Wayne Raney: Up with Jesus, Down with Rock ‘n’ Roll

Wayne Raney of Wolf Bayou in Cleburne County made a name for himself with his harmonica and 1949 hit song, “Why Don’t You Haul Off and Love Me,” which peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard country music chart. He penned boogie songs (“Lost John Boogie” and “Jack and Jill Boogie”) with harmonica solos that could rival those of many Mississippi bluesmen. His song, “Shake Baby Shake,” is outright rock ‘n’ roll, making him one of those unsung heroes of the genre.

Jack Holt - Wayne Raney ad 1952

Wayne Raney performed at a 1952 campaign rally on the Fayetteville square for Arkansas gubernatorial candidate Jack Holt. In the ad, Raney is billed as a “harmonica wizard from Grand Ole Opry, composer, entertainer and recording star.”

Which is why his 1958 gospel revival single on Starday records is an interesting one. Was he fed up with the direction music was taking, the one he helped create? Or, as has been the case with many recording artists later in their careers, did he feel he could tap into a new market by recording religious material? Whatever the case, it worked. The result was “We Need a Whole Lot More of Jesus (And a Lot Less Rock ‘n’ Roll”), which has since been covered multiple times by many music artists, including, of all people, Linda Ronstadt.

As a child, Raney’s musical ambition was intense. When he was 13, he hitchhiked to Eagle Pass, Texas, to transcribe transcription records at XEPN, a south-of-the-border radio station with a range that covered much of the United States. While still a teen, he teamed up with Lonnie Glosson of Judsonia, with whom he established a mail-order harmonica operation before moving on to record with the Delmore Brothers. The year “Why Don’t You Haul Off and Love Me” became a hit, Raney performed on Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry and, shortly after, toured with country musician Lefty Frizzell. By the early 1960s, Raney returned to Cleburne County, continued to record gospel music and set up his own studio and record-pressing plant. In the 1970s, he made occasional appearances on the TV variety show, Hee Haw, before his health deteriorated, causing him to leave the music business altogether. Raney died of cancer in 1993 in Batesville.

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The Wonder Drug of Berryville

In 1960, Berryville disc jockey Jack Reno of radio station KTCN made a plea in Billboard magazine that his station was spinning three hours of country music a day and was in dire need of some albums and singles. Within six months, he would release a 45 rpm record of his own, an upbeat country weeper called “The Wonder Drug” on the Eureka label where pharmaceuticals from Streptomycin to penicillin are saluted (Dr. Jonas Salk even gets a shout out). But, he asks, why can’t they find a wonder drug to heal a broken heart?

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Rockwood Club in 1961: Jim White Channels the Spirit of Buddy Holly

Here’s yet another mystery from the rock ‘n’ roll archives, and this time it’s Jim White who performed at the Rockwood Club in Fayetteville in March 1961. Though his backup bandGhosts of the Rockwood Club was listed in the accompanying ad as the Knights, a 45 rpm record actually has the band as The King’s Men.

Just two years after Buddy Holly perished in a plane crash, White kept his spirit alive, which is evident in this Holly-inspired charmer, shown in the video above, titled “Teenage Doll” — not to be confused with a Ricky Nelson song of the same title recorded a few years earlier. It’s interesting to note that White’s Buddy Holly-style tune predates at least two big hits recorded in tribute to the Holly sound: Tommy Roe’s “Sheila” (1962) and Bobby Fuller’s “I Fought the Law” (1965). The only difference is that White’s song never was a hit. Yet, White’s Rockwood - Jim White ad“Teenage Doll” has appeared on albums of “rare” rockabilly songs, including a compilation by Buffalo Bop Records called “School Day Blues.” Even the reviewer at AllMusic.Com couldn’t help but note that “Jim White and the Kingsmen [sic] sound like the reincarnation of Buddy Holly & the Crickets on ‘Teenage Doll,’ cut in Fort Smith, AR, by UBC Records — one hopes the singer and guitarist made it somewhere, because they had the Crickets‘ sound down about as well as anyone this side of Bobby Fuller.”

Who exactly is/was Jim White? Where was he from? One clue is that he played Fayetteville more than once, which included a performance at the Mhoon 71 Club on North College in 1960. Does anyone remember Jim White?

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‘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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