The image of the blind troubadour is a familiar one in Country music’s history.For many born this way, or struck down with blindness in infancy, music was their only tangible means to forge an independant path through life. Perhaps the most famous blind troubadour in Country, in the post years at least, was Leon Payne. Although he achieved more success through his songwriting than his own recordings. Equally prolific on the songwriting front, yet denied the same degree of success, was Leroy Jenkins : he was born on July 28, 1921 in Texas. Only six months old he turned blind. From the age of seven he attended the Texas School for the Blind in Austin. Here he learned to play the guitar. In 1942 he entered “Abilene Christian College”, to become a priest, meanwhile preaching in churches in the neighborhood. A year later he quit college and moved in with his wife, a blind woman he recently had married. He wanted to become an artist and he and his wife moved to Dallas, Texas. He found a job in a nightclub where he sang and played guitar with fellow artists. He was a popular act and consequently he was offered a contract to host his own show at a local radio station.
In 1946 he had his first success when he wrote the song “Tell Me Now Or Tell Me Never”, which Roy Acuff recorded for Columbia (# 37099). He was then part of Miss Ludy & her Crazy Gang who were performing on KRLD, Dallas.
Jenkins made his first recordings in September 1949 for the Talent label from Dallas [it’s unclear if it concerns the famous Star Talent/Talent label, which had only a 600/700 serie]. It’s however likely these recordings were made at Jim Beck’s studios in Dallas.
Beck was a key figure in the development of country music in Dallas. Another question appears when it comes to master # (BB 164/165) for « You two timed me three timed me » and « Forever and ever », as these numbers do seem Blue Bonnet (another Dallas label) cuts. Note that the B-side was also given at an earlier stage of research (by Al Turner) as another version of Wayne Raney’s « Why don’t you haul off and love me ».
Next Jenkins record with his Texas Showboys was made also in Dallas for the Jim Beck’s own Dude label (# 1507), and « Too fat boogie » is a hillbilly bop romper. Note that the flipside “If I could buy your love” (untraced) was cowritten with Beck and (apparently) Riley Crabtree.
Nevertheless it was probably Beck who arranged an audition for Leroy with Columbia’s A&R man Don Law.
Leroy Jenkins signed his Columbia contract on March 1, 1951. It was a contract for one year and four songs. He would get 2% of 90% of the sales. There were two options for an additional year against 3%.
On March 13, 1951 he had his first Columbia session in Beck’s studio. Four powerful songs were recorded of which « Hard time hard luck blues » (# 20815) was a strong rhythm-guitar led country-blues tune. Its flipside however was a weeper, « I’m crying but nobody cares».
The remaining tracks of this first recording session were “Time Passes By” and “Please Don’t Tell Me That You Love Me” (# 20853) both weepers, although good examples of classic honky tonk ballads out of Texas in the early ’50s. During his second and final Columbia session (8/2/51) again four songs were recorded. Out of the 4 tracks, the two weepers « You’re talking to a broken heart » (# 20931) and « Don’t be a home breaker » (# 20878) were striking a balance between the two uptempos « I just don’t know » and most of all the fast « Tennessee sunshine ». Jenkins of course wrote all of his material.
After that last record Jenkins disappeared from the music scene, and maybe returned to priesthood. He died December 18, 1990, and must not be confused either with the jazz violinist, or the Ohio televangelist of the same name. Nor of course with current artist Leeroy Jenkins.
Sources : 78rpm for label scans (thanks to Ronald Keppner) ; W. Agenant’s site « Columbia 20000 » for Columbia sides ; also his biography of L. Jenkins was of great help, as Al Turner’s in Hillbilly Researcher # 10 ; Uncle Gil Rockin’ Archives for Dude and Flair sides; Roots Vinyl Guide for some label scans. My own researches (photographs, various data, personal appreciations and additions).
Howdy folks, this fortnight will be a bit quieter than usual, with a batch of very old Hillbillies.
First the King of Country Music, Mr. ROY ACUFF himself. There’s no need to tell his story, after all, with his Smoky Mountaineers or his Crazy Tennesseans, he more or less started it all. Here’s his « Steel guitar blues » (Conqueror 9088), recorded on March 22, 1937 in Birmingham, AL, with the stunning Clell Summey on lap-steel, Jess Easterday on guitar and Red Jones on bass. Wild effects on the steel, and great string-bass !
JOHNNY HENDERSON, originally from Texas, was a determined character, who just kept on trying. He had «The girl that I love is an Oakie », first on Miltone 5201, a nice jumper (piano leader plus steel solo and fiddle) ; then he recut it on his own High Time label # 117. On the flipside, « Down beside the Rio Grande » is a fine relaxed fast ditty on the same format. Henderson also had of course the famous « Any old port in a storm » and, under the alias of Johnny Gittar, « San Antonio boogie », perhaps for a later fortnight.
On the Tred-Way label (# 100A), out of Midland, Texas, « Who flung that mater » by TROY JORDAN is a gentle piano-led jumping little thing. Good fiddle solo. Jordan had another one on this label, « Too many kinfolks » (# 103).
“Who flung that mater”
download Way up in the early times, a famous duet, that of TOM DARBY & JIMMIE TARLTON, had a long string of releases between 1927 and 1933 on the Columbia label, cut in Atlanta, Ga. Here is their fantastic bluesy dobro and urgent vocal for « Sweet Sarah blues » (April 15, 1929, Columbia 15431).
From Arizona came SHELDON GIBBS. On his own Gibbs label (# 1), here are two sides, « Nothing gets me down » first, an uptempo shuffler, with lovely fiddle and vocal by Bud Gray. On another issue, they do the semi-instro »Houn’ dog boogie », a nice uptempo with fine guitar, steel and drums issued on the Smart label (# 1016). Thanks Dean.
Howdy folks! Here we go with a new offering from my collection. Kingsport, Tennessee, 1954, and a fine rendition by fiddler L.C. Smith, RADIO BOOGIE. Yes it’s a crossover between Hillbilly Bop and Bluegrass. Much earlier (March 22, 1937) and the great Roy Acuff on STEEL GUITAR BLUES (Clem Slumley on dobro – slide effects). Then on to Texas, both tracks on the TNT label. Energic BICYCLE WRECK by the Jacoby Brothers, and the bluesy LOSING THE BLUES by Jerry Dove (Remember his “Pink Bow Tie”?). Back to Ohio for Lawson Rudd’s SHAKE THIS TOWN. We finish with the Black R&R DON’T HAPPEN NO MORE by Young Jessie (Mickey Baker on guitar) – frantic! (78 rpm). Enjoy the tracks. Comments welcome!
First we have two very sought-after rockabillies from Mississipi by RICK RICKELS (MH Label), “I’m Gone” and “You Gonna Go Away”. Then the truck drivers’ favorite “Six Days on The Road” given a rocking treatment by PAUL DAVIS (Bulletin label), nice strong steel-guitar. Further on, classic lap-steel guitar of Clem Slumley behind the vocal of ROY ACUFF for this 1936 offering, “Freight Train Blues”. Then on to gospel with the Soul Stirrers pre-Sam Cooke – lead is R. H. HARRIS in “Walk Around” (1939). Finally we return to Hillbilly boogie with RAY BATTS and his “Wild Man Boogie” (Nashboro, 1951) – fine trombone which did inspire Sonny Burgess a couple of years later. Enjoy the music!