Don’t rub your eyes too hard; that’s not a hallucination. You’re right, that’s a photograph of an album cover featuring The Maddox Brothers and Rose taken right here in Susanville at the Pioneer Saloon on Main Street. Photo by Sam Williams

Country music royalty has Susanville ties

Thanks to a recent Ken Burns documentary and an accompanying book on the history of country music, a local woman learned of the contribution made by her family — the Maddox Brothers and Rose — to American music.

Resident Cindy Neuenschwander said she always knew her uncle Fred Maddox had been a member of the Maddox Brothers and Rose band, and she knew they made records and toured in the years after the Great Depression and World War II. But she said she had no idea how important and influental the band was until she watched Ken Burns’ PBS series on country music and read the book that accompanies the 16-hour documentary.

“It brought out to me, as an adult, the importance of all this, their contribution to country music,” she said. “I didn’t really know the value of their band. I never really saw that. It was before my time.”

Upon her death at 72, the New York Times called Rose Maddox, “a leading figure in the West Coast country music of the 1940s.”

Rose — and her five brothers — Henry, Cliff, Fred, Don and Cal — “became a popular radio and live act up and down the West Coast beginning in the early 1940s, and they continued as a band until 1957,” the Times reported. The band played “a raucous, uptempo, eight-to-the-bar music later called ‘hillbilly boogie,’ and not too far away in its energy and speed from rockabilly.”

In fact, the Rockabilly Hall of Fame alleges rockabilly started in 1937 when Fred Maddox got sick and announced to the family, “We’re going into the music business.” They started appearing weekdays on the radio as The Alabama Outlaws. But the Hall of Fame reports rockabilly was officially born just after Word War II when Don picked up a fiddle, Henry grabbed an electric mandolin and the band was joined by Bud Duncan on steel guitar and Jimmy Winkle on guitar.

According to the hall, Merele Haggard treated the band and their families to a Christmas party every year — as long as Fred and Roy would be the entertainment.

ModestoMusicHistory.com proclaims Fred Maddox made music history when he created the slap-bass style in 1937 as he was “playing the first notes of rock and roll.”

They report bassist Bill Black said his bass playing on “That’s Alright (Mama)” by Elvis in 1954 was inspired by the playing style pioneered by Fred Maddox.

Believe it or not, the Times also reports the Maddox family met Woody Guthrie and his cousin Jack right here in Susanville as the Guthries were “making a living singing in the area.”

Neuenschwander said the band never lived in Susanville, but they performed here. She said it’s a coincidence they used a photo taken at the Pioneer in Susanville as an album cover and in the book that accompanies the PBS series.