Ernest Tubb, pioneer of the “honky tonk” sound in country music and an important Nashville record shop entrepreneur, was born in Crisp, Texas, on February 9, 1914. After hearing a Jimmie Rodgers record, “In the Jail House Now,” Tubb determined to emulate the “Blue Yodeler” and pursue a career in country music. While hosting a radio show over KONO in San Antonio, Tubb called Rodgers’s widow, Carrie, initiating a friendship that produced his first recording session in 1936 for Victor Records, Rodgers’s label. During this session, at San Antonio’s Texas Hotel, Tubb recorded two songs about his hero, “The Passing of Jimmie Rodgers” and “The Last Thought of Jimmie Rodgers.” Tubb became a Jimmie Rodgers imitator: he wore Rodgers’s tuxedo in publicity pictures, played Rodgers’s guitar during recordings, and sang a number of Rodgers’s songs when he performed.
Tubb made his first Decca recordings in 1940, recording two of his own songs, “Blue-Eyed Elaine” and “I’ll Get Along Somehow.” He and his wife Elaine moved to San Angelo and opened a bar, the E&E Tavern, where he developed his Texas honky tonk sound. In 1941 his biggest hit, “I’m Walking the Floor Over You,” crossed over into the pop market and eventually sold a reported million copies.
On January 16, 1943, Tubb made his debut with the Grand Ole Opry at the War Memorial Auditorium. He accepted a subsequent invitation to join the Opry. During World War II, Tubb recorded hits like “Soldier’s Last Letter” and “Tomorrow Never Comes.”
In 1947 Tubb opened the Ernest Tubb Record Shop on Broadway in response to demands from country fans who could not find country record stores, and he hosted a Midnight Jamboree radio and stage show on Saturday nights after the Opry broadcast from the store. The Jamboree quickly became an important part of the Nashville music scene. He also worked to change the designation of country music from “Hillbilly” to “Country and Western.” In 1948 he headlined a country show at Carnegie Hall, the first country artist to do so.
After World War II, Tubb recorded with the Andrews Sisters and Red Foley, with whom he had a string of successful duets. Between 1945 and 1965, Tubb’s hits included “Drivin’ Nails in My Coffin” and “Waltz Around Texas.” He befriended a number of young country artists including Hank Snow, Carl Smith, and Loretta Lynn, with whom he also recorded a number of duets. Two of his former band members, Jack Greene and Cal Smith, became country stars on their own.
Tubb hosted a syndicated television show in the 1950s and became the sixth member elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1965. He performed his last show on November 13, 1982, and died September 6, 1984, in Nashville. His Broadway record store still operates in Nashville, and son Justin Tubb (1938-1998) operated the record store until his death.
Ronnie Pugh, Ernest Tubb: The Texas Troubadour (1996)