by George A. Fletcher
We have drawn from many sources over the years in an effort to paint the clearest picture possible of our dad's career, nearly half of which occurred before any of us were born. By no means is this complete, but many pieces of information have come from Tex Fletcher directly. This is his story, told through his music, memorabilia, recollections of his family, friends, fans and even a few musicians he worked with. . Many of the items in the photo section are from our dad's personal collection. Then there is material published or provided by real researchers and authors, magazine and newspaper archives and other historical records.
The image content of this site contains many of the items that we have acquired to fill in the blanks, but truth be told, our father at one time had so much memorabilia, cowboy gear and clothing in the 1940s alone, that he had a storage shed built by his father and brothers in his hometown of Harrison, NY. The shed was subsequently destroyed in a fire. Of what was salvaged, along with items from the rest of his career, much was destroyed in the mid 1960s during a basement flood at our home, also in Harrison. I vaguely remember him wading through at least two feet of water, angry and upset as he tried to save what he could. Not much survived, but a lot of what did is on this Web site.
Initially, I inherited several file boxes, which included the few records that survived a lifetime and 5 kids. An original 1939 16 mm acetate print of Six Gun Rhythm, a few pieces of show clothing and 2 beautifully ornate cowboy boots dating back to the 1940's. The most important piece was and is the 1971 CF Martin 000-28 the Martin company gave my dad in appreciation for donating his D-42. This is the guitar I learned to play on and I still play it today. Only now can I imagine what was lost. I only knew of his Decca and Dakota recordings, ironically, his first and last record labels, Dakota being his own imprint.
I have been literally blown away by the sheer number of recordings he made and on how many labels. He didn't have many records left when I was growing up, though I was the fourth child of five. A few of the old Decca Blue Label 5000 series were still around, and I distinctly remember fooling around as a teenager and breaking not only a copy of his "Ain't She Sweet," but also an original, DJ pressing 78 rpm of Elvis Presley's "Heartbreak Hotel" when I sat on them. By the way, my son can't touch my stuff until he's 21!
I have since come to understand our dad's role in early hillbilly, country, and western swing. He made a lot of good records. Six Gun Rhythm is still a good B Western, and he wrote great songs. But it was all because he was a damn good singer and entertainer first. He shined on the cowboy songs. Plain and simple. Either his own or his take on other cowboy's songs. And being on the air (radio and TV), nearly always as Tex Fletcher The Singing (or Lonesome or Lonely) Cowboy more on than off, at WFAS, WOR, WMCA, WNBC ... for almost 30 years, stands as pretty remarkable. "Cowboy Answer Man," "Tex Fletcher Show," "Tex Fletcher's Wagon Train,"The Bobby Benson Show" (and related spin offs), "Tootsie Hippodrome," "Frontier Diary." It's a solid list of credits.
The Village Barn nightclub had always been a familiar name in our home. Dad was so popular at the famed country music venue, that in the early 1950s owner Myer Horowitz built a bedroom for our eldest siblings, Bob and Jayne backstage so they could come to the gigs. Our dad's tenure began in the early 1930s, ran through 1941 when he entered the Army, and returned to the mic upon his 1945 discharge. He was a WOR/Mutual mainstay right up through 1956 when he hauled the family wagon train to Rapid City, South Dakota. Upon his return to the nightclub in 1960 or 1961, he resumed steady work as a regularly featured performer and MC working first as he had previously, as a singing cowboy. But things had changed. The Barn started featuring Rock and Folk artists. Tex once again rolled with the punches and by 1965, according to Village Barn promotional postcards, he was still doing 7 nights a week - promoted as a folk singer ... while working a day job!
Our sister Jayne has always enjoyed telling how she would accompany "daddy" to Jack Dempsey's restaurant after daytime shows, rubbing elbows with Jack, and occasionally joining Joe Franklin at his private table. She also tells the story of how during a early 1960's show dad MCd at the Village Barn featuring Joey Dee and the Starlighters, she got to meet and dance with Joey! Shortly after the Village Barn's doors closed for good, the building was taken over by a man named Jimi Hendrix - also a left handed guitarist - and Electric Lady Studio is still in operation.
Other than his yearly visits to his kids' elementary school classrooms, I finally saw him play a real gig when he did his last public performance ever for a community event in Harrison, NY in 1976. I was his roadie and terrified of stepping onto the stage in front of all those people to place his freshly tuned guitar in the stand. The guy who gave his best to millions of people including a President, gave his best one last time, for a town park filled with old friends and fans in the town he was born (and certainly a romantic possibility where he played his fist gigs). Much more commanding than I ever observed at our family sing alongs, he changed for that performance in a way I was unfamiliar with. I had never seen him quite like this. He was younger, lighter of spirit and very focused. I only partly understood that this was who he was and what he loved best. The other fellow I knew worked lots of double shifts to sustain 5 kids. He was extremely "old fashioned" to us kids. He referred to a record player as a victrola for the years I knew him! He could be a complete goofball and world champion grouch. But I never knew him as THIS guy. THIS was Tex Fletcher and it was awesome.
Though close for years, he didn't go over the top. He told me more than once he could have done "bigger" things, but that meant 1) using managers and agents (in particular for navigating Hollywood), which he NEVER did, and 2) through that process deal with what he called "gangsters," the unsavory side of the business that he avoided like the plague. And he was happy with his career. He told me many times that he did what he was good at, made a very good living doing it all by himself and had few regrets. He always said he never needed anybody and he was right. He used to say that Rock and Roll knocked him and his kind "out of the box." Kids didn't want to be cowboys anymore. They wanted to be Elvis. This may be why he took the broadcast work in South Dakota upon the demise of the Bobby Benson franchise in 1955. Cowboys were still real and highly respected in South Dakota in the 1950s. Still are!
This web site really began as a scrapbook our youngest brother Michael, who years ago went through all of dad's press clippings and put together a beautiful leather bound album that was passed along to me with his CF Martin 000-28 by our mother when dad passed away in 1987. In the early 1990s when the internet was still young, one of the first searches I ever entered was for "Tex Fletcher." Back then results were few, but something came up that I wasn't aware of (so much was new to me, and I'm still surprised with a "new" item occasionally) and it was clear this medium would be very useful in gathering the information I sought. Within a few years I had been in touch with record collectors, authors, archivists and others interested in preserving the past. I discovered E-Bay, university collections and auction houses and have acquired volumes of materials pertaining to his career.
I was lucky to have corresponded with some of his old South Dakota friends and their families who gave me details about his early life, such as how he was "deathly afraid" of horses when he first arrived in South Dakota. I would have never known. He was a competent, albeit infrequent rider when I was growing up.
Although I have a professional background that included frequent research, I am not an academic by any stretch. Information presented here was either discovered by myself or provided to me by reliable sources. Everything here is what can be verified at this time. Some information, such as not knowing as fact that Tex Ritter referred Tex Fletcher to WOR and later Grand National, could be possible given their long friendship, but is presented informally.
Please excuse the occasional digressions, but when discussing subjects closest to his or our hearts, it is difficult to not be nostalgic or offer personal insight. It is immensely challenging to avoid the certain trap of "gushing." But, Imagine (if you are still reading this) that you are me, a professional musician who had been in the dark for years about MOST of my father's career and what it must be like to discover something new, such as a recording or radio transcription, or to learn of a major artist like Gene Autry or Ernest Tubb covering his material. I didn't know any of this when I started.
Or to hold the gold and silver belt buckle that he wore every single day from the day it was given to him until the day he died, or to play his priceless 1934 CF Martin D-42 at the CF Martin Factory and Museum (it was donated to the museum shortly before I started playing guitar in the early 1970s). The strings were shot, on for years behind the thick glass windows that separate the past from the present. Still, the guitar tuned right up, played like it was set up for me and sounded like loud, mellow butter. If you are not an appreciator of fine acoustic instruments, that of course makes no sense. "Really Great!" is the term for the layman.
It was around 1992 and only a few years after his passing that I was stunned to learn he had played for President and Eleanor Roosevelt at their Hyde Park, NY estate in 1934. This is not something any of his offspring can remember hearing about. I was at my job at Alto Music in Wappingers Falls, NY when a semi-retired musician named John LaFalce told me that he was on the gig as a kid with his family's orchestra and remembered a radio cowboy singer with the same last name as me. Any relation? A few days later he brought me a photocopy of the program's handbill, and there is was! Tex Fletcher DID play two songs for the President and his wife. Dad's brother, Michael Bisceglia Jr. later recalled the event saying "Home On The Range" was dedicated to the President, who in turn told a reporter that he didn't particularly care for the song. Nice guy! Uncle Mike said some humorous follow-up ink was to be had for the young cowboy singer. The program does indeed include "Home On The Range, Tex Fletcher." We have yet to locate any news items to confirm this side-story, but it is certainly on the radar and besides, we trust uncle Mike's words!
Speaking for myself, I used to love dad's stories, but learned later he was often peppering them with baloney, purely for the entertainment of his kids. And like most kids, I probably didn't listen as intently to what my folks had to really say about their path to me, anyway. But now I wish I had. It turns out this guy, who started with nothing but an idea, ultimately did REAL good.
So, lots of years, conversations and dollars later, I think we got MOST of it figured out. I have been mindful to keep the gushery and my obvious bias to a minimum and concentrate on getting his story straight. It's imperative that I mention here that our brother Mike and my wife, Elizabeth Fairbanks Fletcher have written many of the checks for the recordings, films and other memorabilia we have purchased to complete dad's collection.
This is an ongoing project, subject to revision that we hope will ultimately serve as a Virtual Museum, the complete picture of Tex Fletcher's life and music. This is our first step toward making sure his career is placed in the proper historical context for future generations, and possibly wider recognition for his contributions and dedication to country music and broadcasting for all of those years. The official bio is currently being edited.
We sincerely appreciate your interest in the man the five of us were lucky enough to call "dad."
our late brother, Robert
and of course our parents, Tex and Ada Mae