A foremost figure of Texas ragtime, Euday L. Bowman is best known as the composer of one of the most widely performed rags in history: “12th Street Rag”. Yet despite his renown as a composer, Bowman life and times have proved remarkable illusive, and much of the information regarding his life is of questionable accuracy. This article will attempt to regurgitate only the legitimate facts, but I cannot indubitably guarantee their veracity.Euday Louis Bowman was born on November 9, 1886 (according to early documents, though some sources suggest 1887 instead), near Fort Worth in Tarrant County, Texas, and was raised in the vicinity of Webb, which has since been engulfed by the city of Arlington. His family was prominent in the area’s history, and the town of Webb was originally named Bowman Springs after some of his ancestors (a name which lives on in that of a street and a park in Arlington). In his earliest years, he lived with his grandparents, with whom he may have begun his lifelong association with Kansas City by accompanying his grandfather on periodic visits to the Missouri town. Following his parents’ divorce in 1905, Euday moved from the family farm to the big city of Fort Worth, where he lived with his piano teacher sister, Mary, who taught him to play the instrument on which he later wrought acclaim. Around the turn of the century, Bowman began to make a name for himself in the same fashion as many other great ragtime piano men—like Jelly Roll Morton—as an itinerant piano picker in many seedier joints such as those of Fort Worth’s infamous “Hell’s Half Acre”, as well as at private parties and most likely any other sort of venues he could. Meanwhile, he supported himself financially with various labor jobs.
In 1914, Bowman self-published “12th Street Rag”—his first published piece of music—which he claimed to have composed all the way back in 1905, perhaps in a shoeshine parlor off of the Fort Worth street of the same name. In the years immediately following, he subsequently put out “10th Street Rag”, “11th Street Rag”, “Fort Worth Blues”, “Kansas City Blues”, and many other compositions. He set up the Bowman and Ward Music Publishing Company to handle these publications, though it seems to have been somewhat short-lived, as in 1916, he sold “12th Street Rag” for three-hundred dollars to J.W. Jenkins Sons Music Company of Kansas City, and the same firm would later handle many more of his compositions. He traveled frequently to Kansas City to promote his music, and his name name would ultimately become as well associated with there as with Fort Worth (or perhaps, quite wrongly, even more so). He married his first wife in 1920, though the union was not to last, and they were separated within a year.
In the 1920s, Bowman’s work shifted with the public’s changing tastes away from ragtime and toward blues, and though he composed a fair number, he formally published few pieces after 1921. While never much of a recording artist, Bowman made test recordings of “12th Street Rag” for the Starr Piano Company in Richmond, Indiana, on February 2, 1924, and for the American Record Corporation in Dallas on December 8, 1938. Neither of these were commercially issued, though Bowman privately pressed some copies of the former recording in the late 1940s. A 1923 Gennett recording of “12th Street Rag” credited to Richard M. Jones is also believed by some to have actually been Bowman’s hands at the piano. In 1937, he reattained the rights to his now-popular “12th Street Rag” with hopes of recouping the royalties he rightfully deserved, but the paydays were slow to come, and he nonetheless continued to struggle financially for some time.
Always a hit with jazz bands and ensembles and performers of most every other genre, “12th Street Rag” was brought to new heights of fame with trombonist and bandleader Pee Wee Hunt’s Capitol record of the piece, which became one of the largest selling records of 1948. In the wake of that record’s success, Bowman produced a record of his own, featuring a new song on the front, and the famous rag on the back. His first big royalty check from Hunt’s record early in 1949, and things started looking up for Euday, who celebrated with a new car and a new wife. Sadly, these good times were short-lived; his marriage fell apart after only a month, and his health began to deteriorate. Nevertheless, he continued to travel to promote his music and push for his deserved recompense. While away up in New York on one such venture, Bowman contracted pneumonia, and died at the age of sixty-three on May 26, 1949 (exactly sixteen years to the day after the Big Apple claimed the life of Jimmie Rodgers, as it happened).
This custom vanity pressing, emblazoned with a printers’ flower and numbered individually on each side, was ostensibly produced sometime in 1948—the year before Bowman’s death. The exact date and location of recording are unknown, and some sources suggest it may have been recorded as early as the 1920s. Indeed, Bowman did release a 1920s acoustical recording of “12th Street Rag” (apparently the one he recorded for Gennett in 1924) on his personal “Bowman” label around the late 1940s. This disc however, appears by every indication—for example, the presence of a lead-in groove—to be of post-war manufacture. The matrix numbers, engraved by hand (in the master, not the individual pressing) in the runout area, are “A-1839” and “ELB #1” on “No. 1”, and “A-1840” and “ELB #2” on “No. 2”, respectively.
On the side numbered “1”, Bowman plays and sings a raggy twelve bar blues song called “Baby Is You Mad at Me”, drawing heavily on traditional blues “floating lyrics”. Bowman filed the copyright for the song—subtitled “(Mazie Tell Me True)”—on August 8, 1945. Listening to this song, it’s not too hard to imagine how inaccurate rumors were disseminated that Bowman was a light-skinned black.
On “No. 2” Bowman plays his own arrangement—the original and definitive arrangement, that is—of his ubiquitous “12th Street Rag”. Some say it was named in honor of Fort Worth’s 12th Street—which ran directly through the aforementioned “Hell’s Half Acre” red light district—others claim its namesake was the same in Kansas City; I favor the former case (though I may admittedly be biased). Unlike the cornball renditions by the likes of Pee Wee Hunt and many others, in its composer’s hands, the piece shows its true colors as a gritty, hard-driving, yet elegant, Texas beer hall rag, not too unlike the barrelhouse music heard from Seger Ellis or Herve Duerson. If you enlarge the image of the label and look very closely, you will see that it was faintly autographed by Bowman.