Remembering a Golden Era In the Boston-Area's Country Music Past
Hillbilly Ranch, Boston - Out-of-town readers might be surprised to know that the staid, old, blue-blooded Yankee city of Boston had a famous country music venue called The Hillbilly Ranch. Of course, if you were a sailor or a soldier passing through Boston from any other part of the country, you spent some time at the Hillbilly Ranch and know all about it. The area of town where it was located was called the Combat Zone because our various fighting men tried to establish which was the toughest branch of the service in the bars and in the streets. Later, as the neighborhood changed, and became populated with strip joints and XXX-rated movie houses, the combats were more likely to be between police and patrons. But the Hillbilly Ranch continued to bring live country music to an appreciative New England audience plus an assortment of some of the most unique characters you can imagine.
Some of the biggest names in country music of the time appeared there, including Tex Ritter, Dave Dudley, Dick Curless, Kenny Roberts, and many, many more. I got to perform there early in my career. Most of the big names were gone by then but many New England-based country bands took their place. I remember it being a tough gig. Five one-hour shows a night for seven straight nights. And the pay was $1000 for the week, not for me, for the whole band! Out of that came 10% for the agent, leaving $32 a night for each of the four of us. I changed costumes in a bathroom in the basement. It's a good thing I was a country girl and used to the critters running around.
But for a girl just starting her career, it was great! Here I was doing the thing I loved most and actually getting paid for it. I didn't realize it then, but I was also learning my trade. Discovering that entertaining was more than singing, how to keep an audience, how to deal with those that got a little too rambunctious, what songs worked for me and what ones didn't, and many more lessons.
Urban renewal finally took the Hillbilly Ranch and another chapter in Boston's history was closed. A fellow New England country music entertainer and very talented song writer, John Lincoln Wright, memorialized the event with a song, "They Tore Down the Hillbilly Ranch.' It still gets requested on the radio show Hillbilly at Harvard (the subject of another story at some point).
The Hillbilly Ranch also lives on in my house! We have an organization called the New England Country Music Historical Society with a very extensive collection of music, pictures and memorabilia. But through a few unplanned occurances, no place to house it. Rather than see the collection dismantled, I volunteered a room in my house to store it, I hope temporarily. Along with the LPs and scrapbooks came an actual booth from the Hillbilly Ranch and four deer heads that hung on the walls. All that is missing is one of those unique characters, Hillbilly Tex (who was not a hillbilly and not from Texas).