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"Gonna Take My Guitar"
Bobby Hodge
By Shane Hughes and Bobby Hodge

           North Carolina was, for a few decades at least, a haven for traditional country music. Although the Carolinas were not necessarily an anchorage for a burgeoning music scene, many performers who later earned a deal of success originated from the North Carolina locale. William and Earl Bolick (The Blue Sky Boys), The Callahan Brothers (Walter and Homer), J. E. and Wade Mainer, Buddy Jones, Lulu Belle and Scotty and particularly Charlie Poole, with his band The North Carolina Ramblers (comprising ace fiddler Posey Rorer and picker Roy Harvey), all from North Carolina contributed to the pre-pubescent country music scene of the nineteen twenties and thirties. Similarly, the post-war country scene would not have become so prolific without the talent of such North Carolina born performers as Cecil Campbell, Earl Scruggs, steel player 'Shot' Jackson, Don Gibson, Clyde Moody, Arthur Lee 'Red' Smiley (of Reno and Smiley fame), Del Reeves, Carl Story and Doc Watson. Pop music also benefited from the prime recordings and compositions of North Carolina natives John D. Loudermilk and, to a lesser extent, Billy 'Crash' Craddock. However, as with every other state, North Carolina produced more than just a handful of obscure artists for every performer that found fame. This obscurity does not translate into a lack of talent, though, as the subject of this issue's Hen's Teeth column proves. Bobby Hodge was little known outside of his adopted home of Wisconsin, but he persevered with a career in country music and achieved a level of personal success that many other obscure acts only hoped to attain. Since leaving North Carolina in 1950 and moving to Wisconsin, Bobby plunged into Wisconsin's country music scene with an impetuosity that ensured he became well known on the local scene. Eventually, Bobby's reputation as a prime honky-tonker filtered further west into neighboring Nashville and he was rewarded with an invitation to appear on the venerable Grand Ole Opry and a recording contract with Don Pierce's Nashville label. Subsequent years saw Bobby cut some high quality sides for Wisconsin's leading label, Cuca, and more traditional country recordings for various Nashville companies before he retired and moved to Florida. Bobby seems content with his achievements, which is as much of a personal reward as anyone could have asked for. But, to place Bobby's career in perspective we must return to the beginning - North Carolina.
           Born on the outskirts of Gastonia, North Carolina on July 16, 1932, Bobby spent much of his youth living with his mother, step father and grandmother in a two room 'shotgun type' house. With the country still reeling from the Great Depression, Bobby's rural upbringing was far less than auspicious, as he explains, 'We were very poor and my first job as a 15 year old was spent sweeping in a cotton mill in Bessemer City NC'. Music became a major interest for Bobby during his adolescent years and also proved to be a cheap way of escaping from the hardship of a poor household. By the age of fourteen, Bobby had taken up the guitar. His grandmother had bought him his first guitar for three dollars and, through observing other local luminaries playing at live gigs, he learned rudimentary chord progressions. Bobby recalls that the first song he taught himself to play was Gene Autry's 'Don't Fence Me In'. After a year of self tuition, Bobby had garnered the talent and ambition to strike out and begin a career as a country singer. In 1947 he joined a local group fronted by Bill Darnel, called the Rainbow Rangers. Darnel offered the fifteen year old Bobby a spot as featured vocalist with the band. Unfortunately, Bobby was not paid for his services. Shortly after he had enlisted in the Rainbow Rangers, the group gained a fifteen minute segment on radio station WGNC's Hillbilly Time In Caroline. Even though Gastonia's WGNC was only a 500 watt station, it's Hillbilly Time… program had attracted other young up and coming country performers from the surrounding area, such as Earl Scruggs and Don Gibson, both of whom had their own respective fifteen minute segments on the show. Bobby remembers that Don Gibson was residing in Shelby, North Carolina at the time 'and had to pass thru (sic) Bessemer to get to the radio station in Gastonia and many times I was his passenger'.
           Bobby's debut as a country singer may not have been the auspicious occasion that he had probably anticipated. After working as a delivery boy for Western Union for three months, he enlisted with the Army during December 1949 and was transferred to Fort Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina for basic training. After twelve weeks of boot camp, Bobby was to be shipped east to Fort Louis, then on to Korea. He only just managed to avoid a tour of the east Asian trouble spot by applying for a minority discharge, 'as I was not 17 until July 16th I informed the Army that I was not 18 and that I had entered the Army as a minor with my mother's signature and they gave me a minority discharge'. This false start was followed by another, when, after his discharge, Bobby found work with the Bum Rineheart Stable and moved to Detroit to work at the Hazel Park track. By this time Bobby had developed a firm ambition to pursue a career in music, but, working at Hazel Park also sparked another fire - horse racing. His passion for thoroughbreds would not truly emerge until after his retirement during the nineteen seventies, though. Bobby had a greater enthusiasm for country music and he was keen to make a name for himself.
           Quitting his job as a horse trainer in Detroit, Bobby headed to Stoughton, Wisconsin to visit an aunty and uncle. While he was there he took the opportunity to audition at a few different radio stations, hoping to gain a slot and to try and kick start his music career. Bobby's luck finally changed when he walked through the doors of nearby station WKOW,
           'As I carried my guitar, without a case, into the studios of WKOW in Madison - general manager Mike Henry came out of his office and asked me what I was doing with the guitar. I told him that I sang and played hillbilly music. He called the program director and a few office girls and asked me to sing a couple of songs. After I sang a couple of songs with my strong southern accent, he told the sales manager Bob Loomer to go to Stoughton - where I lived to sell several $5.00 commercials, to individual businesses.'
           Bobby had gained another radio spot, ensuring he would receive greater local coverage. By this time Bill Darnel's Rainbow Rangers had disbanded, so Bobby decided to adopt the moniker of the Rainbow Ranger. He was given a thirty minute slot on WKOW's Stoughton Presents program each Saturday afternoon beginning on March 31, 1951. Bobby stayed with WKOW for several years and even hosted a weekly television show on Madison's WKOW-TV channel 27.
           Later the same year, Bobby met his current wife Mary in Madison. During December '51 Mary had auditioned to sing on the Rainbow Rangers show. 'She sang pop music and since I had no knowledge or exposure to pop music I told her to audition with the piano player who followed my show, and since he did not use guest singers, she came back and told me he was not interested in a 14 year old girl singing on his show. Since I was still a teenager, I asked her for a date, and that included sitting at the airport on a Saturday night and listening to the Grand Ole Opry from Nashville on our first date.'
           Bobby and Mary married on July 23, 1954 in Stoughton and are still very much happily married.
           After several years of performing on WKOW as the Rainbow Ranger, Bobby had gained enough exposure to build a reputation outside of Madison and Stoughton. He received invitations to perform all over Wisconsin and even into neighboring states. According to Dick Grant, Bobby toured various southern states with the Dairylands News stage show. When I interviewed Bobby during 2001, he did not mention Dairylands News. However, renowned Wisconsin singer Larry Lee Phillipson told me that he remembered watching Bobby perform at clubs in Milwaukee and West Allis, not far from where he (Larry) was gigging regularly. This rising success also inspired Bobby to finally make his first recordings. In 1958 he laid down a melodic honky tonk weeper, 'You've Broken Another Heart'. Probably recorded in Madison, this self-penned composition reached above the uninspired country-politan fare emanating from Nashville in the later half of the decade. Despite the quality of his tune, though, Bobby may have been wise in not seeking a label to release it. Compared to many of the discs hitting the market from other local labels as Cinch and Dinamo in Wisconsin, 'You've Broken Another Heart' may not have stood a chance.
           Bobby's next outing, and his debut commercial release, proved to be very much the opposite. Cut in the living room of his home in Madison, Bobby was backed by a group of, presumably, local musicians who ably backed him on the honky tonk stomper, 'Gonna Take My Guitar'. The line up of steel, standard lead, bass and drums coerced in such a transcendent fluidity that the record could not be faulted. Bobby's hitherto latent songwriting ability was now at a peak. The avid listener could easily visualize Carl Smith or even Faron Young launching effortlessly into this tune on a live show, like the Opry or Hayride. Coupled with an early rendition of another self-penned tune, 'So Easy To Leave', 'Gonna Take My Guitar' was issued on the Madison based Rebel label, probably during 1958. At the time of writing, the author was unable to confirm if Rebel was actually Bobby's own label, or a concern managed by another party. No other releases on a Rebel label based in Madison and bearing a similar number sequence could be located at the time of writing.
           The release of his Rebel disc probably secured Bobby more local gigs, but it was, conversely, his one and only release for the decade. He would not record again until 1961, when he traveled to Nashville to perform on the Grand Ole Opry and cut a session for Don Pierce's Nashville custom label. Just how Bobby came to be on the Opry and record for Pierce is due, in no small part, to the efforts of amiable steel guitarist 'Shot' Jackson. Bobby has fond memories of meeting Jackson and working on the Opry.
           'In 1961 Roy Acuff and the Smoky Mountain Boys came to Madison and was on a country music show in Madison. I went backstage and introduced my self to Roy and asked if I could sing a song on his show - he informed me that he did not use guests on his personal appearance shows. The response was great and I wound up singing two songs. I made friends with his steel guitar player, Shot Jackson. A couple of months later, Shot called me and invited me to come to Nashville and record with Roys Smoky Mountain Boys. So I went to Nashville in 1961 and at Starday Records and with the Smoky Mountain Boys including Shot Jackson on steel, Howdy Forrester on fiddle, Brother Oswald on bass, and Melba Montgomery on rhythm and recorded two songs I had written called Gonna Take My Guitar [actually 'Carolina Bound'] and Your (sic) Always Welcome To Cry On My Shoulder.'
           When I queried Don Pierce about Bobby's session for Nashville, he only had vague memories of the singer and his recordings. Don verified that, since Roy Acuff lived next door to him, he utilized Acuff and his band for recording sessions for Starday and the Nashville custom subsidiary. However, he seemed to think that Tommy Hill had arranged the date, probably at the instigation of 'Shot' Jackson, and Pierce consented to go ahead with the session. As Bobby was an unknown artist, Pierce assigned Tommy to produce the session and the two tunes cut were issued on Nashville, rather than the parent Starday logo. 'Carolina Bound' was superlative in every aspect and easily eclipsed Bobby's first working of the tune on Rebel. Acuff's Smoky Mountain Boys were able to unwind and solo with freedom, too. Jackson's steel runs were particularly effective, as was Forrester's impeccable fiddle work. Brother Oswald kept the beat rolling like a cannonball and Melba proved that she was more than just a rhythm strummer. With a new verse added, it was plain to see that Bobby was now in his prime as a songwriter. The flip was a comparatively upbeat Cliff Brizendine composition, 'You're Always Welcome To Cry On My Shoulder'.
           With a release that was sure to sell nationally, Bobby's future success seemed certain. The Grand Ole Opry loomed.


           'A few months after the release of Carolina Bound I was invited by the manager [of the Opry] Ott Devine to guest on the Grand Ole Opry on WSM at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. I guested many times in 1961 and 1962 and then [I] was asked to move to Nashville, because of the long drive from Madison to Nashville which was 650 miles each way and I was driving it every weekend. Since by that time I had three sons and my wife worked at [the] Oscar Mayer Meat Plant as a data entry clerk, I chose not to move to Nashville and we ended the relationship with the Opry.'
           During the year or so he stayed with the Opry, Bobby toured occasionally with other acts from the show, proffering him the chance to spread his reputation deeper into the south. On his return home to Wisconsin, offers to record again were waiting in his mail box.
           His next port of call was James Kirchstein's Cuca group of labels in Sauk City. Bobby would maintain a sporadic relationship with Kirchstein, seeing a few releases on Cuca during the mid-sixties. His first issue on the label was a cover of the popular blues, 'Sitting On Top Of The World'. Although Bobby credited himself as the writer of 'Sitting On Top', the songs lineage stretched back to February 1930 when the Mississippi Sheiks (Walter Vinson and Lonnie Chatmon) recorded the initial version of the song under its better known title. Macon Ed and Tampa Joe cut a variation of the theme in 'Everything's Coming My Way', while the Alabama Sheiks and Georgia Tom, among others, recorded the song under its true title. 'Sitting On Top ' soon became an oft recorded number, appearing in the repertoire of jazz and western swing bands and, with the emergence of the Big Beat, rockabilly artists (namely Curtis Gordon's version on Mercury). Bobby may have picked up the song from any of these sources and inserted his name as the composer to avoid copyright infringements. The flip was a reprise of 'So Easy To Love', a song that Bobby obviously had much faith in and, surprisingly, wasn't as much of contrast with other Cuca releases from the same year.
           In definite disparity, though, were the recordings Bobby made for Dave Dudley's Minnesota based Golden Wing label in 1964. Dudley had formed Golden Wing in 1961 after he was injured in a car accident and successfully sued for damages. With the settlement he started Golden Wing and quickly set about recording various Minneapolis based performers. The following year he was offered a song with an interesting truck driving theme, 'Six Days On The Road'. The tune had originally been pitched to Jimmy C. Newman, who turned it down. Newman suggested that the writers pass the tune on to a friend of his in Minneapolis, Dave Dudley. Dudley didn't hesitate in recording 'Six Days..' and gathered a group of Minnesota's most talented country gentlemen to cut the tune at Kay Bank in Minneapolis during '63. It was this same band that backed Bobby on his Golden Wing outing the following year. Led by the uniquely talented guitarist Jimmy Colvard, Bobby and the band cut the Red Johnson/Bud Auge tune, 'Taxi Cab Driver', which Dudley had recorded at Kay Bank a year or two earlier. Bobby also cut the stylistically original 'Alligator Man' that featured some compelling picking from Colvard. Not long after, Golden Wing folded when Mercury threatened Dudley with legal action over the similarity of his label name to their budget Wing subsidiary. To circumvent the situation and continue releasing records, Dudley changed the name of the label to Golden Ring. Ironically, shortly after the name change Mercury contacted him again, this time to offer him a recording contract based on the growing success of 'Six Days'. With Golden Wing now just smoldering embers, Bobby's chance of breaching the country market dissipated. He continued to record intermittently, cutting a Christmas record for Cuca in 1968 and renewing his relationship with the Nashville establishment by rounding out the nineteen sixties with a few releases on Stop.
           The new decade brought a few potential opportunities to within Bobby's reach. In 1970 he appeared in Chicago with veteran hillbilly Dolph Hewitt and other WGN acts, whilst waxing a few discs for Volunteer in Nashville. However, by 1972 Bobby had decided to leave the business behind him and retire to Florida. He sold the Melody Club, which he had been operating in Stoughton, and headed south to the warmer climates of Tampa.
           Bobby just couldn't keep himself from the music he loved, so he purchased a night club in Oldsmar, Florida where he performed nightly until 1984. His former passion for horse racing began to re-emerge around this time, too,
           'Since our lounge was so close to the racetrack, most of the customers were owners, trainers, jockeys, grooms and people who worked at the racetrack. One night an owner of his only race horse called Stay and Play wanted to sell me the horse for $250 as the horse was not going as fast as his money. I bought the horse and chose a local trainer who had other horses at the track. Running the horse about a week later in a race he ran third and I made $130 and I thought what a great business this is!'
           Bobby found as much pleasure running his thoroughbreds as he did performing country music. In his retirement he found that he could have the best of both worlds, as St. Petersburg Times writer Jackie Ripley surmised, 'Later Hodge was able to consolidate music and horses so that while his ponies were going through the paces in towns like Atlantic City and Charleston, he was playing clubs on Atlantic City's Boardwalk and in venues like Heritage Hall in Harper's Ferry'. During the late nineties Bobby opened another club, Bobby Hodge's Longhorn, in Tampa where he still performs every Friday and Saturday night.
           Disappointments may have dogged Bobby during stages of his career, but he has no complaints. He was offered more opportunities than many other struggling performers could have hoped for, and he made the most of his chances. He may not have had a hit record. After all, it seems that he didn't need it. Bobby's talent speaks volumes and surely out shines any chart statistics. Just listen to 'Gonna Take My Guitar'. That's the proof right there.


 

BOBBY HODGE DISCOGRAPHY
By Shane Hughes and Bobby Hodge
(with assistance from Johan Lofstedt, Terry Gordon and Dick Grant)


(prob.) Madison, Wisconsin. 1958.
Bobby Hodge - vcl/gtr, unknown - gtr, unknown - st gtr, unknown -
fdle, unknown - bs, unknown - dms, unknown - pno.
           You've Broken Another Heart (Hodge) - Orig. unissued

Madison, Wisconsin, Bobby Hodge residence. 1958 (?)
Bobby Hodge Accompanied By The Rainbow Rangers.
Bobby Hodge - vcl/gtr, unknown - gtr, unknown - st gtr, unknown - bs, unknown - dms.
           Gonna Take My Guitar (Hodge) - Rebel 819
           So Easy To Love (Hodge) - Rebel 819

Nashville, Tennessee, Starday Studio. 1961.
Producer: Tommy Hill.
Bobby Hodge - vcl/gtr, Melba Joyce Montgomery - gtr, Harold B. 'Shot' Jackson - st gtr,
Beecher Ray 'Bashful Brother Oswald' Kirby - fdle, Howard Wilson 'Howdy' Forrester - bs.
           A 4896 - You're Always Welcome (To Cry On My Shoulder) (Brizendine) - Nashville NV-5014
           B 4897 - Carolina Bound (Hodge) - Nashville NV-5014

Palace LP M-719
NOTE: Bobby Hodge was credited as John 'Salty' Holmes on Palace LP M-719.
Wisconsin. 1962.
Bobby Hodge - vcl/gtr, unknown - gtr, unknown - gtr, unknown - bs, unknown - dms, unknown - pno.
           MO8W-4883  Sitting On Top Of The World (Hodge) - Cuca J-1066            MO8W-4884  So Easy To Love (Hodge) - Cuca J-1066

Wisconsin. 1963.
Bobby Hodge - vcl/gtr, other personnel unknown.
           Impossible To Get You Off My Mind (Montgomery/Montgomery) - Cuca 1140 & Cuca LP KTV4
           It's Almost Tomorrow (Bersok/Reby) - Cuca 1140

Minneapolis, Minnesota, probably Kay Bank studios.1964.
Bobby Hodge - vcl/gtr, Jimmy Colvard - gtr, Johnny Voit - gtr, Johnny Long -
bs, Tony Lockwood - dms, unknown - b/gnd vcl.
           Taxi Cab Driver (Johnson/Auge) - Golden Ring 3040
           Alligator Man () - Golden Ring 3040

Wisconsin. 1968.
Bobby Hodge - vcl/gtr, unknown - gtr, Bobby G. Rice -
st gtr, unknown - bs, unknown - b/gnd vcl (-1).
           Blue Christmas () - Cuca 68101
           Sing A Song Of Christmas (-1) () - Cuca 68101

196?
Bobby Hodge - vcl/gtr, unknown - st gtr, unknown - bs, unknown - dms, unknown - pno.            You Asked For What You Got () - Orig. unissued

Nashville, Tennessee. 196?
Bobby Hodge - vc/gtr, unknown - gtr, unknown - st gtr (-1), unknown -
fdle, unknown - bs, unknown - dms, unknown - b/gnd vcl (-1).
           Bus Drivin' Son Of A One (Hodge) - Stop 1550
Power Pak/Gusto PO-222            Can't Fight The World Single Handed (-1) () - Stop 1550

Nashville, Tennessee. 1968.
Bobby Hodge - vcl/gtr, unknown - gtr, unknown -
st gtr, unknown - bs, unknown - dms, unknown - pno.
           Great Lakes Dan (Hodge) - Stop 161
           So Easy To Love (Hodge) - Stop 161

Nashville, Tennessee. 1969.
Bobby Hodge - vcl/gtr, unknown - gtr, unknown - st gtr, unknown -
fdle, unknown - bs, unknown - dms, unknown - pno.
           Scarlet Water (Known As Wine) (Pitts) - Stop 266
           Your Love Passed Away (Reynolds) - Stop 266

Nashville, Tennessee. 197?
Producer: Buddy Mize.
Bobby Hodge - vcl/gtr, unknown - gtr, unknown - st gtr, unknown - fdle, unknown
- bs, unknown - dms, unknown - pno, Charlie McCoy - hmca (-1), unknown - b/gnd vcl.
V-0001
                    Close Up The Honky Tonks (Simpson) - Volunteer 45-4000
           Another Broken Heart (-1) (Hodge/Trulen) - Volunteer 45-4000

Nashville, Tennessee. 1972.
Bobby Hodge - vcl/gtr, unknown - unknown - gtr, unknown - st gtr, unknown -
fdle, unknown - bs, unknown - dms, unknown - b/gnd vcl.
           You Took Her Off My Hands () - Volunteer 4006
           I Wish That I Could Fall In Love Today (Howard) - Volunteer 4006

Other known Bobby Hodge recordings -
           When
           Dark Horse
           Another Broken Heart (second version)



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