« TOPPA Tops ‘Em All » – the rise of a small California output (1958-60)

Covina, Ca. home to Toppa

Toppa was founded in Covina, Ca. by ex-country singer and top DJ (KXLA) Jack Morris. He had had releases on Starday (Custom serie, in January 1955), Sage and Pep and came up with this new label late in 1958. The label lasted way up during the ’70s, and found frequent modest success, although only regionally. Toppa’s best sides have been reissued recently in a 3-CD bootleg Internet boxset (« Toppa’s country » vol. 1, 2 and 3 ) to be found on « UncleGil’s rockin’ archives » blog.: http://adf.ly/1hinq0

I will focus on the first 31 issues (1958-1960).

BROCK WILLIAMS offers « What am I » (# 1001), a nice little rocker, with a little echo, over a good guitar and an assured vocal. The flipside, « Touch of perfection » is a perfect mid-paced bluesy ballad. Wally Black on # 1002 remains untraced (« She’s comin’ home »).

« What am I »

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« Touch of perfection »

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We jump to # 1003 by ERNIE MATHIS : very nice fast, piano-led « Lonesome wheels » and the more slowish « So am I ». Later on he was on Fable. That was the last Toppa issue reviewed by Billboard in 1958.

« Lonesome wheels« 

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« So am I »

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« What’s it to you »

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« What’s it to you » issued on # 1004 by WALLY BLACK is a very good part-styled Cash opus, because of the insistent guitar bass chords motif. Black had previously cut some pop rockers on the Fable label (« Rock and roll mama »).

CATHIE TAYLOR on # 1006 « Two straws and a soda », a poppish teen ballad, merits oblivion.

GEORGE HEFFINGTON, # 1007, and the fast, fine « Ghost of love ». Again a very good guitar throughout. Flipside « Ghost of love »

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« Crazy love » is equally good, although less fast. He much later recorded on the Accent label (ca. 1964-65) « Honky tonk merry-go-round (unheard).

« Crazy love »


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LINA LYNN delivers a R&R instumental, « Lina’s doll » (# 1008) where she’s backed by the Storms, a band that appeared also on the Sundown label, and whose general sound is not dissimilar to Eddie Cochran‘s Kelly Four. # 1009 is by WALLY BLACK, « Gee I hate to go », a light rocker with pop overtones. Its flipside, « I ain’t gonna cry no more » has the same Kelly Four savour. Actually it’s even written by Kelly 4 member : saxophonist Mike Deasy.

« I ain’t gonna cry no more »

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Next offering is a double sider by REX BINGHAM. He goes a bit poppish with male chorus, but has the strong help of Ralph Mooney on steel (two solos) for « Just like before » and « The fire is burning low » (# 1011). He had a « Blind blind heart » in 1959 on Rex 100, which was reissued on Toppa 1028. Was it a sublabel ? « Linda » (# 1012) by LUTHER WAYNE is a fast poppish ditty, quite listenable although.

Two ballads, « Help me forget him/Another woman’s man » (# 1013) by JANET McBRIDE are lovely again with strong help from steel guitar player Ralph Mooney. Later on she cut at Sims and duetted with Billy Barton. WALLY BLACK returns with the fast « I’m a country boy » (# 1014).

Billboard April 24, 1960

« I’m a country boy »

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I’d appreciate very much the double offering at # 1015 by JOHNNY LEON, «You found someone new/Sometimes it doesn’t pay to get up in the morning »[what a true assertion]

 

 

 

good backing (bass and drums) over prominent fiddle and steel. It’s one of the highlights of the serie.

« Sometimes it doesn’t pay »

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And now a comparatively well-known artist, DICK MILLER. He had had already records on M&M, Stanchell and Aggie [see elsewhere his story in this site], as well as around the same time as his Toppa output, on Sundown. His two songs on Toppa are well-sung ballads over the same instrumentation as previous label’s issues, « Make room for the blues/My tears will seal it closed » (# 1016) [the latter was also picked up by Mercury and reissued on # 71658, July 1960.

« Make room for the blues« 

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« My tears will seal it closed »

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DANNY BURKE next (# 1017) comes with again two nice rockaballads, « Wasting my time/Walking in my sleep ». Then CLYDE PITTS offers an out-and-out rocker, « Shakin’ like a leaf » (# 1018) complete with sax and chorus. # 1019 by BILL BROCK : he delivers a fine ballad with the unusual backing of fiddle and steel paired in « I can’t come home ». Same format for # 1020 and DON RICE : « Fire without a flame » and, at last, the fast « Weather man ».

« Weather man »

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The veteran TEXAS BILL STRENGTH brings the fast « Watching the world go by » (# 1021). « Too young to love » (# 1023), a bit poppish (although a good piano backing) come to light with DON HOLIMAN. # 1024 by CHARLIE WILLIAMS is a sincere ballad « World’s champion fool », revived on # 1048 by Dick Miller. Jimmy Snyder (# 1025), Polly Tucker (# 1026, also on Pep), The Horton Bros. (# 1027) left invisible tracks. Then there is a gap until # 1029 : JANET McBRIDE returns in the same style as her # 1013 issue with « Sweethearts by night ».

Another well-known name now on # 1030 : JACK TUCKER . Nice Country-rocker with « No city love you’ll find ». And the final offering is # 1031 by LUTHER WAYNE ; « White line » is a good guitar led little rocker [a Jack Morris’ tune on Sage ], while « The blues got me down again » is a passable effort.

« No city love you’ll find »

Jack Tucker

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All in all, the Toppa label was a County pop one, and the outstanding tracks, according to bopping.org standards, are uncommon. Nevertheless in the regard to the backing, all issues are great. The story did go on, and many good tracks were later cut : Smokey Stover and « On the warpath », more Jack Tucker tunes, Don Rice and « Hideaway heartaches », more Dick Miller (« Back into your past »), Bud Crowder and « Room for one heartache », to name just a few. Fact is the label deserves to be examined, as it contains many good surprises.

Just another word. Toppa had two sublabels early into the ’60s : Toppette and Fedora. I don’t know why several artists of main Toppa artists were assigned to its sublabels, although they had the same style as on Toppa.

 

Sources: Steve Hathaway for some records, Kent Heineman (« Armadillo Killer ») for several more. 45cat.com for more than a label scan. Youtube was also of help. And many, many small facts from my own archives or direct from Internet. And a lot of work to set up this article, but this was a labor of love..

Late June 2015 fortnight’s favorites

Howdy folks, I am back from Corsica isle (« l’île de Beauté ») where I visited my girl friend and did help her to set up her fairytales’ exhibition before children. While I was there I couldn’t get access to my files, thus not allowing to myself to set up early June fortnight’s favorites.

glen reeves2

Glenn Reeves

 

Let’s begin in Texas with GLENN REEVES, born 1932 in Shamrock, TX. He had his first two records on the T.N.T. Label (owned by Bob Tanner, who billed proudly his labels records as « Tanner’n’Texas »!). « I’m Johnny on the spot » (TNT 120) is already a proto-rockabilly classic. But its reverse, the plaintive hillbilly « The blues are out tonight », is not so well known, although a very good ballad. Listen to the real hillbilly pronunciation of Reeves, over a nice fiddle and steel. I love such a record like this. 

« The blues are out tonight« download

Later he had on TNT 129 « I ain’t got room to rock », before switching to Republic (the great « That’ll be love ») and Atco (« Rockin’ country style »/ »Drinkin’ wine spo-dee-o-dee ») in 1956, yet before turning teen on Decca in 1957. Meanwhile, he had relocated in Florida, pushing himself as a performer and D.J. On WPDQ out of Jacksonvile, FL. That’s where he met Mae Axton, her fellow-composer, and Tommy Durden, who both looked for someone who could demo their « Heartbreak hotel ». At first, Reeves denied, before agreeing – and the result was presented at a Nashville D.J. convention late 1955 to Elvis as his first million seller (the promise of Mae Axton), which he cut January 1956, in a style very close to Reeves. Here is the Reeves’ demo.

tnt 120A glenn reeves -  the blues are out tonight

Glenn Reeves « Heartbreak hotel« download

The third compere was TOMMY DURDEN. He had a long story as steel player for Tex Ritter, and later for Johnny Cash, and composer (e.g. « Honey bop » for Wanda Jackson). In 1951 on the Sahul Kahal’s Freedom label out of Houston, Texas, he cut the great « Hula boogie » (# 5025). Later on, he had his own version of « Heartbreak hotel » (« Moods » LP, religious songs), before relocating in Michigan. He retired in the early ’90s.

tommy durden

Tommy Durden

 

 

 

Tommy Durden « Hula boogie« download

 

 

freedom 5025 hula boogie

 

 

On the next artist, GEORGE HEFFINGTON, I know litterally nothing, except he was one of the first to record on the growing Toppa label (owned by Jack Morris, out of Covina, Ca.), and is backed for the fast « Ghost of love » (# 1007, 1958) by, among others, Ralph Mooney on steel. Good piano too.

George Heffington « Ghost of love« download
toppa 1007A ghost of love

Real name to next artist was Wilcoxson, but he’s known now as JIMMIE DALE. And there were in the ’50s two different men with the same name. The first to jump on my mind is an Indiana artist, who cut two Starday custom records in 1958. First on Jeffersonville, IN Saber label (# 707), he cut the fabulous two-sider « Baby doll » (great slap bass, energetic drums and lead guitar) and « Darlin’ » (very nice piano, à la Teddy Reddell over a mambo rhythm). In Louisville, KY, he had in 1958 too on the Farrall label (# 687) « Man made moon », more of a country record. Nice vocal, and again a rinky-dink piano and good steel. I couldn’t locate the flipside « For a day ».

The second JIMMIE DALE was a Nashvillian, who cut « Tennessee ghost train » in 1953 on the Original label # 501. The credits don’t give any clue. Lot of echo on the steel, a train song of course.

 

 

jimmie dale

Jimmie Dale (Saber, Farrall)

Jimmie Dale « Baby doll« download

Jimmie Dale « Darlin’« download

Jimmie Dale « Man made moon« download

Jimmie Dale [different artist] »Tennessee ghost train« download

saber 708 baby dollsaber 708A Darlin'farral 687man made moonoriginal 501 tenn. ghost train

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That’s all for this fortnight, folks. Comments welcome, as usual.

Sources and credits : internet, RCS, Youtube, lot of labor !