Saturday, February 08, 2014

Country Club #27: Maddox Brothers and Rose

A couple of Woody Guthrie's songs have been country hits. One is "Oklahoma Hills" and another is "Philadelphia Lawyer." The latter was a hit for the Maddox Brothers and Rose, who were known as "America's most colorful hillbilly band" from the 1930s to the 1950s.

The Maddox family were sharecroppers in Alabama who traveled by hitch-hiking and hoping trains to California. They lived in poverty and worked in the agricultural fields from Arizona to Washington state before settling down in Modesto. They began performing musically, a local furniture store, sponsored a radio show, and in 1939 they piled in the family Model A, drove to Sacramento, and won a hillbilly music contest. In 1946, after the boys got home from the war, Maddox Brothers and Rose began recording on the 4 Star label.

Years later Rose explained how she joined the family band

In a 1996 interview, Maddox recalled that her musical career began just a few years later. Her brother Fred decided he had had enough of picking fruit for 10 cents a box and lined up a job playing music on KTRB radio sponsored by Rice furniture store in Modesto, CA. in 1937. Before agreeing to sponsor them Rice Furniture demanded the band have a girl singer. "They didn't know if I could sing or not but Fred wasn't about to lose that opportunity," Maddox said. "And he knew Mama wouldn't let him get a girl singer. So he said, "We've got the best girl singer that's ever been." He didn't tell him it was just an 11 year old kid. We went on the radio the next day, and we started selling that furniture like mad."
It's not clear how or when the Maddox Brothers and Rose added "Philadelphia Lawyer" to their repertoire or why they decided to record it in 1949. Guthrie had written it a decade earlier and performed it often on his California radio program, so they most likely heard it there. When the Maddox record was played for Woody by a record label man, he was extremely enthusiastic. "My ears wiggled with joy," he said.

Although her brothers settled down and left the music business, Rose continued to tour and record for many years.  She even received a Grammy nomination for her 1994 album "$35 and a Dream."

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