About The Artist
Arthur (Rusty) Gabbard was a native of Annville in Jackson County, Kentucky, a locale that also produced such musical figures as "Stringbean" (David Akeman) and bluegrass banjo picker Joe Isaacs, co-founder of the celebrated gospel group The Isaacs.
His parents were Morris and Ida, who's last name prior to her marriage to Morris was also Gabbard. The family was living in Jackson County, Kentucky according to the 1920 census. But by 1930, the family had moved to the Cincinnati area which would be the start of Rusty's musical career. A Cowboy Songs article noted that Rusty took a liking to his dad's guitar when he was around ten years old. The churches in their area could not afford an organ, so hymns were sung to the accompaniment of a guitar. This was his musical start. The Cowboy Songs article in fact says the family moved when Rusty was 12 years old, which would be 1930.
The first radio station he worked at was WKRC. He would come into the station during his school lunch hour and sing and play his guitar. After he graduated from high school, he took a position on the powerful WLW station and was part of a group called "The Arizona Boys." He was part of this group for two years. At that point, he decided he was ready to go out on his own.
As he grew to adulthood, Gabbard worked on a variety of radio stations often with other musicians such as Cowboy Copas, Natchee the Indian, and the team of Indian Bill & Evalina "Little Montana" Stallard.
Sometimes he also worked with his father during which time they were known as the Singing Gabbards.
In 1938 and 1939, as we had learned previously, he was part of the "Four Arizona Boys" that backed Natchee The Indian and his Golden Violin. Rusty was about 20 years old at the time. The group appeared on the WLW Boone Country Jamboree. Radio logs show the Arizona Boys had their own 15-minute morning show as well.
By May 1939, Natchee and his Arizona Cowboys, as they were now known, had moved on to radio station WCHS in Charleston, WV. It was the May article that told readers who was in the "Arizona Cowboys" backing Natchee. Cowboy Copas and Rusty Gabbard did vocals and played guitar; Sagebrush Dick handled the accordion and Bashful Eddie played string bass or even a banjo.
Rusty had signed his draft card on October 16, 1940 while he was living in Fairmont, WV and working for radio station WMMN. He enlisted with the U. S. Army on April 1, 1942 for World War II. While in the military service, he was able to use his entertainment experience to help with the War Bond drive efforts. His stint seems to have taken him to many venues around the country.
One article from a Nebraska newspaper in 1943 provided some insight as to the makeup of one of Uncle Sam's entertainment troupes. The band was informally tagged the "326th Glider Infantry Hill Billy Band" by the Alliance Times and Herald Alliance newspaper and it reported on the band's appearance before a local Rotarian group at their meeting. The newspaper described the band as "...a complete variety show in itself, and wild mountain rhythms with sound effects, comedy skits, laff-raising gags, thumping dances, and popular songs find their places on a typical two hour program."
Joe Prezwear was a newcomer to the band a few weeks earlier at their gig in Chadron, NE. He was said to make the "accordion speak."
One night in February 1944 soldiers from Camp Mackall were part of a war bond drive in Laurinburg. The Glider Infantry "hill billy" band was under the direction of Pfc. Arthur (Rusty) Gabbard. Residents and merchants donated over 100 items. A glass sandwich tray was said to have brought in $5,0000; a shoe repair check went for $4,000; in total, the local folks pitched in $35,000 worth of war bonds. The night before in Gibson at another rally, Gabarrd and company brought in over $20,000. Another news account stated the auction sale was "...reminiscent of the most heated tobacco auction."
Upon his return to civilian life after arriving in New York City on the SS Cranston Victory ship it appears he went home to Cincinnati. There, he became part of a show that John Lair of Renfro Valley fame was producing for WKRC - the Cornhusker's Jamboree. Hugh Cross was the emcee of the show at the time that included Shorty Hobbs, Bob Glenn, Judy Perkins, and, Eddie Smith. But it was not long before he went to the next stop on his career.
Rusty went to St. Louis where he began working with KMOX. In early 1947, he was advertised as "Art Gabbard" as part of shows headlined by Billy Starr. Others on the billing included Bob Hastings on electric guitar; Tommie Watson, banjo; Ray Periandri, accordion; and Shucks Austin playing "major devils elbow."
Buddy Starcher told his readers that Rusty Gabbard (or Arizona Rusty) was to join Buddy's All-Star Roundup in 1946.
But by November 1946, Floy Case was reporting that a "Russ" Gabbard was working over radio station KWFT out of Wichita Falls, TX along with Ida Red and Her Kentuckians. It is not clear if this is Rusty or someone with a similar name. There are personal appearance ads for a Russ Gabbard along with Ida Red. But from other sources, it appears that Rusty was in St. Louis at this time and did not show up on the Wichita Falls, TX scene until fall 1948. In reviewing family records, Rusty did have a brother named Virgil that was about seven years older.
Update Nov 17, 2020: Further research shows that the Gabbard family had more than one performer. Ida Red and her Kentuckians were probably indeed from Kentucky. She was Ida Red Gabbard, daughter of William David Gabbard. Williams was the brother of Morris F. Gabbard. Rusty was the son of Morris. Also with Ida Red on KWFT were Russ and Carl Gabbard, her brothers. Ida was married to Sherman (Sugarfoot) Collins. This additional research would tend to clear up any confusion of the names Russ and Rusty Gabbard. But it also tends to show that there was a family connection that saw Rusty move to Wichita Falls and become part of the KWFT staff. Ida Red and The Kentuckians were on WLW in Cincinnati for a time and it appears their show, The Pleasant Valley Show, was via transcription. The WIBW Roundup publication of December 1950 indicates that Ida was living in Cincinnati at the time. It also told readers she started with Clayton McMichen's band.
Around the first of September 1948, radio logs in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram show that Rusty had a show over KWFT (620 am dial) in Wichita Falls. His show ran until about the end of 1949. While there, he had put together a band to do personal appearances around the area and up to the Oklahoma area. In August of 1949, Rusty Gabbard and the Valley Boys had been booked to play all the dances at the north hanger at the Altus Airfield every night following the big rodeo show. A few days later, Rusty and the Valley Boys would join Merle Lindsey and his Oklahoma Night Riders at the Bowie Firemen's Professional Rodeo in Pelham Park playing the dances at the park administration building.
After Rusty left KWFT in late 1949, personal appearance ads touting Hank Williams were also listing Rusty Gabbard as part of the show. It appears he was acting as the master of ceremonies for the shows. The appearances with Hank took him to places such as Chillicothe, MO, St. Joseph, MO, Sioux City, IA, Des Moines, IA, Cedar Rapids, IA, Moline, IL. Other acts included Jamup and Honey, Radio Dot and Smoky.
Around the same time in 1951, Rusty signed a management deal with Norm Riley of Nashville. Cash Box reported numerous bookings had been made including some with Grand Ole Opry acts. The Cash Box article seems to point to Rusty first getting on the scene as a member of the Drifting Cowboys with Hank Williams when he was working out of Wichita Falls, TX.
But Rusty would leave the Grand Ole Opry in 1952 for a time. He started work as a DJ over radio station KFDM in Beaumont, TX on February 11, 1952.
After the tour with Hank, it appears he may have earned some credibility with the Grand Ole Opry acts. In most of 1951, ads are seen where an Opry headliners such as Cowboy Copas or Little Jimmy Dickens starred and the acts included Rusty as well, perhaps again filling the role of both performer and emcee.
The year of 1952 saw similar appearances with Opry acts such as String Bean, Lefty Frizzell, and in the late summer of 1952, Ernest Tubb.
History shows Hank Williams died on January 1, 1953. In early February of 1953, Little Jimmy Dickens was headlining a show in Montgomery, AL. He was to devote "the main portion of his program in stirring salute to Montgomery's departed Hank Williams." Rusty was also on that show.
After the death of Hank Williams on January 1, 1953, Hank's band, the Drifting Cowboys began touring with Ray Price. Hank's band that joined with Ray included Don Helms, Jerry Rivers, Cedric Rainwater. Rusty Gabbard had also joined the ensemble as well.
In late 1954, Rusty was working with the late HankWilliams'ss' band - the Drifting Cowboys. He was handling the emcee chores and playing rhythm guitar.
But then, the Drifting Cowboys became the backup band for Ferlin Huskey and became The Hushpuppies. Other members included C. Cedric Rainwater on bass, Red Taylor on fiddle, Don Helms on steel guitar and Pete Wade on lead guitar.
Norma Winton Barthel told Ernest Tubb Fan Club Members that Rusty Gabbard had joined the Texas Troubadours around June / July 1955.
In June of 1955, Rusty and the Texas Troubadours were backing Ernest before one of the largest crowds of his concerts that were always emceed by Leon Cole. It was one of Nashville's Summer Park Concert series. The Tennessean estimated the crowd in attendance to be around 18,000 people. At that time, the Troubabours included Billy Byrd, Dickie Harris, Jack Drake as well as Rusty.
In June of 1957, Ernest Tubb and the Texas Troubadours were on a Canadian tour. It seems that some enterprising person found a way to steal Rusty's $700 custom built guitar while they were in Ottawa. But in a few days, the guitar was recovered in Montreal. A juvenile had come to Ottawa from Montreal to see the concert.
He also did quality deejay work in a variety of locales, especially at KIKK in Houston in the mid 1960's.
He was working with Clyde Chesser at radio station KOKE in Austin, TX in 1961. The station put on their first exclusive country concert at Austin's then newly built air conditioned Austin Municipal Auditorium. The show headlined Slim Whitman and included George Jones, Charley Walker as well as the station's own Clyde Chesser and Rusty. The station got a full house for the show.
In 1967, Rusty was Talent and Production Chief for Source Television Productions of Houston, which was a division of "S" System, Inc. Billboard reported they had signed Kitty Wells, Sonny James and Ferlin Husky to a 52-week contract for a syndicated TV show. The show would be packaged in a couple of ways - as a two hour block or four half hour segments that could be aired during the week. Richard E. Eiser of Houston was to be the executive producer.
Later in 1967, the company opened an office in Nashville. The office would include Source Records, Sortex (BMI) Publishing and Source Television Productions. Rusty was moving to Nashville as part of this effort and was to be leading the recording and publishing efforts as he had done in Houston for the previous five months. The article mentioned that prior to becoming part of Source, he had been a DJ for KIKK for five years.
Rusty probably hit his career peak as "front man" with Ernest Tubb and His Texas Troubadours on the Grand Ole Opry in the mid-1950's.
He had a contract with MGM Records and cut eighteen numbers between 1950 and 1957, all but two of which were released. His best known recording was probably "The High Cost of Living." That song was recorded and released by Ernest Ashworth some twenty years later in 1975.
Rusty's wife Eulalia was the namesake of his first MGM song. She was a niece by marriage of Andy Patterson of Cap, Andy & Flip fame and had previously been married to Grandpa Jones (in 1939).
Rusty was a quality songwriter, among other numbers he composed the Ray Price hit "I'll Be There (if You Ever Want Me." (Note: Ray Price was listed as co-writer. The song was part of the Ernest Tubb Music, Inc. publishing company catalog.) Gail Davies brought the song back in November 1980.
In early 1954, Rusty formed his own publishing company, Gabbard Music based in Nashville. But another company perhaps saw the talent as well. In the summer of 1954, Cash Box reported that Rusty had signed a long term, exclusive writer's contract with Acuff-Rose.
Other songs that show Rusty Gabbard as the write include:
After retirement, the Gabbards retired back to Jackson County, Kentucky.
Rusty died in Kentucky in 1990. He was buried in Hermitage Memorial Gardens in Davidson County, TN. His wife, Eulalia died in July 1986. His obituary in The Tennessean did not mention any aspect of his musical career.
Credits & Sources
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