Paducah has always been a musical city, even spawning some well-known and highly influential musicians. One such artist was clarinetist Matty Matlock.
We were recently introduced to Matty by Chuck and Retta Folsom who ran across one of his albums at a shop in Houston. Chuck purchased Matty's Dixieland Story(1958) and found a great piece about the Paducah native in the liner notes.
Here's what it had to say:
Matty Matlock was born in Paducah, Kentucky. Not unlike many famous musicians whose families had no musical tradition, Matty has a charming vignette from his very early years which, he believes, deeply influenced and pressed him inevitably toward a career in music. The scene took place when Matty was about to turn six. There is no evidence to the contrary, so it must be reported that the child Matty Matlock saw and heard (while the waters of a river flood receded slowly about him) an old Negro gentleman seated on a stoop playing a wistful melody on a tin flute. From that moment, Matty soberly claims, the twig was bent.
Several years later, (the Matlocks had by then moved to Nashville) Matty recalls an incident which appears to have a more logical, if not so quaint, bearing on his musical career. Watching a National Guard outfit drilling (campaign hats and wrapped leggings) Matty noticed soldiers with rifles had to march briskly up and down across the streaming tarmac while, in the shade, the musicians sat leisurely blowing "Too Much Mustard".
Sedentary occupations have a natural attraction to sensible folks in the catfish country. Shortly thereafter, Matty joined the Boy Scouts and made immediate application for the band. A Professor Simmons assigned the boys instruments by a process that might be called the "bite" system. Those with strong teeth and jutting jaws were assigned horns. A slightly receding chin qualified the applicant for the reeds. Anyone who would not fit readily into the Professor's dental categories was assigned to percussion. Matty made the reeds.
In the Scouts Matty learned the Albert clarinet system, and later in the National Guard the Boehm System, all under the guidance of Professor Simmons.
The delivery boy at the local drug store, Joycie, had a "C" Melody sax. Joycie could manage "The Sheik" on the instrument but not much else. During those periods when the neighbors demonstrated a strong resistance to Joycie's limited repertoire, Matty was able to borrow the saxophone, and with Professor Simmon's help, he learned to play it.
Matty's father was a stonecutter, and itinerant journeyman who openly boasted he never paid a railroad fare in his life. This was a sizable accomplishment since Mr. Matlock, Sr. tired quickly of any one location. Her would be gone from home for years at a time. Until he was an adequately accomplished sideman, Matty held part time jobs selling hot tamales, delivering papers and sundries, and he was thirteen when he got his first "gig". He doubled clarinet and "C" melody at a hotel in Red Boiling Springs, a spa near Nashville, and significantly lasted only one night. Matty unfortunately could not be clearly seen behind the saxophone. the manager claimed he was entitled to five visible musicians; Matty was swapped for a bigger man.
"Casuals" of all kinds: dances, socials, rallied, park concerts began to come in regularly. Matty was able to spend all his spare time with sic. He taught himself basic orchestration by writing down all the parts on Ted Lewis records. Banjo music at that time was noted on the clefs, symbols came later. Matty found he had ready made exams in analyzing banjo parts.
In 1923 Matty began playing regularly with a five piece group, The Blue Melody Boys. He graduated to a slightly larger outfit, the Tennessee Ramblers which, Matty claims had the most impressive band picture ever taken. For the portrait the Ramblers we to O.K. Houck's Music Store and posed with the greatest number of instruments ever displayed with a band of its size. Matty alone was framed in a jungle of reeds: saxophones, oboes, clarinets, english horns.
It was an impressive implication of doubling, tripling, and quadrupling. Possibly the Ramblers couldn't live up to their 8x10 glossies. They split, and Matty joined Beasley Smith at the Andrew Jackson Hotel (400 rooms - 400 baths) in Nashville. It was 1925. Smith had a real "jazz" band, not a "sissy" band. Ray MacKinley came in from Texas with eight feet of drums and the biggest wad of active chewing gum Matty had ever seen. Beasley's boys openly boasted that it took Ray four hours to set up. Featuring MacKinley hammering out "Heebie Jeebies" on his tuned tom-toms Beasley Smith played the W.S. Butterfield Circuit as the staring attraction of a "Syncopation Show".
In 1928 Matty married, moved to Tracey Brown's Orchestra, later joined Jimmie Joy and, after eight months returned to Beasley Smith.
In New York meanwhile, Benny Goodman had decided to quit Ben Pollock. Word had gotten around that there was a boy with Beasley Smith who blew real good, and Pollock dispatched Jack Teagarden and Ray Bauduc to Pittsburgh to hear Matty. Teagarden staked himself out in a sample room of the Fort Pitt Hotel. Matty went to meet him. With six other musicians they sat passing a coronet around; everyone blew some, passed the born, talked and blew again - all night long. Teagarden and Baauduc returned to New York without ever hearing Matty on clarinet. Their official report to Pollock was terse. "Guy's great." And Matty got Benny Goodman's chair with eh Pollock band.
In 1934 Benn Pollock disbanded. Gil Rodin, Eddie Miller, Yank Lawson, Nappy Lamare, Ray Bauduc, Charlie Spivak, Gil Bowers and Matty left for New York to join Jack Teagarden. It was a move Teagarden had been carefully planning for some years. Unfortunately, though, Jack had no mind for details; he had overlooked the fact that he had a five year contract with Paul Whiteman.
The stranded group decided to form a cooperative similar to Casa Loma and the Rockwell-O'Keefe Agency suggested one of three personalities to front the new band: Goldie Goldmark, Johnny "Scat" Davis and Bob Crosby. The boys picked Crosby.
Bob Haggard, bass, joined the group early. Along with the original members he became a participating member of the cooperative, with Gil Rodin acting as manager. Gil Bowers quite; Joe Sullivan and later Bob Zurke became identified as pianists with the band.
For eight years Bob Crosby and Bobcats, consistently loyal to a unique, free swinging style, remained among the top few musical organizations along with such attractions as Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw and the Dorseys.
Matty and Bob Haggart, through the years, mad the major contributions to the unique "book" which came to characterize the Crosby band. Matty arranged "Boogie Woogie Maxixe", "Little Rock Getaway", "Honky Tonk Train", "Dixieland Shuffle", "Tea for Two" among many others.
By 1942 most of the original Crosby sidemen were sitting in with the armed services. With gas rationing and travel priorities, moving a band around the country was almost impossible and the cooperative was dissolved.
Matty came to California where he's been ever since: playing and arranging for Paul Weston, John Scott Trotter, Phil Harris, Johnny Mercer, Connie Haines, Peggy Lee, The Lancers, Frank Sinatra, and Bob Crosby. He arranged for and helped Jack Webb organize the "Pete Kelly" group.
Matty lives quietly with his family in San Fernando Valley. He still holds the young enthusiasm for ajar that he had when climbed behind the "C" Melody sax on the bandstand at Red Boiling Springs.
A consistent, almost obsessive belief in craftsmanship, tone and technique, qualify Matty's work on clarinet. His arrangements bear the impairing of a sentence he and Bob Haggard always employed to criticize each other's work, "Phrase it stingy - like Louie!"
Here's Matty on clarinet in the movie Pete Kelly's Blues (1955)
Here's another old film featuing Matty