Cherokee Cowboys: Proven Band

Thanks to the late, great Charlie Coleman for singling out Ray Price’s redoubtable backing band, The Cherokee Cowboys and their 1965 Columbia debut (and sole) solo release – check out Buddy Emmons’ hot jazz steel guitar solo on “Devil’s Dream,” the kick-off tune from Western Strings:

“Devil’s Dream”     The Cherokee Cowboys     1965

Ray Price: guitar & vocal
Grady Martin & Pete Wade:  lead guitar
Jack Pruett & Charlie Harris:  rhythm guitar
Buddy Emmons & Jimmy Day:  steel guitar
Tommy Jackson, Francis Coleman & Wade Ray:  fiddle
Floyd Cramer:  piano
Harold Bradley:  bass guitar
Pete Burke & Buddy Killen:  bass
Buddy Harman:  drums
Johnny Bush:  drums & vocal

Recorded:
Dec. 1964 – Columbia Recording Studio, Nashville
Mar. 1965 – Music City Recording, Nashville

The Cherokee Cowboys – 1965
[photo courtesy Buddy Emmons.com]

Cherokee Cowboys - 1965(Top Row) Pete Burke, Wade Ray, Buddy Emmons
(Bottom Row) Charlie Harris, Johnny Bush, Keith Coleman

Western Strings would shoot to the Top 20 of the Country charts the first week of release, according to Billboard’s July 17, 1965 edition. and remain there the following week (while Dick Curless and his Tombstone Every Mile album quietly jumped ahead two spaces during that same time period to the #17 slot – just above Western Strings).

Cherokee Cowboys LP-a

Rich Kienzle would include Price and the Cherokee Cowboys in Southwest Shuffle:  Pioneers of Honky-Tonk, Western Swing & Country Jazz:

“It was no small paradox that as Price continued weighing changes in 1964, he hired two legendary swing fiddlers.  Wade Ray had made his name on the West Coast as a bandleader and singer; Keith Coleman, one of the finest improvisers in western swing, had worked with both the Texas Playboys and Hank Thompson’s Brazos Valley Boys.  Despite the changes, Price retained a steadfast pride in the Cowboys.  With Ernest Tubb’s Texas Troubadours making their own records, Price talked Don Law into recording a Cowboys album with Grady Martin and Tommy Jackson present along with Harold Bradley.

At the first session for Western Strings album in December of ’64, this capable group of musicians, who’d worked together continually for years, were so nervous about recording on their own that, after 45 minutes of musical inhibition, a frustrated Price sent a studio handyman out to buy some Wild Turkey.  He literally ordered everyone to get drunk to loosen them up; it worked.  Emmons, Ray, and Coleman played brilliantly.  “Grady and I ended up drunk, and a lot of the other guys were in good shape, too,” Emmons laughed.  “And when I heard [the song played] back I couldn’t believe how together it was for the condition we were in.”  Because recording costs came out of Price’s royalties, the album included the original ‘Crazy Arms,’ and Price took credit for the arrangements to make back any money lost.”

1977 would see the release of a Ray Price & the Cherokee Cowboys album on ABC-Dot entitled Reunited, a Top 50 Top Country album and one that would yield a Top 30 single — “Different Kind of Flower” b/w “Don’t Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes” (as well as their take on Bob Dylan’s “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight”).  Recording the album in Nashville would be Price, along with MoisesBlondieCalderon, Buddy Emmons, Pete Wade, Tommy Jackson, Harold Bradley, and the two Buddys – Harman & Spicher.

Saving Country Music has a nice piece of history – “The Ray Price Cherokee Cowboys Proving Ground” – that pays tribute to the musical personnel that have passed through the ranks of Ray Price, who took over Hank Williams’ Drifting Cowboys before putting together his own ensemble.

Cherokee Cowboys LP promo

“C Jam Blues”: From the Father of Hillbilly Jazz

I had a nice laugh when I realized that this fiery little instrumental in the key of C was, indeed, not the world’s first waltz to be played outside of 3/4 time but instead an error in the track listing on the album jacket.  Thus, despite this song being listed as “Gravy Waltz,” I’m pretty certain this is actually the next track in the album’s running order — the jazz standard, “C Jam Blues” by Duke Ellington:

Track comes from 1974’s double album, Hillbilly Jazz, by the “Father of Hillbilly Jazz” himself, Vassar Clements – who first appeared on the Grand Old Opry in 1949 fiddling with Bill Monroe – joined by D.J. Fontana on drums, Doug Jernigan on steel guitar, David Bromberg on guitar, and other musical friends.

Hillbilly Jazz LP

Vassar Clements:  Fiddle, Viola & Vocals
D.J. Fontana:  Drums
Doug Jernigan:  Steel Guitar, Resonator Guitar
David Bromberg:  Guitar
Michael Melford:  Guitar, Mandolin & Piano
Ellis Padgett:  String Bass
Kenneth Smith:  Electric Bass
Benny Kennerson:  Piano
Gordon Terry:  Vocals

Hillbilly Jazz was issued on Flying Fish.  While Clements’ music mostly enjoyed release on independent, folk-oriented labels (Rounder, Old Homestead, Mind Dust, Flying Fish), Vassar did manage to release a few 45s on a couple major labels of note:

Vassar Mercury 45 IVassar Mercury 45 IIVassar MCA 45aVassar MCA 45b

“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:

“Hoopaw Rag”     Bob Wills & the Texas Playboys     1955

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); RexCurlyCall (fiddle); MaxGibbyFidler (fiddle); Johnny Weiss (lead guitar); Ozzie Godson (piano, vibraphone); Muddy Berry (drums); Spike Featherstone (harp); EarlJoaquinMurphey (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.”

“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, although this Gusto cassette of more recent vintage, not surprisingly, is outside the scope.

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.  Intense speculation remains as to the date and location of this hot instrumental performance captured live.

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