The original of the song was made by the legendary Rex Griffin, one of those pioneers in Honky Tonk music. Here is his biography by a Bruce Eder:
As a songwriter, performer, and recording artist, Rex Griffin bridged the gap between Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams — indeed, it can be said that he bridged the gap between Rodgers and Buddy Holly, and between Rodgers and the Beatles. Griffin was among the first country music stars to record using his own material almost exclusively, and among the least of his accomplishments, one of his songs was covered (albeit without proper credit) by the Beatles. Griffin is the author of the original version of « Everybody’s Tryin’ to Be My Baby, » which Carl Perkins later adapted into his own song, and the Beatles subsequently covered to the profit of all except Griffin, who’d been dead about six years when all of this happened.
Griffin is one of those pre-war figures in country music whose legacy has been unjustly overlooked. He had no hits of his own after 1939, although his biggest hit from that year — « The Last Letter » — continues to get recorded at the end of the century. He was also a direct inspiration to both Hank Williams (whose recording of « Lovesick Blues » was virtually a copy of Griffin’s from ten years earlier) and Lefty Frizzell. One of country music’s first singer/songwriters, Griffin was the model for figures including Floyd Tillman, Willie Nelson, and Merle Haggard (and one could even throw Buddy Holly in there). And, like Williams, his personal demons in love and substance abuse brought a premature end — albeit not as suddenly as Williams’ — to Griffin’s performing career and his life.
He was born Alsie Griffin, second of seven children of Marion Oliver Griffin and the former Selma Bradshaw. He grew up without much formal education and spent most of his early childhood on the farm that his family owned in Sand Valley. By the 1920s, Ollie Griffin was working in Gasden at the Agricola Foundry, and Alsie followed his father there. The family regarded music as a pastime to be pursued after finishing one’s real work.
Alsie felt differently, however, wanting no part of farm life or the factory if there was any way of helping it. His first instrument was a harmonica, but it wasn’t long before he picked up the guitar. Gasden didn’t offer a big future in music, but Griffin took advantage of what was there, playing local parties and dances.
If the guitar was the first instrument that Griffin felt strongly about, his first love was the music of Jimmie Rodgers. He quickly adopted Rodgers’ style as his own and never entirely abandoned elements of his music — especially the yodeling — even once he had his own style nailed down.
Griffin made his first professional appearance on a bill at the Gasden Theater in 1930, and not long after he moved to Birmingham, where better opportunities awaited. He joined the Smokey Mountaineers, and it was there that he got his new first name — the group’s announcer had difficulty pronouncing Alsie, and simply renamed him Rex. The name stayed with him and he moved from city to city across the South, appearing on radio stations in Chattanooga, Atlanta, and New Orleans, among other cities.
His recording career began in 1935, when Griffin was signed to the newly formed Decca Record company, which already had the Sons of the Pioneers, Tex Ritter, Jimmie Davis, and Milton Brown in their roster of country artists. His first recording sessions were held in Chicago on March 25 and 26 of that year, during which he recorded ten songs, accompanied by his own guitar and Johnny Motlow on tenor banjo. All ten number were originals by Griffin, itself an astonishing achievement in those days. All of the material, both in its style and performance, recalled Rodgers — Griffin’s yodeling never let one forget who his inspiration was, although the songs hold up well on their own terms. Also striking about the recordings is Motlow’s banjo playing which, with its trilling, sounds almost like a mandolin.
Griffin’s first releases were successful enough to justify another session for Decca nearly a year later in New Orleans. This time he provided the only accompaniment on ten of the songs and did two additional songs backed by an amplified steel guitar. Among the songs that came out of those sessions was « Everybody’s Tryin’ to Be My Baby, » which in this context sounds almost like a blues composition, recalling works such as Tampa Red‘s « Tight Like That. » The piece was also a dazzling guitar showcase for Griffin, whose prowess on the instrument was considerable. This blues influence was no fluke — « I’m Ready to Reform » from the same session is a superb piece of white blues that can fool listeners as to its origins as easily as Autry’s or Rodgers’ best blues sides.
Griffin’s records continued to sell well, and in May of 1937, this time in New York, he cut two more sides, including his most famous number. « The Last Letter » became his biggest hit, a suicide note set to music. Stories vary as to its origins, the most commonly circulated one being that Griffin, who had a taste for alcohol that would later blight his life, was in a drunken depression over his failing first marriage when he wrote the note, and later set it to music as sobering up. Whatever the circumstances of its composition, the record caught on and became a hit throughout the South, and also brought Griffin the adulation of many of his colleagues, most notably Ernest Tubb, whose 20-year friendship with Griffin began over « The Last Letter. »
The song was covered by other artists, including Jimmie Davis, soon after its release. Gene Sullivan (vocalist for Roy Newman & his Boys) also covered three Griffin songs, including « Everybody’s Tryin’ to Be My Baby, » in the late ’30s, and even bandleader Bob Crosby cut Griffin’s « I Told You So. » Griffin’s own career kept moving forward, with concerts and radio performances throughout the South that made him one of the more popular performers of the era.
Griffin’s next recording sessions in September of 1939 yielded a dozen songs, including the follow-up to his biggest hit, « Answer to the Last Letter« , and his recording of « Lovesick Blues, » which was to be the model for Williams’ recording nearly a decade later that made Hank a star. Also recorded at the session was « Nobody Wants to Be My Baby« , a fast, breezy honky tonk-style number and one of several songs on which Griffin was backed by guitarist Ted Brooks and bassist Smitty Smith. The latter is also a beautiful piece of bluesy honky tonk and deserves to be better known.
Despite the success of « The Last Letter« , Griffin’s record sales were too poor overall to justify the label keeping him, and he was dropped by Decca after 1939. In the mid-’30s, he had played with Billie Walker and Her Texas Cowboys in New Orleans, and in 1940 he rejoined her band in Memphis. He later moved back to Alabama to spend more time with his ailing mother and appeared locally for the next few years. Among the places he played often was the notorious crime-ridden Alabama town of Phenix City, which would later become the subject of two feature films. In Gasden, he performed with a group called the Melody Boys, which included two future members of Tubb’s Texas Troubadors.
In 1941, following the death of his mother, Griffin moved to Dallas, where he had a regular spot on KRLD’s Texas Round-Up. His popularity from these broadcasts made Griffin a natural to take over the Texas Round-Up. This was to be his best broadcast showcase, and had it not been for the war, Griffin might’ve become a major star from his work on KRLD. As it was, the show ended in 1943 as the available talent dwindled amid continued military call-ups.
Griffin moved to Chicago in 1944, and it was there that he made his next batch of recordings. These 16 sides — recorded with a band that may have included Red Foley on guitar — were not intended for commercial release. Rather, they were made for Decca Records’ World Transcription Services, for broadcast over the air by radio stations that licensed them.
Despite these recordings for the company’s transcription division, there was no interest at the time in trying to release new commercial sides by Griffin. To hear the material today is to glimpse some of the best honky tonk-style music of the era — by that time, Griffin had taken on a more modern style, and he had even cut his Rodgers-inspired yodeling to a minimum. In addition to capturing Griffin performing « live » in the studio, these are among the few sides he left that feature him working with a band and, thus, show something of the sound he must’ve had during that early-’40s Dallas period.
The oversight by the record company, in terms of offering him a new contract, is difficult to explain. It is possible, however, that the wartime rationing of shellac (a key ingredient in 78 rpm records) had so dampened interest in any risky new ventures (the record business at one point seemed doomed to shut down) that Griffin never had a chance with his old label.
He made his last recordings in 1946 for Cincinnati-based King Records, which had previously recorded Grandpa Jones, the Delmore Brothers, and Merle Travis, among others. Griffin cut eight sides for King, backed by Homer & Jethro on guitars and mandolin. The sides showed Griffin in decent form, an easygoing honky tonk singer with a smooth style and a good voice, but lacking the sharp edge to his singing and playing that sparked his earlier work, clearly on the decline by this time.
These proved to be his last recording sessions. His worsening diabetic condition, complicated by drinking and other dietary abuses, forced an end to Griffin’s career, and the collapse of his second marriage late in the 1940s sent him into a personal tailspin. He moved to Dallas and still wrote songs, and when his health allowed (he was hospitalized several times), he pitched them actively to singers who had recording contracts, including Ray Price, who cut « Answer to the Last Letter« , « Beyond the Last Mile« , and « I Saw My Castles Fall Today« .
His friendship with Tubb blossomed into a profitable professional relationship for both, as Tubb recorded many of Griffin’s songs, and Griffin also became close to Tubb’s nephew, Douglas Glenn Tubb. Their interest, coupled with the quality of his work, sustained Griffin during the 1950s, and in 1955 he wrote « Just Call Me Lonesome« , his last hit, recorded by Eddy Arnold and Red Foley. His last years were blighted by further ill health, as Griffin was diagnosed with tuberculosis. He was confined to a New Orleans hospital for what proved to be the final months of his life, and died in October of 1958.
Griffin’s death at the age of 46 was a great loss to country music. Moreover, his lack of any hit recordings of his own after 1939 resulted in there never being an LP release of his songs — there was no impetus on the part of Decca Records to explore his recording history, and he was left in limbo as a recording artist, a distant memory to older listeners. The possibility of Decca’s successor, MCA Records, doing anything with Griffin’s music in the 1990s or beyond seems even more remote.
The songs he wrote, however, have endured over the 40 years since. Hank Thompson recorded « An Old Faded Photograph » in 1960, and « The Last Letter » was re-recorded by Jack Greene in 1964 and became a hit once again. Soon after, Tubb cut an entire album of Griffin songs, and other artists who have covered « The Last Letter » include Willie Nelson, Asleep at the Wheel, Waylon Jennings, and Merle Haggard. At the time of his death, Griffin’s quarterly royalty statement from the publisher of his newest songs was 18 dollars and change, a situation that had changed drastically by the 1960s. Additionally, his song « Everybody’s Tryin’ to Be My Baby« , as appropriated by Carl Perkins — the inability of the family to protect the copyright probably cost his daughters millions in royalties — and later covered by the Beatles, has become a rock & roll standard only slightly less familiar than « Blue Suede Shoes » or « Maybelline« . And then there was his version of « Lovesick Blues, » which Williams freely admitted to having learned from Griffin, even though Hank was also familiar with the Emmett Miller original — Griffin did make changes in the lyrics and structure of the song that Williams kept in his version.
In 1970, in recognition of his achievements as a composer, Griffin was among the very first composers inducted into the newly founded National Songwriters’ Hall of Fame in Nashville. In 1996, Bear Family Records of Germany released a long overdue triple-CD career retrospective on Griffin entitled The Last Letter.
In 1938, bandleader and pianist ROY NEWMAN cut in Dallas « Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby« , in a more Western swing mood. Griffin had done it fast- paced, Newman kept it. Whole thing is cheerful, funny, and ideal for dancers. The personnel included: Gene Sullivan on vocal duties, Newman on piano, a young Jim Boyd on guitar, along with Holly Horton (clarinet), Cecil Browen (fiddle), Ish Irwin (bass) and Walter Kirken (banjo). ROY NEWMAN is known for his « I Got Ants In My Pants » and « Rosalie », cut either in Dallas or in New Orleans at the end of the ’30s.
Then ten years later, the song was covered twice. I really don’t know who came first, so I suppose it was GLEN THOMPSON. He hailed from Danville, VA, and had numerous records on the Tornado, (Tennessee) Athens, even his own Glen Thompson labels. Most of his output can be found on a UK. Krazy Kat CD « Tarheel Swing ». Here he delivers a fine, up-to-date hillbilly bop shuffle paced version (uncredited) of the classic on the Manchester, KY Acme label (# 982-B). The steel player is particularly fine (two solos), as the fiddler and the pianist. Lyrics do seem to emanate direct from Griffin. JIMMY SHORT & the Silver Saddle Ranch Boys out on the West coast did their version in 1951 on the 4 Star label (# 1538). A bit Western flavored (as Short yells to invite the members for their solos); the steel Jay Higham is impressive, as the rhythm guitar by Short, who reminds me much of Clyde Moody‘s « The Blues Came Pouring Down » from 1949 (hear this song in his story elsewere in the site).
Billboard April 7, 1951
Then we go to the two last versions we’re interested in. Without doubt, the YORK BROTHERS revived the Griffin song, however strangely crediting it to Wayne Walker and Webb Pierce. Theirs is very good, well-suited to their harmony style, and taken at a Rockabilly tempo. Issued 1957.
Carl Perkins - Sun studio
The musicof GLEN THOMPSON or YORK BROTHERS’ song and the CARL PERKINS song is totally different. The Carl Perkins song has blues-style guitar riffs and a start-stop rhythm closer to « Blue Suede Shoes« . There are two verses in common but Carl Perkins wrote completely new music for his song released on Sun Records in 1957 on the famous « Dance Album » LP 1225.
And the rest is history of Rock’n'Roll, when the song got a world-wide appeal when released in 1964 in England. A fine career for a 1936 session-filler by a long-forgotten honky tonk artist…Finally it was revived in 2003 by JOHNNY CASH, as a tribute to Carl Perkins, his old friend (who had died a couple years before). A nice, strong version.
Leon Chappel remains a sadly unrecognized progenitor of western swing, later recording a clutch of singles for Capitol that are fascinating for their mutant hillbilly-blues approach.
Read the rest of this entry »
Howdy folks! This time, being late by 3 days, I won’t be as talkative as usual. Very few snippets on the main artist, and only label shots for the others. CUZZIN BILL HAMBY does offer us his aptly named « Heart Break Station » on the Way-Vee (# 600) label, I think from somewhere in Texas.
Then on to BOBBY METZEL with the fine « No Longer Mine » (Renco 737)
Back to TIM DINKINS, whose I podcasted the great « Cattin’ Tonight » once in an article devoted to « Cat Music« . Here it is the equally good flipside, « It’s All In A Lifetime » (Fable 595 A, from California).
The three remaining tracks are by CLEVE WARNOCK, who apparently was active in Atlanta, Ga. First cut is from 1955: « My Baby Is Gone » on the Stars label (# 502). The two other tracks do date from 1957, also on Stars: « So Goes Life » (# 2127) and « Boy And A Guitar » (# 2128) (yep, Warnock is alone with his guitar!). Note that the 1957 sides were co-written with BILLY BARTON.Enjoy the selections and have a merry Xmas and a Boppin’ New Year!
Few realize the vintage of the YORK Brothers’ earliest recordings, and that their first and biggest record, « Harmtrack Mama », was actually recorded in 1939 ! Released in Detroit on the upstart Universal label, « Hamtramck Mama » (Universal 105/106) was the very first independant Hillbilly record of a new era which would only really get into full swings toward the end of W.W. II. It reached markets in many parts of the country (over the years selling at least 300,000 copies in the city of Detroit alone) and was as much an achievement for Universal as it was for the Brothers. The record can be found with many distributor names and label variations, some very crudely printed, indicating that they had big trouble keeping up with the demand.
Hello folks! This is the new serie of mostly obscure Hillbilly bop and/or late ’50s Country-rockers. About the majority of the artists, they disappeared into obscurity without leaving any trace, just after the release of their record. Anyway, most important is the music they left behind them, and I hope you will enjoy it as much as I chose the tunes.
We’re beginning with LEE NICHOLS on the Allied label for a nice shuffling Hllbilly bop from 1954, « Baby, You’ve Got Everything » (# 5016). Just where Nichols came from or even label’s location I have been unable to find any snippet. To add a little more confusion, the name Allied must have been pretty common for, I bet, a Southern record label.
A less unknown artist was LUCKY BOGGS. I don’t know exactly where he came from, but it seems, from the spare details I’ve got on him, that he very often traveled through the U.S., from Ohio to Texas, then Georgia and Texas to Michigan. Here, taken from hillbilly-music.com, his biography:
When he was just 16, Lucky Boggs began his professional musical career in 1946, working with a band called the Rhythm Rascals over WPAY out of Portsmouth, Ohio. From there, he moved to Bloomington, Indiana in 1947. In 1948, he was working with Chess Davis’ Chicago Follies and touring throughout the south. Later, he moved to Saginaw, Michigan and to radio station WKNX, playing with Don Boots’ band. In 1949, he was playing with Chuck Bridges’ Ohio Playboys over WHTN in Huntington, West Virginia. and later at KRIC in Beaumont, Texas. Lucky then formed his own band and became a member of the staff at WSAZ-TV in Huntington, West Virginia then moved to WNXT in Portsmouth, Ohio again. February of 1956 saw him sign a three year record contract with Buddy Record Corporation in Marshall, Texas. They said his first single included « Once I Went To Town » b/w « Tears In My Heart« , that was released in April of 1956. In that same month, Lucky rejoined WSAZ-TV in Huntington and was the vocalist with Dean Porter and the Country Rhythm Boys and was also on the Saturday Nite Jamboree show. Note that Buddy records saw also first Tommy Blake release (« Kool It », a crude Rockabilly), same guy was later to cut marvelous Rock’nRollers for Sun in Memphis.
Here I am offering his great shuffler from 1959, « Drillin’ Rig Boogie » (label unknown).
Next artist is now more well-known than during his short life (he died at the early age of 26). IRY LEJEUNE was born 1928 in a modest sharecropping farm near Church Point, La. Unable to work in fields because of a bad sight, he began at an early age playing accordion, and made his life’s earnings entertaining for local sharecroppers in his area. WWII years were tough, as work was missing, all the troopers being gone. When they returned, they were angry to hear their own Cajun music, and Iry LeJeune was ready to satisfy them. This induced him to record in 1948, along with the fiddler Floyd LeBlanc, « Evangeline Special« , a loud, heavy piece of Cajun accordion-led hillbilly, on Opera 105, in Houston, Texas (backing provided by Virgel Bozman’s Oklahoma Tornadoes). His career was well on its way. Alas, on October 1955, he was killed upon returning from a gig; in Eddie Shuler‘s own words: « They had a flat where they were widening the highway and they couldn’t pull off. They were trying to change the tire when a guy came along going about 90 MPH. He hit him (LeJeune) and knocked him into a field. That was the end of Iry. »
The name of HARMONICA FRANK is indeed familiar to many ’50s music lovers. Born 1908, he toured extensively with the last medicine shows during the ’30s, and set up a sort of one-man show, singing, playing guitar and blowing harmonica, all at the same time! He recorded first in 1951 for Sam Phillips, who leased tapes to Chess in Chicago, because he sounded black. « Howlin’ Tomcat » (Chess # 1494), cut December 1951 (just 60 years ago) is a nice piece of folk-blues. Floyd had a fine voice, and his growlings are very convincing. Phillips used to call him « his favorite son« , and actually hired Elvis 3 years later in seach of a new Frank Floyd.
From Madisonville, TN, comes the completely unknown (to me, at least) HOYT STEVENS on the obscure Log Cabin label, for the good Rockabilly »55 Chevy » (# 617). A lot, thousands, dozens of thousands of those artists were to record a one-off record at the turn of mid ’50s, then disappeared; and someone very often finds a gold nugget – thanks to internet, the collectors do offer now very freely their finds.
Finally, NELSON YOUNG is a relatively well-known artist, whose career was concentrated in the Cincinnati, OH area. He had in late 1957 the famous « Rock Old Sputnick » out on the Lucky label. In 1958, he offered us a more Hillbilly bop tune, although Bluegrass flavored, on Starday 341, with « Sunrise« .
That’s all, folks, for this time! Enjoy the selections, and, as usual, comments welcome. Bye-bye
The pictures below (Iry LeJeune with Virgel Bozman‘s band in 1947) couldn’t find their room at the right place:
Iry Lejeune & Nathan Abshire
Fautheree (l) & Mathis (r)
The mainstay of this ensemble was Jimmy Lee Fautheree. Born (James Walton Fautheree) on April 11, 1934 in Smackover, Arkansas. When he was 12 years old, his aunt bought him a guitar and he was fortunate that his parents wanted him to be an entertainer : so Fautheree became an accomplished guitarist at the age of 16 He spent many hours and dayspracticing guitar and singing with two of his younger brothers, Lynn and Jackie, both of whom in adulthood would follow him in musical pursuits. Their father was an oilman and moved his family from town to town as jobs became available, but settled in Dallas in 1946. The family was very musical minded, so Jimmy came by it honest. Jimmy liked and was around most phases of music : blues and hillbilly were his favorites, but country and gospel also fell into place. Ernest Tubb and Jack Guthrie were big influences, but Merle Travis left a definite impression on Jimmy with his distinctive finger-picked electric guitar style.
Following a successful appearance on the Big « D » Jamboree, Jimmy Fautheree was soon a regular feature of the Dallas Country music scene. ‘Country’ Johnny Mathis, not to be confused with the pop crooner of the same name, hailed from Maud TX, where he was born in 1935. Mathis is arguably the most notable of the many individuals that made up the other half of the Jimmy & Johnny guise. Mathis had already garnered some experience in the recording field, having waxed a handful of sides for the JB [an extra-Bullet outfit of Jim Bulleit] in 1951 and Talent (Dallas, Texas) (1949) labels. Jim Bulleit acted also as manager for Jimmy Fauthereee (see below Billboard snippet).
In 1951, the boys were invited on to the Louisiana Hayride and very quickly became part of the house band which was then run by bassist Tillman Franks (more on him in the article devoted elsewhere in this site to the early days of Webb Pierce in Shreveport). Recently unearthed tapes of the Hayride concerts stand testament to their talent. Shortly after joining the prestigious show, Fautheree was signed to a recording contract with Capitol records. His first Capitol session took place at the Louisiana Hayride in 1951 in Shreveport, Louisiana. Four songs were recorded – « Go Ahead and Go » (a Jimmy Lee original), the fine uptempo « I’m Diggin’ A Hole To Bury My Heart » (# 2153) and here, Fautheree was also renamed « Jimmy Lee« . He went on to be a great star in the hillbilly field. One of his Capitol records is interesting, »Blowin’ And Goin’ » as it includes a muted trumpet, an unusual instrument in early ’50s Country, but in Lee Bond‘s Republic sides, e.g. « How About A Date« , cut at the same time as Jimmy Lee (see elsewhere for this label’s story)
Billboard 1952 snippet
In 1953, the pair Fautheree-Mathis recorded « If You Don’t, Somebody Else Will » for Feature (a Crowley, La. Jay D. Miller label), but it wasn’t until the following year, when they re-recorded the song for Chess, that it made the n°3 spot and became their only hit record. Jimmy Lee continued working and recording under the name of Jimmy & Johnny (Decca), albeit now with his brother Lynn. The new duet cut superb Rockabillies : the furious « Sweet Love On My Mind » (written by Wayne Walker, and shortly thereafter recorded by Johnny Burnette and the Rock’n'Roll Trio on Coral)(# 30061), the lazy uptempo Hillbilly bop bordering Rockabilly « Sweet Singing Daddy » (# 29772), the equally good « What ‘Cha Doin’ To Me » (# 30410), while the latter’s flipside, « I’ll Do It Everytime » was titled « Skiffle-Billy Beat » ! They were featured on Faron Young‘s band – Faron Young & The Deputies, on to the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, performing there many times on the famous stage. Jimmy was featured in many shows of Elvis Presley’s early years, with Elvis being Jimmy’s opening act several times. Wow, how many can say that has happened for them ? Fautheree also did teaming up on Chess with Wayne Walker for the major 1955 Rockabilly classic « Love Me » with its furious steel-guitar and Fautheree’s own raucous, gutbucket bluesy guitar. In addition, he made later some solo recordings : in 1958, he cut the out-and-out rocker « Teen-Age Wedding » for the Vin label in New Orleans under the name Johnny Angel.
KWKH was a radio studio, also the only recording studio in Shreveport. Its studio was built as a room within a room : about two ft. away from the outside walls of the building, another wall was constructed stuffed with fiberglass. The only windows faced the annoncer’s booth and an area in front of the studio where the coffee machine and several chairs and tables were situated. The dimensions of the studio were approximately 25×30 ft. with a 12-foot ceiling, which was similar to the Dallas’ Jim Beck’s studio facility. Nevertheless, engineer Bob Sully excelled in being able to make the most out of what was available. For instance, he discovered that an echo effect was possible through feeding the output back into the board. Which he did, with Jimmy Lee & Wayne Walker « Love Me ».
Mathis teamed early in 1955 with a Dallas club owner, Les Chambers, who put on several singles on Starday by himself. The pair issued two nice fast Hillbilly boppers : « Everybody Else Does (Why Can’t I ») (Starday 181), as an answer to « If You Don’t, Somebody Else Will », and « Give Me A Little More » (Starday 206).
Chambers soon disappeared, recording-wise, while Johnny Mathis switched naturally under the protection of Starday, when this label and Mercury went to a common venture early in 1957. There he had «One Life » (# 71273), as several tracks on various artists albums, e.g. « Hillbilly Hit Parade ». He even cut uncredited for the
low-budget Dixie label a nice version of the, I believe he was
the originator, Porter Wagoner song « I Thought I Heard You Call My Name » (# 526). Later in 1958, he recorded Rockabilly on ‘D’ as Les Cole and the Echoes (« Bee Boppin’ Daddy /Rock-A-Bye-Baby», # 1010). He and Fautheree were reunited in the late fifties for a couple of releases on ‘D’, (« My Little Baby » , # 1089 ) and one for the Los Angeles Republic label (« Knock On Wood », # 2014), in 1961 before finally dissolving the act, and once again each one going their own way.
During the 1960s, Jimmy Lee recorded for the Paula label in Shreveport : a more modern version of « Can’t Find The Door Nob » (sic, # 239) (1966) and one very tough, fine guitar-led instrumental: « Box Full Of ‘Git’ » Next year, he cut the nice, loud rocker »Overdue » (also on Paula 279), then on the Lodema label, more instro with « Project X-9 » and the awesome country bopper « Laziest Man In The World » (Lodema # LR 101, 1983).
Jimmy produced several Gospel albums, his first in the late 1970′s. Lynn Fautheree died in 1989 from asbestosis. It would not be before 1995 that Jimmy & Johnny performed again together for the first time in 35 years, when they recorded a gospel tune « It Won’t Be Much Longer« , released on the Dallas based TIMA Records in 2000. It was their last recording together. It was however their last recording as Johnny became ill in 1999. Hewas invited to come backfor a reunion on the Louisiana Hayride show on June 27 and 28, 2003, titled « One More Ride », at the original Municipal Auditorium, 706 Elvis Presley Ave., Shreveport, Louisiana. Jimmy opened the Friday night show by singing one of his recordings, « Unknown Legends« , written by Johnny Mathis. That song was perfect for the night, and as many of the original performers such as Kitty Wells, Johnny Wright, Bonnie, Maxine, and Jim Ed Brown, Billy Walker, just to name a few, were present to once again perform their talents, and could say, « we are home once again« .
Also last year (2003), Jimmy performed a Rockabilly Show, « The Ponderosa Stomp », in New Orleans, Louisiana, backed by Deke Dickerson and the Ecco-Fonics Band. That performance went so well that Deke invited Jimmy Lee to his Fort Horton studios in Austin, TX., to record with the band. The result is: « I Found The Doorknob« , Jimmy Lee’s first recording in forty years! The new CD features the hit « I Found The Doorknob » (answer song to « Can’t Find The Doorknob« ), and many others including « Gotta Get You Near Me Blues« , « Overdue« , « Box Full of Gits » (Jimmy’s admirous guitar picking), « I’m Diggin a Hole« , « Big Mamma Blues« , « Nine Pound Hammer« , and many more. This CD is available through the web site – dekedickerson.com, his first album for nearly 30 years.
Jimmy went to Rye, Sussex, England, and performed the Rockabilly Rave Show on March 7, 2004, doing an outstanding performance playing his guitar and singing to many a fan who never thought they would get to see their favorite artist in person. This was also the first time he ever did perform in Europe. Three months later, he lost his battle against cancer : he passed away at his home in Dallas TX, on June 29, 2004.
As a solo artist, Johnny Mathis released several singles for D, United Artists and Little Darlin’. His final charting single was « Please Talk to My Heart, » released in 1963. He also encountered significant success as a songwriter, penning songs for Johnny Paycheck, George Jones and Webb Pierce, among others.
Mathis suffered a stroke in February 1999, and was no longer able to perform. He died on September 27, 2011, one day prior to his 78th birthday
There was also a release on TNT which is by a different Jimmy & Johnny duet; a Jimmy Lee has « Look What Love Will Do » on Vin 1010, and a record on Feature is by a Jim & Johnny, once again no relation to Messers Fautheree and Mathis.
Biography based on Dik De Heer work (www.rockabilly.nl), Walter Stettner’s own, from « Steel Guitar Forum » (published on the Rockabilly Hall of Fame site), and, most of all, from the very fine and indispensable book « Cowboys, Honky-tonks and Hepcats » written and published by my good friend Tony Biggs. Nearly all pictures were provided by Tony, too. And all the music comes from his fabulous collection…Thanks-a-lot, Tony!
Howdy, folks! We do embark for a new musical journey into Bluegrass, old-time Hillbilly, and border Rockabilly Hillbilly bop.
First from North Wilkesboro, Western North Carolina, do come the CHURCH BROTHERS. Three brothers, Ralph, Bill and Edwin (each’s instrument unknown) and a fourth partner, Ward Eller, provided on the Jim Stanton’s Rich-R-Tone label, later on Drusilla Adams’ Blue Ridge label, a nice serie of enthusiastic tunes between 1951 and 1953, before they were disbanded by the mid-’50s. The elder Bill was playing (certainly guitar) with Roy Hall & his Blue Ridge Entertainers before the WWII, and was joined later by younger brothers. Alas, they were reluctant to travel very far, and, being modest and straightforward country boys, they were less and less involved in music – and more and more tied in their farms and families. Here you can hear the fabulous banjo-led « I Don’t Know What To Do« , which I don’t even know the original issue number of, having picked it from an old Tom Sims’ cassette. This track escaped to Rounder LP 1020, a shame because in my mind it’s by far their best track ever. Final note: the Church Brothers backed Jim Eanes on his regional hit « Missing In Action » (1952).
GRANDPA JONES (Born Louis Jones, 1913 – died 1998) was a banjo player, comedian, and long-time associate with Grand Ole Opry. He had adopted the name ‘Grandpa’ at 22,because he sounded old on the radio. He recorded with Merle Travis and the Delmore Brothers as Brown’s Ferry Four for King (religious sides). Here you can hear his hilarious and stomping « Grandpa’s Boogie » (King 822) from 1948.
CHARLIE MONROE along with famous brother Bill was at the very beginnig of Bluegrass music, but he deliver also some very good Hillbilly, as here with « Down In Caroline » from the ’40s (RCA 48-0391B ). Note the boogie guitar for a song much covered afterwards, e.g. the Church Brothers.
From Texas and a bit later. The first issue on the Gainesville Lin label (Buck Griffin…) by a rather unknown WAYNE JETTON and « A Crazy Mind Plus A Foolish Heart » (Lin 1000). A good average uptempo ballad. Then, on the San Antonio TNT label, a bordering Hillbilly bop/Rockabilly bop, « Be Bopping Baby » (TNT 9009) by RANDY KING, from 1956. Good topical lyrics, and fine backing.
Finally a belter from 1956 by a R&B lady (unusual on Bopping!), « Alabama Rock’n'Roll » by MABEL KING on the Rama (# 200) New York label. Enjoy the selections! ’till then, bye-bye!
One of the first articles I ever wrote was about rockabilly/honky tonk singer Buck Griffin, which in turn led me to my proud association with Joe Leonard. Griffin was a great artist who unfortunately struck out before making the major leagues, despite going to bat for Lin, MGM and Holiday Inn between 1954 and 1962. He tried his hand at both country and the newly emerging rockabilly style but was destined to remain relatively unknown.
Born Albert Clyde Griffin in Corsicana, Texas on 23rd February 1923, his formative years were spent moving throughout Oklahoma and Kansas. Whilst still in his teens, A.C., as he was known, formed and fronted a country band with three schoolmates. After leaving school and holding down jobs on pipelines and oil fields, he started to play the local honky tonks and eventually got a gig on radio station WKY.
Throughout the forties and fifties radio had bred many stars who once they were groomed and polished, moved on to better things, leaving the station manager to find a replacement. WKY probably had this in mind when they copyrighted the name Chuck Wyman and had our Mr. Griffin use it for all his broadcasts. Once he left the station, singers like Paul Brawner and Pronger Suggs took over the role and the sponsors continued backing the shows. The public must surely have noticed whenever a new Chuck arrived, but after a hard days toil in the cotton fields or rounding up cattle, I don’t suppose they cared. Read the rest of this entry »
Jackson Cleveland Toombs was born in Murfreesboro, TN (Rutherford Cty), on September 2, 1925.
He came to Nashville with his family in 1937. He started driving a cab in 1950 but his first music job was on WHOP in Hopkinsonville, KY in the mid-forties, and he started writing with Vic McAlpin around 1950 . Their first hit was « Almost », given to George Morgan.
About his session on Speed, Toombs doesn’t remember how he got acquainted with Frank Innocenti. « Pin Ball Fever » (Speed 111) anyhow had a black bass player, and a black piano player, and was a Tennessee Ernie-styled boogie that came very close to greatness. The idea of a pinball novelty hillbilly boogie refers to Red Foley‘s 1954 own « Pinball Boogie ». While at Speed, Toombs offered « Little Bit Late For Loving » to Bob Rogers (Speed 115).
label scan courtesy Udo Frank
Then Toombs had three records on Excello, and the first, « You’re the Only Good Thing » (# 2033), was a big hit. Alas, he didn’t collect the royalties, having sold the song to Innocenti. It was one of these great country love ballads. Gene Autry, Ernest Tubb, Billy Walker had their own version issued. Jim Reeves and Georhe Morgan (twice, a pop and a hillbilly version) hit big with this song.
After his Speed record, Jack had gone to Detroit and worked the bars as a joint act with the York Brothers. Shortly after returning to Nashville, he cut a spirited cover version of « Hound Dog », which was issued as Cleve Jackson and his Hound Dogs on the N.Y.C. Herald label (# 6000) , backed with « Has A Chicken Got A Leg » in 1953. The same piano player seems to be the one who backed Toombs on Speed, and the drummer could be black, having such an unorthodox style in country, almost a rumba beat.
Another Excello issue, « My Imagination/Foolish Jealousy » (# 2041) is far more pop oriented : more of the love ballad, well sung, but backed by an organ !
Finally, in March or April 1956, Toombs cut (this time with his full name) « Kiss-A Me Quick », a real splice of Rockabilly, complete with hiccups and a nice lead guitar (Excello # 2083). The man was very versatile, able to do weeping pop ballads nearly at the same time as out-and-out rockabilly.
After rock’n'Roll had exploded, he began using another pseudonym, Jackie Trent, and had an almost-national hit on the Excello subsidiary label Nasco with « Little Andy » (# 6012, 1958), a pop rocker with chorus, and never recorded again. However he kept songwriting for Cedarwood, and never gave up his day job with the cab company.
Article based on notes by Martin Hawkins for the boxset « A Shot In The Dark ». Label scans from various sources, e.g. Terry Gordon’s Rockin’ Country Style, or Udo Frank. Thanks to them!.
Tommy Trent is an unknown artist among the thousands who tried to make up during the ’50s. He had only a hit in 1952, the justly acclaimed « Paper Boy Boogie », which apparently attracted a little attention : it was covered the same year by a singer of star status, Texas Bill Strength, on Coral. But this is only a small part of his interesting story. Read the rest of this entry »