It all took place in a quiet corner of east Texas nearly 50 years ago. The location is the Trail '80' Courts, a motel in Mineola, a railroad hamlet about 90 miles east of Dallas. There's a train in the night and the sagebrush is tumbling across the dirt track courtyard. Inside, a bunch of good ole boys have gathered for a songwriters' jam session convened by the motel's owner Jack Rhodes, the man they look to for inspiration and guidance. A guitarist in small local country outfits, Rhodes didn't take up songwriting in earnest until the early 1950s by which time he was in his mid-forties. One or two of his songs got recorded and pretty soon he was on his way. A tie-up with a song publisher affiliated to Capitol Records opened up new vistas and in 1955 two of Rhodes' songs, Beautiful Lies and A Satisfied Mind, became major country hits with the latter attaining standard" status, as did another of his songs Silver Threads And Golden Needles popularised by the Springfields."
Poorly educated but streetwise, Rhodes worked as a casual labourer for most of his early life until a serious back injury confined him to bed for months on end. He bought a guitar and worked out his first chord shapes. He wasn't far short of his fortieth birthday and had a lot of catching up to do. Jack had a role model within the family for this change of direction - his step-brother Leon Payne, a blind singer/songwriter and fiddle player who subsequently composed the country standards Lost Highway and I Love You Because. Rhodes had formed his first band (an old-timey bluegrass outfit) in 1947, called Jack Rhodes' Ramblers. With Payne as their vocalist, they cut their first sides for the Bullet label in the late 1940s.
In 1950, Rhodes built a motel complex on the west side of Mineola near the city limits. Christened the Trail '80' Courts, it incorporated a dozen chalets, a caf?© and a small gas station. Life revolved round honky tonks (a sort of beer joint, dancehall and eatery rolled into one) and the Baptist church. Jack saw himself as something of a hillbilly poet and wasn't about to forsake music just because he had a motel to run.
Jack set up a demo studio in a couple of spare rooms behind the motel's kitchen using an old radio mike plugged into a Magnecord tape machine. If anyone thought they had something on the ball, Jack would ask them over for coffee and donuts and encourage them to lay down some of their material, offering pointers along the way. Rhodes didn't have too much clout beyond East Texas and northern Louisiana but to any local picker without the means to match their ambition, Jack Rhodes seemed like the Great Barnum himself.
Rhodes enjoyed his first taste of real success when Jim Reeves recorded one of his songs on the B-side of his 1953 hit Bimbo. A year later, Jack and his fiddle player, Red" Hayes, co-wrote A Satisfied Mind which Hayes recorded for the little Starday label out of Houston. The quality of the song shone through and pretty soon major country artists were rushing to cover it. Porter Wagoner took it to #1 on the country charts and there were also successful versions by Jean Shepard and Red Foley.
1955-57 were Rhodes' halcyon years. All the big names on Capitol's country roster including Tommy Collins, Sonny James, Jean Shepard and Faron Young and Ferlin Husky came to record his songs. In between the album fillers and also-rans, there were the occasional smashes such as Beautiful Lies (Jean Shepard, 1955), Waltz Of The Angels (Wynn Stewart, 1955), Conscience I'm Guilty (Hank Snow, 1956).
By Rob Finnis"