Ashland country music pioneer Don Maddox dies at 98
An Ashland rancher and fiddler who performed at Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry in the 1940s and again in the 2010s has passed on.
K.C. “Don Juan” Maddox, who rose to prominence in the 1940s and ‘50s playing fiddle with his siblings in The Maddox Brothers and Rose, died Sunday in Ashland at the age of 98.
Maddox, who touted himself as the last surviving member of “the most colorful hillbilly band in America,” enjoyed a late-in-life revival that included the recording of three CDs in Ashland, a standing ovation in 2012 at the famed Grand Ole Opry, and a lengthy interview with Ken Burns in the 2019 film “Country Music.”
The Ken Burns interview with Maddox about the roots of country music made up about 15 minutes of the miniseries, according to Barbara Harvey-Maddox, his wife since 2010.
"I was surprised he was on there so long,“ Harvey-Maddox said.
A highlight, according to Harvey-Maddox, was in May 2012, when Grand Ole Opry and Country Music Hall of Fame member Marty Stuart introduced her husband to the audience at the Opry.
“He is Nashville,” Harvey-Maddox said of Stuart.
Maddox was born to sharecroppers in Boaz, Alabama, Dec. 7, 1922. His family migrated to Modesto, California, in 1933, and by the 1940s his siblings — Cal, Fred, Rose and Harry — began performing a playful style of western swing in California’s Central Valley by the 1940s that they called “hillbilly” and preceded the genre of country music.
“The family was the one that started that music out on the West Coast,” Harvey-Maddox said.
He served with the Army Signal Corps in central Burma during World War II. After the war, he joined his siblings in the band as fiddler and comic relief and gave himself the nickname “Don Juan.”
“They handed him a fiddle and they said play,” Harvey-Maddox said. “He learned all on his own up on that stage.”
As their recording and touring success grew, The Maddox Brothers and Rose moved to Hollywood, and the band made two appearances at the Grand Ole Opry in the late 1940s, according to media accounts. They performed “Whoa Sailor” in 1947, and “Philadelphia Lawyer,” penned by Woody Guthrie in 1949.
Don Maddox moved to Ashland in the late 1950s after the group disbanded to pursue a career as a cattle rancher. His ranch is visible from Interstate 5.
Ron Bolstad, who often performed with Maddox on stage with the Oregon Old Time Fiddlers, remembers the first time he met Maddox. He said he “couldn’t believe it” when he first moved to Ashland and met him at a local Rotary Club.
“I was listening to him in elementary school,” Bolstad said. He’s now 82.
Bolstad would pester him with questions about his touring days in the ‘40s and ‘50s.
One story he remembers Maddox sharing was that of a Texas performance in which the siblings shared billing with an up-and-coming performer named Elvis Presley.
Presley at the time was performing in blue jeans, while the Maddoxes had colorful sequined suits from a Hollywood tailor.
Apparently “Mama Maddox” caught Elvis wearing his jacket on stage, Bolstad recounted.
“She was so upset, like, ‘Get that off of him,’” Bolstad recounted.
In the later 2000s and early 2010s, Maddox began performing again with the Oregon Old Time Fiddlers Association. Bolstad said that on stage, Maddox enjoyed the spotlight and performing, “but he would wait his turn.”
"When he got up to the microphone he just energized the audience,“ Bolstad said
About a decade ago, Maddox returned to a recording studio for the first time since the 1950s. Bolstad played backup guitar.
"That was a shock to see this huge board and all these levers on it,“ Bolstad said. ”But he hung in there.“
In the spring of 2011, the Rural Roots Music Commission of Iowa selected Maddox’s album “High Desert Waltz” as the Old Time Music CD of the Year. Maddox went on to record two more albums.
By 2012, Maddox was performing in country and bluegrass festivals in California and Las Vegas, and got an invite to be on the Marty Stuart Show. Afterward, Maddox was invited to play the Ryman Auditorium and the Opry in Nashville.
"By golly, he got two standing ovations,“ Bolstad said.
The family has donated Maddox’s fiddle along with other memorabilia to Stuart for a planned “Congress of Country Music” to be built in Philadelphia, Mississippi, according to Maddox’s wife.
Maddox will be remembered at a graveside service at 11 a.m. Monday, Sept. 27, at Scenic Hills Memorial Park, 2585 E. Hills Dr., Ashland. Maddox’s wife said the service, which will include military honors, is open to all.