the root cellar: the maddox brothers & rose

There will never be another band like the Maddox Brothers & Rose. From their 1937 start as a bunch of desperate migrant laborers (and music amateurs) who fast talked their way into a radio show at Modesto’s KTRB, this Alabama-born, California-based family band refused to shackle themselves to any established style. Though firmly tooted in the Southeastern music tradition, their postwar search for a new sound and fresh approach to Country Music was a deliberately competitive and conscious effort. It sent them cutting across recognized boundaries to ultimately reach a crossroads where pop, gospel, boogie, folk and blues intersected with dazzling showmanship and unorthodox presentation. The result was a vibrant, kaleidoscopic mix that quickly established them as one of the top national acts, fittingly touted as “America’s Most Colorful Hillbilly Band.”

– From Rambling Rose: The Life and Career of Rose Maddox by Jonny Whiteside (Country Music Foundation, 1997


by john pinamonti


Welcome back to the Root Cellar, Y’all. I’m sure you can guess from the above paragraph that our subject this month is the fabulous Maddox Brothers & Rose. I decided to start things off with that great quote as it paints the picture better than I could and beautifully sums up the essence of these musical pioneers. I’ve decided not to write much myself this month because I’ve found the words of others are far more informative. No, I’m not copping out and letting others do my talking for me – just remember that the point of this column is to get you listening to great music, not to have you read my re-hashing of existing biographical material. So here is a simple 3-step process to follow, after which you will be well on your way to appreciating one of America’s greatest bands.

First step: Take a look at this fine section from the Rockabilly Hall of Fame web site (thanks to Bob Timmers for the link permission).

Second step: After you’ve read through the page, check out this next link:

This is a fantastic excerpt from Nicholas Dawidoff’s book “In the Country of Country”. (The book is a great read and resource about American music – find it and add it to your collection). The chapter here is one of the best pieces written about Rose and the Maddox Clan.

Third step: Listen to one or both of the following: The Maddox Brothers and Rose – America’s Most Colorful Hillbilly Band, Vols. 1 & 2 (Arhoolie Records)

Both of these feature the band in their prime, while they were inventing and perfecting their unique style. They play every song as if it were their last, and their enthusiasm is overflowing. Some listeners might find them to be a bit too enthusiastic at times – there’s lots of laughter and shouting in response to the vocals – but no one can deny their incredible swing and spirit.

Final Notes: A special shout goes out to Chris Strachwitz, founder of Arhoolie Records, for making available these historic recordings. He has, over the past [40] years been instrumental in preserving and presenting vital music. If you are unfamiliar with this label, please check out their website and try out a few of their releases. (That was an unsolicited plug!) Also out is a fine box set celebrating Chris’ labor of love. It’s called The Arhoolie Records 40th Anniversary Box Set, and it will provide you with hours of great stuff as well as turn you on to lots of great musicians.

And if some of you dig the crazy western outfits the Maddox family brought into style, then check out an interesting book called “Hillbilly Hollywood: The Origins of Country & Western Style” by Debby Bull (Rizzoli International Press). Fab pics plus some interesting writing – and great for the coffee table, too!

Next month: Louisiana Gumbo and Rockin’ R’n’B – Moon Mullican and Wynonie Harris


Originally published:
Issue Ten
June 2001


John “Pointy” Pinamonti is a Managing Editor of Smokebox and an accomplished guitar slinger who practices his trade while slurpin’ fine bourbon and playing smoky clubs in New York City. His latest cd “High, Wide And Handsome” is available at his website.

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