Farewell Hank Walters, The Father of Country Music in Liverpool

If you come from Liverpool, then the chances are you will know the legend that is Hank Walters and His Dusty Road Ramblers. If you’re not from Liverpool, then you have probably never heard of him.

Hank Walters
Hank Walters

If you come from Liverpool, then the chances are you will know the legend that is Hank Walters and His Dusty Road Ramblers. If you’re not from Liverpool, then you have probably never heard of him.

For the last three years, I have been researching and writing my latest book, “The Country of Liverpool: Nashville of The North”, which details the country music scene in Liverpool from the 1940s on, the country roots of the Beatles and the biography of Phil Brady. The book is due out soon.

The Country of Liverpool
The Country of Liverpool by David Bedford

When it comes to tracing the country roots of Liverpool, you soon discover why we were known as The Nashville of The North, with the biggest country music scene in Europe.

Hank Walters, born William Ralph Walters in 1933, is rightly accepted as the father of Country music in Liverpool. He picked up the nickname of “Hank” due to his love of Hank Williams. His love of Jimmie Rodgers, the father of country music, got him into trouble at school.

Jimmie Rodgers

“There was a program that came on the radio called Morning Star and they played Jimmie Rodgers. I was fascinated by his voice. I listened to the whole
program, which finished about 8:50am, and then I ran to school. When I got there, the headmaster said; ‘Where you been?’, because if you were late you used to get the stick in those days – so I got a good belting with the stick – and I said; ‘I’ve been listening to Jimmie Rodgers’. He said; ‘Well you tell Jimmie Rodgers that when I’ve finished with you, I will give him the same!”

Hank Williams

Ralph picked up the accordion at the age of 10 and became one of the best accordion players in Liverpool. “The first Hank Williams record in Liverpool was bought by me,” insisted Ralph. “Actually I got it off the jukebox at the Bluebird Cafe and the manager pinched the record. I was so madly in love with the record and before he could change the record over he stole it off and gave it to me. It was ‘Lovesick Blues’. So this was about 1949.

“He gave me the record, but it was all scratched and he said; ‘they won’t miss it’. I went and got a catalogue and ordered a new one and it was on MGM; it was printed in the EMI catalogue as the “Lovesick Belles”; a misprint. And I drove the neighbours mad with this record.” (Good Old Boys Episode 2)

When a teacher, Isaac Savelow, put together a “Hillbilly band” for the school’s Christmas Concert, Ralph formed “Spike Walters and his City Slickers” (after Spike Jones), which became Spike and the Hillbillies. They played in local pubs and social events. He spent every Saturday afternoon in a record shop, spending his money on Hank Williams records. In 1948 he left school and began work at
Kardomah Tea Blenders, then for a tyre company – The Biro Rubber Company – on Aintree Road. In 1951 he did his two years of National Service in Chester with the King’s Regiment.

When on National Service in Middle East, Ralph returned from one sortie looking dishevelled. His CO told him and his friends when they walked in all covered in sand that they looked like a group of “Dusty Road Ramblers”, and so he used that name for his group! The band played in the Sergeant’s Mess. Then, in 1951, on a radio show, Round The Bend, the band’s first radio broadcast coming from the Canal Zone. In 1953, Ralph came home from the army.

Over the following decades, Hank Walters became a regular fixture on the local club scene and inspired many other local musicians.

Hank on the record

Hank appeared on records and wrote many original songs, carrying on performing for as long as he could, including with his daughters.

It has been a pleasure to research his life and career and speak to many local musicians who knew him.

Hank Walters, King of the Country of Liverpool
Hank Walters, King of the Country of Liverpool

On 27th January 1992, Ralph received the “Special Award for Services to Country Music” at The Tent Public house in Huyton.

Hank had been in poor health for a while and last time I saw him, it was at Phil Brady’s birthday party last year.

RIP Hank Walters.

You can pre-order “The Country of Liverpool: Nashville of The North” now

The Country of Liverpool
The Country of Liverpool

When The Beatles Were Cowboys

When The Beatles were cowboys
Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr of the Beatles 1964 © 1978 Gunther

ON 19TH SEPTEMBER 1964, in the middle of their tour, The Beatles needed a rest. After their appearance at the Dallas Convention Center during their 25 date US tour, they celebrated Brian Epstein’s 30th birthday on Reed Pigman’s ranch in Alton, Missouri. They landed at the little Walnut Ridge, Arkansas, airport.

Reed Pigman’s Ranch

The Beatles spent the weekend at Reed Pigman’s ranch, riding on horseback and playing at being cowboys.

Young Reed Pigman, 14 years old, remembers the time well. “They dressed up in their very best cowboy outfits,” Pigman said. Ringo also had a tooled western belt with his name on the back, a gift from Elvis Presley. They also went swimming and drove go-karts. “They went nuts with all the freedom they had,” Pigman said.

Walnut Ridge


When I visited Walnut Ridge in 2017, I met many lovely people, one of whom was Carrie Mae Snapp, older sister of mayor Charles Snapp. Like all the locals, they made us so welcome. Carrie Mae was a witness to The Beatles short time in Walnut Ridge and took some incredible photographs.

George Harrison heading to the plane in Walnut Ridge
George Harrison heading to the plane in Walnut Ridge

They then returned to the airport and left Walnut Ridge behind.

The little town of Walnut Ridge has an annual Beatles festival – Beatles At The Ridge – which I visited in 2017. What a fantastic festival, when the whole town shuts down and celebrates The Beatles.

Read the full story and see all the unique photographs of The Beatles in The Country of Liverpool.

David Bedford

Liverpool Country Groups & Artists – 1960s onwards

Liverpool Goes Country
Liverpool Goes Country

The famous country artists were Hank Walters & The Dusty Road Ramblers, The Hillsiders and Phil Brady & The Ranchers. However, there were so many country groups and artists around the Liverpool and Merseyside country music scene.

Is this a complete list? I am still compiling it and hopefully can add to it too.

Trying to record all of the country groups on Merseyside is no easy task. The following is the list as it stands so far.
Aberlene
Arcadian Ladies, The
Black Cats, The
Blue Country Boys, The
Blue Mountain Boys, The
Blue Mountain Express, The
Boleros, The
Boot Hill Billies, The
Carl Fenton Four
Carol Western
Carolina Travellers, The
Charlie Lansborough
Cheap Seats, The
Cimmaron
Country Boys, The
Country Comfort
Country Cousins
Country Five, The
Country Sounds, Carl Goldby’s
Countryside
Doreen and the Wranglers
Drifting Cowboys, The
Everglades, The
Fair Enough
Foggy Mountain Ramblers, The
Georgie Cash
Georgie Collins and the Sundowners
Hank & The Drifters
Hank Walters & The Dusty Road
Ramblers
Harvey
Hillsiders, The
Hobo Rick
Idle Hours
Irene & The Sante Fes
Jerry Devine
Jo and Gerry Clark
Joey Rogers and Harry Chambers
Johnny Gold and the Country
Cousins
Kansas City Five, The
Kelvin Henderson
Kenny Johnson & Northwind
Kentuckians, The
Kevin Daniels Band, The
Lawmen, The
Lee Brennan
Little Bernie & The Drifting
Cowboys
Little Ginny Band
Liverpool Country
Lonesome Travellers, The
Miller Brothers, The
Neal Brothers, The
Outlaws, The
Paddy Kelly Band, The
Patsy Foley Band
Phil Brady & The Ranchers
Poacher
Quintones, The
Rainbow County
Ranchers, The
Ramblers, The
Ray Mac’s Trio
Redwoods, The
Saddlers, The
San Antones, The
Sarah Jory
Schooners, The
State Liners, The
Stringdusters, The
Sundowners, The
Stu Page
Tennessee Three, The
Tennessee Five, The
UK Country
Val Sutton
Wells Fargo
Western Union
Westerners, The
Westerns, The
West Virginia
Whisky River

Do you know anybody who is missing from this list? Please message me.

The list will appear in the book, “The Country of Liverpool”, which covers the country roots of The Beatles and Liverpool. Pre-Order yours now.

David Bedford

Skiffle – The Country Roots of The Beatles

The Quarrymen
The Quarrymen

You only have to look at the early line up of The Quarrymen/ Quarry Men to see their country influences. Dressed in their string ties like cowboy gamblers, the repertoire of The Quarrymen was not just rock ‘n’ roll, but country & western and skiffle too.

1956: Spasm and Skiffle

Skiffle became hugely popular in Britain in 1956 with Lonnie Donegan’s “Rock Island Line” starting a musical craze that would change the British music scene forever. Another hit, Chas McDevitt Skiffle Group’s “Freight Train”, featuring Nancy Whiskey sold in its thousands. McDevitt, often overlooked for his contribution to the skiffle craze, became so huge in the US for this song that he appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1957; seven years before The Beatles. However, it would be Donegan that most credit with inspiring them to become professional musicians.

Overnight, guitars that had sold in a few thousand per year were suddenly selling 250,000 per year. People joined skiffle clubs. Even the BBC, not knowing for keeping up with “the youth of the day” broadcast the World Skiffle Championship on television before launching a weekly radio show called Saturday Skiffle Club on the BBC Light Programme.

But where did skiffle come from?

Spasm Bands

This strange sounding musical group was one from the late 19th Century, where groups in New Orleans played a variety of dixieland, blues, traditional jazz, jug bands and, later, skiffle. A “Spasm” band was made up of musicians with often home-made or basic instruments. It was from these groups that skiffle groups appeared.

The earliest band to play under the name “spasm band” in New Orleans was formed in 1895, known informally as “Stale Bread’s Spasm Band” and billed as the “Razzy Dazzy Spasm Band” at semi-professional engagements, such as outside the West End Opera House. They played, amongst other things, a length of gas pipe, a kettle and a fiddle made from a cigar box. The spasm band style was one ingredient in the development of instrumental New Orleans jazz.

Skiffle then came from the African-American culture that was developing in the 1920s from New Orleans jazz, though there were improvised “jug bands” who were mixing blues and jazz in the southern states. These jug bands were often put together by a family looking to make the money to pay the rent.

Skiffle

Lonnie Donegan

The etymology of the word skiffle is unknown, though in a remote part of England, there was a word “skiffle” meaning to make a mess of any business. In America, the term was simply used to refer to these “jug bands” or “spasm bands” where the family were raising the money for the rent. It is most likely that the music progressed north via the migrant corridor that head away from New Orleans, up the Mississippi towards Chicago.

The first time the word was used in relation to records was in 1925 for a group called Jimmy O’Bryant and his Chicago Skifflers. They were playing a mix of country and blues, with songs such as “Hometown Skiffle” from 1929, and “Skiffle Blues” in 1946 by Dan Burley & his Skiffle Boys.

Rock Island Line

Rock Island Line

When the Chris Barber Jazz Band were making their first album, New Orleans Joys, in 1954, they didn’t have enough songs, so they recorded a couple of extra songs. They decided to do “Rock Island Line”, as recorded by blues singer Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter. Nothing much happened for a year or so when Bill Haley had “Rock Around the Clock” topping the charts, so Decca records needed something to compete with it. They decided to release “Rock Island Line” as the Lonnie Donegan Skiffle Group, and it became a huge hit on both sides of the Atlantic.

The Quarrymen

Rod Davis, banjo player with The Quarrymen, explained more about the skiffle craze from a musical perspective. Was it jazz, country, blues, bluegrass?

“Donegan’s skiffle really started when he was with Ken Colyer’s Jazz Band. They played blues – essentially black man’s music – but later they got into more oldtime/ country music (the problem with the term ‘country music’ is that it has become too associated with Nashville and rhinestones). Donegan, of course, was speeding stuff up, just as Bill Black sped up Bill Monroe’s ‘Blue Moon of Kentucky’.

“Lonnie never ever used a tea-chest bass, always an upright bass, and the only time he ever used a washboard in his group was on Rock Island Line/John Henry and that was jazz singer Beryl Bryden who wasn’t really a part of the Barber band anyway. The problem with getting closer to bluegrass and country is that there were no musicians in the UK who could play the style properly. The nearest you get is Johnny Duncan and the Bluegrass Boys. They were all stuck with using jazz musicians. 

“Donegan had Denny Wright who was a great guitarist, but never country in a million years. Johnny Duncan, who was American and could play mandolin and is supposed to have actually played in Bill Monroe’s band at one time, was forced to use jazz fiddler Danny Levan, a great fiddler but not a country stylist; he also used Denny Wright. Johnny himself had a high tenor voice and sounded very bluegrass. ‘Footprints in the Snow’ would be bluegrass, if it wasn’t for the jazz musicians. It was originally a Bill Monroe number.” Monroe is seen as the originator of bluegrass music.

What Lonnie Donegan was playing, although called skiffle, was effectively British musicians playing their interpretation of American folk/ blues/ country and bluegrass. He was a huge fan of Woody Guthrie, the famous American folk singer. When you listen to Guthrie, you can hear where Donegan got a lot of his inspiration for the skiffle style.

The Beatles

What Donegan did, without realising it at the time, was to create a new musical craze that would revolutionise British music forever. John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison were all inspired by Donegan to pick up guitars and seek a career in music.

As George Harrison said; “Without Lead Belly, no Lonnie Donegan; without Lonnie Donegan, no Beatles.”

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Liverpool: Nashville of The North?

Phil Brady and the Ranchers
Phil Brady and the Ranchers

Nashville of England

Liverpool Goes Country
Liverpool Goes Country

It was a frontier town in the West, affected by the American Civil War. There were cowboys in saloons singing songs of the lives of those men on the railroads and the prairies. It saw Buffalo Bill, Sioux Indians and Annie Oakley; Gene Autrey, Roy Rogers and Trigger, and was at the heart of country music. This was Nashville: not in Tennessee, but the Nashville of England; the Nashville of the North: Liverpool.

The Beatles and Merseybeat


Everybody knows that The Beatles came from Liverpool and that there was a beat music scene known as “Merseybeat”. But very few people outside of Liverpool know about the country music scene, which was the biggest in Europe. Why in Liverpool? How does it relate to The Beatles and the Mersey music scene?

The Quarrymen
The Quarrymen in their country and western outfits

Skiffle and its Country Roots

The roots of the beat music scene of the 1960s began with Lonnie Donegan’s “Rock Island Line”, which was issued in 1956, beginning the skiffle craze. However, examining the skiffle music scene shows that he roots of skiffle were in country; the roots of John Lennon’s Quarrymen were in country and western, which was reflected in the songs of The Beatles. Liverpool groups were playing a mixture of country, rock ‘n’ roll, rhythm and blues, rockabilly and whatever else it discovered. Groups had to decide which route to take.

Liverpool was therefore known as the “Nashville of The North”.

David Bedford