A few days ago an old friend asked: When did Dallas's reign as country-music comer officially end? Hard to say, officially, though I've always pinpointed it 'round May 3, 1956 -- when producer Jim Beck died, after he'd been poisoned by the carbon tetrachloride he was using to clean his Ross Avenue studio. Beck wasn't just producer -- he cuts sides with, among others, Ray Price and Marty Robbins for Uncle Art Satherly at Columbia Records -- but a writer himself; he co-wrote "If You've Got the Money I've Got the Time" with Lefty Frizzell, after all. Soon as he died, the major labels that had been toying with making Dallas their honky-tonkers' HQ hightailed it to Nashville for good. That was that.
Before then, of course, Dallas was smack dab at the center of things. The time line's too long to recount here. But it stretches back to the Dallas String Band and "Dallas Blues" and "Deep Elm Blues" to Bob Wills and Milton Brown (outta Fort Worth, but still) to the Big "D" Jamboree (speaking of) to the lesser-knowns (among 'em Willie Lane, Hoyle Nix and His West Texas Cowboys, Boots Bourquin and His Buddies, and Curly Sanders) who released their songs on Jesse Erickson's Star Talent label, based out of his record store at 3313 Oakland Avenue from the late '40s till the early '60s.
Years ago I was lucky enough to meet and spend time with the guys who recorded at Beck's and at Sellar's Studio on Commerce. Boots Bourquin would gather 'em up at the Casa Linda Luby's; they were all pals with Miss Inez. And they'd talk, for hours, about when Hank Williams would come to town (and pass out in the back of his car) or their days playing with Ernest Tubb and Marvin "Smokey" Montgomery or listening to Roy Newman & His Boys, Jim Boyd and his brother Bill Boyd's Cowboy Ramblers and the Shelton Brothers on WRR and WFAA radio when they were kids, back in the '30s and '40s.
I was thinking about all that the other night when, prompted by my friend's question, I picked up Bill Malone's invaluable Country Music U.S.A. and started re-reading it, from the beginning. And there, on Page 168, is Malone's recap of all those immortals, forgotten footnotes who should have plaques and statues lining the streets of downtown.
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I wouldn't dream of recapping what Malone so thoroughly documents; please, read up. And we've already covered Boyd, besides, back in '09, when I posted my lousy transfer of "Palace in Dallas" and linked you dozens more tracks. So I'll just share these with you, the songs I've been playing for my son at night as part of my half-assed attempt at something approaching a local-music education.
First, the music of Roy Newman & His Boys. The Internet Archive has 20 tracks -- half here, the other half here. The Western Swing blog generously fills in the blanks with the whole 72-song collection. It's astounding stuff -- more jazz and blues than country, but a band consisting of Western Swing all-stars nonetheless, including members of Milton Brown and Bill Boyd's bands.
And speaking of Boyd: Here you'll find 198 tracks, from "Ain't She Coming Out Tonight" to "You're Tired Of Me," with a few "Eyes of Texas" in between -- not to mention "Under the Double Eagle," which, as Malone points out, may have been the second most popular country instrumental this side of "Wildwood Flower." Hence, their being "very influential." Not to be outdone: Jim Boyd and His Men of the West, again courtesy the great Western Swing on 78.
And then there were the Sheltons, Joe on mandolin and Bob on guitar -- and, easily, the most popular local act in town in the late '30s and early '40s, after they hooked up with WFAA. Listen to these songs. You'll know why. And, why, there's even a version of "Deep Elm Blues." The circle, she's unbroken.