MERLE KILGORE is not a newcomer. He met in the ’60s and ’70s a lot of success as a songwriter in Nashville : wrote « Ring of Fire » for Johnny Cash, and « Wolverton mountain » for Claude King. But I am more interested with his beginnings for Imperial records, seemingly all cut at KWKH in Shreveport, La. Here’s « Everybody needs a lttle lovin’ » that Merle released on # 8300. A Rockabilly guitar
Tillman Franks on double bass with Johnny Horton
(fine solo), propelled by a thudding bass (Tillman Franks?) over an urgent vocal. Later Wyatt Merle Kilgore (his actual name, being born in Chickasaw, OK. In 1934) turned frankly towards Rock’n’roll with tunes like « Please please please », cut in New Orleans in Jan. 1956 with an-all Black group, that of Dave Bartholomew, and « Ernie » . So eclectic was the man ! He was also a board member of the Hank Williams Montgomery museum, being very close to Hank’s family. He was back to his Country roots in 1959 with Country rockers on the « D » label (‘Take a trip to the moon »). Died of a lung cancer in 2005.
I didn’t find anything on the next artist : TROY JORDAN & His Cross-B-Boys, except to location of the label: Midland, Texas. So can only comment both sides of his disc issued on Tred-Way 100. The A-side is a good uptempo, « Who Flung that mater », with a too-discrete steel-guitar and well-sung, although nothing rxceptional. B-side is really fine bluesy a tune: guitar, steel, a piano solo, lazy vocal for « Don’t cry on my shoulder». Jordan was a distant cousin of the Carter Sisters, so it may be they are the right way for a research on him.
HILLBILLY HERMAN, & his Tennessee Valley Boys, despite his name, is a Blugrass artist in 1966, who offers « Today I watched my dreams come true » (Breeze 366, located in Livingston, TN), a solid uptempo, with great backing in the background The main instrument is a very nice mandolin ; alas the guitar solo is very insipid. The Breeze label had issued a very rocking version of “Wreck of the old 97” (# 381) by Jim Sebastian. A record to watch for. In the meantime, do YouTube searching! Herman had an elusive issue on Hatfield (no #)[untraced]
Patrick « Buddy » Attawaywas a Cajun musician (fiddle, electric guitar) from Shreveport, Louisiana, born on 5 January 1923. As a teenager he started the Rainbow Boys with songwriter and promoter Tillman Franks (also later bass player) and singer Claude King. After Army service they all left Shreveport to KLEE, Houston, Texas.
When KWKH started the Louisiana Hayride in 1948, they all returned to Shreveport. Attaway backed Claude King on recordings and in 1950 he recorded a duet with Webb Pierce on Pacemaker Records.
Two discs followed on Imperial in 1954. He was a featured Hayride star by that time, and he sang « Big Mamou » there the day Elvis Presley made his debut. He continued as staff guitarist on the Hayride into the ’60s. He died in Shreveport on 15 June 1968.
The biography above was published in a CD devoted to Ed Camp. It seems too simple and very limited. So I will add the biograhy of early Claude King (courtesy Imperial Anglares), as Buddy Attaway and King went very close during these years.
January 1946 : Claude, Buddy Attaway, Tillman and Merle Clayton went to Dallas to audition for Hal Horton, a dee-jay at KRLD. They ended up back stage at the Sportatorium meeting Roy Acuff. Things in Dallas didn’t work out so they headed back to Shreveport.
Both friends quickly joined Harmie Smith, known as the Ozark Mountaineer, on KWKH until 1947. Claude took Webb Pierce’s place and acted as emcee when playing little country towns in North Louisiana, South Arkansas and East Texas. In that band you could find Buddy Attaway (fiddle), who took Owen Perry’s place, also acting as comedian, and Harry Todd (guitar) aged sixteen years too. Harmie and that gang including Tillman Franks (bass) played the State Fair in Shreveport in November 1946.
A first record in 1947 was issued on President, in their Southern Series, “Flying Saucers/I Want to be Loved” (HB 10) under the name of Buddy & Claude with The Kentuckians. On that tiny label was also The Stamps Quartet. The session was done at KWKH radio in July 1947 with Buddy Attaway, Claude King, Tillman Franks, Shot Jackson and The Bailes Brothers. “I Want To Be Loved” (But Only By You), a Bailes Brothers song issued on Columbia 37341, later reissued 20119, later became a hit for Johnnie and Jack. Both songs are actually duet recordings.
Soon afterwards, Buddy Attaway and Claude got sponsorship from General Mills Flour and they moved to Monroe, Louisiana, working with Sleepy Watts (bass) and Jackie Featherstone (steel) as The Kentuckians. In early 1948, for a short time, Claude and Buddy went to work in Houston (Tx) calling themselves “The Attaway Boys” on their 30-minute KLEE radio show, and working in Elmer W. Laird’s used cars lot by day. Tillman Franks moved to Houston in April 1948 to work with them for Laird. They lost their jobs and radio sponsor after that guy was stabbed to death around late July 1948.
In December 1950, at KWKH, Claude King with Tillman Franks, Buddy Attaway and Webb Pierce cut “A Million Mistakes” and “Why Should I” issued on Pacemaker HB 1010. The record label was co-owned by Webb Pierce and Horace Logan, the boss/founder of the Louisana Hayride. These sides written by Claude were reissued on Gotham 409 in 1951, and were followed by “51 Beers”/”Beer and Pinball (Gotham 411), two songs from the same session, issued in August 1951.
At the same session as Claude King’s that saw Pacemaker 1010 and Gotham 411, Webb Pierce recorded an uncredited duet with Buddy Attaway titled “Freight Train Blues” (of course the old Roy Acuff song of 1936). When issued on Pacemaker 1006-B, the song didn’t even have a singer’s name on the label, without doubt because Pierce was still contracted to 4 * and Bill McCall. The flip side sung by Buddy Attaway is “I’m Sitting on Top Of The World”, and even if credited to Buddy Attaway, that’s an old song, first recorded by The Mississippi Sheiks in 1930. The harmonica chorus is played by Rip Jackson (is there a relation with steel player Shot Jackson ? No one knows) and although Webb changed the words slightly, there is not enough to give him credit.
On all these Pacemaker songs recorded at KWKH by night, Webb is backed by Tillman Franks (bass), Buddy Attaway (guitar), Tex Grimsley (fiddle) and Shot Jackson (steel guitar). On all those songs, Buddy Attaway plays great guitar licks in a Jerry Byrd style, and we can only regret his passing at 45 years old on 27th May 1968. His guitar work on “Hayride Boogie” (a song he co-wrote with Webb) was replicated on the version recorded in 1956 for Decca under the title of “Teenage Boogie”. He is also responsible for the great boogie guitar on Pierce’s « California blues » or the Tune Wranglers‘ song « Drifting Texas sand ». These 3 songs were credited to Tillman Franks.
Buddy Attaway also recorded for Imperial in January 1954 a cover of Claude King’s “Why Should I”, issued with “Rock-A-My Baby On The Bayou” (8258) both fine waltz uptempos. « Why did I leave Cloutchville » is a fast opus, very much in the Cajun tradition, while »Doubtful heart » is a quieter tune (8238). All in all, Attaway had between 1947 and ’54 a consistent high level production, be he soloist or lead player for anyone else.
After the Imperial sides, he never recorded again, concentrating apparently on his work for the Louisiana Hayride, where he was a regular until mid-1957.
March 30th, 1956 leaflet
The scheduled issue of a 20-CD on Bear Family in 2017 of Louisiana Hayride tapes should bring some surprises, in this aspect. Attaway will have “Y’all come” (1956) and “In the jailhouse now” (1958) issued.
Warm thanks go to Dominique ‘Imperial’ Anglares and the generous loan of a Claude King early biography : this formed the nucleus of the Buddy Attaway’s one – as both were intimately tied from the beginning. ‘Imperial’ furnished also a good amount of personal pictures..Ole’ Ronald out of Germany as usual furnished rare label scans and music.
Around 1948-49, several big R&B concerns, like Apollo, Modern, Imperial began to squint from the East and West coasts at the lucrative Country music market of the South. Major labels (RCA, Decca, M-G-M) were already running it, but without being locally positioned, they were losing sales, and could not exploit completely this rich soil. So people like Modern’s Bihari Brothers, Imperial’s Lew Chudd, or Specialty’s Art Rupe did seek for D.J.s and A&R men to help them to recruit good talent. And studio for recording locally. The Biharis concluded contracts with Sam Phillips, who leased them a good amount of Blues, which not prevented him to sell other sides to the Chess Brothers in Chicago. Finally Les, one of the Biharis, launched on place in Memphis Meteor records in 1952. The label found immediate success with Elmore James, and later in 1954 in the Country charts with Bud Deckleman. The Chesses came to an agreement to furnish them with masters with local promoter in Shreveport, La. Stan Lewis, who used the facilities of recording at night in the KWKH radio studio. Lew Chudd liked Jim Beck’s studio better in Dallas, Texas and found a certain commercial success with Texan artists : Billy Briggs or Jimmie Heap to name only two. Art Rupe (Specialty) preferred KWKH for its East Texas/Louisiana border position. It has been suggested that his first Southern sides had been engineered by Johnny Vincent in Jackson, MS. But the aural evidence show the very distinctive Stan Lewis feel. Billboard (January 12, 1949) gave notice that Rupe had just inked his first 4 artists on the new Specialty 700 label. All of them were barely known, no doubt they had been approached by Stan Lewis’ relations or talent scouts. Actually only Earl Nunn may be localized with his band, the Alabama Ramblers, for the first issue. Previously he had co-written in 1944 with Zeke Clements the controversial (for its racist words) « Smoke on the water » for Red Foley (Decca 6102). He was probably vocally fronted by Billy Lee, who would have his own record (# 704) a little later.
EARL NUNN offers an enjoyable lazy mid-paced « Double-talkin’ woman », with a steel well to the fore (# 701). Actually the very same steel appears on these early sessions, and one can wonder if this is a studio man, possibly Shot Jackson ; the latter was indeed hanging around at KWKH, and even had his own issues (# 704 and 710, discussed below), not to talk about his work on Pacemaker with Webb Pierce. JOHNNY CROCKETT (# 702) has «Just a minute », a very fast talking blues in the manner of Tex Williams with piano and steel effects, that could easily fall into the novelty category. BRUCE TRENT third (# 703) delivers a jumping sad « Alimony » and the medium paced bluesy « River blues ». It can be noted that he had backed with his Western Tunesters some Hal Carey on a Ca. Jewel label (# 7002).
BILLY LEE does the ordinary hillbilly « I don’t know why I love you » (# 704), while LEO STANCIL had to wait July 52 for the release of his excellent effort « Why don’t you quit hangin’ around »(# 707)(two sides penned by Earl Nunn). Long steel solo for an awesome bopper, with sweet Southern accent !
It seems that the first 4 issues were released in a relatively short time after the label was launched, for example Specialty 703 (Bruce Trent) was reviewed by Billboard in March 1949, 704 in June 1949 although both the full years 1950-51 were blank in releases. Maybe Art Rupe was expecting more sales before cutting more records.
Things began to change a bit in 1952 with the advent of three new artists in the roster : namely CLAUDE KING, BIFF COLLIE and SHOT JACKSON. Collie has been discussed in full earlier in this site, so I omit him here. Claude King (born in Louisiana in 1923,deceased 2013) was not a newcomer. As soon as 1947, he had teamed with guitarist Buddy Attaway and bassist/entrepreneur Tillman Franks as « Buddy and Claude » for an issue on the small President label (HB-10), and a frequent theme for the era, « Flying saucers »
“Buddy & Claude“”Flying saucers“
In December 1950, he recorded 4 tunes for the local Pacemaker label, which were also leased to the big Gotham East coast concern. On Specialty he cut three sessions, 10 tunes in all (2 remained unissued) – he wrote them all – between Spring and December 1952. « She knows why » (# 705) is an uptempo sad ballad (the same old story of the broken-hearted guy), which became seemingly the first hit of the Specialty Country & Folk label. At last, it had good sales and spinning reports in the South. So much so that it even had its answer song « He knows why » by Jeanette Hicks (Okeh 18021). « Take it like a man » (# 708) : the second release of Claude King has more rhythm and an insistant bass, a prominent piano and nice steel solo. Vocally King is in fine form, as in the next song « Got the world by the tail » (711), a little faster although in the same format as 708. Indeed King and his Hillbilly Ramblers had already found their way to the Louisiana Hayride saturday night show that had strong connection with KWKH radio. Actually Claude and Buddy Attaway were cast members of the Hayride since 1948, and wrote songs at the turn of the decade for Kitty Wells and Webb Pierce, who got them through Tillman Franks. Last Specialty 716 by him, « Now that I have you », remains untraced.
Claude also worked one of Hank Willams’ last tours, as his driver and opening act. He also toured in the Shreveport area with Johnny Horton, but they spent more time fishing and hunting together than in the studio ! Record wise, he remained without a contract until 1957, when he cut the famous rockabilly/rocker « Run baby run » for Dee-Jay (# 1248), and turned in 1961 on Columbia in Nashville for « The comancheros » and « Wolverton mountain » ; but this is another story..It’s interesting to note that, if King wrote all his material, he’d publish his songs sometimes at a curious « Ark-La-Tex » publishing house other than the regular « Venice music » for Specialty recordings.
The third new artist to appear in 1952 on Specialty is SHOT JACKSON (1920-1991), a steel guitar player. He did hang around at KWKH in 1950 and was the player (even sometimes singer on « Beautiful Hawaiian shores », or solist on some instrumentals) for all the Pacemaker sessions of Webb Pierce between December 1949 and January 1951. So it’s him playing steel on « California blues » to name only 1 of the score (circa 23) tunes cut by Pierce at KWKH. Jackson even had his Pacemaker record (# 1004) although sung by Pierce uncredited ! Needless to say, since Pierce, except 2 or 3 occasions, never used a fiddle, that Shot Jackson was the real force behind Pierce. He was indeed naturally intended to record for Specialty as soloist.
His 4 sides are uptempo honky-tonks, nothing spectacular, except in a negative way : the machist « I’m trading you in on a later model » (# 706), and the deceiving « You can’t get the country out of the boy » (# 710) – such a title did merit a better treatment. Barely audible steel (short solos), an omnipresent fiddle; the voice of Jackson is forgettable. Note that current Hayride artists Johnnie & Jack gave him 3 of his 4 songs ; in return Jackson was to play dobro for them on numerous records onwards. Surely he was better on instrumentals, and after he built, with the help of Buddy Emmons (house steel-player at Starday), a double-neck steel baptized « Sho-Bud », he was to come again in light in 1962 on a compilation dedicated to steel guitarists (Starday EP 236).
Shot Jackson “I’m trading you in on a later model“(706)
The third generation of artists on the Specialty 700 serie begins with the Texan JERRY GEEN. (born 1931) He was signed by Art Rupe early in 1953 and cut 4 sides.
« Naggin’ women and braggin’ men » (# 712) is a real good bopper, a tinkling piano well to the fore, followed by a nice steel and a rather embarrassed lead guitarist. « Are you going my way » (# 714) is a shuffler, well-sung and agreeable, with the same backing format. Leader is still shy ! Luckily piano and fiddle come to rescue the solo ..Green was also active indeed on the La. Hayride, before being drafted into the Army until 1955. He then relocated in Arkansas for a radio show « Country Capers » on a Fort Smith KFPW station. Then later he hit the big time with « Tripod the three leggged dog » which led him to Grand Ole Opry in 1967.
Next artist was SMOKEY STOVER, D.J. in Baytown, Tx. He liked Claude King « She knows why », according to a Billboard snippet! Very few details came to light about him, except these : a native of Texas (Huntsville, 1928), he had his own band at 16 and began a long carreer Country D.-Jaying in Pasadena in 1948 only to retire from radio in 1995 in Gallatin, TN! In the meantime, he had been on numerous stations out of Texas, Mississipi, Louisiana (where he tried a career as singer), even New Mexico. He had records on Starday, Ol’podner, Stampede, Sage, Toppa. So now let’s value his Specialty product, cut at KWKH on November 15, 1952. « What a shame » (# 715) is a mid-paced opus ; nothing particular, a nice shuffler as too many in this era. Soli (guitar and fiddle) are interplayed and welcome. Vocal is firm but without any personal touch.
This is not the case with JOHNNY TYLER, a veteran (first sides in 1946 : « Oakie boogie » on Stanchel) whose story has been told in this blog before. He offers the bluesy partly double-voiced mid-paced « Take your blues and go » (# 713) ; good surprise : a spare harmonica a la Wayne Raney, without a sufficient volume. « Hillbilly preacher » (# 715) reminds me at times of someone sounding like, say, Luke McDaniel : fine guitar over an insistant rhythm backing. This type of material predates Tyler’s Ekko sides of March 1955.
Last but not least, the elusive EARNEY VANDAGRIFF, whose story is hard to write. The details on him are near zero, except he came from Texas, and that he had records on Starday and Rural hythm between 1954 and 1957, among them the famous « Atomic kisses ». Here he delivers in a duet with Joyce Lowrance the happy and fast bopper « Hush money » (# 718), with a fine steel throughout and insistant fiddle.
And that was it, Art Rupe decided after 18 issues it was time to close a relatively not so lucrative affair, and concentrate his hopes (and money) on black music, be it Gospel (e.g. Soul Stirrers), R&B (a huge catalog) or, before long, Rock’n’Roll. A sign moreover of poor sales is given by the rarity of these Specialty 700 sides. Rupe’s rivals of Chess, Modern and Aladdin had come to the same conclusion for their part. Sole Meteor in Memphis remained open with the smash success of Bud Deckleman (« Daydreamin’ ») in 1954, before the advent of Rockabilly in 1956, and closed in 1957. But Sun was then at the right position to take advantage in the race for the hits.
Sources : Cactus CD « Specialty hillbilly » for music and CD tracks. Iconographic material : 78tpm.worlds for 78rm scans. Youtube for President Claude King 78 (scan & msic). Various entries on Internet for Art Rupe, Speciaty logo, Smokey Stover, Billboard records reports. Dominique Anglarès (warm thanks !) for Jerry Green and Shot Jackson pictures, also a full Bllboard page and interesting precisions. David House for Shot Jackson picture with Mr. House on Shot’s knee.
Howdy, folks! Finally moved. More room for records, more space for living. Hope all of you are fine, still prepared for good ole’ Hillbilly music. Two classics will be discussed this time. All the podcast will be 78 rpm but only one 45: many a hiss! (more…)
Born on 8 August 1921, near West Monroe, Louisiana, USA. His father died when Pierce was only three months old; his mother remarried and he was raised on a farm seven miles from Monroe. Although no one in the family performed music, his mother had a collection of country records which, together with Gene Autry films, were his first country music influences. He learned to play guitar and when he was 15, he was given his own weekly radio show on KMLB radio in Monroe. (more…)