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Beryl Harrell
Born:  September 23, 1918
Died:  June 14, 1977
Forman Phillips County Barn Dance
Hometown Jamboree
Town Hall Party
KGER Los Angeles, CA
KXLA Pasadena, CA

About The Artist

Beryl Harrell - 13 years old Beryl Deane Harrell was born in Vancouver, Washington to her parents, Cleo Willie Harrell and the former Leona Bertha Burnett. A brother, Christopher, was born in 1922, but he died at an early age from rubella or as commonly known, German measles. We were able to piece together this biographical essay with the help of Beryl's only son, Don Triolo.

Later, the family moved to the Los Angeles area. Her son surmises that her early years were not always the happiest. Her mother may have been a sort of stage mother, pushing her daughter to accomplish something on stage, so she could point to others, "That's my daughter". Her mother liked music and at the time, Hawaiian music was quite popular. Beryl had an ear for it and took to learning the Hawaiian guitar easily.

When Beryl was just 13, she was taking up lessons on the steel guitar. Her instructor would charge her family the princely sum of 25 cents for each lesson. Her teacher? None other than the Hawaiian steel guitar legend, Sol Hoopii.

It appears around that time, she was part of a group known as the Hula Bluettes. The other two members of the trio were Sunny Vogels and Irene Luning. Her son feels his mom enjoyed those times, not just for the music, but being able to be with other people her age and sharing their talents together.

Beryl Harrell

Through the years, her sound retained that early Hawaiian sound that Sol taught and influenced her, but she also developed her own techniques when she began to play with the various western bands she became associated with. Her son recalls that her rendition of the classic, "Harbor Lights" could bring a tear to your eye, then she'd turn around and follow that up with a hot number like "Beaumont Rag".

An advertising flyer for the Electro String Instrument Corp. from about 1938 included a picture of Sol and also a group called the "Sweethearts of the Air", which featured the steel guitar sounds of a then 18-year old Beryl Harrell.

Beryl's son recalls a bit of a tawdry incident that cause Beryl to leave the group. It seems that the other two in the group, Maxine and Boots, eventually developed a jealousy between them. Don told us that Maxine shot and killed Boots. Beryl went on to work with the Hula Bluettes.

When she was just twenty years old, she had the distinction of appearing in a Rickenbacker catalog, pictured with one of the first lap steel guitars. Later, around 1950, Paul Rickenbacker designer he a double-neck steel guitar. Around 1958, she purchased a four neck steel guitar from Eddie Bush (the picture of Beryl in Las Vegas from around 1960 could include the guitar elsewhere on this page). According to her son, she had that four neck steel guitar until 1964.

Her son made a demo recording available to us. He recalls that this was done to introduce a new foot petal that Paul Bigsby had designed with Paul Rickenbacker. The demo recording was on a "Les Paul" label. Speedy West was first offered the use of this petal, but declined as it would not work with the Fender single neck steel guitar. The demo along with several other recordings Don provided shows that Beryl had a definite Hawaiian sound to her playing, from the early influences of her teacher, Sol Hoopii. She continued to use that pedal until she bought her four-neck steel guitar in 1958.

The color photo of Beryl leads one to think it may have been designed by the legendary Nudie who tailored many a suit for a country performer. Beryl's son Don confirmed this for us. Beryl told her son that it was quite a task to "smile and bake" at the same time as those suits were made of wool. He notes she always had a small makeup sponge that she could use when she was off camera to blot her nose.

Beryl Harrell with Hula Bluettes Beryl Harrell - Sweethearts of the Air

Eva Harpster and Her Four Co-Eds Orchestra Around 1944 or 1945, Beryl was part of the Eva Harpster and her Four Co-Eds Orchestra. The all-female ensemble played a variety of instruments including piano, solovox, drums, vibraphone, saxophone, clarinet, electric and steel guitar. A publicity photo indicated that they had played a "...record breaking engagement of 26 weeks in the Silver Room of the Glendale Hotel in Glendale, California." The group was represented by the Reg. D. Marshall Agency back then of Hollywood, California.

In May 1948, Beryl was fronting the "Saddle Dusters" band at Al Royer's Red Barn. The Saddle Dusters were being heard over KXLA at the time. A 1948 article mentions that the band also included three other men, but did not include their names or what instruments they played.

The ad accompanying the article indicated that there was dancing every night and Sunday afternoons when the band was playing, which means these folks were working seven days a week! Al Royer's Red Barn was at the corner of Hawthorne and Redondo Beach Boulevards in Lawndale, California. Another band that was being heard at the Red Barn was Carl Cody and his Red Barn Ranch Hands.

Beryl and her steel guitar would also be heard with Carl Cody and the Southerners at the Marion Elduayen's "Saddle Club".

Beryl Harrell Beryl's son notes that she was the only steel guitar player that Carl Cody's band had and recalls fondly the duet numbers they would do together. Carl would always dedicate two numbers to Don, "Bimbo" and "Money, Marbles and Chalk" while his mom would do the "Steel Guitar Chimes" right before the nightly intermission.

When that time came, the band would gather in the back of the club. Don recalls that Al Royer, the owner, would do just about anything for his mom, including letting a minor such as he sit in on the music. Carl would also treat Don to a hamburger, served in those oval plastic baskets and wrapped in white paper along with a coke complete with a straw.

Beryl would often get fan letters as many of the performers did in that bygone era. Beryl's son Don kept some of those fan letters that were saved by his mom. One such letter from Mr. and Mrs. J. R. Tate in Whittier, California in 1950 wrote:

"Dear Beryl,
Have been trying for several months to get you on the radio, but was never able to get you. So about 6 weeks ago we purchased a T.V. set so was surprised and thrilled when we found you on Foreman Phillips program. Also when we are home on Sun. we get you with Jimmie Dolan. Enjoy your music very much."

Earlier that year, another fan from way up yonder in Juneau, Alaska wrote her asking for a recording evidently that had been heard over the air.

"Hi Beryl,
Well I haven't been able to get your program yet, but there is a friend of mine in town that has a set that gets most of the Los Angeles stations.

Would you please write and tell me the time and station again and the nites that you play?

Also, I would like to know if you ever made a recording of "Dragging The Steel" and if so can you get me one if I send you the money? Also send me the names of some of the others you have recorded.

Boy, I'd give a whole months pay just to be at Royer's for one hour. "
And I think a lot of us would like to have been there during those nights as well.

Beryl Harrell Beryl Harrell

Let's step back to Christmas of 1949. How would you like to be a kid and attend a Christmas party at the home of Roy Rogers and Dale Evans with your mom? Well, that's exactly what happened for Beryl's son. There were quite a few other kids at the party as well, mostly kids of musicians of that era. He thinks his mom took him because he had never seen Santa Claus before. Well, that introduction caused him no end of fright, he recalls he screamed like a banshee. But you have to feel that eventually Santa wins him over as life moved along. It was at this party his mom met Anita Aros, a fiddler with Spade Cooley's band and he recalls they became good friends. But he did notice that the male audience members seemed to flock around the two ladies "like flies". Don recalls going home with a stuffed animal from "Santa's Bag" that night. But he also recalls that Anita was quite charming and beautiful to a young boy.

Beryl Harrell During her time in the Los Angeles music scene, she made numerous appearances on the barn dances that Foreman Phillips hosted, playing steel guitar with Eddie Cletro's band.

She also worked with Cliffie Stone as part of the Hometown Jamboree. She was affectionately known as "The Hawaiian Cowgirl". Don recalls that Kaiser-Willys was one of the main sponsors of the show at the time.

She also appeared on the Town Hall Party show. Beryl's son recalls that it was during a time when the show had a doubling up of musicians of each type on the show. That is, two fiddlers, two steel players, etc. Fiddlin' Kate and Chico were on the show. He recalls that Jenks "Tex" Carman would come over and flirt with his mom during the breaks. He recalls that she was on the show in the very early 1950s, perhaps prior to many of the videos that still remain from that era.

Don reached back into his memories and told us of how he reacted to some of the performers he met while his mom was performing back then. Some stars were known to have a few drinks and perhaps Don smelled that distinctive aroma and caused him to be a bit leery. In other instances, such as when he met folks such as Les Anderson (who's red hair got his attention) or Wade Ray. In fact, he notes that Wade, while younger than his mom, found the time to chat with her and Beryl's mom would often warn her to avoid such a person.

Beryl Harrell with Carl Cody and his Saddle Dusters Don's memory takes him back to shows that were done in outdoor venues. One seems to stand out in his mind, somewhere up in mountains (to him, the name Sierra Creek Park comes to mind). It stands partly because he got his first case of poison ivy. That show included such folks as Joe and Rose Maphis, The Collins Kids, Molly Bee {she had to stand on a wooden box to sing into the microphone), Merle Travis, Fiddling Kate, Johnny Bond, and perhaps even Les Anderson as he recalls that Les and his mom did a "killer version" together of Steel Guitar Rag that raised the roof, even up in the mountains.

Beryl's son Donnie as he was known back then as a kid notes that his mom was always treated with the utmost respect by the stars of that era such as Cliffie Stone, Merle Travis and Eddie Cletro. Often, they spoiled Don with little gifts of toys, candy and whatever else made a kid happy back then.

Beryl Harrell, Clair Smith and Betty Jay Holland - El Cortez Hotel 1960 During those times, Beryl's dad would take a "Kodak moment" - a picture of his daughter Beryl when she appeared on television on those shows when the family lived on Bayview Drive in Manhattan Beach, California.

Just as an added anecdote from that early era, Beryl drove a 1948 Buick Roadmaster. Her father had a 1950 Dodge Wayfarer.

Perhaps through the many contacts she had made working in Los Angeles, she backed Bonnie Lee on several of her recordings in the 1950-1952 period. We found mention of Bonnie in an old Tex 'Jenks' Carman song folio

After she married the drummer in Carl Cody's band, Roy Ball at the Red Barn, the William Morris Agency offered his mom a one year stint with leader scale (back then that was $400 a week) in Anchorage, Alaska and $300 a week as a sideman to her husband, Roy. At that time, Alaska was not yet a state!

Around this time, Harry Owens and His Royal Hawaiians wanted her to play the "Pink Palace" in Honolulu (the legendary Hilo Hattie enjoyed Beryl's sound.) But that offer did not include her husband, Roy. So, the newlyweds took the Anchorage job, but in doing so, her son, Don, had to stay with her parents at their 94th and Vermont home in Los Angeles and attending the 95th street school. Don does recalls that it was not the happiest of years for him or his mom.

But June of 1954 gave them an opportunity to leave the land of the snow and move to what was becoming the entertainment capital of the world, Las Vegas. Which also meant that Beryl and her son were reunited.

We asked Don about his early memories of Las Vegas. He tells us a little anecdote about their first few days there. They had arrived in Las Vegas in 1954, in a car they had purchased in Alaska, but consider back then that air conditioning was not the standard feature found in a car as it is today. Don broke into tears and his mom asked him, "Honey, what's wrong?". He blurted out, "Are we in hell?" In his youthful ten year old mind and having gone to a Baptist church Sunday school, he was sure this was the 'hell' that he was being punished for in having to stay with his grandparents for a year, separated from his mom.

In Las Vegas, they became part of the "Polly Possum Show". At the time, Polly was married to Joe Wolverton. Joe also worked with Les Paul as a twosome in the 1930s. Polly's show alternated at that time between the Riverside Hotel in Reno and the Golden Nugget Hotel in Las Vegas.

Beryl Harrell But the gambling scene and the musical crowds at that time included a good mixture of drinking and from that, often cruel statements would be made, whether truthful or the booze talking, but all the same, still hurtful to the person who was not into that type of lifestyle. Beryl endured her share of insults, hearing comments that her talent was what kept her on stage for her looks were competing with the show's main star, perhaps showing some insecurity of the star. Beryl stayed with Polly's show for about two years, but one surmises, it wasn't the happiest of times.

In 1960, by this time, Beryl was living in Las Vegas, Nevada. She was a part of a female trio that was entertaining audiences at the El Cortez Hotel. The group included Clair Smith and Betty Jay Holland as well as Beryl, who at that time was playing a 4-neck Fender steel guitar she had purchased from Eddie Bush.

Her son recalls that on many an occasion, he enjoyed the rehearsals his mom would go through at home. She practiced a tune her son had enjoyed, Sleepwalk, to please her son. Don recalls that on most occasions, someone in the audience would request a number or two of Beryl - something like Okie Boogie or Steel Guitar Rag. The band had a tip jar and his mom was scared that the hotel would find out they were doing such pure country songs and would try to sweet talk the audience person into a traditional Hawaiian tune such as "Sweet Lelani" or "Hawaiian War Chant".

Her son recalls the last performances by his mom. It was after he had graduated from high school, around 1962 or 1963. She was asked to play the local NCO Club on some weeks at Nellis Air Force Base. She did those gigs because some musicians she had worked with in the past pleaded with her to join them. She joined them apprehensively. The crowds always seemed to fill the venue, officers, privates, they all attended. Don noted that even then, his mom could cast a spell over the men, they still wanted to get to know that gal with the pretty smile playing the steel guitar. Her son was just 18 then, and found it amusing.

But Don notes, this may have been the beginning of her depression but a mood he was not able to recognize at the time. That appearance led to other weekend appearances at the "Silver Dollar", at the time a well known western music club. It seems that fans and other musicians not to mention her son, kept encouraging the lady who charmed them with her hawaiian steel guitar sounds. Don notes she always hat that beautiful smile when she was playing but at the time, she would tell her son that she thought she was too old to be on stage. And shortly thereafter, she put away her picks and steel bar. She sold her four-neck Fender steel guitar in 1963; looking back Don thinks it was a way for her of "...putting things to rest." She was offered studio work in 1969, but she turned it down.

Her son fondly recalls that every engagement he saw his mom play always included a large enthusiastic and appreciative crowd, if not a full house. This was especially true during the hey-day of such shows as The Town Hall Party, Forman Phillips County Barn Dance, The Hometown Jamboree, Doye O'Dell's show and television.

Don notes that he could tell his mom was loved, admired and respected by her peers but she seemed oblivious to it, never allowing it to swell her ego as it might for some folks - she stayed true to who she was. He tells us that in her eyes, she never considered herself a star or a beauty, just a steel guitar player.

We asked Don what his favorite memory was of his mom during her musical career. He told us he was always proud to know that it was his mom up there on stage that was a part of the entertainment that the crowds appreciated. When Don was in the audience during the television tapings, she never missed winking or waving to her son when the camera wasn't on her.

Beryl had only the one son. She divorced Roy Ball in 1961. It was an amicable parting of the ways. Around that time, Don recalls that his mom had felt she had reached an age where perhaps she was too old to be performing on stage. She found a job as a PBX operator at the famed Desert Inn Hotel.

Beryl's life never seemed to help her find the happiness or contentment that one seeks. Her first husband left her when their new born son was just about three months old. Then later in life, he called her son when he was about 27 and wanted to see them again. But he was only with them a short time again and left them about a year later.

That may have been the tipping point for her in her life. She wrote her son a long, lengthy letter and mailed it so it would arrive after the weekend. In the meantime, she ended her life. Whatever it was that turned her sour on life, she left those thoughts with herself. She wrote a long letter and mailed it to her son, knowing he would get it after she had passed away. She wanted her son to know that he and her music were the two things that brought her the most happiness in her life.

Each year, her son publishes a memorial to his mom, Beryl, on the date of her date and birth in the local newspaper in Las Vegas.

Credits and Sources

  • Hillbilly-Music.com wishes to express its thanks and appreciation to "Beryl's boy Donnie", Don Triolo for providing us with information and photos related to his mother's career as a musician.
  • Hermosa Beach Review; May 13, 1948; "Dine and Dance at these South Bay Eating Spots"
  • Fan Mail; November 1950; Mr. and Mrs. J. R. Tate; Whittier, California; Copy courtesy of Don Triolo
  • Fan Mail; January 1950; J. W. Gilbreath; Juneau, Alaska; Copy courtesy of Don Triolo

Sound Sample— (RealAudio Format)

Draggin The Steel (w/Eddie Cletro's Round-Up Boys - 1950)

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