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March 2023
Vol. 22, No. 6
32nd Annual San Diego Music Awards

Recordially, Lou Curtiss

Goin’ to the Barn Dances

by Lou CurtissApril 2016

The first barn dance I remember attending with my Dad occurred when I still lived in Seattle back around 1950. It was a big old warehouse-type place that had been decorated to look like a Spanish Castle, and that’s what it was called. I guy named Buck Richey ran a regular Saturday night show there and we went out there to see his show and also a special guest he had–Jack Guthrie–who had the big hit of his cousin Woody’s “Oklahoma Hills.” The Spanish Castle was on the old Seattle-Tacoma highway. I was about 10 years old.

In 1952 we moved to California and, for the next 10 years or so, I had many opportunities to go to country music Barn Dance Shows. On weekends, two or three times a month, the whole family would drive up to San Pedro from our home in Imperial Beach to see my Aunt Ruby and Uncle Gunboats, and while Mom would visit Dad and I, and sometimes Uncle Gunboats, would go to one of the big Barn Dance shows like the Town Hall Party in Compton, the Hometown Jamboree at the El Monte Legion Stadium, a few times to Tex Williams’ shows at the Palace Barn, or T. Texas Tyler or Hank Penny at the Riverside Rancho. We even saw Spade Cooley at the Santa Monica Ballroom a couple of times but mostly it was the Town Hall Party.

You were always guaranteed some fine entertainment with Joe Maphis and his excellent country band and Merle Travis, Tex Ritter, Wesley and Marilyn Tuttle, Johnny Bond, the Sons of the Pioneers, Larry and Lorrie Collins, Jenks Tex Carmen, Gee Nee Sterling, and guests like Marty Robbins, Gene Autry, Lefty Frizzell (who was a regular for a time), Flatt and Scruggs, Cousin Emmy, Hank Snow, and so many others. Later on in the 1950s rockabilly artists like Eddie Cochran, Richie Valens, Dorsey and Johnny Burnett, Bob Luman, and Gene Vincent were regulars or semi-regulars and I also saw a very young Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins there. Sometimes Joe Maphis would be on the road with a Town Hall travelling show and they’d bring in a guest band like Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys, Tex Williams’ Western Caravan, or Leon McAuliffe’s Band. I even saw the Maddox Brothers and Rose and their band run the show one night. Sometimes it was just Merle Travis and Johnny Bond. There were so many good musicians like steel guitarist Marion Ross, fiddlers like Fiddlin’ Kate Warren and Gordon Terry, and young musicians like Joe Maphis students Roy Buchanan and John Burton.

Over at Hometown Jamboree Cliffie Stone ran the show with artists like Tennessee Ernie Ford, guitar duo Speedy West and Jimmy Bryant, Billy Strange, Tommy Sands, Molly Bee, Bucky Tibbs, Merrill Moore’s boogie woogie piano, fiddler Harold Hensley and, for a time, the Hoosier Hot Shots. At the Palace Barn it was The Tex Williams’ Western Caravan with Smokey Rogers, Deuce Spriggens, and Joaquin Murphy on steel guitar. They also did a Sunday Afternoon show (which was on TV for a time) live at Knotts Berry Farm. Yodeler Carolina Cotton was on a lot of those shows

Sometimes when we didn’t get up to LA we’d go out to East County to the Bostonia Ballroom. I saw Hank Williams there in 1952 and, over the years, saw Hank Thompson, Faron Young, Little Jimmie Dickens, Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Kitty Wells and Johnny and Jack, Roy Acuff, Ernest Tubb, and Johnny Cash.

If we stayed home on a Saturday night we could always watch “Hometown Jamboree” from 7—8pm on LA’s channel 13 (KLAC), Spade Cooley from 8—9pm on Channel 5 (KTLA), and three hours of Town Hall Party from 10pm—1am (I can’t remember the station). If that wasn’t enough country music during the week there were “Western Varieties” with Doye O Dell (who also had a daily weekday show) on KTLA, “The Dude Martin Show” with Sue Thompson, Hank Penny, and others on Channel 11, and “The Janie Davids Show” (another cowgirl yodeler) on Channel 9 (KHJ). There was also a daytime “Town Hall Party” weekday show hosted by Johnny Bond, Wesley Tuttle, and Merle Travis (alternating), and Merle and his wife Judy Hayden had a daytime show for awhile. Down here in San Diego “Smokey Rogers General Store” was on daily on Channel 8 (KFMB) and Roy and Don Hogsed had a show on Channel 10 (KOGO) for awhile as did Okie Bob on Channel 6 (XETV). So you could pretty well get your fill of country and western music live and on TV (also on Radio but thats a whole other column in itself).

Somehow, toward the end of the ’50s, country dropped the “western” and moved back to Nashville, leaving remnants that just didn’t include any Barn Dance-type shows. What country music you did hear was in small bars and clubs with the more traditional type country, old timey, and bluegrass, splitting off into their own genres (clubs, festivals, etc). For a time, from the late ’40s and through the ’50s, country music thrived on the West Coast and in Southern California, and I got to be there for a goodly part of it.

Lou Curtiss

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