Since I have so much relative free time on my hands, in-between the solemn recuperating, the constant blood tests and the extensive physical therapy, I’ve been doing a little bit of genealogy here and there as an obsessive hobby, trying to dig up my roots, especially on my father’s side, before I die.
My dad’s Choctaw lineage was a mostly well-documented one, thankfully, allowing me to track the relatives who walked (and mostly died on) the Trail of Tears. I have also found a few things I never knew, such as how my grandfather “Two Gun” Bill Fowler was training to be a Choctaw code-talker just as World War I was winding down…or about my Uncle Lefty, who allegedly murdered a girl in Duncan and spent years in prison for it, a case covered by the creator of Perry Mason…or, as I learned just weeks ago, my dad’s cousin, a little-known rockabilly singer by the name of Don Fowler who recorded a swingin’ twangy tune in the mid-60s.
Hailing from my dad’s hometown of Waurika, little is known, so far, about Don with the exception of his birth, his lone 45 recording and, most triumphantly, his love of the Waurika Rattlesnake Festival. In 1966, he recorded the song “Oklahoma Baby” for Oakridge Records based out of Fort Worth. The front of the cover featured Don and his guitar superimposed over a rattlesnake handler with the words “From the Rattlesnake Center of the World, Waurika, Oklahoma” beaming in big type.
Here’s the song for your listening pleasure:
Of course, the song was a hit in southern Oklahoma—as it should be—but really didn’t move anywhere else, if it was even meant to. But, with that sweet Hank Williams howl and a classic rockabilly sound courtesy of the Country Timers, I really wish I can find an original copy of the 45 single, complete with the backwoods romance flipside entitled “Wedding Bells Over the Hilltop.” So far, it’s pretty impossible to get a hold of, although there are a few foreign rockabilly compilations that contain it.
But, what I always come back to, especially in regards to this record, is the sheer popularity of the Waurika Rattlesnake Festival, a proud citywide tradition that, even with competition from towns such as Apache, Okeene and Magnum now, manages to draw in hundreds of patrons and wrangle thousands of the poisonous serpents, some held in the mid-size viewing cage and some taken to the on-site butcher to make a deep-fried meal of.
It’s funny how Don’s record, despite having tangentially nothing to do with rattlesnakes or rattlesnake-hunting, was marketed to the crowd with such a municipal fervor; the back of 45 does say that Don was a Jaycee, a member of a local booster group who annually promoted the hell out of the event, bringing people from all over the United States—and some foreigners too—to “observe from the side lines.”
That’s some real city pride that, over 50 years later, has got me worked up for next year’s Waurika Rattlesnake Festival, which is probably in the planning stages of the parks and rec department as we speak. To not only see up close one of nature’s deadliest S.O.B.s, but to get a picture holding the deadly beast and then to cross over to the food tent for some deep-fried rattler, I’ve got one question: who wants to go?
And as for “Oklahoma Baby”, if anyone’s got any leads about Don or the 45, hit me up. Cómpralo ya!