As the Alabama old song goes, “If you’re gonna play in Texas, you gotta have a fiddle in the band.”
That’s true not just in Texas, but anywhere country music is played. In fact, the very first performer on the famous Grand Ole Opry back in 1925 was a fiddler. Jesse Donald Thompson or “Uncle Jimmy” was an instant hit, taking listeners’ requests from the phone. He had just won a blue ribbon at an eight-day fiddling contest in Dallas.
Two of the nation’s top fiddlers are from here in Texoma. Larry Franklin grew up in Whitewright and Kenny Sears was born in Denison. Both are key players in the band, The Time Jumpers, an aggregation of Nashville super pickers. Both men have also reached the pinnacle of fiddling expertise and on Feb. 10 were inducted into the National Fiddler Hall of Fame.
It’s almost common knowledge around these parts that Franklin has won just about every fiddling contest in Texas, including the World Championship title at only 16.
Franklin, who is the proud possessor of three Grammys, said, “I am very honored to be inducted into the National Fiddlers Hall of Fame along with Kenny Sears and Joe Spivey. As members of ‘The Time Jumpers,’ we are dedicated to playing and preserving the music we love. We have each put a tremendous amount of time and effort into playing and promoting fiddle music, so we appreciate this honor very much.”
Sears was raised in Oklahoma but has broad musical ties right here in Texoma. At the young age of 11, he was invited to join the band of the Big D Jamboree radio program which was broadcast by KRLD-AM in Dallas during the 1950s. Also, as a young boy, Sears played classical violin with the Austin College Symphony. Sears moved to Nashville in 1975 and has worked with everyone from Ray Price to the Grand Ole Opry staff band. Today, he is one of Nashville’s most sought-after session players.
Whitesboro can also boast of national level fiddling talent. Carl Vaughan, who now lives in Whitesboro, was born in Cleburne. He said he owes his music career to “the greatest stage mother in the world.”
“My mother told me I was singing before I was talking,” Vaughan said. “When I was only 4 years old, she would stand me up on counters tops in stores and other public places and I would sing to the crowds. One day, a man named Chester Odom who hosted a radio show on local station, KCLE, heard me sing and hired me to perform on his show. I was a paid, professional singer at four years old.”
A career in music was not originally Vaughan’s goal.
“I was enrolled at Arlington State College (now University of Texas, Arlington) majoring in mechanical engineering. I was working my way through college playing music in some pretty rough clubs,” Vaughan said. “I obtained my degree and went to work for a design company and developed the first central vacuum cleaner that was originally installed under the sink, but it seemed like the music business would not leave me alone. I kept receiving lucrative deals to perform on stage and in clubs that were too good to turn down.”
Vaughan continued, “A producer was sent from Nashville to watch me perform back in 1968. The producer was Darrell Glenn who recorded a huge hit song back in 1953, written by his dad, Artie Glenn, called ‘Crying in the Chapel.’”
Glenn believed that Vaughan had potential and arranged for him to record a song in Nashville at the now legendary Quonset Hut Studio. The Quonset Hut was originally known as Bradley’s Barn and owned by producer Owen Bradley, the producer and major creative force behind the career of Patsy Cline. The studio later became Columbia Studio B and was the first major recording studio on what would become known as Music Row.
At the Quonset Hut, Vaughn recorded a song written by Howard Crockett titled, “Jimmy Jacob.”
“There I was in the best studio in Nashville with some of the music’s best players. There was legendary steel guitar player, Pete Drake, Pete Wade, top utility musician Jerry Shook, Elvis Presley’s drummer, D.J. Fontana, and a young guy just getting started named Charlie Daniels,” Vaughan recalled. “After we recorded the song, all of these great players told me, without reservation, that it was going to be a hit. The next day, I had offers from five major record companies and chose to sign with the independent, Monument Records. They offered me the best deal and were the recording home for such major talent as Roy Orbison, Billy Walker and another new singer making her mark, Dolly Parton.”
The song, “Jimmy Jacobs,” released in April of 1968, rose to No. 3 on the charts and successfully established Vaughan in the Nashville music scene.
In 1972, things begin to change. Vaughan was growing weary playing the clubs and life on the road was anything but glamorous. It was brutal and draining.
“At a show one night, and it’s hard to explain, but I felt God was calling me to change my career direction. I made the decision to focus on gospel music and to perform only at family-friendly venues and I have never regretted that decision,” Vaughan said.
Today, Carl Vaughan is active in helping to build the Cooke County Cowboy Church and is currently serving as the church worship leader. He maintains the Carl Vaughan Music Page on Facebook and many of his songs can be found on YouTube.