Friday, March 27, 2009
Ninety Minutes With Betsy Gay
We first learned of Betsy from an old Tex (Jenks) Carman song folio that had her picture on the cover. Later, Janet McBride helped us start to tell her story - Janet is one of the long time supporters of those who still find the lost art of yodeling a part of country music's history that needs to be preserved. Needless to say, Janet arranged for us to talk with Betsy one Saturday afternoon, then Betsy allowed ole Gran'pa to stop by for a visit.
Our visit started from just about the moment we stepped in. She made us feel like were an old friend or relative. In just a few seconds we were sitting at her dining room table and she was showing us her scrapbook she had begun and a pile of many old photos from her career. This lady's career touched on just about everything and everyone. And yet she found the time to get married and raise five children.
She was Alfalfa's girl friend in the old Our Gang / Little Rascal series. She was in the Tailspin Tommy's series. She sang with Freddie Martin's orchestra - having a hit with Mockin' Bird Hill. She appeared on many Los Angeles country music radio shows - including those run by Foreman Phillips. Cliffie Stone. Texas Jim Lewis. She was a part of the Squeakin' Deacon's show on tv as well for 26 weeks. She was in the cast of the Country America show that featured such legends as Freddie Hart, Jerry Wallace and Lefty Frizzell along with host, Joe Allison. She was a part of the legendary Town Hall Party show.
It was hard to imagine she was over 80 years old, she was still as enthusiastic as can be, often singing several verses of songs that came to mind when she would turn through the photos. It was hard to keep up with her - it was like a staccato conversation of her memories as we turned through her photos.
She was a part of Spade Cooley's early history in Los Angeles - working with his band at the legendary Venice Pier Ballroom that Foreman Phillips operated in that day.
She played for us several of her old recordings from a CD that her family was trying to compile of her early vocal work. Her voice was crystal clear and strong back then. She is a petite person, perhaps similar to Brenda Lee in that regard, small, but with a great vocal projection.
Spike Jones. Texas Jim Lewis. Merle Travis. Cliffie Stone. Eddie Cletro. Tex Williams. Richard Dix. Monte Hale. Redd Harper. Stuart Hamblen. Carl (Squeakin' Deacon) Moore. She worked with them all, but you would never know she had rubbed elbows with such legendary artists.
Workin' with this feller on this web site does have its benefits sometimes. This is one time the benefits were something to treasure - being able to take a break and visit with someone who was a part of that golden era of country music, or rather, hillbilly music. And as the sun set in the west as we continued our drive down Rte. 99 to Los Angeles, we plopped in another CD of a recording of the Hollywood Barn Dance from that era. Somehow, that long drive didn't seem so long anymore.