By LEISA GREENE NELSON
Typically, fathers and daughters argue over music, nowhere near sharing the same tastes in musical genres.
But father and daughter duo Lou and Phyllis Erck share the same passions: Bluegrass jamborees and live broadcasts. What bridges the generation gap between them is a mutual love of the same kind of music, and their enterprising ideas to be the first to broadcast jamborees live – whether in the 1950’s by broadcast radio or today streaming via the internet.
In 1956, Lou Erck started the Reilly Springs Jamboree in Northeast Texas when he was a broadcast DJ for Sulpher Springs Radio Station. He worked for the radio station starting in 1947 working with Bob and Joe Shelton at their recording studio, and then in the late 50’s running the Jamboree with the Shelton Brothers. Bob and Joe began recording back in 1935 for Decca Records and produced over 150 cuts and Lou explains, “Old timers are well aware of the success of Bob and Joe Shelton.”
The song Just Because is an original by the Shelton brothers featured on Elvis Presley’s first album that became one of their most memorable songs.
As partners, Lou Erck worked with Joe Shelton through KSST in Sulpher Springs, Texas to be the first ever to broadcast 30 minutes of live performance from the stage of a Jamboree. Lou’s job was to keep the microphones and equipment running during the performances, broadcast it out, lining up the featured musician, and advertising for the Jamboree.
Today, sitting in his daughter’s office, Lou is dressed in pressed pleated pants, a blue collared shirt, and a jacket looking like a Griz-fan Grandpa that any grandchild would admire. Lou grins and says, “Phyllis told me I had to be here to tell my story, not sure why. Did you know back then we called it Hillbilly music?”
One of the first famous musicians to play at Reilly Spring Jamboree for Lou was George Jones. Lou recalls, “I called information and asked them for George Jones’ phone number. They gave it to me, I dialed and he answered. I told him I was putting on a Jamboree every Saturday night and that we would love to have him on the first show. He said, ‘I think I can come up.’”
Lou proceeded to tell Jones that the Jamboree was new and not a very large crowd. Lou was concerned about cost since George’s “massive hit,” White Lightning, was being broadcast everywhere. Lou said, “I didn’t think we could afford him, but George said, ‘I think a hundred and twenty-five dollars will do it.’”
Lou’s friends were concerned when he started advertising on the radio that George Jones was playing for the Jamboree that very Saturday. They told Lou he was crazy and that he was going to be very disappointed when the guy doesn’t show up. “No one thought he would show,” says Lou with raised brows and a smile. “Well, he did!”
According to Lou, the best part about the Jamboree was that it provided local artists a chance to play next to good strong musicians well on their way to making it.
Promoting live broadcast at the Reilly Springs Jamboree granted Erck an opportunity to meet a number of notable musicians.
Lou says, “One young guy stopped at the radio station to promote himself. They let him into the control room just as I was going to commercial break. The guy opened the door and said, ‘Hello, I’m Johnny Cash.’ On the spot I interviewed him. Folsom Prison Blues became “jammed up hot” and I looked Johnny Cash up and booked their show. At the time it was Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two. He was great!”
Johnny Cash remembered Lou for they both named their daughters Roseanne. Years later when Cash came to Missoula to play at the University in a concert, Cash’s daughter fell ill and landed in St. Patrick’s Hospital. Lou was in the hospital the same time as Cash’s daughter. Cash mentioned backstage at the concert that he was sorry Lou was in the hospital. Lou Erck and Johnny Cash kept in contact over the years.
Erck joined the Nashville Country Western Music Association in 1959 and attended the Grand Ole Opry to find ‘lesser names’ to book. Back then he knew nothing about football, but entered in a football pool contest with other DJ’s around the country. The winner of the pool would win The Big Bopper to play at their Jamboree.
Lou thought, “Why not?” and wrote down a random team and a random score. At that time, Chantilly Lace was J.P. “Big Bopper” Richardson, Jr’s hit. Lou won the pool and “The Big Bopper” and, when asked if the Big Bopper played Chantilly Lace at the Jamboree, Lou grins, “Oh, yes! He sang that!”
Due to Lou Erck’s connections he heard memorable music and broadcast it live. Furthermore, opportunities came to interview other musicians. While standing by a piano Lou interviewed Jerry Lee Lewis, about that, Lou says, “The piano purred. I got to play with one finger for Jerry Lee Lewis!”
For Phyllis Erck, her father is the inspiration for starting the Ruby Jewel Jamboree, now three years running in Missoula. Phyllis was born about the same time her father started the Reilly Springs Jamboree. Her parents took her as an infant to the concerts. It wasn’t until her twenties, when she lived in New England, that she realized she had bluegrass roots.
She attended a bluegrass music festival there and says, “I was completely drawn to the music and at the time I didn’t know why. It wasn’t until later when Dad started talking about the Jamboree that I knew.”
When Phyllis moved to Montana she joined the Montana Rockies Bluegrass Association and spent the past two decades attending the IBMA Convention checking out national touring bands.
Her friends encouraged her to do a concert series and Phyllis says, “I wanted concerts but was too afraid. I lacked confidence and couldn’t get my nerve up.”
One day in 2010, Phyllis decided to do it. Her mother, Ruby Erck, said she could do the concert at Ruby’s Inn. The first concert took place in 2010 featuring The Chapman’s.
In 2011, Phyllis decided to book two bands at the IBMA, a hot young bluegrass band called the Twenty-Three String Band, and Josh Slone and Coaltown. By fall, Phyllis realized her goal was going to work.
This year, she hopes to meet her biggest dream yet: Streaming Ruby Jewel Jamboree live on the internet.
Coming this spring and summer, the concert series will provide a one show per month venue for national touring bands, in addition to bringing in local musicians to open up for them. Phyllis purchased sound equipment and is ready for the first concert in the series.
The Kathy Kallick Band will perform at Ruby’s Inn on Saturday, April 28th at 7 p.m. The Missoula band The Shenanigans will open for them. You can get more information about this concert on the Ruby Jewel Jamboree website. The cost is $10 at the door.
Both Phyllis and her father share the same sentiment when it comes to Jamboree’s. It gives young, fresh, local talent an opportunity to perform in front of an audience.
Lou states, “It was fun. I suppose I sound like a braggart. I don’t want to, but it did give people an opportunity to perform and enjoy each other. It is people expressing themselves in different ways when they play, even if they’re not rock stars. It love it— I love it!”
Phyllis, like her father back in the fifties, is digging up talent, taking some risks, and fertilizing her family roots in our city of Missoula.
Read more of Leisa’s stories about the Missoula music scene.
Call her a big city girl at heart, finding and satiating that appetite in the city of Missoula. Born in Butte and raised in Missoula, she is fascinated by people and looks for interesting characters to write about. Everyone has a story to tell, or not, but the people and places in Missoula are unique.
Moving fast in life (for that big city feel) Leisa’s passions bounce around music, theater, food, art, family, and friends that’s supported by an IV line of dark roasted coffee. Single and a recent graduate from the University of Montana with a BA in Creative Writing, she learned what it was like to be a co-ed in her 40s.
She currently works as an Office Manager at Inter-State Studio and Publishing, working on school photos and yearbooks. Her personal life and nightlife is where she discovers and creates creative non-fiction stories. She has four supportive, loving children: Dustin, Michael, Jalynn, and Mark (adopted through marriage to Dustin) who are all artistically creative in writing, theater, dance, and singing. Leisa likes to think she moves faster than they do.
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