|Publicity photo of Ben Showalter,|
mid to late 1960s
Showalter learned to play guitar as a child on one of his brothers' instruments. It should be noted here that Showalter was left-handed and the guitar was constructed for right-handed musicians. While learning to play the guitar, he developed the amazing talent to play all chords upside down and backwards. Showalter was influenced by big country stars of the 1940s and 1950s, such as Hank Williams, Eddie Arnold, Marty Robbins, among others. His main idols, though, were Jim Reeves and Johnny Cash, who both rose to fame in the mid-1950s.
The Showalter family moved to California around 1950, hoping to find better work on the west coast. It was also in California, when Showalter had his first public performance. His son Jeff remembers:
One of the first performances was when he asked to borrow his brothers guitar because he had lined up a gig at a local bar in Riverside, California. His brother accompanied him to watch and when the show was over and Ben tried to return the guitar it was refused. His brother said the crowd was so entertained that the guitar belonged in his hands. That was the beginning.Tragedy struck in 1958, when Showalter was injured in a construction accident, which left him unable to do physical work. Several back surgeries followed but the only way to earn a living for Showalter was perfoming music. He kept on playing locally in bars and at community events. At that time, he performed solely solo on stage, just him and his guitar. His act included jokes, songs, and impersonations.
|"Festus" - Showalter's comedy act|
While living in Batesville, he learned of Wayne Raney's Rimrock label in Concord, which is not far away from where Showalter lived. Raney operated the Rimrock label, studio, and pressing plant and recorded mostly country, bluegrass, and religious material. Showalter got the chance to record his one and only record during his entire career. "Hell in Vietnam" b/w "The Way I Am" (Rimrock #216) were both his own compositions, released in 1966. In contrast to his live performances, Showalter was backed by an unknown band on these two recordings.
In the early 1970s, Showalter moved to Harrison, near the Arkansas-Missouri state border. There, he made connection with an entrepreneur called Sam Jackson. Together with Jackson, Showalter put on a live stage show called "Ozark Country Music Theater" in a small Harrison theater. This was the first time that Showalter performed with a full band regularly. According to Showalter's son Jeff, the show was possibly carried over KHOZ one or two times, but not regularly. However, success eluded the show and it closed down in 1975. Showalter was also friends with Upton Horn (1924-1984), a DJ at KHOZ and local singer. Horn recorded at least two records for Hob Nob Records and Table Rock Records, both from the Harrison area.
After another back surgery was needed that same year, Showalter moved back to Batesville, where he died on July 25, 1975, at the age of 37.
Special thanks goes to Jeff Showalter for sharing his memories with me.