From Monroe, La, JOHNNY SKILES enlisted in WWII at the age of 17. After the war, he moved from Beaumont, Texas to New Orleans, constantly writing songs and playing his guitar.
His brother-in-law (from Monroe) was Jack Hammons, who co-wrote with him and recorded « Mr. Cupid » for Starday (# 197) in 1955. Col. Tom Parker came through Monroe one day, heard Hammons sing Skiles’ original compositions, and quickly phoned Jack Starnes at Starday to arrange a session.
Johnny Skiles was signed to a songwriter’s contract by Southern-Peer in 1955, although unfortunately nothing ever resulted from it.
Skiles then moved to Oregon (he worked for the U.S. Post Office) in the mid-to-late fifties. His first record was a Starday custom 45, « The twinkle in your eyes/Ghosts of my lonely past », released on Corvette 672 circa 1958. Bob Hill and his Harmony Ranch Hands backed Skiles on these appealing boppers. He was influenced by Hank Williams and Webb Pierce, his boyhood friend from Monroe, on his C&W material.
His next outing was Rural Rhythm 518 « Is my baby coming back/Come paddle footin’ down », cut at Portland Ace studio, and released by Jim O’Neal, the late, colorful country DJ/entrepreneur from Arcadia, California. There are distinct echoes of Johnny Cash on these Skiles Rural Rhythm sides, despite chorus. Another Rural Rhythm, EP 37 ½, had 6 tracks among them « Sundown road » [unheard] by Skiles and Bob Hill.
Then he appeared on the good bopper « Blue shadows » (Rumac OP-287).
Rockabilly fans and collectors will be more interested in Johnny Skiles’ Rumac R&R session : « Hard luck blues/Rockin’ and rollin’ » was issued on a Four Star custom pressing as Rumac OP-301 in 1959. Johnny played rhythm guitar, accompanied by his fellow Bob Hill on his custom-made 8-string Fender. « Rockin’ and rollin’ » comes as a lovely Country-rocker – good lead guitar and a lazy rhythm. Ruby Smith owned the Rumac label, although Bill McCall, the owner of Four Star, claimed co-writing credits in his usual fashion as « W. S. Stevenson ». (He was doing that possibly inspired by the « Josea-Ling-Taub » of the Modern label’s Bihari brothers, or maybe more « D.Malone », the nom-de-plume of Duke/Peacock’s Don Robey).
Two unissued tunes, « Red headed woman » and « Rock jump boogie » were also recorded at the Ace Portland session : both are gentle Country-rockers, with Bob Hill’s inventive and agile guitar well to the fore. They sound demos. 500 copies of « Hard luck blues » were pressed, and intended also as a demo and showcase. In 1959 also, Johnny fronted vocally the group of the Echomores for « What-cha-do-in » on the Portland, OR. Rocket label # 1044). It’s a fast bopper/rocker with a very nice steel (solo), a good lead guitar and a solid rhythm throughout the song. Skiles get a girl replica near the end. A very fine record by him for the era. Thanks to CheesebrewWax Archive Youtube chain for unearthing such unknown goodies! From unknown origin/date (a Jim O’Neal recording), the White label album contained one more by Skiles, « If your telephone rings », a fast Rockabilly type song.
After that, Skiles and Bob Hill teamed with Leighton Atkins on organ and Gene Cipolloon on guitar for a serie of Country instrumentals, which were released on some EP’s by Jim O’Neal, sent to D.J.s in the manner of Starday. This way Skiles received a little money, more than from his records. These Eps were used by D.J.s to segue from one segment of commercial to the next, and were released on Rural Rhythm and, yes another O’Neal label, Honey-B. I include a solitary Honey-B 102 issue for the interesting « Comin’ home to you », a medium-paced Rockabilly, despite the girl chorus by the Tonettes.
Skiles and his group kept on performing throughout the 60s and 70s on the Pacific Northwest. That’s all is known of him.
From the notes (by Cees Klop apparently) of the album White label 8967 « The original Johnny Skiles », published 1991. Additions by bopping Editor. Original labels from 45-cat. Thanks to UncleGil to have provided me the WL album.
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First, a minor classic on the 4 * label (# 1647) from 1955, by the prolific FRANK SIMON, “The West Virginia Country Boy”. Here he does his most famous song, “Sugar plum boogie“, fine boogie guitar, lotsa energy. This is almost Rockabilly in spirit. Without doubt a guy to look for. He even had an LP (late 50s) on Audio-Lab.
Then, again on 4*, two 1957 sides by an otherwise unknown artist to me, JAY T. STARR (# 1708). First, “Wa-na-chee“, an ethnic Indian Bopper, very solid. The flipside does slow things a bit, but nearly not with “Darker clouds ahead“. A good record.
Finally, from 1961, a fine country-roker in its own right: “You’re for me” by BUCK OWENS on Capitol (here it’s a reissue, # 6038). Nice steel (Ralph Mooney) and backing (Don Rich on fiddle, George French at the piano).
Welcome for a new serie of honky tonk/bopping hillbilly recordings.
A certain Lyle recently asked me if I know Red Smith. Of course I know him. He was a D.J. On several stations, in New Orleans and Shreveport, then for KLLL in Lubbock, Tx, and even for WCKY in Cincinnati, Oh. He cut a very nice version of Luke McDaniels‘ « Whoa Boy » (issued on Trumpet out of Jackson, Ms) on Coral 61312 (1953). Snare drums, energetic fiddle and steel. I believe he never recorded anything else. But he wrote “All Because of You” for Rocking Martin (Starday 658). Could it be him?
Now in Indianapolis, In for the Nabor label (many rockabilly goodies, « Speed Limit » by Tommy Lam for example). Bob Hill and his Melody Boys had « This Old Train (Is Leaving My Blues Behind) » (# 105) : a fast fiddle led song, train effects done by the steel and a good guitar.
Then to Texas, and very probably out of Jim Beck’s studio in Dallas, a nice honky tonk, « Foolin’ Women » by Neal Jones. It’s shuffling, it’s solid. Columbia 21292.
From Franklin, Pa, a completely unknown Ralph Ryan and the Country Boys on the rare Process label # 132 does the very sincere ballad « Cry A Million Tears ». Intimate guitar.
1959 on the Georgia Country Jubilee label # 541, Richard Morris & the Morrisettes (!) has « Rosetta », apparently an Indian love song – strumming drums and fiddle. An haunting side.
Finally Ken Marvin on Mercury 6391(1954) has an husky voice for a good honky tonk « I’ve Got My Love » over fiddle and steel backing.
As usual, have a listen and send comments, please…