Adolph Hofner Interview
“There wasn’t very many such things as guitars back in community I lived with, it was all brass and drums and tubas and vice-versa; but what got me interested in that was the steel guitars, I like the way they whine, you know? Also, see them in the Sears Roebuck catalogue and I figured it could be easy to play. So me and my brother finally ordered one and I had to broke it before we got to the house, it was a ukulele. Me and my brother Bash, we been in this business, him and I neck to neck forever.” – Adolph Hofner
- Adolph Hofner Interview 00:00
Interviewee: Adolph Hofner
Interviewer: Chris Strachwitz
This is an interview originally recorded for research purposes. It is presented here in its raw state, unedited except to remove some irrelevant sections and blank spaces. All rights to the interview are reserved by the Arhoolie Foundation. Please do not use anything from this website without permission. email@example.com
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Adolph Hofner Interview Transcript:
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Chris Strachwitz: I’m talking with Adolf Hofner; you just mentioned that you could speak Czech, but where were you born at?
Adolph Hofner: I was born in Shiner, uh Molten, Texas. Yeah.
Chris Strachwitz: What’s your birth date?
Adolph Hofner: I was born … Thirty-nine is how old I am.
Chris Strachwitz: Liar.
Adolph Hofner: But I was born in nineteen hundred and sixteen about June the 8th. I’m going to have another thirty-nine coming up now. Hey, it’s going to be backwards.
Chris Strachwitz: Did your folks speak…?
Adolph Hofner: Oh yeah, that’s the first language I learned how to speak was Czech and actually my mother was a Kobiena (?) that’s about as Czech as you can get. My daddy was, well he was about half-square head, you know – Hofner, that’s definitely a good square-head name, so the first tongue I learned to speak was Czech, until my first day in school. Naturally German, being around it I can savvy some of the words too, you know.
Chris Strachwitz: Did your father speak German?
Adolph Hofner: Oh yes, he could read, write it; Czech, Bohemian and German. I think his language at home, when he was at home was German, however there’s a bunch of Czechs who thinks his mother was Czech. I don’t know, that’s getting … Delving back into history, you know.
Chris Strachwitz: What was the first kind of music that you heard when you were growing up?
Adolph Hofner: Well, naturally the old Polka bands. Bohemian music and when we had a dance … Maybe they had it once a month, maybe one community had it one, four weeks and the next four weeks somebody else had theirs or vice-versa, you know. That was my first recollection of bands was definitely the old timey Polka bands.
Chris Strachwitz: Was there Patek Orchestra already going at that time?
Adolph Hofner: I don’t think so, I think that Joe might have been playing with some of them, but then again it seems to me … Well the biggest names in dance that I recollect that were Polka bands that were well-known was the Bacas. The Baca Band, I’m sure you’ve heard of that.
Chris Strachwitz: Oh yeah; they also record … I think they were the first to record.
Adolph Hofner: That’s right. We had some of their records and actually but they were hard to get, very popular. Oh, there was a bunch of bands around there, I can recollect some of them. Well naturally, later on, Fred and Steve Gardener, you know – you’ve heard of them, haven’t you?
Chris Strachwitz: No.
Adolph Hofner: Oh, they were terrific back in the days, however they didn’t play so much the Polka music as they did the big name sounds.
Chris Strachwitz: Oh, so the swing bands?
Adolph Hofner: They were, what do you call, in comparison like some of the old … Dating way back they Guy Lombardo’s and stuff, they played popular music you see; and they’d have them just for some big celebrations. Let’s see; Fred and Steve Gardener, that’s who they were and then there was the … There was another bunch of boys over there, maybe I’ll get to it without wasting a lot of time on tape. Red … Oh, my goodness they were very popular back then, my days when I was a kid. Gardner… Steve Gardner, have you heard of them?
Chris Strachwitz: No.
Adolph Hofner: Steve Gardner was…
Chris Strachwitz: What other kind of music did you hear while you were growing up? Because they didn’t really have any Western swing yet.
Adolph Hofner: No they didn’t. My first recollection of music actually was … What really got me interested in strings. Actually the first songs I’ve heard was on this graphaphone uh, phonograph – you know what they call them, graphaphone – or gramophone, several names. It was songs like “Sonny Boy”, Al Jolson and then about the first song I remember was “It all Depends on You”, I forgot who put that out; and then there was the Hawaiian songs.
That’s what got me and my brother started in strings. I thought they were so pretty, the Hawaiian Guitars. Actually Western music, that was unheard of. They had it going, I’m sure they did; but not in my community, they probably had it over here up in the hill country and stuff like that, they had hoe-downs and … I’m sure they did, as a matter of fact I know they did. There wasn’t very many such things as Guitars back in community I lived with, it was all brass and drums and tubas and vice-versa; but what got me interested in that was the steel Guitars, I like the way they whine, you know? Also, see them in the Sear Roe buck catalogue and I figured it could be easy to play.
So me and my brother finally ordered one and I had to broke it before we got to the house, it was a ukulele. Me and my brother Bash, we been in this business, him and I neck to neck forever.
Chris Strachwitz: Is he a little older?
Adolph Hofner: He’s a little younger, two years younger; but we was in it neck and neck from the time I started, he started, we both seemed to enjoy the same thing of playing. As a matter of fact we took lessons on Guitar, later on in the fine year of thirty, thirty-one we both took Guitar; but then it didn’t make sense to us that, really, us both strumming away on a Guitar. So he got interested in the steel Guitar and that’s where we branched off.
The first deal we started was a trio, we had a trio two-pieces and as we played around the house with steel Guitar and standard and as a matter of fact our first night clubs that we played or clubs that we played or beer joints or whatever why we played just him and I except he played steel and I played standard and we set our little kitty out there and see what we could collect. We didn’t know over ten, fifteen, twenty songs; we played them over and over but we made forty, fifty cents a night back then. Them days that was quite a bit of money that was back in the early thirties; maybe twenty-nine.
Then we got a little trio started, we called ourselves the Hawaiian Serenader. Simon Garcia he played ukulele, Bash played steel and I played standard but we built up our knowledge of songs and things went … You learn more songs; but we more or less stayed with the Hawaiian and the popular.
Then we had a base man that we worked with, was our first pretty good job we got was making a dollar a night, Friday at the Big Orange on Broadway and Alamo. You know where it’s at?
Chris Strachwitz: No, but when did your family move to San Antonio?
Adolph Hofner: Back in about nineteen twenty-six.
Chris Strachwitz: Nineteen twenty-six.
Adolph Hofner: We moved to San Antonio, but that’s what I say we was interested, Bash and I were from the time we were toddlers I mean was about eight, nine years old. First ukulele we ordered from Sears; before we got it home from the mail box, we like to tore it up. He wanted to play it first and I did; but anyhow we managed to break it. So anyhow, both of us played one of these home study choruses – it was fun. It was … Between him and I it was a little competition – but my main object was to sing, you see and that’s the reason why I had no desire to pick up a lead instrument; and to this day I do not play one but my brother does. He went ahead, we finally compromised and said he might as well learn how to play something with a lead, so he could play the lead and I’d strum along with him and that’s what we done.
Well, that went along like I say we played these night clubs, little joints and they’d set us up on tables just to attract attention and cars would stop and listen to us play and then they’d buy something, that was the old gimmick then. That was the deal at the Big Orange. We worked there from eight or nine … nine to eleven … No, must have been eight to eleven we worked three hours, got a dollar. Boy that was good money. So that was the gimmick, we was on a stand, cars would just line up – it was awful – just to hear three guys play.
That went on actually then … At that time Bing Crosby was very popular. On the air waves Kate Smith, on the air waves, that’s all you hear. Maybe you heard some all lonesome cowboy from down Eagle Pass, Piedras Negras, you know, but it didn’t send me because everything was censored and centered more or less on popular music. Russ Columbo and Bing Crosby and the bands that you heard on records … Well, I’m sure they had some Western recordings but more or less; I prefer the dance type you see the songs with the beat and the band behind them. Not just that strumming over there and even Jimmie Rodgers, much as I kind of liked him – and that was just about the stage where my voice was breaking and I done a pretty good job of yodeling. That must have been in, what, twenty-six, twenty-seven? Twenty-seven when Jimmy Rogers was so popular I think. Breakmans Blues and all that – naturally I learned them, I liked … Because then later on he came out with a steel guitar behind him and stuff like that. Well I began to dig that because it had a beat to you see and I’m just sitting over there and … Lonesome cowboys, so damn lonesome nobody want to hear it.
Then came along Milton Brown and his Brownies. Now that’s what sold me on Western music, because they had a band.
Chris Strachwitz: Did you see him play?
Adolph Hofner: I saw – I never did get to see Milton, I missed that but I saw the Brownies play. Actually they never played … Maybe they were two hundred miles away; well, in them day my gosh, two hundred miles you took two days to make arrangements for the trip. I managed to hear them play in Brownwood one time but that was after Milton got killed and Derwood Brown, Derwood was leading the band then and Cecile Brower he was playing fiddle I’m sure.
So they had two fiddle players but what impressed me was old Derwood just sitting there and beating the heck out of that Guitar; and then he had a boy standing right next to him and he’d break strings and when he’d break strings he’d have this other boy put one on and tune it for him – that was his gimmick.
I didn’t know it then, see, but that was his gimmick and he knew how to break them strings, believe me, he’d break one about ten, fifteen minutes and people would watch him, because he’d beat on that thing so hard ……he’d hand it over to the guy, pick up another one. You know, everybody has a gimmick. That time I thought he was really beating himself to death, actually he wasn’t. However he was playing that thing, don’t think he wasn’t because it wasn’t amplified, the only instrument they had that was amplified was a steel Guitar. Bob Dunn on steel Guitar and boy that boy could play it.
Getting back to the story – and the PA set, they had a PA set banjo rest of it … that’s the reason they used to have to have banjo, they didn’t use drums so they used banjo to give it the rhythm – but anyhow, that’s what I like. Now when they came out … Milton Brown. When Milton Brown came out I thought he was wonderful because that’s what I like: it had steel there, it had the rhythm there, the drive and it had the instrumentation and that must have been back in thirty-four, or thirty-five; somewhere along in there. They first come out with “Fan It” – incidentally I think you got it on one of your albums haven’t you? “Fan It”?
Chris Strachwitz: By – I forgot if it’s by him or by …
Adolph Hofner: By Bill Boyd? It might be by Bill Boyd, I think Bill Boyd came out with that too; and “Four or Five Times”, you remember “Four or Five Times” you got that ……Well, anyhow I thought that was the finest and the way he played that steel Guitar it sounded like a horn – which I like horns because it’s the first thing I heard was horns, you see.
It all added up to it and that’s when I began to get interested in string music along with the popular and then “Nobody’s Darling But Mine” came out, Jimmy Davis and it sounded good, smooth, plenty rhythm. Nice, dance-able tempo you see, it was exactly what I admired in music.
Chris Strachwitz: You didn’t hear Bob Will’s stuff?
Adolph Hofner: I’m getting to that. Bob Wills came out … Brown was out. Now if he did I haven’t heard of it.
The first thing I’ve heard of Bob Wills was “Trouble In Mind”. Now “Trouble In Mind” … I like Bob’s band all right but to me it was … Musically it sounded flat; now you will agree with me that for some of their first recordings were sour! I can’t help that it what they say, they were sour.
But Brown’s wasn’t. It was smooth, it was quick and thier rhythm was clean. You don’t believe it you compare the two. Even though those horns … I liked the horns but they weren’t in pitch, they just weren’t together it sounded like … It was jumbled up, ragged; and therefore it never did click until this “Trouble In Mind” came out and Bob might have made a gillion of them before that but that’s what brought Bob to me was “Trouble In Mind” and then let’s see, what were some other’s he had? He had quite a few, he started coming out … After that one hit, why naturally he had quite a few. I can’t remember that but “Trouble In Mind” I do, because I had to learn it. That’s all they wanted to hear was “Trouble In Mind”, “Trouble In Mind”.
Incidentally, I didn’t care much for Tommy Duncan’s singing even though everybody thought he was king, I didn’t I thought Milton Brown … He was nothing compared to Milton. Matter of fact I even changed my style of singing to try to sound like Milton because I mean to tell you I thought that man was … Well, so much for that.
That’s Bill Boy and his Cowboy Ramblers, they came along and I began to get into the type of stuff because that’s what the people wanted. Maybe I didn’t especially care for some of them; I still liked “Lost In A Fog” and … Remember some of them old numbers? You probably have them. “Treasure Island” by Crosby. That was my love, boy, but that wouldn’t make my living. So I began to go the other way and as I went the other way I began to like it because I found out it had … Some of it had a lot of soul to it besides just whining away.
So I went and got into this Western, actually because that’s what was paying off. So I got into it and well, I kept my popular right along with it because I still loved that, so I began to branch off into both. Then as I went along and started playing the territory, all this music that my Mamma used to sing, it all came back to me. So when I did the Czech territory I played some of those and my guys played with me – they had never heard of it, much less in Bohemian – but as we played it … I noticed that people liked it and that’s when I began to make records and they bought it. I found out that that’s what they liked, so I like it too.
Chris Strachwitz: How did it come about when you made your first record? How did they meet up with your…
Adolph Hofner: Well, the first record I made was Bluebird, yeah and I made that with Jimmie Revard and The Oklahoma Playboys. That was made, must have been in thirty-four or thirty-five; real early there, it may have been the early part of thirty-six; but it had to be between the last part of thirty-five, thirty-six because that’s when Jimmie, I was playing this little bear joint right here in Monte Carlo Inn on Nogalitos, he was working there six, seven nights a week and Jimmie wanted to organize a band and go on the road. We’d tried it before, with this Jimmie Revard deal we tried under the name of Texas Ranglers but we found that the bookings were very hard, nobody knew us, no good. In other words, there’s too many radio bands and we weren’t a radio band so, we didn’t … We just didn’t have it as far as they were concerned.
Then Jimmie Revard started his band and said he’s going to get a radio program which he did.
Chris Strachwitz: Was he from here too?
Adolph Hofner: He was from here but he ran into us at the Monte Carlo Inn. He’d come out there and he liked my singing, he liked us playing; so he said ‘I’d like you guys going to work, I’m going to organize a band’. He was going to play base but then he hired a baseman so he wouldn’t have to fool around. He had a lot of money, he had some of that Osage money, you know. He was from Oklahoma, see and his wife was getting a royalty check.
Chris Strachwitz: Oil?
Adolph Hofner: Yeah, oil – raw. I imagine it was about a thousand, eight or nine hundred dollars a month. Well you know what that was then, he drove them Cords and big cars and motorcycles – bless his heart – but he was a wonderful fellow. So we did, we went along with him and so we got a radio show here; maybe it was KTSA and we was on that show for a while and then he decided he’d go down the valley because it was fresh territory you see. So we went down there and we left our radio program here then and we went down to the valley and billed ourselves “Jimmie Revard and the Oklahoma Playboys” you see and we was on that KRGV radio station in the Rio Grande Valley, Weslaco fifty thousand watts, we was on there every day at noon.
The valley wasn’t ready for Western music then. Not at all. It was all Guy Lombardo you know there’s a lot of Northern folks over there you see it’s all Guy Lombardo and Mexican music, that’s all it was. As far as strings, that was something that you tossed as string bands. That you didn’t … Well, like to starve to death; we was out there three months and wouldn’t haven’t been for baloney and some credit from the ..(?) and grocery store we’d be in trouble. But we had baloney for breakfast, dinner and supper.
So finally we left there and we come back and we started playing around here, got a radio program, KTSA and we done fairly well; but then he got a sudden notion that he was as big as Bob Wills; so he called himself the Oklahoma Playboys, see Bob Wills had the Texas Playboys and he was after Bob Wills. So he said, ‘I’m going to Oklahoma’, he said ‘You boys come along,’ he said ‘I’ll give you all a guarantee’ I forget what it was, fifteen, sixteen dollars a week. So we went up there and he didn’t do any good at all and played in big ballrooms then. Band competition with Bob Wills my gosh, whoever heard of Jimmie Revard and the Oklahoma Playboys with Bob Wills plastered all over that state of Oklahoma? Like I say, Oklahoma, Kansas, Arkansas, Texas, all around there.
With recordings of a year or two of fine record sellers, it’s kind of comical … Anyhow, so I checked out of there. It just wasn’t that good, like to froze to death too … So I left them. My brother stayed on. I came back, I was going to quite the music business.
Chris Strachwitz: Did you record with a band?
Adolph Hofner: I did. That’s what I was going to … all right, now here’s what happened: See I recorded with Jimmie Revard and the Oklahoma Playboys for Oberstein. Bless his heart, he was a wonderful gentleman. He was right there – if you didn’t understand him you thought he was going to tear your head off at any moment, but he was a heck of a nice guy. He knew what he wanted, even if he had to make the men mad to get it; get all t’d off and then they’d give him a good record. Obi, he liked me. Then he passed through here, recording and Jimmie Revard was in Oklahoma, you see.
Chris Strachwitz: Do you remember some of the titles that you did with that band?
Adolph Hofner: Of my band?
Chris Strachwitz: No, when you were with the Revard…
Adolph Hofner: Jimmie Revard, the first recording I ever made was “Dirty Dog”. “Dirty Dog Blues”. I don’t know whether you’ve got it on that …
Chris Strachwitz: I’m not sure, but that was the session you were on?
Adolph Hofner: That was the session that I was on, I recorded with him.
Chris Strachwitz: And you were on Guitar?
Adolph Hofner: I was on Guitar.
Chris Strachwitz: What did Jimmie Revard play?
Adolph Hofner: Base, and he played a little bit of Clarinet, too. He played Base and Clarinet and a little bit of Guitar.
Chris Strachwitz: Who else was in this band, do you remember that?
Adolph Hofner: In the band at the time – yes I can tell you exactly – Curly Williams, or did Curly Williams come in later? We made two sessions. The first session was myself, my brother Bash, Jimmie Revard, Ben McKay on Fiddle and what was this fellow’s name on piano? He was from … I don’t know whether it was Eddie Whitley, it was either Eddie Whitley or a fellow from up North and I can’t think of his name. Oh my goodness. I believe it was Eddie Whitley on the first session on piano.
(Editor’s note: Actual personnel were: Jimmie Revard- bass/vocal, Cotton Cooper – tenor banjo, Adolph Hofner – guitar, Emil (Bash) Hofner – steel guitar, Ben McKay – fiddle, Eddie Whitley – piano)
Well actually we didn’t use no drums and Cotton Cooper played banjo and then he hired QD Stevens to play bass, so he could get off the bandstand and walk around. I think that was the first original band.
Then on the second session, it was Curly Williams. (Editor’s note: 1937 and 1938 sessions)
Chris Strachwitz: What did he play?
Adolph Hofner: He played base and I was on standard, Bash on steel, Jimmie Revard more or less singing Because Curly played base and I was a good guitar player, he was a good Guitar player (?) which he didn’t like. Poor old Curly, he’s still around.
Chris Strachwitz: Oh, is he?
Adolph Hofner: Let’s see, who played Banjo then? I believe it was one of the Rough twins … Yeah I believe it was one of the Rough twins playing Banjo then. Or was it Cotton Cooper? Might have been … Chet Carnes. It was Chet Carnes, that’s who it was on Banjo, on that second session.
Chris Strachwitz: Do you remember any of the titles you did?
Adolph Hofner: Oh, my gosh. I know you’ve got one there by Curly. I know you’ve got one there by Curly, gosh almighty if I could just … Let’s see … “Hole In The Sack” was one. Jimmie Revard “Hole In The Sack” I think you’ve got that on … Yeah “Hole In The Sack” and let’s see … no I said “Dirty Dog Blues” as “Deep Elm Blues”. The first recording I ever made in my life. “Deep Elm Blues” by Jimmie Revard and the Oklahoma Playboys, “Deep Elm Blues”.
Chris Strachwitz: That sure became a popular song.
Adolph Hofner: Yeah, see it was popular before we recorded it, but we more or less … I think the Delmore Brothers put that out first, one of those … Some kind of brothers.
Chris Strachwitz: One of those brothers.
Adolph Hofner: Yeah, there was so many of them going on about that time.
Chris Strachwitz: Shelton Brothers.
Adolph Hofner: Shelton Brothers, you’re right. There’s a fellow by name of George Timberlake on piano in the second session and let me see … We still didn’t have drums, they just weren’t using drums they used Banjo or rhythm instruments to cut through. Let’s see, who else? That’s all, we had six pieces – working pieces, that is. There were seven with him but six working.
All right, the second session. Well in the second session, then is where I met Mr. Oberstein; I don’t know, I must have sang some song on there that impressed him, because he thought I sounded like Bing Crosby. He was going to try and make another Bing Crosby out of me. So when he came through here – like I said I left them and came back to San Antonio – then he called me up for a recording session just under my own name, which I did. It was Adolf Hofner and the Texans.
Chris Strachwitz: Was that the time when you did “Brown-Eyed Sweet”?
Adolph Hofner: I think so. That was the first time; let’s see what else did I record on that? Good heavens I had a bunch of them.
Chris Strachwitz: Who were the guys that you had with you?
Adolph Hofner: With me was Smiley Whitley…
Chris Strachwitz: What did he play?
Adolph Hofner: He played steel, see my brother was in Oklahoma with Jimmie.
Chris Strachwitz: Oh he stayed up there?
Adolph Hofner: He stayed up there.
Let’s see, who else was on it? Smiley Whitley, myself and George Pennington was on piano was on that record and “Someone Thinks of Someone” was a beautiful rendition “someone thinks of someone, someone thinks of you…”
That was one of the songs I remember was on there, that was the one that got the biggest play, was “Someone Thinks of Someone”.
Chris Strachwitz: Because it had kind of a sweet sound.
Adolph Hofner: Sweet sound to it, yes.
Chris Strachwitz: Was J.R. Chatwell on Fiddle?
Adolph Hofner: No, JR didn’t start, I’m coming to J.R. ; that’s a long story man. Oh, and the Fiddle player was Johnny …
Chris Strachwitz: Was Johnny Williams?
Adolph Hofner: Was Johnny Williams, finally got the name.
Chris Strachwitz: Couldn’t think of the session.
Adolph Hofner: Yeah, and incidentally, Johnny hired me to play a house dance with him. That was before I knew anything abo ut hoedowns, you see, or schottische, anything like that. There we were, I was playing these fine chords, like I called them in them days.
Chris Strachwitz: Pop music.
Adolph Hofner: Yeah, pop music, yeah, and he was strictly, he didn’t do nothing but hoedown, schottische, Put Your Little Foot, see. That’s the first time I played, he hired me to play a house dance, just him and I.
Chris Strachwitz: That was here in San Antonio?
Adolph Hofner: Here in San Antonio. Was funny, man, he didn’t know what I knew, and I didn’t know what he knew, you see. There we were, man, the only thing we really got together with is Ragtime Annie and that schottische. I finally figured it out. It sounded all beat, the way he played it, but it’s (?) . Put Your Little Foot, that was easy for me. It came easy. There was so much for that. It was a lot of fun, and we worked it out in just three hours. I don’t know what we made, $5 apiece, I think. It was funny. I guess he felt funny, and I sure felt funny trying to follow him.
Anyhow, I used him on this first session I made, Johnny Williams. George Pennington, he played piano. Smiley Whitley, steel, and Buck Wheeler played bass. There was five of us made the session. Someone Thinks of Someone, that’s one I was telling you about. “… And someone is alone, an ……. A bunch of my songs, they were on there. Someone Is Alone was another one. More or less, it came up on a sweet deal. Oh, How I Miss You Tonight was another one I made on there. I tried to talk it off like Milton Brown. He had a lot of this talking stuff, see. I said, “Well, I’m going to try to do it like I think he would have done it.” I sang it and talked one verse off, on it. I don’t know, I guess it rolled pretty good. It’s laying around a few jukeboxes.
That was Adolph Hofner and the Texans. This boy, Smiley Whitley, he’d- That’s when I was working on it … Jordan Ford, and I wasn’t in the music business. I just made the recordings because I just thought I’d make them.
Chris Strachwitz: Were you working as a-
Adolph Hofner: As a mechanic, yeah. He said, “I’m going to copyright the name, do you mind? The Texans.” I said, “No.” He wanted to get in the music business, he tried to talk me into going into it. I told him, “Man, I’m tired of starving to death. I’d rather settle for $14-$15 a week knowing I’d get it.” I did, so we made the records, and they came out. I guess they sold pretty good. Never heard. In them days, they paid you … Maybe they gave you $5-$10 apiece for making them. That’s it. No royalty, no nothing. In other words, you got your popularity out of it, and they got their music, and that was it, you see.
All right, I told him, I said go ahead, I didn’t care. If you want to copyright the name of Texans, why, that was all right with me. He did, he had it copyrighted. He put Smiley Whitley and the Texans. I could have come back with Adolph Bachman and the Texans, I knew that. I didn’t care. Like I told him, I said I appreciated them helping me. I tried to give him as much out of it as I could.
I worked out there for about 3-4 months as a mechanic. Tom Dickey and the Showboys … He was working around, he was starting out a band. He had a program on (?)
Chris Strachwitz: Who was this, then?
Adolph Hofner: Tom Dickey.
Chris Strachwitz: Oh, yeah, yeah. They made a bunch of records.
Adolph Hofner: And the Showboys. Yeah. I was responsible for that.
Chris Strachwitz: Oh.
Adolph Hofner: All right, so Tom came by my house one night. He said, “Man, you’re not doing nothing. Why don’t you come go with me? You know you can make some money. I’ll even guarantee you about $4 more than you’re making here. I’ll guarantee you $20 a week.” Just start to start off with, he was starting a band. I figured it over and I said, “Well, might as well.” I got back into it, and my second session came up with RCA. I told Mr. Walker- Mr. Walker was in charge then. I told him, I said, “I’d like to use this band I’m with, and just put it under my name. I’d like, in return, put one or two records with Tom Dickey and the Showboys.” In other words, put it all together to where he could get some publicity out of it.
Fine and dandy. We went ahead and made that. I forgot what I made. I think I made 3 or 4 sides. Three sides, maybe- No, must have been 4, because they took them in … I think I made 8 sides in all. Four sides with him, 4 sides myself. One was “Gee, it’s great, after being out late, walking my baby back home.” That was one I made with Tom Dickey. I believe it was Tom Dickey. Then, I made … Under his name? I don’t know whether this came in my name or his name. I get them mixed up. I just don’t know, I should have kept a record of it.
At that time, there was … Just as the session was about to be over, they found out about this, It Makes No Difference Now, you see. That was delayed, they found out that song was getting hot and said, “Can you guys learn it? We’ll just go ahead and put it out.” Why, of course. I got a man, I’m telling you, I really wrote down some words and listened to It Makes No Difference Now. If you notice, I made a slight, little boo-boo over there, but they passed it on some of the words. One part it, maybe nobody else noticed it, but I did, I knew it was there.
Chris Strachwitz: Does that come out uder under Tom –
Adolph Hofner: Tom Dickey and the Showboys.
Chris Strachwitz: – Dickey and the Showboys name.
Adolph Hofner: They- I had it come out in my name. It did been put on my name, why, it’d been too bad for Tom. Anyhow, the song clicked, you see. Decca went on strike right after that, and even though Dickey (Editor’s note, he means Jimmie Davis) had a much better recording, because his was well-rehearsed, you see. We just picked it up and had to learn it in an hour, so you can imagine how that was. We learned it, and it came out fairly well. That son-of-a-gun was solid. On every dang jukebox around there, man. Every jukebox around there. I heard myself singing It Makes No Difference Now. That boosted his band. Just about 4-5-6 months, we was making a killing everywhere we went. It really paid me off to get him that business, see. Hell, if I’d been smart, and put it on my name … I was always easy-going about this stuff.
All right. I think, about 6 months later, I got a royalty check. That’s when they started paying royalty. I got a royalty check for $101. Him and I had a big disagreement, he kind of … Professional jealousy. More people would respond to me, but yet, I had announced every song and all that. He didn’t want to do it, he had me do it.
Chris Strachwitz: What did Tom Dickey play himself?
Adolph Hofner: Fiddle. He played the fiddle. He played good corn fiddle.
Chris Strachwitz: Who else was in that band? Do you know?
Adolph Hofner: Yeah. There was Milton McVee (?) Bless his soul, he wanted to do exactly what you were doing. He was after me, made several tapes. He was going to bring that all together, but he passed away before that happened. Milton McVee (?), he played banjo. A fellow by the name of Smokey somebody, he played saxophone. Tom Dickey played fiddle, I played guitar. Let’s see … Bill Dickey, his brother, played bass. That’s all there was. Not many pieces. I don’t think we even had a steel guitar.
Then, later on, my brother came back in from , he left Jimmie Revard up in Kansas. He come back, so Tom Dickey hired. We had six men then. Then, let’s see … Somewhere in the process I made some recordings … No? Who in the heck? Oh yeah, Jimmie Revard He came back. Jimmie Revard came back, and he was playing around here, and he got on the Texans. No, that was the Tune Wranglers, Leonard Seago played with.
Chris Strachwitz: The Tune Wranglers?
Adolph Hofner: The Tune Wranglers, you remember them?
Chris Strachwitz: Yeah.
Adolph Hofner: Tom Dickey used to play with the Tune Wranglers and he branched off of them. Him and the partners didn’t get along.
Chris Strachwitz: Were the Tune Wranglers from San Antonio, too?
Adolph Hofner: Yeah. It broadcasted right over at KTSA over there. That’s what gave them their popularity. They were a household word. Buster Coward, Tom Dickey, and Eddie Fielding. That was the origin of the Tune Wranglers, Eddie Fielding and … Let’s see, who was it? Charlie Gregg on bass. Then later on, they hired my piano player. He was one of the original Tune Wranglers.
Anyhow, getting back to that. I played with Tom Dickey, then after I got my check for this royalty, $101, I went down and bought me a PA. I had a almost new car, so I decided I’d invest in instruments, start my own band. That’s when it happened. May 13, 1939. Forty years. Right over here in Lemming. If you were going down in the valley, you’ll see it on the right-hand side. Right after you pass Lemming, there’s a barbeque place, and a big tree in front of it. That was my first job.
Chris Strachwitz: I’ll be darned.
Adolph Hofner: Yeah. Made $5 apiece. Then come the recording session again, you see. Jimmie Revard didn’t have a band then. That’s right, but he had a recording contract. So I told him, “Okay, Jimmie. I tell you what we do. You use my band, play under your-” I was going to do the same thing I did with Tom Dickey. I told Mr. Walker about it and said, “We’ll change it a little bit. Make it sound different. We’ll have a horn and what.” In the process, I recorded again, must have, for Victor, because then the second time, I used Neal and Bill Ruff. Used a horn in my band, clarinet. I couldn’t tell you. My brother- No, Smiley Whitley was still with me. My brother played banjo. I didn’t use Bill, I used Neal Rupp. No, I used Bill Rupp. I had my brother play banjo, because I had Smiley Whitley playing steel guitar on there.
That was the second session that I made under my name at RCA. That was before I started my band again, see.
Chris Strachwitz: Um-hmm. (affirmative)
Adolph Hofner: I don’t know. It’s all kind of a mess. Anyhow, then we got the Jimmie Revard, he came back and didn’t have a band. I said, “You got a contract? I have one. The guy’s going to be in Dallas. Why don’t we just go over there and both of us record?” Okay, we did, we went out there and recorded. He recorded some of his stuff, and that’s when he recorded Holdin’ the Sack. I think you got that. That was my band he recorded it with. Holdin’ the Sack, if I’m not wrong. Then, I went ahead and recorded 8 for myself, and 8 for him. Then, you see, they were paying union wages. That made it very attractive. The scale then was about $33 per session, which included 4 songs. We walked out of there with about $150 apiece. That’s a reason of this double business, you see.
All right. I went over there and I must have recorded Maria Elena then. No, dadgum, that Maria Elena, where’d that come in? That was up at Blackstone Hotel, I recorded Maria Elena. Yeah, that’s when I first started my band. Must have been in ’39 or early part of ’40. I had two fiddle players. I had my own band. That was a session in between. That’s when I recorded Maria Elena. I’ll tell you why in a minute. We recorded Maria Elena, and on that session was Buck Wheeler, my brother Bash playing steel, and Johnny Reeves was playing fiddle. Leonard Seago, on that Maria Elena session, was playing fiddle. Two fiddles.
Chris Strachwitz: Bert?
Adolph Hofner: Yeah, two fiddles. Bert Ferguson was playing piano, and I was playing stand-up. That made 6 men, right. That was the session that we made it in ’40. Jimmie Revard wasn’t involved in that. That’s when I first, more or less, started my band. We recorded at the Blackstone Hotel. We was going good then, come to think of it. I offered to give the guys a guarantee of $50 a week, and they didn’t want to take it. Some were griping about this and about that. So I said, “Tell you what, I’ll give all you guys $50 a week, and we’ll leave it go. I’ll figure about-” They were griping about expenses and stuff like that, you see.
Anyhow, they didn’t want to take it. No, they wanted to stay on commonwealth, you know, split it even. We must have been doing good before Maria Elena. All right, we went up there in Blackstone, and J.R. Chatwell … No. How in the heck did that come about?
Yeah, that was Leonard Seago, all right. Now I’m getting my Okeh and RCA mixed up.
Chris Strachwitz: Walker was-
Adolph Hofner: Walker was with RCA.
Chris Strachwitz: Oh, he was.
Adolph Hofner: He was with RCA. Art Satherley was the one that was with Okeh or Columbia. All right. We went over there and recorded that Maria Elena. That confuses me. I know I tore up my contract with Victor, because he told me that he didn’t sell enough of Maria Elena, he didn’t give me any royalty on it. All he gave me was- He said it didn’t cover enough to pay what he paid me. I said, “That can’t be. There’s enough jukeboxes in Texas to cover that. I know where you went. It was … ” I told him, “Might as well forget about a recording.” I must have made two sessions there.
Chris Strachwitz: You must have, because with Chatwell I think you must have recorded for Victor.
Adolph Hofner: All right. That was must have been in ’39, or early ’40.
Chris Strachwitz: I think earlier.
Adolph Hofner: I think early ’40. I can’t tell you. I get a little confused. Anyhow, we recorded that Maria Elena, after that went like a house afire. Backed by … If you can get ahold of a recording … By-
Chris Strachwitz: The Spanish 2-Step.
Adolph Hofner: The Spanish 2-Step, right. I remember when I first- I forgot what else I recorded on there. A bunch of original stuff. That’s what they wanted, they wanted original. First time I heard Maria Elena, I thought it was about the sourest thing you ever saw. That whining steel back there. That proves that … It seemed like it wasn’t quite up to pitch. I played it half-ways, (?) I said, “I’ll never do it.” I heard my voice, and some words seemed like it cracked a little bit, but that’s what’s sold it. Anyhow, I guess that’s what sold it, because to me it wasn’t perfect. The more I heard it, the more it grew on me.
Chris Strachwitz: Is that an old waltz that you-
Adolph Hofner: It’s a waltz. Maria Elena. The first time I heard that waltz, this Simon Garcia that played uke with us, sang it to his girlfriend. One of these serenading things, and I just picked it up.
Chris Strachwitz: Did you guys used to go serenade with Mexican guys?
Adolph Hofner: I did, right here. Simon Garcia used to take us to serenade his girlfriend. I guess she’s his wife now. Got 5 or 7 kids, maybe, I don’t know.
Chris Strachwitz: Did you ever serenade on Mother’s Day, too, when they did that still around here? You don’t remember?
Adolph Hofner: No, I haven’t .. That’s the only person I ever went serenading with.
Chris Strachwitz: I see.
Adolph Hofner: They were really nice, they invited us folks for coffee. I told him, “Man, how do you know? They might sic the dogs on us, on top of everything else.” Thought they’d shoot at us, but they didn’t. They had windows open, and there they listened to him sing.
Chris Strachwitz: You just translated the words?
Adolph Hofner: No. See, ASCAP came out with the words I used. After I saw it was Southern music, or Peer International, I said, “That’s for me. I love the song.” Okay, because we played a lot of these Spanish songs, like Rancho Grande, and what the heck was it? Some of these songs that we played along with El Salazar, and this Hawaiian music, we played a lot of this stuff. Anyhow, it impressed me. When the BMI came out with them and Peer International came out with the words … See, it’s an old traditional song, but they put-
Chris Strachwitz: They claimed the copyright.
Adolph Hofner: Peer International put the words to it, and they claimed the copyright.
Chris Strachwitz: They printed sheet music.
Adolph Hofner: Right you are. All right. So they had all the rights to it. I recorded mine under the ASCAP version. Well, that’s when the networks banned all this stuff. About that time- No, the musicians went on strike.
Chris Strachwitz: The union, yeah.
Adolph Hofner: The union went on strike. No more musicians. Well, I was sitting there with the recorded material. All these other guys were just singing it with voices in the background. The song was number one on the cotton-picking Hit Parade for about 21, 22 weeks, so you can imagine what it done to me. The only musical one was a big boost for me. It was solid. I don’t care what jukebox, what radio station you turned on, Maria Elena. I couldn’t believe it. When it started happening, I said, “Hell, what’s going on?” Sure enough, you could turn one station, another station. It’s kind of a funny feeling, man. It’s the first one I’ve had, and the last one I guess I’ve had that solid. Last one I’ll ever have. It didn’t give me an old big head. Matter of fact, I don’t know why, the song I still don’t feature it. Why I don’t, I don’t know. After I recorded it, it seemed like it soured me, my first impression of it. I never did care for it, I should have improved on it, I guess.
So much for that. That was made on RCA/Victor. That’s what it was. Then we went to Fort Worth. We recorded again, Jimmie Revard and myself, that’s when I tore up my contract. About the best song I made with Jimmie was Someone Thinks That– No, Someone Thinks of Someone. Yeah, that’s the one I made with Jimmie Revard.
Chris Strachwitz: That’s a good song.
Adolph Hofner: I thought it was perfect. The instrumentation. I was just sorry it didn’t come out on my name, but it didn’t sell for him, I guess because he inactive and everything, you see. My voice, it seemed like it just blended. Darn it, I don’t know why. The fiddles came in just right. It was just … boys together. If you find it, then
Chris Strachwitz: You like the sound of that?
Adolph Hofner: Someone Thinks of Someone.
Chris Strachwitz: Yeah, I’ll try to find that.
Adolph Hofner: No. Mistakes.
Chris Strachwitz: That was the title of it, Mistakes?
Adolph Hofner: Mistakes is the one that’s perfect.
Chris Strachwitz: Jimmie Revard is the-
Adolph Hofner: Jimmie Revard and the Oklahoma Playboys. “We make mistakes and we’re sorry…”
Chris Strachwitz: It was one of those crooning type-
Adolph Hofner: Crooning type of songs, yeah. I thought that I’d done- That’s the best song I ever sang in my life on a record. Mistakes. If you find that somewhere, remember that.
Chris Strachwitz: Yeah, I’ll try
Adolph Hofner: Anyhow, we tore up my contract, and about that time, then Columbia, Art Satherley, came to me, he wanted to hear what I had to offer him, wanted to know what I wanted. We made a deal, we went to Blackstone Hotel and that’s when we recorded Cotton-Eyed Joe. We were the first ones to record that son-of-a-gun, for the modern version of it. We made a bunch of other songs like … Another song that hit pretty good was …
Chris Strachwitz: Was Alamo Steel on that same session?
Adolph Hofner: Alamo Steel was later.
Chris Strachwitz: It was later, huh?
Adolph Hofner: That was still later. Let’s see … There’s a Star in Heaven Tonight. That was pretty well saturated here. Let’s see, what was it? Sage Brush Shuffle was later. We made something else …
Chris Strachwitz: Someplace along the line, you used J.R. Chatwell once, didn’t you?
Adolph Hofner: That’s the one. See, J.R. started working with me in 1941. When he went with Bob Wills, Leonard did, went with Bob Wills, my original fiddle player, I started using J.R. Chatwell, and he was the one on the record. He worked with me from ’41 to ’45-’46, I guess. He was with (?) then the record boom dwindled, and the war came on. They couldn’t- They didn’t have enough shellac, so that threw me in a cramp. Right at the start of the war in ’41, we went- Columbia took us all the way to Columbia Studios in California.
Chris Strachwitz: To Los Angeles?
Adolph Hofner: Hollywood, Los Angeles. We made 12 sides over there. It so happened things were against me. I had a German name, and we were fighting the Germans. Adolph Hofner was ….
Chris Strachwitz: Especially Adolph in front of it.
Adolph Hofner: Especially Adolph in front of that.
Chris Strachwitz: You bet.
Adolph Hofner: That’s another story, you see. They didn’t even worry about being nice and I had some beautiful and numbers on there. There’s a Palace in Dallas had some beautiful numbers on there. The band was really good. They finally released one or two of them, I think. They’ve still got them backlogged, never even released them. No, he released three recordings: Swing With the Music, Alamo Steel Serenade, Sage Brush Shuffle, and what else did he release …
Chris Strachwitz: Those were done in Los Angeles?
Adolph Hofner: In Los Angeles.
Chris Strachwitz: Who were the guys playing with you on that session?
Adolph Hofner: It was … Let me get this … Walter Kleypas playing piano. Atlee Frasier playing bass. J.R. Chatwell playing fiddle. Johnny Rives playing second fiddle, or two fiddles. My brother Bash playing steel.
Chris Strachwitz: Oh, he played the steel?
Adolph Hofner: He played the steel. What else? Drums? Well, we’d double on drums. Me playing guitar. That’s 6 pieces. By that time I- Incidentally, I was about the first string band in this territory to start using drums, outside of Bob Wills, but he was out of Oklahoma. In this territory, they didn’t use any drums with these string bands. However, there was one band that played kanda… … One band here that’s pretty old, too. I don’t know whether they made records or not. I was about the first one to start using drums to give it more rhythm. Man, I’d try every which way to give it more punch. I’d amplify my guitar, but it still didn’t sound- Didn’t give it that boom, boom, boom.
Now, I liked Bob Wills’ rhythm later on. The way that rhythm, the way it socked man, I thought that was it. I tried to copy that son-of-a-gun to a T, but I couldn’t do it without drums. I couldn’t afford 7 men, as big a band as he had.
Anyhow, that’s about the score of it. He’s still got about 4 or 5 sides, 6 maybe, backlogged. See, what happened then, Foreman Phillips County Barn Dances in Los Angeles. They were interested in me, and so Satherley had a hand-in-globe situation. He was a disc jockey, and Art Satherley was a big boy with the recording company. It kind of went hand-in-glove. The artist that he wanted, he’d put him out a record, which is what he done to me, put out Swing With the Music, and Alamo Steel Serenade.
Chris Strachwitz: Who were the fellows in Los Angeles? What were their names again?
Adolph Hofner: Foreman Phillips, Country Barn Dances. I went in and signed a contract, and went on out there. I changed my name to Dolph Hofner, and the San Antonians. That’s what I changed my name to on the Okeh label, or Columbia label.
Chris Strachwitz: Then, how did the Imperial things get started?
Adolph Hofner: Yeah, I was in Los Angeles. I worked there about almost two years, at the County Barn Dances.
Chris Strachwitz: Oh, you worked in the LA area?
Adolph Hofner: Oh, yeah. Almost two years.
Chris Strachwitz: With your own band?
Adolph Hofner: With my own band, yeah. About 9 pieces. I took a bunch of boys with me from over here.
Chris Strachwitz: None of them had to go into service at all?
Adolph Hofner: Well, they were all … Some of them were 4-F, and some of them were too old, some of them were classified with dependents and stuff like that. It was hard to get men. Hard.
Chris Strachwitz: Yeah, that’s what I heard.
Adolph Hofner: Yeah, terribly hard. What you could did, some of them were very undependable, drove you crazy, but that’s the way it was. They still do that. You can’t predict a musician. Anyhow, I was out there about … I took a 9 piece band out there. Took with me Elroy Gurdis (?) Chester McIntyre. Incedently, he’s a big name by himself now, on (?) work. Of all things, Chester McIntyre played drums, he’s one of the finest piano players. Took a guy with me by the name of Ernie Elder. Did Ernie go with me? Who played piano? No, Ernie LaBordie, a fellow from here played piano for me. Elroy Gurdis on one guitar, me the other, had two guitars. Smiley Whitley on steel. Johnny Rives on fiddle. Leonard Seago on the other fiddle. Yeah, Johnny Rives and I tapped the same fiddle section.
Who else did I take? That’s about it, 9 men?
Chris Strachwitz: You took 9 men with you. This was several years after the Columbia thing, wasn’t it?
Adolph Hofner: Several years. That was in 1945, the war had just about ended. As a matter of fact, the war ended, and I don’t know why I left. I should have stayed here, I would have made a killing then, but it didn’t hurt me to go over there. A lot of people got the impression I went out there for pictures. When I came back, it was just mobs, mobs, mobs everywhere you could see. A lot of boys were in the service, they knew me when they left, so they wanted to see me. We had nothing but mobs. Another story.
Some of the guys there knew and anticipated my moves, so they beat me back here in Texas, started their own bands. You’d be surprised, they’d cut you with a knife if they can, man. It all worked out all right. I’d say it paid me off.
Chris Strachwitz: Was that the only session you did for Imperial? Or did you record several things for them?
Adolph Hofner: No, when I came back, I immediately went to KTSA-
Chris Strachwitz: Do you remember some of the numbers you did in that first- The one you did out in Hollywood?
Adolph Hofner: Imperial?
Chris Strachwitz: Yeah.
Adolph Hofner: Well, the ones I did in Hollywood on this session with Okeh, they even had me in tires, I had to stick tires all over my bus. You couldn’t buy rubber, you see. I had to carry my own spare tires in a trailer. All I could find was beat-up ones, but we made it there and back at 40 miles an hour, or 35, whatever the speed limit was. Went to LA and stayed there two or three days. We recorded 12 sides.
Chris Strachwitz: It was for Columbia?
Adolph Hofner: For Columbia, yeah, 12 sides. Like I told you, out of those sides what came out was Swing With the Music was one. Alamo Steel Serenade, Sage Brush Shuffle. What else was it … He’s got some wonderful ones backlogged over there if you can get them. He’s got Wabash Blues. J.R. Chatwell plays on 4-string fiddle. If you could get that stuff, man. Some of it’s wonderful. I’ve got some original stuff on there that’s real good. I can’t even remember it.
Chris Strachwitz: Then, the –
Adolph Hofner: Baby, You’d Better Settle Down is one of them. I know that, I remember that. Kind of honky-tonk.
Chris Strachwitz: Then you came back here?
Adolph Hofner: I came back here, and naturally I got teed-off at …
Chris Strachwitz: At Columbia.
Adolph Hofner: At Columbia, because I begged Art, I told him, “Art, if you will just give me a release during this war-” He wouldn’t give it to me. The only way he’d put it out, he’d let this guy- He made the masters for this guy, but just to play at this one radio station. He was in all these radio stations in California. He had access to this stuff. He wouldn’t release it to the public. He just gave it to the guy to play on the radio station. People would walk over and want to buy the record, it wasn’t there. That was bad. I told him, “Why don’t you give me just one release, man?” “Oh, I’ll do it, I’ll do it, I’ll do it.” I’ll do it never came around. I was T-off. Finally, I told Art, “Art, I’m going to go back. You want to release all my stuff, you can. It’ll help me back there. I’ll appreciate it if you will.” Those that he played there, he never released.
He released Sage Brush Shuffle, Swing With the Music. He finally gave me three releases over a period of three years. Yeah, but this was all cut in ’41, he didn’t do this until about ’45. I felt bad about it. I knew my contract was out, because I signed it for two years. Imperial came by and asked me what I’d want. I told them, “Well, I just want a fair deal. Pay me for the union scale plus the royalty.” He did, that’s why I got tied up in Imperial.
Chris Strachwitz: Those were recorded here, or out in California?
Adolph Hofner: They were recorded right here in KTSA studios. That’s where we goofed. They were recorded on 33 1/3, which was bad, bad, bad fidelity then. Bad fidelity. Then, they’d soup them up to 45’s, you see, back there.
Chris Strachwitz: I had them on 78s, yeah, they came out on 78s.
Adolph Hofner: They came out on 78, they’d soup them up to 78, and then the quality, they lost it, it sounded kind of whiny. I’m sure he didn’t have- I made a lot of- He wanted a lot of Czech stuff, and that’s what I gave him.
Chris Strachwitz: Those were pretty good. Yeah.
Adolph Hofner: I gave him what he wanted on that Czech stuff.
Chris Strachwitz: Who was that band again? That was the big band that you had by then, the 9 piece?
Adolph Hofner: No, when I came back to San Antonio, I cut it down to about 7 or 8. These recordings made on Imperial were made by myself, my brother Bash, Charlie on the piano-
Chris Strachwitz: Charlie, what was his last name?
Adolph Hofner: Charlie Poss.
Chris Strachwitz: Charlie Past?
Adolph Hofner: Poss, P-O-S-S. Charlie Poss on the piano, he’s one of the old-timers. Charlie’d been with me for 30 years, now. Told me he gave me the best years of his life. Who played … Bash on steel. Then I had two fiddles. I had Charlie Gregg, and Slim Wallace, a fellow I brought with me from California played fiddle. Charlie was on piano, let’s see … Eddie Duncan was on bass.
Chris Strachwitz: What was that first fiddler’s name again?
Adolph Hofner: Charlie Gregg, and Slim Wallace.
Chris Strachwitz: Charlie Gregg, how do you spell that? G-R-
Adolph Hofner: E-G-G. Charlie Gregg. Slim Wallace.
Chris Strachwitz: Who was playing drums in those days?
Adolph Hofner: Drums, Jimmy Blankenship. I’m glad you brought that up. Jimmy Blankenship was playing drums. He’s still around. Charlie Gregg passed away.
Chris Strachwitz: I’d like to put some of those- I like some of those, they had a good-
Adolph Hofner: They did. Even though, I’ll tell you what, if they’d been recorded right, in the studio, they’d really sounded good. He got disgusted, he said the steel player sounds like he’s asleep over there. With 33’s, when you jack it up, eeeeee, it just adds a different fidelity.
Chris Strachwitz: Why did he want Czech music? Oh, because he was mostly into the folk dancing?
Adolph Hofner: Folk. It was mostly with Spanish. Imperial, at one time, was strictly Spanish.
Chris Strachwitz: And folk dancing.
Adolph Hofner: And folk, that’s what he wanted. He did take the others, also. I made one that I thought was real good, and played pretty well. Well, the Czech music went over real great. I think he made a little money. He told me he didn’t make any money on me, but I think he did. They were too solid. The Julida Polka, and Happy-Go-Lucky Polka, and The Prune Waltz. All those, I know he was bound to have made a little money.
Then, I made one … “Sun was shining bright in the next room …”
Chris Strachwitz: You did the Prague Polka. The Shiner- Whatever they called it.
Adolph Hofner: They called it the Shiner Song, because that’s what they called it around here. Actually, it’s the Farewell to Prague. They called it Shiner because they had a brewery out there.
Chris Strachwitz: That probably just sold around here, the Czech population. That’s probably it.
Adolph Hofner: Yeah. That’s the reason I played it. It’s Farewell to Prague. It’s ……., is what it is. Shiner. The Julida. Mostly, all my Czech stuff I put more on Imperial than I did on any other. Way back there, I made the Dreamland Waltz on RCA. Yeah, it was an Okeh-
Chris Strachwitz: On Columbia, you did a couple of- Didn’t you?
Adolph Hofner: Yeah, on Columbia, I done some Czech songs, too.
Chris Strachwitz: I think I have some of those.
Adolph Hofner: I don’t know what the heck I recorded.
Chris Strachwitz: The Prague Polka, I think, is one of them.
Adolph Hofner: Yeah, probably is.
Chris Strachwitz: I’ll have to send you a list sometime of all this stuff.
Adolph Hofner: All I know is, I made some. Then I turned around and made the same thing on this guy over here.
Chris Strachwitz: Sarge
Adolph Hofner: Sarge, yeah. He wanted it, I said, “Okay, there’s nothing says I can’t do them after so long.” We just went up in there. I know you’re trying to get it … That’s about the deal of it, since then I recorded for Sarge over here, got a bunch of stuff with him. On Imperial- Oh, wait a minute. Then Decca came along, I recorded all three. Decca came along and they wanted me to record an album called Dance-a-Rama. Tex Williams was on it, and Bob Wills was on it, and Ernest Tubb, I think, was supposed to come up. Milton Brown and his Brownies was on it. Called Dance-a-Rama, he was going to put out. In other words, he was making that for the radio stations, because it was music one after another. One after another with enough space there just to- I don’t know what, in other words, a disc jockey could just put it on. He’d figured out if it was slow/fast, slow/fast. Called Dance-a-Rama. I have the album here, but it’s all scratchy.
Chris Strachwitz: They didn’t come out on singles.
Adolph Hofner: No. He was supposed to release a single on me, but he never did. In other words, I cut that Dance-a-Rama, we went all the way to Nashville, recorded it in Music Hall out there, is where we recorded all that stuff. That was all on- Johnny Porter was on there, fiddle. Buck Hannon fiddle. Eddie Bowers, vocal and drums. Pee-wee Maples on bass. My brother Bash on steel. Charlie on piano, and me on guitar. Then he hired an extra man. I don’t know who he was. It might have been Chet Akins, for all I know. He was a stand-by. He hired him to play some kind of rhythm that he wanted. Just guitar, he just played guitar on the mike all by himself. That’s before they had all this business. To get the (?) back, we were in the … On the old Opera stage, he had a microphone that went on down into the audience. Naturally, it echoed back. That was when all the echo was going so strong.
Chris Strachwitz: Of all the different kinds of music that you’ve played, the pop, the crooning, the Bing Crosby, or the Western Swing, or the Czech, which of them do you think the people liked the most, or is it hard to tell?
Adolph Hofner: It’s hard to tell. It all depends on moods, time of the evenings. In other words, if they’ve been dancing fast, they want to slow down. If they’ve been … It all depends upon luck. Also the popularity of the song. Now, you take the songs like the Julida Polka, and stuff like that, it’ll always go. Or, you take Fraulein, like it is now. It’ll always go. Wild Side of Life. It’s got an easy, danceable tempo, you don’t exert yourself. Crazy Arms, all this business, you see. It’s got an easy, danceable tempo, you don’t exert yourself, and you don’t sit there and drag one foot. That’s why it’s moods. As a band leader you’ve got to watch your floor and see to it that you put the right stuff there at the right time. If you don’t do it, you’re going to have an empty floor. Especially at the first part of the evening, you throw in everything that you know that they’re going to dance. It’s hard to get people started dancing. You throw them-
You don’t want to throw in anything too fast, because they won’t do it. You’ve got to start off kind of easy, where it’s simple, and then they don’t feel like they’re on the floor alone. Something half-easy. Waltzes, they’ll always get on the floor on old-timey waltzes. They’ll do that. Jolie Blon. You noticed last night, that Westphalia Waltz, incidentally I think I recorded that on about every label .
Chris Strachwitz: That’s right, that’s another one.
Adolph Hofner: Yeah. My best recording of that is on Sarge.
Chris Strachwitz: Um-hmm. (affirmative)
Adolph Hofner: I used the organ with it, too. It is beautiful.
Chris Strachwitz: Did you ever know this guy Lester Voichek (?)
Adolph Hofner: Yeah, Voichek, I don’t know if he’s local or is he from up-state?
Chris Strachwitz: He just made this weird thing called The Melting-Pot Polka one time on Imperial.
Adolph Hofner: Oh, well, that might have been out of Houston, that Voichek.
Chris Strachwitz: That might be that, yeah.
Adolph Hofner: Like I say, polkas are always for a lift. When people have been sitting around and everything, latter part of the evening, the polkas always go. You always get a bang out of it. People are in to let their hair down. You just can’t beat the polkas. You can’t beat waltzes for making people dance. The other, you’ve got to pick out, but you get a good waltz, why they’ll always get on the floor. You’ll always fill your floor with waltzes, young and old, I don’t know why that is.
Chris Strachwitz: Do you have any kids that are taking up music?
Adolph Hofner: No, so many people have asked me. To begin with, there were friends, I wouldn’t have felt like taking their money. I didn’t have the time to do it, so I just told them that I’d rather they go to somebody that really knew how to teach, you see. I felt it would be nothing but fair. Rather than me try to get somebody … Oh, I wrote down a bunch of chords for people, several of them, given to people for them to try out like I learned. I go that route, but as far as me giving lessons, no …. Like I say, I’ve had different types of bands.
Yeah, now that the ice cream truck’s went by … Let me cue you in on something that was funny.
Chris Strachwitz: How did you start with sort of a sponsorship? Was that …
Adolph Hofner: Well, yeah, that was kind of hard to get in those days. Being a on the radio. My first sponsor was Bugler Smoking Tobacco. They carried me about 6 months. Then, I don’t know what went wrong. Actually, they figured they didn’t have to have it. Tobacco was shy in war, you know. They dropped me, and here come along Ripple Smoking Tobacco picked me up.
Chris Strachwitz: They sponsored radio programs?
Adolph Hofner: Oh, yes. They sponsored me for 15 minutes. They didn’t pay me too much money, $10-$15 a man.
Chris Strachwitz: You could announce your dances, where you were playing?
Adolph Hofner: Right. Right on. That was my lifeline.
Chris Strachwitz: When did that start, the radio program?
Adolph Hofner: They started from as far back as I can remember. Even Milton Brown and his Brownies, and Bob Wills, and all …
Chris Strachwitz: I mean, when did you do your first radio broadcast?
Adolph Hofner: First radio broadcast, 1939, under my own name.
Chris Strachwitz: At this KT-
Adolph Hofner: KTSA. Come to San Antonio. Right now it’s the biggest rock station you ever saw. Then variety was what everybody was playing. Actually, they liked these country bands, because they did come out away from town, even from out of their reach, like Corpus Christi. All over, where they had other radio stations. We was KTSA, so they got the listeners, they were glad of it. I had a program on at 5:00 in the evening. Boy, I had to rush like mad to make some of these dances.
Chris Strachwitz: Did you have to take your whole band to the station?
Adolph Hofner: Yes, sir. You couldn’t get those guys to do enough. Anyhow, what were we talking about?
Chris Strachwitz: Sponsorship of the-
Adolph Hofner: Oh, yeah, sponsorship. My first sponsor under my name was Bugler, then for about 6-7 months. Then, about a couple of months later, Ripple picked me up. They carried me along about almost a year. Then, here come along Lone Star Beer picked me up.
Chris Strachwitz: Early ’40s?
Adolph Hofner: That was in about ’42. They carried me all the way to the time when I left for California. As a matter of fact, at one time, it looked like I was going in service. I made a whole bunch of recordings that they were going to play and keep me on the air after I was gone. That was the policy then. I made a whole bunch for them.
Chris Strachwitz: Who has those now? Do you know who has any of those? You don’t by any chance have those transcriptions?
Adolph Hofner: No, but I have a bunch of tapes that I had made with my band when I was on the air. If you would be interested in them-
Chris Strachwitz: Yeah, I’d love to hear them.
Adolph Hofner: Would you? All right. With my bands later on. Okay. I’ll send them to you.
Chris Strachwitz: I’ll just make copies, and I’ll send them right back to you.
Adolph Hofner: That’s good. Let’s see … There’s this … Oh yeah. Then, after I left California and came back to Texas, that was the last part of ’47 or the first part of ’48, I picked up another sponsor. Pearl Brewing Company. Must have been ’48 or ’49. I’ve been with them ever since, 30 years.
Chris Strachwitz: Always at the same radio station?
Adolph Hofner: Always at the same radio station, I don’t know why. I got hung on- From KTSA, I go to KMAC, and then I go back to … See, it was KDSA, I was on KENS, which is now KKYX. Kicks, I guess they call it.
Chris Strachwitz: I see, yeah.
Adolph Hofner: Yeah, the big, big station over there, it’s strictly country/western. Then they went to rock and roll, so I had to go to KMAC, then the station changed names to KENS I went back there, then I went back to KMAC, but between them two radio stations.
Chris Strachwitz: You mean, they would pay for the time?
Adolph Hofner: Pearl Brewery would pay for the time, plus paying me, too.
Adolph Hofner: I’ve been in radio ever since … Actually, I’ve been in radio since about 1935. Then, after the quit taking bands out to the stations, they run different formats. Then I was a disc jockey over at KMAC, I run my own shows in the morning, then they’d switch me around. Now, KBOP over here, I was with them until about (fades out)