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Roland Gaines
Born:  December 9, 1914
Died:  September 20, 1980
KMOX St. Louis, MO
KSD St. Louis, MO
WCKY Cincinnati, OH
WKRC Cincinnati, OH

Thomas (Roland) Gaines was born in Illinois in 1914 but grew up in Berea, Kentucky, just 17 miles from Renfro Valley, a haven for country music. His early memories had him playing his guitar while his friends and kin did chores. He began performing professionally at age 15 and soon was a member of Garner Eckler's Mountain Rangers performing at WKRC in Cincinnati. Garner and Roland next formed a duo, dubbed by Bert Layne as the Yodeling Twins, and performed at WLW also in Cincinnati.

Roland met (Eva) Lillian Jasper while performing in Cincinnati. They married at age 18, a marriage that would last two lifetimes.

The Twins went to the East Coast for about a year, broadcasting on stations in New Jersey and Massachusetts before returning to WCKY in Ohio.

Roland's son (James Roland) was born in Ohio in 1935. See Garner Eckler's biographical sketch in Hill Billy Music for more details. Garner and Roland are credited with introducing the harmony yodel.

Roland and Garner parted ways and in 1936, Roland went to KSD in St. Louis. He formed a quartet called the "Range Riders" with Guy Blakeman, Jerry Behrens, and Arnold Staley and the harmony yodel was a hallmark of the group. The group name persisted, though the membership changed over time, until the end of Roland's career.

Mountain Rangers - Renfro Valley In 1940, Roland was working at Renfro Valley. He was part of a group known as the Mountain Rangers. That group consisted of Guy Blakeman, Jerry Beherens and Roland.

Mary Jean Shurtz reported in 1947 that Roland and the Range Riders (consisting of Roland, Guy Blakeman, Wally Proctor and Ray Fields) were being heard each morning at 8:00am on KSD in St. Louis.

There was a short stay in Chattanooga before returning to Berea and Renfro Valley in 1940. Roland and Lillian's daughter (Linda Gail) was born in Berea in July 1941 just before World War II broke out.

At the outset of the war, Roland tried to enlist in Kentucky but men with two children were not being taken into service then. The family moved to Cincinnati where Roland found work at Wright Aviation assembling aircraft engines. He re-registered at the Selective Service Office stating he had only one child and was inducted into service. He served with the Seventh Calvary in the Pacific Theater and was a member of the Occupation Force in Japan.

At 31, he was the oldest member of his platoon. Although fortunate to survive, his health had been compromised.

After discharge from the Army, he returned to Ohio and immediately reformed the Range Riders as a trio with Guy Blakeman and Wally Proctor.

Roland, away from music for years, practiced day and night (until his fingers bled) before moving to St. Louis in 1946 to perform in a live TV show on KSD in 1947. Shortly afterward the Range Riders joined the cast of "Uncle Dick Slack's Old Fashioned Barndance" on KMOX that featured Skeets Yaney.

In 1946, Skeets Yaney told Country Song Roundup readers that he had seven members in his group. He mentioned Roy Fields, Roland Gaines, Gordon Curd, Howard Donohue, Curt Doolin and Linda. Skeets also mentioned he was about to start a television show as well.

Guy Blakeman left the Range Riders and was replaced by Glen (Shorty) Mason.

At KMOX, there were six half-hour morning shows (7:15 to 7:45) and an hour long show (10:30 to 11:30) before a studio audience every Saturday night. The Range Riders also appeared with Skeets Yaney and others on a TV show, the Ozark Barn Dance, on KACY-TV in the early 1950's.

After a decade at KMOX, Roland stopped performing in public in the late 1950's, but frequently met with old friends such as Guy Blakeman and Billy Keith Williams for informal sessions.

In 1952, Mary Jean Shurtz reported in Cowboy Songs that the Range Riders consisted of Wally Proctor, Shorty Mason and Roland.

On August 26, 1953 in Berea, Kentucky's Third Annual Homecoming celebration, Roland and Jimmie Skinner were made "Kentucky Colonels". There was quite a turnout of artists at this event. Red Foley could not attend, but three of his daughters appeared in his absence. Other artists who appeared were Ernie Lee, Slim Miller and the Coon Creek Girls, Billy Keith Williams and Bradley Kincaid. Hoedown magazine provided further details in that John Lair was there to act as MC for the show. Bill and Hazel Haley were also at the show.

Tommy Sutton was reporting in Rustic Rhythm in September of 1957 that he was seeing Roland appear in the Dayton, Ohio area and was telling readers he hoped to see more of him.

Upon retiring from a musical career, he lived in Ohio, Kentucky, and Florida before passing away in 1980.

World War II disrupted the upward momentum of his career and while the decade in St. Louis was stable and productive, the early promise of stardom was never realized.

Credits & Sources

  • Hillbilly-Music.com would like to express its appreciation and thanks to James Gaines, son of Roland Gaines for providing us with autobiographical details about his father's musical career.
  • Renfro Valley Keepsake; 1940; Renfro Valley, KY
  • The Mountain Broadcast and Prairie Recorder; January 1947; Mountain Broadcast Pub. Co., Inc.; 45 Astor Place, New York, NY
  • National Hillbilly News; January/February 1948; Mr. and Mrs. Orville Via; P.O. Box 9087; Huntington, WV
  • National Hillbilly News; March/April 1948; Mr. and Mrs. Orville Via; P.O. Box 9087; Huntington, WV
  • Cowboy Songs; No. 23; November 1952; American Folk Publications, Inc.; Charlton Building; Derby, CT
  • Hoedown; Vol. 1 No. 2; October 1953; Artist Publications, Inc.; 124 Government Place; Cincinnati, OH
  • Country Song Roundup No. 28; January 1954; American Folk Publications, Inc.; Charlton Building; Derby, CT
  • Country Song Roundup No. 32; June 1954; American Folk Publications, Inc.; Charlton Building; Derby, CT
  • Country Song Roundup No. 42; Feb 1956; American Folk Publications, Inc.; Charlton Building; Derby, CT
  • Rustic Rhythm; Vol 1 No 6; September 1957; Rustic Rhythm, Inc.; 5 East 40th St.; New York, NY

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