Late April 2020 bopping fortnight’s favorites

Hello, visitors ! Hi to old ones. The story goes on with a small dozen of tunes mostly issued during the ’50s (1950-59) with the odd item from 1965.

A short career (no more than 2 years) but a very prolific one : AL VAUGHN cut many records on 4 Star just the days before the 1948 Petrillo recording ban, and also some sides in 1950. Born Alton Faye Vaughn (1922, Arkansas), he later settled in Oklahoma, before eventually moving to California and got signed to Bill McCall’s whom he cut records for. Here’s the risqué « Right Key In The Wrong Keyhole » (# 1480) with fast pace, an agile steel which reminds one of Milton Brown’s steel-man, Bob Dunn. A tight little Western-tinged tune, of course ‘not suited for radio use’.

Next artist, HOMER LEE SEWELL, was a Southern one (Houston and Oklahoma). He first presents « She’s Mad At Me » on D 1067. A fast little country bopper, fiddle always present. From April 1959. Flipside equally good : « Whisper Your Name » is a lovely atmospheric ballad ; Willie Nelson holds the lead guitar. Sewell was also on Oakridge 104, « Country Boy Shuffle », a passable Country rocker , piano to the fore.

Mack and Gwen

We remain in Texas : Marshall. The duet of brother & sister MACK (Smith) and GWEN (Phillips) was active during 1959 and 60 and released records on their own Phil label. On # 1200 it’s their most famous track, backed by the Country Playboys, « Baby I Want Another Date With you » – fast number, good guitar and a bit of fiddle : the whole thing is energetic and moving. They recorded their production by Mira Smith’s studio (Ram Records), Shreveport, La. The flipside, « I Don’t Care What They Say About You » is a gentle bopper – loud bass, a steel solo and a welcome piano. Later they relocated to Dallas for their second issue (Phil 1201, the fast « If It Ain’t The Board Draft It’s My Baby », fine dobro) with another backing outfit (The Garlanders), finally on Phil 1203 they had « I’ll Be There With All Of You », a slow bopper, less interesting.

Ken Gabbard & the Hilltop Rangers

Nearer to us, here’s KEN GABBARD and the Hilltop Rangers for «Things Can’t Be As They Were » in 1965 on the Harp label # 15730 (a Trenton, OH label). A mid-pace opus, a weeping vocal and steel : an excellent ballad

From Oklahoma (where he’d begin with his own label Echo), JACK PADGETT went to Jesse Erickson Talent label, and released two discs between 1949 and 50. « Peppermint Sticks » (Talent 722) is a medium paced, typical late ’40s Texas bopper, good guitar and fiddle. On his second, faster issue, « Boogie Woogie Gal » (# 729), he is joined by the house pianist Aline McManus on romping piano. Great steel by the overshadowed Curley Cochran. Padgett’s base was KTMC in McAlester, South East of the State).

The Willis Brothers

The WILLIS BROTHERS (formerly the Oklahoma Wranglers) were a famous trio affiliated with KGFF in Shawnee, OK. They present an excellent instrumental – Vic Willis’ leading with his accordion – « Wrangler Boogie » on Mercury 6071, early ’50s. Then a shuffler with « Long Gone » on Coral 64175, 1953 ; this time led by the eldest of the Trio on guitar, GUY WILLS ; plus a welcome piano (solo) and steel. Later they went to Starday among other labels.

Billy Dee

Released in July 1954, here’s « I Can’t Get Enough Of You » by BILLY DEE (vocal, piano, steel) is a refreshing, joyful small bopping opus (Fabor 111B), while his other disc, « Drinking Tequila » is a bit disappointing : a good tune but average bopper – one ought to wait something better with such a title (Fabor 104)

Sources : YouTube ; 45cat ; Gripsweat ; HBR site (Talent) ; Ohio labels.

Dallas, 1948-1952: Hillbilly & Western swing on the Talent/Star Talent label

star talent  willet fatOne of the most prolific Southwestern labels of the postwar era in Texas was Dallas’ Talent/Star Talent Records, owned and operated by Jesse Erickson. In number of actual, documented releases in its hillbilly serie (700), it may indeed have been the most prolific. Erickson’s 80-odd issues over a roughly four year period beginning in 1948 appear to be the most by a Texan hillbilly label until Starday came along in 1953.

Of course, volume doesn’t necessarily correspond with quality, but many of Talent’s – it became Star Talent about halfway through his life – releases were classics of postwar country music, like Hoyle Nix’s “Big Ball’s In Cowtown”, Slim Willet’s “Tool Pusher On A Rotary Rig” and Riley Crabtree’s “Shackles And Chains”. And many more were prime examples of the changing musical climate of the region, when Western swing was slowly displaced to straightforward Honky tonk.

The label was also unusual in the way it evolved from a strictly local label (Buddy Walker issues) to far-flung markets like New Orleans (Ray Rogers), Arkansas (Buster Doss) or Memphis (Freddie Burns).

It’s yet to be established exactly when Erickson began recording Talent sessions, but the birth of the label seems to have coincided with the musicians’ union recording ban (the Petrillo ban), on January 1rst, 1948. Erickson drew talent from the lively local scene which revolved around the Lone Star Jamboree (later Big D Jamboree), held every Saturday at Ed McLemore’s. Involved was disc jockey Al Turner. Among Jamboree’s early stars were Riley Crabtree and a youngster, Buddy Walker, at the same time salesman for Erickson’s record shop, and the first to sign for Talent – he had the first 6 releases on the label.

Talent’s inaugural release, Buddy Walker’s “Bordertown Fiesta”, became a regional hit. Recorded at the Seller’s studio, it included a nebulous house band made up of Jamboree house band regulars: lead guitar player Buster White (later Leon Rhodes), Tex Melton (later  Jimmy Kelley) on steel guitar, and fiddler Ted Hodges (later Billy Jack Saucier). The obscure female pianist Aline McManus also played on several early sessions. Back to Walker. A smooth (though indeniably country) and appealing singer, typically with his first B side, the strong “We Lived A Lie”.

Gene O’Quin (his story can be found in its entirety on the site), was probably still short of 16 when he made “Next Sunday Darling Is My Birthday” (Talent 708). Alongside his longtime buddy Boots Borquin, he was already a a seasoned club and stage performer, as his poignant et assured vocal attests. Both were regulars of the Jamboree, but O’Quin would have his second disc ,backed by the Jamboree house band and credited to him alone: a forgettable “Pennies for Papa” coupled with Hank Williams’ “The Blues Come Around” (Talent 741). Soon after, O’Quin would hitchike to California and sign for Hometown Jamboree and Capitol Records.

Erickson’s first move outside of North Texas was bandleader Hoyle Nix, a fiddler whose West Texas Cowboys based out of Big Spring. Nix rose to regional stardom amid the West Texas oil boom. He took a page from his idol Bob Wills’ book when he, as Wills had done often, revamped an old folk standard as “A Big Ball’s In Cowtown” (Talent 709). The song not only became Nix’s signature tune (he re-recorded it in 1959 for the Caprock label, of Big Spring), but also  by far the biggest hit of Talent/Star talent, selling 10.000 copies in the Dallas area alone, and remaining in print long after most of Erickson’s early reissues were deleted. It was also a hit for the neo-Western Swing outfit Asleep At The Wheel in the 1980’s.

talent nix cowtown

Alton “Tex” Melton was an early regular steel guitarist of the Big D Jamboree. He was the steel player on a number of early Talent sessions, but also a singer/songwriter (without steel), on his line fine bluesy issue  “It Won’t Do Baby” (Talent 714). He seems to have dropped out of sight afterwards.

Aline McManus, whom about nearly nothing is known, was a session pianist and had a lone issue, “Television Love” (Talent 722, vocal Jack Padgett). The song has nothing to do with television however, but is a fine bopper with twin fiddles and probably George McCoy on steel. Vocalist Jack Padgett (who had previously recorded for his own Echo label) came originally from Oklahoma, and relocated in Fort Worth, Tx. when he was approached by Jesse Erickson.

Talent  Padgett  Gal

His “Boogie Woogie Gal” (Talent 729) is one of three he had on the label. Afterwards, relocated in Odessa, he wrote “Cowtown” for Tex Ritter, then switched to Four Star.

Cowboy Dixon is a real mystery, and we only have his music, the solitary fine “Everything’s Gonna Be Changed” (Talent 733); otherwise we are clueless!

The Seven Rowe Brothers were from Oklahoma, and had spent several postwar years in California when they settled in Dallas. Fronted by vocalist and sometimes fiddler Jack Rowe, they were shortly to begin a long association with Al Dexter. The Rowes at this time included Earl and Lightnin’ on fiddles, Luke on guitar, and A.D. on bass, usually augmented by various steel guitar players, lead guitarists and drummer Freddie Cantu. “Polk County Two Step” (Talent 732) is derived from the Bob Wills’ tune “Faded Love”. The Rowes continued to perform professionnally through the 1990s, though death and ill-health had decimated the act.

buster doss

Buster Doss

 

      Talent doss graveyard

 

                           Johnny Mathis, from Maud, Texas, was one of the most important artists to have gotten their start on Talent. Ex-steel guitar player with Riley Crabtree’s band, he cut “Before You Call” (Dave Lander’s current hit) at a Crabtree session. Mathis soon became a solo performer on the Jamboree where he met future partner Jimmy Fautheree. They both recorded solo before teaming up with “If You Don’t Somebody Else Will” in 1954. Their relationship was on and off again for years and in the late ‘50s Mathis began a distinguished solo career per Pappy Daily’s D records, recording some excellent honky-tonk records under the name Country Johnny Mathis (to distinguish him from the pop star).

Johnny Bee, born Balducci, was a fine singer, with a deep, resonant baritone. He had a tendency to sound like Ernest Tubb, and the best track by him is “Hang-over Blues” (Talent 744).

Star Talent  mathis  why

from the Tony Biggs collection

 

Snuffy Smith, an ex-bass player, had worked in Southern California, before relocating in Hobbs, New Mexico. He had recruited champion fiddler  Tex Atchison and future Pee Wee King’s  drummer Sticks McDonald (who billed himself as the “Krupa of Western Swing”). He later formed the Snuff Dippers, and cut “Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide” (Star-Talent 753 – the first issued under the modified name). By the late ‘50s Smith had joined Bob Wills as bus driver, bassist and sometimes singer.

Riley Crabtree (his entire story is to be found in this site) was one of the most prolific Texas country singers of the postwar years. He had a regional hit with “Shackles and Chains”, before signing with Columbia in 1950. Obviously influenced by Jimmie Rodgers, he cut eight of his sides. A regular on the Jamboree, he then went to Ekko (1955 – Eddie Cochran on guitar), and continued to record for small labels throughout the ‘50s ans early ‘60s.

Hank Harral is best remembered today as the owner of Caprock records in the late ‘50s, where he issued his classic “Tank Town Boogie”. Born 1913, he made his debut as the Happy Yodeler on Amarillo’s KGRS in 1928. He worked here and there as bandleader and DJ, and recorded for Star Talent “Tank Town Boogie” and “Dream Band Boogie” (Star Talent 760).

star talent  harral Bdreamband

Freddie Burns was a popular  Memphis country dance and radio band that numbered a young fiddler Sonny James (absent from the Star Talent sides). The fiddler then was Speedy McNatt, who sings with Burns on the excellent “Juke Box Boogie”, coupled with the equally fine “Two Piano Boogie” (Star Talent 762), with the blind pianist Ray Martin. The Freddie Burns’ band, the Ranch Hands, are not known to have recorded again.

Burns Brothers/Sunny Burns. From Jackson, Ms., Sunny (not the Starday artist Sonny Burns), Slim and Pee Wee, recorded, for unclear reasons for Star-Talent in Dallas (3 singles). They played straightforward country with western swing overtones. They chose strong material, “I Can Sleep Again At Night” (Star-Talent 765) and “Agreed To Disagree” (769). They served later as training band for future rockabilly Joe Clay.

Slim Willet. Erickson was astute enough to sign as many singing deejays as he could, a practice guaranteeing his releases would get air play. Born Winston Moore in 1919 (his full story is also featured in this site), he was a popular DJ in Abilene. He had ambition . His debut single, “Tool Pusher On A Rotary Rig” and “I’m Going Strong” (Star Talent 770) were uptempos. Later Willet would go to Four Star after his “Don’t Let The Stars Get In Your Eyes” became an unlikely major hit in 1952. Over the next years, Willet recorded prolifically (Winston, Edmoral) before his death in 1966.

Wayne Walker. Not to be confused with the Hoyle Nix guitar player, nor the singer-songwriter from Shreveport, he was a Houston singer. He was moderately successful as a songwriter (R.D. Hendon, Jerry Jericho) and his lone Star-Talent issue (“Who’s Kiddin’ Who” – 776) is one of the rarest of the label.

Notes from Krazy Kat’s CD “Playboy Boogie”. Thanks to Al Turner for label scans.

star-talent burns juketalent bee blues

tanner harral texas

a previous issue to Talent