Howard Seratt, A Watchmaker And His Music

Howard Seratt and Country Gospel Sounds - ca. 1978

Above picture left to right:
Red Caudel - Lead Guitar, Harmony Vocals
Travis Burkett - Bass Guitar, Harmony Vocals
Howard Seratt - Lead Vocals, Harmonica, Rhythm Guitar
Keith Clayton - Lead Guitar, Harmony Vocals

Assembly of God Church, Homeland, CA (USA)
Photo courtesy of Buddy McPeters

The name Howard Seratt had been an intriguing imprint on the label of an obscure Sun 78. There had only been one Sun record, because Sam Phillips had wanted Howard to reach a bigger market through singing country songs, and Howard's strongly-felt religious views had prevented him from taking that route. Besides the two Sun recordings, issued on Sun 198, it turned out that two other songs had been recorded at Sun and issued on a custom label St. Francis.

Howard was born in Manilla, Arkansas, on March 9, 1922. He was a highly skilled watchmaker, who owned Howard's Jewelry Store in San Jacinto, California. The local newspaper had written him up as Businessman of the week in March 1971, revealing the story of a well-liked pillar of the religious and business community, without even mentioning Howard's other carreer in music.

A tribute from a friend who played guitar with Howard in churches:

Listening to Howard Seratt's St. Francis and Sun recordings again brought back lots of memories. Howard was the real deal and such a humble talent. A couple of interesting items; Howard toured with Sun recording artists Jim Ed Brown & The Brown Sisters (Maxine and Bonnie) and Slim Rhodes on package shows put together by Sam Philips. Elvis went with them. Howard showed me a poster someone sent him that had his name right under Jim Ed Brown's both in the same size block print. Elvis' name was in much smaller print at the bottom of the list. Howard wouldn't display the poster, but rather kept it hidden.

In 1954 and '55 Howard appeared a few times on the "Ozark Jubilee" with Red Foley, who was the host of the show broadcast on KWTO-TV in Springfield, Missouri. Previously, Foley had been Master of Ceremonies at the Grand Old Opry beginning in spring 1946. When he had heard Howard's "Troublesome Waters" and had asked Howard to come and sing at the Opry, an opportunity which Howard declined. Foley extended an unprecedented invitation to Howard; "You are welcome on any stage or any show I am on anywhere, anytime!" Which was an offer Howard never took him up on. In later years he turned down many more offers to play the Opry.

He had another interesting trait in his music, particularly on "Heaven Bound Train" (or any other song that mentioned trains!) he would make the train whistle sound with just his mouth, like country music pioneer Jimmie Rodgers, the Blue Yodeler - Singing Brakeman did on his great country blues records in the 20's and 30's.

Howard was fun to play with, he had a lot of fun but there was no foolishness about him. He was very serious about his faith in God and very real. The most honest jeweler our humble little valley ever saw. His watch repair was unsurpassed and he was the most reasonable by any means both in repairs and retail sales. He loved a good Martin flat top guitar, particularly the D-35 herringbone dreadnoughts - he had 3 or 4 of them when he died. He played his own rhythm guitar when he sang and he was a better than average lead guitar player BUT he never did it in public. He prefered to have other musicians back him up and he never tried to take the spot light when it was someone else's turn to play.

Though he was crippled from polio and couldn't walk except by using his crutches he never let on that he was disabled or any different than anyone else. He wouldn't even use the handicapped card to park in special parking places designated for folks like him. He had biceps that were huge and rock hard from using his crutches all of those years.

I have known Howard all of my life and I have to say he was one of the greatest guys I ever knew. Such a kind gentle soul, with a heart of gold. He always had a good story to tell and usually something very funny. I saw him about a week before he died and I asked him how he was and he rared his head back like he always did and smiled real big and then said, "Well sir, I'll tell you..." then he proceded to tell me what all had been going on. The Thursday morning he died his sister took him to his doctor for his quarterly check-up. He sat on the examination table and after the doctor asked him how he had been, he rared his head back and smiled and said, "Well sir, I'll tell you..." Those were the last words he ever spoke in this world. He fell dead right there in the exam room right in the front of his sister, the doctor and his nurse. His sister told me after the funeral, "Buddy, he just said that and then fell off the table and died with his eyes gleaming and a big smile on his face. The man at the funeral home told us he couldn't get the smile off of his face." And so it was. I never seen another man in death that looked as happy as Howard did. Howard Seratt died on March 23, 1989 in Hemet, CA.

In the 80's The Hohner Harmonica Company published an advertising poster which featured a royalty list of the 50 greatest harmonica legends from around the world. Howard was on the list right along with other stellar greats such as Junior Parker, Charlie McCoy, Rod Piazza, Darrell Mansfield and others. (In later years they narrowed the field down to 20 artists and Howard was omitted)

Thanks for reviving these old memories of my friend Howard Seratt.

Best wishes, Buddy McPeters -

For BlackCat Rockabilly Europe, 2003 (used with permission)
With additions from "Sun, The Country Years" by Martin Hawkins