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ALLMOND, RUBY NELL

ALLMOND, RUBY NELL (1923–2006). Ruby Allmond, singer, songwriter, and country fiddler named “National Champion Lady Fiddler,” was born on a farm near Bailey, Texas, in southeastern Fannin County on May 2, 1923. She was the youngest child of Arthur M. Allmond, a cotton and corn farmer, and Lou Coke. Her siblings, all musicians, included Delia Mae, James Roy, and Charles Raymond. Allmond’s earliest recorded performance was at the nearby White Rock Church where, at age four, she accompanied herself on the guitar and sang of a “kicking mule.” Her interest in the fiddle also came early, and, borrowing her brother Charles Raymond’s instrument, she began practicing as long as eight hours a day. After graduating Bailey High School in 1940, she played professionally throughout North Texas and Southern Oklahoma, where she developed a distinct fiddling style using the bow as rhythm and “emphasizing harmonies and double notes.”

She formed a band consisting of her brothers and Vayden and Lois Horton and brothers Edsel and Harold Carder. In the late 1940s she appeared in a fiddler’s trio with legends Robert “Georgia Slim” Rutland and Howard “Howdy” Forrester, a mainstay of Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys and later Roy Acuff’s Smoky Mountain Boys. During this period Allmond supplemented her income by farming alongside her father. Since her farmhouse had no phone, she learned her touring schedule by listening to Dallas’s KRLD radio where Rutland and Forrester were regulars on the noontime variety show Cornbread Matinee. The two fiddlers would tell Allmond over the air where the trio was playing that night, one of her brothers would pick her up in a car, and she would ride to the venue.

In 1948, after winning the title “National Champion Lady Fiddler” in a competition at Municipal Auditorium in Greenville, Texas, in 1947, Allmond formed a band called the Texas Jamboree. This group consisted of Guy Bryant, his children Joyce and Emmitt Gene on mandolin and acoustic guitars, and Clay Harvey on the standup bass. Bobby Stewman sang vocals. The band attracted wide attention during the 1950 election and played at campaign rallies for U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Sam Rayburn. Allmond also frequently appeared on Dallas’s pioneering Big D Jamboree, carried nationally by CBS Radio.

In 1956 after briefly managing a grocery store, Allmond took a job at the Bonham State Bank, where she implemented and then supervised the drive-through motor bank until her retirement in 1988. It was during this period, with a steady income that freed her from constant performing, that she developed a serious interest in songwriting.

Allmond, who did not read music, developed an unusual but consistent creative process. During the day, while working at the bank, she thought up one or two songs, creating the words and the music simultaneously in her head. During the evening, after dinner with her widowed father, she walked over to the house of Audra Brock, a neighbor and her closest friend. There, in a small makeshift studio built by Brock and Allmond, the day’s songs were recorded without interruption. Allmond accompanied herself on the guitar; Brock played drums to provide background rhythm. Allmond then revised her songs, and the reel-to-reel taping process was repeated. Over a period of nearly thirty years the two women amassed an extensive library of original works.

A careful wordsmith, Allmond wrote songs with a distinctive flair in the grand Texas storytelling tradition. She frequently used elements of the natural world (“The heat devils dance in Texas,” “Jagged lightning in the tortured sky,” “The cold rain’s walkin’ down the middle of the road”) as poetic metaphors to examine volatile personal relationships, renegade cowboys and misfits, and the small everyday miracles she found around her. Among her titles, all now with Sony/ATV, were “Here’s Your Fool Back Again,” “If You Should See Mary,” “Walk On, Woman,” “Sing the Blues for Me, Baby,” “I Got a Little Time,” “The Sparrow and Me,” “Halfway to Heartache,” and “Texas Red.”

In May 1968 Allmond, at forty-five years old, and Brock struck out for Nashville, Tennessee. Before leaving, Allmond visited with Texas singer/songwriter Cindy Walker, who, impressed by Allmond’s tapes, sent her to Bob Jennings of RCA Music who welcomed them for a demo session. Chet Atkins produced demo sessions for six of Allmond’s songs with some of Nashville’s strongest studio musicians including Dominic Joseph “D. J.” Fontana. Meanwhile Allmond played her fiddle live on a Nashville WSM-TV show hosted by Bobby Lord.

The most successful of Allmond’s songs, “Reno,” produced by Atkins and sung by Dottie West, was a major hit and topped the 1968 Billboard country charts at 19 (U.S.) and 6 (Canada), respectively. Stu Phillips’s 1969 RCA Victor rendition of “Speak Softly, My Love,” supervised by another prominent Nashville producer, William K. “Bill” McElhiney, was a major Canadian, European, and South African hit. Yet another song, “I Mustn’t Pass This Way Again,” was released by Ferlin Husky as a single in 1971 and on his 1972 best-selling album Just Plain Lonely.”

In her later years Allmond performed throughout North Texas and appeared in numerous benefit concerts, encouraging young musicians and displaying her virtuoso fiddle skills. She traveled to Nashville twice a year to renew contracts and royalty agreements. As a rare woman fiddler in a profession dominated by male artists and with her hundreds of public performances, radio and television guest appearances, and songwriting talent, she kept alive the Texas country fiddle tradition. Allmond, who never married, died at age eighty-two from cancer at her home on January 23, 2006. She is buried in Bonham’s Arledge Ridge Cemetery. Before her death she compiled forty-one of her songs into an anthology, consisting of a book of lyrics and two CDs, titled Today I’ll Think About the Rain. It was released posthumously. Another CD, A Little Home Cooking, is a collection of her instrumental songs for fiddle and guitar. Most were composed by Allmond. The Annual Ruby Allmond Songwriting Contest in Bonham is held in her honor.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Ruby Allmond Collection, collection 2009.06, James G. Gee Library Special Collections, Texas A&M University–Commerce. Ruby Allmond, with an Introduction by Audra Brock, Today I’ll Think About the Rain: An Anthology (Austin: Nortex Press, 2006). Tom Geddie, “Meet Fiddler Legend Ruby Allmond,” County Line, July 2009. Jerry Lincecum, “’Today I’ll Think About the Rain’: The Music of Ruby Allmond,” Texoma Living, March 2008.

John Hanners

Citation

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this article.

John Hanners, "ALLMOND, RUBY NELL," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/falbc), accessed December 18, 2014. Uploaded on May 6, 2014. Modified on August 30, 2014. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.