James Arthur « Jimmie Heap » (later Jimmy) was born March 3rd, 1922 in Taylor, Tx. He died at only 55 on December 3rd, 1977, on account of a boat accident in Lake Buchanan. His corpse was rescued only one day after.
Jimmie’s career did begin shortly after discharge from U.S.A.F. during WWII, more exactly said in 1947. Arlie Carter (piano), Horace Barnett (rhythm guitar), “Big” Bill Glendenings (bass) and Louis Renson (or Rencon) (fiddle), all belonged to the Melody Masters right from the start. Later they were joined by Cecil R. “Butterball” Harris (steel-guitar). Indeed Jimmie Heap was on vocal and lead guitar.
With appearances on radio KTAE (from 1948 to 1956) and in clubs, they were always fully booked up. A Barnett composition about a club they were frequently playing at, “Dessau Hall Waltz” soon found the interest of Lasso Records, who cut the band during the Spring of 1948. Their first singles appeared therefore on this tiny label. They even had leased masters on 4 Star, wrongly credited to « Dolores & Blue Bonnet Boys ».
In 1949 they signed a recording contract with Lew Chudd for Imperial Records, at that time still rather regional a label from Hollywood, which had been releasing only Mexican or polka music until then.
Possibly at this time Houston ‘Perk’ Williams (1926-1993) was aggregated to the Masters which led him to leave his own band and his own radio show in Bryan and should substitute fiddler Louis Renson. Williams was exclusive fiddler and had never tried out himself as a singer. After their first single, “Today, Tonight And Tomorrow” hit rather well, he entered service with most subsequent sessions furthermore as a singer.
Jimmie did not like particularly that his records could not reach by the regional restrictions of Imperial to the bigger fame. From his and Carter’s pen came however » Haunted Hungry Heart » a success later for the label colleague Slim Whitman.
In » Wild Side Of Life » likewise was involved Carter as an author. The original found relatively little attention. Also a revised » version » with added instruments was not suitable to tie on, even in the most distant to Hank Thompson’s which should become the ultimate hit of 1952 (19 weeks in Billboard’s C&W Top ten). It was Hank also who persuaded Nelson to take Jimmie under contract, because it was Jimmie’s recommendation to Hank to take up this title. In the meantime, without doubt because they were still under contract with Imperial, Heap and the masters issued 4 sides on the small Empire label, under a pseudonym. Just who is the composer, Bert Haney, is unknown.
On November 17, 1951 the first Capitol session took place in the University of Texas in Austin. Up to December 12, 1955 followed 9 other sessions in Austin and at other places. At least 32 tunes were published out of 37 recordings for Capitol. Indeed, merely one title reached the charts – namely » Release Me “. It reached at place 5 in 1954 and the single sold, in the end, more than 700000.
With the move to Rock’n’Roll the repertoire and the instrumentation of the Masters also changed; thus George Harrison came as a drummer. Perk lost at this time his wife by car accident. This had shaken him so deeply that he never taken this event. Besides, he resigned himself in with the change to rock, because it was not his world. This is why he left the Masters and tried for himself, but, unfortunately, the success cannot be repeated. After the contract with Capitol was dissolved by mutual agreement at the end of the year of 1955, Jimmie founded his own label with the name Fame.
Occasionally he took on Big Band and Slim Willet’s Winston labels. It seems that with the Fame label the final change from Jimmie took place to Jimmy (maybe the sign of the beginning of a new era).
Jimmie had a really good feel for the choice of repertoire, for human guidance, for adaptation to the change of the time, for the companies or his own record label. He cut rockabilly and rock’n’roll on Fame, D, Dart labelsduring the late ’50s and early ’60s, with various vocalists: Bill Taylor and Ken Idaho for example.
He pursued work on radio KTAE, Taylor, Tx, then on KRLD in Dallas (the “Big D Jamboree”) or KTBC-TV in Austin, and numerous albums until he disbanded the Melody Masters in July 1977, shortly before his death.
(biography translated from German notes of Cattle 328 “The Wild Side Of Life (1948-1951)”
A note about Jimmie Heap’s music (by bopping’s editor)
It is of constantly high standard, fine Honky tonk music from Texas. Perk Williams’ fiddle well to the fore and always Butterball Harris nice steel backing. Heap is not a bad guitar player at all. Perk Williams has a throat voice, very impressive. He can even holler at times (“That’s That” or “Cat’n Around”).
A good 2/3 of the Melody Masters tunes are ballads, and most of them written by the band’s members. The ballads are well sung and convincing. If I appreciate them, I have a preference for the rompers, “Morning, Noon And Night”, “Ethyl In My Gas Tank (No Gal In My Arms”), “That’s That”, “Heap Of Boogie” – a nice medium paced instrumental – the very fine rendition of the old Harry Choates’ classic “Cat’n Around” (also done by Charlie Adams) or “Go Ahead On”, a nearly Rocker from 1955. Thus I have not heard “Honky Tonkin’ Women” on Imperial. Flash: I have just downloaded (Feb. 8) from the excellent Andrew Brown’s wired-for-sound.blogspot « Honky Tonkin’ Women« , and it’s par to other band’s tunes. Great assured Perk Williams vocals about this way of life, fine Butterball Harris steel-guitar throughout (he takes two solos), and the whole band romps along on a medium pace. A good disc.
The Imperial sides are more crude and loose than the Capitols, surely polished under the direction of Ken Nelson. A perfect example is given by « Ethyl In My Gas Tank ». Heap first recorded it for Imperial (8089) in 1950. Nelson loved so much the song that he had Heap re-record it four years later for Capitol, in a more laid-out style, even with some pop overtones. Perk Williams (vocalist and fiddler) was very important in the Melody Masters: every Capitol issue bear his name along with Jimmie Heap’s, in same capital letters.
Thanks to Dick Grant, Dennis Flannagan,Tony Biggs and Udo Frank for providing me with many pictures and label scans.
Addition (March 6th, 2013): a Miz. Linda Rincon Lopez wrote me that: « Your article is incorrect about the original fiddle player. My father, LOUIE RINCON, also from Taylor, was the original fiddle player for Jimmy Heap & The Melody Masters. If you will look at earlier pictures of him, he is the Mexican fiddler player. He also is the one who named the band, The Melody Masters. « . So I never told Perk Williams was the original fiddle player…If you read the article from the start, there is mention of a LOUIS RENCON. Also this lady sent me the following message: « I would like to buy any tapes, records, pictures, etc, of Jimmy Heap that were made prior to Perk Williams taking my father, Louie Rincon (the original fiddle player who named The Melody Masters) place with the band. I can be reached at email@example.com or can be contacted at 254-466-9905. »