Eddie Cletro (his real name is Eddie O'Clethero) was born in Trenton, New Jersey back in 1918. When he was nine years old,
Eddie took a liking to music and began to playing the ukulele. By the time
he was 14, he learned the guitar and was leading his first band.
A 1973 article in the Las Virgenes Enterprise gives us a bit of background into
Eddie's early career and how he met his wife, Wynn. He met his future wife
when they were in high school. Eddie told the author of the article ( who appeared
to also have been perhaps doing interior decorating work for Eddie at his new
home then) that they would enter the amateur night contests for the prize money
they offered. His wife had a roller skating act, where she used her own portable wooden
floor and would entertain fans by bending over backwards to pick up a handkerchief with
her teeth. But his wife chimed in and told the author that Eddie always seemed to win
the contests and had her wondering if he had some kind of arrangement with the sponsors.
But later, she figured if you can't beat'em, join'em and became a part of his act
and eventually, it became permanent. She played accordion and did vocals with Eddie
for several years until their children came along, Diane and Terri.
We tried to get Eddie to recall the first date he played for pay. He said back in
those very younger days as a teen-ager, he was just trying to find work anyplace
he could get it as a young musician would try to do. He mentioned when he started
singing when he was 12 or 14 years old, he would be doing western tunes. Later
he started doing those pop tunes of the day until he got the chance to do
western music again.
The author of that 1973 article tells of turning the pages of Eddie's album of flyers,
hand bills, articles that showed the various venues that he played. And then came
a stint at the Ambassador Hotel that seemed to have changed his musical endeavor. During
that time he noticed that the folks who arrived at the hotel in Cadillacs all seemed
to be wearing cowboy hats. So, he decided that it was time to quit playing the society
type or pop music of the day and take up western music. That lead to the next part of his
The early 1940s found him working with Stuart Hamblen and the Lucky Stars over radio
station KFWB in Los Angeles, California.
He mentions in a 1973 article that Stuart's show
on KFWB ran an hour and 15 minutes each day. In the evenings, Eddie would perform at the
Tom Brenneman restaurant. Eddie noticed that the patrons didn't seem to react much
to the bands popular renditions of the day. But whenever the band slipped in a western
tune or two, their audiences would get a bit more enthusiastic. This gave
Eddie the impetus to make a switch to being a western music performer - exclusively.
As so often was the case back then, the stars or their managers thought that folks
would like them more if they were truly from a western town instead of their bona fide
roots. Eddie decided that being from Colgate, Oklahoma and changing his name
to Eddie Cletro would sound better to the audiences. He also dropped the clarinets
and trombones that were in his band and added fiddles and accordion to give him a
Eddie auditioned for Spade Cooley in 1946 and was hired to work in one of Spade's
three bands he had at that time. We talked with Eddie over the phone and he said
at the time, he was working six nights a week at the Palomino Nightclub in
West Hollywood. Spade would come in and sit in to listen to the bands playing
there at the time, then leave. Spade decided he had liked what he heard
at hired Eddie to play for his band at the Santa Monica Ballroom each weekend.
One New Year's eve, Eddie was the added
attraction at Spade Cooley's Santa Monica Ballroom, on the pier at Colorado and
Ocean Avenue. Imagine also if you will having to only pay an admission charge
of $2.00 that also included tax.
He was with Spade for about a year, then he and his band moved to begin working
with Foreman Phillips in 1947 in Baldwin Park, California, and later at the Town
Hall in Compton, California. Eddie told us that the Baldwin Park facility was the
old El Monte Legion hall that later Cliffie Stone would host his barn dance
shows from. For Eddie, it was a different type of engagement
than he was used to at that time, for he had worked at such venues as the El Rancho hotel
in Las Vegas and the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. Around 1949 or so, Eddie prodded Foreman Phillips
into trying television and also got KABC-TV interested, too. Eddie related to us
this recollection of getting Foreman to make the move to television. He mentioned
that when they did get the show on the air, it was pretty informal and spontaneous
for the most part - no scripts. The band showed up, did their songs and bits
but the fans enjoyed it all the same.
All told, he was
with Foreman Phillips about four and a half years. The show was called
"Foreman Phillips Presents" and starred Foreman Phillips and featured Eddie Cletro
and his Western Variety Band. The show aired from Stage 2 at the ABC Television
Center in Hollywood.
An undated newspaper photo shows Eddie along with such western stars in the Los Angeles
area at the time - Carolina Cotton, Jean Howell, Foreman Phillips, Hoot Gibson,
Ray Whitley and Eddie Dean - who were to appear at the 47th Annual convention
of the Advertising Association of the West at the Ambassador Hotel. The group
of stars were to entertain the delegates at the La Placertias Ranch that was in Newhall,
An article in the local La Habra newspaper back in June of 1953 gives us a taste
of the promotional efforts that the local Lions Corn Festival put into its annual
affair that was to be held on Saturday, August 1 that year. The Western Varieties show was being aired over KTLA on Friday nights
at 9:00pm then and Eddie Cletro and his Roundup Boys were among the featured
stars as the Corn Festival was featuring the Western Varieties show along with Cheeta
the Chimp. A parade was held. And a new Chevrolet Bel Air Sport Coupe
was to be given away. The Lions Corn Festival also charged no admission and the
entertainment was free of charge, too.
During these musical transition years, he found he was tapping into a different
type of audience that was welcome to the western sounds he was beginning to immerse
himself into. One example is from an article in the March 6-12, 1955 issue of TV-Radio
Life which spotlighted the "Cowboy From Trenton". The article mentions that KTLA's
Klaus Landsberg was being feted by B'nai B'rith at the Beverly Hills Hotel, a truly
up scale Hollywood type setting. Eddie Cletro and his Roundup Boys were to be the
evening's entertainment at this function. Picture for a moment a band of western-attired
musicians at a black-tie affair with their up scale audience dressed to the hilt.
Allen Rich took a bit of a humorous bent to an interview he had with Eddie back in 1954
that talked of Eddie's transition from "society" music to "western" music back then. Mr. Rich
appeared to be upset that he wasn't getting to interview some of the more glamorous gals
on KTLA at the time such as Dorothy Gardiner, Ina Ray Hutton and Roberta Linn. Mr. Rich
asked Eddie why he switched to western music and Eddie replied succinctly, "Because
I like to eat regularly."
Mr. Rich embellishes the story a bit, positioning Foreman Phillips as the "...world's
greatest exponent and promoter of western bands, dances and radio shows". He was said to
have 'made a cactus' out of Eddie and was eating regularly ever since he worked
with Mr. Phillips.
Mr. Rich gets Eddie to relate a bit more why he turned to western music at that time,
aside from the regular income. Eddie told him that "...it is more fun to play for followers
of western music. Western songs ... are songs from the heart that tell a story."
Eddie made quite an impression that day with Mr. Rich after having lunch with him,
hearing Eddie make his case for western music, getting to see his family at his home
in Sherman Oaks at the time and his two kids, Diane and Terri (7 and 4 years old, respectively
at the time). He tells his readers that Mr. Cletro probably does not care if he never
sees another "society band" the rest of his career.
At the end of the article, he notes he saw that Eddie had over a dozen western outfits
in his wardrobe closet. But only one "city" suit. In Mr. Rich's mind, Eddie was "...100
per cent cactus."
When his daughter, Diane, was about nine years old, Eddie recorded a holiday record
with her, "Santa Claus, Jr." for Sage & Sand Records. Diane told us that it was quite an experience for a
little girl. She recalls they recorded the tune at Eddie Dean's home studio. They
worked until nearly 2:00am to finish the final recording of the tune. She remembers
later, it led to lots of personal appearances, autograph signing sessions, as well
as an appearance with her dad on the Western Varieties television show.
But the article notes, Eddie and the band got the folks tapping their feet to the music
and won them over and perhaps maybe even found a few new fans for the western music style.
Interestingly, the article notes that Eddie found that "...you don't have to come from
Texas or Oklahoma to make the grade as a Western entertainer."
During these times in the Los Angeles area, working on the Western Varieties show,
Eddie told us that the band would be doing the show, but during the day, would
be playing various engagements around the city. He told us about the times
they would go to super market openings. In a sense, these were a bit like small
county fairs. The markets went all out to welcome new customers. The vendors
would setup tents or booths to help pass out free food samples. There would be
entertainers on hand such as Eddie's band and other attractions to bring
folks to the new store.
Eddie continued to work in the Los Angeles area and found work in the new
medium of the time, television. For about five years, he was a part of the Western Varieties show
that aired over KTLA, channel 5; Doye O'Dell was the star of the show.
We asked Eddie how he and his band became a part of that show. He told us that
KTLA had put a call out that they were looking for a western band for a show.
Eddie and his seven-piece band at the time showed up in their best western suit stage
wear for the audition. He said there were a few other folks there, but mostly dressed
casual and basically weren't a regular group, some just a few musicians that had gotten
together for the audition. Who says a good first impression and being prepared
doesn't count for something?
Eddie told a newspaper reporter in a 1973 article that he had a plaque that was
going into his new den. Because his musical talents saw him entertaining fans in
both the 'society' and 'western' styles of music, he was given the title, "Sinatra
of the Sagebrush" that stayed with him the rest of his career.
Later in his career, he contacted a gentleman by the name of Rightly Perry and became
a salesman for the specialty advertising business he ran - by 1973, he had been
with the firm for over 15 years. The article noted that he and his wife took a trip
to Hawaii for their 35th anniversary and found that people would come up to him
and ask if he was Eddie Cletro - his fans still remembered him.
One thing we fans enjoy reading is how the songs we listen to came to be, what gave
the songwriter the inspiration. Eddie's daughter Diane told us one such incident.
It came to her one night when she was about seven years old, trying to understand the 'pretend'
stuff she saw in her dad's career in entertainment was all about, when her parents
tucked her into bed and told her that they loved her. As a child might do, asking
a question right to the point, she asked her parents, did they love her with their
REAL hearts and not their MAKE BELIEVE hearts. Mom and dad may have looked at each
other and soon found themselves sitting up that night writing a tune that was
recorded by Noel Boggs on Columbia Records, "Make Believe Heart".
He recorded for several labels including Lariat, Imperial, Decca, Columbia,
Viper and Sage N Sand.
Eddie Cletro and his Roundup Boys also appeared in the movie "The Trail of the Rustlers" that
starred Charles Starrett, known then as the Durango Kid and Smiley Burnette and released by Columbia Pictures in 1950.
Eddie and his first wife, Wynne, were married for some 54 years. She passed
away in 1992 at the age of 73 from leukemia. Eddie and Wynne had two kids, Terri and Diane.
Eddie remarried when he was 80 years old; his second wife's name is Susan and
they now reside in Southern California. Eddie still sings and plays the guitar.
On September 19,2006, Bear Family Records will be releasing a compilation of Eddie Cletro's
music. Click on the CD for a link for more information / purchase information:
Buy the CD Now!
Timeline & Trivia Notes
Group Members (circa mid-1950s:
- Eddie Cletro, vocals, rhythm guitar
- Tommy Sargent, steel guitar
- Clem Atwarter, drums
- Joe Bardelli, piano
- Bill Flynn, bass
- Eddie Carver, accordion
- Joe DeRose, fiddle
- John Stout, fiddle
- Ernie Ball, steel guitar (alternated with Tommy Sargent)
Credits & Sources
- Hillbilly-Music.com wishes to thank Eddie Cletro himself
for the interview he gave us over the phone in June 2004 to help complete this writeup.
- Hillbilly-Music.com wishes to thank Eddie's daughter,
Diane Cletro Johnson for providing us with copies of various articles, photos and information
about Eddie and his career.
- Citizen News; June 21, 1950; Hollywood, CA; ; (Copy courtesy of Diane Cletro Johnson)
- La Habra Advertiser; June 24, 1953; "Western TV Show
To Be At Corn Festival"; (Copy courtesy of Diane Cletro Johnson)
- TV-Radio Life; February 26, 1954; Carl M. Bigsby, Publisher;
Los Angeles, CA (article copy courtesy of Diane Cletro Johnson)
- Valley Times; March 2, 1954; Listening Post and TV Review;
Allen Rich, Radio and TV Editor; (Copy courtesy of Diane Cletro Johnson)
- Covina Argus-Citizen; Another Triple Western Treat Ad; Covina, CA;
October 14, 1954.
- New Year's Eve Ad; December 30, 1952; Los Angeles Herald and Express
- Las Virgenes Enterprise; May 10, 1973; "Western Star Eddie Cletro Lives 'Western'"; (Copy courtesy
of Diane Cletro Johnson)