About The Artist
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 country music."
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."
Timeline and Trivia Notes
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