Charles Reese recently spoke to the Etowah Historical Society about his father, Vernon “Toby” Reese, a famous country star from Gadsden. Charles discussed many things about his father and shared some of the photos of him. Charles wrote a book about his father and donated one to the historical society’s library. Last week we shared some of what he wrote.
A lot has been written about the country music stars and their beginnings here in Etowah County. Little has been written about band members from here and those that support those stars. This is a compact short story of a group of men that came from a small town and departed to Nashville to become Ernest Tubb’s Original Texas Troubadours in 1944.
The story continues:
“On that particular December night while the Gadsden Melody Boys were performing, Joe Frank sent Chester Studdard to Birmingham, where Ernest Tubb was playing a show. The instructions set forth by Joe Frank were to convince Tubb to play a show in Gadsden on New Year’s of 1943. Tubb accepted the offer and played for $150.00. Tubb claimed that was the most money he ever made playing a show.
“Shortly afterwards, Tubb asked the Gadsden Melody Boys to become his band members. Later in the spring of 1943, The Texas Troubadours were in place.
“During the time of Tubb’s first Texas Troubadours, no records were recorded and published. This was due in part by The American Federation of Musicians strike that started in August 1942, not to mention the federal government’s rationing of shellac for the war. Shellac was needed to produce records. This placed a damper in ranking high in popularity, since juke boxes and radio were playing older records.
“Tubb and his band had to rely on traveling from city to city and state to state to perform and gain exposure. At that time, Tubb did not have a touring bus and air travel was out of the question.
“So, the band loaded up cars and hit the road. They would play Florida one day and had to be in Nashville the next. Then it was off to Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas and so on. But when the band played, it would command standing room only crowds. Walking The Floor Over You was the most commanded song in every show.
Chester Studdard was primarily the emcee and the latter was a musician playing guitar and vocal. He was also the straight man for comedy acts with Toby Reese. One primary act was their version of Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on first?” routine. The original script still exists on Ernest Tubb’s stationary.
“Vernon “Toby” Reese was born in 1909 and raised by his machinist father in Gadsden. Toby worked as a millwright before starting out with Studdard in a musical career in 1937. Toby played guitar, vocal and bass and did comedy. When playing comedy, he always dressed up in the “Toby” rube garb. This outfit included a fire engine red wig, painted-on freckles, oversized pants held together with a six-inch gold colored safety pin, suspenders and hat.
“Ray “Kemo” Head was also from Gadsden. He had worked for Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company for about 12 years before joining the Melody Boys. Kemo played steel guitar and sometimes a Hawaiian instrument. He stayed with Tubb longer then Toby or Chester. The first time in the band he remained with Tubb for three years and left to open grocery stores in Louisiana. In the 1950’s, Kemo returned to Tubb’s Band as requested by Tubb.
“During the time of the newly established band, popularity had picked up and Tubb had a hard time keeping up with fan mail and requests for the Ernest Tubb Song Folio. Chester recalled that they spent many hours replying to fan mail and requests for the song folio.
“Later on it was the feeling of Joe Frank that Tubb did not need an emcee. According to author Ronnie Pugh of Ernest Tubb – The Texas Troubadour, that responsibility was Chester Studdard’s only strength. So Tubb let Chester go. When that happened, Toby quit and left with Chester, since they were lifelong friends.
“Judge George D. Hay, the promoter and founder of WSM Grand Ole Opry, found more work for Chester and Toby. They became instrumental in raising money from the sale of U.S. War Bonds and entertained troops with the USO during the remainder of World War II. Chester and Toby remained a team for the next 13 years doing local shows and radio.
“Toby passed away in 1971 and is buried at Crestwood Cemetery in East Gadsden.
“Chester passed in 1999.”
Visit the Etowah Historical Society and Heritage Museum located at 2829 West Meighan Boulevard in Gadsden. Museum and office hours are Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Also visit www.EtowahHistory.com.