Well…the guy ain't that obscure, at least not to C&W comedy fans who bought some of his vinyl in the 60's. Or those who attended Willie Nelson shows in the 80's. I can't say he was a favorite of mine, despite the great Homer & Jethro name-dropping him now and then. I've played some of those drunk-dopey Ben Colder novelty parodies a lot more, but the guy is being missed by some Red State folk around now. Why not pay respects? Whether you'll respect any of the "best of" in the download below, tain't my concern, at least it's yore education. If you do get a kick out of a certain type of rural character (a Festus, Floyd the Barber, or some other resident of Mayberry, Hooterville or Dodge City) you might be smiling at wiseguy Don's attitude-based humor.
A Southern-area disc jockey both before and after his singing and concert successes, Texas-born Don Bowman (August 26, 1937- June 5, 2013) never seemed to come close to getting mainstream fame. Jim Stafford, hardly a household name either, did push Bowman's song "Wildwood Weed" onto Top 40 radio but few could quote a line of it. Don's only Top 20 single was strictly in the C&W charts. This isn't a knock on Don, it's just reality. And certain types of country comedy, especially character driven (whether Sheb Wooley's "Ben Colder" 45's or Jerry Clower's huge number of stand-up albums) just turn off most everyone who doesn't chaw, watch the Indy 500 or know someone named Ferlin. (If you'd like to know what C&W comedy albums I find mainstream and very funny...try Pat Buttram, or George Lindsay's MCA disc. You can't deny Minnie Pearl had a lotta personality.)
Don definitely had his chances. First off, he was on RCA (along with Homer and Jethro) and was even Grammy-nominated in 1967. His resume did have "Top 20 single" on it via "Chit Atkins, Make Me A Star" (1964). He even starred in a pair of cheap movies that could've gotten him a sitcom or something ("The Las Vegas Hillbillys" and "Hillbillys in a Haunted House" 1966-67). "Haunted House" is a cult item on DVD thanks to hapless roles for fading horror stars John Carradine, Lon Chaney Jr. and Basil Rathbone. Remember, this was a time when "Green Acres" was a popular show for everyone, and even Homer & Jethro got TV commercials. But as the 60's ended, so did Don's RCA deal. He became more of a journeyman doing comedy and opening for singers on the country circuit. Which was good enough, really.
He just wasn't very funny by mainstream standards. Listen to "Hello D.J." and if you're not a C&W fan recognizing a particular type of local cuss, you'll have a hard time smiling. It's just aimless music with a nasty, almost bitchy-gay Southerner grumbling on the phone to a radio station because his single "ain't been played yet, now play the son of a bitch..." Maybe that same script drawled by Redd Foxx or Moms Mabley would also fail to get laughs if the listener didn't get the character and love the voice. Recognition humor can be right tricky. Don wasn't so familiar to Top 40 America that a rant like this would yield chuckles instead of "who's THAT guy and what's his problem?."
Unlike the Ben Colder singles, which threw in some corny jokes you might guffaw at in spite of yourself, there's not a single funny line in "Hello D.J." The formula was set with "Chit Atkins Make me a Star," which also has no jokes in it. It's Don as a dopey drawling hayseed screwing up on guitar in front of C&W's genius producer (at RCA) Chet Atkins. Most comedy fans will be scratching their heads now as they were then, wondering how Bowman even had a hit with this. Which may not be what an obit should be saying, but it's part of being honest. And Bowman fans shouldn't be offended because comedy is in the ear of the be-hearer anyways. Comedy often depends heavily on getting the references or loving the personality of the performer.
Frankly, non-comedy singers George Jones ("White Lightning") and Roger Miller ("Dang Me") demonstrated more natural comedy ability on their hits than Bowman. Given funny lyrics by Shel Silverstein, Johnny Cash showed great comic phrasing too ("Boy Named Sue"). Bowman's voice is, oddly enough, a bit creepy, like a Southern version of Kenneth Williams' Rambling Syd Rumpo. It's deep, nasal and if you're not on his wavelength, grating.
Slightly more accessible is "The Other Ringo," Don's kick in the shins to Ringo Starr by way of Lorne Greene's non-Beatles "Ringo" song. There's also "Tom Dooley," from his skewering "Folk Flops" concept album. At the time, good ol' boys shore hated urban folk singers for their uppity elevation of down-home music into coffee-house chic. "Tom Dooley" has no jokes. It's all attitude: "ya oughta hang down your hay-yed…if you did wutt I'm beginnin' to think ya did. Dooley Baby, mah boy, mah boy…." Not many comics made concept albums. After a whole album of "Folk Flops" Don made a disc poking fun at the fad for Herb Alpert via "From Mexico with Laughs." Gotta admit, Don's drawling about marijuana on the cut "Mexican Weed" was slightly ahead of its time, Did anyone think Herb Alpert was on pot? Anyone know what pot was when "Spanish Flea" was on the radio?? And lastly, there's "Coward at the Alamo," one of those non-PC novelties making fun of homos. But it's no "Mister Custer," because Don's coward doesn't have the cartoony voice of a Larry Verne (or a Ray Stevens) which could instantly put a smile on your face just on sound alone.
In the 70's, no longer on RCA (his record labels degenerated from Mega to Lone Star to Lard Bucket) Bowman had better luck as a radio host via the"American Country Countdown" show. He was Willie Nelson's opening act from 1981 through 1986 and after that turned up at various Southern radio stations amusing listeners with his ad-libs and personality. While he ended up in a nursing home, somebody from his family had a website up in his honor, listing his many C&W achievements, and he did have a career with a lot of credits, and he's made a lot of people smile, and he still will, even if his voice isn't Chill Wills'. YOUR DOWNLOAD is a half dozen Dons…
Chit Atkins Make me a Star (Our Man in Trouble)
Coward at the Alamo (Fresh From the Funny Farm)
Hello DJ (On the Road too Long)
The Other Ringo (Funny Way to Make an Album)
Tom Dooley Baby (Funny Folk Flops)
Mexican Weed (From Mexico with Laughs)
A Half Dozen Dons The Best of Bowman