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Utah Carl Beach with Herbie and the Boys:
Galveston's TV Star Pioneers

By Bill Cherry
"The Galveston County Daily News"

I'm just the wanderer of the wasteland
Ridin' along and thinkin' 'bout days gone by.
And when I'm feelin' kinda lonesome,
I sing this cowboy lullaby.

When I was young
I used to be
A high falutin', rootin'-tootin', son of a gun
Up in Wyomin'.

Are the words to his theme song, a song everyone is sure he didn't write, but a song whose author no reference source I checked was able to name. Nevertheless, all agree it was Carl Jared Beach who made this tune famous. Without his rendition, few would have ever heard it.

He was born on an Indian reservation in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, and he was half-Cherokee and half-Irish. He grew up in Coffeyville, Kansas, and entertained on 56 radio stations as he crossed the country looking for places that would book him. Once he was a strolling cowboy guitarist in the casino at Las Vegas' Last Frontier Hotel. But that was in the early '40s, and when Las Vegas was a nowhere place, and Galveston was "King of the Mountain".

His career as a troubadour started when he went to a county fair in Coffeyville the year after he had bought his first guitar for $3.00 on the installment plan. While at the fair, he and his friends decided to get their fortunes told.

Beach said in 1959, "The first thing the fortune teller said to me was, 'I see you play the guitar and sing. You've got a nice radio station here. Now you go up there and go to work for them.' It was the depression, jobs were hard to find, and I was only 12 years old. Well, I went that Saturday morning to KGGF, and by golly, they put me on the air the same morning."

It was during the Las Vegas stint the he married Juanita Mavers. While he had his Coffeyville radio program, she had sent him a number of postcard requests to play her favorite tunes on the air, signing them "Juanita".

A few months before he left for Las Vegas, Beach was playing at a Coffeyville dance. He was introduced to "a pretty brunet with liquid-blue, dreamy eyes. We started dancing and she looked up at me and said, 'I'm Juanita.' Before the night was over, I knew she was the one."

Later Beach was playing a few numbers as a guest artist on a Mutual Broadcasting Network program called "Hymns of All Churches". The first song he sang was an old cowboy song titled "Utah Carl's Last Ride". It was at that moment that for the heck of it the program's announcer began addressing Beach as "Utah Carl". The name stuck.

And while it's true that Carl Beach was once a real six-foot-six cowboy, punching cattle for nearly five years, if he ever so much as went to the state of Utah, he was just passing through. Nevertheless, for the remainder of his career as an entertainer, which spanned 43 years, "Utah" was the prefix to "Carl".

So it would seem to me rather irreverent to adhere to the newspaper stylebook's demand that once fully identified, he be called by his last name throughout the remainder of the article. Out of respect for the man, from this point in the story, he'll be referred to as "Utah Carl".

In 1945, when the Las Vegas engagement was over, Utah Carl moved his family to Galveston. He was signed-on for a regular daily program at radio station KLUF, along with the station's other western program, "Boots Darr and Her Guitar".

In the evenings, he and his band entertained at various taverns in Galveston, like the Westwego, the Hurricane Club, and Fatty Owen's Anchor Club.

When he later reminisced about those days, he said, "Some of the things I've seen would stand your hair up - like in a night club, I'd be singing and a couple of guys would get in a knife fight and get killed right in front of my eyes. Many a night I've torn the doors off places getting out of there."

Utah Carl began his career in television the day television began its career in Galveston. It was in 1953. He was awakened by the police from an afternoon nap and rushed to the new studios of the area's CBS affiliate, KGUL-TV, just north of where Tom's Thumb Nursery is today. Its address was 11 Video Lane.

Movie actor Jimmy Stewart was one of the owners of the new station, and he was in Galveston to emcee the opening along with Paul Taft, who was the station's president. The next thing on the program was to have been a Jimmy Stewart movie. When the cue was given the projectionist, he pulled the projector's switch, and nothing happened.

Someone in the audience of dignitaries suggested Utah Carl could fill the time, and Stewart sent the police to get him. He played a 25-minute impromptu set. When it was over, and the next act came in, Stewart and Taft took Utah Carl into the office, and signed him as a permanent member of the station's staff.

For the next 14 years, Utah Carl with "Herbie and the boys" had a regular television show. For most of those years, it was sponsored by Gulf Coast Furniture Warehouse in Alvin, run by his friend Hob Holcomb. On weekends when the furniture company's customers came to shop, just like Utah Carl had promised them on the air, he and his band were performing on a stage that was set up in the parking lot.

In the late 1950s, Utah Carl released on records two of his compositions "Daddy's Little King" and "The Man in the Moon". The hoopla for the releases was a Western jamboree that, along with Utah Carl, featured Ernest Tubb, Hank Snow, the Texas Troubadours and others. The shows were held at Galveston's City Auditorium and along with a clambake at Houston's Buff Stadium.

Two of the staffers at KGUL-TV took a break from their duties at the station to play on the two records. Frank Incaprera, who ran the station's film room, was featured on trumpet, and Pat Bradley, one of KGUL's floor directors, played drums. Others were Russell Reed, piano, and George Achord, electric guitar.

Other tunes Utah Carl wrote and recorded for Nashville's Bullet Recording Co. were "It's No, My Darling", "Memories by My Fireside", and "Treasured Memories".

For most of his performing years in Galveston, Utah Carl's band featured Herbie Treece, steel guitar; Fidlo Ericksen, guitar; and Cecil Bowman, bass. Others who frequently played with his band were Don Cathy, Phil Parr, George Champion, Wiley Barkdull, Don Brewer and Clem Cajaura.

During the last 15 years of his life, Utah Carl was an agent for Prudential Insurance Co.'s Galveston office, and was enormously successful. He was Leader of the Million-Dollar Roundtable, and, in fact, its executive vice president in 1966.

Utah Carl died of carcinoma of the lung at St. Mary's Hospital at 6 a.m. on Saturday, September 24, 1977. He was 57.

On Monday, just before his 10:15 a.m. funeral mass at St. Mary's Cathedral, on a whim, Fidlo Ericksen borrowed instruments from Ginsberg's Music Center across the street, and Utah Carl's band set-up in the cathedral's loft and played one last time. The final tune before Fr. Paul Chovonec began the service was appropriately "Utah Carl's Last Ride".

My friend, you ask the question,
Why I'm so sad and still
Why me brow is always darkened
Like a cloud upon the hill

There's a grave, without a headstone
Without a date or name
In silence sleeps my comrade
In the land from which I came

Long we had ridden together
We had ridden side by side

I loved him as a brother I wept when Utah died.

Surviving Utah Carl are his wife, Juanita; son, Carl, Jr. and his wife, Pat; daughter, Sandra Pfundstein and her husband, Frank; grandchildren, Carl Beach III, Tracy Nemetz, Frank Pfundstein, IV, Troy Pfundstein; great grandchildren, David and Lauren Nemetz and Stewart and Spencer Pfundstein; and sister-in-law, Roberta Beach.

Fans of Utah Carl will remember that as a child, Carl, Jr. stood by his dad during the television shows, the opening shot being the right boot of each, patting time to the show's theme song. Hand carved on one boot was Utah Carl. On the other was Utah Carl, Jr.

I am deeply grateful to Pat Beach, Utah Carl's most loyal fan, for her enormous assistance in gathering for me the facts for this story, and the contributions of Juanita Beach, Roberta Beach, Betty Ericksen, Jack Solari, Nancy McKenney, Burt Lindsey, G.R. Richard, F.W. Cherry, Raymond Haak, Harry Levy, III and others.

Copyright 2000 - William S. Cherry - Reprinted by permission

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