Tex Morton was not from Texas. He is not the only country star to illegitimately adopt the name Tex, of course; Tex Williams, for example is from Illinois. Mr. Morton was born in 1916, in Nelson, New Zealand. That beats Illinois for distance from one’s namesake, as does Sydney, Australia.—that’s where Nelson emigrated when he was 18 to pursue a recording career. Legend has it that that wasn’t Morton’s first time leaving home, having attempted to do so when he was 14 with aims to join the circus; he was found busking on the street and sent back home.
By 1936, he was recording with Columbia Record’s Regal Zonophone, for whom he’d record 93 discs over the course of the next seven years. His version of “Barnacle Bill, the Sailor” is a good example of Morton’s vocal ingenuity, what with his “fair young maiden” voice and whistling.
1940’s “Beautiful Queensland” was a clever cover of “Beautiful Texas,” which was first made popular by Lee O’Daniel and then later by Willie Nelson. Note the yodeling at the end. More of that coming right up.
1941’s “Everything But You” features Australian Country music’s first female voice—that of “Sister” Dorrie. She and Tex would continue to duet for many years, long after he left Regal Zonophone in 1943. Apparently, they didn’t want to pay his backing band, the Rough Riders, for their work in the studio, and Tex wasn’t having it.
Morton’s output for the rest of the 1940’s consisted mainly of radio appearances, which were recorded on 16” transcription discs. A few of them, fortunately, survived long enough to be added to later greatest hits collections. Here’s a 1949 number from Tex’s first time back in a recording studio, this time for Tasman/Festival Records. Once again with “Sister” Dorrie and some lovely yodeling: “You and My Old Guitar.”
1953 brings us to the 78 in question. This is from Tex’s first American session and his first for Okeh Records. “Railroad Boomer” benefits greatly from Jerry Byrd’s steel guitar, especially at the opening. Tex sounds like he’s having a blast, adding a an underwater sound to his yodel that reminds me of the fish in Pee Wee’s Playhouse.
Morton spent most of the 1950’s touring the United states and Canada on —not just as a singer, but also as whip cracker, sharpshooter, and stage hypnotist. Amazingly, as Dr. Robert Morton, he even opened a hypnotherapy clinic in Toronto. He returned to Australia in 1959 and got back in the studio. Here’s his 1960 version of “The Cat Came Back.” It’s a little rougher than The Muppet Show version that I grew up with, but it’s still a hoot.
Morton got the acting bug in the 1960’s, appearing in movies and television programs like We of the Never Never. He recorded sporadically, getting one last hit with 1973’s sentimental ode to a horse:”The Goondiwindi Grey.”
Tex Morton was known as a great conversationalist, a snappy dressy, a generous friend, and, as the Encyclopedia of New Zealand put it, “…a hobo who became a star, the eternal punter betting today on a better tomorrow.” He died in 1983.