DAFFAN records (1955-1958) (from Kevin Coffey’s notes to “The Daffan Records  story”, Bear Family BCD 15878, 1995)

Ted Daffan
Ted Daffan was at a crossroads both in his life and his career in the fall of 1955.

His days as a best seller for Columbia were behind him, his last recent big hit was as recent as 1950: “I”ve Got Five Dollars And It’s Saturday Night”. He’d had a decade of enormous success following his 1941 departure from Houston’s Bar X Cowboys to form his Texans. (…)  He found himself back where he started in 1952, teamed for a time with old buddy Jerry Irby, who had also fallen on hard times (see elsewhere in the site for Jerry Irby’s story). By 1955, he’s reached a seeming standstill.

He had recently purchased the house and recording studio on Robert E. Lee street from Floyd Tilllman. (…) Eddie Noack sought him out that fall: he had written the somewhat uncharacteristic “These hands”, but could get no one interested in doing anything with it.

“I knew it was a hit”, said Daffan. “I couldn’t get anybody to record it.” So Daffan put together a studio band, brought in vocalist Jerry Jericho – and Daffan Records was born.

It was actually a partnership between Daffan and the late Herman Shoss, an old friend from high school days who played first violin in the Houston Symphony. Both they were part of the ‘house’ band that Daffan had put together for recording sessions, a band rounded up with old cohorts Buddy Buller on lead guitar and Lew Frisby on bass. Buller had been part of Daffan’s first band in 1933 and had lent his solid, distinctive lead guitar to all of Daffan’s prewar sessions; Frisby was one of the ‘hillbillies’ Daffan had joined in the Blue Ridge Playboys in 1934. He was later a long-time member of Floyd Tillman’s backing band and a busy recording session player, as well. Daffan added pianist Pete Burke, another veteran who had played with the Blue Ridge Playboys, the Bar X Cowboys and Jerry Irby’s Texas Ranchers. Daffan himself would alternate between steel guitar and baritone ukulele. He decided against using drums on his sessions (…) and his unusually but highly rhythmic uke adds a distinctive touch to many sides. “I’m a pretty good rhythm man,” he says. “My success was due to my ability to set up jazz patterns…That’s why I played ukulele. You can get great rhythm out of it.”

The combination of sounds – Daffan’s distinctively thin-toned steel or catchy baritone uke rhythm; the graceful violin of Shoss; the tasty jazz guitar of Buller; the unmistakable whorehouse piano of Burke – was singular, sparse and clean, all qualities that were trademarks of Ted Daffan. If Schoss’s violin sometimes defeated a song’s momentum – it felt particularly out of place on the uptempo Irby sides – its unintentional evocation of turn-of-the-century parlor romance sometimes actually worked to a performance’s advantage (at times it blended well with some of the old-fashioned qualities of Jericho’s voice, for example). “It’s funny,” says Daffan. “He could play first violin in the Houston Symphony but couldn’t quite cut country.” On the other hand, Buddy Buller’s excellent and sophisticated guitar work strengthened every session. Sadly, this underrated musicians’s best work with Daffan, recorded in Hollywood in 1942, remains for the most part unissued.

Daffan made interesting choices, too, in the artists he chose to record, recruiting seasoned vets rather than untried up-and-comers, until he recorded William Penix in 1958. (…) The fact that singers Irby, Jericho and McBride also played their own rhythm accompaniment was a plus. “That way, I saved a musician.”

The first Daffan Records releases, Jericho’s These Hands and the Daffan/Irby Tangled Mind, were successful beyond Daffan’s wildest expectations: both hit big regionally.(…) Unfortunately, when he could get distribution, Daffan could rarely get payment for records delivered. (…) Daffan’s hopes of leasing his masters to bigger labels were thwarted when those labels simply covered the songs: Hank Snow hit big with both These Hands and Tangled Mind. (…) By the end of 1957, Daffan had given up. He accepted an offer to go to Nashville to work with Hank Snow in a publishing venture. He revived his label out of frustration briefly later in the year, when he found and recorded William Penix, a singer-songwriter he felt had potential to be “another Hank Williams”, but couldn’t find a label interested in the sides. (…) He issued a second Penix release in ’62, then there was a flurry in the mid-sixties (Margaret Elliott, Johnny Bundrick) followed by a last try, with the Pickering Brothers (who were “The Picks” on the overdubbed Buddy Holly sessions in Clovis, NM) in 1971.

No comment about the tunes: honest Texas honky-tonk music from the mid-50s. Don’t miss anyway Fido’s “Trifling Heart”: just about one of the best ever boppers ever cut!

    Ted Daffan

Jerry Irby