America’s Most Colorful Hillbilly Band
In the Depression days of 1933 in Boas, Alabama, Charlie and Lula Maddox gathered their belongings and five of their six children- Cal, Henry, Fred , Don and Rose ranging in age from 7-16. They illegally boarded freight trains and headed for California eventually settling near Bakersfield, CA.
They followed the various harvests, working as “fruit tramps,” and were soon joined by eldest son Cliff. All were musical, and to help their income, they began to play for local dances, with the 12-year-old Rose (born Roselea Arbana Maddox on August 15, 1925, near Boaz, Ala.), providing the vocals, even in noisy honky-tonks.
In 1937 the family migrated to the Modesto, CA area of the northern San Joaquin Valley where Fred Maddox convinced the Rice Furniture store in Modesto to sponsor a country music radio show on pioneer Modesto radio station KTRB featuring the Maddox Brothers band. The only problem was, the furniture company insisted that the band to have a girl singer, which they didn’t. However, Fred told them he had the best girl singer around. He was talking about his eleven-year old sister Rose, who only knew the words to three songs. The furniture store agreed to adding Rose and the radio programs began.
Initially they were a trio with Fred, Cal and Rose calling themselves “The Alabama Outlaws”. They opened their radio shows with “George’s Playhouse Boogie” and closed each show with their theme song “I Want to Live and Love,” which typified the raucous fun and spirit of the Maddox’s’ music. The program continued through 1941 when the group disbanded when Cal, Fred, and Don were drafted. Prior to appearing on KTRB they appeared on KFBK in Sacramento where they began their radio appearances.
After her brothers were drafted during WWII Rose was left behind without work. At one point she tried to convince Bob Wills to give her a listen in the hopes that he’d hire her for his band, the Texas Playboys, but Bob wouldn’t give her the time of day. She told him, “When my brothers get back from the war, we’re gonna show you but good” or something to that effect. And true to her word, when her brothers returned in 1946, the Maddox Brothers & Rose went back into full swing. They were most famous for their outlandish wardrobes and onstage hijinks, and their exuberant performances caused people to stop their dancing and just stare!
By the early 50s, with an act that included comedy as well as songs, they were regulars on the Louisiana Hayride, played concerts and also appeared on the Grand Ole Opry. In 1947, they recorded for Four Star Records before moving to Columbia in 1951. Their successes included Rose’s stirring recordings of “The Philadelphia Lawyer” and “The Tramp On The Street.” Rose also recorded with her sister-in-law Loretta as Rosie & Retta.
By the mid-50s, Rose was beginning to look towards a solo career. In 1957, she signed with Capitol Records and about that time the Maddox Brothers disbanded. Rose soon established herself as a solo singer and, during the 60s, had several chart hits including “Gambler’s Love,” “Conscience I’m Guilty” and her biggest hit, “Sing a Little Song of Heartache.” She also had four very successful duet recordings with Buck Owens, namely “Mental Cruelty,” “Loose Talk,” “We’re The Talk Of The Town” and “Sweethearts In Heaven.”
In the late 60s, she suffered the first of several heart attacks that affected her career, but by 1969 she had recovered and made the first of her visits to Britain. She continued to work when health permitted throughout the 70s, but had no chart success. After leaving Capitol in 1967, she recorded for several labels including Starday, Decca and King Records. In the 80s, she recorded two albums for Arhoolie Records and the famous Varrick album Queen of the West, with help from Merle Haggard and the Strangers and Emmylou Harris who provided the backing on some of her 80s recordings.
Later she worked with long-time friend and rockabilly artist Glen Glenn, recording the album Rockabilly Reunion with him at the Camden Workers Club, London, in March 1987. Many experts rate the album Rose Maddox Sings Bluegrass as her finest recorded work. On it she was backed by such outstanding bluegrass musicians as Don Reno, Red Smiley and Bill Monroe. Her 1994 Arhoolie Records album, $35 and a Dream, was nominated for a Grammy.
She frequently appeared with Vern Williams, a popular West Coast bluegrass musician who also provided the backing on some of her 80s recordings. She sang gospel songs with the Vern Williams band at his funeral. Her son Donnie died in 1982.
In 1987, Maddox suffered a another major heart attack which left her in a critical condition for some time. Her situation was aggravated by the fact that she had no health insurance but benefit concerts were held to raise the funds.
Rose possessed a powerful, emotive voice and was gifted with the ability to sing music of all types. Her recordings ranged from early hillbilly songs and gospel tunes through to rockabilly numbers that endeared her to followers of that genre.
Rose died April 15, 1998, in Ashland, Ore. She was preceeded in death by Fred, Cliff, Henry and Cal. Don Maddox, at 84, is the only member of the family still with us today and lives in Ashland, Oregon.
(Courtesy of Arhoole Records, Wanda Faye, Cowgirls.com and CMT.com)