By Dick Heil
Jack Rivers sent me to El Cajon to talk to Smokey Rogers about a
job in 1960. After 60 minutes and 6 cups of coffee I became a
disc jockey and sales manager for Town and Country Music Hall and a
chance to play bass on the first set at Bostonia Ballroom on Friday
night as an audition with The Western Caravan. I loved all three
jobs but an extra was bartending every other hour on Sunday afternoons
for the big jam session and talent show. (Cactus
Soldi and I took turns)
When Bob Wills and Tommy Duncan came in on their reunion tour I worked
5 hours in 120 degree heat non-stop serving ice-cold beer to a packed
house and some very thirsty Playboys.
Big names in Country music were booked in twice a month and were backed
by The Western Caravan. I got to work behind Tommy Duncan,
Cowboy Copas, Patsy Cline, Freddie Hart and some local names too.
Patsy was negotiating with RCA Victor and Decca for a large recording
contract and wanted to try two of Decca’s songs on a live
crowd. I talked her into doing them with us as we all had
“big ears”. After watching Sputnik pass overhead we all
went back inside and she sang, I Fall To Pieces and Crazy for her
first time and the crowd cheered, clapped and whistled and she decided
to go with Decca. At the end of the show I got a, “Thanks
Hoss!” as she left the stage. (My one-set audition had
turned into four sets and a job).
Larry ‘Pedro’ DePaul invited me to bring my accordion in and had
me play a few songs and from then on he let me play his own amplified
accordion on Sundays so he could have the day off. It was
very nice of him and I soon learned that he usually did not let anybody
play his instrument on the job. I tried to play my best and
deserve his huge compliment.
Tommy Turman was the lead guitarist and a super talent, but when he
took 2 weeks vacation his replacement was Johnny Weiss who was on all
those Spade Cooley-Tex Williams 1940’s and 50’s recordings and radio
shows. Both men were lots of fun and inspired the band to
swing. Our lead vocalist was Leroy Harris and he got me singing
harmony on several songs.
On steel guitar was Al Gordon (Gravazza) from Hawaii and he could sound
like all the major steel guitarists. Oh, what fun to back these
guys on bass as they did their famous arrangements, and while I was
proud to be welcomed and accepted, the 1960 California economy was
getting worse each day. People lined up for jobs and food
as music went from Swing to Shuffle-beat and more folks were requesting
the songs of Buck Owens, Wynn Stewart and Ray Price.
The Caravan rolled to a stop at a late August Friday band meeting
before work. Smokey, Pedro and Cactus gave each other two weeks
notice and then gave the rest of us ours. It was a very
historical time and we made the most of each song. Two
weeks went quickly and I, along with Tommy Turman was hired by Buck
Wayne Johnston into our replacement band. We couldn’t even give
radio ads away and after two weeks I left to return to the Northwest
and a job.
SWING MUSIC SOCIETY
3565 CAMBRIDGE STREET
Contact – John York email
or phone: 604-299-2301