Remembering Rose Maddox
by Dayna Wills, 1998

Rose Maddox The first time I met Rose Maddox was in 1967 when Uncle Billy Jack introduced me to her at the Silver Dollar Saloon in Las Vegas.

I didn’t see her again until 1975 when she was booked into the Cheyenne Saloon in Stockton, CA. I got all gussied up and went to see the show.

Right off the bat things were not good. It seemed the house band, obviously a bunch of young wannabes, had no clue as to who Rose Maddox was. I found out later that they had been given a tape of her music, which they ignored. I think they assumed she was an old has-been who would croak out a song or two and then hopefully take a hike, leaving them to the business at hand: booze and broads.

WRONG! They may not have known then who Rose Maddox was, but they found out who Rose Maddox is.

Rose was introduced and she quickly took control of the stage. She called the tunes and the tempos, which the band hadn’t bothered to learn. Rose was not happy. And when Rose ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.

She turned to the drummer to count him into the next song, but instead of watching Rose he was flirtin’ with some band-aid in tight fittin’ jeans at stage left. Rose, with the flat of her hand, hit his shiny cymbal and the noise it made scared him so bad, he fell backward off the drum seat. (it scared the daylights outta me, and I saw it comin’). Trust me, after that NOBODY took their eyes off Rose for the rest of the show.

Years passed and it wasn’t until 1995 that I again saw Rose at the Bluegrass Festival in Grass Valley, California. I was re-introduced to her by my gal pal Kathy Kirkpatrick, who has been involved with the California Bluegrass Association since its inception 25 years ago. Rose and I spent the next hour shootin’ the breeze.

Rose told me of how her brothers had gone into the service and she was looking for work. She tried to audition for Uncle Bob several times, but he kept putting her off. Finally, he said he’d audition her when he was in Hollywood.

So Rose and her mother packed up the car and headed to Southern California from Modesto. Considering the condition of the roads in those days it was quite a drive for anyone, let alone two women by themselves.

Well, when she got there Bob put her off again saying he didn’t have the time. "Rose, how did you feel about that?" I asked. "Dayna, that pissed me off and I told him ‘Mr. Wills, when my brothers come home, we’re gonna put you outta business’ ".

In an interview some time later, Wills was quoted as saying "You know, she damned near did".

Rose excused herself and headed for the port-a-potty. Grass Valley is an outdoor event. She tapped on the door, tried it, and then after waiting for several minutes, looked over at me, cocked her thumb at the door, and said, "They must be homesteadin’ ". She gave up, came back and sat down, and we resumed our chat.

Soon it was time for Rose to jam. The musicians got their instruments, gathered under a tree, and began to pick.

When Rose’s set was over, my husband Gary and I walked her to the sales table where she was signing pictures and selling her new CD, "$35.00 and a Dream", nominated for a Grammy in 1996.

Rose was the first woman to record a bluegrass album. Titled "Rose Maddox Sings Bluegrass" it was released in 1962. She is also the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award by the International Bluegrass Music Association of Owensboro, Kentucky in 1996.

Also in 1996, Rose was inducted into the Seattle Western Swing Society’s "Pioneers of Western Swing" Hall of Fame. I was flattered that, upon her seeing me there, she called me by name. It was heartwarming to hear so many inductees speak of their high regard for Rose while giving acceptance speeches for their own awards.

Saxman Stogy Buckhorn recalled playing for Rose early in his career and how she told him in her ‘sweet and gentle way’ that he needed more experience. (I can imagine how that conversation went having experienced Rose’s ‘sweet and gentle’). Stogy said, "I got the experience, and here I am".

When I mentioned to Rose that I had seen her in Stockton and recalled how she had gotten the drummer’s attention her response was, "Well, he needed that."

I saw Rose for the last time when she performed at a benefit for Hospice in Modesto, California in 1997. Her health had been failing and although she had to be assisted on and off the stage, her voice and spirit were strong. I spoke with her briefly before she went to her motor home to rest.

Several months later Smokey Silver, a disc jockey in Modesto, called to tell me that Rose had passed away. Smokey has always said that Rose was one of the best vocalists around and that he wished that Bob had hired her. Having seen Rose in action, and knowing Uncle Bob’s leadership, I believe they would have been hot. Maybe not for long, but hot.

When I think of Rose I remember the time we spent in Grass Valley. After her set, she made a beeline for the restroom. Realizing I didn’t have her mailing address, I followed her inside. We were the only occupants and since she was already in a stall, I said, "Rose?" And she said, "Yes?" I said, "This is Dayna and I need your mailing address". She rattled it off and I repeated it into the tape recorder I had used during our visit. Then I said, "Rose, may I have your autograph?" There was a pregnant pause, and then from behind the stall door she said, "Got a pen?"