Cowboy Howard Vokes, Pennsylvania's King of Country Music, was
born, June 13,1931 in Clearfield, Pennsylvania. He got interested
in country music at an early age; his Mom and Dad always seemed to have
either the Grand Ole Opry or the Supper Time Frolics on during the evening.
The sounds that caught young Howard's ear got his attention and by the
time he was six years of age, he was playing the haromonica. Later on,
he learned to play the guitar when he was eleven years old. He remembers
that first guitar he got was when he walked to a hock shop with his dad
and got it for five dollars.
His dad was Benjamin George Vokes, was a coal miner. His mom
was Agnes Rose. The Vokes family was quite large, 13 siblings in all,
six girls and seven boys. One sister Betty
Ann was killed in an auto wreck April 24, 1967; the event was
one of the family's saddest moments.
At 15 years of age Howard started singing at a lot of parties and
working with different bands in places he wouldn't think about
working in these times. Some of the spots were plenty tough and
living and working around mining towns like Renton and Barking,
Pennsylvania you can about guess the rest. While he was listening
to those Saturday night Opry shows, he was attracted to the sound
of Roy Acuff's singing and listened to the records of Gene Autry
and Jimmie Rodgers.
The guitar and Howard were constant companions and he sang
over Radio WKPA in New Kensington and WAVL Apollo, both in
and several other stations in Pennsylvania. His sister
Barbara used to help him sing and together they sounded
really good; however she didn't have the same interest in the music
business that Howard did.
In those days Howard was barn-storming all over the
place, singing and playing for anyone that would listen as many
hillbilly singers were doing to make a go of it. He was a
great favorite at most local parties and other events.
He was on the verge of forming a band when tragedy struck.
A hunting accident put Howard in the hospital for 6 weeks. He was shot
in the right ankle by a high-powered rifle and the slug
dust about tore his foot off. He feared that he might lose the foot
and doctors warned that even if they didn't have to amputate the foot,
he probably wouldn't walk the same again. Howard did a lot of
praying and had to endure about 300 shots to save his foot.
But perhaps such an event turns out to be a blessing in disguise.
It was while in the recovery period that Howard wrote many songs
and perfected his guitar work. He still lives with the effects of
this accident and walks with a slight limp, but feels it worked
out okay in the end and his faith was strengthened.
After he recovered, Cowboy Howard Vokes dug into his song-writings
and formed his now famous "Country Boys" band. He went
to work at PPG Industries in Creighton, Pennsylvania.
At that time Howard and his band was about the hottest act
in the area having more engagements than they could handle.
While he was moving swiftly up the ladder of success in the business,
Howard was also turning a helping hand to other artists, perhaps
the roots of his eventually becoming a promoter.
First in line was Hank King who was also from
New Kensington, Pennsylvania. At the time Hank was looking
to get a record out but Howard's efforts help Hank get a recording made.
Hank recorded two of Howard's compositions, "Atom Bomb Heart" b/w "I WANT TO
Know Why You Don' Care For Me". They went
on the road together and did rather well. But Hank had to give
up the business.
In what turns out to be a bit of a milestone as a promoter, Howard took
over the management of Denver Duke & Jefferey Null.
The boys at that time lived in Cicero, Illinois recorded
Howard's tribute song about the late and great Hank Williams, titled,
"Hank Williams That Alabama Boy"and one of their own songs
titled, "When We Meet Up Yonder" for the BLUE HEN
Record Company out of Harrington, Delaware. That record took off
and both songs showed up in several record charts,
and finally the boys got so hot, Howard was able to start getting them
personal appearances in wider area covering several states.
The boys appeared on the Grand Ole Opry, the WLAC Jamboree, at the
Ernest Tubb Record Shop, the WWVA Original Jamboree,
and other important shows on radio and TV.
They were doing quite well and caught the eye of the folks at the
Mercury record label. Soon after, Howard Vokes had the team of
Duke & Null recording for Mercury.
Their first release may have been another tribute song,
"Hank Williams Isn't Dead" and then it was back on the road.
Howard is a stickler and firm believer in traditional country music
and that is why the older artists such as Clyde Moody,
Jimmie Skinner, Lee Moore, Doc Williams, Hylo Brown, Urel Albert,
Rudy Thacker, Patsy Montana, Kenny Roberts, and many, many others
have Howard to thank for booking them so often in his state, or
else just putting in a good word to other bookers where they may
be hired and appreciated.
As Howard tells us, "The traditional artists continue
to be neglected and really these are the
real professionals that know the meaning of real country music.
They know what it is to play in the worst of places in coming up,
many times working for a few dollars and often for nothing. They
did it for the love of it. The modern stars of today, many of them
had it easy on the way up, smart managers and the like,
several overnight successes and the majority not doing
Howard continued, "Just give me the traditional artists
anytime and believe you me I'm one that will continue to
book them, plug and promote them, and help in anyway I possibly can.
They deserve it and if these older down-to-earth country artists
received the attention today that the modern acts are getting,
they'd be making big money, selling a lot of records, and getting
the kind of attention that they so rightfully deserve."
"We need the radio stations for real help in that regard,
and it's good to note that some stations are
giving the REAL country artists their due again." Howard goes on,
"I read back where a small radio station went full time hard-country
with amazing results. That should tell everybody something.
When stations go ALL COUNTRY and then won't play Roy Acuff,
Ernest Tubb, Kitty Wells or Bill Monroe, well to me this is just
Howard notes further, "The older artists paved the way for what
country music is today, and it makes my heart feel very happy
that we're getting back to the fiddle and steel-guitar "kick-offs"
and "turn a-rounds" on the country records once again.
Good sign that the pollution in country music is slowly fading
into the sunset. I've always fought for the preservation of
my kind of music and spent a Lot of money in that regard. With what
radio, TV and records have been passing off as country music, maybe
that's why the real country & bluegrass festivals have become
so popular and drawing such huge audiences. Just goes to show
that people have to go into the woods to hear their beloved type of music."
Howard states, "Let's have the "modern trend" however we as the record buyers and
lovers of traditional music should never let down the fight to
have and keep radio stations giving time to our kind of music
promoting it and taking a clear stand whenever and wherever the
tohe opportunity presents itself. Artists should record a country record
making sure it sounds like one; producers should produce a record so it
sounds country, and the record people, promoters, publishers should push it
heavily via radio, TV, the distributors, juke box operators, etc. We're
winning the battle. Can't be two sides of the fence. Has to be one or the other."
After reading what Howard has to say, we know
he speaks his mind and like it is.
As for Howard and his music, people say
when Howard sings he singe with so much feeling at times that tears
often start rolling down his cheeks.
Let's get on to learn how Howard first started to record.
Howard had booked the boys, Denver Duke and Jefferey Null in
Cleveland, Ohio at the old Circle Theatre. The show's emcee,
Tex Clark decided that Howard should sing a couple of songs, too.
When Howard's turn at the microphone came, he sang his rendition
of the old Doc Williams song, "Willie Roy, the Crippled Boy" and literally
tore the house down! Tex Clark kept calling Howard back for
encore after encore.
After that folks kept pestering Howard that he should do some recording.
He finally listened to them and took his Country Boy
band and went into a Cleveland, Ohio studio. Howard's first record, "This
Prison I'm In" b/w "Ghost Of A Honky Tonk Slave", got good reviews,
but it didn't do much. But it wasn't all for nothing, Tex Williams
covered the song and Howard was the publisher of the song.
Later on, Howard released his version of his very
favorites "Willie Roy, The Crippled Boy" on DEL-RAY
Records, a division of Blue Hen Records. They mailed the single
out to numerous radio stations. Howard also made
a trip to Nashville, Tennessee and appeared on a number of shows.
When he finally got back to his home in New Kensington,
he walked into a mountain of mail, phone messages and telegrams.
It was very clear that "WILLIE ROY" had caught on and was getting
on the radio charts around the country. It wasn't too long after
that Howard Vokes and his Country Boys were on the road, travelling
to at least 20 states for personal appearances. When we tell you the
record was "hot" for Howard and did well, it was. He recorded
the three different versions of the song and it's been issued
in several foreign countries, too.
He released other records, one, "Mountain Guitar" was also covered
by one of his early influences - Roy Acuff. Howard was so HOT on records
at that time that Don Pierce called him to Nashville to do an LP
for STARDAY Records. He recorded a winner in "TRAGEDY AND DISASTER
IN COUNTRY SONGS" and a single was released, "The Miner".
Howard has written over 500 songs with more than half
on commercial records. Major stars such
as Wanda Jackson, Lonzo & Oscar, Skeeter Davis, Tex Williams, and others
have recorded his tunes. Howard owns Vokes Music Publishing
Company (BMI) and be has several top writers with his firm, including
Louise Webb, Rudy Thacker and Billy Wallace, writer of many hits
including the country classic, "Back Street Affair". Wanda Jackson had
a hit in the early 1960s with Howard's "Tears At The Grand Ole Opry."
For years Howard has operated various Jamborees in his area and
booked as much traditional talent as he possibly could.
His Friday night jamboree at the Edna Hotel in Arnold, Pennsylvania was
successful during its run. The Sunday Jamboree at the
Logans Ferry Heights Fire Hall in Plum, Pennsylvania entertained fans
many times, too. Perhaps the most widely known of the shows he put
on is the
Saturday night Jamboree Howard held at the Griltz Hotel in Verona, Pennsylvania
lasting some 16 years. During the run of the Saturday Night Jamboree,
the artists Howard had on his show read like a Who's Who in country music.
Turn away crowds were common occurences. Great traditional acts such
as Clyde Moody, Jimmie Skinner, Hylo Brown, Patsy Montana, Lee Moore,
Kenny Roberts, Urel Albert, Margie Lane & Sundown Pete, Jim McCoy,
Rudy Thacker, and many others wore booked time and again because
of their popularity and drawing power. Howard has several scrapbooks
now filled with publicity articles, photos and other important data
in regards to all the shows and activities presented at the former
Griltz Hotel, and to him it's treasures untold.
Howard also operated Ravine Park, near Blairsville, Pennsylvania.,
and Frazer Township #2 Fireman's Farm in Tarentum, Pennsylvania.
Howard's many successes include manager of several country
artists, a booking agency, song-writer, music publisher,
record owner, promoter, singer., and really anything else
that might pertain to in country music circles.
Howard has been married three times but not at the present time.
He has, though, 8 wonderful children, Howard Jr., Benjamin,
Martha, Victoria, Gladys, Agnes, Sharon and Francis.
Most of them are taking interest in
or playing the guitar. Howard is hoping that one in the lot who loves
his music will be destined to carry on the Vokes music heritage.
Finally, if you're not convinced yet of Howard's devotion to traditional
country music, we'll leave you with a quote from an article by Hugh T. Wilson
called "Howard Vokes, "Pennsylvania's King of Country".
"He's such a fighter for traditional country music that he should be in the
Hall of Fame."
attributed to Everett Corbin, author of Storm Over Nashville.
Timeline and Trivia Notes
Group members included:
- Howard Vokes
- Bob Rose, bass (played with Howard nearly 45 years)
- Skeets Martin
- Johnny Drolz, steel guitar
- Sam Hummel
- Tex Belin, arried Howard's oldest daughter, Martha
- George (Kie) Frohnhoffer, accordion (died, Dec 28, 1992)
- 1995Traditional Music Association (TMA) Award - "Traditional
Country Music Person of the Year"
- 1995proclaimed a "Kentucky Colonel"
- 1994C.M.A.A. Pioneer Award
- 1994-1995King Eagle Award - "Outstanding Radio Music
- 1993Michigan Pioneer Award
- 1992-1993King Eagle Award - "Promoter of the Year"
- Saturday Night Jamboree
Held for over 16 years
- Friday Night Jamboree
- Sunday Jamboree
Logans Ferry Heights Fire Hall