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O J Sikes Reviews

 Music Reviews by

O. J. Sikes

   Western Music News ‘n Reviews www.EarsRadio.com and

http://kkrn.org/shows/westernmusic

 

9-25-2017

Texas Jubilee      

Curt Barrett crop  Curt Barrett & the Trailsmen        

                                                                                           BACM CD D 559 

        In the B-Western movie years, there was a considerable amount of emphasis on Western music, especially after the arrival of Gene Autry and the Sons of the Pioneers in Hollywood. Gene’s popularity and Nolan & Spencer’s compositions, plus the Pioneers’ harmony, introduced an era of musical B-Westerns in the mid-1930’s,  that lasted until Republic released Rex Allen’s last film in 1954.  Even many of the stars who didn’t sing, like William Boyd (as “Hopalong Cassidy”) and Charles Starrett, invited guest musicians to perform in their films.

           Boyd was not fond of music, but he had excellent musicians in several of his films. Starrett liked music and worked well on-screen with Bob Nolan and the Sons of the Pioneers for 7 years, leading to the appearance of numerous artists/bands in his later films.  Johnny Mack Brown had bands like Curt Barrett & the Trailsmen in one or more of his films at Monogram. With one exception, the title song from the soundtrack of My Darling Clementine, the music on this new Curt Barrett CD is from his commercial recordings, mostly from the mid-1940’s.

         His record labels were small; he never made it to the big-time, in spite of his pleasant voice and listenable arrangements. For his movie appearances and recordings, he used outstanding musicians, e.g. Bud Dooley, and recorded some better-than-fair Western swing. He also composed a number of songs, some of which are performed on this CD, and one, “You Should Know,” gave his career a boost when Roy Rogers recorded it with Spade Cooley’s band in 1945.  Excellent liner notes by Kevin Coffey trace Barrett’s fascinating history. Contact VenerableMusic.com, phone (678) 232- 0268.

 

Hot Guitars Vol. 1 

OJ-hot guitarsLes Paul, Karl Farr, Ken Carson, Herb Kratoska, Curley Hoag, etc.           BACM CD D554                 

 

     The sub-title of this 34 song anthology is Early Country & Hillbilly Jazz Guitar 1930-1943. While much of it may be perceived as “rustic,” you’ll find pioneering guitar styles that helped set the standards for rural jazz guitar. The tracks are not the genre’s first recorded work, but the two blues cuts from 1930, by Jack Cawley’s Oklahoma Ridge Runners, recall a style found on early Western swing that would come into prominence a few years later.

      Some of the artists, e.g. Karl Farr, who, with Curley Hoag, backs Gene Autry on two songs, “As Long as I’ve Got My Horse” and “Dude Ranch Cowhands” in 1938, had no need to “evolve.” Les Paul would become a legend in smooth jazz and popular guitar, selling millions of records. Here, he’s featured with his Les Paul Trio from 1939, and the basic elements of his very recognizable style come out clearly on these early records, although he plays acoustic guitar on these sides. His trio’s smooth vocalist was Chet Atkins’ half-brother, Jimmy.

   Paul’s mentor, Joe Wolverton, solos on 8 tracks, a real treat for Les Paul fans, and the very talented Herb Kratoska is featured with the Texas Rangers on 5 tracks. Harold Maus plays on a couple of  early tracks. Maus was a member of the Novelty Aces, a group that, among other things, worked on a radio show hosted by Ken Curtis the year before Curtis joined the Sons of the Pioneers. And Ken “Shorty” Carson plays lead guitar with Shug Fisher on a tune from 1934 titled, “Shorty & Shug’s Guitar Blues.” There’s much more, and Kevin Coffey’s detailed liner notes offer valuable insight on the featured artists. Contact VenerableMusic.com, phone (678) 232- 0268.

The Melotone Label         

oj-melotone          Elton Britt, Patsy Montana & the Prairie Ramblers, Louise Massey & the Westerners, Tex Ritter, The Frank Luther Trio, Bill Carlisle, etc.    BACM CD D 563

             The Melotone record label was small, and only in existence between 1930 – 38. It had a complicated history and it included recordings by performers you may have known from larger labels. Fortunately, historian Kevin Coffey, who wrote the liner notes for this CD, clarifies what would have otherwise been  a very confusing story. Many of the 25 recordings on this CD are by obscure artists, but there are some gems by better-known performers as well.

           For example, country legend Bill Carlisle does a couple of surprisingly catchy tunes from 1935. Western fans will be happy to find 3 gems by Patsy Montana and the Prairie Ramblers, including “The Gold Coast Express” and “Wild and Reckless Cowboy,” Elton Britt’s very rare 1936 recording of “Twilight on the Trail,” Louise Massey & the Westerners’ “Riding Down that Old Texas Trail,” Tex Ritter’s “Every Day in the Saddle” (1933), “The Oregon Trail” by Eddie and Jimmie Dean (1935) and a song or two by the Frank Luther Trio and by Al Dexter and his Troopers (“New Jelly Roll Blues”) as well. Less widely-known artists include The Callaghan Bros., Buck Turner, Bill Cox, Cliff Hobbs, and Cody Fox & the Yellow Jackets. Contact VenerableMusic.com, phone (678) 232- 0268.

2-22-2017

More Songs of the Plains, Vol 2

-The Ranch Boys

                                                        B.A.C.M. CD D 536

   OJ-ranch boys       The trio of Ken Carson, Raymond Courtney (aka Joe “Curley” Bradley) and Jack Ross met in the 1930s when they worked with the Beverly Hill Billies in California. The Ranch Boys trio lasted for seven years, working for a time on the very popular Tom Mix radio series, which helped them establish a national reputation and fan base,  but the trio dissolved in 1941 when Curley Bradley was offered a job in the role of Tom Mix on the radio. The following year, Ken Carson joined the Sons of the Pioneers, but re-issues of their recordings kept the work of the Ranch Boys before the public long after the group broke up.

         Their work with Gene Autry in his 1939 film, “In Old Monterey” in 1939, resulted in a large following among members of the Gene Autry fan club. In the film, the trio sings “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” in ¾ time. They had recorded “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” for Decca in Chicago on Sept. 7, 1934, one month after the Sons of the Pioneers recorded their initial version for Decca in August, 1934, in Los Angeles, but Decca released the Ranch Boys’ record first, on Oct. 9th,  so it became the first commercial release of that Western classic.

     They had a smooth vocal blend, accompanied by Bradley’s acoustic guitar. Six of their Decca recordings are featured on this second BACM release, as are 11 Thesaurus transcriptions and 11 air checks from their 1930’s “Pinto Pete & his Ranch Boys” radio show. One of the most interesting things about this disc is that each member of the group can be heard singing solos, and they are identified in the track list. Earlier CD releases featured only one unidentified soloist. You’ll hear versions of classics composed by Vincent & Howard, Curly Fletcher, Carson J. Robison, Fleming Allan, etc. A nice addition to any Western library. Contact VenerableMusic.com or phone (678) 232- 0268.

Live Performances

-Bob Wills and  his Texas Playboys

                                                                      B.A.C.M.             CD D 550 

  OJ-Bob Wills CD cover        I’m not usually a big fan of “live” recorded performances because typically, the sound is not as good as it is on commercial discs. Sometimes they were recorded on inadequate equipment placed in front of a radio speaker, so some of the fidelity was lost, and you probably remember the static you heard when listening to broadcasts coming from faraway locations. But there are some instances when strict audio quality standards have to be put aside. The historical value of the tracks on this new CD outweighs any audio imperfections. And, actually, the audio in this instance isn’t all that bad!

        Imagine yourself sitting in the living room by the family radio, listing to your favorite Western swing band in a “live” performance. Before the first song is finished, you’ll forget you’re listening to a CD. It will take you back to that earlier time, when legendary players like Herb (“Herbie”) Remington and Bobby Koefer on steel and Johnny Gimble on fiddle were key figures in the Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys band.

       In “live” broadcasts, each performance is unique; often there’s a spontaneity you don’t always find on studio recordings, so these recordings capture special moments in musical history. And these moments, from 1948-51, some of which feature band members who did not record with Wills commercially, are really special. Western swing fans and musicians will treasure them. Fascinating, detailed notes by music historian Kevin Coffey. Contact VenerableMusic.com, phone (678) 232- 0268.

2-20-2017

2 CD set

 Devil Woman 1961-62, Four LPs & Six Singles

-Marty Robbins

                                                                                      Jasmine  JASMCD 3652/3 

 OJ-Marty Robbins    The timing of this 2017 release was surely a coincidence, but it was a very pleasant one. Just after the Western Way’s cover story on Cowboy Joe Babcock, in which he talks about his work with Marty Robbins, here comes a 2 CD (59 track) set of music that includes 6 of Joe’s compositions!

     It’s an unusual set, in that it illustrates Marty’s versatility, including not only the title song, which Joe sings on, among others, from the country field. There are 6 fine Western tunes, e.g. “Abilene Rose,” Joe’s “Dusty Winds” & “Ghost Train,” “The Bend in the River,” etc., but there is a large selection of popular ballads from the 40’s and 50’s that Marty really nails!  They include a lightly swinging rendition of “It Had to be You” (a song that goes back to 1924) and “September in the Rain,” and 50’s teen ballads like “Unchained Melody.” The four LPs on the discs are Just a Little Sentimental (Joe wrote the title track for this one), Marty After Midnight (which was aptly referred to as Marty’s jazz album), Portrait of Marty and Devil Woman. Remaining tracks were issued as 45rpm singles.

    The liner notes seem to be a bit critical of the LPs because of their departure from the standard fare being issued at the time (1961-62). To be sure, most of the songs weren’t smash hits for Marty, but most LP tracks rarely were! Today, looking back, this set helps illustrate Marty’s remarkable range of talent. The man could sing practically anything and, frankly, the way he handles most of the ballads here knocks me out. His reputation on upbeat tunes speaks for itself.

   I noticed that the liner notes refer to Babcock as Marty’s piano player. Joe often played piano on the road, singing with the trio on Western songs, but I believe Bill Pursell (who was the pianist on Marty’s tv show, later) played on the Just a Little Sentimental and Marty After Midnight LPs. Whoever it is, he does a great job! Widely available!   

2 CD set 

Westward Ho! Song Wagon of the West

          Roy Rogers and Dale Evans                                Jasmine  JASMCD 3682/3 

 OJ-Roy & Dale Jasmine cover       In 1954, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans began recording a number of tracks for the Golden Records label. In case you missed that era, Golden records were 78’s, 45’s, EP’s and LP’s made of yellow vinyl, especially for children. Few copies survived the rough treatment from little hands, but the Jasmine label found pristine masters of some of those recordings and they are included on this 2 CD collection of 61 tracks. The first 16 tracks are from a Golden LP titled Song Wagon, followed by a number of Golden and RCA Victor “singles” and at least a couple of radio air checks, “River of No Return” and “Old Man River,” that sound good enough to be commercial recordings.

   Most of the rest of the tracks are from earlier RCA Victor “singles.” Some, like Roy’s “Pecos Bill” and “Along the Navajo Trail,” with the Sons of the Pioneers, are  readily available elsewhere. Others, like the Golden releases of Roy’s “Chuck Wagon Song” and “Cowboys Never Cry,” and Dale’s beautiful RCA Victor recordings of “Hazy Mountain” and “Snow on the Mountain,” may be harder to find. Their duet on Tim Spencer’s composition, “Circuit Ridin’ Preacher,” is another much sought-after rarity.  Roy’s early radio theme, “Smiles are Made Out of the Sunshine,” is included, as are their recording of ”Happy Trails” with the Whippoorwills and 11 inspirational songs.

    Roy and Dale are accompanied on the Golden sides by Mitch Miller, the Sandpipers and The Ranch Hands. Presumably, the Ranch Hands are the same men (Rex Dennis and Buddy Dooley) who were accompanying Ken Curtis on his radio and tv shows around that time. In the credits for some tracks, there’s a mention of The Rough Riders. Actually, that reference should be to the Roy Rogers Riders (Buddy Dooley, Darol Rice, George Bamby, Jimmy Bryant and Michael Barton). Highly recommended and widely available.

Gone with the West

          Johnny Marvin

                                                                       BACM CCD D 549 

OJ-Johnny Marvin CD cover         In the 1920’s and 30’s, Johnny Marvin was one of the most important figures in Gene Autry’s career. With his brother Frankie, Johnny befriended young Gene and shepherded him through the maze of New York’s recording studios in the dead of winter in 1927. The Marvins were established in show business and had the contacts that helped Gene launch his recording career. Eventually, they followed him to Hollywood, where Frankie appeared in most of Gene’s movies and as the steel guitarist on almost all of his recordings. Johnny excelled at songwriting, and, often with Fred Rose, composed a large number of songs for Gene Autry to record and to sing in his movies.

        Johnny had been a famous vaudeville singer, and he continued to sing into the late 30’s and early 1940’s. Twenty-eight of his 1939-40 MacGregor and Decca recordings are featured on this new BACM release, and many of the titles are songs Johnny wrote for Gene Autry. In the 30’s, Gene’s singing style evolved from that of a Jimmie Rodgers sound-alike to a more mellow one. Noted historian Kevin Coffey names the smoother sounding Marvin as Gene’s mentor, a likely model for Gene’s later “sound.”  So you’ll find the songs he performs on this CD more listenable than their 1920’s music.

        The tracks on this disc, including “As Long as I Have My Horse,” “Dude Ranch Cowhands,” “Blue Montana Skies” and “I’m Gonna Roundup My Blues” are the last recordings Marvin made. Too old for active duty during the war, Marvin died in 1943 when he contracted dengue fever while entertaining the troops in the South Pacific. In addition to having some well-known titles, there are several enjoyable tunes that might merit resurrection by current artists! Contact VenerableMusic.com, phone (678) 232- 0268.

1-19-2017

CD Review

Musical Selections from PRC Pictures and Majestic Records

          Eddie Dean, Andy Parker & The Plainsmen      

              BACM CD D 547

OJ-eddie dean02    Several Eddie Dean CDs have been available for a number of years, but this is the first time a collection of Eddie’s work with Andy Parker & the Plainsmen has been issued. In fact, many of us thought the commercial tracks The Plainsmen recorded with Dean for the Majestic label in 1947 had simply disappeared! So this CD fills a big gap in the Eddie Dean and Plainsmen libraries. Western film fans remember that Eddie Dean worked with Andy Parker & the Plainsmen in many of Dean’s films for PRC Pictures.

   The idea for the project came from Andy Parker’s son Joe, who managed to locate and restore soundtrack music from the 7 Dean films the Plainsmen sang in, plus one in which the Plainsmen were on screen but some of the music was actually performed by The Sunshine Boys. The film music presented here is wonderful, but there wasn’t enough of it available to fill a CD (BACM’s practice is to put over an hour of music on each of their releases). When noted music historian Kevin Coffey found the 8 “lost” commercial Eddie Dean and The Plainsmen recordings from 1947, Joe Parker’s idea became a dream project!

     Among the selections are my favorite versions of “Roseanne of San Jose,” “On the Banks of the Sunny San Juan” and “Black Hills.” Joaquin Murphey’s steel guitar work on “I’m a Kansas Man” is terrific,  and  there are numerous other gems as well. Tracks have been beautifully restored and the album is a real gem overall, one that should be in every Western music library.  Contact VenerableMusic.com or phone (678) 232- 0268.

12-1-2016

A Melody Ranch Christmas -Gene Autry, The Cass County Boys, Pat Buttram                                                      Varese Sarabande 302 067 457 8 

 OJ-autry-melody ranch christmas    “Everybody” knows Gene Autry was sometimes referred to as “The Christmas Cowboy.” This was because of his phenomenal success with his recordings of “Here Comes Santa Claus,” inspired when he heard the shouts of eager youngsters along the Christmas parade route, and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” a song he recorded in one take, almost as an afterthought, at the end of a session. These Christmas classics were recorded in 1947 & ’49, respectively.

     But most folks tend to forget that Gene had been singing Christmas songs on his radio show, at least since 1942, when he sang “White Christmas” for the first time on Sergeant Gene Autry, the war time version of his Melody Ranch show. That was the year Bing Crosby recorded his classic version, and Gene, recognizing the importance of the song for the season, continued to sing it on the air every December until the Melody Ranch show ended in the 1950’s!

    Following the success of “Rudolph,” Gene recorded a number of new Christmas songs over the next few years.  When his office was putting together this collection of Christmas songs Gene sang on the radio, they were looking for songs Gene obviously liked to sing, and “White Christmas” topped the list. It was a surprising discovery, because Gene never recorded it commercially!

  This new CD is made-up of Christmas songs, both sacred and secular, that Gene sang on the air, including his first performance of “White Christmas.”  And you’ll hear the only known medley of “Here Comes Santa Claus” and “Rudolph” as well! Even if you have all of Gene Autry’s Christmas albums, you’ll find recordings here of songs you’ve never heard him sing. And you’ll enjoy the Cass County Boys, the Pinafores and Pat Buttram in the warm Melody Ranch setting as well, every Christmas for years to come.  Widely available online or call The Autry Museum store at (888) 412-8879.

Merl Lindsay & his Oklahoma Night Riders, Unissued Performances Vol 1   –        Merl Lindsay    BACM CD D 541 

OJ-Merl LindsayMerl Lindsay was working in California when Bob Wills suggested that he name his Western Swing band, the Oklahoma Night Riders. The name stuck, and they returned to Oklahoma City to record for a couple of labels in the late 40’s. There are other CDs around with many of  the band’s commercial recordings, but this album contains previously unissued performances from demos and radio broadcasts, recorded 1948-1962.

Lindsay’s “sound” doesn’t necessarily copy other greats in Western Swing, although there are some similarities. You can detect the Wills influence, at times, and you’ll hear several tunes associated with Wills.  But you’ll also find Pee Wee King’s “Slow Poke,”  Irving Berlin’s “Marie,” popularized by Tommy Dorsey,  Woody Herman’s “Woodchoppers Ball” and it’s a pleasant surprise to hear his vocalist Wanda Jackson, solo on Jimmy C. Newman’s “Cry, Cry Darlin’,” a departure from the big-band emphasis. But there are still more songs associated with the big band era, like “In the Mood,” that are given the Lindsay treatment, much as Bob Wills had done with his big band fairly early in his career.

If you listened to this band on the radio way back then, this CD’s especially for you, but if you’re a fan of vintage Western

swing, you, too, will want a copy for your collection. Contact VenerableMusic.com, phone (678) 232- 0268.

10-19-2016

Foy Willing & the Riders of the Purple Sage Vol 2

–        Good Good Morning                                     BACM  CD D 533

 OJ-foy willing

With this August 2016 release, the British Archive of Country Music (BACM) has issued another CD I think should be in every Western music lover’s collection! This group’s recordings have been re-issued by a number of companies over the years, but  this release is a little different in one very important respect. Most of the group’s output was on radio transcriptions and air checks, but the audio on the first releases of this material on CD often had little depth because of surface noise or background noise stemming from inferior recording equipment. There have been several exceptions, but the point here is that much of this new set of 32 recordings sounds better than many of the group’s previous releases! You can really appreciate the musicians as well as the vocalists!

The collection of 32 tracks includes a rare Capitol recording of “Riders in the Sky” but most are from Associated and  AFRS transcriptions. Most are Western and country ballads, done in the Sagers’ unique style, of course, but there are several fine up-tempo tunes as well, like “Tweedle O’Twill,” “Good Good Morning” which they sang in Susana Pass, one of their Republic films with Roy Rogers, and “Ridin’ Down to Santa Fe,” one of the few selections you might find elsewhere. One of the rarities is a ballad you’ll enjoy titled “Paradise Trail” which, I believe, was composed by Western screen play writer, director and producer, Oliver Drake, for a James Newill movie.

Kevin Coffey wrote extensive notes on the group’s history. Highly recommended! Available from VenerableMusic.com, phone (678) 232-  0268

Down the Transcription Trail

-Various artists: Jack Rivers, The Westerners, Foy Willing & the Riders of the Purple Sage, the Ranch Boys, Tex Owens, Texas Ruby, etc.

                                                                                                                                                          BACM CD D 425

 OJ-transcription trail

       In the 1930’s and 40’s artists recorded songs on large discs, exclusively for the use of radio stations across the country. It was a way to broaden the artists’ exposure while giving local stations material for eager audiences. Recording these discs was a challenge, because all of the songs on each side had to be recorded back-to-back, with no mistakes allowed. So the artists really had to be in top form during the sessions.

           This collection of 26 tracks from 16” transcription discs, opens the door to a variety of talent, with songs they didn’t always record commercially, so this may be the first time most of us have heard these renditions. The Down Homers sing the Oliver Drake composition, “Guns and Guitars,” which was also the title of a 1936 Gene Autry film. [Drake wrote songs and screen plays and produced and directed numerous Western films but, interestingly, was not involved in this particular film]. Jack Rivers and his swing band do “Liza Jane,” The Sunshine Girls sing “Dusty Skies,” James Newill sings “Sleepy Hollow,” Red Foley’s wife, Judy Martin, does a fine job on “Give Me a Home in Montana,” Russ Brown & the Cadets sing Smiley Burnette’s “Dear Old Western Skies,” with a “sound” that evokes B-Western films from the 1930’s, Tex Owens (Texas Ruby’s father and composer of “Cattle Call”) sings “Rustler’s Warning” and Jimmie Dean & the Trail Riders (including  Wesley Tuttle) do a great, clear rendition of “Song of the Steamboat.” Unfortunately, the audio on the rare “Will O’ the Wisp” is not as clean as one might have wished, but it’s quite good, nonetheless. And there’s a surprise rendition of “Little Sweetheart of the Prairie” by the Ranch Boys!

         These examples should give you an idea of the cream of the crop, but there’s much more and this CD is highly recommended! Contact VenerableMusic.com, phone (678) 232- 0268.

7-12-2016

Wesley Tuttle & his Texas Stars          Capitol Transcriptions

                                                                  B.A.C.M.  CD D 528

OJ-wesley tuttleThe folks at the British Archive of Country Music spend their days searching for hard-to-find recordings that might otherwise be lost forever if not for their willingness to collect them and convert the old records to CDs for modern audiences to enjoy. They were so excited to locate the Wesley Tuttle tracks on this new CD they rushed as quickly as possible to get them to you. In their haste, they made a few typos in the notes and art work that probably should be explained, for the record, so to speak.

The name of Wesley’s band was The Texas Stars, not All-Stars as depicted on the cover. And during the process of re-typing the liner notes for the layout, part of a sentence was inadvertently dropped. It referred to the uniqueness of Wesley’s recording of a wonderful song composed by Smiley Burnette, “On the Strings of My Lonesome Guitar.” The version on this CD is the only recording of that song I know of, that includes the verse. But the liner notes say it’s the only recording of that song, period. It’s not.

With that out of the way, let me say that this is one CD every Western music fan should have in their collection. The music, which includes Western, Western swing and smooth country ballads, with 5 instrumentals among the 26 tracks, is fantastic. In addition to a number of standards, there are some rarely heard gems, and Wesley’s beautiful voice can be especially appreciated on some of them like “Just a Baby’s Prayer at Twilight”,  “When I was a Boy from the Mountains” and Jenny Lou Carson’s “Many Tears Ago.” Some of the great Western songs we don’t hear much anymore include “I Got to See Texas (just once more),” “I Long for the Hills of Wyoming”  (which Wes may have learned when he was working with Stuart Hamblen) and the great Tim Spencer composition, “He’s Gone Up the Trail.” There’s plenty to enjoy and this one’s a “must.” Available from VenerableMusic.com, phone (678) 232-0268 or Amazon.com.

5-27-2016

Trail Jazz: The Music Cowboys Dance to

          Cowboy Joe Babcock

 

  OJ-joe babcock    If you listen to Western music on the radio, computer or portable listening device, chances are you’ve already heard at least part of this new CD. It’s one of the most popular albums being played by Western DJ’s these days! And if you are a Marty Robbins fan, this artist’s name may be familiar to you. You’ve seen J. Babcock listed as composer of Western songs Marty recorded, like “Prairie Fire” (a theme Joe is very familiar with as a native Nebraskan), “Ghost Train,” “Dusty Winds,” “Doggone Cowboy” and others. This is the same J. (Cowboy Joe) Babcock who recorded the sides on this new Western swing CD!

     There are so many tracks I really like on this album, it’s hard to single out only a few favorites, but right out of the chute, I was attracted to “Cowboy Joe’s Good Medicine Show” (the opening track), “One More Memory to Go” (a fantastic honky-tonk tune) and “Please Don’t Leave Me Anymore.”  Joe composed all of the songs on the album, except for “San Antonio Rose” and “Please Don’t Love Me Anymore.” The latter, a Western swing standard written by Jessie Ashlock, is one Joe wanted to include because he had fond memories of going on the road with Marty, singing in his trio with Bobby Sykes, and having Bobby step out front to sing this one as a solo. I never heard Bobby sing it, but I can tell you for certain that Joe nails it!

     There’s not a weak song in the bunch and Joe does them the way they were meant to be done.  He’s backed by a veritable Who’s Who of Western swing & country musicians, and he introduces each of them as they close the album. This one’s a winner from start to finish! Available from CD Baby, Amazon.com,  www.TheBabcocks.com or Cowboy Joe Babcock, P.O. Box 681292, Franklin, TN 37064.

DVD Review

Go West, Sing West

                                  Bear Family  BVD 20132           (2 DVD set)

 OJ-go west In 1986, German television filmed a 13 part documentary series on songs and stories of the American West, hosted by Dale Robertson. It was filmed on location in iconic Western sites like Monument Valley, Death Valley, the Oregon Trail,  Indian reservations, Green River, WY and elsewhere. The artists performing in the series included Rex Allen & The Reinsmen, Ken Curtis, Riders in the Sky, Burl Ives, Johnny Cash, Eddie Dean, Herb Jeffries, the Norman Luboff Choir and a number of other prominent performers. Many of us who knew of its existence thought this unique documentary was “lost,” and we figured we’d never get to see it. But the Bear Family folks came to the rescue, as they have so many times before, and now it’s available for all to enjoy.

       Fans of Ken Curtis (who sings, tells tall tales and shares hosting chores with Dale Robertson), The Reinsmen (19 songs + 1 with Rex Allen), Johnny Cash (5 songs) and Riders in the Sky (8 songs) will be delighted to see the high profile their music is given in this series. Even though you may have most of the songs, these recordings were made specifically for this tv series and there are a few songs here that these artists did not record commercially.

        The chapters follow the settling of the West from the early 1800’s, the days of the native Americans and their relationship with the land, the mountain men and the first explorers, and the first artists who captured the native cultures, wildlife and landscapes and brought the images back East. The series ends with Western movies made in Hollywood and the West today, but in between are the tales and songs of famous trails, the Gold Rush of ’49,  the Pony Express, cowboys and cattle, the first trains,  gunfighters and wars, all performed in picturesque Western settings. A masterful  melding of Western history, scenery and music. And after you’ve watched it as a TV series, the DVDs are set up so you can go back and just listen to the music, if you wish. Highly recommended! EBreggae.com, Phone (916) 941-1921,

ext 115, P.O. Box 5019, El Dorado Hills, CA 95762 ($24.79 + postage for the 2 DVD set)

Garage Songs Vlll: THE FOLK YEARS

          Rex Allen Jr.                             BPR Records 2016 

 OJ-rex allen jr 08  Traditional or Folk Music in America has its roots in the British Isles, Europe and Africa. As the music evolved, guitars replaced lutes, banjos replaced gourds and new songs emerged as new stories were told about life in the new country. Folk singers were active here in many settings, including on trail drives and around campfires, and eventually, fairly early in the 20th century, a few singers had their performances recorded. In 1941, Burl Ives recorded his first sides for the Oheh label and his work, along with the recordings of Woodie Guthrie & Cisco Houston, among others, later that decade, brought folk music to national prominence and paved the way for a “Folk Music revival” that was to take the U.S. by storm late in the 1950’s.

    In 1958, when The Kingston Trio recorded “Tom Dooley,” a song from 1868 about a real-life event from back in the Blue Ridge Mountains, the fan base for folk music grew by leaps and bounds. Rex Allen Jr. was influenced by all of these musical developments (he included a terrific rendition of “Tom Dooley”  on this new CD, by the way). Rex was a teenager at the time all this was happening, and he fell in love with this “new” music.

    This new CD takes us back to that time, with some of the most popular folk songs of the day, beautifully presented by this legendary singer who grew up singing them. If you remember those years or if you want a taste of what it was all about, and why the music still lingers on in the memories of so many, this CD is for you. Available from CDBaby.com and iTunes.

Bill Boyd, Vol 3 : When They Play Rural Rhythm

Bill Boyd & his Cowboy Ramblers                                                     BACM CD D 512 

OJ-bill boyd      Bill Boyd & his Cowboy Ramblers recorded over 200 sides for RCA Victor between 1934 and ’51, and that period of time is represented on this third BACM volume of songs by this popular western swing band. Probably, today fewer people know who Bill Boyd was than, say Bob Wills or the Light Crust Doughboys, but this Texas-based band was hugely popular in the 1930’s and 40’s. Many of Boyd’s sidemen were also famous members of other great western swing bands, and all the fans knew their names. Cecil Brower, Jesse Ashlock, Knocky Parker, Marvin Montgomery, Art Davis and Bill’s brother Jim Boyd come to mind.

     In this collection of 26 tunes you’ll hear a few typical Texas string-band stylings, especially among the earliest recordings,  but blues and hot Western swing soon pretty much take over. And it’s clear why these guys became so popular. One of my favorites is “Oh No She Don’t” from 1936, featuring a vocal by Jesse Ashlock and Jim Boyd. Another is “Bill Boyd Rag” which, I believe, was composed by Bill along with Art Davis who, probably, is also the featured fiddler on this track. Another couple of favorites I didn’t expect to find in a collection of western swing, are swing arrangements of “Alice Blue Gown” and Duke Ellington’s “Jeep’s Blues.”

     In the early 1940’s, Bill went to Hollywood with his fiddler, Art Davis, where they teamed up with Lee Powell to star in a half-dozen or so B-western movies called the “Frontier Marshalls” for PRC studios. Bill & Art sang (Art has no vocal solos on this CD and he was absent for a time in the 30’s, appearing in some of Gene Autry’s films, but his fiddle is here). Unfortunately, Boyd’s band isn’t heard on those PRC film soundtracks but now we have a significant amount of the band’s music on CD.  Folks who came to the early WMA conventions may remember an accordionist named Red Gilliam. Red appears on one of the last tracks on this CD! Detailed liner notes by Kevin Coffey.  VenerableMusic.com, phone (678) 232-0268.

2-13-2016

The Original Outlaw

-Ray Price & his Cherokee Cowboys                                    JASMCD 3672/3 

OJ-ray price       The sub-title for this 2 CD set is “The Early Albums Collection plus Bonus Hits.” The set contains 4 Columbia LPs, starting with his first album, Sings Heart Songs, in 1957, to a Western swing LP released in 1962,  plus 10 Top Ten bonus tracks from 1952-60. The second LP, Talk to Your Heart, recorded in 1958, was named after Ray’s first hit. By the time his Greatest Hits LP was released in 1961, he had chalked up so many other hit records, there wasn’t room on the Hits LP to include “Talk to Your Heart.”  But collectors, don’t despair; the Jasmine label included the original 1952 recording of that first hit as one of the bonus tracks here, so you get the original from ’52 and a re-recording from ‘58.

       The Greatest Hits album, included in this CD set, contains Ray’s original hits, from “Release Me,” recorded in 1954, through “Who’ll be the First” and “One More Time,” both from 1960. The ten bonus tracks go back earlier, with two Top Ten hits from 1952.

       Price’s band included fiddler Tommy Jackson, who was to become one of the all-time great studio musicians. When he started recording with Price, Jackson developed a “sound” that helped identify Ray Price’s music. He did it by playing three introductory notes in a “chink-chink-glide” fashion. If you know Price’s early records at all, you know the “sound” well. Price also introduced a “Texas Shuffle” beat to Nashville, and it was often one of his music’s identifying characteristics. So it came as no surprise when, on Sept 25th, 1961, he recorded an LP titled San Antonio Rose, a tribute to his musical hero, Bob Wills. That LP, which was released in 1962, is here in its entirety.   If you’re a Ray Price fan, or if you simply want a solid introduction to the music he sang before his cross-over songs attracted a new contengent of fans, this CD set is a must! Widely available from your favorite outlet, Amazon.com and others.

2-3-2016

Operatic Cowboys: From the Early 30’s

-Fred Scott, Dick Foran, Smith Ballew                BACM CD D 508

 

It’s probably a minor point, but there’s a small inaccuracy in the  sub-title of this CD. The so-called “operatic” cowboys did play a role in launching the genre of the musical B-Western, but the genre didn’t really take shape until the mid-1930’s.  In 1928, Warner Baxter, as the Cisco Kid, became the first cowboy star to sing on screen (singing “My Tonia” in In Old Arizona), but you could see cowboys singing earlier, in the first silent films. Ken Maynard loved music and tried to pick & sing, but his voice was so rustic and hard to listen to, it didn’t have wide appeal. So the musical Western, as a genre, didn’t come along until 1935 when Gene Autry’s Phantom Empire serial introduced a plot that revolved around music, or, perhaps more accurately, the musical sub-plot balanced the film’s action. That characteristic carried over to Autry’s first feature-length film as a star, a few months later.

Douglas Green describes Autry’s voice as having a  “sun-baked” quality, but several of Autry’s earliest competitors, e.g. Dick Foran and Fred Scott, had trained voices, thus the title, “operatic cowboys.” In the context of the music of the day, an “operatic” cowboy was not seen as odd, at least by the film industry. In fact, Dick Foran almost became the silver screen’s first full-fledged singing cowboy! The release of his film, Moonlight on the Prairie, by Warner Bros. on Nov. 1st, 1935, came only a few weeks after Gene Autry’s Republic feature, Tumbling Tumbleweeds, came out in Sept of that year, making Autry’s the first musical B-Western feature film.

The “operatic” cowboys didn’t record much. Foran was more interested in pursuing an acting career than in singing, and only recorded two Western sides for Decca, both of which are found on this new CD. But fortunately, BACM was also able to locate seven songs on Foran’s film soundtracks and one radio transcription (with the Sons of the Pioneers) for this project.  Smith Ballew was far better-known as a singing dance band leader, and only two of his commercial tracks are here.  Fred Scott, whose first film was released in 1936, didn’t make any commercial Western recordings at all.  But he left an abundance of soundtrack material which a film-collector friend transferred to a cassette shortly before Fred’s death in 1991. Seventeen of those tracks are on this 29 track CD.

Some of the songs will be familiar, but one of the strong points of this CD is that it includes rare Western recordings by composers like the teams of M.K. Jerome & Jack Scholl, Johnny Lange & Lew Porter and June Hershey & Don Swander. VenerableMusic.com, phone (678) 232-0268 or Amazon.com.

11-28-2015

2 DVD set

Gene Autry Collection 12 (4 films: The Sagebrush Troubadour,  Yodelin’ Kid from Pine Ridge,  Goldmine in the Sky & Ride, Ranger, Ride)

       Gene Autry, Champion, Smiley Burnette, Frankie Marvin, etc.

The other day I was watching an old Buster Crabbe/Fuzzy St. John movie (Devil Riders) I hadn’t seen before when I noticed something very unusual about it: there were 4 uncredited musicians in it. The Crabbe/St.John series of B-Westerns was not a musical series, and music was usually limited to cue music, so I looked closely to see if I could recognize the musicians. I spotted Tex Williams & Smokey Rogers in a quartet that was introduced as The Big Slicker Band. These two musicians were to be featured  with Deuce Spriggins later in a series of short Western musical films with Tex Williams as the singing cowboy star, and you will surely remember them from the Spade Cooley and Tex Williams Western Swing bands.

The point of this story is that I found them, uncredited, only because I recognized them on-screen. Gene Autry’s films didn’t leave the viewers to guess; he often invited regional bands to appear in his movies, which served to bring the bands publicity back home as well as national exposure, but it also helped promote Gene’s pictures all over the country. Not that they really needed it; his films were extremely popular, making Gene a super star before World War II, but his films were musical Westerns and he didn’t mind giving Western musicians a boost via his films.

Texan Art Davis made a number of movies with Gene, and you may spot him in The Sagebrush Troubadour from 1935, but you’ll find full bands in the other three films in this 2 DVD set. The Tennessee Ramblers, featuring Cecil Campbell and “Fiddlin’ Hank” Warren, were in Ride, Ranger, Ride (1936) and Yodelin’ Kid from Pine Ridge(1937). In spite of their name, the Tenn. Ramblers were based in Charlotte, NC on the far-reaching radio station WBT, and “Fiddlin’ Hank” was to become a very popular staple as the comedic fiddler with the Briarhoppers on WBT in the 1940’s. But the best known group in this set of 4 films is found in Gold Mine in the Sky (1938),  Pee Wee King & his Golden West Cowboys. A few years later, King would have huge hits with “Tennessee Waltz” and “Slowpoke.”

So with these films from the 1930’s you get plenty of good music, both from Gene Autry and from his guests. Among the songs Gene sings are “Way Out West in Texas” & Smiley’s composition “On the Prairie,”  Tim Spencer’s “Ride, Ranger, Ride” & “Song of the Pioneers” plus ”Yellow Rose of Texas,” “On the Sunset Trail,”  “Sing Me a Song of the Saddle,” “Down in Santa Fe,”  “There’s a Gold Mine in the Sky,” “Dude Ranch Cowhands” and “As Long as I Have My Horse,” among others. Since Gene’s Melody Ranch radio show had not started when these films were made, the bonuses on these DVDs include shows from other years, all with great music from Gene Autry and his cast of first-rate musicians. Another enjoyable bonus feature is a set of color tv wraparounds with each film, featuring Gene and Pat Buttram talking about old times and stories about the B-Western movie-making days.

Not only is the music in these films good, it sounds good because the Autry office has gone to great lengths to restore both the video and the audio tracks, so what you’ll get on these DVDs actually looks and sounds better than it did in the theaters when it came out in the 1930’s! And the price (four restored, uncut, feature length movies for less than $17) is remarkably reasonable. To order, contact the Autry Museum Store by e-mail at mstore@theautry.org or call (323) 667-2000, ext.  228.

With this release, ALL of Gene Autry’s 89 feature films are now on DVD! As Gene Autry DVD’s and CD’s grow scarce, prices tend to rise, so don’t put off buying until later. And don’t go for items from other outlets that look cheaper; they are usually not the restored, full-length versions you’ll find at the Museum, and there’s  really no comparison in the quality.

11-7-2015

The Lure of Tumbleweed Trails  -Sons of the Pioneers                     

   Jasmine          JASMCD 3692

          In 1960 and ‘61, the Sons of the Pioneers recorded the tracks that were to be used in their RCA Victor LPs, Lure of the West and Tumbleweed Trail, following on the success of their landmark LP, Cool Water and 17 Timeless Western Favorites.  I had requested that they record a couple of my favorites that had not appeared on the Cool Water album, “Adobe Hacienda” and “Along the Navajo Trail,” and was delighted when I found that both were included on Lure of the West.

I was new to the music in those days, and the song selection on those two albums was magic. “Carry Me Back to the Lone Prairie,” ”Cimarron (Roll On),” “Silver on the Sage,” “Wanderers of the Wasteland,” “When the Bloom is on the Sage,” “Hills of Old Wyoming,” “Saddle Up!” and so much more, every one a gem! This new release contains all 24 songs from these two great albums, recorded in stereo.

The trio of Lloyd Perryman (tenor), Tommy Doss (baritone) & Dale Warren (lead) was augmented by the deep bass voice of Thurl Ravenscroft, who had recorded with the Pioneers for Walt Disney earlier and had also become the familiar voice of “Tony the Tiger” on tv commercials.  These two albums were from guitarist Karl Farr’s last sessions.  He passed away on stage a short time later. Classic songs, masterfully done. Widely available and a “must” for every Western music fan

10-15-2015

Book review

Cowboy Princess Rides Again

   Cheryl Barnett-Rogers

                                             Riverwood Press 2015

 

Before I received my copy of this book, I got a call from my good friend Jerry West (from Waxahachie, Texas). He had just finished reading the book and told me it was “the most comprehensive, interesting and entertaining Roy Rogers-Dale Evans book I have ever read – and I have read them all!” Well, when Jerry West tells you something, “you can take it to the bank!”  I got a copy, read it (it was hard to put it down), and he was right!

The new book,  267 pages, in paperback, contains updated (sometimes alternate) versions of stories you may have read in Cheryl’s earlier book, Cowboy Princess, plus lots of new stories and photos you probably haven’t heard or seen before because they haven’t been printed before. The style is pleasant to read as well as entertaining and informative.  As Roy’s first child, Cheryl was there all through the 40’s and 50’s, arriving before Roy Rogers became King of the Cowboys. She was also Roy’s and Dale’s care-giver in their last years, and encouraged by their primary care physician, she closed the book with a chapter on how they dealt with their complicated health issues in their last years (and, doubtless, prolonged their lives). It’s a very valuable chapter for those of us of a certain age. Cheryl really brings all of those experiences to life in this new book.

Like Jerry West, I found lots of information I hadn’t known and tons of photos I’d never seen, including stories and photos of the Sons of the Pioneers! It’s fascinating and highly recommended! $25 on Amazon.com or, if you want a signed copy, the price is $25 plus $5.75 for Priority Mail (insured and takes 2 to 3 days) or $4.50 for media mail (no insurance and takes 10 to 15 days to arrive).  Send your check to: Cheryl Rogers-Barnett, PO Box 577, Washington, UT 84780-0577.

10-7-2015

DVD review

Gene Autry Collection No. 11   

-Gene Autry, Smiley Burnette, Champion, etc.

When  Johnny Western was 5 years old, he saw his first Gene Autry-Smiley Burnette movie, Guns and Guitars. From then on, Johnny wanted to be a singing cowboy. Years ago, noted Western music historian, the late Jon Guyot Smith, told me much the same thing happened to him. This was in 1936, just as singing cowboy movies were getting started, and the movies in this collection helped pave the way for a film genre that influenced the lives of millions of youngsters in the 1930’s, 40’s and 50’s. These movies are still entertaining today, not for their novelty in the 21st century, but because they’re just plain fun!

All four films in this new 2-DVD release from Autry Entertainment are from the 1930’s. Like Guns and Guitars, they’re all enjoyable, and you may find a new favorite of your own here! The first is The Singing Cowboy (1936), the title of which reflects the early days of a trend in Western movie marketing, since Gene Autry had made the very first musical Western feature film only a few months before, in 1935. The music in this one includes “True Blue Bill,” a catchy song composed by Frankie Marvin and one Gene had recorded in 1931, just two weeks after Frankie had recorded his own version for another record company. Frankie appears in this and the other films in this collection, and his long association with Autry continued until he retired in the 50’s. There’s plenty of other good music in this movie, including “There’s an Empty Cot in the Bunkhouse” (another Marvin composition), the beautiful “Rainbow Trail,” “My Old Saddle Pal” and more, with Frankie and Smiley also singing some of their novelty compositions.

The title song for Guns and Guitars was composed by prolific Western script writer & producer Oliver Drake, but the most enduring song in that film was “Ridin’ All Day,” composed by Smiley Burnette and performed, of course, by Gene Autry. There was less music in Guns and Guitars than in some of the others, but it introduced Gene Autry to a lot of youngsters who became fans on the spot.

The next film, Roundup Time in Texas (1937),  is full of music, including “When the Bloom is on the Sage,” “Old Chisolm Trail” and “Prairie Rose,” among others, but it’s the most unusual film Gene Autry ever made.  Smiley and Frankie are in it, as had become customary by then, and you may recognize the names of a few other Western performers who have roles in this film, like Ray “Crash” Corrigan, Rudy Sooter, Art Davis and Earle Hodgins.

Springtime in the Rockies (1937) took its name from a popular song title which sold well for Gene and others, for decades. Gene sings it on screen, along with another hit, “You’re the Only Star in My Blue Heaven,” a favorite of Gene’s first wife, Ina. And guests Jimmy Lafevre’s Saddle Pals sing a couple.  This was Gene’s last film in 1937, and it confirmed that he had become the #1 cowboy in Hollywood. His walkout at Republic over a salary dispute would soon follow.

The bonus features on these DVDs draw from Melody Ranch radio shows recorded years later, since the weekly radio show didn’t start until the next decade, and they include more great music.  Interestingly, the first one, from Jan. 5th, 1941, opens with Gene’s temporary theme song, “Sing Me a Song of the Saddle,” followed by “Ridin’ Down the Canyon.” Another interesting bonus is the tv wraparound feature for each film, from the Melody Ranch Theater, which aired in 1987, with Gene and Pat Buttram telling behind-the-scenes stories about these films and other tales from Hollywood. In this instance, their stories about Smiley Burnette and some memorable stunts were most interesting.

This set will bring viewers hours of listening and viewing pleasure. To order, contact the Museum Store by e-mail at mstore@theautry.org or call (323) 667-2000, ext. 228.  And do it in time for Christmas! You’ll be glad you did!

Trail Dust, Vol 4                                                            

          Andy Parker & the Plainsmen, plus guests Tex Ritter, Betsy Gay, Buddy Cole and others 

   B.A.C.M. CD D 495

This 4th release of material by Andy Parker & the Plainsmen, plus a few famous guests, comes from commercial 78rpm records (23 sides) made between 1947 and 1951. There’s one exception, a demo titled “Gallopin’ to Glory,” a Fleming Allen composition featuring Charlie Morgan. The audio quality has been perfected to make them sound “like new,” and the music you’ll hear is fantastic! The Plainsmen were clearly one of the most talented groups of the Golden Era of Western music, and, once you hear this disc, you’ll understand why they were so highly regarded by other musicians.

Here, they accompany Betsy Gay on “I Didn’t Know the Gun was Loaded” and the Zeke Manners novelty, “Cigars, Cigarettes, Souvenirs,” Tex Ritter as he sings a delightful version of “Pecos Bill” and Gordon McRae  on “Dear Hearts & Gentle People.”  But most of the rest of the songs (23 in all) feature The Plainsmen doing some of their finest work, e.g. “Trail Dust,” “Wailin’ West Wind,” “Wagon Wheels,” The Rangers Ride Again,” “Ridin’ Down the Canyon,” “An Old Cameo” (a Charlie Morgan vocal solo with group harmony & beautiful solos by steel guitarist Joaquin Murphey & fiddler Harry Sims), “Whippoorwill Waltz” and the rare “Hangman’s Guns” (with Andy singing the solo) to name just a few. According to Andy Parker’s notes, two of the songs were recorded with, and in the home of, the legendary musician/producer Buddy Cole.

Andy Parker’s son Joe provided the liner notes & photos of all of the performers and made sure the audio was as good as it gets. He succeeded!  Highly

recommended! Available from VenerableMusic.Com, phone (678) 232-0268 or Amazon.com.

Leon’s Lone Star Cowboys : 1932-1937

-Leon Chappelear

                                                                   BACM CD D 478

 

      If you are a fan of vintage Western Swing, you may already have Cary Ginell’s excellent Origin Jazz Library series CD of Leon Chappelear’s music. The selections on this new CD do not duplicate those on the earlier release.  In fact, this new disc contains a large number of previously unreleased tracks, so get ready to add it to your collection!

Leon started out as a singing cowboy, in the style of Jimmie Rodgers, and the first two songs on this new disc are from that era (1932).  They are two of his very first recordings, unreleased until now. They’re not my cup of tea, but the rest of the disc (with a total of 28 songs) is dedicated to his work with his Lone Star Cowboys swing band and they’re well worth a listen.  A number of those are from a series of what historian Kevin Coffey calls “fantastic” sessions from August 1935. Some of these are also previously unreleased, so will be treasured by collectors.

Leon was critically injured on Friday, the 13th of Sept., 1935 when a drunk driver ran into the band’s vehicle. The damage to his brain affected his memory, his  personality and his musical ability and eventually led to suicide. But the change was gradual and the band was able to record additional sides for the Decca label in ’36 & ’37, and many of them can be heard on this disc. Available from VenerableMusic.com, phone (678) 232-0268.

7-12-2015

Book Review 

Bob Baker: A “Real” Singing Cowboy

–          Bobby J. Copeland & Bill Russell 

Bob Baker was a singing cowboy movie  star in the 1930’s. Born in Iowa, he grew up in Colorado and worked as a ranch hand and rodeo performer in Arizona before landing a job on the National Barn Dance at WLS in Chicago. There, Baker shared the stage with Patsy Montana and Pat Buttram and became friends with Max Terhune, who later was to help him prepare for his screen test when he moved to Hollywood and became a movie star for Universal.

For some unknown reason, Baker never recorded commercially, although his fans enjoyed his singing and, in his pictures, he sang a number of solid Western songs composed by Fleming Allan. His films were popular. His sidekicks included Fuzzy Knight & Hank Worden and his leading ladies included Dorothy Fay & Fay McKenzie, but his career as a star was cut short after only 12 movies, when he suffered an accident doing one of his own stunts. He recovered and was able to complete the film, but Universal, in an unrelated decision, chose to discontinue his starring roles and instead, paired him with Johnny Mack Brown, giving Johnny Mack the lead. After a total of 31 films, Baker left Hollywood.

8 pages of this new 131 page book contain Baker’s story, in his own words.  This is followed by comments about him by former friends and colleagues, loads of great photos, a full chapter on the music in his films and a synopsis of each of his films. $23.95 from Bobby Copeland, 104 Claremont Rd., Oak Ridge, TN 37830.

7-11-2015

Old Faithful: Songs from the Saddle

–          Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Rex Allen, Elton Britt,  Sons of the Pioneers, Wilf Carter, Sagebrush Sam, Tex Morton, etc.                                                                                                                                                            Jasmine JASMCD 3586 

           Jasmine is one of the few remaining record labels that still releases vintage Western music. Paul Hazell, who compiled the collection on this disc, has been a Jasmine contributor for years, playing an important role in keeping Jasmine in the forefront of the re-issue market. Jasmine CDs are widely available in the US, but the label is based in the UK and Paul’s interest in Western music extends not only to the US, but includes Canada, the UK and especially Australia.

U.S. cowboys are well represented on this disc of 27 songs. Roy Rogers sings 2, one of which is a very rare recording of “A Cowboy Needs a Horse,” restored from a 1950’s Golden Records disc. Elton Britt sings “Give Me a Pinto Pal,” and Gene Autry’s original recording of “Take Me Back to My Boots & Saddle” is here, as are Rex’s “Old Faithful” &  his less well-known “Albino, Pink-Eyed Stallion.” In addition to the better-known stars, we find rarely heard Americans like Texas Jim Robertson (singing “My Pony’s Hair Turned Grey”), Carson Jay Robison (“There’s a Bridle Hanging on the Wall”) & Bob Atcher (“Strawberry Roan”). Canadians Wilf Carter and Omar Blondhal (aka “Sagebrush Sam”) sing 4 songs each, Hank Snow sings his early “Ridin’ Along, Singing a Song” and the UK is represented by The Hillbillies with “Yip Neddy.” Featured Australian singers include Tex Morton (with 4 tunes), The Tumbleweeds, Buddy Williams, June Holmes, Les Wilson & Smokey Dawson.

Paul Hazell’s liner notes offer insight into the songs and their singers, a big help to the listener who may not be familiar with the wide range of material found on this excellent disc. Available from Amazon.com.

 

Doin’ it Right     Lew Preston & his Men of the Range

                                                                                   BACM CD D 479

Here’s a CD of very rare material that will be especially interesting to fans of Foy Willing & the Riders of the Purple Sage. This band was important to Foy’s early career, i.e. he wrote for the band and he sang with it early on. You’ll find 6 of his compositions on this disc. One of them, “Arizona in the Morning,” was recorded in 1949 by Lew Preston backed by Foy Willing & the Riders of the Purple Sage! This one, and another Willing composition, “I’ve Got the Blues in My Heart” (from 1940), are my favorites on this CD, but there are 29 Western & Western swing tracks from various stages in Lew Preston’s career, with excellent liner notes by Kevin Coffey.  Available from VenerableMusic.Com, phone (678) 232-0268, or Amazon.com.

 

 

 

 

Radio Shows from the 1930’s, Vol. 1

–          Carson Robison & his Pioneers       

                                                                          B.A.C.M. CD D 481 

Carson Jay Robison, from Kansas, began performing on radio in the early 1920’s, when radio itself was in its infancy. He took on legendary status with his compositions, most notably, the Western classic,  “Carry Me Back to the Lone Prairie,” and his decades of popularity on American radio. And he had the wisdom to carry his  popular and talented performing troupe to England, where they received a very warm welcome. In the 1930’s, he recorded a series of radio broadcasts in England, and those shows have been remarkably well-preserved. B.A.C.M. recently put 4 of them on this CD, plus 5 bonus “singles” recorded in NY and London. Listening to these shows, you can get a good taste of what 30’s radio was like and, spoiler alert, it was FUN! Those folks really knew how to entertain, and it comes through in these broadcasts. Excellent audio fidelity, first-rate period entertainment, interesting liner notes by Bryan Chalker. Highly recommended.  Available from VenerableMusic.Com, phone (678) 232-0268, or Amazon.com.

 

 

Down on the Texas Range, Vol 3

-Texas Jim Robertson

                                                          B.A.C.M. CD D 485 

For some, Texas Jim Robertson’s rich baritone may be an acquired taste. But in the 1930’s – 50’s, a huge number of people acquired that taste and made him a nationally popular Western artist on radio, records and television, even though he was based in the NY area.   This new release is the 3rd is a series of this native Texan’s music, and it is set up much as one of his radio shows might have been, with his radio intro and outro opening and closing the CD. If you’re interested in lost musical “gems,” the real attraction here will be titles you may not have heard, e.g. “The Texas Cowboy,” “Curley Joe,” “Headin’ for the Great Divide,” “Down on the Texas Range,” “In the West Where Skies are Blue,” “Lone Cowpuncher” & “The Old Gruyo.” Available from VenerableMusic.Com, phone (678) 232-0268, or Amazon.com

 

 

 

7-8-2015

Love Songs: Garage Songs Vl

–          Rex Allen, Jr. 

   Rex chose the material for this album from several musical genres. The selections, all ballads, range from “Cry Me a River,” to “Since I Fell for You,” to “Sweet Dreams” to  “Horses in the Road,” to “Softly, as I Leave You.” There are 12 in all, each with sparse accompaniment, allowing the listener to focus entirely on Rex’s voice.

This one should have broad appeal.  Even though it’s not labeled a “Western” album, the music is really good, and collectors will want to have a complete set of  Rex’s excellent Garage Songs series. The  series itself, is not a strictly Western series, and when one of the songs from a volume issued last year,

“Lonesome Town” (you’ll remember Rick Nelson’s version, no doubt), was issued as a single/video on youtube, it became quite popular in Japan!  Next time you  fire up your computer, you may want to give it a listen! Available from CDBaby.com and iTunes). By the way,  those beautiful children on the cover are Rex’s  grandkids!

7-4-2015

The Best of the 50 Guitars of Tommy Garrett, Vols 1 & 2                                                                                                                 Varese Sarabande 302 067 332 8 & 302 067 337 8 

    Beginning in 1961, over the next 12 years, Tommy Garrett produced some 24 “50 Guitars” instrumental LPs! The popular concept was his own, and he included a large number of Western and border tunes in those albums, many of which, especially the border standards, have found their way onto these 2 new CDs. The volumes are issued separately, but if you’re already a fan, you may as well go ahead and buy both!  The first album contains 12 songs, including “Maria Elena,” “The Good, the Bad & the Ugly” & “Spanish Eyes.” Vol. 2 has 22 tracks with a broader selection of pop tunes, but songs like “My Adobe Hacienda,”  “South of the Border,” “The Lonely Bull” & “Adios” are there as well.

Garrett is best known to Western music fans as “Snuff,” friend of Rex Allen and Roy Rogers, and producer of some of their albums and many others. For his first two “50 Guitars” LPs, “Snuff” hired the legendary Laurindo Almeida to play lead guitar. After that, Tommy Tedesco played lead on most of the subsequent projects, but what you’ll hear is a veritable orchestra of acoustic guitars. Obviously, it became a very popular “sound,” one which is still very enjoyable in the 21st century. Informative notes by Western  music historian Laurence Zwisohn. Widely available online & in Target stores.

 

 

5-17-2015

DVD Review

Gene Autry Collection No. 10

–          Gene Autry, Champion, Smiley Burnette, Frankie Marvin, etc. 

This new entry in the excellent series of Gene Autry’s film releases on DVD, brings us 4 more full-length, digitally restored films from the 1930’s, when there was plenty of good music as well as the action the “front row kids” loved to watch. None of these has ever been issued on DVD in restored form, and if you’ve ever seen a film from this series, you know how important good restoration is! Cheaper versions I’ve seen elsewhere don’t hold up. The DVDs in this series are not expensive and they are top quality!  These are the ones to buy!

When B-Western films first started appearing for sale on video tape, decades ago, the first titles I looked for were those I’d seen on the big screen as a boy. I found some, but remembered few details. Still, it was a nostalgia trip. Nothing wrong with that, but I soon discovered that there was a whole other world of terrific  films I’d never seen, that had been made before I was born! Once I learned how much fun they were to watch, I was hooked. It was no longer a nostalgia trip. I just enjoyed good old Western films! There are plenty of today’s youngsters for whom this is a new genre. But once they are exposed to it, beautifully restored, they find themselves glued to the screen as they watch these exciting adventures of yesteryear.

The earliest feature in this new release goes back to “before my time.” It’s The Singing Vagabond (1935), and it’s a real treat to watch, with a very young Gene in plenty of action scenes, and Smiley Burnette’s composition, “Wagon Train,” among other musical numbers. Some might say Oh Susana (1936) is even better.  If you’re a musician, you’ll probably agree. The songs are especially enjoyable, and include among others, “I’ll Go Ridin’ Down that Old Texas Trail,” “Dear Old Western Skies,” “Water Wheel” and “Ride On, Vaquero,” one of three performed by the legendary Western swing band, The Light Crust Doughboys!

Rootin’ Tootin’ Rhythm (1937) features lots of good music including “Mexicali Rose” & “I Hate to Say Goodbye to the Prairie” and a prominent role for Al Clauser & his Oklahoma Outlaws. Often, regional bands were invited to appear in Autry’s films, and Clauser appeared in this one. In addition to having a good band, Al gave Patti Page her start in radio! In Western Jamboree (1938), songs include “The Cowboy’s Dream,””Cielito Lindo” (the first song Gene ever sang in Spanish on screen),”When the Bloom is on the Sage” & Johnny Marvin’s “Old November Moon.” This was the first of many films Eddie Dean appeared in before he became a star.

For collectors and most others, the bonus features are worth the price of admission. There are rare photos & lobby cards and Gene swaps yarns with Pat Buttram on 4 Melody Ranch Theater color tv shows with guests Jackie Autry, Alex Gordon, Ann Rutherford & George Sherman. Each guest has fascinating stories to tell, and the DVDs are programmed so you can watch the complete interviews with minimal interruption. There are 4 Melody Ranch radio shows from 1946-47, each with stories and outstanding  music, e.g. “Out California Way,” “Adobe Hacienda,” a gorgeous “On the Sunny Side of the Rockies,”  the rare “My Gal of the Rio Grande,”  “Oklahoma City,”  “It’s a Lonely Trail,” “I’m Gonna Lasso a Dream” & “You Stole My Heart,” among others. Available for $16.98 from the Museum of the American West Store  via GeneAutry.com or call 1 (323) 667-2000.

4-26-2014

BOOK REVIEW:

The Texas Rangers: Two Decades on Radio, Film, Television and Stage

       –   Ryan Ellet and Kevin Coffey

Were it not for this 2014 publication, The Texas Rangers band might have been only a footnote in Western music and movie history. But thanks to detailed research by Ryan Ellet and noted historian Kevin Coffey, the band’s work has finally been thoroughly documented. They were the first band to work with Gene Autry when he launched his Melody Ranch radio show, appearing on 22 episodes of that weekly program during its first season (1940).  They also appeared in two of Gene Autry’s films, Colorado Sunset in 1939 and The Last Roundup in 1947, and in 6 Johnny Mack Brown films, two of which also featured singing cowboy Bob Baker, and one each with Judy Canova and the Hoosier Hot Shots.

They had a sound that today recalls many of those movies of the 30’s, but they were different from all the rest. They used 4-part harmony rather than 3-part Western harmony and they were based in a Kansas radio station! Their first recordings for Decca (1934-36) were made in Chicago at the time the Sons of the Pioneers began recording for the same label in Los Angeles. The B.A.C.M. label released some of their recordings in 2012.

The Rangers were talented musicians and song writers, featuring virtuoso guitarist Herb Kratoska, Tex Owens (composer of “Cattle Call”), singer Ozie Waters and accordionist Paul Sells, who subsequently worked with Gene Autry for many years. The group lasted through the War years, albeit with personnel changes. But before you get to these details and many others in the book, in the Introduction you’ll find a fascinating history of the earliest years of commercial Western music, with names you’ll recognize, e.g. Carson J. Robison, who began singing cowboy songs on radio in 1922, and some important facts and names you might not have heard before. 345 pages with Index, Bibliography, Recording Sessions, Filmography and more. Highly recommended! Contact BearManorMedia.com or call 1 (443) 903-9899 to order.

4-21-2015

“Riders in the Sky salute Roy Rogers, King of the Cowboys”          Riders in the Sky

                                                                                                     Riders Radio Records RRR1005

 

The first song on this 2015 release is “A Gay Ranchero,” a reworking of a Mexican folk song. When you hear Too Slim count it off in French, you know you’re in for a fun ride, as only the Riders can provide!  The Riders had the opportunity to work with Roy Rogers on several occasions, and photos from those days illustrate the CD’s liner. They were eager to put together this special salute to him, and their friend Roy Rogers, Jr. (“Dusty”) joined them on the album’s last song, “Happy Trails” (of course).

The music selected for this project was associated with Roy’s long career, starting with “Hadie Brown (My Little Lady),” the song Roy sang when auditioning for a position as a singing cowboy movie star with Republic Studios in 1937.  It’s a yodel showpiece, and Woody Paul does a fine job on the solo, his first recorded solo yodel in 37 years! Each of the Riders solos on more than one of the songs, e.g. Joey on “Roll on Texas Moon” & “Yellow Rose of Texas,” Woody on “Don’t Fence Me In,” Ranger Doug on “My Adobe Hacienda” & “Along the Navajo Trail” and Too Slim on “Hawaiian Cowboy“ and, as “Side Meat, the Sidekick’s Sidekick,” he recites his own, “Let Us Now Praise Gabby Hayes.”

There’s more, 14 entries in all, with lots of beautiful Western harmony and interesting liner notes and illustrations. Another Riders album that should be in everyone’s musical library! Contact RidersInTheSky.com, or if there’s a concert coming up in your area soon, purchase a copy when you see them “in person.”

4-13-2015

CD Review 

Andy Parker & the Plainsmen Vol. 3       Down the Trail                                                  B.A.C.M. 

There’s a story about Andy Parker & the Plainsmen that has become a part of Western music lore. Over 60 years ago, Lloyd Perryman of the Sons of the Pioneers, went with a friend to a Plainsmen concert. After it was over, Lloyd was overheard telling his friend, “I’ve got to go back and light a fire under my boys. These guys are GOOD!” Lloyd became one of the Plainsmen’s biggest fans. The selections on this new release illustrate why.

20 years ago, it was almost impossible to find the Plainsmen’s music. Most of the members of the group had passed on, and there was a serious risk that they would be forgotten. But Andy Parker’s son Joe, had a collection of his dad’s records and transcriptions, and since that time, he has been able to restore them and put them on CDs.  The Audiophonic company and the British Archive of Country Music (BACM) have released a number of albums of this talented group’s work. This is the third Plainsmen release by BACM, and it may well be the best yet!

The group’s members included the legendary steel guitarist Joaquin Murphy, an amazing fiddler named Harry Sims, accordionist George Bamby and others, and they played both hot Western swing and smooth Western harmony tunes with equal ease. You’ll hear 30 such songs on this CD, including Andy Parker’s introduction and exit over their theme, “Call of the Rollin’ Plains.” Some of the titles will be familiar, others will become instant favorites. There’s good variety and there are no weak selections in the bunch. This project is a masterpiece!  Available from VenerableMusic.Com, phone (678) 232-0268 or Amazon.com.

My Baby Buckaroo     Les “Carrot Top” Anderson                  B.A.C.M. CD D 470

Unfortunately, I never met Les Anderson, but I did know his widow Betty, who used to come to WMA conventions in Albuquerque. When she offered to send me some of her late husband’s old cassettes, I had visions of rare treasures, because finding Les Anderson’s recordings wasn’t easy. When I opened the box that soon arrived in the mail, I was disappointed. There were lots of tapes that had belonged to Les, but they were cassettes he had taped, apparently with an old hand-held recorder, from radio broadcasts and old LPs. They weren’t things he had sung or played on, just things by others that he liked!

This new CD released by BACM fills a big gap, not only for me, but for others who remember him from his work as a vocalist and steel guitarist with Bob Wills and many others, his time as a star on the Town Hall Party and his own tv show, as well as his work with his own band, the Melody Wranglers. This disc focuses on the early years of his recording career (1945-51), with numerous Anderson vocals and with other steel guitarists, e.g. Noel Boggs, accompanying him, in addition to some of his fine steel playing.

The songs here are a mix of western swing and country, and the title song, a vocal, has become one of my Les Anderson favorites. A re-recording of his steel composition, “This is Southland” is here, and Kevin Coffey’s excellent notes relate the story of Anderson’s work with Spade Cooley, among other things. Contact VenerableMusic.com, phone (678) 232-0268.

2 CD set

Classic Red Steagall   Red Steagall                                                               Bunkhouse Press

There’s a sub-title inside the cover of this 2 CD, 36 song set: Red Steagall’s 70’s & 80’s Honky Tonk & Western Swing.  That doesn’t quite “say it all,” but it’ll give you a pretty fair idea of what’s in store when you put these CDs in your player. In 2006,  Red was named the Poet Laureate of Texas, and over the years, he has become a legend in Western music as well.

Decades ago, he wrote three #1 country hits and a Grammy winner before he became very active in Western swing and Western music, although that music had been a part of his life from the very beginning. The 3 top hits are included in this set, as is the song, recorded by Ray Charles & Norah Jones, that won a Grammy.  And there are plenty of  really outstanding swing tunes that will surely set your toes to tapping, e.g. “Bob’s Got a Swing Band in Heaven,” “Texas Red,” “The Fiddle Man,” “Under the X in Texas,” “Back in the Swing of Things,” “Miles & Miles of Texas,” “Till There’s Not a Cow in Texas,” “Truck Drivin’ Man” and, of course, “Lone Star Beer & Bob Wills Music.”

Red composed many of the great songs in this set, and while they were recorded decades ago, they remain as fresh and appealing today as they were back then.  If you’re a fan, you may have been searching for some of the recordings in this set for some time. Now, your search is over. Don’t miss this one!

Call 1 (800) 457-7966 or RedSteagall.com. 

Garage Songs V Rex Allen Jr.                                      BPR Records 

A few years ago, Rex Allen Jr. started recording a series of albums called Garage Songs. This is the 5th entry in that series, a 6th has been completed and two more are “in the works.”  Looking back on the project, Rex says that the songs in this series are the songs of his life. Some also reflect his philosophy.

The material comes from more than one genre. In this new album, there are 12 selections, 4 of which are well-known Western songs. Rex gives each his own interpretation, with sparse accompaniment in most instances and background vocals provided by Saturday’s Children.  When I heard his recording of “There’s a Blue Sky Way Out Yonder,” I immediately remembered his dad singing it to open so many of his shows, years ago.

Most of the non-Western material was new to me, but there is one non-Western chestnut that steals the show (for me). It’s “I Really Don’t Want to Know.”  What a treasure!  All of Rex’s product is available from CDBaby.com. Volume VI, which will be reviewed later, is a collection of love songs, and it promises to be a major success. It’s available now on Itunes. No need to wait for a review. The songs are ballads you always wished Rex would record. Now, he has.

Book Review 

Eddie Dean – The Golden Cowboy by Stephen Fratallone                       BearManor Media (paperback) 

Since this is the most comprehensive book (464 pages) on Eddie Dean ever written, it will be a “must” for every fan. Other readers who are interested in Western films and music, even if not very familiar with Dean’s career, will also find it interesting because so much of the film world and music business came into play in Dean’s long career.  A filmography and a discography are included, and the former reveals, among other things, that Eddie appeared in 36 films, mostly B-Westerns starring William Boyd (Hopalong Cassidy), Gene Autry, The Three Mesquiteers, Roy Rogers, Tex Ritter, The Range Busters, Bob Steele, Ken Maynard and others, before he became a singing cowboy movie star. Between 1945 and 1948, he starred in 20 films, 6 of which featured one of the most talented of all Western groups, Andy Parker & the Plainsmen, as his musical sidekicks. His films also introduced “Lash” LaRue to the world of the B-Western!

While he had wagon loads of movie fans, Eddie is probably best remembered as a singer-songwriter. In this thorough biography, the author tells behind-the-scenes stories of how some of his most famous songs were written and recorded. The way Tex Ritter came to record  “I Dreamed of a Hillbilly Heaven” is fascinating, as are the events leading to the song’s composition, with the involvement of Hi Busse, whose Frontiersmen had backed Eddie on his first big hit, “One Has My Name, the Other has My Heart.”  The detailed account of the latter is even better, and the book is filled with other interesting stories!

The award-winning author’s extensive experience in the music business allows him to introduce anecdotes and details that might have escaped other writers, and they help to hold the reader’s attention all the way through. The 139 pages of movie stills, lobby cards and other photographs illustrate the text effectively, including facets of Dean’s life few fans were aware of.  Some typos got past the proofreader, but if you can overlook that, you’ll really enjoy the book. Highly recommended!  Contact BearManorMedia.com or call 1 (443) 903-9899 to order.

 

2-21-2015

2 DVD set 

“Gene Autry Collection No. 9”

– Gene Autry, Champion, Smiley Burnette

Spring will soon be here and, while we wait, we can enjoy the latest DVD release of four of Gene Autry’s most enjoyable movies, fully restored and uncut.  This time, all four of the features date from the 1930s, when the original Champion was still riding with Gene, Smiley Burnette was at his side and Frankie Marvin could be found somewhere in every film, but not always playing his steel guitar. The earliest film in this set is Comin’ ‘Round the Mountain, from 1936.  Gene’s movies from this decade included lots of music and this one features Gene singing “Chiquita” & “When the Campfire is Low on the Prairie” plus the title song, and trick roper Monte Montana makes an appearance, but Champion almost steals the show.  Gene’s leading lady from the film, Ann Rutherford, guests on the television wraparound on this DVD and tells fascinating stories about David Selznick and Clark Gable, and Gene recalls in detail Yakima Canutt’s amazing stunt work on the picture.

The second film is Git Along Little Dogies (1937), and you can enjoy Gene in a musical clip from it (“If You Want to be a Cowboy,” a Fleming Allan composition) on the GeneAutry.com web site. In his outstanding reference book, Gene Autry Westerns,  Boyd Magers cites this as one of Gene’s best-loved films.  The lovely Judith Allen is Gene’s leading lady and the film establishes something of a pattern, in terms of plot and interaction between the cowboy and the lady, that is to recur in subsequent Autry features. The third film is Man from Music Mountain (1938), and it finds Gene singing several Johnny Marvin-Fred Rose compositions, e.g. the beautiful “I’m Beginning to Care” and “Goodbye Pinto.”  The 1939 release in this package is Mountain Rhythm.  In it, Gene introduces his hit, “It Makes No Difference Now,” and sings “Gold Mine in Your Heart” and “Highways are Happy Ways,” among others. If you look closely, you may be able to identify Spade Cooley among the musicians, from before he became famous as a Western swing band leader.

One of the great things about all of these Gene Autry films, in addition to the superb restoration, is that they include music Gene didn’t record commercially, so the viewer gets to hear songs you might never have heard before. And of course, each disc has bonus features, like full broadcasts from the Melody Ranch radio show (in this instance, with songs from the mid-1940’s, re-mastered with excellent fidelity, like  Gene’s “Tumbling Tumbleweeds,” “San Fernando Valley,” “Dude Ranch Cowhands,” “My Little Buckaroo,”  “The Singing Hills,” “Hills of Old Wyomin’,” and the Cass County Boys sing “Gal in Calico,” “Down the Trail to San Antone” & “Why, Oh Why Did I Ever Leave Wyoming?”), plus rare movie stills & “fun facts” from the films. Color wraparounds from Gene’s Melody Ranch Theater feature Gene in his later years, exchanging fond memories and amusing stories with Pat Buttram & guests George Sherman and Roy & Dale. Just hearing the fascinating stories from these cinematic legends is worth the price of admission!   Available at a very reasonable $16.98 from the Museum of the American West Store via GeneAutry.com or call 1 (323) 667-2000.

12-7-2014

BOOK REVIEW

Ghost Riders in the Sky: The Life of Stan Jones, The Singing Ranger

By  Michael K. Ward  Rio Nuevo Publishers, Tucson, AZ

 

Lots of stories have been told about the great Western songwriter, Stan Jones, but as far as I know, this is the first book ever written about his life. The stories that have circulated for the last half century or more are not all true.  Jones liked to tell a tall tale about himself and his songs, once in a while, so the author faced a big challenge in separating the myths from the true stories. But he has done an outstanding job! And sometimes, the truth has turned out to be more interesting that the tall tales!

Stan’s best-selling and most remembered composition, “Riders in the Sky (A Cowboy Legend),”  has become better known simply as “Ghost Riders in the Sky,” over the years. It has been recorded by hundreds of artists and is probably the best-known of all Western songs. It’s story is here (a little different from what you may have heard before), as is the story of how Stan’s personal favorite, “Burro Lullaby,” came to be written. The author also offers fascinating insight into Stan’s personality, his life as a park ranger and what it was like when he got married in 1944 and took his new wife, Olive, to Death Valley in the Summer of 1946 to begin their life in the desert together. The author, Mike Ward, worked in Death Valley for decades, and now works in Saguaro National Park near Tucson, so he can speak with authority about the desert environment Jones loved so much.

And his research on Stan’s personality is very revealing, e.g. his relationship with John Ford (for whose movies Jones wrote numerous songs), who his friends were before and after he became involved with Hollywood, how his personality made it hard for him to become a good actor, etc.  The book is fascinating; hard to put down once you start reading. Highly recommended! Prices vary (approx. $11 – $15). Try Amazon.com, TreasureChestBooks.com or call (800) 969-9558.

Back on Track 

Flying W Wranglers

 

      The Flying W Wranglers were inducted into the Western Music Hall of Fame in 2009. Their current leader, David Bradley, became a member of the Hall of Fame in 1989, when he was a member of the Sons of the Pioneers (he was the featured yodeler with the Pioneers for 5 years in the 1980’s – 90’s). The Flying W Chuckwagon was hit by a terribly destructive forest fire a few years ago, but David has taken over the musical chores and has put together a musical group that now rivals any in the country. This, the new group’s first CD, is a fine example of their work, although nothing can substitute for seeing them “in-person.” They are amazing!

This 11 song CD opens with a rousing rendition of Rex Allen’s yodeling showcase composition, “Queen of the Rodeo,” featuring David and some superb fiddling by Luke Tripp.  Then, the group harmonizes beautifully on the intro to a great rendition of “Ghost Riders in the Sky.” At the Albuquerque convention, David introduced the next song, “Along the Navajo Trail,” as one Roy Rogers once told him was one of his top 4 favorite songs. “She Taught Me to Yodel” is here, as are several Western swing tunes (one of which is an instrumental and gives the boys & their instruments a chance to shine) and 3 more Western classics, with all of the band members pitching in. This one’s a winner!

Phone (719) 244-2528 for purchase info.

2 DVD set

Gene Autry Collection #8   (4 feature films)

–          Gene Autry, Pat Buttram, Smiley Burnette, The Cass County Boys & Champion, Wonder Horse of the West

 

The 4 films in this 2 DVD set come from the later years of Gene Autry’s film career, with the first, Trail to San Antone, coming from 1947 and the 4th, Saginaw Trail, coming from 1953, Gene’s last year on the big screen.  But they deliver the goods with plenty of action and great music.

Trail to San Antone, with the Cass County Boys, is loaded with great Western music, including the upbeat title song penned by Deuce Spriggins, “By the River of the Roses,” “Cowboy Blues,” “The Cowboy,” “Shame on You” and “That’s My Home.” Pat Buttram does not appear in this film (comic relief is provided by Sterling Holloway), but Pat is featured with Gene in the color wraparound from the Melody Ranch Theater, when they discuss the film.  Each movie has the tv wraparound as an added feature accompanying the feature film.

The second film title is Riders of the Whistling Pines, from 1949. Again, there’s no comic sidekick, but there’s plenty of music from Gene and the Cass County Boys, with songs like “Hair of Gold, Eyes of Blue,” “It’s My Lazy Day,” “Yellow Rose of Texas,” “Roamin’ Around the Range,” “The Little Big Dry” and  the Cass County Boys do a well-known gospel tune titled “Every Time I Feel the Spirit.” An interesting aside, filming was completed in 1948, shortly before The Lone Ranger tv series was to begin, and Clayton Moore, who was soon to become tv’s Lone Ranger, appears in this film as a bad guy!

It’s very appropriate, albeit perhaps only by coincidence, that the release of the third film on DVD coincides with the release of Stan Jones’s biography. The film title is Riders in the Sky from 1949!  Pat Buttram is Gene’s sidekick in this one, and Gene sings the title song, which had just been released when the film was made. Stan Jones, the song’s composer, had a small role in the film and was to have cameo appearances in other Autry films as well, e.g. Whirlwind,  which was the title of another song Jones composed.   “Ghost Riders in the Sky” was performed several times in the film  and Gene also sang “Cowboy’s Lament” and an earlier hit, “It Makes No Difference Now.”

The 4th film is this new set is Saginaw Trail from 1953. There’s music in it, e.g. “When it’s Prayer Meetin’ Time in the Hollow” and “Beautiful Dreamer,” but by the time it was made, Hollywood was downplaying music in Westerns, so there’s not as much in this one as we heard in earlier films. Smiley Burnette, who was Gene’s musical sidekick as well as providing comic relief, includes musical selections in his part in the film and, with hindsight, knowing the end of the B-Western is near, his presence makes it hard for today’s viewer to avoid thinking that he & Gene are winding up a long film career together, separated for a time, but having come full circle since they drove West together in 1934 to begin their movie careers.

As in all of the DVD sets in this outstanding series from the Gene Autry office, tv wraparounds during which Gene and Pat discuss the films and tell related stories, are fascinating, and each film is accompanied by an episode of Gene’s Melody Ranch radio show that aired around the time of the movie’s release.  These shows always provided great music, great comedy and interesting adventures that called upon the imagination of the audience who could simply close their eyes and listen. Notable songs from the radio shows include “You Belong to My Heart (Solamente Una Vez)” & “I Tipped My Hat & Slowly Rode Away” by Gene, great renditions of “See That You’re Born in Texas” & “Texas Plains” by the Cass County Boys and much more! Available through GeneAutry.com and elsewhere.

Old Faithful: Songs from the Saddle

Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Rex Allen, Elton Britt, Sons of the Pioneers, Wilf Carter, Sagebrush Sam, Tex Morton, etc.

JASMCD 3586

     

   

Jasmine is one of the few remaining record labels that still releases vintage Western music. Paul Hazell, who compiled the collection on this disc, has been a Jasmine contributor for years, playing an important role in keeping Jasmine in the forefront of the re-issue market. Jasmine CDs are widely available in the US, but the label is based in the UK and Paul’s interest in Western music extends not only to the US, but includes Canada, the UK and especially Australia.

U.S. cowboys are well represented on this disc of 27 songs. Roy Rogers sings 2, one of which is a very rare recording of “A Cowboy Needs a Horse,” restored from a 1950’s Golden Records disc. Elton Britt sings “Give Me a Pinto Pal,” and Gene Autry’s original recording of “Take Me Back to My Boots & Saddle” is here, as are Rex’s “Old Faithful” &  his less well-known “Albino, Pink Eyed Stallion.” In addition to the better-known stars, we find rarely heard Americans like Texas Jim Robertson (singing “My Pony’s Hair Turned Grey”), Carson Jay Robison (“There’s a Bridle Hanging on the Wall”) & Bob Atcher (“Strawberry Roan”). Canadians Wilf Carter and Omar Blondhal (aka “Sagebrush Sam”) sing 4 songs each, Hank Snow sings his early “Ridin’ Along, Singing a Song” and the UK is represented by The Hillbillies with “Yip Neddy.” Featured Australian singers include Tex Morton (with 4 tunes), The Tumbleweeds, Buddy Williams, June Holmes, Les Wilson & Smokey Dawson.

Paul Hazell’s liner notes offer insight into the songs and their singers, a big help to the listener who may not be familiar with the wide range of material found on this excellent disc. Available from Amazon.com.

Songs & Stories with Hi Busse & the Frontiersmen

          Hi Busse & the Frontiersmen 

For a number of years in the 1980’s and ‘90’s, Rick Huff and Western Music Hall of Fame member Hi Busse produced a syndicated radio featurette called “Song & Story with Hi Busse.” The shows featured a song, recorded by Hi Busse & the Frontiersmen, preceded by a story about the song told by Hi, who usually had “been there when it happened” or had learned the story from the individuals directly involved. He was a great story-teller! This album contains eight such songs & stories, which were merged into a half-hour radio “special.”

The Frontiersmen & Joanie (Hi, Joanie Hall, Hal Southern & Wayne West)  can be heard here on “Teardrops in My Heart,” “Cowboy Heaven”  & “Trail Winds” (Hi’s own composition, and an excellent one it is) and they back Don Macintosh on a superb version of “Wayward Wind.” The Frontiersmen’s rendition of “Ghost Riders in the Sky” dates from 1965 and in introducing “Cool Water,” Hi corrects a popular misconception about the lyrics to that Western classic.

Hi Busse & the Frontiersmen worked extensively with Roy Rogers & Dale Evans and Eddie Dean (& Frontiersmen member Hal Southern co-wrote one of Dean’s biggest hits), toured with the cast of Gunsmoke and Hi appeared in films with Buck Jones, Smith Ballew, Monte Hale & Charles Starrett. In the fascinating liner notes, Rick Huff corrects some misinformation and tells stories that bring important insight into Hi Busse the man as well as Hi Busse the performer. A valuable addition to any Western music collection. $10 plus $2 s/h from Frontiersmen Productions, PO Box 8442, Albuquerque, NM 87198-8442.

A New Place to Begin

 Ray Price 

  Varese Vintage 302 067 277 8

 

In 1983, Ray Price signed with Snuff Garrett’s Viva Records label.  A number of their songs charted, but due to an illness that took Garrett out of the picture for awhile, many of the records Price made with Snuff were never released. This new 16-song CD contains 7 chart “singles” from that period, including “San Antonio Rose” and “One Fiddle, Two Fiddle” which were recorded for the film, Honkytonk Man, and 8 previously unreleased tracks.

Garrett had a rich background of experience with different kinds of music. He produced stars like Roy Rogers,  Cher, The Ray Conniff Singers and Nancy Sinatra as well as his own series of 50 Guitars of Tommy Garrett LPs , and Ray was a master of “cross-over.” So it’s not surprising to find ballads like “Scotch & Soda,” “Stormy Weather“ & “Willie, Write Me a Song,” along with great Western swing tunes like the previously unissued “I’ll Sail My Ship Alone” & “I’m the Last One You Remember (and the First One You Forget).”

There’s a little something for everyone in this new release of Ray Price’s music, no matter which of his styles you prefer. Excellent liner notes by music historian Lawrence Zwisohn. Available from Amazon.com.

This Cowboy

R. W. Hampton

 Cimarron Sounds CS1409-2

 

In the brief liner notes to this 2014 release, R.W. Hampton explains that this new CD of 12 selections is the product of where he finds himself today. A second installment will be coming later in 2015, but there’s no need to wait; there’s plenty to enjoy on this one!

Recently,  R.W. departed from his well-established repertoire of Western music to record some powerful patriotic and inspirational songs, in some instances released as “singles,” and for those who missed them or who aren’t into downloads, they are included in this CD. But there’s much more here, a mix of R.W.’s own compositions and those of others. One of my favorites in this collection is a song he co-wrote with Hal Spencer, a Western inspirational song titled “Letting Go.”

Other new Hampton compositions include “Driftin’ Cowboy,” “Angel in Levis” & “Bass Reeves,”  and I started programing them on my show even before I began to work on this review! But the CD also includes R.W.’s fine renditions of Mike Beck’s “Don’t Tell Me,” Marty’s “El Paso,” the rarely heard “Comanche” and his own arrangement of the wonderful Western standard, “I’d Like to be in Texas (for the Roundup in the Spring),” among others   This album is a “must have” for all R.W. Hampton fans, and if you’re not familiar with his music, this one’s a great intro. $20 from RwHampton.com.

The Gene Autry Christmas Book

 

a songbook for Piano, Voice & Guitar

 

 Hal – Leonard Corporation,  2014

 

It took seven years of hard work to produce this songbook. Why? Because the sheet music for eight of the twenty-five titles in the book had not been preserved after it was originally performed.  It was lost, so copies of 100’s of broadcasts had to be found and cleaned-up  so the music could be manually transcribed from Gene’s performances on his Melody Ranch and Sergeant Gene Autry radio shows. The latter, his wartime show, had served as the channel through which Gene Autry’s name began to be associated with Christmas music, long before “Rudolph.”

 

In the absence of sheet music, the most time-consuming challenge was to actually find the songs as performed on the air.  The aim was to collect the 25 Christmas songs Gene most liked to sing and those that were his audience’s favorites.  At the outset, no one knew which songs those were, and eventually, over 45 songs were located on transcription discs and rare records! But the discs they came from were not stored in the same place, were not stored in chronological order and were not being re-mastered in chronological order. Only once those jobs were done, and the pieces of the musical puzzle had fallen into place, did it become evident that Gene Autry had been singing Christmas songs, and that he and his vast audience had specific favorites, from very early in the 40’s.

 

Gene Autry Entertainment President, Karla Buhlman, explains in the book’s introduction that Gene sang “White Christmas” on his radio show in Dec. 1942, and continued to perform it every Christmas  until “Melody Ranch” ended in the mid-1950s. She also explains how Autry got the idea for another Christmas classic, “Here Comes Santa Claus (Right Down Santa Claus Lane),” and of course there’s the story of his biggest Christmas hit, “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” from 1949.

 

“Rudolph” was recorded as a “single” with another new Christmas song, “If it Doesn’t Snow on Christmas,” on the flipside. The sheet music to that song was lost over the years, but you’ll find it in this songbook.  The book contains full lyrics and sheet music for piano and guitar for all 25 songs, many not available elsewhere! Beautifully illustrated with period photographs and artwork, it is being published in time for you, your family and friends to enjoy it this Christmas and for years to come! It’s a Christmas music treasure! Available from the Autry Museum Store and elsewhere (see GeneAutry.com).

 

Girls of the Golden West  Vol. 3  SOUTH OF THE BORDER                      B.A.C.M. CD D 458

 

 

The Girls of the Golden West were sisters, Dolly & Millie Good, who were born in Illinois but, for publicity purposes,  claimed to be from Muleshoe, Texas. They sang Western music from childhood and, in 1933, were hired as regulars on the WLS National Barn Dance where they became one of the most popular acts, with large audiences from Canada to Mexico.

 

Usually, Dolly played guitar and sang lead while Millie sang harmony, and they opened the doors of country and Western music for the many young women who listened to them on radio or who came later. They landed a recording contract with RCA’s Bluebird label and had their own weekly radio show on NBC as well.  This is Vol. 3 on the BACM label, and it contains material recorded for the Bluebonnet label in 1962-63, late in their career.

 

They were still in good voice, and recording techniques had improved over the years. The CD’s music is mostly vintage Western, with “There’s a Bridle Hanging on the Wall,” “Texas Moon,” ”South of the Border,” “Beautiful Texas,” “Straight Shootin’ Cowgirl,” “Cowboy Love Call,” “Roundup in Cheyenne” and many more (27 in all, some of which may be new to you). They’re still in fine voice here (sounding better to me than in earlier years). The recordings are mostly high fidelity, with the old sound that made the Good sisters famous. Available online from Venerable Music or Amazon.com.

 

Rex Allen, Jr.

Garage Songs IV”

       BPR Records 2014 

      Right from the beginning, 40 years ago, Rex Allen Jr. has had a knack for finding powerful songs, starting with “The Great Mail Robbery.” No one delivers them better. This new CD contains several recent ones he hadn’t recorded until now, as well as some that take us back to the 50s-60s.

This CD from 2014 serves to review the events and emotions in Rex’s life over the past year.  He says in the liner notes, “In many ways it has been a difficult year, but joyful, too… There is a lot of pain in this CD. Thankfully, I’ve found joy at the end.” “Wasted” and “Disappointing You” set the stage; these, especially the latter, are a couple of the powerful songs I was referring to.   Then, there’s a wistful look back, remembering “Good Times,” followed by more sadness.  The dark months of 2013 are wrapped up with a couple of songs you’ll remember from decades ago, “Lonesome Town” and “North to Alaska,” and the CD closes on a high note with beautiful renditions of “Something” and the 13th song on the CD, “Let It Be Me,” done as a duet with Sarah Butterbaugh.  This project is another winner!         Available from www.RexAllenJr.com .

Flying W Wranglers   “Legends, Vol 1

The Flying W Wranglers are the second oldest cowboy band in the U.S. Since 1952, they have been performing at the Flying W Chuckwagon in Colorado Springs, entertaining folks with their western trail songs, cowboy night herding lullabies and lively western tunes with the picturesque Garden of the Gods as a backdrop. Over the years, more than 40 musicians have participated in the group. This new CD is an anthology of recordings collected throughout the group’s history, with owner Russ Wolfe introducing the project from the stage at the Chuckwagon.

As you know, the Chuckwagon burned to the ground in the disastrous wildfires that hit Colorado in 2012, but the Wranglers re-grouped and are still performing. Under the expert leadership of David Bradley, former member of the Sons of the Pioneers, they were one of the highlights of the 2012 WMA festival! This new CD release does not contain any recordings by the new group, but it illustrates the history of this famous singing group. For me, one of the highlights is hearing Bob Minser sing a solo. Bob was one of the original group (now in the Western Music Hall of Fame) back in 1952. Later, in 1966-67, he sang tenor for the Sons of the Pioneers, but he never recorded with them. Here, you can hear him solo, and he gives listeners a real treat with his famous yodeling.

Other treats come from the group that received rave reviews for their appearance at Carnegie Hall a few years ago. Most of the songs are western standards, and you are sure to enjoy them. Although the Ranch has not yet been restored, as of this writing, you can obtain copies of the CD online for $20 from FlyingW.com.

-Ray Benson 

A Little Piece”

Bismeaux Records BR1312

Ray Benson has one of the most enjoyable voices in music – any kind of music. He’s best known for his work with his Western Swing group, Asleep at the Wheel, but there’s no Western Swing in this collection. Ray says we fans shouldn’t worry, there’s more swing coming soon, but he describes the music presented here as “Eclectic.” It comes from his association with a wide variety of artists and composers over the years.

He wrote most of the songs, the exceptions being “Marie” by Randy Newman, “It Ain’t You” by Waylon Jennings & Gary Nicholson (a duet featuring Willie Nelson) and a terrific country song Ray co-wrote with Chris Wallin titled “Killed by a 45” – spoiler alert, the 45 refers to a 45rpm record in a jukebox!  Great stuff! But then, you’ll find great stuff all the way through this collection of 11 tunes, e.g. amazing Spanish guitarists Mark & Rick del Castillo are featured on “Heartache and Pain. “

Lloyd Maines was a co-producer and player on most tracks and some of the Wheel’s sidemen, e.g. fiddler Jason Roberts & pianist Floyd Domino, appear as well. Available from BismeauxRecords.com or P.O. Box 463, Austin, TX 78767.

Don Edwards

Just Me and My Guitar”

For decades, Don Edwards has recorded albums backed by Western music’s finest musicians, from the Reinsmen to Tom Morrell’s Time-Warp Top Hands, but for this CD, he reminisces by the campfire, alone with his Santa Cruz guitar. Don has always been interested in the history of Western music, especially in preserving the old, traditional songs. He brings new life to them in this album, while staying true to the original concepts.

He’s included several of his own compositions, “West of Yesterday” (his tribute to Tom Mix), “Cowtown Blues” and ”Cyclone Blues.”  A couple have  been recorded before, but these new arrangements make them fit seamlessly in this collection of material that goes back as far as the 1800s. “Riders in the Sky (a Cowboy Legend)” and “Cool Water” are included, but most are older, and one of the most interesting tracks is Don’s blues rendition of “Cowboy’s Lament.”  In 1993, Don recorded a totally different version of it on a John McEuen compilation CD, and it immediately became one of my favorite recordings of that song. There’s such an interesting contrast between the two versions, I’ve played them back-to-back on my radio show.

You’ll enjoy this latest addition to America’s music collection. Online via DonEdwardsMusic.com or phone (719) 635-7776.

Doye O’Dell 

Shut Up and Drink Your Beer, Vol 2″

                        BACM CD D 445

Doye’s  Vol. 1,  on the BACM label, might be termed his greatest hits. But this new one fills lots of gaps.  O’Dell was basically a local/regional entertainer, familiar to folks who lived in the Los Angeles area because of his popular, 6 nights per week tv appearances. But before tv, he made B-Western movies with Tex Ritter, Bill Elliott, Monte Hale and others. Sons of the Pioneers fans know best him as a sub for one of the Pioneers in several Roy Rogers movies.  It’s been said that he was being considered as a replacement for Roy if Roy was to be drafted during WW ll. Later, he appeared on tv Westerns (Maverick, Sugarfoot).

The material on this CD is largely a collection of country and novelty songs, e.g. Smiley Burnette’s “Lookin’ Poor, but Feelin’ Rich,” O’Dell’s own hit, “Dear Okie,” followed-up with “Okies in California” and “She Left Me When My Dreamboat Started Leakin’.”  But there’s also some Western swing and good Western songs as well, like “Give Me Texas” (composed by Leon Rene, the fellow who wrote “Wonders of God’s Green Earth,” “When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano” and “Rockin’ Robin”), Rudy Sooter’s “Old Boy” (Sooter wrote or co-composed 5 songs on this CD) and Cindy Walker’s “Sally Sue from Salisaw.” Salisaw is the county seat of Sequoyah Co., OK (I had to look it up). There’s a lot to enjoy among these heretofore hard-to-find selections, especially if you remember Doye O’Dell from the good old days. Try Venerable Music online.

Billy Williams Livin’ In Western Style”

                       BACM CD D 429

Media outlets have often confused Western singer Billy Williams with others having similar names, making it difficult to trace his career. The Billy Williams who recorded the sides on this CD was a Texan who auditioned for a job as a vocalist with Sammy Kaye’s orchestra in the 1940s, using his own composition, “Where the Mountains Meet the Sky.” That song is not on this CD, nor are his other hits with Kaye, like “You Always Hurt the One you Love,” “Laughing on the Outside, Crying on the Inside,” “The Old Lamplighter,” etc.  but most of his Western recordings with his Pecos River Rogues are.  And they’re great!

Billy was born Aston Parker Williams but Kaye suggested Billy as a more appealing name. After gaining a measure of national fame with Kaye, singing both popular & Western songs, Williams began recording Western material with a small group of Kaye’s musicians RCA Victor called The Pecos River Rogues. 22 of those sides make up this CD, plus 2 on the Peter Pan label which were kids’ records.

Billy’s smooth baritone seems made for Western music, and most of these selections are sure to become instant favorites.  I’m partial to “I’ll Ride Across the Purple Sage,” “Two Silhouettes on the Prairie,” “There’s an Echo in the Canyon Tonight,” “ Out Where the Sun Says Goodnight” & “You Can Bet Your Boots & Saddles”  (the latter being one he sang when Columbia featured him with Carolina Cotton in their B-Western film, Smoky River Serenade in 1947). Highly recommended! Available online from Venerable Music.

Clint Eastwood, Glen Campbell, Fats Domino, David Frizzell & Shelley West

“Any Which Way you Can”

                                                                                       Varese Sarabande 302 067-236 8

The soundtrack for the Clint Eastwood film,  ANY WHICH WAY YOU CAN, has not been available on CD until now, even though it’s a remarkable collection of country music. It was produced by Snuff Garrett. The name should sound familiar to Western music fans; he’s produced albums by Roy Rogers, Bob Nolan, Rex Allen, Jr., Rex Allen, and Don Edwards, among others. The soundtrack is remarkable because includes so many songs that made the country music charts, including a #1 hit for  David Frizzell & Shelley West, “You’re the Reason God Made Oklahoma.” Glen Campbell’s record of the film’s title song reached #10 on the charts.

Johnny Duncan’s “Acapulco,” Jim Stafford’s “Cow Patti” and Fats Domino’s “Whiskey Heaven” also made the charts. Eastwood sings, too, joined by Ray Charles on the opening track, “Beers to You.” Songs by Gene Watson, The Texas Opera Company, Cliff Crofford, John Durrill and 2 by co-star Sondra Locke round out the CD. The album was initially released in 1980 and it’s good to see it on CD after so many years.  Music historian Laurence Zwishon wrote the liner notes. Widely available.

– Clint Eastwood, Ray Price, Marty Robbins, Johnny Gimble, etc.

HonkyTonk Man”

Varese Sarabande  302 067 237 8

In 1982, Clint Eastwood starred in a film titled HONKYTONK MAN. Snuff Garrett produced the soundtrack, but it had not been issued on CD until now. Eastwood sings on several tracks, but Western Swing fans will especially enjoy hearing Ray Price sing “San Antonio Rose,” which made the charts in 1983. Johnny Gimble plays on several tracks, including “”Texas Moonbeam Waltz” & Herb Remington’s composition, “Ricochet Rag,” as well as another with Ray Price. The most popular track at the time, the title song, featured Marty Robbins, as did “In the Jailhouse Now” with Marty, Eastwood, John Anderson & David Frizzell.

Marty died a week before the film was released, but his friends lived to see the movie’s success. After all these years, we can finally enjoy the soundtrack on CD. Nicely illustrated with liner notes by noted music historian Laurence Zwisohn. Widely available online.

CD & Book 

Marion Kyzer, Tommy Faile, Snuffy Jenkins, Pappy Sherrill & Ira Dimmery

“The 1949 Kyzer Transcriptions featuring THE HIRED HANDS”

 Based in Columbia, SC, The Hired Hands were outstanding musicians with a large radio audience. Their members included “Snuffy” Jenkins, who created the banjo style adopted later by Earl Scruggs and Don Reno, noted fiddler “Pappy” Sherrill, and Tommy Faile, a long-time favorite of mine who later recorded for MGM and worked on radio, tv and records with Arthur Smith. Marion Kyzer, who, with Ashley Carder, compiled the CD and wrote the book, played steel guitar, and Ira Dimmery played bass.

When I first heard the CD, I thought I could spot Tommy Faile’s vocals, but wasn’t sure. They were recorded before I became familiar with his voice in the 50s as a youngster, so I asked the author for clarification. He explained that, in those early years, Tommy was convinced that he needed to sing above his normal range in order to fit the genre’s prevalent style. Jim Reeves held the same view, early on. Faile is featured on 5 of the vocals and a duet, but the most interesting feature of the package for Western audiences will be the Western (“Timber Trail”) and Western swing tunes, and the band’s Capitol recordings backing Tex Ritter, “Careless Hands” & “ Ol’ Shorty.”  Kyzer narrates stories behind the songs on the CD and about the band’s appearances with Tex.

The 108 page book, MY MUSIC MEMORIES, by Marion “Walt” Kyzer, is a first-person account of the life of a road/radio musician in the 1940s. It covers the time the author spent with The Silver Dew Boys as well as The Hired Hands,  and includes photos from the era. I found it to be well-written and enjoyable, with lots of anecdotes; some amusing, all interesting. CD $15 + $4 s&h, Book $15 + $4 s&h. Both for $30 + $5 s&h from Jersey Mountain Productions, 2401 Devils Backbone Rd., Leesville, SC 29070 or JerseyMountain.com.

Hank Penny 

A Bad Penny Always Returns”

                                  BACM CD D 437 

Hank Penny had one of the West coast’s “swingin’est” bands, but he also had one of Hollywood’s biggest egos, and that’s the reason a lot of opportunities remained just out of his reach. He appeared in several Charles Starrett films and at least one with Ken Curtis, plus several shorts with Deuce Spriggins, but his claim to fame was his music.  You can hear on these recordings from 1940 – 1957,  some fine examples of how his band could swing. His style was unique but very listenable.

For my internet radio audience, I contrasted 1940’s “Say Mister! Have You Met Rosie’s Sister?”, a novelty composed by Fred Rose, with “Sweet Mama Throwed Him in Low” (1952) to illustrate how Penny’s style changed over time, yet retained his remarkable talent for swing. These are my favorites from the 23 tracks on the CD, but there are others that come close, e.g. “”You Better Save it for a Rainy Day,” “I Want to Live a Little” and a couple of others. There are also two with Jaye P. Morgan, typical of the 50s pop “sound,” and Hank’s classic comedy rendition, “Letter From Home,” is as funny now as it was back then. This one’s fun! $15 from CountySales.com.

Leon McAuliffe 

Leon McAuliffe and his Cimarron Boys”

                                   BACM CD D 438

Leon McAuliffe rose to fame as the steel guitarist who introduced “Steel Guitar Rag” with Bob Wills & his Texas Playboys. He appeared with Wills and the band in a number of B-Western movies, recorded many hits with Wills and then formed his own band. Later in life, after Bob passed away, Leon fronted  a band made up of former Texas Playboys.

This collection is from his World Transcriptions (#407-461) and later commercial sides (mostly from 1962) on the Columbia and Cimarron labels.  A large number of the 28 sides here are good examples of Leon’s band at its best  – very enjoyable music. And Bryan Chalker’s liner notes are fascinating. For example, he reveals that Western swing pioneer Bob Dunn taught Leon how to amplify his guitar, and that the first 5 notes of “Steel Guitar Rag” are the 5 notes Leon used to tune his steel guitar; his “Panhandle Rag” uses the same 5 notes in reverse order! I’ve played a number of tracks from this CD on my show, with good audience response. You’ll like it, too! $15 from CountySales.com.

3 DVD Collector’s Set

 – Champion, Jim Bannon, Barry Curtis, Roy Barcroft, Glenn Strange, etc.

“The Adventures of Champion the Wonder Horse “

                                 Film Chest Restored Version FC 489

The Adventures of Champion ran for one season (1955-56) on CBS-TV.  Gene Autry rode several horses through the years, all of which were called “Champion” on-screen. Off-screen, the horse featured in this series was called “TV Champ,” the horse Gene used most for tv. Apparently, three of the 26 black & white episodes were lost, but 23 have been restored to HD and are in this 3 DVD set. It’s been difficult to find copies of these episodes until now, although Gene Autry Entertainment did issue 2 restored episodes of the show on a bonus disc with their 15 DVD Gene Autry TV Show set.

Earlier, Jim Bannon had played the role of “Red Ryder” and it was good to see him on screen again in this series. 12 year-old Barry Curtis played Bannon’s nephew. The role had him riding a wild stallion, “Champion,” bareback, and engaging in weekly adventures together with a pet German shepherd, “Rebel.” The series will appeal to anyone who enjoys smart horses and dogs! Frankie Laine recorded the theme song.  Each episode is described in an insert in the well-designed case.  Other companies have issued DVDs containing some of the episodes but have been criticized for poor image quality. This set has been restored.  Widely available online for approx. $23.

 15 DVD Set   

The Gene Autry Show: The Complete Television Series

        Gene Autry, Champion, Pat Buttram, Cass County Boys, Bob Woodward, Gail Davis, Sheila Ryan, Dick Jones, Gregg Barton, etc.

Today, most folks who remember Gene Autry remember his tv shows rather than watching his movies on the big screen. So it’s particularly appropriate that  Gene Autry Entertainment and Timeless Media are releasing all of Gene’s tv shows on this 15 DVD set.  The 15th DVD is actually a bonus disc containing two episodes from each of Gene Autry’s Flying A Pictures television series: The Range Rider (Jock Mahoney & Dick Jones, 1950-53), Annie Oakley (Gail Davis & Jimmy Hawkins, 1954-57), Buffalo Bill, Jr. (Dick Jones & Nancy Gilbert, 1955-56) and The Adventures of Champion (Jim Bannon, Ricky North & “TV Champ,” 1955-56).

The set of Gene’s tv shows also contains four Melody Ranch radio shows among the bonus features. They are taken from the years the tv show ran, so that, for example, you have a radio show from Dec. 2, 1950 on the disc with the tv shows from 1950. A Melody Ranch show from Dec. 15, 1951 is on the disc with tv shows from 1951. On one show Gene welcomes Pat Buttram back to the radio after a long absence due to a nearly fatal accident he suffered while filming the tv show in a remote location. The tv shows contain a good amount of music, but there’s more on the radio shows. In addition to Gene’s popular ballads of the day (like “Careless Hands” & “My Heart Cries for You”), and songs by The Cass County Boys and The Pinafores (like their great version of “A Bushel & a Peck”), Gene sings some great Western music. Included are a superb (perhaps his best) rendition of “My Adobe Hacienda,” “The West, a Nest and You,” “Silver Stars, Purple Sage, Eyes of Blue” & “Ridin’ Down the Canyon” (these last two on a remote broadcast from England in August, 1953), “Suddenly There’s a Valley” & “Rounded up in Glory.” And in another bonus feature, as Gene starts singing “Galivantin’ Galveston Gal” in the background, you can enjoy a huge gallery of color photos of Gene from the 1950s, some rare, including some of the various Champions, Gene & his wife Ina, views of the Melody Ranch movie set and Gail Davis. See GeneAutry.com for ordering information. 

The Howie Brothers & Wayne Horsburgh 

“40 Cowboy Songs”                                                  Glenample GL-035 

At this particular time in Western music history, when we’re celebrating the founding of the Western Music Assn. and it’s early years, the release of this new 2 CD set from Australia brings back very special memories. The Howie Brothers are well-known “down under,” and so is Wayne Horsburgh, but Wayne was also a participant in WMA events in the mid-90s, and he developed quite a fan-base in the U.S. Since then, he has been added to the “Roll of Renown,” Australian country music’s highest honor.

Wayne is a yodeler with a keen interest in Western music and listeners will enjoy his talent on 15 of the 40 songs in this collection. Many are Western classics by Nolan, Whitley, Jones, Evans, Kennedy-Carr, Robison and others, and a couple of Wayne’s songs come from Australia’s rich cowboy music history, with names like Buddy Williams, Smoky Dawson  & Roy Darling, for example. It’s been a while since we’ve heard from Wayne, but he’s obviously doing well and we’re delighted! Check the Howie Brothers’ web site, HowieBrothers.com.

Frankie Laine   “Country Laine”                                      Jasmine JASMCD 3646

All 24 songs from Frankie Laine’s very successful LPs, Deuces Wild and Hell Bent for Leather, are on this new release from the Jasmine label.  Those from the former, with “Moonlight Gambler,” “The Hard Way,” “Dead Man’s Hand,” etc., sometimes conjure up images of riverboats and cross lines into Western territory. The second LP was an all-Western project that included million-sellers “High Noon (Do Not Forsake Me)” & “Mule Train,” plus title songs from the very popular films “Gunfight at OK Corral” & “The 3:10 to Yuma,” and tv’s “Rawhide,” all of which he had recorded soundtracks for, and  “Cool Water” & “Along the Navajo Trail” among others.

Frankie’s Columbia recording of “High Noon” was his biggest hit. It was released before Capitol realized that they had a potential hit with the fellow in their stable who had sung it on the film soundtrack, Tex Ritter. Laine’s record came out a week before Tex’s, but Capitol’s limited interest in the song had resulted in an arrangement that didn’t hold up to the soundtrack version folks loved. As a result, Laine scored a huge hit with it before Tex’s version was re-recorded in England, with an arrangement that was closer to the soundtrack.  Lots to like on this release, i.e. Frankie’s best-known Western recordings!  $12.70 from DeepDiscount.com.

        Roy Rogers & Dale Evans, The Four Aces, Freddy Martin, Guy Lombardo, The Three Suns, etc.

 “The Sounds of Christmas: Rare Holiday Gems”

                                                     Jasmine 2 CD set  # JASCD 778

I enjoy new Christmas songs, when they are really well-done, but most of my favorite Christmas music evokes memories of Christmases past, back when I was a boy. A core of this work has survived, but there were some really enjoyable recordings back then that have not been available since the 40s or 50s. Resurrecting those “lost gems” is what this double CD is all about.

Roy & Dale have 7 of the 67 songs on this CD, including one of my favorite Western Christmas songs, Cindy Walker’s “Christmas on the Plains.” If you looked hard enough in recent years, you could find that one, but it’s been far more difficult to find Dale’s “Suzy Snowflake” and “Thirty-Two Feet and Eight Little Tails,”  Roy’s “Frosty,” and their duets on ”Wonderful Christmas Night,” “The Little Boy who Couldn’t find Christmas” and “The Story of Christmas.” They’re all here, as is “The Night Before Christmas (in Texas, that is)” by Freddy Martin & his Orch., featuring a vocal by a very young Merv Griffin!

 

The remaining songs are a mix of secular and sacred Christmas songs, and there are, indeed, some real gems.  Space won’t permit a listing of them all, but, in sum, the first 17 songs are by the Four Aces, and there are 20 instrumentals by The Three Suns, favorites of President and Mrs. Eisenhower. There are rarities by Fran Allison (of Kukla, Fran & Ollie fame), Johnny Desmond (who became popular as Glenn Miller’s vocalist during the war), Eddy Howard (the band leader who had a big hit with “My Adobe Hacienda”), and rarest of all, a Capitol promo record by Margaret Whiting. Guy Lombardo’s “If I Were Santa Claus” (vocal by Kenny Gardner) is another rarity. There’s a ton of good music here.  $18 from Amazon.com.

 

–        Dale Evans, Zora Layman, Betsy Gay, Cindy Walker, Colleen Summers, etc. 

Cowgirl Shuffle” BACM CD D 421 

                                                                               

This new release is surprising in several respects. For instance, my favorite track among the 28 selections is “I’ll be Hanged (if They’re Gonna Hang Me),”  a 1937 record, expertly done by Zora Layman!  Another surprise was finding Hazel Turner, the female voice with the Novelty Aces, a group that backed Ken Curtis on his 1948-49 radio show, Chuck Wagon Jamboree, before he joined the Sons of the Pioneers in 1949. And Kevin Coffey’s fascinating liner notes reveal that the Novelty Aces included Hazel’s husband, Buddy Dooley, who recorded with Wesley Tuttle, became one of the Roy Rogers Riders and later, one of the Ranch Hands who worked with Ken Curtis in the 50s. The notes are almost as interesting as the music!

Finding rare songs by Cindy Walker (a soundie with Red River Dave) and Dale Evans (from the Bel-Tone label) was a treat, as were two Superior label tracks by Betsy Gay & the Covered Wagon Jubilee (1946),  2 from Spade Cooley’s vocalist, Becky Barfield, Boots Faye with Idaho Call’s Sunset Cowboys, Colleen Summers (who later became Mary Ford) singing “That Pioneer Mother of Mine,” Sybill Hopkins with Bob Dunn’s Vagabonds and much more. $14.98 from Amazon.com.

 

Freddy LaBour

  Say No More It’s Freddy LaBour

Each member of the award-winning group, Riders in the Sky, is an outstanding entertainer in his own right. Recently, “Ranger Doug” released an excellent CD  that reflected his fascination with frontier songs. Now, “Too Slim,” a.k.a. Freddy LaBour, has made a CD that illustrates his comedic genius as well as his musical skills. The 14 selections include several of his best-known compositions recorded by the Riders in years past.  But this time, everything has been newly recorded for this project, with Slim (Freddy) singing all parts, composing all of the words and music, and playing all of the instruments.

My favorite is his tribute to the Riders, “Still a Little Snap in the Old Soup Bone,” but there’s lots more to enjoy as Freddy sings, raps & rhymes through gems like “Aspiration Blues,” “Who Offed Hoffa?,” “Prozac Polka,” “Cowboys Whoa!” and “My Load Shifted,” among others.  $15 from Too Slim’s Mercantile on the RidersInTheSky.com web site.

 

Spade Cooley Vol. 1 : Live 1944-1946

 

 

 

–  Spade Cooley & His Western  Dance Band                                                                      

BACM CD D 411

Back in the 1940s, Bob Wills and Spade Cooley were rivals for the title, “King of Western Swing.” Both had loyal fans back then, and both still do. But Cooley lost a lot of them because of his difficult personality, which led to his downfall in more ways than one.  First, most of his band members left him and formed The Western Caravan with Tex Williams, who had been Cooley’s main vocalist.  Cooley had survived the departure of Deuce Spriggins in 1945.  Deuce formed his own band, but when Tex and the boys left a year later, it delivered a blow from which Cooley never recovered. But the fatal blow came in 1961 when Cooley’s explosive temper resulted in the horrific murder of his wife, after torturing her in front of their young daughter.  He died in prison.

His sordid past notwithstanding, Spade Cooley’s band established a reputation for musical perfection that has lasted to this day.  It thrilled audiences then and the band’s recordings are still exciting to hear.  This new BACM release brings us transcribed versions of the band’s work that may be new to many of its followers. The recordings date from the band’s heyday in the mid-40s. They were restored by Joe Parker, and the audio fidelity is excellent.  Parker restored his dad’s work beautifully for earlier BACM releases of Andy Parker & the Plainsmen, preserving that vital work for future generations to enjoy.

Noted historian Kevin Coffey explains in his very informative liner notes that while Cooley’s commercial recordings sold well, his “live” material, like what is featured on this disc, best reflects the talent and spontaneity that really made the band popular. If you’re a western swing fan or if you want to hear the sound that made Cooley’s band so popular, this disc is not to be missed. $15 from Venerable Music online or phone (678) 232-0268,  and County Sales online or phone (540) 745-2001.

 

 –Al Caiola

The Caiola Bonanza: Great Western Themes and Extra Bounties   Jasmine 2 CD set JASCD 743

     This set of 64 songs featuring guitarist Al Caiola opens with 12 of his recordings of Western TV and movie themes.  Additional Western songs can be found later in the collection, e.g. “The Magnificent Seven” opens Disc 2, and they are mixed with other commercially successful Caiola recordings. He wasn’t credited on Percy Faith’s hit, “Theme from A Summer Place,” but he did the guitar work on it and his own recording, almost identical to Faith’s, is in this collection.

Al Caiola played on hit-making sessions backing Perry Como, Sarah Vaughn, Hugo Winterhalter, Paul Anka, The Four Lads, Andy Williams and many others, and you can find more detailed information on his studio work in the liner notes. Those recordings are not included here; this set is basically an instrumental collection, although there are some background voices on several of the tracks. Collectors will be especially interested in the rare United Artist “single” from 1962, Henry Mancini’s “Theme from Experiment in Terror” backed with Billy May’s “Sergeants Three.”

Caiola does a beautiful job on familiar songs like Cindy Walker’s “You Don’t Know Me,” a hit for Eddy Arnold, and “A Taste of Honey,” and it was interesting to listen to the rarely heard “Theme from Dr. Kildare” and the “Martin Kane Theme.”  The songs feature Caiola’s guitar, usually with a full orchestra, and there’s plenty of variety. A very entertaining collection. Available from DeepDiscount.com, Amazon.com and elsewhere.

Patsy Montana

Singing with her Guitar, Vol.2

                                      BACM CD D 386 

The legendary Patsy Montana was a very popular performer at Western Music Association gatherings in the 1990s, and she continued to perform until she passed away in 1996 at her desk, answering fan mail. She was an inspiration to aspiring yodelers and to young women who wanted to sing western music, having been the first female country and western artist to sell a million records. Most of her recorded work has been re-issued, so it must have been hard for the British Archive of Country Music (BACM) to avoid duplicating other re-issues – but they did, for the most  part.

This collection is a little different from much of what you may have heard. Most of its contents are from transcriptions Patsy

made in 1941, accompanying herself on her guitar rather than with a band. You can hear her own spoken introductions to the songs, most of which are 2-song medleys. If you are familiar with the early music, you can see from the first title, “How I Love Those Saddle Songs/Roundup in Cheyenne,” that she pays tribute to some of her WLS colleagues and to silver screen pals from years ago (Smiley Burnette wrote “Roundup in  Cheyenne” for Gene Autry). But there are lesser known songs as well, and some are real gems.

There are 18 of these tracks plus 4 bonus tracks she recorded in the 1930s with the Prairie Ramblers, including her theme, “Montana Plains” from 1933, and “I Wanna Be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart No. 2” from 1937. Available for $15 from VenerableMusic.com and CountySales.com.

The Hi-Flyers: 1937-41

-The Hi-Flyers                                BACM CD D 406

When this CD first dropped through the mail slot for review, I wasn’t very familiar with The Hi-Flyers. After listening to it, they became one of my favorite vintage Western swing bands! At first, I was listening to see if I could find something my radio audience might like, and I struck pay dirt! There’s a lot of great Western swing in this collection of 25 songs.

The group was one of the earliest Western swing bands in the 1930s, but apparently,  they didn’t record much until the period represented on this CD, 1937-41. They broke up once during this time, but re-grouped, maintaining their high level of performance with alumni from the Bob Wills, W. Lee O’Daniel and Dick Reinhart bands, among others. There are 24 selections, my personal favorites being “That’s Why I Sigh and Cry,” “Five Piece Band,” ”Static Stomp,” “Down the Trail” (a great Shelly Lee Alley composition from the Western genre), “I’ll Get By,” “Out Near the Rainbow’s End” (another enjoyable Western composition), a great rendition of the standard “Draggin’ the Bow” and the list goes on. Detailed liner notes by leading music historian Kevin Coffey will interest anyone seeking information of the group’s history.

Available from Amazon.com and probably soon from VenerableMusic.com &/or CountySales.com.

Ranger Doug Sings…Songs of the Frontier

–        Ranger Doug with a lot of help from Riders in the Sky

                                                                    Archtop Records 2013

Ranger Doug is widely recognized as one of the great composers and performers of Western music and, with Riders in the Sky, he is a member of the Western Music Hall of Fame. As Douglas B. Green, he has also been a noted historian of Western music for decades. On this new CD, he combines all of these talents, selecting and performing music of historical significance, some of which dates from the early 1800s.

My favorite among the 11 songs on this disc is “The Hunters of Kentucky” from 1821, one of the  first songs ever written about the West. It celebrates Jackson’s victory in the War of 1812. Other songs (“Yellow Rose of Texas” and “Green Grow the Lilacs”) date from the Texas War of Independence. “The Blue Juniata,” from 1844, was the first commercially successful song composed by a woman and the first with a specifically western theme. Other selections, from later years, were popular among the first cowboys and frontier settlers.

Riders in the Sky back the Ranger on these selections and you’re sure to enjoy each one. Available from Too Slim’s

Mercantile on the RidersInTheSky.com web site or for $15 from Archtop Records ($15 postage paid) 1420 Old HickoryBoulevard, Brentwood, Tennessee 37027.

2 DVD set

The Gene Autry Show: The Fifth and Final Season, in Full Color!

–       Gene Autry, Champion, Pat Buttram

                                                                               Timeless Media Group # 67656

     At long last, with this 2 DVD set , all of Gene Autry’s TV episodes are now on DVD.  More feature films will be released soon, but this wraps up the TV series. The set contains all 13 episodes, filmed in color in 1955, uncut and fully restored, plus bonus material: a photo gallery with lots of rare color pictures of Gene and Champ from the mid-50s,  Gene Autry movie trailers (in b&w) from the 1950s and a Melody Ranch radio show that originally aired on Oct. 2, 1955.

In addition to the interesting plots and action, there’s plenty of good music in the tv episodes, featuring Gene and/or the Cass County Boys, and the radio broadcast includes a great version of Gene’s “Be Honest with Me,” a song that  was nominated for an Oscar in 1942. He also sings “Suddenly There’s a Valley” and “Rounded Up in Glory,” and the Cass County Boys team up with the Pinafores (The Kettle Sisters) to sing “In My Ten Gallon Hat.“

Gene had experimented briefly with color the year before, before going back to black & white. He and his colleagues decided to opt for a different color process for the 1955 season. You’ll see the results in these 13 episodes. The images of Gene and Champ in color are impressive. I saw the episodes on TV and I found the color on the DVDs to be even better! And Gene’s popular “Little Champ” makes an appearance or two. You can find out what additional releases are in the works at www.autry.com   and  you can order ($14.95) from TheAutry.org.

Home on the Range

–        Riders in the Sky & Wilford Brimley 

Wilford Brimley is an iconic American figure, widely recognized for his roles in films and on television.  He brings authenticity to his acting from his real-life experience working as a ranch hand, wrangler and blacksmith.  He’s also an avid singer, guitarist and pianist who performs with his own jazz group. They’ve recorded several jazz albums.  But it was his keen interest in Western music that led to this collaborative effort with Riders in the Sky.

Reflecting on this project with Wilford Brimley, the Riders commented that it was one of the most thrilling experiences in their 35 years of entertaining.  The album features Brimley as the main vocal soloist, but the Riders don’t take a back seat; they have a healthy share of solos as well. For me, what stands out is the amazing instrumental prowess the Riders demonstrate, and some of the most beautiful harmonies I’ve ever heard on a Riders album.  The Brimley-Riders combination clearly works!

For example, everyone had a vocal solo on the title song, and it went well, but when I started listening to the first Western swing tune, I wondered if Wilford could carry it off. Then, the Riders took an instrumental break, and when Wilford came back in, the instruments had clearly energized him and he really “lit into it.” The result was a solidly swinging rendition of “Won’t You Ride in My Little Red Wagon.” There’s a good mix of ballads and swing on the CD, ending with a masterful narration of “I’d Like to be in Texas…” with musical accompaniment. The complete list of the 12 titles is available in the “Store” on the Riders’ web site. $20 from RidersInTheSky.com.

 Sons of the Pioneers                 Melody Mesa

This newly recorded collection of 15 “all-time western favorites” was released by the Sons of the Pioneers in 2012. It was to be Gary LeMaster’s last recording. Gary’s guitar and Ricky Bowen’s fiddle shine as the album gets off to a rousing start with “Cowboy Jubilee,” a Ken Carson composition the group has used as an opener since the 1940s. A perennial favorite, “Silver on the Sage,” is next, followed by “Trail to San Antone” with bassist Mark Abbott singing the solo.

The liner has a contents list but no notes on who sings the solos, so I’ll mention what were, for me, some of the highlights. There are no studio sidemen or backup vocalists, only the Sons of the Pioneers.  Gary LeMaster does a magnificent job on “Springtime in the Rockies,” singing both lead and the solo, and the  CD’s closing song, “Empty Saddles,”  is superb. It recalls the sadness all of us felt, knowing this was Gary’s last album.

Randy Rudd is the group’s lead singer, and he is the featured soloist on “Lilies Grow High,” “When the Bloom is on the Sage,” “Ridin’ Down the Canyon” and “South of the Border.” “Lilies…,” “…Canyon” and “South of the Border,” in particular, are beautifully done and are three of my personal favorites on the CD. If you listen closely, once in a while you’ll hear a smoothness that calls to mind the mellow sound of Dale Warren, reflecting the tendency to maintain a distinctive Pioneers sound through so many personnel changes over the nearly 80 years of the group’s history.

In addition to the beautiful ballads, the boys chose to include several up-beat crowd pleasers as well: “Song of the Bandit”(Ken Lattimore), “Texas Plains” (Ricky Bowen), “So Long to the Red River Valley” (leader Luther Nallie), and “When  Payday Rolls Around” (Luther, Randy & Ken). And there are other classics to round out the CD, “Along the Navajo Trail” (Mark) & “Wagon Wheels” (Randy & Luther). An excellent collection of “western favorites,” available for $19.95 from SonsOfThePioneers.org.

–        Frankie Marvin, Carson Jay Robison, Frank Luther, and others  The Edison Label: Classic Old Time Music                                                    BACM CD D 308 

Frankie Marvin appeared in almost all of Gene Autry’s films and tv shows and played steel guitar on most of Gene’s records. Frankie befriended Gene very early in Gene’s career, and they remained close friends for life. In the 1920s, Frankie was a star who recorded for several labels, including Edison. In 2013, the British Archive of Country Music (BACM) released a CD of 20 rare Edison recordings, two of which are by Frankie Marvin, “Two Gun Cowboy” & “High Silk Hat and a Walking Cane.” Both contain some yodeling (Marvin is said to have yodeled for Autry on some of Gene’s first recordings, before Gene developed the requisite skill).

The new CD also contains two tracks by Carson Jay Robison and Frank Luther and three by Vernon Dalhart. The Robison songs, recorded with Frank Luther as The Jimson Brothers, are his 1929 recordings of “Left My Gal in the Mountains” & his western classic, “Going Back to Texas.” The remaining artists are less well-known.

The tracks on the CD were recorded between 1923 and 1929, and the audio is remarkably good, considering the ages of the recordings.  Available ($15) from Venerable Music online or phone (678) 232-0268, and County Sales online or phone (540) 745-2001.

DVD REVIEW

Hugh O’Brien  The Life and Legend of WYATT EARP: The Complete Season 2            5 DVDs

The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp ran on the ABC Television Network  from 1955 to 1961. In many of those 6 seasons, it was the #1 show!  In  March, 2013 The Inception Media Group, LLC released the show’s complete second season on 5 DVDs, with the 39 episode titles identified for easy reference. The second season ran initially in 1956-57, and you’ll find familiar faces among actors such as the show’s star, Hugh O’Brian, and Denver Pyle, who appeared in numerous western movies and tv shows and was soon to become the jug-playing “Mr. Darling” on the Andy Griffith Show, and later, “Uncle Jesse” on The Dukes of Hazard, for example.

Inception is making plans to release all  of the remaining seasons in the near future. The InceptionMediaGroup.com web site is interesting, even though the Earp series is their only western release. They have put together several DVDs of “Fan Favorites,” consisting of some of the episodes that seem to be most sought-after by fans, and The Real McCoys, a favorite of mine starring Walter Brennan, is one of them. The Wyatt Earp series is also represented among the “Fan Favorites” compilations, but dyed-in-the-wool Wyatt Earp fans will want as much as they can get of the complete Earp series. This digitally re-mastered  set is a good place to start! $24.98 (prices may vary) online and in other DVD outlets.

Frank Ifield-  Frank Ifield Rarities: Classic Tracks from the EMI Vaults                                 2 CDs EMI 

When I first heard Frank Ifield’s classic recording of “I Remember You,” I had no idea that he also sang country and western songs. This new 2 CD set of material from the EMI Records label contains 59 tracks that illustrate this great singer’s versatility. Most are country songs,  like “Cold, Cold Heart,” “When My Blue Moon Turns to Gold Again,” “I’m a Fool to Care,” “Half as Much” and “Funny How Time Slips away.” But there are quite a few western  recordings as well.

Ifield gives his own special treatment to the following western songs: “Love Song of the Waterfall,” “Cool Water,” “Streets of  Laredo,” “Cattle Call,” “Riders in the Sky (a Cowboy Legend),” “San Antonio Rose,” “Tumbling Tumbleweeds’ and “Pecos Bill.” For me, one of the most interesting songs in the collection is “Old Man Duff.” It  was composed by George Rainey and Frankie Marvin, and Frankie recorded it the afternoon of April 1, 1931 in New York, while his young pal Gene Autry sat in on the session.  It’s a catchy novelty song, but rare, and I wonder if Ifield learned it from Frankie Marvin’s record.

The set includes classic album tracks and previously unreleased recordings, so listeners will be hearing some selections for the first time. Autographed copies are available from www.FrankIfield.com . The web site also contains a complete contents list as well as interesting photos, including some of another award-wining Australian western singer, Wayne Horsburgh.

Rex Allen Jr   –   Garage Songs 1

    For this 2012 release, Rex Allen Jr. recalls his huge success over the years with songs from the Country genre, introducing new ballads like “The Way I Am” and singing the classic Merle Travis  composition, “Dark as a Dungeon.” But he also includes the Western classic composed by Stan Jones, “Lilies Grow High.”

For some time, Rex has advocated expanding the definition of Western music, making it more broadly encompassing to fit the changing times. The idea, at least in part, is to appeal to a broader, perhaps younger audience. That audience will get their chance with this new CD when they listen to the tale of a modern-day roaming cowboy in the lead song, “Loving Arms.” Younger listeners will also enjoy “Gypsy Woman,” while older fans will surely recall the role of gypsies in a number of B-Western movies from years ago, when gypsy bands, always with at least one beautiful girl, appeared in movies with Roy, Gene, Hoppy & Rex.

There are some great songs on this CD, but for me, the most interesting one is “Lonely Little Robin,” recorded by Rex’s dad for the Mercury label many years ago.  When Rex Jr. was 5 years old, he used to go out in the family’s front yard and sing it to the robins. He told me, “I sang that song to my children as a lullaby. Now I sing it to my grandchildren!!” See www.rexallenjr.com for info on how to purchase a copy.

Yodeling Slim Clark  –  Singin’ Yodelin’ Guitar Pickin’ Cowboy Songs      

                       Jasmine 2 CD set JASMCD 3636/7

Yodeling Slim Clark performed western music for 70 years. He  rarely traveled outside of his home territory of New England, but his fan base stretched East across the Atlantic, North into Canada, West to the Rockies and down under to Australia and New Zealand. Born in 1917, Slim passed away shortly before he was to have been inducted into the Western Music Hall of Fame in 2000. You’ll hear the reason for his popularity on this new 2 CD set of rare recordings issued by the Jasmine label on CD late in 2012.

Historian Paul Hazel located some of Slim’s rarest recordings, a few of which have not been heard since their original release decades ago, and they were carefully re-mastered for this project. Wilf Carter was one of Slim’s idols and you’ll hear his influence on Slim’s style. Of course, Slim’s yodeling was legendary, and there’s plenty of it here. Sidemen aren’t named, but Kenny Roberts and Dick Curless were members of Slim’s bands over the years.

In the 1970s he was ready to retire, given the declining popularity of western music, but a resurgence of interest in his work in the 1980s convinced him to keep going. There are 53 songs in the set, available online at Amazon.com.

The Flying W Wranglers  –  Legends, Vol 1

The Flying W Wranglers are the second oldest cowboy band in the U.S. Since 1952, they have been performing at the Flying W Chuckwagon in Colorado Springs, entertaining folks with their western trail songs, cowboy night herding lullabies and lively western tunes with the picturesque Garden of the Gods as a backdrop. Over the years, more than 40 musicians have participated in the group. This new CD is an anthology of recordings collected throughout the group’s history, with owner Russ Wolfe introducing the project from the stage at the Chuckwagon.

As you know, the Chuckwagon burned to the ground in the disastrous wildfires that hit Colorado in 2012, but the Wranglers re-grouped and are still performing. Under the expert leadership of David Bradley, former member of the Sons of the Pioneers, they were one of the highlights of the 2012 WMA festival! This new CD release does not contain any recordings by the new group, but it illustrates the history of this famous singing group. For me, one of the highlights is hearing Bob Minser sing a solo. Bob was one of the original group (now in the Western Music Hall of Fame) back in 1952. Later, in 1966-67, he sang tenor for the Sons of the Pioneers, but he never recorded with them. Here, you can hear him solo, and he gives listeners a real treat with his famous yodeling.

Other treats come from the group that received rave reviews for their appearance at Carnegie Hall a few years ago. Most of the songs are western standards, and you are sure to enjoy them. Although the Ranch has not yet been restored, as of this writing, you can obtain copies of the CD online for $20 from FlyingW.com.

Riders in the Sky…America’s Favorite Cowboy Songs–                            Cracker Barrel RRRCB 1001

    Most folks go to Cracker Barrel stores & restaurants for good, country-style cookin’. But when you walk into the store, if you look to the left, just inside the door, you’ll see a rack of CDs, especially produced for Cracker Barrel. Most of them contain country music, but they’ve recently added a fantastic Western CD recorded by Riders in the Sky.

The CD contains 13 selections, most of which are classic cowboy & western songs, and among them are some of the group’s finest works. They open with “Back in the Saddle Again,” which they’ve recorded before, but never as beautifully as this rendition. “Red River Valley” is magnificent, and “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” & “Riders in the Sky (A Cowboy Legend)” are superb versions of these favorites. They make the traditional tune, “Buffalo Gals,” come back to life in true Riders style, and “The Old Chisholm Trail,” featuring Woody Paul, has a “sound” that conveys the image of the old trail driving days as well as, or better than, any version I’ve ever heard.

Track # 13 is a bonus track that has had a special place in the Riders’ repertoire since they sang it in the film, Toy Story 2. It’s “Woody’s Roundup.” At this writing, the only place you can find a copy of this CD is in a Cracker Barrel store. It will be worth the trip!

……..The O.J. Corral                       Jan-March 2013

In November 2012, I travelled to Albuquerque for the annual Western Music Assn. get-together & awards show. The schedule called for me to present the Hall of Fame award to Ken & Nora Griffis (you can read about Ken & Nora in the Awards/Hall of Fame section on the www.WesternMusic.org  web site). Nora is in a nursing home, suffering from Alzheimer’s, and Ken passed away a few years ago, so James Kleist was going to accept the award on their behalf. Before Ken died, he passed his collection of rare Sons of the Pioneers tapes and interviews on to James, and James is the man who has been making some of these recordings available to the public on CD.

I was looking forward to meeting James in Albuquerque. He lived in Indiana, but as he was preparing to leave his house for the airport, James suffered a stroke. I learned later that he passed away on December 29. If you have ordered any of the Sons of the Pioneers or Ken Curtis CDs he issued, and you have not received them, you should be receiving a refund. His neighbors are helping answer mail and his son, who lives in California, is trying to settle the estate. Others are taking over the Griffis collection. Eventually, some of this material may be  digitized and made available for purchase. I’ll keep you posted.

In January 2013, the web site that carried my Western Music Time radio show for almost 12 years, went out of the music broadcast business. The income the web master received from sales of CDs & DVDs kept declining until it was less than the fees he was having to pay to play the music. Apparently, people are downloading more individual songs and buying fewer CDs! I remember when cassettes went out-of-favor; it seems CDs are headed that way. On the brighter side, two other web sites (EarsRadio.com and KKRN.org) contacted me right away about carrying the show and we’re working on it as I write this. You might want to check out both sites, as both carry other western shows and play contemporary western music.

The political campaigns last year spawned a renewed interest in “fact-checking,” and it occurred to me that what’s written about western music and movies could sometimes do with a little fact-checking, too. When we write something in a magazine, or especially in a book, it stands a chance of finding its way into a library where some future researcher will read a “fact” and assume it’s accurate. But it may not be. They’ll copy it without comparing what they’ve found with other sources for verification, and the misinformation gets repeated, and so on, indefinitely. “Hey, I read it in a book!” is the excuse.

I’ll mention just a few examples to illustrate what I mean. Some people think that references to Dale Evans being born in Texas were studio hype. They weren’t. She was born Frances Octavia Smith in Uvalde, Texas. You may recall from the last issue of the Western Way that for years, “everyone” thought that Herb Jeffries would celebrate his centennial in 2012. He probably celebrated his birthday on Sept. 24th, but it wasn’t his 100th. That will have to wait until Sept. 24th 2013! You can find any number of music references that say Patsy Montana’s first recording of “Cowboy’s Sweetheart” was made in Chicago. She did work in Chicago, and many of her recordings were made there but she vividly recalled in later years having made that first hit record in New York. Recent entries in the history books have attempted to correct that mistake, but it keeps on being repeated.

How many times have you read that Roy Rogers (who was Leonard Slye at the time) had a small role in Gene Autry’s feature film, Tumbling Tumbleweeds? He was not in that film! You can watch it; you can look up the list of cast members. He’s not there, nor were the Sons of the Pioneers. The confusion about their appearance may stem from the fact that Bob Nolan wrote the title song. The year that film came out Roy did make a screen appearance, but it was in Charles Starrett’s first western film, Gallant Defender. Roy appeared as one of the Sons of the Pioneers in that movie. Speaking of the Sons of the Pioneers, there are numerous tales of somebody’s late uncle or cousin having worked with the Sons of the Pioneers. Take those claims with a grain of salt! The actual members of the group have been documented in Hear My Song by Ken Griffis, The Sons of the Pioneers by Bill O’Neal & Fred Goodwin and Singing in the Saddle by Douglas B. Green. It is possible that on road trips, one of the Pioneers may have fallen ill and a local musician was asked at the last minute to sit in for a show, but that’s as far as that went. Or maybe local musicians “opened” a show for the Pioneers and then told their grandchildren “I worked with the Sons of the Pioneers.” Of course, for a local musician, that may well have created the memory of a lifetime!

A lot has been written about who sang for what non-singing movie cowboy on-screen. Much of that has been mistaken. Although Ken Maynard’s voice was so hard on the ears he couldn’t really qualify as a singing movie cowboy, he did sing in several of his movies. But for some reason, when he made In Old Santa Fe, the studio dubbed in Bob Nolan’s voice while Maynard lip-synched to “As Long as I’ve Got My Dog.” Even though it was not Maynard’s voice, his sidekick “Cactus” (George, later to become “Gabby” Hayes) gave him a most unfavorable review!  But perhaps the longest-running (or at least, most widespread)  film music-related mistake is associated with John Wayne. He was not a singer and did not sing on screen in his B-Western years. The man whose voice was dubbed over his during those musical interludes in Riders of Destiny was Bill Bradbury’s. Bill was Bob Steele’s brother and the son of a movie producer. In Lawless Range (1935), Jack Kirk supplies the voice for Wayne’s songs, according to Kirk’s daughter, who was there when it happened and later told the story to historian Boyd Magers.

The first star to sing on screen in a Western movie was none of the above. It was Warner Baxter. He played The Cisco Kid and sang “My Tonya” in In Old Arizona, released in January, 1929. It was one of the first “talking” pictures. By the way, music was evident in western movies right from the very first film, which was a silent film but viewers can see cowboys singing and playing their instruments on screen.

…………………………………..

Songs of the Hills & Plains, Vol 2

        Sons of the Pioneers

After Ken Griffis published his book, “HEAR MY SONG: The Story of the Celebrated Sons of the Pioneers,” he released an LP of 20 of the classic recordings the Pioneers made as Orthacoustic  radio transcriptions in 1940-41. That LP introduced fans to recordings from an era they didn’t have access to in the 1970s. They had not been heard since they were played on radio in the early 1940s. One in particular, “When Payday Rolls Around,” soon became a mainstay with Chuckwagon musicians, even though the song had never been recorded commercially. The songs were gems, and all of them were cleaned up beautifully and re-issued on 3 CDs by the Soundies label before Ken passed away.

Those Soundies label CDs are still available online, but now there’s a new CD with additional songs from the same transcriptions! Griffis and his pard, Jim Kleist, put together 2 CDs from these sessions. Vol 1 contains songs already available on the Soundies CDs, but I thought Vol 2 might be of special interest to you. There are some overlaps with previously released material, but the following titles found on this new release, were not included on the Soundies CDs:  “Rock Me to Sleep in My Rocky Mountain Home,” “Still Water Pool” (featuring a beautiful vocal solo by Lloyd Perryman, backed by the Farr Brothers), “Born to the Saddle,” ”Wind” with the verse, ”Spanish Cavalier,” “Maple on the Hill,” and I want to draw special attention to the next two. The first of these is “Aunt Dinah’s Quilting Party (Seeing Nellie Home).” It features trio harmony plus vocal solos by Tim Spencer, Bob Nolan & Lloyd, along with fiddle and guitar solos by Hugh & Karl Farr, a rare treat on one song!

The last song is short and not even listed among the contents, but it’s a real find. It’s a recording of the group humming a few bars of “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” so a radio announcer can talk over the music as he closes a show or goes to a commercial break, and then the group comes back in with the last few lyrics to wrap up the song. What a treasure! Available online from www.sonsofthepioneersonline.com .

 

Ride, Ride, Ride

–The Rough Riders                                  BACM 384

This CD is the second volume of Rough Riders material issued by the British Archive of Country Music (BACM). Like Vol 1 (Moon Over the Trail, CD # 102), which was a superb collection, this one is comprised of material from radio transcriptions.  These were recorded in the late 1930s and early 1940s.

The trio, which was also known as the Jimmy Wakely Trio, consisted of Wakely, Johnny Bond and Scotty Harrell on their first recording session. Three songs from that session are on this disc. The rest came later. By that time, the trio had become Wakely, Bond and Dick Reinhart. Dick had been working with the Light Crust Doughboys in Texas.

I was honored to write the liner notes so will leave most of the details to readers who are interested enough to purchase the CD, but I will say, at least, that there are some outstanding recordings on this disc. This group had a fantastic blend, great soloists (each of whom secured major label record contracts as individual soloist), and good composers. Few groups had all three of these qualities, and that set them apart. Unfortunately, they were so good as individual artists, they were able to go their separate ways early in their careers. Fortunately, they recorded these sides for us before they disbanded!  Available from the British Archive of Country Music web site.

 

That Last Long Trail

      — Jimmy Wakely                             B.A.C.M.   CD D 380  

Rex Allen used to say he thought Jimmy Wakely had the most underrated voice in Hollywood. That may be an accurate assessment.  In spite of his recording successes for two major labels over a 40 year career, Capitol has released only one CD of his music, and MCA (Decca/Coral) hasn’t released anything at all. Fortunately, his own label, Shasta, kept the recordings of his radio show and re-issued some of that music before Jimmy passed away in 1982.

To fill the gap, Jasmine, Living Era and the British Archive of Country Music (B.A.C.M.) have rescued a number of Wakely’s recordings from commercial labels and transcriptions and this new release is B.A.C.M.’s 4th Jimmy Wakely CD. Since so many of his records were not carefully preserved, they needed special restoration for transfer to CD. As a result, the audio on some of the selections is good but not perfect. Since the other option would be to not have them at all, we are grateful that B.A.C.M. has been willing to invest in this project.

In my view, some of Wakely’s best work is from early in his career, recorded with his trio. A handful of songs by that group, featuring Jimmy taking the vocal solos and lead guitar runs, are included on this CD. One particularly rare one is “Texas Plains.” In addition, there are several songs Wakely recorded commercially that have been re-issued elsewhere, but here you’ll hear the versions he recorded for the World, MacGregor, United, ARFS and Thesaurus transcription labels. In fact, all of the selections on this CD are from transcriptions. That characteristic alone would make this CD a collector’s item!

Available from the British Archive of Country Music web site.

2 DVD set

Gene Autry Collection 2

– – –Gene Autry, Champion, Smiley Burnette, Pat Buttram, Sheila Ryan, Gail Davis

Timeless Media TMG 63336 – 2 DVD set

Four of Gene Autry’s Columbia films appear, fully restored, in this 2 DVD set. They are The Cowboy and the Indians (1949), with Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels making a rare screen appearance together, shortly before their soon-to-be-released Lone Ranger TV series made them famous; The Blazing Sun (1950), which co-stars Pat Buttram and Lynne Roberts; Hills of Utah, with Buttram, Denver Pyle and Donna Martell and finally, On Top of Old Smoky, one of Gene’s most enjoyable Columbia features. In it, we see Smiley Burnette return as Gene’s sidekick after an absence of many years while Columbia assigned him to work with other cowboys under contract to their studio.

In later years, studios de-emphasized music in B-Western films, but you can still hear some good tunes in these four feature films. Gene managed to work in the year’s Christmas favorite, “Here Comes Santa Claus,” in The Cowboy and the Indians, and he sang two really good ones, “Along the Navajo Trail” and “Brush Those Tears from Your Eyes,” neither of which he recorded commercially, in The Blazing Sun. It’s too bad he didn’t record those two songs, because he does them especially well. Hills of Utah served as a vehicle for Gene’s new hit, “Peter Cottontail” and the less memorable “Utah,” by Tex Atchison and Billy Weber. There was much more music in the last film here, On Top of Old Smoky, with Gene singing the title song as well as  “I Hang My Head and  Cry” and the beautiful “If it Wasn’t for the Rain.” The Cass County Boys perform the traditional “Trail to Mexico.” Gene recorded a great version of the traditional ballad, “On Top of Old Smoky,” as did Burl Ives, Vaughn Monroe and others, and it was a very popular song in those years, in spite of its age.

Some of these films were originally in Sepia Tone, but finding prints that were in sufficiently good shape for high quality DVDs was not possible, so all are here in black & white.  When we first watched these films in theaters as youngsters, most of us had no idea what stunt doubles were. Today, it’s fun to look for these talented men and women as we enjoy the movies they helped make so exciting.  Bob Woodward did many of the stunts in most of these pictures, as he did on Gene’s TV shows and in other B-westerns (he also doubled Dick Foran, Jimmy Wakely, Buck Jones and Lash LaRue). He is easy to recognize as he always ducks his head, keeping his chin close to his chest as he fights the bad guys or makes a quick get-away on horseback.

Available ($19.98) from GeneAutry.com.

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The Gene Autry Show: The Third and Fourth Seasons

–        Gene Autry, Champion and Pat Buttram

                                                                 Timeless Media Group

The third and fourth seasons of the Gene Autry Show are finally out on DVD, and, as expected, they are terrific!    Like the first two sets of Gene’s TV shows, this new set contains 26 fully restored and uncut episodes plus bonus features. In this instance, they include film trailers from 4 of Gene’s movies, photos from Gene’s 1953 British tour and an episode from the Melody Ranch radio show (which originally aired August 9, 1953). The episodes in seasons three and four begin in July 1953 and run through October 1954. All episodes were filmed in black & white. You may recall that 2 episodes were filmed in an experiment with color in 1951, but they went back to black & white until the last season (1955) when they reintroduced color in the last episodes.

There’s plenty of action and plenty of great music in each of these episodes and there are some fun story lines as well. Episodes include Boots & Ballots, Outlaw of Blue Mesa, Thunder Out West (where Pat obtains a mail-order telescope only to have a safe-cracker use it to commit a crime), Border Justice, Narrow Escape, The Steel Ribbon (with interesting railroad and telegraph scenes, recalling Gene’s early personal history for fans familiar with it) and 20 other episodes you’re sure to enjoy.

You’ll recognize some of your favorite actors in some of the episodes, e.g. Gail Davis, who later became Annie Oakley, Dick Jones, who was to assume the role of Buffalo Bill, Jr. in that TV series, Jim Bannon, who was to play a leading role in the series, The Adventures of Champion,  Sheila Ryan (Mrs. Pat Buttram), Frankie Marvin and several others like Clayton Moore (who was off that season from the Lone Ranger series).  The Cass County Boys are in some of the episodes and you may recognize  “bad man” Gregg Barton, who was asked years later what he and his colleagues thought of Gene. He replied, “We loved him! He gave us work!”

The set is great fun! Available from the GeneAutry.com web site.

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Roy Rogers & the Sons of the Pioneers

Springtime in the Sierras  American Pop Classics DVD

It’s not easy to find Roy Rogers movies on TV anymore, so it’s a real treat to see that Film Chest Media Group has released Roy’s Trucolor film, Springtime in the Sierras, on the American Pop Classics DVD label. And it comes with a bonus feature, the full-length episode of The Chevy Show (in black & white) from April 2, 1961. The movie, which co-stars Andy Devine, Jane Frazee, Roy Barcroft and Trigger, along with the Sons of the Pioneers, was released in 1947 and includes some good music, like “A Cowboy has to Sing.”

While the feature film is fun, it’s not exceedingly rare. What’s rare, and worth the price of admission, is the bonus. Roy & Dale hosted this particular episode of The Chevy Show and they were given time to perform a lot of good music. Roy sings “Take Me Back to My Boots & Saddle,” a song he never recorded, making it especially noteworthy. And the roster of guests is interesting, e.g. Charley Weaver appears in a role he would reprise in the prime time evening TV series Roy & Dale would soon be hosting on ABC-TV. Other guests include Eddy Arnold, who appears to be thoroughly enjoying himself throughout the show, as well as George Maharis & Martin Milner, plus The Limeliters.

Available from Amazon.com and elsewhere. DeepDiscountDVD also sells it but they carry two different versions. Look at the specs carefully and be sure to order the one distributed by Film Chest as others do not include the TV bonus feature.

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Gene Autry   

      God Bless America, Vol. 8

                 BACM CD D 377

It’s not hard to find collections of Gene Autry’s biggest hits. Companies seem to keep duplicating each other (and themselves) when they release  Gene Autry’s recordings, and as a result, lots of people don’t realize that he recorded well over 600 songs. The focus of most releases has been on his work in the 1930s and early 40s. That’s unfortunate, because, in my opinion, much of his best work was in the mid-to-late 1940s. but he also made some very enjoyable records in the 1950s.  More than half of the selections in this 8th CD of Gene Autry material collected by BACM is from the 1950s; the rest is from the 40s.

Only a couple of the 27 recordings on this disc, e.g. “Merry Christmas Waltz” (the only Christmas song on this CD) & “Good Old Fashioned Hoedown,”  have ever been released on CD before, and some of the material that hasn’t, like “When the Snowbirds Cross the Rockies” & “The Place Where I Worship (is the Wide Open Spaces)” is remarkably good.  Radio show versions of a couple of songs have been issued on other CDs, but here you’ll find the commercial recordings of them, e.g. “God’s in the Saddle” & “Texans Never Cry.”  Also, there are two duets with Jo Stafford, three patriotic songs and a good serving of Gene’s country material plus three songs from his Melody Ranch radio show.

The CD closes with a rare demonstration record on which Gene sings a little and talks about a new Philco product, a Philco Photo-Electric Reproducer. Unless you are a Gene Autry collector, you might not have heard many of the songs on this album. Chances are, you’ll enjoy the “new” material! Availability: try Amazon.com or County Sales.

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Round the World on a Dime   Roy Newman (with Art Davis, Jim Boyd, etc)

                                                         BACM CD D 367 

Roy Newman had one of the best western swing bands in the country before World War II. Based in North Texas, he had access to some of the West’s finest swing musicians, a radio broadcast at prime time on a powerful station and a recording contract with a major label, ARC-Columbia.  This CD contains 24 of their commercial recordings from 1934 to 1939, plus 5 air checks from the early 1940s.

The styles of music differ somewhat, with hot western swing versions of songs like “Tiger Rag,” which kicks off the album, and cowboy ballads like “Over the Santa Fe Trail” & “Mexicali Rose”  from the closing air checks that wrap up the CD. The tracks are organized chronologically so listeners can follow the progression as band members change. For example, fiddler Art Davis is paired with guitarist/vocalist Jim Boyd on tracks from 1934-35. Davis soon left to join Gene Autry in Hollywood (replaced by Jesse Ashlock) and can be seen in Gene’s early movies and heard on his records. Boyd did double duty, also working with his brother Bill Boyd & his Cowboy Ramblers.

Holly Horton’s clarinet style was a key element in Newman’s “sound,” setting the band apart from many others, but there were sidemen with Newman in 1934 who were destined to become almost legendary figures, e.g. Dick Reinhart on guitar and Bert Dodson on bass, both of whom were later to become members of the Light Crust Doughboys and then members of the Jimmy Wakely Trio and the Cass County Boys, respectively. Fans of vintage western swing will find this CD most enjoyable. $13.99 from Amazon.com.

Uncle Henry’s Original Kentucky Mountaineers,  Vol 2.

Uncle Henry’s Original Kentucky Mountaineers (Dale Warren, Casey Jones, Karl & Harty, etc)   British Archive of Country Music  BACM CD D 373

 

Dale Warren was a member of the Sons of the Pioneers longer than any other individual. Before he joined the Pioneers in December, 1952, he worked with Foy Willing and the Riders of the Purple Sage, recording at least one album, several singles and making a large number of short films with them. Some of those films have re-surfaced recently on YouTube. Earlier, Dale had been a member of his dad’s well-known country music group, “Uncle Henry’s Original Kentucky Mountaineers.”  Before Dale’s dad, a.k.a. “Uncle Henry,” retired, the Mountaineers experienced a long and successful career in KY and the Chicago area, ending up in California. While on the west coast, they recorded a number of transcriptions for the Capitol label, and those discs are the source for most of the tracks on this CD.

Dale, known as Jimmy Dale in those years, solos on several songs, but the most interesting (to me) is “Born to Lose.” Years later, he was to record the same song with the Sons of the Pioneers, and his ability as a soloist seemed to have improved considerably by that time. I attribute that to having worked so closely with Lloyd Perryman, the man who tutored so many members of the Pioneers.

All this being said, the CD is not about Dale; it’s about the group. They were a good hillbilly band with diverse talent, most of which might be described as rustic while Dale’s voice was always smooth. The CD is of interest for historical reasons, but if you enjoy old-style country music, you don’t have to be interested in history to have fun with it. Try Amazon.com or CountySales.com.

Roy Rogers Tribute–   Roy Rogers (with Dusty Rogers, Clint Black,  Ricky Van Shelton, Randy Travis, The Oak Ridge Boys, etc.)    Concept Productions & Sony Music 88697998332

   In 1990, executives from Roy’s old record label, RCA Victor, traveled to The Roy Rogers & Dale Evans Museum in Victorville, California and managed to convince Roy Rogers to record one last album. The album was a hit with the public, and it seemed that every major star in Nashville wanted to participate in the project!

  I met Roy at the WMA festival a few months after the CD came out and he seemed pleasantly surprised to learn that the album was being played on radio stations in NY. He was in great voice and he was impressed with how good everything sounded. Roy had been experiencing hearing problems and when he put on the headphones to listen to the playback in the studio, he could hear clearly for the first time in years and his face lit up!

  In addition to singing 10 duets on the CD, he introduced a new song, “Alive & Kickin’,” as a solo. It’s an autobiographical tune he composed himself. “Hold on Partner(sic),” a duet with Clint Black, was the one the label promoted (and they even released a music video of it), but I was especially drawn to “That’s How the West was Swung” with the Kentucky Headhunters, “Rodeo Road” with Willie Nelson, “Final Frontier” with Kathy Mattea and “King of the Cowboys” which Dusty sings in tribute to his dad. And I’ve heard fans rave about the beautiful version of “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” with K.T. Oslin & Restless Heart. If you haven’t heard this CD, you’re missing quite a treat.  Available for $20 from ConceptProductionsOnline.com or phone the producer, Fred Goodwin, at 615-890-3047.

Smiley Burnett       “Ole Frog”

Gusto GT7-2242-2

I can’t think of anyone who was a sidekick to more silver screen cowboys than Smiley Burnette. He played the role with Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Eddie Dew, Sunset Carson and Charles Starrett, and he was a prominent figure in each instance. He also had his own radio show and, at the time of his death (at age 55) he was appearing regularly on the TV series, Petticoat Junction. But for musicians, his claim to fame was his musical talent. Not only could he play dozens of instruments (many of which he made/invented himself), but he composed a number of songs that became important to the western music genre.

This new CD is a re-issue of a disc that came out on the King label in 1996, but this new version has added notes by Smiley’s son Stephen, and photos from Stephen’s collection as well. In a note to me, Stephen explained that the comedy monologue on the album is something Stephen taped for his dad on a Wallensack recorder and it was transferred in 1962 for the original Starday LP this CD came from. The composers aren’t credited, but Smiley wrote many of the songs featured here, starting with “It’s My Lazy Day,” a hit for Gene Autry, and including “Broomstick Buckaroo,” which Smiley co-wrote with Ozie Waters, and “Way Down Low,” which Smiley performed in Charles Starrett’s Durango Kid film, Terror Trail.  They’ll bring back pleasant memories for sure.       Available for $5.99 + $2.95 s&h from www.CountryMusicUSA.com ……..O.J. Sikes

The OJ Corral for Feb-March 2012

      The Ken Curtis CD, The Ken Griffis Memorial Edition, has attracted so much attention, a special web site has been set up to facilitate orders. Fans have written to say that some of the renditions of western standards are the “best ever recorded” and there’s at least one Stan Jones composition on it that wasn’t recorded elsewhere. Since the CD came out, we’ve learned that the bass singer on “Rollin’ Dust” is probably Buddy Dooley, a former member of the Roy Rogers Riders and a musician who recorded with Wesley & Marilyn Tuttle! Serious thought is being given to a Volume 2. But in the meantime, you may want to check out the web site. Among other things, downloads of interviews Ken Griffis did with Bob Nolan, Ken Curtis and Stuart Hamblen are available on the site.  Go to www.Kactuspmp.com and check it out!

Ever since Vaughn Monroe was inducted into the Western Music Hall of Fame, bits of previously lost information about his career have continued to surface. The most interesting, perhaps, is that the first western song he recorded seems now to have been “Lonestar Trail,” from 1940. That song was the first song composer Cindy Walker sold, as a teenager. She sold it to Bing Crosby, who recorded it, but we didn’t know until recently about Monroe’s hard-to-find recording of the same song, from around the same time. By the way, there’s a Vaughn Monroe double CD titled The Main Event on the Jasmine label. It contains many of his pop hits, and 11 of the more than 50 songs  are western. Unfortunately, “Lonestar Trail” is not among them, but there are some good western songs on it like his classics plus “Mexicali Trail,”  “Redwood Smoke” and The Phantom Stage Coach”  among the less frequently heard gems.

There are so many interesting CDs being issued these days we simply don’t have room to review everything. But I wanted to let you know about an Elton Britt release on the BACM label that is sure to appeal to Britt fans who have “everything” he recorded. There’s material from his days with The Wenatchee Mountaineers in 1933, from the sessions he cut as Britt & Ford in 1934 and others from Pappy, Zeke, Ezra & Elton in ‘35. Some are from The Langworth Hillbillies, some from Zeke Manners & his Swingbillies and one from The Musical Mavericks. 5 are credited only to Elton Britt.  You can find the contents list online on the BACM web site and possibly others, e.g. Amazon.com. The title is Elton Britt & Friends Vol. 3: Early Recordings 1933-1941.

Vaughn Monroe  The Main Event  2 CD set Jasmine CD #444         

As of this writing, there is no full CD of Vaughn Monroe’s western recordings, even though he made quite a few. His first western record in 1940 was also Cindy Walker’s first big composition, “Lonestar Trail,” and he continued making western records into the 1960s. So this Jasmine label 2 CD set containing nearly a dozen of Monroe’s western tracks is most welcome.

Among the 50 songs included here are some of his pop hits, e.g. “Ballerina” and a few that were not monster hits but still hold up today, heard here on CD for the first time. In addition, there are 11 western songs on the CD. Unfortunately, “Lonestar Trail” is not among them, but the western songs on it are good ones, like his classic, “Riders in the Sky,” plus “Mexicali Trail” & “Singing My Way Back Home,” both featured in his film Singing Guns, and two other movie songs, “A Man’s Best Friend is his Horse,” from his film, Toughest Man in Arizona, and “Wait for Love,” a song composed by Tiomkin & Washington for the 1956 film, Tension at Table Rock.

You’ll also enjoy the beautiful but rare, “Redwood Smoke,”  “Rollin’ Heart” and “The Phantom Stage Coach,” among the less frequently heard gems.  There are several wintertime songs that were probably inspired by his huge hit, “Let it Snow!” (which is also included), and there are also two inspirational songs, a few patriotic songs and folk songs as well, so it’s a well-rounded and most enjoyable collection.  Available online. Try DeepDiscount.com or Amazon.com.

Light Crust Doughboys   Roll up the Carpet, Vol 2  BACM CD D 363

BACM’s first volume of Light Crust Doughboys recordings focused on the post-WWII band. This new collection of 24 songs comes from 1933-1940  before the band was as polished as the post-war group became. But this is the band that made two movies with Gene Autry and included Bert Dodson and Dick Reinhart among its members. Dodson later became the bassist (and sang tenor) with the Cass County Boys, and Reinhart subsequently joined the Jimmy Wakely Trio and had a recording contract as a solo artist as well.

Legendary swing vocalist Leon Huff sings on some of the earliest tracks here, including “Prairie Lullaby,” and Cliff Cross is featured on a couple of fiddle tunes. Later sessions included the great Cecil Brower on fiddle and Marvin Montgomery on banjo. Jim Boyd and Knocky Parker also appear on some of these sides, and with all these legendary musicians you know you’re in for some fine western swing music from the early years. The band was immensely popular, and while this CD isn’t a collection of Greatest Hits, you’ll find more than a few titles you’ll enjoy, e.g. “I’m a Ding Dong Daddy” from 1936 sung by Dick Reinhart, Leon Huff’s vocal on Stuart Hamblen’s 1934 composition, “My Mary,” the fiddle work on “Rochester Schottische,” Jim Boyd’s “I Had Someone Else,” the CD’s 1937 opener, “Dusty Stevedore,”  Bob Nolan’s composition, “Happy Cowboy” and my 2 favorites from the collection, “Weary Blues” and the title song.

The informative liner notes by Kevin Coffey put the performances into context and if you’re into vintage western swing, you’ll enjoy this CD. Available online for  $14.98 from Amazon.com.

Cass County Boys  More Western Classics, Vol. 2 BACM CD D 368

BACM has issued another winner in this Vol 2 of Cass County Boys recordings, this time drawing from their MacGregor and World transcriptions from around 1950. It opens with “Gotta Get Me Somebody to Love” from the film, Duel in the Sun, and there are 32 songs in all, one of which, “Gay Ranchero,” is an instrumental. It’s outstanding, as are all of the other selections; these guys were terrific musicians.

When they were inducted into the Western Music Hall of Fame in 1996,their recordings were almost impossible to find. One of the members, Jerry Scoggins, sent me some homemade tapes of their music, in the hope that I could get some of their recordings released for the public, but they had been transferred on old, outdated equipment and were in such poor shape, re-issuing them was impossible. Fortunately, there were other sources and today this is the third CD of Cass County Boys available to fans (the 2nd on the BACM label).

The beauty of this new CD is that there are a number of very rare western songs on it, e.g. “Where’s Your Horse?”, “When I Climb Down from My Saddle,” “Moonlight on the Sunset Trail” (one of my personal favorite Cass County Boys recordings), “According to the Evidence,” “How I Love Those Saddle Songs,” “In My Ten Gallon Hat,” and “When it’s Springtime Down in Texas.” Of course, there are plenty of others that will sound more familiar, like “Wayward Wind,” “Hannah Lee,” “Across the Alley from the Alamo,” and “There’s a Goldmine in the Sky,” to name just a few. And there are a couple of western inspirational songs as well. You’ll love it! Available for $14.98 from Amazon.com.

Marty Robbins     El Paso:  The Marty Robbins Story 1952-1960     Jasmine 2 CD set  JASMCD 3606/7 

There’s been no shortage of Marty Robbins re-issues, but this one may find a receptive audience because it contains songs that represent his journey over time through several musical styles. I might have enjoyed it more if the songs had been presented in chronological order, with all of the earliest songs on the first disc, but it’s a fun collection anyway; a real trip down memory lane. And the liner notes do follow a chronological line.

Disc #1 starts out with Marty’s memorable “I’ll Go on Alone,” from 1952, and ends in 1960 with “Ballad of the Alamo” and “Don’t Worry.” His first-ever western recording, “The Hanging Tree,” is on Disc #1. The first disc is sub-titled “The Hits & More” and chart rankings & dates are provided. Disc #2 is sub-titled “Flips, Flops & Album Tracks,” so all tracks do not carry dates or chart information.   While Marty Robbins recorded a huge number of western songs, he was just getting started in 1960, so the western songs you’ll find here are pretty much limited to tracks from his first two western albums, Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs, and its sequel, More…

Still, there are 15 western songs in this collection of 60, so you get a healthy serving, and you’ll hear both big sellers and some of Marty’s more obscure releases.   Check DeepDiscount.com or other online sources.

Jack Rivers 

Navy Hot Rod, Vol 2      BACM CD D 361

When Jimmy Wakely recorded his radio shows in the 1950s (later to be issued on his Shasta label), he depended heavily on guitarist Jack Rivers. Jack played hot solos and, with fiddler Bobby Bruce, produced a fantastic western swing sound. Jack Rivers had a career that went back many years.

He worked with Jimmy Wakely earlier when Wakely was making B-western movies (the cover of this CD shows him on the movie set with Wakely). And wrote  “Texas Tornado,” a song Wakely recorded and used in one of his most popular films, Song of the Sierras. Earlier, he had worked extensively with his brother, Texas Jim Lewis, but he formed his own band in 1946 and most of the tracks on this CD are from the era of his own band.

Some of the tracks feature the fiddle and guitar of Neil LeVang, who later was to record with the Sons of the Pioneers and to become a member of the Lawrence Welk Orchestra. You’ll hear his fiddle on ”Rosetta.” Detailed liner notes by Kevin Coffey direct the listener to the tracks with especially interesting solos and musical events like LeVang playing twin fiddles with Johnny Paul (of Foy Willing & the Riders of the Purple Sage fame) and Noel Boggs on steel, on a Coral session in 1950. And Coffey clarifies that songs attributed on record labels to Tex Russell & His Hollywood Cowboys are actually done by the Texas Jim Lewis band. The bass player on those Russell sessions was another member of Lawrence Welk’s band, Buddy Hayes.

The liner notes are interesting and so is the music You can find this CD (27 tracks) at Amazon.com.

Elton Britt           The Versatile Elton Britt: Classic   Performances  from  Three Decades    Jasmine 2 CD set # JASMCD 3616/7

 

If you are new to Elton Britt’s music, this new set will serve as a terrific introduction. I’d say it’s very likely to make you a fan! If you are already a fan, you will be ecstatic to find this release. It’s that good!

Britt recorded for several labels, including RCA Victor until the mid-1950s, and most of his hits have been released elsewhere. But in this 2 CD collection of 59 recordings, most come from his work on the ABC label, recorded in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The ABC recordings (here in stereo) are considered to be some of his best work. They include re-recordings of some earlier hits, as well as songs like “That’s how the Yodel was Born,” “I Heard a Forest Praying,” “Cattle Call,” “The White Buffalo,”  and “Trees.” Audio quality is first-rate.

There are also some excellent western selections from transcriptions, e.g. “Over the Prairie Back Home,” “ Dreaming of the Lone Prairie,” “Blue Texas Moonlight,” “Ridin’ with My Gal,” and “Sometime Sue,” as well as 6 songs from an LP he recorded in 1954 for the Waldorf Music Hall label, including new versions of songs he became famous for, “Chime Bells” & “There’s a Star Spangled Banner Waving Somewhere.” You can read more about him in the Hall of Fame section of the WMA web site, WesternMusic.org, and while you’re online, place your order for this outstanding CD from your favorite dealer.

Jim Boyd        Texas Moon Waltz      BACM CD D 369 

I wasn’t familiar with Jim Boyd’s music until long-time WMA member Jerry West introduced me to it some time ago. You see, Jerry lives in Waxahachie, Texas, and he and Jim were good friends until Jim’s death in 1993. My favorite Jim Boyd record happens to be “Waxahachie Boogie Woogie Dishwasher Boy.” It’s included in this disc of 29 of Jim’s recordings, 21 of which were from his RCA Victor singles recorded  1949-51. In those years the band went by the name of Jim Boyd and his Men of the West, and the swinging accordion you can hear on these post-war tracks was played by Red Gilliam, one of the early members of the WMA.

Many of the songs featured on this disc are boogies, including “Boogie Bottom Boogie” which, to my surprise, is credited to Bob Newman & Tim Spencer! But one of my favorites is a ballad titled “One Heart, One Love, One Life” recorded in 1949.  Legendary fiddler Art Davis played on that session and does a beautiful job. Jim does most of the vocals on the CD and he co-wrote quite a few of the songs himself. His brother, swing band leader Bill Boyd, co-wrote a couple, but there are also compositions by other folks whose names you may recognize, like Rudy Sooter,  Monte Montgomery  and Tex Ritter.

Usually, BACM CDs can be ordered either from CountySales.com or Amazon.com, but I couldn’t find this release on either site. You might want to try them, in case the CD is in stock by now. Otherwise, the disc is available for US$16 ppd (without the plastic jewel case but with liner notes) directly from the British Archive of Country Music, 451 Folkestone Road, Dover, Kent, CT17 9JX, UK.

Idaho Red– 

                                      Wade Ray             Bear Family Records BCD 17218 

Wade Ray is probably best known to western movie fans as the always-smiling fiddler who accompanied Rex Allen during his musical interludes on screen. Wade & Rex became friends before their movie days, when Rex was a star on the WLS Barn Dance in Chicago and Wade worked on the show with the Prairie Ramblers. He continued to work with Rex on tour, decades after Rex made the last of the singing cowboy films.

In the late 1940s, Rex got an offer to go to Hollywood and his friend Wade decided to leave the Ramblers and head for Hollywood too. When Wade arrived, he immediately got an offer to record on a Tennessee Ernie Ford session at Capitol and he soon formed his own band. It wasn’t long before he was appearing in Rex Allen’s films and in 1951 he began recording for RCA Victor and later, Dot Records. In the early 60s, he played fiddle & recorded with the Sons of the Pioneers at the time when they were featured on the Roy Rogers & Dale Evans Show on ABC-TV..

The 30 songs on this disc are from 1951-1957 and you’ll hear how he used different types of music as he developed his own style, fiddling and singing western swing and a little 50’s country music. In the process, he  recorded several Cindy Walker compositions I’ve never heard by other artists, e.g. “Are You Fer It?,” “Burning Desire” and “Excuse Me,” accompanied on the latter by a couple of Andy Parker’s Plainsmen. Noel Boggs, Roy Lanham, Jimmy Wyble, Jimmy Bryant, Billy Liebert, Chet Atkins, Eddie Kirk and Tommy Allsup are among the legendary musicians that accompany Wade on some of the tracks in this collection. Available online from DeepDiscount.com and elsewhere……..O.J. Sikes

When the Sun Goes Down

–         Bill Boyd & his Cowboy Ramblers, Vol 2

BACM CD D 362

When B-western movie fans hear the name Bill Boyd, they think of Hopalong Cassidy. When western swing enthusiasts hear the name, they think of  one of the best of all of the vintage western swing band leaders. Of course, although the musician did dabble in B-western movies in 1942, they were two different people. Now, 60 years after his heyday, the work of Boyd the band leader  is being re-issued by several labels.

One of the most interesting things about this is that, according to Kevin Coffee, who wrote the excellent liner notes for this new BACM CD, Boyd would have preferred to play cowboy music! Indeed, his 1936 recording  of “Tumbling Tumbleweeds” is included in this album.  It may have been his favorite style, but the public preferred his band’s hot swing, and there’s a nice serving of that here, too, e.g. with the title song, “Sister Lucy Lee,” “Must I Hesitate (Hesitation Blues),” “Gotta See Mama Every Night,” etc.  The 26 recordings concentrate on the band’s early recordings but they span the time from 1936 to 1949.

You can check out the complete contents listing on the British Archive of Country Music (BACM) web site and you can order from the web site or Amazon.co