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.
It was an ambitious undertaking, even in a music center like Nashville, in that they intended to release recordings in every form of popular music (pop, hillbilly, R&B , gospel, sacred and even Mexican music). Bullet was one of the first of what has come to be known as the « post war indies » and was initially the most successful. For the most part, Wally Fowler was in charge of the Hillbilly and Sacred recordings, and black music (R&B and Gospel) was overseen by Bulleit, and in all genres masters were bought from other producers or labels. Jim Bulleit however had his sights set firmly on the pop charts, and he succeeded in 1947 with the million selling « Near you » by Francis Craig. Alas, he couldn’t repeat the success, and his partners bought him out. So the company began to concentrate on Hillbilly and R&B recordings : these required much less production and therefore were cheaper to record. But by 1952 the steam had really gone – due partly to the many other independant record labels and the stiffing competition they gave to Bullet – and all the partners decided to call it a day in late 1952. Bullet had also a Blues/R&B « Sepia » serie (250 onwards), a 1000 Pop serie, a 100 Gospel serie, even a short-lived Mexican music serie.
Blind singer/song-writer LEON PAYNE was one of the best selling artists for Bullet Records and his classics : « They’ll Never Take Her Love From Me » and « Lost Highway » were even covered by Hank Williams. He was a prolific song-writer and penned other standards, like « I Love You Because ». He began his career singing with Bob Wills’ band and worked briefly with Jack Rhodes group before striking out on his own. « Lost Highway », (# 670) « Rolling Stone » (# 671) (In the early days of Leon Payne’s career, he used to travel from one place to another, trying to find jobs wherever he could. Once he was in California hitchhiking to Alba, Texas, to visit his sick mother, he was unable to get a ride and finally got help from the salvation army. It was while he was waiting for help that he wrote this song.), « They’ll Never Take Her Love From Me » (# 672), « Empty Arms » (# 647) and « Baby Boy » (# 670) all date from 1946-47 and are some of his first solo sides. His biggest success, though, was with Capitol Records from 1949-53. He remained a popular performer until suffering a heart attack in 1965 and passed away following a second attack in 1969.
Many of the Bullet recording artists were from Texas (Bulleit acquiring masters) and RAY PRICE‘s very first record, « Jealous Lies/Your Wedding Corsage » (# 701) was recorded there in 1950. It shows the humble beginning of an artist who would grow to be an institution in the music business.
Other Texas artists included the Texas Troubadors, Ernest Tubb’s backing band, performing their boss’s composition « That’s All She Wrote » and backing brother Calvin on his own « Heart Don’t Complain » and JOHNNIE LEE WILLS, Bob’s brother. Johnnie started his musical career playing banjo with the Texas Playboys but set up his own group in 1940. He signed with Decca in 1941 and remained with the label until he signed with Bullet in 1949. His Bullet recordings were the most successful of his career, and his version of « Rag Mop » (# 696) even crossed over into the pop charts. Other nice tracks include « A Bad Deal All Around » (# 717) and « I Like You Best Of All » (# 724). He signed with RCA in 1951 but didn’t have much success with them, though remaining a popular performer. He recorded for Nashville’s Sims Records in the early sixties, before waving on the Western swing revival in the 1970s : records on Flying Fish and Delta. He then retired and passed away in 1984.
The recordings by Chester « CHET » ATKINS, PEE WEE KING and SHEB WOOLEY were their first. Chet Atkins would eventually be one of the most successful studio musicians, recording artists and producers of the 20th century. His « Guitar Blues/Brown Eyes A’ Cryin’ in The Rain » (# 617) showcases his playing in a single string style highly influenced by Les Paul, rather than the finger style he would eventually become known for. Sheb Wooley (« Oklahoma Honky Tonky Gal ») (# 603) went on to stardom as the king of ’50s and ’60s novelties. Pee Wee King (« That Cheap look In Your Eye ») (# 614) would go on to write « Tennessee Waltz » or « Slow Poke » among others.
PETE PYLE had been a member of Pee Wee King’s band and had on Bullet modest success «(Talking The Blues »)(# 602) as well as with RCA and Decca, before disappearing from the music scene in the ’60s.
AUTRY INMAN, CLYDE MOODY and Herbert McBride « BUTTERBALL » PAIGE began recording in the ’40s and were able to sustain their careers for decades without the benefit of a smash hit. Clyde Moody had been a member of Wade Mainer’s Modern Mountaineers and in 1940 of Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys, before being signed solo in 1945 by Columbia. Jim Bulleit bought his contract and made him cut « I’m So Lonesome » (# 610) in 1946 in a western swing vein. Moody then left and had a million seller, « Shenandoah Waltz » on King. Autry Inman’s « You’ve Got To Leave Those Other Guys Alone » (# 682) was his first before he switched for better times on Decca. He had been fiddler for Cowboy Copas in 1947, and became George Morgan’s bass payer in 1949. His Bullet single is distinguished by the instrumental breaks, almost certainly Hank Garland. Butterball Paige was an employee of Ernest Tubb and the latter fired him in 1949 because Paige had began an affair with a married woman. Paige was a good guitar player, and on « Honky Tonk Pete » (# 685), a slice of life in the honky tonks, he’s backed by fiddler Dale Potter. In the same vein he cut « I’m Too Old To Boogie Anymore » (# 695).
BILL NETTLES was already a veteran performer when he was recorded by Bulleit on a Dallas trip in 1947. He had cut for Vocalion in 1937, Bluebird Records during WWII, and had in 1949 his only hit with a cover of the R&B tune « Hadacol Boogie » on Mercury. Later he recorded for Starday (1956, « Wine-O-Boogie ») and his own Nett label, and died in 1967. On Bullet his best sides are « Too Many Blues/High Falutin’ Mama» (# 637), « You’re Breakin’ My Broken Heart Again » and « Hungry » (# 638).
Oklahoman MERL LINDSAY was another pioneer of Western swing during the ’40s and 50s. He relocated to California in the mid forties and signed in 1946 with 4 Star Records. Though he never broke out big time like the Wills brothers, Lindsay remained a popular performing, recording and radio artist into the ’60s. His Bullet recordings date from 1947-48 and are considered to be some of the best of his career. His band was filled with jazz-minded musicians, like the guitarist Benny Garcia who, among Tex Williams and Bob Wills, would also work with Benny Goodman. « What’s To Become Of Me » (# 644) and « I’m A Plain Talkin’ Man From The West » (# 658) are the best examples of his work on Bullet.
HARDROCK GUNTER began performing on radio in his hometown of Birmingham, Alabama in the late ’30s, and became quite a local celebrity. He was in the military service from 1943 to 1945 and formed the Golden River Boys after being discharged. The group recorded for the local Vulcan label in 1948 but soon Gunter left the band to go solo and made the move from radio to television, hosting a local country music program. He made his first solo recordings for the tiny Bama label in 1950 and had a sizable regional hit with « Birmingham Bounce ». Red Foley quickly covered the tune and took it into the national charts. Gunter’s first nationally released recordings were for Bulletand sold well enough to land him a contact with the major Decca label in 1951. We have here « Rifle, Belt And Bayonet » (# 727) and « My Bucket’s Been Fixed » (# 725) . He was soon drafted into military service again during the Korean war, which seriously curtailed his career momentum. He was again discharged in 1952 and resumed with M-G-M Records in 1953, and then with Sun in 1954, though neither company provided him with a hit. Later in 1954 he was signed with King and had the greatest success of his career, waxing several minor hits. In 1957 he formed his own Emperor label and recorded for a variety of small companies on into the ’90s.
Other artists include :
TANI ALLEN, steel-guitar player and band leader, hired Houston « Buck » Turner as vocalist. The latter had just written a catchy number, « Tennessee Jive », which Bullet prompted them to cut (# 702), maybe in Sam Phillips’ studio in Memphis. It was Billy Byrd who played the electric guitar, and the record attracted so much attention that Bill Haley in Pennsylvania recut it as « Real Rock Drive » early in 1953. After a threatening of sue, Haley cut instead « Crazy Man Crazy ». Other Tani Allen track of interest : « I’m Back In The Army » (# 734).
ROY HALL was no newcomer, as he had previously cut « Dirty Boogie » in Detroit for Fortune. In 1950 Bullet made him wax « Mule Boogie » (# 704), complete with marvelous two-fisted pounded Hall piano, and a splendid guitar, apparently played by Tommy Odum from the Detroit days. The record however went nowhere. Following year Hall was with Decca, where he recorded « Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On », covered both by Big Maybelle and later by Jerry Lee Lewis.
RAMBLIN’ TOMMY SCOTT was working since 1933 – a show on WAIM, Anderson, S.Ca, where he met Jim Bulleit. He had numerous records on Four Star later, but his « Sweet Woman Blues » (# 624), almost a Delmore Brothers’ tune without the harmonies, was certainly cut in Dallas, with probably Eddie Williams on lead guitar. He also cut « Alley Cat Blues » ( 656). In the ’60’ into the ’80s Scott was still enjoying success.
ZEB TURNER, a formidable guitar player, (real name William Grishaw) hailed from Tennessee. He cut solo on the very first Bullet issue, « Zeb’s Mountain Boogie » (# 600) by Brad Brady and his Tennesseans. When the disc spitfired, it was renamed as by Owen Bradley. It could have been a monster hit, but Bullet had only three distributors in the beginning. Zeb and his younger brother, nicknamed Zeke, returned for the fine « Guitar Reel » (# 601), before Zeke went to Red Foley’s band. It’s him playing in « Tennessee Saturday Night » from 1947. Zeb Turner also had « Chatanooga Boogie » (# 629), « Coal Miner’s Blues » (# 636), the fine slow bluesy « Big Fat Papa » (# 661) before joining Ernest Tubb, and later having a career on King Records.
The YORK BROTHERS were good sellers since their Detroit days during the late ’30s, and they recut for Bullet their anthem song, « Hamtramck Mama ». You can read their entire story elsewhere in the site.
JIMMY WORK had a solitary Bullet issue in 1949, « Hospitality » (# 699), before going to greater fame several years later on Dot. His complete story is to be read on this site.
From the other Bullet artists, we come to RAY BATTS, from Nashville. He cut the very fine « Wid Man Boogie/Bear Cat Daddy» (# 754), complete with trumpet and steel, a sound later copied by Sonny Burgess on Sun. Alas, there was not a second session for him, as Bullet closed its door. He also had later the very fine hillbilly bopper « Stealin’ Sugar » on Excello 2028.
JOHNNY BARFIELD from Georgia had the first to have « boogie » in a country record title, beginning with « Boogie Woogie » on Bluebird in 1939. On Bullet, in 1946, he redid the same tune as « Doin’ The Boogie Woogie » (# 620) with sparse accompaniment of steel and bass.
CHARLINE ARTHUR got her start too at Bullet (# 707) in 1950 with « I’ve Got The Boogie Blues », the first of a long serie of Country boogies and proto-rockabillies on RCA.
Final artist, a local Nashvillian, SHORTY ASHBURN, a modestly accomplished singer in « More And More » (# 752). He only appeared later on Jamboree.
I did not mention many important artists, either known or lesser known, such as Jimmy Selph (also on Majestic), Jamup & Honey (later on Dot), Zeke Clements (later on numerous labels, or its own Janet), Smiley Burnette from the West coast, Al Clauser from Texas, Dick Dyson, Texan pianist Paul Blunt (his « Walking Up Stairs » is well worth a listen, and Eddie Cochran may have taken inspiration of it for his « Twenty Flight Rock »), Wally Fowler, associate to Jim Bulleit, and huge contributor to the Country gospel serie to name a few. An important label, where many an artist did find their start. Bullet was the biggest of the pre-R&R Nashville labels.
Sources : notes by Fred James for the CD « Early country & western from Bullet Records » (T-Bird) and by Martin Hawkins for the boxset « A shot in the dark » (BF). Many pictures do come from this booklet, or from ebay sales. A lot of personal research has also been done to gather information on artists. A perfect introduction to Bullet is the T-Bird CD mentioned above (it contains many tracks not reissued in the BF boxset), or the ancient (1979) NL. Redita LP 109 « Nashville country rock – boogie with a bullet », if you can find it.