Personalities | Ernest Tubb | War Years | Country

One of honky-tonk’s most enduring and beloved figures, Ernest Tubb (1914–84) was born near Crisp, Texas, one of five children from a broken home. He began his career singing at local radio stations and working a string of day jobs – among them a ditch digger, drugstore clerk and brewery worker. As a young man, in 1928, he fell under the spell of white country-blues master Jimmie Rodgers and listened incessantly to his records.

Under The Widow’s Wing

Legend has it that Tubb began singing and got his first guitar in 1933 – the year that Jimmie Rodgers died of tuberculosis. While working on a road crew by day, he would teach himself Jimmie Rodgers songs at night. By 1934, he had married his first wife and moved to San Antonio, Texas, where he began singing on the radio.

When Tubb made his earliest recordings in the mid-1930s, he was little more than an accomplished Jimmie Rodgers imitator. Yet he was sufficiently talented for Rodgers’ widow (who lived in San Antonio) to take him under her wing in 1934 and bring him to the attention of RCA – the label for which Rodgers had recorded. Tubb was not to enjoy the instant success of his role-model though. These early recordings met with little success and showed that the world had only a passing interest in his earnest recreation of the Jimmy Rodgers sound. It was actually a stroke of luck that a 1939 tonsillectomy robbed Tubb of his ability to yodel and lowered his vocal range to a droll yet warm, gut-bucket growl that would become his musical signature.

Getting Along Somehow

Tubb had his first taste of commercial success, with a pair of songs – ‘Blue Eyed Elaine’ and ‘I’ll Get Along Somehow’ – that he recorded for Decca Records in 1940. (The latter song was later covered by singing cowboy Gene Autry.)

During this time most of Tubb’s popularity – and most of his shows – were still in the Lone Star State until ‘Walkin’ The Floor Over You’, a song he wrote and recorded for Decca, became what would prove to be a million-seller and his all-time biggest career hit in 1942. Tubb was soon singing songs in Hollywood western films and touring the south-eastern USA on package shows with stars of the day such as Grand Ole Opry Star Roy Acuff and western-swing king Bob Wills.

It was during the 1940s that Tubb recorded most of the songs for which he is still remembered: ‘Soldier’s Last Letter’ (1944), ‘Tomorrow Never Comes’ (1945), ‘Rainbow At Midnight’ (1946) and ‘Filipino Baby’ (1946). They also defined Tubb’s signature style, which was austere and rough-hewn yet deeply personal and often adorned with only minimal instrumental accompaniment – often an electric lead guitar giving a straightforward re-reading of the song’s melody.

Much-Loved Star

Over the years, Tubb recorded duets with numerous artists, including The Andrews Sisters, Red Foley, The Wilburn Brothers and Loretta Lynn. In 1943,...

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Source: The Definitive Illustrated Encyclopedia of Country Music, consultant editor Bob Allen


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