From “Uptown Swing” to “Clickety Clack”: and “Hillbillly Boogie”: a story of JERRY IRBY, a Texas entertainer (1941-1965) — 1rst part

Gerard « Jerry » Irby ‘s career in Country music spanned almost forty years. The list of the artists he worked with during that time reads like a Who’s Who of Western swing. It ranges from the links of Thero Eugene « Ted » Daffan to less known Western swing performers such as Bill Mounce And The Stars Of The South. In 1937 Irby was « pickin’ and singin’ » with The Bar-X Cowboys, a first rate Houston based outfit which featured among its number Elmer and Ben Christian, and singer/guitarist Chuck Keeshan, the latter having worked with Leon « Pappy » Selph, and who is to be found, along joined Ted Daffan’s band The Texans.
During his tenure with The Bar-X-Coyboys, and the Tune Wranglers, Irby recorded with these outfits for Decca. He was also the featured vocalist on at least one of Bill Mounce’s Bluebird releases.

America’s entry into the WW II in 1941 heralded the end of an era. A number of Western swing outfits disbanded as members of those bands were drafted. The recording ban that followed in 1942 further compounded matters. However, all was not gloom and doom. With industry on a war footing, the economy boomed. The public at large, having shrudded off the last vestiges of the depression, wanted to be entertained. As the way drew to a close the recording industry, which hitherto had been monopolised by a handful of record companies, started a grind in action again when the recording ban was lifted. Small independant record companies sprang up across the country to challenge the monpoly that major labels like Decca and RCA-Victor had once enjoyed. It was these small independant companies who more or less set the trend in the post-war years.

One of the first recording companies to be set up in Texas was Bill Quinn’s Gulf label. Based at 3104 Telephone Road in Houston, Gulf made its debut on the scene in the fall of 1945. Quinn, who later ran the legendary Goldstar studio, and label of the same name, recorded fairly well-known local Western swing acts, including Al Clauser, Moon Mullican, and Jerry Irby. It was Irby’s waxing of fhis self penned ditty cover. « Nails In My Coffin », a classic song which is now a standard number in country music, was a regional hit, albeit a modest one, for Irby. « Nails In My Coffin » has been recorded, with varying degrees of success, over the years by countless Country singers.

The Los Angeles based Globe label, another newly formed, independant recording company, latched on to Jerry Irby’s success with « Nail In My Coffin » and promptly signed him to a recording deal. They wasted little time in having Irby re-record « Nails In My Coffin » for release on Globe. Irby ‘s band at that time, The Texas Ranchers, including his old compatriot Elmer Christian, steel guitarist « Deacon » Evans,and pianist Pete Burke.

The latter musician is worthy of special mention as his distinctive performance on the pianoforte is to be heard on scores of Irby’s recordings. Burke himself later made some solo recordings for the Hummingbird label. It is also likely that Irby and his band are featured on Elmer Christian’s Globe recordings.

Around this time, Irby made some more recordings for two small concerns: Cireco, in 1947. “You Can’t Take It With You”, an old favorite, and “49 Women”, a tune that he re-recorded later at least two times. Then for the microscopic record label Hillbilly Hit Parade.

Houston record distributor H.B. Crowe was the next person to take an interest in Irby. In 1947 Crowe recorded Irby, and Elmer Christian, at a session in Houston for Mercury. Guitarist/fiddler Woodrow « Woody »Carter joned the line-up of Irby’s band for this session. Carter was to remain with Irby’s band for a little over eighteen months or so before embarking on his own, short lived, solo career.

When Lewis R. Chudd lauched his Imperial label out on he West coast in 1947, one of the first Country/Western swing artists he recorded was Jerry irby. Dring his relatively bried sojourn with Imperial, Irby cut some twelve sides for the label. He was also the featured vocalist on Elmer Christian’s Imperial release, on which he was backed by The Bar-X Cowboys.

All notes and sources are rejected at the last part of the feature.

Curtis Gordon from Georgia to Nashville (1952-1962)

At 1 :30 on Wednesday afternoon, October 22, 1952, newly signed RCA Victor recording artist Curtis Gordon began his first session at Brown Brothers in Nashville, with RCA A&R man Steve Sholes presiding. Three of his own band members joined him in the studio : fiddler Charles Mitchell, pianist Curly Gainous and bass player Slick Gillespie. Rounding up the band were three of Nashville’s early studio A-team : guitarist and Sholes protege Chet Atkins, singer and rhythm guitarist Eddie Hill and steel guitar virtuoso Jerry Byrd.

For Gordon, landing a deal with RCA, the label of Eddy Arnold and Hank Snow, was a major break. A regional performer who mainly worked south Georgia and north Florida and did occasional national tours, he fit into the honky-tonk sound in vogue at the time. It didn’t matter that he had no national home base like the Opry or Louisiana Hayride. He was a regional favorite around Georgia, Alabama and Florida, and in those days major labels didn’t shy away from signing such acts, hoping to break them nationally.

Born in July 27, 1928 on a farm near Moultrie, Gordon spent his boyhood drinking in music. « Ernest Tubb and Bob Wills were two of my favorites.(…) Ernest Tubb was really my idol until I got into Bob Wills. » Soon enough, Gordon was trying to sing locally, winning a talent show sponsored by a Moultrie radio station.

His drive to perform never diminished as a teenager, though temporaly affected his education. « I went to Gulfport, Mississipi and worked with a little band at a radio station for six or eight months until my folks brought me back and put me in school » he says. Gordon also made early contacts with a fellow Moultrie resident following his own musical road : fiddler Ivy J. Bryant, years from his metamorphosis into premiere country-jazz guitarist Jimmy Bryant.

Even though Gordon’s folks brought him back from Gulfport to attend high school, he continued developing his performing talents with Pee Wee Mills and the Twilight Playboys around the area and on their program on Moultrie’s WMGA radio. Finally, on January 1, 1949 Gordon organized his own band. Starting around southern Georgia and northern Florida, he had enough work to keep him going. In June 1952, he and the band appeared in a talent contest at Atlanta’s Tower Theater. Impressed, RCA Victor’s Atlanta distributor Sam Wallace recommended Gordon to Steve Sholes, who signed the singer shortly after that. Around July, he joined the Mobile, Alabama’s ‘Dixie Barn Dance’, on the small country stage shows in the tradition of the Opry and the Louisiana Hayride.

Making Mobile his base of operations, by October of 1952 he’d opened his first Radio Ranch nightclub, which became one of the major country music outlets in the region. Over the next four decades, he’d also own three other Radio Ranches (a copyright name) in Thomasville, Albany and Moultry, Georgia.

That busy month was capped by that RCA session on the 22nd. Whatever Gordon planned to record at that first session, Steve Sholes, as usual, had his own ideas. Seeing Gordon as a potential ballad singer, he directed the session that way, having him record “What’s A Little Pride” and “The Greatest Sin”. Both were penned by Cy Coben, whose songs (both good and lousy) wound up being recorded by many RCA artists. At the same session, Gordon did better with the strutting Jack Toombs-Vic McAlpin ditty “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet”, featuring bouncy guitar from Chet and Gainous’s competent honky tonk piano. Jack Toombs’ “If You Tell Me One More Lie” indicates Sholes had ideas to position Gordon to be another Lefty Frizzell.

With “Rompin’”s success in mind, Sholes, who’d pushed Gordon into a Lefty mode on that first session in 1952, decided to emphasize the uptempo numbers. From Georgia country artist Cotton Carrier came “I’d Do It For You”, a pleasant number in the vein of Carl Smith’s faster material as was Boudleaux Bryant’s “Tell ‘Em No”. “You Crazy, Crazy Moon” was a ballad that hewed closely to Smith’s ballad singing. Not everything succeeded. The corny, medium-tempo “Little Bo-Peep”, written by Tommy ‘Butterball’ Paige, Ernest Tubb’s lead guitarist, was more suited to the sentimental vocal side of Moon Mullican.
Throughout this time, Gordon was not just working around his home area, but touring America as part of package shows, leaving his band behind.

Though Gordon’s singles sold enough to sustain his contract, nothing came even close to the national charts. His final RCA session at Thomas’s took place on February 22, 1954. He used nearly all of the band on this date including Gainous, Slick Gillespie and guitarists Hugh Harrell and C.L.Hare. The studio players included Chet Atkins, whose fortunes were rising as the New York-based Sholes depended on him to organize Nashville sessions. The steel player was the dynamic pedal steel pioneer and RCA artist Bud Isaacs, whose playing on Webb Pierce’s hit recording of “Slowly” established the instrument in Nashville. Sholes returned to the ill-fated gambit of having Curtis parrot the style of others. As a result, his version of Hank Thompson’s “I’d Like To Tell You” came off as a generic rip-off of Thompson. “Detour” composer Paul Westmoreland’s “Caffeine And Nicotine” got an arrangement lifted lock, stock and barrel from the Carlisles’ Mercury recordings and their hit, “No Help Wanted”. Everything from the Bill Carlisle-inspired, frenetic vocal, rhythm guitar with paper through the strings and the Atkins guitar solo (he played on the Carlisles’ sessions), was clearly aimed at that audience. “Divided Heart”, a Chuck Wilson number, was an inconsequential ballad. One exception to the rule was the revival of “Rompin’ And Stompin”’s spirit with “Baby, Baby Me”, a boogie with sharply focused solos from Isaacs and Potter.

In 1955, Gordon and his band recorded another session, supplemented by Buddy Emmons, a gifted young steel player from Indiana who had just replaced Walter Haynes in Little Jimmy Dickens’ Country Boys. Gordon recorded two songs by a new composer/singer named Bobby Bare : “Our Secret Rendezvous” and “Baby Please Come Home”, a pleasant, uptempo honky-tonker. In early 1956 Gordon did another session with a similar band (Chet Atkins on lead guitar) that yielded “Hey Mister Sorrow”, “Too Young To Know” and “Play The Music Louder”.

By 1956, Elvis Presley was sweeping the nation. While many in country were bewildered by him, Gordon knew him well, having met (and booked) him the previous year. (…) Elvis was certainly on Dee Kilpatrick’s mind when he called Gordon to Nashville in March, desperate to get something resembling rock on record as soon as he could. Presley’s success was causing a crisis,since conventional country records – honky tonk tunes with fiddle and steel guitar – were suddenly sounding old and corny. Radio began rejecting those kinds of records, and Kilpatrick needed Gordon to record something that rocked. The singer showed up at Bradley Film and Recording, the first studio on what’s now called Music Row, with three of his musicians : steel guitarist Al Murray, Stewart and Slick Gillespie. The Nashville studio element again included Eddie Hill and drummer T. Tommy Cutrer.(…)
Four rockabilly compositions came out of this session, many of them featuring Murray’s futuristic, unorthodox steel guitar, in the Speedy West tradition. “Draggin’” was a hot-rod race ditty with Sun-style slapback echo and tough Scotty Moore-inspired lead guitar, Gillespie slapping the bass in the style of Bill Black. Hearing Elvis, Scotty and Bill at Radio Ranch obviously left its mark given the authoritative accompaniment from the band.  “Sittin’ On Top Of The World”:  Gordon adapted the old blues to rockabilly with stinging Moore-style guitar from Stewart and strong rhythm. “Mobile, Alabama”, a prideful rocker about Gordon’s adopted hometown, has become a favorite of rockabilly revivalists, one that also afforded the chance to hear more of Murray’s rolling steel.

Gordon did part of his time with Mercury while serving a hitch in U.S. Army Special Services as part of the Circle-A Wranglers. This Army country band had been fronted by Faron Young during his early 1950s Army hitch. While in the band, Gordon met an aspiring Oklahoma singer-musician named Roger Miller. « …) I heard him play and I said ‘How ‘bout you comin’ to play fiddle for us ?’ And he didn’t think he wanted to. I think he was kind of afraid if he messed up (that the Army would) ship him overseas or somewhere. And he finally agreed to do it (…) and played fiddle with the Circle-A Wranglers for a long time (…) »
In early 1957, Curtis traveled to Houston, (probably) to Gold Star Studios, where Pappy Daily, the legendary Texas record producer who co-founded Starday Records and discovered George Jones (now a Mercury artist) was to produce Gordon. With Mitchell on fiddle and, he recalled, Noel Boggs on steel guitar, he recorded three originals : “So Tired Of Crying”, an uptempo song in a mode between Hank Williams and George Jones, whose influence permeated “One Blue Moon, One Broken Heart”. Those, as well as “Out To Win Your Hear”t, were penned with Jimmy Townsend.

In October, 1957, Gordon headed to Nashville for his final Mercury session, Pappy Daily again producing. During the trip, he had a surprise reunion with Roger Miller that had far-reaching implications for the budding singer-songwriter.
« A couple months after he got out (of the Army) I was goin’ into Nashville to record. When I got to the Andrew Jackson hotel, the bellboy was Roger. We grabbed each other and was glad to see each other, and I said ‘Come up to the room, man. I’m here to record.’ So Roger came up to my room and we sat up all night writin’ songs, we wrote two or three songs. I told Roger that night, ‘I’m cuttin’ tomorrow and I want you to go with me.’ So we went down and Pappy Daily was cuttin’ George Jones, and I carried Roger down there and introduced him to Pappy Daily. Pappy Daily signed him to a writer’s contract and things went boomin’ for him right on. »
Surprisingly, for Gordon’s last Mercury date, he was finally recording with Nashville’s true A-team, including Hank Garland and Chet Atkins on guitars, bassist Bob Moore, pianist Floyd Cramer, Eddie Hill on rhythm guitar and probably Buddy Harmon on drums. This time, all numbers except “Cry, Cry” were Gordon originals. “Cry, Cry” was a down and bluesy ballad. “Sixteen”, an original ballad penned by Curtis and his wife, was aimed at the teenage market with Garland contributing juicy lead guitar. Curtis had someone in mind for “Cry, Cry”. « I wrote the song for Tommy Sands. I thought I could do it and Mercury said ‘Hey, why don’t you do it ? » He had someone in mind when he wrote the bluesy, raw “Please, Baby, ,Please” : Fats Domino…,who denied cutting the song. Instead, Gordon recorded it with Roger Miller and one Windy Wade singing backup on the session. The final song recorded at the session was “I wouldn’t”, a Gordon-Roger Miller tune.

In 1961-62, Gordon recorded two singles for the Nashville based Dollie label. They were all mainstream Country, and quite listenable, from the ballad “Each Time You Go” to the rocker “From Memphis To New Orleans”. After that, he appeared once more in 1978 on the Duke Of Country label, this time far from bopping.org standards.

No matter how much Gordon toured, Radio Ranch remained home base. (…) Looking back in 1998, Gordon reflected realistically about his overall success on records. « If I had to choose a favorite one of the whole bunch it’d have to be ‘Rompin’ And Stompin’ » he concluded.(…) He also had some luck with his compositions. In 1980 George Jones recorded Gordon’s I’ve Aged Twenty Years, on his « I Am What I Am » LP, though Curtis’s own mid-80s recordings for the tiny Duke of Country label in Nashville went nowhere. Gordon remained busy at the Radio Ranch in Moultrie thoughout the 1980s, as rockabilly revivalists rediscovered his RCA and Mercury material.(…)
In the mid 1990s, after fifty years of performing, Gordon, still happily married to wife Grace, retired from performing and the nightclub business in order to relax – most of the time. Nonetheless, in February, 1998, he was heading back to England, where he previously scored with audiences when he appeared with the Collins Kids, amazed that European fans remember the lyrics of old records that at the time, were ignored by the masses. « I wanted to retire. I’ve been in it so long and I got so many other things I would like to do but I love to play. I disbanded about three years ago. I still play other clubs but not regular. I go out and play clubs that have house bands. Rest of the time I’m tied up with a plantation out there with a beautiful lake, log cabin. I still love to ride horses and hunt. Never smoke or drank. I don’t believe in doing something that’s harmin’ your health. »
In a country music industry run by music consultants, radio and media consultants and accountants, rock’n’roll refugees and arrogant Nashville superstars who try to run their record companies, Curtis Gordon remain a vital link to country’s simpler, sweeter past. He summarized his career simply in 1986, a benediction that still holds today. « I hope I contributed a little bit to country music. It’s been my whole life. »
Curtis Gordon died May 2, 2004, in Moultrie, Ga

Sources: mainly 78rpm from the collection of Ronald Keppner; label scans (both 78 and 45) from 45cat and 78worlds, also Roots Vinyl Guide; photographs from Google; YouTube (Dollie discs)
Article primitively published in September 2009 (from the notes by Rick Kienzle for the BF CD), entirely remade in July 2019 with additions (Dollie)

Rockin’ Rollin’ Marty Robbins (1953-56)

When a Rockin’ Know-all thinks about a record company that through its record releases brought the Southern states its own brand of Rock’n’roll over the airwaves, he (or maybe she) thinks of Sun Records in Memphis.
Sun were there, because in order to survive like most independant all over the States they catered for markets not generally seved by the Majors ; in the process they gave the white youth the sounds they wanted to jitterbug and bop to. Whilst it s true to say that Majors were doing big business with pop artists, they were pretty well involved with country (and/or Rhythm’n’blues) from fairly early on. In fact Columbia’s C&W output in the ’50’s was run from Nashville and under the cortrol of Mitch Miller. Certainly, when given the lead, Columbia Broadcasting quickly latched onto the potential of what was virually a more raucous version of country music. They soon amassed a Rockabilly catalog second only to Sun.
Of course, in the early ’50s, Columbia had recorded country boogies, which had a great beat for dancing, but still had hillbilly vocals (« Wild Cat Boogie » – Johnny Bond, 21160 – « Rock Me » – Little Jimmy Dickens, 21206, « Go Boy Go » – Carl Smith, 21266 and « Mama!» – Lefty Frizzell, 21328 are typical examples)

It was not until a certain truck driver from Tupelo recorded « That’s All Right Mama», that true Rockabilly look off. Columbia covered the song with a version by Marty Robbins. Whilst others did cut sides without the hillbilly vocals (« Juke Joint Johnny » – Lattie Moore on Speed for example), they were sparse and generally on very minor labels with local distribution. It was Elwood Pretzel that brought it to wider attention, in fact the South and the vast country areas of the Northern States were more than ready ; in 1954 during a Cash Box interview Ahmet Ertegun of Atlantic Records stated that from 1952 white high school and college kids in the South were picking up R&B records primarily to dance to. The trend was started by youthful hillbilly fans rather than the pop bobby-soxers, who just followed right along.

Robbins, of Polish ancestry, was born on September 26th 1925 at Glendale, Arizona. 1937 saw his family move to Phoenix, where he attended high school. Then at 19 he signed up wit the Navy for a 3 years stint. Posted on the Pacific, he developped an interest in the guitar until he got to the stage of composing his own songs. This eventually led him to perform professionnally after his discharge with one of his friends who had a band, and they performed at a local night club. He served his apprenticship in he mid-40’s playing in small around Arizona. He joined Columbia Records in 1952, recording solo performances as well as duetting with his manager Llee Emerson, in a style reminiscent of early Eddy Arnold, featuring a semi-crooning vocal and sparse instrumentation.

Marty Robbins and band – 1950’s

It was at Jim Beck’s studio (Dallas) in September 1953 that Robbins recorded « It’s A Long, Long Ride ». It wasn’t Rock’n’Roll of course, but Robbins’ performance had a restless energy, presaging much that followed.The drums, still rarely heard on Nashville recodings, gave an added edge to the performance. During the first break, the fiddle player hums in unison with his instrument, a trchnique that Slam Stewart and others had popularized with the bowed upright bass during the ’30s, but one rarely heard in country music.

Ray & Roy

Pain And Misery

by Ray Edenton & Marty Robbins

between Dallas and Nashville (1954)

Much bluesier was « Pain And Misery », an anomalous duet that Robbins recorded in May 1954 with Ray Edenton. It was logged in the Columbia files with three other songs under the artist-name «Ray & Roy ». None of the cuts were released at the time, although « Pain And Msery » was later re-cast by Robbins as « Mean Mama Blues ».
Aside of the cloak of anonymity, wasn’t really surprising is the hard-edged blues feel. The use of two electric guitars – one of which takes an unusually aggressive solo (Chet Atkins or Louie Innis)– points unerringly towards future developments. “Call Me Up” (21291) (by Marty alone) was also a nice uptempo precursor.

By the end of 1954 all of Robbins’ sessions were being held in Nashville, and on November 7, he cut a cover version of « That’s All Right ». Elvis Presley had released it in July, and although it did no more than crack a few local charts, it created a buzz. Robbins had heard the record and figured Presley was black. In October, Robbins discovered that he wasn’t when Presley okayd a less-than-successful guest spot on the Opry. By November, Presley had his second record on the market, but Robbins decided to cover « That’s All Right » ayway. It became a fair-sized hit for him, peaking at number 7 in the Spring of 1955.

Cash Box Jan. 6, 1955

August 9, 1955. Nashville, Tennessee: the pure rockabilly recording session

Chuck Berry’s « Maybellene » mispelled « Maybelline » by Columbia, hadn’t even cracked the R&B charts when Robbins covered it. He had obviously started tuning the car radio to the R&B stations, sensing the coming storm.
If there’s ever a need to illustrate the difference between uptempo country and rockabilly, then Robbins’ versions of « That’s All Right » and « Maybelline »will show the demarcation line. It was more than the addition of drums, there was a twitchy energy to « Maybelline » that announced the dawn of a new era.

Cash Box Nov. 5, 1955

Cash Box, Jan. 7, 1956

November 3rd, 1955. More rockabilly and country. After Robbins had met Melvin Endsley, he adopted the latter’s “Singing The Blues”, which proved a million seller for him.

If there’s ever a need to illustrate the difference between uptempo country and rockabilly, then Robbins’ versions of « That’s All Right » and « Maybelline »will show the demarcation line. It was more than the addition of drums, there was a twitchy energy to « Maybelline » that announced the dawn of a new era.

Columbia didn’t have much faith in « Singing Te Blues », possibly thinking it was too country. It was kept in the can for eight months, and two other singles were dhipped in the interim. In November 1956 though, « Singing The Blues » beat out « Hound Dog » for the number one slot on the country charts, and it remained there until February 1957.

Before « Singing The Blues » was released, Robbins went back into the studio with two more uptempo songs on the schedule. The first was a cover of Little Richard’s « Long Tall Sally », which hadn’t even cracked the R&B charts ; the other was an odd original, « Respectfully Miss Brooks » with an organ piping way in the background.

Robbins decided it was time to revisit the Melvin Endsley songbook. He cut « Knee Deep In The Blues », which proved to be his ticket back to the charts, but unfortunately was beaten by Guy Mitchell’s pop version.

From Late 1955 thru’ 1956 he performed Rockabilly on stage as this was in demand with audiences. Did he in fact rock the joint ? – well, there is in fact an LP of Marty Robbins on the Artco label (LPC 110LD) which is described as coming from « The Hall Of Fame » motion pictures soundtrack. In truth it’s almost certainly some form of live concert which is from around 1956. All 12 tracks are different to recorded versions, the latest of which are « Mr. Teardrop » and « I Can’t Quit » – significantly no « Singing The Blues ». Other tracks include « Pretty Mama », « Tennessee Toddy », « Pretty Words », Castle In The Sky », « Times Goes By ». « Tennessee Toddy » and « Pretty Mama » not to mention « I Can’t Quit » are all superb : yes Marty did really rock.

However Marty wasnt really a rocker ; he was just cashing in on a trend, and he soon left for pop/country records. These are anyhow some reat stady backings in « Knee Deep In The Blues », « Long Gone Lonesome Blues », although « Moanin’ The Blues » and « Loveick Blues » are in the same great style.

Sources: main article set up from an article by Bob Airlie, originally published (June 1977) by “New Kommotion”, then from the notes by Colin Escott for Bear Family “Rockin’ Rollin’ Robbins” triple CD (1999); music primarily from Willem Agenant site ‘Columbia 20 000 serie’, many thanks to him. Remaining music and videos from YouTube.Thanks Uncle Gil for his help, providing sound files.
Labels from 45cat and 78worlds sites.Discographical details from Praguefrank great site.

Several boppers have been excluded, because lack of space. Otherwise the article would have been double sized. Anyway they all are well worth seeking, songs like: “I’ll Love You Till The Day U ie” (21414), “Time Goes By” (21324) or “Where’d Ja Go” (40868) with Lee Emerson.

Bobby Sisco, the “Tall, Dark and Handsome Man” (1955-1963)

During those days of confining (Covid-19), here’s some more music. Enjoy!

BOBBY SISCO
Born Robert W. Sisco, 24 August, 1932, Bolivar, Tennessee
Died 17 July 2005, Munster, Indiana
Bobby Sisco attended Central High School in Bolivar and graduated alongside his close friend Ramsey Kearney, the singer who cut “Rock the Bop” on Jaxon and co-wrote “Emotions” for Brenda Lee. The family, including two sisters, listened to the Grand Ole Opry on Saturday nights and Sisco’s mother taught him how to play guitar.

In 1948, Sisco the Singing Farmboy hustled up his own sponsors for two slots on radio WTJS in Jackson, Tennessee, By 1949 he was playing in Jackson’s rawest honky-tonks with Carl Perkins and his brothers. Shows on the more powerful WDXI increased Sisco’s exposure but when his father quit the farm Sisco followed his parents to Calumet, Michigan and found the atmospheric “Sin City” nightclub scene to his liking. Uncle John Ellis, the premier DJ on WJOB in Hammond, Indiana, introduced Sisco to Mar-Vel Records owner, Harry Glenn, and in 1955 Sisco cut “Honky Tonkin’ Rhythm” (Mar-Vel 111) at Chicago’s Universal Studios. Bill McCall of 4-Star helped finance the session in return for the publishing rights.

The record did well in the mid-West and Sisco made personal appearances with Johnny Cash, George Jones and Little Jimmy Dickens.

The Chess session

Sisco made contact with Leonard Chess in 1956. “Rockabilly had started coming in strong and I was gonna get in on the trend like everybody else. I set up an interview with Chess and they were all enthused. They wanted to make another Bill Haley out of me. They had big plans. I only had ‘Tall, Dark and Handsome Man’ and they told me ‘ Well go home and write three more songs and we’ll do our first session.’ I had kinda got baffled and didn’t come up with anything I really liked except ‘Go, Go, Go’ which I liked real well. So I wrote that and they said ‘ Well come on down. We need to get something out.’ They set up the studio time at Universal and they furnished the musicians except Johnny Hammers who was my lead guitar player. He was working with me on my road tours and my nightclub shows. He knew my material and fitted in with that twangy rock guitar so they let him play on my session. I worked harder on that session that any session I’ve ever been in. I worked until I was completely exhausted. And we got two sides cut.”

The argument with Chess

Leonard Chess signed Sisco to a one-year contract with a one-year option, but his tenure at Chess was very short-lived. According to Sisco, someone told him that Chess had given his song (“Tall, Dark and Handsome Man”) to Chuck Berry. “I didn’t pay attention and thought for sure they’d let him have my song and hadn’t released mine. I got very upset and we had a very serious argument. They finally released my record but they nullified my contract.” Harry Glenn tried to rectify matters but Leonard Chess said he wouldn’t lift a finger to help Sisco who had cussed him out and called him a lot of bad names. “I thought they’d stolen my song” said Sisco whose informant had confused “Tall, Dark and Handsome Man” with Chuck Berry’s “Brown Eyed Handsome Man”. “Anyway”, added Sisco, “I shouldn’t have done what I done.”

The Glenn sides (1959-60)

Sisco made for Harry Glenn several good C&W sides at the turn of 1959-60.

Following his disassociation from Chess, Sisco pitched a couple of Nashville-recorded masters to Vee-Jay Records. The band on “Are You the Type” (Vee-Jay 544) included Floyd Cramer, Grady Martin and Buddy Harman. He also recorded several fine C&W songs for Harry Glenn’s Glenn label during the same period and, in the mid-1960s, he fetched up on Brave, a company owned by Marvin Rainwater and Bill Guess. Sisco helped to write “The Old Gang’s Gone” recorded by Marvin Rainwater and Lefty Frizzell.

Acknowledgements : Bill Millar, Entry for Bobby Sisco in the liner notes for “That’ll Flat Git It, Vol. 10 : Rockabilly From the Vaults Of Chess Records” (Bear Family BCD 16123). Originally published by Black Cat Rockabilly Europe, with permission of Dik De Heer.

Leroy Jenkins, “Hard Time Hard Luck Blues” = Texas Hillbilly Bop and Ballads (1949-1954)

Payne leon profile

Leon Payne

Leroy Jenkins headThe image of the blind troubadour is a familiar one in Country music’s history. For many born this way, or struck down with blindness in infancy, music was their only tangible means to forge an independant path through life. Perhaps the most famous blind troubadour in Country, in the post years at least, was Leon Payne. Although he achieved more success through his songwriting than his own recordings. Equally prolific on the songwriting front, yet denied the Jenkins Leroy standing same degree of success, was Leroy Jenkins : he was born on July 28, 1921 in Texas. Only six months old he turned blind. From the age of seven he attended the Texas School for the Blind in Austin. Here he learned to play the guitar. In 1942 he entered “Abilene Christian College”, to become a priest, meanwhile preaching in churches in the neighborhood. A year later he quit college and moved in with his wife, a blind woman he recently had married. He wanted to become an artist and he and his wife moved to Dallas, Texas. He found a job in a nightclub where he sang and played guitar with fellow artists. He was a popular act and consequently he was offered a contract to host his own show at a local radio station.

In 1946 he had his first success when he wrote the song “Tell Me Now Or Tell Me Never”, which Roy Acuff recorded for Columbia (# 37099). He was then part of Miss Ludy & her Crazy Gang who were performing on KRLD, Dallas.Columbia Acuff tell

Tell me now or tell me never

billboard Jenkins 1946

Billboard November 9, 1946

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talent Jenkins timedJenkins made his first recordings in September 1949 for the Talent label from Dallas [it’s unclear if it concerns the famous Star Talent/Talent label, which had only a 600/700 serie]. It’s however likely these recordings were made at Jim Beck’s studios in Dallas.

You two timed me three timed me

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Beck was a key figure in the development of country music in Dallas. Another question appears when it comes to master # (BB 164/165) for « You two timed me three timed me » and « Forever and ever », as these numbers do seem Blue Bonnet (another Dallas label) cuts. Note that the B-side was also given at an earlier stage of research (by Al Turner) as another version of Wayne Raney’s « Why don’t you haul off and love me ».

Too fat boogie

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Next Jenkins record with his Texas Showboys was made also in Dallas for the Jim Beck’s own Dude label (# 1507), and « Too fat boogie » is a hillbilly bop romper. Note that the flipside “If I could buy your love” (untraced) was cowritten with Beck and (apparently) Riley Crabtree.

dude Jenkins fatdude Jenkins buy

Nevertheless it was probably Beck who arranged an audition for Leroy with Columbia’s A&R man Don Law.

Leroy Jenkins signed his Columbia contract on March 1, 1951. It was a contract for one year and four songs. He would get 2% of 90% of the sales. There were two options for an additional year against 3%.

On March 13, 1951 he had his first Columbia session in Beck’s studio. Four powerful songs were recorded of which « Hard time hard luck blues » (# 20815) was a strong rhythm-guitar led country-blues tune. Its flipside however was a weeper, « I’m crying but nobody cares».

Hard time hard luck blues

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I’m crying but nobody caresjim beck & law

billboard 1951 Jenkins

Billboard June 9, 1951

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The remaining tracks of this first recording session were “Time Passes By” and “Please Don’t Tell Me That You Love Me” (# 20853) both weepers, although good examples of classic honky tonk ballads out of Texas in the early ’50s. During his second and final Columbia session (8/2/51) again four songs were recorded. Out of the 4 tracks, the two weepers « You’re talking to a broken heart » (# 20931) and « Don’t be a home breaker » (# 20878) were striking a balance between the two uptempos « I just don’t know » and most of all the fast « Tennessee sunshine ». Jenkins of course wrote all of his material.

I just don’t knowcolumbia Jenkins know

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columbia Jenkins breakerDon’t be a home breaker

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billboard Jenkins 1952

Billboard, April 26, 1952

Tennessee sunshine

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His four records in the 20000 series didn’t have any commercial success and Columbia didn’t exercise the options. Jenkins stayed in Dallas until 1954, writing over a hundred songs.

He had a final record on Flair [Texas small label, not the big California R&B concern]flair Jenkins wagon

Why don’t you get on the woo wagon with me

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The girl on page 83

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# 1013 circa 1953/54. The strong shuffler « Why don’t you get on the woo wagon with me » was paired with the equally good « The girl on page 83 ». At an unknown date, he was affiliated with Nashville’s WLAC radio station.

jenkins WLAC Nashville

After that last record Jenkins disappeared from the music scene, and maybe returned to priesthood. He died December 18, 1990, and must not be confused either with the jazz violinist, or the Ohio televangelist of the same name. Nor of course with current artist Leeroy Jenkins.

Sources : 78rpm for label scans (thanks to Ronald Keppner) ; W. Agenant’s site « Columbia 20000 » for Columbia sides ; also his biography of L. Jenkins was of great help, as Al Turner’s in Hillbilly Researcher # 10 ; Uncle Gil Rockin’ Archives for Dude and Flair sides; Roots Vinyl Guide for some label scans. My own researches (photographs, various data, personal appreciations and additions).

Lattie Moore, Cincinnati hillbilly bop and Rockabilly (1952-1982)

Though highly revered within hillbilly and rockabilly circles, the name of Lattie Moore is practically unknown outside auction lists. Even there’s a tad mysterious, Eddie Bond’s « Juke Joint Johnnie », Jerry Reed’s « If The Good Lord’s Willing » and George Jones’ « Out Of Control » have been reissued on CD but they were probably more familiar than Lattie’s versions even before they were readily available. Yet, arguably, Lattie’s records are more rewarding. His experience-laced vocals have far more expression than Jerry Reed’s or the affectless Eddie Bond and the countrypolitan elements which often diluted George Jone’s 60’s music are almost entirely absent.

Lattie’s voice is absolutely perfect in a coarse, grainy, ragged sort of way and there’s the odd device like a half yodel when he sings about doleful effects of drink. Country traditionalists go for the light, twangy vocals on hillbilly songs like « Don’t Trade The Old For The New ». Rockabilly enthusiasts bid big bucks for Lattie’s very scarce records on Arc and Starday. Lattie, however, admits to singing about drink more than anything else.

Lattie Harrison Moore was born in Scottsville, Kentucky, on October 17, 1924. He was named after Lattie Graves, the family doctor who delivered him. He grew up learning to play guitar, mandolin and bass. Only 65 miles of Nashville, Lattie listened to the Grand Ole Opry. He was impressed by Roy Acuff, and later, Ernest Tubb and Hank Williams.
In 1944 Lattie hichhilked 200 miles North to Indianapolis, a city of greater opportunity for the professionnally-minded musician. A brief stint in the Navy interrupted his intentions but on discharge he worked nighclubs and some of Indiana’s large jamboree parks. In December 1944 he married. They raised 4 children, and recently (in 2000) they celebrated 55 years’ togetherness.

If ever a record disappeared into collector holy graildom, it was Lattie Moore’s first. No one has ever seen a copy ! It was called « Hideaway heart » c/w « Married Troubles » and cut in 1951 at the home-built studio of Tate Boland, the Arrow’s label owner. The same year Lattie joined the Mid-Western Jamboree held at Turner’s Hall and broadcast over WIBC, from the Indiana capital.

A copy of the 78rpm was sold $ 134 in January 2019.

In 1952 Moore travelled to Nashville with a view to recording for Bullet, the local grandaddy of independant labels. He discovered that Bullet wasn’t signing anyone new but was pointed by John Dunn, who handled Bullet’s pressing plant, in the direction of the Speed label, a smaller company in which Dunn also had interest. Story of Lattie Moore’s Nashville debut was given by Dunn’s partner : « In the summer of 1952, I met Lattie Moore as I walked out of the Ernest Tubb record shop on lower Broadway. He was a writer and guitarist who wanted to make a record and he sung right there in the busy sidewalk for me to listen.

The song was called « Juke Joint Johnny ». I thought it was so good I gave him a contract and cut it that very afternoon. We went to a makeshift studio on Union Street. No one in the band knew the song except Lattie and his lead player, so to fill up the sound I told the engineer to bring the drums in as loud as possible to fill ut the sound of the piano.

The song “Juke Joint Johnny” hit the jukeboxes fast and good. I think this was about the first rock’n’roll record out of Nashville, and in these early days we didn’t know it. »

Lattie Moore cut 25 tracks for King over two periods : 1953-1956 and 1959-1963. The musicians on earliest recordings, made at the label’s own studio on Brewster Avenue in Cincinnati, included Zeke Turner (electric lead guitar), Don Helms, veteran member of Hank Williams’ Drifting Cowboys (steel), Tommy Jackson (fiddle) and Zeb Turner (rhythm guitar). They had as firm a grasp on the essentials of the honky-tonk genre as any musicians in Texas.

King dropped Lattie after six singles. He cut a flat-out rock’n’roll version of « Juke Joint Johnny » (as « Juke Box Johnnie ») for Arc Records in December 1956. On stage, however, he mined the mother lode ; Elvis and Little Richard were as important to his repertoire as Hank Williams and Ernest Tubb.

In 1958 Lattie joined Starday which had moved its HQ from Beaumont,Texas to a suburb of Nashville the previous year. « Don Pierce looked me up in Indianapolis, said Lattie ; He really wanted me on Starday. We cut « Why Did You Lie To Me » in Nashville in a studio that Floyd Robinson had in part of his house. Floyd played electric guitar and Benny Martin wrote it and played the acoustic flat-top guitar on it. » « Too Hot To Handle », Lattie’s second and last Starday single, was his take on Eddie Noack’s enduring and much-loved song.

In 1958 Lattie joined Starday which had moved its HQ from Beaumont,Texas to a suburb of Nashville the previous year. « Don Pierce looked me up in Indianapolis, said Lattie ; He really wanted me on Starday. We cut « Why Did You Lie To Me » in Nashville in a studio that Floyd Robinson had in part of his house. Floyd played electric guitar and Benny Martin wrote it and played the acoustic flat-top guitar on it. » « Too Hot To Handle », Lattie’s second and last Starday single, was his take on Eddie Noack’s enduring and much-loved song.

Derby Town LP (1982)

Leaving King for a second time, Lattie cut a good album and a single for Derbytown and a single for WPL. Eventually Lattie returned to Scottsville and worked in law enforcement for four years. He underwent laser surgery for throat cancer in 1986 and recovered from a quadruple heart bypass in 1999. Now, he says, he’s fine, and keeps fit walking 30 minutes every evening.

Sources: Bill Millar’s biography of Lattie Moore (Westside CD “I’m Not Broke, But I’m Badly Bent”, 2000); most labels from 45cat and 78worlds; music from various sources (e.g. YouTube or Gripsweat.com). Article originally published in September 2009, completely revised July 2019. The podcasts omitted second King period (1959-61), in my mind the poppiest-country sounding period of Lattie Moore.