The Four Star custom series were, as did Starday from Beaumont or Houston, known to include many Rock’ & Roll sides played by Hillbilly bands and it was a music that most artists would easily relate to, including the older musicians who had been playing boogie and blues for years anyway. Countless bands were active and the only way they could relate to was release their records on Four Star OP (Other People) custom records.
The tapes would then be sent in and the widely advertised custom service would handle, for a fee, the manufacture of the records and distribution of a number of copies to selected radio stations. Otherwise than this, promotion and distribution was a left up to the the artist or his agent. The number going to the radio stations was probably a percentage of the total number pressed, which varied considerably. Some were produced in relatively large quantities while other artists ordered as few as 99 copies. The rarity of these records varies widely as, of course, does the quality of the music (but not in the same condition). The artist coud choose his own label name, which hopefully often also gives a location. They could also have the record issued under the company’s own logo (as in the case of « Texas » Bill Strength), perhaps at extra cost. Several record labels started as custom pressings before becoming actual independant companies later. Example : Erwin and Rural Rhythm (not represented in this selection). All are generally uptempo sides, with prominent fiddle and walking bass. It must also be noted that many artists were one-off, i.e. they had only one record issued by Four Star OP- service, and never had the chance to cut another one.
HBR did issue two volumes of Four Star OP- custom records. I deliberatly chose to issue unknown sides from 1950 to 1958, and various Western regions (Oklahoma to Oregon), not to exclude Eastern areas like even Florida.
Eddie Snell (on the aptly named Promotional # 242 label) has more of a West coast sound to him, with a « Rockin’ rhythm » similar to Sammy Masters’ early sides. Alden Holloway had also famous releases on Dixie and Starday (« Blast off » or « Swinging the rock »). Here is what he recorded in 1956 seemingly on the West coast for Northwest # 263 : « Woodpecker love ». He had previously issued on # 214 « Beaumont blues » as Shorty Holloway. Veteran Dick Bills, also later on Crest (« Rockin’ and rollin’ » in 1961 with nephew Glen Campbell on lead guiar ) had on Vicki « Beggars can’t be choosers » (# 198, 1954-55). Went also on Morgan (with vocalist Buz Burnam).
A favorite of Ray Campi, « Quit your triflin’ (on me) » (Hi-fidelity 211), from 1954-55 by Gene Snowden, is a good uptempo probably of West coast origin, while Hank Crow and his Raven River Ramblers do come surely from California: the fine « Baby, baby me » on Southwest 204 from 1954.
Gene Snowden “Quit your triflin'(on me”download
Hank Crow (real forname: Dorsey) apparently came from Arizona, who cut two records on the Southwest label. OP-204 coupled the very fine “Baby, baby me” and “Crazy ’bout you“, both uptempo and full of fantastic steel-guitar. From 1954 or 55. His second issue (OP-207) with Jeanne Black is untraced. Any follower to provide it to bopping.org ?
From Texas, Doc Bryant & National Jamboree Gang on his own Doc Bryant label (# 155) for « Cotton pickin’ boogie », from 1952-53. In 1958, an « old » Texas artist – he first recorded in the late ’40s for Macy’s, i.e. « Cornbread boogie » -, Art Gunn had on his own (?) Arga (# 288) label the fine relaxed « Pickin’ ‘n singing ». He had also previously cut for Revel and V & G Records. The mysterious Phantom Rider Trio does « Peekin’ thru your window » on the K-Pep label # 264 from San Angelo.
From Florida, Candy Rowell on the Du Ro #254 label with « Ain’t gonna say hello ».
Oklahoma is represented by Al Sweatt and « Fo-Mo-Co » on Keen 262, from 1956. Indeed he was to have the two rockers later « I hate myself/Let’s paint the town red » (Keen 288). Al Sweatt “Little Fo-mo-co“download
Also Buddy Thornton on his own Thornton OP-186 « Ole Santa is coming to town ».”Ole Santa is coming to town-“download
Four Star OP- serie continued well over until the late ’50s with the odd Hillbilly bop issued : Sonny LeBarron and « Jack and Jill » (#Mecca 252), Paul McGhee (« You are my sunshine » Flame 305) or 267 Sonny Thibodeaux (Pacific), Leo Gosnell from 1959 on Mountain 298/299, to name just a very few.
Several early issues did appear untraceable although highly desirable, like Tex Bloye’s « Talkin’ blues » on Gavotte 116 (a version of Robert Lunn’s song on Mercury, 1949), or Frank Ole’Shay, who appear to be one of the greatest from his song on a Dixie/Collector CD, « My baby’s not here tonight » (Blue mountain).
Addition (Dec. 2nd): Tex Bloye, “Talkin’ blues” (Courtesy Ronald Keppner)download
Ernie Ole’Shay “Be my honey Bee“(Blue Mountain OP-295)download
Dixie – The very name evokes pictures of the Southern areas of the USA. Dixie records have been fascinating collectors for over 35 years now . Of course the word Dixie was used by many different labels throughout the States, anyway it is the main 2000 series that I am interested. Formed as an offshoot of Starday in late 1957, the idea seemed to be trying out new artists who, if successful, were transfered to Starday or using label as a custom one. Shelby Singleton seems to have been the man in charge at the beginning. Three of the first five discs were recorded in Daz Dood’s TRI-DEC label studio (Miami, Florida) and BENNY JOY’s « Spin The Bottle » was actually released on TRI-DEC 8667 in ’57 with « Hey High School Baby » on the flip. The Dixie release (2001) does sound slightly different, but as the vocal comments are same, it would appear that Starday re-mastered and the bass and drums sound more muffled on this hot slab of Rockabilly. Of a number of tracks recorded at this session, « Steady With Betty » was placed on flip of the Dixie issue and has some outstanding guitar in the break.
The other two discs recorded at TRI-DEC were GENE WATSON’s I’ll Always Love You/Little Valley (2003), a couple of ballads of little interest, and the marvelous rockin’ JIMMIE LEE « Three Little Wishes » (2005), one of the better but lesser known items on the label. With his band « The Playboys », Jimmie lays down a fine rocking opus that has a superb break split between a hot pumping piano and a very biting guitarist, and with handclaps and vocal comments, all making for a quality item.
Sandwiched between these Florida recordings are the first Texas recordings, both by DOUG BRAGG and probably recorded at Seller’s Recording Studio in Dallas. Issue 2002 couples « Red Rover/Lovin’ On My Mind », both tracks being slowish pounders of which the latter is the better of the breaks which combines piano and guitar, although to be fair the vocal is tougher on « Red Rover ». It is the second Bragg release that is the better of the two with « Pretty Little Thing » (2004) being an excellent fast rocker that has a very good break from the guitar and piano. There is a chorus in this that fits in well and the guitarist solo’s on to the end of the record. Doug recorded for quite a few Texas labels such as D during the 50’s and 60’s.
The next three releases on Dixie are all by Texas artists. DEE (Mullinax) & PATTY (Timmons) have a nice duet Bopper with « Don’t Tease Me » (2006) on which the band are very solid behind their relaxed vocalising. They were also on D and Mercury. ORVILLE COUCH, a Country singer from the Dallas/Fort Worth area had discs on boty Starday and Dixie in 1958 and his « Easy Does It » (2007) can best be described as a Rock ballad with obstrusive chorus, but he has a good voice and the guitarist is excellent on this one, although he always sounds more at home on Hillbilly material he cut for Starday and I assume that the Dixie release, probably arranged by local producer/manager Jim Shell, was a deliberate attempt to sell to the teenage market.
The very next release is one of the all-time Rockabilly greats with DERRELL FELTS & The Confederates : « Playmates/The Weepers » (2008). A crashing guitar intro and Derrell’s urgent vocal supported by driving bass and frantic drummer all combine to make « Playmates » so damn good with a superb guitar break. Texan Derrell Felts slows it down for the flipside « The Weepers » but it’s still top quality Rockabilly with lead and rhythm guitars combining for a really fine break. KEN HAMMOCK (also on Starday) offers an instrumental « Blue Guitar Jump» (2009).
The next disc is one of the least known, and arguably one of the best on the label with BILL CARROLL’s brilliant « Feel So Good » (2010) which came out at the end of 1958. I am very intrigued by the songwriting credit of Shuler/Hunter (Eddie Shuler of Goldband, and Pete Hunter, a Southern D.J. ?). The sound on this one is very similar to many of the classic rockabilly platters on the Goldband label. A real ‘lived in’ vocal on this an dit is a very catchy song with a piercing guitar break as Bill tells his tale helped by a couple of backup voices.
Eddie Skelton, courtesy Dennis West
EDDIE SKELTON had three Dixie records as well as at least two on Starday itself. Strangely they being issued at the same time too. Eddie who was from the Virginia’s had formed a band with his brother called the Rhythmtones and their first one on Dixie « Keep It Swinging » (2011) is a much sought after rocking gem that has a hot guitar behind a good vocalist and a cat who jumps all over the piano in the second break. Great one. Dennis West says (December 2015) Eddie was from Kingsport, TN.
Yet another elusive disc has been DEE JOHNSON’s « Just Look Don’t Touch » (2012) which has been described to as a solid Country rocker. There is no (2013) : unlucky number ?
Following the gap comes « Your Lying Ways » (2014) by BILL GOODWIN & His Western Ramblers. This is not as strong as his « Teenage Blues » (Starday) but is none the less a solid Country rocker with fine steel guitar, an dis a lot better than the later 60’s releases he had on Bandbox in Denver, Colo.
EDDIE SKELTON returnsfor an instrumental work out on« Rebel’s Retreat » that rocks along showcasing guitar/piano/sax and has a slow rocker « Love You Too Much » (2015) that has a nice brooding sound to it with some excellent bluesy piano and guitar.
The disc by MEL PRICE that comes next « Little Dog Blues » (2016) is the best rocking record I’ve heard by him. The first important ingredient is that the song has something going for it. Mel’s voice suits this self penned song and the backin, was the Santa Fe Rangers, is of high standard with brilliant guitar. I wonder why two of the tracks cut at this session were issued in Dixie 800 series. Mel had a number of releases on Starday, Blue Hen and Regan, and despite the name of his band, appears to have been active along the North Eastern seaboard of the USA.
CATHY KELLEY’s « Blues Hanging Around » (2017) is a Country rocker that sounds very Nashville and lives up to its title, and came out in mid-59.
Right from the opening notes of GROOVE JOE POOVEY’s famous « Ten long Fingers » (2018) with C.B. Oliver’s piano pumpng behind Joe’s assured vocal and a growling sax player who gets a good and dirty sound from his horn. An absolute classic whose rarity pales when one considers how rare his « Move Around » (Dixie 733) just a year before.
Use of the word rare, very overused with records brings us nicely to ART ONTARIO and his « It Must Be Me »(2019) which is a very fine bluesy rocker with an unusually toned guitar that has two excellent breaks. Mind this one is certainly not as rare as this son of Ohio’s « Queen From Bowling Green » issued under the name of ART BUCHANAN (Dixie 823).
For a chunk of good old Rock’n’Roll you’ll have to go a long way to beat « Blast Off » (2020) by the unknown ALDEN HOLLOWAY. Set at a fast jive pace, this one has some blisering guitar work and a good old honking sax before the guitar returns. The other side is an instrumental « Swinging The Rock » featuring both the above ; I wonder is his « Loving Is My Business » (Starday 714) was cut at the same session. Holloway was a Virginian.
I have been unable to throw any light on HUGHEY BUNCH & The Bradley Farm Hands and their « South Wind » on Dixie 2021. It is not the same « South Wind » that was cut by the late Billy Wallace on REPUBLIC, but is a nice Hillbilly Rock side that has a very prominent banjo on this side and also on the flipside « Cry Tomorrow » which just gets the edge with me as the guitar work is better. Bunch was from Morristown, TN. according to Dennis West.
By now, the latter months of 1959 signs of pop rock begin to show up as on DEE JOHNSON’s « Back To School » (2022), which was probably cut at an earlier session. A basic line up of guitar and rhythm section aided by handclaps, a chorus and tinkling piano ; it is quite pleasant.
I was impressed by JAY GALLEGHER and his « Crazy Legs » (2023). A fast tempo’d rocker opened by a heavy drummer, a rocking guitar and a really pumping piano. There is a chorus on this but it suits the song and the guitarist cuts loose a great break amidst the handclapping. The flip is a bit of a shock too : « Steady Flame » is not so fast but I almost prefer this side with it’s clever guitar break that is followed by the pianist who is really enjoying himself.Dixie 2024 (Larry Streeter) unheard.
EDDIE SKELTON goes instrumental once more with « Curly » (2025). Mid paced guitar/piano/sax that is pleasing rather than exciting as it takes too long to get into its stride. And so we come to the end of the DIXIE 2000 series with BOBBY MACK and his « Who Put The Blues In Your Heart » (2025) which is a nice piece of Nashville Country.
(reprint from Phillip J. Tricker’s article in Roll Street Journal # v8, Summer 1984)
Recommended listening: Collector CD 4411 and the Dixie Collector series (2222 to 4444)