(Son of) Plays Guitar Like a Piano

I finally got around to learning how to convert VHS into DVD so that I could preserve a rare piece of Ameri-music-ana:  a live performance of “Tulsa Trot” by noted western swing outfit, Tex Williams and His Western Caravan, that offers a second startling peek at the unorthodox technique of Dickie Phillips who plays guitar in “lap” fashion — like a piano.

“Tulsa Trot”     Tex Williams and His Western Caravan     195?

[note:  Look for drummer, muddy berry, who pulls a great face at song’s end]

Capitol Records would pay for a full-page ad in Billboard’s February 24, 1951 edition that identified “Tulsa Trot” — first mentioned two weeks earlier as a new “folk” release — as a “hot seller.”

Tex Williams 78-bBillboard’s Country & Western (Folk) Record Reviews in the February 17, 1951 edition would include this (terse) write-up:  “Williams hands a danceable ditty his usual virile rendition while the ork maintains a fine terp tempo via swinging strings.”  Music Weird blog rightly asks:  what is aterptempo?

As it turned out, it would be Jimmy Bryant – not Phillips – who joined Dean Eacker and Smokey Rogers on guitar at the January 8, 1951 Capitol recording session, along with Fred Tavares on steel guitar, Ossie Godson on piano, Pedro DePaul on accordion & Deuce Spriggins on bass.

Smokey Rogers – a recording artist in his own right, who also co-wrote “Tulsa Trot” along with steel guitar wiz, EarlJoaquinMurphey – would release his own version soon after, as reported in the April 14, 1951 edition of Billboard.  Check out Joaquin Murphey’s hot steel guitar riffing on Rogers’ somewhat more polite version:

“Tulsa Trot”     Smokey Rogers     1951

Plays Guitar Like a Piano #2

It’s shocking & sad what little footage exists of “Dickie Phillips that shows his unorthodox method of playing the electric guitar.  Here is the only clip on YouTube that shows Phillips playing with Tex Williams & the Western Caravan — note how he places the guitar across his lap and presses his fingers firmly downward on the strings in the manner of a pianist:

“the Talking Boogie”     Tex Williams & His Western Caravan     195?

[Guitar solo by “Dickie” Phillips begins at the 0:45 mark in the video]

Herb Steiner chimes in via the Steel Guitar Forum on Tex Williams’ musical personnel:

The steel player in ‘Talkin’ Boogie’ is Wayne Burdick.  Singing with Tex is Deuce Spriggens on bass and Jimmy Widener on guitar.  Max Fidler is the lead violinist, Ossie Godsen on vibraphone, Warren Penniman on drums, and I don’t recognize the other players.  Really good band, y’all.

I have a (better quality) clip of this same band performing “Tulsa Trot” that features a wonderful and more intricate solo from Dicky Phillips that is really fun to watch — I regret that this performance is not yet available on YouTube.

Sorry – distracted by the vintage vegas architecture

Tex Williams LPHowever, Tex Williams did do another live performance of “The Talking Boogie” on TV’s Town Hall Ranch Party with our old friend Joe Maphis, who plays his one-of-a-kind double-neck guitar:

“The Talking Boogie”     Tex Williams with Joe Maphis & Western Ranch Party     1958

Phillips’ individualistic approach to playing the instrument, although similar to a Chapman Stick (without the “double tapping“) is somewhat unique — I challenge you to produce a video that shows another guitarist whose playing method duplicates Dickie’s. Text below is excerpt from Phillips’ obituary:

JAMES RICHARD “DICKIE” PHILLIPS, b. August 30, 1920, Beamon, Pettis County, Missouri; d. April 23, 1991, Jackson County, Missouri; m. MARTHA KILLEBREW, ca. 1940, St. Louis, Missouri.

James Richard Phillips was an accomplished musician, playing the fiddle and guitar with many well known bands, such as Spike Jones, Tex Williams and Bob Scobey.  He played with Pat Boone’s backup band and appeared on the Arthur Godfrey Show as a regular attraction for several months, both on radio and television.

When he was with the Tex Williams band, he played background music for a number of movies, including several of the Walt Disney animated films. During his youth, he played with a band which appeared in Hawaii and during this time he contracted tuberculosis.