The story of Khoury’s Recordings starts in 1949 with a man named John Hardin “Virgel” Bozman. He was a rustic singer/guitarist (born in Oklahoma) and part-time comedian who sometimes billed himself, with tongue-in-cheek, as “The Arkansas Sinatra“. He seemingly was also a house painter. He had apparently been a staple on the San Antonio country and western music scene for some time. Virgel Bozman was an eccentric Texas bandleader who became fascinated by Cajun music. He had already recorded a Hillbilly record for Bill Quinn, « Griding for my darling » (Gold Star 1324), which was virtually impossible to locate even when it was new. A 1945 contract for Bozman exists, so he may have had an unknown release on Quinn’s earlier Gulf label, or the sides could have become the later Gold Star release. Bozman revamped his band as the Oklahoma Tornadoes in 1947 with new musicians of the caliber of Cajun fiddler Floyd LeBlanc. Together they came up with a viable French-English novelty « La Prison ». Somehow Quinn failed to see the potential of the song and buried it on the flipside of « The hokey pokey » – a piece of pure corn by the Gold Star Trio. But the song still caught on as it was flipped over on the juke boxes in several regions, and copies show up today with mint « A » sides and plowed « B » sides. With the right promotion, the record had the ingredients to become at least a regional hit in the Hillbilly market. Bozman was not deterred and began to feature Cajun music more prominently, although he himself could not speak French outside the words that were scribbled on paper for « La Prison ».
from l.ro r.: Floyd LeBlanc, Iry LeJeune,Bennie Hess (at mike), Virgel Bozman; 1947-48
While stationed at a San Antonio military base near the end of WWII, Cajun fiddler Floyd Leblanc befriended Bozman. Together, they had joined Bennie Hess’ Oklahoma Tornados country hillbilly band as a guitar player but Virgil also dabbled in his own material as well. In mid 1948, Floyd had helped Iry Lejeune record two tunes with the band on Hess’ label “Opera” and they had him touring with the group for quite some time in 1948. Cajun music was well on it’s way back and while selling cow horns in Lake Charles, Virgil ended up moving from Texas to Louisiana in order to record it.
The O.T. Years
Then came George Khoury, a Turkish-American businessman from Lake Charles and record store owner. In 1947, as an owner of a record shop, he noticed a lack of Cajun music being recorded in south Louisiana and decided to open a business to compete with Ed Shuler’s Goldband Records and J. D. “Jay” Miller’s Fais-Do-Do and Feature labels. His base of operations was just around the corner from Ed’s on Railroad Ave in Lake Charles.
Khoury never had his own studio, however; he would rent out other studios and press the records in other places. He had his record shop in Lake Charles and many agree he helped Virgil finance his new record label “O.T. Recordings”, named after Hess’ band. Together, Virgil would try to find new talent for producing records and Khoury would sell the records in his shop. Even his “O.T.” logo resembled a cattle brand. According to author John Broven:
« Khoury was [Virgel’s] sponsor, so to speak, because he didn’t have that much money. He was a good salesman, he had a lot of gab because being a cowhorn salesman he had to have a lot of gab. »
Like Bennie Hess, Bozman stories abound, including his siphoning gasoline out of customer’s cars while they were at the Hilltop Club near his home and at one point driving an old car without a floor. He woud often play the fool’s role in the band as the traditionally required comedian. He was also a fine Hillbilly artist in his own right (« Blues for Oklahoma », O. T. 109) and obviously loved South Louisiana music, working hard to make a success of his labels. By the outset of 1949, the enthusiastic Bozman actually moved his wife and five children to 349-A Route 1 at Westlake in South Louisiana and set up is own OT ‘Hits of Louisiana’ label to tap into the market directly.
Virgil kicked off his label with his own recordings, which were a hillbilly tune “Tell Me If You Love Me” and a Cajun tune “The Cameron Waltz” (#101). The rare Oklahoma Tornadoes record is shrouded in mystery that reflects his initial indecision. The two songs were first recorded in English by Bozman but were cancelled and instead released with uncredited French vocals. The singer’s identity is still subject to much speculation.
Later he issued another Hillbilly bopper, « Blues for Oklahoma » (# 109) [strident mandolin over a loping rhythm] and the more Western swing tinged « Troubles, troubles » (# 112). His B-sides are average little boppers.
But he knew he needed other groups. It would be Eddie Shuler that would help Bozman get his first major outside recording artist. Eddie Shuler, a record producer in Lake Charles, had been approached by Cajun accordion player Nathan Abshire to record on his label after seeing the success of Iry Lejeune’s recordings. Eddie Shuler, who worked for the KPLC radio station, was too busy with the promotion of Iry LeJeune and put Nathan’s band in touch with businessman Virgil Bozman. Also, Virgil had been familiar with Nathan’s music since Floyd had played in Nathan’s band years before. Virgil had noticed how Eddie Shuler produced his records for Goldband. According to Eddie Shuler, Bozman’s recording methods were very strange. He recalled:
« He kept the pot boiling by selling cowhorns (the famous Longhorns) and it is how he landed in Lake Charles one day. He discovered fast how I managed to get artists recorded by a third person and he decided to follow my steps. He arrived at the station studio, gave a bottle of booze to the sound engineer, asked him to cut an acetate, left with it and got it pressed somewhere else.
He sold cow horns. In fact, I still have one of his cow horns over the entrance to my door there that he gave me back at that time. I let him sing on my radio show. Anyway, he went then and teamed up with George Khoury and then he went out and found Nathan Abshire. »
Pine Grove Blues Success and Aftermath
Nathan Abshire, 1972
In May of 1949, Virgil gathered Nathan Abshire with Earl Demary ‘s backup band in the KPLC studio, located inside the Majestic Hotel in Lake Charles, to cut 8 tracks; the first of which was the legendary “Pine Grove Blues” for the O.T. label (#102). It was a loose interpretation of an old blues tune called “In The Pines”. His Pine Grove Boys band included Roy Broussard and Ernest Thibodeaux on vocals, Earl Demary or Ernest Thibodeaux on guitar, Atlas Fruge on lap steel, Jim Baker on bass guitar, Oziet Kegley on drums, and either Will Kegley or Wilson Granger on fiddle. The flipside contained a less-than-impressive “Kaplan Waltz” based on Angelas Lejeune’s 1929 recording of “Pointe Noir”. Since most Cajun 78s usually reached a pressing figure of 500, it was a big hit, pressing around 3,200 copies of the single. Virgil sold boxfulls of “Pine Grove Blues” from the back of a large hearse.
However, Virgil kicked the label off with a string of tunes containing a discography of Cajun songs such as Nathan’s cover of Leo Soileau’s “Grand Mamou” (#106), “Lake Charles Two Step“(#106), “New Orleans Waltz” (# 110), “Hathaway Waltz” (# 111), a re-recording of his pre-war “French Blues” (# 110), and an improved swingy version of his first hit called “Pine Grove Boogie” (#111). At one point that year, Virgil and Khoury convinced the hit artist of the area, Harry Choates, to wax a record, trying to capitalize on his fame giving it “Jole Blon’s Gone” (#107) and the obscure “Lake Charles Waltz” (#107). Neither Nathan nor Harry could recreate the success of the Pine Grove Blues O.T. recording.
Other musicians Virgil managed to get were Cleo Harves [Blues] and Jerry Barlow on his listings. (# 103, # 105). The label would eventually move to San Antonio, run by James Bryant and Bennie Hess (former partners at Bill Quinn’s Gold Star records), however, by the end of 1949, O.T. suddenly dried up.
He released his last 4 recordings he was holding onto, outsourcing the pressings by mailing his masters to Stephen Shaw and George Weitlauf in Cincinatti, OH. The records contained Nathan performing covers of the Breaux tune “Step It Fast” (# 114) and a rendition of Harry Choates’s famous Jole Blon hit called “Jolie, Petite Juilette” [sic](# 114). The other one labeled as Sandy Austin was the stage name for Abe Manuel when he and his brother Joe played Corpus Christi in 1950. They recorded “Scrambled Eggs” and a Joe Falcon cover called ” Madame Saustain” (# 113). The O.T. label only produced 14 records that are known to exist.
Both Hot Rod [not to be confused with the California R&B outfit] and O.T. disappeared after 1952, as Virgel Bozman, who without doubt made easier the pot boiling by selling cow horns. Harmon Boazeman (not in any form related to Virgel) joined the Circle C Band in 1952 and cut in 1956 « No love in you » for Sarg.
Sources : the main sources were the abundant and precise notes of Dave Sax for ‘Cajun honky tonk – The Khoury recordings volume 2‘ ; also Chris Strachwitz for the « Nathan Abshire – « French blues » CD. These notes were freely adapted (and sometimes simply recopied). Many personal pictures do come from the accompanying booklets : I am working on the assumption that not many a reader owns those two CDs. Also I was inspired by the feature written on Khoury’s Records by Wade Falcon, available in this site or in his fine “earlycajunmusic.blogspot.fr” blogsite. Thanks to him. And this feature woud have been far incomplete (Hot Rod and O.T. Records) without the aid of the invaluable Ronald Keppner – million thanks go to him. Remaining pictures from 78rpm-world (45worlds.com). The picture of Nathan Abshire (’50s) comes from “Louisiana Music”, a booklet by Lyle Ferbrache and Andrew Brown. Thanks to them. Some help from “JoDee”, thanks to her!
Hello Folks ! This is the late May 2017 bopping fortnite’s selection. It begins with a Starday custom disc on the Friendly label [from Milan, TN] (# 853) by RAY BELL : « Yodelin’ catfish blues » [what a title!], which is a cross, in my mind, between Rockabilly and Bopper. Dating from 1960 or even later. No guitar solo. A good song anyway which growns on one’s ears at every listening. Bell had another disc on Queen (obviously distributed by King), but a Jay Miller production: it is a suggestion of a Louisiana recording or at least a link. Same Queen label has a Miller protégé, Katie Webster. So the link may be strong. « Blues tavern » (# 24006, June 1961) is a decent uptempo hillbilly ballad. He also had two “leased” titles on the same date which went unissued at King.
Next selection is by three guys (brothers) also well-known, first as the Willis Brothers (led by the eldest of them, James « Guy » Willis) then later as OKLAHOMA WRANGLERS. They put between 1946 and 54 on line a fine string of Country rockers and hillbilly Boppers. I’ve chosen – an uneasy task – two boppers. First the fast «Hoot howl boogie » from April 1951, issued on RCA 20-4309. Piano accompanying throughout the tune (Vic Willis), nice guitar solo (Guy Willis) over a fiddle part (Skeeter Willis) + two unknowns : steel player and a thudding double-bassist. It has an irressistible beat.
Second song is a program per se : « Hillbilly rhythm » (RCA 20-4848, cut May 1952). Not as fast as the previous song, it’s excellent all the way. Fiddle part is more prominent, while the brothers sing the refrain in unison. Guy Willis even plays in a style Merle Travis had done famous several years ago. More on the Oklahoma Wranglers in a not too distant future, when I put my hands on biographical details.
MALCOLM PARKER seems to have migrated from Nashville to West coast (or was it the opposite). The first record noticed was on a California label, Mesa 101: a mid-tempo, nice rhythm-guitar and vocal led for « The tears you saved », stylistically from the early ’60s, although the label indicate « Stereo », which may indicate a 1970’s issue: a great record for this era! Then a second issue on Code, a Nashville label (# 301), early ’60s too. It’s a great rocker (piano and great guitar solo) for « Come along with me ». Perhaps different artists with the same name ? I found (but unheard) one side described by its vendor as « hillbilly » , « The panther den/We’re through » on the Bee (location unknown : label too much damaged), on the RootsVinylGuide site, which is usually very helpful. But not this time ! Anyone help us all?
ART ONTARIO is a well-known figure among Rockabilly circles. He had releases on Dixie (« It must be me », # 2019 (Madison, TN) in 1959, then as Art Buchanan, on sparse Dixie regional issues or on Flame during the early ’60s. Now a rare Starday custom, Illinois label (# 725) presents « Wiggle walkin’ boogie ». A great vocal, an insistant lead guitar (solo) over fine inventive drums. A nice record.
A jumping little tune now on an Atlanta Leo’s label (# 2016) for BLUEGRASS ERVIN : « I won’t cry alone ». Lots of fiddle (at times, played pizzicato, like a mandolin; at other times, duetting with steel). Steel is great, plus a clever guitar player. A great, great light country-rocker !
Finally FREEMAN ERVIN [apparently no connection with the preceding artist] in 1962 for « Living doll » on the Newbury, OH Bryte label # 241. Banjo-led, and high-pitched vocal. Good bopping Bluegrass to finish this issue.
Sources: thanks to UncleGil Rockin’ Archives (Oklahoma Wranglers files) ; HillbillyBoogie1 Youtube chain ; RootsVinylGuide for various scans, as 78rpm-world ; BF CD for Carl Butler personal on this session ; RCS for Art Ontario.
Howdy Folks ! This is the early May 2017 bopping fortnight’s favorites selection.
First rank for a mid-tempo Western swing bopper : « Alone by the telephone » from 1947 by RALPH REYNOLDS & his Dude Ranch Wranglers (vocal Curley Burns). From California, it has a lazy vocal, a bit, as you say, disillusioned. Long guitar solo and piano, fiddle parts. The record was first (?) issued on Red Bird 102, then appeared on Globe 127. A very good example of bopping Swing of the ’40s.
Then again in NYC on the Choice label (# 6504) [so, not the revered by Collectors Kansas City label] for a strong rocker: « You don’t love me like you used to do » from 1959. Loud drums, and a good duet between piano and guitar. Still a good side. Finally « Big train » (Choice 6508) from 1960, with a more folky approach (use of a prominent banjo in the backing). And again, a great record. Tommy Faile seemingly never failed ! He was reported as having worked with Arthur Smith too (« Bye bye black smoke choo choo » on M-G-M) and was having records as early as 1948 (Capitol, 40 000 serie) !
Back on the West coast on the Nielsen label (# 57-1-2) and WHITEY KNIGHT and « From an angel to a devil ». A very nice uptempo ballad, with steel to the fore. A touch of the Bakersfield sound.
PHIL BEASLEY on the Dayton, OH Jalyn label (# 349A) cut in as late as 1970 the fine « The restless wind » : the song is a bit folkish, and a fast ditty. Good guitar and vocal.
Finally in Hollywood, TOMMY SARGENT’s Range Boys do come with three tunes. First a good revamp of the old traditional « Frankie and Johnnie », a good jumping version, fiddle-led, on the Corax 1328B label from 1947-48 (vocal Gabe Hemingway). The steel guitar is played by Sargent , as noted on the next track sticker « featuring Tommy Sargent and his Steel Guitar » : « Steel guitar boogie » (# 1328A) is a quite good instrumental, a serious contender in this category. The third and final track by Sargent is also cut on Corax # 1084B (non consecutive serie, but same period!). It’s a prettily different affair : « Night train to Memphis » (vocal Gabe Hemingway) is a very fast call-and-response romper. The accordion imitates a train, we even have a solo of a seemingly welcome clarinet (or is a flute?). A fabulous Western bopper !
Howdy folks ! This time two Ladies, and we begin with CHARLOTTE ARDEN, « The Ozark Sweetheart ». on the Flint, MI Dixie label (# 948). She delivers a good uptempo track, « Alone with you » with a fine nuanced voice, good steel. Arden had other issues on Starline 1003 and Glenn 2900 circa 1962-63.
The TEXAS TOP HANDS were an outfit formed in 1945 which lasted until 2009 ! On their own Everstate label, they had more than 50 sides issued. Here we have « You’re rocking the boat », cut in 1949 (Everstate 136) : singer Buck Buchanan is backed by the fine boogie piano of Walter Kleipas and the steel of Wayne Rusty Locke.
We remain in Texas, Beaumont with an early Starday issue (# 107). The fiddler BOB HEPPLER, accompanied by members of « Blackie » Crawford’s Western Cherokies, lets him loose on vocals, as the embroidering steel player (possibly Bobby Black) and the pianist Milton « Burney » Annette with the great uptempo « One step ahead » from September 1953.
A lazy vocal, that of BIG SLIM & the Oklahoma Playboys, over a solid backing, give us « Wheeling boogie ». It’s a romping piano and accordion boogie tune from 1949 on the Page label (# 503). Big Slim had another disc on Page 507 (untraced).
The second woman of this selection came from California on the Fabor label (# 119) : VONNIE FRITCHIE has an energetic vocal for the fast « Sugar booger avenue » (1955). Steel is barely audible.
“Sugar booger avenue”
Finally DAVE DUDLEY in 1960 had the fine « Picture of my heart » on Circle Dot 1006 from Minneapolis. An aggressive steel (great solo). This is 3 years before « Six days on the road »..The Circle Dot label has also the Houle Brothers with the great rocker «Dream night » (#1012).
“Picture of my heart”
Hi ! To everybody visiting this website. This is the last fortnight’s favorites selection of 2016, and I hope you will find something of interest in this serie. Not much inspired (and not enough researches) this time, I’ll add very few comments on each record.
The SEVEN ROWE BROTHERS were 7 brothers (and a younger sister) who came originaly from Oklahoma, but settled in California after WWII. They did cut first on Pioneer 607 a fine romping instrumental, an hybrid Western swing/hillbilly boogie in « Spring boogie blues », piano led with solos by steel (Guy Rowe)l and fiddle.
On Pioneer 608, Jack Rowe takes the vocal duty for this good Billy Hughes‘ classic « Birthday cake » : twin fiddles are in the hands of Earl and D.L. Later on the song was revived first by Skeets McDonald on Fortune, then by Jimmy Ballard on Kentucky.
A fast Hillbilly boogie now with BUSTER PACK on the Campbellville, KY. Rich-R’-Tone label (# 1051). « Indian boogie » came in 1952. He had previously recorded in vintage Bluegrass style with “Better late than never” (# 1050).