Hillbilly-Music.comThe People. The Music. The History.
About The Artist
Walter Aaron (Dixie Boy) Jordan was born on a farm in Union County in the state of Mississippi to Charles and Nora Jordan. His father was a country minister who eked out a living during the week tending crops and tended the souls of the community on Sundays.
At the age of three, Dixie was stricken with polio. No effective method for treating the disease had yet been discovered, and even if there was a treatment available, the family did not have the money for such treatment.
Dixie’s father perfected a treatment out of shear determination to save his son. (A form of this treatment for polio was later used by Sister Elizabeth Kenny.) The young child was placed in a tub of hot water and his mother and father would take turns moving Dixie’s legs so that the muscles in his legs did not atrophy. This kept him from being a cripple. He eventually learned to walk again.
However, at the age of ten, the wheel of a wagon rolled over the small of his back—once again rendering him lame.
Not to be pitied, Dixie Boy once again overcame the set-back and regained the use of his legs. During his life, Dixie Boy, in addition to having learned to walk three different times in his life, would also overcome malaria, a burst appendix, double pneumonia, and cancer.
He developed a shyness in his youth which he never really over-come. He would tell you that it was just “over-laid.” He became sensitive to the discomfort and suffering of others and sought independence for himself. “I don’t want or need anyone’s sympathy or assistance. I can paddle my own canoe,” he would say.
Dixie Boy’s education came from a two-teacher school several miles from his home. Because of his illness and the necessity to help with the farm work, he did not finish until he was twenty-one. His final school work was done in an agricultural college where he paid his tuition by helping prepare cattle and hogs for market.
When did music come into Walter Aaron (Dixie Boy) Jordan’s life? He did not pick up the name “Dixie Boy” until he went to St. Louis and appeared on radio station KMOX. His family loved music, and he was taught to play the guitar by his mother who had borrowed the instrument from her uncle. She taught Dixie Boy the hymns of the church and old folk songs handed down to her from ancestors.
She also encouraged him to walk eight miles to a neighbor who had a phonograph. It was here that Dixie Boy learned the songs and style of the late, great Jimmie Rodgers, the first of the minstrel performers who made guitar accompaniment popular.
Dixie Boy accompanied his uncle who played the fiddle at a fiddlers’ contest, but the audience knew Dixie could sing and requested that he sing with nothing but his “git-tar.” Keep in mind, these were country folks. Andn another point his daughter brings to mind, entertainers back then were seen as less than stellar members of the community. Although people loved the entertainment they provided, to be in “show-business” was seen as a less than a noble profession.
The community’s Saturday night frolics regularly featured him and his borrowed guitar.
Dixie Boy was however, determined to have a musical career. He had worked and finally had saved enough for his own instrument and was determined to start out on his own.
Dixie Boy had a preference as to the type of guitar he wanted to play. Martins. Nothing suited him as much as a Martin guitar, and he treated his guitar with respect and gave it a lot of great care.
He met a piano tuner who was touring the country tuning pianos and putting on shows. Dixie Boy was offered the chance to travel with this man and he eagerly accepted. The job was important to Dixie Boy because it gave him several important opportunities, exposure to audiences to hone his performance skills; money to buy himself his first brand-new suit; and, his first appearance on radio over a Tulsa, Oklahoma station.
When that act folded, Dixie Boy hoboed for a couple of years, wandering around the country side singing wherever he could and for whatever he could get whether it be a night’s lodging, a meal, or perhaps a few cents.
One of his more successful engagements was at a gasoline filling station. The owner of the station was listening to a Jimmie Rodger’s record. Dixie Boy told him, “If you’ll give me a quarter, I’ll sing that very song for you, and, just the way he does.” The owner listened to Dixie Boy sing and then told him, “Not only am I going to give you a quarter, but how would you like a steady job?”
For several months, Dixie Boy sang at the filling station, drawing such large crowds that the owner’s business improved quite a bit.
Then came the depression.
Dixie Boy was forced to return home to Mississippi, but he was determined that this was only a small set-back in his entertainment career. While he was at home, he set up the first rural paper route for the newspaper in New Albany, Mississippi.
After several years in Mississippi, and still clinging to a desire to return to his musical career, he set off once again and hitch-hiked to St. Louis with only a penny to his name.
It was there that he got his first break. The Ozark Mountain Boys hired him to appear as a hillbilly on the show that aired on the CBS affiliate, radio station KMOX. It was at this time that he got his nickname of “Dixie Boy.” And he thought his southern accent came in handy at this point.
It was during his time in St. Louis that he met Flora Reichert at one of the dances he attended. They were married on May 25, 1935.
He eventually left KMOX and went to Oklahoma City’s radio station WKY and was one of the Wiggins’ Hollow Folks. He left that station and became one of the Radio Rangers over KOMA. a station over in Oklahoma City. While in Oklahoma City, he performed as a third person with the popular “Wiley and Gene” act.
We found mention that Dixie Boy was working with Wiley and Gene around 1941 or so in Oklahoma over radio station WKY and their sponsor was a 'feed concern'.
He left KOMA for Des Moines, Iowa and became a regular on radio station WHO. It was during these days at WHO that Dixie began his “Home Talent Shows” as well as performing on the radio with Mary Lee and Shorty Hogan. He would travel to the smaller towns around Des Moines and try ensure his appearances included the local talent.
He would select some of the better acts, bring them to Des Moines, and allow them to appear with him on his radio program.
The market at WHO was large, so large in fact that the radio personalities were being given managers to “guide” the acts’ careers. Dixie Boy, ever the independent soul, was not fond of being controlled by someone else and began looking for other ways that he could earn a living with his talent and his precious Martin guitar.
Dixie Boy found that venue in Wichita Falls, Texas at radio and television stations KWFT.
He continued his “Home Talent Shows” in addition to co-hosting Saturday’s “Western Barn Dance” held at the city’s municipal auditorium and putting on his radio and TV programs.
He began to include his daughters, Mary Jane and Suzanne, in his act as well.
As the complexion of television became less local, more and more of the local radio and TV personalities were, how shall we say this gently, were “relieved” of their positions.
Dixie Boy decided to stay in Wichita Falls and gave up his professional music career in 1957. He sold insurance for awhile and then became a real estate broker.
He always joked that Elvis Presley “shook” him plum out of the business.
One of Dixie Boy’s favorite post-professional stories was about the time that Roger Miller came to Wichita Falls to do a concert at the city auditorium. Dixie Boy went to hear him.
At the intermission, he made his way back to see the stage hands who had attended to the stage when he was still performing. As he was greeting and visiting with them, he felt someone tap him on the shoulder. He turned around to see Mr. Miller. “Mr. Jordan, you probably don’t remember this, but I was on one of your home talent shows when you came and visited us in Oklahoma.”
Ever the jokester and quick with a retort, Dixie Boy replied, “No, sir, I don’t, but it does lend a lot of credibility as to why I am sitting out in the audience tonight...and you’re up on the stage!”
Dixie Boy Jordan was a man who loved music and he loved all kinds of music. He was never jealous of another performer, but he would talk of his admiration for the way whoever it was could “sell a song.”
He never quit singing, and he never stopped making people laugh. He started going out to the different wards at Wichita Falls State Hospital weekly and also conducted weekly services at various nursing homes. He even traveled to Vernon, Texas to be with the patients at the Vernon State Hospital for a few years.
Along with his music, he loved to tell stories and recite poetry. Even at the time of his death, he was trying to memorize the poem called “Annabell Lee.”
A critic once said, “Dixie Boy has a gift similar to that of Will Rogers. He possesses a native wit, priceless Southern lore, and a humbleness that attracts his audience at once.”
Dixie Boy would tell you that all he ever wanted to do was to share a God-given talent and hoped the audience would come away feeling better than they did before they saw him perform.
You’ll not hear any music at the conclusion of this article that Dixie Boy recorded; yet he was not only a singer but a composer as well. Many pieces of published music were found among his possessions.
He was approached by the RCA Record Company in the mid-fifties about recording some of his songs. More than the secular music he sang, he wanted the two songs of faith, “I Have Found the Main Highway” and “Are You Adrift on Restless Waters,” to be his first record.
RCA wanted “Don’t Put That Dream in My Heart” and “Flora Darling” to be the first cut. Dixie Boy was a man of deep faith and felt this was not the right decision for him; and, he and the record company agreed to disagree.
He was invited to Hollywood at one point in his career for a screen test. Dixie Boy wasn’t really serious about taking on the role of a Hollywood actor, but he thought the change of scenery for a couple of days would be nice. After all, he said, “I went on their nickel!”
Though you may have never heard of Dixie Boy Jordan, you might wished you could have heard him tell you a tale from his endless repertoire and/or sing one of his songs for you while strumming on his Martin guitar. He would have loved to make you laugh and hoped you enjoyed a tune or two.
In the years since his passing, his daughter has come to realize that the importance of the things that he did not do were almost as important as the things that he did.
Dixie Boy Jordan died in 1987 in Wichita Falls, Texas.
His daughter realizes he sacrificed a lot for his family when he left the occupation that he loved so much to provide for his family the opportunity to grow roots in Wichita Falls which was the final stop on his career.
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