YOU'RE MISSING: Maddox Brothers & Rose

YOU'RE MISSING: Maddox Brothers & Rose

  • Article by: Casey Stohrer
  • Posted: 07/10/2012

I am a low-energy, laid-back girl by nature. When I play bass in my band, I'm more akin to John Entwhistle standing still and quiet while the rest of The Who blow up the stage. When I first heard the Maddox Brothers and Rose, I realized that their ridiculous stage antics preceded The Who and punk rock by about thirty years. I was in awe of the amount of energy they projected. I wished that I could channel the spirit of Rose Maddox spinning around a gigantic upright bass in a rhinestone cowgirl outfit. She would belt out a Hank Williams song with such a rabid intensity, you'd think she was totally insane. 

The Maddox family were sharecroppers from Alabama. They hopped trains when the kids were very young, and ended up in California in the early 1930s. They earned a modest living as itinerant fruit pickers. The four brothers, Fred, Cal, Cliff (later replaced by little brother Henry) and Don, developed their skills as musicians while young Rose practiced her singing. When it became apparent to their mother that they could be a successful “hillbilly” band, she became their manager and they left the fruit-picking business to pursue a professional music career. 

Mama Maddox shelled out big bucks for the finest in Western stage wear at the time, sporting flashy embroidered outfits by Nathan Turk to match their raunchy live show. They were known as the best-dressed hillbilly band in California, not to mention their highly entertaining performances. Between songs, the brothers would stage slapstick routines and pull off elaborate costume changes, sometimes right in the middle of a number. They would do covers of popular Western swing and country tunes of the time, but they'd put their own mark on them by playing them twice as fast and loud, hollering risqué lines throughout their set. Rose's voice pierces and soars like shotgun shells to the head; she makes Wanda Jackson seem tame in retrospect. The brothers played their instruments so fast because they didn't know any other way to do it. Playing fast and loud came naturally to them, and the audiences loved it. They came to pioneer a unique sound called “country boogie,” which later turned into rock 'n’ roll.

Behind the scenes, Mama Maddox was a stubborn, domineering force in the band, and was often overprotective, especially of Rose. She encouraged her to marry a man she did not want to marry, with whom she had a son. It ended in a painful divorce, and Rose and her son were separated for most of her career, which created problems between Rose and her mother later on. Life on the road, tensions with Mama, and her untamable energy molded Rose into a strong female role model for a new generation. But Mama Maddox's total control and ill-thought negotiations of the groups' business dealings might have been one of the primary reasons they never received the recognition they deserved. They were also overshadowed by bigger California acts such as Buck Owens, and Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys. The Maddox Brothers and Rose faded into history, only to be discovered by curious rockabilly revivalists in later years.

It is hard to believe a singer like Rose and a band like the Maddox Brothers can fall between the cracks like they did. But the few who have heard them are quick to pay their respects. Fred Maddox's slap-bass technique directly influenced rockabilly music, and the group went on to inspire artists such as Barbara Mandrell, Merle Haggard and Dolly Parton. Janis Joplin was also known to have followed Rose along the south Texas club circuit. As for me, they have certainly made their impression. But even if I could inject my stage persona with all the cocaine, energy drinks and sheer willpower in the world, I'd still never hold a candle to Rose Maddox. 

  • YOU'RE MISSING: Maddox Brothers & Rose
  • YOU'RE MISSING: Maddox Brothers & Rose
  • YOU'RE MISSING: Maddox Brothers & Rose
  • YOU'RE MISSING: Maddox Brothers & Rose

Maddox Brothers & Rose - "Vintage Video Clip"

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