Greetings friends and
How is your winter going? This month's youtube foray is gonna take us into
the mid to late 50's for some country music TV and the beginnings of rock and roll
getting woven together with country music. I hope you have as much fun as I do looking
into this window into history. Also, this month's garden pic is of my very first
spring flowers already blooming! Who says flowers are delicate?
Throughout the 1940s western swing music
could be heard across the western US. It was particularly popular in Texas, Oklahoma
and California, where dance halls could bring in as many as ten thousand people
per night (even on weeknights!). This was curtailed by a 30% war tax on "dancing
nightclubs" instituted in 1944, but it was not entirely quelled, and it's popularity
returned post-war. Even as the music changed, people continued to want to dance.
One of the venues that hosted dance parties was the Town Hall building in Compton,
Ca, near Long Beach. The building only held 3000, but would often fill up. In the
early 50s, the lease was acquired by promoter William B Wagnon Jr, who got the shows
broadcast on radio and later local TV, and began inviting a full range of country
acts, along with some of the new rockers like Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran. It
was called Town Hall Party, and it was broadcast locally and across some of the
national NBC radio network. Acts were instructed to play only songs people could
dance to, and keep individual songs short and plentiful to satisfy different tastes.
Beginning in 1957, filming began for a syndicated TV series called Ranch Party.
A house band was assembled
with the excellent Joe Maphis as it's leader. Joe was an amazing player who could
master about anything with strings. He demonstrates with the tune Pickin and Singin. Rippin' and clean. Sorry for the blurry picture. A lot
of the video from this show that is on youtube is of low visual quality, but worth
checking out in spite of that, I think. In keeping with the open minded spirit of
the west coast, the house band also included some women instrumentalists. Joe's
wife Rose Lee played rhythm guitar. A woman known as Fiddlin Kate (aka Margie Warren)
was featured as a soloist in accompanying the regulars and guests, and in some bluegrass
and western swing numbers that were integrated into the program. Here she is playing a little
bluegrass, and here is a nice western swing
instrumental which features several of
the Ranch Party Gang. There is no video with that last cut, although it does feature
an in depth description of the Town Hall/Ranch Party in case you would like to learn
a little more. The other female instrumentalist is Marion Hall, one of the first
women to play the pedal steel guitar. Highly unusual in that era. (and honestly,
I still don't see too many women playing it now). I looked for a long while to find
a good sampling of her playing and was only able to get little glimpses. Here is
one of the better ones- a rippin little number called Town Hall Boogie, which showcases several members of the Ranch Party Gang.
Some real good pickin going on there. Many of these players were also invited to
play on studio recordings for Columbia records.
There were a cast of regulars and many
guests that would appear on the shows. The Collins Kids were a brother and sister
duet. Lorrie played rhythm guitar and sang while her little brother Larry danced
around, Chuck Berry style, playing rockin leads and singing harmony. Larry was mentored
by Joe and that showed up in his style. He was actually very good. Here they are
doing Wild Cat, with a corny introduction by the host of the show, Tex
Ritter. Another regular was the Queen of Rockabilly herself, Wanda Jackson. Wanda
appeared on the Grand Ole Opry only one time. She wore one of her special costumes
that were designed and sewn by her mom, and none other than Enrest Tubb insisted
that she wear her fringe jacket onstage so as not to show her bare shoulders. She
complied, but vowed to never come back. I can just imagine what people in the fifties
might have thought about this curvy teenager coming onstage with these fitted, bare
shoulder dresses with fringe accentuating her curves, and singing suggestive lyrics
(for the 50s, that is) on songs she wrote. It was hard enough for folks of that
time to deal with Elvis, and he was a guy. As is noted in the introduction of this
song, there were certainly a contingent of men who couldn't get enough of her. This
song is about dancing- wink wink. It is listed as Cool Love on my Wanda CD, but
Tex calls it Real Cool. Nice solo from Joe Maphis on this one.
The TV show consisted mostly
of regular and semi regular guests accompanied by members of the Ranch Party Gang,
along with numbers from the gang with the other cast members singing. However, acts
that were passing though were invited to come on the show. Often they brought their
own back up players or bands and played themselves or with help from the house band.
Here is a really young George Jones doing You Gotta Be My
Baby in 1957 with the Ranch Party Gang.
Dig that bovine flattop guitar. Johnny Cash brought his Tennessee Two to accompany
him on his classic tune Get Rhythm. Carl Perkins also was accompanied by his own band on
several occasions. Here they do True Love. In Tex Ritter's introduction, he says he likes to "bring
the youngsters some be boppin' music". Such a hipster, that Tex.
I have a
few gigs to tell you about. This week I will be back at the Blue Note Grill in Durham for some Thursday Night Trouble. Local boys
John Worthington and Fj Ventre will be the Hillbillies du jour, and we are looking
forward to getting the dance floor rockin'. It is always so fun to see my triangle
friends at the Note. If you haven't been there, I highly recommend you check it
out. Great food, friendly people, and a full bar. It's working people's hours, too-
7-9ish. The following Thursday I will be joined by Scott Williams and Calvin Johnson
for a show of mostly classic country at Prissy Polly's
Bar-B-Que in Kernersville, NC. This will
be our second time at Prissy Polly's. Last time we were delighted to find so many
people who love the old country music. They made us feel real welcome and we will
be glad to see them all again. On Saturday, March 2nd, Scott, Cal and I will be
making our first appearance at the Coffee Bean Music
Hall in Dobson, NC. Our friend Phil has
been hard at work getting a bunch of great music into this venue and we are looking
forward to having a place that our Surry County buddies can come to see us. They
carry some excellent coffee and tea, along with a nice selection of beer and wine.
We play from 9-12. Join us if you can.
I will be teaching a western swing dance workshop at
this year's Merle Fest on Saturday, April 27th, with the able assistance of my friend
Steve Burnside. If you are planning on being there, please stop by the dance tent
around 5:15 and join us on the dance floor. There is a hot swing band that will
start after the dinner break, so you will have plenty of time to practice your new
skills. And speaking of dancing, I laid down some tracks for the fourth CD that
will feature a bit of my clogging. Nate Leath, an excellent fiddler, assembled a
group of amazing musicians at Minglewood Studios in Westfield, NC at the beginning
of the year, and recorded what promises to be a really cool CD. Danny Knicely helped
produce it and plays on several cuts. I will be sure to let you know when that comes
out. It's gonna be great and I am proud and honored to have been in such good company
as the players in these sessions.
I hope to see some of you at these upcoming gigs or out and about wherever
there is great music. If you know anyone who would enjoy my youtube tours, please
forward this email to them. This month's garden pic is of my white Hellebores, which
opened up on the morning after the temperature went down into the teens overnight.
These have always bloomed in very early spring, but this surprised me. They are
still looking good after a week of this wintery weather.
See you soon-
WIDGETS (Put our stuff on your web pages and blogs!)