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Established:June 1997
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 1950s Honky-Tonk History   1950s Honky-Tonk Artists   Recordings by Artist   Recordings by Title   Recordings by Genre - Guide to Ragtime and Honky-Tonk Artists
Ragtime and Honky-Tonk of the 1950s
Sorting Out the Players
by Bill Edwards:
Contents Copyright ©2004/2015 by William G. Edwards
Starting even before the landmark Capitol Records Honky-Tonk Piano LP of 1950, a number of pianists were emerging in the genre, many with stage pseudonyms, and even a couple of them with multiple personalities. To this day, many have gone unrecognized and will continue to do so, fortunately in a few cases. However, there were standouts that deserve proper recognition, and a few have only received it partially to this point. After a great deal of research and acquisition on the part of the author, this section will present a who's who of honky tonk piano along with some discography information. These are not full bios, just an acknowledgement of roles played within the spread of honky tonk piano from the late 1940s to mid-1960s.
The album listings are currently sorted by Artist(s), Album Title and Genre. They will be a work in progress as more recordings are uncovered. I have excluded all 78-RPM and 45-RPM single releases and almost all 7" EP releases unless they are significant, leaving only 10" and 12" 33 1/3-RPM LPs. A wider ranging list for singles will be posted in the future, and a list of the 78s has already been compiled by ragtime historian Dave Jasen (Recorded Ragtime 1897-1958). The lists are formatted for easy printing, with landscape mode recommended. The genres designated by "adaptive" signify music that is not inherently ragtime or honky-tonk, but has been adapted to either style.
This information is not considered complete, and it may never be. It is, however, fairly comprehensive, and surpasses the status of a mere synopsis. Any additional information with details is always welcome, and will be updated upon verification and genre-appropriateness. Please use the form at the bottom of this page to submit additional albums or artists, or click on the head in the top frame to email Bill directly. Please do not send images or attachments unless there is advance notice and you are invited to do so, as the mail box can fill up very quickly with improperly compressed files. Thank you for your understanding on this point. Now, on to the listings and the performers.
Albums by Artist(s) Albums by Title Albums by Genre
Wally Rose: [Click for complete bio]
Wally RoseBorn: Walter Rose, October 2, 1913 - January 12, 1997
Labels: Jazz Man, Good Time Jazz, Columbia Records, Blackbird, Stomp Off, Solo Art
Information: Wally Rose was not only born in the San Francisco Bay area, but made his reputation there and was a lifelong resident. He is, perhaps, most influential for his role in helping to rediscover and record ragtime piano at a time when it had long been considered dead, and for having spurred the ragtime revival of the 1950s and even 1960s. Rose was tapped for Lu Watter's Yerba Buena Jazz Band in 1940, a group put together for the purpose of resurrecting and recording works from the great traditional jazz bands of the late 1910s and 1920s. Watters also supported Wally in his desire to record piano ragtime as well, often featuring him with a simple rhythm ensemble during their sessions in 1941 and 1942. Rose then left for three years of Navy service, reassembling with the rest of the band for more recordings and performances at the Dawn Club from 1946 through the end of the decade. When Watters retired, Rose went along with trombonist Turk Murphy who formed a band using some YBJB members. In 1953 he recorded a solo effort for Good Time Jazz, as well as one on Columbia later in the year. These collective tracks represent some of the best of authentic ragtime in a time of wild honky-tonk playing, and hold up well today. His Jelly Roll Morton records with Murphy, on which he was equally billed, also show his propensity for the unique Morton genre. Rose formed his own band 1956, and played successfully for many years both live and on the radio. There were a few more recording dates in the 1970s and 1980s. Wally was a mentor both actively and by proxy for many of the pianists who followed him. While he was never as flashy as many of the 1950s stylists, he imbued the spirit of authentic ragtime in all of his performances. Much of his estate was left to the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and he was greatly honored as well by The Scott Joplin Festival in Sedalia, as well as the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art for his often-underestimated legacy.
Lou Busch: [Click for complete bio]
Lou BuschBorn: Louis Ferdinand Busch, July 18, 1910 - September 19, 1979
Pseudonym: (Joe "Fingers" Carr)
Labels: Capitol Records, Warner Brothers, DOT
Information: Busch was A&R man at Capitol in the late 1940s during the time when public interest in ragtime and honky tonk became evident, and both produced and contributed to the first album titled for the genre, Honky-Tonk Piano. He continued to ride a wave of success throughout the 1950s releasing several albums of genuine ragtime and honky-tonk style music into the mid-1960s. He recorded mostly under the pseudonym of Joe "Fingers" Carr, although he used his own name on at least one pop album, and as the musical director for Alan Sherman's albums on Warner Brothers. Most honky-tonk artists of the 1950s rode the wave that he started, although the surge was inevitable for at least some of them listed here. Lou's legacy is that he was the most consistent of the 1950s honky-tonk and ragtime performers. He believe in format in the matrix for his albums, keeping a consistent style and repertoire. While performing, and sometimes creating popular hits, he did not compromise his passion for the music, introducing or reintroducing lots of great ragtime into the public mainstream. In spite of this, it is notable that he only performed one public concert as Joe "Fingers" Carr in St. Louis in 1976, yet still remained a major influence for at least two generations of ragtime pianists, many of whom will say "I play ragtime because of Lou Busch," including the author.
Frankie Carle: [Click for partial bio]
Frankie CarleBorn: Francis Nunzio Carlone, March 25, 1903 - March 7, 2001
Labels: Columbia, Decca, RCA Victor
Information: Frankie started playing at a very young age and clearly had a natural musical gift. However, when offered his first professional gig at 11, he quickly became intimidated by the audience and demurred. By 13 he made another attempt and soon hooked up with the Horace Heidt orchestra, never to look back. In spite of his aspirations to enter boxing as a profession, he stayed with this organization through the 1920s and 1930s, soon to be a partner. In the mid-1940s Carle formed his own orchestra. His repertoire was full of great hits, pianistic and otherwise, from the ragtime era through the 1920s. His first two Honky Tonk Piano albums were original, not imitative, and when combined into one LP sold well for more than a decade. Many of his trio recordings feature fabulous arrangements of novelty pieces. Carle was recognized as a revered national treasure by Paul Harvey on his 95th birthday. His Honky-Tonk albums, though limited in their scope, were hardly Carle's only contribution to ragtime era nostalgia. Throughout his career he managed to throw interesting pieces in with the mainstream repertoire. Be it Nola, Doll Dance, Dardanella or popular 1910s songs, Carle never forgot those musical roots. His prominence and popularity helped to contribute to the 1950s ragtime revival, in spite of the limited number of tracks he intentionally cut in the Honky-Tonk genre.
Johnny Maddox: [Click for complete bio]
Johnny MaddoxBorn: John Maddox, August 24, 1927
Labels: Dot, Hamilton, Paragon
Information: Johnny Maddox is the embodiment of somebody who lives and breathes ragtime in the most positive sense. He was working in the right place at the right time, given that the owner of the record store in which he was employed was looking for artists for his new label, Dot Records, to present good alternatives to some of the popular music being pushed out in the 1950s. Johnny has spent a great deal of his life not only entertaining but enlightening his listeners about the various aspects of the music, and has tried to present it from a variety of angles. This has included applying ragtime styles to non-ragtime music, and presenting a lot of authentic ragtime at a time when honky-tonk artists were working with standards. He possesses one of the finest collections of ragtime-era (and beyond) sheet music and 78-rpm records in the world, and his passion has kept him recording and performing into his seventies. The author had the honor of playing in his spot on a few occasions during vacations when he was based in Alexandria, VA in the 1980s to 1990s.
Richard Hyman: [Click for Wiki bio]
Dick HymanBorn: Richard Roven Hyman, March 8, 1927
Pseudonyms: Willie "THE ROCK" Knox, Puddin' Head Smith, Slugger Ryan, "Rip" Chord, "Knuckles" O'Toole
Labels: Waldorf Music Hall, Grand Award, Command, RCA Victor
Information: Back when the LP was a growing commodity, and Enoch Light was trying to build his Grand Award and Command labels, his go-to guy was Dick Hyman. Dick remembers many days in which he would record or perform in three or more genres of music, having to switch stylistic gears almost immediately. His adaptability and flexibility in this regard helped him grow personally as a performer/arranger, but also created some great works on both labels. His crowning ragtime achievement during his association with Light was the 15 Greatest Ragtime Hits album as "Knuckles" O'Toole. In the decades since, Hyman has been associated with Woody Allen, scoring many of his movies, and has recorded brilliant studies of ragtime, novelty and stride piano, as well as jazz. For classic ragtime works in the 1970s, he recorded the complete works of Joplin for RCA, and scored and performed for the TV biopic of Scott Joplin. He continues his musical pursuits into the 21st century.
Billy Rowland: [Click for partial bio]
Billy RowlandBorn: William Rowland, 1910s - 1985
Pseudonyms: "Knuckles" O'Toole, Keyboard Kingston, Puddin' Head Smith
Labels: Waldorf Music Hall, Grand Award, Command, DOT, RCA Victor
Information: The British-born Rowland (not related to jazz artist Jimmy Rowland) migrated to the U.S. and securing work with a variety of big bands in the late 1930s through the 1940s. His longest direct association was with singer Perry Como, and his steadiest gig with the band of Les Brown. Rowland spent some time at Enoch Light's company, being the first to record tracks under the name "Knuckles" O'Toole, a.k.a. Keyboard Kingston on 78s. His adaptability of style translated well to two albums of Mexican and French tunes respectively, done in a Honky-Tonk style. He also recorded some boogie woogie, jazz and similar styles in the 1950s and 1960s. His contribution to Honky-Tonk was equal to Dick Hyman's in the manner that they approached a piece. The point was to keep it familiar throughout, not straying too far from the melodic content, but still making it interesting. Hyman successfully followed the standard set by Rowland (likely under the direction of Light) for the O'Toole records of the 1950s.
Jo Ann Castle: [Click for partial Wiki bio]
Jo Anne CastleBorn: Jo Anne Zering, 1940
Labels: Roulette, Dot, Ranwood, Forum, Pickwick
Information: Jo Ann is a great example of originality, determination, and resilience. Her national debut on the Lawrence Welk show (as an accordion player), and acceptance a year later as a regular member of the show (on her 20th birthday no less) is an example of the American success story as a result of both talent and effort. She also represented the symbiotic relationship between passion for your work and quality of life, having gone through a decade plus malaise after leaving the Welk show in 1970 to raise a daughter with cerebral palsy, most of that time as a single mom. With only scant work, in part because of the demands on her life, it seemed that some of the spirit was gone. However, she came back in the late 1980s, determined more than ever to utilize her natural talents to entertain people. Having first watched her as a youth, since the Welk show was often on in our home, and later having worked with Jo Ann on one occasion in the early 1990s, the author found her to be a vital performer with great drive, and able to instantly engage an audience. All of her recordings, be they analog from the 1960s or digital from the 2000s, feature some very original approaches to ragtime and honky-tonk, calling on a vast repertoire of pieces that other performers might overlook or have trouble adapting into the style. Her playing is also a positive affirmation of her life.
Winifred Atwell: [Click for partial bio]
Winifred AtwellBorn: Winifred Atwell, February 27, 1914 - February 28, 1983
Labels: Decca Records, Pye, CBS, Philips
Information: Atwell was born in Trinidad, but spent many of her formative years in Britain. She even made it into the Royal Academy of Music, hoping to become a serious concert pianist. It was through trying to support her school and living costs by playing in popular venues that she achieved acknowledgement and reputation. Given the climate in the U.S. up through the 1950s, it is sadly unlikely that Winfred would have achieved the level of fame she eventually did, being both female and black, that she built up in the U.K. It is fortunate that Decca Records in London did recognize the talent, and her 1951 recording of Black and White Rag assured her place as a honky-tonk performer and good record sales. For the next decade she performed for concerts and TV, and also created some outstanding recordings. Both included classical pieces on the grand as well as those from "her other piano," a honky-tonk upright. But the sales were best outside of the U.S., and she never completely clicked there, partly due to the competition from Joe "Fingers" Carr, Del Wood, Johnny Maddox, and others in a field that she literally "owned" in England. After sales lagged in the 1960s, Winifred and her husband emigrated to Australia where she lived out her life. Again, in that country, she was a popular national treasure and gave performances through to 1978. Winifred Atwell is important in the overall ragtime legacy for not only adapting a music native to the U.S. and spreading it throughout the world, but for her tenacity in remaining as viable performer in spite of certain racial or gender stigmas of the time. The fact remains that she could outplay most of the performers recording at the same time, and we do have that part of her legacy still available to us.
Big Tiny Little: [Click for partial bio]
Big Tiny LittleBorn: Dudley Little, Jr., August 31, 1930 - March 3, 2010
Labels: Coral, Brunswick
Information: Originally known as Tiny Little, Jr., he started working in the 1945 playing country music with dance bands, but also taking time to both learn and perform other musical styles as well. Since his father was somewhat known as a dance band leader, Tiny had an edge with learning both the repertoire and the necessary protocols for performing in various venues. They led to both recording and fame in the mid-1950s, including a stint on the Lawrence Welk television show from 1956 to 1960. While Lou Busch, Johnny Maddox and others were performing ragtime on records and seeing great success, Little was the first to play it nearly weekly on the popular growing medium of television, important at a time when there was little competition from competing shows (two stations only in many markets) and no cable or satellite. He also acquired the "Big Tiny" nickname during that time, distinguishing him from his namesake father. During the 1960s, Tiny spent time on many popular variety TV shows, touring at the same time. By the end of the decade he settled into what became his most popular venue, other than the later Lawrence Welk revival shows. Slowly developing a finely-honed band, Tiny has been working in the casinos in Nevada to this day, alternating between Las Vegas, Carson City and Lake Tahoe. He continued to draw fans and make new ones into the 21st century. He is also one of the only artist who had the tenacity and talent to adapt Christmas songs into ragtime format for a recording. Tiny brought friendliness, fun and familiarity to ragtime. He is just as enthusiastic about the musicians he works with as he is for the music, and plays all manner of styles, adapting to what the audience wants to hear. His role in the 1950s was to bring this music to an audience that may have spent less time buying records or listening to radio, perhaps spurring the sales of other artists in addition to his own.
Del Wood: [Click for complete bio]
Del WoodBorn: Polly Adelaide Hendricks, February 22, 1920 - October 3, 1989
Labels: Tennessee/Republic Records, Decca Records, RCA Victor, Mercury Records, Ranwood, Compose, Lion and Lamb
Information: A native and lifetime resident of Nashville, Wood was surrounded by the influences of early country music and the remaining vestiges of ragtime, particularly through the guitar pickers. In spite of her parent's best efforts to encourage a direction towards classical music, the environment in Nashville, plus the early local programming on radio, convinced the young lady that she wanted to play piano in the honky-tonk style. Her dream goal was the Grand Ole Opry, something she would eventually realize in her early 30s. Shortening her married name (Adelaide Hazelwood) to something easier to remember (and intentionally non-gender specific), Del started banging around in bands and honky-tonk joints in her 20s. After a decade of building repertoire and reputation, she spent some time as a staff pianist at WLBJ in Bowling Green, Kentucky. It was there that she was heard playing Down Yonder, which led to a gig with a recording group called Hugh `Baby' Jarrett and his Dixieliners. This led to the first of many recording sessions for the Tennessee label starting in 1951. Down Yonder soon became a national hit in both the Country and Pop categories in Billboard, and is considered to be the first million-selling record by a female artist. This success was turned into appearances on the Opry, which led to an eventual full-time gig with them in 1953 that fulfilled her dream, and two years later, a contract with RCA Victor Records. While nothing else that she recorded had the same success as Down Yonder had, her offerings over the next decade were frequent and consistent. Del gained the title "Queen of the Ragtime Pianists", sometimes shared with junior fellow plunker Jo Ann Castle. While the recordings after the late 1960s were infrequent at best, her appearances on the Grand Ole Opry continued literally until just before her death in 1989. Wood was important in that she not only exemplified many of the possible connotations of the honky-tonk label, mixing country with pop music in an old-time piano style, but for the audiences she brought to both forms of music through her crossover pieces. She also made it clear that a woman's place was.. well... wherever she wanted to be, making a good living in a male-dominated genre. Her forceful playing was equal or superior to many of her contemporaries, and her considerable output showed great innovation at times, and consistency at the very least at all times.
"Poppa" John Gordy:
Poppa John GordyBorn: John Thomas Gordy, October 20, 1904 - February 5, 1961
Labels: Bullet Records, RCA Victor
Information: Born and raised in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, with some time based in Little Rock, Gordy had a fascination with the piano but did not make it a career for many years. He spent much of his childhood focusing attention on ragtime and New Orleans' style jazz. His brother Chester played trumpet, so there was some additional talent in the family. In his twenties he literally followed a traditional jazz band around the country, making friends with the piano player, and occasionally sharing the seat. Gordy eventually became a fine rhythm player in both jazz and country bands of the 1930s to mid-1940s, working at hotels and even for high school dances, where there was work. He also played on a few recordings, many of which he did not receive credit so we can only guess about them. When Jim Bulleit founded his progressive Nashville label Bullet Records in 1946, Gordy came along for the ride as a session pianist for future famed artists such as Chet Atkins and Homer and Jethro (possibly including some WSM Grand Ole Opry broadcasts, since that was they studio they used), and was based in Nashville for the rest of his life. From late 1948 to 1949, John recorded twelve sides for Bullet that would be among the last for that label. He became known as "Poppa" John during this period, and his signature Salty Dog Rag was soon covered by many country artists. Then for a time, Del Wood held the Nashville spotlight. At the urging of Atkins, Gordy, Wood and other artists migrated to RCA Victor in 1954 and 1955, once RCA set up a high tech studio in Nashville to supplant the antiquated and inadequate studios that existed up to that point in the Music City. A number of his sides with his quintet or sextet (depending on the date) were integrated into a 1955 LP, and he recorded a second LP in 1957. A final compilation was released some time after his death in 1961. (It should be noted that for his limited fame as a very competent musician, his son, John Gordy Jr., became a celebrity in his own right as a prominent member of the offensive line for the Detroit Lions from 1957-1967, as well as a professional bowler in the off season.) Poppa John's style was an important link between the down home Nashville style and the more sophisticated near-jazz arrangements of Lou Busch, and like other artists such as Marvin Ash or Paul Lingle, he was woefully under-recorded.
Fritz Schulz-Reichel: [Click for bio]
Crazy OttoBorn: Fritz Schulz-Reichel, July 4, 1912 - February 14, 1990
Pseudonyms: Otto der Schrage, Crazy Otto
Labels: Decca Records, Polydor, MGM
Information: A native of Germany, Schulz-Reichel was born into a rich musical heritage. Hia father was a classical pianist of note, so it was natural that Fritz took up piano at the age of six. But in spite of his father's best efforts, within a couple of years the boy was emulating and integrating the popular music styles of the coming jazz age into his classical performances in a unique way - keeping rhythm with the right hand while playing melodically with the left. When he finally became a jazz performer in his twenties, it was in the vein of Victor Borge, integrating jazz and popular music using humorous improvisations or classical quotations. Schulz-Reichel spent much of the time before and after World War II performing in hot spots in Berlin and Paris, becoming an honorary member of the "Hot Club" of France for his "Le Jazz Hot" improvisations. He also wrote a few pop songs popular in parts of Europe. When the honky-tonk era was underway in the early 1950s, Fritz took on the name and persona of Otto der Schrage, loosely translated into English as either Slanted Otto or Crazy Otto, and embarked on a series of records for Decca in both Germany and the U.S. Many of these featured medleys of popular ragtime/old-time songs, one of which became known as the Crazy Otto Medley consisting of Lou Busch's Ivory Rag and other pieces better known to Europeans. While the name became associated in the U.S. with Johnny Maddox who included the medley on an early album of his, Schulz-Reichel used it for a series of albums throughout the 1950s and 1960s, bringing American ragtime and popular music to fortunate Europeans, as well as giving a continental slant to the music for Americans. He was also featured in a 1957 film appearance as Otto der Schrage in a short of the same name, and provided scores for selected 1950s German films. While Fritz did some recording with a prepared piano, for recorded or live performance he often used a device of his invention called the Tipsy Wire Box, which electronically altered a perfectly fine miked piano signal into a rinky-tink sounding instrument. His work was well covered by other European and American musicians for many years, and he maintained a revered status with many fans up through his death in 1990, well after the second ragtime revival had subsided. His popularity on two continents helped to make ragtime truly international in its appeal.
"Ragtime Bob" Darch:
Bob DarchBorn: Robert Darch, March 31, 1920 - October 20, 2002
Labels: StereOddities, Hapi Skratch
Information: Bob Darch was born to immigrant parents in Warren, Michigan, just as the first ragtime era was winding down. For World War II, and in fact four days before the attack on Pearl Harbor, he enlisted in the United States Army. At that time he was listed as a musician or music teacher. He entertained off and on during his stint in the Army, much of it spent in Alaska. After the war Bob became a truly itinerant pianists, traveling around the United States and Canada with his noteworthy and massive five pedal Cornish Upright Saloon Grand Piano. From the late 1940s into the 1950s Bob was based in Virginia City, Nevada, where he performed regularly. He briefly formed his own publishing company to issue his own original ragtime compositions, including Delta Saloon Rag, A Comstock Disturbance A Sawdust Corner Delight, Calico Queens, and his widely circulated Opera House Rag which commemorated the famous Piper's Opera House. That particular sheet shows that it was compmosed "By Robert R. Darch, arranged by Joseph F. Lamb." By that time Bob, curious about the original sources of ragtime music as laid out in the 1950 book They All Played Ragtime, had sought out many of the ragtime pioneers, both performers and composers, including Lamb. In addition to his own career, Darch tirelessly promoted the music and its originators, arranging for concerts all over the United States and into Canada. His most ambitious legacy was the Golden Reunion in Ragtime of 1962, which yielded both a record and a radio show featuring Eubie Blake, Joe Jordan and Arthur Marshall. Bob and his various pianos traveled all around the globe, and he sent many of his fans and friends (including this author) post cards with various greetings, or notes of upcoming events. He managed to interview many of the pioneers as well, resulting in articles, and even revived (in part) a lost James Scott work, Calliope Rag (rearranged as a full rag by this author), which appeared in the third and fourth editions of They All Played Ragtime. Bob loved to perform, but he loved to present just as much, and often just stood to the side to let others shine. He was one of the main attractions at the first of the Scott Joplin Ragtime Festivals held in Sedalia, Missouri, and many similar events following that, even forming his own in Alexandria Bay, New York. The author was present at and performed for his last gig in his secondary home of Springfield, Missouri, just a few weeks before he died. Bob has a magnificent yet simple resting place in Sedalia, which is visited wistfully by his colleagues each June during the festival, where they raise a glass of Old Crow Bourbon (his favorite), pouring him a taste of it as well. He would not have had it any other way!
Albums by Artist(s) Albums by Title Albums by Genre
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