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Noteworthy Recordings

Honky Tonk Piano Plunkers


I am no great fan of the honky-tonk piano sound, but one must recognize that the space age pop era produced nearly as many honky-tonk piano albums as it did pipe organ ones. And although I side with those who prefer their honkies un-tonked, or at least, in small, infrequent doses, I will note some of the leading culprits.

"Big" Tiny Little was started as a country and western dance band leader in the mid-1940s, but switched to that hybrid of Dixieland and ragtime known as honky tonk in the early 1950s. He spent four years as Lawrence Welk's featured plunker, before he moved on to a successful solo career that continues to today. His chief competitor through most of the 1950s was Joe "Fingers" Carr, who recorded for Capitol, and later, Warner Brothers. Mercury's house plunker, Lou Stein, occasionally attempted to stretch the envelope with such radical additions as banjos. Although she recorded at least one album of accordion fireworks, Jo Ann Castle was soon typecast as the "Ragtime Gal," replacing Big Tiny Little in Welk's family of performers, no doubt because she could play the pants off of Welk and his main accordion man Myron Floren. She didn't give up, though (who would, given Welk's sound business model?), and explored previously undiscovered aspects such as "Hawaiian Ragtime." Germany contributed its own ragtime Cowboy Joachim in the person of Crazy Otto, whose records were used to hone the diagnostic skills of a generation of mental health professionals. Del Wood pounded out a bunch of albums for RCA's budget label Camden, and Frank Malone showed just how far honky-tonk couldn't go with his covers of such 60s hits as "A Hard Day's Night" and "Music to Watch Girls By" for Alshire. Last but not least, we must mention Knuckles O'Toole, one of Dick Hyman's alter egos, who plunked down a half-dozen albums for Enoch Light's early label, Grand Award, before he finally cut it out.


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