GET WITH THE BEAT – The Mar-Vel’ Masters – A Lost Decade to American Rock and Roll (Rykodisc, ,1989) – notes by Carl Schneider
My first meeting with Harry Glenn back in 1976 was strictly accidental. I happened to be working on a project that required a short trip to Dyer, Indiana. After completing my stop, I spotted a curious-looking van that was topped with a set of loudspeakers and plastered with posters announcing such crazy records as « Moon Twist » and « Purty Girls Are Purty ». I couldn’t believe my eyes. So I sat down on the curb, hoping that the owner of this strange vehicle would return shortly.
He did, and after a brief introduction, I would up spending the wildest evening sitting in his van behind a drug store, listening to dozens of songs I had never heard before – and buying them like mad !
That was the start of what was to become a long, exciting, and prosperous relationship for both of us. Not only did Harry and I work on a number of musically related projects, such as reissuing original masters and DJ-ing a radio show, but our lifelong friendship included many other dimensions as well.
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. (…)
Harry was born in Bald Knob, Indiana, in 1917, and came from a poor farm family of eight children. Although he lacked a great deal of formal education, he always had an insatiable desire to write. His first efforts were poems. He later progressed to putting melodies and music to his words. (…) 1949, he set up Mar-Vel’ records to promote his songs. Mar-Vel’ soon became one of the most prolific independants in the Midwest : following first release in 1949, over the next 17 years Harry produced more than 140 78’s and 45’s. His work ranged from Western Swing to Rockabilly and beyond.
Harry Glenn’s unorthodox ideas and methods of promotion were always one of the unique features of the Mar-Vel’ story. Despite the fact that the Mar-Vel’ label had a system of distributors set up throughout the States, Harry nonetheless continued to personally promote his releases in a carnival-like manner. As late as the mid-60’s, he was loading his car up with records and traveling from town to town with his set of loudspeakers trying to persuade all those who would listen that his recordings were a must. But the big break never came. Despite some early successes, a few regional hits, and the great local popularity that the Mar-Vel’ artists enjoyed, national recognition and its financial rewards always eluded the label. On with the artists !
One of the most prolific writers on the Mar-Vel’ label was BILLY HALL. He cut his first sides for the label in 1955 after traveling North from Metropolis, Illinois. (see further « Let Me Love You« , « Move Over Rover » and « Shootin’ Pool » from 1956)
BOBBY SISCO’s « Honky Tonkin’ Rhythm » really captures the true feeling of the era.. .slappin’ bass and wild steel guitar really set your feet a tappin’. One can find also his work on Chess (the Rockabilly classic « Tall, Dark And Handsome Man », later copied by Chuck Berry, as « Brown Eyed Handsome Man »), Vee-Jay, Wesco and Brave.
HAROLD ALLEN, who came North from Talladega, Alabama, wrote a couple of great numbers with his friend and sidekick, J. T. WATTS. Their first release, « I’m Setting You Free », became quite a success.
HERBIE DUNCAN’s « Hot Lips Baby » is a collector’s item. Harry recorded Herbie in 1958 shortly after he got out of service. Unable to achieve greater success, he pursued a career as a truck driver. Duncan died 2010.
BOB BURTON, who came North with SHORTY ASHFORD, formed the Sunny South Boys just before recording for Mar-Vel’. The Boys included steel guitarist BASIL SMITH, bass player FLOYD HUGHETT (on « Tired Of Rocking ») and guitarist RONNIE DURBAN.
JIM GATLIN was actually discovered in Evansville, Indiana. He was playing saxophone with Les Smithard and the The Super X Cowboys.
HARRY CARTER, The Rock and Roll Apache, cut some great rockers before leaving the label.
Bob Reed‘s daughter, Miz. Lynn Daron, contacted recently bopping. She’d ask for the sound to « Choctaw Boogie » she’d never heard! I was pleased to send her the .mp3, and in return, she provided the site with 3 unpublished pictures of his Dad! She told Bob Reed was a bass player, and very good at it. He was born 1926, and deceased 2008. God bless you, Miz. Daron, and thanx-a-lot!
I come to a finish with a late to come to Mar-Vel, CARL NEWMAN. He had first cut on the Trio label, « Rockin’ And A Boppin« , an out-and-out Rocker, complete with saxophone (1959). He would recut it in 1964 for Mar-Vel, with Jimmy Case on guitar. Mar-Vel’ 2350 « Rockin’ And A Boppin’/Twist On Guitar » was apparently recorded live at the Casablanca Club (unknown town).
Photo credits: 45 labels from « Rockin’ Country Style »; Harry Glenn’s picture from Rykodisc CD; YouTube
LP labels from Mar-Vel Masters (Cowboy Carl) or Rockhouse
One important artist in the Mar-Vel’ stable was JACK BRADSHAW. He had one LP on his own on Cowboy-Carl, and I intend to have his story later on this blog site! Revised (Oct. 31, 2011): it was done in July 2010, and it even had comments from Jack’s daughter!