Times Staff Writer

Compared to the veteran husband-wife duo of Joe and Rose Lee Maphis, so-called “new traditionalists” of country like Ricky Skaggs and the Judds seem more like musical revolutionaries.

In a performance before about 50 people Monday at the Crazy Horse Steak House in Santa Ana, this gen-u-wyne Old-Timey pair came across as the Ma and Pa Kettle of country. Next to the Maphises, Bartles & Jaymes seem like hipsters.

Getting their start in the 1940s with early California country artists like Rose Maddox and later joining the Bakersfield contingent that included Merle Haggard and Buck Owens, the Maphises never achieved the major commercial success or musical stature of some of their contemporaries.

Yet their 50-minute set, for which they were backed by four members of Paul Bowman’s Super Country Band, was delightfully unpretentious and only occasionally as corny as the popular “Hee-Haw” television show they appear on periodically.


Through most of the show, lanky and laconic Joe Maphis could have passed for one of Disneyland’s audio-animatronics robots, except that an android’s movements would probably have been more life-like. Until, that is, Maphis started playing his twin-necked guitar or sawing away on a fiddle.

Not a drop of sweat on his wrinkled brow, Maphis let loose blazing displays of flat-picking and Travis-picking on the instrumentals “Under the Double Eagle” and “Uncle Joe’s Boogie” that would have done Chet Atkins proud. Predictably, he dragged out the country fiddler’s war horse “Orange Blossom Special” as an energetic set-closer.

Rose Lee was impressive for the unusual delayed vocal phrasings that lent an appropriate sense of heartache to her version of Johnny Rodriguez’s “Pass Me By.”

Along with renditions of country standards “Goodbye Liza Jane” and Bob Wills’ “Faded Love,” the two also offered such dubious original material as Joe’s mock-macho “I’m Gonna Wear the Pants” (to which Rose Lee’s answer was: “And I’ll tell ya which pair to wear”).


But as hokey as some of it was, the Maphises delivered such songs without apology--albeit with a sense of humor. So while the Maphises may not represent a crucial chapter in the history of country music, they nonetheless provided a refreshing look back at a more guileless musical era.

Country radio deejay Paul Bowman, whose Super Country Band included stellar steel guitarist J.D. Maness, preceded the Maphises with a set of country hits past and recent.

The Maphises, Bowman and Rose Maddox will perform Nov. 30 at the San Juan Creek Saloon in San Juan Capistrano.