With 53 related entries, Houston fared well in the second edition of The Encyclopedia of Country Music (Oxford University Press, $65), released last month, the first revision of the 600-page volume since its initial printing in 1998.
Michael McCall, Country Music Hall of Fame archivist and one of the editors of the new edition, estimates that the encyclopedia remains at around 1,200 entries. The list of new entries was actually determined three years ago, he says, as editorial decisions and space/length considerations had to be made about whom to drop out of the volume to make way for the new blood of the past dozen years, ranging from the highly successful Kenny Chesney to somewhat more obscure artists like Robert Earl Keen, Jr.
Over the next few weeks, Rocks Off will be covering the Houston-related artists in the new volume, beginning with a group we'll call the pioneers and old-timers.
Shelly Lee Alley: Originally a pop bandleader based in Fort Worth, Alley, who was born in rural Colorado County and wrote the Father of Country Music Jimmie Rodgers' classic "Traveling Blues," eventually switched to Western Swing, which brought him to Houston as part of the original Swift Jewel Cowboys in 1933 (Swift Jewel refers to Swift Jewel Shortening).
Alley worked closely with Houston musicians Cliff Bruner and Ted Daffan before giving up performing for songwriting in 1946. He wrote Moon Mullican's side "Broken Dreams." Alley was also the stepfather of Clyde Brewer, who led the River Road Boys until his death last year.
Cliff Bruner: Texas City-born Bruner was one half of the original Western Swing twin fiddle combo, sharing fiddle duties in Milton Brown's band the Musical Brownies with Cecil Brower. After recording 49 sides with Brown, Bruner relocated to Houston after Brown's death and formed the Texas Wanderers, which included legendary players Bob Dunn, Lester Raley, Mullican, and vocalist Dickie McBride.
After leaving music for a while, Bruner formed the Showboys with Mullican and they were a much in demand band up and down the Texas/Louisiana Gulf Coast for many years.
Harry Choates: Cajun fiddler Harry Choates died in an Austin jail at the tender age of 29, but not before he found his way to Bill Quinn's Gold Star Studios where he cut what became known as the Cajun National Anthem, "Jole Blon." Released in 1946, "Jole Blon," the first Cajun record to make the Billboard charts, would be the high point in the tragic alcoholic's musical life.
D Records/"Pappy" Dailey: Coming into the recording business via his jukebox company, "Pappy" Dailey had both good business sense and an ear for what the public wanted to hear. He began recording local acts as early as 1949, issuing the first recordings of Webb Pierce and Hank Locklin and distributing them through Four Star Records.
Forming Starday Records with Beaumont partner Jack Starnes, according to The Encyclopedia Dailey "made the first commercial recordings by George Jones, Webb Pierce, Hank Locklin, Roger Miller, the Big Bopper, and Willie Nelson. Even George Strait made early recordings for Dailey's D Records."
Dailey was also the producer for George Jones from 1953-1971; in an acrimonious ending, Jones bought his way out of his contract with Dailey to join Tammy Wynette at Epic Records and work with producer Billy Sherrill.
Bob Dunn: A trombonist turned steel guitar player, Bob Dunn holds a unique place in the history of country music and Western Swing. Joining Milton Brown's Musical Brownie's in 1934, Dunn is credited with being the first person to play an electrified instrument in the genre, and his 1935 recordings with Brown are some of the first uses of electrical stringed instruments in country music.
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The Encyclopedia goes on to proclaim that Dunn, who moved to Houston after World War II and operated a music store on Bissonnet, where he gave lessons and influenced an entire generation of Houston steel players, "helped define Western Swing, particularly in the Southwest." Dunn's amazing solos are still admired by steel-guitar aficionados for their inventiveness and muscle.
The Four Guys/Laddie Cain: The vocal group the Four Guys came to prominence via the Wheeling, West Virginia Opry, and in 1967 were invited to join the Grand Ole Opry. Cain was the only member born in Houston.