DIXIE JAMBOREE: a small Nashville hillbilly label (1950-51)

The Jamboree label

Bill Beasley had set up Tennessee records on a professionnal footing : it would be a union label, filing session details with the AFM for approval and paying union scales to the musicians Harold Bradley would bring in. Within a few months, Beasley realized that he could cut expenses for country and blues sessions by hiring non-union musicians, and in May 1950, the partners (Alan Bubis) founded another label that would focus on local country music talent. Another motive for the new subsidiary, Jamboree – although some labels (511 onwards) said « Dixie Jamboree » – was to test the waters in the « racking » market, selling cover versions of best-selling songs through grocery stores and other non-standard outlets that would accommodate a rack of records. A third factor is studio time, as Castle studio was not always available, so Bubis and Beasley recorded also in Bowling Green, Kentucky, at a radio station (engineered by Jim McKinney).

The first Jamboree artist, the prolific Dick Stratton, produced a classic product firmly in line with the Beasley/Bubis philosophy, the jukebox disc « Slippin’ around with Jole Blon », which referenced a number of popular records by stringing their titles together. A vocalist, bass-fiddle player and acoustic guitarist, Stratton led the house band on the live Hayloft Jamboree ((a minor-league radio barn dance, broadcast over WKDA Saturday afternoons from Nashville’s War Memorial auditorium), and soon led the studio band (« The Nite Owls ») on Tennessee/Jamboree’s country records. Stratton’s band was tight, swinging and accomplished with an ensemble sound, especially in the guitar parts (Harold Forrester or Boudleaux Bryant on fiddle, Alan Flatt or Bob Williams on guitar, Billy Byrd on steel or electric guitar and Roy Hall or Del Wood on piano). Beasley remembered that the two unsung stars of the band were the Neely Brothers, Mitch on fiddle and Paul on guitar.

Dick Stratton had also « Fat gal boogie » (# 501), the song’s subject matter may be insensitive by today’s standards, but let’s not forget that Merle Travis scored a hit in 1947 with « Fat gal ». Before he moved to the main Tennessee label at the end of 1951, Stratton recorded a mix of original novelty tunes (« Music City, U.S.A. ») and covers, notably « Poison love », previously a hit by Johnny & Jack. Stratton was an engagingly rough-hew, if limited, vocalist, and the backings were generic honky-tonk, driven by the tic-toc rhythm of the electric guitar’s deadened bass strings – the sort of fare that would have gone down well in the joints around Nashville. Another interesting novelty is « Music City, U.S.A. » (# 510), the first song in which Nashville was touted as such, although until then the city had a view of itself as the Athens of the South. It was written by Beasley, Ray Anderson and Stratton. Once again, the band excels.

 

 

 

Beasley signed another of the Nite Owls, Allen Flatt from Atlanta, for his startingly realistic impersonation of Ernest Tubb. By 1950, when Flatt first recorded for Jamboree (# 511), Tubb had established his base in Nashville, and was being imitated even more than ever. The twist this time comes from the fact that Tubb recorded « Steppin’ Out » after Flatt, making it a rare example of the prophet following the disciple. Flatt proves his mastery of Tubb’s commanding simplicity and lazy charm. The band had also mastered the trademark Texas Troubadour style. Allen Flatt occasionally played warm-up on Tubb’s local shows and possibly Ernest heard him sing this song about his unfaithful honky tonkin’ lady for years. The final Allen Flatt, « A broken heart and a glass of beer » (Jamboree 515) proves that he could even write Tubb-like songs. After leaving Jamboree/Tennessee/Republic, he went to Mercury, without hits. He died in 1988.

 

 

 

But Jamboree’s biggest hit came from another Hayloft Jamboree artist, John Talley. Born in 1924, he made his debut (# 509) with « Hillbilly sweetheart » and went on to make the first released version of Lefty Frizzell‘s signature tune « If you’ve got the money I’ve got the time », Jamboree Records’ biggest seller (# 514).

That Talley’s record was issued in August 1950, a month before Lefty’s own, was the happy result of the friendship Beasley and Bubis had cultivated with a D.J. In Chattanooga, who got prerelease records from the major labels. Although the Jamboree release caused Lefty bitter disappointment, Columbia used its clout to push his original to the top spot. Talley then went playing bass for Bill Monroe. In 1955, he had in his Minnesota band a young Dave Dudley on guitar before turning rockabilly on Mercury in 1956 ( « Wild mind »).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If Allen Fatt was a dimestore Ernest Tubb, then Ray Anderson was the dimestore Hank Williams at this stage in his career. He had first « You’re the two-timing kind » (# 504) : this was a pretty much undiluted Hank from the flashes of falsetto at the end of a line to the walking 2/4 bass and the tic-toc rhythm on the electric guitar. On the second, « I’m lonely because » (# 513), the steel hadn’t quite the bite or incisiveness of Don Helms, but it wasn’t unlike Hank to invoke divine retribution on a woman who’s done wrong. The flip side was a Korean War era novelty (« Draft board blues ») that was shaped after some of Hank’s blues.

After that, Anderson recorded for Cozy, Kentucky (« Stalin kicked the bucket »), Mountaineer in 1955, then Admiral in 1957 for a couple of rockabilly tunes. Finally Starday in 1958, before playing bass for the Osborne Brothers, and turning to religion in 1962.

Jamboree 516 had Shorty Ashburn, « You’re under arrest », co-written by Autry Inman. Indeed it would be a prophetic song for Inman, who foud himself under arrest in 1972 for bootlegging records. Ashburn had previously recorded for Bullet (« Triflin’ Woman »), and that’s all is known about him.

Hugh Cherry’s main claim, beside being a country D.J., is to have recorded the second worst record of these years in Nashville (he couldn’t sing), the first being Audrey Williams’, Hank’s wife.

Roy Justice (# 502) is unheard and went unnoticed.

Jamboree ceased activities circa mid-1951, when McKinney and Bubis/Beasley went separate ways, and that Bubis had some troubles with nonunion sessions and the AFM. He then founded Tennessee (see elsewhere in this site).

 

                                                         Article based on Martin Hawkins’ « A shot in the dark » book, as well as « Tennessee Jive » booklet. 

 

501 Dick Stratton Slippin’ around with Jole Blond Fat gal boogie
502 Roy Justice Bonaparte’s retreat Like sand through my fingers
503 Dick Stratton Rainbow Whistlin’ Rufus
504 Ray Anderson You’re the two timin’ kind You’d better hold your tongue
505-507 unknown
508 Alan Flatt It’s all over now Watching my past go by
509 John Talley Hillbilly swetheart Tears falling from your eyes
510 Dick Stratton Music City, U.S.A. It’ll be a cold day in July
511 Alan Flatt I’m movin’ on Steppin’ out
512 Hugh Cherry Rocking horse Walk, chicken, walk
513 Ray Anderson Draft board blues I’m lonely because
514 John Talley If you’ve got the money I’ve got the time The price of a broken heart
515 Alan Flatt Scrapbook of dreams A broken heart and a glass of beer
516 Shorty Ashburn You’re under arrest My last farewell
517 Dick Stratton I wouldn’t have you on a Christmas tree Poison love

 

 

late February 2013 fortnight favourites: the ADMIRAL label (Wheeling, W. Va)

Hello again ! This time I will concentrate on a Wheeling, W. Va label by the mid-50s : ADMIRAL, and two artists from its roster, ABBIE NEAL and DUSTY OWENS. Actually the Admiral label had a short life and a very few artists, among them RAY ANDERSON (remember « Stalin Kicked The Bucket » on Kentucky, and « Sputnicks And Mutnicks » on Starday?)

DUSTY OWENS was the most well-known of both, originally from Detroit, MI. By the time he had relocated in W. Va. And had had a long stint with Columbia Records. He opens the serie (# 1000), duetting with a certain Donna Darlene and backed by the Rodeo Boys. « Once More » is a fine hillbilly shuffler, later revived by the Osborne Brothers on M-G-M, and in the ’90s by Chris Hillman and his Desert Rose Band. The flispide « It’s Goodbye And So Long » is a fast fiddle led hillbilly. On # 1004 Owens revives in 1957 the Wiley Barkdull « Hey, Honey », originally issued on Hickory 1074. A good version, with a lot of slap-bass on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ABBIE NEAL is a Rockabilly chick, backed by her Ranch Girls. « Hillbilly Beat » (# 15000, unusual in the sequence) however has nothing to do with hillbilly music : it’s a fast Rock’n’Roll opus led by a hot saxophone ; some might call it « jump ». Flipside « I’ll Take Back That Heartache » is an urgent vocal rockabilly, excellent backing. « If Again » on # 1006 has Neal duetting on a fast, jumping hillbilly – strong guitar, fiddle all along.

 

 

I know nothing more than that I wrote, except Dusty Owens, whose long career is well documented. He even had a CD a few years ago on the German Bronco Buster label gathering some of his Columbia sides. Abbie Neal has a serie of very nice video clips on YouTube.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s now hear the podcasts. Enjoy and comment !

Labels from Youtube or popsike. Admiral 15000 was supplied (sound and label) by Tony Biggs. Thanks!

early November 2012 fortnight’s favourites

Howdy folks, welcome to newcomers. The aim of this feature is to spread my favorites around…

Let’s begin with a recently covered CLIFF DAVIS, without doubt a Southerner (“& his Kentucky Play Boys” as shown on the label), on the Chicago Jay Jay label (# 161) for this fabulous rendition of a classic, modernized (for 1956…) “Rocky Road Blues“. Fast, call-and-response format, even slap-bass sounding like drums and a superlative guitar. Second, thanks to Youtube chain-owner HillillyBoogie1, who frequently adds gems to his chain, PERRY WASHBURN on the Los Lunas, N. M. Mustang (# 300) label is no exception: on a obliged Indian beat, a very effective medium-paced vocal on perfect backing of steel-fiddle-guitar (nice solos) for “Pocahontas Baby“.

 

 

 

 

On the Joplin, MO. Joplin label, owned and composed by one Robert T. Nelson, a superior shuffler, “Oklahoma Blond Headed Gal” by deep-voiced SAMMIE LEE. Nice fiddle, steel all  along. Year 1958 (issue J80W-3138, RCA pressing). Thanks to Tom Sims for this rare one.

 

PORKY FREEMAN is maybe the best known of this serie, for a string of guitar-led instrumentals from 1944-1947 on Ara and Four Star labels. Here I offer his “Porky’s Boogie Woogie” (Ara 4009) from September 1945. Red Murrell on rhythm and Al Barker on bass, Porky indeed on lead guitar.

 

 

 

 

From Chicago or Eastern states come BOB PERRY. On the small Bandera label (# 1301/1303) the fantastic “Weary Blues Goodbye” from 1958. Very strong rhythm, firm vocal, and a FABULOUS steel-guitar solo, which sounds as a slide guitar. I added the flipside, very different, and more countryfied “Can’t Hardly Wait”. Perry had at least another disc on Cool, outside the scope of this site: it’s a late ’50s rocker.

Finally someone I recently put everything I could gather on, the Kentuckian born RAY ANDERSON. In the case you missed him, here is his great “Done Gone Dirty Shame” from 1952-53 on the Illinois Blue Ribbon (B2) label. Nice guitar picking a la Merle Travis.

 

Finally there is an hidden gem in the podcasts: “Haunted House Boogie” by Jack Rivers, for halloween.

Ray Anderson, “Stalin Kicked The Bucket” (1953), coldwar hillbilly bop

Stalin Kicked The Bucket: Ray Anderson [1953]

If Joseph Stalin inspired some harsh songs during his lifetime, his death ignited even more vitriol. Anderson’s unforgiving lyrics (“He died with a hemorrhage in the brain, they have a new fireman on the devil’s train“) are set against such a cheerful country melody that someone unfamiliar with the English language might mistake the tune for a square dance record. (more…)

Kentucky records (1952-1955): Cincinnati Hillbilly

BURKHARDT, CARL Carl Burkhardt was the owner of Rite Records in Cincinnati, the parent company for Kentucky, Gateway, Big 4, Big 6, Arc, Deresco, Worthmore, and others.  The operation started as a radio repair shop and record store at 3930 Spring Grove Avenue in the Knowlton’s Corner area of Cincinnati in 1940.  They began pressing records there but eventually moved to the Evendale area, where their building was across Interstate 75 from the GE Plant and could be seen from the highway.  In this location they added a studio, pressing plant, and printing presses, so they could do everything in house.  In 1955 a custom pressing division was opened to manufacture records for anyone who wanted to record and had the money to pay for it.  This continued until 1985, and in that span of time, Rite did custom pressing on approximately 21,000 different singles, most of which were country, bluegrass, or gospel.  During its existence, Rite produced 78 rpms, 45 rpms, and some LPs. (more…)