The further one digs into the second edition of The Encyclopedia of Country Music, the deeper one's appreciation of the contributions of Houston's country-music pioneers becomes. Yeah, just check out the black circles under the eyes and drunk-ass grins on Leon Payne's band above. That photo alone speaks volumes about Houston about the time I was born.
As with our previous examinations of the new volume, today's installment covers some monumental figures who not only contributed mightily to the history of country music but to the coming worldwide craze known as rock and roll.
This is hardly surprising to anyone familiar with the mixed-up nature of Houston's music scene. Dave Alvin describes Houston as the place where blues, zydeco, Cajun, Western, Latin and Eastern European styles all converged into a unique sound. Hardcore honky tonk was one of those unique sounds that pushed several Houston musicians and songwriters to the forefront of the industry.
Leon Payne: A consummate singer and writer, Leon Payne, "The Blind Balladeer," lived in Houston from 1948-52; It was during this time that Hank Williams recorded two Payne compositions, "Lost Highway" and "They'll Never Take Her Love From Me."
His first charting single, "Lifetime to Regret," secured him a deal with Capitol Records. But according to music historian Bill Malone, Payne's "most universally admired song" is "I Love You Because," which was a hit for Payne in 1949. The song has been covered countless times, even by Elvis Presley. George Jones was also known to dip into Payne's repertoire and had a substantial hit with Payne's classic, "Things Have Gone To Pieces."
Tiny Moore: A product of Port Arthur and an avid fan of jazz, Moore popularized the electric mandolin in Western Swing as a member of Bob Wills' band. He later settled in California and toured with Merle Haggard during the '70s and occasionally performed with Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen.
Moon Mullican: Corrigan-born pianist Moon Mullican, known as the King of the Hillbilly Piano Players, was an electrifying performer, an accomplished songwriter, and a carouser of monumental proportions. "Legendary" is almost too small an adjective to describe the man who not only became a huge country-music star but also was at the forefront during rock and roll's incubation period.
People like Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard cite him as influences. Mullican described his style as "Texas Socko" or "East Texas Sock," and claimed he developed the style working in Houston in the late '30s, where he was no doubt influenced by the likes of Amos Milburn and other "boogie-woogie" pianists setting new standards for piano in the city.
He worked with Cliff Bruner for a while before breaking off with his band, the Showboys. Circa late 1945 he recorded a session for Houston's Gulf Records but it was never issued. By 1946, he was signed to now-legendary Cincinnati label King Records, where he scored his first hit, "New Pretty Blonde," a nonsense cover version of "Jole Blon."
He then had a string of hits working with African-American producer Henry Glover: "Sweeter Than the Flowers," covers of pop songs "Mona Lisa" and "Goodnight Irene," and his signature tune, "I'll Sail My Ship Alone." In 1950, Mullican relocated to the West Texas oil-boom town Odessa, where I was born and raised. My father recalls seeing Mullican several times at local clubs and hearing his regular program on KECK-AM.
When I was four years old, my grandmother used to let me stay up late on nights when the Grand Ole Opry came on; Mullican, who often wore a Hereford cowhide suit onstage, was my favorite performer on the Opry. Although he didn't receive credit, it is widely believed that Mullican collaborated with Hank Williams in writing "Jambalaya," and it was Williams who brought him to the Grand Ole Opry in June 1951.
"Cherokee Boogie" climbed into the charts the same year. Mullican returned to East Texas in 1955 and continued to record for King and then for several other labels. His last charting single was "Ragged But Right" in 1961 on Pappy Daily's Starday label.
Truly one of the fathers of rock and roll, Mullican died of a heart attack in 1967. Houston native Rodney Crowell frequently honors Mullican by performing the bawdy Houston-centirc Mullican classic, "I'm An Old Pipeliner." Mullican's tune "Seven Nights To Rock" has been covered numerous times, most famously by Brit-rocker Nick Lowe and Bruce Springsteen.
Eddie Noack: An accomplished songwriter and performer, Eddie Noack is best known as the composer of Hank Snow's inspirational hit, "These Hands," although Noack wrote the song about a working man. Noack began his performing career after graduating from the University of Houston, first appearing on a Baytown radio station in 1947.
While Noack did quite a bit of recording over the next 20 years, nothing ever hit big. George Jones cut several of Noack's songs and eventually convinced him to relocate to Nashville, where he wrote for publishing companies owned by Pappy Daily and Lefty Frizzell. Today Noack is probably best known for his cult-classic K-Ark recording of Leon Payne's "Psycho," which was covered by Elvis Costello.
Herb Remington Another steel-guitar pioneer, Remington played with Bob Wills from 1946-50 and performed on a number of Wills' most important recordings, which include what is considered Remington's masterpiece, "Bootheel Drag." Upon moving to Houston, Remington played on countless session at Gold Star Studios, including numerous Floyd Tillman sides. He also worked frequently with Laura Lee and Dickie McBride. Still active on the Houston scene, Remington has been marketing his own line of non-pedal steel guitars since 1986.
Tex Ritter: Born in Panola County, Tex Ritter began a singing career on Houston station KPRC while still a student at the University of Texas in the mid-'20s, where he became friends with J. Frank Dobie, Oscar Fox, and John Lomax. Following college, Ritter moved to New York where he began to appear in Broadway musicals.
He moved to Hollywood in 1936 and appeared in a string of Westerns while having a long and successful recording career with Capitol Records. He moved to Nashville in 1965, where he served two terms as president of the CMA.
Steve Moore: Longtime Pace Concerts executive Steve Moore grew up in Pasadena but calls Nashville home these days. A lifer in the industry, Moore relocated to Music City in 1985 to open the Star Amphitheater for Pace.
In 1992, he formed Moore Entertainment, which he subsequently sold before joining AEG Live, where he became the executive producer of CMT on Tour. Moore became a board member of the Country Music Association in 1989 and was appointed CEO in 2009.