Importance of Back-up Bands
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Singers, especially ones who move around a lot, are subject to become very worn out because of the fast pace, long hours, travel, etc. When these singers go on stage they demand a break once in a while.
My back-up band was called aptly enough, Frank and The Shortt Gap Band, because that is where I was raised in my early years, Shortt Gap, Virginia. I often said that I was born in Shortt Gap but grew up in the U.S. Air Force. The band consisted of Timothy R. on lead guitar, Tommy O. on bass and back-up singing, Anthony B., on rhythm guitar, and Sal , the drummer. I was the lead singer. We believe we had fun at the time!
I began my musical life singing with family at home, in church at Grassy Creek, Virginia and the Little Red Brick Church in Richlands, Virginia. I was taught to stay on key by Grace Wooldridge at Garden High School in Oakwood, Virginia. Gracie, as we all called her, or simply, Mrs. Wooldridge, taught countless singers the finer amenities of singing. When she mentioned one time who was the best singer she had taught, I was waiting for her to say my name! What a disappointment when she said, EL Shortt, by younger brother. She said that he was not 'afraid to sing'! I later agreed with her after the pain wore off! This is not to mention that he had visited her a lot in her old age quite a few times prior to her saying this!
My next big chance came when I was stationed at Mather AFB at Sacramento, California. We had a group called the "Muleskinners" led by T.Sgt. Joseph P. Katzberg who used the professional name of "Jody Gibson" when recording and performing. Jody could play anything with strings and could sing almost any song that had been written in the folk and Country field. I was a back-up singer to his lead and remained a singer thereafter. Jody went on to be inducted into the Rock-A-Billy Hall of Fame because of his recorded variation of Muleskinner Blues! We won best Country band while at Mather.
After the USAF, I settled in the Santa Clara Valley of California right in the middle of Silicone Valley. I sang with several unknown bands doing bars, pizza parlors, and an occasional festival or Opening Day Celebration! The one best remembered was the Gilroy Garlic Festival while with Frank and the Shortt Gap Band. I also used to sing with the Bud Dimock Trio. One of the most interesting duos that I used to sing with on Friday and Saturday night was called the Lee Sisters. Lee was a great aunt to my wife from a past marriage. We sang Roaring Twenties ditties with me on the Gut Bass and Lee on the piano with her sister Kay on vocals. They had a wide variety of music from many eras.
The significance of my singing Country in the Santa Clara Valley was that I did it before "Country was cool"! We almost had to cut our way in and cut our way out if we could get past the hoopla! The guy who wrote and sang "Country Bumpkin", Cal Smith used to habituate the same clubs that I did in the Santa Clara Valley. He was both DJ and performer in Country Music. That is enough about Frank Shortt's musical career.
Gene Autry's early career was made more interesting by having Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers as back-up singers. Roy Rogers, Bob Nolan, and Tim Spencer were the founders of the Pioneers. Without the rest of the Pioneers sticking with him, Roy's early career would have been a 'Big Bust" as they say in the music business. This was after they added Hugh and Kal Farr, brothers who were excellent musicians before coming to the Pioneers!
Johnny Mack Brown's career was boosted by the Jimmy Wakely Trio consisting of Jimmy Wakely (of later singing Cowboy fame), Johnny Bond, who went on to star with Gene Autry, and Dick Rinehart. This trio also played on Gene Autry's Melody Ranch as The Rough Riders. I name these two well-known bands because I am more familiar with them just to show the difference back-up- bands make. Much could be said of all the back-up bands from the 40's through the 70's, but the main thing that can be said was that they helped, otherwise unhealthy situations, to become more palatable.
When I began singing in bars and night clubs I had the idea that I was on my way to a great career as a performer. After practicing, or rehearsing, for several late nights a week, drinking too much, fighting with my wife too much, and not receiving the pay that I thought I was worth, I decided that Country Music was glad to be rid of me!