Thursday, August 25, 2011

James "Glen" Croker of the Hackberry Ramblers Passes

Guitarist, singer and emcee Glen Croker, the last surviving old-time member of the Hackberry Ramblers, passed away on August 23 in Lake Charles, LA, at age 77, following a lengthy illness.

Born in Lake Charles in 1934, Croker began playing steel guitar in the early 1950s with Eddie Shuler and the Reveliers. On the way home from engagements with the Reveliers, the young Croker would stop by the Silver Star Club in Sulphur, LA, to hear the Hackberry Ramblers. "And it's a funny thing about that," Croker recalled; "I can remember saying to myself: 'Self, one day you'll be playing with that band!' And thus it came to pass."

Croker joined the Hackberry Ramblers in 1959, 26 years after the band was co-founded by Luderin Darbone and Edwin Duhon. Croker stayed with the Ramblers through their final performance in November of 2005. His swaggering, soulful style and use of electronic amplification brought the Ramblers a post-war honky-tonk tinge that added blues, R & B, rockabilly, and classic country songs to their already-diverse repertoire. This stylistic incarnation was the sound most often heard when the Ramblers started touring nationally in the late 1980s, following an appearance at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. When first founded in 1933, the Ramblers had embodied the acoustic string-band sound of that era, and then evolved, during the 40s, into a large western swing orchestra. Despite his modernizing influences, Croker always stayed connected with the band's traditional roots, in part by singing in French on many Cajun numbers.

Croker appeared on the Hackberry Ramblers albums Jolie Blonde (Arhoolie, released in 1963), Cajun Boogie (Flying Fish, released in 1993, re-released by Hot Biscuits in 2003), and the Grammy-nominated Deep Water (Hot Biscuits, released in 1997), and on the anthologies Boozoo Hoodoo (Fuel 2000, 2003) and Christmas Gumbo (Flambeaux, 2004.) Croker was also prominently featured in the PBS documentary film Make Em Dance: The Hackberry Ramblers Story ( directed by John Whitehead of Fretless Films, St. Paul, MN. Make Em Dance was broadcast nationally on the PBS series Independent Lens in 2004. He enjoyed the fulfillment of a life-long dream by performing at the Grand Ole Opry in 1999. To hear all the best elements of Croker's style as a guitarist and singer, click on the song Poor Hobo on the Deep Water album.

In addition to his musical talent, Croker was known, as the band's emcee, for his snappy patter. His shamelessly corny bandstand jokes elicited groans around the U.S. and in France, Holland, and Canada. "I really am a nice guy, once you get to know me," Croker often said; then, after a dramatic pause, he would add,"but that getting-to-know-me part is rough." He will be sorely missed. James Glenwood Croker is survived by his devoted wife, Nell, two sons, two daughters, three step-children and numerous grandchildren. Funeral arrangements, which have yet to be announced, will be posted at

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