Earl & Joyce Songer: Michigan hillbilly bop (1950-1954)

Earl Songer was born in 1915 (nearly a century ago..) in Ruth, W. Va. His father was a miner, and none in his family was interested in music, but at an early age Songer became hooked to guitar and harmonica. As a fan of Bill Cox, he developped a one-man band formula.earl songer

Later on in the late ’30s, he secured employment with the Ford Motor Co. In Detroit, Michigan. Never playing professionnally, he nevertheless found opportunities to entertain friends at parties and local functions. It was on such an occasion (a party given by Ford Motors) that he met Joyce (rn Miami Florida) Goode (born in 1924 in Polk Cty, Tennessee), herself being a guitarist : she was so impressed by Songer’s one-man show, that they became close friends. She had been listening closely to Grand Ole Opry and particularly Bill Monroe‘s « Mule skinner blues », so to mastering the instrument.

Earl and Joyce maintained their friendship during his war service and were married in 1945. Settling down in a Detroit suburb, Dearborn, Earl returned to work at Ford while they continued to develop their music, at first for their own pleasure, and gradually more seriously. The professionnal name « Joyce » was chosen for their first 1949 record for Fortune (# 129). They organized their band, the Rocky Road Ramblers. Joyce’s brother Chester played bass, and remained the most consistent member during the five following years.

« The fire in my heart » is intense, with the lifting intro provided by two guitars and great vocal harmonising; this was covered later by Mac Wiseman. The reverse side « Honky tonkin’ blues », an original composition, has a fiddle solo taken by Elton Adams. « Fox chase », second record (# 131), may be boring, as everybody has heard it but once. « Will there be any flowers on your grave », a gospel tune, finds Songer playing harmonica on a rack together with his rhythm guitar, a rare occasion heard although he regularly performed live in this format.
The fire in my heart

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Honky tonkin’ blues

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Whose naughty baby are you?

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fortune 144A whose naughty baby are you?
Mid 1950 and the third session: a proficient mandolin player, either Bobby Sykes (part of the band in 1953-54) or Ray Taylor, who often sat with them. The latter of course recorded for Clix in the late ’50s (see elsewhere in the site). The amplified mandolin is heard to excellent effect on « Who’s naughty baby are you ? » (# 144), which combine with the boogie guitar provided by Joyce.

 

More of that session saw « My wife, and sweetheart too » (# 141). It may look a sentimental song, but it turns out that Earl Songer is singing about two persons ; and the only answer is « to build a cottage for them both, with the rose ’round the door ». Fine solos from mandolin and guitar. The mandolin sets the pace for the frantic « Mother-in-law boogie » (# 141). Amusing lyrics, and, although not being a hillbilly boogie stricto sensu, it could well be the fastest piece of its type ever recorded, highlighted by Chester Goode’s slapping bass solo.Mother-in-law boogie

download fortune 141B Ear Songer - Mother-In-LawBoogie

Possibly from the previous session, but without the mandolin, “Spanish fire bells” (# 144) is a joy to hear – a subtle piece of guitar artistry: a friend of Joyce had introduced her to a Chet Atkins piece that impressed her. Elton Adams returns with two fiddle solos, the second one being plucked to sound like a banjo. Also important: the event of a light double-time strumming of the rhythm guitar, which sounds as if there were a third guitar playing the bass runs.

On the next recording date, they chose to bring Walter Atkins (a neighbor) on harmonica. “I won’t confess I’m sorry” (# 155) quite reminiscent of Wayne Raney on his earlier sides (who copied who?) “In a broken heart no love is found” (# 151) finds Earl Songer in good voice, while Bill Monroe‘s “In the pines” is recalled as Joyce joins to duet on “Someone to call my own” (# 155).

fortune 155a I won't confess I'msorry fortune 129A honky tonkin' blues fortune 151B in a broken heart

Elton Adams returns at his best on a mid-1951 session on which Joyce’s guitar is amplified effectively to a full sound. The guitar and the fiddle basically duet together on the hilarious “Dissatisfied” (# 160), which paints a doomsday scenario when women take over the world. Earl tells us of a day where there will be “a mayor lady in every town” and “women policing the streets“. Worst of all is the prospect of “having to obey to your mother-in-law“. The actual title doesn’t appear until the last line and “I guess they’ll always be dissatisfied” seems to infer that such events will never actually happen.

Dissatisfied

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A November 17th, 1951 date for Coral (recorded in New York or Chicago) saw “We’re satisfied” (# 64127), unusual for string effects, and the vibrant, boogie instrumentally “Smiling through the years“. With the same opportunity they recorded late 1952 another session for Coral: best tunes were the fine “Sansoo” (# 64149) and “Too free with your love” (# 64167), same style as on Fortune.
We’re satisfied

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Coral 64149A

coral 64127 we're satisfied

Sansoo

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Finally relocated in Dallas, Texas, on May 16th, 1954 (the very same day that Gene Henslee cut “Rockin’ baby“), they recorded four tracks for Imperial, whose best is the fast “Whoopie baby” (8259). Joyce played steel guitar on them, and sang “It’s a cold, cold love“. “I want your love” (8292) is a fine part-time duet bopper.

Whoopie baby

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Sad reality: they parted ways and divorced in 1955. Personal and professional problems caused Earl’s increasingly frequent bouts of excessive drinking and Joyce to feel that their career was set back and opportunities were lost because of his unreliability. After the break of the band, Earl got into real estate and car sales and unfortunately dropped out of music. He moved to Charleston, W. Va. in 1969-70 and passed away in 1972. Joyce teamed up with Rufus Shoffner, a popular local artist who also recorded (“It always happens to me“, Hi-Q, 1962, or « Orbit twist » (American Artist, 1962). She formed a new band similar to those she had organized with Earl, further records followed and she was in demand to many a country, bluegrass, or rock’n’roll session during the later half of the ’50s and early 60s.

It has to be noted that, as far as I know, Earl Songer wrote all his songs.

Freely adapted from Dave Sax’s notes to “Earl & Joyce Songer & the Rocky Road Ramblers – early Country from Detroit vol. 1” on Old Homestead LP 338 (1991). Never seen a volume 2, supposing gathering the rest of the Earl Songer sides. Thanks to Craig Maki for his help with several Fortune label scans. 

I try to be complete with music presented. If you wish some more tracks, please let me know which ones and I’ll try to satisfy.

Addition (Jan. 22nd, 2015). Craig Maki points out that mandolin player Bobby Sykes is not the singer Bob Sykes, and that a second volume of Earl & Joyce Songer sides was published but only on cassette.

 

imperial 8292I want your lovecoral 64167 too free with your loveEarl Songer

imperial 8259 whoopee baby

 

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Early May 2014 fortnight’s favorites

Howdy folks, the first serie of the two selections for May.

The exuberant “It always happens to me” by RUFUS SHOFFNER & JOYCE SONGER (wife of Earl) cut in Detroit in 1962 seems stylistically go back to the mid to late ’50s. It’s a great fast bopper (piano, guitar and an energetic rhythm, and an exulting duet vocal), which  was issued on Fortune’s label subsidiary Hi-Q 14, and can still be found on various recent compilations, as in Boppin’ Hillbilly vol. 5. Shoffner made several fine sides on Hi-Q or Fortune, or earlier on Kentucky’s Countryside label. More on him later in this site.      “It always happens to me

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rufus shoffner

Rufus Shoffner

More famous from the West coast is TENNESSEE ERNIE FORD (1919-1991),who cut a fine string of Hillbilly boogies from the end of the ’40s (“Milk ’em in the morning blues“) to the mid-50s, when he crossed the marked with the top-seller “Sixteen tons” (written by Merle Travis). Here he delivers from July 1950 on Capitol 1295 the much acclaimed “The shot gun boogie” (which had many, many versions later by others, even during the R&R era, f.e. Jesse Lee Turner), backed by the Cliffie Stone crew, among them the excellent Speedy West (steel), Billy Liebert (piano) and Jimmy Bryant (ld guitar).

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T. Ernie in 1957

T. Ernie FordThe shot gun boogie

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hiQ 17 rufuscapitol 1295 shotgun boogie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For the rest  of the selections, we’re turning to obscure artists. From Pennsylvania in 1958 on the Skyline label (not to be confused with the Indianapolis label: the Blankenship Brothers) # 106 comes BOB ENGLAR and ” Always dreaming“, a very nice bopper (guitar/steel/fiddle solos). FRANK DARRIS had in 1963 the same energy as Englar for an honest Rockabilly, his personal version of Marty Robbins’ “Ruby Ann” on the Roy label. The wizardry is the same two-sided disc came on two other labels, Thunder and Advance. Another Rockabilly we find from Alabama, early ’60s, “Baby I don’t care” (not the Elvis’ song) by DAVID GREGG on the McDowell label.

Bob EnglarAlways dreaming

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original label

Frank DarrisRuby Ann

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skyline 106B

 

 

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David Gregg,”Baby I don’t care

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Dempsey Sims, “Blue eyed baby” (Sam version)

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Dempsey Sims, “Blue-eyed baby” (Huber version)

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Finally the same song, “Blue eyed baby” is a yodeling bopper first issued in 1956 on Esta 284 (untraced)and  later recorded twice by DEMPSEY SIMS in 1957 on Huber (time 2’39”) and Sam (time 2’07”). The Sam version seems more polished. Dempsey later had “Blues tomorrow” in 1967 on the Nashville label.

I feel sorry for the light defaults of the scans: my sight is failing (too much reading microscopic master numbers on records!)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

sam 122huber 1003

 

 

 

 

late May 2011 fortnight’s favorites

aggie 1002 dick miller Now I'm goneFirst 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“.mercury 6347 hill

mercury 71658 dick miller my tears will seal it closedEddie Hill and “The Hot Guitar” was combination of various guitar stylings, Merle Travis, Hank Garland, Chet Atkins.Very nice fast tune.

hi-q 17 rufus shoffner it always happen to mekyva 707 ked killenphilmon 1000 hiram

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“.

frankie lee simsvin 1006 frankie lee sims she likes to boogie real low