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.
Raleigh Preston ‘Peck’ Touchton is easily one of the most noteworthy singers to emerge from the Houston country music scene in the fifties. But unlike most of his peers like George Jones, Touchton only recorded a handful of sides and, through no fault of his own, attained none of the commercial rewards granted some of his lesser known contemporaries. He was rather, another victim of the visionless inertia that typified the music business in Houston.
Born in Belmont, Louisiana on April 28, 1929, Peck migrated to Houston after high school graduation and began working drive-ins and dancehalls with a young band called the Sunset Wranglers. « Our first job was a place called Johnny’s Drive-Inn in North Shepherd, » he remembers today. « Back in those days, that was the way you started out. And us four would stay up there from eight to twelve, and one o’clock on saturday night. It was strictly a drive-in…car hops would pass the kitty, that’s how we made our money. » The group soon graduated to opening shows for established local acts like Jimmie and Leon Short and Bennie Hess.
The original Sunset Wranglers cut several sides for the Freedom and Green Star labels in 1950-51 : 4 sides for Freedom, among them the very nice uptempo « Walk ’em off blues » (# 5028) and the more quieter although equally good « Walkin’ on the top of the world » (# 5040).
download But the Wranglers splintered when singer Rocky Bill Ford successfully coerced the other members into leaving Peck to become his backing band in the wake of his hit « Beer drinking blues ». This turned out to Touchton’s advantage, however, as the new group he assembled was far more experienced than the old one. With this band, Peck moved up to the Starday label in 1954, but the pressing plant accidentally printed George Jones’ name on the label to his record, « Let me catch my breath » (# 160). When Starday procrastinated correcting the gaffe, Touchton grew impatient and asked to be released from his contract. There remain 3 unissued Starday tracks in the can.
Starday’s loss was Sarg’s gain, and Charlie Fitch was happy to capitalize on the other label’s mistake. Fitch had become acquainted with Peck when the Sunset Wranglers backed up Glen Paul at his December 1955 session. Though he had reservations that Peck « sounded too much like Hank Williams », Fitch conceeded that Touchton’s songs had commercial potential. In the meantime the Sunset Wranglers were in great demand: they backed Johnny Nelms in disguise (« Western band« ) on his Azalea double-sider « « After today«
download After today/Cry baby cry » in 1955 and played with him for dates : Peck remembered Johnny very well and often played at his club, The Dancing Barn, on Houston’s East Side: « We were working at the Dancing Barn with Johnny Nelms [c. 1955], » Touchton said in a 1999 interview. « We worked out there a long time. The Dancing Barn was a rough damn club, too. It was on LaPorte Road. (Nelms’s) old man, his daddy, had just got out of the pen for killing a man when we were working out there. His daddy killed one or two people. At least one. You could just look at the old man and know that the old son-of-a-bitch was dangerous. There was a few knives pulled out there during that time. Even the band had fisticuffs with the crowd. »
Peck recorded his Sarg debut, « You’ve changed your tune » and « Then I found you » at ACA [Bill Holford engineer in Houston] on March 7, 1956 (Sarg 132). The line-up of the Sunset Wranglers at this point included Herman McCoy (lead guitar), Doug Myers (fiddle), Hoyt Skidmore (steel guitar), Carlton Wilcox (bass) and Jo Anne Sky Eagle (drums).
Peck only recorded once more (for Caprus Records in 1976), twenty years after his final Sarg record. He looks today at his past : « Back from about 1949 to ’56 or ’57, everybody in Houston just meshed. It was damn near tight-knit. Everybody knew everybody, and most of ’em were real good guys who would help each other. »
Notes by Andrew Brown for the « The Sarg Records Anthology » from 1999. Additional matters by bopping’s editor.
This article (and the following ones about the same musical label) is based on the Hillbilly Researcher’s article from 1992 written by expert Phillip. Tricker, and mostly on the notes of other experts Andrew Brown and Kevin Coffey for the compilation « Heading back to Houston » (Krazy Kats CD12) issued ca. 1998. Important additions have been made by bopping’s editor.
The style of Honky Tonk music that Starday commenced to issue in 1953 had developped over the years following the end of WWII and a thriving recording scene had expanded in the Houston area with much of the recorded output appearing on labels like FOUR STAR and more locally labels like MACY’S, NUCRAFT, OPERA, HUMMING BIRD and PHAMOUS to name but just a few. Some, like MACY’S issued over fifty releases while others scaled down to a mere dozen or so and yet others a solitary lone release. One of the most important of these labels was FREEDOM : little was known about the artists and bopping music. However, since 1992 and Phillip Tricker’s article, an important amount of research has been done and we can now have a far better overview of both the label, its owner and the artists.
Biff (Hiram Abiff) Collie, pioneer country (DJ), show promoter and trade paper reporter, was born on November 25, 1926 in Little Rock, Arkansas, but raised in San Antonio, Texas. He graduated from Thomas Edison High School (San Antonio, Texas) in 1944. Biff’s professional career spanned forty years working such major markets as Houston and San Antonio, Texas and Los Angeles and Long Beach California.
Biff Collie began his radio career at KMAC radio in San Antonio as a teenager. After brief stints at Browning and Alice, Texas, he moved on to KNUZ radio in Houston and later to KPRC. Biff started with KNUZ (1948) working as sports reporter, before moving into a disc jockey role. During that time, Glad Music Company had a record store on 11th Street. KNUZ had regular remote broadcasts from their store. Popular recording artists were frequent visitors to the shop. Hank Williams was one of the many artists to stop by. Biff was conducting a remote broadcast from Glad Music in 1948 when Hank Williams visited the store.
Biff was the first country disc jockey (see note below) in Houston, which remains one of the premiere markets for country music radio. While in Houston, he also promoted and booked shows, becoming one of the first to ever book Hank Williams, Sr. and Tennessee Ernie Ford. In 1957, he became manager and emcee for the Philip Morris Country Music Show, which was broadcast nationally on Mutual Broadcasting Radio and CBS Radio. Later he worked mornings on KPRC and hosted a certain up and coming singer from Memphis by the name of Presley at the Grand Prize Jamboree.
In 1960, Collie moved to Los Angeles where he remained for the decade, gaining huge popularity over KFOX Radio. He was consistently in the top ten radio personalities in Billboard and Music Reporter magazines and was also named « Best Radio Personality » by the Academy of Country Music, an organization which he served on the Board of Directors and produced the annual awards show in 1967. He moved to Nashville in 1969 and produced the first syndicated radio show, « Inside Nashville, » which ran on stations across the country for many years. He also was a morning man (Collie’s Coffee Club) on KLEE radio in Ottumwa, Iowa.
Collie made an attempt at recording, first on Macy’s records in Houston and later for Specialty. His only charted hit was as Billy Bob Bowman in 1972 on United Artists. Collie married the former wife of country legend Floyd Tillman in 1953. Biff later married Shirley Simpson, who as Shirley Collie recorded several duets with Willie Nelson. It was Biff who introduced Shirley to the up-and-coming singer/songwriter and Shirley eventually divorced Collie to marry Nelson.
Before his death, Biff earned the Ernest Tubb Humanitarian Award for his contributions. Biff is a member of the Country Music DJ Hall of Fame (1978). Collie died on February 19, 1992 in Brentwood, Tennessee.
Radio stations where Biff worked: KMAC (San Antonio, Texas, 1944-45), KWD (Browning, Texas, 1945-46), KBWI (Alice, Texas, 1946-47), KNUZ (Houston, Texas, 1948-55), KPRC (Houston, Texas, circa 1955-57), KLAC (Los Angeles, 1959), KFOX (1960-69, Long Beach, CA), KLEE (Ottumwa, Iowa, circa?), KSIX (Corpus Christie, Texas, circa 1958)
Note: Some articles claim that Texas Bill Strength (8/28/1928 — 10/1/1973) was the first country DJ in Houston, but that may not be the case. Texas Bill Strength was a sixteen year old teen in 1944 when he won an amateur contest at the Joy Theatre in Houston. A representative from KTHT radio happened to be present and decided to give Bill his first radio job as a fledgling western singer. In remembering that episode, Bill was quoted, « My Mother thought for sure I was dying and I can’t say what the old man said. » Texas Bill Strength had a modestly successful singing and recording career. He recorded for 4Star, Capitol and Coral records.
About KFOX-AM 1280: KFOX was called The Country King. It was the original country music heavy weight in Southern California. It broadcast from the International Tower in Long Beach. During the 1960s, the country music hosts consisted of Dick Haynes, Biff Collie, Charlie Williams and Clifford « Cliffie » Stone. (RJB: Country Music Historian, 9/2010).
About the recordings of Biff Collie (bopping’s editor)
The earliest were made for Macy’s in Houston, first with Collie as vocalist fronting Smitty Smith orchestra for « Broken memories » (# 109, November 1949). As you could expect from such a title, it’s a slowie, well sung, but nothing else. Superior lazy backing.
On Macy’s 126, the record is credited to Biff Collie, either a sign of greater popularity as a D.J, either of his exposure on stage. Both sides, the macho « I want a gal (that cook for me) » and the uptempo « I’ve said it before » are somewhat ruined by an organ, and partly saved by a nice steel guitar.
Next record by Biff Collie was on the short-lived Specialty Country serie. He’s here nicknamed « Bellerin’ bowlegged boy ». I didn’t put until now my hand [see note below] on « Everybody wants me but you »(Specialty 709). « Don’t talk about love (the way you do)» on the other side is a fast ditty, with a wild piano well to the fore, added by a typical (for the era) fiddle and a steel. Collie is in good vocal form.
(Note) « Everybody wants me but you » is a good shuffler. Thanks to Steve Hathaway.
Then he was signed to Starday and cut 4 singles for them between January 1955 and July 1956. Several tunes remained unissued. The first issue « What this old worlds needs » (# 178) has the typical Starday sound and combination of fiddle, guitar and steel over an assured vocal. Nobody can say if Collie, as a D.J., was not pushing a little more his own record ! I don’t ever heard the flipside « Lonely ». In any case, he returned to the Gold Star studio in Houston for « Goodbye, farewell, so long », a nice piano led uptempo (# 203); Its flip « Look on the good side » is fast, same vein.
As a proof of his success, he was called again in January 1956 for 4 sides (2 remain unissued).. « Doodle-doo » ( 230) is a novelty, happy side, while « Empty kisses » is a forgettable weeper.
Last session for Starday in July 1956,and it’s a completely different style : »Joy joy joy » (# 251) is an out-and-out rocker, with sax (Link Davis?), in the manner of Glen Barber. The flipside is untraced (« All of a sudden ») nor of course the unissued « Baby let’s mix », which looks promising. There is a lot of music stilll to unearth from the Starday vaults.
One must wait 1972 for the next record of Biff Collie, cut in Nashville under the name of « Billy Bob Bowman ». « Miss Pauline » (U.A. 50597) is plain main Country music, with steel and chorus. Not disagreable music, but nothing exceptional. Another label in 1974 : Collie cut for Capitol 6 sides, 4 remain unissued, and the 45 is untraced.
Sources : biographical details from HillbillyBoogie1 Youtube chain (my sincere thanks to him, whoever he may be), with additions. Scans from 45rpmcat and 78rpmworlds. Music from Hillbilly Researcher serie (Macy’s) or Cactus (Specialty). « Starday » (scans and music) is easily found on the Net. Discography [partly inaccurate] from Praguefrank site.
Very little is known about this Texas artist, except the information on labels and two comments after his solitary 1952-53 issue as published by Andrew Brown’s « wired-for-sound.blogspot » site.
« Ramblin’ Fool » is a Gold Star pressing, dating from around 1952-53. Glen Barber, whose band provides the music here, was probably still a student at Pasadena High School when he cut this. The steel guitarist is « Dusty » Carroll, and the fiddler is Charlie Frost. Musically, this is far from great, but hey, it’s a group of teen-agers. Cut them some slack. Flipside « Let me show us how » is an uptempo weeper. Young Glen Barber is invited to do his (very tame) solo.
In 1956 for a label of the same name (Premium 344), Bashful Vic Thomas (note his entire name) had « Rock and roll tonight« , a prime example of a country band thinking that they could jump on the rock and roll bandwagon by simply writing a song that had the words « rock and roll » in the lyrics — leaving the steel and fiddle intact. I suspect that teenagers at the time weren’t impressed, but the honky-tonkers probably thought they were being « hip » by dancing to it. Flipside is Hank Williams‘ « You’re gonna change (or I’m gonna leave », well done and very fast in the Thomas manner – copyrights go to Thomas. Actually « You’re gonna change » sound like an entirely new song and I wonder if Thomas only got the tune’s title from Hank.
Bashful Vic lived up to his name — I’ve never heard anyone on the Houston ’50s scene mention him at all. After re-cutting « Ramblin’ Fool » for Applause, an Omaha, Nebraska label in 1960, he disappears from the vinyl map completely except for the Memory 45. Flipside of the Applause 45 was a modern and energetic (for the times being) revamp of his 1956 « You’re gonna change« .
The Memory 45 is from 1961, and originate from Chula Vista, California, a fact which indicate Vic Thomas was a well traveled artist. It’s a Starday custom double sider of lovely but forgettable country ballads, « A fool in love » and « I wonder« . Thanks to Allan Turner to have provided the label scans as well as sound files. Vic Thomas later in his life moved to Florida and eventually was committed to an asylum for his depression. Originally from New York City, Vic was attracted to the sweet sounds of West Texas troubadors and aspired to be one himself.
It is almost certain that the Vic Thomas of « Marianne » fame, a white doo-wop song from 1963-64 on Philips, is a completely different artist.
Notes and sources: Boppin’ hillbilly Vol. 2002 and 2022 for short snippets on Vic Thomas. Comments on Premium 101 « Ramblin’ fool » on Andrew Brown’s « Wired-for-sound » bloodspot. Thanks to Allan Turner for providing rare scans and sound files. Music and scans of Applause from somelocalloser bloodspot (2013).