Monday, December 7, 2009

I'm a "Wanna-Be Has-Been"

I was recently asked for details regarding the days in my youth when I was an entertainer, singing western songs and playing the guitar on the radio as "The Sunflower Wrangler". I'm posting my response for my friends to read too.
You know when entertaining gets into your blood, you grasp every opportunity to perform. Rubbing shoulders with professionals at my young age was quite a nice feeling. For a time, wherever I went, my guitar was with me. It was my badge, so to say. Now, regarding your questions:
1)How did I get involved with Medicine shows?
Answer: Frankly I did not travel with them. Whenever they came to town, they welcomed local talent. Such was my involvement. I never tried the CURE ALL TONIC we peddled for a dollar a bottle. I was still a student at Hoisington KS High School. Some would offer that I travel with them, but my family thought I should finish my education. In 1940 after I finished high school, I enrolled in the Civilian Conservation Corps, for a year until 1941, and I worked at radio station KVGB (Great Bend, Kansas) with Harry Wright and I was an accountant at Thies Packing Co (my 54 year career in the full line meat packing plant) until July 1942 when I was drafted into the Army.
Question 2) Was Medicine sold? YOU BET, it was promoted like an auctioneer, promising to CURE ALL ailments. With members of the entertainment group and the Promoter going through the crowd, bottles held high, giving their spiel--"Get it while it is available--You will never regret that you tried it." They rattled of all the ailments it would CURE. And people BOUGHT IT.
Question 3) Did I use it? Of course NOT. It was bottled in Wichita, Ks, by the promoter, and probably a concoction that was part alcohol. I never knew what was in it. I am sure it would be illegal with today's standards. Or maybe all medicine shows had their own label put on a professionally manufactured and bottled health & Vitamin TONIC, as they called them in those days. They came around to all the small western Kansas towns regularly, pitched their tent on an empty lot, and bally-whooed up and down Main Street with loud speakers on the car top, telling of performances.

Question 4: How did it feel to travel? Well, as much as I WANTED TO, I did not travel with them. But they knew me, and regularly every summer, we looked forward to my joining their entertainment group. Me with my National Duolin (Steel body) Guitar, among their Martin and Gibson's, felt pretty good. I sang and yodeled (Wilf Carter style, my idol and hero) aka "Montana Slim" along with the Jimmie Rodgers repertoire. Border Radio, remember, was going strong in those years, Ted Johnson was Nolan Rinehart MC, XEPN, XERF, etc, you name it. Surely you remember how they boomed their broadcast from Mexico to Canada, Artists were The Carter Family, Monroe Brothers, Jesse Rogers, Nolan Rinehart "Cowboy Slim", Dallas Turner, "Nevada Slim", the High Flyers, Major Kord, and numerous Religious programs. Border Radio got into trouble with the Mexican government over these Religious elements for some reason. The Mexican government ended up trying to shut them down I think.
Dallas Turner was one of the last of the Border Radio entertainers and PITCH MEN, (high powered commercials) when the stations met their demise with Gun Play. I think Dr. J.R. Brinkley (Goat Gland Prostate Doctor) started the Border Radio era. Dr Brinkley started with a radio station in Milford, Kansas, and once ran for Governor of Kansas. They ran him out of the state I heard.
Dr. Brinkley went to Del Rio TX. Roy Faulkner--"The Lonesome Cowboy", stayed with Dr Brinkley many years. From Milford, Kansas to Del Rio, Texas. Roy knew many songs by memory, including the umpteen verses of "Abdul-The Bul-Bul-Lameer." Roy ended up with the Dinner Bell Roundup gang at WIBW, Topeka,KS.
Max Martin went from border radio to KGNO Dodge City for a while I remember. I think I heard Max is buried up near Council Bluff, Iowa. And Border Radio "Lone Star Yodeler" Harry Wright, came to Great Bend,KS with a traveling medicine show and stayed at KVGB, in Great Bend, KS. That was who I worked with. Harry played a mahogany Martin and his theme song was "The Old Oaken Bucket" Everybody had a "handle" and theme song in those days. Seems Medicine Shows sort of faded out in about 1940.
Last I heard from Dallas Turner, he lived in Elko, NV and still was part of Cowboy Poetry, and western songs regimen. In fact I have not been in touch with him for years, I do not know if he is even still living. Also have not had any recent communications with Country yodeling Artist Kenny Roberts, I valued my writing and hearing from Tex Owens, Al Clauser, and minor radio artists.
Ernie is mostly retired with MEMORIES. I see Jim and Jeanne Martin -- whenever they are in town they give me a call. In fact I have not had my D-18 Martin or my ES-150 Gibson, and F-5 Ibanez Mandolin, and my trusty fiddle out of their cases for a couple of years. Also have not touched my Hohner Marine Band Harmonicas in years. As all rural farm boys, I carried a harmonica in my pocket along with my red handkerchief as far back as I can remember. Before I could afford the Marine Band, I had what they called STAND BY (35 cents) was the cheaper Hohner.
I used to think MUSIC was my middle name. During High School Band and Orchestra days, I had our Band Director help me with HARMONY books I checked out of the library. I did not want to be just a 3-chord country picker. So my Mom did laundry & ironings for our music teachers to pay for us kids to take piano, voice, guitar, etc lessons. My Sister became a Piano Teacher, My son is church Organist at a large Methodist church in El Paso -and teaches public school music to elementary grade kids. But ole Grandpa is bringing up the rear with a few cowboy songs.
A wanna-be has-been, Ernie


Randy Seaver said...

Hi Ernie,

Thanks for the memories! Does Becky and your family have records or tapes of your musical career? What a wonderful heirloom they would be!

I recmember XERF from Del Rio TX - loud and clear on 1570 AM here in San Diego in late '50s and early '60s. I was a DXer - looking for distant stations on the AM band.

Have a wonderful Christmas -- Randy

Michael said...

Where did you work in the CCC, sir?

GrannyPam said...

Memories are made of this. When I was a child, I was on the Kenny Roberts (the Jumping Singing Cowboy) show in Cadillac, Michigan. He also had a show the Tri-city area on WNEM either before or after his Cadillac stint. His sons went to the local high school, and one of them was in a popular "rock" type teen age garage band which played for all the school dances.

Several years ago, I Googled Kenny up, and wrote to him. He sent me a nice letter, an autographed photo of him and his wife, and a list of cassettes he had for sale. For several years afterward, we received Christmas cards, with an updated list.

Kenny, whose real name was Kingsbury (perhaps this is the wrong spelling), knew my father during his time in Cadillac, and immediately recognized the name when I wrote to him.

I have hand nothing from him for a while, and I cannot find his website now, but what a trip it was to read about your career and remember "The Jumping Cowboy".

Do you still have that National guitar??

Greta Koehl said...

What wonderful memories. I can still remember the "yodeling cowboys" from when my parents would play country radio. Thanks, Ernie!