Though once a widely known and popular personality on radio stations around St. Louis, with a brief recording career that produced only eight discs, cowboy singer Roy Shaffer since drifted into near total obscurity; in fact, the article hereafter appears to be the only substantial biography of him ever published.
Roy was born Jesse Lee Shaffer on December 6, 1906, one of several children of Luther and Anna Shaffer of Mathiston, Mississippi. After growing up on the farm, he left home to pursue the life of a singing cowboy. According to one account, he got his start in the famous 101 Ranch Wild West Show, and made his debut appearance on the radio in 1926. By the middle of the 1930s, he was living in New Orleans and appearing on WWL, billed as the “Lone Star Cowboy” (making him one of quite a few, including native Texan Leon Chappelear, to adopt that sobriquet), an engagement which purportedly brought him as many as 7,462 fan letters in one day. He also reportedly claimed, at various times, the pseudonyms of the “Rambling Yodeler” ,”Tennessee Kid”, “Mississippi Tadpole”, “Louisiana Bullfrog”, and “Reckless Red”. During that stint, M.M. Cole of Chicago published a book of his songs, and he made his first phonograph records, cutting four sides for Decca in their field trip to New Orleans in 1936. Also around that time, he married Cajun girl Edith Falcon, who would later join in in the act, billed as “Eddie Shaffer”. He returned to the studio once more in 1939 to record a further twelve songs, this time for RCA Victor’s Bluebird label, in Chicago. These included a rendition of the classic cowboy song “Bury Me Out on the Prairie”, the popular “Great Speckled Bird”, and covers Chris Bouchillon’s “Talking Blues” and Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “Match Box Blues”. Those two sessions accounted for the entirety of Shaffer’s known commercial recording work, but his greatest success was evidently found on the radio; in 1939, Rural Radio magazine reported that Shaffer had appeared on fifty-nine radio stations, “both the smallest and the largest,” though he was reported as “off-the-air” and living in Istrouma, Louisiana, in 1938. By 1940, he was in St. Louis, where he remained for the majority of his career, and employed by the Carson-Union-May-Stern furniture store to appear on their radio programs on several different local stations. He made appearances on WEW from 1939 into ’41 with his “Hillbillies”, after which he began appearing on KWK with his “Gang”, a gig he still held in the middle-to-late part of the decade; he was also on KSD in 1942 with his “Missouri Ramblers”. By the early 1950s, he was on KWRE in Warrenton, Missouri. He also made off-air appearances, attending and participating in rodeos and giving live programs for his fans, often at events put on by Carson’s Furniture Store. In the 1950s, he owned and operated a “hillbilly park” in Mexico, Missouri. He was still active on the radio in St. Louis as late as 1956. Roy Shaffer died in March of 1974 in Greenville, Mississippi, at the age of sixty-eight. Several of Shaffer’s recordings were later reissued on BMG’s East Virginia Blues: The Secret History of Rock and Roll and JSP Records’ Classic Field Recordings: Landmark Country Sessions from a Lost Era, but those have done little to rise the artist up and out from the depths of obscurity.
Montgomery Ward M-8493 was recorded on June 26, 1939, at RCA Victor’s Studio C in Chicago, Illinois by Roy Shaffer, singing with guitar. It was also released on Bluebird B-8234.
In his casual delivery of Chris Bouchillon’s seminal “Talking Blues”, Shaffer oozes southern charm like hot butter through sourdough toast. “If you want to go to heaven, let me tell you how to do it; just grease yourself in a little mutton suet…”
Flip the record over and he gets low-down on his arrangement of Blind Lemon Jefferson’s classic Texas folk blues standard “The Match Box Blues”—one of my personal favorites.
Roy Shaffer was my great uncle, my grandmother’s half brother. He has been an inspiration to my own music. Through the years I’ve been able to collect all his records and his songbook. If ever you’d like more info on Roy’s early background and personal family life, feel free to contact me at my email.
I came across a picture of Roy Shaffer today. It is signed by him. I thought it was pretty cool.
Thanks so much for sharing. Spent a lot of time with Uncle Roy. His first wife, Aunt Eddie was a beauty! When we saw them in St Louis they had a full band with electric guitars and owed the building that housed their club. At one time I had a great picture of them all decked out in their performing clothes. I need to look for it. When Roy died I was asked by his landlord to clean out his room. There was nothing of value or even worth keeping. So sad! I have a scratchy 45 of Uncle OT Shaffer singing Old Blue. Fond memories of my Mom’s brothers!