Monday, September 15, 2014

DJ Skeets McDonald

In 1959 Skeets McDonald recorded the tune "Don't Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes."  It was written by Slim Willet in 1952. At least half a dozen other country singers tried to do it justice, but McDonald did it better. Skeets performed it live on an early TV program, Town Hall Party, on KTTV-TV in Compton, CA. If any single of his could be classed as a hit this was it... and looking back it wasn't much. But today it and many of his other ballads are considered rockabilly classics. His profile on is woefully slim.

He was a regular on Cliffie Stone's Hometown Jamboree on KXLA-AM in Pasadena and in addition to KTTV he also appeared on the Ozark Jubilee at KWTO-TV on the ABC network. He had several minor hits on the Billboard country chart, including "This Old Heart" in 1960, "Call Me Mr. Brown" in 1963, "Big Chief Buffalo Nickel in 1966, and "Mabel" in 1967. Then he died of a heart attack in 1968.  He was only 53. It cut short his career. A country artist still having hits of any kind in his fifties was a clearly stayer.

Born in Arkansas,  his music career actually began in Michigan. It was not exactly the epicenter of rockabilly cool.  His brother moved to Detroit and he followed along. Nick Tosches summed up the beginning "With the help of several other displaced rednecks, which were plentiful in that land, Skeets formed his own Hillbilly boogie band, the Lonesome Cowboys."  The man has a way with words. Their first regular paying gig started up in 1937 in a slot on 1340 WEXL-AM in Royal Oak. The band moved to 910 WFDF-AM in Flint, then to 1100 WCAR-AM in Pontiac. (Tosches gets the WEXL calls wrong. Try to look past it, he's a writer not a radio geek.)
In 1953 I found a record of Skeets performing on Rhythm Roundup on KUGN in Eugene, OR.  In 1956 he showed up on KBOX in Modesto with a festival of country heavy hitters: Ferlin Husky, Bob Wills, Marty Robbins, Cowboy Copas and others. McDonald signed with Columbia records in 1959 and added guitar rocker Eddie Cochran to the studio line up. That when that string of singles began. 

WEXL first went on air in 1925 though some versions start it in 1924. The station began as WAGM but was sold to Rev. Jacob B. Spark in about 1929 who changed the calls and flipped it to block programming mixing gospel and country music. The station expanded its country music programming to a 24-hour format in 1963 becoming the big country outlet in the Detroit metro for a time. But Skeets had already moved on to other pastures. The station flipped to religious talk in 1974. Thankfully Skeets wasn't around to see it.