A native son of Rhode Island, Eddie Zack (1922-2002), was was an American country music artist primarily known for his appearances on various radio shows. His career began at the age of 16 singing with his brother Richie (known professional as “Cousin Richie”).In 1939 the two brothers formed a band called Eddie Zack and the Dude Ranchers featuring Cousin Richie. Eddie played bass fiddle and sang. Richard was the lead vocalist and guitarist. They were later joined by their two sisters Babs and Maril. The band performed wherever they could, slowly acquiring a following in their native Rhode Island, though country music was all but unknown here at that time.
After serving in the military during World War II, Eddie returned to his music career. His band, known as The Dude Ranchers, and his siblings’ band, The Western Serenaders, quickly gained new followers and appeared frequently on radio programs.
Additionally in 1949, Eddie formed an independent record company, Dude Ranch Records, to release recordings by the group. Over the next three years, they released five singles on 78 rpm records and found great success on radio all over New England. Eddie’s established an act with different sides featuring Richie, Babs, and The Western Serenaders trio in order to provide the programmers with a variety of options for filling airtime.
The press began to take notice of the country music scene in ;New England when “The Shenandoah Waltz” featuring Richie, sold 10,000 copies in the Northeast. The band then sold singles so quickly that the independent label could not meet demand. They hired an official manager, Jim Small, who assisted by Milton Israeloff, the owner of Beacon Record Distribution Company on Branch Avenue in Providence, landed them a major record deal with Decca Records late in 1949.
Eddie had a keen business sense, recognizing the importance of radio as a way to promote country music to the urban market in the northeast. He signed the group to appear as regulars on “The Hayloft Jamboree,” the most successful country music variety show in New England. The band also had their own national radio show with the NBC Radio Network broadcast out of the WJAR 920-AM studios in downtown Providence. Eddie also began producing their own appearances. He staged and promoted dances and concerts, and brought in big national stars to perform with the Dude Ranchers as opening act. Eddie Zack’s band was the first country music band to perform sell-out shows at Symphony Hall in Boston.In 1951 he recorded 16 songs for Decca and in 1953 he recorded 20 songs for Columbia.The popularity of The Dude Ranchers continued to grow. In 1955, they shot to global fame with their rockabilly record “I’m Gonna Roll And Rock.” The record was in the country-mixed-with-R&B style pioneered by Elvis Presley and Carl Perkins. With Eddie singing lead vocal, the record became one of the most sought after recordings in all of record collecting.
The Hayloft Jamboree remained in New England, despite attempts to lure them away. They did over 300 television shows in Rhode Island on WJAR Channel 10 in 1949 and a series on WPRO Channel 12 in 1965 with barn dance style shows. The shows featuring The Hayloft Jamboree, accompanied by dance troupe known as The Rhody Hoedowners, were among the most successful local programs in the history of New England television broadcasting. In the early 1960s, the Zacks started their own record label, Rhode Island Records, and scored several local hits.
Over the course of the next twenty years, the Hayloft Jamboree became synonymous with country music in the Northeast. They became the top country music promoters in New England, and performed to sell-out crowds at the Rhode Island Auditorium in Providence, Jack Witschi’s Sports Arena in North Attleboro, Massachusetts and The Warwick Musical Theater (“The Tent”) in Warwick.
Eddie Zack and his band continued to perform in Southern New England into the 1990s. He was the founder of the R.I. Country Music Hall of Fame in 1978 and the Founder of R.I. Country Music Festival in 1974 and in addition to the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame, Eddie was a member of the Rhode Island Country Music Hall of Fame, Country Music Association of Rhode Island Records and the Rhode Island Music Hall Of Fame. He was inducted in the Internet’s Rockabilly Hall of Fame on June 1, 1999. Despite Eddie’s death in 2002, the band continues to perform and his legacy lives on.