Although my site features pages on some very well known artists, I love to devote as much space as I can to lesser known or even totally unknown musicians because I think that all true contributors to the Music we love should be rescued from oblivion or unfair neglect. I'm not one to reason upon chart entries or record sales statistics only. With The Sunset Ramblers, I take things even further by introducing a band that never recorded (commercially speaking) ! But they had a great name, they crossed paths with legendary artists - like Paul Howard and Hawkshaw Hawkins - and founder member, fiddler Dick Winans, sent me a neat bio which simply had to be printed. I've left it as is, just adding a few comments [in brackets] here and there.
Paul Vidal * Privas, France * March/June 2004 - June 2019
[When Dick Winans was about 6 or 7, his parents bought him a cheap Hawaïan guitar and chords pretty much came naturally. Shortly afterwards, he got a mandolin somewhere and monkeyed around with it : that led to a fiddle, which is tuned like a mandolin. An older friend of his played fiddle and banjo and showed him some of the stuff he knew. Dick cites Dale Potter as one of his favorite musicians : 'he was a genius on double stop (two string) harmony and was as gifted as Johnny Gimble'. As time went by, Dick became friends with other musicians and in the early '40s got together a little combo of guitar, bass, accordion & fiddle. The name, Sunset Ramblers, was thought up by another member of the band and things just went from there. They should not be confused with any other band that used the same name, like Johnny Miller & The Sunset Ramblers who recorded for 4-Star's custom OP series for instance.]
Somewhere in the annals of 1942, I met Ollie Brown. He was playing in Corry, Pa., with Hi Brewer. Came WW2 and Ollie’s job took him to Danville, Illinois. When he came back we formed a new band, under an old name, 'The Sunset Ramblers'. At that time the members were Ollie (guitar), Fred Blackmer (bass), Alex Kochanowski (accordion), myself (fiddle) and Matt Proper, square dance caller. We played dances, shows and where-ever at night and all had daytime jobs. We soon learned that we couldn’t work both day and night and took a vote...That started the band, I believe that was in 1946. Fred decided to leave and we soon recruited Doug Seymour (steel guitar) and Paul 'Bucky' Raszmann (bass). Doug used a single neck 8-string Epiphone and a double neck 8-string Rickenbacker. Shortly thereafter, Alex left and we got Paul Packo on the accordion. He had perfect pitch and was a terrific musician. Very soon we got a six day a week show on radio station WJTN (Jamestown, NY). Bookings picked up and almost overnight we were on jobs six and sometimes seven days or nights a week. [Little Corky Brown, seen on the pictures of the group, didn't really play the fiddle ; he just went through the motions. He was only on the stage shows, not any radio. Says Dick : 'we used to grease his bow to keep the scratching from being heard !'.]
About 1947 a new radio station - WIKK - opened up in Erie and now we were working there also 5 days a week. The road between Erie and Jamestown got real familiar. WJTN at 9:30 AM and back to WIKK, for a show about 1 or 1:30 in the afternoon...
At that time WWVA, in Wheeling, West Virginia, was pretty big and many of the entertainers there had picnic park shows every Sunday and through a booking agent in Wheeling, we were booked often at one of the parks. That meant that after a regular Saturday night dance, it was in the band car headed for southern Pennsylvania or West Virginia. During those years the speedometer clocked over 100,000 miles a year which averaged about 1900 miles a week... Five guys, instruments and a bass fiddle all in one eight-passenger band car : believe me, you ‘gotta’ be good friends to do that ! Also, now with WIKK (5000 watts) going across Lake Erie into Ontario, Canada, bookings in Canada came in and now we were invading the territory that so far the Missouri Fox Hunters, on radio in Ashtabula, Ohio, had locked up. I forgot to mention that we did audition at WWVA and were told, yes we could have a show there but they didn’t pay any staff money...You only made a percentage of how many bottles of ‘Hadacol’ or whatever product you sold and that wasn’t good enough to leave what we already had.
During that era we had a couple of disappointments. In 1948 a new radio station in Madison, Wisconsin, opened up : WKOW, 10,000 watts, that covered all of Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Ontario - and probably more. We auditioned and were told we had a staff position on the station if we could clear the Musicians Union in Madison. The Madison chapter turned us down even though we were members of the same union in Erie and Jamestown. If we had got that one, both WKOW and WE were pretty well assured that not long after, we could have been regulars on The National Dam Dance, WLS, 50,000 watts clear channel Saturday nights. The other time was when we had a sponsor that was going to foot the bill for a program on WBEN which was, at that time, the biggest radio station in Buffalo, NY. You guessed it...The Buffalo chapter turned us down. The big honcho of the union in New York, James Cesar Petrillo, wouldn’t help us at all in either of the above cases. Oh well, ‘c'est la vie’ !
In late 1948, Ed. Lamb, an attorney in Ohio, built WICU-TV, a new television station in Erie. Guess what, we were the first live musical program that aired on the station. The show, 'Let’s Go Dancing’, was broadcast every Saturday night at, I believe, 7PM after which we were on our way to a regular dance at Busti, NY. Incidentally this may be of interest to some of you : Jeannie Seely, now a member of the Grand Ole Opry, got her first TV appearance on our show at WICU. I’ve tried to contact her several times but I guess she’s ‘big time’ now and I never got a personal response. I don’t remember losing any sleep over it. [Jeannie Seely was born in Pennsylvania on June 6, 1940. From 1966 onwards, she cut a number of records for Challenge, Monument and Decca, where she recorded both solo and as a duet with Jack Greene. She was once married to top Nashville songwriter and early Eddie Cochran associate, Hank Cochran.]
I wasn’t going to put this one in here but I guess it’s part of the story. Yes, I had my chance to go to Nashville. One of the many Nashville groups that toured the country came to Jamestown to do a show at the Palace Theater and, as they always did, visited the local country music groups, on radio, for the publicity. At that time Paul Howard and The Arkansas Cotton Pickers, an 8-piece band with Becky Barfield girl singer, was big on the Opry. Paul came to our radio show at WJTN that morning and later in the day offered me a job with his band. At that time my first son, Terry, was only about 2 years old and I didn’t think it was fair to pack up and leave. It was a hard decision but now I’m glad I stayed home. [Paul Howard and his band joined the Grand Ole Opry in 1942 thanks to Jack Stapp, bringing with them an electric mandolin player by the name of Rollin' Sullivan - who would later become one half of Lonzo & Oscar. Howard was one of the first to bring an electric guitar to the Opry - Ernest Tubb and Pee Wee King also claim that honor. Paul Howard & The Arkansas Cotton Pickers were a Western Swing-type outfit whose recordings on King and Columbia are worthwhile investments. 'Cotton Pickers Special' (Col. 20428) and the rollicking 'The Boogie's Fine Tonight' (King 871) are two superb examples of their craft.]' Now, why the band stopped... In late 1949, television was growing by leaps and bounds. People were staying home much more and dances, shows and outside entertainment went down. If you recall, almost all of the big bands - Miller, Dorseys, Lunceford, Wayne King, Lombardo, Benny Goodman... - folded. We were just one of the hundreds that went out of business.
Before I close this epistle, I want to name many of the great guys that I had the pleasure of being associated and playing with throughout the years : Ollie Brown, Fred Blackmer, Matt Proper, Alex Kochanowski, Paul Packo (certainly influenced by Pedro DePaul, Spade Cooley's accordion player at the time), Smokey Kelly (guitar), Shorty Luce (lead guitar then later, string bass), Doug Seymour, Bucky Raszmann, Bob Barry (accordion ; a Jazz fan, he once jammed with Art Van Damme & His Quintet at a Chicago radio show), Howard Mans, Dan Spurner, Kenny Bickel, Tex King, Fritz Whittaker, Chuck Jones, Jim Smith and probably some I can’t remember. I should also mention some of the radio stations also : WLEU Erie, WESB Bradford, WHLD Niagara Falls and WIKK Erie.
Last, we did shows with many other entertainers such as : Grandpa Jones, Little Jimmy Dickens, Doc Williams, Joe & Shirley Barker, The Chuck Wagon Gang, The Davis Twins, Wilma Lee & Stoney Cooper, Slim Bryant & The Georgia Wildcats... We also knew Dusty Owens who gave Buddy Spicher his start, and I seem to remember, after a tent show in Corry, Pa. (where I lived), Hawkshaw Hawkins and several acts stopped by my house for tea… I won’t mention what kind !
Anyway, you’re tired of reading this ! [No, we're not ! Thank you for sharing those memories of a fabulous era].
© DICK WINANS * Tampa, Florida * February 2004
Doug Seymour & Dick Winans in January 2005. Sadly, Dick passed away in January 2011.
In 2012, Paul Packo's daughter, Linette Packo Bowers, informed me that his father died in 2009. She added that he had been part of the Delaware music scene for many, many years, even playing in the Lawrence Welk Orchestra at some point in time.
At the tail end of 2013, I received another message from Doug 'Slim' Seymour who had visited his old room-mate, Paul 'Bucky' Raszmann, in September. They were then the only surviving members of the band, although they both had health problems. Doug wrote : 'He still plays his guitar every day & along with the TV ! When I was there that day he even got out his mandolin and did a fine tune or two !' He added : 'I don't play music any more, but I do lots of listening to country, western swing & pop from the 30s to the present day. Just was turned on to Beegie Adair & her trio!'. And he also solved the mystery of the girl who appears with the Ramblers in one of the pics above : 'Dolores Troutner was a 14-year old school girl that worked with Dick & I.  We picked her up in Spartansburgh, PA, and drove to Erie, PA, for a 6:30 radio show every Tuesday morning and then dropped her off back at school. She was a fine student and the principal gave her parents permission to let her do that. She later learned to play the accordion and played weekend band dates for years ! I just got back in touch with her a few years ago'. He was also very proud of his nephew, Bobbe Seymour, currently living and playing in Nashville.
Amazingly, in June 2014, Mr Norman Carlson from Busti, NY, kindly contacted me with an interview he had taken over the phone with Paul 'Bucky' Raszmann a few days before from his home in Ithaca, NY. He later smoothed it into an exciting narrative which perfectly complements Dick's reminiscences above. Here it is :
They made their living playing music. Busti was their favorite spot to play. They played over WJTN around 10 a.m. every Saturday morning. Oliver Brown was the band leader. He and Paul were both vocalists. Paul played the upright "doghouse" bass. Brown played rhythm guitar. Dick Winans played fiddle and Bob Barry played accordion. Doug Seymour played steel guitar. At first that was a double neck steel on a stand he played standing up. Later it was a pedal steel. Fop a while, Smokey Kelley played lead guitar.
Paul played with the band from 1947 to 1949. He took the place of another man. They were already established on WJTN. They also played on WIKK in Erie. They drove out there to play 1-1:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. They also played WESB in Bradford. That was Thursdays at 10 a.m. They were all half hour programs.
They also played picnic parks that were music parks in Pennsylvania. There they met artists from the WWVA Jamboree and the Grand Ole Opry. Mainly they were Hawthorne Park and Golden Oaks park in southern Pennsylvania near Pittsburgh. Also they played Curtis Park in Steubenville, Ohio. Grandpa Jones was one of the artists Paul remember meeting at the parks. They would leave immediately after the Saturday night dances in Busti and drive to the parks. They played in an Erie theater with Wheeling stars including Big Slim and in Corry, Pa., with Hawkshaw Hawkins. They jammed with Hawkins in Dick Winans’s living room.
Their best crowds in Busti were during the (firemen’s) Gala Days. The dances were on the first floor of the old fire hall. They were big crowds, the best they had all week, as many as 300 people. The floor was really crowded. Doug did the calling, singing calls to popular country songs of the day. They included Listen to the Mocking Bird, Ten More Months and Eleven More Days, Captain Jenks, Marching Through Georgia, and When the Work’s All Done This Fall.
Doug, Paul, Dick, and Barry lived in Corry. Oliver and Smokey lived in Erie. They had their own sound system they carried with them, a Carlson with Dynamic speakers and microphone. It was very good. There was a girl at the Busti dances, Susan Crandall, who looked like Ingrid Bergman. Vocals they did included Two Wrongs Don’t Make a Right, Please Forgive Me One More Time, Dangerous Ground, Walking the Floor Over You, Annabelle, Jealous Heart, Bonaparte's Retreat, and Home in San Antone.They got a lot of mail from their WJTN performances, a dozen to closer to two dozen letters average a week. When they came in the station would have their mail collected from the past week. Some people wrote every week. The people at the station told them they estimated one out of every 300 listeners wrote in.
They did not have any sponsor and the station did not charge them for the time. The station had time it needed to fill. The band used the program to announce and promote their live appearances. They worked on the same arrangement at the stations in Erie and Bradford. They got more letters in Erie than at the other stations. The signal had a wider coverage. It reached into Canada and as a consequence they set up some Canadian appearances. At Busti the firemen sold hot dogs at intermission to make some extra money. They had a place for people to check their coats. Paul does not remember any names of people in Busti. Mostly they just worked with the people who set up the dances. The people at the Busti dances were mostly in their 20’s and 30’s, generally well behaved. They played square and round dances and polkas. The people wanted polkas.
Oliver and Dick had come up with the name Sunset Ramblers in reference to the fact they did so much traveling after dark. They had a seven passenger Buick and then a seven passenger Lincoln. They all traveled in one car and carried all their instruments, the bass in there with them. They never had an accident. Paul grew up in Smethport, one of six children. All of them played music. As a teenager he started playing for square dances. He had played on WESB.
Ben White’s Town Barn was a dance hall in Warren that was a converted barn with the silo as a ticket booth. With Bruce (?), a banjo player, he played a party there for the Sunset Ramblers. Later, Oliver Brown called him and came to his home, auditioned him and hired him for the band.
Paul remembers the band frequently stopping at Crandall’s ice cream stand just south of Busti on their way in. [I spoke with David Crandall, Sr., son of Ted Crandall who owned the stand, recently and he remembered an incident of a band on their way to Busti dance stopping there. NC]. The Town Barn was their second best dance location. They played there Fridays. Paul went away to college in 1948. He had a Kay bass when he played with the Ramblers. He traded it at some time for a Martin D 28 that he still has. He has been told it is worth tens of thousands of dollars. Paul is a bluegrass fan today.
PS : Recently discovered radio transcriptions by the Sunset Ramblers confirmed the excellence of the group. Ranging from 'Anytime', 'Dinah', 'Move It On Over' to 'Orange Blossom Special' and 'Limehouse Blues', the tracks were most probably recorded during a 1948 radio show at WJTN Jamestown, NY. Click on the phono below to get a taste of that swingin' little band !