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Author Topic:  Texas steel legend Jimmy Grabowske
Herb Steiner


From:
Spicewood TX 78669
Post Posted 6 Nov 2016 5:05 am     Reply with quote

I just received word from his granddaughter that my dear pal and Texas steel guitar legend Jimmy Grabowske has passed away November 5th. He now rejoins his dear wife Willie who passed on earlier this year.

In the early 1950's and onward Jimmy was without doubt one of the hottest players in Texas, much in the style of Joaquin Murphey. He was a mentor to many players in the Central Texas area, including Doug Sahm.

He was a dear, sweet man and our conversations were always spiked with sly humor and great laughter. He never stopped playing and was steel guitarist for the Texas Swing Pioneers the last several years.
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Son, we live in a world with walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with steel guitars. Who's gonna do it? You? You, Lt. Weinberg?
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Mitch Drumm


From:
Frostbite Falls, hard by Veronica Lake
Post Posted 6 Nov 2016 6:11 am     Reply with quote

Thanks for the notice, Herb---not what I wanted to hear today.

Here's an early picture and an article from The Austin Chronicle, October 5, 2007.

I haven't checked, but I suspect there's quite a bit of his playing on Youtube--with Jesse James, Doug and The Swing Boys, and The Knights Of Texas Swing.






Hank Williams approached the low wooden bandstand of Austin's Skyline Club unsteadily on that crisp December night in 1952. The hired band behind him was prepared for his unpredictable state.

"Not in good shape," remembers steel player Jimmy Grabowske, who'd backed country music's lonesome drifter previously at other Central Texas venues, such as Dessau Hall. Grabowske and the band knew in advance this was likely to happen, but no one had any inkling this would be Hank Williams' last performance.

"He barely made it to the first show," continues Grabowske. "Back then, the group would start playing, and then the stars would come up for about 30 minutes. Hank made it through the first show and tried to make it through the next one. He had a difficult time, was shaking badly. [Skyline Club owner] Warren Stark had to call an ambulance, and they took him to Brackenridge Hospital.

"That was the last time I saw him."

Williams' death three weeks later at the age of 29 was a shock to Grabowske, who just the year before had played Texas Cajun legend Harry Choates' final show before his mysterious death in an Austin jail cell. And eight years later, almost exactly, Grabowske played with Johnny Horton, who drove away from his Austin gig and never made Shreveport, La., dying in a car crash. For Grabowske, a steel-guitar player of more than half a century, these tragedies are part and parcel of what's made his career remarkable.

Seated at the dining-room table of the neat North Austin home he's shared with his wife of more than 50 years, Willie, the guitarist rests his steel-picking hands atop a manila folder stuffed with brittle yellow clippings, well-thumbed copies of newspaper stories, and faded photos. At 78, his memory's sharp and his manner friendly and forthcoming, but it's no surprise that decades' worth of shows and concerts have blurred over the years. Sometimes a reminder helps.

Born and raised in Rockport, Texas, Grabowske took music lessons the way many kids did during the Depression – from a door-to-door salesman who sold instruction. By his teens, he was performing regularly, including engagements with a young female bandleader named Sue Telford. His proficiency came to the attention of San Antonio country artist Charlie Walker, who hired the steel player into his popular band. Grabowske remained with Walker until an automobile crash took the lives of two band members.

By the time he got to Austin in the late Forties, Western swing bloomed in full flower with Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys as the kings. A local guitarist with a colorful name had some local success with Jesse James & His Gang before most of the members were drafted.

After World War II, the band reformed, this time under the name Jesse James & All the Boys, which included fiddlers Sonny Raines and Joe Castle, bassist Joe Ramon, and Lefty Nason on steel. In 1948, Nason left to play with Hank Thompson, and Grabowske saddled up as the James gang's steel player. A hot young fiddler named Johnny Gimble even got into the act, albeit briefly.

That same year, Grabowske went into the studio with the band to record for Austin's Lasso label, cutting "Frankie and Johnny" b/w "You've Broken Every Vow." The group toured with Lyndon Baines Johnson during his Senate campaign, racing him to the county seat, because music brought people out to hear the politicians. Yet it was their daily performance in Austin, sponsored by Pearl Beer on KTBC radio (now KLBJ), that brought the outfit attention.


Beer companies sponsoring such radio shows profited handsomely. Not only did the talent shill the product; the companies provided stage-wear for them – matching cowboy shirts with stitching and piping and, in the case of Pearl, beautifully hand-painted silk ties for Jesse James & All the Boys. Such relationships usually came with built-in restrictions.

"We had a stipulation on the radio show that the broadcast had to be live," says Grabowske. "Wherever we played, we had to be able to drive back for the show. Every day. The farthest west I can remember going is San Angelo, Snyder, New London. South to Corpus Christi, Robstown, Three Rivers, Rusk. We had a standing engagement every Monday outside Houston. We played Dewey Groom's Longhorn Ballroom in Dallas, lots of Air Force and Army bases. [James] booked seven nights a week, so we were on the road all the time."

Grabowske left the group in the early Fifties, meeting his wife-to-be when she worked at Walgreens on Congress. He also found plenty of work as a hired hand, playing with Doug Hullum and his band the Swing Boys, among many others. Later in the decade, Grabowske took on a steel-guitar student. Once a week, the teenage boy's parents would drive him up to Austin for lessons.

"He was a sharp little boy, maybe 14, small in stature," Grabowske marveled about young Doug Sahm. "His folks would bring him from San Antone, and I gave him lessons for about a year. He could play fiddle, guitar, and was learning to play steel. He was a prodigy, just amazing."

The Fifties were a watershed era for music, the period leading up to the civil rights movement giving birth to new genres of music, particularly rock & roll, with its roots embedded in country and rhythm & blues. For all the horror stories about racism in Texas, some truly remarkable moments occurred.

Lavada Durst, KVET's popular black deejay, known to black and white audiences alike as the jive-talkin' "Dr. Hepcat," booked Doug & the Swing Boys for a "Western night" at the East End's landmark rhythm & blues venue, the Victory Grill. The regulars crowded the house that night, dressed in cowboy hats and boots and two-stepping away.

"The Swing Boys knew how to play a variety of music styles," recalls Grabowske. "There was country, Western swing, blues, and some rock songs. The folks were very friendly and didn't seem familiar with steel guitar. They stood around me, watching me play and asking questions about it. When it was closing time, they wanted us to continue playing. We couldn't because of curfew."

Jody Meredith was also a member of Hullum's band, but when Warren Stark asked him to head up a house band at the Skyline Club, it was an offer he couldn't refuse. Neither did Grabowske. He played with Jody Meredith & the Roundup Boys at the Skyline until the mid-Sixties.

By the Sixties, country-music audiences were in flux. Times were changing fast: Not only was the genre evolving into "countrypolitan"; progressive country was rearing its shaggy head. Even when Asleep at the Wheel kicked off the Western swing revival in the Seventies, it was regarded with cultish adoration and not the broad acceptance of audiences from the Forties and Fifties. The sun had set on an era.

Stepping outside for a cigarette while his wife runs to the store, Grabowske grouses about his back yard and how overgrown it is. He's a gardening nut these days but won't accept any compliments on the lushness of his plants and flowers, pooh-poohing them as untended and that maybe it's about time to take it all up for the winter. The gigs still come on a fairly regular basis, and he's got a stack of honorary certificates and plaques for things like his induction into the Texas Steel Guitar Hall of Fame that he won't let his wife put on the walls.

To look at his sweet doughboy face, eyes focused on the rose bushes along the side of his property as he takes a long draw from his cigarette, the mind reels at the thousands of shows he's played. Jimmy Grabowske is a man who's achieved enough for several lifetimes, and it's possible that at this moment in time, his distant stare is fixed on the past, when the houselights dimmed, the applause heightened, and a voice rose over a distant microphone.

"Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome to the Skyline Club, Hank Williams!"
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Roy Carroll


From:
North of a Round Rock
Post Posted 7 Nov 2016 7:16 am     Reply with quote

Man what a shock! I was notified on Sun am. I just talked to him on Thurs. He was getting ready for a visit from Rita and I. What a wonderful man! Never a bad word about anyone. We all should hope that people talk about us as they spoke of Jimmy.
I will miss my friend a great deal.
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Herb Steiner


From:
Spicewood TX 78669
Post Posted 7 Nov 2016 7:39 am     Reply with quote

I've heard tapes of that band Jody Meredith fronted at the Skyline Club, they were hot and excellent. On lead guitar was Ray Tesmer, bass was Jerry Lightsey, Jimmy on steel, Joe Villegas on drums.

I just saw Jody and his wife Maida recently. His health isn't the best but he's getting along. We can't gig together anymore because of his health. Lightsey and Tesmer also are getting on in years, but they're still playing. Sonny Raines and Joe Villegas are no longer with us. Joe was fun to play with, and Sonny was a total curmudgeon, but loveable.
_________________
Herb's Steel Guitar Pages
Texas Steel Guitar Association
Allison String Instruments
My rig: Infinity and Telonics.

Son, we live in a world with walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with steel guitars. Who's gonna do it? You? You, Lt. Weinberg?
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George Duncan Sypert


From:
Colo Spgs, Co, USA
Post Posted 7 Nov 2016 12:43 pm     Reply with quote

Ray Tesmer is one of the best guitar players for taste and tone that I have ever heard. So smooth and it looks so easy when he plays. I miss him playing in Dallas with Bert Rivera. I always looked forward to hearing him and the great bass player and drummer that Bert brought to back him up.
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Roy Carroll


From:
North of a Round Rock
Post Posted 15 Nov 2016 9:54 am     Reply with quote

I went to the services for Jimmy this past week. It was a very nice celebration of his life. Friend and Family created a very nice atmosphere for a terrific guy's send off.
Here's a pic of the man at work in the later years.


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John Russell


From:
Austin, Texas
Post Posted 28 Dec 2016 12:05 pm     Reply with quote

Jim and his daughter came out to hear us (Tony Harrison Band) at the Broken Spoke in early September. It was a real honor for me as I'd known him for a few years and he was always to gracious and kind. He was sitting just in front of the stage with Melanie and Rose Sinclair, a fellow steel guitarist and friend. We talked for awhile on break and he told me he was moving to Lockport, his hometown. I was a little disappointed because I'd hoped to jam with him again as I'd done a few years before. He said "Well, come on down to Rockport and we'll do it. We just ran out of time. There was a lovely memorial concert for him a couple of weeks ago at Threadgill's with Jody Meredith, Don Keeling, Howard Kalish and other good pickers. Rest in peace, dear Jim.
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John Russell


From:
Austin, Texas
Post Posted 28 Dec 2016 12:08 pm     Reply with quote

Correction: Rockport. :~( (spellcheck)
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