Ernest Dale Tubb (February 9, 1914 – September 6, 1984), nicknamed the "Texas Troubadour", was an American singer and songwriter and one of the pioneers of country music. His biggest career hit song "Walking the Floor Over You" (1941) marked the rise of the honky-tonk style of music. In 1948-49, he was the first singer to record a hit version of "Blue Christmas," a song more commonly associated with Elvis Presley and his mid-1950s version. Another well-known Tubb hit is "Waltz Across Texas" (1965), which became one of his most requested songs and is often used in dance halls throughout Texas during waltz lessons. In the early 1960s, he recorded duets with then-newbie Loretta Lynn, including their hit "Sweet Thang".
Tubb was born on a cotton farm near Crisp, Texas (now a ghost town in Ellis County, Texas). His father was a sharecropper, so Tubb spent his youth working on farms throughout the state. He was inspired by Jimmie Rodgers and spent his spare time learning to sing, yodel, and play the guitar. At the age of nineteen, he took a job as a singer on a San Antonio radio station. The pay was low, so Tubb also dug ditches for the Works Progress Administration and then clerked at a drug store. In 1939 he moved to San Angelo, Texas and was hired to do a 15 minute afternoon live show on radio station KGKL. He drove a beer delivery truck in order to support himself during this time. During World War II he wrote and recorded a song titled "Beautiful San Angelo".
In 1936, Tubb contacted Jimmie Rodgers’s widow (Rodgers died in 1933) to ask for an autographed photo. A friendship developed and she was instrumental in getting Tubb a recording contract with RCA. His first two records were unsuccessful. A tonsillectomy in 1939 affected his singing style, so he turned to songwriting. In 1940, he switched to Decca records to try singing again and it was his sixth Decca release with the single "Walking the Floor Over You" that brought Tubb to stardom.
Tubb joined the Grand Ole Opry in February, 1943 and put together his band, the "Texas Troubadours." He remained a regular on the radio show for four decades, and hosted the Midnight Jamboree after it. In 1947, Tubb headlined the first Grand Ole Opry show presented in Carnegie Hall in New York City. In 1965, he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and in 1970, Tubb was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame.
Tubb always surrounded himself with some of Nashville's best musicians. Jimmy Short, his first guitarist in the Troubadours, is credited with the Tubb sound of one-string guitar picking. From about 1943 to 1948, Short featured clean, clear riffs throughout Tubb's songs. Other well-known musicians to either travel with Tubb as band members or record on his records were Jerry Byrd, the phenomenal steel guitarist; Tommy "Butterball" Paige, who replaced Short as Tubb's lead guitarist in 1947. In 1949, Billy Byrd, the quintessential Tubb guitarist, joined the Troubadours, and brought jazzy riffs to the instrumental interludes, especially the four-note riff at the end of his solos that would become synonymous with Tubb's songs. Actually a jazz musician, Byrd--no relation to Jerry--remained with Tubb until 1959.
Another Tubb musician was actually his producer, Owen Bradley, who is honored with a statue of his likeness in front of one of Nashville's recording studios. Bradley played piano on many of Tubb's recordings from the 1950s, but Tubb wanted him to sound like Moon Mullican, the honky-tonk piano great of that era. The classically trained Bradley tried, but couldn't quite match the sound, so Tubb said Bradley was "half as good" as Moon. Therefore, when Tubb called out Bradley's name at the start of one of the piano interludes, the singer always referred to him as "Half-Moon Bradley."
In the 1960s, Tubb was well known for having one of the best bands in country music history. The band included lightning-fingered Leon Rhodes, who later appeared on TV's Hee Haw as the guitarist in the show's band. Buddy Emmons, another steel guitar virtuoso, began with Tubb in about 1958 and lasted through the early 1960s. Emmons went on to create a steel-guitar manufacturing company that bears his name.
Ernest Tubb never possessed the best voice. In fact, he missed some notes horribly on some recordings. When Tubb was recording "You Don't Have to Be a Baby to Cry" in 1949 and tried to hit a low note, Red Foley, his duet partner at the time, was sitting in the booth when somebody asked, "I bet you wish you could hit that low note." Foley replied, "I bet Ernest wishes he could hit that low note."
Tubb actually mocked his own singing. He told an interviewer that 95% of the men in bars would hear his music on the juke box and reply to their girlfriends, "I can sing better than him," and Tubb added that they would be right.
But Tubb inspired one of the most devoted fan bases of any country artist – and his fans followed him throughout his career even until the 1970s when Tubb could only croak his songs and his band was probably the least talented bunch of Troubadours. However, Tubb would "bring the house down" every time he broke into "Waltz Across Texas" or another favorite.
Ernest Tubb died of emphysema at Baptist Hospital in Nashville, Tennessee. He is buried in Nashville's Hermitage Memorial Gardens. Modern fans may know Tubb primarily for the Ernest Tubb Record Shop in Nashville, which opened in May 1947. There is also an Ernest Tubb Record Shop in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Both places have been meeting places for country music stars and fans for decades.
One of his sons, the late Justin Tubb, made a minor splash on the country music scene in the 1950s and roomed with a young, up-and-coming songwriter named Roger Miller in the late 1950s.
Tubb ranked #21 in CMT's 40 Greatest Men of Country Music in 2003.