Johnny Cuviello, "Texas Drummer Boy," RIP

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In the last year or two we've lost several Texas Playboys from the 1940s: guitarist Jimmy Wyble, singing sisters Dean McKinney Moore and Evelyn McKinney Wills, and now Johnny Cuviello.

Johnny Cuviello, drummer for Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys in 1946 and 1947 and one of the last surviving band members from that era, passed away last week at the age of 97.

Cuviello, a Fresno native and the son of Italian immigrants, connected with the band in 1946 when Billy Jack Wills, Bob's younger brother, asked his help in tuning his drums before a recording session at station KMJ. Cuviello sat in on drums that day while Billy Jack moved to bass fiddle (which he preferred to drums), and at the end of the day Bob offered Johnny a job. Cuviello was with the band only for about two years, but at a pivotal time -- he's on all but one of the Tiffany Transcriptions sessions and played on Bob Wills's final sessions with Columbia and first sessions for MGM.

Cuviello had been playing drums professionally since high school, and his career included a gig at a burlesque theater and in a band with Buck Owens at The Blackboard in Bakersfield.

In a profile published in 2008 in the Journal of Texas Music History, Cuviello told the story of how he came to be a Texas Playboy and the unceremonious way he was dropped from the band. It says something about the limits of Bob Wills's fame that, as well known as he was among the Texans and Oklahomans who had moved to California to farm in the Central Valley and work in the defense industry, the son of an earlier wave of California immigrants had never heard of him. And perhaps because he was one of the few band members without roots in Texas or Oklahoma, he never quite fit in. He was older than most of them, too -- 31 when he joined the band.

But Cuviello got along well with frequent road roommate Herb Remington (an Indiana native) and together they worked up a tune that Cuviello wrote into the song that Bob Wills would dub "Texas Drummer Boy." Although drums were always important to the Texas Playboys sound, "Texas Drummer Boy" was the only Texas Playboys song to feature prominent extended drum solos, alternating with Remington's steel guitar riffs and Tiny Moore's mandolin solo.

Here's the original version of "Texas Drummer Boy," recorded November 12, 1947.

Here's Johnny five years ago, at his 92nd birthday jam in 2007, performing "Texas Drummer Boy" once again with steel guitarist Herb Remington -- sixty years after it was first recorded:

MORE:

From the Baylor Institute for Oral History, here's the transcript of western swing historian Jean Boyd's lengthy 1993 interview with Johnny Cuviello and Steve Hathaway. (Excerpts from the interview were included in the Journal of Texas Music History profile.)

Cuviello shows up in a few pictures in this article about the Bakersfield Sound.

Tom Diamant's excellent Tiffany Transcriptions website has a great picture of Johnny Cuviello with Junior Barnard, Herb Remington, Jimmy (Widener?), and Norm (?).

Tom points out that the Journal of Texas Music History story about Johnny Cuviello has "the best photo of the Zoom Radio Show" -- the weekly Texas Playboys show on radio station KGO, sponsored by Zoom breakfast cereal. And here's Johnny Cuviello with the Texas Playboys on a break during the September 7, 1947, Tiffany session.

The video page has a couple of "soundies" where Cuviello can be heard (and sometimes seen) in the background. He's most visible during Alex Brashear's trumpet solo on "Goodbye, Liza Jane."

AND STILL MORE: A couple of more great photos of Johnny Cuviello, including one with Buck Owens, in an article about the unique music scene of Bakersfield.

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3 Comments

Marie (Cuviello) O'Donnell said:

John Cuviello was my father and I am thrilled to find this and so may other pieces of information on his life. He was a talented man who lived a wonderful life. He will be forever remembered. R.I.P Daddy (Papa John) I love you!

Marie, my condolences on the loss of your father. Thanks so much for stopping by. Your father lived an amazing life and made some great music, and it's an honor to be able to share some of that here at BatesLine.

Pat Cuviello said:

My dad lived to play the drums. Thanks for the Tribute.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on September 10, 2012 11:16 PM.

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