I remembered Evans from around 1950, before I was old enough to start grade school. I liked him, and I could tell my parents were fond of him. Whether we saw him at our home or at a show, he was always happy, upbeat and kind to me and my brother. “What was mother like?” I asked as we talked in his home workshop. His reply:
Well, I guess she wasn’t old enough to be like my mother (in 1950), but she was like a big sister. She took me in like a baby brother. Then again, she took in a bunch of us (young, aspiring performers who sought Jewell’s coaching).
She was real outgoing.
I never did see how she could keep up that high enthusiasm. I remember asking (fellow musician) Bubba Gene Carpenter, “Does Jewell go like this all the time?”
I said, “Albert, I’m flattered, but it would cost $650 to build an amp like that for the market.” He said, “I’ll have half of it in the mail tomorrow.” This was 1962 or ’63. He carried it over and showed it to other guys, and I started getting phone calls from guys who wanted me to build one for them.
So then (Talley) played the Houston Fat Stock Show, and he had the amp on stage, and Shot Jackson, the president of Sho-Bud, was there and tried it and said, hey, do you reckon this guy would consider building us some amps? He said write to (Evans), so they wrote me, and I said I’d consider it. How many do you want? I figured he’d want six or eight.
He said, “Well, I’d like to start out with a hundred amplifiers.”
So I went up and talked to them. Carried a demo. They had guys in Nashville try it and they liked it. They said you’re on. I said (I don’t have that kind of money). They said they’d put up a 25 percent deposit, so I said OK.
So I came home and quit my day job at McGuire Sound System, a commercial sound business. Wound up in the amp business from 1965-69. Built all the amps for Sho-Bud and put their name on them. The contract finally ran out. I’d fly up there on weekends and do the work. Sho-Bud would send a plane for me. Sometimes I’d fly commercial.
The contract finally ran out, so I thought I’d be out of the amp business but still kept getting calls. I got a call from John Hughey, steel man for Conway Twitty. We were already friends. I’d met him in Nashville. He said, “Jim, I want an amp.” I said, “John, I don’t work for Sho-Bud anymore. He said, well, can you build me an Evans amp? So I sent him one.
About two days later, Hal Rugg, Loretta Lynn’s steel player, called and said, “Hey, John (Huey) told me I could get an amp from you. I’ll have a check in the mail.” Two or three days later, Jimmy Crawford -- he played steel for Hank Snow and others --
he called and before I knew it, I was back in the business.
I went to work for International Paper (in nearby Ashdown, Ark.). I met Derrell Stephens, a college-trained engineer. He said, “Can I come and help you?” He helped me and became a partner. I told him I was trying to get out, not in. (Stephens took over Evans’ amp business.)
Eight or nine years later, he called and said we got a buyer. He sold the business, and I got 10 percent.
I thought I was off the hook, but the people who bought it wanted to hire me as a consultant. I’m on hand if they need me.
Most of my electronics since 1985 has been industrial. I own two or three Evans amps, but I’m not active in the business, but I’m active playing. I’m not in the amp business. I’m glad to be out.
The industrial stuff ran me ragged. I’m retired from International Paper. I set up their electronics shop for them in ’72. Retired just before 2000. They would send work to my home. I work for them two or three days a week.
Early Hayride fiddler and guitarist Tommy Bishop, left, and Evans played the Louisiana Hayride reunion show in 2003.
Jim Evans (at stage left and in inset in plaid shirt) stood proudly behind his steel guitar with the rest of the Louisiana Hayride cast for this April 1953 photo to celebrate the Hayride’s 5th anniversary. Hoot Rains and Curley Herndon are on Evans’ right and to Evans’ left is Don Davis standing next to white-hatted Johnny Horton.
He said, “She’ll finally get tired and come down a little bit, but she can go for long periods of time.” Usually, a person that’s real outgoing can’t last a long time.
I asked that question whenever we were (playing shows) out at the Four States Fairground (a major venue then for productions in Texarkana). She’d get people’s attention, and she’d keep it. Like Smiley Burnett – he hung on to every word she said. Of course, she’d booked him in (for a show), but it was not just because he was working for her. She had a real enthusiastic spirit. When she talked, people listened.
What seemed so funny, your dad was laid back. He was a John Wayne type. He reminds me, thinking back, he had a slow-going, John Wayne personality. He never got excited. He was very deliberate, and Jewell was outgoing, fast-moving. I guess opposites attract.
The main thing is that Jewell was enthusiastic. She never did take anything low-key. She was somebody you didn’t mind introducing, because she’d make a good impression. Like I said, I wondered how she could keep it up over a long period of time. I guess it was just her engrained personality.
“Naw, come on in.” so he came in and sat down and said, “I’ll be real quiet. I won’t bother anybody.”
So he sat down and was listening, still playing bongo on his guitar case. He’d look up and say, “Am I bothering y’all?”
“Naw, you’re doing fine.” He said, “Look, I’m comfortable with you guys over here. Scotty and Bill” – that was his band – “they’re over there mixin’ with all those stars. I don’t know how to talk to those stars. I’m comfortable with y’all. Can I just hang out with you guys?”
We said yeh. He became like one of us. All the time we were there he shared a dressing room with us – from his first night on until we left. We got to know him better than anybody.
Elvis became like one of us
Stories involving the Louisiana Hayride inevitably include an Elvis story. Here’s one from Jimmy Evans while I was interviewing him at his home in Texarkana.
It was in ’54 that Elvis came (to the Hayride). I was probably the first musician he met backstage ’cause I was there (in the musicians’ dressing and rehearsal room), tuning my guitar. He came in with his guitar and said, “Aren’t you one of the steel players?”
I said, “Yeh. I’m Jimmy Evans. What’s your name?”
He said, “You wouldn’t know me.”
I said, “What’s your name?” He was a real clean-cut kid.
“You wouldn’t know me. I’m from Memphis.”
Again I said, “What’s your name?” He said, “Presley. Elvis Presley.”
I said, “Yeh. I been hearing your record on KCIJ.”
He said, “Really, that’s not a record release. That’s just a demo. I went and paid for that myself and made that, and I sent it for an audition. I’m trying out for the Hayride. I don’t think I’ll make it, but they’re giving me an audition.”
We got acquainted right off the bat. We (Hayride staff musicians) were rehearsing on that south end – no, actually we had the north end of the stage was where our dressing room was and rehearsal room, and the south end (on the other side of the stage) was where all the big guys were.
We were down there off to one end. He come back and said, “Would y’all mind if I left my guitar in here? I don’t want somebody to step on it. I couldn’t afford another one” – a big Martin guitar. “Would it be OK if I hung my suit in here on the clothes rack?”
We said yeh. So he come in, and we were practicing, and he was standing outside the door, slappin’ the wall with his hands, and the guitar player, Gene, said, “Hey, kid, you want to come on in here?”
He said, “You really don’t mind?”
Evans, performs in 1985 at “Scotty’s” with legendary pedal steel guitarist Jimmy Day in 1985, three years after Day was inducted into the International Steel Guitar Hall of Fame. “’Scotty’s" is the world-renowned steel guitar show held each year on Labor Day in St Louis and produced by steel guitarist DeWitt Scott,” Evans wrote in an email about the photo.
In June, when Evans and I first began to exchange emails, Evans wrote:
Andi Darby (senior account executive for Town Square Media in Texarkana) forwarded your mutual correspondence to me, after she reached me first by phone, and suggested that I phone you about any data or pictures I have of your mom from the years she coached and directed me in the music business.
In that email, Evans attached a scan of a Texarkana Daily News Digest clipping from Feb. 29, 1953. The newspaper had published extensive coverage of the inaugural performance of the Texarkana Hayloft Jamboree produced by Jewell. Evans wrote:
The Texarkana Athletic Commission created and sponsored the Hayloft Jamboree (as a fundraiser for youth sports) and asked Jewell to be the producer since she had a good rapport with the Louisiana Hayride artists and knew how to schedule them to come and appear on the show each week along with certain local talent.
The Daily News Digest was an experimental offshoot of the Texarkana Gazette (morning paper) and Texarkana Daily News (evening edition). The Daily News Digest was only published for a while. But its timing was just right to give attention to Texarkana’s new show, the Hayloft Jamboree, to be held at the Arkansas Municipal Auditorium. Only someone with the knowledge and influence of Jewell House could persuade not just one but several Hayride artists at a time to come to our smalltown show. No one before or after has ever been able to accomplish such a feat.
Johnny Horton was impressed with Jim Evans’ performance at the Texarkana Hayloft Jamboree and hired Evans (at right) for his Roadrunners band in 1953.
A BUSINESS ADVENTURE
In 1970, the opening of Jim Evans’ music store in Texarkana, Texas, showcased Evans’ stature in Country music. Joining Evans (second from right) were (from left) acclaimed steel guitarists Jerry Fox and Buddy Emmons and legendary steel guitarist Shot Jackson (far right). In 1955, Jackson and Emmons co-founded Nashville-based Sho-Bud, the first manufacturer of pedal steel guitars. As Sho-Bud grew toward global fame, Jackson contracted with Evans to sell his powerful Evans amplifiers under the Sho-Bud brand.
For a couple of years, I tried owning and operating a music store (in Texarkana) at 8th Street and State Line Avenue,” Evans wrote in a November 2014 email. “The picture of myself along with Jerry Fox, Buddy Emmons, and Shot Jackson was in the back yard at the grand opening of my music store (Evans Music Center). I soon realized this store was not for me, so I let it go to a friend, Hank Rankin, where it became Hank’s Music.
Very few store openings have even been honored with the performance of Buddy Emmons. My store opening was one. It was also fortunate enough to feature other historic steel guitarists, including Roy Wiggins, the steel guitar behind Eddy Arnold. Emmons has long been considered the world’s greatest steel guitarist and still holds the title even since his retirement several years ago.
Jerry Fox played steel with Loretta Lynn in her early days (and with George Jones and Bill Mack), and he was my partner in the Evans Amp Company for several years. Jerry had a unique work experience. As a day job, he worked earlier as an undertaker. He finished law school and went to work as an industrial attorney but never gave up playing steel guitar. He had (two heart transplants) and lived longer than any known transplant recipient up until that time. He died (in 2001).
Texarkana steel guitarist Jim Evans played three separate stints for the Louisiana Hayride. He talked during our Aug. 11, 2011, interview and in a June 22 email about how he got started with Jewell’s help:
In 1951, I was playing the little KALT Jamboree at Atlanta (Texas), a Saturday radio show down there, and the guys that later became big – Norm Baile went to the Hayride as an announcer – and I met this kid named Carl Daugherty, a guitar player.
He already had friends at the Hayride, and he’d set in a couple of times. And I said, “Carl, how do you crash that thing?”
He says, “I’m gonna send you straight to the lady that can introduce you. Her name is Jewell House.”
While I was waiting, I came home and told Bubba Gene Carpenter (a Texarkana friend and guitarist who played many jobs with Jim). Bubba Gene said, “I know Jewell. Her husband, Charlie House, is a policeman. I know both of them.”
He carried me over and introduced me to Jewell. She said, “Listen, if you guys want to start practicing, you can come over here and practice.” We had (Gene) and me and a singer named Al Deeton. We’d go over to your house, and your mom would usually sing several songs with us. She looked after us like her own kids. She’d make tea and cookies and sandwiches for us.
Your dad was not a musician but was equally supportive. I suppose they took half a dozen or so of us in like ball team coaches. You must’ve been 5 or 6 years old. This was about ’51. Your brother’s younger. I remember y’all were real small.
I still hadn’t started on the Hayride, but Jewell -- I came over (to Jewell’s house) and met the Wilburns and all that, but (Red Sovine’s steel guitarist) Shot (Jackson) was the only one I talked to at any length. Later on, when I went to the Hayride, (Jewell) didn’t have to get me on, but she told me all the ropes, all that was going on down there.
Jim Evans’ Path to the Hayride
Charley, your dad, introduced me to him as "the kid who will fill your shoes after you leave the Hayride." This turned out almost true, since my first Hayride job, before Johnny, was with (Hayride artist) Goldie Hill, where I used Shot Jackson's style to back her on the Hayride. Shot had moved to Nashville to join the Roy Acuff band.
Later, it was none other than Jewell House who booked the special music shows at the Four States Fairground. Interestingly, she booked cowboy actor Smiley Burnette to sing the first show and had the Carlisles to back him up. As a coincidence, of course, the Carsliles did not have a steel guitar player, so guess who she got hired for that job.
The next show there, she booked Ernest Tubb and introduced me to him. Since he already had a steel player, she arranged for the local band I worked with to open for them.
Ernest acted like he had known us all along and invited us to be bandstand guests a couple of weeks later (at his Midnight Jamboree show in Nashville), since myself and two other musicians had a trip planned to the Grand Ole Opry.
At the Midnight Jamboree (Tubb’s radio show on WSM that followed the Grand Ole Opry broadcast), we had front row seats, and Ernest recognized us on the WSM broadcast and mentioned that he had just done a show with us at Texarkana a few days earlier produced by Jewell House.
The story could go on. But this should be enough to answer the question I was asked today by Andi Darby, "Did you know Jewell House?”
They came down there and Tom said when he set in -- it was intermission and we were sittin’ there drinkin’ a Coke -- and he said, “Jim, would you be interested in playin’ on the Hayride? I said, “Oh yeah.”
I went down and talked to the producer one time after I’d talked to Jewell, and they didn’t have any openings, and he said there’re some now, and if you want to play, I can get you on. I was sittin’ there thinkin’, “Yeah, right.”
He said, “In fact, there are two openings. Do you have a friend who plays steel?” I said, “Yeah, I do – (Texarkana steel guitarist) Jay Riley.”
So I went home and told Jay about it. We all had a big laugh about it. I said, “Can you believe he said he’d get us an audition Saturday?” So we went down there. Some more friends went with us – Ray Ennis, a pretty good guitar player here now – and Bill Brooks, one of the singers. We had a radio show that we played on with him.
They went with us, and we all joked all the way down there about the guy wouldn’t be there and probably wouldn’t know anybody there.
We pulled up in front of KWKH. One of them said, “Is that him?” And it was. He was in a suit. A suit and tie. I said, “That sure is.” He saw us and he said, “Hey, you guys, they’re ready for you. Have you got your steel guitars?”
That kind of shocked us. We said well, yeah, so we went up the staircase to the studio. And the studio, it wasn’t exactly (walled with) one-way glass, but you could see better in than you could see out.
We set up and played. The people auditioning us were outside. I hadn’t met (Hayride bassist and producer) Tillman Franks, Billy Walker, any of them.
Tommy Hill (Hayride artist) -- they introduced us to him ’cause he played rhythm for us and told us what he was going to try to see if we could play. We were nervous, naturally, but still laughing about the fact that it was real.
We said, “We’ll never make this.” Mr. Collins came in and said, “OK you’re both hired. He said, Jim, you’re with a guy named Billy Walker. He’s new on the Hayride, and Jay, you’re with Tommy Trent. He’s got a road show, and his steel player’s leavin’.”
So we both went to work on the Hayride.
Evans learned some lessons right off the bat.
My first night there, I borrowed Jay’s steel guitar ’cause he had a triple-neck Fender, and I had a little single-neck Gibson on a stand.
I was slow about learning about which switch to turn on, and I was supposed to kick Billy Walker off on BackStreet Affair, and I was still messing with the switches and finally he said, “Well, I’ll just kick it off myself," so he just started singing.
Finally, I got in with him going on it, and when we left the stage he said, “You know, I can’t have this. I’m new here. I’ve got a lot hanging in the balance. When I go on again, I’m gonna take Felton Pruitt on with me, the staff steel man.”
I said, “OK, I understand.”
So we were sittin’ back there, and I thought that was the end of me on the Hayride. A man came in and said, “I’m Tillman Franks, and I need to go ahead and pay you for tonight’s performance.”
I said, “You don’t owe me anything. Billy just fired me.”
He said, “Billy can’t fire you. He works for me just like you do.”
I told him what happened.
He said, “Well, you got it lined out?” I said yes. He said, “Well, you go on with him again. I’ll talk to him and tell him you’re going on with him.”
Connections fell into place, Evans said.
I met a man named Tom Collins, not the singer Tommy Collins, he’s the producer. Bubba Gene and I were at the Wagon Wheel -- an outdoor thing (in southeastern Oklahoma), a skating rink made into a dance hall outdoors. We were up there to listen to a band and they asked us to set in, and we did.
This producer, Tom Collins, had a fiddler named Wayne Dobson featured as the “Fiddlin’ Farmer.” He was on the Hayride already. He set in. We set in. We said, “Hey, Tom, why don’t you bring your fiddler down to Rodessa (Louisiana) -- Bud’s Bar -- tomorrow night?” This was like Friday. We were gonna be there Saturday.
We didn’t think he’d take us up on it. Sure enough, here they come down there. Of course, your mom wasn’t too thrilled about us playin’ the bars. She didn’t say too much. She just said, “Don’t y’all get off and get to drinkin’.” We didn’t drink with them actually. We just played.
When I was in Shreveport, between performances, they were the three that I ran around with. In fact I think a told you the story of the time Floyd Cramer had his first date by taking a waitress at the Kickapoo Restaurant home from work. He borrowed my ‘48 Ford that we all ran around in.
“The ‘One More Ride’ show was produced by Joey Kent, son of Dave Kent, the KWKH announcer who continued the Hayride broadcast (1975-’87) on Benton Road, Bossier City, after the show closed downtown (in 1960). Musicians who attended were allowed to play the show with various artists they had backed on the original Hayride.
“I played behind Dido Rowley (bass player/singer in Johnny Horton's Roadrunners, plus Betty Amos of the Carlisles and Roy Sneed of the Carlisles.
Developing the Evans amp
Jimmy Evans’ career in and contributions to Country music went far beyond his work as a staff steel guitarist on the Louisiana Hayride during the 1950s and his work over the years as a gifted steel guitarist for many stars and shows.
Evans’ amplifier gave Country music concerts and musicians a stronger, richer, cleaner sound than had ever been heard – a powerful amp that was gradually improved and one that musicians employ to this day worldwide.
He sketched the amp’s origins and its early popularity during our conversation in his home workshop in Texarkana, Texas, on Aug. 11, 2011. Nearing age 80, he was sharp as a tack. Here are excerpts:
What are you doing these days?
I’m in industrial electronics. I repair and build equipment that controls the big machinery.
Jim Evans, left, and Bubba Gene Carpenter perform in the early '50s at Texarkana's Four States Jamboree
In an email about the photo at left, Evans wrote:
"The picture with Tommy Bishop was taken on the front steps of the Hayride auditorium, at the (’03) Hayride reunion entitled ‘One More ‘Ride.’ There were a lot of so-called Hayride Reunions, but this was the only one realistic enough for me to attend. It actually had most of the still-living performers who were regulars on the Hayride during the years your mom and I were affiliated with the show.
"Bishop was probably the best lead guitarist that ever graced the stage of the Hayride. He was from Vicksburg along with his steel guitar partner Calvin Turberville. They began as the main band members of Red Sovine, both on his regular KWKH broadcast and
also the Hayride shows. Calvin was later replaced by Jimmy Day on steel guitar, and then Jimmy and Tommy were joined by Floyd Cramer to become a then well-known instrumental group called The Trio.
With his Evans amplifier beside him, Evans performs with Texarkana’s Edge of Texas Band at an outdoor job in 2009. “The picture … was taken at a supermarket store opening in Grannis, Arkansas, ” Evans wrote in a November 2014 email. “I still work with this band twice a month locally. The other three Friday nights I play the local Maytag Opry in New Boston, Texas."
“He features the best known steel guitarists from all over the world. (In 1985, Scott) did not have room for me on the show, so Jimmy Day invited me to share his 30-minute slot. I rarely even get to attend the St Louis steel show, but I have played as a charter member
of the corresponding Dallas show (Texas Steel Guitar Association Jamboree) ever since it began."
Evans backs Ernest Tubb in 1978 on Tubb’s Midnight Jamboree on WSM , following the Grand Ole Opry broadcast.
The Daily News Digest gave good coverage to this first show, which had standing room only. However, before this, Jewell had arranged for a pilot show earlier in November of ’52. She scheduled me as the staff steel guitarist and told me who all would be there so I could learn their material.
The Hayride's "new kid on the block" was Johnny Horton, who (independent record company owner and talent scout) Fabor Robison had discovered in Alaska working as an angling instructor at the Alaskan Fisheries and taking well-to-do people on fishing tours. If you can imagine this, while they were fishing, Johnny would bring out his guitar and sing for them.
Taking your mom's advice, I listened to KWKH where Johnny's new record of First Train Headin’ South was being played, and I learned it well. When Johnny, whom I had never previously met, stepped on stage (at the Hayloft Jamboree), something really clicked between us from the first line onward. Then he sang his other new release, Child Side of Life, and we “put a scald” on it as well. We met and shook hands as we left the stage, and he immediately hired me for the next Saturday night’s Hayride broadcast. As they say, "the rest is history." (Horton hired Evans for his band, the Roadrunners.)
Even some months before all that (prior to November ’52), your mom invited me over to your house to meet Webb Pierce and the Wilburn Brothers. She prepared a fried chicken banquet for the show cast, who was doing a concert at the auditorium.
To be sure I was properly involved, she sent me to meet the band at the auditorium and tell them to come to your house for the meal after the show. I was a little too excited to eat, but I spent the rest of the evening on your living room couch talking to (Red Sovine’s steel guitarist) Shot Jackson, whose steel-style I was learning to copy.
Evans (at left) backs veteran vocalist Dick Hammonds of Mesquite, Texas, at the 2010 Texas Steel Guitar Association Jamboree in Dallas.
The other thing, when you were at her house, you were the guest and she was the host and she couldn’t do enough for you. She had to have everything you wanted. If you were thirsty, you had to have a glass of tea or something. When we’d practice over there, she’d fix us sandwiches, iced tea, Kool-Aid.
She was pretty tolerant. I remember when Bubba Gene (Carpenter) and I started playing at Bud’s Bar (in Rodessa, Louisiana), she knew neither one of us drank. She worried about us a little bit, but she’d say, “I’m not gonna try to tell y’all what to do, but just be careful.”
She wasn’t thrilled about us playing down there ’cause that was a rough place. It had a big dance floor. You could make more money down there than anywhere around here that you could play. You basically played for tips.
The oil fields were active then, and we’d have a lot of oil field workers come down there to let down for the weekend, and when they requested a song, they wouldn’t throw 50 cents in the till, they’d throw five dollars. We couldn’t believe it. We’d come home with $50 a man, minimum, and sometimes a hundred dollars, and that was pretty good in 1950-51.
You built amps?
Many years ago, and they don’t want to let me out of it. I was doing that from 1962-85. Evans amps. Sold out to a partner and 10 years later he sold out to the Buffington family in North Carolina. Wanted to keep my name on ’em. They’re still all over the world. The present CEO is a jazz guitarist, Scot (cq) Huffington. He’s in the loop with all the top jazz guitarists in the world. He’s saturated the jazz guitar market with Evans amps. Not one in a hundred is for steel guitars.
What’s different about your amps?
Get on the Internet and see Danny Hullihen. Find him. He has done the research on this that you’re doing on your mom. http://danny.hullihen.tripod.com/id26.htm . He went back to when I first started in the ’50s.
I never could get the sound I wanted, so I put everything I learned from industrial electronics into (development of the Evans amp). I got tips from the best worldwide.
I didn’t intend to get in business. I was just gonna build an amp to use. Albert Talley, steel for Bob Wills’ Texas Playboys, (discovered the amp) over there (in Dallas), and he called and wanted me to build him one. I told him he could get a good amp for $250-$450.