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Otto Gray & His Oklahoma Cowboys

Around 1923, a group of musicians in Stillwater, Oklahoma, began playing as the Billy McGinty Cowboy Band. William McGinty, an old-time cowboy who had ridden with Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, formed the band to preserve the music of the Old West and hired Otto Gray (b. 2 March 1884, Ponca, on the Ponca Indian Reservation, in Indian Territory, Oklahoma, USA, d. 8 November 1967) as the band’s manager. Little is known of Gray’s early years but at the time McGinty hired him, he was a successful rancher. An adept promoter, he soon found the band work, only to discover that the original members would not tour.

A talented fiddle player, Gray formed his own Oklahoma Cowboys, which included his wife (Mommie) as the featured vocalist and his son Owen, by recruiting genuine cowboy musicians working on Oklahoma ranches. They first broadcast in 1924 on KFRU Bristow, but later played on KVOO Tulsa and KFJF Oklahoma City and went on to play countless radio stations all over the USA. With shrewd organization, Gray assembled a show that featured, in addition to the music, himself and Mommie doing trick roping and whip cracking, a trained dog and speciality musical items. He publicized the show by advertising in national magazines such as Billboard, sending publicity men ahead to forthcoming venues and by using booking agencies in Chicago and New York to co-ordinate the band’s appearances on various entertainment circuits. At one time their show was carried by over a 100 radio stations. Very likely the first touring cowboy stage show to perform genuine cowboy songs, they were also probably the first ever group to use custom-made cars to transport them on tour. Gray’s personal vehicle, a $20, 000 Cadillac, was even equipped for radio transmissions.

By the time Gray finally disbanded the group (and disappeared into obscurity) in 1936, he had inspired other country groups to dress as cowboys, he had popularized ‘western’ music and he may even have been a candidate for the title of the first singing cowboy. It is probable that Gray’s Cowboys were an inspiration to Bob Wills, who moved to Tulsa to organize his Texas Playboys. Gray was the first western star to have his photograph on the cover of Billboard magazine. Two of his Cowboys, Zeke Clements and ‘Whitey’ Ford (Duke Of Paducah), went on to successful solo careers.
full bio

Selected Discography

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Track List: Serenade In The Mountains

Disc 1

1. Japanese Breakdown

2. Carbolic Rag

4. Chinese Rag

5. My Little Girl

7. Barney McCoy

8. What Will I Do When My Money Is All Gone

9. Skip To My Lou My Darling

10. The Savingest Man On Earth

12. Yankee Doodle

14. Mississippi Breakdown

15. Avalon Quick Step

17. Magnolia One-Step

18. Sales Tax Toddle

20. Lorena

22. Granny Will Your Dog Bite?

Disc 2

1. Lost John Dean

2. Mountain Dew

4. Lulu Wall

5. I Wish I Was A Mole In The Ground

6. Kidder Cole

7. Italy

8. Little Turtle Dove

9. Dry Bones

11. Coal Creek March

12. American And Spanish Fandango

14. Over At Tom's House

15. Goin' Back To Jericho

16. Bathe In That Beautiful Pool

17. In The Pines

18. A Precious Sweetheart From Me Has Gone

19. Your Low Down Dirty Ways

20. Her Name Was Hula Lou

21. I'm Going To Georgia

22. Shanghai In China

23. My Mama Scolds Me For Flirting

24. There Ain't No Use In Me Working So Hard

Disc 3

1. Hawkins Rag

2. Tokio Rag

3. Ragged But Right

5. Three Nights Drunk

6. Rainbow Waltz

7. Down In The Valley

8. Zelma

10. Mr. Johnson Turn Me Aloose

11. Slim Gal

12. Raccoon On A Rail

13. Cindy

14. Hometown Rag

15. Georgia Man

16. Come Over And See Me Sometime

17. Kiss Me Quick

18. Warhorse Game

19. Black Annie

20. Everybody Works But Father

21. The Boston Burglar

22. Don't Let Your Deal Go Down

23. Short Life Of Trouble

Disc 4

1. I Tickled 'Em

2. Handy Man

7. Left My Gal In The Mountains

9. Ain't Gonna Grieve My Mind

10. Get Away Old Man Get Away

12. Birmingham Jail

16. Shine On Harvest Moon

17. Little Green Valley

18. Swaller Tail Coat

19. Ten Hours A Day / Six Days A Week

20. How To Make Love

21. Who Stole The Lock From The Hen House Door

22. Four Thousand Years Ago

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