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. 

1 comment:

  1. The Nite Owls also backed up the Alabama singer Clay Long at his 1938 Vocalion sessions; it's funny that "Ain't That Too Bad" is credited to Bert Lloyd, who was a local musician and friend of Symons'. As you point out, it was a 1926 hit for Lee Morse and Lloyd was just a kid at that time. He and bis brother Buddy backed up Jesse Rodgers on one of his San Antonio sessions....Hope some relative of Luke Owens reads your blog...We know about Symons and Jack True, and even Harry Grady, but where OWens was from and what happened to him after 1938 remains a real mystery....