Hillbilly-Music.comThe People. The Music. The History.
About The Artist
Cliff Warren Doolittle was born in Waterbury, Connecticut. Hillbilly music fans would get to know him as Cliff Warren. His parents owned a large farm while he was growing up. During those early years, he felt he wanted to be a professional singer someday. He was the only one of his nine siblings who did not get any formal musical training. His parents made the others take vocal or instrumental lessons. In an old press release, Cliff states, "I always managed to be behind the deer when it came to discussing my musical career."
Singing seemed to come natural to the youngster. When he was just twelve years old, Cliff entered an amateur singing contest sponsored by radio station WATR (a Mutual network station back then) in Waterbury, Connecticut and won first prize. It would not be the last time he won such a contest. He ended up performing on a show once a week at WATR when he was 13, just him and his guitar, no other musical backup.
Fate often has a way of playing a part in one's journey through life. Cliff suffered a severe foot injury that was the result of swinging an axe over a tree that caused him to abandon some of his more athletic endeavors. But that just gave him the chance to nurture his musical talents. He began studying the favorite country songs of the day. His idols back then were Johnny Marvin, Jimnmie Rodgers and Ernest Tubb. As you might expect, he did become one of the country's finest yodelers.
Around 1939, when he was all of 18 years old, the baritone vocals of Cliff were featured with several hillbilly bands around the New England area. (The press release did not mention who these bands were.) When World War II started, he joined the U. S. Coast Guard and when he could, did several camp shows to entertain his fellow troops. During his stint, he was part of a Coast Guard musical that entertained troops from St. Augustine to Miami, Florida at naval stations.
He was stationed in the south at the time and became buddies with a bunch who were from Texas. They urged him to come to the Lone Star state when he was discharged. Cliff served for three years, including time in the European theatre during the war. When he was discharged, he headed for the wide open spaces in Colorado. He found work on a cattle ranch.
It was not too long though before he went to see his Navy buddies in San Antonio and made the decision to stay there. It wasn't all play though. He worked during the day as a refrigerator salesman and repairman. In the evenings, he worked at one of San Antonio's largest clubs, Seven Oaks. He did the long hours for about six months. He made the choice to become a featured artist on radio station KTSA, then the CBS outlet in San Antonio.
Cliff once had an old Gibson guitar when he was in Colorado and wished he still had it. He bought a new beautiful blond "Epiphone Emperor" in 1948. He notes he still has it and is in pristine condition with its original case.
In 1948, he had a local sustaining show Monday through Saturday at 7:45am over radio station KTSA. His popularity was such that he was chosen to represent the state of Texas at the Presidential inauguration ceremonies in Washington, DC.
KTSA was billing him as "The Yodelin' Cowboy" back in 1948. In addition to his morning show where he would do the western hit songs of the day, he also did what the station termed as 'straight' songs on an afternoon show. He told the station's newsletter that he could not claim to be a native Texan. But "...spent a lot of time ranching at Lake George, Colorado before moving to Texas."
At 5:00pm he appeared on the "Songs For You" program. In addition to Cliff, Joe Morin played the piano while Jay Rozance played the accordion.
Cliff's career also saw him do a turn on the movie screen. An independent film producer had seen Cliff perform at a Teletype Radio Christmas party and offered him a part in "Swing Your Pardner". He was originally slated to play a singing sheriff, a leading role, but had to hang up the deputy star and play a crook. Cliff tells us he has seen a few out takes form the film but has never seen the entire movie. He recalls it was filmed in San Antonio and Bandera, Texas in what is known as the hill country. He later had a role in the movie "Revenge", but the film maker ran out of money and that was the end of Cliff's movie making career.
At some point, Cliff found work at radio station WOAI in San Antonio. The Billboard reported in May of 1949 that he had joined WOAI. He had a new program, "Songs You All Remember" that aired at 11:15am. The station had him doing standard "pop" tunes instead of the hillbilly and western tunes that listeners at KTSA had grown to enjoy. But his fame was such that the article Cliff provided indicated that he would do at least one western tune that might show off his yodeling skills as well. The show used the WOAI staff orchestra under the direction of Melvin Winters. Manuel Medelin played violin and clarinet. Marcust Morales was on the bass viol while Dick Ketner played guitar. The announcer for the show was Jack Foster.
In June of 1949, The Billboard magazine indicated that Cliff had a release called "San Salvador" on the Star records label. But the "A" side may have been "In Sunny San Antone" written by Barnett Shaw based on a copy of the front page of the sheet music for the tune.
In July 1949, The Billboard also indicated that Horace Heidt was apparently interested in Cliff's talents for his Magnolia record label.
But while he was finding success in San Antonio, he seemed to make his way back to his hometown on occasion. When he did go back, he would do guest appearances over the local station, WBRY in Waterbury. It was during one such visit in the fall of 1949. Gordon Jenkins, the famed orchestra and musical director for Decca Records happened to be visiting the station. Cliff was doing several guest shots on shows at the time and did not know Mr. Jenkins was at the station until someone introduced them.
Gordon was impressed with the young singer and asked him for a bit of an impromptu audition. Cliff admits he was nervous at the time, he "...felt a frog in my throat" but managed to sing a couple of country and pop tunes. Gordon liked what he heard and invited him to New York for a recording session. Cliff went to New York and signed an exclusive recording contract with Coral Records, Decca's subsidiary label. From that session, "Breath Of Scandal" and "An Old Love Letter" were released. Cliff's signing with the Coral label appears to have been in the fall of 1949.
Cliff, his wife and two sons left Texas and went back to Waterbury, CT for the last time in 1952. During that time, there was a polio outbreak and on the street where they lived in Texas, three cases of the disease. He got a job as a singer on radio station WBRY. He also worked one day a week on WNHC television in New Haven, CT on the "Electric Show", sponsored by the Connecticut Electric Company.
We asked Cliff what was his favorite personal appearance. He wrote and told us of a week long trip to Washington, DC. He had been selected as the cowboy singer of Texas by the Texas delegation (the Cavaliers) to represent Texas at President Harry Truman's inauguration. He sang in the Capitol's "Finance" room for the Vice-President, Nance Gardner as well as members of the House of Representatives and Senate. During that stay, he also sang at Senator Lyndon Johnson's home in Chevy Chase, MD. He got to meet Admiral Chester Nimitz at a delegation party the Washington Hotel. Cliff notes the Admiral loved old cowboy songs and even sang along with some of the tunes Cliff did. He counted it as a real thrill to meet the Commander of the Pacific Fleet in World War II.
Another fond memory for Cliff was an appearance at the "Fat Stock Show" with the Sheriff's Mounted Posse of Bexar County Texas. The arena where the event was held was huge and included an audience of thousands. He sang from the back of a white stallion named JoJo (see the pictures of Cliff on the horse).
He married the former Ruth Dethlefsen, a native of Naugatuck, Connecticut. The article mentioned they had two sons. Their names were Jim and Bob.
Credits & Sources