Sunday, November 29, 2009

Range Riders on Vocalion test (UPDATE)

How Come You Do Me Like You Do? Take 3 (Vocalion test)

Little information has survived about the Range Riders, a Hot Springs/Shreveport band who broadcast in both cities in the late 1930s. Their lone session was recorded by Art Satherley for Vocalion in Hot Springs on March 1, 1937. Of the ten titles recorded by the group, six were released, including Take One of "How Come You Do Me Like You Do?" This Gene Austin pop oldie is given a satisfying, semi-western swing treatment, though if their intention was to be a "western" band then The Range Riders are slightly behind the times by not including an electric steel guitar, and adding a tuba as well as a string bass. The instrumentation and repertoire is more pop than western so the name "Range Riders" seems like a bit of an anomaly. There is a breezy, lost-in-time feeling to their session; sales were probably abysmal, and Satherley no doubt responded to inquiries with a token "don't call us, we'll call you" send-off.

This is a test pressing of the previously unknown and unheard Take Three of "How Come You Do Me Like You Do?" This take was rejected because the fiddler is off-key during the introduction, but otherwise, it's a strong take, with a more aggressive bass solo than the issued version. It's unusual to hear slapped bass from this period.

The Range Riders. Click to enlarge.

Precisely who was in this group at this time has not been definitively established; however, some possible names have survived. A poor quality, undated newspaper clipping from The Shreveport Times exists in the archives of LSU-Shreveport and is reproduced here. The band is ID'd as: Harold Roberts (bass), Fred Selders (fiddle), Ruth Byles (vocals), H.C. Wilkerson (fiddle), Larry Nola (clarinet/sax), and Lewis Lamb (guitar). There is no tubist or pianist in the photo, as is heard on the record.

Tony Russell's Country Music Records lists Harold "Little Willie" Roberts on bass, and vocals on "How Come..." This appears to be the same person better known as "Pee Wee" Roberts, who led a western swing band on KTBS in Hot Springs during the 1940s (see the George Ogg interview). Russell lists as possible Jelly Green on fiddle and Spec Harrison on clarinet/alto sax, but both instruments could be also played by the men ID'd in the photo. Lewis Lamb, who does not sing on the released masters (but may play guitar), is presumably the same person who recorded for Freedom in Houston around 1951. Of the rest, nothing is known.

Jazz Oracle has reissued the entire Range Riders session on their highly recommended CD devoted to the Hot Springs sessions, Arkansas Shout. More info can be found here.

UPDATE: Kevin Coffey has pointed out that someone calls out "Play it Mr. Spec" during the clarinet solo on this take, which confirms that Spec Harrison is the clarinetist on this session.

Thanks to Chris Brown, and Mike Roseberry at LSUS.



  2. The Range Riders have long perplexed me -- they remain, in terms of session personnel, at least, one of the most frustatingly mysterious `western' swing bands. As you point out, the fact that they called themselves the Range Riders is puzzling in itself, since they don't appear to have worn cowboy garb at all. In the other photo I have of the group, they're wearing tuxedos! The band's basic history isn't that mysterious: they were on the air in Shreveport for about 2 years (I wasn't aware that they'd also worked out of Hot Springs -- where'd you dig that up?), there are 2 photos, they recorded and we know the name of many of those who passed through the ranks...but still it's pretty murky. Tillman Franks hardly remembered them -- and he was listening to local string bands ardently in those days. Anyway, a few observations: the other photo of the group includes Wilkerson, Byles, Roberts and Nola, as well as banjoist Howard Oliver, guitarist Willie Sturdivant and a pianist. "Willie" is interesting in light of the "LIttle Willie" vocal credit, and Sturdivant wasn't the only Willie to work with the band -- the other was Willie Gough, who played fiddle and saxophone and is listed as composer on one of the unissued tracks the band cut. Cary Ginell was the source for the claim that Little Willie and Pee Wee Roberts were the same person, a fact he gleaned from a letter he had from Howard Oliver. I haven't seen the letter, but I wonder if Oliver might have just been confused and Little Willie was either Gough or Sturdivant? It's certainly possible. The idea that Spec Harrison is on the session rather than Nola came from me and it's based on the fact that Harrison also composed one of the unissued tracks and also that the clarinet/sax playing is more consistent with his style, based on his work with Leon's Lone Star Cowboys the previous year, than Nola's, based on Nola's recordings the following year with Bill Nettles. It certainly could be Nola, though. According to Shreveport fiddler Pete Hardin, the guy listed in the photo here as Fred Seiders was Fred Seibs. And there was a Fred Seibs with a Shreveport derived Social Security number who died in Little Rock and who'd be about the right age. He may be the fiddler here (Wilkerson was apparently just a breakdown fiddler). The idea that it might be Jelly Greene on fiddle came from me and it's probably far-fetched. The song "Range Riders Stomp" was registed with the Library of Congress as being written by a "J. Green" a few months THe ARC files, however, listed Bill Barnes, a KTBS Shreveport radio announcer (or maybe programming manager), as the song's writer. Bill? Maybe he was LIttle Willie!? God, who knows. Ruth Byles was the sister of Joe SHelton's first wife and she also worked with the Sunshine Boys. Roberts was later a Hot Springs cop and he killed himself. Willie Sturdivant had placed a couple of songs with Jimmie Davis way back about 1930 and may have recorded with him, too...Larry Nola led a jazz band in Monroe for many years and had a single released on Flair in the 1950s -- pretty old-fashioned jazz workouts, led by Nola's sax, on a couple of standards. Anyway, thanks for posting.