Bopping in Philly: the Gordon Jennings sound (1954-1959)

Very little is known about GORDON JENNINGS. He seems to have spent some time in Philly as well as West VA. , Tennessee and Missouri. He was for sure D.J. for certain stations in Saint-Louis, MO (KMOX and WEW), and Bluefield, W.Va. (WHIS and WKOY). He made between 1954 and 59 four records in a Hillbilly style and all four are very good boppers.

West Va. bordering Ky, Tn. and Pa.

Bluefield, Mercer Cty, bottom of the State of W. Va.

 

 

 

What follows is what « Johnn Maddy », seemingly from Arkansas, wrote about Jenning’s « I saw you cheatin’ last night » (Skyrocket) in his YouTube chain :(additions in [] by bopping’s editor)

« A tune Gordon co-wrote with two other artists, and released on a Skyrocket single in 1959. He was born on Oct. 21st 1916 and came to a very serious Bluegrass group called The Lonesome Pine Fiddlers back around 1938-39. Together they really became popular on W.H.I.S Radio in Bluefield West Virginia [but they never recorded on discs at this time]. Jennings had several Radio shows out of St Louis as well, when is unknown, but we did find another single Gordon done in 1958 for another label in Philly called ”Arcade”, but that is the extent of what we learned of Gordon Jennings and his singing career, friends, but still looking for more. Enjoy it Folks, I’ve heard this one done by several artists [Rex Zario on Arcade 202 – other versions by Skeets Yaney and Marty Collins have different credits], but now hearing Gordon the lead composer do it, a good one it is.!!! »

His first record was done in Kingsport, Tennessee for the famous, although quite scarce now, tiny Kingsport label, primarily devoted to Bluegrass (Jimmy Gregg), with some advances towards Hillbilly bop (Reece Shipley, L. C. Smith). It’s the last record of the label, cut around 1954 (#112), and it combines a great bopper    « Quit teasin’ me » (uptempo – a bluesy guitar led and a boogie piano – and a nice vocal) and « The telephone girl » (unheard, Allan Turner collection). How Jennings came to this Tennessee label is unknown: one can speculate a leasing of masters by Kingsport label due to radio relations. Anyone has got an idea ?

Quit teasin’ me

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Billboard 15 May 1954

Billboard December 17, 1955

His second offering was cut in Pittsburg for the tiny Alba label (# 400), and coupled two good sides again, backed by a « String quartet » : the mid-paced « Drivin’ home » and the faster «Three day pass ».

Three day pass

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Drivin’ home

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Well-assured vocal fronting a solid backing. The Alan Schafer named in the credits could have been the label’s owner as well as co-writer of the songs. The short Billboard snippet is learning that the disc was going strong in the Pittsburg area.

We jump to 1958 for a third Jennings issue on the famous Philly label Arcade. « Is it yes or is it no » (# 146) is a fine bopper, and has, for the first time in a Gordon Jennings record, a steel guitar, while the lead plays on the bass chords for good effect. The flip side « I wonder if you miss me too » is unheard (Allan Turner collection = unavailable).

Billboard June 9, 1958

Is it yes or is it no

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Next and final record is to be found again in Philadelphia on the new up-and-coming Skyrocket label, in 1959 [other good records are Rex Zario’s « Go man go, get gone »(# 1001) and Ray Coleman’s « Toodle-oo mambo » (# 1002)]. First side of the Jennings’ disc bears a very good version of Hank Williams’ « My sweet love ain’t around » (Skyrocket 1003), and the flipside is an original, written by Jennings, aided by Tex Zario (himself being an artist and owner of the label) and the unknown to me Lucky Taylor. The song « I saw you cheatin’ last night » is a nice country-rocker (insistant drums) backed by a good embroidering steel guitar, the lead guitar is fine too over a wave of fiddle.

Billboard December 8, 1958

My sweet love ain’t around

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I saw you cheatin’ last night”

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So popular must this song have been that in 1968 on Arcade 202 it was revived by Rex Zario (it’s unclear if Rex and Tex are the same person) in a more rocking style: drums are louder, the steel is more discreet (a short solo), the vocal is a bit smooth.
Rex Zario, “I saw you cheatin’ last night

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In any case, Gordon Jennings had disappeared from the music world since 1959, at least in terms of known recordings.

Sources : YouTube (Johnn Maddy, CheesebrewWax Archives) ; Hillbilly Researcher (Alba) ; 78rpm-worlds (Kingsport) ; 45rpm-cat (Arcade and Skyrocket) ; my own record (Rex Zario) ; Hillbilly-music.com for radio stations and Gordon Jenning’s picture; Billboard archives for personal data.