is the early June 2017 bopping fortnight’s selection, between 1937 and 1947, with some projections in the very early ’60s.

Here we go before WWII with BILL NETTLES & his Dixie Blue Boys for his first recording session, held in Dallas, TX on June 22nd, 1937 (nearly 80 years ago…) His story has already been written in this site, and I will focus on one track, « Oxford (Miss) Blues », described on the label as « hot string band with singing ». Really hot fiddle (Dock Massey, who’s also singing, among cheers and yells) and strong slapping bass (by Nettles’ brother Luther). They didn’t do such great tracks so often, even in the ’40s and ’50s.

« Oxford (Miss) Blues »

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ALSIE « REX » GRIFFIN (1912-1959) made most of his career during the ’30s on Decca, as a follower of Jimmie Rodgers, and a fine yodeler too. Here on the decline (one of his last records) in Cincinnati on King 584 (February 1947), I chose « I’m as free as the breeze » : nice hot guitar player (obviously inspired by the late Django Rheinhart) and a discree steel for a good mid-paced bopper.

« I’m as free as the breeze« 

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Griffin was also responsible for three classics, « Everybody’s trying to be my baby » (one feature in this site is devoted to this song and its continuation), « Won’t you ride in my little red wagon » (the signature song of Hank Penny), and the morbid « The last letter ».

HANK STOLLINGS went on the RCA-pressed 1961 Versatile 101 « Date with the blues » (vocal Chuck Louis) with a deep-voiced country rocker ; 2 fine fiddle solos, and a good loud guitar too.

« Date with the blues »

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From the same or similar era (late 1959) we find also BEN JACK & Country Boys for «I’m entitled to your love», a mid-paced light country rocker with fiddle emanating from Tulsa, OK, to be found on the Cimarron label # 4048. This label was owned by Leon McAuliffe, former steel player in the Bob Wills’ Playboys.

« I’m entitled to your love »

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Back to TOMMY FAILE (reviewed early May with « That’s all right » on Lawn 104, NYC label) and the flipside of this December 1960 issue, « The rest of my life ». Arthur Smith is seemingly on lead guitar (on bass chords) for this baritone-voiced, female chorus backed (unobstrusive) country rocker.

« The rest of my life »

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Indiana born, on a Chicago label, comes BOB PERRY for two tunes. First a famous small Rockabilly classic,« Weary blues, goodbye » on the Bandera label (# 1303, from 1959), valued at $ 150-200, it has a very strong rhythm guitar (obviously played by Perry himself) and a fantastic steel guitar solo . So tame in comparison is the second Perry issue on Cool 158, « Gone with the wind », which is a gentle Rockabilly/rocker (all the same attaining $ 75-100). Perry went later on Top Rank and BandBox.

« Weary blues, goodbye« 

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« Gone with the wind« 

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Finally JIMMY DALE on Continental 8025B from June 1947 (70 years ago!) for a furious « Guitar boogie woogie » played by the lead guitarist Lee Ciuffreddi.

« Guitar boogie woogie« 

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Jimmie Dale got his start in hillbilly music with the guidance of Dave Miller, who was a famous New Jersey-Newark disc jockey.

He organized his own band and they made personal appearances in the New York night club circuit. Jimmie also appeared at Carnegie Hall, Frank Daly’s Meadowbrook and the top spot on Dave Miller’s television show. By 1953, he was being heard over radio station WAAT in Newark, New Jersey.

Dale had other boogies in the same style.

Sources : 45cat and 78rpm-worlds, YouTube (e.g. Rockin’ TomKat for Bob Perry on Cool) ; Hillbilly-Music.com (picture of Rex Griffin and Jimmie Dale) ; also Wikipedia for Rex Griffin bio. My own archives.