Cowboy crooner: Smilin’ Red Maxedon, part 2

Smilin' Red Maxedon (left) and unknown man, late 1940s

Red Maxedon (left) reviews sheet music with unknown man, possibly one of the partners in Arcadia Records. Source: Keith Cady, courtesy Roy Maxedon

During the 1940s, one of the best-known voices of Detroit radio was the mellow baritone of John “Smilin’ Red” Maxedon. He sang cowboy songs with reassuring ease over WJBK and WJR stations every day. Click here to read part one. In 1946 he began recording songs for Arcadia Records.

The Mercury Rangers, the group on Maxedon’s 1946 recordings for Arcadia Records (based on Cass Avenue, but Maxedon’s first releases had a New York City office address printed on labels) included twin fiddles, bass, guitar, and accordion. The Blue Mountain Girls assisted with harmony vocals at his next sessions. Arcadia business partners Lester Docking and Richard W. Pascoe provided the songs, including “I Fell In Love” (catalog no. AO-600-A) and ditties about the old west, as well as wartime service. [1] The bouncy “I Left My Boots And Saddle Home” (AO-600-B) included the refrain:

Arcadia ad in Billboard magazine, Dec. 1947

Ad that appeared in Billboard, Dec. 13, 1947 (Vol. 59, No. 50) p. 36.

I left my boots and saddle home
Just to make a little jeep go  [2]

Other songs such as “I’ll Be Back” and “Keep Smiling Till We’re Together Again” described soldiers leaving friends and family to join a war. Maxedon’s Arcadia records all featured impeccable musical arrangements often led by two or three fiddles that resembled Spade Cooley’s style of western swing. Maxedon avoided cutting dance music in favor of sentimental songs that idealized the past, western life, and romance.

After his departure from WJR in 1946, Maxedon formed a partnership with vocalist Dottie Leader at WJBK radio. The two singers also teamed up with disk jockeys Guy “Brother Bill” Bowman and Harry “Shorty” Smith of the WJBK “Hillbilly Hit Parade,” a four-hour radio show devoted to country music records and requests, at western movie openings in theaters around town. [3]

Shorty Smith (left) and Bill Bowman of the WJBK radio "Hillbilly Hit Parade," late 1940s

Shorty and Brother Bill, hosts of the WJBK radio “Hillbilly Hit Parade,” late 1940s, early 1950s. Source: Keith Cady

He resumed recording for Arcadia in 1949. These records included an electric guitarist playing “take off” style. [4] In 1949, Leader cut a version of Vernon Dalhart’s 1926 hit “I Want A Pardon For Daddy” (also made popular by Gene Autry) on one side of a Maxedon single. She sang harmony on a few other titles, helping to extend the number of Maxedon’s Arcadia sides to about a dozen.

In 1949, Maxedon worked with accordionist Pee Wee Linden (formerly with Maxedon in the Goodwill-Billies) and steel guitarist Johnnie White (of the Rhythm Riders) on a record pressed by a custom manufacturing and song publishing agency, Wrightman, based in Hollywood, Calif., (Wrightman 1033/1034).

Although Maxedon’s Arcadia and Wrightman records presented high-class productions one would expect from an artist featured so prominently on major Detroit radio stations, his performances were very much rooted in 1930s-era cowboy music. The songs Maxedon recorded (e.g., “In My Heart There’s A Part Of The Prairie,” “When It’s Nighttime In Nevada”), the wistful way in which he interpreted them, and even his views on folk music as revealed in the opening quotation to part one of this story, showed that he himself longed for the musical environment that existed prior to World War II. In contrast, during the early 1950s his brother Roy led his own band in California as “Smiley” Maxedon and cut some hardcore honky tonk for Columbia Records with titles such as “We Can’t Live Together” and “Give Me A Red Hot Mama And An Ice Cold Beer.” [5]

Listen to: Smilin’ Red Maxedon – In My Heart There’s A Part Of The Prairie (Arcadia AP1948)

Left his boots and saddle home

Maxedon carried on for several more years in Detroit, leading a vocal trio and performing at the openings of cowboy movies in local theaters. In 1953 he performed with Justice “Cowboy” Colt (son of Brace Beemer, a radio actor who provided the voice of WXYZ radio’s “Lone Ranger” series) at WXYZ-TV on a children’s program called “The Circle G-R Ranch.” With the popularity of cowboy music on the wane across America during the late 1950s, Maxedon moved to Houston, Texas. “He was selling cars … and playing on the side,” said Roy Maxedon. “He wasn’t playing [on the] radio or anything [like that].” Smilin’ Red passed away March 24, 1984. [6]

 

Notes

  1. “Coinmen You Know” Billboard (December 20, 1947. Vol. 59, No. 51) 99. “Lester Docking and Richard W. Pascoe, of Arcadia Records, are bringing out a series of Smilin’ Red Maxedon releases.”
  2. “I Left My Boots And Saddle Home” (Lester Docking) APRS, c/of Peer Music (Arcadia AO-600, 1946)
  3. “American Folk Tunes” Billboard (March 27, 1948. Vol. 60, No. 13) 165
  4. The guitarist on Maxedon’s late sessions for Arcadia could have been Detroit jazz guitarist Bob Mitchell.
  5. Smiley Maxedon made recordings for Columbia Records with his Okaw Valley Boys between 1951 and 1954. Smiley lost his voice in 1958. After recovering his voice in 1975, Smiley returned to the honky tonks until he retired in 1978. “’Course, my kind of singin’ was outdated by that time,” he said. “They got that rock’n’roll and other stuff I didn’t know nothin’ about.” Smiley Maxedon died in June 2001. Roy “Smiley” Maxedon interviewed by Keith Cady in 2001.
  6. Date of Red Maxedon’s death provided by Roy Maxedon.

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