The bouncy music of SLIM RHODES: Memphis, 1950-1956

For over twenty years, the Slim Rhodes Show was an institution on Memphis radio. Starting out as a family group, the Rhodes maintained this characteristic through three generations despite a continually changing supporting cast.

Originally from Arkansas, James K. Rhodes formed a group called tte Log Cabin Mountaineers in Poplar Bluff, Missouri in 1936. At the core of the group were James’ three sons;: Ethel Cletus ‘Slim’ Rhodes, vocalist and guitarist ; Hillburn ‘Dusty’ Rhodes, vocalist and fiddle player ; and Gilbert ‘Speck’ Rhodes, bass player and comedian. The early group was completed by Dusty’s wife, Bea, a singer.
Slim was the eldest of the sons, born in 1913 in Pocahontas, Arkansas and the leader of the group. Working in Missouri – Arkansas border, the Log Cabin Mountaineers drew upon the sounds of Western swing emanating from Texas and the south west, together with the musical traditions of the Ozark mountains.

From the outset, though, the band was also a localised purveyror of prevailing music trends. Particularly after Slim gained a regular radio show on KWOC in Poplar Bluff in 1938, he came to recognize the value of balancing his natural feel for western swing with a responsiveness to public demand. Two decades later, Slim Rhodes’ Memphis recordings would form a chronological illustration of changing musical times in Memphs, from western swing to hillbilly to rock’n’roll.

The Rhodes band continued to operate as the Log Cabin Mountaineers during the early part of the 1940s, appearing not only on KWOC but on KLCN, Blytheville, Arkansas and KARK in Little Rock, Arkansas. Then, in 1944, the band joined WMC in Memphis and commenced a noontime country music show that ran almost daily until Slim’s death in 1966. For the latter half of this 22 year residency, the Rhodes Show also appeared n WMC TV and provided a platform for many aspiring local musicians. This experience came in useful when Speck later joined the nationally networked Porter Wagoner TV show out of Nashville in the 1970s and 1980s.

By the time they moved to Memphis, the Log Cabin Mountaineers had obtained the sponsorship of a floor company. They worked on WMC as the Mother’s Best Mountaineers. Their popularity increased through the 1940s to the point in 1950 when they were a natural target for Sam Phillips and his newly-opened recording enterprise.

Let’s take then the shortest possible digression from Slim Rhodes and his brothers, to introduce their guitarist : Brad Suggs (also called “Pee Wee”, “L.B.” or “Junior”) had his first professional affiliation with the Loden Family, around 1950. Sonny Loden, the later Sonny James, sang and played fiddle with the group. He wanted Suggs to go on the road with him, but Brad was married and had family obligations, so he chose not to.

Brad Suggs

Instead, he went to work with the Slim Rhodes band, once again joining a family group of musicians. Suggs played with them when he first got to Memphis until he went into the Army. They were going to send him to Korea, but he had two brothers who had already died in the war (Suggs came from a family of twelve), so he was allowed to stay Stateside. After his demob, probably in 1954, he went back to work for Slim Rhodes.

Suggs played guitar with the Rhodes band on all their Sun recordings, appearing as a featured vocalist on three of them in 1955-56: “Don’t Believe” (Sun 216), “Are You Ashamed Of Me” (Sun 225) and “Bad Girl” (Sun 238), all country ballads.

Like several other Sun alumni (Charlie Feathers, Malcolm Yelvington, Little Milton, Jimmy Haggett), Suggs also made a brief trip across town to record a rockabilly single for Lester Bihari’s Meteor label in 1956 (“Bop Baby Bop”/”Charcoal Suit”, Meteor 5034). But his true home territory was 706 Union Avenue. Brad hung around Sun a lot in those days. One thing led to another and he started doing studio work as a guitarist. Among the records he plays on are “Ubangi Stomp” by Warren Smith and “Hillbilly Music Is Here To Stay” by Jerry Lee Lewis.

UBANGI STOMP
(Charles Underwood)
WARREN SMITH (Sun 250, 1956)
Well I rocked over Italy and I rocked over Spain
I rocked in Memphis, it was all the same
Well, I rocked through Afrika and rolled of the ship
And seen them natives doin’ an odd lookin’ skip
I parted the weeds and looked over the swamp
Seen them cats doin’ the Ubangi-stomp
Ubangi-stomp with the rock and roll
Beats anything that you’ve ever been told
Ubangi-stomp, Ubangi-style
When it hits, it drives a cool cat wild
Well I looked up the chief, he invited me in
He said, a heep big jam session’s ’bout to begin
He handed me a tom-tom, I picked up that beat
That crazy thing sent shivers to my feet
I rocked and I rolled and I skipped with a smile
I done the Ubangi-stomp, Ubangi-style
Well we rocked all night and part of the day
Had a good rockin’ time with the chief’s daughter May
I was makin’ good time and a-gettin’ to know
Then the captain said son, we gotta go
I said that’s alright, you go right ahead
I’m gonna Ubangi-stomp ’till I roll over dead
Courtesy Black Cat Rockabilly Europe
http://blackcatrockabillyeurope.com

Phillips recorded eight sides with the band under Slim’s name in 1950 for release on Gilt Edge Records of California. Concentrating on boogie and swing based styles, the Gilt Edge discs featured Slim and Dusty on vocals with fine fiddle and steel support spiced with energetic electric solos from Pee Wee Suggs.

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In 1955, Sam Phillips recorded the Rhodes band again, this time for Sun. Despite a similar line-up to that of the Gilt-Edge era, the sound of the band was now much more hillbilly influenced. Subsequent sessions developed further, toward a rockabilly sound, and Slim’s vocalists changed from the swing balladeers (Slim, Dusty and Brad) to rockabillies like Sandy Brooks and Hayden Thompson (*).

1958. Perhaps Sandy Brooks on mike

Under the competition of a newer generation of rockabilly combos, Slim Rhodes soon found himself dropped from the Sun label. Although he did make several other recordings for labels like Cotton Town Jubilee, including an interesting promotional disc for Hart’s bread on the Hart’s label, Slim mainly concentrated on radio and TV work. New generations of the family came through, from sister Dot (who also recorded as Dottie Moore on King) to Slim’s niece Sandra Rhodes who at one time pursued a solo career with Fantasy Records, and sang as a backup singer on countless sessions at Hi Records.

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The full story of the Rhodes band would take more space than is available here, and much more work remains to be done in interviewing members of the Rhodes band and fleshing out the contribution they made to country music in the mid-south. (Martin Hawkins, 1986)
(*) It is probably an error from Mr. Hawkins, as it is highly improbable that Hayden Thompson, out of Tupelo, MS., ever sang with Slim Rhodes.

Aknowledgements: Martin Hawkins (“Good Rockin’ Tonight”, book of 1996); generous use of 78worlds; music from various sources; Hillbilly-music.com for several details and pictures.

Try to find the 1996 CD on Gee-Dee

Discography of Slim Rhodes is available on the Praguefrank site: https://countrydiscography.blogspot.com/2011/02/slim-rhodes.html

JACK TUCKER, “Big Door” , “Honey Moon Trip To Mars” and “Lonely Man” (1949-1961)

advert nudies tucker

Advert for cowboy clothes L.A. Nudie

It’s hard to figure out what’s going on here. There were four versions of « Big door »…a sort-of « Green door » sequel.The first version appeared in 4 Star’s AP (Artist Promotion) and was by the writer, Gene Brown. Some say that Eddie Cochran is on guitar. That version reappeared on 4 Star (# 1717) and reappeared yet again identical on Dot, the label that had scored with « Green door ». At almost the same time, circa April 1958, that 4 Star licensed jack tucker1Brown’s master to Dot, Jack Tucker‘s version appeared. Was this the same Jack Tucker who worked hillbilly nighspots in Los Angeles for many years ? Probably. According to Si Barnes, who worked for both Jack Tucker (real name Morris Tucker) and his brother, Hubert, aka Herb [« Habit forming kisses » on Excel 107, 1955: see elsewhere in this site the Rodeo/Excel story], the Tuckers were from Haleyville, near Oklahoma City . Jack (rn Morris) was born on April 19th, 1918.

Gene BrownBig door4star Tucker Door"Brown Gene "Big Door"

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Jack Tucker “Big door

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 Both brothers led bands in Los Angeles, playing spots like the Hitching Post, Harmony Park Ballroom, and so on. Jack had a Saturday night television show on Channel 11. Tommy Allsup graduated from Herb Tucker’s band, and according to Barnes, Herb led the more musically sophisticated outfit. Jack Tucker, said Barnes was  « pretty much stuck on himself. A very basic guitar player and vocalist. He was really limited in musical talent. I’m surprised he let the band record [Bob Wills‘] « Big beaver » [at the same session as « Big door »]. He didn’t understand the Wills beat or anything about that style. Jack was a two-chord guy. Both Herb and Jack faded out in the early 1960s when the ballrooms closed or switched over to rock ».

4star Tucker Beaver

okeh Wills Beaver

1940 issue

“Big beaver”

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Nevertheless, Tucker’s recording career was quite extensive. There was a demo session for Modern in 1949 and jack tucker3his first 4 Star record was a reissue of a 1953 disc for the 4* custom Debut label. Other records, usually with the Oklahoma Playboys, appeared on Starday (1954), RCA’s « X » imprint (1955), Downbeat, with Bob Stanley (1956), Audie Andrews on Debut, himself on Bel Aire and Nielsen (1957). Guitarist Danny Michaels remembered that Tucker was playing at the Pioneer Room on Pioneer Blvd, when they did the 4 Star session. According to Michaels, he played lead and Al Petty played steel guitar, but he couldn’t remember the others. Following Tucker’s brief tenure with 4 Star, he recorded for Ozark Records in South Gate, California. One of their singles (with Don Evans on lead guitar),    « Lonely man » was acquired by Imperial. Another, « Honey moon trip to Mars », may have been revived by Larry Bryant (Santa Fe 100, or Bakersfield 100).

Lonely manozark Tucker Marsozark TuckerMan

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Honey moon trip to Mars

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Larry BryantHoney moon trip to Mars

downloadsantafe Bryant  Mars

Tucker appears to have bowed out with a clutch of records for Toppa in 1961-1962, and later for Public! and Young Country. He had backed Lina Lynne (later on Toppa 1008) on Jimmy O’Neal‘s Rural Rhythm label, and Bill Bradley on Fabor Robinson‘s Fabor label in 1957-58.

Lina LynnePlease be mine

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Bill BradleyDrunkard’s diary

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rural Lynne  Please fabor Bradley diary

Tucker died on September 26, 1996, but no one has an idea what he was doing between the mid-60s and his death.

Notes by Colin Escott to « That’ll flat git it vol. 26 » (Four Star). Additions by Bopping’s editor.


 

 

The music of Jack Tucker (by Bopping’s editor)Tucker Jack4

To follow Barnes’ assertion about limitations both on guitar and vocal of Jack Tucker, one must although admit his discs were good enough to have him a comfortable discography over the years 1953-1965. I cannot at all judge his talent but I’d assume his music is generally pretty good hillbilly bop or rockabilly.

First tracks I discuss are his « X » sides (# 0093) from 1954 : the fast « Stark, staring madly in love» has a tinkling piano and a loping rhythm, a fine side, and the equally good « First on your list » (much later re-recorded on Public!). Both are billed X songs by Allan Turner.

Stark, staring madly in love

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“First on your list

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X Tucker Stark

X Tucker ListThis is without forgetting two 1949 demo tracks for Modern : apparently Dusty Rhodes is on lead guitar for the instrumental « Dusty road boogie », and Jack Tucker is vocalist for a version of Hank Williams’ « Mind your own business ».

Later on, we had Tucker on Starday 136 : « Itchin’ for a hitchin ‘ » and « I was only fooling me », typical hillbillies on the Beaumont, TX label – probably recorded on the West coast, as later did Jack Morris [see the latter’s story elsewhere in this site].

billboard starday tucker

Billboard April 14, 1954

I was only fooling me

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More earlier on the 4 Star OP (« Other People ») custom Debut label (# 1001), later reissued on the regular 4 Star X-81, Tucker had cut in 1954 « Too blue to cry », a good song with band chorus, and had backed a fellow Oklahomian Audie Andrews on the same Debut label (One side written by NY entrepreneur Buck Ram).

debut Tucker Crystar Tucker  Cry
Too blue to crydebut Andrews Christmas

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In 1956 Bob Stanley [not to be confused with the pop orchestra leader] on Downbeat 204 had « Your triflin’ ways/Heartaches and tears », backed by Tucker and his Oklahoma Playboys : two very nice Hillbilly boppers: Stanley adopts the famous growl-in-his-voice, a speciality of T. Texas Tyler. Both of them had also a disc on Downbeat 203 (still untraced). Jack Tucker backed also in 1957 Lina Lynne on the fine bopper « Pease be mine » (Rural Rhythm 513 [see above].

Your triflin’ ways

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Heartaches and tears

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dwbeat Stanley Waysdownbeat Stanley Tears

 

Same year 1957 saw Tucker record two sides among his best on the small California Bel Aire (# 22) label, « Let me practice with you » and « Surrounded by sorrow », good mid-paced boppers (fine steel). His band, “The Okla. Playboys“, backed Roy Counts on two excellent boppers on Bel Aire 23: the medium-paced “I ain’t got the blues“, and the faster “Darling I could never live without you“, both have strong steel guitar. Tucker also had  « Hound dog » on the Nielsen 56-7 label (untraced).

Let me practice with you

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Surrounded by sorrow

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Roy Counts, “I ain’t got no blues

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Roy Counts, “Darling I could never live without you

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belaire Tucker practice belaire Tucker Sorrow

Billbard 11-11-57

Billboard, No. 11, 1957

 

 

 

 

 

1958 belaire Counts Darling belaire Counts bluessaw the issue of « Big door » already discussed earlier (plus the B-side « Crazy do » a good instrumental), as the other 4 Star record, « Big beaver /Nobody’s fool» (4 Star # 1728), both average instrumental sides.

In 1959 Tucker had three records on the Ozark label. The original of « Honey moon trip to Mars » (# 960) [later by Larry Bryant on Santa Fe/Bakersfield – otherwise, who came first?]

Honey moon trip to Mars

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Larry BryantHoney moon trip to Mars

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then « Lonely man » (# 962), which was picked by Imperial and reissued (# 5623), finally # 965 and the ballads « Don’t cry for me/Trade wind love ».

 

insert ozark

insert of an Ozark issue, found on the Net

In 1960-1961 Tucker had four Toppa records. All are fine boppers, despite a tendancy to go pop, and include Ralph Mooney on steel guitar at least on # 1030 : « Oh what a lonely one ; one is » , “When the shades are drawn”          (# 1041),  « Just in time » (# 1052) and « It’s gone too far » (# 1106).

Oh what a lonely one; one is

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“Just in time

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It’s gone too far

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I mention quickly the following issues, less and less interesting (more and more poppish) on Public! (a new version of « First on your list ») and Young country (even an LP # 103) along the ’60s.
First on your list

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public! Tucker First

toppa Tucker Fartoppa Tucker Lonely

Sources: Colin Escott notes to “That’ll flat git it vol.” (Four Star); 45cat and 78-world sites; Toppa’s best 3-CD;; Roots Vinyl Guide; YouTube; Praguefrank’s country discography (discography); my own archives and records;