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Tex Williams Biography

Last updated: 10/17/2011 12:00:00 PM

Real name: Sollie Paul Williams

1917 - 1985

Sol 'Tex' Williams was born in Ramsey, Illinois. In the 1940s, 'western swing' music was at its peak, and among the more popular performers were Bob Wills and Spade Cooley. Tex Williams was the lead vocalist and guitar player with Cooley's band, and he and several of the members left to form an outfit called 'Tex Williams and the Western Caravan' around 1946. Their biggest hit, "Smoke! Smoke! Smoke (That Cigarette)" came out a couple years later. "Smoke" was written by Merle Travis for Williams, and was Capitol Records first million seller.

Earlier, Williams had done some tunes in a couple of sagebrush yarns --- as a member of 'The Big Slicker Quartet' and lead singer in Buster Crabbe's DEVIL RIDERS (PRC, 1943) and an unbilled singer in The Texas Rangers' FIGHTING VALLEY (PRC, 1943).

Universal cancelled the Johnny Mack Brown B westerns in the early 1940s. They tried a few more oater series starring the likes of Rod Cameron and Kirby Grant, but Universal lost interest in doing cowboy films and opted to phase themselves out of the B western programmer. In 1949, Universal, then calling itself Universal-International, began a series of musical featurettes (shorts) starring Tex Williams, along with Deuce Spriggins and Smokey Rogers.

As expected, the musical portions were all new. But most of the action was from stock footage: when Williams rode a palomino, Universal used material from their Johnny Mack Brown films; when Williams rode a paint, Universal added liberal doses of action culled from the 1937-1939 Bob Baker adventures.

Pure guess on my part, but the studio may have felt that the Williams shorts would lure western swing fans to theaters in the South and West. Secondly, TV had arrived, and perhaps Universal was beginning to feel the impact at the box office.

The Williams musical featurettes weren't the first of their kind. Ray Whitley sang his way through eighteen shorts at RKO which were released from 1938-1942 --- these were churned out while Whitley was at RKO doing sidekick duties with George O'Brien and Tim Holt.

By 1951, and after less than a dozen shorts were released, Universal dropped the series. Les Adams notes that Universal-International also took most of the Williams musical featurettes, pasted two of them together, and sent them back out again as features titled TALES OF THE WEST (Numbers 1-2-3-4).

The "Smoke! Smoke! Smoke" singer passed away from lung cancer at his home in Newhall, California on October 11, 1985.

Williams' impact as a cinema range hero was of minor importance, as he rode across the screen in the waning days of the B oater. However, Tex had a good voice, and if he had made films a dozen years earlier, he might have developed into a popular singin' cowboy.

Received an e-mail in 2001 that a relative of Tex was planning a Tex Williams Museum in Ramsey, Illinois --- on the next webpage, there's info on Hugh Craig of Ramsey, Illinois and the museum.