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Memories from the Homestead: Missouri roots – 'The Cattle Call' and Tex Owens

A lot of fans ask me about my yodeling background and what it takes to go from my normal voice to my falsetto. My influence was and still is Roy Rogers. By the early 1930s, he had developed a unique style and would go on to invent harmony yodeling. A trio freight train yodel would become the sound that brought early popularity to the Sons of the Pioneers as they began a run in radio that would lead to commercial recordings and movie appearances.  I feel that Roy's yodeling got better and better as time went by (he was 22 when he began the Sons of the Pioneers). His sound was satisfying to me his entire career!

Tex Owens would write a song that over time would become a yodeling standard—"The Cattle Call."  

Tex was born Doie Hensley Owens and was born in Bell County, Texas, on June 15, 1892. His family was musical with ten sisters and one brother. His sister Ruby would go on to a professional career as Texas Ruby, who later married one of the finest fiddlers, the great Curley Fox.  

Tex was fifteen and based in Oklahoma when he found employment at a ranch, and soon he joined a traveling performance troupe, the Cordell Wagon Show. Ranch work and performing became the way of life for Owens, and in 1916 he married Maude Neal near Paola, Kansas. They would later have two daughters, Laura Lee (born in 1920) and Dolpha Jane (born in 1924).

Tex began a run in radio in 1928, and that would lead him to be a regular at KMBC in Kansas City by 1932. Several sources tell the story a little differently, but according to radio historians from KMBC, it was while Tex was waiting to go on the air when he wrote "The Cattle Call" in early 1934.

Back then the KMBC studio was up on the eleventh floor of the Pickwick Hotel, and the snow was falling pretty good as he looked out the window. Reminded of the herds of cattle that were out there in the frigid elements, he began to think about calling in the cattle to feed, much in the fashion that he had done while working on ranches in Oklahoma.  In thirty minutes "The Cattle Call" was written, the melody is similar to that of "The Morning Star Waltz."

Both of Tex's daughters joined him on his KMBC broadcasts by 1936; Laura Lee would later become the first female singer with Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys.

In 1939, Tex left KMBC and went to WTAM in Cleveland, Ohio. From there he went to WLW in Cincinnati.  During World War II, Owens went to California, continuing radio work.

In 1948 Tex landed a part in John Wayne's film "Red River," considered one of the greatest cattle drive films of all time. During filming in Arizona, Tex's horse fell with him and he was rushed to the hospital in Nogales. Tex suffered a fractured arm and a broken back and would spend a year there recovering. 

In 1950, Owens came back to radio at KOAM in Pittsburg, Kansas. In 1960, he went back home to Texas, moving to New Braden. He passed unexpectedly at his home on September 9, 1962. He was laid to rest in a family plot at the Franklin Cemetery, in Franklin, Texas. Inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, Tex was remembered for composing over 300 songs.

"The Cattle Call" recording by Tex from 1934 is rather unique. It's easy to find on YouTube. The 1945 version with Eddy Arnold saw major success, and in 1955 Arnold recorded it again. That version sold well into the millions.

The Sons of the Pioneers have featured "The Cattle Call" frequently over the years. Their 1960 recording can be found on the RCA LP "Tumbleweed Trail." There is a sheet music version with Roy Rogers on the cover from 1945, but I have yet to find a version of Roy performing it. Some of you may remember John Wayne's film "Rio Grande" from 1950. There's a wonderful trio yodel version there performed by the Sons of the Pioneers with Ken Curtis singing lead!

Back in the 1970s, our Pioneers tenor Rusty Richards performed it during concerts. I loved his arrangement, and that's the version I perform with the Pioneers today. Although I must say, the version I did with Dusty Rogers and Tommy Nallie in Dusty's show back in 2011 was probably the most fun for me. We did the famous yodel in three-part harmony, something that had very seldom been attempted!  

Go to YouTube and listen to some of the fine versions of this great song over the years! If you have a favorite recording of "The Cattle Call," share those details with me! Who really has the best recording out there?

Happy Trails, everyone!

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