Not everyone can say they had a Daddy named Cowboy Pinkeye, but I can! My beloved father went by that moniker on KYAK and KIMA Radio, way back in the 1950’s. He was known for making personal appearances throughout the Yakima area, where he spun 40’s/50’s-era C&W records, and talked his crazy, exaggerated cowboy talk. I was lucky enough to accompany him on these remote broadcasts on several occasions. Very lucky.
Dad became a radio cowboy in Seattle, in the late 40’s, where he was a member of the on-air staff of KXA Radio. It seems the station owner ordered his number-one disk jockey, Earl F. Reilly, to start spinning what was then called Country & Western music. And he was ordered to get all of the broadcasting crew to fall in line with this. Well, Earl and the guys loathed C&W. They had cut their teeth on big band jazz, and they were in no mood to make the switch. So Earl and company hatched a plot. They formed an outfit called “Spike Hogan and his Friendly Trail Gang”. They dressed up like movie cowboys, spoke in grossly exaggerated cowboy accents, and played the funniest, wackiest country and cowboy records they could find, making fun of the artists and the genre, to the maximum. They figured that, after a few days of seeing KXA’s ratings plummet, station management would relent and let the guys go back to programming the jazz and popular music they loved. Instead, Spike and the Gang were an instant hit! The station was flooded with calls and letters, asking for more, more! So, my dad became well-known as Cowboy Pinkeye, after putting so many years in, trying to be taken seriously as a sophisticated jazz announcer. Of course, thanks to their success, pay raises followed, which made it that much easier to let the craziness go on.
For reasons known only to Dad (and he resides in that great broadcast booth in the sky, so I can’t ask him) he decided to move our little family to Yakima. He soon secured a job at KYAK Radio, where he again rolled out his Cowboy Pinkeye character. He became well-known around town. KYAK began sending him out into the community to do remote broadcasts. He brought his oversized cowboy hat, boots and chaps, turntable and microphone to events such as supermarket grand openings, civic celebrations and the like. And as soon as we were big enough, he brought my brother, Al III and me along. (Mama “Jeannie” stayed home, happy to enjoy a little alone time!) We became known as “Cowboy Pinkeye and his Two Little Cowboys”. Being little hams, we happily tagged along and appeared at several shindigs with Daddy. Al III and I didn’t actually sing or dance or anything. Dad would say, “Well, howdy-do everybody, this is your old Cowboy Pinkeye, with his Two Little Cowboys. Say howdy, boys!” Al III and I would exclaim, ‘Howdy, partners!” Then, we would either relax on the podium, and watch Daddy in awe, as he worked his magic, or we would jump down and go schmooze with everyone. Dad would spin his silly cowboy tunes, Spike Jones records and Homer and Jethro ditties, while we had a fine time visiting with the good folks of Yakima. –You know, it’s not hard for me to guess why I grew up to become a Country singer, first performing at Yakima’s Mayfair Tavern in 1971, where I was a member and later leader, of the house band.
Getting back to the Cowboy Pinkeye story, I even remember appearing at a store in downtown Yakima, where they sold baby alligators. — Live baby alligators for sale on Yakima Avenue. I remember this!
It was right around this time, the mid-50’s, that our Grandpa, Al Bowles, Sr., plopped my brother and me down on Gene Autry’s lap, in his suite at The Davenport Hotel in Spokane, where we had a wonderful visit with Mr. Autry and Gail Davis, the beautiful actress who played Annie Oakley on TV. (Grandpa started the Spokane Rodeo, and Gene and “Annie” were his guest stars.) My brother and I knew that Gene was a real cowboy, and that Daddy was just pretending. 🙂
Here is a photo of Grandpa Bowles, riding his parade horse, Champion (same name as Gene’s horse) in a Spokane, Washington parade:
Sometime around 1955, a large, painted caricature of Dad, accompanied by the name, “Pinkeye”, was installed on the roof of a Yakima used car dealership. I can’t for the life of me recall whether the sign was atop Horse Trader Harry’s car lot, or that of his brother, Prospector Henry. Apparently, Dad, or one of the stations he was affiliated with, had a deal with the car salesman. The sign was up there for years. Long after Dad gave up being Cowboy Pinkeye, we would drive by the auto dealership and see his cartoonish countenance, smiling down from the roof. I know the sign was there into the mid-late 60’s, if not longer. My, oh, my: would I not love to find that sign! Why, I’d give a thousand dollars for it.
Well, Dad eventually moved to KLOQ Radio, which played the Top-40 Hit Parade of the day, and he left Cowboy Pinkeye behind. He spun records like Robert Mitchum’s “Thunder Road”, while Al and I sat on the station floor, watching, listening and learning. I practically grew up on KLOQ’s floor.
In circa 1962, Dad was persuaded to move over to KUTI Radio. KUTI management liked my Dad’s smooth radio voice. They approached him with a deal. They were programming rock n’ roll, and had been for some time; but they noticed a new format was doing well in larger markets, called “Just Beautiful Music”. They asked Dad to come aboard and help make the format switch. The catch was, he would have to play rock records for a couple of weeks, before the switch happened. That’s how my Pop happened to find himself in the position of preaching the Gospel on Sundays (Oh! I forgot to tell you: Daddy was a preacher too.) Yep, that’s how Dad happened to come to preach the Gospel on Sundays and play Chuck Berry records on week nights, on KUTI. I remember sitting on our front lawn on Cascade Drive, with Bill Beeson, listening to Dad intone, “This is Russ Doyle, and you’re listening to K-U-T-I. Now here’s Chuck Berry doing his classic, “Maybelline”. — Yep, they let Dad use the radio name of Russ Doyle for two weeks, as he surely didn’t want his congregation to know he was playing the devil’s music on KUTI! As soon as the station switched over to the easy listening format, Dad went back to being “Al Bowles, your host for this evening’s beautiful music”.
The station was inundated with postcards from incensed young people, who heart-wrenchingly complained about the loss of their rock n’ roll. At the time, I was barely into my teens, and my Dad could do no wrong in my eyes. I thought the post cards were funny. But you know what? Looking back, had I been in their shoes, I would have written-in to KUTI, and my card would have said, “I want my rock ‘n roll”!
To learn more about Pacific Northwest Radio history, see the following books, which include stories and photos of Cowboy Pinkeye: “Puget Sounds”, written by David Blair Richardson; and “According To Earl”, written by the man himself, Spike Hogan, aka Earl F. Reilly, Jr.
For stories re: my joining/leading Yakima’s Mayfair Tavern house band, please see: http://psychedelicbaby.blogspot.com/2014/08/when-yakima-washingtons-velvet.html