Obituary: Rose Maddox

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The Independent Online
BILLED as "America's Most Colorful Hillbilly Band", the Maddox Brothers and Rose more than lived up to that description.

Attired in ornately embroidered rhinestone costumes, their act was as much visual as musical. Their repertoire encompassed ballads, blues and novelty numbers, and their music's drive and rhythm anticipated rockabilly. It was punctuated by wild yelps, spoken asides and maniacal laughter.

If the Maddox boys (Cliff, Fred, Don, Cal and Henry) gave the music its energy, it was their little sister Rose, the possessor of a voice once described as having "the smoke and substance of the hill country in it", who grabbed the attention.

Born to sharecropping parents in the Appalachian foothills of northern Alabama, Rose was the youngest of seven children. In 1933, following the failure of their cotton crop, the family headed west to California.

They worked initially as fruitpickers. Their move into music came after Fred saw a local group get paid $100 for performing at a rodeo. Rice's Furniture Store in Modesto agreed to sponsor the band's radio appearances on the condition that they were fronted by a female vocalist and so, at the age of 11, Rose made her professional debut. Featuring Cal on guitar and harmonica and Fred on bass, the band, known as the Alabama Outlaws, eventually expanded to include brothers Cliff, Don and "Friendly" Henry on, respectively, guitar, fiddle and mandolin. Later still, they were joined by the steel guitarist Bud Duncan and, following Cliff's death in 1949, by a succession of lead guitarists.

Managed by their domineering mother Lula, the outfit performed in dance halls and honky tonks up and down the San Joaquin Valley, entertaining the ever-increasing numbers of dispossessed Southerners. Victory in a 1939 Sacramento talent competition gave them greater radio exposure and they became one of the area's biggest draws. The Second World War caused temporary dissolution and Maddox, her attempts to join the legendary Rob Wills having come to nothing, worked briefly with the bandleaders Arky Stark and Dave Stogner.

From 1946, the reformed group began recording for Four Star Records. Rose's increased confidence and the optimism of the immediate post-war years saw a change in approach and bore fruit in classics like "Philadelphia Lawyer" (a.k.a. "The Reno Blues"), "Honky Tonkin'", and "Sally Let Your Bangs Hang Down" (1948).

By the mid-Fifties both Rose and the Brothers were signed to Columbia. She had cut her first solo sides in 1953 and, following the band's final session in 1957, concentrated on a solo career.

She was signed in 1959 to Capitol, where her series of chart entries included "Kissing My Pillow" (1961), and "Sing a Little Song of Heartache" (1962). She also cut her two finest albums, The Glorybound Train (1960), and Rose Maddox Sings Bluegrass (1962).

Following her departure from Capitol she continued to perform both alone and with her brothers Henry and Cal. A 1970 album for Starday, Rosie, was followed by minor outings. She spent her final years on Don's Oregon ranch.

Roselea Arbana Maddox, singer: born Boaz, Alabama 15 August 1925; twice married (one son deceased); died Ashland, Oregon 15 April 1998.