Wheeling, W. Va. hillbilly: the DUSTY OWENS story (1954-57)

Dusty Owens was born on September 2, 1930 in Fairdealing, Missouri as Robert James Kucharski. Shortly after his birth, his family moved to Flint, Michigan where he spent most of his childhood. When he was 6 years old, Robert took violin lessons in school but he later moved to accordion which seemed to be more to his liking. In 1947, while in High school, he joined a local western band called the O.K. Boys to play the accordion. Later that year Robert became their front man and changed the band’s name to Dusty Owens and his Rodeo Boys.

In 1947 Owens entered Flint Technical High School but he soon dropped out and moved to Saginaw, Michigan, to find a job as a professional musician. It was in St. Joseph, Missouri, while working for radio station KFEQ that he received his first official pay as a musician. When Glen Harris of Shenandoah, Iowa radio station KMA asked Dusty to come work for him, he moved to Iowa. At KMA he got acquainted with the famous Blackwood Brothers Quartet and with Ike Everly, the father of Everly Brothers Don and Phil. Ike was largely responsible for Dusty’s later career: he stimulated Dusty to concentrate on a singing rather than on playing the accordion and he helped him to get his own weekly 15-minute radio show at KMA. Ike treated Dusty as his pupil and took him to all kinds of events that might be helpful for Dusty’s singing career.

In 1949 Dusty Owens recorded several radio transcriptions for « Mother’s Best Flour » as well as for « Lassie Feeds » but when he got married later that year, he returned to Flint to work as an accordion teacher at a local school of music. In 1951, he and his former band the Rodeo Boys regrouped and briefly worked for radio station WHO, Des Moines. Apart from doing their regular weekday radio shows, the Rodeo Boys also were part of the « Iowa Barn Dance Frolic” that was broadcasted on Saturday nights.

In 1953, Dusty and his band joined the Wheeling Jamboree from Wheeling, West-Virginia, which was one of the most famous barn dances at the time. That same year Owens signed a songwriters contract with Acuff-Rose and on October 1, 1953 he signed a recording contract with Columbia Records. It was a standard contract for one year against a royalty rate of 2% of 90% and two one-year options.

On October 28, 1953 Dusty Owens did his first recording session for Columbia, with Hank Williams’ Drifting Cowboys and Chet Atkins providing the back-up. During the session at the Castle studio in Nashville’s Tulane hotel, he recorded four songs that were all self penned. Columbia released « Hello, Operator » and « The Life You Want To Live » (Columbia 21202) in January, 1954 and in May they released « Just Call On Me » and Somewhere She’s Waiting » (Columbia 21260).

The second recording session for Columbia was done on June 3, 1954, and again, Columbia released all four songs.

Don Law decided to exercise the first option in Owens’ contract and on June 21, 1955, he did his third recording session for the label. Only two songs of this session were eventually issued and Columbia didn’t exercise the second option.

In 1956 Owens recorded six songs for his own Admiral label, including his most famous song « Once More » that was later cut by many others including George Jones, Melba Montgomery, the Osborne Brothers, Roy Acuff and Dolly Parton. During the 1960’s he recorded for Wynwood, but the quality of those recordings was inferior to his previous output.

Dusty Owens, a music appreciation (by bopping’s editor)

The Columbia sides (1954-1955) are generally of high standard. Although Owens is more at ease with medium paced tear-jerkers, he offers also some very good fast boppers. Let’s investigate his records side by side.

« Hello, operator » (# 21202) is a fast uptempo with fine fiddle and bass. A steel solo and a brisk vocal. Its flipside «The life you want to live » is a sincere medium paced shuffler.

Billboard April 30, 1954


« Hello, operator »

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« The life you want to live »

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Billboard June 26, 1954

More of the previous one with the follow-up « Just call on me » # 21260) : a warm voice over a fine fiddle. Its flipside « Somewhere she’s waiting » is an uptempo which shines the steel of Don Helms in.

« Just call on me »

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« Somewhere she’s waiting« 

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A good song is « They didn’t know the difference (but I did) » (# 21310), an uptempo with fast fiddle and bass. « A love that once was mine » is a weeper that can be remoted.

Billboard Oct. 23, 1954

« They didn’t know the difference (but I did) »

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The last 4 Columbia sides are all medium paced weepers, sometimes very sincere, but excitement is gone, and no song really comes to light.

The Admiral sides are in comparison far superior than the Columbias.

A very great early 1956 fast duet first « It’s goodbye and so long » (# 1000) with Donna Darlene (1938-2017), paired with the all-time hit « Once more » : an energetic blend of duet vocal, fiddle and steel.

« It’s goodbye and so long »

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« Once more »

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« Cure that shyness » (# 1002) has Don Owens solo and is a fast bopper. « A place for homeless hearts » is a medium paced tune with great ‘hillbilly’ voice. « Hey honey » ( 1004) is a good version of the Wiley Barkdull song (Hickory 1074) and dates from 1957. The flip « Our love affair » is a fast shuffler with strong bass.

« Cure that shyness« 

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« A place for homeless hearts »

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Wiley Barkdull, « Hey honey »

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Dusty Owens, « Hey honey »

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I am putting aside Dusty Owens last sides (Admiral 1008) once his label was relocated in Florida : both songs are really poppish and outside the scope of this blog.

I added the very fine Rockabilly/bopper « You’re not doin’ me right » (Admiral 1003) by Donna Darlene, certainly backed by Dusty Owens’ Rodeos.

« You’re not doin’ me right »

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And mention must be made of the Abbie Neal Rockabilly platters on the label: « Newton’s law » (# 1001), « If again » (# 1006) and « Hillbilly beat » (# 15000). They may come in later fortnight’s favorites.

Biography and Columbia songs taken from W. Agenant « Columbia 20000 serie » blog ; Admiral songs from various sources, mainly YouTube. Labels from 45-cat or 78rpm-world. Dusty Owens pictures from Hillbilly-Music site.

WILEY BARKDULL, Louisiana piano man

WILEY BARKDULL

Born circa 1927, Forest Hill, Louisianawiley barkdull pic

The musical career of singer / pianist Wiley Barkdull is virtually inseparable from that of the brothers Rusty and Doug Kershaw.

Barkdull’s main instrument was the piano, but he may have played rhythm guitar as well, possibly at his live performances. A deep voiced Lefty Frizzell soundalike, he performed over Crowley’s KSIG alongside Jimmy Newman, Jim Toth and the Kershaws. Rusty, Doug and Wiley all started recording for legendary Crowley producer Jay (or J.D., if you prefer) Miller’s Feature label in 1953 or 1954. Very few of these recordings were issued at the time, but most of them (plus some KSIG radio transcriptions) finally appeared on the UK Flyright label in 1991. Barkdull’s record for Feature was « I’ll Give My Heart to You » (soon to be rerecorded for Hickory)/ »Living a Life of Memories » (Feature 2006), which appeared in early 1955. It was the last release on the label, crediting the backing to Rusty & Doug and the Music Makers.  feature 206 wiley barkdull  I'll give my heart

After Feature was wound down, Rusty and Doug were signed by Hickory Records in Nashville and Barkdull was also signed as an artist in his own right. Wiley’s deep bass voice contributes to many of Rusty and Doug’s recordings and so much so that his name was credited on almost all of the Rusty & Doug sides on which he appeared as a vocalist. In some cases, these harmonies are downright spectacular (« Kaw-Liga« , for instance). These fine Hickory recordings benefited in no small measure from a first-class accompaniment by the Nashville A-team, sometimes enhanced by the fiddle of Rufus Thibodeaux.

hickory 1065 wiley barkdull Too manyhickory 1074 wiley barkdull I ain't gonna waste my timehickory  1074B wiley barkdull hey, honey

Barkdull’s solo recordings for Hickory (8 singles altogether) are a mixture of country in the Lefty Frizzell style, western swing and rockabilly. Songs in the latter category include the great two-sider « Hey Honey« / »I Ain’t Gonna Waste My Time » (Hickory 1074) and « Too Many« , which was covered by Ocie Smith (whose version got a UK release on London, while the original went unissued in the UK). « Too Many » (written by Boudleaux and Felice Bryant) was my first Barkdull experience, in the mid-80s [via the U.K. Magnum Force album « Hillbilly Rock  – 20 Rare Tracks From The Hickory Vaults »].

bb 24-6-57 barkdull too many

It features a great guitar groove by Hank Garland and Ray Edenton, fine percussive sounds by Buddy Harman and Lightnin’ Chance (on bass) and a piano solo by Floyd Cramer. Most of Wiley’s Hickory material was written by J.D. Miller, with just one Barkdull co-writer’s credit. Rusty and Doug scored five country hits between 1955 and 1961, but for Barkdull’s solo recordings there was no chart success, in spite of their quality. His final Hickory release was a nice up-tempo treatment of Melvin Endsley‘s « Keep A-Lovin’ Me Baby« . After this last Hickory session Barkdull moved to Houston, and started to record for the All Star label in 1961, gaining seven releases by the time the label closed in 1964. The last anyone heard of him was that he was residing in Nederland, Texas, still playing the beer joints.

allstar a-7297 wiley-jessie barkdull I'll always love youallstar b-7297 wiley-jessie barkdull that's one broken hearthickory 1092 45 wiley barkdull keep a lovin' me baby


Recommended listening:

– Rusty and Doug Kershaw with Wiley Barkdull, Louisiana Men: The Complete Hickory Recordings. Ace CDCH2 992 (2 CD-set, 56 tracks). Released June 2004. Informative liner notes by Dave Sax.

– Rusty & Doug with Wiley Barkdull, The Legendary Jay Miller Sessions. Flyright FLY CD 35. Issued in 1991. 21 tracks.

Story by Dik De Heer, www.rockabillyeurope.com (Blackcat Rockabilly)

all star ?? Wiley Barkdull - When you go