ROY COUNTS with Okla. Play Boys: California Hillbilly bop and Country-rock (1957-1964)

ROY COUNTS is nearly unknown nowadays, except for 6 sides issued under his name at various times. He was billed on his Bel-Aire record as with his Okla. Playboys, and

roy counts guitarHBR Hometown jamboree

 

 

capitol Stewart Hands

 

he appears to have shared his session (same band) with another Oklahomian (who made his way to California), Jack Tucker. But we have already jumped to his first known issue, as two earlier tracks from the Hometown Jamboree have since surfaced on the Hillbilly Researcher serie # 26 : « I’m tired » and « I’ve got a new heartache » are two average boppers (drums present, although unheavy), and I can’t but remember hearing them of Wynn Stewart solid early sides (like « Slowly but surely », « It’s not the moon that makes a difference » or « You took her off my hands » all on Capitol Records). However these early Roy Counts sides have nothing exceptional.

Roy Counts, “I’m tired

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Roy Counts, “I’ve got a new heartache

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capitol Stewart Slowlydemo Stewart Hands
Wynn Stewart,Slowly but surely

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Wynn Stewart, “It’s not the moon that makes a difference

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Wynn Stewart,You took her off my hands

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Things are changing with the already mentioned split-session for Bel-Aire Records, which were located in the same town, El Monte, Ca. as the one where was aired the Hometown Jamboree from, on the airwaves of KXLA. I discuss also the Jack Tucker sides (Bel-Aire 23), « Surrounded by sorrow » and « Let me practice with you », bel-aire Tucker Sorrowsince the sound and backing are very similar. A strong steel guitar (probably Ralph Mooney, according to his particular sounding), Don bel-aire Tucker PracticeEvans on lead guitar, who was a regular with Jack Tucker ; a bass and drums, then a piano player who sounds remarkably like Bill Woods.

Jack Tucker,Surrounded by sorrow

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Jack Tucker,Let me practice with you

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Roy Counts’ « I ain’t got no blues » is a medium ditty full of yodeling – he probably handles the rhythm guitar duty, with a fine steel is well to the fore. Piano, if any, is barely audible. Counts is in good form, as in the faster « Darling I could never live without you » (Bel-Aire 22). Again that sweet and mellow Mooney steel, and this time two piano solos, almost certainly in the style of Bill Woods. These sides have been issued during the Spring of 1957, reviewed by Billboard in April.

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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Billoard, April 27, 1957

Billboard April 27, 1957

bel-aire counts darling

early or later issue?

bel-aire Counts bluesbelaire Counts Darlingbel-aire counts darling

 

 

 

 

 

We jump now to 1963-64 for two sides first issued on the Jedco label, then reissued on Commerce # 5009 (same issue numbers for both labels). « Temptation » is not at all a bad record for this era, and has a very good steel (again Ralph Mooney?) over a fine piano for an uptempo ‘city’ country side. Flipside « Blue angel » is a very good medium paced rockaballad with an haunting steel. Note that both sides were produced by a certain Jack E. Downes (« Strictly drums » on Jedco 5002) : the initials are transparent of JEDco, and one can wonder if it’s he who handles drums on the Roy Counts disc, although it’s largely open to speculation and, as the saying goes, of very small interest !

Roy Counts, “Temptationcommerce Counts Angel Jedco counts temptationcommerce Counts Temptation

billboard counts 1964

Billboard January 18, 1964

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Roy Counts, “Blue angel

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Beside these records, Roy Counts failed to attain a higher stature and fell into obscurity, and that’s a pity : he was in his own right, although a minor one, a very good artist.

 

Sources: 45-cat for label scans; soundfiles from various sources; a great ‘thank you‘ to ‘fortyfivesfrank’ on 45-cat for “Blue angel“; Roy Counts picture from hillbilly-music.com; Wynn Stewart demo 45 from “Roots Vinyl Guide”.

Jimmy Work & the Border Boys: Tennessee Border and Making Believe (1945-1959)

All too often, country composers of the 1940s and 1950s who didn’t have a substantial string of hits of their own are forgotten even if their songs have not been. Jimmy Work is a classic example. The author of three bonafide Country classics – “Tennessee Border” (1948), “Making Believe” (a simultaneous hit for both he and Kitty Wells in March of 1955) and “That’s What Makes The Juke Box Play” (1955) – Work’s records have been a little more than a footnote to the fifties, a composer’s credit on someone else’s records. That fact is truly unfortunate, for in truth, Jimmy Work was among the most expressive composers of the era. Though Hank Williams and Lefty Frizzell enjoyed greater success, Work’s best songs were among the most evocative of the period: raw, unvarnished gems with an undeniable directness and beauty.
Born in Akron, Ohio, on March 23, 1924, Jimmy Work moved to a farm his folks purchased near Dukedom, on the border of Western Kentucky and Tennessee, in 1926. “I started playing back when I was seven years old”, he says today. “My Dad had bought my mother a guitar, and she never did learn to play it, and that’s how I learned to play a guitar. Back then I listened to Gene Autry, and I liked Roy Acuff. He was one of my favorites.”
“Around this part of the country, there were some good musicians also”, Work says. “And I was going to high school and we had a band there. They used to have fiddler’s contests, and I was playin’ in all of those and I winnin’ a lot of prizes, but I just liked country music. I started writin’ songs when I was real young. And started singin’ those songs around and people seemed to like it. And that’s been more or less a hobby of mine – sittin’ down and writin’ songs and playin’ music.” Work did not only commit himself to music. He also became an accomplished millwright, a profession he pursued on and off, alternating with music., throughout the past several decades.
His first substantial musical work came at the end of World War II when he moved to Pontiac, Michigan, around 1945. Pontiac and other Detroit suburbs were a powerful wartime magnet for southerners drawn to the money they could make working in war production plants that had been adapted from Detroit’s massive auto factories. Country singers like Work gave them a taste of home, for the loneliness of displacement from the rural south to the smoky, urban Midwest, later brilliantly evoked in Mel Tillis’ classic song “Detroit City”” was very real. Work went on to work on the aptly named WCAR radio in Pontiac, had a songbook published and made his first records for the tiny Trophy label. “Detroit was a good country town, a good country record town”, he remembers.

In 1948 Work recorded an original composition, “Tennessee Border”, for the local Alben label .alben work border

You know, I couldn’t get nobody to record that song, and I went, and recorded it myself,” he remembers. “That record got me started.” Hank Williams was among the major artists who covered it. Its rural overtones made it enormously appealing. He recalls: “All the major labels put it out (on their artists).” Decca signed him in 1949, and with Paul Cohen producing, Jimmy recorded in Cincinnati (backed by Jerry Byrd, Louis  Innis and Tommy Jackson, among others) and Nashville. “Bluegrass Ticklin’ My Feet” did modestly well, but the Decca contract didn’t last.

Still working around Detroit, he recorded one single, “Hospitality”, for Bullet (out of Nashville), backed by his Tennessee Border Boys (# 699). By the early fifties, he was with Capitol, (and writing for Hill and Range), but still hadn’t followed up his success with a hit of his own. He made numerous guest appearances on the major live radio shows of the day and era, such as the WLS National Barn Dance out of Chicago, Illinois, the WWVA Original Jamboree in Wheeling, West Virginia, the KWKH Louisiana Hayride in Shreveport, Louisiana, the WFAA Saturday Night Shindig out of Fort Worth, Texas.

Work had landed a contract with Capitol in 1953, but again two singles went nowhere, and by 1954 he was signed to Randy Wood’s Dot Records of Gallatin, Tennessee. He produced his own sessions in Detroit and shipped off the master tapes to Dot for pressing and release. From that first session came not only “Making Believe”, his first Dot release, but “That’s What Makes The Juke Box Play”, along with “Don’t give Me A Reason To Wonder Why.” All the backing tracks feature austere, straight accompaniment that is strictly supportive. The lead guitarist, for example, does little more than play a pulsating dead-string accompaniment in the style of Zeke Turner or Luther Perkins with the steel guitar and fiddle the most prominent instruments.

“That’s What Makes The Juke Box Play”, the second Dot single, did not become a huge hit for Work but this quintessential honkytonk ballad, like “Making Believe”, has had a long and sustained life with honkytonk singers ever since, its sorrowful and powerful imagery being among the finest of the idiom.

Cash Box April 30, 1955

Cash Box Sept. 17, 1955

“Just Like Downtown” has much of the rollicking feel of Hank Williams’ numbers like “Settin’ The Woods On Fire”, an idealized, sanitized portrait of a southern house party. “That Cold, Cold look In Your Eye” and “Blind Heart” were typical unrequited love ballads.  He recorded “Blind Heart” twice. The first recording, recorded at his second session, wound up on a Dot album, the second (done at his final session) was one side of his last Dot single in 1956.

 

Thirty years have dimmed his memories of specific details of the records themselves, though Jimmy does remember some basic data. “The Dot sides were cut in Detroit. I used United Sound studio, and I used Casey Clark and his band; Casey played fiddle, and Buddy Emmons played with me on some of those (Emmons was working in Detroit, before joining Little Jimmy Dickens in July 1955). Casey, his boys kind of switched around with him, you know. He had different ones here and there. The band had lead guitar, bass fiddle and a piano on some of them. I don’t know if there were drums in there or not. We recorded about four songs at a time. I’d cut ‘em in Detroit and send ‘em to Randy Wood at Dot.” The band sounded at times as if they were consciously patterning their accompaniments after those of Hank Williams’ Drifting Cowboys (note the high-register Don Helms-styled steel guitar licks on “That Cold, Cold Look In Your Eye”.)

As a vocalist, Work was among the least polished, most overtly rural of the era aside from Hank and Lefty. His phrasing was understated, and his voice quavered in places. None of it was affectation, his voice was nasal (he could have done well had he pursued a bluegrass career) and his delivery was relaxed and easygoing, putting the lyrics up front.

Virtually all his Dot recordings were original numbers and the majority were ballads in the late 40s/early 50s style. Yet he also did some fine uptempo novelties like “When She Said You All”, or “Don’t Knock, Just Come On In” a bluesy novelty number in the Hank Williams style, the only Dot number never issued (until now). (…) was “Puttin’ The Dog”.

“Making Believe’s” popularity expanded his horizons. After a stay in Nashville, he headed south to WVOK in Birmingham, Alabama, which became his new home base for a time. It also got him some substantial tours, including a string of bookings handled by the popular Memphis C&W disc jockey Bob Neal, then booking Elvis Presley around the South. “Elvis was a good entertainer,” he says. “That’s when he was on the Sun label. When his first records came out, a lot of disc jockeys thought it was Rhythm and Blues, you know. I took ‘em back to Detroit and the (country) disc jockeys wouldn’t play ‘em. And I told ‘em, “Well, someday you’ll play them, and I don’t think it’s gonna be too long.” And those same disc jockeys remembered. Later they said “Jimmy, you was right.”

He stayed in Alabama until 1957, then played around the country music parks in the northeast, including some in Pennsylvania. Dot continued releasing records during 1956, none of them, however, had the impact of “Making Believe”, good as they were. “Digging My Own Grave” was particularly interesting. Much in the style of Hank’s “I’ll Never Get Out Of This World Alive”, it had the same easygoing fatalism.

However, Work’s performing and recording career effectively ended by the late fifties.(…) Some tried recording rock and roll; others were forced into it by producers. But Work never tried to do that. “I was just a few years too late, maybe four or five”, he reflects. (…) For a while, he moved to Southern California, where he sold real estate, and made his final two singles (one a cover of “Tennessee Border”) for the Whittier, CA based “All” label. In the end, he returned to Dukedom and millwrighting, apparently without bitterness or rancor. He does not performing, even locally these days. “But I still write songs for Acuff-Rose”.

Rick Kienzle, notes to “Jimmy Work – Making Believe” LP (Bear Family 15177), 1985.Sources: for the most part, a huge 78rpm collection, label scans from 78worlds.

Article first published in 2011, completely revised July 2019.

Fred Kirby, the N. Carolina Troubadour (1937-1952)



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cliff Carlisle & guitar

Cliff Carlisle

Fred (Frederick Austin) Kirby was born on July 19, 1910 in Charlotte, North Carolina. His father worked as a preacher and he had nine brothers and sisters. When he was a kid, Fred’s mother taught North Carolina maphim to play the guitar, and she later also helped him to master the fiddle. Fred became involved in the music business by accident: in 1927, while living in Florence, South Carolina, he joined his nephew to visit a friend at local radiostation WBT, and while singing some of his songs in the lobby of the station, Fred got noticed by a WBT employee. Fred was hired on the spot to make regular appearances on one of the station’s shows, and would remain to work for almost 20 years. In the early 1930s Fred lived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he worked with people like Cliff Carlisle and with bands like “The Briarhoppers”, “The Smiling Cowboys” and “The Carolina Boys”.fred Kirby pic

Fred’s first recordings date from 1932 for the ARC label, but none of them have ever been released. In 1936 Fred signed with Victor’s Bluebird. His first recordings with Bluebird were “I’m A Gold Diggin Papa” and “The Lonesome Lullaby“. Next year he’d cut a session for Bluebird with Cliff Carlisle, which saw him duetting with Carlisle for « Cowboy’s Dying Dream ». It was even released in U.K. on Regal Zonophone. In 1938 Fred got signed by Decca where he recorded 16 songs. Quite a prolific artist in those days..Everyone then was yodeling, from Jimmie Rodgers to Gene Autry; so also did Kirby.

I’m A Gold Diggin’ Paparegal Kirby cowboy'sbluebird Kirby diggin'

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“Cowboy’s Dying Dream”

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In 1939 he and Don White, a musician from West Virginia with whom he had gotten acquainted in the early 1930s, moved to Cincinnati, Ohio to work for radiostation WLM as the “Carolina Playboys”. The following year, Fred moved to St. Louis to join radiostation KMOX. In St. Louis he gained local fame for selling over 5 million dollars worth US War Bonds during the war

In 1943 Fred moved back to Charlotte, North Carolina and returned to his previous employer : WBT radio. Shortly after, he and Don White regrouped as the Carolina Playboys and in the years after the War they both recorded for the Sonora label, both as the Carolina Playboys and separately. It was with Sonora that Fred recorded his most successful song, “Atomic Power” (Sonora 7008) in May 1946: that song was later recorded by many other artists, including Rex Allen and Red Foley. Later on Kirby released a Decca issue, «  Precious Lord I’ll Be There  » (Decca 46083), giving an indication of his forthcoming career, secular as well as religious.

sonora Kirby atomicKirby standing corralAtomic Power”

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 During 1949, he was approached by M-G-M executives and signed a contract for 4 tunes to be recorded. The very best of them were the coupling of M-G-M 10474, the energetic «  Juke Box Jackson From Jacksonville  » and the amusing «  My Little Dog Loves Your Little Dog  ».m-g-m Kirby Jacksonville

Juke Box Jackson From Jacksonville”m-g-m Kirby dog

My Little Dog Loves Your Little Dog”

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Next year, on July 25, 1950 Fred signed a contract with Columbia to record 4 songs during the very same year. His first recording session was done some ten days later, on August 4 and Columbia released all four songs that were recorded on that occasion. «  My Zig Zaggin’ Baby  » (Columbia 20764) and «  My Red Hot Potato  » were good boppers (fine guitar).

Columbia Kirby zig“My Zig Zaggin’ Baby”Columbia Kirby potato


Cash Box Feb. 9th, 1950

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“My Red Hot Potato”

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In June 1951 Columbia prolonged Fred’s recording contract for another year, but it wasn’t until July 9, 1952 before Fred did another recording session. During that session, eight songs were recorded Columbia Kirby souland six of them were actually released by Columbia., among them the religious bopper «  My Soul Is Not For Sale  », also «  When The Devil Sends His Columbia Kirby devilCalling Card  » (Columbia 21056) ; “We’re No Longer Sweethearts” and “A Pocket Full Of Candy” remained unissued. This 1952 session turned out to be his last one for Columbia: due to the lack of success of his records, Columbia decided not to renew his contract. Later on Fred had a release on Gotham (a NYC/Philadelphia label) with the evergreen “Wreck Of The Old 97” (# 404), a very good version.l

My Soul Is Not For Sale”Gotham Kirby wreck

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When The Devil Sends His Calling Card”

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“Wreck Of The Old 97”

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In the early 1950s Fred again started working for WBT radio, but this time he mainly concentrated on radioshows for the younger audience. Later, when television became more popular he was very successfully as a producer and presenter of specialised kiddie shows: his “Junior Rancho” would run for over 20 years. Nevertheless, Fred’s radiowork lasted even longer: his shows were broadcasted until the spring of 1991. In the 1990s, Fred’s health progressively declined: he suffered from Parkinsons disease, which eventually forced him to move to a nursing home where he died on April 22, 1996.

 

Sources: biography mainly from W. Agenant “Columbia 20000 serie”; additions from “hillbilly-music.com”; pictures from google. Soundfiles and label scans from the indefatigable Ronald Keppner: my warmest thanks to him, whom the feature could not have been written and completed without. ; also some help from UncleGil Rockin’ archives. The rest is a matter of time and…love! Please leave a comment below!

Jimmy Logsdon, the later years (1962-1982)

In 1962, Logsdon launched his own label (Jimmie Logsdon Sings) – 6 tracks EPs – and issued three of them, prominently religious songs, but also some Hank Williams classics, lesser known songs. He was backed by unknown musicians, probably Cincinnati session men : rhythm, steel, bass, and his songs are on a par with the tunes he had already cut some years before.

The Jewel album

He recorded a rockabilly album for Jewel Records in Cincinnati in 1981, and it was released worldwide in 1983. This album “Now and Then I Think of the 50’s” (Jewel 83021) had 15 sides and featured his friend Rusty York playing guitar and harmonica in addition to producing the L.P. The album sold well in Europe and is a collectors item there even today. Alas, it suffered a lack of feeling and spontaneity, although it brought back several older songs and no doubt, those he had liked from other artists during his own career. He has been a prolific song writer during his career and has had many stars record his songs including Johnny Horton, Kenny Price, Woody Herman, Carl Perkins and others.

That's All Right Mama

by Jimmie Logsdon | Now & Then

Rocky Road Blues

by Jimmie Logsdon | Now & Then

Rainin" In My Heart

by Jimmie Logsdon | Now & Then

I'll Sail My Ship Alone

by Jimmie Logsdon | Now & Then

Sources : my own archives  45-cat and Ohio River 45s for label scans (especially “Jimmie Logsdon sings”). Special thanks to Armadillo Killer for Clark and King sides.Thanks to Pierre Monnery for copying the King sides. Biography from the Rockabilly Hall Of Fame. Information from various YouTube posts.

Made on a Mac

discography here:https://countrydiscoghraphy2.blogspot.com/2016/12/jimmie-logsdon.html

Jimmie Logsdon: the early years (1951-1958)

Jimmie Lloyd Logsdon was born on April 1, 1922 in Panther, Kentucky. His father was a self-taught man who made it through a Methodist seminary. He was a circuit rider in Kentucky during his early years as a preacher and was then posted to several towns while Jimmie was growing up.

The beginnings

Music for the first 15 years of Jimmie’s life was gospel, the only music he had heard around his gospel surroundings. He and his sister sang in the choir. They put on shows and entered amateur contests. When the family lived in southeastern Kentucky, he heard blues singers and secular country music at ice cream parties and other social events. Later, he was impressed by rhythm & blues and especially remembers Erskine Hawkins’ “After Hours” as a record that made a deep impression on him. Glenn Miller, Gershwin and the popular music of the day also had an impact but not as much as blues and country.

The 1940s

In 1940, he was graduated from high school in Ludlow, Kentucky, and in the fall he married his first wife. He started working in Cincinnati installing public address systems. In 1944 he went to the service in the Air Corps, but never got further than technical training school in Madison, Wisconsin and an air base near San Antonio where he repaired the wiring on B-17s. Down in Texas, he heard Ernest Tubb and other Texas honky tonk singers. Locked up in the stockade for a few days, he remembers singing to a fellow inmate who was facing a term in Leavenworth. “That is where it all began, “Jimmie said.”

In 1946 Jimmie and the service parted ways. He then started a record and radio shop in La Grange, Kentucky, 25 miles northeast of Louisville. He picked up records from the Jimmie Skinner Record Center in Cincinnati to re-sell in his own store, and, after two years, decided that he would get into the music business. In 1948, he borrowed a guitar from some friends for a while and finally broke down and bought one from a pawn shop for 12 dollars. He learned a few basic chords, then cut some demos on an old recording machine he had in the back of the shop.

The first record

He got together a band and went to Cincinnati and cut his first record for Harvest Records, his own label : « It’s All Over Now (Harvest 401B) is a good uptempo bopper, well in the manner of the era (fiddle prominent, steel solo over a thudding bass). The flipside « Road of regret » is a real weeper. He did the recording at Herzogs which was the same studio where Hank Williams Sr. had cut “Lovesick Blues” about two years earlier.

The Decca years

He eventually wound up performing on a show in Louisville where the great Hank Williams was headlining. Hank told Jimmie that he would speak to someone in Nashville about getting Jimmie a contract. Meanwhile, Jimmie, in addition to doing shows and nightclub appearances, had a daily radio show. He interviewed lots of stars including Jim Reeves, Porter Waggoner, Merle Travis, Elvis Presley, Boyd Bennett, Les Paul and Mary Ford among others.

His career received a boost in 1953, when he became the host of a live country show on WHAS-TV, which also featured his backup group, the Golden Harvest Boys. Logsdon’s work for Decca was predominantly composed of country songs, but some of them verged on rockabilly. After Decca had dropped him in late 1954, Logsdon’s career took a dive, when the aftermath of a messy divorce drove him to drugs and a six-month stay in hospital. Vic McAlpin, his agent (also a prolific songwriter), got him onto Dot Records where he cut four songs in September 1955, the best being the bluesy « Cold Cold Rain »(Dot # 1274). He then went to Starday for one release : »I Can’t Make Up My Mind » is a rockabilly in essence, because the hiccups of Logsdon and the prominent steel (# 286, released March 1957).

Thus he was then ready for the next skip: his friend in Nashville, Vic McAlpin, called and said he had a possible recording deal for Jimmie with Roulette Records. By this time Rockabilly was coming into full swing and hardly any label wanted a country singer on their roster. Jimmie had gotten an idea for a song called “Where The Rio De Rosa Flows” when he was in San Antonio during the war. In August 1957 he recorded this rockabilly song for Roulette ( # 7001 in the short-lived Roulette C&W serie) and it was a big hit in several markets including Memphis where Carl Perkins heard it and covered it on a Columbia album («  Whole Lotta Shakin’ », Columbia 1234) shortly after Jimmie’s version was released.

Jimmie and Vic McAlpin also wrote “I’ve Got a Rocket in My Pocket.” To some, this might seem like a dirty song, but Jimmie insists that it was just a nonsense thing. It is still a standard and was used in the sound track of the movie, “the Right Stuff.” The reason Vic McAlpin and Jimmie decided to use the pseudonym “Jimmie Lloyd” when recording for Roulette Records was that Jimmie knew that country fans are loyal and maybe would not forgive him for singing rock and roll if they knew it was really him singing. Hardly any of his country fans knew that Jimmie Lloyd was in reality, Jimmie Logsdon.
He was released from his Roulette contract after the 2nd record and he realized that at this age, he might be a little old to be rocking and rolling.

Sources : my own archives ; HBR for Selective ; 45worlds for Tommy Sargent, Ray Whitley and Tommy Magness label scans.

Cashbox, sept. 14, 1957

Please see the follow-up to this story in: Jimmie Logsdon, the later years (1962-1982)

The CHURCH BROTHERS & Their Blue Ridge Ramblers: hot Bluegrass Bop from Carolina

Bopping.org is proud to greet one of the best mandolin payers in Europe (along with this Truffle Valley Boys), also one of the finest collectors/connoisseurs of 40’s/50’s Bluegrass music. Mr. Matt Ringressi has given to me the right to publish his detailed essay about the legendary Church Brothers & Their Blue Ridge Ramblers.

The Church Brothers & their Blue Ridge Ramblers

A short essay and complete discography by Matt Ringressi
– with acknowledgements to Clarence Greene, Ward Eller, Jeff Michael, Vivian Pennington Hopkins –

Hailing from Wilkes County, and precisely the Mount Pleasant community near Ferguson, NC, the Church Brothers are a prime example of an early Blue Grass group that developed an instantly recognizable, distinctive sound, and also produced excellent original material.
Born in a large family to Albert Church, a sawmill worker and also a fiddle and banjo player, and his wife Bessie, William Cears “Bill” (born 1922/09/08), Edwin (born 1925/07/29) and Ralph Arthur (1928/06/28) Church were always surrounded by music, and started playing instruments while still in their teens. Along with their first cousin Arthur Ward Eller (born 1930/05/24) and Drake Walsh (son of old-time banjo player Dock Walsh) they formed their first full band in 1946, after both Bill and Edwin had returned from the Navy. By Ralph’s own admission, “we always listened to Bill Monroe and Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs—we believed in Blue Grass”. Bill and Ward played guitars, Ralph played mandolin, Edwin was on fiddle and Drake played banjo.

They started out on radio station WILX in North Wilkesboro, NC, billed as the Wilkes County Entertainers, and soon met James Gar Bowers, who became their banjo player replacing Walsh. Sometime during 1948 they switched to radio WKBC, also in North Wilkesboro. It was then that they changed their band name to the Church Brothers and their Blue Ridge Ramblers. The station had been one of the first in the region to regularly feature Blue Grass acts – even the Stanley Brothers had worked there. One of the lesser known local bands working on WKBC, the Carolina Pardners, furnished the Church Brothers’ band with their next banjo player: Johnny Nelson (born 1931/06/28 in Caldwell County, NC). While at WKBC they also met another of their future associates, multi-instrumentalist Ralph Pennington, who became a steady member of the band shortly thereafter, and mainly played bass (he was also an accomplished fiddle and mandolin player).

In 1949, the band met Drusilla Adams

, budding songwriter from North Wilkesboro. An extremely prolific association was born – Drusilla provided the band with fresh original material, and the Church Brothers would perform and record her songs, showcasing her writing talents.
In the summer of 1950, the band made contact with Jim Stanton, owner of the Rich- R-Tone label out of Johnson City, TN.
Their first session was held in the latter part of 1950 at a radio station in Johnson City, TN (per Ralph Church, although it is possible it actually took place at WOPI station in Bristol, TN/VA, as did many Rich-R-Tone sessions).
The 1950/12/16 Billboard reports the Church Brothers signing a 5-year pact with Rich-R-Tone (shown in the picture on the left). This contract required the band to record 8 sides per year. The signing is again mentioned in the 1951/01/20 and 1951/06/09 Billboard.

The Rich-R’-Tone recordings

The first release from this session (RRT 1009) came around the Summer of 1951, and the second one (RRT 1017) followed in the Fall. These two records greatly boosted the popularity of the Blue Ridge Ramblers, who started to play more and more personal appearances in North Carolina and neighboring states.

The first release from this session (RRT 1009) came around the Summer of 1951, and the second one (RRT 1017) followed in the Fall. These two records greatly boosted the popularity of the Blue Ridge Ramblers, who started to play more and more personal appearances in North Carolina and neighboring states.

A Sweeter Love Than Yours I'll Never Know

by The Church Brothers

The October 27th, 1951 session (Buffalo Jonson, lead vocal)

The second (and final, as it turned out) session for Rich-R-Tone took place October, where the band also backed up country singer Buffalo Johnson for two numbers – and although their records were doing rather well, their thoughts were elsewhere. By this time, the band had pretty much decided to not work with Stanton anymore.

Roll In My Sweet Baby's Arms (Rounder LP)

by The Church Brothers (Bill, lead vocal)

The late 1951 session

Broken Vows And A Broken Heart

by The Church Brothers

Free from their commitment with Stanton, the band rushed into the studio of WKBC station, North Wilkesboro, NC, as 1951 drew to a close, and recorded their first Blue Ridge session. Their first release on the label (made up of two tracks recorded at the first session for Rich-R-Tone) was out in December 1951.
The band’s popularity grew even more, with Drusilla Adams relentless promotion. In 1952, the band had another session at WPAQ station in Mount Airy, and 2 more records came out on the Blue Ridge label.

In the meantime, in the Summer of 1951, Drusilla’s father, Noah Adams, had decided to start his own label to better handle the promotion of his daughter’s songwriting, and had quickly arranged a recording session by Virginian Jim Eanes.
In October or November 1951, Adams traded 4 of the Eanes masters to Stanton in exchange for the 4 Church Brothers masters that Rich-R-Tone had not yet released.
This apparently allowed the band an “exception” to the 5-year pact signed the previous year.

The November/December 1951 session

Sometimes in the Summer of 1952, Johnny Nelson was drafted in Korea, leaving the band without a banjoist. The Church boys called on an old friend, just fresh out of a tenure with Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys – James Gar Bowers rejoined the Blue Ridge Ramblers, and even recorded a session with them in October 1952 (as well as a couple of tracks together with Ralph Church helping out Joe Franklin).
Things were looking up, but the band was reluctant to travel: family commitments kept them from long-distance touring. Their final Blue Ridge release came out in February 1953, and with the sudden passing of Johnny Nelson in a car accident in the same time frame, the flame started fading, and the band gradually dissolved.
Ralph Church and Ralph Pennington continued to play music until their passing, as does Ward Eller who is still alive and performing around North Wilkesboro, NC.
Note: I have to apologize to Xavier for the delay in the completion of the essay – work on my small-label Blue Grass 78RPM discography has kept me very busy in the past year. I hope all the readers enjoy it! Matt Ringressi

It’s been quite some work to arrange two discographies given by Matt: one as sessionography, the other in terms of releases. There was also the task of tunes recorded by Rich-R’-Tone and finally issued by Blue Ridge. I hope anyway the readers will enjoy the article.
My sincere thanks go to Matt and also Roland Keppner, who provided some hard-to-find sound files.

Releases Discography/span;

Note: The four-digit number in brackets were arbitrarily assigned to each master, and printed on the record’s dead wax to ensure the use of the correct label – these are NOT master numbers.

Rich-R’-Tone

1009 Church Brothers & their Blue Ridge Ramblers
Released 1951
I’m Lonely For You (Bill Church) [1302]
A Sweeter Love Than Yours I’ll Never Know (Bill Church) [1400]

1017 Church Brothers & their Blue Ridge Ramblers
Released 1951/09/17
I Know My Name Will Be Called Up There (Drusilla Adams – Bill Church) [1310]
We’ll Meet Up There (Drusilla Adams – Bill Church) [1408]

1019 Buffalo Johnson and the Church Brothers & their Blue Ridge Ramblers
Released November 1951
Day Dreaming (Gladys Gobble) [1312]
I Don’t Know What To Do (Gladys Gobble) [1410]

Blue Ridge
Note: Blue Ridge numbering is highly trivial in that it doesn’t have chronological coherency. Records are presented here ordered by assigned number and NOT release date.

101 Church Brothers & Their Blue Ridge Ramblers
Released early 1952
Darling Brown Eyes (Drusilla Adams – Bill Church) [1203]
Someone Else Is Loving You (Drusilla Adams – Bill Church) [1706]

209 Church Brothers and their Blue Ridge Ramblers
Released 1953/02/19
Way Down In Ole Caroline (Drusilla Adams – Bill Church) [0990]
Broken Vows And A Broken Heart (Drusilla Adams – Bill Church) [1109]

609 Church Brothers and their Blue Ridge Ramblers
Released December 1951
No One To Love Me (Drusilla Adams – Bill Church) [1211]
You’re Still The Rose Of My Heart (Drusilla Adams – Bill Church) [1717]

1208 Church Brothers & Their Blue Ridge Ramblers
Released 1952
An Angel With Blue Eyes (Drusilla Adams – Bill Church) [4069]
When Jesus Calls You Home (Drusilla Adams – Bill Church) [5031]

___________ __Session Discography ___________________
Note: this is an excerpt from Matt Ringressi’s upcoming discography of small-label Blue Grass 78RPM records. Reproduction unauthorized without permission.
Late 1950 – Johnson City, TN (or WOPI station, Bristol, TN/VA)
Church Brothers and their Hillbilly Ramblers
Bill Church: Guitar
Lead vocal (A)
Ralph Church: Mandolin
Tenor vocal (B)
Ward Eller: Guitar
Lead vocal (C)
Baritone vocal (D)
Johnny Nelson: Banjo (1)
Edwin Church: Fiddle (2)
poss. bass vocal (E)
Ralph Pennington: Bass (3)

Darling Brown Eyes 1-2-3-
(Drusilla Adams – Bill Church) A-B [1203] Blue Ridge 101-A
No One To Love Me 1-2-3-
(Drusilla Adams – Bill Church) A-B-D [1211] Blue Ridge 609-A
I’m Lonely For You 1-2-
(Bill Church) 3-A [1302] RRT 1009-A
I Know My Name Will Be Called Up There A-B-
(Drusilla Adams – Bill Church) D-E [1310] RRT 1017-A
A Sweeter Love Than Yours I’ll Never Know 1-2-3-
(Bill Church) A-B [1400] RRT 1009-B
We’ll Meet Up There A-B-
(Drusilla Adams – Bill Church) D-E [1408] RRT 1017-B
You’re Still The Rose Of My Heart 1-2-
(Drusilla Adams – Bill Church) 3-C [1717] Blue Ridge 609-B
Beneath The North Carolina Moon 1-2-
3-A [-] Blue Ridge – Unissued

Blue Ridge 609 released December 1951
Rich-R-Tone 1009 released ca. August or September 1951
Rich-R-Tone 1017 released October 1951
Note: this session was produced by Drusilla and Noah Adams for release on Rich-R-Tone, as a mean to showcase Drusilla’s songwriting. The Adamses had not yet started Blue Ridge records.

Note(2): “You’re Still The Rose Of My Heart” was believed to have been recorded at the first Blue Ridge session in 1951, however aural evidence, together with Ward Eller having stated he was drafted in 1951, clearly identifies it as from this one. Per Ralph Church, eight sides were recorded at this session. This is coherent with one of the clauses of the Rich-R-Tone contract, as reported by the 1950/12/16 issue of Billboard.

Note(3): in ca. October or November 1951, the Adamses gave 4 Jim Eanes masters to Stanton in exchange for the 4 unreleased Chuch Brothers masters in possession of Rich-R-Tone.
1951/10/27 – Unknown location (poss. WOPI station, Bristol, TN/VA)
Buffalo Johnson & the Church Bros & their Blue Ridge Ramblers
Buffalo Johnson: Lead vocal (A)
Lead vocal on verses (B)
Bill Church: Guitar
Lead vocal (C)
Lead vocal on chorus (D)
Ralph Church: Mandolin
Tenor vocal (E)
Johnny Nelson: Banjo
Edwin Church: Fiddle
poss. Baritone vocal (F)
Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms C-E-F [-] RRT – Unissued
Day Dreaming A [1312] RRT 1019-A
(Gladys Gobble)
Day Dreaming (alt) A [-] RRT – Unissued
I Don’t Know What To Do B-D-E [1410] RRT 1019-B (Gladys Gobble)
I Don’t Know What To Do (alt) B-D-E [-] RRT – Unissued
Rich-R-Tone 1019 released ca. December 1951 (mentioned in Billboard 1951/11/24)
Note: the 1951/11/24 issue of Billboard reports this session having been just cut. The band would have still been working for Stanton at the time of the session, and the trade of masters with Adams had probably not yet happened (or had just happened).
Note(2): in past studies, it has been contended that the banjo player on this session does not sound like Johnny Nelson. However, hard evidence shows Nelson played the following sessions (see following pages), so he was still with the band by that point. Furthermore, James Gar Bowers (who would have played banjo with the Church Brothers later in 1952) would have been working with Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys during this time frame (he recorded with Monroe the very day after this session).
Note(3): per Ward Eller’s recollections, he was drafted in the army in 1951 and stayed for two years. He most probably did not take part in this recording session, or the following ones.

ca. November or December 1951 – WKBC station, North Wilkesboro, NC
Church Brothers and their Hillbilly Ramblers
Bill Church: Guitar
Lead vocal (A)
Ralph Church: Mandolin
Tenor vocal (B)
Johnny Nelson: Banjo
Edwin Church: Fiddle (1)
Ralph Pennington: Bass
Someone Else Is Loving You 1-A-B [1709] Blue Ridge 101-B
(Drusilla Adams – Bill Church)
Someone Else Is Loving You (alt) ? [-] Blue Ridge –
Unissued
Tears Fall On My Broken Heart ? [-] Blue Ridge 302-A
Unissued
Blue Ridge Special [-] Blue Ridge 302-B
Unissued
Blue Ridge 101 released ca. early 1952
Blue Ridge 302 unissued

May 1952 – WPAQ station, Mount Airy, NC
Church Brothers and their Hillbilly Ramblers
Bill Church: Guitar
Lead vocal (A)
Ralph Church: Mandolin
Tenor vocal (B)
Johnny Nelson: Banjo (1)
Edwin Church: Fiddle (2)
poss. Bass vocal (C)
Ralph Pennington: Bass (3)
Baritone vocal (D)
Broken Vows And A Broken Heart 1-2-3-
(Drusilla Adams – Bill Church) A-B [1109] Blue Ridge 209-B
An Angel With Blue Eyes 1-2-3-
(Drusilla Adams – Bill Church) A-B-D [4069] Blue Ridge 1208-A
When Jesus Calls You Home A-B-
(Drusilla Adams – Bill Church) C-D [5031] Blue Ridge 1208-B
Blue Ridge 209 released February or March 1953
Blue Ridge 1208 released mid-to-late 1952
Note: “Broken Vows And A Broken Heart” is very similar to “An Angel With Blue Eyes”, and features a virtually identical banjo solo. The label on Blue Ridge 209-B reads “banjo by Johnny Nelson”, confirming it’s Nelson playing on both tracks.
While it is entirely possible it could have been recorded at the 1951 WKBC session, the author feels aural evidence and the release date of BR 209 suggest the track was cut at this session.
Note(2): Ralph Pennington is singing baritone on “An Angel With Blue Eyes”, as all evidence suggests (not last, the fact that the bass stops playing on choruses). The baritone singer on “When Jesus Calls You Home” seems to have the very same vocal timbre. A 1951 picture of the Bill, Ralph and Edwin Church and Ward Eller around the WKBC microphone seems to suggest Edwin Church was also singing – thus making him a likely candidate for the bass singing on BR 1208-B

October 1952 – WPAQ station, Mount Airy, NC
Church Brothers and their Hillbilly Ramblers
Bill Church: Guitar
Lead vocal (A)
Ralph Church: Mandolin Tenor vocal (B)
James Gar Bowers: Banjo
Edwin Church or Jim Wilkerson: Fiddle
Ralph Pennington Bass

Way Down In Ole’ Caroline A-B [0990] Blue Ridge 209-A
(Drusilla Adams – Bill Church)
+ more unknown tracks
Blue Ridge 209 released February or March 1953
Note: the label to Blue Ridge 209-A clearly indicates Gar Bowers as the banjo player. Bowers is also credited as having played on BR 401-B with Joe Franklin, on a session that Clarence Greene dates to October 1952 (see below). Positively, these sessions took place the same day.
Note(2): Ralph Church recalled Jim Wilkerson might have been the fiddler on this session. To the author, this is clearly the same fiddler as on previous sessions (identified as Edwin Church)

October 1952 – WPAQ station, Mount Airy, NC (same day as previous)
Joe Franklin and his Mimosa Boys
Joe Franklin: Guitar
Lead vocal Tenor vocal on chorus (1)
Ralph Church: Mandolin
James Gar Bowers: Banjo
poss. Ray Abernathy: Fiddle
Baritone vocal (2) Lead vocal on chorus (3)
poss. Robert Oakes?: Tenor vocal (4)
High baritone vocal (5)
Charles Connley or Ray Austin: Bass

There’ll Be No Wedding Bells For Me 2-4 [5645] Blue Ridge 401-B
(Drusilla Adams – Joe Franklin)
You’re The Cause Of All My Heartaches 1-3-5 [-] Blue Ridge – Unissued
Blue Ridge 401 released late 1952
Note: in 1970 Johnnie Whisnant stated in an interview with Walt Saunders that he had
recorded at least one song with Joe Franklin and Ralph Church in ca. 1953, and was under the
impression that it was intended to be issued as a Church Brothers release. This has led some
to speculate it could be him playing on 401-A.
However, the record label reads “Banjo by James Gar Bowers”, and the banjo playing is
stylistically consistent with that on BR 209-A. Furthermore, BR 401 was released in 1952.
All these elements discredit the possibility of Whisnant being on 401-A.
On the other hand, Whisnant might indeed have been present on an unreleased
Franklin/Church session held after Johnny Nelson’s draft in the army (1952) or possibly after
his death (January 1953), and still untraced to this day. .