Maddox Brothers & Rose
America's Most Colorful Hillbilly Band
In the Depression days of 1933 in Boas, Alabama, Charlie and Lula Maddox gathered their belongings and  five of their six children- Cal, Henry, Fred , Don and Rose ranging in age from 7-16. They llegally boarded freight trains and headed for California eventually settling near Bakersfield, CA.

They followed the various harvests, working as "fruit tramps," and were soon joined by eldest son Cliff.  All were musical, and to help their income, they began to play for local dances, with the 12-year-old Rose (born Roselea Arbana Maddox on August 15, 1925, near Boaz, Ala.), providing the vocals, even in noisy honky-tonks.

In 1937 the family migrated to the Modesto, CA area of the northern San Joaquin Valley where Fred Maddox convinced the Rice Furniture store in Modesto to sponsor a country music radio show on pioneer Modesto radio station KTRB featuring the Maddox Brothers band. The only problem was, the furniture company insisted that the band to have a girl singer, which they didn't.    However, Fred told them he had the best girl singer around. He was talking about his eleven-year old sister Rose, who only knew the words to three songs. The furniture store agreed to adding Rose and the radio programs began.

Initially they were a trio with Fred, Cal and Rose calling themselves "The Alabama Outlaws".  They opened their radio shows with "George's Playhouse Boogie" and closed each show with their theme song  "I Want to Live and Love," which typified the raucous fun and spirit of the Maddox's' music.  The program continued through 1941 when the group disbanded when  Cal, Fred, and Don were drafted.  Prior to appearing on KTRB they appeared on KFBK in Sacramento where they began their radio appearances.

After her brothers were drafted during WWII Rose was left behind without work. At one point she tried to convince Bob Wills to give her a listen in the hopes that he'd hire her for his band, the Texas Playboys, but Bob wouldn't give her the time of day. She told him, "When my brothers get back from the war, we're gonna show you but good" or something to that effect. And true to her word, when her brothers returned in 1946, the Maddox Brothers & Rose went back into full swing. They were most famous for their outlandish wardrobes and onstage hijinks, and their exuberant performances caused people to stop their dancing and just stare!

By the early 50s, with an act that included comedy as well as songs, they were regulars on the Louisiana Hayride, played concerts and also appeared on the Grand Ole Opry. In 1947, they recorded for Four Star Records before moving to Columbia in 1951. Their successes included Rose's stirring recordings of "The Philadelphia Lawyer" and "The Tramp On The Street." Rose also recorded with her sister-in-law Loretta as Rosie & Retta.

By the mid-50s, Rose was beginning to look towards a solo career. In 1957, she signed with Capitol Records and about that time the Maddox Brothers disbanded. Rose soon established herself as a solo singer and, during the 60s, had several chart hits including "Gambler's Love," "Conscience I'm Guilty" and her biggest hit, "Sing a Little Song of Heartache." She also had four very successful duet recordings with Buck Owens, namely "Mental Cruelty," "Loose Talk," "We're The Talk Of The Town" and "Sweethearts In Heaven."

In the late 60s, she suffered the first of several heart attacks that affected her career, but by 1969 she had recovered and made the first of her visits to Britain. She continued to work when health permitted throughout the 70s, but had no chart success. After leaving Capitol in 1967, she recorded for several labels including Starday, Decca and King Records. In the 80s, she recorded two albums for Arhoolie Records and the famous Varrick album Queen of the West,  with help from Merle Haggard and the Strangers and Emmylou Harris who provided the backing on some of her 80s recordings.

Later she worked with long-time friend and rockabilly artist Glen Glenn, recording the album Rockabilly Reunion with him at the Camden Workers Club, London, in March 1987. Many experts rate the album Rose Maddox Sings Bluegrass as her finest recorded work. On it she was backed by such outstanding bluegrass musicians as Don Reno, Red Smiley and Bill Monroe. Her 1994 Arhoolie Records album, $35 and a Dream, was nominated for a Grammy.

She frequently appeared withVern Williams, a popular West Coast bluegrass musician who also provided the backing on some of her 80s recordings. She sang gospel songs with the Vern Williams band at his funeral. Her son Donnie died in 1982.

In 1987, Maddox suffered a another major heart attack which left her in a critical condition for some time. Her situation was aggravated by the fact that she had no health insurance but benefit concerts were held to raise the funds.

Rose possessed a powerful, emotive voice and was gifted with the ability to sing music of all types. Her recordings ranged from early hillbilly songs and gospel tunes through to rockabilly numbers that endeared her to followers of that genre.

Rose died April 15, 1998, in Ashland, Ore. She was preceeded in death by Fred, Cliff, Henry and Cal.   Don Maddox, at 84, is the only member of the family still with us today and lives in Ashland, Oregon.

(Courtesy of Arhoole Records, Wanda Faye, and

Fred and Rose Maddox Interview

Rose and Fred Maddox talk about their 50 years in the Country Music Business with Bob Smith of KTRB Radio Modesto, CA.  Recorded at KTRB July 29, 1987 by Bob Smith.   We have broken the interview into 3 parts for easier loading and listening.

            Part 1     Part 2    Part 3

Maddox Brothers and Rose

The April 1, 1933, front page of the Oakland Tribune had the headline: "Family Roams U.S. for Work." Underneath was a picture of this venturous family, with the caption:  "A hitch -hiking family of seven found shelter at Oakland's 'Pipe City' after a cross-country trip from Alabama seeking work." In a few short years, the children of this family would become favorites in the "hillbilly" or country music industry. Their mother, Lula, dreamt of coming to California and finding gold, being an unfailing romanticist of western novels.

Things weren't working out for the Maddox family as Alabama sharecroppers. They sold all they had in 1933 for $35 and began their trek to California, hitch-hiking and riding the rails. Once here, they tried mining, but ended up as migrant farm laborers. Modesto though was their home with father Charles working mostly at the Talbot ranch. In 1937, it was decided that the family should consider the music business.

Oldest son, Cliff, and a cousin, Kurt Tony, had been playing country music on KTRB since 1934. Cliff and his younger brother, Cal, teamed up at migrant camps, entertaining the families in the evenings. Jim Rice, owner of Rice Furniture, sponsored them for a half-hour slot on KTRB,  6-7, each weekday morning. He insisted that the group have a female singer, which he got in 11 year-old Rose Maddox, who belted out country numbers like "I Want to Be a Cowboy's Sweetheart," and yodeled to her heart's delight. KTRB owner, Bill Bates, was thrilled with the young hillbilly group, saying they were always nicely dressed and upbeat. This was the birth of Maddox Brothers & Rose.

The group was soon playing at halls and taverns from Bakersfield to Susanville, many times driving all night to return to Modesto for their early morning radio show. They searched KTRB's record collection to uncover songs that they could add to their repertoire of music, mostly settling for a "hillbilly boogie" sound. One favorite they adopted from the collection was "Sally, Let Your Bangs Hand Down."

The band became flashy, introducing comedy, gags, and even magic tricks on stage. The group's first fancy performance clothing was acquired at  Hubs Clothier in Modesto. When World War II came, the brothers were drafted into the military, but after' the war, the band was reestablished and went on to national fame in country music.

(For further information see Rambling Rose by Jonny Whiteside.)


Stanislaus Stepping Stones
Fighting the Ills of the Great Depression - 1934
   June 8,1934

Unfair Burden on State's Taxpayers

The proposals of State Controller Ray L. Riley to relieve California taxpayers of the burden of caring for indigent transients who come here from other states are worthy of serious consideration. The mildness of the climate and the prospects of employment have drawn thousands of individuals and families into the state during the years of the depression.

Many of these are unable to find work and many others are suffering from diseases that render them permanent charges on relief rolls. It is not humane to let them starve, but it hardly is fair to ask the Californian taxpayers to assume such a burden. It belongs properly to the state from which the individual or family came. Riley proposed to withhold permanent aid from all except citizens of the state and to arrange for deportation to their home states of indigents ineligible for public aid.

To stop the influx of indigents, he would establish border patrols whose duty it would be to inquire into the financial status of families crossing the state's borders. He would require a classification of all persons on the public rolls to determine how long they have been in California and under what circumstances they came here. It is quite true, as Riley declares, that there is a group, Communistic in character, that will not work under any circumstances. The state should get rid of this group in the quickest and most expeditious way. The practical application of the plan suggested by Riley should be a matter of great tact, judgment, and good sense lest injustice be done. But, its essential purposes are sound.


Growers Refuse to Consider Pickers Pay Plea

June 7, 1934

Fruit growers of the Diablo Valley, from which men and women strike agitators were driven several days ago, last night refused to consider pay demands of pickers for increased pay and shorter hours as presented by the California State Labor Commissioner. The growers gathered at a mass meeting, contended no strike condition prevailed, that the field and packing house workers are not dissatisfied and that the demands are sponsored by outside agitators.

Courtesy of McHenry Museum & Historical Society Press and Publications Board.
Stanislaus Stepping Stones Journal May-June 2007.
A copy of Stanislaus Stepping Stones can be purchased for $2.95 at the McHenry Museum Store,
1402 I Street Modesto, CA. 95354   209-491-4347 email

Cal, Cliff, Fred and Rose in 1938 or 1939
In what we believe was Rose's last public appearance in Modesto, she performed at KTRB's 50 years of country music celebration held at the California Ballroom in Modesto on December 5th, 1987. 

(Courtesy of Elmer (Smokey Silver)and Phyllis Gunkle. )

Taken in the early 50s
"The inherent strength of the Maddox Brothers and Rose, their secret weapon, was a natural sense of comic timing.  With Fred Maddox in command, hokum never played so well. 

One  hand on his hip, the other draped around his bass fiddle, he would stare into the crowd and drawl,  'I'm not feelin' too good tonight, folks.  The hotel I stayed in last night, I couldn't get any sleep a-tall.  The ol' faucet was a drippin' in my bathtub, jus' drip, drip, drip......finally, I called up the manager and said, 'I can't sleep, I got a leak in my bathtub.' He said  'Well, go ahead- yo're paying for it! 

Fred would leer, deliver a swift kick to the backside of his bass fiddle and continue,  'Started to check out this mornin', said,   'How much do I owe you?' He said, ' fifty dollars!  'For that little ol' room?'   'That included your meal!'  'I didn't eat no meal! 'He said, ' Well, it was there for you, if you didn't git it, I don't care!'              

“So, I give him ten dollars and said, ' I'm chargin' you forty dollars for makin' love to my wife.'

“He said,  ' I didn't make love to your wife!'  'Well, it was there for you- if you didn't get it, I don't care!"

From the book   Ramblin' Rose, The life and career of Rose Maddox by Jonny Whiteside published by Vanderbuilt/CMF.

Excerpt from book  'Ramblin' Rose'
Don Maddox in 2013
(Courtesy of the Medford Mail Tribune)