the BLUE HEN label (1954-1958): Delaware Hillbilly and Rockabilly

From the Hillbilly Researcher # 13 (late 90s)

Allan Turner. Additions by Bopping’s editor

BLUE HENdelaware delaware couleurs

 

Nothing is ever as simple as it would appear, take for example the Harrington, Delaware based BLUE HEN label. Just another independant concern would be a fair description of this particular outfit, albeit with one or two above average offerings on the label from the likes of Mel Price and Lanie Walker.

BLUE HEN was owned, according to Galen Gart’s A.R.L.D., by one Sam Short, Jr ., ably assisted by A&R man Hugh Lee Stevenson. That, and the fact that the company was located on Center Street in Harrington, is the sum total of our knowledge of the label.

Over the 6 years or so that BLUE HEN was active the company ran at least three different numerical series. There was a rather obscure 3000 series, which appears to have been the earliest ; the regular 200 series, which was the « main series » ; and an odd ball 500 series (two issues). However, it is neither the 3000 or 500 series which concern us here, but the 200 « main series ».

The first release was Betty Coral‘s « Chili dippin’ baby » (# 200), backed by Raymond McCollister. He had the same number on the Raymor label, also the flipside « Texarkana waltz ». Many master numbers were prefixed RM: does it mean McCollister was involved in Blue Hen?

blue hen  coral chili

bb 54 chili dippin

raymor« Chili dippin’ baby » was very popular : it was covered by Vernon Way on the Hillbilly All Star label, and in a more Rockabilly way by Joyce Pointer on Goldenrod Records.
Betty Coral “Chili dippin’ baby”

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As for the artists who recorded for BLUE HEN were fairly obscure regional acts, altough the label did record a number of relatively well known artists. Billy Wallace, for example, probably better known as a songwriter than a singer, had a release on the label : # 210, « You can’t ride on my train ».
Billy WallaceYou can’t ride on my train

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Donn ReynoldsDon’t tell me

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Billy WallaceI still love you

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blue-hen trainDonn Reynolds, who made something of a name for himself as a yodeling cowboy out on the East coast, also turned up on the label (# 207, « Don’t tell me ») before moving to London, England, to work for Radio Luxembourg ! Tommy Lloyd and his Strolling Cowboys, an outfit who certainly lived up to their name, having played virtually everywhere in the U.S.A. (#204 « Now I know why »), and local lad Tex Daniels (#206 « Give your heart a chance », among three or four more releases, note « Blue hen boogie » from late ’55) were two of the more experienced, yet lesser known artists to record for the label, both with a half dozen or so record releases to their credit before joining BLUE HEN. Local promoter/songwriter Howard Vokes was responsible for getting Hank King , Rudy Thacker (« Mountain guitar » ; also on Lucky) and “The Hardin County BoysJeffrey Null and Denver Duke onto the label. The latter, who had something of a hit on Blue Hen with their Hank Williams tribute “Hank Williams that Alabama boy” (#214) went on to enjoy some degree of success on Mercury and Starday.
Denver Duke & Jeffrey Null “Hawk Williams that Alabama boy”

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Howard Vokes, Denver Duke & Jeffrey NullWhen the snow came“(#222)

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Blue-hen vokes  When

courtesy Pasi Koskela

Was Vokes involved in the singing of the former song? A visitor told me his doubts.

Tex DanielsBlue hen boogie“(#212  )

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blue-hen boogie

 

Mention should be made of course of Mel Price (who’s story is on this site) and Lanie Walker, of whom we know very little, who were arguably the best Hillbilly artists to record for BLUE HEN.
Mel PriceNothing seems to go right anymore

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Walker had 5 issues on Blue hen (and one in 1960 on Kingsport, TN Three Stars label , the stunning « 
Early every morning ») : both hillbilly boppers on # 209 (« Side-track daddy »), one gospel two-sider (« When you meet your Lord » # 218), a non-cover of George Jones‘ « Why baby why », very good Hillbilly bopper,  in 1956 (a nice bluesy « Drop in » on flipside, # 219), then a back-to-back Rockabilly/Rocker « Ennie Meenie Miney Mo/No use knocking on my door », # 230 (Mort Marker on lead guitar), finally a 1959 rocker (# 235) « Jumpin’ the gun/Tonite I walk alone ».

Lanie WalkerSide-track daddy“(# 209)

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Lanie WalkerWhen you meet your Lord

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Lanie WalkerWhy baby why“(#219)

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Lanie WalkerDrop in

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Lane WalkerEnnie Meenie miney mo“(#230)

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Lanie WalkerNo use knocking on my door

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Larry Lee (Pasake) fronted his own band, The Echo Valley Kinfolk and played locally to good reviews. Originally, the band were called the Glen Mountain Boys (according to Billboard on 24th March 1956). Larry and the band performed over WCRV, Washington, NJ about this time. It was reported that Larry drowned while trying to save the lives of a younger brother and friend when their boat capsized. This seems to have occurred sometime in september 1956. His solitary single is a good bluegrass (A-side) « Time just flies »(# 215), while « Our love affair » is good uptempo piano-led Hillbilly bop.
blue-hen lee time Larry LeeTime just flies

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Larry LeeOur love affair

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Another wizardry : Hank King (of Russian origin, rn Papaila) had in October 1955 « Atom bomb heart » on Chicago Blue Ribbon label. This was re-cut (re-issued?) next year on Blue Hen 221.
Hank KingAtom bomb heart

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That more or less concludes the story of the BLUE HEN label. Virtually all the releases in the 200 series, with the exception of the odd rock & roll/rockabilly offering from the likes of Jimmy Stayton (« Hot hot mama »), Cecil Cline (« Do drop in ») and even Lanie Walker, were Hillbilly of one style or another.
Sandy Harrison  & Tommy Lloyd “A package of heartaches“(#225)

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Earl Stuart Quintet “Action’s speak louder than words” [sic](#216)

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Millard PressleyJesus my saviour“(#228)

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Sounds from Cactus CD. Pictures from various sites: Youtube, 45cat for example.
Mel PriceI ain’t got the time“(#208)

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Hillbilly-Allstar wray  chili

courtesy Ronald Keppner

listing Blue Hen label

strangely Raymor is located in Kansas, far drom Delaware…

raymor edminster chili

Billy Wallace, successful songwriter and not-so-well known notwithstanding hillbilly and rockabilly singer (1950-1964)

Billy Wallace had one of the most unique voices in rockabilly music and played a different guitar style than most of the guitarists back then would do. Both, his voice and full-bodied guitar play worked well together on his classic session with the Bama Drifters in 1956 for Mercury Records, on which he laid down four songs. But Wallace had also a long and more successful (but also unknown) career in songwriting. He never achieved the honor he should have. billy wallace

 

 

Wallace was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, in 1917, but his family moved soon after to Athens, Alabama. Previously, his father had worked on the oil fields in Oklahoma. He grew up on his father’s farm and learned to play the guitar at an early age. As a teenager, he began to write songs and was later influenced by the country music stars back then like the Delmore Brothers, Rex Griffin and Roy Acuff but also listened to Hank Smith, Ernest Tubb and Hal Smith.

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Republic label (1952-1957): more Hillbilly bop from Nashville, TN

republic logo

Republic records started when Tennessee left. Bill Beasley had law troubles with Decca Records, who wanted Del Wood masters, and Decca won (but Del Wood went later to RCA). So Beasley started Republic. Billboard (March 1953) announced that “Republic company had to legally acquire the master recordings from the formerly Tennessee label”. By July 1953, there were well over 50 singles on the new label.

Significantly, Republic was launched in August 1952 with a pop singer, Snooky Lanson. This trend continued with Del Wood, Jimmy Sweeney and Pat Boone, but half the Republic catalog remained Country. Beasley transferred such Tennessee stalwarts J.T. Adams, Allen Flatt, Lee Bonds and Sonny Sims to his new label. There were a few new names on Republic like Ted West and Jimmy Simpson. Beasley also continued to record R&B and gospel: Edna Gallmon Cooke, Christine Kittrell, who had hits on their own. Bernard Hardison cut “Too Much”, a hit for Elvis in ’57. Apparently Beasley wrote most of the songs, published by a New York group, under the names of Norris/Beasley/Richards, or Rosenberg, the latter being Lee Rosenberg, Beasley’s secretary.

In June 1953, Alan Bubis connection came to an end. Bubis went to construction, coin machines and liquor stores, far more predictable thanrecord business.

In 1955, Beasley moved Republic to 714 Allison Street, and concluded with Murray Nash (ex-Acuff-Rose and Mercury staffer). Nash engineered most of the Republic sides.

The Republic name and logo was bought in 1957 by Ray Scrivener, and along with Gene Auytry, launched Californian Republic label..

After Republic folded, Dot bought Pat Boone’s contract. Other labels (Chess, Vee-Jay) bought Republic masters. (more…)

The Tennessee label (1950-1952)

bill beasley

William Beasley

The Tennessee label

It was owned by Alan and Reynold Bubis (cousins) and formed in late 1949 by Williams Beasley who owned Coastline Distribution and was a protege of Jim Bulleit at a time when the Bullet label was having great local and national success. This was a time of expansion in Nashville as the Opry radio show became more and more popular and the number of studios grew. The Tennessee label used Castle or Bullet studios, but also radio stations after-hours (WKDA, WMAK), before Beasley set up his own studio. It had its musicians (The Nite Owls, a bunch of ever-changing musicians) and publishing outlet (first Tennessee, then Babb Music). The biggest hits Tennessee had was in the pop field: Del Wood and her singalong piano solos. But, like Bullet, Tennessee also recorded many excellent hillbilly and honky-tonk songs, and had no idea of recording star names. Beasley was looking for regular sales of 25,000. Often thee had the boogie rhythm and low-life themes that paved the way for country rock and rockabilly music a few years later. The musicians involved frequently included Harold Bradley (g), Farris Coursey (d), Allen Flatt (g) and Ernie Newton (b).

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