1974 I was working in Springfield, Missouri in a club called
the Mason-Dixon Lounge, with Jeannie Bryant vocalist, and
Buddy Jones on bass. I was playing lead guitar.
One weekend a month I would work as a staff musician
on a local TV show called The Slim Wilson Show. Speedy Haworth
the guitarist on the show had taken me out a few times to
play banjo and rhythm guitar with Rex Allen Sr. and his Men
Of The West. All of us were from Springfield, Missouri
(except Rex) and taped the Slim Wilson show or worked in various
clubs when not with Rex.
One night, about seven o'clock, the leader of the Men
of The West, Slim Wilson called me and said, Can
you fill in a few days with Festus? His accordion player,
Hi Bussy has had a heart attack in Salt Lake, and Ken is needing
a replacement. I told Slim I didn't know if I would
work out, and he told me Ken did the same Sons of the
Pioneers (which Ken used to be a member of) tunes that
me a number in Salt Lake to call Ken. I called and we talked
for a while and I asked him when he would need me. He said
to meet him in Terre Haute, Indiana at the airport tomorrow
at 4 p.m. He said to go to the airport in Springfield at
2:00 pm and a ticket would be waiting for me.
to say, I did some flyin' trying to get my clothes packed
and all. I flew to Terre Haute the next day and met Ken
at the airport. With him were his band, Jack Lowell on guitar,
Paul (Clem) Smith on bass, and female vocalist/guitarist
We got to
the hotel and had a quick rehearsal. Slim hadn't steered
me wrong. The songs were the ones I had played with Rex,
only in different keys: no problem. I remember I was as
nervous as a dog passing peach seeds that night, but I got
through it with flying colors.
It was a
fair of some sort in Terre Haute. Ken said we had a day
layover until the next show, so tomorrow he would give me
the itinerary. I got the itinerary the next day and about
flipped. A few days??!! There were thirty-one days with
shows we had to do!!! I called my wife and had her send
clothes to the hotel in the next town we were going to be
in. I can't tell you where all of those dates were, but
I remember we crossed from the Midwest to the east coast
and back a bunch.
banjo and harmonica I played worked fine with the Sons
of The Pioneers music Ken did.
set up for a show was we did a couple of vocals. I played
a banjo tune, then Ken would come out dancing around on
stage while we played a bit of a hoedown song. We would
stop, Jack would play a chord and we would break into Cool
Water, and then Tumbling Tumbleweeds.
Then Ken had a comical monologue he would do. Then a couple
of songs more like King of the Road, or Casey
Then Ken would
do this sort of patriotic little monologue he had and how
he wanted to thank all of these wonderful folks who watched
Gunsmoke all these years. Then he would say [in Festus-ese)
And I know I ain't too bright, but I'm smart enough
to know this. If'n it weren't fer Gunsmoke, neither one of
us would have been here tonight!!!
would play a chord on the guitar and Ken would sing, "May
The Good Lord Bless And Keep You" with all of us joining
in on the chorus.
we did were fairs and rodeos all over the country. We even
got to play a couple of high school auditoriums too. Sometimes
the local law enforcement agency would have security for
us around the bandstand like we were big stars or something.
A little unusual for me, but I got used to it.
Let me digress
a little bit. I asked Ken one time where he came up with
the Festus idea. He said when he worked with the Sons
of The Pioneers they would take a break in their show
and he would come out in a mailman's uniform, pushing a
bicycle and do this funny act as Dink Swink.
He would read comical letters to the audience and tell jokes.
In fact Ken named his company (what the company did I never
knew) Dink Swink Inc.
to the story. I would work with Ken about ten dates a year
from 1974-78. In or about 1975 Heidi Nelson left the group
and Jeannie Bryant whom I had been working with at the Mason-Dixon
Lounge in Springfield came on board.
pleased as a new papa when she joined the group. She is
the only girl singer I have ever worked with that knocks
me out when she sings. I told Ken about Jeannie and he said,
Bring her up for an audition.
She sang about three notes at rehearsal and Ken said,
I wish I had known you earlier. You're just what I've
been lookin fer.
in 1978 while singing the high yodel on the song Way
Out There my voice went weak. Luckily, it was the
last performance of the week. I returned home and had a
throat specialist check me out. He found polyps on my vocal
cords and said they needed to come out. The next week I
was supposed to play with Ken in Napa, Idaho. Unfortunately,
that was when the doctor scheduled me for surgery. He said
the more I tried to sing with those polyps on my vocal cords
the more damage I would do. He said it was now or never,
so I had to cancel my part of the rodeo in Napa, Idaho.
surgery was over Ken had a show in Vernon, Texas. Each year
he had worked less and less, and said he was thinking about
retiring. Before I left for Vernon to play the show, a Branson
show called me to work for them. It was a steady gig that
paid year 'round. I told them I had one more job with Ken
in Texas, but then I could start rehearsing with them right
the show in Vernon and asked Ken when his next show was.
He said he had one the next year he thought, but wasn't
sure. I told him I had a secure offer from a well established
show in Branson to join their group. He said, For
Lord's sake take it. I ain't gonna be working that much,
and steady jobs pickin' are few and fer between.
show we said our goodbyes, and Ken, Clem and Jack, two of
the Dodge City Four, flew to L.A. and Jeannie and I flew
back to Springfield.
years ago there was a big store in Springfield called Venture
Stores. They had Ken there as some sort of promotional thing.
I was living in Eureka Springs (Got divorced and left Springfield
and moved to Eureka Springs, Arkansas to work with the Pine
Mountain Jamboree, and got married again.) so my wife and
I went up to see him.
in line like all the rest and then got to have my turn.
Ken was really glad to see me, and said he was working about
one or two shows every year or so. He was basically retired.
We didn't get to visit very long because the "Venture
biggies" wanted Ken for pictures and all the "freebees"
they could get. We said so long, and that was the last time
I saw Ken.
I called and talked to his wife Torrie a few times,
but Ken was always gone doing something. Then, one day a
friend of mine sent me a newspaper clipping saying, Rugged
old codger of Gunsmoke dies. It was about three inches
of copy that said Ken had passed away in his sleep. I sent
a sympathy card to his wife Torrie, but never heard anything
more until a friend of theirs told me via email that Torrie
had passed away a few years ago with pancreatic cancer.
again I'll tell you how we got our name. The name of the
Dodge City Four came about out of necessity. Hi Busse named
the group "The Frontiersmen". He was with Ken
a long time when his health became so bad that he no longer
could play with the group he said the name "The Frontiersmen"
was his and Ken and his new group could not use it. Well,
so much for friends.
in Danville, Illinois [just by the way, hometown of Donald
OConnor, Dick Van Dyke and Gene Hackman] I think,
when Ken told us we had to change the name of the group
because Hi was throwing a real hissy fit and threatened
to sue and I don't know what all. So The Dodge City
Four we became. I think the guitarist Jack Lowell
(real name Jack Lowell Oglesby) thought up the name. It's
been about twenty years since I've heard from Jack.
I last saw
him as a member of the band in the wedding scene of the
new "Beverly Hillbillies" movie with Jim Varney.
Don't know if he is still alive and kickin' or not. Or Paul
(Clem) Smith for that matter. Well, that about wraps it
up. It was pretty much a cut and dried thing. I showed up,
I played the show or shows, and I flew back home. Not very
I got to
see a big chunk of this country in that four years and will
never regret my job with Ken. He was a great guy. Like Slim
Wilson used to say, "I never made it to the big time
star status, but I got to rub shoulders with them.