Today is the birthday of Jenks “Tex” Carman, the Dixie Cowboy (1903-1968). Born into a large Kentucky farming family, he picked up guitar as a kid and started playing at church and school functions. His first professional dates were on the Chautauqua circuit, singing with a glee club quartet. From here he broke into vaudeville, mostly Loew’s and other small time and southern circuits, originally with the quartet, then in a duo with his sister called “The Royal Castillians” and then solo. He was beginning to establish a name for himself by the late 20s. In the early 30s, he learned to play Hawaiian steel guitar from a man named Frank Plada, who was considered the master. Thenceforth, the Hawaiian steel guitar, fretted with a small steel bar, was to be Tex’s trademark. He began to work on radio in the 30s; by the late 40s he was cutting records; and in the 50s he was a regular on Tex Ritter’s television show “Town Hall Party”. Tex was always admired more for his showmanship than for his singing or his playing, which were considered shaky. Even so, he did land a contract with a major label (Capitol) from 1950-53. He retired in the mid 60s.
To find out more about vaudeville and the variety arts past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.