Charles Wesley “Charlie” Fitch was born in Halletstsville, Texas, on October 9, 1918. He enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1940, serving as a tail gunner on B-17 bombers during World War II, and was a German prisoner of war in 1944-45. He married Bennie Lou Bassett of Luling, TX in September 1945 and they had three daughters and a son. He worked at San Antonio’s Brooks Air Force Base until his honorable discharge in 1950. He then moved to Luling and started the Luling Phonograph & Record Shop, and began Sarg Records in December 1953 with Neal Merritt’s “Korean Love Song.” In 1954 Dave Isbell & The Mission City Playboys featuring Willie Nelson on lead guitar, recorded for the label, and a 12-year old Doug Sahm released “A Real American Joe” in January 1955. Drawing from a talent pool that stretched from Houston to San Antonio and throughout South Texas for more than 35 years, Sarg Records released more than 150 singles in Western swing, country, polka, rockabilly, rock & roll, R & B, and conjunto. Sarg Records’ biggest hit was Cecil Moore’s 1964 instrumental “Diamond Back”. Fitch also served as Caldwell County’s Veterans Services Officer until his death on May 7, 2006.
Al Urban was born on a farm in Gonzales, Texas, on March 1, 1935. He began playing the guitar in his mid-teens and formed his first band, The Daybreakers, in the early fifties and obtained a regular gig at the popular Log Cabin Inn north of Luling. In 1956, Urban recorded his original songs Lookin’ For Money and I Don’t Want To Be Alone at Gold Star Studio in Houston. Al sent the master tape to Charlie Fitch who agreed to release it on Sarg Records. Few singers at Sarg had a voice so immediately recognizable as Urban’s. He cut his first sides in 1954-55 at Gold Star in Houston for his own Dixie label (no relation with the later Starday concern), then got acquainted with Charlie Fitch. « Lookin’ For Money », cut at Gold Star in 1956 – Southern hillbilly at its earthiest – had Herbie Remington on steel, and Doc Lewis on piano. The record debuted on November 30, 1956 receiving rave reviews from Billboard magazine. It was a modest hit and sold respectably. Urban was invited to appear on the Louisiana Hayride on the strength of the single. He was a prolific songwriter often returning to Bill Quinn’s Gold Star Studio on his own dime to record his compositions. George Jones was using the same studio during the same period and the two often shared the same backing band. Charlie Fitch released four more Urban records and passed on several others. Disgruntled with Fitch, Urban started his own label, Fang to promote his releases, and eventually recorded for several other small labels as well, including Kash and Tennessee. He continued to be an active performer, but tiring of the nightly grind; he began concentrating more on songwriting. His windfall came in 1971 when Charley Pride recorded several of his songs including the hit « I’m Beginning to Believe My Own Lies « that was included on the Grammy award winning album Charley Pride Sings Heart Songs.
Cecil Moore was born on a farm six miles from Luling, TX on July 5, 1929. He began playing music in the late forties with Clarence ‘Sleepy’ Short, a fiddler who’d worked with some of the top bands in Houston and San Antonio. As a duo, Cecil and Sleepy appeared at area nightclubs like The Bluebird Inn in Kingsbury and the Shamrock Inn in Luling. The Korean War put Cecil’s music career on hold for a couple of years, but by 1953 he was out of the military and forming his own band, The Notes, who took up residence at the Flamingo Club in Seguin, holding down a regular gig there for a few years in the mid-fifties. Charlie Fitch had been aware of Moore for some time, but for whatever reason did not record him until 1958 (and only then after Cecil agreed to help finance the session). Moore recorded Walkin’ Fever and (I Lost My) Little Baby at ACA in Houston on March 22, 1958. Sales of the single were encouraging and for the next several years, Moore became a steady presence for the Sarg Label and the South Texas music scene. In 1964, Moore recorded the instrumental tune Diamond Back that went on to become the single most successful Sarg record. The response upon its initial release on April 7, 1964, was immediate. Of the radio stations that issued their own charts, Diamond Back hit the Top 10 in San Antonio, Houston and Austin. Atco picked the record up for national distribution and sold several thousand records. The attention Moore garnered from Diamond Back was inevitably brief, but fun while it lasted. He appeared on several television shows performing the tune, and managed to play some of the biggest clubs in Texas. He was also one of the opening acts for the Roy Orbison – Everly Brothers concert at the Houston Coliseum in the summer of ’64, where he played his hit in front of 13,000 screaming kids. Moore continued to record for Sarg, among other labels, for the remainder of the sixties and into the seventies. He received an unexpected boost to his notoriety and income when in 1993, The Max Weinberg 7 began playing his original compositionGotta Go as a recurring theme song on NBC’s Late Night with Conan O’Brien. Cecil Moore passed away on February 9, 2006.
LARRY NOLEN and the Bandits
Larry Nolen was born in Mineola in Northeast Texas in 1933 and moved to San Antonio as a child. He began his professional music career as a rhythm guitarist in 1946,at the age of 13, when he joined The Mountain Rhythm Band, a family band that featured Boy and Gene who later achieved success as The Jacoby Brothers. Smiley Whitley, leader of one of the most famous western swing bands in Texas, recognized a star on the rise and invited Larry to play with his band, Smiley Whitley and the Texans. They performed most Saturday nights at Bandera’s famous Cabaret Dancehall and also hosted a radio show at San Antonio’s KONO / KMAC radio station five days a week. In 1954, Nolen left the Texans, started his own band Larry Nolen & The Bandits and released “I Need You Now” and “Hillbilly Love Affair” on Sarg Records. Nolen went on to share the stage with Elvis Presley, Porter Wagoner, Spade Cooley, Hank Thompson, Doug Sahm, Marty Robbins, Johnny Paycheck, Roger Miller and George Jones, frequently appearing on The Louisiana Hayride and more than fifty Grand Ole Opry Road Shows. Larry has been inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame for “King of the Ducktail Cats” (Starday 668), the Texas Western Swing Music Hall of Fame with the Texas Tophands, and the Bandera Music Hall of Fame as a Living Legend. A few of his hit records include “I Need You Now“, “Please Talk To My Heart“, “The Bandit“, “Hillbilly Love Affair” and “Ramblin’ Rose” which was recorded by Nat King Cole. Larry currently lives on a ranch near Pipe Creek, Texas with his wife, Dixie. He owns and operates Bandit Records, his own private recording studio on the ranch. Larry continues to perform live at venues and events throughout Texas and has recently recorded his latest CD, “Hangovers Sure Hang On”.
Adolph Hofner was born in Moulton, Texas, on June 8, 1916 and raised on a farm in Lavaca County, TX. Hofner’s father was part German and his mother was Czech. Growing up in a primarily Czech community, Hofner heard polkas, schottisches, and other forms of local dance music. When he and his family moved to San Antonio in 1928, he and his steel guitar-playing brother, Emil, began performing in local clubs. Their sound reflected several strands of the Texas musical mosaic. Adolph was a crooner, and Emil, like other early Texas swing musicians, emulated Hawaiian sounds. After the brothers heard the pioneering music of Milton Brown and Bob Wills, they began playing the jazz-inflected country-dance music that in retrospect was labeled Western swing. Adolph, whose smooth singing style earned him the nickname the “Bing Crosby of Country,” first recorded with Jimmie Revard’s Oklahoma Playboys, a major musical attraction in 1930s San Antonio. Hofner also cut some sides as a solo vocalist and performed on vocals with Tom Dickey’s Show Boys. His lead vocals on “It Makes No Difference Now” became a hit in its own right and inspired Hofner to form his own band in 1939. At first the band was known as Adolph Hofner & His Texans, but when they began recording for OKeh and Columbia in the early ’40s with the addition of fiddler J.R. Chatwell, they were called the San Antonians. Among their best-known tunes were “Maria Elena” and “Alamo Rag.” The band spent the early ’40s working in southern California, and during World War II, he briefly changed his stage name from Adolph to Dolph to avoid association with Adolf Hitler. After the war he began using his own name again, and in 1949 returned to Texas and in honor of new sponsor Pearl Beer, Hofner’s band became the Pearl Wranglers. He claimed to have been the first to record the classic “Cotton Eyed Joe” (1941), which has since become a standard. They recorded for the Sarg label for many years and were fixtures of San Antonio music through the 1980s. He was best known in the Texas Hill Country and the Valley as a tireless performer who knew exactly what the people wanted come Saturday night and continued to perform up until 1993 when we was slowed by a stroke. He was a durable musical icon of south Texas who helped shape Western swing, and whose dual career as a swing bandleader and Czech dance musician showed the ways in which Western swing had roots in Central European dance traditions. He was under contract with Decca in 1956 when he cut, under his steel-guitar player brother’s name, Bash Hofner, « Rockin’ And A-Boppin’ » (sung by Eddie Bowers) ; although Eddie Sweat’s delicate guitar breaks owe much to jazz than to Rock’n’Roll. But the best track of this March 1956 session was the Western swing « I Get So Lonesome (Since You’re Gone »). Neither of the record sold over 250 copies yet.
Hofner died of lung cancer in San Antonio on June 2, 2000. His many honors include induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame, Texas Western Swing Hall of Fame, Texas Polka Music Association Hall of Fame, Country Music Association of Texas Hall of Fame, and Western Swing Society Hall of Fame.
Douglas Wayne Sahm was born November 6, 1941, in San Antonio, Texas. Considered to be a prodigy on steel guitar, mandolin, and fiddle, he made his radio debut at age five singing “Teardrops In My Heart” on KMAC in San Antonio. He became a featured player on the Louisiana Hayride country radio program by age eight. Known as Little Doug Sahm, he would often sit in at live performances of such greats as Webb Pierce, Hank Thompson and Faron Young. In December 1952, Hank Williams took Doug on stage in Austin, Texas, less than two weeks before Williams’s death. Doug released a number of singles on various local record labels, beginning at age eleven with “A Real American Joe” backed with “Rollin’ Rollin’” for Sarg Records. As a teenager, Sahm was offered a regular spot on the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, but his mother decided that he should stay in his hometown and finish junior high school. He fronted several bands during his high school years, including the Pharaohs, the Dell-Kings, and the Markays. Although he was a child prodigy in country music, he became a significant figure in blues, rock and other genres. Today Sahm is considered one of the most important figures in Texas Music. Along with Augie Meyers, he was the founder and leader of the 1960s ‘British invasion’ influenced band The Sir Douglas Quintet that scored an international hit in 1965 with “She’s About A Mover.” In 1973, Jerry Wexler of Atlantic Records bought Sahm’s contract from Mercury and produced Doug Sahm and Band, a “supergroup” album featuring Bob Dylan, Dr. John, David Bromberg, and Flaco Jimenez. Sahm and Augie Meyers continued to record together for different American labels throughout the 1970’s and early 1980’s and eventually reunited with Flaco Jimenez and Freddy Fender in 1989 to form a ‘Tex-Mex version of the Traveling Wilburys’, The Texas Tornados, who went on to produce eight albums. In 1994, Sahm re-formed The Sir Douglas Quintet with his sons Shawn and Shandon and recorded the hard rock album Day Dreaming At Midnight. The same year he was also the centerpiece of the more R&B influenced album The Last Great Texas Blues Band. In 1999, Sahm inaugurated his own label, Tornado Records, in order to continue releasing his own material, as well as producing albums by other musicians, such as Ed Burleson. Shortly after the inauguration, Doug Sahm died November 18, 1999, while vacationing at the Kachina Inn in Taos, New Mexico. Sahm’s last album of original material,The Return of Wayne Douglas, was released posthumously in late 2000.
During his short life, Merritt was at one time disc-jockey at day, and singer in clubs at night, a common practice in the ’40s and ’50s. Few remember his fast-talking in San Antonio KONO or KMAC in the early ’60s. Even one of his closest friends told he was « possibly the loneliest man » he’d ever known. Born Carol Merritt in 1930, he changed later for a more ‘masculine’ name; he learned how to play piano and guitar, but was passionate for singing and song-writing. By 1949 he formed his first band, the Bandera Ranch Hands and toured the area. After a stint in Korea, he was back with « Korean Love Song » – both Capitol and Mercury rejected the song, so Charlie Fitch began his label with the tune, in late December 1953. Merritt recorded 3 other songs, later published in April 1954 (700 78s and 100 red wax 45s), but, by the the end of the year, Fitch had only sold 80.
Neal Merritt recorded once more for Sarg in 1955, alas, again without more success, and by the end of the year Fitch resolved his contract. He would then go to Starday (# 237, 260 and 281), and much, much later, in 1965, had a #1 in the hands of Little Jimmy Dickens with « May The Bird Of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose ». A Capitol contract followed, which went nowhere, and Merritt was back to Texas, less and less disc-jockeying, more and more drinking. He was found dead (cirrhosis and heart failure) in a Gatesville, Texas motel, in April 1975.
HERBY SHOZEL and the Longhorn Playboys
After two first records (Neal Merritt) not selling, Fitch was hungry for a success. He found it with Herby Shozel’s « I Suppose/You Ain’t Foolin’ Me ».
DAVE ISBELL and the Mission City Playboys
Born Herby Schoelzel in Fentress, Texas, in 1928, he was immersed in music. His family moved in San Antonio in 1941, and by 1945, he had his own band and a local radio show. Unfortunately Shozel was drafted from October 1950 for two long years. The band had lead guitar, piano and bass, along with an ex-Bill Mack fiddler. The Longhorn Playboys’ sound was far more Country than their contemporaries of the area: it was achingly pure sound, strongly influenced by Hank Williams. Shozel’s voice could be lithe on love ballads yet sly and sarcastic on tell-offs.
Charles Fitch saw them playing at the Barn, a local club and offered them a contract. They would record at ACA in Houston in March 1954. « I suppose » was a local hit. They had a second session backing Neal Merritt, then in August cut four original songs, the best being « You’re Gonna Pay », released a year later. Neither of them sold enough though, and after misgivings with Fitch, they parted. The band never recorded again.
They are still aknowledged because of two of their members, future stars Willie Nelson and Johnny Bush. But they weren’t at the start of steel-guitarist Tiny Williamson’s group, who split early for Dave Isbell (who had briefly played ca. 1950 with Harry Choates). Nelson was hired first as fiddler in 1954. They cut several songs, and Isbell brought excitedly a copy of « Satisfied or Sorry » to a D.J., who just rejected it. Their songs weren’t however unnoticed, since Bud Deckleman covered on MGM « Let’s Do It Up Brown ». Alas, in 1955, personal changes (Nelson quit in 1955), and parting of Isbell (nursing a sickly wife) disbanded the group in 1956-57.
EDDIE DUGOSH and the Ah-Ha Playboys
Dugosh (b. 1936) was also a child prodigy. He entered a school music at ten for 4 or 5 years, and was never allowed to play guitar by ear, only by note written. Undeterred by the experience, he formed his first group in 1950. Fitch approached Dugosh in 1955. Probably recorded at KMAC, « Bad Luck Come My Way » ( thinly-distinguished rewrite of « Don’t Let The Stars Get InYour Eyes ») was released August 1955. Sales were poor. When Fitch was ready 10 months later to re-record Dugosh, the latter’s style had evolved to Country Rock’n’Roll. « Strange Kinda Feeling » had been a minor hit for Elmore James when Eddie Dugosh revamped it in May 1956. Eddy’s vocal is solid, yet the driving force is steel player Don Pack. Alas, the record hit the wall: 177 copies had been sold in Feb. 1957. Dugosh and band left to California, but were not welcome with their hybrid rockabilly., so they added a black piano player and saxophone. That’s when he cut « One Mile » – a classic now – for the Award label. Afterwards, he was a Rock’n’Roll favorite in Las Vegas, before relocating in San Antonio to take care of his family.
A flat insipid singer, Paul was backed at ACA in Houston for his third session by Peck Touchton’s Sunset Wranglers, who salvaged « I’m Broke ».
By 1955, Fitch was looking for R&B flavoured groups, and Bill Holford told him about the Lucian Davis orchestra from Houston. Fronted by 25-years old pianist Earl Gilliam, they had recorded in May 1955 at their own expense a session at ACA. It is the only R&B band Fitch ever released (« Wrong Doing Woman/Petite Baby ». No real response from Djs.
PECK TOUCHTON and the Sunset Wranglers
Raleigh Preston « Peck » Touchton is easily one of the best Country bands to have emerged from Houston’s music scene. Born in Louisiana (1929) with his Sunset Wranglers, he first backed Rocky Bill Ford in 1950-1951 for the hit « Beer Drinking Blues », but Ford coerced successfully the members to leave Touchton. He then went to Starday in 1954, but the pressing plant accidentally printed George Jones’ name on his « Let Me Catch My Breath », so Touchton broke his Starday contract and went to Sarg. In March 1956, he recorded his debt « You’ve Changed Your Tune » at ACA in Houston. Four months later, they were back in th studio to cut « My Baby Ain’t Around ». Touchton had a raw power in his voice, which were never better captured than then. He got booked on the Louisiana Hayride and the Big ‘D’ Jamboree, but family life and music were not compatible, and Touchton hung up in 1957.
He’s a mystery. A middle-aged oild field worker fron East Texas, he emerged long enough from the woods to cut three records for Sarg in 1956-57. He lived in Saratoga, a small community between Beaumont and Houston, best known as George Jones’ birthplace. It was Jones’ success that undoubtedly brought people like Parsons to the recording studios.
Probably recorded in May 1956, « Wait For Me, Baby » had Hal Harris on lead guitar. This was virtually a custom release, as Parsons paid for the 200 issues. Fitch ordered 350 copies, which sold well. For the next session, Doc Lewis joined on piano (basically the Starday house band). Friction developped afterwards between Fitch and Parsons, who complained of poor sales of his third disc. By 1957, he had returned to oil fields.
HARMON BOAZEMAN and the Circle C Band
The Circle C Band, like Texas Top Hands, lasted from the 1950s to to1990s. Founded by lead guitar player Carrol Simmons in 1950, the group was rejoinded in 1954 by Harmon Boazeman (1931). The band’s session occured in December 1956, and « No Love In You » is one of the best rockabilly examples on the label, but not issued before April 1959, which inducted Boazeman to complain as early as 1957. Two other songs were lost. Boazeman, who had records on Banner and toured – even in Germany with Charlie Pride – had health problems and died in 1972.
EDDIE DUGOSH and the Ah-Ha Playboys
Dugosh (b. 1936) was also a child prodigy. He netered a school music at ten for 4 or 5 years, and was never allowed to play guitar by ear, only by note written. Undeterred by the experience, he formed his first group in 1950. Fitch approached Dugosh in 1955. Probably recorded at KMAC, « Bad Luck Come My Way » ( thinly-distinguished rewrite of « Don’t Let The Stars Get InYour Eyes ») was released August 1955. Sales were poor. When Fitch was ready 10 months later to re-record Dugosh, the latter’s style had evolved to Country Rock’n’Roll. « Strange Kinda Feeling » had been a minor hit for Elmore James when Eddie Dugosh revamped it in May 1956. Eddy’s vocal is solid, yet the driving force is steel player Don Pack. Alas, the record hit the wall: 177 copies had been sold in Feb. 1957. Dugosh and band left to California, but were not welcome with their hybrid rockabilly., so they added a black piano player and saxophone. That’s when he cut « One Mile » – a classic now – for the Award label. Afterwards, he was a Rock’n’Roll favorite in Las Vegas, before relocating in San Antonio to take care of his family.
SOURCES AND ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
Brown, Andrew. The Sarg Records Anthology. Book Accompaniment to CD Box Set: Bear Family Records. 1999
One more Sarg release, included in the podcasts:
Bear Family records asked me to include incomplete podcasts. So they are all reduced (generally during the instrumental solo) at 1 minute and several seconds.