The Tale of the Cornell Hurd Band
The beginnings of this band go back to 1968, when Cornell Hurd (vocals, guitar) and Frank Roeber (vocals, bass), refugees from high school rock and surf bandsput together The Milpitas Submarine Band, a “hillbilly” band formed to entertain students at Homestead High School in the town of Cupertino, California. Cornell and Frank were joined by Russell E. Bowen and John Shudlick, vocalists who played guitar and percussion, respectively, though (like the whole band) not respectfully.
“This was the Jugband that changed my life. I can still hear the applause”. – Cornell Hurd
This act only performed in public once, and its limited repertoire contained (as we recall) only a handful of songs: Blues in The Bottle, What Goes On, Walk On By, I Couldn’t Spell Yuuck and Lodi .
As the young men went off to college, TMSB dissolved, reappearing a year and a half later as The Ragg Brothers. This acoustic swing band was formed to entertain students, this time college students, at the various institutions (UC Santa Barbara, De Anza College, San Francisco State) that the young men attended. Cornell and Frank were now joined by Cornell’s brother, Drew Hurd (harmonica), Joel Crawford (lead vocals) and Kim Muscatel (lead guitar). They played primarily coffee house gigs and made a couple of “live” recordings. To date, only one of these has been located.
By this time, the band had begun writing original material, and several of the songs from this period survived long enough to be recorded by the Cornell Hurd Band. They played covers of Spade Cooley’s Crazy ‘Cause I Love You, Hank Thompson’s A Six Pak To Go, Lalo Guererro’s (Do You Believe In) Reincarnation? and Billy Ward’s Sixty Minute Man, among others.
In 1971 Cornell and Frank relocated to Berkeley, California and formed The El Rancho Cowboys, a fully electric Country and Western band. They were named after El Rancho beer, which sold for $0.79 a six pack.
At this time Berkeley was home to Commander Cody and his Lost Planet Airmen, an absolutely fearless collection of musicians who labored under the Country Music banner, but basically played American roots music of the highest caliber. The LPA were at the time, and remain to this day, the most easily identifiable influence on The Cornell Hurd Band. During the El Ranchos’ stay in Berkeley, they also encountered Asleep At The Wheel, recently relocated from Paw Paw, West Virginia to neighboring Oakland, California. Although they didn’t know it at the time, the path the CHB would take from the mid-eighties until now was laid out in the wildly creative scene that took place in Berkeley in the early seventies.
The El Rancho Cowboys. (l to r) Frank Roeber, Gary Dulleck, Kim Winn, Lyle Pratt, Cornell Hurd
The El Rancho Cowboys lasted approximately a year and a half and included Cornell, Frank, Kim Winn (drums and vocals), Lyle Pratt (lead guitar) and Gary Dulleck (piano) as its core members. Along the way, they were joined at times by Greg Canote (fiddle), Gus Garelick (fiddle), Barry Goold (steel guitar),Lynn Smith (vocals, guitar) and the legendary West Virginia Creeper (steel). Joel Crawford would also join the band on occasion, in a cutting-edge performance as lounge singer Jerry Campbell.
The El Rancho Cowboys performed in honky-tonks, back yards, military bases, beer joints, political rallies, talent shows, hootenannies and nightclubs. For a brief period, they were the Sunday/Monday house band at Lyle Shannon’s Country Palace in Santa Clara, California. They opened shows for Asleep At The Wheel and Commander Cody. The repertoire was straight-up country from their favorite artists – Ernest Tubb, Bob Wills, Ray Price, Johnny Paycheck, Hank Thompson, Roger Miller and Johnny Bush. Many, if not most, of those songs are still performed by the current CHB.
In the fall of 1972 Cornell, Frank, Lyle and Gary jumped in Frank’s Volkswagen and drove to Nashville to attend the annual Country Music Disc Jockey’s Convention.
The band folded in early 1973. Cornell got a job working in an electronics factory.
After briefly living in Amarillo, Texas, Cornell returned to the Bay Area with a vision. He had seen real Texas dance hall bands. He also had developed an interest in ‘20s music and wanted to create a 3-set club band complete with costume changes centered around those two types of music.
“I’ve forgotten what the third band was, probably a ‘50s act, or a jump band, but that ‘20s act became The Original Mondo Hotpants Orchestra” – Cornell Hurd
The OMHO once again had Frank Roeber on bass with Joel Crawford rejoining on vocals. From various sources, Cornell assembled Mitch Montrose (drums), Don Bangle (trumpet), Jim Pollock (sax) and John Madden (piano).
While this band had a very brief history, it was the first of Cornell and Frank’s bands to make a commercial recording. In the spring of 1975 the OMHO went into Dave Porter’s first Music Annex Studio (a converted garage) and had Dave produce their first EP for $125. The four original songs were Here Come The Clones,I’ve Had It Up To Here With The Blues, On The Brink and Flying Away With The Breeze. 500 copies were pressed, and a handful exist today. The tracks exist in CD format on Cornell Hurd and His Mondo Hotpants Orchestra. Shortly after the record was manufactured, band manager Kevin McCaffrey dropped off a copy at San Francisco’s KSFO. Jim Lang (of The Dating Game) was a popular afternoon DJ there, and one magic afternoon, he gave the band its first airplay when he spunFlying Away With The Breeze.
The OMHO performed live a handful of times. Once in a Santa Cruz club. Twice at SF State. Once in a live radio broadcast from KKUP, in Cupertino, CA. Recordings exist of the live radio show.
The band’s song list included originals by Cornell and Joel plus renditions of the Hank Thompson/Mills Brothers standard I’ll Be Around, Ray Price’s Bright Lights and Blonde Haired Women and Nancy Sinatra’s You Only Live Twice.
By the fall of that year, another plot was afoot. That would be Cornell’s attempt at cashing in on America’s upcoming Bicentennial craze. Rehearsing a larger version of this band, Cornell and Frank went into San Francisco’s Different Fur Studio with producer Vince Sanchez and came out with Village of The Durned and Other Shorts, released under the name Cornell Hurd and his Mondo Hotpants Orchestra. This EP contained their “single” The Bicentennial Boogie, plusPsychotic Love, The Thrill of It All and the title cut, (I’m Living In )The Village of The Durned.
Tom Mix, a drive-time DJ at San Jose’s rock powerhouse KSJO, pushed The Bicentennial Boogie into the station’s rotation, and the nationally syndicated Dr. Demento featured it repeatedly, breaking it into his top ten. This was the spring of 1976. Flushed with success, Cornell quit his day job.
The recording personnel in this phase of the MHO were former Hotpants band mates Roeber, Montrose, Bangle and Crawford, plus ex-El Rancho Cowboys Pratt, Dulleck and Winn. The sax section of Larry Stokes (baritone) and Jack Sanford (tenor) rounded out the session. The performing version featured all the above, minus Don Bangle, with Les Margolin replacing Mitch Montrose on drums.
Their show consisted of original material, almost exclusively. One notable exception was an amazing “hillbilly” arrangement of the Barbara Streisand hit/movie theme re-named The Way We Was. Their gigs were primarily club dates, with the occasional college show and “rock concert” thrown in.
They went back to the studio and recorded Texas Behemoth/Platinum Blondes, their first 45-rpm record.
front row (l to r) Cornell, Frank, Dave Clemes, Pat Hennessy, Drew Hurd back row (l to r) Paul Skelton, Ricky “Tex” Yamashiro
Despite the success this unit enjoyed, it was the shortest-lived of all Cornell’s bands. By the late summer of ’76, Cornell found himself putting together a new version of the Mondo Hotpants Orchestra. The new version was centered around Cornell, Frank and Joel Crawford. Cornell’s brother Drew signed up to play guitar and harmonica. Patrick Hennessy, a powerhouse 19 year-old drummer from South San Jose was hired. To flesh out the band, Cornell hired the nucleus of a local rock act, Divine Wind. Ricky “Tex” Yamashiro (alto sax), Bryan “The Mighty Squid” Yoshida (keyboards), and yes, Paul Skelton (guitar) joined the band in one fell swoop.
They rehearsed, they recorded, they went on the road. Pianist Dave Clemes joined them mid-journey on their first road trip: a seven-week swing through the Midwest and Texas in March and April of 1976.
“We stunk at times. Crawford left the band with a recurring illness. I was forced to be a real front man for the first time in my ‘career’. But fear of failure in front of a strange crowd can do wonderful things. By the time we came off that first road trip, we were worlds better. We’d gained real fans, been given great reviews and gotten rid of the things that didn’t work. And we’d been to Texas.” – Cornell Hurd
Their association with Asleep at The Wheel had led them to The Armadillo World Headquarters on the corner of Barton Springs and South First Street, in South Austin, Texas. Today Cornell and Paul play every Thursday at Jovita’s, a few blocks away down that same South First Street.
“I knew shortly after I ‘got off the bus’ that I would live here some day”. – Cornell Hurd
This became The Cornell Hurd Band in the summer of 1977.
The Mondo Hotpants Orchestra that stumbled into “The Armadillo” to open for the Bellamy Brothers in April of 1977 would basically last until early 1982. “Mondo Hotpants” became a liability (no one would take them seriously) and was dropped. Ricky “Tex” Yamashiro would leave eventually. During starvation times, it was decided to keep only one keyboardist, and Brian Yoshida left. The lead guitarist’s job, which was to be a largely ongoing problem, was filled in succession by Skelton,George Mueller, Bill Hayes, Skelton again, Andy Mitchell, Gene Maciel, Neil Farris (who held down the job the longest consecutively), Chris Cahill,Kevin “Pooter” Price, and yes, Skelton once again. During several stretches, the band employed twin lead guitarists. Cornell, Frank, Drew, Patrick and Dave remained in the band until it disbanded (no pun intended…ah yes it was) in 1982.
During that time, they toured extensively through the Midwest and South, and the Pacific Coast up into Canada. They spent two weeks in Alaska that they’d like to forget. They liked Des Moines, Iowa and Austin, Texas best.
Frank Roeber, KSJO’s Tom Mix, Cornell, KSJO’s Tawn Mastrey, Pat Hennessy, Dave Clemes
They recorded another 45rpm record Under My Thumb/Is there A Lover In The House? in 1977. This was followed by a third EP record Another Rock and Roll Stageplank in 1978. The latter recording featured two live tracks recorded in Austin, at The Armadillo World Headquarters in April of 1978. Both recordings were produced by Vince Sanchez who was associated with the band until late 1978.
This version of the band played every kind of gig there is. They did have two notable “residencies” which linger even after all these years. They played regularly at The Palms Café in San Francisco, a series of gigs that lead to sterling reviews in both the San Francisco Chronicle and The San Francisco Examiner. Then, after a disastrous road trip in the winter of ’78, they began an association with The Smokey Mountain Saloon in Campbell, California. This relationship lasted throughout the life of this version of the Cornell Hurd Band. Four two years they played every Wednesday night there, contributing mightily to the lack of Thursday productivity in Silicon Valley electronics plants.
They also performed on a number of “Fat Fry” programs, live radio broadcasts sponsored by seminal Americana station KFAT, from Gilroy, California. Their show at The Alpen Glow, in Hayward, was part of a series of live broadcasts put on by San Francisco’s KSAN. It is unknown whether recordings of these broadcasts still exist.
They opened for Carl Perkins, Eddie Money, Chuck Berry (whom they also backed up), Robert Gordon, Ray Campi, The Bellamy Brothers, Elvin Bishop, Rocky Burnette, The Alpha Band, Asleep at the Wheel, Peter Noone and others. Stevie Ray Vaughan and Robert Cray opened for the Cornell Hurd Band.
In 1979, with a new manager, John “The Mayor” Bellizzi, the band continued touring, and improved upon the level of the bookings. The also began work on Doing That Unholy Roll, their first LP, a record which went on to win the Bay Area Music Award (the Bammies) for the best independent record of 1980.
Hurd with emcee Darrell Enriquez at the Bay Area Music Awards, March 1981.
Doing That Unholy Roll led off with the band’s rendition of Justine, a Don & Dewey song from the ‘50s which (along with The Texas Behemoth) had become a show stopper on their live dates. It also included Saturday Night in San Jose, a heroic salute to Cornell’s home town. Psychotic Love and A Six Pack To Go, dating back to the Ragg Brothers’ days were given the definitive treatment by Cornell’s brother Drew, who had developed into an amazing stage personality with a following of his own. But perhaps the signature song on the LP was Heavy Breathin’ an ode to phone sex before it was called that. As proud as he is of this record, Cornell believes that it did not capture the band’s “feel” at it’s peak. Saturday Night in San Jose, a CD extended version of DTUR, was released in 2002.
The live show centered around the original songs but also included renditions of Spencer Davis’ Keep on Runnin’, Roy Orbison’s Pretty Woman, Ray Sharpe’sLinda Lu, Rock Bottom from Gene Thomas, Carl Perkins’ Boppin’ The Blues, Rick Nelson’s Stood Up, Johnny Burnette’s If You Want It Enough, Jerry Lee Lewis’The End of The Road, There Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens (Louis Jordan), I’m Walkin (Fats Domino) and Theme From “The Flintstones”. Drew sang most of those. Other big cover numbers included Billy Lee Riley’s Flying Saucers Rock and Roll, Gene Summers’ School of Rock and Roll I and Sunglasses After Dark(Dwight Pullen). A Buddy Holly Medley was in the show, as were two Johnny Rivers tunes, Secret Agent Man and Mountain of Love. Dead Armadillo and Under My Thumb from the Lost Gonzo Band and Rolling Stones were show staples. At one point the band could suck up practically half a set with something called The Boogie Apocalypse, a number which featured verses or quotes from the following: Move It On Over (Hank Williams), Smokey Mountain Boogie (Tennessee Ernie Ford), A Walk In The Black Forest (Horst Jankowski), Paper Doll (Mills Brothers), Whole Lotta Shakin’ (Jerry Lee, again), and Nyquil Blues (from Alvin Crow, written by future CHB member Herb Steiner). Drew sang Sugar Shack. Neil sang Stagger Lee. At Christmas time, they tore it up with a punk-rock White Xmas.It was a fun band.
By the time it was over, Cornell and Frank had each married women with small children. Drew and Pat had married their long-time girlfriends. Everyone had slowed down. With Paul Skelton back onstage, this phase of the story came to a close in early 1982 with a show in Niles, California.
After a one year hiatus, Cornell reformed the band. Frank had moved to Jacksonville, Florida. Paul Skelton had moved to New York City. With Randy Widen on bass (he had also engineered Doing That Unholy Roll, and is responsible for a large part of the existing El Rancho Cowboys recordings), he rebuilt and ran a part-time version of his act for almost two years. Drew rejoined. Pat Hennessy referred his friend Gary Rudolph to play drums. Sid Morris, an expert blues piano player, signed up and gave the band an incredible boost. On guitar, Cornell and Randy recruited Joey “Wheels” Oullette, a longtime associate. Neil Farris came back to play again, and on at least one gig, there were three lead players as Paul Skelton sat in.
It was a rootsy show, much more than anything since the El Rancho Cowboys. Along with Texas Behemoth, Justine, Heavy Breathin’, Saturday Night In San Jose, the show featured a load of new material. Sid sang Dead Presidents (Little Walter) and The Mess Around (Ray Charles). Drew did Lonely Teardrops (Jackie Wilson) and The Cheater (Bob Kuban). Cornell sang Let It Rock (Chuck Berry), Nervous Breakdown (Eddie Cochran) and Sometimes by Gene Thomas. Sid killed ‘em with Last Date.
Cornell’s personal problems including a dismal marriage contributed to the band’s demise, as well as to many songs he would write in the future. The last gig was on New Year’s Eve 1985.
Joey “Wheels” Oullette succumbed to the disease that had crippled him, and passed away less than a year later.
This band did go back into the studio, and cut a half-dozen tracks in San Jose. Love Like A ’55 Ford, Seven Nights To Rock, Spandex Pants, I Can’t Help Being Cooland Texas Blues were recorded at this time.
Cornell’s rapidly (almost epically) deteriorating personal situation resulted in a job offer and relocation to St. Petersburg, Florida on December 14, 1986. Two days later, he met a young woman named Debra Davidson, a graphic artist and pianist. And there you have it. Just like a Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney movie. Cornell now had a piano player, and bassist Frank Roeber was a mere 250 miles away in Jacksonville. “Let’s start a band. If we can’t do that, let’s at least make a record.”
“I called Paul Skelton. He lowered his voice and whispered ‘Cornell Hurd is BACK in your life’. We cracked up, it was all too weird.” – Frank Roeber
Cut to July, 1987. Paul has introduced Cornell to legendary producer Lou Whitney, from Springfield, Missouri. Cornell has driven to Missouri with Debra, Frank and Frank’s wife Ann. Paul Skelton has flown in from New York. Gary Rudolph and Randy Widen get off the plane from California. They’re back in business.
(l to r) Roeber, Skelton, Cornell, Deb, Widen, Rudolph
The result is Cornell’s comeback record Fever in The South. As the whole world turned to CDs, Cornell pressed up 1000 vinyl copies (it is available in CD format now). Without a working act, effectively out of the business for years, the prospects were ludicrous. But it put them all back together in show biz.
Another album was recorded in Springfield in 1988-89. It is as yet unreleased. The band was too busy moving to Texas.
The Road to Austin
“It kind of came to me while driving one day. Texas was truly the place I’d always wanted to go, and at my age, if I was going to give it one more shot, I wanted to play exactly the kind of music I loved most. All my country music heroes were from Texas. Bob Wills, Ernst Tubb, Ray Price, Johnny Bush, Willie Nelson. It was where Asleep at the Wheel still lived and worked. People liked traditional music there…But what really clinched it was Debbie’s attitude. She wanted to come to Texas. I came home from work one day and she was ready to get a Ryder truck. She pushed to do it. It might not have happened here without her. ” – Cornell Hurd
Cornell and Debra were married in September of 1988. A little over a year later they moved to Austin, Texas. Frank and Ann Roeber joined them that November. Paul and his wife, Anne, moved to Austin six months later. Randy Widen lived there briefly, but during his short stay introduced Cornell to the Texicalli Grille and its owner Danny Roy Young.
By November of 1990, they had a working band again.
Doug Sahm sits in. (l to r) Young, Sahm, Skelton, Hurd
“Since moving to Austin, we’ve released seven CDs. The band is now ten pieces, sometimes eleven. We’ve had in excess of 140 different tracks released on both our label and other independent label anthologies.” – Cornell Hurd
Ralph Power was the first Texas drummer. Then it was Terry Kirkendall, then Ralph again, then Karen “The Venus of The Traps” Biller. Bobby “Scrap Iron” Snell joined on as steel guitarist in 1994. He appeared on both Cool and Unusual Punishment and Texas Fruit Shack (1997). After Frank Roeber moved from Austin, Mark Pollard (late ’97 to summer’99) and Marty Mitchell (4months, end of ’99) were our full-time bassists. Mark is the primary bassist on At Large (1999). Marty appears on A Stagecoach Named Desire.
On albums and on stage the nature of the band (enormous and talented) has allowed for many fine musicians to sit in over the years. These include Johnny Bush,Marti Brom, Lucky Oceans, Wayne “The Train” Hancock, The Texana Dames, Conni Hancock, Chris O’Connell, Tommy Morrell, Floyd Domino, Mitzi Henry, Bill Kirchen, and the late Doug Sahm.
…how it was in 2003
(l to r) Skelton, Trevino, Power, White, Young, Gordon, Nicolas (top), Hurd, Steiner, Kirkendall
Paul Skelton has been here every step of the way. A phenomenally supportive and unselfish musician and man. My all-time favorite guitarist.
Danny Roy Young started sitting in with us in 1993. We think. He appeared as a guest star on our second Texas CD, Live! at The Broken Spoke. Danny owns The Texicalli Grille, and is a former rock and roll drummer from Kingsville, Texas.
“Debra Hurd appears on all our records. She has also recorded with Justin Trevino, Johnny Bush, Dickie Overbey and Herb Steiner. She is the mother of our two children, Vance and Casey, and without her exactly none of this would have happened.” – Cornell Hurd
Cody Nicolas began his years with us as a substitute piano player while Deb and I were having our two children. He became a full-time member in 1995. He first appears on Cool and Unusual Punishment, released in 1995. “The Sheriff” grew up in Texas and has a degree from Texas A&M. Cody played with the CHB for 10 years.
Blackie White also started out by sitting in. He’s been a full-time member since 1997. Blackie made his recording debut with us as a rhythm guitarist onTexas Fruit Shack. Blackie is also known to the real world as artist Guy Juke.
Herb Steiner first appeared on Texas Fruit Shack. Herb also plays steel guitar with Johnny Bush. He’s originally from Hollywood, California. Herb has not played with us since 2003.
Vanessa Gordon, like several of the others, began her years with us by simply sitting in with the band. She first appears on Texas Fruit Shack. Vanessa hails from Capetown, South Africa. Miss Vanessa still works with the band when she has time away from teaching and being a mom.
Justin Trevino has been our bassist since late 1999, although he’d played gigs with us as a substitute and sat in many times before he got the job. He, too first shows up on Texas Fruit Shack, singing harmony with guest star Johnny Bush. He has gone on to also be our engineer and at times, producer. He has his own career as a solo artist, and sings on our records, too. An amazing man. He and his wife Sissy live in Martindale, Texas with Fluffy, their cat. Justin’s solo career has taken off! He guest stars with us on occasion, and still appears on our records, as a musician and songwriter.
Frank Roeber has appeared on bass on ALMOST ALL of our records and will continue to if humanly possible.
Richard “Bad Dog” Power is Ralph Power’s nephew. I cannot, for the life of me, remember when he first sat in. Probably 1996. He became a full-time player two years ago. He appears on our recordings for the first time in 2000, on A Stagecoach Named Desire. Holds a PhD in music from the University of Texas. Richard and his wife, Dr. Stacey Power, moved to Houston in 2004. “Bad Dog” still plays with us a dozen times a year. Permanent lifetime member.