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>.
In order to fully understand the Mar-Vel’ legacy, one must not only look at Harry and his vast body of work, but also consider the social and economic factors that were contributing or affecting the American culture during his most creative period. (The Northern life, Black migration, and Chess records) During the same time, Harry was recording the songs and emotions of Southern Whites, or « Hillbillies ».
One such area that acted as a magnetic force throughout the South was Calumet City. It was close to Chicago and at the same time had a reputation for being very open. As these newly transplanted Southerners arrived, more nightclubs sprung up. This environment enabled many musicians to support themselves by playing the music that they loved.
In 1955 Sisco cut “Honky Tonkin’ Rhythm” (Mar-Vel 111) at Chicago’s Universal Studios. 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. «Honky Tonkin’ Rhythm» really captures the true feeling of the era.. .slappin’ bass and wild steel guitar really set your feet a tappin’. The flipside, «Wrong Or Right» is a Hillbilly weeper, well in the style of the period.
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.“
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.”
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.
During the 1970’s Sisco headed his own company, Wesco, and made a slew of singles for that imprint. He promoted “Long Shaggy Hair” (Wesco 2107) on a show with Buford Pusser whose life story, “Walking Tall”, was filmed among the clubs and bars in Jackson where Sisco had played as a teenager.
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). This CD includes both sides of Chess 1650 (“Tall, Dark and Handsome Man” and “Go Go Go”), but they are also available on several other compilations. Biography by Dik De Heer (Black Cat Rockabilly Europe) (used by personal permission)
For over twenty years, the Slim Rhodes Show was an institution on Memphis radio. Starting out as a family group, the Rhodes maintained this characteristic through three generations despite a continually changing supporting cast.
Originally from Arkansas, James K. Rhodes formed a group called tte Log Cabin Mountaineers in Poplar Bluff, Missouri in 1936. At the core of the group were James’ three sons;: Ethel Cletus ‘Slim’ Rhodes, vocalist and guitarist ; Hillburn ‘Dusty’ Rhodes, vocalist and fiddle player ; and Gilbert ‘Speck’ Rhodes, bass player and comedian. The early group was completed by Dusty’s wife, Bea, a singer.
Slim was the eldest of the sons, born in 1913 in Pocahontas, Arkansas and the leader of the group. Working in Missouri – Arkansas border, the Log Cabin Mountaineers drew upon the sounds of Western swing emanating from Texas and the south west, together with the musical traditions of the Ozark mountains.
From the outset, though, the band was also a localised purveyror of prevailing music trends. Particularly after Slim gained a regular radio show on KWOC in Poplar Bluff in 1938, he came to recognize the value of balancing his natural feel for western swing with a responsiveness to public demand. Two decades later, Slim Rhodes’ Memphis recordings would form a chronological illustration of changing musical times in Memphs, from western swing to hillbilly to rock’n’roll.
The Rhodes band continued to operate as the Log Cabin Mountaineers during the early part of the 1940s, appearing not only on KWOC but on KLCN, Blytheville, Arkansas and KARK in Little Rock, Arkansas. Then, in 1944, the band joined WMC in Memphis and commenced a noontime country music show that ran almost daily until Slim’s death in 1966. For the latter half of this 22 year residency, the Rhodes Show also appeared n WMC TV and provided a platform for many aspiring local musicians. This experience came in useful when Speck later joined the nationally networked Porter Wagoner TV show out of Nashville in the 1970s and 1980s.
By the time they moved to Memphis, the Log Cabin Mountaineers had obtained the sponsorship of a floor company. They worked on WMC as the Mother’s Best Mountaineers. Their popularity increased through the 1940s to the point in 1950 when they were a natural target for Sam Phillips and his newly-opened recording enterprise.
Let’s take then the shortest possible digression from Slim Rhodes and his brothers, to introduce their guitarist : Brad Suggs (also called “Pee Wee”, “L.B.” or “Junior”) had his first professional affiliation with the Loden Family, around 1950. Sonny Loden, the later Sonny James, sang and played fiddle with the group. He wanted Suggs to go on the road with him, but Brad was married and had family obligations, so he chose not to.
Instead, he went to work with the Slim Rhodes band, once again joining a family group of musicians. Suggs played with them when he first got to Memphis until he went into the Army. They were going to send him to Korea, but he had two brothers who had already died in the war (Suggs came from a family of twelve), so he was allowed to stay Stateside. After his demob, probably in 1954, he went back to work for Slim Rhodes.
Suggs played guitar with the Rhodes band on all their Sun recordings, appearing as a featured vocalist on three of them in 1955-56: “Don’t Believe” (Sun 216), “Are You Ashamed Of Me” (Sun 225) and “Bad Girl” (Sun 238), all country ballads.
Like several other Sun alumni (Charlie Feathers, Malcolm Yelvington, Little Milton, Jimmy Haggett), Suggs also made a brief trip across town to record a rockabilly single for Lester Bihari’s Meteor label in 1956 (“Bop Baby Bop”/”Charcoal Suit”, Meteor 5034). But his true home territory was 706 Union Avenue. Brad hung around Sun a lot in those days. One thing led to another and he started doing studio work as a guitarist. Among the records he plays on are “Ubangi Stomp” by Warren Smith and “Hillbilly Music Is Here To Stay” by Jerry Lee Lewis.
WARREN SMITH (Sun 250, 1956)
Well I rocked over Italy and I rocked over Spain
I rocked in Memphis, it was all the same
Well, I rocked through Afrika and rolled of the ship
And seen them natives doin’ an odd lookin’ skip
I parted the weeds and looked over the swamp
Seen them cats doin’ the Ubangi-stomp
Ubangi-stomp with the rock and roll
Beats anything that you’ve ever been told
When it hits, it drives a cool cat wild
Well I looked up the chief, he invited me in
He said, a heep big jam session’s ’bout to begin
He handed me a tom-tom, I picked up that beat
That crazy thing sent shivers to my feet
I rocked and I rolled and I skipped with a smile
I done the Ubangi-stomp, Ubangi-style
Well we rocked all night and part of the day
Had a good rockin’ time with the chief’s daughter May
I was makin’ good time and a-gettin’ to know
Then the captain said son, we gotta go
I said that’s alright, you go right ahead
I’m gonna Ubangi-stomp ’till I roll over dead
Courtesy Black Cat Rockabilly Europe
Phillips recorded eight sides with the band under Slim’s name in 1950 for release on Gilt Edge Records of California. Concentrating on boogie and swing based styles, the Gilt Edge discs featured Slim and Dusty on vocals with fine fiddle and steel support spiced with energetic electric solos from Pee Wee Suggs.
In 1955, Sam Phillips recorded the Rhodes band again, this time for Sun. Despite a similar line-up to that of the Gilt-Edge era, the sound of the band was now much more hillbilly influenced. Subsequent sessions developed further, toward a rockabilly sound, and Slim’s vocalists changed from the swing balladeers (Slim, Dusty and Brad) to rockabillies like Sandy Brooks and Hayden Thompson (*).
1958. Perhaps Sandy Brooks on mike
Under the competition of a newer generation of rockabilly combos, Slim Rhodes soon found himself dropped from the Sun label. Although he did make several other recordings for labels like Cotton Town Jubilee, including an interesting promotional disc for Hart’s bread on the Hart’s label, Slim mainly concentrated on radio and TV work. New generations of the family came through, from sister Dot (who also recorded as Dottie Moore on King) to Slim’s niece Sandra Rhodes who at one time pursued a solo career with Fantasy Records, and sang as a backup singer on countless sessions at Hi Records.
The full story of the Rhodes band would take more space than is available here, and much more work remains to be done in interviewing members of the Rhodes band and fleshing out the contribution they made to country music in the mid-south. (Martin Hawkins, 1986)
(*) It is probably an error from Mr. Hawkins, as it is highly improbable that Hayden Thompson, out of Tupelo, MS., ever sang with Slim Rhodes.
Aknowledgements: Martin Hawkins (“Good Rockin’ Tonight”, book of 1996); generous use of 78worlds; music from various sources; Hillbilly-music.com for several details and pictures.
Try to find the 1996 CD on Gee-Dee
Discography of Slim Rhodes is available on the Praguefrank site: https://countrydiscography.blogspot.com/2011/02/slim-rhodes.html
My interest in Curly Griffin and his music stems from the time I started to collect Carl Perkins’ records and noticed the name Griffin as co-writer on ”Boppin the Blues” and ”Dixie Fried”. No information was available until the mid 1970’s when I purchased the single ”Rock Bottom Blues”/”Got Rockin’ On My Mind” that I brought with me when Erik Larsson and I met Carl Perkins at Hotell(sic) Windsor in Gothenburg in April 1977. Some information in this article comes from this meeting. When Rayburn Anthony toured Sweden in May 1993 I mentioned the name again and see, Curly’s son Ron had played the guitar in Rayburn’s band. I got the address to Ron who very kindly shared information and pictures for this little piece in a letter. Also Carl Perkins has made considerable contributions sharing memories about his old pal Curly.
Curly Griffin (crouching, left) and Carl Perkins (seated)
Malcolm Howard Griffin was born June 6, 1918 and his biggest musical influences came to be Bob Wills, Slim Whitman and of course also Hank Williams. Malcolm got the nick name “Curly” most likely because of his curly hair. He had bad eye-sight and his son Ron claims his father only had 10% vision, and most of his education took place in a school for blind people, where he also had lessons in fiddle playing. After his schooling was over he took up the guitar and started playing hillbilly and country music. He also had an interest in blues and pop. His poor vision made him trying to support himself as a musician as his handicap made it hard for him in other trades like carpenter and painter, but anyway Curly helped his father build some houses in the eastern parts of Jackson, Tennessee. Later, one of the streets was named Griffin Street. But it was as a musician Curly made a name for himself and over the years he had at least three different bands. His wife Helen, a good singer, was in two of them.
WDXI studio, Jackson, TN. Mid-’50s. Earl White (f), J.O.White (m), Curley Griffin (g), Bill Wallace (g), ? (steel), David (b)
Now over to Carl Perkins who tells us that he first met Curly at the radio station WDXI in Jackson, Tennessee where Curly and his band had a 15 minutes show. The same amount of time was also scheduled for Carl and his brothers Jay and Clayton. Also Ramsey Kearney who was very inspired by Eddy Arnold had a show here. Carl says Curly wasn’t the best of singers but he was very ambitious, something needed as his family was large consisting of wife Helen and children Patsy, Ron, Kenneth, William, Tommy and Don. Curly’s style was in the Hank Williams vein. Carl:
-About 1955 I moved down to Parkview Courts……………..anything with that Curly”.
It must have been around this time Curly recorded his first record. It was for the label Atomic Records owned by his father. Ron: “Curly´s father got into and was learning the record business with the Atomic label”. The recordings took place in Nashville (In 1955 according to the liner notes of Stomper Time CD 22) , probably in the RCA studio in Nashville, Tennessee and among the musicians were Chet Atkins on guitar and ’Lightning’ Chance on bass. The songs were the funny piece “Gotta whip this Bear” and “Just for me”. According to Ron Griffin the record only came out on 78 and Carl Perkins remembers a very excited Curly came over to his place to play him his record, and Carl did find it good.
Curly’s biggest moment as composer must have been when he came up with the line “Boppin’ the Blues” that he presented to Carl who immediately went for it, Carl:
-“Boppin’ the Blues”, he had the title….after “Blue Suede Shoes”.
The record (Sun 243) thus became the follow up for ”Blue Suede Shoes” and was a decent hit peaking at the ninth place in the country charts. The song was published by Hi-Lo Music owned by Sam Phillips. Carl again:
-I remember that after “Boppin’ the Blues” came out………………that was happening then.
But Carl being a kind human being gave Curly a couple of hundred dollars in advance, but one can wonder with hindsight if Curly ever got any money at all from Sam and Hi-Lo Music. Back to Carl:
-Then, I don’t remember, probably……………………………I picked out a line or two that he had.
The song “Dixie Fried” has really became a classic tune and the follow up to “Boppin’ the Blues”. Many have recorded the song but no version matches Carl’s original recording.
If we return to Curly’s own records the next was “I’ve seen it All”/”Magic of the Moon” on Atomic 302 (probably from 1955). Top side is a fast hillbilly tune, while the flip is a standard fare country ballad with a waltz beat. We have no information about the musicians but the tracks to us sound like they’d been recorded before the breakthrough of Rockabilly, but we may be mistaken. On “I’ve Seen It All”, the guitar player sounds very much like Carl Perkins though.
Then came Atomic 303 in 1956 with “You Gotta Play Fair”/”Love is a wonderful Thing” [untraced, probably a slowie] and we have no information here either. “..Play Fair” is again a fast Rockabilly, strong and romping, but there is no aural evidence of the typical Carl Perkins’ playing style.
We have more information, albeit contra dictionary on Curly’s fourth and last platter, ”Got Rockin’ on my Mind”/”Rock Bottom Blues” on Atomic 305 from early 1957. In an interview Carl Perkins claimed it was recorded at the radio station WDXI in Jackson Tennessee with himself, Clayton and Jay B playing as well as an unknown piano player. Also drums are audible. In the middle of the piano solo Curly shouts something like “Aw, get it blue sueders” and “Blue Suedes” was the moniker Carl used for his group at that time (1956-1957. When I (Claes-Håkan) asked Ron if Carl ever played with Curly he wrote that:
-They might have played a gig together and some jam sessions but I played guitar for him on his recordings (except for the first) and as his band guitarist after his second band. If he (Carl) ever worked on a recording, I’m unaware of it.
We find Ron’s statement more likely to be true, as the band playing doesn’t sound much like Carl and his band and to get more evidence Claes-Håkan called W.S. Holland, the drummer for Carl in the 50’s before he joined Carl Mann’s band and later proceeded to Johnny Cash as a member of the Tennessee Three. When asked if he ever played with Curly W, S. replied:
-I’ll be damned. I’ve lived in Jackson all my life, I knew Curly and I know Ron, but I never knew that Curly made a record, and here’s a guy calling me from Sweden telling me this.
But in the letter from 1993/1994 Ron is totally unaware of Atomic 302 and 303 and only states he played guitar on “Rock bottom blues” and “Got rockin’ on my mind” leaving us with the possibility that Carl and his brothers (sans Holland) played on any or all of these tracks and in fact “You Gotta play fair” sounds a little like Carl, but maybe it’s just wishful thinking.
Curly’s also written two tunes, “Blue River” and “I’m Writing The End”, which were recorded by Jerry Jeter on Fort Worth, TX. Bluebonnet label (# 701) in 1959. Furthermore Curly (as Howard Griffin) composed both sides of Tony Snider’s “They call it Puppy Love”/“Fool for Jealousy” on Jackson, TN Westwood label (# 203). He also wrote “Traded My Freedom” for Rex Hale (Atomic 307).
One can argue that Curly’s musical career is no more than a foot note in the annals of Rockabilly and Country and Western, but an important one none the less being involved in the composing of two of Carl Perkins’ classical tracks ”Boppin’ the Blues” and ”Dixie Fried”. Howard Griffin has 16 songs registered at BMI. See below.
Curly died in 1970 after losing a long battle with cancer and we leave the final words to Ron who wrote:
-He believed in his family, songs and music. Everyone who knew him learned and benefitted from his life. The family thanks you for the chance to tell some of his story. Atomic 300 Gotta whip this bear/Just for me
Curly-vocal and guitar, Chet Atkins-lead guitar, Lightning Chance-upright bass
Atomic 302 I’ve seen it all/Magic of the moon
Curly-vocal and guitar
Atomic 303 You gotta pay fair/Love is a wonderful thing
Curly-vocal and guitar
Atomic 305 Got rockin’ on my mind/Rock bottom blues
Curly-vocal and guitar, Ron Griffin-lead guitar
The songs below are the ones registered at BMI on August 15, 2018 as by Curly, as sole or shared author. Strangely, “Just for me” from Atomic 300 is not registered.
Blue River (or Blue River Belle); Boppin’ The Blues; Dixie Fried; Fool For Jealousy; Foothills Of The Smokies; Got Rockin’ On My Mind; Gotta Whip This Bear; I’m Writing The End; I Traded My Freedom; I’ve Seen It All; Love Bug Blues; Magic Of The Moon; Rock Bottom Blues; Tennessee Moonlight; They Call It Puppy Love; You Gotta Play Fair; and the non-registered “Just For Me”.
Sources: Original article by Claes-Håkan Olofsson 1994 (in Sweden’s American Music Magazine # 62) with support from Bo Berglind. English translation, additions and slight editing by Erik Petersson 2018. Photos by Ron Griffin. Used by permission from AMM editor Bo Berglind. Sincere thanks to all of them, and more precisely to Erik Petersson (“Magic Of The Moon” soundfile) and Germany’s own Ronald Keppner for “Just For Me” soundfile.
Born Noble F. Stover on Nov. 16, 1928 in Huntsville, TX, Smokey had his own band and was playing the honky tonks of Texas at 16. In 1949, a new radio station went on the air in Pasadena, TX where he landed his first deejaying job at KLVL-AM, an on-the-air learning experience. A year later, KRCT-AM in Baytown, TX lured him away. Over the next year, Smokey’s show became so popular, the station changed their format to country and hired two more deejays. Meanwhile late 1951, backed by his band, The Stampede Wranglers, he cut his first sides for the Kemah, TX Stampede label (# 101)[Galveston Cty, Houston vicinity] : « I’m planting a rose/It’s the natural thing », two good boppers – side A is mid-paced, side B is a fine Hank Williams inspired Honky tonker. Of course this label was that of a future promising Rockabilly & Country performer, Glen Barber. Imperial picked the Stampede masters up and reissued them (Imperial 8141) in December 1951. According to Michel Ruppli, the fiddler was Sleepy Short.
In 1954, he moved on to KBRZ-AM in Freeport, TX where he stayed for three years except for a six-month interval in 1956 when he helped launch KLOS in Albuquerque, NM.
In the meantime he was signed by producer J.D. Miller out of Crowley, La. on his Feature label, and recorded two songs, among them the better side was « Go on and leave my baby alone », a fine uptempo with great steel a la Don Helms (Drifting Cowboys’ member). Flipside is a quieter mid-paced ballad, « That’s how true my love is for you »
The initial pressing order by J. D. Miller (dated January 1954) for “Go on and leave my baby alone” was for 800 78s and 500 45s – rather more than Miller’s usual order. Fiddle and guitar are by Doug and Rusty Kershaw respectively (later cutting records on Hickory on their own right), with steel guitar by Louis Fourneret.
Later he became a well-known Texas D.J., remembered by Eddie Noack as having played Elvis Presley’s first Sun release twenty times a day! He had a fan-club in Baytown, Texas, in 1954 and two years later had a show, “Smokey’s Big Stampede” on KRBZ, Freeport, Texas, switching to KVET Austin later in the same year
Circa May 1955, Stover entered the Starday studio in Beaumont, TX, and recorded two songs in the same pattern as the previous ones : once more a mix of slow and fast sides. The A side «You wouldn’t kid me, would you » is the good bopping one ; now the B side was a ballad, on a theme that seemed to please him, because he made another version of «It’s easier said than done » 4 years later on Ol’Podner. “You wouldn’t kid me, would you, baby“
In 1958, he moved to KCIJ-AM in Shreveport, LA to be near the Louisiana Hayride, hoping the move would push his singing career. Seven months later, the station changed owners who brought in their own deejays. With the help of a friend, Claude Gray, Smokey found a job at WDAL in Meridian, MS where he stayed until late 1959 when he received a call from his old Freeport boss, Ken Ferguson. Ken was opening KMOP in Tucson, AZ and wanted Smokey to be his sign-on man. Smokey hit the airwaves there in Jan. 1960 and remained there for eight years when he took a couple of years out to concentrate on his singing and songwriting.
In the meantime (1959), he recorded 6 sides for the small Ol’Podner label located in Lake Jackson, TX. All these sides are pretty traditional for the era (fiddle omnipresent). Stover’s voice reminds one at times of Eddie Noack, while « Ballad of Jimmy Hoffa » is a rocker sung in duet, like George Jones’ « White lightning ».”My building of dreams” is another song to watch.
Other songs during the ’60s are more and more country-pop oriented, and one can retain the better ones, like «One thing in common » (Sims 172), or the fine Indian country-rocker « On the warpath » (Toppa 1061) from 1962, and « I want the cake, not the crumbs » (Boyd 153) . His most elusive record was made for Na-R-Co (# 105) and « Remember me/This hurt inside me ». He succeed as a songwriter when George Jones in 1962 chose his « Sometimes you just can’t win » he had already cut on Toppa #1061.
On Jan. 1, 1970, Smokey went back on the air at KRZE in Farmington, NM. A year-and-a-half later, his mother’s illness forced him back to Houston, TX. He more or less retired from radio then until 1992 when a friend built a new station, KVST in Conroe/Huntsville, TX. Smokey went on the air there in early 1993 and ran a midnight ’til 6 am show for a year until it “got old” and he re-retired. In 1995, Ernie Ashworth lured him to Gallatin, TN to get the “Country Classic” station of WYXE off the ground. Smokey enjoyed romping and stomping with the Oldies for about eight months when he hung it up and returned to his native Texas where he’s retired from radio, but still pickin’ and singin’ every weekend. His latest recording is titled, « I May Be Getting Older, But I Ain’t Stopped Thinking Young ». Also Eagle in Germany issued a White rocker « Let’s have a ball » by him, but I doubt he ever cut this song. You can judge by yourself.
Opal Jean Amburgey (Jean Chapel aka. “Mattie” O’Neil-Holmes-Calogne) was born on March 6, 1925, the youngest of three girls, born in Letcher County, Ky. At the age of 10, Jean wanted to pick and play like her father and grandfather. Her first instrument was the mandolin. “She tuned that mandolin to make it sound like a banjo,” Minnie says, “and with your eyes closed you have thought it was a banjo.” The banjo was a favorite instrument for Jean, but money to buy one with was in short supply during the depression era. Her father made a considerable sacrifice by selling some of his carpentry tools to get money for a banjo.??In 1936, at age 11, Jean began her singing career with her two older sisters in the Sunshine Sisters Band. After two years of daily practice and countless public performances, the highly polished Sunshine Sisters were in great demand.At age 13, Jean would leave home with older sister, Minnie, 18; and sister, Martha,17; to perform daily at WLAP radio in Lexington, Kentucky. They would stay with the station for almost a year. Even at this young age, “She was the star,” says older sister, Minnie. “She sang lead on most of our songs; she had quite the personality.” At age 15, Jean had already performed at literally hundreds of shows, appeared daily on radio stations, sang on barn dances, became a member of the Coon Creek Girls, and was about to begin what she would be most remembered for–WRITING SONGS! When Jean passed away in 1995, she had written well over 400 songs with more than 170 songs recorded and released by major artists such as: George Jones, Jerry Wallace, Eddy Arnold, Hank Snow, George Morgan, Rosemary Clooney, Dean Martin, Jim Reeves, Patsy Cline, Kitty Wells, Connie Smith, Roy Rogers, and Sonny James, just to mention a few.
The Country Music Association would nominate Jean’s 1973 hit “To Get To You” as one of the top five songs in the country that year. Jean held seven BMI song writing awards for her song writing abilities. However, her song writing should not be overshadow the rest of her amazing career. As music historian Robert Oermann says “her saga encompasses virtually every major development in country music’s history – string bands, radio barn dances, television, rockabilly, and the Nashville Sound.” At age 15, “Jean could play anything with strings,” remembers Minnie. The three sisters would move to WSB Radio in Atlanta to set up a barn dance program under the direction of John Lair. Here, Lair would change the Sunshine Sisters’ names to Minnie, Mattie, and Marthy. Jean would take the name “Mattie” and use this name on and off throughout her singing and song writing career. For the next 10 years, Jean would move around from WSB in Atlanta, to WLW in Cincinnati, to the Renfro Valley Barn Dance, to the Grand Ole Opry.
In 1947, Jean would marry Salty(Floyd) Holmes, an original Prairie Ramblers Band member, and a truly great entertainer of his day. The two would appear numerous times on the Grand Ole Opry as “Mattie and Salty” throughout their career.
In 1957, she sang « Ooh-ba La Baby » for the film « Untamed Youth ». A divorce, in 1956, from Salty Holmes would lead Jean to slow her recording career and begin more concentration on writing throughout the 60’s. Before long, dozens of Nashville artists were recording her works. The 1970’s would find Jean excelling as a songwriter and writing some of her biggest hits. Daughter Lana would also become a song writer with songs like, “Sweet Marilyn” recorded by Eddy Arnold; “Hemp Hill KY.” recorded by Hensen Cargill; “Kentucky Ridge Runner” cut by Lester Flatt; and “It’s For My Dad” recorded by Nancy Sinatra.Jean passed away in 1995. She had two children, Kenny Woodruff and Lana Holmes (Chapel). Her songs are still remembered by countless people, click here to see a list.
Special mention needs to be given to Floyd “Salty” Holmes, Jean’s former husband and partner on the Grand Ole Opry. Together, these two entertained thousands across television, radio, and personal concert appearances.
Individually, Salty had a long illustrious past of his own in the entertainment field. Born on March 6, 1909 in Glasgow, Kentucky, Salty was a harmonica “virtuoso” but could also play the jug and the guitar with great talent.
His band, the Kentucky Ramblers, were legendary forming back in 1930. By 1933 The band was playing over WLS Chicago under the name “The Prairie Ramblers.” They hired a new girl, Patsy Montana, to sing with them. Historian, Robert Oermann says about the band, “one of the hottest, jazziest, most accomplished string bands in the history of country music.”
At WLS in Chicago, Salty would become good friends with Gene Autry, Tex Ritter, and Red Foley. 1936 would find Salty and Gene Autry heading for Hollywood to make movies, and then a return trip in 1944. Salty would appear in several B-western movies such as: Arizona Days with Tex Ritter; Sagebrush Hero with Charles Starret; and Saddle Leather Law with Charles Starret.
From 1933-40, The Prairie Ramblers would cut over 100 sessions for Gene Autry and Patsy Montana. They appeared throughout the country with Patsy performing daily at many matinees.
Salty Holmes (with Joe Maphis) “Cannon Ball Special”
Salty and Jean Chapel were married in 1947 until 1956. His career in radio carried him from Chicago, to New York, to Davenport, to Cincinnati, to the Grand Old Opry. In the 50’s, Salty appeared in Las Vegas at the Showboat and the Sahara club in Reno, Nevada.
Floyd passed away in 1971 at Elwood, Indiana.
(biography from Don Chapel, All Music). Additions by bopping’s editor.
Sources: 78rpm-worlds (Ronald Keppner, as usual – many thanks to him), also “45stalker”; Notes and music from Cattle CD 289
The Howington Brothers (Charles « Dub », lead guitar and Roy, bass) were a Washington D.C. act which was signed by Mrs. Lillian Clayborne on his D.C. label. D.C. did mean at the same time ‘District of Columbia’ and ‘D'[for Haskell Davis, publisher]- ‘C'[for Lillian Clayborne, owner of D.C. Records]. Between 1948 and 1950, they cut a dozen sides collector Phillip Tricker called ‘corny’, under the name « HOWINGTON BROTHERS with Their Tennessee Haymakers ». Two of them were issued moreover on the giant Atlantic Records R&B outlet of NYC, and two more on Loop Records, possibly a sublabel to D.C. Their personnel is not entirely known, but consisted of Brownie Galloway on guitar, and a young Jimmy Dean on accordion, plus Herbie Jones on rhythm guitar and George Saslaw (unknown instrument, but steel and mandolin are present on their discs). Later on they went to Decca and Quincy, and even backed George Saslaw on a 60’s Western disc. They came during a burgeoning East Coast Hillbilly scene during 1944-46, which saw WFIL, a powerful Philadelphia station, launch very late 1944 the Saturday night « Hayloft Jamboree » : an immediate success, so much so that American Broadcasting System approached WHIL and they broadcast from mid-1945 the show from coast to coast.
Actually it may well be that Ivin Balle, boss of Gotham, recorded the Howingtons in Philadelphia, then leased the masters to Mrs. Clayborne, according to Phillip Tricker, and the mention on DC 4102A.
A good amount of the Howington Brothers material was made of instrumentals, but vocal duties were shared between Dub and Roy. First D.C. issue by them was a novelty, « Roll The Patrol » (next to the curb, ’cause grandma can’t step that high), which was well received in late 1948 (DC # 4102). This song may well have been connected to another WFIL programme, on an all night hillbilly show called « The Dawn Patrol ». Could it have been used as the theme music ? B-side is a fast « Dub’s Polka », an instrumental showcasing Dub’s agility on guitar, then young Jimmy Dean’s shining on accordion.
We found the Howington Brothers on a Loop release (# 903) from 1949, which seems to be a sublabel to D.C. They do a terrific instrumental, « Haymaker’s Shuffle » and a Roy Howington vocal (« and His Rhythm Boys , Chuck Frazer, Solo Guitar ») (a forgettable weeper) on «A Wondeful Dream ».
The next pairing was issued in May 1952 (but obviously recorded much earlier) and saw « Our Shotgun Weddin’ Day », a great, fast Hillbilly bop opus issued on DC # 4114 (vocal by Roy Howington). Reverse side is another instrumental, aptly named « Easy Pickin’ ». Meanwhile I found a snippet in Billboard mentioning an issue on Loop 4113 with « Haymaker’s Shuffle » and « Hillbilly Wolf », but couldn’t find more details, nor the music or labels. It’s well worth noting that Billy Strickland cut in 1949 on Sylvan (reissued on Regal 5067) a song called « Hillbilly Wolf », written by ‘[Ben] Adelman’, who was the direct partner in Washington of Mrs. Clayborne ; so the link is, albeit tenuous, an interesting one.
Dub Howington is noted in a snippet of the ‘Journal of Country Music‘ (1987) as entertaining New Year’s Eve 1951 : «Dub Howington and the Tennessee Haymakers. The show was aired regionally as part of the Gunther network and, along with Gunther Beer, the show was sponsored by Otho Williams’ Buick and L&M cigarettes. There’s no doubt that for country music, for dancing, drinking, and chasing skirts (or jeans), the place to be on Saturday night was Turner’s Arena »
We jump to 1953, and the recording session the Howington Brothers had in Nashville (July 19) for Decca Records, which provided 4 tunes, 4 Hillbilly Boppers of very high standard : « Tennessee Rooster Fight » has, as awaited, roosters cock-a-doodling and a-hooping, while the fast « Two Faced » goes on with hillbilly humor (great guitar and fiddle) (Decca # 28550). The remaining two sides of the session, « I Got Mine » and « Should I Shoud, should I Shouldn’t » keep the same format, and are equally good boppers (Decca # 29225).
Next record the Howingtons were involved in is that of Luke Gordon singing « Goin’ Crazy » (L&C 550, later reissued with the same # on Starday) ; not suprisingly, since they were Washingtonians and relocated in Virginia (Bristol – see the Billboard snippet on left), and Gordon was a Virginian. Luke
served in the US. Army during the Korean conflict and upon his discharge in 1953 headed for Norfolk, Virginia. After a stint in Tennessee he returned to Virginia and the Washington D.C. area to work with fiddler Homer ‘Curley’ Smith at radio station WGAY, Silver Springs, Maryland and do personal appearances. Curley set up a number of recording sessions for Luke with Ben Adelman and the result was released on L & C and Starday during 1956. Dub Howington played lead on «Goin’ Crazy» ; other members however of the « Tennessee Haymakers » as shown on the label were stranger to original Haymakers. The Luke Gordon “official” site quotes Buzz Busby (mandolin – absolutely inaudible), Homer ‘Curley’ Smith (fiddle), Don West (steel) and Jimmy Stoneman (st-bass). I am propounding in contrary the following personnel: Dub Howington on lead-guitar, George Saslaw on steel, Roy Howington on string bass, and of course ‘Curley’ Smith on fiddle, obviously not forgetting Luke Gordon on singing and rhythm guitar. The session could have been held on April 16, 1955. The reverse side has nothing to do however with the Tennessee Haymakers.
Howington and Gordon joined the newly formed Washington D.C. Saturday night show (aired by WMAL radio station) and guested regularly with Jimmy Dean, already signed to 4-Star Records.
Then Dub Howington did follow Luke Gordon on his own Quincy label, out of the same name town in Kentucky, and cut (in Cincinnati?): «Road Of Heartaches» (this was a revamp of the unissued Atlantic recording of 8 years before) and «Don’t Play With Love» (which had already been used a first time on D.C. 4107). Former tune was a good medium bopper, while the latter was a Rockabilly of high octane. The Howingtons were recycling old material into new stuff! The Quincy 45′ (# 934) is sold between $ 100-125, according to Barry K. John’s book.
Dub Howington also backed Luke Gordon on his second Quincy issue (# 933) coupling two fine boppers, « TheFool That I Am » and « Mustache On A Cabbage head » both cut in 1958, but was not involved in the B-side of the L&C 550 « Don’t Cramp My Style ».
After this last single, I am losing the track of the Howington Brothers. Quite a fair achievement after a 25 years long career.
Sources : mainly DC, Loop and Decca files (sound and scans) from Ronald Keppner’s collection – thanks to him for the care taken at copying those rare records out of his huge and precious collection. Even the odd cassette replacing a broken 78rpm ! The rest does come from my researches and archives. Personal pictures taken from the net or a past Blues & Rhythm magazine issue. Of great help was also the site devoted to Luke Gordon: http://www.hankwilliamslistings.com/ind-lug4.htm, even if I disagree with some details. Any comment or addition/correction welcome!