Bob Shelton

Bob and Joe Shelton were among the more successful brother acts of their era, at least based on the number of recordings they made -- 150 sides cut for Decca alone, as well as songs for Victor and King. They aren't heard of much today on reissues, in part because much of their recorded legacy dates from before World War II, and didn't have many elements of bluegrass (despite the fact that Joe Shelton played the mandolin). Bob Attlesey (b. July 4, 1909) and Joe Attlesey (b. January 27, 1911) were born in Reilly Springs, in Hopkins County, TX. During the 1920s, they were listening to artists like Peg Moreland and Jimmie Rodgers on Victor, and were making music themselves, Bob singing and playing guitar and fiddle, and Joe on vocals, guitar, and mandolin. They played locally and then moved to Longview, TX, and then to Tyler, TX, where they picked up a temporary partner, Leon Chappelear. The trio recorded for the first time in Chicago in 1933, for Bluebird, working under the name the Lone Star Cowboys. They also accompanied Jimmie Davis on his sides for RCA-Victor (Davis later ran for governor of Louisiana, with the brothers campaigning for him in 1944), and moved their base of operations to New Orleans, where they broadcast regularly on WWL. In 1935, they began recording for Decca Records, the upstart company that was revolutionizing the music business with its low prices and aggressive marketing -- it was Dave Kapp of Decca who suggested the Attlesey brothers needed a more commercial name, for which they reached back to their mother's family name and became the Shelton Brothers, also changing their names legally. It was during the period that ensued that the brothers cut some of their most memorable songs, including originals like "Just Because" (later covered by Elvis Presley, among many others), as well as songs they'd learned listening to Peg Moreland and Lew Childre. Their sound was closer to mainstream country, and had elements that anticipated honky tonk in sound and spirit. Curley Fox, with whom they'd worked on-stage in Atlanta, came into the group in late 1935, adding a second fiddle player to their lineup. During the mid-'30s, they left New Orleans, splitting their time between radio stations in Shreveport and Dallas-Fort Worth, even as they began recording heavily for Decca, ultimately cutting over 150 sides. The Shelton Brothers were one of the better selling country acts and brother acts of the period, and demand didn't slacken until after World War II. Even then, they were still a big radio act for most of the next decade. At the end of the '30s, the Shelton Brothers band grew as a third brother, Merle (b. 1917), joined, along with Gene Sullivan. They remained a popular act on radio for more than a decade -- the group lineup in 1946 included Bob, Joe, and Merle, Preacher Harkness, Joe Molina, and Bernie Harkness. In 1947, they were cutting music for Syd Nathan' s King Records label, but by that time, their fortunes and audience had begun to fade. The group stopped recording at the end of the '40s, although Joe and Bob both remained busy performing live and on radio out of Shreveport, on KWKH, home of the Louisiana Hayride. Bob later specialized in comedy, while Joe continued as a musician on the radio and various records, and Merle played on radio in Dallas and cut a few sides for Lin Records. Joe passed away on December 26, 1980, Bob seems to have passed on in 1983, and Merle is known to be deceased as well. The music of the Shelton Brothers band, apart from the sides that they cut backing Jimmie Davis (which appear on Bear Family), is not easy to find. They were largely ignored during the LP era, apart from a 1976 MCA album that had one side of their Decca material (with the other side featuring the Carlisle Brothers). Two CDs, from Old Homestead (The Shelton Brothers: Bob and Joe) in 1993, and Cowgirl/Boy of Germany (Just Because) released the same year, are difficult to locate. They are overdue for a Bear Family CD reissue. ~ Bruce Eder

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