Today's selection from our little Hoyle Nix series features Nix' third and last release on the Caprock label from fall 1958. Nix and the West Texas Cowboys are in good form here and present two solid western swing performance in their usual manner.
Caprock Records had been founded nearly a year earlier by DJ and country music singer Hank Harral. Nix and his band recorded a total of three discs for the label, all of which were recorded and released during 1958. They used Ben Hall's studio in Big Spring, Texas, for the sessions, which was a welcomed possibility for the band, as it was their home base and not far away from their regular gigs at Nix' Stampede Club in Big Spring.
"Coming Down from Denver" is a lively instrumental and was recorded, along with its flip side, the vocal number "My Mary", at Hall's studio at some point in 1958 with Nix on vocals and fiddle, Ben Nix on vocals and rhythm guitar, Eldon Shamblin on lead guitar, Little Red Hayes on fiddle, Dusty Stewart on steel guitar, Loran Warren on banjo, Dale Burkett on piano, and John Minnick on bass. A drummer could have been present at the session, (possibly Kenny Lane), though this is not documented. The band differed to some extend from the line-up that would record for Bo-Kay Records the next year as Red Hayes, Dale Burkett, Loran Warren, and John Minnick had left and were replaced by other musicians.
A Nix original, "Coming Down from Denver" was later also recorded by Nix' mentor and friend Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys for Wills' "For the Last Time" sessions in 1973.
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Thursday, September 29, 2022
Today's selection from our little Hoyle Nix series features Nix' third and last release on the Caprock label from fall 1958. Nix and the West Texas Cowboys are in good form here and present two solid western swing performance in their usual manner.
Wednesday, September 21, 2022
This was Hoyle Nix' last record for some years - seven years, to be exact. Since 1949, Nix had been recording steadily for small Texas labels: Star Talent, Queen, Caprock, Bo-Kay, and at the beginning of the 1960s for Slim Willet's Winston label. Willet had established the label in 1957 as the follow-up to his shortly before defunct Edmoral imprint. The name was a reference to Willet's real first name: Winston.
Hoyle Nix had recorded a single for Winston that same year before this one came out, "My Love Song to You" b/w "Sugar in the Coffee" (Winston #1057-45). More or less instantly after this first disc hit the market, today's selection "She's Really Gone" b/w "Cornflower Waltz" was released. Both numbers were set to a slower pace and sounded definitely out of time - but it was clear that Nix wasn't looking to sound like what the teenagers back then wanted. While "Cornflowers Waltz" was the instrumental flip side, Nix and his brother Ben shared vocals on a slow but charming "She's Really Gone".
|Billboard October 9, 1961|
The songs were recorded in August 1961 at Ben Hall's studio in Big Spring, Texas (also Nix' home base). Hall, a country music singer and songwriter in his own right, is best remembered today for penning "Blue Days, Black Nights", which was recorded by Buddy Holly. The line-up for Nix' recordings that day included Nix on vocals and fiddle, Ben Nix on vocals and rhythm guitar, Eldon Shamblin on lead guitar, Dusty Stewart on steel guitar, "Little" Red Hayes on fiddle, Mancel Tierney on piano, Larry Nix on bass, and Kenny Lane on drums. Released the following October, Billboard rated the disc as "moderate sales potential" without any comment.
Wednesday, September 14, 2022
Hoyle Nix and his West Texas Cowboys - Ida Red (Bo-Kay K-108), 1959
Following my in-depth story on Texas western swing band leader and longtime Bob Wills companion Hoyle Nix, we continue to explore Nix' career and recorded works. The first installment of this litttle series features his first Bo-Kay release from 1959, which finds Nix and the band in top form with their rendition of the old fiddle favorite "Ida Red". It had been recorded more than 20 years earlier by the master Bob Wills himself (although there existed several recordings prior to Wills' take) and therefore became a standard in western swing.
"Ida Red" originally was a traditional fiddle tune played by string bands all over the south. Even early version featured lyrics, which were exchangeable however and the verses were unrelated to each other. The origins of the song are still unknown to this day. The first recording was made by Fiddlin' Powers & Family on Victor #19343 from 1924 and other early versions included those by Dykes' Magic City Trio, Riley Puckett, and Gid Tanner & his Skillet Lickers. These versions featured traditional string band arrangements but when Bob Wills took the tune in 1938, he partially set lyrics from an 1878 song called "Sunday Night" by Frederick W. Root to it and re-arranged it as a western swing song. Released on Vocalion #05079 in 1938, it became a hit for Wills. He recorded a new version entitled "Ida Red Likes the Boogie" in 1950 for MGM, which reached #10 on Billboard's C&W charts. The following years, cover version popped up by several artists, primarily in the country and western swing fields and "Ida Red" became a favorite especially in the latter genre. It also served as an inspiration for Chuck Berry's first hit "Maybellene" (1955), one of the first rock'n'roll hits and an influence on rock'n'roll and rock music in its own right.
It is well-known that Hoyle Nix toured and performed frequently with Wills during the 1950s and 1960s, so "Ida Red" certainly was part of his repertoire for some years by the time he recorded it. It was his second disc for the local Texas Bo-Kay label, which had been founded by Jesse Smith in 1956 in Lamesa, Texas. Nix and his West Texas Cowboys recorded "Ida Red" as well as its flip side "La Goldrina Waltz" at some point in 1959 at radio KPEP's studio in San Angelo, Texas. Present that day were Nix on vocals and fiddle, Ben Nix on rhythm guitar, Eldon Shamblin on lead guitar, Dusty Stewart on steel guitar, Millard Kelso on piano, Louis Tierney on fiddle/saxophone, Henry Boatman on bass, and Larry Nix on drums.
Released in 1959 on Bo-Kay #K-108, the disc was likely a good seller locally and regionally but never stood a chance for wider distribution. Today, original copies of Nix' Bo-Kay singles can be found frequently at yard sales and such around Lamesa, Odessa, Big Spring, and surrounding areas.
Wednesday, September 7, 2022
|Hoyle Nix, ca. 1950s|
From the back cover of White Label LP 8831
William Hoyle Nix was born on March 22, 1918, in Azle, Tarrant County, Texas, to Jonah Lafayette Nix and his wife Myrtle. Both of Nix' parents hailed from Texas; his mother from Cross Plains (southwest of Abilene) and his father from Parker County near Fort Worth. The couple eventually moved to Azle, now a suburb of Fort Worth. A year after Nix' birth, the family relocated roughly 250 miles west to Big Spring, Howard County, back then a growing city with a population of about 4.000, located near Midland and Odessa.
Nix' father was a fiddler and his mother a guitarist, so they were a big, early influence on Nix, playing the old-time music of their generation at community gatherings. At age six, Nix took up the fiddle, too, and learned his first tune. In the early and mid 1930s, Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys rose to fame, especially in Texas and Oklahoma, and along with such acts as Milton Brown's Musical Brownies, established a new sound that became known as "western swing". It was a combination of the old-time fiddle music (that had also influenced Nix as much as Wills) with strong jazz and blues arrangements. Wills became the main influence on Nix, who considered Wills as "the finest fiddler he ever heard."
In 1936, Nix married Rosy Maude Davidson, the first of his five marriages, and son Larry was born in 1940. He was followed by Jody in 1952, Hoylene in 1957, and Robin in 1959. Both Larry and Jody later joined their father's band.
Although music was on his mind right from the childhood onward, Nix did not found his own band until he and his brother Ben formed the West Texas Cowboys in 1946. The band was patterned after Bob Wills' Texas Playboys band with fiddle, guitar, steel guitar, bass, drums, and at times even horns. Nix and the band began playing locally and regionally around Midland, Odessa, Big Spring, Lubbock, Abilene, and San Angelo. They soon gained popularity in the region.
In 1949, it was time for Nix and the West Texas Cowboys to cut their first record. The opportunity came along in form of Talent Records, a smaller Dallas based label that also released discs by such Texas country music figures as Ben Hall, Sonny Burns, Johnny Hicks, Hank Harral, Slim Willet, and countless other artists. The first release featured "I'm All Alone" b/w "A Big Ball's in Cowtown" (Talent #709), which became also the most notable from this era. Nix had adopted an old minstrel negro song, variously known as "Big Ball's in Town" or "Roll on the Ground", that had been recorded earlier by artists of different genres (including old-time musicians), first in 1896 by Billy Golden. However, Nix was the first to register his jazzy western swing arrangement as his own work. The song was recorded by Bob Wills years later, giving credit to Nix, who became known as the composer - although he was only the arranger of the now popular western swing version.
|Billboard August 27, 1949|
|Billboard November 26, 1955|
Also, Nix' relationship with Bob Wills continued. In the late 1950s, the West Texas Cowboys featured former Texas Playboys members Eldon Shamblin, Millard Kelso, and Louis Tierney, expanding the band to its largest size ever with nine members at the same time. When Bob Wills disbanded the Texas Playboys in the early 1960s, Wills hooked up with Nix' band altogether and kept on touring with them. Wills' appearances with Nix came to an end in 1969, when Wills suffered his first stroke.
Nix gave it a new try at recording in the late 1960s with the founding of another label, Stampede Records, on which he released a slew of singles during 1968. However, none of his records ever charted despite his popularity as a performer. This may be due to the fact that Nix always recorded for small labels without none - or at least minimal - distribution and promotion. In addition, western swing's popularity ceased by the early to mid 1950s on the national market.
Nix's friend Bob Wills suffered from bad health since the 1950s but in the late 1960s, it got worse. In 1973, he cut what would be his final session - Nix and his son Jody were invited to this historic event. After Wills' death in 1975, Nix continued to perform in his usual manner, playing such annual events as the Howard County Rodeo and the Odessa Rodeo as well as halls and spots all over Texas. He also became a mainstay on the Bob Wills day celebrations in Turkey, Texas, and performed with other big names during the years like Merle Haggard, Charlie Walker, Billie Jo Spears, Ernest Tubb, Johnny Duncan, Barbara Fairchild, and Marty Robbins. He made his last recordings in 1977 for the Oil Patch label, which released several singles and an album from these sessions.
Though not a national acclaimed name, Nix received several honors during his later career. He was inducted into the Nebraska Country Music Hall of Fame (1984), the Colorado Country Music Hall of Fame (1985), the Texas Western Swing Hall of Fame and the Western Swing Hall of Fame (both 1991).
Hoyle Nix passed away on August 21, 1985, at the age of 67 years after a short illness in Big Spring, where he is buried at Mount Olive Cemetery. After his death, son Jody took over the band and the Stampede and continues both to this day.
Nix' records are not particularly rare or worthy in original shape. He left behind a great body of recorded works, ranging from the late 1940s to the late 1970s. The British Archive of Country Music has compiled a CD in 2014 with selected cuts by Nix entitled "A Big Ball's in Cowtown".
• British Archive of Country Music
• Melissa Hagins: "Cowtown Swing" (Authentic Texas)
• William Michael Smith: "Lonesome, On'ry and Mean: Hoyle Nix and Big Spring's Stampede Club" (2009), Houston Press
• Ronald W. Erdrich: "75 and counting: the Nix beat goes on" (Abilene Reporter News)
• 45cat and 45worlds entries
• Find a Grave entry
• Rockin' Country Style entry
• Handbook of Texas by the Texas Historial Association
• Second Hand Songs: History of "Big Ball's in Cowtown"
• I Love Texas Facebook post: The Stampede
• Entry at Praguefrank's Country Music Discographies
Wednesday, August 31, 2022
Although Dave Denney had an extensive career as an recording artist, he was never rewarded with a real hit recording. He started his career in the 1930s, began recording in the mid 1940s and was still a radio personaliy some twenty years later. He is largely forgotten today and I must admit that I had never heard of him until I purchased this piece of phenomenal RCA colored vinyl some years ago.
Denney hailed from Lafayette, Indiana, where he was born on August 25,1921, as David Karlstrand. His grandfather, Edward Karlstrand, was born in Sweden but immigrated to the United States in the 19th century and settled in Illinois. Later, the Karlstrand family moved to Indiana. David Karlstrand took a liking at music at an early age. He was inspired by the western tunes his mother sang and soon, she felt that her son needed a guitar. A local preacher got word of that and not long after, he was presented with his first six-string.
By the time he was 15 years old, he performed with a band called the Texas Cowboys, led by Rube Tronson, and it is likely that he adapted the stage name "Dave Denney" around that time. Tronson's Texas Cowboys played various venues such as theaters, dances, rodeos, fairs and were also heard on such stations as WSAU in Warsau, Wisconsin or the famed WLS in Chicago (also appearing on the National Barn Dance). The sudden death of Tronson in 1939 disbanded the band and Denney set out on his own.
After his stint with the Texas Cowboys, Denney moved west and toured such states as Texas, Utah, California, and even Mexico. I have found no hint but it seems probable that Denney served his country between 1941 and 1945. At least, I did not find any mention of him in magazines during this time frame. However, he was back in music business in the northern states by summer 1945, as Billboard noted on June 16: "Dave Denney, formerly with Rube Tronson's hillbilly band over WLS, is currently doing a single at the Mayfair Club, Boston." Later that year, he became a performer on WHN in New York City.
|Bilboard February 9, 1946|
By late 1945, Denney had signed a recording contract with New York City based Musicraft Records and his first recordings saw release in December that year, "It's Nobody's Fault But Your Own" b/w "Careless Love" (Musicraft #15049). His backing band on the Musicraft sessions featured famous black jazz violinist Eddie South. Denney remained with Musicraft for about a year and afterwards, switched to the Signature label for two releases in July 1947. While recording for Musicraft, Denney had begun writing songs and was under contract with Leeds Publishing. He composed many of his recorded works and also other artists cut his songs, including Pee Wee King (with whom Denney also recorded as a vocalist in King's band).
|Dave Denney RCA-Victor promo picture, 1948 or 1949|
By 1948, Denney had appeared on nationally syndicated shows on CBS and ABC, when he joined the staff of KVOO in Tulsa, Oklahoma, moving from the north to the midwest. Already in early 1948, his first RCA-Victor disc had appeared, "I'm Waltzing with a Broken Heart" b/w "Part of My Heart is Missing" (RCA-Victor #20-2726). Denney would stick with RCA for the rest of the decade, the last for him being today's selection, "My Bucket's Got a Hole In It" and "I Gotta Have My Baby Back."
Both were recorded at RCA's studio in New York City on November 2, 1949, with an unknown line-up and saw release shortly afterwards on both 78 and 45rpm format. However, none of Denney's singles created sales figures that animated RCA to keep Denney on its roster.
|Billboard December 24, 1949, C&W review|
In June 1949, Denney had signed a three-year contract with Chicago's WLS radio. After his stint with KVOO, he had worked at a station in Washington and then moved to Chicago. By early 1953, he was a DJ at WPTR in Troy, New York, where he would spent the following years.
After a four year break from recording, Denney returned to a recording studio in August 1954, cutting four songs for MGM Records. The label signed him around September and his first release for the label, "Cry, Fool Cry" b/w "Stop, You're Breaking My Heart" (MGM #K11831) appeared in October. A second single followed but success eluded him and it remained Denney's only session for the label. He would not record again until the mid 1960s, cutting a single for Golden Crest, and waxing his last sides later that decade for the Viking label.
During the 1960s, Denney worked with different radio stations in New York State, mostly as a DJ . He teamed up with Anna Marie Thomas for both personal and radio performances during these years. In 1960, he spun platters over WROW in Albany, New York, and Billboard reported that the pair of Denney and Thomas joined WLEE in Glendale, New York, around June 1963. By 1965, both were featured performers on WXKW, also New York State.
Dave Denney died August 1, 1972, at the young age of 50 years. The British Archive of Country Music has released a 27 tracks CD of Denney's 1940s and 1950s recordings in 2009. It has since remained the only reissue of his recorded works.
Wednesday, August 24, 2022
I bought this 45 by Marty Wendell from a trusted dealer in Arkansas and I really got interested in this disc mainly because it was a cover of the Carl Perkins penned "Daddy Sang Bass", which became a hit for Johnny Cash in 1969. The powerful harmony vocals by the Statler Brothers and the Carter Sisters on Cash's original were replaced with an overall thiner sound, which nevertheless bears an amateurish charm. Also, this disc introduced by to Marty Wendell, the artist on this record, which I had never heard of before.
Born in Ticonderoga, New York, near the state border to Vermont, Wendell was heavily influenced by the southern rockabilly sounds of Sun Records out of Memphis during the mid to late 1950s, including Johnny Cash, who became a special influence on Wendell. However, he absorbed also other genres such as pop, folk, country, blues, and gospel music. Around the same time, he entered a local church talent contest and the experience to perform in front of a live audience led Wendell to the decision to become a musician.
More public performances followed and during a stint in Greenwich Village in New York, he was discovered by producer Stanley Rowland and the result was Wendell's first record "Hey Hey Mama", which sold about 10.000 copies (according to Wendell's website). Wendell switched to Tom Wilde's Ferus Records afterwards and due to the success of "Hey Hey Mama", served as the opening act on Johnny Cash's Folsom Prison album tour in August 1968.
In the late 1960s, Wendell he worked with Ticonderoga based Kee Records, including his cover of "Daddy Sang Bass", a song Cash had recorded in 1968 for his religious concept album "Holy Land" and which saw release as a single in January 1969. Cash's version peaked at #1 on Billboard's Hot Country Singles.
Wendell's version was released ca. in 1970 (Kee #K-369), judging from the Precision Record Pressing matrix numbers, with "Without You" on the flip side. Since the label was based in Wendell's hometown and he also appeared on a subsequent release as songwriter and producer, I assume Kee Records was operated by or associated with him.
Wendell continued to perform in the northeastern United States during the 1970s and began to host his own music festival in 1977, which continued for 20 years. Since the 1980s, Wendell has concentrated on performing and recording several albums for various labels, most notable the 2007 record "Rock & Roll Days" - recorded at Sun Studio in Memphis. Wendell performs to this day, although health troubles forced him to cancel most of his 2022 dates.
Wednesday, August 17, 2022
1972 (German pressing)
The hard rocking blues / boogie sounds of English rockers Foghat seem to be out of place for this blog but their musical roots, blues and 1950s rock'n'roll, are nothing but appropriate to feature this band here. As I developed a special interest in Arkansas music history, I thought it would be interesting to examine the personal appearances of one of my favorite rock bands in the Natural State.
Foghat was actually an off-spring of Kim Simmonds' Savoy Brown Blues Band, a group that had emerged in London in 1965. The line-up changed over the years and by the late 1960s, three of the members were part of Savoy Brown who later founded Foghat. It were "Lonesome" Dave Peverett on guitar and vocals, Tony Stevens on bass, and Roger Earl on drums. Thanks to a busy touring schedule, Savoy Brown became more popular in the US than in Great Britain, which presented the trio of Peverett, Stevens, and Earl with their first touring experiences in North America.
However, in late 1970, they decided to leave Savoy Brown (leaving Kim Simmonds as the only remaining member) and founded the band Foghat. With the addition of lead slide guitarist Rod Price, the group was complete. With Peverett's passion for 50s rock'n'roll and a guitar style reminiscent of Chuck Berry's as well as Price's great love for the blues, their hard rocking, stomping boogie blues sound was born. The band signed with American Bearsville Records and had their first self-titled album out in July 1972. It entered the US charts soon and a tour across the States was started. Eventually, the band relocated to the United States full time due to their ongoing success there. In Europe, the band was largely overlooked, although single and album releases were available in several European countries.
The "Foghat" album featured a cover of Willie Dixon's "I Just Want to Make Love to You", which had been recorded first by Muddy Waters in 1954 for Chess Records (a #4 Billboard R&B hit). Waters would record it again in 1968 for his album "Electric Mud". While the original was a slow number in the best tradition of the Chicago blues style, Foghat speeded it up and introduced it with a thumping bass run by Tony Stevens. The song was released as a single in the US and Europe with "A Hole to Hide In" on the B side and reached #83 in the US and #31 in Australia. "I Just Want to Make Love to You" became one of Foghat's signature songs that they played at probably every concert. In 1977, the band released a live album aptly entitled "LIVE" and the resulting single release was the live version of "I Just Want to Make Love to You", which peaked at #33 in the US and at #28 in Canada.
During the next years, the band enjoyed some chart success with their following albums and cut cover versions of rock'n'roll and blues standards for every record: Chuck Berry's "Maybellene" also for their debut (1972), Chuck Willis' "I Feel So Bad" for "Foghat (Rock & Roll)" (1973), Big Joe Turner's "Honey Hush" and Buddy Holly's "That'll Be the Day" for "Energized" (1973), Robert Johnson's "Terraplane Blues" for "Fool for the City" (1975) or Johnson's "Sweet Home Chicago" and Tampa Red's "It Hurts Me Too" for "Stone Blue" (1978). Some of them, like "Honey Hush" or "Maybellene", became part of their routine live repertoire.
One of their biggest successes came in 1975 with their album "Foor for the City", produced by Nick Jameson, who also joined the band as a bass player from 1975 until 1976. The album's single, "Slow Ride", became a #20 hit that year in the US (even # 14 in Canada) and a minor rock classic.
Foghat was known to have a restless touring schedule, which made them one of the hardest working bands in the US and a popular live act. During their classic years, they played six concerts in Arkansas, all of them in Little Rock. "I Just Want to Make Love to You" was probably part of the set list for every of their gigs there. Here is an overview of their concerts in Arkansas:
• November 18, 1972: Barton Coliseum, Little Rock, Arkansas
• March 31, 1976: Barton Coliseum, Little Rock, Arkansas
• November 19, 1976: Barton Coliseum, Little Rock, Arkansas
• April 26, 1978: unknown venue, Little Rock, Arkansas
• September 7, 1981: Barton Coliseum, Little Rock, Arkansas
• April 24, 1983: Barton Coliseum, Little Rock, Arkansas
|Barton Coliseum, Little Rock, Arkansas|
Following their last concert in 1983, the band did an autograph signing at Hickey's Sports on Cantrell Road. Some of the songs they played included "Stone Blue", "Fool for the City", "Third Time Lucky", "Slow Ride", and of course "I Just Want to Make Love to You".
In 1984, Foghat disbanded. By then, line-up changes had occurred following the leaving of Tony Stevens in 1975 and Rod Price in 1981. The band reformed in 1994 and is active to this day under the leadership of drummer Roger Earl, who appears to be the only original member of the group nowadays. Dave Peverett has passed away in 2000, Rod Price in 2005 and long time bass player Craig MacGregor in 2018. Since the beginning of the new century, Foghat has performed two shows in Batesville, Arkansas, and one in Hot Springs, Arkansas.
1974 live appearance by Foghat on Don Kirchner's Rock Concert TV show, performing an extended version of "I Just Want to Make Love to You" (with parts of Bo Diddley's "Who Do You Love" thrown in)
• Foghat set and concert list
• Foghat Wikipedia entry
Wednesday, August 10, 2022
Onie Wheeler was a curiosity in country music. With a voice and style ahead of his time, Wheeler dabbled in country music, bluegrass, gospel, and even rock'n'roll. He was on its way to fame in the mid 1950s but took a detour that prevented him from stardom. He was rewarded with a chart hit not until the 1970s, when he hit with "John's Been Shucking My Corn". However, he is best remembered by collectors for his 1950s and early 1960s recordings.
The following biography of Onie Wheeler will be published in extended version as part of a special Vaden Records issue of American Music Magazine.
Wheeler was born Onie Daniel Wheeler on November 10, 1921, in Senath, Missouri, to Daniel Washington Wheeler (1978-1948) and his wife Clara (1882-1926). Growing up with four siblings, their mother died early and father Daniel had to raise the children alone. The Wheelers lived in Kennett, Dunklin County, by 1930, near to the Arkansas-Missouri state border. Wheeler took up the guitar but it was the harmonica that really became “his” instrument. He would take it out into the farming fields, where he would play while plowing.
While in high school, Wheeler won a talent contest and he would win several more during his stint with the US Army. He enlisted in 1940, still 18 years old, and was stationed at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. He was one of the survivors of the Japanese attack in December 1941. He remained in the Pacific area and suffered injuries on his fingers, which limited his guitar playing to picking and playing an open G chord and bar-chording the guitar.
Upon his discharge in 1945, Wheeler decided upon a living as a country music performer and travelled the tri-state area of Missouri, Arkansas, and Tennessee during the years after the war. By 1949, Wheeler had made the move to Flint, Michigan, where he was working at a car assembly plant for earn a living for his family, which included daughter Karen (born 1947) by then. On weekends, Wheeler and his wife would perform with a band called the Lonesome Ozark Cowboys (the name being a resemblance to their home state region). The outfit made some recordings in 1949 at radio WWOK in Flint that saw release on the small Agana label: “Shackles and Chains” b/w What’s Wrong with My Daddy” (#1352/3) and “Too Young to Marry” b/w “You Shattered Many a Dream” (#1354/5).
|Billboard May, 1953|
Back in Missouri, Wheeler met brothers and guitarists A.J. and Doyle Nelson and drummer Ernest “Ernie” Thompson, who would become the core members of his band for the next years. Travelling to Nashville in 1953, Wheeler and his band became acquainted with Troy Martin, who helped the group to gain a recording contract with OKeh Records, at that time part of the Columbia label empire. As a reward, Martin got half of the songwriting credits on four of Wheeler’s original tunes. Supported by fiddler Jerry Rivers, the band recorded their first session on August 29, 1953, at the Castle Studio. It produced “Run ‘Em Off” and “Mother Prays Loud in Her Sleep.” While the latter became a minor classic in bluegrass gospel music and one of Wheeler’s own standards, “Run ‘Em Off” was covered by Lefty Frizzell and it became a #8 country hit for him.
|Onie Wheeler, 1950s promo picture|
After having a couple of follow-up singles on OKeh, Wheeler switched to its main label Columbia in 1954 and continued to record sessions in Nashville. Wheeler’s deep voice, his harmonica playing and often up-tempo song material created his very own, unique sound. Besides that, his regular band was allowed to back him on recordings, which was unusual at the time in the Nashville music business.
Today's selection "I Wanna Hold My Baby" and its flip side, the novelty "Onie's Bop", was recorded on April 1, 1956, at Music City Recording in Nashville. It was Wheeler's first session since October 1954, when he had recorded at the Tulane Hotel. The line-up consisted of Wheeler on vocals, Grady Martin on lead guitar, Ray Edenton on rhythm guitar, Bob Foster on steel guitar, Ernie Newman on bass, and Buddy Harman on drums. Both songs were the only products from this session and releases on Columbia #4-21523 in early summer 1956.
|Billboard July 28, 1956|
The disc soon became a good seller for Wheeler and even became Columbia's second bestselling C&W record at the end of July 1956. "Onie's Bop" received lots of airplay in areas as far away as Rosarito Beach, Mexico. However, the song did not enter Billboard's national country music charts.
|Daily Standard, Sikeston, Missouri|
July 12, 1956
While Wheeler had made his home in Missouri previously (which was not beneficial for his musical career), he made the move to Nashville in 1962, when he and his daughter signed a recording contract with Epic. This deal would only last for a short while but Wheeler kept on recording for other Nashville based labels during the 1960s, including United Artists, Musicor, Starday, and K-Ark. Also in 1962, Wheeler had joined Roy Acuff’s band, playing tours and the Grand Ole Opry for the next two decades. Besides, he operated a guitar repair shop when not performing. Karen Wheeler also established herself as an independent artist and would record and perform under her own name as well as part of the Harden Trio.
After being nearly 30 years in the music business, Wheeler was finally rewarded with a hit. In March 1973, the Royal American label picked up his “John’s Been Shucking My Corn” (which had been originally recorded for Wheeler’s own Ole Windmill label) and the song peaked at #53. A follow up as well as an album was recorded but success went as sudden as it came.
Wheeler continued to record with minimal success well into the 1980s. He and his longtime accompanists, the Doyle Brothers, recorded a couple of gospel songs that were planned for release. In early 1984, he underwent a surgery that went well and he was back on stage in May that year and on May 25, he and the Doyles played Reverend Jimmie Rodgers Snow’s Grand Ole Gospel Time in front of a 1.500 crowd. While singing “Mother Prays Loud in Her Sleep,” he suffered a heart attack right on stage. Rushed into a hospital, it was already too late. Onie Wheeler was pronounced dead on May 26 at the age of 62 years.
• As mentioned earlier, this biography is an excerpt from a detailed Vaden Records special for American Music Magazine. All following sources were also used for the original text.
• Onie Wheeler entry at Hillbilly-Music.com
• Onie Wheeler entry at Fand a Grave
• 45cat and 45worlds entries
• Entry at Rockin’ Country Style
• Entry at Bear Family.com
• Entry at Praguefrank’s Country Music Discographies
• Adam Komorowski: “Classic Rockabilly” (liner notes), Proper Records (2006)
• Various Billboard and newspaper items (see depicted snippets for detailed source)
Wednesday, August 3, 2022
Yeager was born Leonard Wayne Yeager on August 18, 1934, and actually hailed not from Missouri but from Bluff City, Arkansas. Born to Claude L. and Irma Yeager, he served in the United States Marine Corps as a young man.
By the late 1950s, Yeager had taken up music more or less professionally and managed to get his first release out in early 1960s. "Tears In My Eyes" b/w "Must That Someone Be Me" were recorded for the Capo label (CP-002), which was affiliated with Sundown Records from Pico, California. How Yeager ended up on a west coast label is a riddle still to solve.
|Billboard March 21, 1960, C&W review|
It was not until ten years later that a second disc appeared by Yeager, this time on Ben Jack's long running Bejay label from Fort Smith, Arkansas. Jack also owned a recording studio and it is probable that these tracks were recorded there. Yeager cut two classic country tracks, "Tomorrow" and "Send My Heart Back Home" (Bejay #1344), both duets with Jack Danials (likely a pseudonym or stage name).
It is likely that Yeager continued to perform well through the 1970s and 1980s but there is no documentation of such activities. Through my research of the Reavis Brothers, I made contact with Yeager's daughter but unfortunately, further correspondence with her fizzled out.
Red Yeager died December 30, 2015, at the age of 81 years in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
• Bejay Records discography on Arkansas 45rpm Records
Wednesday, July 27, 2022
I have featured the flip side of this record a few months ago and thought I'd share this side, too, as I was able to dig out some information on the artists.
Apparently, Jack Keele and the Ozark Melody Boys hailed from Missouri. Carvin Campbell "Jack" Keele was born on August 25, 1918, in Illinois. However, his father, Arthur Lucien Keele was born in Missouri and by the time Jack Keele was two years old, the family had moved back to that region. It seems that Keele spent most of his life in Missouri and by the mid 1950s had assembled a country band named "Ozark Melody Boys".
|The Current Local, Van Buren, Missouri, April 28, 1955|
In the mid 1960s, they got the chance to record for Style Wooten in Memphis and cut "Memories of You" / "Time After Time" for Wooten's Eugenia label (#1002). The vocalist on this record was Buddy Keele, one of Jack Keele's children. Buddy and Jack remained active in the music scene and in 1975, Buddy Keele cut another single record for the NSD (Nashville) affiliated Carvin record label, likely owned by Jack Keele. The single featured "Walking Into Your Life" b/w "Tell Me a Lie" (Carvin #101).
Jack Keele died on March 21, 1983, and is buried in Poplar Bluff, Southeast Missouri. I only found access to these information as Jack Keele's grandson posted a short comment under my first post on his father's group and revealed his identity.