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Music with grit

Don Maddox of the Maddox Brothers and Rose and Deke Dickerson and his Ecco-Fonics will join forces for a show at Johnny B's that promises to be a roots and rockabilly hoedown like no other.

Maddox — and his brothers Fred, Cliff, Henry and Cal and their little sister Rose — created a country music sensation in the 1940s and '50s. The family group had a playful, distinctive approach to the music of their time. They played country standards, old-time music and gospel, wore colorful Western-style costumes and their dance-hall shows were full of pranks.

"Maddox and his family were very influential," says Dickerson, a modern purveyor of roots music. "They were the precursor to that whole Bakersfield sound that evolved into the music of Buck Owens and Merle Haggard. The Maddoxes' wild stage shows had a huge influence on early rockabilly and rock 'n' roll."

Maddox and Screamin' Gulch will perform at 8 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, Feb. 6 and 7, at Johnny B's, 35 S. Bartlett St., Medford. They'll be followed by Deke Dickerson and his band, featuring bassist Jimmy Sutton and Los Straitjackets drummer Jason Smay. Michael Dean Damron and Thee Loyal Bastards, a folk and roots group from Portland, will join the band lineup on Thursday, Feb. 7, at Johnny B's.

As pioneers of rockabilly and country swing, the Maddox Brothers and Rose got their start in the late '30s on radio shows and honky tonks in California.

Maddox says things really started in 1933, and then he starts singing the lyrics to an old song called "$35 and a Dream."

"A sharecroppin' family, down and out in Alabama, Mama says it's time to leave. Sold everything we had, California was the land, where we could pick the gold right off the trees. With $35 and a dream, the Maddoxes hit the road in '33. Little did they know that the future held a rose, the blossom of the Maddox family tree ...

"From the sidewalks of Modesto, to the big dance halls of 'Frisco, the Maddox family found their pot of gold.

"That song tells the story of how the Maddox Brothers and Rose got started," Maddox says. "And the rest is history."

The group recorded for 4 Star Records and, later, Columbia Records. They became regulars on the Louisiana Hayride radio broadcast from Shreveport, La., and appeared at the Grand Ole Opry.

Maddox was 18 when he joined his brothers in the band.

"My name's not Don," he says. "I was shy around girls, so I took Don Juan as a stage name because the Sons of the Pioneers had a song called 'Don Juan of Mexico.' I thought that if I learned that song, the girls would think I was a Don Juan and talk to me. Of course, it didn't work."

Maddox, now 85, was a cattle rancher in Southern Oregon until he retired a few years ago. Soon after, he joined the Old Time Fiddlers and discovered that just about everybody remembers his sister Rose and his brothers.

"A lot of people think the Maddox Brothers and Rose are legendary," he says. "And I'm the last of them."

Then Maddox begins singing another song, "Don Juan is Still Here," written about two years ago by friend and songwriter Buck Miner.

"It's hard to keep my fiddle tuned lately, been playin' these old strings for 60 years. And when I play the Orange Blossom Special, you'll know that Don Juan is still here."

Dickerson's new album, "King of the Whole Wide World," is so new that it isn't in stores yet. Like his previous albums, this one journeys into the roots of American music. It features his core band along with appearances by Mary Huff of Southern Culture on the Skids and Western swingers Lucky Stars.

"We mix it up a lot," Dickerson says. "There's rockabilly, bluegrass, jazz, blues and swing."

The title track is dubbed with noise to make it sound like a 78 rpm record.

"Call me sentimental," Dickerson says. "I really think music like that sounds better with a little grit."

Samples from "King of the Whole Wide World" are at myspace.com/dekedickerson, and CDs will be available at the Johnny B's show.

Dickerson, who plays a custom made double-necked guitar, is a columnist for Guitar Player magazine. He's written and recorded songs for film, television and radio, and he partnered with Hallmark Guitars to produce his signature limited edition guitars. His many recording projects also include his own label, Ecco-Fonic Records.

But he didn't want to sing any of his songs over the telephone.

Admission to the shows at Johnny B's costs $9 per night or $15 for both nights. Call 773-1900.

Don Maddox (second from left) joined his sister Rose and his brothers to form the Maddox Brothers and Rose in the late 1930s. - Arhoolie Productions, Inc.