Tank Town Boogie: the CAPROCK label (1957-1959)

tank town front2 Hank (real forname S.A.) Harral was no newcomer in the music business in 1957 when he launched Caprock records in Big Spring, Tx.

Before recording for his own label, he had releases on T.N.T. and Talent (see elsewhere on Bopping for the label’s story), for which he cut amongst other tunes « Dream Band Boogie » in 1951. He re-recorded the song, in a more rocking way, for Caprock. Backing is provided by Weldon Myrick (steel and lead guitar), Deana Hall (bass), Helen Helso (piano) and Red Stone (rhythm guitar). He had 4 issues on Caprock, the two best being « Tank Town Boogie » and «The  D.J. Blues » (102). the latter being a cross between Hillbilly and Rockabilly. Probably the most well known disc to rockabilly collectors is « Tank Town boogie » (104)  with « Sweet Memory » on the flip. Right from the intro by Weldon Myrick on guitar and Mr. Burkett on piano, one is treated to a solid piece of rockin’ Texas good time rockabilly. Driven along at a fair pace by Deana Hall’s powerhouse bass lines, it is a classic of its type and one can only be impressed by the sense of enjoyment that was captured. At least 3 takes were made with the third one being issued on a White label LP pictured here. It is a slower, more bluesier treatment. During this time, Hank cut some more rockin’ material, which included « She’s Gone » and an extremely good re-working of « Dream Band boogie », which has the bonus of fine rompin’ piano from Mr. Burkett and Deana Hall again shining on the bass. Harral’s fourth and final release on the label finds him with yet another self penned tribute to his birth state, « Oklahoma Land » (114), a solid bopper with, as usual, excellent back up from the band. The flip is « (I’ve Got A) Mortgage On Your Heart », a song he had co-written with Billy Harbet back in 1953 (Harbet had recorded it then for Starday 119), and it is a good country weeper. Harral also recut a nice version of « Dilly Dally Doodle » which remained unissued at the time.

howard cty, big spring

100a harral fabulous

104a harral tank

A number of local artists wanted to get released on the fledging new label, so Caprock 101 was issued by ex-Snyder High School Senior Dixie Rogers, from a town some 35 miles North East of Big Spring. Both « I Will Miss You » and « What Then Will You Say » (Caprock 101) are quick paced country numbers, with Harral’s band providing the backing. Myrick is in particularly good form. She returned with the curiously titled « When The Frost Is On The Punkin » (106). Dixie sounds a little more assured on this one and it is a nice country bopper; the same good uptempo style is carried onto the flipside, « Our First Date »101b dixie what. She had a third release (112), « Only You/World Of Broken Hearts », unheard, so cannot comment.  Dixie Rogers

hoyle nix

Hoyle Nix and his West Texas Cowboys made their debut on the label with « My Wasted Love/Kelly Waltz » (103). Ben, the brother of Hoyle, takes the vocal on the former, a slowish tempo’d Western swing number with a nice, uncluttered instrumental on the flip. Hoyle and his band were a well established outfit in the area, having already made records for Star Talent at the turn of the ’50s and for the obscure Queen label in Snyder, Tx (including the excellent « Real Rockin’ Daddy » (to be found under the « WINK LEWIS » entry in this site)) before arriving at Caprock in 1958. He was later to have « Coming Down From Pecos » (105), another instrumental with once again Ben doing the vocals on yet another waltz time flip, « My Mary ». For the final release of 1958, he returned to Ben Hall’s studio and cut probably his strongest coupling on the label with a re-working of « Big Balls In Cowtown » (109), the song that had kicked off his recording career back on the old Star Talent label. Many different stylings lent themselves to Western swing, and one of them was the jazzy big band swing songs and Artie Shaw’s « Summit Ridge Drive » is a perfect composition to show off the band. Taken at a nicely relaxed but swinging pace, Hoyle puts the band through its pace with Mr. Burkett’s piano followed by Dusty Stewart’s fine snappy steel, and Eldon Shamblin‘s lead guitar through to Red Hayes’ fine mandolin pickin’ until, as calls Hoyle out « Now all together boys », and the band sail through to the climax. Hoyle was to go on to record for a number of small Texas labels like Bo-Kay, Winston and Stampede, even having an LP on Oil Patch in the ’70s.

109a nix big

During the end of 1958, Hank Harral was persuaded to handle more recordings as a custom service with the artists providing their own tapes already cut, and of course the material became of a more variable standard. Jimmy Haggett had recorded for Sun, Meteor and Vaden, and was deejaying in Arkansas at the time of his release on Caprock (107), two hillbilly weepers, « Without You/All I Have Is Love ».   jimmy haggett2 At the same time Durwood Daly (rn Haddock) was also a DJ in Kermit, Tx, and he had his own Johnny Cash‘s influenced « That’s The Way It Goes » (108)

durwood Haddock 59

Ace Ball (Batch) had known Hank for many years prior to his one release on Caprock 110. He had played rhythm guitar on Hank’s Star Talent releases. He was from a farming community south of Portale, NM, and had at least one release on Ace-Hi (his label?). It seems that « I’ve Lost Again/High School Wedding Band » was cut in Nashville. The latter being a typical late ’50s rock ballad, spoiled by the chorus, while the A side is a pleasant enough pop rocker.  110b ace I've lost The totally obscure Jack Tate is on Caprock 111, with « Casanova » being a fast and superior quality bopper. Jack has a rural vocalising and the Sandy Land Playboys create the impression of being together for quite a while.   111a tate casanova

Jimmy Simpson had a solitary issue on Caprock 113, recorded in Nashville while he was on leave from the oil fields of Alaska. His « Breaker Of My Heart » bops nicely, while « I’m An Oilfield Boy » is set to a quick waltz pace.

113a simpson oilfield

Penultimate release is by the unknown Roy New with his Trans-Pecos Melody Boys (115). The song « Blue Tomorrow » is way above average, and Roy is putting his heart and soul in what is possibly his one and only record ever. A slightly slower song, « Heartaches For Sale » on the flip. Finally Caprock 116, Max Alexander coupling « Little Rome /Rock, Rock, Rock Everybody » backed by the Hi-Fi’s Combo, offer two of the best Rock’n’Roll records ever. It is firmly placed in the Bill Haley format, with Max on bass and vocal, until the late Frank Fierro comes in on a honkin’ sax break, before the arrival of a blistering guitar solo. The guitar player could be Cecil McCullough who recorded for Bo-Kay and Manco. Flipside is instrumental. And so the Caprock label came to an end. They had no big national hits, only helping people to either try or further careers.

116a max rome

Label story based on two main sources: first, Phillip J. Tricker, « The Caprock Story » (Roll Street Journal n° 7, Spring 1984); second, notes to White Label LP 8831 « Tank Town Boogie ». Some additions and corrections from Bopping editor. Thanks to Tony Biggs for the loan of label scans.

caprock BB ,10 août 59

102 test

RCA test pressing - thanks to Tony Biggs

102 harral the D.J. blues

Dallas, 1948-1952: Hillbilly & Western swing on the Talent/Star Talent label

star talent 777A slim willet Nobody loves a fat manOne of the most prolific Southwestern labels of the postwar era in Texas was Dallas’ Talent/Star Talent Records, owned and operated by Jesse Erickson. In number of actual, documented releases in its hillbilly serie (700), it may indeed have been the most prolific. Erickson’s 80-odd issues over a roughly four year period beginning in 1948 appear to be the most by a Texan hillbilly label until Starday came along in 1953.

Of course, volume doesn’t necessarily correspond with quality, but many of Talent’s – it became Star Talent about halfway through his life – releases were classics of postwar country music, like Hoyle Nix’s “Big Ball’s In Cowtown”, Slim Willet’s “Tool Pusher On A Rotary Rig” and Riley Crabtree’s “Shackles And Chains”. And many more were prime examples of the changing musical climate of the region, when Western swing was slowly displaced to straightforward Honky tonk.

The label was also unusual in the way it evolved from a strictly local label (Buddy Walker issues) to far-flung markets like New Orleans (Ray Rogers), Arkansas (Buster Doss) or Memphis (Freddie Burns).

It’s yet to be established exactly when Erickson began recording Talent sessions, but the birth of the label seems to have coincided with the musicians’ union recording ban (the Petrillo ban), on January 1rst, 1948. Erickson drew talent from the lively local scene which revolved around the Lone Star Jamboree (later Big D Jamboree), held every Saturday at Ed McLemore’s. Involved was disc jockey Al Turner. Among Jamboree’s early stars were Riley Crabtree and a youngster, Buddy Walker, at the same time salesman for Erickson’s record shop, and the first to sign for Talent – he had the first 6 releases on the label.

Talent’s inaugural release, Buddy Walker’s “Bordertown Fiesta”, became a regional hit. Recorded at the Seller’s studio, it included a nebulous house band made up of Jamboree house band regulars: lead guitar player Buster White (later Leon Rhodes), Tex Melton (later  Jimmy Kelley) on steel guitar, and fiddler Ted Hodges (later Billy Jack Saucier). The obscure female pianist Aline McManus also played on several early sessions. Back to Walker. A smooth (though indeniably country) and appealing singer, typically with his first B side, the strong “We Lived A Lie”.

Gene O’Quin (his story can be found in its entirety on the site), was probably still short of 16 when he made “Next Sunday Darling Is My Birthday” (Talent 708). Alongside his longtime buddy Boots Borquin, he was already a a seasoned club and stage performer, as his poignant et assured vocal attests. Both were regulars of the Jamboree, but O’Quin would have his second disc ,backed by the Jamboree house band and credited to him alone: a forgettable “Pennies for Papa” coupled with Hank Williams’ “The Blues Come Around” (Talent 741). Soon after, O’Quin would hitchike to California and sign for Hometown Jamboree and Capitol Records.

Erickson’s first move outside of North Texas was bandleader Hoyle Nix, a fiddler whose West Texas Cowboys based out of Big Spring. Nix rose to regional stardom amid the West Texas oil boom. He took a page from his idol Bob Wills’ book when he, as Wills had done often, revamped an old folk standard as “A Big Ball’s In Cowtown” (Talent 709). The song not only became Nix’s signature tune (he re-recorded it in 1959 for the Caprock label, of Big Spring), but also  by far the biggest hit of Talent/Star talent, selling 10.000 copies in the Dallas area alone, and remaining in print long after most of Erickson’s early reissues were deleted. It was also a hit for the neo-Western Swing outfit Asleep At The Wheel in the 1980’s.

talent 709B hoyle nix cowtown

Alton “Tex” Melton was an early regular steel guitarist of the Big D Jamboree. He was the steel player on a number of early Talent sessions, but also a singer/songwriter (without steel), on his line fine bluesy issue  “It Won’t Do Baby” (Talent 714). He seems to have dropped out of sight afterwards.

Aline McManus, whom about nearly nothing is known, was a session pianist and had a lone issue, “Television Love” (Talent 722, vocal Jack Padgett). The song has nothing to do with television however, but is a fine bopper with twin fiddles and probably George McCoy on steel. Vocalist Jack Padgett (who had previously recorded for his own Echo label) came originally from Oklahoma, and relocated in Fort Worth, Tx. when he was approached by Jesse Erickson.

Talent 729A Jack Padgett (The Texas Wrangler) - Boogie Woogie Gal

His “Boogie Woogie Gal” (Talent 729) is one of three he had on the label. Afterwards, relocated in Odessa, he wrote “Cowtown” for Tex Ritter, then switched to Four Star.

Cowboy Dixon is a real mystery, and we only have his music, the solitary fine “Everything’s Gonna Be Changed” (Talent 733); otherwise we are clueless!

The Seven Rowe Brothers were from Oklahoma, and had spent several postwar years in California when they settled in Dallas. Fronted by vocalist and sometimes fiddler Jack Rowe, they were shortly to begin a long association with Al Dexter. The Rowes at this time included Earl and Lightnin’ on fiddles, Luke on guitar, and A.D. on bass, usually augmented by various steel guitar players, lead guitarists and drummer Freddie Cantu. “Polk County Two Step” (Talent 732) is derived from the Bob Wills’ tune “Faded Love”. The Rowes continued to perform professionnally through the 1990s, though death and ill-health had decimated the act.

buster doss

Buster Doss


Talent 746A buster doss graveyard boogie


Johnny Mathis, from Maud, Texas, was one of the most important artists to have gotten their start on Talent. Ex-steel guitar player with Riley Crabtree’s band, he cut “Before You Call” (Dave Lander’s current hit) at a Crabtree session. Mathis soon became a solo performer on the Jamboree where he met future partner Jimmy Fautheree. They both recorded solo before teaming up with “If You Don’t Somebody Else Will” in 1954. Their relationship was on and off again for years and in the late ‘50s Mathis began a distinguished solo career per Pappy Daily’s D records, recording some excellent honky-tonk records under the name Country Johnny Mathis (to distinguish him from the pop star).

Johnny Bee, born Balducci, was a fine singer, with a deep, resonant baritone. He had a tendency to sound like Ernest Tubb, and the best track by him is “Hang-over Blues” (Talent 744).

Star Talent 738A johnny mathis tell me why

from the Tony Biggs collection


Snuffy Smith, an ex-bass player, had worked in Southern California, before relocating in Hobbs, New Mexico. He had recruited champion fiddler  Tex Atchison and future Pee Wee King’s  drummer Sticks McDonald (who billed himself as the “Krupa of Western Swing”). He later formed the Snuff Dippers, and cut “Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide” (Star-Talent 753 – the first issued under the modified name). By the late ‘50s Smith had joined Bob Wills as bus driver, bassist and sometimes singer.

Riley Crabtree (his entire story is to be found in this site) was one of the most prolific Texas country singers of the postwar years. He had a regional hit with “Shackles and Chains”, before signing with Columbia in 1950. Obviously influenced by Jimmie Rodgers, he cut eight of his sides. A regular on the Jamboree, he then went to Ekko (1955 – Eddie Cochran on guitar), and continued to record for small labels throughout the ‘50s ans early ‘60s.

Hank Harral is best remembered today as the owner of Caprock records in the late ‘50s, where he issued his classic “Tank Town Boogie”. Born 1913, he made his debut as the Happy Yodeler on Amarillo’s KGRS in 1928. He worked here and there as bandleader and DJ, and recorded for Star Talent “Tank Town Boogie” and “Dream Band Boogie” (Star Talent 760).

star talent 760A  harral Bdreamband

Freddie Burns was a popular  Memphis country dance and radio band that numbered a young fiddler Sonny James (absent from the Star Talent sides). The fiddler then was Speedy McNatt, who sings with Burns on the excellent “Juke Box Boogie”, coupled with the equally fine “Two Piano Boogie” (Star Talent 762), with the blind pianist Ray Martin. The Freddie Burns’ band, the Ranch Hands, are not known to have recorded again.

Burns Brothers/Sunny Burns. From Jackson, Ms., Sunny (not the Starday artist Sonny Burns), Slim and Pee Wee, recorded, for unclear reasons for Star-Talent in Dallas (3 singles). They played straightforward country with western swing overtones. They chose strong material, “I Can Sleep Again At Night” (Star-Talent 765) and “Agreed To Disagree” (769). They served later as training band for future rockabilly Joe Clay.

Slim Willet. Erickson was astute enough to sign as many singing deejays as he could, a practice guaranteeing his releases would get air play. Born Winston Moore in 1919 (his full story is also featured in this site), he was a popular DJ in Abilene. He had ambition . His debut single, “Tool Pusher On A Rotary Rig” and “I’m Going Strong” (Star Talent 770) were uptempos. Later Willet would go to Four Star after his “Don’t Let The Stars Get In Your Eyes” became an unlikely major hit in 1952. Over the next years, Willet recorded prolifically (Winston, Edmoral) before his death in 1966.

Wayne Walker. Not to be confused with the Hoyle Nix guitar player, nor the singer-songwriter from Shreveport, he was a Houston singer. He was moderately successful as a songwriter (R.D. Hendon, Jerry Jericho) and his lone Star-Talent issue (“Who’s Kiddin’ Who” – 776) is one of the rarest of the label.

Notes from Krazy Kat’s CD « Playboy Boogie ». Thanks to Al Turner for label scans.

a previous issue to Talent