Hillbilly-Music.comThe People. The Music. The History.
About the Artist
Dick Hill was a hillbilly singer from the Nebraska area. His career started with a program that aired at 6:30am over KBRL out of McCook, Nebraska in 1946. When he was done playing his guitar and spinning records on his show, he would pack up and attend McCook High School. While now retired, his career spanned nearly 50 years and he is one of the original members of the Nebraska Country Music Foundation's Country Music Hall of Fame.
When he was in high school, he formed his first band, the Drifting Troubadours. The band stuck together for about four years, playing on programs over local radio stations including KRVN in Lexington, Nebraska, the Midwest Jamboree and the Hayloft Frolic, both of which aired over KHOL-TV, Channel 13 in Kearney, Nebraska. Those programs reached audiences in the Colorado, South Dakota, Kansas and Nebraska areas.
An early version of that band included such folks as Chuck Howard on the Hawaiian steel guitar, Swannie Swanson on the big bass fiddle and Jim Fellows on the mandolin. Later on in the 1950s, the band personnel changed a bit. They would make local appearances, sometimes sponsored by the local business folks such as White Trailer Sales or Sidders Factory Outlet.
When he was on KBRL out of McCook, Nebraska back in 1947/48, he would make his appearance in the early morning hours on the air, then would leave and head off to school.
The Midwest Jamboree and Hayloft Frolic shows were on the air from 1955 to 1959. The Jamboree was on Friday nights and the Frolic show aired on Mondays. In a Hasting Tribune interview with Rebecca Oltmans of March 17, 2000, Dick mentioned that audiences haven't forgotten how they gathered around the tv's with their families, even when the reception was fuzzy and snowy on their television sets. "That was their Friday night entertainment." Dick said.
The Midwest Jamboree was on from 10:30pm to 11:30pm on Friday evenings. He was good enough of a performer to make a living at it for a while. The show gave them exposure to allow them to gain a bit of a following.
Several nights a week, the band would get into a '49 Buick and an old Oldsmobile and drove over the gravel roads to play at fairs, rodeos and dance halls across the listening area. The article notes that their band included a fiddle, accordion, bass and guitar players and a lead singer who sounded a bit like Hank Snow.
Dick noted that "...there wasn't a soul around." when they arrived on the scene at their engagements, but when they started performing, "...it was packed."
The fans and the artists may have been closer back then. Dick notes in the March 2000 article that they were usually invited to spend the night with a local family, but mostly couldn't, but did stay long enough to enjoy a late-night or early morning breakfast.
Hillbilly musicians were known to drive many a mile to personal appearances and back then, that could mean some memorable trips.
Dick recalled that one of the most vivid memories was a return trip from Stockville. It seems that rain had fallen much of that particular day. They had started home from a show and the road was a wet, muddy, gravel road. As they came over a hill, a lightning flash '...lit up a washed out bridge.' Dick noted that they slammed on the brakes and found another route home.
The shows went off the air in 1959 and Dick moved to Colorado and took a temporary break from playing. The Hayloft Frolic was the first of the shows to go off the air.
In six years, he moved back to Hastings where he joined Larry Mager and the Countrymen. Later on, he played with Gordon Whitten and the Western Wanderers.
Dick was also part of a long running, popular radio program that aired over KHAS radio from 1980 to 1995.
In an october 20, 1990 interview with Karen Griess in the Hastings Tribune, Dick notes that country music's style had changed from its early 'hillbilly' styles to a 'pop rock influence' today. In the 1940s Dick said, "...music fell into three categories: hillbilly, popular and classical. Now it's one big conglomerate."
Since 1947, Dick has worked in country music on radio, television and is also a well-known country music historian, too.
Back in the Fall issue of 1974, The Journal of Country Music published a radio log that Dick had kept as a teen-ager listening to WSM and the Grand Ole Opry in 1944 and 1945.
These were the war years and as the Journal's article notes, perhaps for teenagers back then, especially in the rural areas such as the Nebraska Prairie, they had to find ways to deal with their free time.
Dick chose to fill his time logging the songs, tunres and other miscellaneous notes of the shows that he listened to over the radio on WSM on Saturday nights. Dick was kind enough to share that article with us and if you visit the "Programs" section of this site and view the page for the WSM Grand Ole Opry, you will see a sample of those logs each time you load the page. You'll enjoy a trip back to that era and see the tunes they were singing over the radio back then.
Dick recalled in that article:
"I re-read a lot of the entries and it sure brought back a lot of memories, as the Opry was my favorite program back in the 1940s, and I well remember hearing the different programs each Saturday night, for that was all I did when Sat. evening rolled around. Saturday meant three things for me: no school, bath nite, and then the Opry! till midnight. Lots of times I used to get up early on some mornings and hear the early shows from WSM. At the time I lived in a small town southeast Nebraska called Tecumseh.
In addition to those logs, Dick was an avid collector of records, tapes and printed matter related to the music. As he says sometimes, "the stuff piles up". He's sold off most of his collection of records and other items over the years, but still has a collection of the music on tape to enjoy.
He's retired from performing and working on the radio. he keeps in touch with many of the folks of that era, too. But on occastion he still makes an appearance at a local station to lend a hand or provide a few tunes from that bygone era for the folks to listen to.
Dick Hill is also one of the original members of the Nebraska Country Music Foundation, founded in 1980, and is in the Nebraska Country Music Foundation Hall of Fame.
Timeline and Trivia Notes
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Credits & Sources