Don Maddox, the last surviving member of the Maddox and Rose brothers, the lively sibling group that helped spawn west coast honky-tonk, rockabilly and early rock ‘n’ roll, died on September 12 at an adult care facility in Medford, Oregon. He was 98 years old.
His death, which was not widely reported at the time, was confirmed by his wife of 11 years, Barbara Harvey-Maddox, who said he suffered from dementia.
Hailed in the 1940s and 1950s as “America’s most colorful hillbilly band,” the Maddox Brothers & Rose were renowned for their exuberant fusion of barnyard twang and r & b gutbucket, as well as for their thunderous antics on stage. The fringed embroidered costumes they wore – designed by the Hollywood rodeo tailor Nathan Turkish – were equally dazzling, a harbinger of Western splendor sported by Buck Owens in the 1960s and later by Gram Parsons and the Flying Burrito Brothers.
The lean, hard Bakersfield sound of Mr. Owens owed a debt to the Maddoxes’ boogie hillbilly, propelled as he was by the instinctive thrusts of Mr. Maddox’s older brother, Fred, on the double bass. Elvis Presley’s precocious rockabilly was also influenced, most notably in the slapping technique of his bassist, Bill Black, who idolized Fred Maddox.
The Maddox sound “grew out of that slap bass,” Mr. Maddox said of his brother Fred’s styling in an interview for Ken Burns’ 2019 PBS multi-part documentary, “Country Music.” “Fred didn’t know what the grades were. He just slapped him for the beat.
“We didn’t call it ‘rockabilly’,” Maddox continued. “We called him ‘Okie boogie.'”
Mr. Maddox played the violin, in a home sawing mode, and provided backing vocals; her sister, Rose, was the lead singer. The other members were his older brothers Cliff and Cal on the guitar and his younger brother, Henry, on the mandolin.
Rose Maddox died in 1998, Cliff in 1949, Cal in 1968, Henry in 1974 and Fred in 1992.
The tale of how the Maddoxes got to California rivaled the story of their rise through the West Coast country music ranks – a Depression-era tale as iconic as “The Grapes of the anger”.
In 1933, forced by drought to give up their life of subsistence farming in rural Alabama, Mr. Maddox and his family – his sharecroppers parents, Charlie and Lula (Smith) Maddox, and his five siblings – got together are directed west by hitchhiking and riding in the boxcars. freight trains, in search of a better life. Mr. Maddox was 10 years old at the time.
The family picked fruit at migrant labor camps in California, where they crouched, among other things, in large concrete drainage cylinders found at construction sites in the industrial part of Oakland known as of “Pipe City”.
Quickly bored of their difficult life, Fred Maddox persuaded the owner of a furniture store to sponsor regular performances of him and his brothers on a radio station in Modesto. The only requirement was that the group, which at the time consisted of only Fred, Cliff, and Cal, feature a singer, a role filled with supernatural command by 11-year-old Rose.
Two years later, after changing their name from Alabama Outlaws to Maddox Brothers & Rose, the group won a contest at the California State Fair that included a two-year contract to participate in radio shows that air on KFBK in Sacramento. . The following year Mr Maddox joined the group – led, with the strictest discipline, by the siblings’ mother known as Mama Maddox.
Don Maddox was born Kenneth Chalmer Maddox on December 7, 1922 in Boaz, Alabama, in the Appalachian foothills.
As a member of the family group from 1940, he toured with his siblings and appeared on popular recordings they made for the Four Star and Columbia labels in the 1940s and 1950s, including their waltzing interpretation of “Philadelphia Lawyer” by Woody Guthrie.
Other hits, like “Whoa Sailor”, “(Pay me) alimony” and “The hangover blues” were sung from her sister’s perspective and exuded not only female independence and courage, but a nascent feminist consciousness as well.
In 1956, after more than a decade of successful touring and recordings (only interrupted by the military service of Mr. Maddox and his brothers), the group broke up. Rose hired Cal as an accompanist and pursued a solo career. The remaining brothers persisted without them, only to quit two years later – because, according to Don Maddox, they didn’t have enough talent to get by on their own.
For his part, Mr. Maddox returned to school to study agriculture and purchased a 300-acre ranch in Ashland, Oregon, where he raised Angus cattle for more than five decades.
In 2012, Mr. Maddox came out of retirement to participate in an exhibit at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville commemorating the Bakersfield sound that he and his siblings had helped establish. He went on to perform at the Grand Ole Opry, on singer Marty Stuart’s TV show and at festivals, including a headlining engagement in Las Vegas.
Mr. Maddox’s wife is his only immediate survivor. His previous wife, Nila Bussey Maddox, died in 2002.
In addition to playing the violin and singing backing vocals with his siblings, Mr. Maddox gave a comedic boost to the group’s gag-laden stage show, especially through his ‘Don Juan’ character.
“I was shy around the girls, so I took Don Juan as my stage name because the Sons of the Pioneers had a song called ‘Don Juan of Mexico’,” he said in an interview in 2008. with The Mail Tribune of Ashland.
“I thought if I learned this song, the girls would think I was a Don Juan and talk to me. Of course, that didn’t work.