RED MOORE (By Bo Berglind, with Tony Wilkinson)
Born Harold Dean Moore, 24 September 1933, Fort Madison, Iowa
The story starts in the dust bowl and the great depression times when Red was born on September 24, 1933 at Fort Madison, Iowa and was given the name Harold Dean Moore. His dad's name was also Harold, but he was generally known as Pete, and was a welder/mechanic whilst his mum, Laverne, was a beautician. Red was the eldest of three children and with sister Jean Burns, who is unfortunately now deceased, and brother Stanley who currently resides a few miles away from Red.
His family was not particularly musically inclined but, once Red began to develop a liking for the country singers of his youth, the rest of the family joined in. He began playing to play guitar on a Hawaiian guitar when he was about seven years old. Red began school in 1938/39 in Colonia, Illinois but the family relocated to Charleston, South Carolina in 1941 where Harold Snr. found work in the navy yards. There he continued school in the third grade, but moved back to Colonia within a year. Red began High School in East Moline, Illinois but the Moore household moved on Montrose, Iowa in 1948 and this was from where Red graduated in 1951. His favourite subjects were history and art. After Red completed his education, he went to work for the Santa Fe railroad as an apprentice telegraph operator but this only lasted a couple of years.
The country music bug began to bite and Red looked back on his early influences:
- I remember the first song that got me hooked it was in the late thirties. I was lying on the floor listening to Gene Autry sing "That Silver Haired Daddy of Mine" and Bob Wills "San Antonio Rose". They became my favourites.
These were also the first songs that he learned to sing and play. To be able to afford to buy records and a record player, Red delivered newspapers in Montrose on a bicycle.
- I couldn't make up my mind between Hank Williams, Hank Snow and Ernest Tubb until Lefty Frizzell came along.
He recalls that the his first country & western show he went to in 1949 was at the movie theatre in Fort Madison and starred Hank Snow and Porter Wagoner.
Red began performing in the early fifties with a couple of country singers he knew from Missouri. At the time, he was just another band member who played single neck steel guitar. When asked who else was in the band, Red remembered that the singers were Stan and Vernie but was unable to recall the name of the band. In 1952 Red had fallen in love with Virginia whom he married and they had two children. He returned to Montrose and commenced as a plumber's assistant in Keokuk, Iowa for a while before he went to work in a factory in Fort Madison where he later became a foreman and went into the engineering office.
-Keokuk, Montrose and Fort Madison are all located on the Mississippi river about ten miles apart. I started playing in Keokuk as a side job. After a while I gave up playing steel and started my own band. We called it Red Moore & The Rhythm Drifters, a name I kept until I quit the music business in 1976. I played rhythm guitar and did the MC and singing with two guys who were brothers in the band with me until they went into collage. When they quit I switched to a girl band. I had Dolly on drums and Little Ruthie on steel who also sang and yodelled. My next band was the ones that backed me on the "Crawdad Song", I played all the honky tonks in our area during the fifties.
Red never had to enlist in the US armed services as he was classified 4A and 26 with dependents. We had to ask Red what this meant and he explained:
-Back then when you reached eighteen you had to register for the draft, take a test and physical to see if you qualified for the army or service. If you passed you became 1A and if you didn't you were classified as 4F. When you married you moved up to 2A and with each dependent (children) you were moved up another number. Thus I was 4A, and as it was in peacetime, my age of 26 put me over the requirements for entering into the services. Red and his various line-ups appeared on several radio shows and had their own regular stints on KXGI in Fort Madison and another in Carthage, Illinois. As the fifties came to a close, Red decided that the time had come to cut a record. Accompanied by self taught guitarist Bill Hall who was great at playing rockabilly and drummer Johnny Jobe who had just finished high school, he went into the Fredlo Recording Studio in Davenport, Iowa. The group cut "I'll Miss You When You're Gone" backed with "The Crawdad Song". The record was released on Red 840, his own label. He says he used Starday for the records, which he received in February 1960. This dates the session around December 1959 time. Starday used the Rite pressing plant in Cincinnati and the matrix numbers (CP-3179/3180) indicates early 1960.
-I remember my dad singing the Crawdad Song while he was driving, only time he sang, and that's how I learned some of the words to it. Our three piece band was packing the honky tonks at the time and that song felt good to us and would go home good and it was one our most requested songs and that's what prompted me to record it. I believe echo was out by then and I told them to crank it up as I needed all the help I could get. I always liked echo and reverb so I had gotten me an endless tape Fender echo box that I ran through our PA. We had it until we quit the business. I guess we pressed some 150 copies of the disc. I sent records out to some record stations that played country and some to juke box dealers and local record stores in the area. But most of them melted away in the California sun. I was really in hillbilly heaven after I had cut my record "The Crawdad Song" and got booked on a show with Ernest Tubbs, Skeeter Davis and Buddy Emmons on steel guitar. As required the Fredlo Studio put some echo on the song. Malcolm Chapman wrote in the UK magazine Roll Street Journal, issue 18 (Winter 1986-87), about Red 840.
-From the small community of Montrose, Iowa (population 700 odd) situated in the extreme south eastern corner of the state and on the western bank of the Mississippi River came Red Moore & His Rhythm Drifters and their version of that old standard the "Crawdad Song" on his own Starday Custom pressed Red label. Many an artists has tried his hand at this "epic" of the musical world. None, in my opinion have even got close to bettering Red Moore's version. I think it should have been the "A" side of Red (840) and not the "B" one. A strummed chord, smothered with echo starts it off. Red's voice, complete with even more echo, sets the pace off to a strolling beat for the first verse where guitar throws a nice riff and stops . Then, Poww!!! - in they come fast and furious. Red's voice should have been enough to make him a star, for he holds those long, high notes very well. The guitarist pops in and out between the vocals with some searing notes and goes bonkers in the first break only to hide behind Red until he urges "Let it go" and once again the guitar surges on. After the final verse and some string bass acrobatics it's sadly all over, ending as it does with another strummed chord. (The echo threatens to drown it all out by now so maybe it's lucky they had reached the end). Red took his record to Nashville in hopes of getting it played on the WSM all night show. Ralph Emery told him it was a good record but that it would not do anything as he was not part of the Nashville clique of musicians. After a few weeks in Music City USA, he became disenchanted and went back home. But far from giving up, he went out to the Golden State to try his luck.
-I took the record to California to pass around and got a ticket for drag racing in Los Angeles. I went up to LA to check out Hollywood and to see an uncle in Phoenix Arizona with whom I stayed with for a time and where I did a little pickin' in 1958. I was sitting at a stop sign when this Chevrolet Impala pulled up beside me and started revving up his engine and seemed to say that he could leave me in the dust. I had a 1958 Plymouth Fury with twin carburettors and the works and I didn't think he could get the best of me. There was no one in front of us so we let it go and only made it to the next stop light as a cop going the other way made a U-turn and nailed us both at the next light. We got tickets to appear in court for a hearing in thirty days so I went to San Diego for a couple of weeks and then back to LA to find out how much my fine would be. I had brought some money with me but the Judge didn't see it that way and said you're having your hearing now. One hundred dollars or thirty days in jail and put me in jail on the spot. When I never came out of the courthouse my bass player, who had been waiting in the car, came looking for me and was told that I was locked up. My folks and Western Union came through for me just as they were getting ready to transfer us to the county jail. Several hours under the back seat window and the hot California sun did a job on the stack of "The Crawdad Song" records that had to be tossed therefore making them more rare than they would have been. I haven't trusted a Judge ever since and never will. The few months I was in California were enough so we headed back to Iowa.
In 1961, Red opened his own honky tonk which he called "The Colt 45" (complete with swinging doors and all) in Keokuk, Iowa. When asked how he came up with that name he said:
-I was a silver screen cowboy nut so I thought that Cold 45 would be good. To say it was a swinging place would be putting it mild. We didn't have to travel and play at different honky tonks so much, so I held on for the wild ride of my life. During this time the marriage with Virginia had come to a close and they were divorced in 1960 but remained on a friendly basis. Virginia is now deceased. But it was not easy as after a year, he was forced into closing down after his bartender was caught selling booze to minors one night whilst he was out making the rounds.
-I couldn't sell the booze I had left so I opened the doors and gave it away till it was gone and we might even have had a drink or two of it ourselves. When the club was gone, he and drummer Johnny Jobe went down to Gulf Port, Illinois to try out at The Western Club for two weeks. It lasted for eight and a half years! They picked up some new players. The lead guitar man was Johnny Burdette and Shanks Leaderband, whom Red had met in Quincy, Illinois, was on the triple neck steel guitar. Johnny and Shanks would play twin guitars, which was rare back then. On bass they had Willie Boon' who had previously been with Red playing the doghouse bass. Willie was also a fine singer so he fitted in well.
It was at this time Red met his second wife.
-I met my coming wife Barbara at the Western Club. When she walked in I knew she was the one for me. We got married about a year later in November 1964. At the Western Club we played from nine in the evening until three in the morning and sometimes later, so Barbara had a lot to put up with. I'm glad it worked out. The club owner was Harold Glasgow, with whom I had worked in earlier days, liked the country that I did and we seemed to pack them in and I'm glad we found a home to stay at. I started to get burned out around 1974 as I also held my regular day job engineering and it was taking the best of me. I stuck with it until we sold our home and moved to Arkansas in 1976.
In 1965, Red returned to the recording studio again and with the help of some friends produced another 45 - "Poor Lonely Me"/"Keys In The Mailbox":
-Roy and Cora Todd were people that we met at the Western Club where we played and we became good friends and they wanted to back another record for me. It was recorded in Davenport Iowa at the Fredlo recording studio and pressed by Starday in Nashville, Tennessee on a private label the same as my crawdad song was in 1959, thus the label name Todd.
Around the same time he also began working on putting material together for an album. Red refers to these records as "the jam tape". They ere placed upon an acetate for Red to play and this is the LP to which he makes reference. These recordings were never officially released until he issued his surviving recordings on a CD in 2002:
-The jam tape was done at the same time as the Todd 45 I believe and put on the LP. I can't find the tapes which had several more tracks. Fredlo might have kept them and I tried contacting them a few months ago but the owner and his wife have since passed away and the studio is no longer in existence. Johnny Burdette was the lead guitar player, Shanks "Pappy" Leaderbrand was the steel guitar player, Johnny Jobe was the drummer and Willie Boon was the bass player.
The club booked a top country music act every couple of weeks and so Red and the boys got to meet and play with a lot of the greats of country music. In this period, The Chamber of Commerce asked if Red if he would put together a country music show for the town Montrose, Iowa, where they were living. With the help of the great Marvin Rainwater, Red got two of his old favourites, Lefty Frizzell and Carl Smith. Lefty later told Red that he had got him out of retirement and got him started again. Sadly Lefty was only to cut a couple more records before passing away.
They were also able to book George Morgan, another of Red's favourite artists:
-I always though that George Morgan was an underrated singer. The club got to be the stopping off place for many country stars and we played to a packed house as no one knew who might stop by and sit in. Apart from the ones I've already mentioned, others I'm glad I got to play with or meet are Johnny Paycheck, Johnny Cash, Buck Owens and Don Rich, Ray Price, Kenny Price, friend Jack Barlow, Little Jimmy Dickens, Bobby Bare, Del Reeve, Tommy Collins, Autry Inman, Billy Grammer, Cousin Jody Wynn Stewart, Freddie Hart, Gene Autry, Cal Smith, Curly Chalker, Porter Wagner, Hank Snow, Hank Locklin, Jeannie Shepard, George Riddle, Cody Bearpaw, Billy Walker, Tex Ritter and dozens of others. Wish I could have met Hank Williams, Bob Wills and George Jones. Mum is still a big fan of the rockabilly and country old timers as I am.
Currently, Red and Barbara are enjoying a deserved semi-retirement at their six-room apartment complex near Mountainburg, Arkansas where Red sculptures and sells his life size statues of the old silver screen cowboys. The couple have a large family which includes their four children together with are twelve grandchildren, two great grandsons and a further two offspring on the way.
The above article first appeared in American Music Magazine.
'The 50's and 60's Rockabilly & Country Sounds of Red Moore & The Rhythm Drifters' - Fat Rabbit Recording Company (no catalogue number)
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