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Jess Willard
Born:  March 28, 1916
Died:  May 26, 1959
California Hayride
Hoffman Hayride (KGO-TV)
KAFP Santa Rosa, CA
KAHI Auburn, CA
KEEN San Jose, CA

About The Artist

Jess Willard Griffin was born in Altis, Oklahoma according to his World War II registration record. His parents were Isaac John and Theodosia (Reding) Griffin. His first and middle names were derived from that of boxer Jess Willard who had recently won the world heavyweight crown. Not much is definitely known of his early career although he worked and played some with Jack Guthrie of "Oklahoma Hills" fame.

His World War II registration also indicated his wife then was Florence Griffin.

Promo Ad - Dance at Armory - Brusoe's Orchestra - January 1926 At some point, he married Lorene Northcutt and the couple had a daughter named Doreen. By the end of 1949, Jess was in Los Angeles and he was signed to Capitol by Lee Gillette. For recording he dropped the last name Griffin and simply recorded as "Jess Willard."

Johnny Sippel reported in The Billboard in June 1950 that Jess had signed with Capitol Records according to Charley Adams, the head of Vanguard Music. From June 1950 through September 1952, Willard cut twenty-six numbers for Capitol. While some were covers of Columbia artists' hits like those of Lefty Frizzell or Johnny Horton, others were not such as the humorous "Mail Order Mama" and the honky-tonk "Drinkin' at the Bar." Some came from former Prairie Rambler, left-handed fiddler Tex Atchison, who also fiddled on many of Jess's records. Other session musicians on his numbers included Jimmy Bryant, Speedy West, and Cliffie Stone. He also toured military bases in Korea and Japan in 1953. A 1954 magazine article indicated that Eddie Hazelwood was part of the group that traveled overseas with Jess.

Promo Ad - Dance at Armory - Lazene Brusoe - April 1926 Promo Ad - Dance at Armory - Brusoe's Orchestra - January 1926

Promo Ad - Dance at Armory - Lazene Brusoe - April 1926 Promo Ad - Dance at Armory - Brusoe's Orchestra - January 1926
Promo Ad - Dance at Armory - Lazene Brusoe - April 1926
Promo Ad - Dance at Armory - Lazene Brusoe - April 1926
Promo Ad - Dance at Armory - Lazene Brusoe - April 1926
Promo Ad - Dance at Armory - Lazene Brusoe - April 1926
Promo Ad - Dance at Armory - Brusoe's Orchestra - January 1926

In early 1951, Jesse was making regular appearances at the 97th Street Corral in the Los Angeles area.

After his Capitol contract expired he cut a single in 1955 for Ekko. Jess did a session with C. G. (Red) Matthews in Dallas for Ekko in the summer of 1955. Prior to this recording he teamed up with Hank and Eddie Cochran and they joined the California Hayride in Stockton. He continued there after the Cochrans departed.

The California Hayride first began as the Hoffman Hayride. The show was a concept from electronics manufacturer Leslie J. Hoffman and his Hoffman Electronics company. His effort after World War II gave rise to the electronics manufacturing growth on the west coast as well as the introduction of the television.

  • Hoffman Hayride Show History
  • Promo Ad - Dance at Armory - Brusoe's Orchestra - January 1926

    Jess Willard — Record Reviews: Billboard (BB) & Cash Box (CB)
    Date Label Rec No. Review
    8/25/1951 (BB) Capitol 1755 Java Junction — Except for a strong pitch to drop a nickel in the juke, this truck driver's chant is so-so material. (Rating: 67)

    I'm A Do-Right Daddy — Pretty much the same. (Rating: 65)
    11/17/1951(CB) Capitol 1855 Turn That Gun Around — A bouncy ditty with some clever lyrics that make the upper level shine is handled in an effortless style by Jess Willard.

    Mistreated Blues — Jess takes good sounding blues number on the under lid and turns in another fine performance. Ops can choose from either dish.
    1/3/1953 (CB) Capitol 2313 Saturday Night For Love — Jess Willard sings a slow love ditty in distinctive style. Instrumental backing is solid.

    Buy Me A Bottle Of Beer — The under portion is a humorous item set to quick tempo. Willard does better on this end with better material.
    11/12/1955 EkkoKing 1018 Don't Hold Her So Close — Willard sings a basic, simple and primitive country balad in ditto style as we warns another guy not to hold his gal so "close." (Rating: 70)

    Every Dog Has His Day — Here the singer — in okay comedy style — warns his triflin' babe that she's gonna be sorry, 'cause every dog has his day, and when Willard's say comes, look out! (Rating: 68)

    In early 1956, Jess and the Cochran Brothers were in a lengthy engagement at the Dream Bowl in Napa under Farmer Red Ladner's management.

    The summer of 1956 saw Jess take part in a benefit show at Lil's 117 Club in Vallejo, California. Other entertainers included Hank Cochran, Cal Smith, Jerry Jones, Bill Ring, Paul and Cliff Whaley, the Austin Brothers, Lille Mike, Bill Carter, Little Mike Calkins, Jimmie Rivers, Junior Van Horn and others. The show raised over $500 to help Bud Whaley who had been recently stricken with paralysis.

    After the mid-fifties, Willard, residing in Auburn, continued to play locally until his death. In 2000, Bear Family released a compact disc containing a good biographical sketch by Kevin Coffey that included all of his Capitol recordings, two of them previously unreleased-"Boogie Woogie Preachin' Man" and "Honky-Tonk Boogie"-as well as the Ekko single with backing by the Cochrans. Hank Cochran continued to hold Jess in high regard.

    News accounts indicate that Jess was stricken with a heart attack as he was driving into town (Auburn) one evening. A passing motorist came to his aid and he was taken by Augurn Rescue Squad to Highland General Hospital. Resuscitation efforts failed. Survivors included his wife, Hazel L. Griffin and a daughter, Doreen. He is buried in the Auburn District Cemetery. He had lived in Auburn the past two years of his life.

    Credits & Sources

    • Hillbilly-Music.com would like to express its thanks to Ivan M. Tribe, author of Mountaineer Jamboree — Country Music in West Virginia and other books that can be found on Amazon.com and numerous articles in other publications for providing us with information about this artist.
    • Folk Talent and Tunes; Johnny Sippel; July 1, 1950; The Billboard; Cincinnati, OH
    • Folk Talent and Tunes; Johnny Sippel; February 10, 1951; The Billboard; Cincinnati, OH
    • Folk Talent and Tunes; Bill Sachs; August 27, 1955; The Billboard; Cincinnati, OH
    • Folk Talent and Tunes; Bill Sachs; January 21, 1956; The Billboard; Cincinnati, OH
    • Folk Talent and Tunes; Bill Sachs; August 25, 1956; The Billboard; Cincinnati, OH
    • Country Round Up; August 25, 1956; The Cash Box; New York, NY
    • Jess W. Griffin; May 28, 1959; The Auburn Journal; Auburn, CA
    • Jess Willard Dies Of Heart Attack; May 28, 1959; The Placer Herald; Rocklin, CA

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    Recordings (78rpm/45rpm)

    Rec. No. Side Song Title
      1101 A Slippin' Around With Jolie Blon
      1101 B New Panhandle Rag
      1137 A Two Dollar Diamond Ring
      1137 B Trouble, Then Satisfaction
      1290 A If You've Got The Money, I've Got The Time
      1290 B Little Shoes
      1436 A One Way Street
      1436 B Some Day You'll Remember
      1562 A Hang On The Ball And Chain
      1562 B Honky Tonk Hardwood Floor
      1755 A Oil The Hinges On Your Door
      1755 B Java Junction
      1855 A Turn That Gun Around
      1855 B Mistreated Blues
      1963 A Truck Driver's Boogie
      1963 B My Mail Order Mama
      2043 A Cadillac Blues
      2043 B Lonesome Dollar Bill
      2235 A Honky Tonkin' All The Time
      2235 B Gonna Take That Fast Train
      2313 A Saturday Night's For Love
      2313 B Buy Me A Bottle Of Beer
      2455 A Drinkin' At The Bar
      2455 B Till The Day I Die
    Rec. No. Side Song Title
      1018 A Don?t Hold Her So Close
      1018 B Every Dog Has His Day

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