This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012
Tex Morton (1916-1983), country-and-western singer, vaudeville performer and actor, was born on 30 August 1916 at Nelson, New Zealand, eldest of four children of Bernard William Lane, postal clerk, and his wife Mildred, née Eastgate, and was named Robert William. Bobby attended Haven Road and Nelson Boys’ schools and Nelson College. By the age of 14 he had begun his singing career as a busker. Within two years he played in a travelling band, ‘The Gaieties’, and recorded hillbilly songs on aluminium discs; they are some of the earliest songs of this genre to be recorded outside the United States of America.
Lane arrived in Australia in the early 1930s and began performing and working under the name Tex Morton as a tent hand with travelling shows in Queensland. In 1936 he won a talent quest as a singer of country-and-western music on radio 2KY in Sydney; he secured a contract with the Columbia Regal Zonophone label. Recording a series of songs with American settings—’Texas in the Spring’, ‘Going Back to Texas’—he performed in the nasal style of the American hillbilly. His music proved popular on both sides of the Tasman Sea, and he came to be known as the ‘Yodelling Boundary Rider’. Between 1936 and 1943 (when he broke with Columbia) he recorded dozens of songs, many of which outsold in Australia and New Zealand those of established American mainstream popular singers. He successfully toured (1937-41) Australia with a large combined circus, rodeo and singing show. Later in World War II he entertained troops. He also performed with Jim Davidson’s Australian Broadcasting Commission Dance Band and featured in ‘Out of the Bag!’ and ‘Tex Morton’s After-dinner Show’ on ABC radio.
While songs with American contexts and themes were still in Morton’s repertoire, beginning with ‘Wrap Me Up with My Stockwhip and Blanket’, he began to apply the country-and-western style to local stories. He also abandoned his nasal singing in favour of a more melodic and mellow sound. Initially the themes in such songs as ‘Black Sheep’ and ‘Rover No More’ centred on bush life but later he also eulogised national heroes such as Ned Kelly and the racehorse Gunsynd (‘The Goondiwindi Grey’). In ‘Sergeant Small’ (1938), a song that was banned for many years because the police officer, who was its subject, objected to this portrayal of him, Morton valourised itinerant workers and mocked figures of authority, locating himself within the nationalist bush legend tradition.
After World War II Morton resumed touring, joining forces with Ashton’s Circus. In New Zealand in 1949 he recorded further singles. That year he moved to the USA and then Canada, where, performing under such names as ‘The Great Dr Robert Morton’, he toured as a stage hypnotist, memory expert, whip cracker and sharpshooter. He also recorded for the Okeh label in Nashville, USA. In 1959 he returned to Australia with a ‘Grand Ole Opry’ company. When it failed he went back on the touring circuit. But as circus companies like Wirth’s also discovered, television had made inroads into the entertainment market and the touring industry was no longer profitable. During the 1960s and 1970s he continued to record; ‘The Goondiwindi Grey’ and his versions of ‘Click Go the Shears’ and ‘I Love to Have a Beer With Duncan’ were big sellers. In 1976 he was the first person named on the Australasian Country Music Roll of Renown.
Developing an increasing interest in television and film, Morton hosted a New Zealand television show, ‘The Country Touch’, in the late 1960s and acted in supporting roles in episodes of the Australian television dramas ‘Case for the Defence’ and ‘Waterloo Station’ in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Sometimes using the name Robert Tex Morton, he appeared in three Australian films—’Stir’ (1980), ‘We of the Never Never’ (1982) and ‘Goodbye Paradise’ (1983).
A man of extraordinary and wide-ranging talents, Morton was described by a fellow actor, Ray Barrett, as a hard worker and a superb professional. Morton was careless and extravagant with money and tended to exaggerate and mythologise his achievements. On 24 November 1937 at St Philip’s Church of England, Sydney, he had married Marjorie Brisbane, a salesgirl; they had twin sons. After a long separation they divorced in 1979. He later lived with Kathleen Bryan. His major hobby was amateur radio. Survived by Bryan and one son, he died of cancer on 23 July 1983 at St Leonards, Sydney, and was cremated. In establishing Australian country-and-western music as a derived but unique genre, he paved the way for those who followed, from Slim Dusty to James Blundell.
Richard Waterhouse, 'Morton, Tex (1916–1983)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/morton-tex-15027/text26223, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 1 July 2016.
This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012