« Music To My Ears »: SPECK & DOYLE (1951-1959)

It took only one song to put Speck and Doyle into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame : « Music to my ear » was released on their own Syrup Bucket label in 1959, and the song still remains today one of the best examples of rockabilly music ever recorded.

spd-chemiseBrother Watson, better known as Speck, and Doyle Wright were born near Bonifay, in the Florida panhandle, on April 2nd 1923 and July 13th 1928 respectively. The family were sharecroppers but moved to Columbus, Georgia in 1942. In the interval the two brothers had been raised on Country music with Bill Monroe and Roy Acuff as their main influences, later adding Ernest Tubb and Hank Wlliams. They had learned to play guitar and sing.

Soon after the move to Georgia, Speck was drafted and sent to fight in Europe, where WWII was raging. After his return to the mainland, he turned to music for a living, performing with brother Doyle. In 1947, they were working on station WRBL in Columbus with a 15-minutes radio show sponsored by a local furniture store. While with WRBL they began a long-time friendship with Ben Ferguson,the station’s engineer who was later to host his own ‘Uncle Benny’s Hillbilly Jamboree ‘, and also work as a producer for Comer Money, well known for his country and rockabilly sides on the Rambler and Money labels.

Early in 1948, Doyle was offered a job as a rhythm guitarist with Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys, right after Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs had left the band to go on their own. Doyle gladly accepted the offer but stayed only a few weeks with Monroe before returning to Columbus to work with Speck on their own live radio show on WRBL.

A few years later, probably in 1951, Doyle sent a tape he had recorded to Lew Chudd, manager of the Imperial label. Although better known as a Rhythm & Blues company, Imperial had also launched their Hillbilly serie (# 8000 onwards) in 1947. Many Southern Country artists were to appear in this serie through the years, with Jerry Irby, Link Davis, Danny Dedmon, Bill Mack, Jimmy Heap, Dewey Groom and Dub Dickerson being well known to fans of ’50s Hillbilly and Rockabilly music.

Chudd was favourably impressed by what he heard and signed Doyle immediately, although a Bllboard snippet reveals there have been a possible fight between Chudd and Art Rupe (Specialty Records, Hillbilly # 700 serie), who, according to the snippet, « had inked » Doyle.

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Billboard Jan 26,1952

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courtesy UncleGil . Thanks!

For Imperial anyway eight songs were cut at station WRBL in Columbus, Ga. During two sessions held between October 1951 and Spring 1952. Besides Doyle on vocals and rhythm guitar, backing was provided by Gene Jackson (fiddle), Billy Ray Andrews (steel guiar), Little Jim Finger (mandolin) and Speck Wright (bass). All songs were written by Doyle.

Imperial 8127 (« I’m not weeping over you/That’s why I cried ») has until now proven impossible to find, so cannot be commented. If ever you, Reader of this article, is the owner of this record, please show yourself in the comments or the « contact me » header. Luckily remain from this first session the two other songs on Imperial 8132. « Don’t tell me lies » is a mid-paced Hillbilly weeper, and « It just don’t seem right », although a little bit faster, is as ordinary Hillbilly. But it’s not quite a lively beginning for Doyle.

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« Don’t tell me lies »

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« It just don’t seem right »

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Out of the second session come Imperial 8157, « Ask the Lord » being a fast religious item and « Don’t you know or don’t you care » a decent Hank Williams inspired (at least for the vocals) Hillbilly mid-paced bopper ; last two tracks of the Spring 1952 session were issued in 1953 and comprised the most accomplished Doyle Wright boppers : « Someday you’ll return » and « An ache in my heart » do continue in the Hank Williams mould, with a fine fiddle giving a good tempo. None issue seems to have gained any hit status, even regional. And poor sales do explain the rarity of # 8127.imp-8157-doyle-wright-ask-the-lordimp-8157-doyle-wright-dont-you-know

« Ask the Lord »

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Billboard July 19, 1952

 

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« Don’t you know or don’t you care »

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« Someday you’ll return »

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« An ache in my heart »

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WRBL opened a TV station in August 1953 and with their popularity spreadng in the area, the brothers’ show was transferred to the new format, continuing until 1964. Between 1947, when the show was first aired on radio, and 1964, Webb Pierce, Hank Snow, Bill Monroe, Johnny & Jack, Cowboy Copas and Kitty Wells, among many others, guested with Speck and Doyle. (Webb Pierce, incidenall, had offered a recording contract to Speck when he appeared on the show in 1952. Not too een on going away from home on extensive tours, Speck denied the offer.)

Through well established on the local music scene, it was not until 1959 that Speck & Doyle were able to cut another session at WRBL, this time using Earl White and Hal Holbrook (fiddles), Lucky Ward (lead guitar), Howard ‘Frog’ Vincent (piano), Lanny Larue (drums) and Jim Finger (bass). Earl White and Hal Holbook were servicemen stationed at nearby Fort Benning. Two songs, « Big noise, bright lights » and « Music to my ear » were released on the Syrup Bucket label, which was created by the two brothers to make their own music available to the public. It is the only record ever released on the label to our knowledge.

« Big noise, bright lights » is a beautiful Hillbilly ballad with heavily featured twin fiddles, great lead guitar break and that matchless Southern flavour that makes this music so fascinating.

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« Music to my ear » is THE side that rockabilly devotees around the world have made into an all-time classic. The twin fiddles are gone but the pianist, who was not heard on the other side, comes well to the fore on this track and takes his share of the break along with guitar player Lucky Ward while encouraging shouts from the other musicians are heard in the background. Once again the lead vocalist delivers a first class rendition of the song, while the humorous lyrics add another dimension to an already

MUSIC TO MY EAR

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syrup-speckdoyle-music-to-my-earAll together now, let’s pick…

My baby doll just said to me

You’re nothin’ but ole misery

And you make me sick, just by being here

She could even say, go take a stroll

Down some long ole lonesome road

But her words would still be music to my earspecd-costume

She could even say, just where to go

Any place way down below

And don’t come back for a million, million years

She could even say, oh satan man

Leave this place with me on hand

Her words would still be music to my ear

She could say, go get some dynamite

And blow yourself up out of sight

Go on into orbit, get out of here

Do something nice for the human race

Go see what’s out in outer space

But her words would still be music to my ear

She could even slap me down and then

Say don’t get up till I tell you when

I’d lay right there, happy to be near

But there’s just one thing that I can say

I’ll love her till my dying day

And her words would still be music to my ear

We’re done pickin’…

dynamite track. This is truly one of the best rockabilly records ever made [valued between $ 800 and 1000] and one has to bear in mind that by 1959, when it was made, the style was dying in the USA. Most major labels had stopped recording anything in the genre. But small independant labels were slower to follow the trends and even if very few were to match the class of « Music to my ear », many rockabilly ems were to be found on indies until the mid-’60s.

After the release of the Syrup Bucket single, Speck & Doyle worked shows in their area with Lefty Frizzell, Hank Thompson, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Jimmy Dickens and countless others until 1963 when their careers took different directions. While Doyle stayed with WRBL as a technician, still playing TV, show dates and dances until 1982, Speck moved to WJHO, 30 miles West in Opelika, Alabama, hosting his own Country program between 12.30PM and 2.30PM from Monday to Friday for the next 25 years. He officially retired in 1989 but still works part-time for the station.

This is the story of Speck & Doyle. It had to be told, and next time you spin « Music to my ear » or « Big noise, bright lights », or any of Doyle’s Imperial sides, you will know that between the grooves of the records lie the spirit of two authentic and genuine artists who deserved better recognition.

(From Jack Dumery’s article, published by « NDT » # 124, July 1993). Additions by bopping’s editor. With the help of Allan Turner for the Imperial sides.

Hillbilly bopping and fiddling: the MERLE ‘Red’ TAYLOR story

Hillbilly bopping and fiddling: the MERLE ‘Red’ TAYLOR story

Merle Taylor, also known as Mason Dixon, was from the little town of Glen a few miles north of Tupelo, MS where he was born in May 1927. He started with a group called the Country Gospel Singers and then joined the Blue Seal Pals in 1949.

mason dixon (AMM)« Merle was one of the best country fiddle players around », says Quinton Claunch. « He was a good bluegrass singer too, and a super, super guy. He worked with all the big acts in Nashville, Bill Monroe, Cowboy Copas, people like that. I first me him when he joined my group the Blue Seal Pals when we moved from WMC Nashville to WJOI in Florence, Alabama. Bill Cantrell had gone to Chicago for a while and Merle – we called him ‘Red’ – came in. He worked with Buddy Bain’s band on WOMA in Corinth, MS too and Buddy came with us on Meteor’s session ».

Behind Taylor’s assured vocals on « Don’t worry ’bout nuthin’ », there is a classy band kicked off by Bill Cantrell on fiddle [so Merle Taylor is confined to vocal duty] and featuring solos by Terry Thompson on guitar and Kenneth Herman on steel guitar . Ronald Smith also played guitar using the percussive rockabilly effect achieved by damperin’ the strings with paper or a matchbox, and Dexter Johnson played the bass.

« Don’t worry ’bout nuthin’ »

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« I’ll never fall out of love with you »

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« When Rockabilly came in, Red used to do a little section of club dates under the persona of « Mason Dixon ». recalled Quinton Claunch:  « Because he was well known as a country fiddler, he did not want people to get confused. So, when it came to this recording, Red said he wanted to use the name Mason Dixon on the record too. It was not a style he was normally associated with. In fact, Les Bihari, boss of Meteor Records] liked the idea so much he called the band the Redskins, after Merle’s nickname. »

 

 

It should be noted that another singer popular in the Memphis area, Walter « Tex » Dixon from Alabama, also used the name « Mason Dixon » – which still had huge resonance in the South – on the Reed label in the late 1950s. [research on Walter « Tex » Dixon is on its way for future feature in bopping.org…]

The much more country-oriented « I’ll never fall out of love with you» sees Quinton Claunch add his walking bass style on electric guitar to the mix, underspinning Merle Taylor’s high tenor voice. Kenneth Herman takes a wonderful steel solo.

 

Merle Taylor had previously recorded two discs for Decca in 1952 (session probably held on Oct. 18) and 1953 (On March 23, 1953) in Nashville, largely with local musicians but including guitarist and songwriter Buddy Bain. Both records paired a slowie and a shuffler. Taylor’s wife Martha Jean Ellis wrote the songs for the second session. Then Taylor toured with Hank Williams at this time and was billed to appear in Canton, Ohio on 1rst January 1953 for the show the latter never lived to give.

« You can’t be a bride without a groom« (Decca 28496)

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« Gimme a little sugar« (Decca 28741)

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Merle’s career in Nashville had many high points. He wrote the melody and played fiddle on Bill Monroe‘s classic « Uncle Pen » in October 1950 for Decca. Taylor also toured with the Monroe band for at least two stints between 1950 and 1955, with an interim sojourn with Little Jimmy Dickens. Then he worked with Jimmie Martin and later Ferlin Huskey. Merle played on sessions for M-G-M by Jimmie Martin and the Osborne Brothers. Fiddler Gordon Taylor has said about Red’s work with Monroe : « He did a slow brow with a lot of finger work and a funny reverse. I don’t think there would be the tunes there are now had he not played fiddle because he did something nobody else did ». 

Bill Monroe, « Uncle Pen« (Decca 46283)

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Bill Monroe, « Close by« (Decca 29645)

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Taylor continued at a high level for a few years before he quit playing with the top bands. People say that he had a really bad driking problem and that he had a serious altercation with singer Little Jimmy Dickens one time when he was drunk.meteor 5027 buddy bain - can we live it down?meteor 5027 buddy bain - daydreams, come true

 

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Bain’s profesional card. Courtesy Eddie DJ Cesc

 

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Buddy Bain « Can we live it down« (Meteor 5027)

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Buddy Bain « Daydreams come true« (Meteor 5027)

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After the Meteor recordings, Merle Taylor had cut two songs [in a more poppish vein] for the Bill Justis enterprises, which were issued only in 1989s on the U.K. Zu-Zazz label (# 2005) « Memphis Saturday Night ». One can forget « There’s a light », full of choruses and frankly pop; sole remains of interest the second song, « Love fever », embellished by some fine bluesy guitar and piano. These two unissued songs – not demos- do go stylistically back to 1957 or 58.

« Love fever »

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Taylor also made various sessions as a sideman in Memphis and Muscle Shoals over the years, and was involved in half a dozen bluegrass and fiddle Lps on Old Homestead, Atteiran and Mississipi Trace labels. He also made a solo album produced by Bill Cantrell for Hi Records’ short-lived Hi Country label.

Merle Taylor died on May 3, 1978 in Tupelo, MS.

With thanks to American Music Magazine (Bo Berglind) for the permission given to freely use the Martin Hawkins’ article (AMM # 136, September 2014) on the Meteor label. Pictures were taken from 78rpm-world or from the AMM Magazine, or the Ace CD 885 « The complete Meteor Rockabilly & Hillbilly Recordings ». Thanks to Imperial Anglares for his help. Thanks to Ronald Keppner, who provided both label scans and music of a rare Decca 78. Thanks to Uncle Gil for the loan of Bill Monroe’s music, as the Zu-Zazz LP. Thanks to 45-cat member « Excello-2101 » for the sound to a rare Decca Merle Taylor issue. I have also used Michel Ruppli’s indispensable book : « The Decca labels – A discography, volume 5 » for details on Bill Monroe sessions from 1950 to 1954, and the two Merle Taylor sessions.