Joe Maphis – “The King of the Strings” – was the ace picker of the top-notch house band at the Town Hall Party, a radio and television show filmed in Compton and broadcast over the West Coast airwaves in the 1950s. The success of the Friday and Saturday night broadcasts led to a Sunday afternoon program, Town Hall Ranch Party, hosted by Tex Ritter.
Joe Maphis [who, you might recall, once witnessed Dave Bunker’s Duo-Lectar up close] really demonstrates his facility for playing stringed instruments on a song that can only be found here – as Tex Ritter points out in his introduction – on the Town Hall Ranch Party:
“Town Hall Boogie” Joe Maphis & the Ranch Party Gang 1958
What a pleasant surprise to see such a talented steel guitarist with great stage moves, who also happens to be a woman – Marian Hall – as well as a thread on the The Steel Guitar Forum dedicated to “Marian Hall on Joe Maphis’ ‘Town Hall Boogie’.”
In addition to Joe Maphis and Marian Hall, the 10-piece Town Hall Party band would also include Merle Travis (guitar), Billy Hill & Fiddlin’ Kate (violins), Pee Wee Adams (drums), Buddy Dooley (bass), Ray Cline (accordion), and Jimmy Pruett on piano.
As Billboard would report in its July 30, 1955 edition:
“Town Hall Party (NBC and KTTV), Los Angeles, recently opened a new park operation in the Santa Monica Mountains just outside of L.A. Known as Town Hall Ranch Party, the venture has been getting a big play on Sundays and holidays. This is in addition to the unit’s regular Friday and Saturday night operations out of Town Hall, Compton, Calif. The cast includes Tex Ritter, Lefty Frizzell, Merle Travis, Wesley & Marilyn Tuttle, Johnny Bond, Joe & Rose Lee Maphis, Skeets McDonald, The Collins Kids, Mary Jane Johnson, Bonnie Sloan, Mary Lou, Tex Carman, Bobby Charles, Gary Williams, Les (Carrot-Top) Anderson, and Freddie Hart.”
Maphis would also write “Town Hall Rag” and “Town Hall Shuffle,” but alas, “Town Hall Boogie” appears to exist outside of his official recorded canon.
Photo of Marian Hall that accompanied Cindy Cashdollar’s interview
“Marian deserves to be better known for her many accomplishments as a live television pioneer, resourceful and innovative steel guitar soloist, vocalist and songwriter. Marian became a familiar face on live TV in Los Angeles in the 1950s as part of the Town Hall Party cast along with “superpickers”, Joe Maphis and Merle Travis. Marian spent time gigging with Tex Ritter’s Ranch Party, Tex Williams band, and even Spade Cooley’s all-girl orchestra.
She was a neighbor and close friend of Paul Bigsby and was one of the few for whom PA would gladly do the chore of changing strings. Marian played while seated on a high stool with her Bigsby pedal steel raised up on its leg extensions giving the illusion that she was playing while standing. She had a wonderful, self-deprecating sense of humor and roared with laughter when she told me how the stool once collapsed on live television yet she somehow finished her solo while lying on her side on the stage. And play she could: red-hot, yet always tasteful steel runs and bell-like harmonics tumbled out of her amp while she flashed that girl-next-door-smile to the camera. That she was respected by musicians of the caliber of Travis and Maphis speaks volumes of her abilities.
I’ll remember her as a whip-smart, gracious lady who was modest about her abilities yet quietly proud of her accomplishments and her rightful place in the history of California Country and Western Swing music. No doubt feeling the same way, last year, the Seattle Western Swing Society inducted Marian into its Hall of Fame. Not bad for a career that began on live TV at age twelve as one half of the sister duo, The Saddle Sweethearts. I join Cindy Cashdollar and all who knew her in remembering a great lady. R.I.P. Marian.”
Written by Andy Volk – Posted on Steel Guitar Forum in 2006
Photo of Marian Hall courtesy of Dave Schroeder