Jerry Hodges: Musical Experiences of the Sixties
by Rockin' Robin Brown

robin brownSinger, songwriter and guitarist Robin Brown was part of the Amarillo-Canyon scene in the mid to late sixties. When not playing onstage he hawked the best bands of the area and heard (and knew) some of the better musicians. Late in life he now enjoys reliving those memories through his personal articles which appear in print often.

Back in 1956 three farmboys, the Hodges brothers from the Frio Community (near Hereford, Texas) became interested in music. With money they had earned helping their father make a good vegetable crop Dennis Hodges purchased a telecaster guitar, Austin Hodges bought a lap steel and Jerry Hodges soon had an upright bass in hand. After some lessons and a lot of practice they soon started a little trio and called themselves the 'Frio Trio'. Initially the group was made-up of the Hodges brothers but would soon include teenagers Billy Lytal, Walker Parris and Eddie Gallagher. This group played locally until about 1960 when some of the members graduated Hereford High and moved on to other pursuits.

posterAlthough Walker Parris the lead singer was touted to have 'loads of talent', it was Jerry Hodges who moved on into the professional ranks. While attending West Texas State College in Canyon, Texas he met up with two fledgling singers who had big musical ambitions, namely Russel 'Red' Steagall and Raymond Ruffin. Both of these young men were also students at West Texas State and it appears that Steagall discovered Hodge's guitar and bass playing talents first. He invited Jerry to partner with him in a group called "Russel Don and the Premiers". After some practice and public appearances they appear to have decided to record in Clovis, New Mexico.

In his early twenties Steagall's voice had not matured into the 'country voice' that someday would make him a famous radio personality but he did write some nice songs at the time. One song called "The Dance" was recorded by Steagall and Hodges in Clovis in 1961 but it remained unissued until another Amarillo area singer (Jackie Allen) got a release on the song in '63 on the Feldsted label. I'm sure this record was both bitter and sweet for Steagall since his vocal version had been rejected but he was still the credited writer. Hodges probably had no regrets since he was a musician on both cuts! Anyway, in 1961 and the following year Hodges cut four songs with 'Russel Don and the Premiers' in Clovis and this band also played some jobs around the Canyon and Amarillo areas.

checkmatesFrom the experience of playing with Red, Jerry Hodges seems to have caught the attention of the infamous Buddy Holly imitator of Amarillo, whose stage name was 'Ray Ruff'. By '63 Jerry had become the bassist in Ruff's tour band "The Checkmates". During this same time Hodges would travel back to Clovis and cut at least eight songs as a Checkmate, playing behind Ray Ruff with Larry Marcum and various other musicians.

Several of these Clovis cuts were released on the 'Norman' label of St. Louis and some did receive regional air-play it appears. At this same time Ruff, being a schrewd self-promoter decided that being a 'star' was less about having a hit song than it was about appearing as a 'recording artist'. So after saving some money from local jobs he started setting up tours into the rural areas of mid-America and buying clever advertisements on KOMA radio. On these ads Ruffin presented himself as a recording star with such announcements as: "Ray Ruff & the Checkmates will be appearing in Minot on Friday nite, Bismark on Saturday and Clear Lake on Sunday night... come hear Ray Ruff's latest hit!"

Hodges states that he made several of these tours behind Ruff and that it was fun but also quite demanding since most jobs were about 500 miles apart. On one occasion he was stranded in Denver with a broken-down car while Ruff came back to Texas (or Clovis) for another car and a tow-bar. On the return trip the tow-bar malfunctioned and the car in tow, passed them and almost caused a horrific wreck after midnight one night!

In regard to the songs that Jerry Hodges recorded with Ray Ruff, most all were good recordings with decent arraigments which included backup singers along with the band. If the Beatles hadn't started the 'English invasion' in America and elsewhere in '63 it's possible that Ruff, Hodges and the other Checkmates could have had a bonafide hit. But Ruff kept wanting to immulate Buddy Holly and consequently most of the songs he recorded with Petty had that same rockabilly feel. Of course, some of this can probably be attributed to Norman Petty because had also produced most of Holly's recordings in this very same studio on some of the same equipment!

Holcombe Seymore Sisters 1962Jerry Hodges co-wrote some of the songs that Ruff did record, however a great portion of the royalties were signed over to an outside party. Another West Texas State College student 'John Holcombe' also played on several of the recordings by Ruff and he had also played in a band with Hodges, Jimmy Pritchett and Joe Ed Campbell in Canyon. (Holcombe was and is an old friend and associate of the authors.)

Jerry Hodges became engaged to marry as he approached his senior year at West Texas State and he quit playing with Ruff and the Checkmates after about 1963. He graduated college in '64 and planned a career as an educator but opted for a career in the agri-business field instead. Then in 1980 he invested a retirement settlement into a music store back in his hometown of Hereford, Texas. During the eighties he also began operating a small studio adjacent to the store and helped produce a number of singles, albums and commercials for various Panhandle musicians and singers. Today Hodges is an in-house accountant for a company in Amarillo. Jerry Hodges states that one of his greatest thrill in music was being able to meet all the fine musicians, he played with over the years.