“Hoopaw Rag”: Mid-Century Modern Western Swing

Steel guitar prodigy, Vance Terry, gets co-songwriting credit on “Hoopaw Rag,” an adaptation of a fiddle tune – “Bob Wills Stomp” – that was recorded January 25, 1955 in     Los Angeles at the beginning of a three-year association with the Decca label for Bob Wills & the Texas Playboys:

Note:  In the 5 seconds preceding the start of the song, Bob Wills whispers instructions to his band.

Oddly, this song appears to have been kept in the can.  PragueFrank’s most excellent Country Music Discographies points out that “Hoopaw Rag” remained unissued on LP for another 16 years until included on 1971 Vocalion album, San Antonio Rose.

Vocalion VL-73922 San Antonio Rose:
San Antonio Rose; Black And Blue Rag*; My Shoes Keep Walking Back To You**; Four Or Five Times; Roll Your Own; New Dream Eyed Waltz**; Don’t Let The Deal Go Down; I’ll Allways Be In Love With You; Hoopaw Rag**, Carnations For The Memory** – 71
(*previously unissued, **previously unissued on album, reissued on Coral CB-20109).

The authoritative discography in Charles Townsend’s biography of Bob Wills – likewise titled, San Antonio Rose – confirms that “Hoopaw Rag” was only ever issued on LP, never on 78 or 45.  Until two decades later in 1992, that is, when MCA issued a CD anthology of mid-50s Decca recordings entitled, Bob Wills – Country Music Hall of Fame Series.

Bob Wills - 1955

           Bob Wills on WFAA-TV, Dallas, Texas in 1955

“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.

SONY DSC

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.”

Texas Troubadours: Backup Band Extraordinaire

Perhaps it’s not fair to single out a backing band in country music, since there are so many outstanding ones – The Texas Playboys, The Cherokee Cowboys, The Drifting Cowboys, The Golden West Cowboys, The Brazos Valley Boys, The Western Caravan, The Buckaroos, The Strangers – and yet I am unable to stop myself from nominating Ernest Tubb’s 1960s incarnation of The Texas Troubadours as one of the all-time great backing bands in country music.

This live rendition of “Rhodes-Bud Boogie” knocks me out every time:

For extra fun, click here to enjoy Willie Nelson backed by the Texas Troubadours, with help from fiddler, Wade Ray, and a beehived chorus on “My Window Faces the South (Blues).”

Texas Troubadours Discography

– LP STEREO ALBUMS –

  • Ernest Tubb Presents the Texas Troubadours  [1964]
  • Country Dance Time  [1965]
  • Ernest Tubb’s Fabulous Texas Troubadours  [1966]
  • The Terrific Texas Troubadours  [1968]

– 45 RPM SINGLES –

  • Decca 31699  “New Panhandle Rag” / “Rhodes-Bud Boogie”  [1964]
  • Decca 31770  “Honky Tonks and You” / “Cains Corner”  [1965]
  • Decca 31837  “Highway Man” / “Leon’s Guitar Boogie”  [1965]
  • Decca 32065  “Walking the Floor Over You’ / “E.T. Blues”  [1966]
  • Decca 32121  “Gardenia Waltz” / “Honey Fingers”  [1966]
  • Decca 32185  “Almost to Tulsa” / “Oklahoma Hills”  [196?]

Texas Troubadours Personnel Over the Years

– Bill Drake (circa 1947)
– Billy Byrd (lead guitar, circa 1949-1959)
– Buddy Charleton (steel guitar, 1962-1967)
– Buddy Emmons (steel, 1960-1961)
– Cal Smith (rhythm guitar, 1961-1967
– Dickie Harris (circa 1956)
– Hal Smith (circa 1947)
– Jack Drake (bass guitar, circa 1945-1967)
– Jack Greene (drums, 1962-1965)
– Jimmie Short (circa 1943-1948)
– Johnny “Boy” Sapp (circa 1945)
– Leon Rhodes (lead guitar, 1960-1967)
– Leon Short (circa 1945)
– Ray “Kemo” Head (circa 1945)
– Rusty Gabbard (rhythm guitar, circa 1956)
– Tommy “Butterball” Paige (circa 1947)

“Springfield Guitar Social”: Who’s Who of Guitar Wizardry

If you’re pressed for time but curious to know more about the stringed instrument masters who inspired and laid the groundwork for the the classic rock generation to come, here is a two-and-a-half minute Cliffs Notes guide that demonstrates Thumbs Carllile‘s uncanny ability to play in the style of such guitarists as Grady Martin, Jimmy Bryant, Les Paul, George Barnes, Chet Atkins, Hank Garland, Speedy West, Billy Byrd – and himself:

This musical roll call of fleet-fingered axe-pickers was recorded in 1958 and released on Starday in 7-inch as well as 12-inch form.

At No Extra Cost

If you’ve never seen Thumbs Carllile play, then you’re really in for a treat.  As it turns out, Stanley Jordan wasn’t the first person to approach playing the guitar like a piano.  Check out this exhilarating version of “Li’l Liza Jane” from Bill Wemberly & His Country Rhythm Boys, featuring the dual guitar wizardry of Thumbs Carllile and Curly Chalker from Red Foley’s “Ozark Jubilee” TV show.

“Western Limited Boogie”: Boogie Woogie Western-Style

Found a hot Texas swing instrumental called “Western Limited Boogie” on a Starday cassette about which little to no information exists.  The front cover indicates this is part of a series called “Best of the Instrumentals,” and the volume that I own is called Texas Style Instruments. The featured artist on this blazing instrumental cannot be the twin vocalists, Pee Wee King & Redd Stewart (as it says on the label) but rather Pee Wee’s ace ensemble, The Golden West Cowboys:

Western Limited Boogie – Pee Wee King & Golden West Cowboys

[Pssst:  Click on the triangle above to hear “Western Limited Boogie” by Pee Wee King & The Golden West Cowboys.]

I am reading a fascinating history of the storied Starday label – The Starday Story:  The House That Country Built – by Nathan Gibson in collaboration with one of Starday’s founders, Don Pierce.  The book includes a selected discography of Starday recordings, and I had hoped that I would find out something about this obscure instrumental by the Golden West Cowboys so that I could say, “See kids – it still pays to read books!”   But alas, the book simply states that Pee Wee King was “among the new crop of country music legends to appear on Starday LPs in the mid-sixties.”Texas-Style Instruments - Starday

To find a live western swing recording, especially of this high fidelity, on a 1960s Starday compilation is a bit unusual.   I would love to know if other instrumentals by The Golden West Cowboys are in the Starday vaults somewhere or have enjoyed release on other vinyl/tape offerings.

Postscript

As Starday historian, Nathan Gibson, points out, not only was it not unusual for Starday to release live recordings, Starday was, in fact, “one of the pioneering country labels releasing live recordings (from the Big D Jamboree, from K.C. benefit shows, from the Nashville Disc Jockey convention Starday shows, as well as many in-studio live albums). They are fun to find and hear, though due to their success, Starday in later years began issuing a lot of ‘live’ albums with studio tracks and added applause. Be wary of some of those. The only way to know, though, is to buy it and find out.”

It would appear I have a gaping hole in my Starday record collection.

Also important to point out that this cassette was released sometime in the 1970s/80s after the Starday-King catalog had been sold to Moe Lytle’s Gusto Records.  Lytle and his team would be the ones who could help identify the source of this live recording by Pee Wee King’s Golden West Cowboys.

Starday-King’s Shared History

King Records [upon Syd Nathan’s death] was sold in October, 1968, to Starday Records. The Starday-King catalog was almost immediately sold to Lin Broadcasting in Nashville, who ran the company without changing much.  In July, 1971, Lin sold James Brown’s contract to Polydor, then sold the label to a company that [famed songwriting duo] Leiber and Stoller had set up called Tennessee Recording and Publishing.  From 1971 to 1974, not much happened at King except the designs of the labels changed. Very few albums were being released and even fewer hits emerged. In one move, the sale of James Brown’s contract, the label went from a chart force to a shell of its former self.   In 1975, Tennessee Recording and Publishing, still running under the Starday-King name, sold the masters to another Nashville concern, GML, Inc., [owned by Moe Lytle] who operated the Gusto label.”              The King/Federal/DeLuxe Story by David Edwards & Mike Callahan

1954: An Explosive Year for Music

We all know that 1954 was the year of Elvis Presley’s famous and influential Sun recordings, but 1954 was also highly noteworthy for the combined impact of these 3 particular tunes — all instrumentals:

1.  “Stratosphere Boogie” by Speedy West & Jimmy Bryant:  phenomenal, blazing twin guitar work – rock and roll by any other name (although some might call it “hillbilly jazz“).  Recorded September 2, 1954.  Bryant is using a “Stratosphere Twin” double-neck guitar with 6-string and 12-string necks.  The 12-string neck, curiously, is tuned in thirds, thus sounding like twin lead guitars playing lines in harmony.

Stratosphere Twin - Jimmy Bryant

“Stratosphere Boogie”     Speedy West & Jimmy Bryant     1954

2.  “Space Guitar” by JohnnyGuitarWatson:  unhinged guitar paired with playful production (and unpredictable reverb) – as Larry Nager so adroitly dubbed it, “punk blues.”  Recorded as ‘Young John Watson’ in Los Angeles on February 1, 1954 and released on Syd Nathan‘s Federal Records.

“Space Guitar”     Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson     1954

Space Guitar 453.  “Pork Chop Stomp” by Grady Martin and His WinginStrings – crisp production,       great chops (so to speak) and a little humor go a long way.  That’s Bud Isaacs on pedal steel, with Grady Martin and Hank Garland both playing lead on this spirited piece of western swing – recorded January 13, 1954.

“Pork Chop Stomp”     Grady Martin & His Wingin’ Strings     1954

Grady Martin doubleneck guitarApproximately 12 Years Later:

Johnny Echols of seminal Los Angeles folk-punk band, Love, would be seen playing one of those rare Stratosphere double-necks originally made famous by Jimmy Bryant:

Johnny-Echols-with-Stratosphere

Hank Thompson: Western Swing’s Dean of Diction

In my prior post about the Nashville Chowdown LP, I mentioned that back in the early 70s jazz singer Blossom Dearie‘s  “exceptional annunciation” was being put to good use in the singing rice-ipe radio ads.  If Blossom Dearie had a male counterpart, that person would undoubtedly be Hank Thompson, whose singing style is distinguished by equally excellent articulation.

Someone once humorously described Hank and his band, the Brazos Valley Boys, as a honky tonk band disguised as a western swing outfit – funny because it’s true.  Anyway, here’s one of Hank’s more playful songs – from an earlier time in American popular culture, lyrically speaking – although I have to admit I only just now learned that it is a cover of a Bud Alden & the Buckeroos 1956 recording.  This tune, “Squaws Along the Yukon,” was the A-side of a 1958 Capitol single (with Merle Travis on guitar) that was later included in Hank’s 1960 album, Most of All:

“Squaws Along the Yukon”     Hank Thompson     1958

Talk about a classic cover:

Six Pack o' Hank

Here’s a bonus video link to Hank’s live performance of “Six Pack to Go” at the Opry: