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

early February 2011 fortnight favorites

Howdy folks! Thanks for visiting my site: you are never less than 35-50 people each day. This is the proof the site is of interest to you, and it gives me in turn enthusiasm and heart to go ahead, search and find more hillbilly bop gems for your own pleasure.

Robert AUTRY INMAN (as christened) from Alabama had begun his musical career as bass player for Cowboy Copas and George Morgan in the latter part of the ’40s. A first recording contract wth Bullet in Nashville occurred in 1949, I will tell more about him in a future feature, when I have gathered enough biographical information (which is actually very sparse for his early career). 1952 saw him inked by Decca records, where he enjoyed moderate success, fine boppers and ballads. In 1956 he embarked freely on the rockabilly bandwagon and cut the classic two-sider « Be-Bop Baby/It Would Be A Doggone Lie« , I’ve chosen the latter side, in my opinion the better of both.

decca 29936 inman it would

tommy durden pic

Tommy Durden late 1990s

From Kansas City, early ’60s, a pleasant jumping country-rock tune on the ‘R‘ label, « There’ll Sure To Be Other Times » by OTHEL SULLIVAN.  He had another 45 on Wonder, which I have not heard. Judging by the RCA custom pressing number, it dates from 1960.

wonder 106

The next artist in question, TOMMY DURDEN, born 1928 in Georgia, had a low-profile career for more than 40 years. Singer and steel-guitar player, he is best known today for being the co-writer of « Heartbreak Hotel », which gave him comfortable royalties, even if he never wrote a follow-up. Early ’50s saw him , no one knows how, cutting for Houston’s Sol Kahal’s Freedom label, backed by the Westernaires. He had a regional hit, « Crossroads » (rejected by Four Star’s Bill McCall as « too pop »); but fare more interesting was « Hula Boogie« : Durden on vocal, a deft mandolin solo by Boots Gilbert (one-time Durden’s wife, later to have the classic « Take It Or Leave It » on Fortune), and a stinging, hot steel-guitar by the young Herb Remington.

From the Ohio State comes now BOBBY RUTLEDGE. He recorded for the Akron Zipp label some Hillbilly bop sides (« Southern Fried Chicken« ); here you have the furious « Go Slow Fatso » from 1956.   zipp 11216 rutledge

BUSTER DOSS & his Arkansas Playboys recorded first for Dallas Talent label this « Graveyard Boogie » in 1949, aimed at horror/halloween followers. Fine steel, call and response format, and a romping piano. He was the uncle of Bob Doss, famed for his Starday sides of the late fifties.

buster doss pictalent 746 doss graveyard

Finally a boogie classic by CECIL GANT – he would die early February 1951 in Nashville, a mere 60 years ago, after a short 6 years musical run and innumerable boogies and ballads. Here I’ve chosen one of his best instrumental tunes, « Screwy Boogie« . Enjoy the selections!

cecil gant pic