The first time I heard a hillbilly mambo song, I knew I'd stumbled onto something worth further investigation. The combination of fiddles and steel guitars with mambo-centric lyrics and spirited grunts made for goofy and irrepressible fun. For better or worse, I started seeking out such records and buying them whenever I was lucky enough to stumble upon one. Turns out there was a small wave of such discs released in the 1954 and 1955 time frame, when the mambo was dominating dance floors across America. Who knows, if these records came to life 3 or 4 decades later they probably would've been hailed as World Music masterpieces.
Tex Williams - They Were Doin' The Mambo (2:54) Western swinger and B-movie cowboy Tex Williams, the former vocalist for Spade Cooley's band, is most famous for recording Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette), the colossal 1947 smash that provided Capitol Records with its first million-seller. He was recording for Decca when he struck gold (artistically, though not commercially) with this 1954 track.
Wesley & Marilyn Tuttle - Tennessee Mambo (2:44) Wesley Tuttle was another western B-movie actor and country singer who tried his hand at swinging mambo-style with this excellent 1954 effort recorded with his wife Marilyn. For some reason, when Bear Family released a 4-disc set of Tuttle's old records, including many cut with his wife, they left this track out, though they did include the flip side, Higher And Higher And Higher. Neither side was a hit.
Hank Snow - That Crazy Mambo Thing (2:04) Hank Snow hit #10 in late 1954 with this hilarious account of farmers watching vacationing city dwellers having a mambo party out in the barn.
Rockin "Rudy" Hansen - The Mambo Queen (1:57) I've always gotten a kick out of the way Rudy's identified on the label of this 1955 record. If anything was going to go in the "nickname" quotes, you'd think it would be "Rockin" and not "Rudy," but you'd be wrong. Check out the label shot on your right. Rudy was born on a farm in upstate New York, but later relocated to New Jersey. In 1959, when Speaker of the House Sam Rayburn was honored at a White House dinner, Hansen supplied the entertainment and a TIME magazine article identified him as the "cowboy guitarist from New Jersey." Here's an 8x10 of Rudy looking impossibly cool.
Follow the jump for more country mambo workouts.
Country Cats - Mountain Mambo (2:16) In addition to co-writing this tune (with Louie Innis), Jerry Byrd served as steel guitarist for this short-lived group of studio session players that recorded for the King label from Cincinnati.
Darrell Glenn - Banjo Mambo (2:09) Darrell Glenn was the guy who recorded the original version of Crying In The Chapel in 1953. The song, written by his father Artie Glenn, was a regional hit that soared to #1 on the national charts when it was covered by the R&B vocal group The Orioles.
Curtis Gordon & His Western Band - Chopsticks Mambo (2:05) Like famed country guitarist Jimmy Bryant, Gordon was a native of Moultrie, Georgia. In fact, Bryant played fiddle in one of Curtis Gordon's earliest bands. Gordon, who still has a following among rockabilly aficionados, recorded this song in 1955 for the Mercury label. When Bear Family assembled a 34-track cd reissuing many of Gordon's early rockabilly and hillbilly sides, they inexplicably overlooked this one.
Sheb Wooley - Hill Billy Mambo (2:00) Wooley, like Tex Williams and Wesley Tuttle, was an actor as well as a singer. He hit the big time in 1958 with Purple People Eater, but he has another odd claim to fame that is worth knowing about. His voice is most likely the one used for the Wilhelm Scream, one of Hollywood's most frequently employed vocal sound effects. The scream, originally recorded for the 1951 film Distant Drums, has been used for hundreds of other films and TV shows. Believe it or not, the scream even has its own Wikipedia page. For an entertaining compilation of dozens of short clips showing the Wilhelm Scream in various movies be sure to check out this YouTube video.
Grandpa Jones & Minnie Pearl - Papa Loves Mambo (2:10) Grandpa Jones and Minnie Pearl do a fine job re-working this Perry Como hit.
Terry Fell & The Fellers - We Wanna See Santa Do The Mambo (2:02) In 1954, Fell wrote and recorded the original version of one of the all-time great trucker anthems, Truck Drivin' Man. Later that year he released We Wanna See Santa Do The Mambo, with some guitar assistance from the legendary Joe Maphis, if this web page can be believed and I think it probably can.
Bob Wills & The Texas Playboys - Too Much Mambo (2:23) After turning their backs on the country mambo songs of Wesley & Marilyn Tuttle and Curtis Gordon, Bear Family did the right thing and released (for the first time anywhere), this goofy country mambo record from the King of Western Swing.