By Bryant Million: PNT Staff Writer
They’ve had the same gig for a decade and a half, but for members of the Jake Howard Band, the music just keeps getting sweeter.
The band, a pure old-time country and western group of three, plays at the Portales Senior Citizens Center’s “Senior Swingers” dances every Saturday night where those who attend are welcome to dance, relax and just have a good time.
The members of the band are Jake Howard and his wife, Maureen, who live near Kenna, and Maudeen Haragan of Portales. Jake is the charismatic lead singer and plays the fiddle. Maureen and Haragan sing backup vocals while Maureen plays guitar and Haragan plays piano.
“We just enjoy playing the music and watching everyone having a good time and dancing,” Maureen said.
Jake was born in Plains, Texas, and his family moved to a ranch near Kenna five years later. Jake went to school in Elida where he met Maureen after she moved from her hometown of Rogers during their sophomore year.
“I remember always kidding with my classmates and saying that I would never marry Maureen unless she learned to play guitar.”
Maureen learned to play in 1950 and they’ve been married now for 53 years.
Haragan attended school in Portales and graduated in 1948. In 1947, she married Floyd Haragan of Elida. Haragan said Jiggs is the only name her husband ever went by.
Jake’s mother taught him fiddle and guitar when he was 12. Maureen said she always heard them playing so she convinced her father to buy her a guitar, and began to play with them.
Haragan was born and raised in Portales. Her family lived on a farm northwest of Portales, and she and her siblings would play guitars and sing songs at the home as they grew up.
“Playing music is therapy,” Haragan said. “I have played a lot while I was sick but I go ahead and play anyway.”
When she was 9 she asked her father if she could have a piano. Her father said that if they made the crop that year, he would buy her one. Her wish was granted.
“After two piano lessons, the teacher told my parents that it was no use giving me lessons because as soon as I learned a tune, I’d start playing it in my own way.”
Haragan said her husband’s sister, Thelma Gossett, had been playing with Jake and Maureen Howard but suffered a stroke in 1991, and so she asked Haragan to play with them until she recovered. She passed away and Haragan has continued to play with the Howards since then.
The band has been playing together for about 15 years at the senior center dances and other venues such as church events and funerals.
Jake said the band plays so well together because they’ve been at it every Saturday night for so long that they know what each other are going to do musically.
“The (senior dancers) enjoy it so much, it’s just a fun place to play. I played at bars and honky-tonks in my early years, but the senior dances are more fun,” Jake said.
Haragan said her favorite music groups and influences are Alan Jackson, George Jones and Merle Haggard. Jake said he was influenced by Haggard as well and just loves bluegrass music.
Maureen ran the post office and store in Kenna for about 25 years. Jake has worked on their ranch 12 miles south of Kenna for most of his life.
Haragan said she worked at the First National Bank in Portales for 19 years and at the county clerk’s office for 23 years. She is retired now.
All three members of the band said they have no hobbies besides playing music.
Max Davis of Dora, the vice-president of Senior Swingers, said the dance has been held at the Portales senior center since the new building was built about 12 years ago and previously at the old center. Admission is $4 which helps pay for the band and building upkeep, he said.
Robert Weigl of Kenna, the president of the dance, said he has been attending the dances for about 20 years and that it’s wonderful for older people to be able to get out, dance and just do something on Saturdays.
“You don’t see too many overweight folks out here,” Weigl said. “The dancing is great exercise in a good, clean, smoke-free environment. Senior citizens need something to do besides watching TV at home.”
Paul Murphy of Portales has attended the dances for about five years and said it’s an ideal event for those who want to get out and dance to older music. He said the Jake Howard Band is first-class for their pure, country-western music because that’s what he danced to while growing up.
Weigl said the band makes a major contribution to the dance because he believes they are one of the best country-western bands in the country.
“It’s just a good country band that plays great country music,” said A.V. Wood of Farwell.