Esther "Abbie" Neal a native of Brookville, Pennsylvania, was a versatile entertainer, mastering several musical instruments.
By the time she was twelve years old, she was playing for square dances
in Jefferson County, Pennsylvania. She finally took some music lessons when
she was 18 and then, it was the study of classical violin.
That led to her playing for the Du Boise symphony orchestra and several
solo concerts. Then she heard about the auditions Cowboy Phil (Reed) was
holding for a new band he was forming to replace the Sons of the Golden
West. She decided to go back to her early musical days and the old
country and cowboy melodies. Abbie displayed a variety of talents for the
group even then - acting as arranger, business manager while also doing
solo and duet vocal numbers.
They wrote back then that Abbie had but one small complaint. Her name.
She didn't like her given name of Esther. But she didn't like the name "Abbie"
that seemed to have stuck with her (and did stick with her the rest of her life).
She got the nickname "Abbie" during a time she was playing the role of a comedianne
for the quartet and playing a character by the name of "Abigail Aloysius Paperwad".
The shortened name of Abbie stuck with her long after her role in comedy had been
While with the Golden West Girls, Abbie toured the Pacific on a seven month USO tour
in 1945. They got rave reviews and compliments by the Stars and Stripes publication for their
dedication - they were doing six shows daily for hospitals and camps.
In 1949, the group had two daily radio shows over WWVA in Wheeling, West Virginia.
A 1949 article noted that the group got an 'enormous' amount of mail, ranging from
song requests to marriage proposals. It seems Cowboy Phil was the only married one
of the group and the gals had their admirers and would-be suiters for their affections.
When she joined Cowboy Phil's all girl band, the Golden West Girls,
even then she was a bit of a stand out, giving some indication of becoming
a star on her own. In one magazine article, she was thought to be the girl
champion of fiddlin' and also got rave reviews for her work on the 16-string
electric guitar. The other two members of the Golden West Girls at that
time were two sisters, known as Gay and Tina. Their real names were
Grace and Santina Marie Franzi.
Cowboy Songs featured Abbie and the Ranch Girls in their "Five Favorites" column
in late 1956. In addition to their weekly appearances on the Saturday night WWVA
Jamboree, Abbie and the girls had a one week stint at the 48th STreet Theater in New York City.
The article also mentions that their fan club stretched into Canada and during
the summer of 1956, they made a two week personal appearance tour in Canada. Such
was their reception, they made a subsequent week's return tour.
In the August 1957 issue of "Rustic Rhythm" magazine, her byline appears
for the "Here There and Everywhere" news roundup from various regional spots
in the country. Abbie was reporting for WAMO out of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania,
At that time, she was also doing a remote show from the Royal Ballroom
in Wilkinsbug, Pennsylvania heard over WWVA from 11:15pm to 11:45pm on Friday
That same issue she told the fans she was going to write about Dusty Owens
and his Rodeo Boys, but it seems Dusty was out on the road and they missed
connections. So, Abbie took the time to write about the members of her group
then. The Ranch Girls in 1957 consisted of: June Mayes who handled guitar and
drums and wrote the group's single release on Admiral Records at the time - "Until
I Dream". She did the vocals on that release and also If Again with Lois Floyd,
the gal that played bass fiddle and rhythm guitar and was featured yodeler for the band.
Next there was Joni Lee, who played the accordion, and says Abbie, liked to imitate
Danny kaye on stage. Joni also wrote most of her own comedy, too. Betty Brent,
did vocals in a variety of styles and played rhythm and lead guitars.
Abbie also had her own daily disc jockey show over WAMO, handling what is now
called the drive time slot in the early morning - 7:00am to 10:00am. In mid-August 1957,
Dr. Marty Krauss who was an optometrist and also a disc jockey with a five-hour Sunday
show over WILY in Pittsburgh, moved to WAMO to give them a 7-day a week country music
roster. Also on WAMO at that time she mentions were Slim Bryant and his Georgia Wildcats and
Carl Stuart. Farmer Jim and Slim's brother, Loppy Bryant were also heard over WAMO then.
Her later performing years took her west to Nevada where she entertained fans in the Las
Vegas and Reno gambling meccas.
Joni, Jaye, Abbie, Betty, Lois
Abbie, Jaye, Joni, Betty, Lois on stage at the WWVA Jamboree
Joni, Jaye, Betty, Lois
Timeline & Trivia Notes
- Abbie Neal, leader, vocals, guitar, fiddle, steel guitar
- June Mayes, guitar and drums
- Joni Lee, accordion
- Lois Floyd, bass fiddle and rhythm guitar
- Betty Brent, lead and rhythm guitar
- Jaye Hartley, guitar
Sources & Credits
- National Hillbilly News; May - June 1949; Huntington, WV
- Country Song Roundup; Issue No. 16; February 1952;
American Folk Publications, Inc.
- Cowboy Songs; Issue No. 49; December 1956; American Folk Publications, Inc.
- Rustic Rhythm; May 1957; Rustic Rhythm, Inc.; New York, NY
- Rustic Rhythm; August 1957; Rustic Rhythm, Inc.; New York, NY
- Country & Western Jamboree; Winter (December) 1957; Maher Publications; Chicago, IL
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