Houston Scores Big-Time In Latest Encyclopedia Of Country Music

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With 53 related entries, Houston fared well in the second edition of The Encyclopedia of Country Music (Oxford University Press, $65), released last month, the first revision of the 600-page volume since its initial printing in 1998.

Michael McCall, Country Music Hall of Fame archivist and one of the editors of the new edition, estimates that the encyclopedia remains at around 1,200 entries. The list of new entries was actually determined three years ago, he says, as editorial decisions and space/length considerations had to be made about whom to drop out of the volume to make way for the new blood of the past dozen years, ranging from the highly successful Kenny Chesney to somewhat more obscure artists like Robert Earl Keen, Jr.

Over the next few weeks, Rocks Off will be covering the Houston-related artists in the new volume, beginning with a group we'll call the pioneers and old-timers.

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Shelly Lee Alley: Originally a pop bandleader based in Fort Worth, Alley, who was born in rural Colorado County and wrote the Father of Country Music Jimmie Rodgers' classic "Traveling Blues," eventually switched to Western Swing, which brought him to Houston as part of the original Swift Jewel Cowboys in 1933 (Swift Jewel refers to Swift Jewel Shortening).

Alley worked closely with Houston musicians Cliff Bruner and Ted Daffan before giving up performing for songwriting in 1946. He wrote Moon Mullican's side "Broken Dreams." Alley was also the stepfather of Clyde Brewer, who led the River Road Boys until his death last year.

Cliff Bruner: Texas City-born Bruner was one half of the original Western Swing twin fiddle combo, sharing fiddle duties in Milton Brown's band the Musical Brownies with Cecil Brower. After recording 49 sides with Brown, Bruner relocated to Houston after Brown's death and formed the Texas Wanderers, which included legendary players Bob Dunn, Lester Raley, Mullican, and vocalist Dickie McBride.

After leaving music for a while, Bruner formed the Showboys with Mullican and they were a much in demand band up and down the Texas/Louisiana Gulf Coast for many years.

Harry Choates: Cajun fiddler Harry Choates died in an Austin jail at the tender age of 29, but not before he found his way to Bill Quinn's Gold Star Studios where he cut what became known as the Cajun National Anthem, "Jole Blon." Released in 1946, "Jole Blon," the first Cajun record to make the Billboard charts, would be the high point in the tragic alcoholic's musical life.

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