After I left the service, my brother came to see me and asked what I intended to do. At the time, he was working for Max Dreyfus, the biggest music publisher in America, making about $50 a week. I told him I did not want to work for anyone. I wanted to go into the music publishing business for myself. During the time I was at Fort Benning I had thought a lot about country music. I thought the best place to start a company was Los Angeles. Jean introduced me to two gentlemen who wanted to get into the music publishing business but had no idea how to go about it. Their names were King and Bling. They recorded mood music for radio stations and were ready to go into business with me. My father lent me $3000 and Mr. King and Mr. Bling each gave me $3000. I took the train to Los Angeles with Mr. King. When we arrived, I looked over the office he shared with his partner on Hollywood Boulevard. They had an empty space opposite their headquarters where I could work. Just like in Paris, I rented three chairs, a desk, and a carpet and I was in business.
After checking into a nice hotel I took my first trip to the Venice Pier. There was a large dance hall that accommodated approximately 1000 people. When I got there, it was completely full and two or three hundred people were waiting outside. The man who had attracted such a large crowd was Spade Cooley, a Cherokee Indian. Through his manager, Bobby Bennett, I made a three-year exclusive songwriting contract. "Shame on You," a song I had heard and liked, was the first song furnished under our contract; I sent a copy of it to my brother just to see what he thought about it. He called me and asked, "How much money did you pay for that?" I said I had an exclusive songwriter's contract with Spade Cooley for which I had paid $1500. He said, "You paid $1500 for this piece of Ö.!?"
Spade Cooley didn't have a recording contract, so I contacted Art Satherly, the manager of what was then called Columbia Records. Art went to the Venice Pier to hear Spade play. Spade Cooley was very popular with a sound called Western Swing. Art was so enthused he gave him a contract immediately. Spade recorded "Shame on You." The record came out and jumped to number one on the hit parade of country songs. Of course I sent the successful record to my brother.
Spade bought a house not very far from mine; we were practically neighbors. One day he called me up and said his car was at the garage and his wife was having a baby. Could I take them to the hospital? I went to his house, which was on a hilltop. We had to carry his wife down forty steps or so: I took her feet and he carried her under her arms. I've never driven so fast in all my life; I was afraid she would have the baby in the car. She did have the baby 20 minutes later. Unfortunately, years after that-during a drunken rage-Spade killed his wife while she was in the shower. He got seven years in prison. I went to see him there frequently. When he got out a big party was given for him. He performed but during the intermission he had a heart attack and died.
I got the second song I published from a very nice and very talented guitar player, Wes Moreland. The song was called "Detour" and was recorded not only by Spade Cooley but also by Wesley Tuttle on Capitol Records. It went to number one on the Billboard chart. The third song was very special. The most important band in Texas, Bob Wills and the Texas Troubadours, came to Los Angeles. I got in touch with Wills and did something unprecedented: I told Bob it would be advantageous to have his own music publishing company. We would organize the Bob Wills Publishing Company and split its ownership 50-50. I explained that he would get both his writer's royalties and half of the publisher's share. All of the songs written by people in his band would also go into the publishing company. He agreed and the company became quite successful.
Next, I went to Nashville, Tennessee. This was very strategic as I became friendly with the people at the Grand Ole Opry. I organized agreements or exclusive songwriting contracts, or, jointly owned publishing companies with the following artists, among others: Red Foley, Ernest Tubb, Hank Snow, Lefty Frizzell, Bill Monroe, Eddie Arnold, and Johnny Cash.
Johnny Cash came to see me completely unexpectedly. He said he wanted to form a music publishing company called Johnny Cash Music. He told me he had talked to quite a few people about this, including Ernest Tubb, who was the man he most respected in Nashville. Tubb told him the only man with whom to make a deal was with me. Now, Johnny Cash was a very important recording artist and a nice man. We concluded an agreement, and subsequently the music publishing company was very successful. Cash was married, with four children; when he divorced his first wife we had to split up the company to give half the royalties to his ex-wife. Subsequently, he made his own music publishing company, remarried, and flourished.
In the meantime, my brother, still working for Max Dreyfus, learned that Dreyfus wanted to buy my publishing company. The breakthrough came when I got a song called "A Bouquet of Roses" recorded. The song crossed over from country to pop charts. Mr. Dreyfus asked my brother if I would let him have the song, and he would pay royalties. I refused to sell it, and he then let my brother go. My brother immediately joined me in business.