April 15, 1998 - Ashland, Or. Rose Maddox, a flamboyant country music pioneer who earned a Grammy nomination late in life for her autobiographical "$35 and a Dream," has died at 71. Maddox was born Roselea Arbana Maddox, December 15, 1925, near Boaz, Alabama and died of kidney failure Wednesday April 15, 1998 in a rest home in Ashland, Oregon where she lived for many years. Rose and her four brothers hit it big after World War II on tour and was known as "The Most Colorful Hillbilly Band in America."
Maddox had a reputation as a lusty firebrand, with up-tempo songs such as "Hangover Blues" and "Pay Me Alimony." Her musical styles ranged from hillbilly to rockabilly to gospel.
Known for her colorful Western costumes, Maddox once shocked a Grand Ole Opry audience by appearing on stage with a bare midriff, a stark contrast to her sometimes staid female contemporaries. "Kitty Wells would stand up there and not even move," said biographer Jonny Whitesides. "Rose would get on stage and high-kick and shimmy-shake. That drove people crazy."
Country Music's Rose Maddox dies at 71
By Jeff Barnard Associated Press
12-15-25 to 4-15-98
At its height, her group played the Las Vegas Strip and the Grand Ole Opry and toured with Elvis Presley, Hank Williams and Marty Robbins. Among its biggest hits were the Woody Guthrie song "Philadelphia Lawyer, "Tramp on the Street" and "Whoa, Sailor."
The band broke up in 1956 amid a changing music scene and Maddox's brothers settled down, but Rose Maddox kept singing. Among her solo hits in the late 1950s and early '60s were "Sing a Little Song of Heartache," "Gambler's Love," "Kissing My Pillow" and "Bluebird, Let Me Tag Along."
She also recorded with Buck Owens and the king of bluegrass, Bill Monroe. In the early '80s, she recorded an album of gospel music, "A Beautiful Bouquet," in memory of her son, Donnie, who died in 1982.
In 1996 she got her first Grammy nomination for her CD "$35 and a Dream." The title song told Maddox's life story. During the Depression, her Alabama sharecropper daddy sold everything the family had for $35 and loaded his wife and five of their seven kids on a freight train bound for California. Rose was 7 at the time.
In a 1996 interview, Maddox recalled that her musical career began just a few years later. Her brother Fred decided he had had enough of picking fruit for 10 cents a box and lined up a job playing music on KTRB radio sponsored by Rice furniture store in Modesto, CA. in 1937. Before agreeing to sponsor them Rice Furniture demanded the band have a girl singer. "They didn't know if I could sing or not but Fred wasn't about to lose that opportunity," Maddox said. "And he knew Mama wouldn't let him get a girl singer. So he said, "We've got the best girl singer that's ever been." He didn't tell him it was just an 11 year old kid. We went on the radio the next day, and we started selling that furniture like mad."
Rose was preceeded in death by her son, Don, in 1982 and four of her five brothers (Cliff, Cal, Henry, and Fred). Cliff died from kidney failure in 1948 at age 37. Cal passed away in 1968. Henry passed away in 1974. Fred passed away about 1993. She is survived by brother Don of Ashland, Oregon, three grandchildren, and two great-grandsons.
Wherever she went, Rose Maddox had many endearing fans with special memories and stories to share. She will be dearly missed. Her funeral was held April 21, 1998 at the Littwiller-Simonson Funeral Home in Ashland, Oregon.
The Grammy-nominated Maddox went from hardscrabble Alabama roots to fruit picking with her family in California to country music stardom. She lived for many years in Ashland, where her brother Don bought a ranch in 1958. She survived several heart attacks over the years. "She was extremely well-known and loved," Arhoolie Records general manager Tom Diamant said Thursday in El Cerrito, Calif. Arhoolie released the autobiographical album "Thirty-five Dollars and a Dream" that Maddox recorded in 1994 and for which she was nominated for a Grammy.
Although she had lived in relative quiet in recent years, a biography, "Ramblin' Rose: The Life and Career of Rose Maddox," by Jonny Whiteside (Country Music Foundation Press/Vanderbilt University Press), told her story to a new generation.
The feisty singer could still move an audience. She opened for the Oak Ridge Boys at the Peter Britt Festivals in Jacksonville in June 1996 and joined Johnny Cash onstage there a month later. She sang "Thirty-five Dollars and a Dream" -- the story of her family leaving Alabama for California in the 1930s -- at the Oak Ridge Boys concert.
She was born Roselea Arbana Maddox Aug. 15, 1925, in Boaz, Ala., into a family with six other children. The family left when Rose was 7, selling everything for $35 and heading for California. They walked and hitchhiked west to Mississippi, where they learned to hop freights.
They wound up in the San Joaquin Valley, picking fruit by day and banjos and guitars at night. Young Rose saw the Sons of the Pioneers perform one day and said that if she ever become a singer, she'd never quit. She started singing professionally for a furniture dealer in Modesto, Calif., at age 11 with her four brothers after the businessman told the boys he'd give them a break if they could come up with "a girl singer."
By 1939 they had their own radio show on KFBK in Sacramento. When her brothers were drafted in the 1940s, she performed solo for a time. After World War II, the Maddox Brothers and Rose became wildly popular playing a raucous music that some called Okie Boogie -- a honky-tonk mix of folk, country, gospel and boogie-woogie.
They're widely regarded as the founders of California country music, a style that came to include Buck Owens and Merle Haggard.
"They played in a unique style," Diamant said of Rose and her brothers. "They added a big beat. Many people consider it the roots of rock and roll."
The brothers and Rose lived in Hollywood, joined the "Louisiana Hayride" radio show and toured constantly. They sometimes came north and played such venues as the 21 Club in Medford and Lindy's in Roseburg.
They played the Las Vegas Strip, the Grand Ole Opry (where they almost didn't let her on because her skirt was "too short") and toured with Hank Williams.
They were the first country band to wear outrageous western wear.
In 1956 the Maddox Brothers and Rose were touring Texas with a young rockabilly singer named Elvis Presley. As Maddox told it years later, Elvis put on one of Rose's brother's gold lame jackets, and Rose's mother saw Presley onstage and said, "Who the hell is that?"
The group's biggest hit was Woody Guthrie's "Philadelphia Lawyer."
The great songwriter wrote of the Maddoxes: "Even when they perform a downright badly written song it soundeth good to the soul; and, when they got their hands onto a number with some goodly meat on it, they take it and make history out of it."
In the 1960s and '70s, as Nashville was "mainstreaming" country music and moving away from her hard-edged sound, she kept honky-tonking with Owens (with whom she recorded "Mental Cruelty"), Cash and Haggard. In the '80s she performed at folk festivals and became popular in Europe. She continued performing in the '90s despite several heart attacks.
She was known as a dynamic performer, and one who didn't gladly suffer bands that weren't up to speed.
Diamant was with her backstage before a 1997 performance.
"She was pale and not in good health," he said Thursday. "But she went out and put on an outrageously happy, energetic show filled with good humor and excitement. She got the energy from someplace."
Erik Wallbank, an Ashland man who organized a series of "town hall parties" there, asked Maddox if she'd sing on Elvis' birthday in 1996. They ran through "Blue Moon of Kentucky" ahead of time with Wallbank accompanying her on rhythm guitar. She asked who would play behind her if she performed, and Wallbank promised musicians from the progressive bluegrass group Foxfire. "Good," she said. "Because you ain't got it."
At the Elvis party, she did a generous 30-minute set the crowd loved.
"She was very human," Wallbank said. "A hard layer of crust, and under that as smooth as can be."
(Courtesy of the Medford, Or. Mail-Tribune)
When Rose Maddox sang Woody Guthrie's "Philadelphia Lawyer" with Johnny Cash at the Britt Festivals in July 1996, the show was Cash's, but the magic moment belonged to Maddox.
The tune was the biggest hit The Maddox Brothers and Rose ever had. A sharecropper's daughter who became a country music legend, Maddox, the "queen of hillbilly swing," died Wednesday of kidney failure at Linda Vista Care Center in Ashland. She was 72. Arrangements are under the direction of the Simonsen Funeral Home in Ashland.
"There's never been another country performer that had the impact she had," country music historian Jonny Whiteside said Thursday. "Every single female singer in the country has followed the trail she blazed, from Kitty Wells on."