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Sunday, September 30, 2007

Episode 42 - I Was Dancing with My Darlin'

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It's a Dreamtime potpourri this time around with some thoughts, talk and music on the big little man Pee Wee King and his songwriting partner, Redd Stewart; the song they composed on a matchbook cover; how Cowboy Copas and Syd Nathan could have bought it for $25; and then a look and listen to Theme Time Radio Hour's resident hillbilly expert, Deke Dickerson. You can tell we have a full plate tonight, so we better get started...

[Dylan on Pee Wee King]

As well as introducing the accordion to country-western music, Pee Wee King brought electric instruments, drums, and horns to the Grand Ol' Opry. And the next time you're admiring Mr. D's sartorial style on stage, you might give a thought to Mr. Pee Wee King of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, who was the first in the Grand Ol' Opry to dress up his band members in tailored Western clothing direct from Nudies of Hollywood.

Nicknamed "Pee Wee" by Gene Autry because he was only 5'6", King was born Julius Frank Anthony Kuczynski (koo-CHIN-skē) in 19 and 14. His father led a polka band, and the young Frank, who used the second of his three given names, became a member of the band, playing both accordion and fiddle. By age 14, King was doing radio appearances, and formed his own band, which played a mix of polka and country-western... putting the accordion to use no matter what the style of music.

In 19 and 36, Pee Wee formed The Golden West Cowboys, which he would lead through a variety of personnel changes for over 30 years. Fiddler Redd Stewart, who would later become Pee Wee's songwriting partner, joined the group the following year, although he would be drafted in 1941 and not come back to the Golden West Cowboys until the end of World War II.

1937 was a big year for The Golden West Cowboys. They were also invited to join the Grand Ol' Opry that same year, an invitation that some of the show's traditionalists might have later regretted. By 19 and 40, Pee Wee was using an amplified guitar on stage, and in 1947 brought drums to the Grand Ol' Opry for the first time in its history.

1947 also brought other changes. After a 10-year run at the Grand Ol' Opry, Pee Wee was ready for something new, and brought the band to Nashville and to television, where "The Pee Wee King Show" ran for another decade. Redd Stewart - who was back with the group by this time - took over lead vocals for the band, and Pee Wee concentrated on business and songwriting.

The Tennessee Waltz

The story goes that Pee Wee and Redd were on the road heading for a gig in Tennessee and riding in the luggage truck so they could work on songs together without distraction. Bill Monroe's Kentucky Waltz began playing on the radio, which inspired one or both of them to start thinking about a similar waltz for the great state of Tennessee. Providentially, the Golden West Cowboys had been using a waltz melody as the band's theme song for several years, a tune that up to then had had no lyrics. Stewart later recalled that he scrawled the first version of Tennessee Waltz on the back of a matchbook cover, although it took the two songwriters over 18 months before they came up with the final lyrics, set to the tune of the band's "No-name Waltz" theme music.

[Tennessee Waltz - Redd Stewart]

The Cowboys of the Golden West, with Redd Stewart on vocals, single of The Tennessee Waltz made the country charts on April 3rd 19 and 48 and peaked at the #3 position. It would stay on the charts for 35 weeks. Cowboy Copas also scored a #3 hit with the song that same year, and Nick Tosches tells a funny story in his 1977 book
Country, about how the Cowboy let the rights for Tennessee Waltz slip through his fingers. Lloyd Copas, better known as Cowboy Copas, was one of the most popular country performers of the later `40s, and was recording for King Records at the time. King Records, as you may remember, O Constant Theme Time Radio Hour Listener, was owned and operated by Syd (Tosches refers to him as "Sid," but my later research indicates Nathan spelled it "Syd.") Nathan, whose frenzied sales exhortations have been played on several Theme Time episodes.

Copas made regular pilgrimages from Cincinnati, home of King Records, down to Nashville to hear - and buy - the latest songs. Syd Nathan purchased the publishing rights for the songs Copas bought, and Copas kept the author rights. Copas came back from one trip, noting to Nathan that he had passed on one song offered to him, because the writers wanted $25 for it, nearly double the normal asking price.

"All it was was a copy of 'Missouri Waltz.'" Copas said.

Intrigued, Syd Nathan replied that maybe they should pick up the song anyway, and fronted Copas an extra ten bucks to get it on his next trip to Nashville. But when Copas returned, he still didn't have the song. "They sold it, huh?" Nathan asked.

"The bastards put the price up to fifty dollars, and I wasn't going to pay that much," Copas replied.

"You done right," Syd Nathan said. "There ain't no song in the world worth fifty dollars."

In 1965, The Tennessee Waltz became the fourth official song of the state of Tennessee.

The Hardest Working Man in Rockabilly

[Dylan on Deke Dickerson] [Deke Dickerson - Broken Heart]

That was Deke Dickerson with Broken Heart, from his latest CD - The Melody. After I got over my funk that I wasn't Theme Time's resident hillbilly expert, I decided to do some research on Mr. Deke Dickerson and, in the course of my studies, ended up emailing Deke, only to find out that he's a pretty nice guy, even if he did take the job I've been angling for these last 42 episodes.

Thirty-nine years of age, Deke is a native of Columbia, Missouri. He formed his first band, Untamed Youth, at age 17. Untamed Youth was a retro surf guitar garage band, whose song
Santa's Gonna Shut 'Em Down was featured on Eddie Gorodetsky's Christmas with Eddie G. compilation CD. Untamed Youth gained a strong rep. in the Midwest, did some national tours, and released four CDs on indie labels. The group broke up after Deke decided to head out to the sun and beaches of L.A. in 1991, where he became a regular on the rockabilly and roots scene. In L.A. Deke teamed up with Dave Stuckey , and the two formed the team of Deke & Dave. The duo focused on an eclectic mix of hillbilly, surf, and rock-n`-roll music, released two CDs, and were a major attraction at rockabilly shows.

By 1997, Deke decided to try a solo career and formed his back-up band, the Ecco-Fonics, which ranges in membership from a stripped-down three to a full-tiltboogin' fivesome. Ecco-Fonics is also the name of Deke's label, which has released music from several hillbilly, country, and rockabilly artists, including Deke himself.

Armed with his custom-made double-neck Mosrite guitar, Deke and the Ecco-Fonics play an average of 225 shows every year throughout the U.S., Europe, Japan, and Australia, including the Irvine, California annual Fourth of July Hootenanny and the Viva Las Vegas rockabilly spectacle in Las Vegas, Nevada. Deke is also an accomplished engineer and studio producer, and writes articles and liner notes for music magazines and CDs.

And, of course, we're hearing Deke now on TTRH. In fact, when you hear guitar music between segments, the chances are that's Deke you're listening to. The first two shows that included Deke's music were Season One's Luck and Laughter episodes, and, as Deke notes on his web site, Season 2 of TTRH will be featuring clips of him speaking on rockabilly and a variety of other subjects.

As I mentioned, in-between bouts of jealousy I emailed Deke, asking him if he'd be interested in providing Dreamtime with a song or two for this episode. And, he was nice enough not only to get back to me, but to offer me essentially anything I wanted from his catalog. So, I can't really hate him, and I encourage you to go check out Deke's web site, -- -- links are also at the Dreamtime web site (that's right here) - where you can buy his music as either high-quality MP3 downloads, on CD, or in some instances, even on vinyl.

I recommend Deke's latest, The Melody, which is like turning on the radio and finding everything on the dial is coming from 19 and 55, from rockabilly to country, to doo-wop, and this song coming up, the heavily-Buddy Holly influenced, Tell Me How. This has been Fred Bals with the Dreamtime podcast, and here's Deke Dickerson, the hardest-working man in rockabilly, closing us out with Tell Me How.

Sources and Further Reading/Listening: Pee Wee King bio at Redd Stewart page at the Rockabilly Hall of Fame; Country by Nick Tosches (pages 123-124); Deke Dickerson's web site; Deke's MySpace page; Deke's bio from; Broken Heart and Tell Me How are from the album The Melody, Deke Dickerson & The Ecco-Fonics, used by permission. Thanks, Deke!


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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Visit our tribute site to the man behind the song, 'Tennessee Waltz' - Redd Stewart.