COUNTRY MUSIC TIME WITH DOYE O'DELL ON PAUL VIDAL's BIG V JAMBOREE
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This piece is based on my own research (including correspondence exchanged with Doye over the years) and an interview with Doye conducted at my request by the late, great Hank Penny.
Believe me : Doye is a terrific, underrated singer with a friendly voice (to paraphrase the late Cliffie Stone) and a quality song catalog. He was born Allen Doye O'Dell near Plainview, Texas, on November 22, 1912 ; his parents, Carrie and Joe O'Dell, had a cotton spread down there. An old publicity flyer tells us that, when Uncle Tom Gregory visited the O'Dells, he always brought his fiddle. He took a fancy to his nephew and began to teach the young cotton picker a thing or two.

Allen Doye O'Dell got purty good at the fiddle, won a few contests and decided he'd like to graduate to the guitar. He played guitar in high school and soon started singing in a trio. They went to Amarillo ; there, they played on WDAG radio to pay for their hotel room. His professional career had now begun, so he decided to shed his first name to pick up his middle name : Doye O'Dell had arrived ... Well, not quite !! After WDAG, he went down to the Mexican border to work on XEPN. He stayed there about one year, then joined Doc Snyder's Texas Cowboys. Hank Penny said that this outfit had one of the flashiest vaudeville shows to ever hit the stage. Doye was hired as fiddle player ; he played all the way back east with them. A bit later, another fiddle player joined up, so Doye switched to guitar. Then, he struck out on his own and soon had a network radio show on NBC in New-York : 'Doye O'Dell & The Radio Rangers' lasted five years. He moved over to WTIC (Connecticut) and played theaters all over the New England States. There was a time when he had to get back in time to do a local show at 6 am and then rehearse for a network show at 1 pm !!

Around 1946, after a spell in the US Marines, he settled in Los Angeles. He took part in various recording sessions for other Artists as rhythm guitar player - for instance, on December 14, 1947, he backed up Johnny Bond. Shortly afterwards, he signed a recording contract with Exclusive records, a label mostly renowned for its Rhythm'n'Blues recordings but which started a Western Swing series in 1947. At his first session, he waxed one of his biggest hits, 'Old Shep', a song which had first been a smash hit by Red Foley who had cut it in Chicago on March 4, 1941 (Decca 5944). In fact, some of the local DJs suggested that Doye should record that song ; they brought a scratchy dub transcription of Red Foley's version to the studio and Doye did it : it took off. Incidentally, the song was to become important to a third artist : Elvis Presley, who included it on his second brilliant RCA album in 1956.
Doye was backed by Texas Jim Lewis & His Lone Star Cowboys on several of his Exclusive '78s (Lewis himself had a bunch of releases on the label, before going back to Decca and then Coral). He cut many 'novelty' songs ; however, among his other significant sides were 'Give Me Texas', 'Blue Christmas' (later sung by everybody, including Ernest Tubb in 1949 and Elvis again), 'Bath Tub Blues', 'Lookin' Poor But Feelin' Rich' (reissued by White Label in their excellent 'Boppin' Hillbilly' series) and most notably its flip, 'Dear Oakie'.

'Dear Oakie' was originally written by Rudy Sooter. Here's a little tale : when Doye decided to record the song, Rudy hadn't finished writing it. A few weeks later, it wasn't ready yet so Doye and his label boss had to put the finishing touches to the tune before recording it. It was a big hit : Doye proudly recalls that his original version is on an album in The Library of Congress (Washington, DC). It is important to know that Doye wrote or co-wrote a lot of his own material ; he also co-penned a song that Spade Cooley cut on RCA Victor in 1950 ('I Miss You Already').
After Exclusive, Doye signed with Intro Records, a subsidiary label of the famed Aladdin Records out of Hollywood, California, devoted to Country 'n' Western. The first releases on the label ('7000' series) were quite bland but when they started their '6000' series, they quickly delivered the goods !! The Intro roster included Tommy Duncan & His Western All Stars, Curly Wiggins, Eddie Hazelwood, Rusty Mc Donald, Gene O'Quin, Jimmy Walker and Win Stewart (sic): a really neat list !! Doye wasn't at all out of place.
His first Intro session took place on October 2, 1951 ; the first single (# 6032) included a cover of Rex Griffin's 'Won't You Ride In My Little Red Wagon', an ancient hit for Hank Penny ; the second was to become one of the hottest C'n'W platters of 1952 : 'Diesel Smoke, Dangerous Curves' (# 6047). Recorded on February 13, 1952, this Cal Martin-penned song can't be beat for a good special effects Country thing !! In retrospect, it was a forerunner of the truckin' songs - and maybe even the hot rod music - that would be so popular in the '60s. Speedy West does an astonishing steel guitar work, ably supported by Jimmy Bryant and Harold Hensley, among others. In fact, the song was covered by many artists that same year and Speedy West played on all the great versions - notably those of Billy Strange (Capitol F-2032, released in March '52) and The Sons Of The Pioneers (RCA 47-4639). Speedy told me in 1987 that he tried to do something a little bit different each time. For two or three weeks, Doye's original was Billboard's most played Country record by DJs & in jukeboxes. Incidentally, the more conventional flip, 'If Tears Were Gold', was also written by Cal Martin. Collectors, take note : there was a blue vinyl issue of that single (see my
'Intro' page) !! Two more releases followed - including a good remake of 'Dear Oakie' - before Doye went with one of the majors, Mercury Records.

Meanwhile, Doye appeared in a bunch of movies, the very first one being 'Pioneers' with Tex Ritter. Over the years, he has starred with Roselind Russell, Bill Elliott, Monte Hale, Ronald Reagan (this one sounds familiar !), Jack Lemon and James Garner. 'Republic was grooming me to take Roy Rogers' place' he grins ; 'I tried out, passed the tests, and signed the contract. Roy was supposed to be drafted about that time. I was in a famous Western clothes store in L.A., trying on boots, hats and the whole bit. Right in the middle of the tailoring, Republic called. The draft age had been lowered, and Roy was safe. So, I didn't get the clothes -- or the part !' Doye did, however, appear with Roy in 'Home In Oklahoma', 'Under California Skies' and 'Along The Navajo Trail'.
His career in television is equally impressive. For five or six years, 'Western Varieties' was the highest rated Western show in Los Angeles (over Paramount's TV station, KTLA) ; Doye was the emcee six evenings every week and among the regulars on the show, were
Eddie Dean, Jimmy Wakely, Tex Williams ... He also appeared on 'Country Thrills' with Slim Andrews ; that was a children's show on Channel 5, divided into a half hour live (with kids singing) and the other half filled with Western pictures. Doye says it was one of the great experiences in his life. Deservedly, it brought him an Emmy award two years in a row.
He had roles in several leading television network shows such as 'Maverick', 'Sugarfoot', 'G. E. Theater', 'Cheyenne', 'I Love Lucy' and more recently, 'Columbo'.

Doye's pic on the front cover to his Longhorn LP.However, Doye's best work (to me, at least) remains his music. From the late '50s to the early part of the '60s, he had a contract with Sage & Sand Records. The recordings he laid down there are top flight Country product, drenched with Western Swing, West Coast style. There were a few hits (or semi-hits) like 'Burning Bridges' or the beautiful 'Count Down' and 'Half Past A Heartache'. Almost all of the Sage cuts feature the house band, led by the incredibly talented Roy Lanham. The late guitarist was really in a class of his own, playing complex, sometimes oblique, chords and executing bone-chilling glissandi on the neck of his Fender that complemented Doye's warm, assured singing perfectly. The remake of 'Diesel Smoke' (which appeared on a Crown LP) is astounding : Roy's guitar plays the role of Speedy's steel guitar !! 'Everybody Likes A Little Lovin' (Sage 297), a Merle Travis song, is my all-time favorite ; it rocks effortlessly and features an unmistakable solo by Lanham. There's another splendid collection of cuts on the Sage album, 'Crossroads' (C-36). Beginning with the drivin' 'Run Johnny Run', the LP features several Harold Hensley compositions : 'The Blues Keep Following Me', 'You're On My Mind All The Time' and the funny and catchy 'Plant A Watermelon On My Grave', co-written with Doye. Bobby Lile's 'Pick Up The Pieces' is also on board, Lanham's guitar racing with a piano this time (Lile had fine releases on 4-Star, like 'Money Talks', and on Sage). Doye is at his best on songs like the happy 'A Hobo' or the reflective 'Crossroads', but the icing on the cake may be that distinctly rockabilly-tinged 'Wait For The Wagon', where Roy once again works marvels.
After Sage and Sand, Doye recorded for several smaller labels ; however, the quality of his output never diminished (see
discography for more details). He kept on playing in clubs and other venues in California.


Doye in '87 backed  up by Rome Johnson (left) and Danny Michaels (right). In 1987
, my wife and I had the pleasure to meet Doye in person as well as hear him sing live at Hank Penny's Annual Party. Doye, Hank, Sue Thompson and Harold Hensley's Band also provided the music at the Fifth Annual Golden Boot Awards which took place on August 15 at the Los Angeles Equestrian & Polo Center in Burbank ; it was incredible to see those lifelong friends sharing the same stage - a delightful
25-year throwback ! Doye gave me a copy of his latest album, which appeared to be his last, but what a treat it was !! Titled 'Doye O'Dell Today' and released on Longhorn Records in 1983, it somewhat summarized his career in fine fashion.
Of course, there were inevitable (well done) remakes of both 'Diesel Smoke' and 'Dear Oakie' but the set also included re-recordings of superb -albeit more obscure - tracks he had previously cut for Berdie or Jan Mar, like 'Suddenly', which is one of the most sensitive Country songs you'll ever hear. In fact, this was only one of many great Allen Johnston songs on the album, others including 'Louisiana Lady' and the nostalgic 'Freight Train Goin' Home'. Loved the modern rendition of an old Exclusive number, Rudy C. Sooter's 'Who Do You Spend Your Dreams With', too. On this project, Doye was backed up by Jay Dee Maness on steel & banjo, Jay Lacy on guitar & harmonica, plus an assortment of very fine studio musicians who did justice to the songs. Needless to say, Doye's voice was intact : warm, friendly, magnifique.
In 1995, Doye had a stroke, resulting in his left side being totally paralized (like Speedy West a few years before). He had already retired from show business but now, he had to stop entertaining for good. There's no arguing that he and his good old Martin guitar deserve a choice place in Country'n'Western music : Doye O'Dell is one of the unsung greats of the idiom.

Postscript : Russell Hall, who is related to Doye O'Dell, informed me of Doye's passing. According to Doye's daughter, Cathy O'Dell Goodfarb, he died in January 2001. He will be missed by many.
Roy Harder has since confirmed Doye's passing on January 3, 2001. His last residence was Newhall, California.

© Paul Vidal * Privas, France * September 1999