Howdy folks ! Very different things this time, and the recordings do go from 1936 until 1960.
Let’s begin with the unknown (surely a one-offer) GLENN KIRBY and his good, gentle shuffler « I love blue eyes » issued in Texas on TNT 138 in July 1956. A steel and piano solo plus throughout fiddle, although nothing exceptionnal.
SHORTY ASHBURN, our second artist, was equally unknown despite his 3 records issued on Nashville labels at the turn of 1950-51. Without doubt he only cut 4 songs at the same session for the Bullet label, which were issued upon # 749 « Triflin’ heart », a nice shuffler with piano and steel solos. The guitar player is rather uninspired (or too badly paid trying to shine). Ashburn went the same way with « More & more » (# 752) ; all his sides were written (or co-written) with Jimmy Rule, a mathematics teacher mostly famous for ghostwriting Hank Williams‘ booklet, « How to write folk and western music to sell ». The 3rd Ashburn record was written by Autry inman, who found himself in the position he had prophetically shown up, when he was arrested by the FBI in 1972 for bootlegging records : « You’re under arrest » was given to Ashburn and issued on the small Jamboree label (# 514).
PETE PIKE is a rather well-known figure in Hillbilly and Bluegrass circles. His incomplete story was given in this site in January 2011, and many facts have been thrown to light since then. I’ve chosen the fabulous slice of Hillbilly bop from 1960, « Cold gray dawn », issued on Rebel (Maryland) # 228 : great steel and expressive vocal.
As a change, we move to March 1936 for a New Orleans session by MILTON BROWN& His Musical Brownies. The song may be vaudeville or poppish, the backing is splendid : nice fiddle by Cliff Bruner, and a fabulous lap-steel solo (40 seconds!) by the late Bob Dunn. The song is « Ida ! sweet as apple cider », originally on Decca 5325, and reissued on 46002 in 1946.
From Metter, south of Georgia came Wallace and Charlie, the MERCER BROTHERS. They were young farmers and bought their first Sears & Roebuck guitar in 1939 with the money from picking cotton. They had soon after the WWII a show on WMAZ, then entered the Louisiana Hayride in April 1948, as The Blue Ridge Boys. Columbia signed them and recorded the duet, augmented by the harmonica of Wayne Raney, in August 1951. After seemingly sufficient sales, they had a second session in May 1954, backed by Doyle Strickland on fiddle. They sounded like the Delmore Brothers. Here is their « What’s he got that I ain’t got » (Columbia # 20978), you can judge by yourself. After their departure from Columbia, they went to WIBB in Macon where they did alternate country and sacred radio shows.
The last artist was very young, only 18 and still in high school when he entered WRJW radio station in Picayune, MS. to record his double-sider for D Records in September 1958. Pappy Daily had a contact in Picayune, Fred Henley (the local Colonel Parker) who sent up for DOUG STANFORD. His record « Sady/Won’t you tell me » (D 1034) had a gifted guitar player, Billy Fred Stockstill, even younger than Stanford : « He could do that Chet Atkins stuff good as Chet », he said.
Sources : « A shot in the dark » boxset, notes by Martin Hawkins ; « The complete D singles…collection, volume 1 », notes by Colin Escott. « Columbia 20000 », the site of Willem Agenant. My own archives. YouTube and 45rpm-cat.
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.
The Bullet Recording and Transcription company was formed in late 1945 by former Grand Ole Opry booking agent Jim Bulleit, in partnership with musician Wally Fowler and businessman C. V. Hitchcock. (more…)