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  Chuck-Wagon Jamboree, Volume 2 - 10 hours [Audio CDs] #RA062



 
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Chuck-Wagon Jamboree
Volume 2



"Let's be happy, gather 'round, 'cause it's time for you and me to sing a song as we jog along to the Chuck-Wagon Jamboree!"

Singing cowboy Ken Curtis is pictured here in about 1947, during the time of his Columbia Pictures contract.To western fans, he will always be best known as Festus Haggen, the grizzled and cantankerous sidekick of Sheriff Matt Dillon on the CBS television series "Gunsmoke." Complete with a three-day growth of beard and a dry-throated voice, Ken Curtis co-starred on the series for eleven years and became one of the best-loved comedic actors in television history.

But even die-hard fans of Dodge City may not realize that, in the years just after World War II, their favorite western deputy was, in fact, a singing cowboy -- the star of his own movie series at Columbia Pictures and a musical radio favorite to boot.

Born in Colorado in 1916, Curtis Wain Gates was the son of a homesteader, Dan Gates, and his wife, the former Millie Sneed. Spending most of his formative years in Las Animas, Colorado ("I grew up 100 miles from Dodge City," he later said), Curtis was twelve years old when his father was first elected to the post of county sheriff. "Our living quarters were on the ground floor and the cells were upstairs. Mother used to cook the meals for the prisoners and I took them up to the cells while she held a shotgun in her hands in case any of them got frisky." His youth appears to have been largely uneventful and, aside from occasionally standing in as sheriff when his father was away and playing the saxophone in his high school band, there seems to be little indication of the career he was destined to enjoy; in fact, when he attended college in Colorado Springs after graduating from high school, his intention was to study medicine. However, at college, he found he had an aptitude for singing and songwriting and, in the mid-1930s, he decided to leave college and head for the west coast to try his luck in the music business.

Then as now, it was difficult to be successful in the highly competitive world of popular music and it didn't take long before Curtis realized he simply wasn't exceptional enough to become an overnight sensation. Alone in Los Angeles and in need of work, he hooked up with a small band and began accepting musical engagements at small nightclubs. Legend has it that, one night, Cecil B. DeMille's secretary was in the audience, liked what she heard, and recommended him to her boss for a possible movie role. This chance for stardom, unfortunately, didn't end up leading anywhere -- but, having proven himself to be a melodic and reliable vocalist, he soon began singing anonymously on various network radio shows and was also given the chance to regularly record 'demos' - recordings of newly-written popular songs, designed to be distributed to bandleaders in hopes that their orchestras might add them to their repertoire. One 'demo', featuring a song written by composer Harold Arlen, made its way to bandleader Tommy Dorsey; Dorsey didn't much care for the song, but he was in need of a new male singer -- and so got in contact with Curtis and offered to pay his way to New York to rehearse and sing with the band. Dorsey didn't much care for the name Curtis Gates, though, and decided that it should be changed; thus, having been hired to sing with one of the top bands in the country, Curtis Gates became Ken Curtis.

In later years, Curtis became far more popular and well known for his portrayal of Deputy Festus Haggen on the CBS-TV western series "Gunsmoke."Joining Dorsey mid-engagement at the Paramount Theater, Ken successfully filled the shoes vacated earlier by singers Frank Sinatra and Dick Haymes, but his tenure was fairly brief and may, in fact, have been temporary from the start. After leaving Dorsey, he began singing with the band of Shep Fields, a bandleader best known for his "Rippling Rhythm" musical style but, after Pearl Harbor, Curtis knew that it was only a matter of time before he would be drafted. He chose instead to enlist in the infantry in 1942 and, after a military career spent serving in the Pacific, he was honorably discharged in 1945.

After the war, Curtis resumed his singing career by appearing in a number of guest spots on radio. One such spot - for which he was recommended by a friend, former Dorsey singing alumnus Jo Stafford - was on a radio show hosted by singer/composer Johnny Mercer. On the program, Curtis sang "Tumbling Tumbleweeds" - apparently the first time he had performed a country-tinged ballad on the air. On the strength of his appearance with Mercer, Columbia Pictures called to audition him for a new series of musical B-westerns they were considering producing. Passing his screen test with flying colors, Curtis was soon cast as Columbia's newest singing cowboy - eventually appearing in eight western films between 1945 and 1946, often with the novelty musical ensemble the Hoosier Hot Shots. (Considering that Tommy Dorsey had renamed him Ken, it's interesting to note that, in most of his westerns, his character's first name is once again Curt or Curtis.) The low-budget films, running only about one hour in length, were successful at Saturday matinees and as second features and usually featured support from character stalwarts like Guy Kibbee and Guinn "Big Boy" Williams, but were not particularly distinguished plot-wise. "I'd stop in the middle of a gun fight and sing a song," was how Curtis would later describe the acting requirements of his early film career.

By 1947, the era of the singing cowboy was drawing to a close and Curtis' Columbia contract was cancelled. By this time, however, Curtis had made multiple appearances on radio shows and was always in demand for more. With his clear, smooth tenor and a likeable, boyish nature, he perfectly fit the bill of the clean-cut and wholesome cowboy singer, which led to multiple appearances on radio's "Hollywood Barn Dance" and "The All Star Western Theater." He also came to the attention of the Hollywood-based Teleways Radio Productions, a recording company specializing in syndicated musical programs featuring popular western music stars. Teleways had been founded in 1946 and was already successfully syndicating quarter-hour shows starring the Sons of the Pioneers and Foy Willing and the Riders of the Purple Sage. Their idea was to feature Curtis in a fifteen-minute five-a-week daily program patterned after similar network musical shows, as well as shows recorded and syndicated by the Missouri-based RadiOzark Enterprises and the Los Angeles-based C. P. MacGregor Company.

An extra feature of some of the programs in this collection is a number of guest appearances by yodeling country singing star Carolina Cotton.Joining Ken Curtis on this new series of shows, titled "Chuck-Wagon Jamboree," was a batch of talented studio musicians called The Novelty Aces, who would support Curtis musically in his solo numbers, appear as laughing and joking hillbilly hicks between songs, and also be featured in their own musical numbers. Art West, a talented musician and composer in his own right, was hired as both announcer and performer, and two of the singers would change their voices and appear as "The Goon Holler Twins" for twangy duets. Musically, the tone was decidedly down-home, with selections ranging all the way from Stephen Foster favorites to barbershop ballads, from spirituals to fiddle break-downs, and from popular tunes to a daily close-harmony hymn that would close each program on a peaceful note. Curtis would generally be featured in two songs per program, often choosing his selections from the popular recordings of western performers like Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Bob Wills, and Al Dexter, and emphasizing the ballads that had made him a singing cowboy in the first place.

Judging from the length of the series - 131 shows in all - "Chuck-Wagon Jamboree" seems to have been quite successful in various markets - particularly in the south and southwest - and was syndicated for about two years, alongside other Teleways productions. The shows themselves were recorded in Los Angeles in three to six minute segments, complete with openings and closings, and then pressed on 16" vinyl discs for national distribution. (Following the standard practice of the time, segments were sequenced to allow advertising to be inserted by local stations.) There's no question that "Chuck-Wagon Jamboree" did a lot for Ken Curtis' singing career; by 1949, he had not only returned to filmmaking - appearing in various westerns for independent studios and also for Republic Pictures - but had also been hired as the lead singer for the Sons of the Pioneers, a good fit musically, personally, and financially. (He would continue singing lead with the group until 1953.)

Heard today, "Chuck-Wagon Jamboree" still has much to offer. Reminiscent of "The Grand Old Opry" and, particularly, "The National Barn Dance," the series is a tuneful throwback to a simpler time when cowboys rode the range with their guitar by their side and everyone knew the old songs they had learned on their grandmother's knee. While listening to these shows, don't be surprised if you discover you actually remember all the words to an old hymn you used to sing as a child or find yourself humming along to a time-honored western favorite. Taken from an original set of 16" Teleways transcription recordings and fully restored for beautiful, high-fidelity sound, here's your second invitation to stop by the Jamboree and join in the fun. We bet you'll have a wonderful time.


#42 The Fireball Mail
1948/49 - 15:00 - Teleways Radio Productions Syndication

#43 I Tipped My Hat and Slowly Rode Away
1948/49 - 15:00 - Teleways Radio Productions Syndication

#44 One More River to Cross
1948/49 - 15:00 - Teleways Radio Productions Syndication

#45 Texas Ain't Old Texas Anymore
1948/49 - 15:00 - Teleways Radio Productions Syndication

#46 San Antonio Rose
1948/49 - 15:00 - Teleways Radio Productions Syndication

#47 Take Me Home Boys Tonight
1948/49 - 15:00 - Teleways Radio Productions Syndication

#48 Careless Love
1948/49 - 15:00 - Teleways Radio Productions Syndication

#49 Press Along to the Big Corral
1948/49 - 15:00 - Teleways Radio Productions Syndication

#50 The Covered Wagon Rolled Right Along
1948/49 - 15:00 - Teleways Radio Productions Syndication

#78 Hold That Critter Down
1948/49 - 15:00 - Teleways Radio Productions Syndication

#79 Shortnin' Bread
1948/49 - 15:00 - Teleways Radio Productions Syndication

#80 Behind Those Swinging Doors
1948/49 - 15:00 - Teleways Radio Productions Syndication

#81 Detour
1948/49 - 15:00 - Teleways Radio Productions Syndication

#82 Corrine Corrina
1948/49 - 15:00 - Teleways Radio Productions Syndication

#83 There is a Tavern in the Town
1948/49 - 15:00 - Teleways Radio Productions Syndication

#84 Deep in the Heart of Texas
1948/49 - 15:00 - Teleways Radio Productions Syndication

#85 Sweet Betsy from Pike
1948/49 - 15:00 - Teleways Radio Productions Syndication

#86 Mama Don't Allow
1948/49 - 15:00 - Teleways Radio Productions Syndication

#87 Mail Order Mama
1948/49 - 15:00 - Teleways Radio Productions Syndication

#88 Keep on the Sunny Side
1948/49 - 15:00 - Teleways Radio Productions Syndication

#89 Jubilo
1948/49 - 15:00 - Teleways Radio Productions Syndication

#90 I'm Riding That Long, Long Trail
1948/49 - 15:00 - Teleways Radio Productions Syndication

#91 O Dem Golden Slippers, with guest Carolina Cotton
1948/49 - 15:00 - Teleways Radio Productions Syndication

#92 It Ain't Gonna Rain No More, with guest Carolina Cotton
1948/49 - 15:00 - Teleways Radio Productions Syndication

#93 Down Quintana Way
1948/49 - 15:00 - Teleways Radio Productions Syndication

#94 Way Down in Dixie
1948/49 - 15:00 - Teleways Radio Productions Syndication

#95 Waiting for the Robert E. Lee
1948/49 - 15:00 - Teleways Radio Productions Syndication

#96 Michael Finnegan
1948/49 - 15:00 - Teleways Radio Productions Syndication

#97 Polly Wolly Doodle, with guest Carolina Cotton
1948/49 - 15:00 - Teleways Radio Productions Syndication

#98 Molly and Tenbrooks
1948/49 - 15:00 - Teleways Radio Productions Syndication

#99 Footprints in the Snow
1948/49 - 15:00 - Teleways Radio Productions Syndication

#100 That Old White Mule of Mine
1948/49 - 15:00 - Teleways Radio Productions Syndication

#101 Stay a Little Longer
1948/49 - 15:00 - Teleways Radio Productions Syndication

#102 I'm Going Back to My Little Mountain Shack
1948/49 - 15:00 - Teleways Radio Productions Syndication

#103 Happy Roving Cowboy
1948/49 - 15:00 - Teleways Radio Productions Syndication

#104 Keep in the Middle of the Road
1948/49 - 15:00 - Teleways Radio Productions Syndication

#105 Little Brown Jug
1948/49 - 15:00 - Teleways Radio Productions Syndication

#106 Wait for the Light to Shine
1948/49 - 15:00 - Teleways Radio Productions Syndication

#113 Take Me Back to Tulsa
1948/49 - 15:00 - Teleways Radio Productions Syndication

#131 Santa Claus is Coming to Town
1948/49 - 15:00 - Teleways Radio Productions Syndication


Radio Archives gratefully acknowledges the assistance, information, and photographs provided by Alan Johns, without whom the release of this collection would not have been possible.



Average Customer Review: 5 of 5 | Total Reviews: 1 Write a review

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You Are Really On the Ball September 18, 2009
Reviewer: Chuck Huck  
You are really on the ball, have recommended the Archive to some folks I know who would be interested in OTR.

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