Five More Musical Texas Politicians
Kinky Friedman and a possible constituent
Photo by Daniel Kramer
In this week's Houston Press cover story, you can read about Kinky Friedman's completely serious campaign to become Texas' next Agriculture Commissioner in the November 2014, a position he hopes will allow him to be the state's leading advocate for marijuana legalization. This is not the first time Friedman, a curmudgeonly but warm-hearted jack-of-all-trades for Texas arts and letters, has acted on his political ambitions. His 2010 run for governor drew about as many laughs as it did votes, but at least it was an entertaining few months.
But Friedman is not quite the only Texan to have kept two hats handy, one to toss into the political arena and the other to pass around from the bandstand for tips. Thanks to our friends at the Texas Music Office -- by far the coolest part of Rick Perry's entire operation -- Rocks Off was able to unearth five more.
KENNY MAINES Out in West Texas, the name Maines has been synoymous with music since the 1950s, when James Maines and his two siblings started the Maines Brothers Band. They quickly became one of the most popular country/Western-swing groups in the greater Lubbock area across two generations, as the "Little Maines Boys" who once sung atop soda-pop crates grew into full-fledged Maines Brothers themselves. That iteration recorded several albums throughout the late '70s and '80s, including a couple for Mercury.
The best-known Maines is steel-guitar guru Lloyd, Joe Ely band alumnus, producer extraordinaire, and sire of Dixie Chick Natalie. But younger brother Kenny, a guitarist, singer and harmonica player, was elected Lubbock Country Commissioner in 1992 and served 12 years before returning to the Maines Brothers. The band continues performing today, just not very often because of a stipulation that they won't play a show unless all seven members can be present.
Courtesy of Texas State Archives
W. LEE "PAPPY" O'DANIEL Still the only musician elected Texas governor, Pappy O'Daniel is best known outside politics as the man who gave Bob Wills his start as a fiddler in his popular 1930s Western swing band the Light Crust Doughboys. Wills went on to found the Texas Playboys, but the Light Crust Doughboys made an ideal campaign vehicle for O'Daniel as popular songs like "Beautiful Texas" could be heard at campaign rallies. He was elected governor in both 1938 and 1940.
An Ohio native who got his start in Texas by selling advertising for Fort Worth's Burrus Mill flour company (hence the "Light Crust Doughboys"), O'Daniel went on to serve the people of Texas as U.S. senator from 1941 to 1949, narrowly defeating an upstart Hill Country congressman named Lyndon Baines Johnson. Their closely contested race remains one of the most famous election controversies in Texas history.
ARNALDO VILARREAL RAMIREZ SR. Already a popular DJ in the Rio Grande Valley, Arnaldo Ramirez founded what is believed to be the first Tejano record label, IDEAL, in 1948. Some of the artists who recorded for Ramirez included Chelo Silva, Lydia Mendoza, Los Alegres de Teran, Narcisco Martinez, Cornelio Reyna, Carlos Guzman and an up-and-coming singer from Corpus Christi named Baldemar Huerta, who Anglo audiences would get to know much better under the name Freddy Fender.
Ramirez also started the widely seen Spanish-language TV variety show Fanfarria Falcon in 1964; during its 20-year run it was broadcast on as many as 160 stations across the U.S. and Mexico. A beloved figure in the Valley for decades, Ramirez was elected mayor of Mission in 1973 and served eight years. He passed away in 1993.
List continues on the next page.
TEX RITTER Father of late Three's Company and Bad Santa actor John Ritter, Woodward Maurice "Tex" Ritter studied cowboy songs at UT-Austin under none other than Alan Lomax, and soon put them to very good use. After a brief singing gig at Houston radio station KPRC, he moved to L.A. and became one of the biggest cowboy movie stars of the 1930s, known for crooning traditional folk songs rather than pop tunes in his films.
Ritter appeared in 85 movies in all, singing in most of them, and was one of the nation's Top 10 box-office for six years. He also had a TV series that ran from 1959 to 1962, and was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1964. Today the Texas Country Music Hall of Fame in Carthage is located near where he grew up in Panola County. Ritter ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate from Tennessee in 1970, not too long before he died in 1974.
CHARLIE TEAGARDEN Although he was overshadowed by his more famous older brother Jack Teagarden, Charlie Teagarden had a long and productive career as a Dixieland and big-band trumpeter from the 1920s to the 1960s, peforming and recording with the likes of Billie Holiday, Benny Goodman, Paul Whiteman, Lionel Hampton, Jimmy Dorsey, Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters.
In the early '60s Teagarden moved to Las Vegas, where soon his band got steady work at Rat Pack-era lounges such as the Cinderella Club and the Silver Slipper. He eventually got himself elected to the executive board of the Local 369 Musician's Union in 1963, and gave up that position in 1968 to pursue politics full-time. Teagarden died in 1984.
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