ASHLAND, Ore. -- Rose Maddox, a flamboyant
country music pioneer who earned a Grammy
nomination late in life for her autobiographical "$35
and a Dream," has died at 71.
Maddox, who died of kidney failure Wednesday,
hit it big after World War II when she toured with
her four brothers as The Maddox Brothers and
Rose. They were billed as "The Most Colorful
Hillbilly Band in America."
Maddox had a reputation as a lusty firebrand, with
uptempo songs such as "Hangover Blues" and "Pay
Me Alimony." Her musical styles ranged from
hillbilly to rockabilly to gospel.
Known for her colorful Western costumes,
Maddox once shocked a Grand Ole Opry
audience by appearing on stage with a bare midriff,
a stark contrast to her sometimes staid female
"Kitty Wells would stand up there and not even
move," said biographer Jonny Whitesides. "Rose
would get on stage and high-kick and
shimmy-shake. That drove people crazy."
At its height, her group played the Las Vegas Strip
and the Grand Ole Opry and toured with Elvis
Presley, Hank Williams and Marty Robbins.
Among its biggest hits were the Woody Guthrie
song "Philadelphia Lawyer, "Tramp on the Street"
and "Whoa, Sailor."
The band broke up in 1956 amid a changing music
scene and Maddox's brothers settled down, but
Maddox kept singing. Among her solo hits in the
late 1950s and early '60s were "Sing a Little Song
of Heartache," "Gambler's Love," "Kissing My
Pillow" and "Bluebird, Let Me Tag Along."
She also recorded Buck Owens and the king of
bluegrass, Bill Monroe.
In the early '80s, she recorded an album of gospel
music, "A Beautiful Bouquet," in memory of her
son, Donnie, who died in 1982.
In 1996 she got her first Grammy nomination for
her CD "$35 and a Dream." The title song told
Maddox's life story. During the Depression, her
Alabama sharecropper daddy sold everything the
family had for $35 and loaded his wife and five of
their seven kids on a freight train bound for
California. Rose was 7.
In a 1996 interview, Maddox recalled that her
musical career began just a few years later.
Her brother Fred decided he had had enough of
picking fruit for 10 cents a box and lined up a job
playing music on the radio for a furniture dealer in
Modesto, Calif. But the dealer demanded a girl
"They didn't know if I could sing or not -- Fred
didn't -- but he wasn't about to lose that
opportunity," Maddox said. "And he knew Mama
wouldn't let him get a girl singer. So he said, 'We've
got the best girl singer that's ever been.'
"He didn't tell him it was a kid, an 11-year-old kid.
We went on the radio the next day, and we started
selling that furniture like mad."
They followed the various harvests, working
as ‘fruit tramps’,
and were soon joined by eldest son, Cliff. All were musical,
and to help their income, they began to play for local dances
with the 12-year-old Rose providing the vocals, even in noisy
honky tonks. They first appeared on radio on KTRB Modesto
in 1937, but by 1941, when they disbanded owing to Cal, Fred,
and Don being drafted, they had become a popular act, due
initially to appearances on the powerful KFBK Sacramento station.
In 1946, they reformed as the Maddox Brothers
And Rose and
became popular over a wide area. Their bright and garish stage
costumes earned them the title: ‘the most colourful hillbilly band in
America’. Cliff died in 1948,and his place was taken by Henry. By
the early '50s, with an act that included comedy as well as songs,
they were regulars on the LOUISIANA HAYRIDE, played concerts
and also appeared on the GRAND OLE OPRY. In 1947, they
recorded for Four Star before moving to Columbia in 1951.
Their successes included Rose's stirring recordings
of The Philadelphia
Lawyer and The Tramp On The Street. Rose also recorded with her
sister-in-law, Loretta, as Rosie And Rita. By the mid-50s, Rose was
beginning to look to a solo career. In 1957, she signed for Capitol and
about that time the Maddox Brothers nominally disbanded. Rose
soon established herself as a solo singer and, during the '60s, had
several chart hits including Gambler's Love, Conscience I'm Guilty
and her biggest hit Sing A Little Song Of Heartache.
She also had four successful duet recordings
with Buck Owens: Mental
Cruelty, Loose Talk, We're The Talk Of The Town and Sweethearts
In Heaven. In the late '60s, she suffered the first of several heart attacks
which have affected her career, but by 1969 she had recovered and
made the first of her visits to Britain. She continued to work when health
permitted throughout the '70s, but had no chart success.
After leaving Capitol in 1967, she recorded
for several labels including Starday,
Decca and King. In the '80s, she recorded two albums for Arhoolie Records and
her famous Varrick album QUEEN OF THE WEST, on which she was
helped by Merle Haggard and the Strangers and Emmylou Harris.
Her son, Donnie, died in 1982 and she sang
gospel songs with the Vern
Williams band at his funeral. She frequently appeared with Williams, a popular west
coast bluegrass musician who also provided the backing on some of her
'80s recordings. In 1987, Maddox suffered a further major heart attack
which left her in a critical condition for some time. Her situation was aggravated
by the fact that she had no health insurance but benefit concerts were held to
raise the funds.
Rose Maddox possessed a powerful, emotive
voice and was
gifted with the ability to sing music of all types. Her recordings range from
early hillbilly songs and gospel tunes through to rockabilly numbers that have
endeared her to followers of that genre. Later she worked with long-time friend
and rockabilly artist Glen Glenn, recording the album ROCKABILLY REUNION
with him at the Camden Workers Club, London in March 1987.
Many experts rate the album ROSE MADDOX SINGS
as her finest recorded work. On it she is backed by such outstanding bluegrass
musicians as Don Reno, Red Smiley and Bill Monroe.
Music Central '96