There is a gospel song that ends with, “…and we’ll understand it better by and by.”
Well, it’s “by and by,” and I understand it better.
I ran across an article about a movie that he was in that cleared it up for me. Well, let’s go back to the beginning.
Ernest Tubb came on like a bombshell in the early ’40s. There was his immediately recognizable voice, of course, and some catchy tunes. But there was more. He had made a couple of records, tributes to Jimmie Rodgers, but they hadn’t made much of an impact.
Somebody at Decca had the foresight to bring in an electric guitar player to accompany Tubb’s strumming on a six-sides recording session in Texas.
You understand, electric guitars were still kind of odd things in the early ’40s. A kid from Oklahoma, Charlie Christian, had kind of written the book on using the electric guitar as a jazz solo instrument, not just a strummer. Listen to some of his work on a bunch of Benny Goodman small group sessions and with various all-star groups.
A man named Faye Smith had obviously listened to him. Tubb made six records at that recording date:
“I’ll Always Be Glad To Take You Back,” “Ain’t Goin Honky-Tonkin’ Anymore,” “I Wonder Why You Said Goodbye,” “Walkin’ the Floor Over You,” … Another one in that same vein that I can’t remember … And “I’ll Never Cry Over You,” in which Smith made the guitar sound like a mandolin.
They, especially “Walkin,’” took off.
Tubb was instantly a country superstar, and “Walkin’” was recorded by many pop singers, too, even Bing Crosby.
The same approach was used in the other five ones listed above: between vocal choruses, Smith would play a short, but just right, little ad-lib jazz solo. Not many notes, but just the right ones, as O.B. Stanfield (that great philosopher) said, “With taste.”
Tubb was not only on the Grand Ol’ Opry, he had a 15-minute show each morning, early, on WSM.
And he was in a movie. I saw it.
Once upon a time, when I was 11 or 12, J. C., our share-cropper of that year, had to go to the big city (to us) of Columbus, Miss. We spent the night at Aunt Myra’s house in Hamilton, Miss. Aunt Myra and Uncle Cosby and their kids were, for all practical purposes, Hamilton. That night, some of us decided to go to the picture show in Aberdeen, Miss. And there, on the screen,, big as life, was … Ernest Tubb.
It was a Charles Starrett movie, but Ernest had a prominent part in it.
But here’s the part that has puzzled me for all these years: A large part of Tubb’s popularity was due to the electric guitar playing of Faye Smith. Now, you generally didn’t have electric sockets around the old corral or the church wagon, so how did they manage that in the picture?
Well, in the places where Smith would have played, they had two guys singing. Ah. It wasn’t as good as the records, but I guess they had no choice.
By the way, those priceless little gems that Smith eased in between Tubb’s vocal choruses were copied by every Tubb lead guitar player forevermore. But they weren’t as good.
Now, rest easy. We have solved a major mystery.
Bob Sanders is a veteran local radio personality and raconteur of note.