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58 Louisiana’s Honky-Tonk Man Buddy Jones, 1935–41 —Donald Lee Nelson Although he was born in Asheville, North Carolina, guitarist Buddy Jones (born Oscar Bergan Riley) spent most of his adult life to the west, first in Port Arthur, Texas, but later in Shreveport. Jones began his musical career as one of the many emulators of Jimmie Rodgers. By the time he recorded nearly seventy selections for Decca in the 1930s his music sounded more like western swing, the up-tempo dance music that combines jazz-based swing rhythms with a hot string band, often augmented with drums, saxophones, pianos, and, notably, the steel guitar. Originating with Milton Brown and Bob Wills in the early 1930s around Dallas-Fort Worth, the style became the most popular form of country music from the mid-1930s to the late 1940s. Jones’s Decca recordings often included such western swing stalwarts as pianist Moon Mullican and bassist Bill Mounce. Jones had met officials at the Decca Record Company late in 1936 through another legendary musician with Shreveport connections, Jimmie Davis. Like Jones, Davis played in and around Shreveport during the late 1920s. Buddy Jones lived in or near Shreveport for about twenty-five years. After his full-time musical life diminished, the Shreveport police department provided him steady employment. Jones continued playing regularly in the area until he died of a heart attack in 1956. As the first third of the twentieth century was drawing to a close, mountain music fans listened with relish as Jimmie Rodgers sang of rounders, fast women, gambling, and the generally rowdy side of life. Few who heard his mildly rakish style, however, felt that his songs were anything but stories and LOUISIANA’S HONKY-TONK MAN: BUDDY JONES 59 observations of others, gleaned from his railroading experiences. Some two years after Rodgers’s untimely passing, a young Shreveport resident began to record in a similar mode, but with more pronounced subject matter. He told of being staggering drunk, living off street women, nights in jail, and other wanton ways which convinced listeners his songs were autobiographical. In truth, by the time Buddy Jones was making records, he was a soft-spoken, model husband and parent—and a career policeman. Buddy began life as Oscar Bergan Riley at Asheville, North Carolina, in 1906. (The exact date was supposedly December 25, but this is apocryphal, in that his three brothers’ birthdates were July 4, February 22, and Thanksgiving.) His dad was lost at sea when Oscar was young, and he spent most of his remaining childhood in foster homes, and finally, a school for wayward boys in Georgia. In his late teens, he joined his mother, now Mrs. Joe Jones in Port Arthur, Texas; ever after he referred to that as his native city, and adopted his stepfather’s surname. Thus Buddy Jones came into being. It was Joe Jones who probably introduced Buddy to the guitar. Joe played a variety of instruments, and taught Buddy’s younger brother Allen Walter (now called Buster) a certain proficiency on all of them. Buddy, however, played only flatbox; he was a straight “chord knocker,” and he picked good rhythm. Joe, Buddy, and Buster began to play for house parties and dances in the Port Arthur area. Handsome and charismatic, Buddy quickly realized he could increase his earning power by working in that oil city’s brothels. When his mother learned of this, a violent disagreement ensued and Buddy left home with Buster in tow. When the two youngsters couldn’t earn their fare with music, they worked as short order cooks, bellhops, plant guards, and anything else that came their way. They began travelling with a variety of tent shows and circuses, learning the “carnie lingo” they would ever after use between them. It was during this period that the fundamentals of timing and showmanship were grasped. In the late twenties, Buddy landed in Shreveport and settled temporarily . It was Shreveport’s first live hillbilly music show and was broadcast each Saturday night. The trio acquired a good following, as their fan mail indicated. Buddy had very limber vocal chords and often imitated Jimmie Rodgers and Roy Faulkner, a local cowboy singer over rival station KWKH. Within two years, the wanderlust had Buddy (and Buster) again on the road. A half decade of itinerant rambling, countless two-man shows in hundreds of towns all over the midwest and south, and an unsuccessful marriage DONALD LEE NELSON 60 for Buddy...


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