Tag Archives: Johnny Cash

Hillbilly Music Straight Outta Compton

I would imagine most people know Compton as the epicenter of late ‘80s hip-hop and a city dominated by crime and gang violence. Smack in the middle between Long Beach and Los Angeles, just south of Watts, back in the ‘50s and ‘60s it became a suburban destination for middle class blacks attracted to both its location and the affordable single-family homes that were available after a Supreme Court case knocked out segregation laws. But with a small commercial area, a shrinking tax base, and a corrupt government, by 1969 Compton held the distinction of having the highest crime rate in California.

 

There’s another side of musical history from Compton that pre-dates local gansta rap and g-funk. Town Hall Party began in 1951 as a radio broadcast and eventually became a television show that lasted for almost ten years before going off the air. The old Town Hall building at 400 South Long Beach Boulevard was being booked occasionally for country-and-western “barn dances” when it was taken over by promoter William B. Wagnon Jr. It was his idea to get the dances broadcast live on local radio, and the success soon led to a television show concept that started and stopped, but didn’t really become cohesive until August 29, 1953.

 

The website Hillbilly-Music Dawt Com has done a great job in researching the history of Town Hall Party, which I would encourage you to check out, but here’s an excerpt:

“The lineup on that first show was to be Tex Ritter, Les (Carrot Top) Anderson, Wesley and Marilyn Tuttle, Jack Lloyd, Joe Maphis, Rose Lee Maphis and Texas Tiny (a disc jockey at KFOX who had a three hour a day show). Tex Williams and his band were to provide the musical backing for performers. Jay Stewart was to be the announcer.”

There were a number of country stars that either joined the cast for short periods or were simply guests, including Lefty Frizzell, Johnny Cash, Jim Reeves, Sons of the Pioneers, Smiley Burnette, Patsy Cline, Eddie Cochran, George Jones, Wanda Jackson, Carl Perkins and Gene Autry. The Collins Kids, Larry and Lorrie, became show regulars with their rockabilly beat and harmonies. Just two years apart, by age ten Larry was a guitar whiz, playing a double-neck Mosrite guitar like his mentor, Joe Maphis.

 

According to Country Song Round-Up in August 1954, “the 10-piece Town Hall Party band featured Joe Maphis, Merle Travis, superb steel guitarist Marian Hall, Billy Hill and Fiddlin’ Kate on violins, PeeWee Adams on drums, Jimmy Pruitt on piano, and other excellent musicians who created a Town Hall Party sound also heard on many country sessions produced by Columbia Records in Hollywood in the 1950s.”

 

In 1957 Screen Gems filmed a series of 39 half-hour shows that they syndicated and re-named the Ranch Party. The Collins Kids were given co-star billing with host Tex Ritter. In his  book Reflections, country performer Johnny Bond, who was also involved in the program, wrote that “traditional country entertainers, singing cowboys and rock singers never shared the spotlight in a more harmonious manner than on the Town Hall Party and syndicated Ranch Party shows.”

 

Columbia Records released a Town Hall Party album in 1958 that included many of the regular cast members who soon departed the show because NBC decided to discontinue the Saturday night radio broadcasts. In late December 1958, the newly opened Showboat Hotel in Las Vegas began to put on Town Hall Party shows featuring Tex Ritter, The Collins Kids, and Town Hall regulars, thus drawing them away from the Saturday night telecasts on Los Angeles station KTTV. In December 1960 they were dropped from the lineup, and the final performance at the old Compton Town Hall was on Jan. 14, 1961.

 

 

Beginning in 2002, the Germany-based Bear Family Records began to release a series of Town Hall Party DVDs that now includes 25 titles. Most feature various artists, but they’ve also brought out an artist spotlight series that includes Joe Maphis, The Collins Kids, Johnny Cash, Eddie Cochran, Merle Travis, and others. There are a few dozen clips and also complete shows available to view on YouTube, with some posted from Bear Family and others from private collectors. It was a great time period for country music in California, and it came straight outta Compton.

 

This article was originally published as an Easy Ed’s Broadside column over at No Depression: The Journal of Roots Music.

Why Musicians Pay Taxes But A Billionaire Doesn’t

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These past few days and weeks have been pretty rough out there on the American political landscape for the Republican nominee for president. Putting aside having had his clock cleaned in a televised debate in front of 84 million people, tweeting disturbing early morning rants about a Latina beauty queen he calls Miss Piggy — and lying about her making a sex tape — he’s also accusing his opponent of marital infidelity and his charitable foundation is being investigated for fraud. Now comes news that he used a tax loophole to avoid paying personal income tax for close to 20 years.

And who knows for sure; maybe he’s never paid a dime. Ever. He is the first and only modern presidential nominee who refuses to share his income taxes with the public. I think my late father would probably say something like, “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”

Now I don’t know about you, but I have been filing and paying my taxes for close to 44 years. I’m not alone. My friends, relatives, co-workers, and neighbors pay their share too. And while we all complain and wish we could pay a lot less, most of my people are considered middle-class wage earners, and we’re not able to take advantage of the tax laws and loopholes that are given to the wealthy folks. My entire life, I’ve heard politicians tell me that they’ll fix it once elected, but it hasn’t changed. If you want to talk about a rigged system, you can start right there.

Back in the early 1990s, Donald Trump’s hotel-airline-casino empire fell apart and he filed bankruptcy four times. He laid off thousands of people, stiffed contractors and suppliers, stripped the value of his holdings to leave his creditors with staggering losses, and he took money off the table for himself. He proudly calls himself a “brilliant” businessman. He claims he’s the best candidate to fix the system since he is a genius at ripping it off. To me, that’s the equivalent of putting Charles Manson in charge of overhauling our criminal justice system.

Now, before I go too far off on a tangent here, let me pull it back a little bit. Since this is a music website, lets talk about musicians. For the sake of this conversation, lets exclude those on the level of Bruce or Bono, Madonna or Taylor. Let’s be real: for every Snoop Dogg, there are probably 25,000 players barely making minimum wage.

Your favorite Americana-folk-blues-jazz-bluegrass picker-singer-songwriter-indie-alt-whatever musician might crowd source 20 thousand dollars to record and market an album, go out on the road and perform at clubs, coffeehouses, house concerts and maybe some festival dates, travel for the most part on four wheels in a crowded vehicle, eat whatever food is offered to them, take time to do benefit shows every so often, and then spend some serious dough to go to trade shows and conventions to drum up even more dates. If they’re lucky, at the end of the year, they’ll pull in somewhere between 20 to 80 thousand dollars a year. Just an un-educated guess. Maybe more, maybe less.

Reaching out to some of my friends who actually make their living playing songs  for you and me, I asked them how they earned their dough, kept track of expenses, and managed to run a business while staying creative. Not surprising, it ain’t easy.

For those at the low end of the range, there are some tax laws that allow for them to keep most of what they earn. Moving up the income level, they balance obligations and deductions just like most other creative types and independent contractors. Without a day job, there’s nobody contributing a portion of their check into social security, so they pay the full amount. There’s no employer providing health insurance, so that’s another expense. It’s a little easier to do that today with the Affordable Care Act, but healthcare is still pretty expensive for many people and you’ve got oodles of Republican politicians trying to take it away altogether.

On the other hand, musicians and other independent contractors can write off some expenses that people with regular jobs cannot: travel expenses, meals on the road, clothes for the stage, music to listen to, lessons to hone their skills, concert tickets and instruments. If they have an office in their home or a studio, there might be other deductions available.

A musician has to document business-related spending by keeping track of daily receipts, expenses, and a detailed  travel log, and it helps if they keep separate bank accounts and credit/debit cards for business expenses. Many have an accountant and probably just as many don’t. It basically comes down to feeling confident with their financial literacy, and balancing that with the complexity of their musical endeavors.

And at the beginning of each year, musicians gather up their 1099 forms, figure out what they earned, calculate what they paid out, and guess what … they pay their taxes. Just like me, just like you.

There’s an argument to be made that paying your “fair share” is a patriotic act. But there’s also another way to look at it, and it’s about millions of people chipping in a portion of what they earn to help all of us enjoy a decent life. Not just the one percent who make the most money, but each of us.

In closing, I went over to the website for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities to see exactly how our tax dollars are spent. Here’s the breakdown:

25%: Health care or long-term care to about 72 million low-income children, parents, elderly people, and people with disabilities.

24%: Social Security for 40 million retired workers, 2.3 million spouses and children of retired workers, 6.1 million surviving children and spouses of deceased workers, and 10.8 million disabled workers and their eligible dependents.

16%: Defense and security-related international activities.

10%: Safety net programs to individuals and families facing hardship.

8%: Benefits for retired federal workers and veterans.

6%: Interest debt.

4%: All other expenses.

3%: Education.

2%: Science and medical research.

2%: Transportation infrastructure.

In the case of Donald Trump, this list is what he didn’t contribute to. We did, but he didn’t. Nothing for our vets, our military, our kid’s education, the elderly, the sick, those in need of a helping hand, highways, bridges, airports, trains, or border security.

Thanks for nothing — and I do mean nothing.

This was originally published as an Easy Ed’s Broadside column at No Depression dot com.