Howdy y’all, folks. This is the late April 2017 fortnight’s favorites selection : 7 artists in very different styles, Hillbilly bop, Bluegrass bop, Boogie woogie and Jumping Blues.
The first record is by a team, that of WALLIE & TEX ISABELL issued on the very small and rare Houston, TX Eddie’s label circa 1951-52. Primarily a R&B label (I only know of saxman Clarence Green, and the first ever record of R&B/boogie pianist Little Willie Littlefield : this man will appear at the end of this selection), it could also release Hllbilly bop like these « Sugar cain gal » [sic] b/w « The good old days » (Eddie’s 1219). The first tune is a jumping little one, where a lap-steel player – at last seemingly – is heard in Hawaïan style, and let lose himself very lovely. The backing is minimal : that steel, rhythm guitar, bass and vocal. A pretty nice track. Its flipside, a little less fast, is a fine ballad. One would like to hear more.
The second artist is not an unknown for any Hillblly bop addict. ROY COUNTS had two great sides on the California Bel Aire label in 1957 ; they are to be heard in the story of Jack Tucker (elsewhere in this site). Here we find him a bit later early ’60’s on the Jedco label (# 5009, location unknown)[1963, California, said DrunkenHobo], also issued on Commerce (# 5009, strangely)[acc. to DrunkenHobo, 2nd pressing, 1964]. « Temptation » is good uptempo in Bakersfield style. A great aggressive steel-guitar, which must be played by Ralph Mooney.
A legend now : LEON PAYNE ; this blind man was responsible for so many good records during the ’50s on many labels too, always had sincere ballads. Here on T.N.T. from San Antonio, TX, he delivers a very nice « I’ll still be around »; an atmospheric steel, the whole reminds one of Joe Carson on the ‘D’ label (« Careless words/Time lock »)[The story of Joe Carson is elsewhere in this site]. “I’ll stil be around”
On to Bluegrass bop with the duet RALPH & ROY who do a fabulous job on Wolf-Tex (a Lancaster, KY label) # 105, « Mountains in Kentucky ». It’s a very fast track, the banjo player offers a feat while the electric guitar has great Rockabilly style solo, too short. That same Wolf-Tex label also issued Harold Montgomery‘s « How much do you miss me » in 1961 (valued at 4 or 500 $), as well as « Ramblin’ » Roy Cunningham (« Waves on the bayou »).
A fast Bopper again with BUD ALDEN & his Buckaroos from California, 1959 [DrunkenHobo rectifies: a 4* custom from Seattle, WA. 1957]. Was then Buck Owens involved in any way in this recording ? (So, if this a Seattle recording, there is no chance of ole’ Buck involved). « When the ice worms nest again » [what a strange title] can be found on the Arctic label (# 701): a good guitar is embroiding the deep vocal of Leon Roach, unknown elsewhere.
From 1948, back to Eddie’s label in Houston (# 1202), and the very first double-sider by « LITTLE WILLIE » LITTLEFIELD. « My bestwishes » is a medium-paced opus, the rhythm is very heavy, and one detects in Littlefield’s voice the influence of his mentor Amos Milburn, like in the latter’s « Cinch blues ». The B-side « Little Willie’s boogie » is a furious showcase of fast piano.
Finally BUDDY CUDD & his Show Buds deliver a fine Jimmie Rodgers influenced « No hard time blues » on the United Low Country # 1006, out of Hampton, S.C. A touch of yodel, a very good guitar (lot of echo). On the same label were Buddy Livingston & his All Girls Band, previously on Savannah, a Starday custom. But this is another story, as they say..
(by Michael Cocksedge – all additional content in brackets and italics by Bopping’s editor)
On to you, Mick!
Movie star, Radio star, Recording Star, Nashville lounge bar co-owner …..you name it and Big Jeff has done it and done it in style .
Born on 2nd September 1920 as Grover Franklin Bess in Ashland, just north west of Nashville. At the age of nineteen he married the girl from the next village called Emily Ediker . He started playing guitar in the late 30’s and by 1940 he was playing with ‘Roy Lucas & his Rhythm Rangers’ live on Radio Station W.L.A.C .
Jeff was never called to army service in WWII due to high blood pressure and so was working during the day during the war years at a bomb factory in mid Tennessee and by night working on Radio and various live shows and State Fairs .
From the mid 1940’s Jeff’s career is hard to establish, he was certainly on the rosters of various Radio Staions including Harrisburg W.E.B.Q , Knoxville W.N.O.X and at W.S.I.X where he could be found in the line up with ‘Goober and his Kentuckians’ plus many other stations. So by 1946 the 6ft 2 BIG Jeff Bess and his new band ‘The Radio Playboys’ had returned to W.L.A.C in Nashville and started a regular twice daily radio show.
Jeff’s early ‘Radio Playboys’ line-up included future stars like Grady Martin playing Fiddle (of course Grady was starting to make waves with his guitar playing and would go on to be a major picker in the country music scene), Lucky Strickland playing Accordion, Hillous Butrum on Doghouse Bass, Tommy Neblett on Guitar and Jeff handling acoustic Guitar and vocals. Benny Martin (no relation) was to take over Fiddle duties after Grady Martin left. Around this time the band were joined by Jack Henderson and many more musicians from all over the state.
It was during the late 40’s that his marriage to Emily had broken down and he started dating a certain Hattie Louise AKA ‘Tootsie’ (they would be married in 1949) and already Jeff was venturing into running bars and Club ownership as a way of making extra money.
By the late 40’s Jeff had lost his band so he recruited a local combo called ‘The Eagle Rangers’ to become his new ‘Radio Playboys’ the line-up was now Billy Robinson on Steel, his Brother Floyd Robinson on Lead Guitar [could he be the Floyd Robinson who later teamed up with Autry Inman for the “Jack & Daniel” duet, who cut 1953-54 several discs on Decca?], Jerry Rivers on Fiddle and Jack Boles on the upright Bass.
Guitarist and singer George McCormick during late 1949 would also join the band. George was raised and lived in the fantastic but gloomy sounding town called ‘Defeated Creek’ and would be another young picker, to go under Jeff’s wing before going on to future solo stardom. [Later on George McCormick went solo in 1953-54 on M-G-M and duetted with Texan Earl Aycock as “George and Earl” in 1955-56 on Mercury – see “Done gone” and their story elsewhere in this blogsite]
So into the 1950’s and Jeff was working hard, regular shows, regular radio slots and club/bar owner, things were starting to take off for Jeff and the Radio Playboys. Their shows were a mix of Hillbilly, folk and some gospel and by all accounts they could raise the roof just about anywhere .
Now Jeff was earning more money in this period than most Opry stars and was very influential in Nashville, BIG Jeff was a BIG deal ! but suprisingly had very little in the way of records released !
Jeff Bess and another (stage?) line-up of the Radio Playboys
Jeff and the Radio Playboys backed Jack Henderson on their first recorded release on ‘Cheker’ # 100 in early 1947 ‘The Tramp On The Street’ / ‘Gonna Give You Back To The Indians’. Jack took the vocals, Jeff Bess – Acoustic Guitar, Benny Martin – Fiddle, Grady Martin – Lead Guitar and Hillous Butrum on Bass. Grady Martin steals the show with some fine pickin’ on the ‘Indians’ side …..just marvelous !
The first proper Jeff Bess with The Radio Playboys release was in 1947 on ‘Cheker’ # 103 . The line-up was Jeff Bess – Vocals with Jack Henderson – Acoustic Guitar, Benny Martin – Fiddle, Grady Martin – Guitar and Hillous Butrum on Bass. ‘Poppin’ Bubble Gum’ b/w ‘A Kiss And A Memory’ . ‘Poppin’ Bubble Gum’ was a jaunty novelty number with various comic impersonations and was a fun number that folks liked at all his shows. [Original version had been written by Cincinnati guitar virtuoso Zeb Turner and cut by Lonzo & Oscar in July 1947 on RCA-Victor 47-2765. They often performed this song at their Opry appearances].
1949 saw a second release but this time on ‘World Records’ # 1520 ‘After We Are Through’, which is a superb mid-tempo slice of hillbilly with lashings of Steel, Fiddle and Banjo, written by Jeff and on the flip again another updated version of ‘Poppin’ Bubble Gum’ [which reminds one of 1950 Billy Briggs’’ hit “Chew Tobacco Rag” on Imperial]. This was the last release on World Records Inc and the line-up on this recording was probably (Photo Below) Jack Boles- Bass, Bob King – Banjo, Bill Robinson (Seated) Steel – Jerry Rivers – Fiddle, Big Jeff Bess – Vocals/Guitar & Floyd Robinson – Guitar ( Announcer in this photo is Bill Stamps)
Through this period according to various band members and promoters, Jeff was a great entertainer, a really good show man, but like a lot of stars of this period he loved a drink and he also loved the women ….. a lot !
Jeff and the boys had been playing the Tennessee State Fair which was re-introduced after the war in 1947, Jeff and the Radio Playboys always played the Beer Garden area and were sponsored by ‘Ma n’ Pa Hom Bru Beer’, so over time they worked into the routine comedy sketches and songs about this wonderful beer. It was around the 1950 State Fair that somebody had the idea of cutting a record to sell at the fair. The two songs ‘Ten – E -Cee –Hom – Bru’ and ‘Hom- Bru Boogie’ were recorded in the studios of W.L.A.C . Jeff Bess – Vocals/Guitar. Probably the Radio Playboys were Ed Hyde – Fiddle, George McCormick – Lead Guitar, Dwain Birdwell – Steel Guitar and Jack Boles – Bass . The records were sold only at the fair in 1950, how many were cut is unclear, but the label design is basic and there is no mention of the band on the label; this is an extremely rare 78 rpm (see my copy pictured below), imagine buying this in a beer garden booze up at the State Fair in 1950 and then imagine every copy made it home without a crack or breakage after an all day session on the Hom Bru ……very unlikely indeed !
New record company ‘Dot Records’ was looking for new acts for the big battle against the well-established labels in the Country/Hillbilly field in 1950. Big Jeff knew owner Randy Wood through radio station work and was duly signed up. Jeff saw five releases on Dot with some success . Dot # 1004 in the spring of 1950 was the first and was a tune geared at a popular money making market ‘Juke Box Boogie’ / ‘You Talk In Your Sleep’ . Juke Box Boogie was a superb Guitar driven honkytonker and jumps and bops around for sure.[heavily bootlegged as ’45rpm and yellow wax those days]
1959 saw Jeff and wife Tootsie purchased a club in Nashville called ‘Mom’s’ which they renamed ‘Tootsie’s Orchard Lounge’ and was the place to be if you were a name in Country music in Nashville. Jeff ventured into the movies around this time where he had small appearances in ‘Face In The Crowd’ and in 1960 in ‘Wild River’ . By 1960 he and ‘Tootsie’ had divorced and she kept the club and Jeff would by the mid 60’s become a real life Sheriff in the Tennessee Police Department where he would stay until his retirement in 1980.
Big Jeff Bess passed away in August 1998. Jeff never saw massive music fame, but he left us some fantastic songs and if you listen to the Bear Family CD ‘Tennessee Home Brew’ and the Radio show tunes you can hear Big Jeff’s infectious laugh before and after every song, a true country star a true Radio Playboy !
The Bullet Recording and Transcription company was formed in late 1945 by former Grand Ole Opry booking agent Jim Bulleit, in partnership with musician Wally Fowler and businessman C. V. Hitchcock. (more…)