Ruby Agnes Owens, known to country music fans as Texas Ruby, was born on June 4, 1908 in Wise County, TX. Owens, raised on a cattle farm, came by her country music roots naturally. "One day as a young girl," an early bio of Ruby noted, "she accompanied her father and brothers on a cattle drive to Fort Worth..." Her family was also musical. A niece, Laura Lee Owens, found fame singing with the Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys, and her brother Tex wrote the cowboy standard "Cattle Call." In many ways, Texas Ruby served as a transitional link between early country stylings and the more modern honky tonk. "Her deep, almost masculine alto was equally at home on blue yodels, honky-tonk cheatin' songs, old-time ballads, vaudeville blues, and folk tunes," wrote Mary A. Bufwack and Robert K. Oermann in Finding Her Voice: The Saga of Women in Country Music.
Texas Ruby's musical career received an inauspicious kick off. Having accompanied her family to Fort Worth on a cattle drive in 1930, she and brothers harmonized on the buckboard of a wagon while waiting for their father to finish his business. Another cattle owner who also owned stock in Kansas City's KMBC offered Ruby a job. By 1933 she had traveled to Philadelphia, Cincinnati, and Detroit, eventually joining Zeke Clements and his Bronco Busters and performing at the Grand Ole Opry. In the mid-'30s, Texas Ruby and Clements auditioned and won a spot on the popular WHO barn dance program in Des Moines, IA, and remained on the program for the next two years. Texas Ruby also earned a reputation as a hard living musician. "Offstage," wrote Bufwack and Oermann, "Ruby was a hard-drinking, good-time mama with a cigarette in her red lips, a rowdy laugh, and a heart of pure gold."
Underlying Ruby's "heart of gold," however, was also a fierce temper. While working at WHO, she had a falling out with a then unknown radio announcer named Ronald "Dutch" Reagan. "Not long after getting his ears scorched by Ruby's cussing," wrote Bufwack and Oermann, "the future president went west for a screen test." Ruby's temper and hard-living lifestyle also had repercussions on her music career. WBAP wanted to hire Texas Ruby and Clements, but she arrived at a meeting with potential sponsors drunk. In 1937 Texas Ruby, suffering from a hangover, also missed auditions for Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (Clements yodeled for Bashful). After this, Ruby and Clements went their separate ways.
The same year, Texas Ruby teamed with fiddler Curley Fox, and the couple married in 1939. Texas Ruby's greatest popularity arrived during and after World War II, when she and Fox were regulars on the Grand Ole Opry. She also recorded for major companies, including Columbia (1945-1946) and King (1947). Texas Ruby died on Friday, March 29, 1963 in a trailer fire, shortly after making a comeback album with Fox. "Shanty Street" was issued on a Starday label sampler posthumously.