Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Nite Owls on Vocalion 04118

The Nite Owls - Ain't That Too Bad/You Fooled Around And Waited Too Long  (Vocalion 04118)

"Ain't That Too Bad"

San Antonio's Nite Owls don't get a lot of love on the Internet, which is a shame, as a lot of their records are still quite enjoyable to listen to, especially to fans of early electric guitar. The newspapers referred to them as a "novelty trio," which is actually not a bad way to describe their style. Lacking fiddle, piano, and a true rhythm section, they cannot be considered a western swing dance band, though of course their repertoire and approach were similar. Lead singer Luke Owens had an attractive voice that lent itself well to pop music, such as Lee Morse and her Kentucky Blue Grass Boys' 1926 hit "Ain't That Too Bad."

The Nite Owls in San Antonio, 1936-37. L to R: Harry Grady, Bob Symons, Luke Owens. Symons is holding a Rickenbacker "Frying Pan" guitar. His Rickenbacker Electro B steel guitar sits on the floor. Click to enlarge. Photo via Vicky Lambert/Pinterest.

But it is the electric guitar and steel guitar of Bob Symons (1911-1976) that attracts most of the attention today. Symons is one of the earliest people to record with an electric guitar -- the Rickenbacker "Frying Pan" -- but on most of their recordings he uses a Rickenbacker steel. Symons later formed the Texas Tumbleweeds, which morphed into the Texas Top Hands (without him), and seems to have continued to play around San Antonio for years, though memories are vague. 

Both sides here are from Vocalion's November, 1937 sessions in San Antonio. The company would eventually rack up a total of 59 masters by the Nite Owls, in addition to the many sides in which they backed Al Dexter. 

Bob Symons playing the Electro B steel (no longer a "lap" steel) in the early 1940s. Curly Williams on bass. Click to enlarge. 
From the Louise Williams Collection. 

Monday, May 12, 2014

Bennie Leaders and his Western Rangers on OKed 1050

Bennie Leaders and his Western Rangers - Hey Miss Fannie / My Love For You (OK'ed 1050)

"Hey Miss Fannie"

Bennie Leaders' last record as a vocalist (he made a few square dance records later, as a sideman) finds him and his group in fine form, at least on the B-side, a western swing cover of the Clovers' hit. This is a Gold Star Studio recording from early-to-mid 1953. The OK'ed label was a Bennie Hess operation, his earlier "Opera Records" marque having been retired by this point. (The fake Los Angeles address was retained, however.) The dreadful "My Love for You" was the actual A-side here, so it's easy to see why this single dropped without a trace. A 45 rpm pressing also exists.

Billboard reviewed this along with Arlie Duff's "You All Come" in its August 1, 1953 issue.

The Houston Chronicle did a nice piece on Bennie in 2009. Read it here.

Bennie Leaders and his Western Rangers, Houston, 1952. L to R: Clyde Brewer (piano-fiddle), Ernie Hunter (fiddle), Link Davis (fiddle-vocal), Bennie Leaders (vocal-bass), Bill Buckner (lead guitar), Frank Juricek (steel guitar), Tommy Sanders (drums). Click to enlarge.