Musicians Off the Record: 1950s

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1950. Corsicana’s William Orville "Lefty" Frizzell, the first country singer to wear rhinestones on stage, charts with "If You’ve Got the Money, I’ve Got the Time" and "I Love You a Thousand Ways." One year later, he holds four spots in the country Top Ten concurrently—a feat yet to be matched.

1950. Kirbyville-born boogie pianist Ivory Joe Hunter records with MGM and produces the R&B chart-topper "I Almost Lost My Mind," plus a second hit, "I Need You So." Pat Boone’s cover of the former reaches the top, and Elvis Presley charts with Hunter’s compositions "My Wish Came True" and "Ain't That Loving You Baby."

1952. Hank Thompson of Waco and his Brazos Valley Boys develop into the perennial Western Swing act of their generation. "The Wild Side of Life" is a major success, which foreshadows five Top Ten hits in 1954.

1952. Albert Collins, "The Master of the Telecaster," forms the Rhythm Rockers in Houston. He cuts his first single in 1958, "The Freeze," and in 1962 earns a gold record for the hit "Frosty."

1953. Houston resident Willie Mae "Big Mama" Thornton cuts "Hound Dog," which tops the R&B charts for months and becomes a signature tune for Elvis Presley in 1956.

1953. Jim Reeves of Galloway breaks out with successive hits "Mexican Joe" and "Bimbo." A smooth, lush pop-oriented vocal style springs 40 hit singles (including 1957’s "Four Walls") and boosts Nashville record sales. He earns the nickname "Gentleman Jim." He moves from performer and host of radio’s Louisiana Hayride to the Grand Ole Opry and becomes a major player in bringing the Nashville sound to national radio.

1954. Perryville native Ray Price’s "I’ll Be There (If You Ever Want Me)," "Release Me," and "If You Don’t, Somebody Else Will"are country hits with crossover appeal.

1955. George Jones, born in a log cabin in the Big Thicket, played all around East Texas and Houston till he got his break. His first hit is "Why, Baby, Why?" The hits make him one of the best-known and beloved country singers for the next thirty years, including a number of duets with Tammy Wynette (his third wife). He becomes almost iconic for a traditional, commercially-produced country singer.

1956. Wink native Roy Orbison is a rockabilly stylist residing in Memphis when his band the Teen Kings record a minor hit, "Ooby Dooby," on the Sun label. Orbison uses his status as a fine songwriter with, among others, the Everly Brothers ("Claudette"). Possessing an operatic voice of remarkable range and power, Orbison soon perfects his lush melodies.

1956. The rhythmic 4/4 shuffle of Ray Price’s sound drives "Crazy Arms" (one of the first country songs to be recorded with a drum kit) to country song of the year.

1957. After local success with his first recording, Houston-born Kenny Rogers lands a spot on "American Bandstand" with Dick Clark.

1957. The Crickets debut with a number-three pop hit, "That’ll Be the Day." The Lubbock natives, led by Buddy Holly, are the country’s first white group to mirror the four-piece R&B format. They are erroneously booked on east coast black artist tour packages yet win over audiences. Holly becomes rock’s most creative artist, and revolutionizes the industry with his song craft in 1957 with "Peggy Sue," "Everyday," "Oh Boy" and "Not Fade Away."

1957. Happy native Buddy Knox and the Rhythm Orchids earn a pair of gold records for "Party Doll" and "I’m Stickin’ with You." Knox, a pioneer of Texas rockabilly and Tex-Mex, becomes the first rock artist to write and perform his own number one hit.

1958. Houston guitarist Johnny "Clyde" Copeland records his first single, "Rock ‘n’ Roll Lily," which features his unique style of New Orleans R&B-meets-jump blues.

1958. Buddy Holly tours England and performs in front of admirers John Lennon, Paul McCartney and Eric Clapton. As a writer/producer, he is recognized as a worldwide force. His titles "Maybe Baby," "Rave On," "It’s So Easy," " True Love Ways" and more influence all forms of popular music henceforth, from country to easy listening.

1958. Jiles Perry Richardson, a.k.a. the "Big Bopper," a former disc jockey from Beaumont, scores a giant number one hit with "Chantilly Lace."

1958. "Tequila" is a chart-topping, hard-rocking Tex-Mex instrumental recorded by a quintet, the Champs, which includes Rankin's Chuck Rio (Dan Flores) and Cisco’s Gene Alden. Later members of the group include Texans Dash Crofts and Jim Seals.

1958. Van Cliburn appears in Moscow at the First International Tchaikovsky Piano Competition. Despite the tensions of the Cold War, he not only wins the favor of Premier Nikita Khrushchev, but also wins the gold medal in the competition. Upon his return home, he is given a ticker-tape parade (the first and last classical musician to be so honored) in New York. He also wins a Grammy for Best Classical Performance Instrumental for his recording of Tchaikovsky's Concerto No. 1 in B-Flat Minor, Opus 23.

1959. Van Cliburn wins the Grammy for Best Classical Performance again, for his recording of Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No. 3.

1959. In February, Buddy Holly and J.P. "Big Bopper" Richardson tour with the "Winter Dance Party." The Texans charter a flight with Ritchie Valens in Mason City, Iowa, to get to their next date, but the plane crashes in a light snowstorm, leaving no survivors.

1959. Lefty Frizzell scores a hit with his classic, "The Long Black Veil."

1959. Port Arthur’s Johnny Preston has a number one hit with "Running Bear," a novelty piece written and produced by J.P. Richardson.

1959. Ray Peterson, of Denton, procures his first hit, "The Wonder of You." The title makes it to the charts again in 1964 and becomes a major hit for Elvis Presley in 1970.

1959. Fort Worth-born rockabilly stylist Ray Sharpe records a roadhouse standard with "Linda Lu," featuring guitarist Duane Eddy. The song rides up the pop and R&B charts.

1959. Jazz innovator and sax icon Ornette Coleman, raised in Fort Worth, captures the imagination of the avant garde with an unorthodox style of free jazz. From 1959-1961, he records a series of innovative releases, including The Shape of Jazz to Come.