The first of 7 artists is the Virginian KED KILLEN on the mythic (in Bluegrass circles) Rich-R’-Tone label (# 1064, from 1953). With the tight accompaniment of the Bright Brothers, he delivers « Crying Blues » : bluesy hillbillly bop, with wailing vocal and a very great guitar ; hooking rhythm. The flip is a fast bopper, with the same type of vocal : « No End To My Loving You ». Killen can also be found on Kyva (Kentucky-Virginia) # 707 (« You Better Take Time », elsewhere in this site), a Starday custom from 1957, as in the ’60s on Western Ranch.
From Memphis, 1957, a classic « I’ve Got Love If You Want It » by WARREN SMITH (Sun 286), crisp lead guitar (Al Hopson or Roland Janes). Typical Sun rockabilly rocker. The original had been done by Slim Harpo on Excello (swamp blues).
SMILEY WILSON next (Hamilton, K. Wilson – 1922-1988) for two tunes very, very different. On the Nashville Republic label # 7033 (cut in October 1953, according to Billboard), he launched « Barnyard Blues », an heavy bluesy, R&B influenced song ; nice vocal and insistent guitar. On now to April 1947 on the Apollo label (# 141) for the funny « Red Silk Stockings And Green Perfume », a fast typical late 40s Hillbilly which combines accordion, steel and fiddle + a short guitar solo. Wilson was a native of Gadsden, Alabama, as the well-known (at last to me, nd you faithful readers!) Lee Bonds.
« Hog Tied And Branded » (Columbia 21391, recorded or released April 1955) by BONNIE SLOAN (b. 1937). Here she is backed by the Town Hall Party Gang of Los Angeles, for example Joe Maphis on guitar and Fiddlin’ Kate (you know what she’s playing). Energetic vocal, and a welcome banjo. Typical mid-50s Country music, however she never got it big.
The next artist, CLIFF GROSS, had worked as early as 1931 with the Hi-Flyers : he was a mountain style fiddler. He recorded in duet on Conqueror. Here we find him on the Kentucky Dixiana label (# 105) « and his Texas Cowboys », (probably recorded in Dallas) for the great fast talking blues « Hog Pen Hop » in 1954 : a hot bopper with accordion and steel (short fiddle and guitar solos too).
From Mobile, Alabama, in 1959- or shortly later, here’s JOHNNY FOSTER for a great Rock-a-balllad, « Locked Away From Your Heart » on Sandy 1028. Great haunting vocal, fine steel, good piano and fiddle. Later Foster went on Capa.
Then a Rockabilly/rocker « I’ll Keep On Lovin’ You » by the VARIATONES. An average rocker, late ’50s or early ’60s, without something really cracking. Production by Billy Harlan. Is this the « I Wanna Bop » artist (Brunswick 55066)?
sources : my own archives ; Martin Hawkins notes for Warren Smith, Smiley Wilson – picture from « A shot in the dark) ; Bonnie Sloan from Columbia 20000 serie (thanks W. Agenant) ; a Tom Sims cassette for Johnny Foster .
As for the past, here are a good amount of boppers cut between 1947 and as recent as 1966.
Fiddler TEX GRIMSLEY was a Louisiana Hayride resident, and played his part on almost – if not all – Pacemaker sides of 1949-50. This label was co-owned by Horace Logan (boss of the Hayride) and Webb Pierce, and was constantly of high standard. Grimsley & his Showboys included guitar player Buddy Attaway [his story is somewhere told in this site], Shot Jackson on steel and the inevitable Tillman Franks on bass, while the vocal duties are taken by (supposed related) Cliff Grimsley, and the tune « Shuffle on down » (Pacemaker 1005) is really a lazy, shuffling call-and-response format bopping song. Shot Jackson produces really wild effects on his steel.
“Shufflin’ on down”
download Tex Grimsley had another disc in this style : « Walking the dog » (Pacemaker 1001, reissued by the big NYC concern Gotham # 408), as well as a fine double-sider out on Red Barn 1071 (« It’s all coming home to you/Sorry for you »), and probably did the fiddling part on the Shreveport Specialty sessions (1949-1954).
»One little teardrop too late » is a crazy-paced item issued as by PLAIN SLIM & the O’Dell Family on the Davis, WVA Cozy label (# 570) from as late as 1966. Two soli each by fiddle and lead guitar over a strong rhythm guitar. One can wonder how this type of record was launched in a world of current pop music, even commercial Country. The name itself sounds like a pseudonym.
From 1951 and by a veteran, PHIL HARRIS, for the fine « Tennessee hill-billy ghost » on a RCA EP-702. He’s been before during the Forties on Ara (« That’s what I like about me », certainly not the Terry Fell’s song) or Okeh.
Another mystery comes from WVA, that of KED KILLEN, and his superb Hillbilly boppers cut between 1966 and 1969 on his own Western Ranch label. Here are both sides of WR 119. Uptempo side is « Hey pretty mama » , while « Lonesome blues » is slower. Plaintive, wailing voice over a top notch accompaniment – a welcome echo too, and a fine guitar. Both sides could easily have been cut a good 10 to 15 years before.
DICK HART on the Texan label Cowtown Hoedown (# 778) delivers a very fine uptempo bluesy « Time out for the blues ». Solid rhythm, pounding guitar and a wild steel (June 1957). Who will get interest with this important and rich label, Cowtown Hoedown ? Its name was changed a short time later to just Cowtown.
From Texas to near Oklahoma with BILLY WEBB & his Seminoles for « Burdock road » on the Stardale label # 50611 ; label was located in Morris, OK. It’s a solid Hillbilly bopper with good fiddle solo and steel/piano over a shuffle rhythm. There were 3 Stardale labels around the same time.
To get to an end, here are two 4* custom issues on the Nugget label (# 190 and 191) by DUSTY TAYLOR and his Rainbow Valley Rangers. « My shining star » and « Down grade » are very fine Hillbillies. Taylor was also in 1947 on the West coast label Westernair (# 107B) with the great « Ranger boogie » : typical romping ’40s music, accordion to the fore, fiddle is well present. The record is billed “instrumental’ but Taylor has a great, swinging vocal in it. A very pleasant record !
I just found “Boogie blues“, apparently issued on Westernair (untraced label), and on a French compilation, “Country Boogie”. And it’s a romper too!
KED KILLEN was born on May 10, 1911 in Jenkins, Kentucky and raised there. From the time he was a teenager until 25 years of age, Killen sang and played the guitar only locally with other musicians at neighborhood meet-togethers and in Virginia.
He had compiled a group of musicians which he named Western All Stars. Early ‘50s he had a record on the Johnson City, TN, Rich-R’-Tone label.rich-r-tone 1064A -ked-killen-crying-bluesIn 1957 he cut a disc for the microscopic Grundy, Va., Kyva label, a Starday custom. It was a gospel influenced very fine Hillbilly bop.
No more opportunity came Ked’s way to record until he had seen an ad and write-up on Western Ranch Music record label run by Norm Kelly, out of Thornton, Ca. It was in early 1966 when he contacted the company with an audition tape. The company liked his down-to-earth country sounds and signed him to a recording contract on August 1, 1966. Until retiring in late 1969 playing only for family and friends Killen cut 20 sides for the aforementioned label. They have been recently reissued by Western Ranch.
Ked’s records had some very good ratings in various areas. Not too much has been known about his personal life, except he was married and had two children. Through the studio where he recorded in Virginia, Binge records (who re-released all his Western Ranch Music output) found out that he was working on another tape when illness and death struck his wife June, leaving him very distraught and depressed, until he became quite ill himself and passed away in 1986.
His music on Western Ranch (1966-69) could well have been cut 15 years earlier. His voice would have been suitable for the early ‘50s country sounds. His backing usually consists of Killen himself on vocal and rhythm guitar, steel and/or fiddle, st-b, sometimes an electric lead-guitar: very sparse accompaniment which fits well his sincere vocal.
The poor picture of Killen is all what’s left from the Western Ranch Music vaults.
(reprinted from (D) Binge LP 1010 “Ked Killen and his Western All Stars – Country Music is here to stay”, 1989)
discography is to be found here: Ked Killen (Praguesfrank)
Addition (September 10th, 2012). A recent acquisition in an auction, another Ked Killen 45 on KyVa 101 (Kentucky-Virginia), “Lonesome Blues“/”Let Another Love Move In“. Similar style as Western Ranch music, although it’s very hard to determine if these KyVa sides were contemporary or earlier to Western Ranch Considering the earlier Kyva issue discussed was from early 1958, this should also fit in the same period. Anyway still good Hillbilly bop music! Also first mention of a backing group.
First from the West Coast, a fine crossing between Hillbilly Bop and Rock’n’Roll (because of the drumming): DICK MILLER and “Now I’ Gone“. I’ve added a second song from him, very different, this time, 1957 on Mercury Records, “My Tears Will Seal It Closed“.
Eddie Hill and “The Hot Guitar” was combination of various guitar stylings, Merle Travis, Hank Garland, Chet Atkins.Very nice fast tune.
Rufus Shoffner is not a stranger. Here on Detroit’s HI-Q label, he delivers an energetic “It Always Happens To Me“, backed by his sister/wife (I don’t know) Joyce Shoffner.
A real mystery now. Ked Killen was cutting Hillbilly Bop as late as 1969 on WESTERN RANCH. Bopping has recently posted a track by him (Fortnight’s favorites, May 2010). Here “You’d better Take Time“, on a Starday Custom pressing, has welcome gospel overtones. The name HIRAM PHILMON isn’t that common: he cut on his own PHILMON label the fine Hillbilly “I‘m Lonesome Baby“. Just to finish with someone who, with is biting guitar sound, was very close to Rock’n’Roll, FRANKIE LEE SIMS – he cut for Specialty, here on Johnny Vincent’s VIN label, the great “She Likes To Boogie Real Low“.
Hi! Here are my new favorites, be it Hillbilly bop, Bluegrass, Honky Tonk, Country rock-a-ballad, or even a bit of Western swing. CARL BUTLER was on Capitol, and cut mainly unclassifiable Hillbilly/Bluegrass sides. I’ve chosen his great “No Trespassing” from 1951, complete with hiccups and banjo/fiddle. Then to early Honky tonk with WEBB PIERCE. One of his very early sides on Decca (1951): “California Blues” (78 rpm – I will be moving soon, so already packed all my precious shellacs and can’t have a label scan). Back to Hillbilly bop with a fairly obscure artist, JACK HUNT (Capitol, 1953) and lazy vocal on “All I Can Do Is Sit Ad Cry”. A short insight into MERLE LINDSAY’s career. He fronted the Oklahoma scene from the mid-forties, and had numerous sides on many labels; here we hear “Mop Rag Boogie” (MGM). A nice Country Rockaballad from 1958 on the Sandy label out of Alabama by JOHNNY FOSTER “Locked Away From Your Heart” (# 1028). I love his sincere vocal. Finally a late 60s Hillbilly Bop by KED KILLEN (Western Ranch), “Hey Pretty Mama”. I don’t know an awful lot of him, except that his style dates from at least 15 years earlier. Couldn’t find his work except on a Cattle LP moons ago, or a Tom Sims Cassette. Enjoy the selections! Bye…