Various Artists

The Guys of the Big "D" Jamboree (Dragon Street)

The history of country music is littered with guys like Riley Crabtree and Leroy Jenkins and Mitchell Torok and Frankie Miller--the coulda-beens and shoulda-beens fallen prey to bad deals and bad decisions, or men for whom being good just wasn't good enough. If the history books are written by and filled with the winners, then the footnotes are the provenance of the so-called losers just shut out from getting their names written in permanent ink. They're the little men who mistook the shadows for the spotlight; they're the big men who had hits (most regional) and still missed out on being remembered. Then, as now, a record deal guaranteed not immortality, just a spot in the cemetery next to every other rotting corpse. Ask Douglas Bragg, whose swinging set could fill any honky-tonk during the 1950s; he died in 1973, at 44, as forgotten as though he never existed.

But David Dennard, who once spent his time making stars of children on their way up (among them Tripping Daisy and Hagfish), has spent recent years digging up the graves and prying open the coffins of local music; there's no cadaver too barren for the picking. His third installment in what can be considered the Big "D" trilogy--after the double-disc Live at the Big "D" Jamboree and The Gals of the Big "D" Jamboree, each as essential as water and whiskey--once more reminds how vibrant the music and musicmakers were in Dallas during the 1950s. Those were the days of Star Talent Records, of Marvin "Smokey" Montgomery, of Lefty Frizzell, of Ed McLemore and Ed Watt, of the Sportatorium; those were the days when Dallas was on its way to becoming Nashville, till cleaning fluid suffocated such dreams along with Jim Beck, who kicked while scrubbing his studio. Those days get more distance each second: Smokey Montgomery joined heaven's backline last year, Boots Bourquin recently shuffled off to play with pal and role model Ernest Tubb, while Ed Watt, booking agent for the Jamboree, died only three weeks ago, and with all three go more local-music memories than a dozen history books.

This collection, like its invaluable predecessors, comes with its share of notable rarities, chief among them two unreleased Frizzell offerings: "Stepping Out" and "Always in Love," both allegedly written by local boy Jimmy Fields and Hank Williams (Fields always said the two were pals, though there's no proof of such tales). Recorded some time in the 1950s at Beck's Ross Avenue studio, with an amalgam of performers likewise difficult to verify given the shaky memories of old men, they're respectable tracks--as easy to remember as they are to forget. And it shines a bright light on the mighty Riley Crabtree, whose four cuts aren't deep enough to satisfy the craving they create.

The Guys of the Big "D" Jamboree reminds what a scattered time the 1950s were for country boys being drowned out by the encroaching roar of rock and roll. In '51, blind boy Leroy Jenkins was making old-timey country at Beck's studio; his "Hard Luck Hard Time Blues" sounds like a vestige from the '30s, when country was back in black. Jenkins, though, is surrounded here by so much proto-rockabilly, honky-tonk hash and the fiddlin' and slidin' around in between, as evidenced by such keepers as Orville Couch and Eddie McDuff's "Be Bop Crazy," Frankie Miller's goofy "Impersonations of Johnny Cash and Lefty Frizzell," Gene O'Quin's "The Hard Way" (which sounds less like Hank I than it does Hank III) and Buddy Griffin's "Just Wait and See." Yeah, it all starts to sound the same after a while; 30 tracks of pedal-steel swingers and monaural shuffles will do that. But this collection's no less priceless than its predecessors, if only because, for 72 thrilling minutes, The Guys of the Big "D" Jamboree remembers what only a handful bothered never to forget.

 
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