Local Musicians to be inducted into Westbank Musician’s Hall of Fame
Toxie Baughman and Walter “Deaser” Bennett, both of Picayune, will be inducted into the Westbank Musicians’ Hall of Fame in Westwego, La., on October 10.
Baughman and Bennett began their musical careers in the 1940’s, as part of a group with Edward “Smilin’ Eddie” Varnado, called the “Red Wagon Boys.” The group later changed their name to the “Rhythm Roundup Boys,” after they were joined by Charles Varnado and Curly Harris, Baughman said in an interview Thursday.
Baughman said he learned to play guitar from his father, who taught him the major chords.
“I was just a front porch picker for a lot of years. Then I met musicians that taught me how to play lead guitar, and after that, me and Deaser started playing with small bands after we met Eddie,” Baughman said.
Baughman said the group was playing as the Red Wagon Boys when they were approached by W.L. “Pic” Moseley to play for the grand opening of his radio station in late 1949. Baughman said Moseley gave the group their new name.
“(Pic) opened up WRJW in the late ‘40’s. He named us. We did the opening of the radio station with, well, they had Lash LaRue and Tex Ritter. It was a real honor for me, you know, ‘cause these were the cowboys of our time,” Baughman said.
According to Baughman’s biography sheet that he provided to the Hall of Fame, the group was given the chance to perform daily on WRJW, during the 6 to 7 a.m. hour.
After Harris and Charles Varnado joined the group, they started the Pearl River County Hay Ride in Picayune, as well as playing numerous night clubs locally and across the coast. The group also played in Pearl River, La., and Slidell, La., at clubs such as the Rainbow Room, Arnold’s Sahara Club, and Jerry’s Club.
Baughman stayed with Smilin’ Eddie when he went to New Orleans, La., and joined with Gus Mackie to play at the Silver Star and Cadillac Clubs. Baughman also played other Louisiana clubs on the Westbank, such as the Moulin Rouge, Gay Paris, Charlie’s Bar, Ace’s Hoedown, and Fireman’s Hall.
Baughman played the club circuit for many years, but says he never much liked the touring side of the music business.
“I went on the road one time, and I found out that touring wasn’t for me. Because I had to leave my family, and I couldn’t do that. My family meant more to me than the music did,” Baughman said.
Bennett said he stopped playing music several years ago due to shoulder problems and problems with carpal tunnel syndrome, both as a result of his many years of playing the guitar.
“I would sometimes play eight to ten hours a night, seven nights a week. People don’t realize how heavy that guitar is,” Baughman said.
However, he said he would like to start playing again, at least on a limited basis, now that he has had restorative surgery on both hands.
“I haven’t performed in over two and a half years, but I’m gonna play again,” Baughman said. “Guitar has took me to places I never would’ve went without it…. I’ve done so much and met so many people. The Lord has really blessed me,” Baughman said.
Bennett moved to New Orleans with Charles Varnado in the early 1950’s and started playing at the Harbor Light in Venice, according to his biography sheet. He played with Joe Clay and Sid Brady at the Rex Club, and also appeared on the John Pella Show in New Orleans with singer Fred Wayne.
In 1955, Bennett appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show with Joe Clay. After that, he went to Nashville with Pee Wee Maddox to record a country album.
Bennett has recorded with country music legends such as Ernest Tubbs, Jeannie C. Riley, and Ray Price, and has appeared at numerous clubs in and around New Orleans.
Bennett’s career lasted 45 years, but he has since retired due to failing health. Due to his health problems, Bennett was unavailable for an interview, but his brother, Joseph “Candy” Bennett will represent him at the induction ceremonies in October.