Zero to 180 – Three Minute Magic

Discoveries of a Pop Music Archaeologist

“Twin Guitar Polka”: Western Swing on King – The Early Years

King Records’ first year of existence – 1943 – produced exactly one recording session that yielded two singles recorded by Grandpa Jones and Merle Travis using aliases, since they were under contract to WLW.  King’s inaugural recording session took place, according to Merle Travis biographer, Deke Dickerson, “in a room over the Wurlitzer Piano Company” in Dayton, just up the road from Cincinnati, and subsequent sessions would be conducted at outside facilities both near and far:  New York City, Detroit, Nashville, Los Angeles, Chicago, Oklahoma City.

As far as King’s own recording facilities are concerned, I can only infer from Michel Ruppli’s session notes that recordings in Cincinnati had begun taking place by 1949.  When Syd Nathan’s abrasive personality got himself kicked out of EarlBuckyHerzog‘s studio, Nathan had no other suitable recording facilities in Cincinnati at his avail, thus the impetus for building his own studio.  According to Jon Hartley Fox‘s King of the Queen City: The Story of King Records:

Until that studio was finished, recordings were done at Brewster Avenue, in the office of the Accounting Department – but only at night.   When the whistle blew, and the staff went home for the day, Nathan and anybody else who might  be around for the session pushed the desks and filing cabinets to one side of the room and set up microphones in the cleared space.  A small control booth sat at the end of the room, separated from the room by a glass window.

King Studios a

(image courtesy of Discogs)

Before the advent of his own recording studio – a radical idea for an independent label at that time – Syd Nathan’s search for talent sometimes took him rather far, indeed.  Nathan’s first trip to Los Angeles in 1946 resulted in a marathon recording excursion, and as Kevin Coffey writes in the liner notes to Westside’s Shuffle Town:  Western Swing on King CD anthology, when Nathan blew into Hollywood in September 1946, “Syd and his King Records hit Hollywood with the force of an earthquake, and over the next month Nathan waxed a hundred-plus sides on Jimmy Widener, Hank Penny, Red Egner, and Tex Atchison, and others.”  Thanks to Dickerson’s research, we now know that Merle Travis served as King’s West Coast A&R producer for many of the sessions conducted in Hollywood for King artists.

Among those other artists were Ocie Stockard and His Wanderers, whose “Twin Guitar Polka” is a sure-fire way to get the folks out onto the dance floor:

Twin Guitar Polka

Ocie Stockard & His Wanderers (1946)

Coffey offers these biographical details on Stockard —

Like [Buddy] Ray, [Jimmy] Wyble, and [Jimmie] Widener, tenor banjoist-fiddler Ocie Stockard also worked with Bob Wills — but his musical importance goes far beyond that.  As a member of Milton Brown‘s pioneering Musical Brownies in the 1930s, he was one of the architects of western swing.  After Brown’s death, Stockard formed his own Wanderers and recorded fine pre-war sessions for Bluebird and Okeh.  His lone King session was cut in Fort Worth, either in mid-September ’46 as Nathan headed for the coast, or in mid-October as he returned to Cincinnati.

Billboard‘s March 8, 1947 issue lists “Twin Guitar Polka” as one of eight “folk” Advance Record Releases from the King label and includes this review:

With several labels currently pushing guitar hillbilly ditties, King comes up with a strong contender in this “Twin Guitar Polka.”  While tune is repetitious, the melody is so catching that it’s pleasant to hear the many repeats.  Stockard’s Wanderers couple the imposing “Polka” with a pertinent “O.P.A. Blues,” a comedy lament built on the death of the government price regulating agency and the resultant price hikes.  A twin winner for locations that have a rustic trade.

A hit in several markets

So says Kevin Coffey


Who Are the Ocie Stockard All-Stars?

According to Coffey —

Stockard’s lone session for King was an all-star affair that combined musicians from several bands.  Fiddler Cecil Brower was another former Brownie    [Milton Brown’s band], an even more important and influential musician than Stockard, while steel guitarist Andy Schroder had worked with the Hi Flyers and others, and pianist Frank Reneau had recorded with the Light Crust Doughboys – as had guitarist J.B. Brinkley.  Guitarist RobertLeftyPerkins was then working with the reconstituted Doughboys and had previously recorded with Bill Boyd, W. Lee O’Daniel, Derwood Brown and others.  Bassist Wanna Coffman was yet another former Brownie, while drummer Homer Kinniard had worked with the Hi Flyers and the Crystal Springs Ramblers.  Stockard himself played tenor banjo, and the acoustic rhythm guitarist here might be Buster Ferguson, soon to go to Odessa with Brower, Reneau, and Schroder under Brower’s leadership.


Did You Know?

Billboard‘s August 21, 1948 issue reports Ocie Stockard to be one of two banjoists for Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys (Millard Kelso being the other).


LINK to Western Swing on Zero to 180

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