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Historically Speaking: Music and magic in Roswell

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Photo Courtesy of the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives The caption reads, "Roy Rogers (second from left) and band" — date and location unknown.

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

By Janice Dunnahoo

Special to the Daily Record

This week, I thought I’d share a bit of musical nostalgia, along with some stories I have shared before, but it’s always fun to remember. This column is about artists and their music that were written or introduced in Roswell first, including concerts that were performed in town, as well as artists who got their start here, or for whom Roswell was just a stop on the road.

I will be using partial clips from some of my previous articles, then adding one or two new ones at the end.

Roy Rogers

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Roy Rogers (born Leonard Franklin Slye) and his band members came to Roswell and were literally starving young artists. They played at a radio station here, asking for food. A young Arlene Wilkins called in to request a song, “The Swiss Yodel,” promising to bake Rogers’ favorite lemon pie. They played her song, so she made two lemon meringue pies and took them to the radio station where she met him. From this time on, a romance was formed and blossomed. They were married in 1936, here in Roswell. She died in childbirth after delivering their son Dusty in 1946. Rogers played with a group called the O-Bar-O Cowboys, which later became The Sons of the Pioneers.

Lefty Frizzell

Lefty Frizzell and his young wife lived in Dexter. There were two bars in Dexter at the time facing each other across the street. He was underage, so he had to go with a relative to the bars to sing for tips on Saturday nights. His take would sometimes be as much as $50-$75, which was several times the going rate for Honky Tonk musicians at the time. Frizzell soon started a dance band, which played at the Cactus Garden Club on East Poe Street, along the Dexter Highway outside of Roswell and at the Top Hat Club between Hagerman and Artesia. His band also played at dances in Hondo, Carlsbad, Artesia, Tatum and other towns in the area.

Frizzell got his start in Roswell when he began to perform live on the radio station KGFL, and very soon he became a local celebrity.

Frizzell was accused of rape and ended up spending six months in the Chaves County jail. While in jail, he wrote some songs, including, “If You’ve Got the Money, I’ve Got the Time” and “I Love You a Thousand Ways.” The latter song was written for his wife to beg her to forgive him.

After being released, he continued playing a while longer in Roswell, until Frizzell moved to Big Spring, Texas, and from there he got a contract with Columbia Recording Studios that made him famous.

Elvis Presley and Hank Snow

On Feb. 14, 1955, after performing in Lubbock, Texas the night before, Elvis Presley, Scotty Moore (his lead guitarist) and Bill Black (his double bass guitarist) traveled to Roswell to perform on the bill with the “Hank Snow Jamboree” for the first time. Though still managed by Bob Neal, Colonel Parker and Hank Snow in conjunction with their company, Jamboree Productions, had recently been enlisted to help with bookings and promotions.

According to the book “Elvis Day by Day” by Peter Guralnick, Parker “instructed Elvis to meet Tom Diskin at Roswell’s ‘leading hotel,’ no later than 3 p.m. in order to do a radio promotion and get the schedule for his first appearance that evening on the already-in-progress Hank Snow Jamboree tour.”  At the time, the leading hotel in Roswell was the Nickson Hotel at 121 E. Fifth St.

Presley met and was interviewed by John Anderson of KSWS Radio and after the interview, he invited Anderson to the performance. The performances, sponsored by the Roswell Fire Department, were held at the North Junior High School Auditorium at 7:30 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.

In 1953, Snow had performed for troops in Japan and Korea with Ernest Tubb, and the following year, in 1954, he formed a Nashville-based booking agency, Hank Snow Enterprises-Jamboree Productions, with Parker (Presley’s manager). Snow was also the one that introduced Presley, Moore and Black at their one and only appearance at the Grand Ole Opry in 1954. In 1955, Snow became the first guitarist to record an instrumental album with Chet Atkins.

Their performance in Roswell was the first of many that Presley, Moore and Black would perform with Snow’s Jamboree and, according to Moore, “the audiences, one by one, began to show a vociferous preference for Elvis.”

The Crater, music venue in Roswell

The Crater was a music venue built on West Second Street in the late 1960s when the Air Force Base was still here. It was a very popular place for the youth of the ’60s and early ’70s, bringing in some soon-to-be, big name bands of that era.

The only article I could find was where three groups were coming together to play at The Crater for one show. These three groups all turned into huge, internationally known names later on. Following is the article:

Roswell Daily Record

May 18, 1967

“Crater Club to Be Open For All Ages Saturday

“It has been announced in the past, that during special events the greater teen club would be open to all ages, Saturday happens to fall into this category.

“For this event which all ages may attend, adult and teen tickets will be the same price. The biggest show under one roof will include The Electric Prunes, The Drifters, and The Soul Merchants.

“The Electric Prunes, who recently appeared on the ‘Smothers Brothers Show,’ and ‘American Bandstand,’ will include in their show, ‘I Had Too Much To Dream’ and ‘Get Me To The World On Time’ as they open the program at 7 PM at The Crater.

“Appearing on the same bill will be The Drifters, now in their 14th year and still on top, which is rare in the music industry. Many of their hit records sold over a million copies, starting with their first records and through such songs as ‘Up on the Roof,’ three million; ‘On Broadway,’ two and one-half million; ‘Magic Moment,’ one and one-half million.

“Last but not least will be the Soul Merchants whose latest recording ‘Cheese and Crackers’ has yet to be released in this area.

“Advanced tickets are $3 whether adult or teen, and are on sale now at Zink’s, Ginsburg’s, Greer’s, and Wylie’s.”

YMCA

Though I could not find an advertisement promoting this event, it is one I attended with friends in the early ’70s while on a break home from college. This group too was just getting their start, and stopped in Roswell to give a concert in the gym at the YMCA. This group is known as “the little ol’ band from Texas,” or better known now as ZZ Top. It was a great concert!

As all of the above stories show — just like with the “aliens” — if a music group wants to become famous, they should make a stop and perform in Roswell, because magic happens here!

Janice Dunnahoo of the Historical Society for Southeast New Mexico Archives can be reached at 575-622-1176 or at jdunna@hotmail.com.

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