Charlie Haden was literally born into country music. His parents Carl and Virginia Haden (professionally known as "Uncle Carl" and "Mary Jane") led the self-contained Haden Family. The Haden Family--which also included Charlie's two older brothers, Carl Jr. and Jim, and his older sister Mary-- was heard on every major radio station in the South and Midwest. The group had its own radio show on radio station KMA in Shenandoah, Iowa, performing both popular songs of the day and Carl Haden originals like "Moberly Mine Disaster" and "Ozark Moon."
"My parents toured all over the country, going from one radio station to another to perform" Charlie recalls. "They were on their way to Des Moines when a snowstorm came up. They stopped at a motel in Shenandoah, where my dad called the local radio station and asked if they could come in and audition. They got the job and ended up staying there."
Charles Edward Haden was born August 6, 1937 in Shenandoah, Iowa; he was not quite two years old when he first sang on the radio. This precocious performance by "Little Cowboy Charlie" was recorded--and now appears as "Haden Family History," the penul¬timate track on. Rambling Boy. It segues into "Oh Shenandoah," sung by the mature Charlie Haden in a moving tribute to his parents.
When Charlie Haden was four years old, his family moved to Springfield, Missouri to take a job at radio station KWTO ("Keep Watching the Ozarks"). In an interview with Amy Goodman for "Democracy Now," the artist said: "My dad was the MC, he gave all the commercials--Wait's Green Mountain cough syrup, Sparkalite cereal, Allstate Insurance...We had all kinds of sponsors. We got bags of mail from all over the country. "
"And it was really a great experience for me...being close to my family and devoted to this music. My life was filled with music, and I learned so much about harmony and melody singing with them"
Charlie continued to sing with the group until age 15 when he contracted bulbar polio. The disease weakened the nerves of his vocal cords, and effectively put an end to his singing career. But Haden continued to play bass, the instrument he'd picked up a few years earlier, and his life changed forever when he heard Charlie Parker play on a "Jazz at the Philharmonic" concert in Omaha, Nebraska.
"That's when I decided to play jazz," he says. "So in order to save enough money to get to L.A. and go to music school and meet my idol, [pianist] Hampton Hawes, I began playing bass on `The Ozark Jubilee,' a network television show based in Springfield."
"Red Foley [1910-1968] was the host of the show and then Eddie Arnold [[1918-2008]. Eddie Arnold's guitar player was Hank Garland and Grady Martin was the guitarist for Red Foley. They were both wonderful musicians and we'd play jazz tunes whenever there was a break on the set...I've always found that really good country musicians are usually jazz fans."
In 1956, Charlie Haden moved to Los Angeles and enrolled at Westlake College of Modern Music. Within a year, he was playing jazz with Hampton Hawes and saxophonist Art Pepper; soon after, drummer Lennie McBrowne introduced Charlie to Ornette Coleman...and the rest, as they say, is history.