Tex Ritter

TrackSingles / Album
There's A New Moon Over My ShoulderCapitol 174
You Two Timed Me One Time Too OftenCapitol 206
Christmas Carols By The Old CorralCapitol 223
When You Leave, Don't Slam The DoorCapitol 296
Rye WhiskeyCapitol 40084
Deck Of CardsCapitol 4285
Rock And RyeCapitol 40114
The Ballad Of High NoonCapitol F2120
The Wayward WindCapitol F3430
I Dreamed Of A Hillbilly HeavenHillbilly Heaven

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Contributor: Calvin Rydbom

Some 40 years ago in America a young television actor named John Ritter (The Waltons, Three’s Company) was known as Tex Ritter’s son. Somewhere along the way things got flipped around and Tex Ritter became the father of television star John Ritter. Tex Ritter became one of those forgotten people who once upon a time was a big star. Recently I was at a Vinyl Fair and found a four LP Box Set called American Legend and decided to do right about the old cowboy.

I’m not sure how that happened really, as Ritter was the major star during a career that lasted 40 years. Perhaps American tastes changed too much to allow the persona that Tex Ritter carried through so many mediums have any sort of connection with people today. Ritter was from a simpler time and maybe seems a little out of place among today’s world weary cynicism with his heart on his sleeve songs.

He was a very early pioneer of what became known as country music. Although unlike some of his contemporaries he wasn’t, as the saying went, a hillbilly musician who came from poor areas of the south and the Appalachians. No, while Jimmie Rodgers and The Carter Family were starting their career Ritter was studying Economics and Pre-Law at the University of Texas in Austin. No hillbilly musician, he was a well educated cowboy.

He first came to the public’s attention signing cowboy songs on KPRC-AM in Houston in the late 1920s. By 1928 he was in New York City where he racked up a number of Broadway credits.

In 1932 he starred in Lone Star Rangers on WOR-AM out of New York, thereby becoming the star of the city’s first broadcasted western. He starred in a couple other radio shows while recording a number of songs in the late 1930s. Songs which would have been more or less lost to time if he hadn’t moved to Los Angeles in 1936 and immediately began appearing in movies where he performed many of those same songs. Between 1938 and 1945 he appeared in over 60 films, often as Sheriff Tex Martin or Texas Ranger Tex Haines.

He took a break from acting for a number of years before he began performing on radio again in 1953 and becoming a fixture on American television in the 1950s and 1960s. Often introducing acts to his traditional country music following they might not have heard otherwise. It isn’t too hard to find videos of folks like Carl Perkins, Bobby Helms, Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline on Ritter’s television program. And they were playing full out rockabilly.

Along the way he was a founding member of the Country Music Association; was generally considered the guy who got the Country Music Hall of Fame built; was their 5th inducteee and first singing cowboy inducted; co-hosted a radio program with Ralph Emery; and can be heard daily still as the Voice of Big Al in the Country Bear Jamboree in the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World Resort.

But as this is Toppermost we are interested in 1944 to 1952 when Ritter stopped performing on radio and acting in movies and concentrated on his career as a singer. Oh, he recorded a number of sides during his singing cowboy days, and he did continue to make music after 1952. His later efforts, often collections of legacy songs, seemed more to support his television career than add to his catalog. Although the album he did in 1962 with jazz big band leader Stan Kenton is unique because, well, somebody said let’s put Tex Ritter in front of Stan Kenton’s Big Band and see what happens.

From 1944 to 1946 Ritter ran off a streak of nine songs that broke the top five on the US Country Charts, a couple making the mainstream charts, During the next couple years he hit the country charts regularly before entering an odd period where he placed a few songs on the mainstream charts that didn’t make an appearance on the country charts. The theme from the movie High Noon, Do Not Forsake Me was the biggest example of this.

Ritter reached number one in 1944 with I’m Wastin’ My Tears On You. But it is the B-side There’s A New Moon Over My Shoulder, which reached number two, that I prefer. Mostly as the A-side features a bit too many horns for a country song, although as I’ve pointed out Ritter like working with sounds which didn’t fall under traditional country. He sounded better in front of an accordion for me though, which is what I’m pretty sure I can hear in the song.

You Two Timed Me One Time Too Often is pretty traditional styled country songs circa 1940s. But it’s a perfect example of Ritter’s single style from the period. The way he let words in the ends of verses sort of hang was certainly a signature at the time. Also it’s historically interesting as the first number one country song written by a woman. The writer, Jenny Lou Carson, remained a prolific songwriter for the next decade after Ritter sang her first big hit.

Christmas Carols By The Old Corral was another number two single that appeared as the B-side of a number one. In many ways it’s a great example of the homespun sort of charm that Ritter used at the time which makes him seem so outdated now. But it’s a nice little Christmas song Americans enjoyed at the end of the Second World War.

When You Leave, Don’t Slam The Door got me thinking that Tex sure had a problem with women cheating on him, at least in song. But it’s a great song and Tex comes off as a man done wrong too many times who is ready to go out and paint the town. It’s also of the same style he had been using the past few years.

Rye Whiskey was a bit of a change of pace for Ritter, at least for Ritter in 1948. He had recorded the song back in 1936, and had sang it in his film debut Song Of The Gringo. It’s a bit sped up, and a bit comedic for a usual Ritter song of the time, but it certainly sounds much like some of his work from 15 years earlier. He was nothing if not versatile.

Deck Of Cards was recorded by several people in the 1940s and 1950s. And while at the time a couple people scored bigger hits with it, including Jack Benny band leader Phil Harris taking in to number two in the UK in January of 1949, it is Ritter’s version people remember in America when they remember it at all. Oddly painfully cheesy, and ripe for parody as people like Robyn Hitchcock and Eric Idle have demonstrated, and somewhat moving at the same time it signaled a shift towards story songs in Ritter’s work. He scored hits with a number of other talking stories songs, some which remain his most remembered.

Rock And Rye is hardly an early entry into Rock ‘n’ Roll but it does seem a neat example of foreshadowing when you hear Ritter sing “Rock and Rye Rock and Roll with Rock and Rye”. In some ways this song signals a shift into Ritter singing legacy songs, or songs of which multiple versions were available. Or at least this song was one of the last before the shift.

Frankie Laine’s version of The Ballad Of High Noon reached number five in the US and seven in the UK. But it is Tex Ritter’s version that reached number twelve in the US that people remember today when they hear that opening line, “Do not forsake me, o my darlin’”. Ritter’s version placed twenty fifth on the American Film Institute’s list “100 Years … 100 Songs”. Of course, as good as Ritter’s version is, the reason is that his was the version used in the film, Plus he sung it on the 1952 Academy Award broadcast. Laine had the bigger hit, but history and frequent playing of the movie High Noon made it his.

The Wayward Wind from 1956 was like the previous single, a song that appeared on the mainstream top 40 but not on the country charts. It was also like the songs Deck Of Cards and The Ballad Of High Noon in that even when he recorded them they were becoming country standards which a number of people had a hit with. By that time he was hosting two television shows and was as much of a television star and host as a country music star.

His last top ten single was 1961’s I Dreamed Of A Hillbilly Heaven, which is the only song on this list released from an album track and not simply as a single. It is also, like a number of songs at the back side of the list, a song that had been recorded by numerous artists. It’s also in the talking style Ritter had used on a number of his hits in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Tex Ritter was a star in America for over 40 years on radio, broadway, television and as a recording artist. His Tex Ritter’s Ranch Party television show was somewhat unique among shows hosted by country music royalty in the late 1950s to embrace the new rockabilly stars that would eventually move over into rock ‘n’ roll.

As creaky as some of his music seems today the fact remains when they opened the Country Music Hall of Fame he was one of the first five inductees. He’ll never have the poignancy of Johnny Cash or be as groundbreaking as Hank Williams but he should be remembered for 40 years of pretty good work. He had a knack for knowing what the country would want at that moment, and delivered it in several mediums. And even though there were a number of songs that other artists charted higher with it is usually his version which is remembered, even if he isn’t. Perhaps more of a judge of tastes than a real musical artist there is something about his music that still makes it oft times enjoyable to listen to while obviously from a certain moment in time.

 

Tex Ritter discography

Tex Ritter biography (iTunes)

This is Calvin’s 25th Toppermost, but his first in six months. He had the crazy idea that he wanted to turn his new book Modern Images Of Akron in on time. For that his editor is grateful. Calvin was able to feed his music writing addiction by including a chapter with pictures and information on The Black Keys, Devo, Runner City Rebels, Joseph Arthur, Tim “Ripper” Owens, Rachel Sweet and a bunch of musicians from Akron you’ve never heard of. And while this will probably lead to a book on The Akron Sound, that’s in the future so he turns to Toppermost so he can prattle on about music while believing the people listening/reading actually might care about what he says. He is sometimes delusional that way.

TopperPost #464

4 Comments

  1. Peter Viney
    Aug 10, 2015

    Fascinating stuff. I’d wrongly assumed Tex Ritter had written Deck of Cards. I have the EP which also has High Noon (which is why I have it). I didn’t know about the earlier ones. I’d argue that the version people remember is Wink Martindale’s 1959 cover (US #7). It went in and out of the UK charts three times in 1959-60, which was when the Tex Ritter EP was issued to “reclaim” it. Then Wink Martindale was a #5 hit in 1963 and a hit again in 1973. But Tex Ritter was before the days of “official charts” so hard to judge. There are so many pastiches. I think one went “When I see the four I remember the four wise virgins. And when I see the five I remember there were five of them.” The Wayward Wind is known in the UK from its Frank Ifield #1 hit cover with yodels. I’d always hated that one, but I enjoyed the simpler Tex Ritter here.

    • Calvin Rydbom
      Aug 10, 2015

      Over here Wink had his recording career completely obliterated when he spent the 1970s and 1980s as almost a caricature of the goofy game show host.

  2. Andrew Shields
    Aug 11, 2015

    Calvin, thanks for this fine list on an under-rated artist. Re ‘The Wayward Wind’ I saw The Waterboys do a fine live cover version of it in the mid-1980s. Apparently it appears on the semi-bootleg album, ‘The Live Adventures of the Waterboys.’ Presume their cover was based on the Frank Ifield version…

    • Calvin Rydbom
      Aug 11, 2015

      What fascinates me about Ritter is he had an extensive movie, recording, radio and television career. And his television was the first place many old school fans were introduced to people who became rockibilly legends. He even has a bunch of Broadway credits in the early 1930s. He came off as this humble ole country gentleman and cowboy, but he was as savvy an entertainer as we had in the U.S. for 45 years.

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