Rare Historic Texas Shows now released on Bear Family
Magnificent 8 CD + Book Box Set
While Nashville‘s Grand Ole Opry
is regarded as country music’s foremost “live“ radio show (established
in 1925 and still going strong), many other U.S. regions, in the pre-
and post-war years, staged their own shows, the biggest being the Louisiana Hayride in Shreveport  and the Big D Jamboree in Dallas. Now Bear Family Records turns the spotlight on the latter, creating another superlative box set containing eight cds and a hardcover book.
(Bear Family BCD 16086 HK)
The Big D Jamboree was housed in the Sportatorium – a vast metal building located on the “wrong side of the tracks“ in
South Dallas. Built in 1935,  the Sportatorium had a checkered history
over the years, with dance marathons and alcohol problems incurring the
wrath of the local inhabitants while also presenting more wholesome
forms of entertainment. The first hillbilly event was a two day festival
staged in 1937, headlined by the Sons Of The Pioneers with support from
such as the Chuck Wagon Gang, the Saddle Tramps and Roy Newman and his
Boys. The building could house over 6,000 and the artists performed on a
stage erected in the centre of the building.
When the Sportatorium came under the management of Ed McLemore,
the venue was the home of weekly wrestling matches and, as it was empty
for six days, McLemore looked around for other events to attract
audiences to the building. So, in February 1947, country music came to
the Sportatorium on a weekly basis with Dallas hosting its own hillbilly
dance show, initially called the Texas State Barn Dance but soon changed to the Lone Star Barn Dance and, in early 1949, renamed the Big D Jamboree. Roughly coinciding with the name changes, the show moved from different radio stations, eventually being heard on KRLD.
the show first took to the air there was about 20 performers but, six
years later, around early 1953, it had nearly 50 performers putting on a
show for four hours every Saturday night. KRLD was a part of the CBS
network and, via its 30 segment titled Saturday Night Country Style, attracted a vast audience in nearly 40 states.
The Big D Jamboree, emceed first by local dj Al Turner (who had brokered the network radio deal), then by artist Johnny Hicks,
spotlighted local talent first and foremost with an occasional
appearance by a guest from further afield. The first regulars included Riley Crabtree, Buddy Walker and western swing artist Dewey Groom, who had a recording deal with Mercury before launching his Longhorn Records. Around the same time a new label, TALENT, was launched by record store owner Jesse Ericson, with Buddy Miller’s Bordertown Fiesta being its first release while Crabtree was to become its most successful artist. Other artists included Johnny Mathis (soon to be prefixed “Country“), Gene O’Quiin and the aforementioned Hicks. Another of the show’s stars, Stoney Carlisle, was heard on a rival label, Blue Bonnet, owned by Herb Rippa.
Dallas, in the late 1940s, was a hotbed of country music, both venues and musicians, with Jim Beck’s Bullett Records sent to be – but failing – to be a major contender in the recording stakes and Don Law (following in Art Satherely’s footsteps) at Columbia Records using the city as a studio base. Even Hank Snow moved there from Canada as a stepping stone in launching his American career.
The Big D Jamboree played its part in encouraging new artists to its stage with its “Search For Talent“ contests – with ten wins ensuring the artist a regular place on the show. Among the discoveries were Ronnie Dawson, The Belew Twins (Benny and Bobby), Oakie Jones, Pat Smith, Jimmy Lee and Gene O’Quin. In addition to the local artists, occasional guests would come from further afield, among them Hank Thompson, Jerry Reed (more than a decade before stardom), Hank Locklin, Johnny Cash, Cowboy Copas, Ferlin Husky, Wanda Jackson and Leon Payne.
the Grand Ole Opry, and other regional radio barn dances, the Jamboree
reflected music’s changes and while it may have been launched as a
country show, it was ready to embrace in rock ‘n’ roll and rockabilly
artists. Hence the appearances of Carl Perkins, after recovering from the near fatal car wreck; rockabilly legends Warren Smith, Mac Curtis and Johnny Carroll; Charlene Arthur, “a Janis Joplin before her time”; Dallas’ own rising rock ‘n’ roll act, Sid King & The Five Strings; Ronnie Dawson, later to enjoy an English revival; and Gene Vincent & the Blue Caps, then managed by McLemore and having considerable international success.
This invaluable insight into the Dallas music scene of the post-war years almost never happened. As Big D Jamboree aficionado David Dennard
explains in the opening pages of the immensely detailed book, for many
years it was thought the Jamboree shows were never recorded but only
seen at the by the crowds that packed the
Sportatorium or heard them on the radio. Dallas based Dennard had never witnessed the shows – “it wasn’t part of my own personal culture“  – but became aware of it, then later intrigued, through building a friendship with Ronnie Dawson.
But when he started searching for tapes of the show, he was told none
ever existed. But as he continued on his odyssey he eventually learnt
that some transcriptions had been made for the Armed Forces Radio
Network, taken from the CBS network’s Saturday Night Country Style
transmissions.  He tracked them down, first in Nashville’s Country
Music Foundation, then the complete set in Washington’s Library of
Dennard wanted to release the recordings on his Dragon Street Records and, after further discussions at the Library of Congress, he made contact with the heirs of Ed McLemore (who owned the rights) and the recordings eventually became commercially available. Now Bear Family
has repackaged the recordings – and added much more! The first five cds
(and part of the sixth) spotlight the shows, while the remaining discs
feature rare recordings and alternative takes by artists associated with
the Jamboree. Plus there’s some beer adverts and other announcements,
adding more flavour to the shows and making up to a total of 284 tracks.
19 shows are featured on the discs that, slotting known artists such as Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Leon Payne, Ferlin Husky (not forgetting Simon Crum), Hank Locklin and Darrell Glenn performing alongside the unfamiliar Helen Hall, Sid Erwin, Texas Stompers, Betty Lou Lobb, Tommy Mitchell, Eddie McDuff and Ferrell Brothers among others. The recordings well conjure up the atmosphere of those Sportatorium, with the crowds going wild for favourites like Sid King & the Five Strings and The Belew Twins.
Then, the book. While Bear Family
has given buyers many superlative books over the years, there’s few
that can match this 168 page, full colour glossy work, finely detailing
the history of this historic show, its artists and the people behind the
scenes, drawing information from many interviews and complimenting the
words with numerous photographs, recording information and
Following on from Dennard‘s trail to the holy grail, Jay Brakefield and Stanley Oberst
present a history of the Jamboree, providing an insight into the
music’s changing sounds, barn dances and connections with Sun Records,
with more detailed accounts of Charlene Arthur and Ronnie Dawson’s careers.
A 16 page Timeline listing reveals show dates and artists, followed by Music Notes, penned by Kevin Coffey,
taking up virtually the rest of the book and comprises details of the
shows, the songs and biographical information on the artists. Concluding
with track listings, artist and song indexes, the book provides one of
the most comprehensive insights into the Texas music scene from late
1940s to early 1960s.

Big D Jamboree is another magnificent box set from Bear Family Records and is given YouTube coverage on

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