Not much is known about about this singer and guitarist who was one of a group of old-time music artists who recorded for the Paramount label in the early '30s, but cowboys like him. That's because in his recording of the classic cowboy and horse song "The Strawberry Roan," Rex Kelly fiddled with the original verses of Curley Fletcher a bit and has the cowboy come out on top, as in being able to ride the dang horse. (In many other versions of the song, the cowpoke is left lying in the dust). In the '30s, the Paramount label was casting its net far and wide, looking for interesting and authentic Americana talent. Kelly was located and recorded in the otherwise undistinguished location of Grafton, WI, and also recorded five other tracks, two of them also cowboy related. "Down by the Railroad Track" was another of his popular records that was not pulled out of the cowboy hat and he also recorded "Berry Picking Time" and "Susan Van Duzen." A singer of the same name who broadcast over a radio station out of Council Bluffs, IA, around the same time might have been the same man, but old-time music researchers are reluctant to lay all their chips down on that bet due to how common the name Rex Kelly is. This philosophy extends to the existence of another of the same name who was one of the co-writers and publishers of the song "Butterchup Lane" in the early '40s. Could be the same guy, but who knows? One of the recordings that was actually released by the Paramount Kelly was put out under the name of Bud Kelly, and while this is proof enough that Rex Kelly and Bud Kelly are the same early country singer, the additional nickname of "Bud" has not been a great deal of help in finding out further information about the man. The Kelly recording of "Strawberry Roan" was reissued by the John Edwards Memorial Foundation as part of the brilliant album Paramount Old Time Tunes: A Sampler From the Catalog of the Paramount Label, but in this case the song is much more famous than the singer. "The Strawberry Roan" was originally published by Fletcher in 1915, and the commercial exploitation of these sublime verses began a few years later when the author began publishing poetry collections that were sold at rodeos. One of the first major public performances of the poem as a song was in 1931 when Everett Cheetham, a cowboy singer from New Mexico, sang "The Strawberry Roan" as part of a New York stage play entitled Green Grow the Lilacs. However, the song was actually recorded for the first time in 1929 by the Arizona Wranglers. In 1931, Fletcher himself published a revised version of the ballad -- which is pretty much the material Kelly bases his version on -- in a new collection entitled Songs of the Sage. Cheetham apparently tried to get around giving Fletcher credit for the song's composition -- and it must be noted the former performer's surname is thus quite appropriate -- but the image of Fletcher, busted and broken down from a life of rodeo falls, ambling into a publisher's office with the song and pleading to make a deal so he could get something to eat, was not something that was going to slip away into the recesses of a busy publisher's mind. "Strawberry Roan" remains one of the few important cowboy songs from the turn of the 20th century in which authorship has been well-established.
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