Ernest Tubb

Ernest Tubb’s Walking The Floor Over You, a self-penned composition, was a million-seller in 1942 and is regarded as the first major honky-tonk hit. It started a whole new country music sub-genre and laid the foundation for later honky-tonkers like Buck Owens, Ray Price, Webb Pierce, Lefty Frizzell and more recently Vern Gosdin, Mark Chesnutt and Tracy Byrd. An inveterate tourer, Tubb and his Texas Troubadours played around 300 dates a year, year-in, year-out for more than 30 years. They were one of the first touring country bands to add electric guitar (so the band could be heard above the honky-tonks’ raucous din) and to use drums (for the same reason). An honest singer, rather than a great one—emotionally he was a 10-point man, technically he came a lot further down the scale—when ET performed honky-tonk, you could almost smell the booze.

Accurately described as ‘honky-tonk music personified’, Ernest Tubb was born the son of a cotton farm overseer on February 9, 1914, in Crisp, Texas. His boyhood hero was Jimmie Rodgers. Although he had dreams of emulating Rodgers and sang at various get-togethers during his early teens, Tubb was almost twenty before he owned his first guitar. It was shortly after that he started appearing on San Antonio radio stations and began his recording career with RCA Victor. His initial recordings were very much in the Rodgers’ style and included the tributes The Passing Of Jimmie Rodgers and Jimmie Rodgers’ Last Thoughts. He was signed to Decca Records in 1940 and landed a regular spot on Fort Worth’s KGKO Radio Station. His seventh release was the self-penned Walking The Floor Over You, a massive seller that led to him joining the Grand Ole Opry in 1943, a relationship that was to last for more than 40 years. He immediately started a heavy touring schedule, and also graduated to the movies, appearing in The Fighting Buckaroo, Riding West and Jamboree.

With more than a dozen top 10 country hits to his credit he quickly became one of the top country stars of the 1940s. In 1947 he opened the first of his now famous Ernest Tubb Record Shops and commenced his Midnight Jamboree programme over WSM advertising his shop and showcasing up-and-coming country artists. He also recorded with many of the top acts of the day, including The Andrews Sisters (I’m Biting My Fingernails And Thinking Of You), Red Foley (Goodnight Irene, Too Old To Cut The Mustard, etc), The Wilburn Brothers (Hey, Mr. Bluebird) and later Loretta Lynn (Who’s Gonna Take The Garbage Out, Mr. And Mrs. Used To be, etc). Dubbed Mr. Consistency, he continued to score major hits right through to the mid-1960s, including Letters Have No Arms, The Yellow Rose Of Texas, Missing in Action, Half A Mind and Thanks A Lot.

He was elected to the Country Music Hall Of Fame in 1965, but as the 1960s came to a close, the sound of Ernest Tubb was no longer as popular on the radio. He still continued touring with his Texas Troubadours, a band that at one time or another included such stars as Jack Greene and Cal Smith. Though he had been given a lifetime contract by Decca in the 1960s, this was not honoured, and in 1975, the new parent company, MCA Records did not renew his contract. He moved on to Pete Drake’s First Generation label and between 1979-81 re-recorded many of his classic hits of the past with virtually anyone who was anyone in Nashville dropping in to sing on the sessions. The line-up on the final LEGEND AND LEGACY album included Willie Nelson, Loretta Lynn, Vern Gosdin, Johnny Cash, Charlie Rich, Marty Robbins, Waylon Jennings, George Jones, Merle Haggard and many, many more. Haggard, a self-confessed Tubb fan, recorded several of Tubb’s songs in his own style and enjoyed a massive hit with Soldier’s Last Letter in 1971, 27 years after Tubb's original version had topped the charts.

By the early 1980s Ernest Tubb was virtually semi-retired. Emphysema took his life on September 6, 1984. Interest in his classic honky-tonk has remained. His classic Waltz Across Texas, though not a massive hit when released in 1965, has become a popular line-dance standard in the UK, while his Ernest Tubb Record Shop continues to thrive in Nashville, and in new locations in Pigeon Forge, Fort Worth’s Stockyards and Branson.

Recommended Listening

Let’s Say Goodbye Like We Said Hello (Bear Family box set 1991)
The Yellow Rose Of Texas (Bear Family box set 1993)
The Legend & The Legacy (Edsel 1997)
Another Story (Bear Family box set 1999)
Waltz Across Texas (Bear Family box set 1999)
The Texas Troubadour (Proper Records box set 2003)