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Cameron Hill

    Maurice Cameron Hill was born February 7, 1919 in Rusk, Texas. His mother, Annie V. Hill, and father Henry T. Hill both loved music and encouraged Cameron to play the guitar and sing. Cameron, the eldest of seven children began playing at the age of nine and by 1930, was performing on radio station KLUF in Galveston, Texas. Cameron played guitar and sang with his father Henry accompanying him on mandolin.

    Being a teenager in the mid-thirties, 1935-1937 eager for excitement and for twenty-five dollars a month, he joined the C.C.C. commonly called the Tree Army and helped build roads and parks in eastern Texas. Cameron's cousin Truman Welch, who also played guitar,  joined the C.C.C. as well and whenever they could they would play music at any venue that would pay. Both Cameron and Truman played with The Vance Brothers in Palestine Texas and from about March to September of 1939 they were with Moon Mullican's band "The Night Riders", other members were Sam Morris on banjo and brother in-law Leo (Micky) Lane on fiddle. This band worked out of Lufkin, Texas and then headed north to Illinois for several months. Cameron and Micky worked the beer joints with Shelly Lee Alley in Houston for a brief period. 

    Cameron settled in Houston in the late thirties and was then meeting all the hot musicians from the Shreveport, Port Arthur, Beaumont area. In 1939, the Texas Wanderers (without Cliff Bruner, who had left) went to Hollywood to make the Movie "Village Barn Dance". Two members, Dickie McBride and Grady Hester left to form another group "The Village Boys." In late December 1939 the Texas Wanderers kept going under the management of Roy Thames who then brought in Cameron and Buddy Ray. The Texas Wanderers were broadcasting on radio station KXYZ. They were also recording sessions for Decca in April of 1940. These sessions were Cameron's first recordings, the band members were Cameron, electric guitar; Buddy Ray, fiddle; Moon Mullican, piano; Red Greenhaw, guitar; Johnny Thames, banjo; and Bill Mounce, bass. Not long after this Tony Sepolio joined replacing Buddy Ray who left to join The Village Boys. Fiddle player Buddy Ray was from Waco Texas and had been playing with "The Modern Mountaineers." In about October 1940, Moon Mullican pulled away from Roy and Johnny Thames and took with him most of the Wanderers and headed for Beaumont. Here they started broadcasts on KFDM as "Moon Mullican's Texas Wanderers," and the line-up was Tony Sepolio, fiddle; Cameron, electric guitar; Moon Mullican, piano; George Ogg, saxophone; Red Greenhaw, guitar; and Bill Mounce, bass. This band broke up early in 1941 sending Cameron and George Ogg on the road to Hot Springs, where Cameron's cousin Truman Welch was working with "Pee Wee Roberts & His Skyliners" on KTHS.
This band also included Smokey Wood and Bob Dunn. In the fall of 1942 Cameron joined The Village Boys and now, Houston's finest musicians surrounded Cameron including band leader Buddy Ray, Millard Kelso, Larry Nolan, Buck Henson, J.D. Standlee, Dickie McBride, Johnny Dimaris and Red Greenhaw The largest radio station in Houston, KTRH was broadcasting The Village Boys every weekday morning at 6:30 A.M. and at 12:00 Noon every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. And for evening entertainment you could see them at the "Roseland Nite Spot" every night except Monday. During this period Cameron met fellow guitarist Jimmy Wyble.

    In late 1943 Cameron, Buddy, Millard, Buck and Jimmy Wyble headed for the West Coast. Cameron had been blessed with a great ear but never really learned to read music. Asked by his brother Carroll who his favorite musician was he thought long and hard and said "Johnny Hodges he's the best!" On guitar, George Barnes was his idol but swinging like Charlie Christian was his goal. Cameron and Jimmy played sophisticated renditions of Christian solos and Cameron could listen to them and play them note for note. "It kept Lawrence Welk from hiring me, Sorry I've got music to play and money to make so reading will just have to wait."  Buddy Ray had hired on with Wills but left after a few months. 

    Cameron, Jimmy and first-rate steel guitarist Noel Boggs (Noel had set in with Charlie Christian in Eddie Christian's band in Oklahoma City before Charlie hit it big with Benny Goodman in 1939) were playing with a rhythm section in a small club when, pianist Millard Kelso who was with Bob Wills, suggested that Cameron, Noel and Jimmy should audition for Bob. Being familiar with Wills but not acquainted, Millard set up their meeting. After meeting Bob at the Santa Monica Ballroom, playing to a crowd of nearly five thousand Cameron and Jimmy stirred the crowd and started what might have been mistaken as a riot. The set featuring "them boys" as Bob would later call them was so hot, Cameron and Jimmy were hired on the spot and Noel came along shortly after. Cameron and Jimmy set the standard high, for electric twin guitar leads and solos in the War years until 1945.

    Now an integral part of "BOB WILLS AND HIS TEXAS PLAYBOYS," the most popular swing band in the country, things were really looking up. Bob was a good boss and he expected his musicians to play their best, and to help them he would often buy their instruments. Bob paid $85 a week and took care of hotel bills and bought their cowboy uniforms. All they had to buy was food. Bob said, "Boys, we're going to make some theater appearances from L.A. to Chicago. I want you boys to get two of the best and prettiest guitars you can find." And he gave Cameron and Jimmy a check for $1100. They both played Charlie Christian guitars but Bob wanted them to have the finest money could buy so he sent them shopping. So they went to Fife and Nichols on Hollywood Boulevard, located at Sunset and Vine and asked for two Gibson L-5s that looked alike. The salesman said he was sorry he couldn't help them but that he had two 1943 Epiphone Emperors. They gave the salesman the check of $1100 and it covered both the Epiphones that they equipped with DeArmond pick-ups. 

Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys - Los Angeles 1944

Above left to right: Everett Stover, Les Anderson, Tiny Mott, Bob Wills, Louis Tierney, Monte Mountjoy, Rip Ramsey, Jimmy Wyble, Tommy Duncan, Cameron Hill, Millard Kelso, Laura Lee Owens 

Different publicity shot from same show as above picture-  Los Angeles 1944
Above standing left to right: Everett Stover, Louis Tierney, Tommy Duncan, Laura Lee Owens, Bob Wills, Cameron Hill, Tiny Mott 
Kneeling: Les Anderson, Jimmy Wyble, Rip Ramsey, Monte Mountjoy, Millard Kelso

    From 1944 thru late 1945 Cameron was in and out of recording studios with the Texas Playboys and was also involved in the Armed Forces Radio Transcriptions. Along with all of these projects he was working in movies: Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys, Rhythm Round Up, Blazing The Western Trail and The Lawless Empire. 

    In the spring of 1944 Bob Wills organized the largest band he ever had. It had seventeen instrumentalists and two vocalists. Cameron and Jimmy Wyble were the guitarists and unfortunately this band only lasted four to six months and no recordings have ever been found. It was during this time he married Bob's first female vocalist, the twenty-four year old daughter of country singer songwriter Tex Owens, Laura Lee Owens. A memorable night was Dec 30, 1944 at the Grand Old Opry. Unfortunately no photos, transcriptions or air-shots are known to exist of this performance nor has a set list turned up. Minnie Pearl said of this performance “Bob Wills had the biggest band to ever play at the Opry.” The use of a drummer ( Monte Mountjoy ), during this , a Grand Old Opry performance was a first and caused quite a ruckus. Cameron and Laura did not have children and by December of 1945 both had left the Playboys to return to Houston Texas. Cameron entered the Armed Forces and Laura joined with Dickie McBride's band. By 1946 they were divorced and Laura Lee married Dickie McBride.

    Cameron continued to work the Houston scene and joined Dickie Jones and The Skyliners. In the mid-to-late Forties one of the hottest spots in Houston "The Autotel Blue Room" a huge venue where Cameron along with band members, Dickie Jones, fiddle; George Ogg and Hal Hebert, saxes; Smokey Wood, piano; Hezzie Bryant, bass; and Curly Austin, drums provided unequalled entertainment. Smokey Woods left and was later replaced by Anthony Scanlin. Anthony left the band and was later replaced by Mancel Tierney. Sometime later Curly Austin moved on and was replaced by Rusty Alfred. This band stayed together and recorded numerous sessions.

    In 1947 Cameron was working around the L.A. area and recorded a session with Roy Rogers. Soon afterward he was back on the west coast, hired by Spade Cooley and was reunited with his good friend Jimmy Wyble. They didn't record commercially with the Cooley band because of the 1948 musicians union recording ban, but prior to the ban they did cut a couple of radio transcription sessions. While playing with Spade in 1948 he met Becky Barfield a vocalist with Spade. Becky had been with Pee Wee King in 1945 and 1946 and was in a movie with Pee Wee called "Flames of The West" with Johnny Mack Brown. In the summer of 1946 she joined Spade but didn't stay long. Becky (Mary Ruth Barfield) also started out her career with her father Willie Barfield, along with her uncle Johnny Barfield and performed on a radio show on WRBL. Becky was born in 1927 in Macon Georgia and moved to Nashville as a teen. Her guardian there was Minnie Pearl and this, no doubt helped her career with many musical influences from the time spent singing at the Grand Ole Opry.

    Becky's nephew Gerald Armstrong, as told by his grandmother Ona Barfield "Becky taught Eddie Arnold how to yodel, he never could seem to quite get it, but he learned enough that what he did do, he called it a 'Cattle Call.'" A song of the same name that later on was a big hit for Eddie. Gerald also remembers that in 1948 while Becky was visiting his family in Virginia, bandleader Spade Cooley sent a private plane so she could re-join his band. These glorious days with Spade Cooley at "The Rainbow Gardens" and "The Santa Monica Ballroom" ended in 1949.

    From "Round-Up in Hollywood" in the July / August 1949 issue of the National Hillbilly News:

    On April 14, little Becky Barfield became known as Mrs. Cameron Hill. Everyone knows Becky and remembers her from the time she was a tiny tot doing vaudeville with her daddy. Since then she has come a long way and still is loveable, entertaining and popular as ever. No doubt, as many folks will remember, Cameron Hill is one of the top-notch guitarists in the business and has worked with such bands as Bob Wills, Spade Cooley and is now with Tommy Duncan. Becky is featured gal vocalist with Cooley, so the "Western All Stars," Duncan's band touring will interfere with their honeymoon...they left on April 16th."

    Tommy Duncan, long time vocalist for Bob Wills left The Texas Playboys in 1948. Tommy's brother, bassist-vocalist Glynn Duncan, Cameron, Jimmy Wyble, pianist Millard Kelso, Noel Boggs on steel and fiddlers Joe Holley and Ocie Stockard formed the Western All-Stars. Cameron, Jimmy and Noel left the All Stars in July of 1949. Afterward Cameron worked with Becky, Buddy Ray, Noel Boggs, Millard Kelso, Bob Morgan, Monty Mountjoy and the Wade Ray Band. Cameron then formed his own band with top-notch musicians called "The Texas Sundowners."

    As The Texas Sundowners, Cameron and Becky worked all around the L.A. area performing, as well as trips back to the Houston music scene for Cameron to do studio work whenever he could. Cameron spent the next few years from 1951 thru 1954 working and recording with Ramblin' Jimmie Dolan, Johnny Ragsdale, Link Davis, and Herb Remington. Moving back to Houston in 1954 allowed Cameron the opportunity to record quite a lot and work with Dickie Jones, and also Benny Leader. In May 1955 in ACA Studio in Houston, a session with 'Slim' Whitman, vocal/guitar; Sherman 'Sugarfoot' Collins, guitar; Cameron Hill, guitar; Herb Remington, steel guitar; Thomas 'Curly' Harris, string bass; Harland 'Sonny' Harville, piano. They recorded "I'll Never Stop Loving You" a hit for Mr. Whitman. Staying busy in 1955 he co-wrote and recorded "Baby I Just Want You" with Floyd Tillman, and several other sessions recording five other songs with Floyd. Other sessions in 1955 with Buddy Dee and His String Band were keeping his calendar full.

    Then in 1956 back in California again he joined with western swing fiddle player and bandleader Wade Ray. No issued recordings, but radio and television programs kept them busy as well as working full time at the clubs. Band members included Millard Kelso, Monty Mountjoy and Buddy Kendrick. Later Becky joined with Wade and worked with Noel Boggs.

    The last known sessions that Cameron recorded were in 1958 with piano player Merrill Moore. These tunes were more pop and jazz flavored and are good examples of Cameron's versatility. 

    Little Becky, as she was known, became ill and passed away in 1958 in California. Continuing to work the clubs he was feeling a desire to return home. Cameron left the west coast and went back home, and then after a short stay he was traveling again. This time his destination was Las Vegas, and was hired to work in the house band at the Golden Nugget. After a few months he returned to Houston. In 1961 he was home to stay, reuniting with his long time musician friends and family. Cameron also had been suffering from a long-term illness, and in early 1962 he just could not continue working as he had been. Cameron moved in with Colleen and E.B. Wheeler, his sister and brother in-law in Pasadena Texas. The young children Rebecca and Cameron went to live with other family in Pearland Texas. 

    Maurice Cameron Hill passed away in Houston Texas, on June 22, 1962. He is buried at Rosewood Park Cemetery near Humble Texas.

    Cameron loved music and lived a life of music. Entertaining for thirty-two years, it was the only job he ever had. Musicians the world over know his name and it's said "if you were ever fortunate enough to play music with Bob Wills and His Texas Playboy's, you are welcomed on any bandstand." This was so true as you can see by the following discography: 


TEXAS WANDERERS 
April 4, 1940
Pipe Liner's Blues
Rackin' It Back-1
When You're Gone
My Dixieland Girl
April 10, 1940
San Antonio Polka
Dixieland I Hear You Calling Me
I Wonder If True Love Will Find A Way
Sundown Blues-1

BOB WILLS & HIS TEXAS PLAYBOYS
Mid-1944-early 1945 various live air shots issued on Armed Forces Radio Service "Melody Round-Up" & other transcriptions. 
Bob Wills Special; Dusty Skies; Goodbye Liza Jane; I Betcha My Heart; Ida Red; I'll Be True To The One I Love; I'm Talking About You; Maiden's Prayer; Miss Molly; My Confession (1); My Confession (2); Perdido; Right Or Wrong (1) Right Or Wrong (2); San Antonio Rose; Silver Bells; Steel Guitar Rag; Stumbling; Take Me Back To Tulsa; Texas Plains; Thanks For Your Letter; Too Late. 

January 24, 1945 (Columbia Records; all-2)
Hang Your Head In Shame
Smoke On The Water
Texas Playboy Rag
Bluer Than Blue

January 26, 1945
Hang Your Head In Shame
Smoke On The Water 
Texas Playboy Rag 
Bluer Than Blue 
Roly Poly
You Don't Care What Happens To Me
Stay A Little Longer

January 28, 1945
You Should Have Thought Of That Before
I Can't Go On This Way
I'm Thru Wastin' Time On You
Easy Rockin' Chair
Just A Plain Old Country Boy
NOTE: All January 1945 Wills recordings, including a number of alternate takes, available on -2.

NOTE: Contrary to listings in early Wills discographies, Cameron is not on Wills' April 1945 Columbia session. 

DICKIE JONES & HIS SKYLINERS
Various surviving airchecks from Houston radiobroadcasts, 1946-47, including the following which have been issued on CD:
Seven Come Eleven (1946)-3
Soft Winds & Closing theme (Summer 1947)-3


August 1947 (Cireco Records)
I'm Gonna Bridle Up My Heart
Jole Blon Likes The Boogie-4, 5
Diggin' (warm up, later issued on Krazy Kat CD)-6 

ROY ROGERS
December 4, 1947
With A Sweep Of My Sombrero
Old-Fashioned Cowboy
Betsy-7

SPADE COOLEY & HIS WESTERN DANCE GANG **
c. December 1947 (Standard Radio transcriptions). I'm assuming at this point that Cameron is on Q-238. He's definitely on Q-245.
Q-238 
If I'd Only See'd You-8
Fiddle Boogie-8
Lord Nottingham's War Dance-8
Bogg's Boogie-8
Oklahoma Waltz
Tuesday Two-Step-8
Mountain Mother In Law-8
Peekin' Peekin' Peekin'
Oh Elvirey
Four Fiddle Polka-8
Q-245
Diggin' With Spade-8
Leather Breeches-8
I Come Here To Be Went With, But I Ain't Yet 
Pretty Polka-8
Chippewa Song
Fickle Woman 
Piggy Bank Polka-9
Hollywood Hoedown
Tick Tock Shottische
It's Dark Outside-8 

SPADE COOLEY
AFRS Melody Round-Up (from radio broadcast)
It's Dark Outside-10
South-10
You Don't Love Me But I'll Always Care-10
Flying Home-10

SPADE COOLEY 
AFRS Melody Round-Up (from radio broadcast)
Texas Playboy Rag-11
Diggin' With Spade-11
You Don't Love Me But I'll Always Care
You'll Always Be Darlin' To Me

NOTE: There are other Spade Cooley AFRS shows from the period when Cameron was in the band, to which I've not yet gained access.

TOMMY DUNCAN & HIS WESTERN ALL STARS
January 12, 1949 (Capitol Records)
I'm Thru Wastin' Time On You-12
Worried Over You-12
Take Me Back To Tulsa-12
Time Changes Everything-12

MOON MULLICAN
March 15, 1949 (King Records)
I'll Sail My Ship Alone-13
Moon's Tune-13
Sweeter Than The Flowers No. 2-13

? BECKY BARFIELD
April 3, 1949 (Crystal Records)
I know that Cameron was on a session cut for Crystal Records of LA on this date, but I don't know for certain that it is a Becky Barfied recording session; I do know that Becky cut a session for Crystal, but I don't know the titles and have never heard any of the tracks.

TOMMY DUNCAN & HIS WESTERN ALL STARS
May 9, 1949 (Capitol Records)
September-12 
Gambling Polka Dot Blues-12
You Put Me On My Feet The Day You Took Her Off My Hands-12 
Just A Plain Old Country Boy-12 

RAMBLIN' JIMMIE DOLAN
September 15, 1950 (Capitol Records, all sessions)
RFD Blues-14
A Load Of Trouble-14
I've Got The Craziest Feeling

November 9, 1950
Hot Rode Race-14
Walkin' With The Blues
Washed Away With The Tide-14

February 6, 1951
I Always Play A Losin' Hand
Wine, Women and Pink Elephants-14
I'm Alone Because I Love You-14
The Spider And The Fly 

June 22, 1951
Sailor's Blues
Juke Box Boogie-14
A Lie In A Beautiful Frame
That Last Love Letter

January 15, 1952
Got My Heart Set On You
Trade Winds Never Lie
There's A Blue Sky Way Out Yonder
Stingy

JOHNNY RAGSDALE
January 8, 1954 (Columbia Records)
Someone Parted Our Love In The Middle
Ten Thousand Cows
Blue Memory

LINK DAVIS
April 17, 1954 (Okeh Records).
The Crawfish Crawl
You're Little But You're Cute
Mama Say No
You Show Up Missing

JOHNNY RAGSDALE
November 15, 1954 (Columbia Records) 
I'm Taking My Marbles Home
The Words I Didn't Say
Stand-In Sweetheart
Someone Parted Our Love In The Middle

LINK DAVIS
November 16, 1954 (Okeh Records)
Everytime I Pass Your Door
Cajun Love
Kajalena
Va T'Catcher

HERB REMINGTON
November 16, 1954 (Okeh Records)
Boot-Heel Drag
Westphalia Waltz
Julida Polka 

SLIM WHITMAN
c. May 1955 (Imperial Records)
I'll Never Stop Loving You-15

FLOYD TILLMAN#/LINK DAVIS##
1955 (Nucraft Records)
Magnolia Garden's Waltz#
Grasshopper##--16

FLOYD TILLMAN#/LINK DAVIS##
1955 (Sarg/Western Records)
Cockroach##-17 
Big Houston##-17 
Baby I Just Want You#-17, 16
Save A Little For Me#-16

BUDDY DEE & HIS STRING BAND
1955 (Starday Records) 
Swamp Water Drag
Cherokee Ride
String Band Rag
Shuffle The Blues

WADE RAY
c. 1956 -- radio or television air checks; not issued to date.
Blue Suede Shoes; You Don't Have To Be A Baby To Cry; No Letter Today; I Almost Lost My Mind; Rosetta; My Mother's Eyes; Long Tall Sally

MERRILL MOORE
September 15, 1958 (Capitol Records)
Music, Music, Music-18
Sun Valley Walk-18
Back Home In Indiana-18


-1 : Available on ASV various artist CD AJA 5214 Western Swing 
-2 : All January 1945 Bob Wills recordings available on Bear Family box set BCD 15933 by Bob Wills & his Texas Playboys, San Antonio Rose 
-3 : Available on Country Routes various artist CD RFD CD 31 Seven Come Eleven
-4 : Available on Krazy Kat various artist CDKK CD 23 Lone Star Stomp 
-5 : Available on Bear Family various artist CD BCD 16618 Jole Blon
-6 : Available on Krazy Kat various artist CD KK CD 24 Diggin'
-7 : Available on Naxos CD release 8.120542 by Roy Rogers, Along The Navajo Trail
-8 : Available on Country Routes release RFD CD 23, Spade Cooley, 1941-1947
-9 : Available on Jasmine CD JASM CD 3510 release by Spade Cooley/Tex Williams, A Western Swing Dance Date With Spade & Tex
-10 : Available on Country Routes various artist release RFD CD 22, Sunshine State Swing 
-11 : Available on Country Routes various artist release RFD CD 07, Western Swing On The Radio 
-12: Available on Bear Family release BCD 15907 by Tommy Duncan, Texas Moon
-13: Available on Westside CD Wesa 911 by Moon Mullican, I'll Sail My Ship Alone
-14: Available on Bear Family release BCD 16192 by Jimmie Dolan, Juke Box Boogie
-15: Available on Bear Family boxset BCD 15768 by Slim Whitman, Rose Marie
-16 : Available on Krazy Kat CD release KK CD 06, Link Davis, Let The Food Times Roll
-17 : Available on Bear Family various artist CD release BCD 16296, The Sarg Records Anthology
-18 : Available on Bear Family release BCD 15505 by Merrill Moore, Boogie My Blues Away


Acknowledgements:

Photographs used in this work were from my personal collection and a collection belonging to my Aunt, Elaine Lane.

I want to thank my Uncle, Carroll Hill for his help. He spent over two hours, non-stop on the phone enlightening me with a wealth of family history and facts.

I want to thank Jimmy Wyble and his interviewer Jim Carlton, for clarification of times and dates that he offered in his recent interview. This great question and answer session is posted on the World Wide Web at ClassicGuitar.Com.

I want to thank Charles Townsend for writing "San Antonio Rose."
This book is a "must have".  Every Bob Wills fan should have it.

I want to thank Buddy McPeters and Robert Bishop. Their contributions and knowledge of the Texas Playboys is unmatched. Every Bob Wills fan should have access to TexasPlayboys.net, it's a wonderful Web Site.

I want to thank Gerald Armstrong and Holly Southern for providing information on Becky Barfield.

I want to thank my friend Kevin Coffey for his help, especially for compiling the discography. His knowledge of the Texas Playboys and western swing in general is top shelf.

I want to thank my friend Buddy Ray for providing me with information about his friends, Cameron and Becky.

A big thank you goes to my cousin R.W. Carter who really got me excited about this project. He really started the ball rolling and encouraged me continually.

Written by, Kevin L. Wheeler
June 2003


Click here for more pictures of Cameron Hill, family and friends
 

Special thanks to Kevin Wheeler for this biography of Cameron Hill.


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