From the liner notes by John Morthland:

THE TIME AND PLACE

Today, Don Walser has emerged from Austin as perhaps the last of God's great pure country singers, with a national and international following among those who like the real deal. But late in the summer of 1959, Walser, a mechanic for the National Guard who sang country music on the side, had just been transferred from Lemesa to Midland, and shortly after arriving, he spotted an ad in the paper. From here on out, he tells the story.

 "They were looking for a country singer, to play with the Texas Plainsmen. Well, the name existed, but they were still trying to organize the band. Jim O' Neill had played with Warren Powell, "Rocky Rhodes," up in Fort Worth, and he had moved to Midland and went to work, so he bought a rent house and moved ol' Rocky out there, helped him get a job so he'd have somebody to play with.  I answered the ad and then it was just the three of us for a little while.  Then we got ol' Carl Echols to join us and that made four. We played as a four-piece for
quite a while.  I had played with Billy Richter in Lamesa, and after I talked Billy into moving over to Midland we had a five-piece band. Never did have a bass player. We had some play with us every once in a while, especially on radio.

"The other bands there was Buzz Busby, Billy Thompson, I believe that the Gatlins were just starting out right then. Roy Orbison was in that part of the country before he got known. Hoyle Nix was the big band that everybody admired. Hoyle was from Big Spring, but he played all over Texas, sometimes he'd even get out of Texas. Hoyle worked most of the old Bob Wills guys; when they wanted to quit drinking, they would go to Hoyle. He was kinda the Betty Ford of West Texas; he wouldn't let 'em drink and he'd work 'em out there on the farm and he'd sweat some of that stuff out of 'em. He played them old Bob Wills tunes, strictly a dancehall guy. Out there, if you put Hoyle Nix in some kind of a joint on one side of the street and put somebody well known on the other side of the street, Hoyle'd have the crowd.

"I guess we were a pretty typical West Texas band, doing pretty much what everyone else was doing.  I think out there we leaned a little more towards western swing than bands in other parts of Texas. They'd be doing a lot more Tennessee stuff, but we did some Tennessee stuff too. We also did things Bob Wills did, Spade Cooley, Cliff  Bruner had a band back then. We practiced once a week on Wednesday or Thursday night, I don't remember for sure which, and it was my job to always bring new lyrics and songs to the band. First part of the practice session we'd work on songs we hadn‚t been doing. And then the next part of it would be to do what we were gonna do on the show that Saturday on the radio. Carl and his mother always taped the show, and afterwards we'd go back to Carl's house and lay on the bed and listen to the show and talk about it, what we needed to keep or change."

"We had a time when we first moved there that was real slack, there wasn't any oil going and then right around the time we moved it boomed, and then it went out again periodically like it does out there. At the time these recordings were made, the economy was fair, but nothing like it had been. I played with this band from 1959 to 1966. We played Odessa, Andrews, Lamesa, Big Spring, out in the Big Bend area, Abilene. We played for the Elks Lodge, the Moose Lodge, the VFW, the American Legion; we played a few honky tonks, not many, and did a lot of private parties. We were a weekend band. When we did play honky tonks it was mostly one-night gigs, we didn't do any three-and-four-nights-a-week stuff like we do now. We all had nicknames. We did this radio show every Saturday afternoon. Ol' Jim got the radio show, he went out and sold advertising, you can tell from the tapes, Branding Iron Steak House, I got Bill Allen Shell station to sign up, we'd just all work together to try to find somebody to buy the advertising."



THE MUSICIANS

"Alamo" Jim O'Neill, fiddle.
Jim O‚Neill did the announcing on the radio show, and Jim booked the band. He was a landman for Ralph Lowe at that time. Ralph was a big oil guy and well known in West Texas and probably all over the oil bidness. Jim later on worked for himself, started his own bidness as a landman;  he'd just go out and lease land for people to drill on, things like that. He's retired now. He was one of the most precious men you‚d ever meet, ol' Jim O'Neill. Jim's an Irishman, little Catholic boy with a whole gang of kids. I'll never forget, oh, I gotta tell you this: one year during Lent he gave up drinking. And boy he was a bear that whole time.  And then when Lent was over, he tied one on. (Laughs) I never will forget that."

Carl "Skins" Echols, drums.
"His dad owned Echols Oil Corporation there. Carl was a good drummer. He was legally blind. He went to work later for the IRS, and he just passed away in 1998."

Warren "Rocky Rhodes" Powell, steel guitar. 
"Rocky was a building engineer down at the Oil and Gas Building back when we were playing. He just passed away a couple years ago. He was a good steelman, fine fellow to be around. 'Course, I liked him cuz he's bald-headed."

Billy "Little Billy Bonnie" Richter, electric guitar.
"Billy and I played together when we was kids, first band I was ever in; we called ourselves the Panhandle Playboys, me and Billy Richter and Gene Richter, his brother. Then we branched out from there, we'd have eight or nine pieces in the band. We didn‚t make any money but we made a lot of music.  I think he was working for a steel company that had oil pipes; now he's working as a building engineer, kinda like the way Warren Powell was doing at one time. Billy and Jim are still in Midland."

Don "Donnie" Walser, vocals and acoustic guitar.
"I sang with the band. I wrote a few songs, but I was about the only one in the band to write. Sometimes they called me "Yodeling Don," I always did three or four yodeling songs to whet the appetite. Slim Whitman and Elton Britt was my yodeling influences, and Jimmie Rodgers of course."



THE SONGS

"We just did the old, old songs, kinda what I'm doing now. Did a little
western swing.  'Course back then they was playing hard-core country
music on the radio, so we did a lot of the stuff  that was on the radio.
But we wasn't a cover band as such, you know; we didn‚t just cover what
was on the radio. We didn't throw an old good song away to pick up
something new that might not be as good. We got a lot of requests for
'em and we learned 'em. I remember when the "Limbo Rock" came out. I
hated that song, but everybody wanted to do the "Limbo Rock"‚ I told the
band I wasn't gonna do it, they was just gonna have to learn it
themselves and do it as an instrumental.  We did it instrumental for a
long time. I got  to rehearsal one night and all the rest of them was
there, they cornered me and said, "You gonna learn it, I've got the
words here, you gonna learn it. We ain't gonna just play it, you gonna
sing it." So I had to learn it, but after the fad went out, I forgot the
words, thank goodness.

"They pretty well let me sing what I wanted to if they could play it,
and most of the time they could. If they were good songs, we learned
them. We did a lot of Eddie Arnold songs like "Then I Turned and Walked
Slowly Away"‚ "Each Minute Seems a Million Years," the stuff he did in
the '40s and early '50s; when he started doing crossover stuff, I kinda
lost interest. But he had such a wonderful voice. We did "Cattle Call"‚
We did a few Merle Travis. "Makes No Difference Now," Floyd Tillman.
"Lonesome 77203"‚ We did some Ray Price tunes, 'course, "Crazy Arms,"
"My Shoes Keep Walking Back to You." We did a lotta George Jones tunes,
even "White Lightnin" back then. Couple of Jim Reeves songs. I met him
once; he came through Lamesa back when his song "Bimbo" was hot. 'Course
we did a lotta the old Jimmie Rodgers stuff, like "All around the water tank / waiting for a train"‚ "California Blues"‚ those old blue yodel tunes. We did a lot of what they call shuffle songs nowadays. They really weren't shuffle songs but they were songs with a 4-4 beat behind them. "Jack  to a King" was the only real shuffle song I ever heard, really.  What makes that shuffle sound is piano, working back and forth. The younger people nowadays think it's the guitar making that sound, but it's not. They're all downbeats on the guitar.

"We used to do "Five foot two, eyes of blue", and Billy every once in a
while would sing "Won't You Ride In My Little Red Wagon"‚ We probably
coulda played a thousand songs, but we didn't do that many; we stuck to
the best ones or the ones they liked the best. Back in the '50s, we had to do a few rock 'n‚ roll tunes, you know, the old rock 'n‚ roll. Chuck Berry stuff. It wasn't my bag. I love Chuck Berry, though, and I love them old songs. It's just not what I'm about."
 

Theme 
I wrote it. It was to the tune of "I Want to Be a Cowboy's Sweetheart."

Rocky Rhodes Stomp
"Rocky wrote that himself, some kinda little instrumental, he may have borrowed some of it off somebody else for all I know. This was his showcase."

Rainbow on the Rio Colorado
"That's an old cowboy song. I dont know if it's public domain or not, but it's a beautiful waltz tune, and it's got a yodel in it. I actually put the yodel in; it didn't have one when I first heard it. It goes so far back I don't remember how I heard it; most of 'em I do, but for the life of me I can't remember."

Honky Tonk
"Billy did that, and the other guys helped him. They always let everybody do their thing, kinda like eatin‚ a watermelon and everybody'd get their slice. Bill probably got it off the Bill Doggett original version that was a big hit. Western swing in Bob Wills‚ day was actually jazz and blues musicians anyway, when they started playing his kind of stuff. It's a thread running through everything, all of that stuff is akin to each other."

Rolling Stone from Texas
I wrote that in about 1951. I didn't know enough yodel tunes, and I was driving an old oilfield rig truck between Lamesa and Seminole, Texas, and I started singing that song, trying to get some words in my head, and between there and Seminole I wrote that song, and I sung it over and over so I wouldn't forget it. It was probably ten years before I ever wrote the words down, it was just in my head. We put it out on a little single, Plainsmen label, our own little label, in the '60s with the Texas Plainsmen. Carl Echols sent it off to Billboard (magazine) and they rated it four stars on one side, two stars on the other side. I thought that was pretty good. We didn't know what to do, of course. That's the only one we released.  And we played it every show, they always wanted to hear a yodel, and so we'd do this and "Casting My Lasso‚" and "Chime Bells."

Steel Guitar Waltz
"I wrote that myself. Rocky put his own melody to it in his part. I sung it one way, he played it a different way; it's actually got two melodies, and we just changed 'em back and forth. He'd play his line at the beginning and I'd sing my melody, and he played his same line in the middle and then on the end of it too, and I sang my melody in between. We played a lot of them old country dances, and we'd play out on a terrace somewhere, and I can still see the people dancing in all those dim-lit rooms. 'Course back in the '30s, and back when I started playing, they would move all the furniture outta the room and have a dance, take it out to the yard. We did a few of those things, and that‚s kinda where I got the idea. I wanted to do something for 'ol Rocky, too. It was one of our waltzes, we did it every time, you bet."

Soldier's Joy / Raggedy Ann 
"Traditional old fiddle tunes. Jim would pick the traditional fiddle things we did. Oh lord, we probably knew twenty or thirty of 'em. He wasnt a great fiddle player, but he was a good fiddle player.  He single-noted best; he didn't play harmony with himself like a lotta fiddlers did. But he was clean with it, y'know, and he worked at it."

Begging To You
That was a Marty Robbins song that was kind of a hit back in those days, back in the '50s. Everybody was big on Marty Robbins back then. I did lots of Martys songs. I did "At the End of a Long Lonely Day‚" (which I just finished recording), "Castle in the Sky," "White Sport Coat and a Pink Carnation,"" El Paso," later on. When I lived in El Paso I was playing for the El Paso Tourist and Convention Center to promote tourism in El Paso and I had to sing that pretty near every place we went."

A String Boogie 
"That was just a boogie in A. Most bands just say, "Let's play a boogie in A‚" and then they just play what they feel, y'know.  It's just an old boogie and it's like all boogies are. Once we did one, wed come back to it every once in a while if we needed something. It'd be different every time. Billy'd play every song different every time, he really was good at it."

Cowpoke
"That was an Elton Britt song and I've recorded it since then.  If you watch this Chicago Hope, one segment of it, this doctor was on top of his roof, he had his jambox and my version of "Cowpoke" was playing. I've been doing that song a LONG time. It's just got a beautiful yodel to it."

Steel in C
"That's kinda like the "A String Boogie," I guess, but I don't know if that's the real title. I don't know who put that down, "Steel in C," he probably didn't recognize the tune so he just put down "Steel in C." (Producers' note: That's what it's called in Carl Echols meticulous notes.)

Don't Worry
"That's another Marty Robbins tune. I love ballads and slow songs and most of the time they'd wanna show my voice off, so they'd wanna do songs that I sung the best on the radio. So we didn't do a lotta shuffles or other kinda songs, mostly picked ballads that made me sound real good. At parties, we'd do more dance music, but this was a singer's set for the radio. This is a wonderful song, really shows my voice off."

Down Yonder
"Down Yonder‚" was just an instrumental we played; Del Wood had done it on piano. When we played for parties we played quite a few instrumentals because back then they really liked to rag, and that's just where they shuffle their feet and go around the floor. Theyd do that old "Cotton Eye Joe" back then. We always had a "Paul Jones" where the ladies would make a circle on the inside and the men would face them on the outside and they'd go around and round and somebody would blow a whistle and they'd grab somebody and the band would fiddle some more."

Casting My Lasso
I saw Slim Whitman once, back in the '40s, out there in Lamesa, in the ballfield. They had a big crowd for him. When he started singing "Casting My Lasso"‚ I listened to every word, cuz I could learn a song hearing it once back then. So I ran off the ballfield and got away to where I couldn't hear what was going on and sung it about three or four times over and over until I memorized it, then I run back and seen the rest of the show. I finally got a copy of that last year, and I was singing it just a little bit wrong, but it was so good I didn't change it.  I did meet Slim Whitman later, when I was playing with the Texas Plainsmen. In the '60s he come to Odessa with Jimmie Day playing steel. I went backstage and met him that time."

Abilene
"I learned that off the radio. We lived close to Abilene and we got a lotta requests for it. And it‚s a good dance tune, too. Another thing we used to have to play every night was "Cowtown." Ol' boy named Boots Brown, he was a farmer near where we played, he always liked that, so we'd get to the line where I was supposed to sing "Their hats are white and their boots are brown‚" and I would sing "Their hats are white and ol' Boots Brown," and wherever he was at he'd just yell his head off. I never will forget, he had an ulcer but he liked whiskey. So he mixed it with milk, he thought that milk would make it okay. He called it Jersey highballs."



LOOKING BACK

"When I moved from Midland on down to Port Arthur in 1966-67, they kept playing for another fifteen or twenty years with a different singer. Same guys, but they added another singer. Fact, it was a guy we hired to play bass before I left, that's who took my place as singer. Nix Farriss. Nix played with me a little while back when I was in Lamesa, then we hired him to play bass and he came about three or four months  before I left. He's in some of the pictures, but he never was on the radio with us. I haven't seen him. What happened, his little girl got killed in an accident and it kinda took the wind out of his sails. He quit and they added another singer after that, I don't know what his name was.

 "I think we was just a buncha guys having fun. All of us had day jobs and we wasn't wanting to go on the road. We were all raising families. I did have ambition, but I was realistic too. I always had that thought of, "What if somebody comes by and discovers me?" But that ain't gonna happen.  I didn't realize it back then. You'd see somebody who looked like he was really interested in what you was doing and you'd say, I wonder if he's from a record label. You know how kids are. I was 30 years old in 1964.  I think I probably would have been major label potential back then, if I had been able to starve a couple years like you had to do. Heck, I was married and had a couple kids. I couldn't let them starve. A lotta musicians are just workingmen, they make a living and it's really tough on 'em. We probably got $20-25 a man for a party, so that was pretty good. I was making about $4200 a year with the National Guard. I think the others were making a little more than I did. I probably made a little more than Billy, but I think Rocky and Jim was making quite a bit more than I was. We might make as much as $50 on two jobs, but that was like $200 now. I had a three-bedroom, two-bath brick house, and my payments were just $85 a month."

  "Both the band and the tapes are imperfect, but if you ever wondered what West Texas sounded like in the early  to mid 1960s, look no further. Here's your answer."

-Don Walser  8/3/99

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