April 15, 1998 – Ashland, Or. Rose Maddox, a flamboyant country music pioneer who earned a Grammy nomination late in life for her autobiographical “$35 and a Dream,” has died at 71. Maddox was born Roselea Arbana Maddox, December 15, 1925, near Boaz, Alabama and died of kidney failure Wednesday April 15, 1998 in a rest home in Ashland, Oregon where she lived for many years. Rose and her four brothers hit it big after World War II on tour and was known as “The Most Colorful Hillbilly Band in America.”
Maddox had a reputation as a lusty firebrand, with up-tempo songs such as “Hangover Blues” and “Pay Me Alimony.” Her musical styles ranged from hillbilly to rockabilly to gospel.
Known for her colorful Western costumes, Maddox once shocked a Grand Ole Opry audience by appearing on stage with a bare midriff, a stark contrast to her sometimes staid female contemporaries. “Kitty Wells would stand up there and not even move,” said biographer Jonny Whitesides. “Rose would get on stage and high-kick and shimmy-shake. That drove people crazy.”
At its height, her group played the Las Vegas Strip and the Grand Ole Opry and toured with Elvis Presley, Hank Williams and Marty Robbins. Among its biggest hits were the Woody Guthrie song “Philadelphia Lawyer, “Tramp on the Street” and “Whoa, Sailor.”
The band broke up in 1956 amid a changing music scene and Maddox’s brothers settled down, but Rose Maddox kept singing. Among her solo hits in the late 1950s and early ’60s were “Sing a Little Song of Heartache,” “Gambler’s Love,” “Kissing My Pillow” and “Bluebird, Let Me Tag Along.”
She also recorded with Buck Owens and the king of bluegrass, Bill Monroe. In the early ’80s, she recorded an album of gospel music, “A Beautiful Bouquet,” in memory of her son, Donnie, who died in 1982.
In 1996 she got her first Grammy nomination for her CD “$35 and a Dream.” The title song told Maddox’s life story. During the Depression, her Alabama sharecropper daddy sold everything the family had for $35 and loaded his wife and five of their seven kids on a freight train bound for California. Rose was 7 at the time.
In a 1996 interview, Maddox recalled that her musical career began just a few years later. Her brother Fred decided he had had enough of picking fruit for 10 cents a box and lined up a job playing music on KTRB radio sponsored by Rice furniture store in Modesto, CA. in 1937. Before agreeing to sponsor them Rice Furniture demanded the band have a girl singer. “They didn’t know if I could sing or not but Fred wasn’t about to lose that opportunity,” Maddox said. “And he knew Mama wouldn’t let him get a girl singer. So he said, “We’ve got the best girl singer that’s ever been.” He didn’t tell him it was just an 11 year old kid. We went on the radio the next day, and we started selling that furniture like mad.”
Rose was preceeded in death by her son, Don, in 1982 and four of her five brothers (Cliff, Cal, Henry, and Fred). Cliff died from kidney failure in 1948 at age 37. Cal passed away in 1968. Henry passed away in 1974. Fred passed away about 1993. She is survived by brother Don of Ashland, Oregon, three grandchildren, and two great-grandsons.
Wherever she went, Rose Maddox had many endearing fans with special memories and stories to share. She will be dearly missed. Her funeral was held April 21, 1998 at the Littwiller-Simonson Funeral Home in Ashland, Oregon.