Navarro County is located in north central Texas. The landscape is generally level with gently rolling black land prairies and has some woodland areas of oak, hickory and pine. The soil is black loam with a mixture of some sand and is very rich, making agriculture more conducive than rasing cattle. Grasses are tall, primarily buffalo grass and Texas grama, and trees along the streams include oak, elm, pecan, bois d'arc, and mesquite. The main crops grown are cotton, corn, sorghum, tobacco, peaches, sweet potatoes, and pecans.
Life for early settlers was dangerous but the people proved tenacious, working the land under a unrelenting sun and unpredictable weather. The people were tough, living sparingly, and were familiar with hard times, but they didn’t complain. When all was said and done, and at the end of the day they had family and they knew how to have fun. Music was a big part of that fun. Two men of this area were influential in the evolution of Country Music, Tom Perryman and Lefty Frizzell.
Rural Shade is a farming community south of Kerens, Texas in southeastern Navarro County, it was first settled in 1850 by Hugh and Washington Ingram. A post office was established there in 1858. Around 1870 James Ingram, one of Hugh's sons, built the first steam-powered gristmill in the area. By 1885 Rural Shade consisted of a blacksmith shop, a sawmill, three gristmills, three general stores, four cotton gins, and an estimated population of seventy-five. Two schools were in operation by 1906, with a total enrollment of 145. During the 1930s Rural Shade included a school, two churches, and five or six stores. After World War II its school was consolidated with the Kerens school, and the stores closed. By the mid-1960s only a church and a number of scattered houses remained. In 1990 Rural Shade was a dispersed rural community. The population was thirty in 2000.
“In 1933 we moved to the farm in Rural Shade,” says Tom Perryman legendary Country Music DJ. “I grew up out there. . .we’d get together weekends with our buddies over there and we’d take off, We’d run the woods.” Tom goes on,”We’d try anything. The best tasting things in the spring was them wild dewberries, not blackberries, but they’s dewberries.”
Tom Perryman was instrumental in the evolution of Country Music, elevating it from the origins of Hillbilly Music to Country and Western and to what is now referred to Country Music. He is an inductee of the Country Music DJ Hall of Fame, the East Texas Country Music Hall of Fame, and has received numerous awards in Country Music. While working with the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tom was on the founding board of the Country Music DJ Association which would become the Country Music Association, more commonly known as the CMA. Tom would return to his home state of Texas and partnered with Jim Reeves owning and running radio stations. Tom was DJ at Gladewater's KSIJ radio and In his career Tom would be instrumental in the establishment of many, many musical careers, including but definitely not limited to, Elvis Presley, Jim Reeves, and Johnny Cash.
Tom has said that he has done nothing but “pick cotton and pick records.” Country values were instilled in Tom early and have always remained important. Tom’s homespun humor came from his upbringing in Rural Shade, Texas. He tells of the early days of Gregg County’s honky tonks and beer joints, which were called “gun and knife” clubs, “they would stop you at the door and ask if you had a gun or knife on you, if you said no they would ask ‘do you wanted one’.” Asked about contemporary Country Music he describes it as “7-11 music, seven words repeated eleven times.” Tom used a lot of the old funny sayings he had learned from country living. “I used a lot of that dialog of what was then my personality, cornball, hillbilly disc jockey,”says Tom.
Oil was discovered in Navarro county in 1894. The Corsicana oil field was accidentally discovered in 1894 by water prospectors hired by the Corsicana Water Development authority. In the 1890's Corsicana businessmen saw the potential of industrial development of the town. Hoping to attract manufacturers to supplement the areas agriculture business the men hired a drilling firm to drill three artesian water wells. To their annoyance the first well hit oil instead of water. The discovery of oil inspired some to invest in the exploration for oil. Although the first oil well in Texas was drilled in Nacogdoches County in 1866 it was the Corsicana Field that would be Texas’ first commercially viable oil field. The production of oil became so great in the Corsicana field that it prompted the mayor of the town to invite Joseph Stephen Cullinan, a oil industrialist from Pennsylvania, to advise them on the development of the oil production facilities here. Cullinan built the first oil refinery in Texas in the Corsicana oil field. In 1897, Cullinan founded The Texas Company, which would eventually be known as Texaco Incorporated.
The real boom for Navarro County came in 1923 with the development of the Powell field. The Powell field was larger and more productive than the Corsicana field.
Tuckertown was an oil-boom town located in the Powell oil field. Tuckertown was six miles southeast of Corsicana and just down the road from Rural Shade. It sprang up almost overnight, and that is no exaggeration. Within two months of the first lot sold, the population had mushroomed to 3,000 and in another month Tuckertown was a little city of 6,000. By the end of 1930 Tuckertown had dwindled to two stores and a number of scattered houses; its estimated population in 1940 was twenty. After World War II even more of the residents moved away, and by the mid-1960s Tuckertown ceased to exist. It could not even be called a a Ghost town and was no longer shown on highway maps.
Lefty Frizzell was born in the oil camp town of Tuckertown on March 31, 1928. Formally named William Orville Frizzell, called Sonny by family and Lefty by friends Lefty Frizzell helped influence Country Music from the singer/songwriter vantage point. Lefty and country music legend Hank Williams traveled together in the early 50's. Neither much cared for the name “Hillbilly Music,” as Country Music was called back then. Lefty was born in the oilfields of East Texas and Hank was born on a peanut farm in Alabama. Neither had much in common with the Appalachian hills and its music, but both were familiar with the hard working, hard drinking life of the rural working man. Hank and Lefty sang songs telling the working man’s disquieted story of hardships, honky tonks, and unfulfilled love. Their music would become known as “Honky Tonk” and would change the tone of “Hillbilly Music.”
In 1951, Lefty owned the charts with the release of "I Want To Be With You Always" (#7), "Always Late (With Your Kisses)" (#1), "Mom And Dad's Waltz" (#2), and "Travelin Blues" (#8). Frizzell held the number one spot for 26 weeks. Having 4 songs in the top 10 at the same time, is a feat that has never been duplicated to this day!
Tom and Lefty would cross paths in Gregg County in the ‘50s. Tom as a disc jocky at Gladewater’s KSIJ radio station and Lefty at, what was intended as home base, the Reo Palm Isle in Longview. Both would continue to make their mark on Country Music and change it for the better.