After Lonnie Irving‘s 1960 success with « Pinball Machine » (Starday 486) – staying on the charts for four months, reaching Billboard’s # 13 spot -, Don Pierce realized that a lot of the custom material sent in to Starday had strong commercial potential, so he decided to set up a label that would serve as a cross between the Starday custom serie (which lasted until # 1186) and the main series. Shortly after the success of the success of « Pinball Machine » in the summer of 1961, Pierce founded a subsidiary label, Nashville Records. Just as they had a custom service, artists would generally pay for their own studio sessions. But as was the norm for the his Starday productions, Pierce would usually pay for the pressing, shipping, and promotion. The goal was to establish another successful line of singles that, similar to the rock’n’roll label Dixie, could be shopped around on a local level.
The label proved successfully, and soon Pierce was releasing fifty to seventy-five Nashville singles annually. Almost entirely recorded at the Starday Sound Studios, the music ranged from rockabilly to gospel to bluegrass to honky-tonk and even countrypolitan, but it all felt into the cornucopia of country music ; and in Pierce’s eyes, these were a cut above the custom recordings. Because most of the sessions were recorded at Starday, a large majority of the Nashville releases through 1968 were produced by Tommy Hill. The latter scheduled sessions, hired musicians if needed, and, if the singer had talent, would convince Pierce to release the record on Nashville. Consequently, most of the releases had either one or both sides published by Tronic Publishing, the publishing company jointly owned by Pierce and Hill.
Several outstanding records emerged from the series. Among the standout artists were Bobby Hodge, Johnny Nace, Marvin Jackson, the GT’s, The Casuals, Lyle Collins, the Kenetics, and several others . Perhaps the brightest glimmer in the serie was the rockabilly-charged stomper by Loyd Howell titled « Little Froggy Went A-Courtin » (NV 5028). Howell’s drummer had sent several demos to Starday. Pierce prompty responded in a personal letter to Howell dated June 2, 1961 : « Mr. Howell . . . We just can’t offer anything on Starday at present as we are overloaded with material . . [but] if you wanted to come out to Nashville and record at our studios, we could consider the use of completed masters that would be available to us on a lease basis for use on our new Nashville label. »
Howell and his band, the Blue Stars, drove to Nashville and recorded « Froggy » live to four-track. The traditional folk song had been recorded previously with a rockabilly beat, by Bob Gallion in 1959, and both Danny Dell and Jimmy Dawson in 1960, but Howell’s version is arguably the best. The growling guitars and heavy drumbrat proved that rock’n’roll was very much alive in Michigan in 1960, though Howell recalls that it was the country flipside « They Don’t Know », that became a regional hit for them around Detroit. Despite the regional success, the record was never released on Starday. Howell remembers : « Initially [after the Nashville session was made] Tommy gave us the option of being on Starday or Nashville. I liked the Nashville label, the red label, better and so we went to Nashville. »
Other musicians did make the jump from the Nashville series onto the Starday main series, where they could receive wider exposure. Some of those artists even went on to record full-length albums : Jimmy Richardson, Pete Williams, Buddy Meredith or Buddy Starcher. Artists who recorded singles for both Nashville and Starday labels include Polly Hutt & the Crackers, Howdy Kempf (often billed on Starday as Howdy Kemp), Ken Clark & his Merry Mountain Boys, Paul Wayne, Jimmy Simpson, Hobo Jack Adkins, Mike Miller & Jack Casey with the Stone Mountain Boys, Big Bill Johnson and Luke Gordon (both recorded custom Starday records too).
From Nathan D. Gibson book « the Starday story – the house that country music built » – reprinted with permission.
The artists. I will discuss only those 10 (out of the first 40 I chose) I will podcast the songs on.
Jimmy Simpson has « Life Goes On » on Nashville 5022, cut just before he left for Alaska. This is a bluesy uptempo song, with piano and 12-strings guitar. The backing is solid. The whole thing is not however up to the standard of the Hidus tunes from 1955-56, but it is anyway an interesting song.
Bobby Hodge offers a nice country rocker with « Carolina Bound » on Nashville 5014. A rocking guitar solo, a fine steel and a nice fiddle solo. Hodge also had a version of the evergreen classic « Sitting On The Top Of The World » around the same time on Cuca 1066.
Lee Hood on Nashville 5032 has « Doorway To Your Heart », along with unobstrusive chorus. This is an umptempo ballad, a bit Buddy Hollyish.
Opening the label sequence was Ray Pressley on Nashville 5001. Firm vocal, steel, fiddle and electric bass for a strong country rocker, « You’re A Part Of Me ».
Ken Clark was no newcomer to Don Pierce, as he had already cut for the Starday custom serie in 1957 (« Ho’ Ho’ Love’ em Joe/Quit Fool », # 631), and again 3 singles in 1959 in the main serie (# 442, 468, 495). Here he delivers a good trucker song. Acoustic guitar and topical lyrics for this « Truck Driving Joe » (# 5009).
Jimmie Zack offers an energetic « Long John’s Gone » (# 5010) : fast fiddle and a good guitar solo.
With Loyd Howell there is the best ever version of the classic « Little Froggy Went A Courtin’ » (# 5028) : crashing drums and growling guitars. This is a 1961 song wish could as well having been cut in 1958 !
« Lost Love » (# 5007) by Hal Parsons is a well-sung rockaballad over a fine fiddle backing.
« Yearning Heart » (# 5006) by Dave Stewart is an uptempo ballad, which as well could have been recorded during the ’50s : nice steel and fiddle over a strong vocal.
Finally Bill Dudley do offer « That’s What Happened To Me Yesterday » (# 5036) : fine steel, heavy electric bass. A nice rock medium country. Dudley had records on other labels, which I cannot name at the moment.
All in all, many a good record, considering they were cut in Nashville and at the beginning of insipid ’60s country music. One can say they were the last of Starday customs in spirit.
This work is the result of many researches on the net, and of the help of some peope. My congratulations do go to YouTube channel « Starday » (Pasi Koskela), thanks Pasi.
Other artists of interest in the serie : Jerry Gray (# 5004), Brownie Johnson (# 5049, fast folkish country rocker), Big Bill Johnson (#5050, medium country rocker, « Alimony », Hal Parsons’ second offering (# 5054, the great « Blues In The Night », which deserved to be issued on regular Starday) ; Virgil Owen (# 5131, for the rockabilly guitar on « Whatever You Think Best »). Indeed as times goes by, the Nashville products became more and more pop oriented.