About The Artist
Dean Eacker was born to Byron Mortier and Ermal Vivian (Porter) Eacker, in the town of Albion, Nebraska, a town due west of today's Interstate 29, about half-way between Sioux City, Iowa and Omaha, Nebraska. His parents were originally from Kansas. The family moved to Broken Bow, Nebraska when he was very young. According to a 1946 article that Dean himself wrote, his dad had rheumatism, so they moved to California when he was just five years old.
The family stayed in California for about six years. But the big city life of California apparently did not go over well with the family. They moved back to Nebraska for a short time. They then moved to the town of Twin Falls, Idaho, a place Dean recalled fondly. He mentioned spending many a time on the Snake River.
Dean told his fans that he came from a musical family. Dad would play the fiddle, while mom would accompany him on the organ. The family included three boys and two girls and you figure they all took to music in one way or another. Dean recalls that his dad and oldest brother would play at hoedowns where Dean would accompany them on a beat up old guitar.
Carol Hamilton notes that in an accompanying photo, Dean would play the fiddle while his brother Merrell would finger the strings and at the same time, Merrell would strum the guitar while Dean fretted the strings. Dean told her that folks would "push back the furniture and roll back the rugs" when they would do their appearances at house parties in those days.
In 1933, Dean and his brother Merrell, decided to try an entertainment career and auditioned for radio station KTFI in Twin Falls, Idaho. Their Uncle Darrell was a part of their band back then, playing harmonica. But they won over the station management and Dean started his musical career.
A March 1999 article by Ardis Eckel entitled, "His, Hers and Theirs" tells us a few more details of those early years for Dean. He began his musical career at an early age; he was already playing the fiddle by the time he was eleven years old. He was 13 when the family moved to Twin Falls and at that time, Dean and his brother Merrell began playing their own gigs at country dances and house parties.
Dean told the WIBW audience that their debut on KTFI wasn't the smoothest in the world. They got an early introduction to stage fright. He notes that their first number was to be "Devil's Dream" in the key of A. His brother was so nervous he couldn't even hold the bow to his fiddle. Uncle Darrell got too excited and used a "D" harmonica.
Dean said he got caught up in the emotions of the moment and was playing in the "...key of Asia Minor or something". It came time for Dean to do his solo and he said me made a record for the number of new verses for a tune called "Cowboy Jack".
His big break came in 1934 when he met up with Cliff Goddard and became part of the group called the "Reno Racketeers". They were a popular act back then and that took Dean on the road for a few years in Idaho and Oregon as the band did their personal appearances. Dick tells his fans that he didn't see his family for nearly two years. They finally settled in Klamath Falls, Oregon for a while. Dean told Ardis Eckel in a 1999 interview, "I've been playing bass, guitar and fiddle ever since."
Around that time, Dean and another Reno Racketeer band member, Bud Durfee, met up with a fiddle player from the "Southern Stars" group, Spade Cooley. Around that time, Spade decided to form his own group and talked the two young musicians into joining him along with Chuck Woods. That band was known as the "Purple Sage Riders" and it toured all across the United States, ending up in Los Angeles, California.
The large group picture of Spade Cooley's band has some significance to Dean's career. In that picture, his brother, Billy, was included and is in the top row, third from the left. Spade's band had a vacancy around that time and Billy was the one that filled it. However, tragically, Billy died in an automobile accident about two weeks after the picture was taken.
In another bit of musical history trivia, a photo sent to us shows that Dean was for a time a member of a big band called Ralph Harper and his Orchestra. However, we have not been able to find any information on this band.
Spade had a trio at one time in his group that was named "Okie, Arkie and Tex" who were in fact Smokey Rogers, Dean Eacker and Tex Williams. The trio could be heard on a hit the band had with "Detour" around 1945. While out in the Hollywood area, Dean also found time to do other session work. He shows up playing guitar on one of the Jimmy Bryant and Speedy West guitar releases. A 1945 article mentions that Dean was playing string bass with Spade's group.
A September 1945 article provides a glimpse of Dean's time in Hollywood's entertainment circle. He told Miss Maudie of WIBW that he had little time to enjoy the beaches. For him, it was all rehearsals, personal appearances and studio recordings. But we do learn also that when he first came to WIBW, he was a part of the original Arizona Range Riders. A 1948 Letters to the Editor column notes that he was part of the duo known as Arbie and Arkie on WIBW. Arbie was Chuck Wayne while Dean was Arkie.
Now it gets a bit fuzzy as to when things happened in Dean's life. But he mentions that they traded their ten dollar Hudson car for a ninety-dollar 1926 Cadillac and headed for Klamath Falls after that Spade Cooley tour. But about 150 miles into their drive, they were in Bakersfield where all of a sudden their tires blew out like a fourth of July celebration. That led to them trying their luck for a short while in Bakersfield. They must have hit the right chords with the fans there for they ended staying for about two years.
While he was in Bakersfield, he met his future wife. After Bakersfield, his career took him to the famed radio station WLW in Cincinnati for a time. From there, he went to Fairmont, West Virginia and presumably radio station WMMN. While he was there, he met Chuck Wayne and Virginia Lee which led him to joining eventually WIBW in Topeka, Kansas.
They began working together in 1939, but when World War II broke out, they thought they could serve their country by helping out with a job related to the war. They moved to Vancouver, Washington.
In April of 1943, he heard from Spade Cooley again to join his band. He moved back to the Los Angeles area. He would work the dances at night and work at the J and L Tool Company during the day.
He worked with Spade's group for about a year, then he worked with Happy Perryman's group for a year before signing up with Spade again for another ten months. During that time he accompanied Spade on his Columbia recordings and some movies.
Back then, Dean was known as "Arkie" and was part of a trio known as "Okie, Arkie and Tex". Okie was known as "Somkey Rogers" and Dean tells fans he recorded one of Dean's tunes, "Turn My Picture Upside Down".
He told fans back then that his wife was Thelma, who the WIBW publication said was a 'pin-up gal' herself, and by 1946, they had three kids, Ronald Dean, Nancy Jane, Merrell Eugene and Russell Dale. It appears in another article that Dean was working in the meat-packing industry at the end of 1946 in Idaho. An April 1947 WIBW column notes that he was working with his Dad in the meat-packing industry back in Idaho. It also mentioned that Dean would team up with Clark and Chuck Wayne on occasion on WIBW programs.
WIBW reported in their monthly newsletter that Dean and his family had settled back in Topeka, Kansas after his stint with Spade Cooley on the west coast. It seems that Dean worked with Spade more than once back then and left Topeka only to return again.
In May of 1949, WIBW reported that Dean was working with Roy Faulkner somewhere in Nebraska.
Dean's career continued onward and seemed to take him out west again and this time, he became part of an interesting chapter in the history of one of country music's most legendary groups, The Sons of the Pioneers. A June 7, 1959 Twin Falls, Idaho newspaper featured Dean in an article, "Now He's 'Sons of Pioneers' Player" which adds to the discussion or debate if you will of whether Dean was a part of that group. In the Fall 2004 edition of "The Western Way", author Marvin O'Dell cited a reference to the book by Bill O'Neal and Fred Goodwin, "The Sons of the Pioneers" and specifically pages 188-190.
In the late 1950s, the band went through some personnel changes and appeared to have broken up. Hugh Farr left the group. But he then applied for and got a copyright on the name "Sons of the Pioneers", proceeded to hire several musicians including Dean Eacker and Jimmy Bryant, the famed guitar player and began doing personal appearances. But it also appears that the original group of The Sons of Pioneeers was still active. This led to some legal wranglings and after the dust had cleared about a year later, the name reverted to the original group that then included Hugh's brother, Karl Farr, Lloyd Perryman, Dale Warren, Tommy Doss and Shug Fisher.
While it may be debated whether he was a part of the famed group, there is no doubt he is linked to their musical history.
From 1969 to 1984, Dean was a part of a group known as the Sons of the Golden West and were managed by the Art Whiting out of Sherman Oaks, California.
Reading Ms. Eckels 1999 article, we learn that Dean's next musical stop was with a group that was based at the Bar J Chuck Wagon in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. For two years, Dean told Ms. Eckel, the band served customers dinner chuck-wagon style, then would get up on stage and entertain their customers.
Marvin O'Dell's 2004 article notes that Dean used to do up to 18 radio programs a day in the late 1930s and 1940s. While those days have long passed and his travels with The Sons of the Pioneers a distant memory, Dean and his wife Dawn, were traveling almost every weekend to various local churches from their home in Kamiah, Idaho, performing gospel music.
Dean would also travel once a year on his birthday to Southern Utah where he joined the group, The Bar G Wranglers, as their special guest on their stage show at the Crescent Moon Theater in Kanab, Utah. It's the band that his son, Russ Eacker, performs with. Dean mastered several musical instruments during his career (and with no formal musical training) including the fiddle, guitar, bass, mandolin and banjo. Russ noted, "The audience loves it when Dad performs with us."
On this page you will find a link to the Bar G Wranglers web site. There you will find that Dean recorded that tune he did with Spade Cooley back in 1945, "Detour", with the group, doing the same lead vocal in the trio that he did with Oakie, Arkie and Tex back then. He also appears on three other tunes of the group's CD.
Dean enjoyed a long musical career entertaining several generations of audiences. He enjoyed raising a family, too. He also experienced the sadness of deaths of his first wife, Thelma, and also his second wife.
Ms. Eckel does tell us how Dean met his third wife, Dawn Clark. Dawn had lost her husband in 1973 and began teaching paiting classes to make a living. She relocated to Idaho in 1986. Then on August 8, 1988, fate stepped into their two lives as it so often does for couples. Dawn made a point to visit the Post Falls (Idaho) Senior Citizen Center in a desire to meet more people her own age. That day, Dean and his group the SOns of the Golden West were entertaining the residents. The band finished their sets and most of them had left. But Dean was a bit hungry, so he stayed behind to have dinner with everyone else. The only seat left was next to Dawn. Dawn notes that she wasn't dressed up that day to impress anyone - she wasn't expecting to meet someone like Dean. But they talked for hours. On November 4, 1988, Dean and Dawn were married.
In 1991, Dean and Dawn moved to Kamiah, Idaho. That meant Dean would leave the Sons of the Golden West. His next musical endeavor was with his wife Dawn. They would do personal appearances for fees, but also gave many a concert to the churches, feeling that their talents were a gift meant to be shared. Their appearances include the Koonskia, Idaho's Frontier Days, a Winchester Lake Concert. The two of them would sing western ballads, gospel favorites and Dawn's poems, set to music. Dean notes of those appearances at hospitals or nursing homes where sometimes the audiences would be as small as 10 or 12 people, "I got more enjoyment out of that than I ever did singing for thousands." Dawn adds, "They tap their feet, nod their heads. They know these old songs, "Tumbling Tumbleweeds", "Cool Water."
While Dean was performing on WIBW, he wrote a tune that became more or less a theme song for him during those days. The tune was "Ridin' A Rainbow Trail". Dean kept a copy of the lyrics on WIBW stationary. Carol Hamilton tells us he sang it for them a couple of weeks before he passed away. The lyrics are below:
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