‘If You Love Music, I’m Your Buddy’

Little Montie Jones was billed as one of the youngest disc jockeys in the nation when he presented his Saturday radio show on Siloam Springs (Benton County) station KUOA in the 1950s.

Little Montie Jones

Little Montie Jones

By the time he was a teenager, he was getting press in Billboard magazine and appearing in a number of musical variety shows in the region that were either broadcast or televised nationally. They included the Big D Jamboree in Dallas, Texas; Red River Jamboree in Paris, Texas; and, more closer to home, the Ozark Jubilee in Springfield, Missouri, where he made regular appearances. Not much is known about Jones, such as his hometown, which could have been Siloam Springs given that he also also recorded on the Jemm record label based there. Even his entry on the Rockabilly Hall of Fame website is vague about many things, like his whereabouts now. Perhaps his success was part of the trend of “kid acts” coming into play, most notably that of The Collins Kids, featuring Lorrie and Larry Collins. They gained fame after pulling up stakes from their hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma, to start a music career in California. They could rock out just as hard as the grownups and moved to The Golden State at the urging of Western swing musician Leon McAuliffe, formerly with Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys, who saw potential in the duo.

Montie Jones also went to Tulsa for his break after auditioning for Johnnie Lee Wills, also formerly with The Texas Playboys, who had a radio show on KVOO in Tulsa. Impressed, Wills invited Jones to appear regularly on the show. It was musician Little Jimmy Dickens, however, who gave Jones the stage name of “Little Montie Jones.” Jones shared the stage with many country music legends from Patsy Cline to Johnny Cash and had the slogan, “If you love music, I’m your buddy.”

As Jones got older, he eventually dropped the “Little” from his name and continued to perform and record songs geared more toward the adult market, such as “Moonshine.” By the age of 24, he dropped out of the music business, never to return.

Little Montie Jones, performing at Ernest Tubb’s Midnite Jamboree in Nashville during the late 1950s. Ernest Tubb is standing on the far left.

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Rockwood Club in 1953: Take it Away, Leon

Before rock ‘n’ roll became all the rage in the Ozarks, Western swing was king in Northwest Arkansas, especially for its proximity to Tulsa, Oklahoma. It was home to Cain’s BaGhosts of the Rockwood Clubllroom, the venue that would, in turn, be home for the famous group Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys from 1935 to 1942.

Rockwood Club - Leon McAuliffe

A 1953 advertisement for Leon McAuliffe and his Western Swing Band at Fayetteville’s Rockwood Club.

When Wills formed his group in 1935, he hired a promising 18-year-old steel guitarist named Leon McAuliffe. With McAuliffe and other talented musicians on board, the Texas Playboys popularized Western swing, which became a predecessor to rock ‘n’ roll by blending country and western and a number of other genres including boogie-woogie, blues and jazz. “San Antonio Rose” was their signature song, and in many of their musical compositons, Wills would announce the steel guitar solo by calling out, “Take it away, Leon!”

That would be Leon McAuliffe.

McAuliffe stayed with the band until 1942, when he served in World War II. Following his military service, McAuliffe formed his own musical group called Leon McAuliffe and his Western Swing Band and, later, Leon McAuliffe and the Cimarron Boys. He had a big hit in 1949 with “Panhandle Rag” with lesser hit songs in the 1960s and 1970s.

In 1954, McAuliffe gave the city of Rogers its first AM radio station as co-owner of KAMO. By the late 1960s, McAuliffe would also call Rogers home. No stranger to the area, he had already made frequent visits to the area, such as his 1953 performance at Fayetteville’s Rockwood Club. (Johnnie Lee Wills, brother to Bob, was also a member of the Texas Playboys and, when he broke away from the group, was a frequent visitor to the Arkansas Ozarks. You can read an earlier blog posting about him here.)

Following Bob Wills’ death in 1975, McAuliffe fronted the Texas Playboys in reunion performances. McAuliffe also saw the need to preserve and educate others about Western swing by teaching in a music program at the Rogers State College (now Rogers State University). He also had his own music label, Cimarron Records (In the early 1960s, a popular local group, The Emcees, would record on McAuliffe’s label and perform at the Rockwood Club as well).

McAuliffe died in 1988 in Tulsa.

Shown at the top of the page is a performance by McAuliffe and the Cimarron Boys, date unknown but likely around 1960, with the TV show Town Hall Party, a music variety show in Los Angeles.

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Hobart and Hugh, Ashley’s Melody Men and Brenda Lee

Thoughts on Sunday’s Rockwood Club posting continues, but it takes a little bit of a turn. Featured was a recording by Mike McAlister, who was one of many musicians locally and nationally to perform at Fayetteville’s legendary club. He also recorded on a Harrison label known as Hob Nob Records. Readers posted comments that the label was owned by Hugh Ashley, a musician and songwriter whose work was recorded by the likes of Porter Wagoner, Bill Monroe and Brenda Lee. Ashley also owned a music store that lasted many decades and served as Harrison mayor and a state representative. The Arkansas Times did an interesting write-up when Hugh Ashley died in 2008 at the age of 93. The article can be found here.

The Ashley family were interesting figures in Ozark music. Hugh Ashley was born between the Ozark towns of Marshall and Leslie in Searcy County. His father, Hobart Ashley, was a musician in a string band known as Ashley’s Melody Men and recorded for Victor (see video above), which featured other members of the family, including Hugh. Hugh’s musical journey included going to California as a teenager to seek a career in the music business, a stint in the military and returning to the Ozarks, this time Harrison, to settle and raise a family. He had a radio show on local station KHOZ where he picked and sang, often inviting others to perform alongside him. In addition to running a music store, he wrote songs. One of them, “One Step at a Time,” was singer Brenda Lee’s first hit song. It reached No. 15 on Billboard’s country music chart in 1957.

Though Hobart and Hugh Ashley are no longer here, their music can be found all over the Internet. Here is a rockin’ little number that helped establish Hugh Ashley as a capable songwriter as well as put Brenda Lee on the map:

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Bubble Club to the Rockwood, Fayetteville Venues Told Through Ads

Sunday’s post of Fayetteville’s Rockwood Club prompted many to reminisce about other music venues in the area. They included The Bubble Club (located roughly where the KFC and Motel 6 is near the Rolling Hills Drive and College Avenue intersection), which later became the Shamrock and, later, Mhoon 71 clubs; The Tee Table, located on South School Street near the Fayetteville airport (later, the locale of Dennis Home Furnishings); and, of course, The Rockwood Club. Below are some advertisements for those venues. Click any of the images to activate the gallery for a closer look.

Recognize any of these acts?

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Ghosts of The Rockwood Club

As rock ‘n’ roll began to emerge in the Ozarks, there were a few clubs, especially around Fayetteville, where college students and young adults could kick back on a Friday or Saturday night to hear music with a good beat that you could dance to. One venue in particular, The Rockwood Club, would be a force in the 1950s and 1960s. Though Ghosts of the Rockwood Clubownership passed hands a few times, its most famous owner, Huntsville native and former Fayetteville resident Ronnie Hawkins, used the club to provide some young Canadian musicians experience with playing to American audiences. Hawkins, a rock ‘n’ roller with hit songs of his own, had settled in Canada by the early 1960s. He sent one young man, Richard Manuel, and his group, The Revols, to Fayetteville to be the Rockwood Club’s house band for a few weeks in 1961, sometimes sharing a billing with a group known as The Del-Rays.

At other times, Hawkins would bring down his band, The Hawks, to play as well. Many musicians passed through The Hawks, but those most memorable were Levon Helm, Robbie Robertson, Rick Danko, Garth Hudson and Manuel. When this lineup parted ways with Hawkins in the mid-1960s, they returned to Fayetteville to play several dates at the Rockwood Club as Levon and the Hawks, living in the no-longer-existant Iris Motel on College Avenue. By the late 1960s, those exact same members would be known as The Band and would have hit songs with “Up on Cripple Creek” and “The Weight.”

Oh, and The Del-Reys? The two key members, Earl and Ernie Cate, would become The Cate Brothers Band with a hit song of their own, “Mr. Union Man,” and continue to perform engagements to this day.

But to focus only on Hawkins, The Band and The Cate Brothers Band would be a disservice to the club located south of town near the Fayetteville airport. Many big names, such as Wanda Jackson and Jerry Lee Lewis, performed there, and Sun Studio musicians Sonny Burgess and the Pacers played there repeatedly.

So did many local bands who hoped to make it big. Echoes of the Ozarks would like to periodically salute those local bands in and near the Ozark region through a series to appear on here known as “Ghosts of The Rockwood Club.”

Featured today is Mike McAlister, who performed at The Rockwood Club on October 14, 1960, after returning from Canada, presumably courtesy of Hawkins. Not much is known of McAlister except he recorded with Hob-Nob Records in Harrison. This 1958 song, “Twenty One,” which he performed as a duo named Mike and Nancy, celebrates adulthood with a sound that has Everly Brothers and Buddy Holly influences all over it. The chorus: “Just leave me alone, I’m on my own, I’m 21!”

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John Michael Talbot Finds a Voice of Change in the Ozarks

This blog, in two separate entries, has already featured two musical groups — Black Oak Arkansas and the Dan Blocker Singers — that relocated to the Ozarks to start their own community, whether it be called a “commune” or something else.

Another act worth mentioning is John Michael Talbot, who, along with his brother Terry, was in the late 1960s country rock band, Mason Proffit. The band, which sang socially conscious lyrics (such as the one above), has been hailed by music critics as one of the best country rock bands to never hit it big.

Talbot’s biography is that of many musicians from his era. After a while in the music business, he became disillusioned with the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle and in search of something more meaningful. His spiritual journey led him to Catholicism and monasticism. While in Mason Proffit, Talbot, who was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, bought land near Eureka Springs where, several years later, he founded a monastic community named The Brothers and Sisters of Charity at Little Portion Hermitage/Monastery, listed on his website as “an ‘integrated monastic community’ with celibate brothers and sisters, singles, and families.” The community is still going strong today and offers retreats for those wishing to explore monasticism.

He continues to sing and perform, this time Christian music — and successfully, as well. Several of his albums have  made the Billboard’s Top Contemporary Christian album charts and won awards.

Here Talbot talks about both his spiritual journey and his music in this interview:

And, lastly, here’s a recent song by Talbot:

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An Ozarks Country Music Two-Fer: The Wilburn Brothers and Vernon Oxford

You can’t dispute the force that was behind Hardy, Arkansas’ Teddy and Doyle Wilburn, the duo who made up the Wilburn Brothers. Talented musicians in their own right from the Ozark foothills town, these stars of the Grand Ole Opry were also responsible for launching many careers, including that of Loretta Lynn’s. They also had a syndicated television show from 1963 to 1974, which is currently being broadcast on the RFD-TV network. Above, they sing  homage to locales in northeast Arkansas, such as Crowley’s Ridge and cotton fields.

And, below, on a different Wilburn Brothers Show, here’s a performance by Benton County native Vernon Oxford, apparently wearing a suit by Nudie’s Rodeo Tailors — the same company that made the glittery suits of Porter Wagoner. Honky-tonk at its finest.

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It it the Twilight Zone? No, Just Backwoods Music

In 1954, the CBS news magazine show, “The Search,” came to the University of Arkansas to meet with English professor and musicologist, Mary Celestia Parler. She was the Ozarks’ own Alan Lomax, wandering around in the backwoods and barbershops with a tape recorder, collecting long lost folk songs, much like her contemporary, Batesville native John Quincy Wolf.

Narrator Charles Romine gives it a bit of a “Twilight Zone” vibe and, really, it was a twilight zone — a place where centuries’ old songs were kept alive by the aging rural Ozark folks of Arkansas. Shown singing here is Mary Brisco of Berryville. The introduction in this short video, sadly, doesn’t take us far into the journey.

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Eureka Springs Garbage Lady Courtesy of Frank Zappa

Consisting of Los Angeles band groupies, the GTO’s were one of many experimental music projects undertaken by rock legend Frank Zappa in the late 1960s. Girls Together Outrageously’s most famous member was best-selling author Pamela Des Barres, who wrote tell-all books about her exploits with the many musicians she slept with. A condensed history of the group can be found here.

Yet, it was a song credited to GTO’s member “Miss Cynderella” that would perk up the ears of any Arkansan, “The Eureka Springs Garbage Lady.” It appeared as the opening track on their album, “Permanent Damage,” with the line, “She creeps down the lane as sane as you make her … ” with following lyrics that are, at times, indecPermanent Damage albumipherable.

Now more than 40 years later, “Permanent Damage” is more of a sociological time piece with a “who’s who” of rock and pop music that included contributions from Davy Jones of The Monkees, Jeff Beck and Rod Stewart.

“The Eureka Springs Garbage Lady” should have a good story behind it, but any details fall flat except for one online forum post that suggests it was a retelling of a story by group member Miss Cynderella, whose parents honeymooned in Eureka Springs. (“Miss Cynderalla,” a k a Cynthia Wells, was briefly married to John Cale of the Velvet Underground. She died in 1997.)

Yet, Eureka Springs, in the late 1960s, was on the verge of coming into its own counter-culturally. The town with steep, curvy streets lined with Victorian-era buildings made an attractive location for artists and hippies that, today, has led to a city government accepting of alternate lifestyles and marijuana usage. (Roger McGuinn of The Byrds used to spend summer vacations in Eureka Springs as a child.) It was a perfect local for a GTO’s song, whether the group members were aware of it or not.

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1959: Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks on Dick Clark’s Show

Fayetteville’s Rockwood Club, which was owned in the early 1960s by rockabilly legend and Huntsville native Ronnie Hawkins, featured Hawkins’ band, The Hawks, on many occasions. Stories about their wild shows have always been great fodder. This 1959 lip-synced performance from Dick Clark’s Saturday Night Beechnut Show may be some indication how crazy those concerts actually were. (Note a very young Levon Helm on the drums.)

Posted in Arkansas, Boston Mountains, Levon Helm, Music, Ozarks, Rock and Roll, Ronnie Hawkins, The Band, The Hawks | Tagged , | 2 Comments