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20th Century Guitar
Rara Avis -- A Tribute To Gene Autry

November 1998
by Bianca Soros



Link to 20th Century Guitar Magazine

ene Autry, an American cowboy hero of the 20th century, has shown us by example, how to expand our humanity and open our hearts. Born September 29, 1907 into a family of ranchers and musicians in the southwestern city of Tioga, Texas, it was his mother who taught him how to play the guitar. Autry spent his teen years in Ravia, Oklahoma, and exhibited a talent for music and show business. He sang mournful ballads for a traveling act called the "Fields Brothers Marvelous Medicine Show" who sold the patent medicine called "Fields Pain Annihilator." His Oklahoma travels with Professor Fields had a big influence on his life: "I earned fifteen dollars a week. For a teenaged boy in the 1920's, this was more than money; it was the riches of Arabia."

    Autry went on to work for St. Louis & Frisco as a railroad telegrapher, when he had a fateful meeting with Will Rogers, who encouraged him to pursue his talents in the entertaining business. In 1931 he joined the WLS National Barn Dance radio show in Chicago and obtained a show of his own called the "Conqueror Record Time."

    Gene Autry set the pace for a brand new western hero when he starred as himself in the science fiction serial Phantom Empire. Gene Autry is attributed to helping create the Singing Cowboy film genre. He starred in a series of musical Westerns featuring Smiley Burnette as his sidekick. Bolstered by Autry's rising popularity, Republic Pictures became well known as a movie production company. Autry's work on the film "Tumbling Tumbleweeds" (1935), was his first box office hit where he was billed as a singing cowboy, and in 1937, he surpassed Crash Corrigan and became the number one Hollywood Western Box Office Cowboy. In 1939, he began performing for the CBS radio show and played live in theaters before an Autry film release.

    In 1941, Autry joined The Army Air Corps as a pilot and went from earning $600,000 per year, from his various enterprises, to $125 per month. Autry had a keen sense for business, he invested in oil, real estate, record companies, radio and television, and also became the owner of the California Angels. He created yet another dream with the Gene Autry Western Heritage Museum, focusing on the mystique of the Western frontier.

    Autry's wardrobe was influenced by Tom Mix's fantastically embroidered clothing. However, Autry's most distinctive costume item was one of his incredible guitars: be it a Martin D-45, Martin 000-45, pearl-trimmed Euphonon or one of his two custom-built Gibson Super Jumbos. End

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