Westport Records was formed in 1955 by Dave Ruf and his brothers as an outlet to record both their son and daughter, billed as the Westport Kids . The first single released by the new label was Westport 125 by the Westport Kids called “Right or Wrong / Hold Me My Darling“. I don’t know why the company’s catalog began at 125 – a mystery that will probably never get solved. However, Westport started out as a country label, recording also such artists as Milt Dickey and Jimmy Dallas, who was a local country star in Kansas City. Their recording studio called Westport Enterprises, Inc. was based in Westwood, Missouri, a town near Kansas City, where the Rufs also lived. The studio was active as early as the late 1940s and I suppose many of the later Westport recordings were cut there. The Rufs’ son, Bobby, had his own release (he was 11 years old) with the pleasant « Cap Gun Cowboy » as Cowboy Bobby.
Several Westport country artists also appeared on the Cowtown Jubilee (KCMO). The Cowtown Jubilee aired over 50,000 watt radio station KCMO out of Kansas City, Missouri. From an article in 1953, I estimate the show started sometime in 1950 as they had mentioned it had been on the air for three years.
The emcee for the show was Dal Stallard, a disc jockey for KCMO at the time. Helping him out at times were Hoby Shepp, who was the producer of the show and also the band leader of the “Cowtown Wranglers”. Singer-composer, Milt Dickey could also lend a hand with the announcing chores.The Cowtown Jubilee had a mix of the regular cast members along with guest stars and amateur talent. Before each show, the “Talent Quest” – a contest for budding stars would have a chance to try out their talents.The show was held every Saturday night at the Ivanhoe Temple in Kansas City, Missouri (at the corner of Linwood and Prospect), which had seating accommodations for 1,828 attendees. The show was said to be four and a half hours long, but there is no indication if the full length of the show was broadcast over the air.
Milt Dickey from Illinois found a great hit with “Neon Love”, a Hank Williams style number (not reissued until now). He released it first on a small Kansas City label, Shome Records (# 528), which sold the masters to Coral Records, providing Dickey a national audience. He then signed with Westport Records during 1955, where he got 2 singles. “Easy Payment Heart/Six Of One” (# 133) is part Country, part Western swing. “Television Love” maintains the same hybrid rule, alternating guitar and steel, fiddle and piano, with the warm voice of Dickey. “Bleeding Heart” is a slow traditional Country number with a bitter and disillusioned vocal. He had another interesting tune on Coral, “Checkbook Baby“, a very nice hillbilly bop.
Jimmy Dallas (1927-2004, rn Keith B. Kissee) was a country performer famous on the KC scene of the 50’s. He had 3 releases on Westport. «Good Intentions» is a fine uptempo hillbilly tune : strong vocal, sawing fiddle and bright steel. «Eeny-Meeny-Miny-Mo » and « How Do ? Honey You Do » are duets sung with Cathy Justice. The former song has nothing to do with rockabilly songs of the same title by Hoyt Johnson or Bob & Lucille. Seemingly cut at the same session, both tracks show a more Country-rock approach (using perhaps brushed snare drum – or is it a bass?), although the vocals are a bit smooth.
Westport’s probably most famous records by Texan rockabilly Alvis Wayne came first out in September 1956. Alvis was one of the few rockabillies on the label. But Westport’s most successful artist never visited Kansas City, he recorded all his sessions in Corpus Christi, Texas, or Houston, Texas. The recording contract was set up by Tony Wayne, who was Alvis Wayne’s mentor and background musician along with the Rhythm Wranglers. Alvis Wayne‘s first record on Westport was “Swing Bop Boogie / Sleep Rock-a-Roll Rock-a-Baby” (132), which got only little airplay in Texas and sold about 2000 copies. Wayne’s next record, also recorded in a little studio on Corpus Christi, was Westport’s and also Wayne’s biggest record. “Don’t Mean Maybe Baby” 138) was issued in 1957 and got good reviews by Cashbox and charted in South Texas at No.1, leaving also Elvis Presley behind. But the Top 100 were still far away.
However, Westport had two other interesting Country singles after Wayne’s departure from Westport. In early 1959, the label released Lee Finn‘s Country/ Rock & Roll outing « High Class Feelin’ / Pour Me a Glass of Wine ». Finn (rn Dwayn Lee Voorhies, born 1926 in Greetop, Mo) had previously released « Load Up My Blues » in 1958. He left behind two unissued tracks, first released in 1976 by Ronny Weiser on his Rollin’ Rock label : « Cat All Night/It’s Night “.
The company’s last issue came out on Westport 145 by Gene Chapman, probably in 1962 « Oklahoma Blues » is shortly above average ‘60s Country Rock, while the flip, « Don’t Come Crying », more Country, could have been cut several years earlier. After that, the label was closed down by the Ruf brothers. Westport never gained a national hit, just releasing singles for the local market. The total output were only about 22 singles in seven years. Concerning the few releases the label made, it is an interesting fact to know that Westport was one of the more profilic record labels in Kansas City, showing how small the local scene was.
Added to the podcasts is a Little Herby tune, « The High Cost Of Living », an Harley Gabbard composition from 1952 released on the Central label, which is backed by the Westport Kids. A fast hillbilly bop song with fine vocal.
Notes from various sources. Label scans provided by Deke Dickerson, Udo Frank, Kent Heinemann. Thanks to them all!