LaVerne's Photo Album Banner

Here's part of an e-mail message David sent to his cousin Billy. I thought it expressed pretty well the idea of doing a page like this. I'm including it here.

"...I'm going to do one on LaVerne next. She has quite a few photos from the 50's when she sang with Wade Rays' band in Las Vegas. I think it will make an interesting thing for the family to look at. We almost never get to sit down on a one-to-one basis and go through the "family album" with relatives, especially the young niece's and nephews. At some point they're going to be curious about what Aunt LaVerne did when she was young. They know of course, but from mostly hear-say and have never seen the pictures. This way they can sit down when they have the time and the inclination and take it all in."
Photo of
first radio broadcast

First Radio Broadcast

It was Christmas time 1949. I was 10 years old. This picture was taken just as I was stepping away from the microphone. I had just finished my number and although you can't see it, I have a cast on my left hand because of a broken little finger. I was in the 5th grade and broke it playing soft ball during recess. The program we were doing was a "barn dance" type thing, the name escapes me now. The show was recorded and then played later on KCNA. Molly Bee (Beachboard) was on the same show. It was a weekly program. She was very good.

Photo of

"The Cowboy's Singing Sweetheart"

Kinsley's Ranch 1950

This picture was a "road show" and dance, taken at a place that holds a lot of fond memories for me. Rodeos, my brothers and sisters, Mom & Dad, my friends, dancing swimming and family picnics. The New Year's day rodeo was an annual affair for many years.

From left to right, Ernie Mock, Montana Ritter, Earl Mock, and the gentleman on the far right I cannot identify. Montana Ritter was a fine lady. We were both on a KVOA NBC radio show called "Trailer Times", broadcast live on Saturday night. The show was hosted by a man named Parker. The first time I accompanied myself was a nervous time for me, the song was "Mocking Bird Hill". I missed one of the three main chords and Montana was right there to bail me out. It was here I began singing "I Want To Be A Cowboy's Sweetheart".

Photo of
LaVerne & Stage


Our radio show had quite an audience. We were asked to take it on the road to the small towns in Southern Arizona. For instance, greater downtown Patagonia. Don't laugh, it was so crowded in that high school auditorium it took you 10 minutes just to get across the floor. Those shows were well advertised, and people came from ranches and small towns for miles around.

A good learning experience for me. It's where I learned a great deal about the stage and stage presence from my Mom. Cherished memories.

Photo of
LaVerne at KCNA

Live Show on KCNA

This was a fun time. That's "Uncle Walt" on the harmonica. He had bunches of of them. All different sizes in cases. I was very impressed. The show was "The Bob McKeon Show." We were on live and that made for some interesting moments. It was during this time that I met Seb Stewart, my guitar teacher. Who you will see further down the page.

My Dad spotted him when he came in the studio door looking for work. He had just arrived in town. He was hired on the spot by Bob. I began taking lessons on that guitar in the picture. I dearly loved Seb, in fact he became a lifetime family friend. He was very close to my Dad having hound dogs and hunting in common. I had the honor of singing (or should I say) croaking out "Amazing Grace" at his funeral. My brothers, Gene and Charlie were two of the pallbearers. He was a beloved family friend. A sad day.

But going back,..One day Mom & Dad took me to the Chicago Store, to buy a new guitar. Seb met us there to help pick out the right one for me. I got my little cut-a-way Gibson, which you can see in the next picture. A very exciting day in my life!

Photo of

Formal portrait in 1951

My mother made all my costumes. This one was white satin with gold sequin trim. She had no pattern, but they were fashioned after the outfits the rodeo trick rider's wore. It wasn't until much later bellbottoms were available in the stores.

After having been exposed to the public for some time now, believe it or not I was very shy. I still have that wonderful old Gibson guitar! Oh...if only it could talk.

..this is my favorite photo


Photo of
LaVerne at Tucson Sports Center

The Tucson Sports Center

I don't remember what this occasion was, some sort of celebration. What I do remember is a big orchestra accompanied me. Not what I was used to. It was my first time to wear this outfit. Mom hemmed the pants in the car, yes I know, they were too short. Ha,Ha. Of course this was after Mom worked all day. I bet (knowing my Mom) she had difficulty sitting through my performance that time!

My little cut-away guitar was sent back to the factory to have some work done on it. I borrowed Curley Dolan's Martin.

The following remark is directed to Curley. A Martin is never as good as a Gibson. Hee,Hee

Photo of
LaVerne & Mom

"Little Miss Arizona" 1951

Mother and I posed for this publicity picture with Mr. William Tuttle, President of the Chamber of Commerce when I won the title of Little Miss Arizona. The gift he's handing me is a neckerchief with "Good Luck LaVerne" printed on it with a little silver and turquoise boot slide. I still have them.

The Little Miss America competition was held in LA in December of '51. There wasn't a talent segment in the competition, and I didn't place. I found it to be an interesting experience however.

Mom and I got in a lot of sightseeing. We visited Paramount Studios, the Hollywood Bowl, and I saw the ocean for the first time. We went to a lot of other places, but the memory has faded away now.

Photo of
KCNA remote

KCNA remote broadcast from Goodmans Market. (I believe it was the grand opening).

The year is 1951. This is one of the early radio remotes I did at KCNA.

From left to right Bob McKeon (his show), Sebert Stewart (my guitar teacher), and Ray Ingram (steel guitar). Not shown in the photo is Kenny Smith (lead guitar).

I had the honor of slicing a huge mincemeat pie. It was bigger than I was.

We played every Saturday at the Tucson Sports Center with a live radio show as part of the program.

Photo of
Record Label

Label of the 78 rpm record

This sound clip is a portion of the "Lew King Ranger Talent Show". Broadcast live from the Fox theatre in down town Phoenix. I did not win but was asked to appear on the Lew King live TV show later on that day. I was presented with a trophy which read, "Ranger's TV Rodeo Queen". Needless to say I was astonished and thrilled. The judges for the talent show were transplants from back East. They had no more idea of what I was singing, or wearing for that matter. To them, a cowgirl outfit was a divided fringe skirt with a hat plopped on the back of the head. I imagine I looked pretty strange to them.

Click here for sound clip (mp3 format)

Photo of
orig. AZ Dance Hands

The original "Arizona Dance Hands"

This photo was taken on the KOPO Ch.13 studio set we used for the show. Dean and his wife, Ardith were like a second set of parents to me. Ardith was and still is beautiful. Dean helped me more than anyone else career-wise. They are very dear to me.

Bob O'Haire was a sweet, kind man who never talked down to me. We talked about neat things like astronomy and life in general, and I miss him very much. Earl was always so much fun. He'd carry on a conversation with me while he was playing and keep me laughing the whole time. His wife Virginia is so sweet and was always so supportive.

From left to right are Bob O'Haire, Kenny Smith, Me, Earl Mock and Dean Armstrong. Earl and Dean are still working Friday and Saturday nights at Lil'Abner's Steak House on Silverbell Rd.

Photo of
LaVerne & Kenny Smith

Right off the TV tube

A fan of the early (1953) KOPO-TV show sent these pictures taken right off their television set. The quality is amazingly good. I wish I knew who sent them.

The two lovers, so everyone thought except Kenny and me. We were very close friends then and still are. He lives in Grove OK, and comes to Tucson on a regular basis to visit family. I always talk to him and usually get to see him on those occasions.

Photo of
of the band at KOOL-TV with Gene Autry

Opening KOOL-TV in Phoenix

Gene Autry owned the CBS stations here and in Phoenix. We were asked to do our show for the grand opening of the station in Phoenix. Dean and the band backed up Gene Autry and Pat Buttram for their songs and humor. And of course they posed for pictures with us. We were treated to dinner later and I was so sick with tonsillitis I couldn't eat. I had my steak served to Kenny, and went out and laid down in the car. Bummer!

L- R are Pat Buttram, Gene Autry, Earl, Me, Dean, Bob, and Kenny.

Pat Buttram was "Mr. Haney" on TV's "Green Acres", 1965 - 1971.

Photo of
LaVerne in lace dress

A Time For Some Change?

I was 17 and performing mostly as a solo act in a dress. I'd hung up my hat for a while. Rhythm & Blues and Rock & Roll was becoming big and I began to sing a few along with the Pop & Western songs. Parents across the nation were saying "Elvis who ??" But the teenagers knew who he was..... Right David?

David was playing bass with Gary Paxton and the "Rock-A-Billy's." Gary was doing every Elvis tune that had been released. The guitar was immediately thrown into the spotlight and male teenagers were buying guitars and letting their hair grow long. Gary went on to have several hit singles of his own including "Alley Oop" that reached the top of the charts on July 11, 1960.

Photo of
newspaper add

Old Newspaper Clipping

A newspaper clipping which was almost exactly like the marquee on the front of the Golden Nugget. After a daytime rehearsal, Wade said "come with me I want to show you something." We walked across the street and Wade turned me around and I looked up and saw my name in lights for the first time. I was speechless. Wade asked me "what do you think?" You's kind of hard to talk with a big lump in your throat.

On my very first opening night, Wade introduced me to Sue Thompson and Hank Penny. We were close from then on. It was as though I'd known Sue all my life. She took me under her wing helped me with everything she could. We shared a dressing room, and if they closed before we did, she would write a little note to me. She was like a sister.

Photo of
Sue Thompson & Hank Penny

Hank Penny & Sue Thompson

Sue recorded for Decca and Hickory and had several hits in the '60's including "Sad Movies Make Me Cry", "Norman", "Paper Tiger" and "Big Mable Murphy" to mention a few.

Photo of
Wade Ray Band

The Wade Ray 5 Plus 1.

Oh my gosh, this was the most incredible experience. They were the finest musicians I'd ever worked with. I was so unworldly at 20 and they all looked out after me and my baby girl, Leslie. I was married to Walt Mason, a rodeo cowboy. Of course, he was on the road most of the time. At the end of the year he went to the first National Finals Rodeo in 5th place in the standings for bareback bronc riding.

I worked opposite many great performers and musicians on this circuit. We were 32 weeks out of the year at the Nugget, the rest of the time we were at Reno and Lake Tahoe.

From left to right are Curley Chalker steel guitar, Roy Aldridge bass and vocals, Wade Ray fiddle and vocals, me and Kenny Smith guitar and vocals. Standing in back, Jody Walker drums.

This particular picture was taken at Harvey's Wagon Wheel at Lake Tahoe. The time was March 1959. I just joined the band. The Newton Bros. were working the day shift and I had met one of them, a young singer named Wayne, several years earlier in Phoenix. I was pretty sure they were one and the same so I left a note on their steel guitar. They closed a day or two later so I didn't find out until several weeks later.

On opening night at the Nugget back in Las Vegas there was a knock on my dressing room door and when I opened it, there stood this giant of a kid (Wayne) grinning from ear to ear. We had a fun visit. He stayed around for our show and invited me to see him and his brother at the Fremont which was across the street. Which I did.

Wade Ray...

recorded for RCA Victor for more than 20 years. I think I was one of his biggest fans. I would stand in the wings and just watch and listen to him. It was a whole new experience for me. Not only because I was working with one of my favorite singers, but Las Vegas as well. Wade sensed how over whelmed I was and just stood back and let me get over my nervousness. He had a lovely way of putting it. To quote him, "I just stood back and let Kenny and LaVerne blossom." I laugh when I remember my opening night. I was petrified. Kenny said "Vernie, I wish I could make it easier for you, I threw up every night for a week before we went on. But I'm tellin' ya, they're great. They love Wade and they'll love you too." It did get easier and it was great fun!

Curley Chalker...

played a type of jazz steel guitar, way ahead of his time. He scared the heck out of me. You see, we had to put on a show so the speak, as well as sing and play music. I'd be distracted by Kenny or Wade with some funny routine and step up to the mic and start singing before Curley was finished with his chorus. Well with that, Curley would fall over his steel and make a big deal out of it and embarrass me nearly to tears. So I had to shape up or ship out. Before long I had a built in counter and just knew when to come in and sing again. Curley and I became close friends eventually, and I learned a great deal from him. He was head staff musician for 20 years on "Hee-Haw" which aired later on in the 1960's. He passed away in the spring of 1998.

Roy Aldridge...

had a beautiful baritone voice and he could sing anything. He was tall dark and handsome and yet he was one of the funniest people I've ever been around. He and Kenny worked off Wade and the two of them had people falling out of their chairs laughing. When you can break up fellow musicians night after night, you can imagine how funny and spontanious he was. Roy passed away in August of 2007.

Photo of
LaVerne & Band.

Long Beach California

This photo was taken in January 1961 at the Java Lanes Lounge in Long Beach California. Wade Ray had retired. Kenny Smith had by then formed his own band and I was asked to join him. Members of the band were Billy Brown (not shown) Brad Boddard Sax, Kenny Smith rhythm and vocals, Roy Aldridge electric bass and vocals. A swinging little group!

Photo of

8 X 10 Glossy

This photo was not retouched as you can tell. Does anyone have some Max Factor Tan #2 to cover the bathing suit straps??

Photo of
Kenny and Me

The Cool Cat

Here we are doing a hillbilly number. Wade referred to him as "the little horny toad from Tucson, Arizona." Kenny would respond with, "that's me, just call me horny for short." One of the numbers we did was "Take Me In Your Cadilac And We'll Go Honky-Tonkin'". He is still playing music in Grove Oklahoma. There are some lake resorts where he lives and he works them mostly in the summer.

Here is the last 16 bars form that song. The year was 1959. The place was the Golden Nugget in Las Vagas.

Click here for sound clip (mp3 format)

Photo of
Showoboat Marque

Showboat Marquee

In this bad Polaroid photo of the marquee you can make out the name "LaVerne Mason".

Photo of

Parting Thoughts

I moved back to Phoenix to get a divorce and ended up staying for the next 30 years. I had an opportunity to go on the road but chose not to. My motherly instincts were very strong and I didn't feel it was right to continue to drag Leslie all over, nor could I even think of leaving her.

I married Lew Harper and we had 3 children. Brett in 1963, Lorna Leigh in 1966, and Branden in 1971. My children have been the best part of my life. Leslie married Paul Bley in 1984. Brett married Robin Klarner in 1985. They have two children, Justine 8 and Logan 4. Of course, my delightful grandchildren. Lew and I were divorced in 1990.

I moved to Tucson in 1993 and David and I were married. David is responsible for getting me back into music. We did an album together in 1990 called "Sweet and Clear", which most of you who are reading this, have. A second album is on the agenda but our many projects seem to keep it on the back burner.

Thanks to everyone for your support. Lots of Love !


You can reach LaVerne by e-mail at:

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© 1999 by David B. Lawrence
Last updated 5-25-2011