Calling Me Back
The Doug Bragg Story
By Johnny Case
Article reproduced and slightly modified with
permission of author.
Douglas Clifton Bragg was born on April 13, 1928, in the small East
Texas town of Gilmer. He was among four children born to Bonnie and
James Claudie Bragg. He attended Gilmer public schools and developed
an interest in music during his, teen years. He started performing in
and around Tyler during the late 1940's. His first marriage
produced five children, all of whom were boys. By the early 1950's Doug
was appearing on the Big "D" Jamboree and working days
as a meat cutter.
After nearly forty years of silence, one of country music's truly
engaging performers of the 1950's has begun to find posthumous representation
on various CD releases. Douglas Bragg was a regular member
of the Big "D" Jamboree and he also made frequent appearances
on the Louisiana Hayride. His singing and showmanship garnered
an impressive following in the region where he appeared. Bragg's
versatility was such that he was known for his fine yodeling, his
masterful recitations and singing of straight country love songs, yet
he was equally at home performing novelty numbers or rockabilly.
Doug Bragg was a handsome man of dark complexion and slight build
with a big voice and a winning personality. All of his peers who
were interviewed for this article remember Bragg as someone they
liked very much.
For several years into his music career, Doug sang other people's
material, either covers or originals written for him, such as the
Johnny Hicks song, "Texas Special". Doug enjoyed moderate success
with his Coral recording of this number and also his cover
All through Doug's years of performing, he continued his daytime
profession as a butcher. From 1953 to 1958 Doug and his friend
Louis Haden worked together as butchers at an A&P Food Store
in Dallas. By 1953 Doug's marriage to Pinkie, his first wife, had
ended in divorce. Doug met the woman who was to become
his second wife, Monte Oleta Petty, at a drive-in restaurant
that she owned. After their marriage, together with her young
son, Eddie, they lived in a garage apartment in Dallas. This apartment
caught fire one day while both of them were at work and Eddie was
in child care and the Bragg family lost everything they had.
Shortly after that they became neighbors to their friends Louis
and Alice Haden.
Doug's musical life became more fulfilling for he had begun to
write and perform his own material. Although the recordings of
these songs credit Doug as the sole author, Alice Haden revealed
that Doug's wife, Oleta, had become involved in the songwriting.
Doug and Oleta often worked together on new material. Alice remembers
that Oleta would often show her their works in progress. Oleta, who now
lives in Brownsboro, said:
"I'll never forget how 'Unfinished Castle' was written." She and Doug
had gone for a drive one day when he parked under the shade of a tree.
It was there that together they wrote this song. Another of their successful
collaborations was the song, "Daydreaming Again".
Several of the Bragg originals such as "Whirlwind", "Calling Me
Back", "One More Mistake",
"You'll Have To Give (Just A Little)", and "Remember"
possess a disarming charm and reveal an unusual depth in lyric content.
His song, "You'll Have To Give (Just A Little)" makes no conventional
use of rhymes. I loved this song even before I realized that fact. The words
he has chosen to tell a story leave the story open to different meanings,
depending on the listener's individual interpretations. I almost feel
as though I could write a chapter-length study of this song (a song
which few people have heard!) Probably no one else would find this
song as fascinating as I do.
By the late 1950's Doug was performing many more original songs.
He had formed a six-piece band, The Drifters, which included a fine
lead guitarist, Earl Martin, and a pedal steel player, Frank White.
Doug had stopped appearing regularly on the Big "D" Jamboree because
he was traveling with the band to fulfill engagements booked by
promote Pappy Dailey. Doug was now recording
on Dailey's "D" label based in Houston, and his original songs
were gaining wider exposure through these recordings.
Near the decade's end Doug had settled in Brownsboro and had
finally won custody of his five sons from his first marriage. His second
marriage had produced one son, Monte, born in 1956. This gave the
Bragg family a total of seven boys, including Oleta's first
son, Eddie. Meanwhile the gigs were geographically scattered. Doug
built a trailer for hauling the band's instruments. Earl Martin
remembers that it was a hard life, traveling so much of the time.
Sometimes while on the road Doug would get an idea for a new song
and have it completed before the trip's end.
Perhaps no one could better attest to Doug's showmanship and his
positive attitude than guitarist Earl Martin. Earl described the
band's arrival for a gig at a military base where they were to play
the NCO club. Doug and the band members were weary from a long,
tiring trip, and they had arrived just shortly before they were
to start playing. They then discovered that there was no functioning
microphone at the club. Performing as a group without a mike for
the vocals was out of the question. Telling his band not to worry,
Doug took out his guitar and worked the job as a single, singing
his heart out as he moved through the audience.
"At one point," Earl said with amazement, "he got down on his knees,
belting out a song and the crowd loved it! He put on a hell of
a show all by himself .... I had never seen anything like it! Doug
saved us that night." Earl also stated that Doug always
"sang from the heart" and that he was an even-tempered man, a pleasure
to know, and a good person to work with.
Among the stage shows on which Bragg occasionally appeared
was Cowtown Hoedown in Fort Worth. This show lasted from
1955 until the early 1960's. When Doug appeared on the Hoedown he
received star billing with his name on the marquee of the
Majestic Theater. This elegant showplace had a seating capacity
of 1,565 people.
In 1960 or 1961 Bragg decided to retire from the music
business. Although he had gone much further than many who seek
stardom, there had been no major breakthrough . . . no major
hit record. With a wife and seven children to support, he chose to
spend more time at their Brownsboro home, raising a family and working
at his longtime profession as a butcher. During his last years he
worked at a Safeway Grocery in Tyler and only performed in his
local area at various social functions.
Oleta was aware of warning signs regarding Doug's health. He had
complained of chest pains on a few occasions. Despite Oleta's
concern Doug would not go see a doctor. One night he got up
from bed, then fell in the hallway as he was stricken with an
apparent heart attack. He died the next morning in a
Tyler hospital. The date was March 13, 1973, exactly one month before
his forty-fifth birthday.
Of all the Bragg children, only the youngest son has pursued a career
in music. Monte Clifton Bragg was named after both his mother and
father. Monte was seventeen years old at the time of his
father's death. Doug had taught Monte the basics of playing
the guitar and had coached him in singing. He also shared with
Monte many stories from his music years. He told Monte of his
relationships with many famous people, including Elvis Presley at the
Monte has recorded a cassette album and more recently a CD, which
was produced in Nashville. Both albums include some of his father's
songs and the CD is dedicated to Doug Bragg and The Drifters.
Credits & Sources
- Johnny Case, the author of the article, offered his Thanks to:
Kevin Coffey, Colin Escott, Don McKnight, Marvin Montgomery, David Barnes,
Joe Price, Jack Levescy, Ralph Sanford, Mrs. Jimmy Fautheree,
David Dennard, Jim Sarver, Sandy Lee Fields, Earl Martin, Monte Bragg,
Albert Talley, Buddy Brady, "Hoss" Huggins, Tom Holmes, Joe Paul Nichols,
Alice Haden, Charles Owens, Oleta Bragg.
- Johnny Case, Texas - Hillbilly-Music.com thanks
Mr. Case for providing us with the article and copies of the photos to use.
- Country & Western Jamboree; April 1955;
"Checkin' the Records"; Maher Publications; Chicago, IL