His name was Richard Alexander Hamilton from Cherryvale, Kansas. During his musical
career, he was known as Dick Hamilton. While his name may not be recalled by many,
what he left behind can only be described as a priceless memento of the people
and places on the Los Angeles hillbilly music scene. He left behind a collection
of black and white negatives, carefully sorted and labelled of the people he encountered
and the places he visited. We 'introduced' Dick Hamilton to the world so to speak
at a presentation at the International Country Music Conference held annually over
Memorial Day weekend at Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee.
Richard Alexander Hamilton was born to Gail (Perico) and Dick Hamilton in July of 1915.
He had a brother, Bob and a sister, Clover. Dick wrote of both his parents being
buried in the Cherryvale Cemetary.
We know from the numerous Letters to the Editor he wrote to the Cherryvale Citizen newspaper
that he attended Cherryvale High School and graduated in 1933.
At some point, music must have attracted him and he learned to play the guitar.
At some point in the 1930s, he found work at local radio stations. We have a letter from
Jack Todd of radio station KGNF in Coffeyville, Kansas dated April 30, 1936 indicating
Dick was scheduled for a 15-minute program on Sunday afternoon May 3 at 4:15pm. In the letter
was mention of something that would become a bit of a sidebar in Dick's history and recollections.
The station was going to look into interurban passes between Cherryvale and Coffeyville. At the time
there was an electric trolley going from points in Kansas to Oklahoma.
He was working at
radio station KIUL in Garden City, Kansas when he received a letter from Station Director,
Herschel Holland of radio station KGNO in Dodge City, Kansas dated March 13, 1941. Mr. Holland
mentioned that after he had talked with Mr. Denious (presumably the manager of the station),
he felt that Dick could work at their station and they were prepared to offer him 35 cents an hour
Dick gained some local hometown fame back on July 4, 1936. It seems he had won the heart
of one Mary Demarius Fisher of Neodesha, Kansas and were married in a public ceremony in
Cherryvale, Kansas. He wrote in 1985 that they had been married 49 years and had three children,
Richard Jr.; Donald and Laurie.
We do not know what prompted Dick to move to Los Angeles, California. It appears to be perhaps
in the late 1930s or early 1940s. There is evidence in his collection that he was finding
work as a musician on the scene during that time. Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys band
were based in Los Angeles for a time. Dick worked as a member of the Texas Playboys playing
guitar. He appeared at Bob's first concert at a Foreman Phillips County Barn Dance at
the famed Venice Pier venue. He left behind a portrait of himself in the suit he wore as a member
of Bob's band, sitting on the edge of a bed. While Dick dates the picture to be around 1942,
Bob Wills did not end his military service until 1943.
When Bob returned, he wanted to put his band back together. It was also a time when the American
Federation of Musicians union was in a dispute with recording companies. Bob's label, Columbia,
had not settled with them at the time. However, that does not mean no recordings were made.
Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys recorded several Armed Forces Radio Service transcriptions
in Hollywood, possibly at radio station KMTR. We found some of these released on a CD published
by Interstate Music Ltd, a European label.
On that CD are three recordings that included Dick Hamilton as rhythm guitarist with Bob and the Texas
Playboys. The booklet with the CD mentions that "...Dick Hamilton would shine
on numerous late 1940s Hollywood recording sessions with various western artists, but
Wills appears to have used him primarily as a rhythm guitarist..."
We think one of the more enjoyable musical endeavors for Dick may have been the time he
was a part of the T. Texas Tyler band. We think that due to quite a handful of pictures of
the group in a relaxed setting at the Hudkins Ranch in what is now the Forest Lawn Cemetary
In some of his letters to the editor we found hints that he was working at radio stations
in Georgia for a time. But we don't have any details.
He left behind a couple of scripts for a television show called the Singing Rails, sponsored
by Union Pacific. It starred Kirby Grant, who would later find fame as the character Sky King
in a television series that was done in Nashville, Tennessee. Don Shaw and the Ranch Hands
were the band for the show, of which Dick was a part of. In his collection were two photos
of him with a group of gentlemen which we are presuming to be from that show.
The Singing Rails made its debut on April 29, 1951 airing over KNXT-TV in Los Angeles, California.
Billboard reported in 1951 that it was a half-hour Western musical show. Also on the show when
it made its debut were Jane Davids. The Caples Company set this arrangement up and John Reynolds
was handling the account.
Another letter indicates he worked with Cliffie Stone and the "Hometown Jamboree" show.
In one of his letters to the editor, Dick provides an observation from his experiences in the 1940s.
He names no names, but perhaps shows a cynical view of how the business of 'fame' works. Let's read
that letter and the poem he wrote to go with it.
Thought I’d send this along. Some things you don’t learn in books!
This particular incident truly happened to me ‘way back in the 1940’s. I
will not mention any names.
In the music game, it sometimes takes two very hip people to make money. To
be a ‘Star’ takes concentration on that alone, and on the other hand,
he or she could not do without the experienced ‘pro’ musicians. Very rarely have the
two talents been combined in one person. This, of course, is in no way speculation.
This happened many years ago
I’d learned to play and sing
Figured I was plenty good
Had learned most everything
So one night I hired out
To play with some big “Star”
Had a style and fancy rags
To carry him real far
A really very handsome man
The people said “He sings”!
But I found at intermission
He used rubber-bands for strings
I asked about the rubber-bands
His answer with me lingers –
He said “I use them rubber-bands
‘Cause wires hurts muh fingers!”
I went on to learn lots more
Got faster and much bolder
I knew I’d only be as good
As in “The Eyes Of The Beholder”
Dick not only wrote his hometown newspaper, but it seems he kept in touch with a friend
who also was a bit of a songwriter. We have seen several pieces of correspondence
with Clavelle Isnard who lived in Cherryvale.
Clavelle was born on February 18, 1906 and from what we can tell, lived his whole life
in Cherryvale. He died on May 28, 1982 and is buried in the Fairview Cemetary in Cherryvale.
We found that Clavelle wrote several tunes including "I’m A million Miles From Heaven",
"Headin’ Back To Georgia", "You’re So Dependable", "First Come First Served", and "Don’t Go".
We found some correspondence with Harold Dixon, a music publisher based in Chicago about a
tune called "Dancing with Strangers". In a letter to Dick, Clavelle expressed some angst about
promoting the tune as the original version had been written with another person who had since died.
He appeared to want to rewrite it to become the sole author of the tune. Other songs that
were credited to Mr. Isnard included "Give It To Me Right Now", "Bullfrog Rock", "Bang Bang"
(recorded by Janis Martin on RCA in 1958), "The Bender Song", co-written with Jimmy Holland for Hlllsboro Music
and recorded by Sammy Marshall and the Sun-Rays
on Vale Records (45-V1001) for the Kansas Centennial – a tune about a family of serial murderers. On the flip
side of that 45-V1001 disc was another tune by Isnard and Holland, "Come To Kansas" by Kris Arden
and the Sun-Rays.
In February of 1958, Clavelle provided some 'papers' that Dick wanted. He had written a couple
versions of a 'release' and hoped they were suitable to Dick but offered to rewrite them if Dick
would tell him the specifics of what he wanted written. Clavelle noted the songs were 'registered'
but not 'copyrighted'. And advised Dick that before recording any of them commercially, they
must be copyrighted or they go into the public domain.
Clavelle told Dick that if he could do anything with those songs, "...I can feed them to you
from here on out. But let's see what you can do with these." Perhaps he was testing Dick's talents
as one who could get a song recorded. Clavelle included a personal note that the family was a bit
shook up due to Clavelle's wife, Leora's father was not well and at Independence Mercy Hospital.
And wrote Dick that he would "...sure like to hear your tapes of the songs."
The two signed releases by Clavelle were for different purposes. One was an agreement to share
50/50 any money which could be earned '...due to the efforts of Dick Hamilton' for five songs:
"I'm A Million Miles From Heaven", "Headin' Back To Georgia", "You're So Dependable", "First Come
First Served", and "Don't Go". The second release gave Dick permission to 'exploit'
those same songs over radio, TV, records tapes or whatever other media he may choose.
Clavelle wrote Dick in March of 1958 that provides some insight as to their partnership/friendship and
Clavelle's dealings as well. He told Dick he had enclosed a couple of tunes, and he said, "...This
is not rock bottom stuff but I've tried to make them a little different as they will have more
appeal." We think the tunes were "Bullfrog Rock" and "Give It To Me Right Now" as this collection
has both songs with separate sheets for just the lyrics and another with words and music.
He noted that since Dick's last letter, Clavelle had signed a contract for a song with
Murray Nash Associates in Nashville. He had also placed another with Rev Records (Revere Rec. Corp.),
who had had the hit 'Plaything'.
The music publishing industry can be a bit of bitter pill to digest at times at the way business
gets conducted when you read stories of the various artists or the discussions one hears from
others. Clavelle told Dick not to 'do anything' with a couple of his tunes as he had to revise
them to avoid future headaches. He did mention that Dick well with '...some good leg work' on those
other tunes and hoped they connected. But he didn't mention which tunes those were.
Clavelle then ends the letter with an offer to Dick if he was interested. Clavelle had co-wrote
some songs and if Dick was interested, he would go 33 and 1/3 - 33 and 1/3 - 33 and 1/3 on them.
But again, he did not mention which tunes.
For example, one entitled "Not Recommended Cure" that appears to have been published on September 12, 1984
Clavelle wrote Dick another letter, undated, but indicating he was sending Dick a copy
of "Don't Come Cryin' To Me" for Dick to promote. He told Dick it would be a real favor
and would do both a favor for future efforts together if he could get some of Dick's good
disc jockey friends to push the song. Clavelle indicated he was trying to get the song
recorded on a big label and every spin over the air helps. He indicated it was being
considered by the people who selected Teresa Brewer's material and other 'big names'.
Clavelle seemed excited in this note indicating to Dick that he had '...made a pretty good
connection with a Nashville publisher. He is anxious to see anything I have on tape or demo."
From our research, it appears that Ms. Brewer did not record the song, but a Mary Small
on the Coral label also did record a song by that title.
We would be remiss to omit discussing the many letters to the editor of his hometown newspaper the Cherryvale
Citizen. They provide an insight as to his take on life, the memories they left behind and a bit
about who he was. Following are some of those essays, edited slightly.
He wrote another in response to an article that brought back more memories for him
and give us a glimpse into his musical career journey that took him to Georgia for a time.
California Offers Chigger Protection
I am more ethan gratified that my answering letter to Jim Clay concerning his great story of
"Old Moe" in the Cherryvale Citizen was enjoyed by you so much it was published in full.
I must tell you have received an answer to the letter from Jim Clay himself, typed in fine form
by his most efficient wife. He explains in his letter his handwriting is so bad, regardless
of a college education, his wife was skeptical whether I could decipher it or not.
He has received innumerable requests for the "secret" cat-fish bait he tells me. It will remain
a "secret" unless aficionados of Cat-fishing want to write to me personally, as Jim assures me it will
remain a "secret" as far as he's concerned. He has assured me it will go no further than his sons
as far as he is concerned.
You'll never know ho much I enjoy the Cherryvale Citizen and get it here in L.A. every week. I read the article on Chigger
Protection by Sonja R. Fillingsness. It triggered off many memories, not as pleasant as Cat-fishing
I assure you.
We, John and I, in our quest of game, fish, berries, paw-paws, persimmons, edible nuts
and wild vegetables and herbs, found one our mightiest of challenges was the lowly by potent Chigger.
These voracious creatures made such enjoyable enterprises a horrible experience. As we
did not have such devices for the control of such fiendish parasites in the "early days",
and of course it was hard-times also, we finally resorted to the Ol' grandma's remedy
of powdered sulphur.
We found that this dusted in the cuffs, waist, under shirt sleeves, anywhere you could dust it good, kept
these deplorable creatures from not only eating you alive, but in no condition either
physically or mentally to undertake further excursions into the hills and vales of Cherryvale!
The chance of infection and future sores was stressed in the article in the Cherryvale Citizen
to good advantage, and from most regrettable experience, I can vouch for the truth of these
statements. Though you take good care of the yards, get out the powdered sulphur when you
plan an excursion into the countryside. These just ain' nuthin'' as cantankerous as a good
dose a'them things put here on earth to plague us humans, I guess.
In Georgia, where I was in radio, they had'em and called 'em Red-Bugs" there. Did some great
Cat-fishin' in that country when the Tennessee VAlley Lakes were first established, about 1941.
I found soon CHiggers were a universal plague. Even in Toccoa Georgia in those days, pharmacies had
some sulphur dust.
Hope this ads some suffering humans that like to go "out", but hesitate because of the agonies
that result from the inevitable assault of these insufferable pests. I fear that in those days
the canned berries and such would've been rather a rarity without some powdered sulphur.
One who knows!
in response to an article "Take Precautions During Poison Ivy Season" in the August 15, 1984 issue.
He wrote of an experience in his early youth that he perhaps saw was a 'cure' but not one he
would recommend. Let's read an excerpt:
Not Recommended Cure
At an early age I was sure my career had ended as I found to my dismay
I was violently subject to the poisons of this distinguished family of plants.
When I say career ended, I mean exactly that, for by the age of six I was absolutely
and irrevocably addicted to the streams and woods.
To have this affliction affect me so violently was a crushing blow. The first I remember
being completed crippled by this affliction was in Chanute where I climbed upon
a fence that was completely covered by poison ivy. By climbing this convenient fence, I could
better see the harness races taking place at the park during the "Fair" season.
By the evening, I was a mass of great blisters and incapable of movement without breaking them.
The breaking of the blisters furthered the spreading of the infection.
It got so bad I had to be taken to an old country doctor who advised using raw Linseed oil
on the blisters to soften them and eventually healing them.
The next known encounter with said plants was on Cherry Creek north of Cherryvale below
what was known then as "Spindle Top". While gathering wild grapes, I climbed a tall
tree to get the best of the grapes. When I came down, I noticed to my horror
the tree was covered with virulent poison oak! I waited for the inevitable blisters, but
nothing, absolutely nothing ever happened.
Whether the extreme case I had suffered brought on an immunity I will never know,
and I would hesitate at this point to offer this as a cure. All I will ever know
is that to this day I have never suffered from poison ivy or oak in any manner. And
you have my word that many's the time I waded and climbed through this feared plant.
Then we have another one later in the season from October. And again, we'll share
some of what he wrote then.
It has been so hot and smoggy here in L.A. it has been miserable. But now the air
is turning a bit cooler and though age is creeping upon me, I certainly remember
when it was coming into October weather in Cherryvale.
Out here there is a change, but the definition of changes of season is not so
noticeable. There is plenty of snow, but never under at least 4,000 feet in the
mountains. There is even excellent skiing, but only in the mountains of course.
(There is) usually plenty of snow in Kansas, but of course no mountains.
October back there meant the first of ripe persimmons, usually after the second
good frost of Autumn, squirrels and rabbits became better for eating
because of the scarcity of green stuff, the ripening of grains and acorns. Even
brer possum who was ordinarily only taken for his prime pelt was cleaned
of all fat and roasted with yams for a feast. If you were of that nature, and know
where and how, there were ducks on the table and even an occasional goose.
There are many who shun the carp as a food fish, but if you know how to clean out the
"Mud Veins" along a carp's backbone, you'll find it a delicacy if you can only
overcome your inhibitions. The depression overcame inhibitions with plain ol' hunger.
You had to maintain a very deep sense of humor in those times. There was sure nothing
really 'funny' about the depression, so the best thing was to make fun of it.
I'm sure the phrase "I feel like a million" was coined during this marvelous period
in the change of seasons in the midwest so typified by the country around Cherryvale.
Christmas, the cold had 'settled in' and of course, joy reigned supreme, but nothing can take the
place as joy of Autumn coming on in the state of Kansas.
I pity the native Californian for never having experienced the exuberant uplift of spirits
accompanying the coming of Autumn, the clear sparkling air, no smog and wonder why
for fame or fortune or anything one could fare so such pleasure.
Dick enjoyed his memories of his old hometown. The people he knew. The places he would visit
or frequent. Here is another example of his stroll down his memory lane including a small tidbit
indicating he worked on the "Hometown Jamboree" for a time.
Cherryvalian Offers Apologies and Memories
The 100% Cherryvalian offers apologies for not visiting his hometown more often.
It's been so hot and smoggy here in L.A., even the chiggers are discouraged.
Back in Cherryvale, we called this kind of weather 'dog days'. There was a reason
behind this cognomen — this is the time of year hydrophobia seemed rampant in animals.
In the early days, there was a tremendous population in the northwest end of Cherryvale called
'Smeltertown'. At the time the smelter in Cherryvale was the second largest zinc smelter in the world.
The inhabitants of Smeltertown were of all nationalities, and their collection of canines that
was made up of animals that were large and fierce. Mad dogs were so numerous in August and
September, it was customary for those that must sally forth to arm themselves with a club
or board. Not in anger, but no one wanted to contract the dreaded 'lockjaw'.
Not only was the enormous canine population affected, it was the time of year
when skunks especially, and squirrel and rabbit and other varmints were subject to the dread
disease. The cricks and rivers became stagnant and, though fish did not seem to become infected,
fishing was brought to a standstill. When colder weather came along, it seemed to stop the disease.
"Dog days" was the time to stay in, or, if you had to go out, go protected and know there was definitely
danger 'out there'.
When the smelter closed down for good, the populace of Smeltertown moved out and the danger was
The 'old timers' around these parts probably remember the smelter and they had a
company store in Cherryvale on Main Street. You were supposed to trade at the company
store if employed at the smelter. Or else!
East of the tracks of the railroad the true, let's say, Cherryvalian's resided. They
were called the 'Cookie Pushers'. The westsiders were called 'Garlic Snappers' and 'way
back when, there were athletic contests at the old athletic field west of the swimming
pool between the two factions.
I learned the old mining song, "Sixteen Tons" in Cherryvale when I was about 7 years
old. Many, many years later, while working here on a television show called "Hometown Jamboree"
with Cliffie Stone in charge, Merle Travis, Tennessee Ernie Ford, and Cliffie got together
and recorded "Sixteen Tons", and made a fortune from it. There was nothing illegal about it,
of course, as "Sixteen Tons" was a PD or Public Domain song.
As I told you, the 100% Cherryvalian knows some rare stories about Cherryvale and vicinity.
Though almost 70, my memory and sense of humor stay sharp. My penmanship I fear is unlike
old fine wine; it does not seem to improve with age. (Jim Clay note).
Thanks to good friend Donald Reed and the Cherryvale Citizen, I got a picture and was kept
up with the news of the 1933 Cherryvale High School class reunion. I am the 'culprit' for
not being there. Circumstances just did not permit at the time.
Dick left behind a letter addressed to whoever next found his collection.
It was undated, but
we tend to think it was written in the mid-1980s when his collection of letters to the editor
seemed to end. We would be remiss if we did not include his personal note attached to the collection
To Whom It May Concern:
Jazz was so low-class in those days, the name jazz itself was used for instance by
the black people as the word for copulation. Therefore, the individual attempting to
apply Jazz to Folk was a sort of traitor, and the appliance of Jazz, or Country, as
it is called today, was not to be tolerated. But as it is the case, especially amongst
people supposedly free, these were certain ones, who in the true spirit of "Jazz"
applied it to all music.
It has been a great many years since these pictures were taken. Of course, we are speaking
of a man's life-span. In the course of musical history, a very short time. It seems much,
very much, has happened in this field in such a short time. But in the eyes of a professional
musician, nothing has really changed that much. At the turn of the century, the folk music as
it was called could not in any way be connected with the "classics". The caste system of this
country for that's what it amounted to, would permit NO intermingling of these two forms of
music. The opera and classical presentations were for the upper or moneyed class exclusively.
The folk music was for ignorant peasants. Never the twain should meet. But along came this
country's own art form, jazz as it was, and still is called. Although it was much maligned
by the upper-classes, it was only incorporated into folk music by those who felt the urge
to improvise on the theme of the folk music. These artists were considered rebels and were
put in the same category as men, or women, without a country.
The results were received by John Q. Public with enthusiasm and great enjoyment. Even to
this day, there are very definite lines drawn between the three types of music. But in
the recent years, the great money makers in the biz have seen fit to combine at least
the "Country" and "Pop" for their schemes and the results have been Ella Fitzgerald's
"Born to Lose", Ray Charles' involvement with the Country Music (I Can't Stop Loving You)
and many others.
This collection of pictures is of the hardy souls that broke traditions in the 40's
and 50's and through the demands of a free people in a precarious war situation,
went against the "rules", combined the "Pop" and the "Country" for the people's
listening and dancing pleasure.
I am thankful to the Lord I was one of the pioneers and also active in photography
at the same time, keeping the results of this endeavor with fanatical zeal.
These are the ones who offered exactly what the people asked for and paid for,
unknown to those listening today, and many whop play today, discounting of course
those that have been incorporated into Halls of Fame and legends through the
undying efforts of promoters.
The names of Bob Wills, T. Texas Tyler, Merle Haggard, Merle Travis, and many
others come to certain one's minds, but these people in the pictures were doing
it before them through their know-how and regardless of great odds against them.
God Bless 'Em!
And we say, God Bless Dick Hamilton for his diligence, love of the music he was a part of and the
photographic collection he left behind for the world to remember those who were a part of a unique
era on the Los Angeles hillbilly music scene.
Credits and Sources
- Letter to Dick Hamilton; Jack Todd, KGNF, Coffeyville, KS; April 30, 1936
- Letter to Dick Hamilton; Herschel Holland, Station Director; KGNO; Dodge City, KS; March 13, 1941
- Letter To The Editor; "The Star"; Cherryvale Citizen; Date Unknown
- Letter; "To Whom It May Concern"; Dick Hamilton; Undated
- The Billboard; May 12, 1951; The Billboard, Cincinnati, OH
- Cherryvale Citizen; Letter To The Editor; September 12, 1984; Cherryvale, KS
- Cherryvale Citizen; Letter To The Editor; October 3, 1984; Cherryvale, KS
- Cherryvale Citizen; Letter To The Editor; Circa 1984-1985; Cherryvale, KS
- Letter from Clavelle Isnard to Dick Hamilton; February 3, 1958
- Letter from Clavelle Isnard to Dick Hamilton; March 8, 1958
- Letter from Clavelle Isnard to Dick Hamilton; Undated; Postmarked May 6, 1958