The Maddox Brothers & Rose – I Wish I Was A Single Girl Again

5th January 2022 · 1940s, 1948, Country, Music

I first heard Rose Maddox when my friend Steve England made a tape of old-time music – bluegrass, country, western swing and hillbilly boogie – after starting his club Son of Redneck with Jo Hagan.

This proto-feminist ode to independence, adapted from a 17th-Century English folk song called A Married Woman’s Lament, was the opening track, by The Maddox Brothers & Rose.

Famed for their rocking rhythms, risqué lyrics and spangled Nudie suits, the family group – brothers Cliff, Cal, Fred, Don, Henry and sister Rose – rose from the humblest of beginnings.

The Depression hit when they were still children in Alabama and their sharecropper parents, Charlie and Lula, took the family in search of work in 1933, when Rose was eight, riding the rails and hitch-hiking all the way to California.

They lived as itinerant fruit and vegetable pickers, following the harvest as far north as Washington, and as far east as Arizona, and often worked from dawn to dusk, sleeping and eating on the ground in migrant labour camps.

By the mid-1930s they had scraped together enough to settle in Modesto, California, and the children’s burgeoning musical ability won them spots on the radio, sponsored by a local furniture store, when the precocious Rose was only 11.

In 1939, like a real-life version of The Beverly Hillbillies, the entire family drove in their Ford Model A to entered a hillbilly band competition at the centennial Sacramento State Fair… and won, earning a syndicated radio show on a Sacramento station.

From then on they tore up the honky tonks from the Pacific Northwest to the Gulf Coast with their slap-bass boogie – Fred invented the slap-bass technique, a signature of rockabilly, as early as 1937 – and saucy lyrics poking fun at the conservative conventions of country music.

You often hear the brothers interjecting with chuckles in the background to emphasise the double meanings in songs like this one (when Rose refers to a mother’s aggravation at having to clean her baby’s… nose) and Little Willie Waltz (“I love Little Willie but don’t you tell Pa”).

Their career was interrupted when three of the brothers fought in World War II but resumed afterwards, the group breaking up only when Rose went solo in 1956, taking brother Cal with her.

The remaining brothers’ new band fell apart without its star attraction and Fred opened a popular nightclub – the Fred Maddox Playhouse – while Rose continued to perform into the late 1980s.

Her playfully risqué approach remained undimmed, especially in Chocolate Ice Cream Cone, with a lyric heavy on innuendo and metaphor at a time of racial segregation. Or not, depending on how innocent you are.

Rose left us in 1998 and the longest-living brother Don was the last to die, at the ripe old age of 98, in September 2021.