Sunday, April 29, 2018

Guitar Picker: Spud Goodall

Spud Goodall with Gibson Super 400, San Antonio, 1950s or early '60s.

One of the more shocking and disappointing aspects of record collecting is the discovery that many of the best musicians never recorded, or only recorded a few minor, inconsequential efforts that gave no hint of their true ability. The logical course of events would lead one to assume that the record companies and bands would want to hire the finest musicians to play and record, and the musicians themselves would want to have their ability captured on disc. But this is not the case, and sooner or later a researcher learns that there is really nothing logical about either the band business or the record business in America. 

I had been researching Texas music for a long time before I heard of Spud Goodall. He was one of these guys who, like so many others, probably would have been famous had he been based in California, New York, Chicago, or Nashville. But the Siberian wilderness of Texas is almost guaranteed to ensure national obscurity, no matter how well you play. Businessmen in Texas are not interested in the entertainment industry; the profit margins in oil are much higher and far more stable than the ceaseless carnival of dumb fads that the record business lives on. That attitude has always left local talent with a terrible choice: stay home and go nowhere, or move 2,000 miles away and take your chances there. It's not coincidental that most of the well-known Texas musicians chose the latter route. 

Like Troy Passmore, Charlie Harris, J.R. Chatwell, and Rusty McDonald, Spud Goodall was famous among other Texas musicians, and to him, that was the only "fame" that mattered. He considered making records "boring" and his jazz-influenced, Les Paul-style of attack would not have been wanted by TNT, D, or Starday, anyway. Tellingly, in the 1960s, when most of his peers went to playing watered-down western swing or Nashville-style country music, Spud instead joined Jim Cullum's Happy Jazz Band (playing tenor banjo and guitar) and the Tony Rozance Band (playing lead guitar). 

Spud is most associated with San Antonio, spending about 30 years there (or so) from 1952 onwards, but he played all over Texas, earning his dues during his early professional career in Dallas and Galveston. He was in Los Angeles with the Callahan Brothers when he ran into Tex Ritter, an association that lasted from the mid-1940s to 1951. With Ritter, Spud toured the entire country many times. In his later life, he settled in Tyler, but continued to play gigs with Willie Nelson and others. He was a cult figure among Texas musicians. For decades, they all knew him and admired him, but the general public never knew his name. 

It was impossible to interview a subject like Spud Goodall. You just turned on the tape recorder and stood back while countless entertaining anecdotes burst forth. Spud was a man of sharp wit and a keen observer of the crazy world around him. He reverenced only one thing: music. 

Jim Cullum, Jr.: "Spud was typical of many artists who reach great heights in jazz in that he was an eccentric to the extreme. When you heard him play, you knew he was obsessed with music and obsessed with the guitar. Like Teagarden, Spud could not help himself. You could tell that Spud had spent long years -- a lifetime -- with the guitar. I don't know if he actually slept with his guitar like they say Django did, but it sounded like it."

The following is based on phone conversations with Spud on May 14, 1996; June 6, 1996; and February 6, 2003. 


When my ancestors came over from Wales in the 1700s, they settled in Massachusetts. The surname was Guydel in Wales. When they came to America, they changed it to Goodell. When they moved to Alabama in the 1800s, they changed it to Goodale. I don't know why. I think they were running from the law. 

I was born Alonzo Louis Goodale (in Johnson County, Texas). When I went to get a birth certificate, they didn't have no name. They just had, "Baby boy born to Emmett and Zelma Goodale, April 8, 1925." They said, what name do you want? I said, "Alan Louis." And that is what they put on the birth certificate. Most people would mispronounce it and say "Goodall" -- after a while, they would say "Goodall?" and I would say "yes." 

My daddy worked for the railroad and they sent him to Galveston. They left Galveston, and left me down there. 

When I started playing in Galveston in 1938, everybody in the band had a nickname, like Zeke, Junior, Rusty, and so on. They used to call me "Tater," then "Spud," and it stuck. When I went to work with the Callahan Brothers, I told them my name was Spud Goodall. 

Spud Goodall in Galveston. 1941? (Spud Goodall Collection)

We (The Callahan Brothers) were working off of KRLD, had an early morning radio program. And Jimmy Wakely came through town, playing Interstate. They had a picture show circuit called Interstate. Jimmy Wakely and Lasses White, he was an old minstrel guy. 

The Callahan Brothers used to do a dance on Saturday night (in Dallas). This club was called the Villa. We'd pack that place on Saturday night. The guy on the drums was a guy named Boyd Little. The guy on saxophone was our regular piano player, Freddy Burkhalter. 

The Top Rail Wranglers, Top Rail Club, Dallas, early 1940s. Spud Goodall second from right. Click to enlarge. (Spud Goodall collection)

I knew Red Brown in Dallas in the '40s. He was with Hal Collins' Crazy Water Crystal Gang. They called him Smokey Stover when I knew him. Then I met him a few years later when I was with Tex Ritter. He was a disc jockey out in El Paso. He was going by the name Red Brown. When Al Dexter came out with "Pistol Packin' Mama," they booked him at the Paramount Theater in New York, and Red went with him.  

I first met Curly Williams in 1943. I played San Antonio with the Callahan Brothers at the Empire Theater. He came backstage and said, "I'm your old country cousin, Curly Williams." I went out to his house. He was playing a Gibson L5, and did until he died. He was one of the great rhythm guitar players of all-time. Curly was quite a character. We were like brothers. 

The Emilio Caceres Swing Trio, late 1930s.

Emilio Caceres was one of the best jazz violin players of his time, or any other time. The fiddle players of the '30s and '40s weren't in his class. He could read and write music, conduct a band...he played with the best: Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey. He was a little, meek guy. He couldn't drive a car. His wife would have to take him to the job. When he worked with us, I would go by and pick him up. I also worked a lot with Emilio in the Alamo City Jazz Band (in the '60s). Chuck Reily used him a lot. 

Me and Curly and Emilio worked in a western movie they made up at Bandera in the '50s, around 1956. We played barflies that hung out in the saloon and played for drinks. We went to Dallas and made the soundtrack. Like to have never got our money. 

Emilio was something. And they treated him like shit. 'Cause all he could do was play. Cliff Bruner played a song called "Jessie Polka." He learned that from Emilio. Emilio brought it up. It was called "Jesus and Chiuhuahua." Cliff and them started plying it and called it "Jesse Polka." I knew his brother Ernie. He had another brother that played guitar. But Emilio was world-renowned. He would up playing piano in a damn steakhouse. And nobody was listening.  He played with the San Antonio Symphony. 

Spud with Rabbit Weehunt and Rusty McDonald, 1942. (Spud Goodall collection)

Me and Rusty McDonald worked with the Callahan Brothers. We played twin electric guitars. Rusty was playing lead guitar when I went to work with him. We were playing schoolhouses and picture show houses in West Texas. And we were one of the first twin guitar duos. The war was going on. 

Rabbit Weehunt, he was a comic. He took a tour with Len Davis. And I haven't seen him since then. 

Me and Rusty played a lot of places together -- New York, Los Angeles, Chicago. We were in Chicago one night when we got a call when we got back to the hotel. They said, "Rusty, call Lawton." He was from Lawton, Oklahoma. His little boy drowned. About nine years old. His parents got asphyxiated, too, from a bad stove. Living in that old frame house. They just loved old Rusty. We'd be playing schoolhouses, and get through about ten or eleven o'clock at night. We'd be heading back to Dallas, and we'd go by Lawton. It'd be three o'clock in the morning, and his old mama would get up to fix us some breakfast. They were just tickled to death to see him.

Rusty had a brother and a sister. They had sort of a family band. His daddy beat on the bass, and I think his brother-in-law beat on the drums. They had a place out there in Lawton they used to play called Medicine Park.

Rusty was good -- a good guitar player, and one of the best singers. But he was a beer joint player -- that's what he wanted to play. I brought him on with us when I was with Tex Ritter. He called me and said, "Hey, I need some work bad." I said, okay. Tex liked him, too. He'd come on and stay about two weeks, and he'd say, "I'm going back to Oklahoma." He wasn't with Bob Wills long. 

Rusty, he might get mad and just leave. And you didn't know why. And they probably hired me to have an extra guitar player for when Rusty left the next time.

I recorded some at Jim Beck's Studio. I didn't record with no stars. We'd record with anybody who'd come in. Jim Beck had a place like Sam Phillips; anybody who wanted to make a record, you know? I was always hanging around there, and then for five dollars, I'd play the guitar on it. I heard that a doctor from Amarillo gave him his front money, a Dr. Maddox. 

I knew Hub Sutter. "Caledonia" was his big number. He was from a broken family. His mama lived in Austin, but his daddy lived in Galveston. And about twice a year, he'd come down and stay a week with his daddy. And he'd head straight for the joints we were playing. One place was Popeye's Club. It was a real rough place down on the wharf. Hub would come sit in with us. He was damn near blind. He had to wear these big, thick glasses. He copied Louie Jordan. 

Troy Passmore in Bandera, early 1950s. 

Do you know Troy Passmore? Well, Troy used to make the circuit. He'd go down to Beaumont-Port Arthur, play with Moon Mullican, and Link Davis and them. Then he'd come to San Antonio, and play with Smiley Whitley and Adolph Hofner. Then he'd go to Austin and play with Jesse James. Jesse would always hire you. Any old player that came by could play with Jesse.  

I met Troy when he was 17 years old, and I was 17. Troy came to Dallas with Eddie Caldwell. Troy could play fiddle, but he was primarily a guitar player -- and a great one. He played like Charlie Christian. He had those Christian licks down good. In about 1948, we played Austin, and Paul Buskirk was with us. I said, "Paul, there's a damn guitar player, playing with Jesse James, that I knew when I was kid in Dallas." I introduced him. I said, "Get your guitar and play for Paul." And he just knocked the shit out of Paul. Paul just flipped. He said, "I want you to work with me." 

Paul was working with Eddie Hill in Memphis. And Paul took Troy to Memphis. Well, Troy was a beer joint player. He stayed about two weeks, and he went back to the beer joints. Just like Charlie Harris. Good singer, great guitar player, but he had a bad drinking problem. I mean bad, you know? He was working with Smiley Whitley and Adolph there in San Antone. 

Roddy Bristol, he was a violinist. There was something a little weird about him, because his wife was always with him. He was a hell of a player. 

There was another guy who was a violinist -- we took him to California with us. His name was Jerry Wolfe. He was a violinist. But he was a kook. His wife was always with him. Even at 5:45 in the morning at the radio station. And we always said, "Why is she always with him?" Bill Callahan came in one morning and said, "Well, I found out why she's always with him. The son-of-a-bitch is in jail. He's a damn flasher." 

You know what a flasher is? He's a guy who stands behind the bushes at the bus stop, and when a woman gets off, he pulls his coat open and he ain't got no pants on. It was a disease. While we were in California, he got caught flashing. He got in jail out there. Spade Cooley was in jail at the same time, and he hired old Jerry.   

I met Caesare Massey in Galveston in 1938 at the Imperial Tavern. He didn't have a band. It was just one of those damn joints; usually about four people. We were making a dollar a night. But Caesare was something. Cliff Bruner used to come to Galveston every now and then. He was a true pioneer. 

When I went to San Antone...I finished my tour with Tex. I'd been with Tex seven years, and I told him, "My wife's going to have a baby, and I'm going to quit the road. This is my last tour with you." We played a rodeo in San Antonio in 1948, just me and Tex, and we used a local band. We used Red River Dave, and he used the staff band from WOAI. There was a guy named Mel Winters, who was the conductor, and he was a great piano player. He was a smart aleck, sissy little son-of-a-bitch. God, I heard him play, I said, "Melvin, if you ever need a guitar player, you call me." He said, "Well, I might do it." Two years later, we were in Mankato, Minnestoa, my wife sent me a letter saying Mel Winters is trying to get in touch with you. So I called him. He said, "You still want that job?" I said, "I sure as hell do."

I got Dick Ketner's job. I said, "Mel, I don't want to take Ketner's job." He said, "You're not taking his job. I'm firing his ass, whether you take it or not."

Spud, Bill Shomette, Curly Williams, TV Dude Ranch, WOAI-TV, San Antonio, 1950s. (Spud Goodall Collection)

But then when I got down there the union wouldn't let me go to work, 'cause Dude Skiles was on the union board and he wanted to give it to his brother Jack. But that's a long story. I ended up getting it. But I didn't go to work right then, they were going to make me sit it out six months. So me and Curly Williams went out and started playing joints. Just the two of us. Then, when I went to work at WOAI, we had a TV show called "TV Dude Ranch" on Wednesday night. 

We'd play at the Parasol Club. It was a little club out on Hildebrand and Blanco. It'd only seat about 75 people. We played behind the bar. And if you got there at 7:30 you couldn't get in, there was so many people there. Me and Curly, and Emilio and Marcus Morales. And brother, we played. That damn Emilio...he was about 50 years old then. We were playing those Les Paul songs..."How High the Moon"...hey, Emilio was something. I just loved him. Curly knew him since 1930. 

Les Paul with Spud, possibly in Chicago, 1947. (Spud Goodall collection)

I played at the St. Anthony Hotel for ten years, six nights a week. 

I knew Rusty Locke in Dallas, in the joints. We called him Sleepy. Wayne Locke's his name, he's from Corsicana. And then when he went down there to play steel, they called him Rusty. 

Troy Passmore used to come to San Antonio about twice a year, play with Adolph or Smiley. I had a little music store. That phone would ring, and I'd hear "Hey man, this is Troy, how you been? I just got into town, and I got a job on the south side. Have you got an amp I could borrow?" I'd say yes. "Well, would you drop it off at the club?" When we'd leave, he'd call me and tell me to come by the club and pick his amp up. 

I don't remember Lonnie Lillie, but that was me on the record ("Truck Driver's Special" on Marathon). That was another one of those records where I said, "Give me ten dollars and I'll come play on it." I did some (records) with Red River Dave. I played on Charlie Walker's first record, we cut it at KMAC Studios for Imperial Records. 

I never did like the recording scene. It's very boring, for one thing. You get in there and play the same thing over and don't get to to swing. It wasn't what I liked to do. 

I did some stuff with Red River Dave. You know, somebody could fart and Dave would write a song about it. But Dave was alright. They made fun of him, but Dave was alright. Dave sold real estate. He made money a lot of ways: he made money playing, and he gave inspirational talks...I tell you, everybody made fun of him, but these damn beer joint pickers would be standing on the corner waiting for a damn bus -- these guys who made fun of Red River Dave, they called him "Dead Liver Dave." And old Dave would drive by in his Cadillac and wave at 'em. That's a true story. 

Red River Dave, 1981. 

His wife was named Alberta. She got burned up. She had tendency to drink a little too much. She passed out on the couch with a lit cigarette, burned her up. Old Dave had burglar bars put on his house. So when the house caught on fire, they couldn't get her out. 

Dave went to the World's Fair in 1939...he claimed to be the first guy to play on television. And I haven't seen no disclaimers. 

I played on a lot of his records. And he had one of the first television shows in San Antonio, and I played on it. An old fiddle player named Curley Wilson played on that also. 

Spud and Tex Ritter, 1940s. (Spud Goodall Collection)

I knew Doug Sahm when he was seven years old. He was playing with Smiley Whitley when he was seven or eight years old. Little Doug could play everything. By the time ol' Doug got to high school, he was wild. I knew his daddy. 

You know (guitarist) Jackie King? He was my pupil. I started him when he was about twelve years old, and he was showing me things when he was about twelve and a half. 

I had a little guitar teaching studio. (Steel guitarist) Don Pack taught for me, and I had a classical player. Teaching guitar lessons, that's a fraud. You ain't going to teach nobody nothing. If anybody's going to play, they're going to play. That's all there is to it. You don't ever have to make a guitar player practice. 

I sold my '54 Stratocaster for $200. They gave about ten of 'em away when they came out with the Strat in 1954. They gave Eldon Shamblin one, and he played it 'til he died. But when I got mine, I couldn't play no solidbody.The Telecaster guys wouldn't switch over, like Jimmy Bryant. The guy who traveled on the road for Fender was Charlie Hayes. See, I was on television. When you was on television, they'd give you anything. 

Curly Williams and Spud in a Gretsch guitar promotion circa mid-1950s. (Spud Goodall collection)

I had a Gretsch White Falcon when they first came out. 

I sold my Super 400 for $200, and I would've taken $150. If you were a music dealer, you could buy a new one for $250. And I needed the money. Hey, back in those days, guitar players could always use $200. I sold my White Falcon too for, I don't know, a couple of hundred. They sell for $20,000 now. 

Hey, I never regretted anything. Don't look back. There ain't a damn thing you've ever done you can change. 

I knew Rex Griffin. Last time I saw Rex was at Jim Beck's studio around 1951. He was down on his luck, he'd lost all his teeth, he was a wino...I think he died in New Orleans. He was singing in the joints for drinks. That's about how far down he was. I worked with his brother Buddy. 

I knew Hank Williams in Montgomery. They were just drunk beer joint players. His old mama used to go with him. 

Spud with the Tex Ritter Band circa 1948. L to R: Rusty Mcdonald (guitar or bass), Spud Goodall (guitar), Tex Ritter, Boots Gilbert (mandolin), Tommy Durden (steel guitar). Photo by the Lee Studio, Harrisonburg, Virginia. Click to enlarge. (Spud Goodall collection)

Tex Ritter...he was an educated man. He'd been to three universities, and I didn't get out of the 5th grade. So that puts you at a bit of a disadvantage right there. I played every town in the United States that had a picture show house -- all the provinces in Canada, too. Ain't nobody toured as much as Tex Ritter. One night stands. I enjoyed every bit of it. 

(Playing with a star like Ritter) you're in awe for the first week or two, and then you settle. I lived with him for seven years. Hell, we roomed together. I was with him when his kids were born. He wasn't a good businessman, 'cause he died broke. Gene Autry was a good businessman. But the difference was, if Tex played a place and the promoter didn't make any money, he'd say, "Oh, hell, just give me what you can." Gene Autry would say, "Look, my fuckin' lawyer will be calling you." 

Spud with Don Davis (steel guitar) and Paul Buskirk, on tour with Tex Ritter, circa late 1947. (Spud Goodall collection)

I played on quite a few of his records. I played on "Teneha, Timpson, Bobo, and Blair." (Tex) was nervous to record with. He never had a producer who could handle him, except maybe Joe Allison. 

Merle Travis got me my job with Tex. I met Merle in California, when I went out there with the Callahan Brothers. Merle had just come out from Cincinnatti.  Bill and Joe knew him. 

Me and Rusty McDonald got stuck out there (in California). We ran out of money. We went down on Main Street, and played one of them joints to get a little money, to try to get out of town. And Merle Travis would come over to the hotel and visit, and we'd sit around and play. And he said, "Tex Ritter's playing a show over in Glendale, and one in Pasadena, and he needs an act." So we went with him. Tex hired us as an opening act. Then I played the Texas tour with him. That's where I met Joe Allison, he was on that tour. Joe was working at KTSA. Phil Marx was playing steel. I knew Phil in Dallas. He was a pretty good steel player. 

I left Tex in November, 1951. 

I met Cameron Hill -- when he was with Bob Wills, I think. He got busted one time for marijuana. They set him up. 

The thing that I enjoyed most was playing a small club where people are listening. I never played many dance halls. Nobody's listening. People spilling beer on you, that damn smoke filled...I liked to play things like we did at the Parasol club. Where people are listening. 

Emilio, he liked me, 'cause I always showed him high respect. I'd go over to his house, and just me and him would sit around for a couple of hours, just playing old standards. Just fiddle and guitar. 

I told Chuck Reily, "It's a damn dirty shame that San Antonio is so full of shit -- they ought to name a park after Emilio" But the Mexicans didn't like him. 'Cause he was famous, and world-renowned, and they didn't like that. 

(Saxophonist) Ernie Caceres, he come down with cancer of the tongue. They had to cut his tongue out, and he died. Old Man Jim Cullum buried him. 

Curly Williams and Spud, 1950s, San Antonio. (Spud Goodall collection) 

Curly Williams was an ornery bastard. We played in the Happy Jazz Band at the same time. Two banjo players. We'd have battle of the bands, they bring Louie Armstrong in, Pete Fountain...Cullum started playing at college at SMU, went to work with Jack Teagarden. Teagarden had a boy who was a room clerk who worked at the St Anthony when I was there. 

I still get up and practice three hours every morning. That's the most pleasant time of my life. I'm playing some things now that I couldn't play 30 years ago. I'm doing some classical stuff, some Bach. 

Spud with 1954 Fender Stratocaster. (Spud Goodall collection)

I took up the banjo as a necessity. There wasn't many banjo players around. So when guitar work got a little slow, I'd play banjo. When I was recording, I'd carry an acoustic guitar, an electric guitar, a banjo, and a ukelele, and a mandolin. Whatever they needed. You know the difference between a banjo and a chainsaw? You can tune a chainsaw. 

I knew (steel guitarist) Bob Symons. Little bitty guy. He sort of lost his mind there in later years. Me and Curly were playing out at the psycho ward of Fort Sam Houston Hospital one time and he was a patient. Me and Curly would play there once a month. Then we'd play the burn ward. It was horrible. We got a big citation from the Red Cross for playing the army hospitals. Me and Curly had a wide repertoire. We could play anything. This was '52, '53. 

Bob Symons worked for a guy named Red Barry, who had the Turf Club. 

I played with Bill Boyd for a short time. Everybody did. He bought time on WRR, then he'd sold the ads himself. And anybody who needed a job would go play it. He'd say, "You play a song," and about every eight measures he'd break in and do an ad: "Go on down to Earl's and get your mattress fixed." He had his office at Wittle's Music Company in Dallas, 1108 Elm. It was the big store. It was like Parker's in Houston. That's where I met my wife. 

When I'd get off tour with Tex, I'd go to Galveston and play the whorehouses. Down on Post Office Street. 

I met (pianist) Peck Kelley. He was playing in Galveston at the Tremont Club, and I was playing at the Imperial Tavern. I played with Caesare Masse at the Imperial Tavern. 

We played John T. Flore's Country Store for years on Sunday, just me and Curly. 

Al Dexter, his folks were bootleggers. What they'd do is get a dance at the house, and then sell a little whiskey. Al was a paper-hanger -- not a hot-check writer, a wallpaper-hanger. A painter. Of course, after he got successful, he said he was an interior decorator. (Laughs) Al played the oil fields over here (in East Texas), the beer joints. They made fun of Al 'cause he played with blacks. That's where he'd learn his songs. 

Leon Payne at WOAI in San Antonio, 1950s. 

I knew Leon Payne about as good as anybody. All the blind guys I ever played with had an inferiority complex. We used to call 'em "blinkers." It wasn't a derogatory remark, we just called 'em that. A lot of them, being blind was the biggest thing they had going for 'em, and they played it to the hilt. Leon wrote in Braille. On Radio Rodeo on WOAI, they brought him in as a singer. Leon could see a little bit out of one corner of his eye. We had a saying about those blinkers, we'd say, "Those son-of-a-bitches could see a 'Free Beer' sign clear around the corner." Old Leon, he could drag a five dollar bill across that corner of his eye and tell you what it was. I'd pick him up every morning and take him to the radio program. But every Friday, when we got off the air, he'd get on that bus, just him and his guitar, and he'd head to Shreveport, Houston, or anywhere. He'd play shows on Saturday. Them damn blinkers, they think they can do anything. 

We played a dirty trick on Leon. He didn't have all of his songs memorized, so he would write 'em out in Braille overnight and bring 'em in the next morning. He'd run his fingers across there while he was singing 'em. And we'd take a ball point pen and punch them little holes in. He'd get down to that line and he couldn't tell what it was. He'd nearly shit. 

Back in those days, the Union was on your ass, especially with television and radio. I never was a fan of the Musician's Union. They wanted to make Mel (Winters) hire another guitar player in San Antonio. They had a rule that said if there was anybody in San Antonio that belonged to that local and could play that job, you can't bring nobody in. I belonged to the Union, but I belonged to the Dallas Union. We stayed there 'til everybody started getting rid of staff bands. You know, every station had a staff band -- KPRC, WOAI, WFAA. And you did all their shows. But they all went to disc jockeys. 

Spud, George Pryor, Joe Gomez, Tony Rozance. San Antonio, 1970s. (Spud Goodall collection)

Me, Tony Rozance, and Curly went to the St. Anthony Hotel for two weeks, and I ended up staying there for ten years. 

J.R. Chatwell said, "There's more music in an inch-and-a-half of playing than there is in three yards of singing."

Rook Kirk was from Louisville, Kentucky. Gus Foster brought him down (to Dallas). He was a third partner with the Callahans. He came down with Smilin' Eddie (Hill), and Smilin' Eddie got drafted. So that left Rook with the Callahans. He played with Clayton McMichen, Natchee the Indian, Cowboy Copas, all those guys. In later years he went to Albuquerque and played with Dick Bills.  

Life expectancy for a beer joint guitar picker is about 30 years old, so I'm doing pretty good. 

You know, I never planned a damn thing in my life. Except be a guitar picker. That's all I wanted to do. 

Spud with the Blue Ridge Mountain Folks (Callahan Brothers) and Freddy Burkhalter and Fiddlin' Rook Kirk, Dallas, early 1940s. (Spud Goodall collection)

Spud with Floyd Tillman and Bucky Meadows, 1990s. (Spud Goodall collection)

Spud with Willie Nelson, 1990. 

Spud's Christmas Card for 2001. 

Monday, April 23, 2018

Rex Rinehart (Lonnie Lillie?) on Yucca 117

Rex Rinehart - Poor Wanderin' Boy (Rinehart) / What a Shame (Rinehart) (Yucca 117)

"Poor Wanderin' Boy"

"What a Shame"

Rex Rinehart and Lonnie Lillie are two hopelessly lost ciphers of the Texas vinyl netherworld. No information has ever been published about either, no photos exist, no recollections. Nothing. Spud Goodall, the guitarist on"Truck Driver's Special" (Marathon 5003), Lonnie Lillie's sole release, was tracked down and interviewed, but he had no memory of the singer or the session.

Were Rex Rinehart and Lonnie Lillie the same person?

Rinehart released three singles on the Alamogordo, New Mexico Yucca label in 1959-60, and one further single on the Bulletin label (with a Nashville address) in 1961. His name appears in a few West Texas newspapers from this period. He's one of the opening acts for the Stonewall Jackson-Shirley Ray-Little Jimmy Dickens show at the Amarillo City Auditorium on October 13, 1964.

The Amarillo Globe-Times, October 13, 1964.

While going through Charlie Fitch's files in 1998, I was surprised to discover that Lonnie Lillie had unsuccessfully auditioned for Sarg. Charlie had retained a letter Lonnie had written him in 1956 from Hobbs, New Mexico, asking that he send any copies of the Marathon single he still had to him COD. A striking aspect about this letter was the unusual font used.

Lonnie Lillie letter to Charlie Fitch (Sarg Records), November 30, 1956. Click to enlarge. 

The memory of this letter came back when I picked up a copy of the Rex Rinehart single on Yucca, which contained a typewritten note using the same font. The similar vocal pitch between the Lillie single and this one also made me begin to suspect that Lonnie had changed his name to the flashier "Rex Rinehart" when he moved from the Central Texas area to West Texas. More research is needed, however. 

Rex Rinehart promo note to disc jockeys for Yucca 117.

Someone named Lonnie L. Lillie died in an automobile accident near Luling on February 25, 1965. The article that ran in the Austin American noted that he was a resident of Wadsworth -- a small town near the coast -- but was the son of a San Marcos family. Lillie left behind a widow and four step-children. No mention is made of a music career. He was 28.

The death of Lonnie Lillie. Austin American, February 27, 1965. 

Admittedly, all this is highly speculative. But I suspect that the person who died near Luling in 1965 was the same person who recorded "Truck Driver's Special," and later four more singles under the pseudonym Rex Rinehart. No hard evidence exists to connect these dots, but perhaps a relative of Mr. Lillie or Mr. Rinehart will surface to confirm or deny these suspicions.

UPDATE (4/26/2018):
Forrest Rex Rinehart (1924-1969) -- his real name -- was a singer from Iowa. According to his obituary in the Moravia, Iowa, Union, he died in Arkansas, and lived in Iowa his entire life except the last ten years in Tennessee and Arkansas. The obit does not mention a music career. It was probably this artist who was on tour with Stonewall Jackson in 1964, in Amarillo as well as the rest of the country.

The Odessa American reported (Dec. 7, 1959) that a local resident named Rex Rinehart had a typewriter stolen from his car while it was parked at the Silver Saddle night club. Could this be the Iowa singer, or someone else named Rex Rinehart?

Lonnie Lillie "Truck Driver's Special" (Marathon 5003)

Rex Rinehart "Going Back (To My Baby)" (Bulletin 1002)

Rex Rinehart: "More Than Me" (Bulletin 1002)

Sunday, April 15, 2018

On the Road with Blackie Crawford & the Western Cherokees: The Bobby Black Interview

The Western Cherokees are invariably remembered today because of their association with Lefty Frizzell, George Jones, and Ray Price, obscuring the fact that the group existed as a discrete unit for many years. Guitarist/vocalist Robert Lawrence “Blackie” Crawford (1923-1984)), an ex-Marine and WWII veteran, was the founder and leader of the group, which originally went by the Sons of Texas and, briefly, the Tune Toppers. Their pedigree as the backing band on a few of Frizzell’s biggest early hits (most notably “Always Late,” which Blackie co-wrote) earned them their own recording contract with Coral Records in late 1951. They were ably managed by Jack and Neva Starns, veteran promoters and club owners in East Texas. By early 1953, they were based in Oklahoma City, but this would change when the Starnses purchased a large dance hall on the northern outskirts of Beaumont, Texas, a few months later. 
Steel guitarists are often a historian’s best friend, easily and vividly remembering details from decades past that remain a fuzzy, distant blur to their fellow bandmembers, and, happily, Bobby Black is no exception. Though his tenure with the Western Cherokees was brief (lasting less than a year, from spring to the fall of 1953), his insights are vital, giving us a clear snapshot of an otherwise murky and confusing time. Crucially, Bobby was in the band when the Cherokees were recruited by Jack and Neva to help launch the Starday label with two marathon sessions that probably occurred over two days at ACA Studios in Houston in the summer of 1953. ACA cut 78 rpm masters of the first four Starday singles on May 21, 1953. 
The following is based on interviews with Bobby Black on June 9, 1996; August 21, 1997; and February 2, 2005. (AB)

Andrew Brown: Bobby, you’re from California, correct? 
Bobby Black: Yeah. I’m originally from Arizona, but I’ve lived in California most of my life. 
How did you become involved with this band that was based in Oklahoma at that time? 
Well, I was playing what was the second gig of my career, at a place called Tracy Gardens in San Jose, California. I was 17 years old. Pee Wee Whitewing had been the house band’s steel player. All of the name artists, when they came through the area, would always appear there. So we got a chance to either back up these people or open for them — including Hank Williams, Bob Wills, Ernest Tubb, and Lefty Frizzell. The Western Cherokees were backing up Lefty on his tour. He was the number one guy at the time. Everybody was raving about him, and he was packing these places. So, they picked Pee Wee up (to tour with them), so I took Pee Wee’s place in the house band. 
When Pee Wee left the Cherokees, he recommended me. Why, I don’t know. (Laughter) There were a lot of pretty good steel players in Texas and Oklahoma. It was probably just because we were buddies. I had just started going to college at San Jose State. I was just about finished with my first semester when they called (in spring, 1953). I took the train to Oklahoma City – that’s where they were at first. We played at the Trianon Ballroom. Seems like we did that every other Saturday — we’d alternate with Hank Thompson. That was our headquarters for a while. Then we moved down to Beaumont. 

Bobby Black playing Pee Wee Whitewing's steel guitar at Tracy Gardens, San Jose, California, c. 1951. 
(Bobby Black Collection)

I remember my first night with those guys was at the Trianon Ballroom. I was so nervous. I remember going down to the Trianon and setting up before I’d even met anybody. I’d arrived in town maybe a couple of hours before. 
I set up, and met the guys when they came in. I was, like I said, so nervous and scared. We started playing. I had a cup of Coke sitting on stage, and some guy (audience member) with a bottle of whiskey in a brown bag kept pouring whiskey in my Coke. I’d reach down and drink, and after a while I just got plastered. I don’t have any recollection of that night. I didn’t drink then and I don’t drink now, but I guess that I thought I was going to be cool since I was away from home, and with these guys...I’m going to really start living it up. 
The next day, we went down to Ardmore, Oklahoma, to play some club. Of course, I was sober. Nobody said a dang thing to me the whole time. We played the first set, and Blackie and everybody gathered around me when we took a break...they shook my hand, patted me on the back. They were so happy that I’d played like I did. They said they were going to send me back home on the train, 'cause I’d played so bad the night before. (Laughter) Then I realized how stupid I must have been. 
Who else was in the band when you joined? 
Blackie (guitar), Pee Wee Wharton and Bob Heppler (fiddles), Burney Annett (piano), Bud Crawford (bass), and Jimmy Dennis (drums). We were based in Oklahoma City only a few months. It seemed to me like I was with the band six years, but I was probably with them only six or seven months. So much happened to me and the band during that time that it seems like a lot longer than that. But probably half of the time I was with them was spent in Oklahoma City, the other half in Beaumont. Neva’s Club in Beaumont was our headquarters, but we traveled around a lot. 

Robert "Blackie" Crawford (1951).

What precipitated the move from Oklahoma City to Beaumont? 
It’s funny, I didn’t pay that much attention to the politics of what was happening. All I cared about was just playing. The only thing I can think of is that the Starnses were friends with Blackie, and Neva’s was a new place, so they contacted Blackie to see if he wanted to play there — just make it our headquarters. 'Cause that’s what happened, of course. 
What was your impression of Jack and Neva Starns? 
I didn’t have much of a relationship with them. Jack...I don’t want to say he was a cut- throat businessman, but he was sort of a typical hustler type. A cigar-puffing guy. But I shouldn’t make any judgements, because I can’t say I knew him or Neva that well. Most of the time I was just hanging out with the guys in the band. We lived together for a while, the whole band. In Oklahoma City, anyway, we lived in one house. Blackie’s wife always cooked for us. It was kind of neat. A lot of fun — we had a lot of good times. 
I always liked Blackie. He was a character. He was a World War II veteran. He told me a story of climbing up a tree in some island in the Pacific and shooting a Jap sniper. The guy’s blood and everything got all over him...he freaked, and said he never got over the experience. And, every once in a while, he’d go into these terrible migraine headaches. They would lay him out -- he’d be in agony. So he’d have these weird attacks. 
Yes, apparently that was why he left the band later on. 
Really? I had no idea. When I left the band, it was a cheerful parting. We all got along real well. But I was homesick, and I decided to get married. I had broken up with my high school sweetheart when I left, so I felt like it was time to go back home, get married, settle down -- but it was a great experience for me. 

The Western Cherokees hanging out with members of the Bill Wimberley band at the Cowboy Inn in Wichita, Kansas, 1953. From left: Larry Black, Bobby Black, Jimmy Dennis, Cotton Whittington, fan, Blackie Crawford, fan, Gene Crownover. Click on picture to enlarge. (Bobby Black Collection)

How far away from Beaumont would you tour? There’s that one picture of you taken at the Cowboy Inn in Wichita, Kansas — would that be as far north as you’d tour? 
Probably. I remember playing in Texarkana. I remember playing the Big “D” Jamboree and the Louisiana Hayride. Those were the occasions when we’d wear those big war bonnets, headdresses. Fortunately we didn’t have to wear those all the time. Shreveport was as far east as I remember going. I guess it was mostly in Texas and Oklahoma that we toured...and Louisiana. We used Chrysler limousines with trailers to travel in. There were two of them. They were painted up with “The Western Cherokees” on the sides, and on the trailer, too. I remember seeing those back when they were backing up Frizzell in California. 
It got kind of rough in those cars. I remember trying to sleep while somebody was driving. It was really uncomfortable. 
That probably also contributed to your leaving the band, eh? 
Yeah. I got tired of that kind of fast. (Laughter) 'Course, I was pretty young, so I could take it, but I could never do something like that now, that’s for sure. 
We used to play in Houston at Magnolia Gardens. We backed up Tommy Sands there, among many others. I met Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys out there. I remember seeing a guy get shot right in front of me there while we were playing. He didn’t get killed. He was drunk, or raising hell, and the cops came right up in front of me and shot the guy. It was always so hot and humid there. I’d never encountered that until I left California. 
Another place we played a lot in Houston was Cook’s Hoedown. I can still see the red and white checkered tablecloths they had on the tables there. It’s funny, I never met Herb Remington there. I saw him play once at Cook’s, but didn’t get to meet him. 
We went out with Webb Pierce a lot. He was really hot at that time. So many guys like him didn’t have their own bands. They’d hire these, what were called “pick up” bands -- usually out of Texas or Oklahoma. 'Cause they were pretty good units who could play a lot of styles. In those days, swing was kind of still happening, so before and after the star got up and sang, the band would do all their swing stuff. And get away with it. (Laughter) So when Ray Price picked up the band, it evolved into the Cherokee Cowboys. 
After I had left the band and had been gone for a while, they did a tour with Ray Price out here in California. I think it was in Sacramento...I drove out to see them. It was the last time I saw Blackie and those guys. 

From left: Bobby Black, Bob Heppler, and Luther Nallie, 1953. (Bobby Black Collection.)

At live shows, did Blackie do most of the vocals, or did Bob Heppler share them with Blackie? 
Heppler of course did some, but Blackie did most of them as I recall. Heppler was a pretty good singer, but at the time I thought he sounded a little bit too “poppish.” (Laughter) It sounds fine to me now. 
Do you remember Rusty McDonald? I liked his singing, his writing...him personally. Few people have ever heard of the guy. I played a lot of gigs with him. In fact, I think I met Jimmy Day and Floyd Cramer during one of those Rusty McDonald gigs. At times, Blackie and the whole band would back him up. Rusty would hire the band to back him up for different things. And sometimes, he’d just pick up part of the band, without Blackie. And I did most of those gigs. I always liked working with him. He had a sound and style that I really liked. 
You mentioned Neva’s Club in Beaumont as being the band’s headquarters during mid-to-late 1953. Can you describe what it was like? 
Neva’s was like a miniature Longhorn Ballroom. Do you remember the Longhorn Ballroom in Dallas? We played there a few times, as well. Neva’s had a nice, large hardwood dance floor...they had a little restaurant there, kind of a typical place like they had in those days. It was fun to play there. 
George Jones was living in Beaumont then. I had met him before that, though, at the place I mentioned in San Jose. That was when he was still in the Marines. He was stationed out here at Moffett Air Field. He’d be in uniform -- he’d come out and sing with us. Nobody knew who he was; he was just “George Jones, the Singing Marine.” He’d do Lefty Frizzell songs. So when I went with Blackie, I saw him and said, “Hey! You’re that guy...” There was always that kind of thing going on back in those days. 
Did George Jones appear with the band at this point? 
No. He came up to the radio station that one time, just to watch us play, I guess. 

The Western Cherokees, Polaroid snapshot taken at Neva's Club in Beaumont, 1953. This is the only known photo of the 1953 band on stage. From left: Bobby Black, unknown, unknown (Norman Stevens?), Blackie Crawford, Robert Shivers (first fiddle), Bob Heppler (second fiddle), Milburn "Burney" Annett. Click to enlarge. (Bobby Black Collection)

In that snapshot of the band playing at Neva’s, there’s a guy playing lead guitar that looks like Norman Stevens. I didn’t think he had worked with Blackie after 1951. 
That’s probably who it was. Maybe he was just sitting in when that picture was taken. I don’t remember him being in the band when we were working. 
Were you on a salary? How did Blackie pay you? 
No, we would get paid by the gig, as I recall. And it wasn’t much, as you can imagine. I think in those days we would get between ten and fifteen dollars a night per man to play. But I thought I was on top of the world, actually. I didn’t make any money, but I sure had a lot of fun. 
How many records do you remember making with them? 
I was in the band when we did all of the very first Starday recordings, (for example) “Cherokee Steel Guitar.” One of the things that stands out, I did a thing with Patsy Elshire (“Someday I Know He Will”). I did sort of a Joaquin Murphey-type solo. Naturally, it was not as good as Joaquin. ‘Cause I was influenced by Joaquin a lot. That was one of the tunes I remember hearing on the radio after I came back out here. Eddie Kirk was a disc jockey, and he played it. And after it finished, he came on the microphone and said something to the effect of, “Hey folks, that steel break was so neat, I wish I knew who it was...I’m gonna play it for you one more time.” And he played the solo over again. And man, I was in hog heaven. I was soaring on cloud nine. 

Patsy Elshire - "Someday I Know He Will" (Starday 109) featuring Bobby Black on steel guitar, plus Robert Shivers or Bob Heppler (fiddle), and Burney Annett (piano). 

What about “You All Come” by Arlie Duff? 
There’s a funny story behind “You All Come.” We were over at Jack Starns’ house when we worked up those songs. We had Arlie Duff come over, Patsy Elshire, and all those people. So we went over all the different songs we had. I think Blackie wrote a few of 'em. And, of course, Arlie Duff wrote “You All Come.” He was a schoolteacher in town. The flipside was “Poor Old Teacher.” Arlie was a likeable guy, kind of a clown. It was hard to believe he was a teacher. We didn’t look down on him, but he had the most insignificant songs that we were going over, I felt. I thought, “Man, why are we doing these tunes? They’re so corny.” We were always looking for something more swinging to play, so I felt like we had to lower ourselves to play these. I remember somebody, maybe Blackie, saying, “Aw, play really corny on this stuff,” so I did, of course. 
That must have been a surprise when “You All Come” became a massive hit. 
Oh, I couldn’t believe it. I remember when we recorded it, I thought it was the corniest thing. It was almost a joke to me. As it turned out, naturally, that was the thing that made the most noise. 
Those first Starday sessions were recorded in Houston. I thought they were done at ACA Studios, but Patsy Elshire insisted that she recorded her first single at Floyd Tillman’s studio, which was in his house. Does that sound plausible? 
It wasn’t a home. It was a high-ceilinged, warehouse-looking place that had been converted into a studio. I do remember seeing those egg crates on the walls. I’m sure I would have remembered if it was at Floyd’s, because I knew who he was. We backed him up on some shows in Houston, but I don’t remember ever recording at his place. 
We were in there, at the most, two days. We did a whole bunch that first day. It seems to me that we may have gone back the next day and done the rest. 
By that time, Luther Nallie had joined the band. Luther thought that Pee Wee Wharton was playing fiddle and singing backup vocals on those first sessions. But Bob Heppler had no recollection of him playing there. 
It could recollection is kind of vague at times. So, that’s possible. (Fiddler) Robert Shivers came along later. Pee Wee Wharton wasn’t with the band very long. He was with us in Oklahoma City. I don’t think he went to Beaumont. We had twin fiddles there (in Beaumont), Heppler and Shivers. 
Luther Nallie was playing lead guitar. He wasn’t in the band very long (either). 

Western Cherokees - "Cherokee Steel Guitar" (Starday 102) featuring Bobby Black on steel guitar, plus Robert Shivers or Pee Wee Wharton and Bob Heppler (fiddles), Burney Annett (piano), Blackie Crawford (guitar) , Luther Nallie (tenor banjo), Bud Crawford (bass), and Jimmy Dennis (drums). Recorded at ACA Studio in Houston circa May, 1953. 

Did you come up with “Cherokee Steel Guitar”? How did that evolve? 
No, I think that was Bobby Garrett’s thing. Garrett was in the band at one time before me. They had been doing it a while before I joined. Blackie showed me how it went. 
There were a lot of good steel players in that band — Jimmy Biggar, Bobby Garrett, (Curly) Chalker, and of course, Pee Wee Whitewing. So I was fortunate to be, for a short time anyway, a member of that group. I always felt kind of proud, because I thought I was in fast company with so many good steel players. 

Bobby Black on stage.

What kind of a steel guitar did you play? 
I had a Bigsby. As a matter of fact, I was with Blackie in Beaumont when I got my Bigsby. Boy, that was a day I’ll never forget. It had been on back order for over a year. Before that, I had a double-neck Fender. But I used my Bigsby on all of those Starday things. God, I regret the day I let that guitar go. I don’t even know what I did with it. I sold it to somebody I guess, but I don’t even remember who. I’d give anything to have it back now. 
When I left the band and came back here, it doesn’t seem like it was long after that that I got a call from Burney Annett. He said that he and bunch of the guys were going to Springfield, Missouri, to do the Ozark Jubilee with Red Foley, and they were thinking about using me or Curly Chalker. Chalker took the gig, but it kind of pleased me that they called me first. Curly had a personality that was kind of weird at times. He didn’t get along that well with a lot of people. So I think that was why they called me first. And I turned 'em down. I’ve always kind of regretted that in a way. 

Any final thoughts on Blackie Crawford? 
I really liked Blackie. He had a certain machismo about him, kind of a tough guy. But he treated me good. To this day, I remember some of the rules he had. I thought they were kind of unusual. It was because of some of the previous members of the band, including Curly Chalker — probably primarily because of Curly Chalker. One of them was that no wives or girlfriends could come to the gigs. (In California) I was used to seeing guys bring their wives or girlfriends to the gigs. But I guess that fights would break out. I never saw that happen while I was with the band, mainly because that rule was observed. 
But Blackie was a fatherly figure to me. He was probably just a young guy (laughter), but I saw him as this older, fatherly kind of guy to me. 

Bobby Black's Starday Discography
101 Mary Jo Chelette
A: Cat Fishing
B: Gee, It's Tough To Be Thirteen

102 Blackie Crawford
A: Mariuch (Mottie-Ooch)
The Western Cherokees
B: Cherokee Steel Guitar

103 Bob Heppler
A: I Don't Like It
B: If You Don't Mind

104 Arlie Duff
A: You All Come
B: Poor Ole Teacher

105 Blackie Crawford and the Western Cherokees
A: Huckleberry Pie
The Western Cherokees
B: Hot Check Baby

106 Arlie and Lois Duff
A: A Million Tears
Arlie Duff
B: Stuck-In-A-Mud Hole

107 Bob Heppler
A: Handle With Care
B: One Step Ahead

108 not issued

109 Patsy Elshire
A: Someday I Know He Will
B: Two Can Play The Game