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Friday, June 17, 2011

I Made the Prison Band: Country Music Behind Bars - by Kirby Pringle and Caroline Gnagy

I'm currently conducting in-depth research for a scholarly/trade publication that I am co-authoring with Los Angeles-based PhD candidate Kirby Pringle, about country music behind bars in 20th century America. I know about some country music of course, but I never thought I'd know so much about the penal system in America! I mean, today NPR reported on the execution of a Texas inmate and I even remembered what the guy looked like from online research, and I knew who is next in line, what he looked like and when it will occur. It's amazing how much there is to know (whether or not I want to know it)!

My portion of the book will deal largely with Texas, while Kirby's will deal more with California. We'll both research other areas of course, but since we both reside in big "prison" states, that's just how things shake out. One of the main topics that I'm researching is the story of The Goree Girls.

A little known subject about a one-time insanely popular country/western swing/string band, at this time the only researched publication on the Goree Girls is an article written by Skip Hollandsworth; it was published in Texas Monthly in 2003. Other than that, I found a few blog entries here and there, but nothing substantial. Anyway, apparently Hollywood siezed upon the story a couple of years later and Jennifer Aniston's production company is making a movie about it RIGHT NOW...although who knows if it will ever actually be finished, as they've been "working" on it since 2007!

The Goree Girls were all inmates at the Goree State Farm for Women, which was the only female state penitentiary in the 1940s. As part of an ongoing campaign to improve the image of Texas' penal system, a radio show entitled "Thirty Minutes Behind the Walls" was devised and broadcast by Forth Worth-based radio station WBAP. It ran weekly from 1938 to 1944 and was a variety show of sorts. Musical numbers were played and sung entirely by inmates, comedy routines were performed and personal inmate interviews were conducted on air. Occasionally various other local legislators might come on as informative "guests" as well.

The primary performers were incarcerated at the men's penitentiary in Huntsville, and the nearby Goree State Farm for Women. The interesting thing about this show is that all races were featured - although not surprisingly, interviews were conducted with almost exclusively white inmates. You can totally tell by the way the announcer makes the introductions. Many folk songs of different heritages and languages were performed and popular songs of the time, along with hymns, were also frequently played...but I was surprised that not all were played and sung by the "obvious" choices. I wasn't there, of course, but it had to be perversely fascinating and eye-opening to the listening public, and it also provided a public platform for legislators to relay some subtle "messages" about the usefulness of their system.
A few weeks ago I was at the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History and found a bound transcript of the show. According to Hollandworth and other reseachers, no recordings of this show are extant (but we'll see). So the transcripts are all I have to work with...and upon reading them, all I have to say is, whoo-EEEE! Now I have to admit, my hackles are generally raised at the media's tendency to make utter hoopla about just any little ole thing, but I need to remember that there were days where the spread of propaganda was not only commonplace, but omnipresent and not even noticed (although Fox News viewers might still remain blissfully unaware). Ahh...who'm I kidding? It's just as omnipresent and little noticed today as it was then.

All in all, the tone of the show was almost disgustingly positive given the oppression that was really going on. For one thing, I seriously doubt the legislators ever discussed how they regularly performed eugenics on the prisoners, sterilizing female inmates upon incarceration so as to avoid the emergence of future 'reprobates.' And I doubt any inmate would talk about that during their on-air interview, if they ever again wanted to see the light of day. But you can rest assured that it DID happen, and to the very people I'm talking about.

The Goree Girls were not musicians so much as murderers (albeit due to crimes of passion or having grown up in extremely difficult circumstances). Nonetheless, eight of them formed a western swing band that performed on "Thirty Minutes Behind the Walls" beginning in 1940. It's still unclear to me whether this band was their own endeavor or "suggested" by the powers that be - I will need to research more into it to make a determination. I mean, they were all pretty young, cute, and personable so I'm thinking the latter just because of that fact, but it still needs to be proven. I've already gotten their convict numbers from the ledgers and soon I'll be looking up their conduct registers to see what I can see.

Whether the reasons for the creation of this band were exploitative or rehabilitative, the latter was the end result and the women were ultimately pardoned and released. But while they remained incarcerated, they learned to play instruments and harmonize - and their performances on the radio garnered them fans from all over, particularly the West coast - and even Hawaii (love me some short-wave radio)! Their thousands (upon THOUSANDS) of fans wrote letters and traveled for miles (upon MILES) to see them perform live. My research shows them having made a number of public appearances from the Texas Prison Rodeo to fairs to fiddling festivals, and I'm hoping to find out more about those and see if I can find even one wee recording or video of them performing.

At the same time, there are other stories to tell for this book. I recently was put in touch with an 86-year-old man who was a 3-time ex convict, serving two 3s and a fiver for running moonshine and distribution dealings with the mafia. He's also the father of a minor country music star in Nashville. I get to go make a visit to interview with him soon, and he's sharp as a tack and funny to boot and not shy about any of it. I saw a picture of him with his prison band - nothing like a bevy of young men in prison whites, cowboy hats, and steel guitars. Pretty cool!

I feel proud of this accomplishment for Kirby and myself since even Hollandsworth's interview with the last remaining Goree Girl didn't get to really discuss much firsthand; she was unfortunately senile and in fact died just weeks after the article was published. So I get to do with my interview with this other gentleman (and hopefully that's just a start), and I look forward to recording the Goree...whoops, I mean the gory details. I'm so happy to have an opportunity to document this small pocket of history- not just for the book, but for this man and his family.

Anyway...I just wanted to share this. I'm really excited about the work we're doing, and proposals for several University and independent publishers are in progress. Yee-haw!

ABOUT: The Levee Singers

THE LEVEE SINGERS. The Levee Singers are a folk music group from the Fort Worth-Dallas area that came to prominence both locally and nationally during the American folk music boom of the early 1960s. Founded in 1961 by Dallas club-owner Ed Bernet, the Levee Singers garnered much popularity and acclaim during the 1960s, and the group continues to perform to the present day.

During the earliest days of 1961, local musician Ed Bernet contacted the Sovereign Club, a private Dallas nightclub owned by Jack Ruby (later, he would be known as the man who shot and killed Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald). Ruby was asked to grant a weekly appearance to Bernet's seven piece band, The Dixieland Seven, at the Sovereign Club. Initially Ruby agreed to the appearances, but ultimately refused to sign any contractual documents guaranteeing the slot; consequently, Bernet chose to search out other options.

Bernet soon found an opportunity to purchase and renovate a small club on Mockingbird Lane, which he named The Levee Club. The club opened in March of 1961, with Bernet's Dixieland Seven heading the bill on weekend nights. As the club grew in popularity, Bernet decided to add another bill for the weeknight slots, and thus the Levee Banjo Band (later the Levee Singers) was born.

The Levee Banjo Band consisted of four men; lead vocal duties were split between them, and two or three-part harmonies rounded out the sound. Two of the men were already well-known as regular members of the region's most successful western swing band, the Lightcrust Doughboys. Rockabilly sensation Ronnie Dawson played in the Doughboys and had in the 1950s made several hit records. He had gained considerable notoriety by the time he took up the banjo and vocal duties with the Levee Banjo Band. Original member Marvin “Smokey” Montgomery, leader of the Lightcrust Doughboys, also played banjo and sang with the new Levee club house band. Ed Bernet rounded out the the banjo/vocal duties, and Bob Christopher kept a bottom-heavy rhythm on the bass saxophone or bass fiddle, alternately.

The Levee soon became one of the most popular clubs in the region; Bob Christopher later recalled that the band played for five nights a week for ten years, totaling approximately a million people. At one of the early 1960s performances, a Los Angeles-based agent named David Sontag saw the Levee Banjo Band perform and worked out a management deal with them, with an aim to bring the group to national live and television audiences.

To prepare for these national appearances, the band trained professionally and changed their name to “The Levee Singers;” success soon followed. By the close of 1964, the band had made many television appearances, including “The Danny Kaye Show,” “Hollywood Palace,” “The Jimmy Dean Show,” and “Hootenanny.” They frequently performed on the Las Vegas circuit, opening shows for stars such as Henry Mancini and Joey Bishop.

During the 1960s, the Levee Singers also released three LPs on Levee Records: The Banjo Band from Levee, Everybody Clap Your Hands! with the Banjo Band from the Levee, and The Levee Singers: Take Me Home. All LPs from this time feature Ronnie Dawson, Ed Bernet, Marvin “Smokey” Montgomery, and Bob Christopher.

The Levee Singers roster changed during the latter half of the 1960s; Bob Christopher took a hiatus from music, and Dawson left to pursue other musical ventures. Christopher was replaced by Grady Owen, another Dallas-area musician who was known for having played with Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps and country harmony duo, the York Brothers. Dawson's replacement was Ralph Sanford, who was, like Dawson, yet another veteran of the Lightcrust Doughboys and the Dallas Sportatorium radio spectacular, the “Big D Jamboree.” Another record, entitled The New Levee Singers, was subsequently released with this lineup.

Throughout the 1960s, Bernet had entered into other music-related business ventures; a booking agency, a record label and (most notably) Sumet-Bernet Studios, where acts such as the Fabulous Thunderbirds, the Dixie Chicks, and the Rolling Stones would later record. As the 1970s approached, Bernet sold the Levee Club to Ronnie Dawson, and eventually the Levee Club went out of business.

Without a regular place to perform (and finding themselves balancing competing priorities with families and businesses), the Levee Singers decided not to pursue further national recognition, choosing instead to focus on other areas of their lives. They did not, however, stop performing altogether. Since the 1970s, they have played to numerous audiences, including U.S. Presidents Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush, and they were the official band for U.S. Presidential hopeful Ross Perot during his political campaigns in the 1990s.

Grady Owen moved away from the Fort Worth-Dallas area a few years after joining the Levee Singers, and Bob Christopher re-joined until 2005. Montgomery continued to perform with the Lightcrust Doughboys and with the Levee Singers until the 1990s; he died on June 6, 2001. Dawson experienced a significant comeback in the last two decades of his life, and continued to perform for audiences worldwide until his death on September 23, 2003.

Ralph Lindsey and Ed's brother Dick Bernet joined the Levee Singers in recent years; together with Ed Bernet and Ralph Sanford, they comprise the most recent lineup of the Levee Singers. Since1961 and to the present day, the Levee Singers remain active, recording and releasing new material and performing regularly in Dallas venues.


“Levee.” (, accessed July, 2010. Published by Ed Bernet Entertainment.

“The Levee Singers.” (, accessed July 20, 2010. Published by Ed Bernet Entertainment.

Gary S. Hickinbotham, "Montgomery, Marvin [Smokey]," Handbook of Texas Online (, accessed February 27, 2011. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

Jean Kempe-Ware, “Bob Christopher ’55 Sings for U.S. Presidents.” Lewis & Clark Chronicle
(Lewis & Clark College, 2002). (
accessed November 23, 2010.

Chris Owen. “Grady Owen.” Rockabilly Hall of Fame (, accessed January 19, 2011. Published by the Rockabilly Hall of Fame.

“A Biography of Jack Ruby,” Report of the President's Commission on the Assassination of President Kennedy. Appendix 16, p.796 (U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington 1964). ( accessed February 15, 2011.

“Levee Singers. Purdue University, West Lafayette IN #2.” The Best Of Hootenanny. Season 2, Episode 29 (air date April 18, 1964),” Shout! Factory DVD (2007).

ABOUT: Sam Hinton

HINTON, SAMUEL DUFFIE. (1917 – 2009). Folk singer, songwriter, author, multi-instrumentalist, educator, illustrator and marine biologist, Sam Hinton was born on March 31, 1917 in Tulsa Oklahoma, to Allan F. Hinton and Nell Duffie Hinton (both of Texas).

During his lifetime, Hinton was a performer for one of America's last nationally-touring vaudeville troupes, recorded numerous folk songs for the United States Library of Congress, worked as the head curator at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California, wrote multiple books on wildlife, authored a weekly column for the San Diego Union, and influenced dozens of budding folk singers who later came into their own during the folk music boom of the 1960s.

Sam Hinton was the third child of five, and at an early age showed a proclivity for music. He learned to sing and harmonize with his family as a little boy in Tulsa, and was proficient with the harmonica and accordion by the age of ten. Hinton's mother, Nell Duffie Hinton, had been a star student and piano soloist at North Texas' Kidd-Key Female College and Music Conservatory years before, and had a great influence on the introduction of music to her children.

The Hinton family moved back to Texas in 1929. At this time, 12-year-old Sam Hinton began collecting folk songs in earnest, beginning with those from forebears such as his great-grandfather, Isham Bailey Hardy,(a celebrated ventriloquist and one-time mayor of Gatesville, Texas), and moving on to a myriad of local residents, both black and white.

A self-professed “loner,” Hinton also spent much of his time in the rural areas surrounding Crockett studying local flora and fauna, showing a particular fascination with the study and capture of regional reptiles. It was around this time that he stated a determination to pursue, equally and to the fullest, his two loves in life: zoology and music. Hinton achieved a great deal of success with both in his lifetime, which he frequently attributed to the wealth of cultural and biological resources that Texas offered him in his formative years.

In his new home of Crockett, Texas, young Hinton made a point to acquaint himself with people who could provide him with the knowledge he desired for both pursuits. By the time he graduated from Crockett High School in 1934, Hinton was a regular correspondent with nationally-renowned research scientists, writing numerous letters containing inquiries and discussion topics regarding regional Texas wildlife.

This correspondence led in turn to Hinton becoming a resource for a number of scientific researchers nationwide; providing them with scientific drawings, journals, and specimens of the animals that he encountered during his rural forays. One such researcher was Dr. Doris F. Cochran of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., who proved instrumental as a mentor for Hinton during his early years working in the scientific field. Hinton carefully nurtured these relationships even as he worked typical Depression-era jobs for young men of his age (such as building Texas highways).

Hinton often stated (as have other folklorists) that the melting pot of Texas communities such as Cajun, Mexican, German, Anglo and African-American, generated an immeasurable influence on American music. After he entered college at Texas A&M (1934 – 1936), Hinton continued to collect songs and build an ever-increasing repertoire of folk music. He also learned to play the guitar during this period, in order to best accompany himself while singing. Sam Hinton's first public performance as a bona fide “folk singer” (Hinton has been identified as one of the earliest billed as such) was in 1935 at the invitation of notable Texas historian J. Frank Dobie, who requested that Hinton conduct a lecture-recital featuring “East Texas folk music” for a meeting of the Texas Folklore Society at the University of Texas.

In 1936, Hinton's father was offered a job as a civil engineer in Washington, D.C. and prepared to move his family from Texas to the East Coast. At this time, Sam Hinton decided to leave Texas A&M and accompany his family to D.C.. Once there, Hinton began actively pursuing professional status for both his musical and scientific career. He began a family band called “The Texas Trio” with his younger sisters, Ann and Nell; they performed frequently for local venues and radio shows. Hinton also assisted Dr. Cochran part-time at the Smithsonian doing scientific illustrations and small odd jobs, while he pursued full-time employment.

During this period he began to spend time at the Library of Congress, where he eventually met legendary folklore and music historian John Avery Lomax and Lomax's son, Alan Lomax (with whom Hinton would remain lifelong friends). Hinton has stated that in 1937, Alan Lomax invited him to record a collection of “Texas folk songs” for the Library of Congress (although life changes prohibited him from fulfilling this request until the year 1947).

The full-time employment that Hinton eventually landed was not in the scientific field, but rather in the musical field. In 1937 The Texas Trio performed on the air for the New-York based radio program “The Major Bowes Original Amateur Hour” and were offered a paid spot on the Major Bowes' Transcontinental tours. Hinton's younger sisters Ann and Nell (13 and 17, respectively) were deemed too young to go on the road, but Hinton soon joined the traveling vaudeville revue as a solo “Folk Singer and Novelty Instrumentalist.”

For nearly two years, Hinton traveled extensively throughout the United States with different variations of the Major Bowes touring unit (one of the last of the vaudeville era). During this time he expanded exponentially his musical knowledge, instrumentation and repertoire, as well as his scientific studies (albeit in an “unofficial” capacity). When his father's employer had re-located his family to Glendale, California, Hinton moved his home base to their new abode; he remained in California for the duration of his life.

In the late 1930s Hinton gradually eased out of the Major Bowes tours and resumed his collegiate studies; however he continued to perform music, both solo and with his sisters. He was eventually accepted into UCLA, where he met a young woman named Leslie Forster whom he married on September 8, 1940. Leslie was a classically trained musician and vocalist who made innumerable contributions to Hinton's musical legacy; they remained together until her death in 2005.

In 1940 while still in college, Hinton performed in a Los-Angeles based stage revue called “Meet the People” (which later evolved to the Broadway circuit). Around the time he graduated from UCLA in 1941, Hinton worked as a riveter with the Lockheed Corporation, until he was hired as Director of the Desert Museum, in Palm Springs (1941-1944). In 1944 the family moved to San Diego after Hinton accepted employment with the University of California Division of War Research (UCDWR), as an Editor and Illustrator for their promotional and training materials.

In 1946 Hinton accepted a position as curator of the Aquarium-Museum for the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, where he remained for nearly 20 years. As curator and later as director, Hinton developed into a respected marine biologist, authoring several books on marine wildlife of Southern California as well as authoring and illustrating a weekly column called “The Ocean World,” which appeared in the San Diego Union from 1958 – 1986.

Hinton continued to record music and play festivals for the next several decades while simultaneously maintaining a lengthy, successful career in the scientific world. In 1947, while in Washington D.C. on a business trip for Scripps, Hinton returned to the Library of Congress and recorded for their archives (as promised) a collection of 54 folk songs, 46 of which were released over 50 years later on CD (“Sam Hinton: The Library of Congress Recordings, March 25, 1947”, Bear Family Records, 1999). With a few exceptions, this collection consists of primarily folk songs gathered by Hinton when he was living in Texas in the 1930s.

Hinton's first recorded release in 1950 was an attention-grabbing version of the controversial “Old Man Atom (or “Talking Atomic Blues”)”, a vaguely left-leaning satirical song about the potential disasters of nuclear warfare. This song was recorded not only by Hinton but many others, causing for most of them an official inquiry and questioning “under oath” by the House of Un-American Activities; the record was later pulled entirely from distribution in the U.S.. Hinton's role in the controversy surrounding “Old Man Atom” did not significantly affect his career, however; for the next several decades, he continued to release a number of full-length folk music albums for adults and children alike.

Hinton was already considered a folk-music stalwart when he began performing for college age audiences at the beginning of the folk music insurgence of the 1960s. He performed every year for ten years of the Berkeley Music Festival from its inception in 1958, working closely with Pete Seeger, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, and other soon-to-be household names on this festival. He later played in front of more than 15,000 fans at the culturally pivotal 1963 Newport Folk Festival.

Hinton founded the San Diego Folk Song Society in 1957, with the First Annual San Diego Folk Festival held in 1966. The popuar folk festival still continues today, and was permanently re-named the Sam Hinton Folk Heritage Festival on May 11, 2002, in honor of his musical legacy. In 1987, in recognition of his contributions to the community for both his scientific and musical contributions, March 7th was declared “Sam Hinton Day” by San Diego city officials.

What is widely accepted as Hinton's final public performance occurred at the San Diego folk festival on May 11, 2002. In 2006, after the death of his wife Leslie, Hinton moved from his long-time home in La Jolla, California to the Berkeley area, to be near his two children. He remained there until his death on September 10, 2009.

- Caroline Gnagy


Altman, Ross. “Sam Hinton: The Road Not Taken. An Appreciation.” website, copyright 2010. Accessed on November 7, 2010.

Block, Melissa (Host) and Hinton, Leanne (Guest). “Folksinger Sam Hinton Remembered.” All Things Considered, Radio transcript with audio link. September 14, 2009. / National Public Radio. Accessed 01 Jun 2010.

Cohen, Ronald and Samuelson, Dave. As quoted in Liner Notes of Songs for Political Action. CD Recording. Bear Family Records. 1996. From website series “History in Song,” website copyright Manfred Helfert. Last update May 6, 2001. Accessed November 7, 2010.

Gonzalez, Blanca. “Sam Hinton, 1917-2009: He Shared His Passion for Singing and Science.” San Diego Union-Tribune, September 16, 2009. Accessed December 1, 2010.

Miller, Adam. “A Brief Biography of Sam Hinton.” Website copyright 2002, Golden Apple Designs. Accessed Jun 01, 2010.

Miller, Adam. Liner notes, Sam Hinton: The Library of Congress Recordings, March 25, 1947. CD recording. Bear Family Records BCD 16383 AH. Hambergen, Germany. 1999.

Miller, Adam. Liner notes, Sam Hinton: Master of the Solo Diatonic Harmonica. CD recording. Dancing Cat Records. 2005.

Perry, Tony. “Sam Hinton Dies at 92; Folk Songwriter and Singer.” Los Angeles (L.A). Times, September 14, 2009. Accessed June 15, 2010.,0,6650349.story

Biographical Description, Abstract Listings No. MMS683. Register of Sam Hinton Papers (1937-2006). Archives, Mandeville Special Collections Library. University of California-San Diego. Accessed December 1, 2010.

Hinton, Sam. A Naturalist in Show Business (or: How I Helped Kill Vaudeville). Unpublished manuscript, 2001.
Miller, Adam. A Handful of Songs: The Life and Times of Sam Hinton. Unpublished manuscript, 2001.

ABOUT: Max Lipscomb (aka Scotty McKay)

LIPSCOMB, MAX KARL [SCOTTY MCKAY]. (1940 – 1991) Max Lipscomb, professionally known as Scotty McKay, was a Texas-based musician, guitarist, and pianist known for his energetic, almost frenetic live performances and varying forays into popular music from the 1950s through the 1980s. He is also known as a performer and actor in minor roles for two horror movies in the mid 1960s.

Although it is frequently stated that he was born in 1937, public school records as well as marriage and divorce registers record Max K. Lipscomb as born to Maxine Lipscomb on August 20, 1940. Little information is available about Lipscomb's early life, although he spent most of his life in Texas growing up in the Dallas area. Lipscomb entered Hillcrest High school as a freshman for the 1954-1955 school year, where he served on the student council and participated in other extracurricular activities. By the latter half of 1957, at the age of 17, however, he was touring as a band member, singing back up vocals and playing rhythm guitar in the “Blue Caps” behind a young Gene Vincent. He appeared with Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps on November 17, 1957 for Vincent's live performance of “Dance to the Bop” on the Ed Sullivan show. Lipscomb took a hiatus from the Blue Caps in 1958 to go back to school – after which he joined Vincent once more, this time on a 40-day Canadian tour.

With Vincent's career somewhat short-lived due to various reasons, in 1959 Lipscomb began to pursue his own career as a recording artist. With his blonde, clean-cut good looks and the impressive Gene Vincent credentials to his advantage, Lipscomb traveled to Philadelphia and sought out the well-known songwriting and music producer duo of Frank Slay, Jr. and Bob Crewe. Crewe and Slay were associated with Philadelphia-based record label Swan Records, which at the time was partially under the ownership of Dick Clark. It was due to Clark's suggestion that Lipscomb changed his professional name, to be known for most of the rest of his life as “Scotty McKay.”

McKay's first single, “Rollin' Dynamite” backed with (“Evenin' Time” as the B-side) was released in mid-1959 on Parkway Records (as well as on Event Records during the same time period). This was followed in quick succession by a number of singles on Swan Records, Swan subsidiary Lawn Records, and the Ace record label. Notable recordings on Ace Records are a cover of Chuck Berry's “Brown Eyed Handsome Man” and novelty hit “Olive Learned to Popeye;” a Scotty McKay LP entitled “Tonight In Person” was also released by Ace Records in 1961.

In 1964, McKay released a cover of Ray Charles' “Mess Around” on the Phillips label , backed by his Dallas band (billed as “the Shutdowns”). Later, ever-changing his sound with the times, McKay released a surf record in the mid 1960s (“Waikiki Beach” on HBR Records) and as the sixties progressed, transitioned easily into the garage rock and roll sound that was popular in Texas at the time.

In early 1966, McKay and bandmate Kirby St. Romain wrote and recorded a song entitled “Here Comes Batman,” paying tribute to the popular television show. It was released under “Scotty McKay and His Orchestra” and became a favorite of fans of the television show. In late 1966, Jim McCarty (of Yardbirds fame) produced one of McKay's singles, released in 1966 on Columbia records, called “I Can't Make Your Way.” On this record, McKay's transition to the British Invasion style can be clearly heard. In 1967, McKay recorded one single under his given name, Max Lipscomb, with popular Dallas teen band Kenny and the Kasuals backing him up – although he requested that the band record under an alias (“The Gator Shades Band”). That same year he recorded a much-lauded version of “Train Kept A-Rollin',” a song written by Johnny Burnette but frequently (and mistakenly) attributed to the Yardbirds themselves. With this release, McKay and his Quintet pushed his sound to a raw rock and roll compendium. A 1968 release, “Truly True” on Pompeii Records, showed the Scotty McKay Quintet demonstrating melodic, smooth harmonies and a more pop-influenced sixties “bubblegum” sound.

During the 1960s, McKay continued to perform energetic live shows, which he had been known for since he first started his career as a front man in 1959. In the mid 1960s, a local television show aired every Friday night from WFAA called “Sumpin' Else,” hosted by Ron Chapman. McKay and his band performed on the show frequently along with other local teen band contemporaries such as Kenny and the Kasuals and The Chessmen (featuring a young Doyle Bramhall and Jimmy Vaughan). In 1966 and 1967, McKay and his band took cameo roles in two Dallas-located low budget horror films. The first was an adaptation of Edgar Allen Poe story “The Black Cat” (1966), in which McKay sang a song written especially for the film (“Sinner Man”), and reprised his earlier single, “Brown Eyed Handsome Man.” In “Creature of Destruction” (1969), the McKay Quintet appeared as the band in a beach party scene.

With the advent of the 1970s, Scotty McKay's public career slowed and his personal life underwent significant changes. He became a born-again Christian in 1970; that same year he released a decidedly softer rock single called “High on Life” (on UNI). As the 1970s progressed, McKay traveled to Nashville and made a record called “God, Texas, Tennessee and Me,” which evidenced a striking foray into country music. Public records show that McKay's personal life went through a number of changes in the 1970s as well, with several marriages and divorces on file.

In 1990 McKay released what would become his last album, “Morningside at Midnight,” his first religious-themed work. He continued to play locally and in church until a heart attack caused his death on March 17, 1991.

De Heer, Dik. Scotty McKay (Max Lipscomb). “This Is My Story” series. Referenced by BlackCat Rockabilly Europe. Web, Accessed April 20, 2011.

Henderson, Derek. Gene Vincent & the Blue Caps: The Lost Dallas Sessions 1957-'58. Liner notes, Compact Disc. Dragon Street Records, 1998.

Film Cameos. PDF. Web, Accessed June 10, 2011
Scotty McKay Anthology: Part 1, Audiovisual presentation, Recorded Mar 21 1991. Web, Accessed June 4 2011.

Scotty McKay Anthology: Part 2, Audiovisual presentation, Recorded Mar 21 1991. Web, Accessed June 4 2011.

Scotty McKay Anthology: Part 3, Audiovisual presentation, Recorded Mar 21 1991. Web, Accessed June 4 2011.

Scotty McKay Anthology: Part 4, Audiovisual presentation, Recorded Mar 21 1991. Web, Accessed June 4 2011.

Scotty McKay Anthology: Part 5, Audiovisual presentation, Recorded Mar 21 1991. Web, Accessed June 4 2011.

ABOUT: Kenny and the Kasuals

KENNY AND THE KASUALS. This musical group came together in 1964and is recognized as one of the most seminal and long-lasting rock and roll bands from Texas since the 1960s. They are also considered to be one of the first pioneers of the psychedelic era.

The beginnings of the group that would become Kenny and the Kasuals first met in the living room of Kenneth B. (Kenny) Daniel. Encouraged to play music by his father, also a musician, Daniel and his Bryan Adams High School classmate Tommy Nichols called themselves “The Illusions Combo.” Both boys played electric guitar and both sang, with Tommy Nichols taking the role of front person. Soon they added two neighborhood friends, Blaine Young (drums) and Charles Beverly (bass). As the Illusions Combo, the four high schoolers played backyard parties, dances and other small local events as Daniel and Nichols kept their eye out for bigger opportunities.

In late 1964, the Illusions Combo was forced to restructure; Tommy Nichols left the band, Blaine Young passed away from a rare form of meningitis at age 18, and Charles Beverly did not wish to tour and so, was replaced. Kenny Daniel took over as the front person, re-naming the group the “Ken Daniel Combo”and added two other classmates to the mix. Jerry Smith and Lee Lightfoot had been members of another local band, The Vibrations, but they soon joined Daniel as lead guitarist and bassist, respectively. Subsequent additions were made with David “Bird” Blachley added on drums and Paul Roach on keyboards.

Daniel and Smith both worked as lifeguards for the swimming pool of a local motel, The Lamplighter Motel, owned by Dallas businessman Roy Norwood. Every Friday the Ken Daniel Combo would play at a teen dance party held in the club of the motel. One of the regular patrons was impressed by the young band and told her son, Mark Lee, about their talent. Lee, who attended a rival high school (Hillcrest), dressed up in a suit and tie and sought them out at a show the very next evening to introduced himself as their new manager (and, that very night, dubbed them henceforth “Kenny and the Kasuals.”).The band accepted this arrangement and Mark Lee began to promote and reinvent the band to maximize their chances of success. The arrangement worked well; Kenny and the Kasuals began to play adult and teen clubs alike; not only in Dallas with clubs like the Three Thieves and The Studio Club, but throughout Texas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana.

The primary venue for Kenny and the Kasuals was The Studio Club in Dallas, owned by Larry Levine (founder of the Chili's restaurant chain). One notable evening for the young band started out as usual; they were all relaxing backstage before one of their regular shows. Someone at the club walked in and informed them that there was an English band in the front room asking if they could play a few songs before Kenny and the Kasuals went on; Kenny and the Kasuals agreed. The band was in the US on one of their first tours, and were in Dallas to play a show at Memorial Auditorium; their name was the Yardbirds, with Jimmy Page on bass and Jeff Beck on lead guitar.

The bookings continued to mount in what was turning out to be a very lucrative vocation for the high school boys. In addition to their bookings, they also appeared regularly on a local WFAA television show that aired every Friday night, called “Sumpin' Else” and hosted by Ron Chapman. Other regional bands appeared on the show as well, such as The Nightcaps and the Chessmen (featuring a young Jimmy Vaughan and Doyle Bramhall). As the band accrued finances and honed their craft, recordings began to be made. Kenny and the Kasuals' first release was a 45” entitled “Nothin' Better to Do”, with a B-side called “Floatin'.” Several more singles followed in short succession, and then the band made a decision was to record a live album at The Studio Club and and independently release it as an LP.

The recordings were made (albeit not entirely live, by the band's own admission), and it was released with a 500-copy pressing and the audacious (yet auspicious) title “The Impact Sounds of Kenny and the Kasuals Recorded Live at the Studio Club.” Known amongst fans and collectors as simply “Impact,” the LP is highly prized; Rolling Stone magazine categorized the first pressing of this album “as one of the most collectible American albums” ever released.

1966 brought further success to Kenny and the Kasuals. During an extra hour of studio time, guitarist Smith and Mark Lee, the Kasuals' manager, wrote a song called “Journey in Tyme,” in about an hour. Lee Lightfoot had recently heard some recordings by The Who and had just rushed out to buy a fuzz-tone pedal, which he set up to use on the new song. The recording was heavy on fuzz bass and existentialist lyrics and is often considered to be one (if not the first) song released of what would be come the “psychedelic” music genre. The evening that Kenny and the Kasuals recorded this song, a local DJ named Jimmy Rabbitt was present in the studio. Greatly excited by what the band produced, Rabbitt took the original acetate from that session and walked it over to his radio station and put it on the air. “Journey to Tyme” became a regional, and then a national, hit song. Major label United Artists (UA) optioned and won the rights to the song and assisted in its becoming a national hit, particularly in the Northeastern part of the US such as New York and Pittsburgh.

Based on this success, Kenny and the Kasuals decided to pursue stardom even further. Now students at El Centro College in Dallas, they had befriended a New York transplant; named Vinny Albano who urged them to come to New York City and play to audiences there. It was decided that the band would go to New York for about a month; Mark Lee booked them rooms at the Albert Hotel in Greenwich Village. Upon their arrival, the Kasuals found that other soon-to-be-legendary sixties bands such as the Seeds and the Lovin' Spoonful were already there doing the same thing; indeed, they were staying at the same Greenwich Village hotel as Kenny and the Kasuals.

During their month in New York, the band played venues such as the Rolling Stone club, and as they experienced what 1960s New York had to offer, saw many shows as well. While they were in New York, United Artists had presented Kenny and the Kasuals with an opportunity to play at Shea Stadium, sharing a bill with the Bill Black Combo, the Ronettes, and the Beatles. They were advertised as playing on the bill, but last-minute bureaucratic red tape involving band management disallowed them from performing, and in fact put and end to their dealings with UA and, subsequently, interest from any other major labels was pulled as well.

Upon their return to Texas in 1967, the band dynamics began to decline, until most of the members of Kenny and the Kasuals formed a separate group called “Truth;” the band contained all members of the Kasuals, sans Kenny. In addition to this change, the Vietnam War was calling men to duty, and several members were drafted or joined the military, while others went back to college. Kenny and the Kasuals reunited on April 5, 1968 for a final show called “The Flower Fair,” which also boasted acts such as Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels, Jimmy Reed, The Turtles, the Box Tops, The Doors, The Association, and more. The show was a huge success. The next morning, Kenny Daniel went off to the draft and was later sent to Germany as a gunner and in 1969, traveled to Vietnam for the Tet Offensive.

In the 1970s, the band members all worked towards their own pursuits (Kenny Daniel started a successful local band called Summerfield); however, collectors in Europe were expressing increased interest in Kenny and the Kasuals' earlier releases such as “Impact.” The album was re-released in the late 1970s and, at the suggestion of Mark Lee, the band reformed with several of the Kasuals and Kenny Daniel. The 1980s saw the eventual departure of all but Lee Lightfoot, who rejoined on bass. Alan McDaniel, Chuck's brother, joined on lead guitar. Since the 1980s, this has been the standard lineup for Kenny and the Kasuals, who still play frequently in the Dallas area.


Daniel, Kenny. Personal interview. June 15, 2011.
Dugo, Mike. “Kenny and the Kasuals”. Interview transcript with Kenny Daniel. Date unknown. Web, Accessed 21 April 2011.
Hall, Michael. “Three Chords and a Station Wagon.” Texas Monthly. March 2010.
“Kenny and the Kasuals”, (Band website). Web, Accessed April 21, 2011.
Parker, Richard and Daniel, Kenny. Stomp and Shout: the All-Too-Real Story of Kenny and the Kasuals and the Garage Band Revolution of the Sixties. Fort Worth, TX: Oomph Media LLC, 2011.
Spiker, Darcy. “Kenny and the Kasuals Interview: SXSW 2010.” (AOL). March 15, 2010. Web. Accessed May 15, 2011.

ABOUT: Goldie Hill

HILL, ARGOLDA (GOLDIE) VONCILE. (1933 – 2005). Goldie Hill was a Texas-born country music singer frequently billed as “The Golden Hillbilly” (and in her later career, as “Goldie Hill Smith”). She was one of the first female country music singers to make theTop 10 Billboard charts in the early 1950s, and was a regular performer on the Louisiana Hayride as well as a performer and member of the Grand Ole Opry. She was also the second wife of country music star Carl Smith.

Goldie Hill was born on January 11, 1933 in Karnes City, Texas to John Thomas (J.T.) and Effie May Hill (née Davis). She was the only girl and the youngest of four children: Daniel J. (b. 1924), Kenith “Kenny” Charles (b. 1927), and John Thomas “Tommy” Hill (b. 1929). Hill spent her early life in rural Texas, picking cotton alongside her older brothers on their parents' cotton farm. By the mid 1940s her older brothers Kenny and Tommy determined to try their luck making music, and secured positions playing in nearby San Antonio as “The Texas Hillbillies,” vocally and instrumentally backing up Red River Dave McEnery and country singer Weldon E. Lister, better known as six-foot-seven ‘Big Bill’ Lister, “Radio's Tallest Singing Cowboy.” During their stint with Lister, music and comedy performer Smiley Burnette discovered the pair and invited them to California to become singing cowboy extras on some of his films. The venture was not successful for Tommy and Kenny, however, so they returned to Texas the following year and resumed their musical endeavors.

Upon their return, 17-year-old Goldie began to attend their shows, occasionally joining them on vocals. Kenny and Tommy began to make connections with more established musicians who toured through the San Antonio area and by 1951, Tommy Hill had obtained a position as the fiddle player in Louisiana Hayride star Webb Pierce's regular band. It is Pierce, along with her brother Tommy, to whom Goldie Hill attributed her “official” start as a country music singer. In a 1988 interview with Terry Pitcox, Hill recounted the experience. “It was actually 1952, and my brother Tommy Hill was working with Webb Pierce. Kitty Wells had come out with her records and had something pretty good, and Webb decided he needed a girl singer in the band. My brother said, ‘I got a little sister at home.’ He gave me a call and said, ‘Do you want to sing?’ and I said, ‘Why not?’"

Goldie Hill was 19 years old and had been working for IBM Machines in San Antonio, but she joined the band immediately and began to perform frequently on the KWKH Louisiana Hayride billed as “The Golden Hillbilly.” In June of 1952 she traveled with her brother and the band to Nashville to try her hand at recording on Decca Records (Pierce's record label).

In the wake of Kitty Wells' success with the hit answer song “It Wasn't God Who Made Honky-Tonk Angels” to Hank Thompson's “Wild Side of Life”, Hill's first release was a single entitled “Why Talk to My Heart,” an answer song to Ray Price's “Talk To Your Heart” which was a current hit on the Billboard country charts. It was not a successful single, but she tried again shortly afterward. “Don't Let the Stars Get In Your Eyes” was a 1952 hit song penned by country star Slim Willet. Willet, Ray Price, and Skeets McDonald had all recorded versions of the song, and all versions charted on Billboard in 1952 (later in the year, Perry Como's pop version would prove an even bigger hit). On the heels of its success, Slim Willet and Tommy Hill decided to collaborate, writing an answer song intended for Kitty Wells to sing. However, Goldie Hill recorded “I Let the Stars Get In My Eyes” before Wells could, and soon enough, the “Golden Hillbilly” became the second female country star to hit the Billboard Top 10 country charts (preceded only by Wells).

By September of 1953, Hill made Nashville her permanent home and made the shift from regularly appearing on the Louisiana Hayride to performing on WSN’s Grand Ole Opry, She appeared regularly on the Opry from 1953 to early 1957, and as a guest star on several country music television shows (such as “Country Tune Parade”). During these years she continued to record, releasing several full length albums on the Decca label and garnering a number of country hits, such as “I’m the Loneliest Gal In Town“, and duets with Justin Tubb (“Looking Back to See”, “Sure Fire Kisses” ) and Red Sovine (“Are You Mine?”).

During the course of her career Hill had repeatedly encountered Carl Smith, a young country music singer and songwriter who would eventually become her husband. Hill's personal recollection of their courtship is coyly succinct: “I met Carl in New Orleans, the first time. He was on the same package tour and we said hello. I saw him again at another performance and we said hello. Then I moved to Nashville and we said hello. Then four years later, we didn't have to say hello any longer.”

During the time that Goldie Hill and Carl Smith were saying hello, Smith was married to June Carter with whom he fathered a daughter, Carlene (born in 1955). Smith had left the Grand Ole Opry in 1956 to pursue a brief career as an actor and singer for some Hollywood westerns, but he returned to Nashville in early 1957 and subsequently joined a tour sponsored by Phillip Morris.

His marriage with June Carter had deteriorated, and their divorce in early 1957 dovetailed with Goldie Hill's departure from the Opry, as she joined Carl Smith as an addition to the Phillip Morris tour. According to Hill the tour was originally supposed to be a standard 13-week stour, but turned out to be over seventeen months long; Smith and Hill married in September of 1957 and Carl Jr., Lori Lynn, and Larry Dean were born in quick succession. The three children were raised on the Smiths’ ranch just south of Nashville, during which Smith would spend as much time as possible with the family between his tours and other music engagements (which lasted well into the 1970s).

From 1957 through 1968, Goldie Hill pursued music to a much lesser extent, choosing instead to concentrate on raising a family. She gave almost no live performances after 1957, but continued to record sporadically. In 1959 she charted once on another duet with Red Sovine (“Yankee Go Home”), and in 1961 “Lonely Heartaches” was a minor hit. Every year or two during the early 1960s, Hill would release new recordings and in the late 1960s, she made stronger attempts at reviving her career. But as her husband Carl Smith’s long, illustrious career began to wind down both he and Hill became more involved in ranch life. Smith, already an avid horseman, raised quarter horses for many years and later embarked on a minor second career with “cutting” (an equestrian sporting event where riders on quarter horses compete to separate a cow from a herd).

Hill and Smith lived out the remainder of their years on the Smith ranch with their family. Goldie Hill died in Nashville, Tennessee on February 24, 2005 after a long bout with cancer; Carl Smith followed in 2010.

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Morris, Edward. “Goldie Hill, the Golden Hillbilly, Dead at 72.” CMT. February 25, 2005. Web, accessed April 26, 2011.

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ABOUT: Ronnie Dawson

DAWSON, RONALD MONROE (Aug 11, 1939 – Sep 29, 2003). Ronald Monroe “Ronnie” Dawson was a Texas rockabilly singer, songwriter and guitarist.

Born in Waxahachie to bandleader and bass player Pinky Dawson (of the Manhattan Merrymakers), Ronnie Dawson's musical career was based almost entirely in Texas, spanning from his early teenage years at the Waxahachie Southern Bible Institute to the months before his death from throat cancer in 2003. At the time of his death, he was considered to be of iconic influence on younger generations of rockabilly musicians.

Although Dawson was raised in a family with a primarily fundamentalist Pentecostal faith, musical talent ran a close parallel. Dawson stated that although he did not see a movie until he was 17, he found himself with a guitar in hand at around age 14. In addition to guitar, Dawson's (now musically retired) father Pinky showed him how to play the mandolin, drums, and bass guitar.

Ronnie Dawson's freshman act was called “Ronnie Dee and the D Men”, featuring his soaring tenor vocals, combined with a stand-out guitar sound based in rhythmic rock and roll with a hint of R&B, which was all the teenage rage in 1956. Within two months of its inception, the band Ronnie Dee and the D Men hesitantly entered (and confidently won) a talent contest for a spot on the popular and long-standing Dallas live radio show, The Big D Jamboree. This win earned the young band multiple appearances on the variety show, which aired from Dallas' Sportatorium, a legendary wrestling arena and music venue.

Ronnie Dee and the D Men were soon signed by Big D Jamboree producer (and Gene Vincent’s manager) Ed McLemore. With his assistance, the band soon recorded their first single on Backbeat Records, “Action Packed,” with a B-side of “I Make the Love.” Radio play for “Action Packed” and their next single (“Rockin' Bones” on the McLemore label) gained steady ground; more recording and television appearance offers arrived in swift succession.

Ronnie Dawson cut a compelling figure onstage; nicknamed “The Blonde Bomber,” he was tall and lanky with a trademark blond flat-top haircut and a wide, mischievous grin. His live performances were electric and acrobatic, such that they could challenge even those of the fiery young Elvis Presley. Dawson, however, frequently contended that his style of performance was taken not from Presley but directly from the dynamic Pentecostal revivals that he still attended.

Before long, star-maker Dick Clark signed the burgeoning young group to his Swan Records label and confirmed them for an appearance on “American Bandstand.” Ronnie Dee and the D Men never got to appear, however, for they had happened to arrive on the scene at the cusp of the “Payola” scandal of the late 1950s. The surrounding hullabaloo cut short their musical plans and consequently, hindered their chances for national stardom.

Undaunted, Ronnie Dawson continued his musical career with the help of some of his new connections. After the inevitable break-up of the D Men, Dawson toured as a featured guitarist with the successful Texas western-swing act, The Lightcrust Doughboys. He also employed his drumming skills for studio sessions of various popular artists at the time, such as Paul and Paula's “Hey Paula” and Bruce Channel's “Hey Baby” (also featuring Delbert McClinton on harmonica).

From 1959 to 1961 Ronnie Dawson recorded on several other labels (including Columbia Records). As was the tradition of many artists of the era, Dawson reinvented himself under new musical personae with several recording pseudonyms like “Commonwealth Jones” and “Snake Munroe.” Dawson commented in a 1980s interview with radio show “The Hound” on Jersey City-based station WFMU that he chose “Snake Munroe” as a pseudonym on Columbia because of his middle name (Monroe) and because he thought that the name “Snake” 'sounded cool.' The song he recorded under the name Snake Munroe, called “Do Do Do”, made waves in the R&B radio play circuit; Dawson said that Columbia was even under the impression that he was a black artist and attempted to market it as such. However, even with the heavy airplay, “Do Do Do” failed to sell enough copies to propel Dawson to further musical success.

The early 1960s marked a transition in Dawson's life both musically and personally. He began a strict health regimen that he maintained for the duration of his lifetime; he also joined popular Dallas-based singing group The Levee Singers which, as the folk movement gained speed, experienced considerable success on nationwide television shows such as “Hootenanny” and “The Danny Kaye Show.” Throughout the 1960s, Dawson stayed in the Dallas area and worked with the Levee Singers until musical trends and other transitions had him beginning a new country-rock band called “Steel Rail” in the early 1970s.

Dawson experienced a good deal of local success with “Steel Rail” throughout the 1970s; it was at this time that he also began doing singing and voice-over work for television commercials. Dawson's deepened voice boomed into households everywhere as a 'down-home' personality touting Jax Beer, Aunt Jemima syrup and Hungry Jack pancake mix.

While Dawson was hard at work keeping himself afloat in the music business in Dallas, younger bands (music revivalists, such as The Cramps) discovered Dawson's material from the 1950s. At the same time, the advent of the 1980s had begun a worldwide sub-cultural movement to “bring back” the older rockabilly artists of the 1950s, primarily by releasing their older cuts on CD and booking them to rockabilly-themed festivals. His early cuts, such as “Rockin' Bones” and “Action Packed,” endeared Dawson to collectors and promoters on the festival circuit worldwide and by the mid 1980s, he found himself a star once again, arguably more than even the small taste of stardom he had experienced in his early years.

Re-releases of Dawson’s early career occurred consistently throughout the 1980s, and in the 1990s, bolstered by his success, he began again to record and release new original material. This time he used a new generation of rockabilly musicians whom he had met during his recent musical forays, all of which possessed a love for recreating the authenticity of the original rockabilly and blues sounds. With a young energetic crew as his backing band, Dawson continued to remain highly active with live performances and recordings for the remainder of his life.

Many music journalists and critics believe that Ronnie Dawson's musical endeavors reached a summit in his later career years rather than his early years, even though he was performing the same style of music (firmly rooted in the country, blues and rockabilly genres) as he had in the 1950s. This continued pursuance of his early music is a departure from other white musical artists who had similar genre-specific careers of the era, and his success at delivering it 30 years later provides a compelling case for his influence on many musicians today.

From the beginning of this resurgence until (and past) his diagnosis of throat cancer in 2002, Ronnie Dawson's music and performances continued to breed new fans worldwide; meanwhile, regional, national and international media touted Ronnie Dawson as a Texas-bred musical legend. Following Dawson’s death on September 23, 2003, numerous memorial shows were held in his honor, all of which contained a moment when the attendees banded together to sing a verse from Dawson’s 1957 rockabilly anthem, “Rockin' Bones.”

Lord, when I die, don't you bury me at all
Just hang my bones up upon the wall
And under them bones let these words be seen:
“Here's the runnin' gears of a boppin' machine!”


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