Well-known rancher returns to music at behest of new bride
By TAM MOORE
For the Capital Press
MEDFORD, Ore. -- To the folks in Southern Oregon, where he settled decades ago and took up cattle feeding and breeding, K.C. "Don" Maddox is a well-known rancher with a place outside Ashland.
He recently was the featured old-time country music artist at the Muddy Roots Festival in Cookeville, a town near Nashville, Tenn. At 88, Maddox is the survivor of a Rockabilly family group that started on the radio in 1937 and traveled West Coast fairs and clubs into the 1960s.
"They're all gone to Hillbilly Heaven," Maddox said several weeks ago as he adjusted his bow and took up the fiddle. "I'm trying to carry on the family tradition."
With guitarist Lem Guthrie at his side, Maddox was a walk-on at the annual picnic held by the Jackson County Stockmen's Association and the county Farm Bureau. He played several standards from his brand-new compact disc recording.
Maddox credits his rekindled interest in performing to Barbara, his wife of six months. She's helped him produce three new CDs.
"I married a child bride of 70," he said. "She told me I was a living legend and I needed to do something about it."
"She's out to make me a star," he added as Barbara smiled and they stood in line for the tri-tip beef served up at the late August picnic.
Along with a pleasing tenor voice that belts out standards such as "High Desert Moon" and "Wabash Cannonball," Maddox retains the good humor that made him popular with his cattlemen customers.
Recalling his decision to hold a dispersal sale several years back, Maddox quipped that he was like "everyone" in the livestock business -- buying high and finding prices low when he finally sold.
"Now I'm thinking about getting back in," he said, "just to make these prices go down a bit."
The Maddox family moved from Alabama to California in 1933, following the harvest as itinerant farmworkers. The children established roots in Modesto. Radio gave the musical siblings two big breaks. In 1937 a furniture store sponsored them on a daily live 6:45 a.m. broadcast.
Then the Maddox Brothers won a 1939 music competition at the California State Fair that included among the prizes a one-year performance contract on the McClatchy family's California network of radio stations. Their sister Rose, who died in 1998, said in a biography the group at the time called their style of music "Hillbilly."
She's credited with adding what became known as "country boogie" to the band's repertoire, which included everything from Western Swing to Gospel.
Jackson County, Ore., earlier this year honored Maddox for lifetime achievement. He turned up at the presentation with his violin and the local chapter of the Old Time Fiddler's association to play backup.