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Jenks "Tex" Carman

Chippeha!: The Essential Dixie Cowboy (1947-1957) – 1998 (Revenant)

Reviewed by Jon Johnson

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CDs by Jenks "Tex" Carman

Look up the word "eccentric" in any dictionary and you'll find a picture of Jenks Carman (1903-1968) next to the definition. Born and raised in Kentucky of mixed white/Cherokee lineage, but based in Los Angeles for most of his career, Carman never enjoyed national success - his appeal was too peripheral for that - but enjoyed a long career on radio, records and television nonetheless.

The earliest sessions here include 12 titles recorded for the 4 Star label between 1947-51 and include the ingredients that would form the basis of Carman's style for the remainder of his career: a clipped tenor delivery that probably owed something to Al Jolson, a Hawaiian slide guitar style developed during the heyday of that genre during the twenties and thirties, and a truly odd sense of timing that must have driven accompanying musicians insane. Oddly enough, Carman's 4 Star recordings sold fairly well and by 1951 he had signed up with Capitol, backed by Capitol's ace west coast session musicians. Seven songs from that period (1951-53) are included, including two songs in his native Cherokee language, "Locust Hill Rag" and "Hillbilly Hula." Rounding out the set are three 1957 tracks from a syndicated Air Force-sponsored radio show, "Country Music Time."

Carman's appeal is difficult to pin down, even now. His music isn't even vaguely commercial, and his contemporaries suggest that his musicianship was marginal, at best, but audiences loved the man by all accounts. And there is something infectious in Carman's can-do spirit. Chalk him up to an era when an eccentric approach to country music could still land you a major label contract.