Tex Morton was born Robert Lane in Nelson, New Zealand, on August 30, 1916, the eldest
son of a respectable middle-class family. He attended the prestigious Nelson
College as a teenager but left at the age of fifteen to pursue a music career.
He was especially influenced by early "citybilly" artists such as Vernon Dalhart,
Carson Robison and Frank Luther; by the British Alpine yodeller Harry Torrani;
and by Goebel Reeves. But, later, his major influence appears to
have been Jimmie Rodgers, whose style he emulated. Morton was a skilled yodeler
and could perform complex Alpine-style yodels, Rodgers-style blue yodels
and Reeves-type trill yodels.
As a teenager he performed in various small entertainment roles in
New Zealand, adopting the moniker "Tex Morton", and in the
early 1930s he recorded some private (vanity) discs, three of
which came to light in 2003.
Sometime around 1932 to 1934
(the precise date is unknown) he travelled to Australia and initially
led a nomadic life, busking on streets in cities and towns, working
in traveling shows, and being employed in various trade-related occupations - a life
he recalled with some bitterness in his later years, and which he described
in his song "The Good Old Days".
In 1936 he won a radio-station talent quest and made his first
commercial recordings for the Columbia Graphophone Company (a subsidiary of
British Columbia). He achieved enormous success with these recordings,
and from 1936 to 1943 he cut 93 sides for Columbia - songs embracing
pseudo-cowboy themes ("Going Back To Texas", "Texas In The Spring"),
sentimental songs ("There Are Tear Stains On Your Letter Mother Dear"),
hobo songs ("So You're Going To Leave The Old Home, Jim" -
essentially "The Tramp's Mother", "The End Of The Hobo's Trail"), rodeo
and buckjumping songs ("Rocky Ned", "Mandrake") and late-Victorian
chestnuts ("The Letter Edged In Black").
Increasingly, he sang and wrote songs about Australia and its
stockmen ("Wrap Me Up In My Stockwhip And Blanket")
or hobos ("On The Gundagai Line", "Travel By Train"). One song about a railroad
policeman ("Sergeant Small") resulted in the aggrieved policeman successfully seeking
an order to have the record removed from the catalog. Morton's
composition "I'm Dreaming Tonight Of The Old Folks" was even
recorded (in smoother style) by the American Dickie McBride.
In 1943 Morton clashed with Columbia's Record Sales Manager, Arch Kerr,
and walked out on the company. One bone of contention might have been
his insistence on recording with his band, The Roughriders (fiddle, steel guitar,
accordion and guitar).
During his career with Columbia, he had recorded with harmonica player
Harry Thompson, American wrestler Pat Fraley, and the first Australian female
to record country music, Sister Dorrie (Dorothy Carroll), who was closely
associated with Morton until 1949. She also was his assistant with
his sharpshooting act (Morton was an expert marksman), having cigarettes clenched
between her teeth or pieces of chalk held between her fingers shot by Morton.
During the 1940s, Morton organised his travelling rodeo, featuring buckjumping,
whip cracking, sharpshooting, boxing, circus acts and his singing. He
regularly drew crowds of 2000 or more nightly, and was extremely
popular and influential: other seminal Australian artists such
as Buddy Williams and Slim Dusty freely acknowledged his immense
His Columbia Graphophone recordings essentially became the bedrock of early
Australian country music.
In 1949 he met Ralph Peer, then in Australia, and recorded two dozen
songs (mainly from Peer's Southern Music catalog). These were released on
New Zealand's Tasman label and Australia's Rodeo label. The songs are
usually considered to have been made in New Zealand, but some
might have been cut in Sydney.
From 1950 to 1959 Morton was in the USA and Canada. He performed with the
Canadian Dixie Bill Hilton and his Calgary Range Riders and toured
with Pee Wee King probably in early 1952.
In March 1953 he recorded seven songs for OKeh in Nashville, accompanied by
some of Nashville's finest musicians (Ernie Newton, Jerry Byrd, Tommy Jackson,
Owen Bradley and either Hank Garland or Grady Martin) but his contract
was not renewed.
Instead, he toured Canada and parts of the USA as "The Great Morton" - a stage
hypnotist act. Newspaper clippings of the time suggest he was extremely popular and
earned considerable amounts of money (most of which he spent).
In 1959 he returned to Australia with an Oscar Davis managed tour featuring
Roy Acuff, the Wilburn Brothers and June Webb, but the tour was not
successful and had to be cancelled. Instead, Acuff and his crew made
some 39 Roy Acuff Open House television shows in Sydney, and
these were later shown in South East Asia and the USA.
Morton toured Australia and the Far East, recorded sporadically, made
albums of narrations, and acted in television series and movies. In 1976 he
was the initial inductee into the Australasian Country Music Roll of Renown
(Australia's equivalent of the Country Music Hall of Fame) and is generally
acknowledged as "the father of Australian country music".
He died on 23 July, 1983.
Credits & Sources
- Hillbilly-Music.com would like to express its appreciation
to Andrew Smith of Australia for providing us with the biography of Tex Morton.