When talking about Rudy Sooter, one word always comes up - likeable. In addition to having a photographic memory,
he was also brutally honest.
Rudy was born Roby Cecil Sooter in Canada and his parents moved to Oklahoma when he was a very young child.
In Oklahoma he learned to play guitar and was drawing crowds locally. He knew that if he was going to
be an entertainer he would have to move to either New York or California. All things considered, Rudy
thought it was warmer in California. He arrived in Southern California in 1933.
Rudy was said to have the 'whole package' and was in the right place at the right time, yet failed to become a star.
He summed up that lack of success with one word - alcohol. In those days he would drink every penny he made.
Rudy had a home in California and his old Oklahoma friends that came to California would stop by and stay with Rudy.
A literal who's who of early country music stars stayed at Rudy's place. One group was the Sons of the Pioneers
who wrote all of their famous early songs at his place.
He put together a band in the 1930's, but did not get to record until they backed Jimmie Davis on his classic
tune "It Makes No Difference Now" and on three other tunes for Decca in 1938. According to compilation of
Decca's Hillbilly recordings book, the recording session took place on November 6, 1938. Other tunes that
were recorded "The Curse of An Aching Heart", "You Tell Me Your Dream I'll Tell You Mine", and "Don't Break
Her Heart Boy." These appeared on Decca records 5620 and 5627. An internet site shows the label scan
for Decca 5620 and indicates that Jimmie did the recording with "Rudy Sooter's Ranchmen".
During that time, his focus was not on recording, but working in what was known as the "B" western movies. Rudy had no
idea how many he appeared in. He mentioned those moves were made as quickly and cheaply as possible. They would
re-splice it, give it another title and release the movie again. Then they would re-splice it with other films and
re-lease it and on it went.
When World War II came, Rudy took a job in the shipyards. It was there he wrote on the chalk board, "Dear Okie, if you see Arkie,
tell him Tex has got a job for him out in California." He spent about five years tying to find a record company
that would let him record this song that would become famous, but was not successful. No one was interested.
Then came a day in 1948 when Rudy was in the office of the president of the Exclusive Records label along with Doye O'Dell who
was picking songs for his recording session the next day. They were one song short. Rudy already knew that Doye did not
like "Dear Okie", but Rudy pitched it anyway. It was the president of Exclusive Records that got Doye to record
what would become a hit. When they left the office building, Doye was angry about the decision. But in an effort to try
and smooth Doye's manner, Rudy offered to give him half-credit for the song. To everyone's surprise, "Dear Okie" became a big hit.
But the surprising hit would be a source of friction between Doye and Rudy for the rest of their lives. Rudy tells
Mr. Henry that as soon as that song became a hit, Doye tried to publicly claim he had written the song. It is interesting to note
that an internet site that offers records for sale has a label scan of the Exclusive label for Dear Okie - it only lists
Rudy Sooter as the writer.
A 1948 article
in Jamboree magazine told readers that Doye O'Dell had recorded it for the Exclusive label. The song was written
twelve years earlier by Rudy and his wife Ruthie. The article states that his wife actually wrote the number and Rudy
just changed two notes in the melody. But he could not get anyone's attention in 1936. The post-war exodus brought many
to California and Doye O'Dell recorded it. It was first introduced by Cliffie Stone and George Wilhelm over
radio station KFVD. Understanding the friction that had developed between the two, this may be a case where one
was providing a story to add to their claim of writing the tune.
In 1946 Rudy was signed to a recording contract with the tiny independent label, 'Black and White Records'. He did ten recordings
that were released on five records. Perhaps the best cut was a tune called "Easy Payment Blues". Rudy had
some great musicians backing him on those recordings. One was the legendary steel guitar player Joaquin Murphy.
In 1989 Rudy complained to Jim Henry that he had never seen as much as one cent in royalties from those recordings made for the Black and White
label. Mr. Henry states that he told Rudy he had never found a single one of them in all his years of looking through stacks of 78 rpm records
and even 25 years after Rudy's death has not found one.
However, for whatever reason, Rudy never got to record his own version of his hit tune. When they had the recording lockout in 1948,
somebody offered to record Rudy doing "Dear Okie" but he would have to do so in Mexico City. Rudy turned that offer down.
Also in the late 1940's, Rudy did numerous songs for the Standard Transcription Company that were released on Cattle Records
in the 1980's.
In May 1949, Billboard indicated that Fred Stryker of Fairway Music had opened a branch office in Nashville and was
being staffed by Rudy Sooter. However that move and experience perhaps did not work out.
A July 1949 article in Billboard indicates that Rudy Sooter may have been in Nashville at the time. It told readers that he was
no longer working for Fairway Music then headed by Fred Stryker. The article also mentioned he had gone back to Hollywood
and had signed a recording contract for two years with the Bullet label.
When Rudy came back to Hollywood, he signed a songwriter's contract with Hill and Range.
In early 1950, Billboard magazine told readers that Rudy had signed with London Records.
Rudy did record a couple of tunes for the London label, released on 78 rpm - "Horseflesh and Candles" and the other side being
"Get a Wiggle On". When the 45 rpm format came out, London released the tunes again. Rudy told Mr. Henry that the second voice
heard and uncredited on the tune "Horseflesh and Candles" was that of Merle Travis.
Rudy seemed to find other work besides music. He became a regular on the "Gunssmoke" television series in the 1950's. But you
may not find it easy to find him as he would play a different and totally unrelated character in almost every episode he
was in. He was also busy playing "The Bad Guy In The Black Hat" in numerous western movies. Rudy notes that all he ever had
to do was not shave for a few days and he would "...look like hell".
Rudy finally retired to Reno, Nevada in 1968.
On a windy afternoon in August 1981, a youngster from down the street where he lived set fire to the shed against
the side of Rudy's rental home on Virginia Street. Rudy lost everything he owned, including file cabinets of papers
that he had saved over his career and dozens of songs he had written, but was not successful in getting them recorded.
Rudy died in a nursing home in Sparks, Nevada in 1991.
Credits & Sources
- Hillbilly-Music.com would like to express its thanks to Jim Henry
for providing us with information about Rudy Sooter's career based on conversations with
Rudy in 1989 and 1990.
- Jamboree; November 1948; Wm. T. Allen, Editor; Drawer 1731; Ventura, CA
- The Decca Hillbilly Discography, 1927-1945; Complied by Cary Ginnell,
Greenwood Press; 1989; pg 166
- Billboard Magazine; May 7, 1949; Billboard Magazine; Cincinnati, Ohio
- Billboard Magazine; July 30, 1949; Billboard Magazine; Cincinnati, Ohio
- Billboard Magazine; October 15, 1949; Billboard Magazine; Cincinnati, Ohio
- Billboard Magazine; January 7, 1950; Billboard Magazine; Cincinnati, Ohio