I LET THE STARS GET IN MY EYES
(REMEMBERING SLIM WILLET)
by RAY CAMPI
|Slim Whitman at Dessau Hall, 1952.||The 1952 Ford is still with Slim Willet in 1955, Abilene, Texas. Photo by Joe Specht.||Hoot Rains and Curly Herndon|
In 1952 one country music singer and Louisiana Hayride star made a lasting impression on me for his pure singing and clear yodeling.
This skill influenced me by listening to the many records of Jimmie Rodgers, Elton Britt, Kenny Roberts, and Montana Slim.
Years later in the 1970s in Los Angeles I developed a friendship with Ray Whitley who hung out with his close friend Gene Autry and the records of those two cowboys contained wonderful yodeling also - "O Lee O Lahee."
Slim Whitman with his "Starduster" trio featuring Hoot Raines on steel guitar and Curly Herndon on rhythm guitar were going to appear the coming weekend at Austin's favorite dance club, D.R. Price's Dessau Hall.
At one time Dessau was a very small town located a few miles northeast of Austin.
This historic site in the 1950s contained a faded wooden building converted into a nightclub that boasted in radio commercials that it had the largest dance floor in Texas.
The spots failed to mention in the center of the floor was a tumultuous tree with the trunk and branches poking through the roof.
"Did you ever ask a tree to dance?"
"Harold," I excitedly informed my older cousin, Harold Layman, who taught me my first chords on guitar, "Slim Whitman is coming to town. We've got to see him!"
"We will," Harold agreed, as Slim's record of "I'm Casting My Lasso Towards the Sky" on RCA and his first Imperial 78s were prized in his collection.
"When I'm calling You, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh, ooh." - "Indian Love Call"
Do Indians in love sing this way?
Dessau Hall was located a few miles northeast of Austin, a location commonly described by city folk as "out in the country" and it took about 20 minutes to get there.
Harold and I arrived early which was our custom and a few cars were parked out front.
A gold '47 DeSoto near the entrance caught my attention.
"Harold, that looks like an airport limousine. I'll bet that's Slim's band car."
Sure enough it had Louisiana license plates and it did belong to the star.
Being first in the door we had no trouble finding a seat near the bandstand.
Harold ordered a Lone Star and we sat and watched as Hoot Raines and Curly Herndon brought to the stage guitars and amplifiers and began to set up the microphone.
Slim stood to the side watching, did a quick check on the mike volume, and then ambled over to our table.
"Hi fellows, do you mind if I sit down?"
The friendly voice came from a man who had a reputation for being very shy, reportedly for having a periodic stuttering problem.
Harold and I cheerfully invited him to sit with us and within seconds Harold began discussing how he had been collecting Slim's records, describing the ones he liked the best.
"The way Hoot makes those long whistling chimes (referred to by the musicians as 'arrows') is amazing. They suit your singing style perfectly."
We chatted with our tall singing hero who had experience several years of music making although his few RCA, Nashville recordings, although very good, had not registered with the publicenough to make him a star.
The Florida born musician found success after moving to Shreveport, Louisiana, joining the weekly show The Louisiana Hayride and when becoming an Imperial Records recording artist.
The Hayride audience loved him as in earlier years they supported the music of Hank Williams, Webb Pierce and later on Elvis Presley and Johnny Horton.
Slim had touring with him that night a young Sonny James who was in the hall but did not appear that night in 1952.
Slim and I entered a dressing area and Slim quickly slipped into his black and white wingtip shoes.
"I'm Sonny James. I play fiddle sometimes with Slim and the band."
We talked a while about music and the young man told me about his lifelong friendship with Chet Atkins and that soon he would be recording, possibly with Capitol.
Before the night was over Sonny gave me an autographed photo which I still have.
Sometimes during a break in the music another fellow caught my attention.
I was to learn he was a musician also and a music promotor and D.J.
"I do a little pickin' myself up in Abilene. I put on a show called The Big State Jamboree. I booked Whitman a while back and made enough money to buy me a new Ford. Come on outside. I'll show it to you.
I agreed and we walked out to the parking area where I saw a beautiful tan 1952 Ford two-door hardtop.
"You know I do a little recording also and just pressed up my first record."
The fast talker opened the trunk and showed me a box of new 78rpm records.
"I wrote both songs myself. The A-side is 'Hadicol Corners.'"
"That's the song the D.J.'s are playing."
This didn't last long because most of the D.J.'s liked the B-side, for within a few weeks that song was #1 in the nation, sung by Perry Como; also on the country charts by a host of artists including Ray Price.
(Even I recorded "Don't Let the Stars Get In Your Eyes"!!)
Winston Willet made enough money to get fat, which he did.
What a night!
What a crazy business!
What a life!
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