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TOM OWENS COWBOYS * Cedar Rapids

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April 24, 2008
Hello,

I recently checked your site and saw a photo of the Tom Owen Band circa 1944.   The photo is of the members at that time, but in the back row there is a person who is not identified...that member is Jim Pye the bass player...he is shown standing next to Chuck.

As I said in other e-mails, the Tom Owen Band has had more influence on me musically, than anything else in my life...I loved going to Tom Owen dances when I was a young boy with my parents. When I learned to play the trumpet I tried my best to play like Chuck.

Thanks,
Glen Cook
Rock Island,

March 13, 2005, childhood fan (1940's & 50's) Glen Cook:
 
Hi,

 
I grew up during the 40's and 50's when the one and only Tom 
Owens Cowboys from Cedar Rapids were the "real" Kings of Western Swing here in the midwest!

Some of my best memories of growing up are of my mom and dad taking me to a Tom Owens dance in the area. In fact it was because of  these great experiences that I began playing the trumper in the early 50's. I never reached the level of Chuck of the Cowboys, but I have always tried to play in his style.

Having said this, my favorite Cowboy was Jim Pye the bass player. I have always loved the bass and the way Jim slapped it...during songs such as 12th Street Rag. I would often sit on the edge of the stage and Jim would let me hold his bass while he played the fiddle or sang. What a thrill!

My parents bought my a used fiddle which I would pretend was a bass and would stand it on a chair and pretend to slap it while listening to the Cowboys noon show each day on WMT in Cedar Rapids.  I still have that fiddle. I was about 4. (1944)
This past Christmas I realized a lifetime dream by purchasing my first upright double bass! It now stands in a corner of our dining room next to our piano with a soft light on it. I've played the trumpet for over 50 years and never once have I put the mouthpiece in that I haven't thought of The Cowboys and Chuck.
We formed a band several years ago and played for many dances in this area. But, believe me when I say, we weren't very good.
HOWEVER, I ALWAYS TRIED TO PLAY LIKE CHUCK.

Remember what he and the band sounded like as each dance started? I remember the first songs being something like "Four Leaf Clover"; "How Ya Gonna Keep 'Em Down On The Farm?" etc. etc. Chuck had a sharp piercing yet mellow sound didn't he?
My only regret is that I never got to tell them what there music meant to my life. They were the greatest in so many ways.

 
Glen Cook

March 14, 2005, childhood fan (1940's & 50's) Glen Cook:
 
Dear Mr. Law,

I know Keith Crawford very well. He replaced Chuck with The Cowboys toward the end of the Tom Owens years. He was the trumpeter for Johnny Kettleson for many years before forming his own band. Keith has told me many stories of the old Cowboy's band.
 
Some of my memories include:
1. Chuck at some point in the evening would put on a red wig and sing "I Want To Be A Cowgirl, But I'm Afraid of Cows."

2. Jim would "ride" his bass like a horse while playing 12th Street Rag.

3. Chuck wrote their theme song...I can hum it but I don't know the name of it. He must have done this late in the 50's. At least that's how I remember it.

4. Tom Owens calling square dances in the early years and Jim doing the same later.

5. I don't know this for sure, but I assume that they modeled their band somewhat after Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys...is that accurate? Bob Wills started "Western Swing" somewhat copying the great Benny Goodman (The King of Swing) who began his band and was at his peak in the 30's. In fact as far as I am concerned every western swing band today...George Strait, Asleep At The Wheel etc. etc. owe their careers to Bob Wills.

6. The first Tom Owens Band I can remember had as members: Chuck on trumpet; Don on clarinet and sax; Jim on bass; Bub Goodwick on banjo; Gene on accordian; and Mibbs on drums. Tom Owens always came with them and sat on the stage during the dance. Like I mentioned earlier, Mr. Owens called square dances. Later members were: Johnny Kettleson on guitar; Leo Greco on accordian; Bob (?) on clarinet; and Keith on trumpet. But to me, the band was not the same after Chuck and Don left. I can hear Chuck (to this day) playing the trumpet. When you would pass in front of the band stand his tone would blow you away. AND... NO ONE PLAYED THE BASS LIKE JIM. At least as far as I am concerned.
 
7. Songs included: Angry, In The Mood, South, Goofus, Blue Skirt Waltz, Beer Barrel Polka, Skirts etc etc.
 
I love good music and I credit my mom, dad, grandfather and Tom Owens Cowboys for this. I grew up to love big band jazz and feel the old Benny Goodman Band was the best ever put together. Duke Elllington, Count Basie, Stan Kenton, the early Glenn Miller Band, and Chick Webb, were all great, but to me Goodmans' was the best..just look who came out of his band and then formed their own...Harry James, Ziggy Elman, Gene Krupa, Lionel Hampton, Teddy Wilson, Buck Clayton, and the list goes on and on....HOWEVER, if the Goodman Band was playing on one side of the street and Tom Owens was playing on the other...I would have gone to The Cowboys in a heart beat...don't know if they were better, but to me they were so meaningful and special.
 
I absolutely loved their music and they meant so much to me.

Thank you,

Glen Cook

Tom Owens Cowboys, circa late 1930's

From the Desk of Leo Greco, former member of Tom Owens Cowboys

Harold Goodwick's letter about Tom Owens Cowboys, page 1

Harold Goodwick's letter about Tom Owens Cowboys, page 2

Tom Owens Cowboys engagements at Central Hall, Clinton, Iowa

More Tom Owens Cowboys engagements

Newspaper ad Tom Owens Cowboys at Melody Mills, March 1, 1957

Tom Owens Cowboys History at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa

Photo courtesy Dick Wilson of Woodhull, Illinois

Tom Owens Cowboys: Circa 1940's-50's photo included at least two original 1935 members: Tom Owen and Mibb's Allen. Tom Owens' Cowboys of Cedar Rapids broadcast over WMT 600 AM starting 1936, were well known to dancers from Dubuque to Davenport as well as much of Illinois, Wisconsin Minnesota and Iowa.  They were well known in Iowa especially for battles of the bands with Savanna's Ralph Slade Orchestra during the late 1930's.

Select the link above to:
Read original sideman Harold Goodwick's 1978 letter about how Tom Owen started his career as a regional danceband leader, broadcasting over WLS in Chicago and WMT 600 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Also, read a recent note from sideman Leo Greco who later lead his own regional dance band "Leo Greco and the Pioneers." In 2004, Leo is still well known by many AM radio listeners of WMT 600 of Cedar Rapids.

tomowenscowboys1944.jpg

Left to right, back row--Tom Owens; Mibs; Don Wachal; Jim Pye, bass; Chuck, trumpet
Left to right, front row--Bub's son Don; Gene Horch; Bub Goodwick
Photo courtest of Mrs. Charlie Vaccaro, bass fiddler of the Ralph Slade Orchestra.  During the late 1930's and 1940's these two bands played battles of the bands

Dick Wilson recalls Tom Owens Cowboys:
 
Memories of a farm boy from Mercer County, Illinois by Dick Wilson:
 
My Dad was born in 1891, went through the sixth grade before he turned his
life to full time farming. I was born in 1935. Our farm operation (usually)
consisted of  about 80 rented acres of farm land, 4 horses, 5 milk cows, 8
sows, 12 hens, 1 rooster, a dog and 3 or 4 cats. For income we sold oats,
cream, calves, and spring & fall pigs. the corn and hay we grew we kept for
the animals. My dad never had a tractor. We always had a Ford that was about 10 to 15 years old. This should give you an idea of how short money, and therefore entertainment, was in our home.

One thing my Parents both liked was music. A lot of the people in our family
was gifted with the ability to set at a piano, or pick up an instrument of
some kind and play it in a few minutes. I was not one of these. My father
and his father were both pretty decent Fiddle players. When my dad was
younger, He, my aunt, and their nephew had a little band and would play for
dances in the Mercer county area. Sometimes he would get home about 2 hours before morning chores.

I remember staying with my Grandmother at the age of 4 while the folks went
to the Tom Owens dance in Aledo Il. By the time I was 6 I got to go along.
Tom Owens Dances were the only thing I can remember my dad spending money on for entertainment.

In Feb. at the Col. in Davenport Iowa the folks would always catch the free
anniversary dance. Through out the year we went to Tom Owens dances at
Aledo, Aledo Fairgrounds, Cambridge, Woodhull and I think Kewanee Illinois.

My favorite was Cambridge because I could set on the edge of the stage and
get a good view of the band. Chuck the trumpet player would usually come
over and talk to me during a break. I learned all of their songs and sang
them at home regularly. I can't remember their theme song but I know "Pony
Boy" was done real early in the night. God how I loved their music.

When I got older and had a car of my own, Bub had retired and Johnny had
taken over the band. any time they were close, my date and I would go to the
dance. I remember fun times in Woodhull Il, Aledo, and others. Woodhull was
the best, it was a fenced in open air pavilion you drove your car in and
parked around the fence or the pavilion. There was always refreshment of
some kind in the trunk. If you didn't want to dance you sat in the car and
listened to the music.
 
Those were very good times.  Now all we have is memories. I wish someone would have captured the music.

Dick Wilson
 

Tom Owen's Cowboys of Cedar Rapids broadcast over WMT 600 AM starting 1936, were well known to dancers in Savanna area dancehalls and Iowa for battles of the bands with Savanna's Ralph Slade Orchestra. Select the link to Tom Owen to read original sideman Harold Goodwick's 1978 accounting of Tom Owen's Cowboys.