The Last of the Great Singing Cowboys
Shame on You - The Western Swing Dance Gang
First Appeared in The Music Box, April 1999, Volume 6, #4
Written by John Metzger
The Chicago-based insurgent-country label Bloodshot Records and Soundies have joined forces to create Bloodshot Revival. The new label will feature a series of unreleased transcription recordings from the 1930s through the early 1960s. These recordings, which were leased or sold to radio stations for on-air broadcast, will be remastered and released on budget-priced discs and cassettes and will feature period artwork and extensive liner notes.
The Last of the Great Singing Cowboys, the first release in the new series, is a collection of recordings made between 1946-1949 by Rex Allen, star of Chicago's WLS Barn Dance. Prior to his recording career, Allen had his eyes set on riding in the rodeo. However, after falling from a Brahman bull, he began to focus on music and the movies.
Allen starred in 19 B-movie westerns between 1950-1954. Said his son Rex Allen, Jr., "He wanted to be the opposite of Roy Rogers. He rode a black horse, he didn't wear fringed shirts and he had his guns back-to-front. If he'd got involved in a real gunfight, he'd have been dead."
Allen's own recording career was sporadic, though he did have a million-selling single in 1953 with Crying in the Chapel, which was later recorded by Elvis Presley. His smooth voice allowed him to work for Walt Disney where he narrated a variety of documentaries and in 1973, his voice graced the Hanna-Barbera feature cartoon Charlotte's Web.
There's no doubt the songs on The Last of the Great Singing Cowboys all harken back to a different age, but Allen's crooning easily ranks alongside that of Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. Throughout the disc, Allen's voice is in fine form, and he's backed by other veteran Barn Dance alumni Smoky Lohman, Bernie Smith, Alan Crocket, Frank Messina, Chick Hurt, and Jack Taylor. It's a warm and spirited disc that makes for a fresh change of pace.
The second release for Bloodshot Revival, which is due on April 20, is a compilation from Spade Cooley titled Shame on You: The Western Swing Dance Gang. Cooley was born in Oklahoma to a family of talented fiddlers, and by the age of eight he was performing at local dances. Cooley's resemblance to Roy Rogers earned him his first break, working as a stand-in.
All of the tracks on this disc were recorded between 1944-1945, and many of these feature Tex Williams on vocals. However, it's the instrumentals on this collection that really stand out. From the fervent bounce of Steel Guitar Rag to the orchestrated jazz of Swinging the Devil's Dream, it's clear Cooley meant to develop his own sound around the music of fellow legend Bob Wills.
Rex Allen's The Last of the Great Singing Cowboys -
Spade Cooley's Shame on You: The Western Swing - Dance Gang - ½
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 1999 The Music Box