Though born in
rural East Texas, and though his early musical influences were rural and
southern rather than purely western, Maurice Woodward "Tex" Ritter was
identified early in his career with the Texas cowboy image. That is not,
however, how he started out. Ritter's skills as a public speaker and his
intellect first became apparent when he attended school in Nederland, where the
Ritter family had moved. Though he loved cowboy songs, he decided on a law
career and in 1922 began attending The University of Texas at Austin. Active in
music and theater there, he soon found two professors at The University doing a
serious study of cowboy songs, and learned much from them.
In 1928 he traveled to New York City just before
graduation and wound up getting a minor role in a Broadway show. After a final
stab at finishing law school, he returned to New York in 1931 and landed a
featured role in the Broadway play, Green Grow the Lilacs. The cast began
to call him "Tex" because of his accent and the name stuck with him. That led to
other Broadway parts and radio programs and, in 1932, his first recording
session for the American Recording Company.
Following Gene Autry's success, Hollywood sought other singing cowboys, and in
1936, Tex landed a Hollywood movie contract. He was on the way to stardom by
1937 and made 85 films through 1945. Ritter married one of his co-stars, Dorothy
Fay Southworth, making her his "leading lady for life."
Though he recorded for ARC and for Decca without success, he became the first
country and western singer signed to the brand new Capitol label in 1942 and
immediately found success with Jingle, Jangle, Jingle. He had a string of
hit records in the 40's with I'm Wastin' My Tears On You, There's a New Moon
Over My Shoulder, You Two-Timed Me One Time Too Often, You Will Have to Pay,
Christmas Carols by The Old Corral, Rye Whiskey and Deck of Cards. In
1953, his version of Do Not Forsake Me, the theme from the classic 1942
Gary Cooper film High Noon, became a pop hit. This movie won the Academy
Award and Ritter performed the song on the first televised broadcast of the
awards ceremony in 1953. By 1952 he'd become host of the popular Southern
California country music TV show, Town Hall Party, and also its national
syndicated counterpart, Ranch Party. In 1961 he had a final big hit with
I Dreamed of a Hillbilly Heaven. Ritter was named a founding member of
the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1964.
Ritter's interest in law sparked once again and in 1970, he ran unsuccessfully
for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senator. His son, John Ritter, became a
highly successful actor after Tex's death.
James Travis Reeves was born in
Galloway, Texas. His father died within a year of his birth, and he was raised,
along with five other children, by his mother, Beulah. Jim Reeves, not surprisingly, was an early hero, but
baseball became his obsession. A baseball scholarship took him to The University
of Texas at Austin in 1942, but he quit to work the shipyards of Houston, then
took to the minor leagues. He stayed there until he was injured. In 1947 he
married Mary White, who would play an important role in his future musical
He first moved into music as a disc jockey at KGRI in Henderson, Texas. Feeling
that his own voice equaled or surpassed that of Ernest Tub or Lefty Frizzell, he
decided to take a serious stab at recording. In 1949 he cut his first records
for a tiny local label in Houston, but they went nowhere. His big break came in
April 1953, when Mexican Joe, a song he'd recorded for Abbott Records,
became his first Number One record. He was working as an announcer on
Shreveport's Louisiana Hayride at the time. Fearing they'd lost him as their
emcee, the Hayride management insisted that Billy Walker - not Reeves - sing the
song on the show. One night Reeves had to fill in as a singer anyway, and the
management's injunction went by the boards. He sang Mexican Joe and wound
up with six encores, at which point Hayride staffer Horace Logan forbade any
more kudos, lest Reeves beat Hank Williams' previously set record for encores.
That was the end of his announcing and the beginning of his two-year stint as a
Hayride star, as he followed up Mexican Joe with Bimbo, another
unvarnished country hit, which hit Number Two.
In 1955 Reeves bought back his Abbott contract and moved on to RCA Victor.
Without a hit for two years, he soon came up with three in a row--Yonder
Comes a Sucker, My Lips are Sealed, and According to My Heart, all
Top Ten, all in one year and all straight country. However, in the wake of
Elvis' success, it looked like audiences were beginning to tire, at least for
the moment, of the fiddle and steel style that had held sway for over a decade.
Desperate to counteract declining record sales, RCA's Chet Atkins, Decca's Owen
Bradley and Columbia's Don Law began trying new ideas in the studio. One
particularly popular experiment was to strip off the fiddle and steel, introduce
a more neutral rhythm section and use background voices to sing the fiddle/steel
fill-ins. Reeves tried this and also lowered the volume of his voice, singing
close to the microphone.
Then early in 1957, Reeves, much to Chet Atkins' surprise, selected a ballad
called Four Walls for his next session. Atkins had thought of the song as
a woman's number, but trusting Reeves' intuition, he went with it. RCA released
it in March; it hit Number Two on Billboard's country charts in April and Number
Eleven on their pop charts in May. Suddenly Reeves was doing American Bandstand.
When Blue Boy hit Number Four in 1958, Reeves renamed his band The Blue
Boys and dropped his fiddler and steel player for good. In December of 1959 he
crossed over in a big way once again: He'll Have to Go cut as the B-side
of a single, hit Number One country and Number Two pop. It sold more than three
His domestic popularity was obvious; abroad, his fame was towering. It probably
had something to do with the State Department asking Reeves to serve as a
government representative and good will ambassador to Kenya for an independent
celebration. His foreign popularity centered in England, Germany and Africa. He
won gold record awards in each country.
He was planning to study acting and was trying to reduce his touring in order to
work on investments. A land deal took him via private plane to Batesville,
Arkansas, on July 30, 1964, with pianist Dean Manuel. On July 31, while
approaching Nashville on his return, the plane ran into a rainstorm and
disappeared from radar. Outside his Brentwood home, Marty Robbins heard
something crash. It took two days to locate the wreckage and the bodies. On
August 4, after funeral services in Nashville, Reeves' body was returned to
Carthage, Texas. Jim Reeves' records still sell, three decades after his death;
he remains a legend.
Few country music stars have engendered as much good will as
Willie Nelson, despite his label as one of the original Outlaws. It is also safe
to say he is one of the most durable artists and one-of-a-kind personalities to
ever come rolling down the country music turnpike.
Born in the tiny hamlet of Abbott, Texas, Nelson was raised by his grandparents.
He and his sister, Bobbie Lee, both loved music. In 1939, at age six, Nelson's
grandfather gave him a guitar and taught him some chords. After his
grandfather's death, the family went through a tough economic period. Willie
continued his musical obsession when the family got a radio. Not only did he
love the sounds of the Grand Ole Opry, he loved Southwestern acts like Bob Wills
and Ernest Tubb. He started writing his own songs, and, at age 10, started
playing guitar with a local band, John Raycjeck's Bohemian Polka Band. After
Bobbie married musician Bud Fletcher, Willie joined his brother-in-law's Western
swing band, The Texans.
He met Martha Matthews, who became his first wife in 1952. A year later they
left Abbott for San Antonio, where Willie worked in a band until they moved on.
At radio stations in Pleasanton and Fort Worth, Willie worked as a DJ, playing
music on the side. After years in radio work, Nelson met songwriter Hank Cochran
at the legendary Tootsie's Orchid Lounge. Cochran helped Nelson obtain a
contract with Pamper Music where he wrote "Hello Walls," which became a huge
Number One record for Faron Young. Billie Walker had a hit with Willie's "Funny
How Time Slips Away." As Willie's songwriting gained him notice, Liberty Records
signed him as an artist. His first hit record in 1962 was "Willingly," a duet
with Shirley Collie, followed by "Touch Me," a Willie solo recording that went
Top Ten that same year. Nelson joined Ray Price's Cherokee Cowboys as bass
player and singer, and in 1963 Patsy Cline recorded Nelson's "Crazy," making it
a Number Two country single.
After Willie finally gained creative control on Columbia, he produced his first
album, Red Headed Stranger, for the label and the hit single, Fred Rose's
old song, "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain," became his first Number One hit. In
1977, Willie decided to do an album of classic American pop songs by George and
Ira Gershwin, Hoagy Carmichael, and Irving Berlin. The result was Stardust,
released in 1978. It remained on Billboard's Top Album charts for over
two years and was certified quadruple platinum. Three songs, including "Georgia
on My Mind," "Blue Skies," and "All of Me," became country hits, the first two
going Number One.
In 1979 his film career began with a starring role with Robert Redford in the
film The Electric Horseman, which yielded his 1980 hit, "My Heroes Have
Always Been Cowboys." Also in 1979 the Country Music Association honored him as
Entertainer of the Year. In 1982, "Always on My My Mind" became a triple
platinum album. Fame, including sold-out concerts and record sales gave Willie
wealth, but never diminished his social consciousness. His support of the
embattled family farmer has never ended since he began his star-studded Farm Aid
in 1985 to raise money to assist them.
Texas-born Gene Autry has sold more than 65 million records with
the 635 recordings he made in his career. Among them was 1931's "That Silver
Haired Daddy of Mine" which was the first gold record in history. He was born
September 29, 1907 on a tenant farm near Tioga, Texas. Early in his life, the
Autrys moved from northeast Texas to Oklahoma. His father ran a ranch near
Achille, Oklahoma, and Autry often drove cattle to the railroad station for
He was encouraged by legendary Oklahoma humorist Will Rogers, who met young
Autry, then a telegraph operator, in his telegraph shack by the side of the
railroad. Art Satherley of the American Recording Company signed Autry in 1929.
Easily-recognizable Autry hits were, "Have I Stayed Away Too Long," "Mexacali
Rose," "Back in the Saddle Again," "Tumbling Tumbleweeds," "Have I Told You
Lately That I Love You," "Roly Poly," "You Are My Sunshine," "Goodbye, Little
Darling," "Angels in the Sky," "You're the Only Star in My Blue Heaven" (Autry
wrote this), "Here Comes Santa Claus," "Frosty the Snowman" and "Peter
Cottontail." In 1949 he recorded "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," which has
maintained its position near the top of the all-time greatest selling singles,
second only to Bing Crosby's "White Christmas."
He was the first super hero at the movies who never lost his hat while capturing
train robbers, cattle rustlers and other all-around bad guys. In 1940, he was
named the No. 4 box-office draw.
Autry used his influence to fight racial and religious intolerance and to
promote virtues like honesty and kindness. Countless children pledged to uphold
their hero's cowboy code which was penned in 1940. One of those child fans grew
up to pitch for Autry's baseball team, the California Angels. The player's name
was Nolan Ryan. His advice about getting an agent apparently helped a young
actor named Ronal Reagan. Autry boasts that fifty years later, he commended the
newly-elected president for getting such a good agent.
Autry proved that his first concern was patriotism when his career came to a
halt, along with the rest of the nation on December 7, 1941. He kissed his wife,
Ina Spivey Autry, goodbye and was inducted into the Army at the age of 35. He
quickly became a tech sergeant in the Army Air Corps, then a flight commander
and first pilot with the Air Transport Command. Autry ferried planes, cargo and
supplies to India, North Africa and Burma.
When he returned to California, Autry plunged into a multi-faceted business
career. He built an empire in broadcasting and real estate. Outside the
limelight, he was most endeared for his generosity of time and treasure. When on
tour, he took time to sing to hospitalized children. His philanthropy is widely
It was master songwriter Harlan Howard who described Cindy Walker
as the "greatest living songwriter of Country music." This was no idle flattery.
Cindy Walker has, for more than 50 years, been a writer whose songs not just
country artists want to record. By the time she was 16, Walker was dancing at
Billy Rose's Casa De Manana in Fort Worth. She had begun writing and she wrote
"Casa De Manana" as the theme for the show. It was then played by celebrated
band leader Paul Whitman on a nationwide radio show.
In 1941 she traveled with her father, a cotton buyer, to Los Angeles on a
business trip. Cindy had written a song called "Lone Star Trail" and was
determined that she was going to pitch it while in L.A. They were about to drive
past Bing Crosby's office when she marched in and against all odds saw Larry
Crosby, Bing's brother. He listened to her sing the song, accompanied by her
piano-playing mother, Oree, and asked Cindy to demo it. Bing recorded the song.
While demoing the song, Dave Kapp of Decca Records heard Cindy singing and
signed her to a recording contract. She made a one-week visit to the country
charts at No. 5 with the single "When My Blue Moon Turns to Gold Again," which
strangely was not one of her songs.
That same year she started a close working relationship with Bob Wills. It was
determination that got her together with Wills. She had seen his bus in
Hollywood, and painstakingly contacted all the hotels in town to find the "King
of Western Swing." A week after meeting her, Wills recorded five of her songs,
including "You're From Texas, "Cherokee Maiden," "Don't Count Your Chickens,"
and "Dusty Skies." Her relationship with Wills would go on for many years. In
all she wrote some fifty songs for Wills, often with Wills himself, including
thirty-nine for his movies. Wills' songs by Walker included "Can It Be Wrong",
"Sugar Moon," "Bubbles in My Beer," "New Playboy Rag," "Warm Red Wine," "It's
the Bottle Talkin'," "Born to Love You," and "It's a Good World."
During the 50's, Walker continued in the same feverish level with one of her
classic songs, "Take Me in Your Arms and Love Me," which became a No. 1 Country
hit for Eddy Arnold. The song would later be recorded by many artists
which included Les Paul and Mary Ford, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Gladys Knight and
the Pips, and Jim Reeves. Walker songs continued to be used for major covers
throughout the 60's and 70's. Roy Orbison had a Top 5 Pop hit with the Cindy
Walker classic song, "Dream Baby." Jerry Wallace's 1964 Top 20 Pop hit, "In the
Misty Moonlight," and "This Is It," Jim Reeves' 1965 posthumous No. 1 added more
feathers in Walker's cap. In 1970, Walker became a charter inductee to the
Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Mickey Gilley took "You Don't Know Me," which already had two chart versions,
and turned it into a No. 1 hit in 1981. The following year, Ricky Skaggs also
topped the charts with "I Don't Care," which had already enjoyed a No. 1 slot
through Webb Pierce. Walker's contributions on the spiritual level
included a hymn book titled Of Thee We Sing and the theme songs for the
Billy Graham motion pictures, Mr. Texas and Oil Town, USA. Walker
has made her home in Mexia since 1964.