Updated July 12, 2004


Although a band in every sense, the core member of the group was singer and frontman Wynn Stewart. Stewart, born Winford Lindsey Stewart on June 7, 1934, Morrisville, Missouri, and his family had moved to California during World War II, finally settling in Los Angeles in 1948.

The young singer had been active on radio in the South for some years, and at the large family Sunday gatherings in Huntington Park, he always performed with various family members.

Eventually the singer began to take a more serious attitude, taking on a manager, with his first publicity photo printed in 1950. By this time Wynn was a regular performer on deejay Carl 'Squeakin' Deacon' Moore's talent show in Huntington Park. During those shows Wynn performed with the house band that included Ralph Mooney, Joe Sisk, Buddy Houston, and Shorty Macus. With these frequent appearences, Wynn not only won the contest regualry, but he and Ralph Mooney built up a friendship, that led to both men playing important roles in each other's careers over the next two decades.

At the time though, Wynn was simply a keen amatuer and still at school. It was while still in high school that he formed his first group, the semi-professional Young Texans.

The Young Texans were L.A. County based band with Wynn, Donald Parker, his younger brother Wayne Parker, Don Laneston, and Conrad 'Connie' Smith on bass. Smith, born 1939 in Los Angeles, was a little younger than Wynn and Don Parker, and still in junior high, where he played string bass with the school orchestra. As well playing the mandolin, he showed some basic steel guitar skills.

The Young Texans began playing clubs and talent shows around California, with Wynn's father accompanying them as chaperone. In 1951 Connie Smith met a new guitar playing student named Eddie Cochran. The two would work together for most of the 1950s, with Smith often using the stage name Guybo.

Eventually the Young Texan's activities were halted when Wynn graduated from Edison Park High School in 1951, leaving music very briefly to work for a printing company. This venture was somewhat short lived and by early 1952 he was back to singing in clubs. It was around this time that Wynn took a job playing around the local honky-tonks as the frontman for guitarist Charlie Ray's band.

It was as early as 1952, when Wynn formed the West Coast Playboys with Sid Barnes (steel guitar, piano), Tony Amico on drums and lead guitarist called Ray. They were another young band, with the exception of Barnes who had active for some years, having joined The Luke Wills band at the 97th Street Corral in 1947. The West Coast Playboys worked the taverns and clubs, when Stewart accepted a six night a week gig, Barnes quit the band and Shirley Roy 'Pete' Ash took his place. Eventually they lost their lead guitarist, and Wynn's friend Ralph Mooney also joined the group on lead guitar and alternating on steel guitar with Pete Ash.

At the time their contemporaries were Glenn & Gary: The Missouri Mountain Boys, Chuck & Gene (Chuck Mills and Gene Davis), The Johnny Mosby band, Sammy Masters, The Little Country Boys (with Clarence, Eric and Roland White), The Collins Kids, Gene O'Quin who was already an established recording artist, and The Cochran Brothers (Eddie and Hank). Most of these artists were around the same age as Wynn, or even younger and would change the West Coast music scene over the following years. For now, they were just the hot young new talent on the scene.

In February 1954, at the age of 20, Wynn signed his first recording contract with the independent Intro label in Hollywood. The Intro roster included Doye O'Dell, Tommy Duncan, Curly Wiggins, Eddie Hazelwood, Rusty McDonald, Gene O'Quin and Jimmy Walker.

That month, with a session band that included Ralph Mooney on lead guitar, Wynn went into a Los Angeles recording studio and recorded two singles as Win Stewart.

The resulting sides; 'I've Waited A Lifetime' b/w 'After All' (Intro 6088) and 'Throw A Little Wood On The Fire' b/w 'Castaway Heart' (Intro 6090), did very little at the time in regards to chart action, but offered the young singer a chance to learn his craft in the studio.

As the year progressed Wynn was leading his group as 'Windy' Stewart and the West Coast Playboys and later signed on for a residency at Sherry's Barn, a club on Paramount & South Street in North Long Beach, California. The West Coast Playboys still had no bass player, but Wynn would add to their sound by playing rhythm guitar.

The next lead guitarist in the band was Dale Norris. "I started with Wynn in 1955, I was only twenty years old and I replaced Ralph Mooney. I had been working with Bruce Trent at Ray's Band Box on South Vermont in Los Angeles. Pete Ash, who's first name was Shirley, was on steel and piano, Tony Amico was on drums and of course Wynn on guitar. In those days the bass was not as important in some groups. Frankly, I hated working without the bass. Helen 'Peaches' Price was waiting tables and during intermission Tony was giving her drum lessons.

I turned twenty-one on May 7th that year. When I told Wynn I had just become of age, he really got on me about how I could have gotten them closed down and they would all be out of a job, on and on he went. I felt real bad. Come June 7th, it was Wynn's birthday. When I asked him how old he was, you guessed It, he had just turned twenty-one. Needless to say I never forgot Wynn's birth date.

I left Wynn for a better paying gig at the Hitchin' Post in Gardena. This is where I met Cecil Bays. It was on a Sunday afternoon. He sat in and played my L-5, I remember he liked the two pick-up sound on my guitar."

Although another young picker, Cecil Bays was a seasoned player and had previously worked with the Maddox Brothers & Rose and Jean Shepherd in the early 1950's. It was during his conversation with Dale Norris at the Hitchin' Post, that he learned that Wynn Stewart needed a guitar player. At the time, he was himself without a regular gig, so he drove over to Sherry's Barn to offer his services and was almost immediately hired.

Cecil recalls, "I went to work the next night, and I was with Wynn for about four years. While working there Carl West came to work with us. And before Helen 'Peaches' Price became a drummer she used to come out to the club, and hang out with us boys. The next thing I know while doing a jam Helen shows up and she's asking me and Tony Amico how hard is it to play drums. Helen turned out to one of the best country drummers in the Los Angles County."

The West Coast Playboys: Wynn Stewart, Tony Amico, Cecil Bays and Pete Ash

By the time Cecil Bays joined the line-up in 1955, Wynn was billing himself as a 'Mercury recording artist,' although no records came of the Mercury deal, which may have never even gotten past initial talks.

Still, for a time the enterprising Stewart had a banner made up as a backdrop for the band advertising the deal.

For Wynn, further fame was assured when Skeets McDonald, a West Coast country star and Capitol Records recording artist set up an audition with Capitol Record's A&R man Ken Nelson. Legend has it that Nelson was so impressed he immediately signed the young singer.

Now as 1955 turned into 1956, with a major deal, Wynn was able to have releases reach beyond the local circuit and across the country.

He first entered the Capitol Records studio on January 30th 1956, with producer Ken Nelson and session players Lewis Talley on guitar, Ralph Mooney (steel), Pee Wee Adams (drums) and Jelly Sanders on fiddle.

On February 8th, 1956 he once again entered the studio, this time Nelson utilised Lewis Talley, Ralph Mooney, Pee Wee Adams, Jelly Sanders, guitarist Joe Maphis and a bassist, Bud Dooley.

The single 'Waltz of the Angels' from the February 8th session, was released on July 21, 1956 and spent one week at number #14 on the country charts. Lefty Frizzell recorded his own version for Columbia that year, and the sales were split between Wynn's and Lefty's versions, with neither artist able to make number one.

His next chart stirrer was the song "The Keeper of the Key," credited to Wynn Stewart with Skeets McDonald and his 'Orchestra.' In reality this was a split date with Skeets McDonald on May 16th, 1956.

The session band was much the same, Joe Maphis, Ralph Mooney, Bud Dooley, Pee Wee Adams, Jelly Sanders and rising talent Eddie Cochran on lead lead guitar.

By this stage it was evident that Stewart's needed a bass player like on his records, and the split session with Skeets McDonald had also supplied the answer. After some hits in the early 1950s, Skeets had been touring with various backing groups under his name right up to 1955. Now his career was in a decline, as he'd had no hits for some years.

And so it was in late 1956, The West Coast Playboys of Bays, Amico and Ash were joined by Skeets McDonald on bass guitar. This was a short lived version of the WCB's as Skeets only stayed for a couple of months, before deciding to focus on his solo career. In 1958 his career had revived to the point where his first solo album was released. As the years went by, McDonald continued his solo career with various labels until his passing in 1968.

Not long after the group lost it's bass player, Wynn Stewart and the West Coast Playboys left Sherry's Barn for a residency at The Shed House, another club in the area. This proved to be a short residency and on their return to Sherry's Barn they added young steel guitar player Carl 'Pouncey' West.

Carl West, was a Californian native who had already played informally with the Cochran Brothers and later Eddie Cochran after the Cochran Brothers split. Carl backed Eddie on and off through 1955-1956 with Bob Bull who played rhythm guitar and later signed a contract with Dot Records as Bob Denton, Connie 'Guybo' Smith on bass and a drummer called Moto. They only did functions at halls and parties, never working the clubs due to the fact they were all still underage. Later on, Carl's first regular club gig was at Sherry's Barn in a group with Dale Norris, this ended when the club owner decided to bring back Wynn Stewart & The West Coast Playboys.

When Wynn Stewart and the West Coast Playboys returned to Sherry's Barn, Carl's group with Dale Norris had folded and it was decided that Carl could work with the WCPs until he could get another gig. Dale Norris moved on to Johnny Mosby's band which included Peaches Price on drums and Ralph Mooney on steel guitar. Norris would later join the Champs, and although not an original member, he was in the first touring version of the group after the studio version created their hit record 'Tequila.'

In 1957 Carl ended up a full-time member of the West Coast Playboys, and with Pete Ash free to concentrate on piano, they had a bigger sound. The group stayed at Sherry's for some time until Wynn was offered a job at George's Round-Up in Long Beach. George's Round-Up was one of the biggest nightclubs in the area, in competition with the famous Palomino Club in North Hollywood. Wynn took the whole band to work at George's Round-Up with him.

Once again they proved to be a popular attraction and drew great crowds with well known artists and musicians dropping in to guest with them. George Jones, Johnny Paycheck (then known as Donny Young) Johnny Cash, Harlan and Jan Howard, Bobby Bare and many others used to drop in.

In 1957 Wynn recorded "I Wish I Could Say The Same" which he co-wrote with Bobby Bare, and "Is Love Out Of Style" which was written by Wynn, Bobby Bare and Harlan Howard.

Carl recalled that Donny Young, the future Johnny Paycheck, lived with Skeets McDonald and his wife in La Mirada for a while and spent lots of time doing demo sessions and sitting in at George's Round-Up with West Coast Playboys. "I use to pick him up and he'd ride with me to the sessions and the Round-up. At that time he was playing an open hole Gibson and always used a capo. He never lived at Skeet's house on a permanent basis but was there for what seemed like maybe a couple months."

In 1957, Wynn began to play with a different group of musicians on his off nights at George's Round-Up.

The informal band included Bobby Austin on bass, Ralph Mooney on pedal steel guitar, Gary Lambert on guitar and Helen 'Peaches' Price on drums.

At the time Peaches was quite new to the drums, as was Bobby Austin to the bass guitar. On the other hand Gary Lambert and Ralph Mooney were busy with other acts. Ralph had been playing in the bands of Gene Davis and Johnny Mosby, while Gary had been working with singer Glenn Troutman as Glenn & Gary, The Missouri Mountain Boys.

When Glenn Troutman recorded as Glen Glenn for Era Records, the band on the session for 'Everybody's Movin' (Era 1061), 1957 included Connie 'Guybo' Smith on bass, Gary Lambert on guitar, Joe O'Dell on drums and Wynn Stewart on rhythm guitar.

The part time band was active for seven months through 1957 and played at different venues, including stints at the Palomino Club, Rays Band Box and various clubs, including a few smaller ones in the Long Beach area before disbanding.

At the time Wynn and The West Coast Playboys were making appearences on the Cal's Corral TV show, other regulars in 1957 included the Gene Davis band and Sammy Masters.

Although the West Coast Playboys were a popular live band and artist like Bobby Bare used them for demo work, they rarely did proper studio sessions with Wynn, whether it was for Capitol Records or Challenge the label that Wynn moved to in the late 1950's.

Wynn cut some rockabilly influenced sides for the Challenge subsiduary Jackpot and a few rockabilly demos were cut with the West Coast Playboys, but this flirtation with rockabilly was all too brief.

Cecil Bays recalled the West Coast Playboys cutting an acetate of Wynn's uptempo number 'Come On,' and the same tune was recorded more than once in April 1958, with Wynn's new producer Joe Johnson for the Jackpot label. All the songs from the session were unisued at the time.

During this period, the Champs were the Challenge labels hot rock band, and they included ex-WCP Dale Norris on lead guitar. The Champs were basically the Challenge and Jackpot house band when not on tour, Dale Norris recalls that the Champs were called in to back Wynn on various Jackpot sessions through 1958 for Joe Johnson, including dates where Wynn's younger sister and Jan Howard did the back up vocals.

It was a very good sound and Jimmy Seals (of the Champs) played fiddle on some of the dates.

We recorded numerous demos with Jan doing the vocals. I remember on one session Joe Johnson was listening to a demo. He made a remark to the effect that Jan sounded better than any at Challenge, so Joe signed her up.

Another sessions player on some of the Jackpot sides was piano player Jim Pierce who played with Gordon Terry's band The Tennesseans, at the Foothill Club in Long Beach. At the time Pierce had begun cracking the local session scene, playing on dates for RCA, Capitol and Challenge. He had even recorded some solo sides for Republic with the Champs as his backing band. Pierce and most likely the Champs backed Wynn on some mid 1958 Jackpot sessions for producer Joe Johnson.

One of the West Coast Playboys, Carl West also played with the Champs on some of the Jackpot sessions. "We did a lot of sessions, mainly demo ones at Sundown Records on Whittier Blvd in a town named Pico-Rivera, Bob Morris (of the Champs) later bought the place. During that time some of the Champs worked on sessions and I recall several that Jimmy Seals did, he played great fiddle. We had great demo sessions for Wynn Stewart, Glen Campbell, Bob Morris, Cecil Bays, Harlan Howard, Eddie Miller, and Jan Howard. We cut some demos there that went way up the charts. The pay was really lousy, but the memories are fantastic."

In 1958, Carl appeared on the Joe Johnson produced December 5th, Gold Star Recording Studios dates on Wynn and Jan Howard. Another unissued version of 'Come On' was recorded, as was the tracks for (Jackpot 48014), the classic duet single by Wynn and Jan Howard with 'How The Other Half Lives' and 'Yankee Go Home.' Further dates followed in January, but it wasn't until The April 20, 1959 that the West Coast Playboys got to feature on a Stewart session.

Cut at Gold Star Recording Studios, Joe Johnson produced the songs 'Above And Beyond (The Call Of Love)' and 'Open Up My Heart,' with Wynn (guitar, vocals), Cecil Bays (guitar), Carl West (steel), Tony Amico (drums) and Pete Ash on piano with session bass by Bud Dooley.

In 1959, George Underwood the owner of the Round-Up bought another local club called The Red Barrel in Hawaiian Gardens. He changed the name to George's Round- Up #2 and made the original club in Long Beach George's Round-Up # 1. Wynn and the West Coast Playboys would alternate between the two places.

Carl West was working the Palomino Club on Monday nights, working the other six nights at either George's Round-up or the Red Barrel (George's Round-Up #2 ) during the 1959 period and even Pete Ash was working with Gene Davis when he had a free night.

That year, Cecil Bays, Tony Amico and Carl West all left the group. There had been issues with the amount they were being paid and the lack of sessions with Wynn, but to this day, Carl and Cecil aren't too sure what exactly led to them leaving the group one by one in such a short period of time.

In the summer of 1959 Wynn had to reorganise his band, with Pete Ash still on piano Wynn convinced Ralph Mooney to leave the Gene Davis band at the Palomino Club and join the West Coast Playboys.

For the drum stool, Wynn hired western swing veteran Junior Nichols who had recently finished touring with Hank Thompson. It was Cecil Bays who suggested his replacement, guitarist Bill Turner who had actually sat in with the group a few times.

Eventually Turner was replaced by another ex-WCP, Dale Norris. By 1959 Dale had tired of the constant touring with the Champs, he wanted to stay home and be with his family, so he called Wynn and was hired back into the band at George's Roundup. On September15th, 1959, the next Wynn Stewart session at Radio Recorders was held with producer Joe Johnson. Session crew includes Wynn (guitar, vocals), Dale Norris (guitar), Ralph Mooney (steel), Bob Morris (bass), Pee Wee Adams (drums), Gordon Terry, (fiddle, guitar) and Pete Ash on piano.

By 1959 Wynn had some remarkable recordings and actually had some decent chart action after a dry spell of almost a year. He left the group at George's and with performers like Buck Owens and Dale Noe toured the Texas-Arizona area, using local club bands to back them.

The West Coast Playboys held the gig at George's Roundup with various guest singers, as Dale Norris recalled. "It was good to be with Ralph and Pete again. During this time Wynnn was going on short road trips. That's where I met a lot of good people who were subing for Wynn. Dale Bennet was great to work with as was Norm Owens. This is about the time that Bobby Austin came to work with us. He seemed real young, at that time I was about 25 or 26 years old, but I had a lot of miles."

Bobby Austin finally brought a permanent bass sound to the group, he had signed a solo deal with Challenge, but had yet to find any success as a solo artist.

In late February 1960 the Radio Recorders session crew for a Wynn Stewart and Jan Howard date for Challenge included Dale Norris (guitar), Ralph Mooney (steel), Bob Morris (bass), Pee Wee Adams (drums), Gordon Terry, (fiddle, guitar) and Pete Ash (piano).

Despite Wynn's rising success and touring away from the club, things were going well for the WCPs, but in early March of 1960, Pete Ash was killed in an automobile accident in Carson California after a head on collision with a telephone pole. That night there had been heavy rainfall, after losing control, the impact threw him from the pick-up truck and he hit his head on the curb, causing a skull fracture and coma.

Wynn was one of the first to hear of the accident and with Dale Norris and Junior Nichols saw Ash before he passed away, never awakening from his comatose state. The West Coast Playboys, past and present were devastated by the news, for the West Coast Playboys it was coming to an end. Wynn eventually hired another piano player, Ronny Brannon, then a female piano player named Opaline Bacon, whose brothers all played in bands as well.

A session for Wynn on May 24th, utilised session pianist George French Jr. alongside WCPs Dale Norris (guitar) and Ralph Mooney (steel), and session regulars like Lewis Talley, Bob Morris, Pee Wee Adams and Gordon Terry. Eventually The West Coast Playboys settled on Jim Pierce, a solid session player who had been playing piano with Billy Mize & The Tennesseans at the Foothill Club.

Dale Norris left the group later in 1960, he was replaced by Roy Counts although the whole group would change with Bobby Austin and Ralph Mooney finding themsleves the only remaining WCPs as the group changed pesonnal over the next year. Meanwhile Carl West, Cecil Bays and Tony Amico had reunited briefly in the band of local singer Norm Owens, while Cecil and Carl would end up in the band of Dale Bennett in the early 1960's. Junior Nichols would rejoin Hank Thompson in Las Vegas for a time, then like Cecil Bays, Carl West, Dale Norris, Bill Turner an Dale Bennett, would go on to become part of the flourishing 1960s bar band scene in Southern California.

Wynn Stewart and his new group played Georges Roundup #1 in Long Beach and also played live on Cal Corral alongside Dale Bennett's band. Wynn's group had evolved into the line-up of Ralph Mooney on steel, Roy Nichols on lead guitar, Helen 'Peaches' Price on drums, piano player Jim Pierce, and bassist Bobby Austin.

This group became the one most associated with Wynn Stewart even though it only lasted from 1961 to 1964. This may be due to the fact that they became Wynn's studio group as well, and their continued appearences on Wynn's studio sessions even after they all left his employment.

In late 1961 Wynn took his group to the Nashville Nevada Club in Las Vegas where they became the house band and main attraction with vocalist Jackie Burns added to the Nashville Nevada Club Band, as Wynn's group was renamed by fans. A second group led by Norm Owens was later added to the Nashville Nevada in 1962, until the club closed in 1964, when both groups split up. Wynn Stewart would later lead a series of bands through the 1960s, most of which were called the Tourists after 1966. From 1970 to his passing in 1985, Wynn stopped using his own bands, and simply hired other bands as the dates allowed.

After Dale Bennett's group split, Cecil Bays, Tony Amico and Carl West continued to play in different groups. Both Carl and Cecil worked at Fender Guitar's Fullerton facillty and between them worked in the bands of Eddie Drake, Skeets McDonald, Billy Mize, Bobby Griggs, Sammy Masters and Ray Sanders. While Cecil Bays went on to record further demos and sessions for various country acts, Carl West added his steel playing to pop and country recordings by the likes of Jerry Inman, Dorsey Burnett, The Monkees, Glen Campbell and the Byrds.

Tony Amico passed away in the 1970's, while Cecil worked at the Foothill Club with West Coast legends Cliff Crofford and Billy Mize. Carl worked in the band Jim Johnson and the Country Store at the famous Knott's Berry Farm through the late 1960s into the early 1970s, before signing on to a professional day job for some thirty years. Dale Norris became a country stalwart and still performs in various acts to this day, from pop to country and lounge.

In the year 2004, Cecil, Dale and Carl are modest about their time helping create Wynn Stewart's music and their input on the West Coast Sound. Many of Wynn's old bandmembers are online and stay in touch through the internet and regular means, some of whom I'd like to thank for their input on this article, including Dale Norris, Carl West, Cecil Bays, Dale Bennett, Helen 'Peaches' Price and Jim Pierce.

By Jason Odd 2000-2004

© Rockabilly Hall of Fame®