A Kentucky born and bred fiddler and vocalist, Tex Atchison was a member of the extremely popular traditional country band the Prairie Ramblers during the '30s, but went out on his own as a sideman, singer, and songwriter after that. His knack at writing amusing drinking songs came in about as handy in the country music genre as lots of muscles at a body building contest. "Sick, Sober and Sorry" was one of the Atchison titles, written with songwriting partner Eddie Hazlewood that made for a classic bit of honky tonk for Lefty Frizzell. The background in the Prairie Ramblers was certainly the right launching pad for any player with versatility fueling their rockets. Created by four Kentucky boys -- harmonica whiz Salty Holmes, bassist "Happy" Jack Taylor, and mandolinist Chick Hurt were the other original members -- the group added female vocalist Patsy Montana in the early '30s. "Nobody's Darlin' but Mine," with beautiful passages from the left-handed fiddler, was a popular song during the Depression. In her second year with the group, Montana scored the first million-selling record ever by a female country artist: "I Want to Be a Cowboy's Sweetheart." The song was typical of the cowboy infatuation that was a big part of the group's popularity, to the point where the members even made their entrances on horseback, probably not difficult for Shelby David Atchison, nicknamed "Tex." Speaking of which, the Western swing style largely associated with Texas became a big part of the Prairie Ramblers' evolving sound, and on his own Atchison triumphed at yet another new genre sprouting out of the country corn patch: rockabilly. The feel he had for the idiom is surprising considering that he had already established his status as one of the great fiddlers from the pre-war era of country music. His single of "Tennessee Hound Dog" and "Mail Man" done for the indie Sage label in the '50s is prime rockabilly juice, featuring sweaty breaks from Roy Lanham on lead guitar. By the time this record was cut, Atchison had been recording sides on his own for more than a decade, working with labels such as Crystal, King, Federal, Deluxe, and Imperial. As a fiddler he did many sessions on the West Coast, linking up with the honky tonk crowd such as the hilarious Johnny Bond in 1951 and expert song storyteller Johnny Horton shortly thereafter. During the mid-'40s and '50s, Atchison performed with the great guitarist Merle Travis in a combo with the silly name of Tin Ear Tanner and his Back Room Boys. Several of their performances are available on collections of radio transcriptions from the period, such as Cliffie Stone's Radio Transcriptions 1945-1949 on the Country Routes label. Travis and Atchison co-wrote the song "I'm a Natural Born Gamblin' Man." Atchison also kept his hand in at Western swing, joining fellow fiddler Rocky Stone, and many other fine musicians in Ole Rasmussen and the Nebraska Cornhuskers. The leader of the group doesn't sound like a Texan, but it didn't matter. He was simply a businessman who kept the band together, proving with his hiring of Atchison that he knew talent when he heard it. The group recorded more than two dozen sides during a two year stint at Capitol which began in 1950. Classics such as "Sleepy-Eyed John" and a version of the jazz toast "C Jam Blues" reveal Atchison's graceful way with the Western swing style.
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