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 Texas : Features : Columns : Bob Bowman's East Texas

Honky Tonks

by Bob Bowman
Bob Bowman
A friend from Daingerfield called a few days ago with an interesting question: “How did the term “Honky Tonk” come about?”

As best we can tell, it was slang for local bars and clubs frequently patronized by poor whites, often called “honkies.”

Country singer Clarence Albert Poindexter, better known as Al Dexter, was working as a house painter in Troup, Texas, in the 1930s. He soon put together a band, “The Texas Troopers” and began performing in East Texas bars and clubs.

In 1936, Dexter signed a recording contract with ARC Records. His song, “Honky Tonk Blues,” which he wrote with James B. Paris, was the first country song to use the term “honky tonk.”

In the late 1930s, Dexter owned a honky tonk himself, the Roundup, at Turnertown in the East Texas oilfield.

Through his experiences there and in other roadhouses, Dexter developed the idea for his future hit, “Pistol Packin’ Mama.”

In 1943, with Gene Autry’s backup band, Dexter recorded “Pistol Packin’ Mama” and “Rosalita” with Columbia. The record sold a million copies in its first six months.

“Pistol Packin’ Mama” remained No. 1 on Billboard Magazine’s chart for eight weeks and was recorded by Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and the Andrews Sisters.

“Pistol Packin’ Moma” also became the marching chorus for the New York Yankees and a 1943 movie of the same name gave Dexter $250,00 in royalties.

From 1944 through 1948, Dexter recorded other country hits, including “Too Late To Worry,” “Wine, Women and Song,” and “Calico Rag.” Dexter had 14 top records that sold a million or more records.

In 1971, Dexter was inducted into the Nashville Songwriter’s Hall of Fame. and was the first country singer to perform on Broadway.

Dexter’s recordings, song writing and real estate investments made him a wealthy man. He died in 1984 from a heart attack at his home on Lake Lewisville.

Dexter’s son, Wayne Poindexter, with son-in-law Leon Dudley, recently produced a three-disk collection of his father’s songs. They are available at Dexter Estate Productions, PO Box 1542, Rowlett, Texas, 75030.

Bob Bowman's East Texas May 2, 2010 Column
(Bob Bowman of Lufkin is the author of 43 books about East Texas. He can be reached at bob-bowman.com)

See Pistol Packing Mamma by Bob Bowman

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