“Big Tennessee”: Ol’ Truckin’ Tex

Remember “Tulsa Trot” by Tex Williams and his top-notch western swing ensemble?  Zero to 180 just discovered that ol’ Tex had a #30 country hit in 1965 with a trucker tune that was penned by Kenny (‘Round Mound of Sound’) Price and released on Kentucky indie label, Boone:

“Big Tennessee”     Tex Williams     1965

In appreciation for the commercial success of its previous release “Too Many Tigers” (#26), Boone Records would place an announcement in the September 4, 1965 edition of Billboard that heralded the arrival of its next hot single – “Big Tennessee” – while still riding the adrenaline of a Top 40 country hit:

Tex Williams - courtesy Rocky 52“Boone Booms!  We would like to thank you for one Hit and introduce you to another – ‘Big Tennessee’ c/w ‘My Last Two Tens’ – picked in all three trades:

Billboard Spotlight:  ‘A definite top-of-the-chart contender is this hot rhythm follow-up to his recent hit, “Too Many Tigers.”  Rich plaintive Williams vocal can’t miss.’

Single Reviews:  ‘Tale of a powerful trucker and his heroic last deed.  Will thrill country listeners.  A good ‘un.’

The Cashbox Bullseye:  ‘Following up his recent “Too Many Tigers” success, Tex Williams should have a real biggie with this twin-market powerhouse called “Big Tennessee.”  The tune is a barrelin’, stormin’ single-talkie saga about a big truck-drivin’ man who gave up his life in a heroic gesture.’

Featuring the inimitable styling of Tex Williams.  This record is pop!  This record is country!  This record is a hit!

Great sales action. There’s a Boone Record distributor in your area.  Contact them today.  Boone Record Co.  U.S. Route 42, Union, Ky.”

Tex Williams 45-b1965:  Truck Driving County’s Crowning Year?

1968 was a particularly powerful year for diesel-driving music, as previously discussed, but 1965 – Zero to 180 researchers are discovering – shows the first flowering of the genre resulting from the runaway (trucker term, get it?) success of Dave Dudley‘s Top 40 hit, “Six Days on the Road“:

— “A Tombstone Every Mile”     Dick Curless     [Allagash/Tower]

— “Girl on the Billboard”     Del Reeves     [United Artists]

— “I’m the Girl on the Billboard”     Joyce Paul     [United Artists]

— “White Lightnin’ Express”     Roy Drusky     [Mercury]

— “Speed Traps, Weigh Stations & Detour Signs”     Dave Dudley     [Mercury]

— “Truck Drivin’ Son of a Gun”     Dave Dudley     [Mercury]

— “Giddyup Go”     Red Sovine     [Starday]

— “Ridin’ Down ol’ 99”     Joe & Rose Lee Maphis     [Starday]

— “Give Me Forty Acres”     The Willis Brothers     [Starday]

— “When I Come Driving Through”     The Willis Brothers     [Starday]

— “That’s Truck Drivin’”     Slim Jacobs     [Starday]

— “Long White Line”     Charlie Moore & Bill Napier     [King]

— “Rollin’ on Rubber Wheels”     The Stanley Brothers     [King]

— “Truck Driving Buddy”      Hank England     [Process]

(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.

“Artistry in Western Swing”: Progressive Sounds in County & Western

Stan Kenton – who released a 10″ Capitol EP Artistry in Rhythm in 1947 – was a progressive voice in jazz, just as Tex Williams, who answered Kenton in 1948 with “Artistry in Western Swing,” was likewise a forward thinker within the realm of western swing and country music.


Kenton had actually kicked off this whole “artistry” thing back in 1943 with the composition, “Artistry in Rhythm” – one of the year’s big hits.  The Capitol EP, curiously, does not include the actual title track but does offer “Artistry in Percussion and “Artistry in Bolero” instead.

You can compare and contrast yourself – first, here’s 1943’s “Artistry in Rhythm”:

Next, click on the triangle below to play “Artistry in Western Swing” by Tex Williams & His Western Caravan from 1948:

“Artistry in Western Swing”     Tex Williams     1948

In The Jazz of the Southwest:  An Oral History of Western Swing, Jean A. Boyd writes,

“The Western Caravan at this time included Tex Williams (bandleader, vocals, guitar); Smokey Rogers (vocals, guitar, banjo); Deuce Spriggins (vocals, bass); Pedro DePaul (accordian, arranger); Cactus Soldi (fiddle); Rex “Curly” Call (fiddle); Max “Gibby” Fidler (fiddle); Johnny Weiss (lead guitar); Ozzie Godson (piano, vibraphone); Muddy Berry (drums); Spike Featherstone (harp); Earl “Joaquin” Murphey (steel guitar).  [Guitarist] Benny Garcia was also part of the Western Caravan band that recorded the magnificent Artistry in Western Swing album, a western swing response to Stan Kenton’s monumental Artistry in Swing.  Benny recalls that he had to hire jazz flutist Ezzie Morales to play the flute parts on the Kenton arrangements.”

Artistry in Western Swing 78

Stan Kenton:  The Original Wall of Sound

As Jim Gilchrist of The Scotsman points out in his piece, “Bringing Back the Original    Wall of Sound,” Stan Kenton gained distinction for his orchestra’s famed Wall of Sound “way before Phil Spector annexed the term.”