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.
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, « YourAtom Bomb Heart »/« I Want To Know (Why You Don’t Care For me ). They also appear on Blue Hen 223.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Howdy folks. This is the first of July 2017 bopping fornight’s favorites. And this will be a special issue, focusing on Rockabilly and/or Hillbilly Rock records of high value. If you’re lucky owning them, it’s good. On the other hand, if you have only a portion, or lacking one particular item, start hunting ! Estimated values are going from Barry K. John collector guide (BJK), and Tom Lincoln/Dick Blackurn reference book « Guide to rare Rockabilly and Rock’n’roll 45rpms » (TL/DB).
Let’s begin with the Alabama Reed 400b label, « Coal miner’s blues » by GENE COLE. It’s a great mid-tempo opus, a Country rocker with good guitar and fine voice, valued $ 200-250 (BJK), or even the more confortable tag of 800-1000 (TL/DB).
Next is very short : 1 minute 37, but full of energy. JERRY PITTS & the Rhythm Makers do on the J.P.R.M. label (obviously initials of them all) the fine up-tempo « Keep ole central rolling » from Dawson, MS. Uncommon maraccas. This record go for $ 40-50 (BJK) or even 75-100 (TL/DB).
FRED NETHERTON appears on two discs. First a great version of Carl Perkins’ « Matchbox » on California label Rural Rhythm EP 540, from 1961, backed by the Wildwood Playboys: piano and guitar solos. Valued at $ 300-400 (TL/DB). Then as fronting man for the Wildwood Trio on Dixie 1 (unknown serie) from Illinois, says Barry K. John. « The wildwood rock » with a very nasal voice, a great rockabilly guitar, a really stomping thing, It’s valued between $ 300 and 400 by B.J K.., and 600-700 by TL/DB.
Next entry is the exception. SUNSHINE SUE had this Astra issue (probably Richmond, Va.) circa 1948-49. « Barn dance boogie » (# 1215) with the first ever recording of ‘Cousin’ Joe Maphis. Fast romper, an accordion solo, and that agile guitar throughout.
Finally two discs by SLIM DORTCH from Tennessee. The very great « Big boy rock » on Eugenia 1001 from 1961 : $ 600-800 (BJK). His second is very tame in comparison, « Sixteen miles » is a honest little rocker without any more appeal.
Detroit’s country music scene of the 1950’s featured a solid mix of talents and clubs where folks could stomp ’till two o’clock every night of the week, with some of the wildest sounds this side of Mason-Dixon Line. One man who was there in the thick of the good times was Eddie Jackson, who assembled the hottest bands and shows in town for two decades straight !
He was born in Cooksville, Tennessee, and Eddie’s family, like many Southerners, moved to Detroit during a period a growth in automobile manufacturing. As a youngster during the 1930s and 40s, he took up guitar and singing, and idolized musical giants such as Hank Penny, Milton Brown, Bob Wills and Tommy Duncan (he even met Wills and Duncan in Stockton, CA, while Eddie served with the Navy during WWII). Upon his honorable discharge by Uncle Sam in 1947, Jackson returned to Detroit, and was offered to lead a band the same night he arrived ! From then on, Eddie Jackson and his various combos were crowd-pleasers at shows all over Michigan, parts of Ohio, and Ontario. Around 1950, Eddie’s first group, the Melody Riders, cut a record in Detroit. The song « I’m willing to forget » was his first composition (Fortune 134).
(Accompanying the Riders was Hal Clark on guitar, who later changed his name to Hal Southern and co-wrote « I dreamed of a hillbilly heaven ».) Hal Clark sang his comp on the flip “New set of blues“. As the scene got cooking, Jackson’s band started sizzling, and they found
Hal Clark (Fortune 146) “I don’t mean a thing to you”
themselves booked nightly. Ted’s 10-Hi Bar, on the east side, was the sight of Detroit’s first C&W Jamboree, as hosted by Eddie Jackson and his Cowboy Swingsters (including Tracey White on guitar, and ‘Smitty’ Smith on bass). For several months, the trio performed 15-minutes radio broadcasts from WMLN-FM in Mount Clemens.Eddie Jackson also led a country music variety show, « The Michigan Barn Dance » on Detroit NBC affiliate Channel Four TV, during the early 1950’s.
“Baby doll”(first version)
« Baby doll »(second version) (Shelby 297) and « Please don’t cry » were recorded after that, and through the 1950’s the Swingsters played regular shows at a nightclub called the Caravan Gardens.
Eddie Jackson solidified the band’s line-up with Joe Magic on bass & drums (played at the same time!), ‘Uncle’ Jimmy Knuckles on piano, and Tracey White on take off guitar. This group attracted big crowds, as well as popular country singers like Webb Pierce, Jean Shepard, Lefty Frizzell, Red Foley & many other top artists who often stopped in to perform songs with the Swingtsters ! Jackson also had his own program on Royal Oak radio station WEXL-AM, where he spun records and sometimes broadcast from the Caravan. In 1959 the Swingsters cut their most popular record record in Detroit : « I’m learning » backed with the rocker « Blues I can’t hide »(Caravan 101). Even though Jackson says he preferred « Blues… », the ballad « I’m learning » went through the roof of WEXL’s country & western charts. As a result, Eddie was able to pay cash for a new ’59 Cadillac with a convertible top !
Eddie cruised down to Nashville and recorded two more singles, including « You put it there » (Caravan 1004), a song from his last session in a recording studio. By the late 1960’s he quit performing regularly, in favor a starting a successful business. Knuckles, White and others have since passed on. But whenever Eddie Jackson sings and entertain people, the crowd’s humor rises, and sparks fly.
Howdy friends from all around the world ! This new batch will return to a more conventional time for Hillbilly bop, the years 1950-1960. Lack of time and inspiration I’m afraid. So commentaries will be short ! First we can listen to JOHNNY GITTAR, a.k.a. Johnny Henderson (I posted two tracks under this name recently, fortnight early April) in the famous « San Antonio boogie » (High Time 173). A call-and-response format, the steel guitar well to the fore, a touch of piano : it’s a shuffler, the sort of hard-rock tunes we can hear on the Houston Freedom label (I recently told the story of this important altho’ short-lived label). “San Antonio boogie“download “Nine o’clock“download
Two medium-paced numbers, back-to-back of the Bennie Hess Spade # 1929 label, and they both are close to Rockabilly, «Nine o’clock » and « Is there no love for me, Love » are light, cool sung. A minimum instrumentation and a gliding guitar. They appear to have been issued in Autumn 1956 by JOHNNY McADAMS.
Next LITTLE MIKE MORTON offers a jumping Hillbilly bop « Midnight hoe-down » on Esta H-9592 from 1955. The location of Esta is Hamilton, OH. And the youthfullness of the voice immediately reminds that of Little Doug [Sahm] on Sarg, or on Westport that of Cowboy Bobby.
From 1957 on the Cincinnati, OH Seven Star label (# 2511B) let’s listen to « Why did you go away » by ART RODGERS (without any doubt no connection with Jimmie or Jesse). Nevertheless Rodgers has a hillbilly pronunciation, and a strong rhythm guitar, backed by the K.C. Ramblers.
CUZIN ROSCOE next on the Avery, TX Cowtown label (# 803A) delivers the fast « Sing me a song », accompanied by a sawing fiddle (1960, according to the YouTube uploader).
A baritone vocal, strongly a la Johnny Cash, that of RAY PRIDIE for « Lonesome broken hearted me » on the C.A.R. label # 102A, from Bellingram, Washington. Steel guitar plus echo.
Let’s begin this new fortnight serie with BUDDY GRIFFIN. He stayed a good part of his life in the shadow of his elder brother REX, who never encouraged his younger brother performing first in Birmingham, Chattanooga and Atlanta. He later teamed up with fiddler Bobby Atchison and guitarists Pete Cassell and Doug Spivey and he played for many sessions early ’50s in Dallas. His recording debuts occurred on the Dude label, as « Otis West & his All Star Cowboys ». When the career of Rex Griffin began to decline in the mid-50s, Buddy Griffin recorded for the tiny Ekko label. Was it in Nashville or Los Angeles ? The writers E.. Hazlewood and J. Willard rather show on the West coast. « Bartenders girl » (Ekko 1017) swings, a mid-pace tempo with heavy guitar and piano (2 soli). (biog. details from the notes of Bruce Elder on « All music » site)
Lee Moore & Juanita “When my blue moon turns to gold”download
RUSTY NEWBY comes next on the Academy label (# E4KB-1022, a RCA pressing from 1954). « Musician’s blues » bears some western swing overtones. Medium paced hillbilly bop and a lazy vocal. The whole thing is swinging.
1966 saw the issue of HILLBILLY HERMAN and the medium « Today I watched my dream come true » (Breeze 366), a fine bopper (with mandolin) for the era. Despite deep and large researches, I’ve found nothing on the artist neither the label.
Get back to Virginia, in Staunton. The Buttermilk 1001 label has HARRY SNYDER well bopping for « Worry, worry, worry ».
From Gadsden, AL, we now have « Railroad bum », a great « Hillbilly-goes-Rockabilly » type song for its insistant slapping string bass played by Jimmie Harris; Calvin Flemons is on lead, Ronald Underwood on rhythm and the steel is played by the leader RIP UNDERWOOD. No date is given, except the personnel. A fabulous bass throughout.
We finish this fortnight with CARL LOTTS and « Wandering lonesome blues », a fast Hillbilly bopper on Delmarti F80W-1478 (another RCA pressing) from 1955. Indianapolis origin. The label says « & his Kentucky Kernels » Both sides were reissued (or was it the first issue?) on Lot [sic] label, same numbers.