Cowboy Howard Vokes, Pennsylvania’s King of Country Music (1958-60)

The Honorable ‘Cowboy’ Howard Dean Vokes is born in Clearfield, PA. on June 13, 1931. His father works in the coalmines to provide the needs of his big family, wife, 6 girls and 7 boys.
His mother handles her children in a firm education. Anytime uncles and cousins turn up at the family’s house it’s with their mandolin, harmonica and guitar. No wonder why young Howard
got his inspiration to use a broomstick as a guitar.
In this musical world, the Grand Ole Opry or the Supper Time Frolic shows fit very well the introduction to music of the multi-talented artist to come. He also lends an attentive ear to Buckshot Morgan, Rusty Herman or Slim Bryant on the local radio airwaves.

Howard started to play harmonica when only 6 years old to give it up for guitar 5 years later, right after the Vokes family set up in New Kensington, PA. in 1941.
When 15 years old, he got his first start on local shows and entertained on various radio programs such as WKPA, New Kensington or WAVL, Apollo.
A hunting accident broke his right ankle in 1948 and put him for 6 weeks in a hospital. His personal therapy is in writing songs and improve his guitar playing.
When ready he forms his first own group, The Country Boys. Together they travel throughout northern USA and some parts of Canada.

On March 1955, Wanda Jackson is in the Bradley’s Recording Studios in Nashville with a song written by the young Howard : «Tears at the Grand Ole Opry », issued on Decca 29514.

Wanda Jackson « Tears at the Grand Ole Opry« 

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This same year, he puts his songwriting talents to the service of Hank King (or Russian origin: rn Papalia) for two tracks to appear on the Blue Ribbon label # 1925, « Your Atom Bomb Heart »/« I Want To Know (Why You Don’t Care For me ). They also appear on Blue Hen 223.

Hank King, « Your atom bomb heart »

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Also, for the Cicero, IL. based duo Denver Duke & Jeffrey Null who record in October 1955 « Hank Williams That Alabama Boy »  issued on the Blue Hen label.

Denver Duke & Jeffery Null, « Hank Williams that Alabama boy »

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Howard becomes their manager and main songwriter. He gets a record deal to his protégés with the Mercury label ; and he decides to handle his own career. So, in 1958 he cuts his very first single in the School House Studio in Jeanette, PA. backed by Johnny Drolz (steel), Skeets Martin (electric guitar) and Bob Rose (bass) issued as ‘Cowboy’ Howard Vokes : « Ghost Of a Honky-Tonk Slave », a pure medium honky-tonker with a strong Hank Williams influence, « This Prison I’m In »  is another honky-tonker, but slower and with a more driving vocal. Steel-guitar is omnipresent on both sides of this Del-Ray 204 single.

Canadian issue

« Ghost of a honky tonk slave« 

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« This prison I’m in« 

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Real success comes with his second single : « Willie Roy, the crippled Boy », cut in 1959 in Cleveland, OH, with the same musicians as on his first record with additional help from his friend Rudy Thacker on guitar. This leads to many tours throughout the USA and TV and radio shows.

« Willie Roy, the crippled boy »

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It’s not until 1961 that Howard meets with a second hit, « Mountain Guitar » (Del-Ray 205) after Rudy Thacker, writer of the song, cut the original version on Blue Hen 234. The great Roy Acuff also had his own version on Hickory 1134 in 1961.

« Mountain guitar« 

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Full Howard Vokes’ repertoire, recorded between 1958 and 1960, is of a high quality in an authentic and traditional sound in this shifting area.

« The love I once knew« (Del-Ray 211)

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«  »Forever« (Del-Ray EP 250)

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« Tears at the Grand Ole Opry« (Mountain LP 2002)

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« Keep cool but don’t freeze« (Mountain LP 2002)

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« Down in the hollow« (Mountain LP 2002)

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After 4 singles and 1 EP on Del-Ray, Howard records an album for the Starday label in Madison, TN. The session is produced by Don Pierce on August 2, 1963. 14 songs are issued on the album « TRAGEDY & DISASTERS IN COUNTRY SONGS » (Starday LP-258).

On February 1st, 1969, Howard uses the same Starday recording studios for another Country session, backed by DJ.Fontana (drums), Al Gore (flat top guitar), Jeff Newman (steel guitar), Joe « Red » Hayes (fiddle), Bill Linneman (bass). The 12 tracks appear on the « HOWARD VOKES SINGS THE SONGS OF BROKEN LOVE AFFAIRS » (Folk-Variety FV 1212).

Completely devoted to the Country Music cause, Howard Vokes remains the big promotor of this style in the state of Pennsylvania. He launches 2 labels, Vokes and Country Boy, to support new talents without forgetting the old veterans happy to get attentive ears again.

A deserved homage is paid to him in 1987 with a song written by Ray D.Jones and recorded by Mel Anderson, « The King Of Country Music In Pennsylvania » (Country Boy CB-106).

 

This article was originally written in French, then translated by Jack Dumery.

the BLUE HEN label (1954-1958): Delaware Hillbilly and Rockabilly

From the Hillbilly Researcher # 13 (late 90s)

Allan Turner. Additions by Bopping’s editor

BLUE HENdelaware delaware couleurs

 

Nothing is ever as simple as it would appear, take for example the Harrington, Delaware based BLUE HEN label. Just another independant concern would be a fair description of this particular outfit, albeit with one or two above average offerings on the label from the likes of Mel Price and Lanie Walker.

BLUE HEN was owned, according to Galen Gart’s A.R.L.D., by one Sam Short, Jr ., ably assisted by A&R man Hugh Lee Stevenson. That, and the fact that the company was located on Center Street in Harrington, is the sum total of our knowledge of the label.

Over the 6 years or so that BLUE HEN was active the company ran at least three different numerical series. There was a rather obscure 3000 series, which appears to have been the earliest ; the regular 200 series, which was the « main series » ; and an odd ball 500 series (two issues). However, it is neither the 3000 or 500 series which concern us here, but the 200 « main series ».

The first release was Betty Coral‘s « Chili dippin’ baby » (# 200), backed by Raymond McCollister. He had the same number on the Raymor label, also the flipside « Texarkana waltz ». Many master numbers were prefixed RM: does it mean McCollister was involved in Blue Hen?

blue hen 200A betty coral chili dippin_ baby

bb 54 chili dippin

raymor« Chili dippin’ baby » was very popular : it was covered by Vernon Way on the Hillbilly All Star label, and in a more Rockabilly way by Joyce Pointer on Goldenrod Records.
Betty Coral « Chili dippin’ baby »download
As for the artists who recorded for BLUE HEN were fairly obscure regional acts, altough the label did record a number of relatively well known artists. Billy Wallace, for example, probably better known as a songwriter than a singer, had a release on the label : # 210, « You can’t ride on my train ».
Billy Wallace « You can’t ride on my train« 
http://www.bopping.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/blue-hen-210-You-Cant-Ride-On-My-Train.mp3download

Donn Reynolds « Don’t tell me« http://www.bopping.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/05-207-Donn-Reynolds-Dont-Tell-Me.mp3download
Billy Wallace « I still love you« 
http://www.bopping.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/12-210-billy-wallace-I-Still-Love-You.mp3download
210A you can't ride on my trainDonn Reynolds, who made something of a name for himself as a yodeling cowboy out on the East coast, also turned up on the label (# 207, « Don’t tell me ») before moving to London, England, to work for Radio Luxembourg ! Tommy Lloyd and his Strolling Cowboys, an outfit who certainly lived up to their name, having played virtually everywhere in the U.S.A. (#204 « Now I know why »), and local lad Tex Daniels (#206 « Give your heart a chance », among three or four more releases, note « Blue hen boogie » from late ’55) were two of the more experienced, yet lesser known artists to record for the label, both with a half dozen or so record releases to their credit before joining BLUE HEN. Local promoter/songwriter Howard Vokes was responsible for getting Hank King , Rudy Thacker (« Mountain guitar » ; also on Lucky) and « The Hardin County Boys » Jeffrey Null and Denver Duke onto the label. The latter, who had something of a hit on Blue Hen with their Hank Williams tribute « Hank Williams that Alabama boy » (#214) went on to enjoy some degree of success on Mercury and Starday.
Denver Duke & Jeffrey Null « Hawk Williams that Alabama boy »download

Howard Vokes, Denver Duke & Jeffrey Null « When the snow came« (#222)download

BL 222 howard vokes - When the snow came

courtesy Pasi Koskela

Was Vokes involved in the singing of the former song? A visitor told me his doubts.

Tex Daniels « Blue hen boogie« (#212  )download

212 blue hen boogie

 

Mention should be made of course of Mel Price (who’s story is on this site) and Lanie Walker, of whom we know very little, who were arguably the best Hillbilly artists to record for BLUE HEN.
Mel Price « Nothing seems to go right anymore« download
Walker had 5 issues on Blue hen (and one in 1960 on Kingsport, TN Three Stars label , the stunning « 
Early every morning ») : both hillbilly boppers on # 209 (« Side-track daddy »), one gospel two-sider (« When you meet your Lord » # 218), a non-cover of George Jones‘ « Why baby why », very good Hillbilly bopper,  in 1956 (a nice bluesy « Drop in » on flipside, # 219), then a back-to-back Rockabilly/Rocker « Ennie Meenie Miney Mo/No use knocking on my door », # 230 (Mort Marker on lead guitar), finally a 1959 rocker (# 235) « Jumpin’ the gun/Tonite I walk alone ».

Lanie Walker « Side-track daddy« (# 209)download lanie walker
Lanie Walker « When you meet your Lord« download
Lanie Walker « Why baby why« (#219)
http://www.bopping.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/19-219-Lanie-Walker-Why-Baby-Why.mp3download

Lanie Walker « Drop in« download

Lane Walker « Ennie Meenie miney mo« (#230)download
Lanie Walker « No use knocking on my door« 
http://www.bopping.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/230-Lanie-Walker-No-Use-Knocking-On-My-Door-1958.mp3download
Larry Lee (Pasake) fronted his own band, The Echo Valley Kinfolk and played locally to good reviews. Originally, the band were called the Glen Mountain Boys (according to Billboard on 24th March 1956). Larry and the band performed over WCRV, Washington, NJ about this time. It was reported that Larry drowned while trying to save the lives of a younger brother and friend when their boat capsized. This seems to have occurred sometime in september 1956. His solitary single is a good bluegrass (A-side) « Time just flies »(# 215), while « Our love affair » is good uptempo piano-led Hillbilly bop.
215A time just fliesLarry LeeTime just flies« download
Larry Lee « Our love affair« download

Another wizardry : Hank King (of Russian origin, rn Papaila) had in October 1955 « Atom bomb heart » on Chicago Blue Ribbon label. This was re-cut (re-issued?) next year on Blue Hen 221.
Hank King « Atom bomb heart« 
http://www.bopping.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/21-221-Hank-King-Atom-Bomb-Heart.mp3download
That more or less concludes the story of the BLUE HEN label. Virtually all the releases in the 200 series, with the exception of the odd rock & roll/rockabilly offering from the likes of Jimmy Stayton (« Hot hot mama »), Cecil Cline (« Do drop in ») and even Lanie Walker, were Hillbilly of one style or another.
Sandy Harrison  & Tommy Lloyd « A package of heartaches« (#225)
http://www.bopping.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/28-225-Sandy-Harrison-A-Package-Of-Heartaches.mp3download

Earl Stuart Quintet « Action’s speak louder than words » [sic](#216)download
Millard Pressley « Jesus my saviour« (#228)
http://www.bopping.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/228-Milliard-Presley-...-Jesus-My-Saviour.mp3download
Sounds from Cactus CD. Pictures from various sites: Youtube, 45cat for example.
Mel Price « I ain’t got the time« (#208)
http://www.bopping.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/18-208-mel-price-I-Aint-Got-The-Time.mp3download

Hillbilly Allstar 5002A vernon way - chili dippin' mama

courtesy Ronald Keppner

listing Blue Hen label

strangely Raymor is located in Kansas, far drom Delaware…

raymor 6001 corky edminster - chili dippin' baby