Late January 2013 fortnight favorites

Hello folks. The link between the 8 songs this time would be either the BREWSTER Brothers, either the WEBSTER Bros, either Knoxville, TN, and would last from 1954 to 1962/63.

In Manchester, KY, circa 1957-59, there were the BREWSTER Brothers. Originally from Tennessee, the elder Willie G. (mandolin and vocal) had begun late ’40s as sideman for the Bailey Bros. He even replaced Dan Bailey when the latter was gone to service duties. In 1953, the Brewster Bros. and the Smokey Mountain Hillbillies found much success on Scottsboro, AL. WROS radio. Not so long after that, joined by younger Franklin “Bud” Brewster (guitar and banjo, plus vocal), the brothers backed in 1957/58 Carl Story for recording sessions on Mercury, Starday, or small companies like Wayne Raney’s Rimrock label. Willie estimates they cut three hundred songs with Story! Around the same time, they went to perform on a regular basis for the Cas Walker radio & T.V. show in Knoxville, TN. They backed Red Rector among others. That’s when they recorded for Acme Records 1776, out of Manchester, KY. two sacred songs in bluegrass style, among them “I’ll Be Happy In My Home“. They were joined by the FOUR BROTHERS QUARTET, which was composed of Audie (mandolin and tenor voice) and Earl (guitar and lead vocal) WEBSTER. More on them below.

The BREWSTER Brothers, as the Jaguar’s  (sic), went on to record Rock’n’roll in 1959 on Janet, in Manchester, KY, too, which was simply Acme revived after being sold. Bud Brewster had the fine « I Coud If I Would (But I Ain’t) », on Janet 201, along with the vocalist Harold Harper on the average White rock (insistant guitar riff) flipside « The Big Noise ». After that I lost their trail.

The WEBSTER Brothers, Earl and Audie, started in Philadelphia, TN., playing in schools and churches. They joined WNOX in Knoxville, TN and made 6 sides for Columbia/Okeh in 1954, all great boppers. Let’s begin with the earliest « Till The End Of The World Rolls ‘Round » and « It’s All Left Up To You », issued in January 1954 on Okeh 18056. Fast, fiddle-led (a short steel solo), with Earl on guitar and lead vocal being joined by Audie on harmony duetting chorus.


In October 1954, they joined in Nashville Carl Butler for a long Columbia recording session, and that’s when they cut their best tune ever, the great « Road Of Broken Hearts » – urgent vocal, fine fiddle by Dale Potter, a barely audible Don Helms on steel (Columbia 21421). The same session saw them cut the fine flipside « Seven Year Blues ». Later on (November 1955) they joined Carl Butler (leader) for two religious sides, « Looking Through The Windows Of Heaven » and « Walkin’ In God’s Sunshine » (Columbia 21473). Very nice fast sacred hillbilly.

We found them much, much later (1962/63) on the Nashville Do-Ra-Me label for a far less interesting « My Heart Won’t Let Me Forget », almost pop-country (# 1439).

As usual, comments welcome. You know, these sides are thrown as the best I know today. Indeed they can be rare (they come from my collection or from the net), but it’s the quality that matters !

 

From the notes to Old Timey LP 126 « Classic Country Duets » and « Early Days Of Bluegrass, vol. 2 » (Rounder 1014, 1976).


“Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby”, the story of an enduring Hillbilly song (1936-1957)

The original of the song was made by the legendary Rex Griffin, one of those pioneers in Honky Tonk music. Here is his biography by a Bruce Eder:

As a songwriter, performer, and recording artist, Rex Griffin bridged the gap between Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams — indeed, it can be said that he bridged the gap between Rodgers and Buddy Holly, and between Rodgers and the Beatles. Griffin was among the first country music stars to record using his own material almost exclusively, and among the least of his accomplishments, one of his songs was covered (albeit without proper credit) by the Beatles. Griffin is the author of the original version of “Everybody’s Tryin’ to Be My Baby,” which Carl Perkins later adapted into his own song, and the Beatles subsequently covered to the profit of all except Griffin, who’d been dead about six years when all of this happened.

rex griffin


Griffin is one of those pre-war figures in country music whose legacy has been unjustly overlooked. He had no hits of his own after 1939, although his biggest hit from that year — “The Last Letter” — continues to get recorded at the end of the century. He was also a direct inspiration to both Hank Williams (whose recording of “Lovesick Blues” was virtually a copy of Griffin’s from ten years earlier) and Lefty Frizzell. One of country music’s first singer/songwriters, Griffin was the model for figures including Floyd Tillman, Willie Nelson, and Merle Haggard (and one could even throw Buddy Holly in there). And, like Williams, his personal demons in love and substance abuse brought a premature end — albeit not as suddenly as Williams’ — to Griffin’s performing career and his life.

He was born Alsie Griffin, second of seven children of Marion Oliver Griffin and the former Selma Bradshaw. He grew up without much formal education and spent most of his early childhood on the farm that his family owned in Sand Valley. By the 1920s, Ollie Griffin was working in Gasden at the Agricola Foundry, and Alsie followed his father there. The family regarded music as a pastime to be pursued after finishing one’s real work.

Alsie felt differently, however, wanting no part of farm life or the factory if there was any way of helping it. His first instrument was a harmonica, but it wasn’t long before he picked up the guitar. Gasden didn’t offer a big future in music, but Griffin took advantage of what was there, playing local parties and dances.

If the guitar was the first instrument that Griffin felt strongly about, his first love was the music of Jimmie Rodgers. He quickly adopted Rodgers’ style as his own and never entirely abandoned elements of his music — especially the yodeling — even once he had his own style nailed down.

Griffin made his first professional appearance on a bill at the Gasden Theater in 1930, and not long after he moved to Birmingham, where better opportunities awaited. He joined the Smokey Mountaineers, and it was there that he got his new first name — the group’s announcer had difficulty pronouncing Alsie, and simply renamed him Rex. The name stayed with him and he moved from city to city across the South, appearing on radio stations in Chattanooga, Atlanta, and New Orleans, among other cities.

His recording career began in 1935, when Griffin was signed to the newly formed Decca Record company, which already had the Sons of the Pioneers, Tex Ritter, Jimmie Davis, and Milton Brown in their roster of country artists. His first recording sessions were held in Chicago on March 25 and 26 of that year, during which he recorded ten songs, accompanied by his own guitar and Johnny Motlow on tenor banjo. All ten number were originals by Griffin, itself an astonishing achievement in those days. All of the material, both in its style and performance, recalled Rodgers — Griffin’s yodeling never let one forget who his inspiration was, although the songs hold up well on their own terms. Also striking about the recordings is Motlow’s banjo playing which, with its trilling, sounds almost like a mandolin.

Griffin’s first releases were successful enough to justify another session for Decca nearly a year later in New Orleans. This time he provided the only accompaniment on ten of the songs and did two additional songs backed by an amplified steel guitar. Among the songs that came out of those sessions was “Everybody’s Tryin’ to Be My Baby,” which in this context sounds almost like a blues composition, recalling works such as Tampa Red‘s “Tight Like That.” The piece was also a dazzling guitar showcase for Griffin, whose prowess on the instrument was considerable. This blues influence was no fluke — “I’m Ready to Reform” from the same session is a superb piece of white blues that can fool listeners as to its origins as easily as Autry’s or Rodgers’ best blues sides.


Griffin’s records continued to sell well, and in May of 1937, this time in New York, he cut two more sides, including his most famous number. “The Last Letter” became his biggest hit, a suicide note set to music. Stories vary as to its origins, the most commonly circulated one being that Griffin, who had a taste for alcohol that would later blight his life, was in a drunken depression over his failing first marriage when he wrote the note, and later set it to music as sobering up. Whatever the circumstances of its composition, the record caught on and became a hit throughout the South, and also brought Griffin the adulation of many of his colleagues, most notably Ernest Tubb, whose 20-year friendship with Griffin began over “The Last Letter.”

The song was covered by other artists, including Jimmie Davis, soon after its release. Gene Sullivan (vocalist for Roy Newman & his Boys) also covered three Griffin songs, including “Everybody’s Tryin’ to Be My Baby,” in the late ’30s, and even bandleader Bob Crosby cut Griffin’s “I Told You So.” Griffin’s own career kept moving forward, with concerts and radio performances throughout the South that made him one of the more popular performers of the era.

Griffin’s next recording sessions in September of 1939 yielded a dozen songs, including the follow-up to his biggest hit, “Answer to the Last Letter“, and his recording of “Lovesick Blues,” which was to be the model for Williams’ recording nearly a decade later that made Hank a star. Also recorded at the session was “Nobody Wants to Be My Baby“, a fast, breezy honky tonk-style number and one of several songs on which Griffin was backed by guitarist Ted Brooks and bassist Smitty Smith. The latter is also a beautiful piece of bluesy honky tonk and deserves to be better known.

Despite the success of “The Last Letter“, Griffin’s record sales were too poor overall to justify the label keeping him, and he was dropped by Decca after 1939. In the mid-’30s, he had played with Billie Walker and Her Texas Cowboys in New Orleans, and in 1940 he rejoined her band in Memphis. He later moved back to Alabama to spend more time with his ailing mother and appeared locally for the next few years. Among the places he played often was the notorious crime-ridden Alabama town of Phenix City, which would later become the subject of two feature films. In Gasden, he performed with a group called the Melody Boys, which included two future members of Tubb’s Texas Troubadors.

In 1941, following the death of his mother, Griffin moved to Dallas, where he had a regular spot on KRLD’s Texas Round-Up. His popularity from these broadcasts made Griffin a natural to take over the Texas Round-Up. This was to be his best broadcast showcase, and had it not been for the war, Griffin might’ve become a major star from his work on KRLD. As it was, the show ended in 1943 as the available talent dwindled amid continued military call-ups.

Griffin moved to Chicago in 1944, and it was there that he made his next batch of recordings. These 16 sides — recorded with a band that may have included Red Foley on guitar — were not intended for commercial release. Rather, they were made for Decca Records’ World Transcription Services, for broadcast over the air by radio stations that licensed them.

Despite these recordings for the company’s transcription division, there was no interest at the time in trying to release new commercial sides by Griffin. To hear the material today is to glimpse some of the best honky tonk-style music of the era — by that time, Griffin had taken on a more modern style, and he had even cut his Rodgers-inspired yodeling to a minimum. In addition to capturing Griffin performing “live” in the studio, these are among the few sides he left that feature him working with a band and, thus, show something of the sound he must’ve had during that early-’40s Dallas period.

The oversight by the record company, in terms of offering him a new contract, is difficult to explain. It is possible, however, that the wartime rationing of shellac (a key ingredient in 78 rpm records) had so dampened interest in any risky new ventures (the record business at one point seemed doomed to shut down) that Griffin never had a chance with his old label.

He made his last recordings in 1946 for Cincinnati-based King Records, which had previously recorded Grandpa Jones, the Delmore Brothers, and Merle Travis, among others. Griffin cut eight sides for King, backed by Homer & Jethro on guitars and mandolin. The sides showed Griffin in decent form, an easygoing honky tonk singer with a smooth style and a good voice, but lacking the sharp edge to his singing and playing that sparked his earlier work, clearly on the decline by this time.

These proved to be his last recording sessions. His worsening diabetic condition, complicated by drinking and other dietary abuses, forced an end to Griffin’s career, and the collapse of his second marriage late in the 1940s sent him into a personal tailspin. He moved to Dallas and still wrote songs, and when his health allowed (he was hospitalized several times), he pitched them actively to singers who had recording contracts, including Ray Price, who cut “Answer to the Last Letter“, “Beyond the Last Mile“, and “I Saw My Castles Fall Today“.

His friendship with Tubb blossomed into a profitable professional relationship for both, as Tubb recorded many of Griffin’s songs, and Griffin also became close to Tubb’s nephew, Douglas Glenn Tubb. Their interest, coupled with the quality of his work, sustained Griffin during the 1950s, and in 1955 he wrote “Just Call Me Lonesome“, his last hit, recorded by Eddy Arnold and Red Foley. His last years were blighted by further ill health, as Griffin was diagnosed with tuberculosis. He was confined to a New Orleans hospital for what proved to be the final months of his life, and died in October of 1958.

Griffin’s death at the age of 46 was a great loss to country music. Moreover, his lack of any hit recordings of his own after 1939 resulted in there never being an LP release of his songs — there was no impetus on the part of Decca Records to explore his recording history, and he was left in limbo as a recording artist, a distant memory to older listeners. The possibility of Decca’s successor, MCA Records, doing anything with Griffin’s music in the 1990s or beyond seems even more remote.

The songs he wrote, however, have endured over the 40 years since. Hank Thompson recorded “An Old Faded Photograph” in 1960, and “The Last Letter” was re-recorded by Jack Greene in 1964 and became a hit once again. Soon after, Tubb cut an entire album of Griffin songs, and other artists who have covered “The Last Letter” include Willie Nelson, Asleep at the Wheel, Waylon Jennings, and Merle Haggard. At the time of his death, Griffin’s quarterly royalty statement from the publisher of his newest songs was 18 dollars and change, a situation that had changed drastically by the 1960s. Additionally, his song “Everybody’s Tryin’ to Be My Baby“, as appropriated by Carl Perkins — the inability of the family to protect the copyright probably cost his daughters millions in royalties — and later covered by the Beatles, has become a rock & roll standard only slightly less familiar than “Blue Suede Shoes” or “Maybelline“. And then there was his version of “Lovesick Blues,” which Williams freely admitted to having learned from Griffin, even though Hank was also familiar with the Emmett Miller original — Griffin did make changes in the lyrics and structure of the song that Williams kept in his version.

In 1970, in recognition of his achievements as a composer, Griffin was among the very first composers inducted into the newly founded National Songwriters’ Hall of Fame in Nashville. In 1996, Bear Family Records of Germany released a long overdue triple-CD career retrospective on Griffin entitled The Last Letter.

In 1938, bandleader and pianist ROY NEWMAN cut in Dallas “Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby“, in a more Western swing mood. Griffin had done it fast- paced, Newman kept it. Whole thing is cheerful, funny, and ideal for dancers. The personnel included: Gene Sullivan on vocal duties, Newman on piano, a young Jim Boyd on guitar, along with Holly Horton (clarinet), Cecil Browen (fiddle), Ish Irwin (bass) and Walter Kirken (banjo). ROY NEWMAN is known for his “I Got Ants In My Pants” and “Rosalie”, cut either in Dallas or in New Orleans at the end of the ’30s.

vocalion 04866 roy newman everybody's trying to be my babyThen ten years later, the song was covered twice. I really don’t know who came first, so I suppose it was GLEN THOMPSON. He hailed from Danville, VA, and had numerous records on the Tornado, (Tennessee) Athens, even his own Glen Thompson labels. Most of his output can be found on a UK. Krazy Kat CD “Tarheel Swing”. Here he delivers a fine, up-to-date hillbilly bop shuffle paced version (uncredited) of the classic on the Manchester, KY Acme label (# 982-B). The steel player is particularly fine (two solos), as the fiddler and the pianist. Lyrics do seem to emanate direct from Griffin. JIMMY SHORT & the Silver Saddle Ranch Boys out on the West coast did their version in 1951 on the 4 Star label (# 1538). A bit Western flavored (as Short yells to invite the members for their solos); the steel Jay Higham is impressive, as the rhythm guitar by Short, who reminds me much of Clyde Moody‘s “The Blues Came Pouring Down” from 1949 (hear this song in his story elsewere in the site).


acme 982-B glen thompson everybody's trying to be my babyglen thompson

Glen Thompson

bb 7:4:51 jimmy short

Billboard April 7, 1951

4 *1538 jimmy short everybody's trying to be my baby Then we go to the two last versions we’re interested in. Without doubt, the YORK BROTHERS revived the Griffin song, however strangely crediting it to Wayne Walker and Webb Pierce. Theirs is very good, well-suited to their harmony style, and taken at a Rockabilly tempo. Issued 1957.

carl perkins sun studios

Carl Perkins - Sun studio

decca 30473 everybody's tryin' (Pierce-mathis)

sun LP 1225 face B

The musicof GLEN THOMPSON or YORK BROTHERS’ song and the CARL PERKINS song is totally different. The Carl Perkins song has blues-style guitar riffs and a start-stop rhythm closer to “Blue Suede Shoes“. There are two verses in common but Carl Perkins wrote completely new music for his song released on Sun Records in 1957 on the famous « Dance Album » LP 1225.

And the rest is history of Rock’n’Roll, when the song got a world-wide appeal when released in 1964 in England. A fine career for a 1936 session-filler by a long-forgotten honky tonk artist…Finally it was revived in 2003 by JOHNNY CASH, as a tribute to Carl Perkins, his old friend (who had died a couple years before). A nice, strong version.

early October 2011 fortnight’s favorites

Howdy folks! Back from a long, long trip, which sent me first to Britanny (far West) to Corsica (far south East), during three weeks! Fortunately I had prepared the next meeting with you this early October, to bring for your listening (and seeing too) pleasure some goodies I did pick from various sources, and which I hope you will enjoy as much as I chose them.

First on the Acme label, out of Manchester, KY, for a very crude and rural Hillbilly duet (bordering on Bluegrass) , very reminiscent of the Thirties so-called white blues (e.g. Frank Hutchison), although this “Coal Miner’s Blues“. Ed Romanyuk and Sister Elsie Pysar:  The label says it all: “Old time singing with guitars“. Hear it!

acme 104a ed romaniuk coal miner's bluesNow on the West Coast, for two lovely tunes, very different in style, by GENE McKOWN. Originally from Kansas City, he hailed to California by the mid-fifties, and had two records, first on Fable, then later on Aggie. On Fable 571, he offers a fine, fast Hillbilly disc, “I’m Still Wondering Why“, added by a “Fiddlin’ Slim” (who joins McKown on the refrain). Two or three years later, McKown has completely absorbed the new trend in “Rock-A-Billy Rhythm” , a real strong Rocker on Aggie 1001, a newly formed label on the California scene in 1958.  On this one, he belts out, and surely, one can wonder if this is the same singer as on Fable. Later, he returned to Kansas City and had pop-country records on Brass, among others, in the early ’60s.

fable 571 gene McKown I'm still wondering whyaggie 1001A gene mckown rock-a-billy rhythm

On to Florida with a December 1958 classic, “Hey, Mr. Porter“, by RALPH PRUITT (Lark 1506, the promotional issue before it was commercially issued on MERIDIAN 1506). Strong lead guitar introduction, then an assured vocal, before a swooping piano solo, and the steel sets up an atmospheric solo. Sounds like the boys were together for a long time, a very tight outfit. That is what I call ’50s Country-rock, a mix of Hillbilly (vocal) and Rock’n’Roll (backing).  It is the sort of record that grows on you, every time you hear it, even after 30 years of listening.  Pruitt was born in Tennessee, but located himself in Florida, where he cuts this single.He died in 1986.

lark 1506 ralph pruitt Hey, Mr. PorterOne more Hillbilly bop styled song:  “Hot Hamburger” by LEE SLAUGHTERS and His Cumberland Play Boys on a JAY label EP (2159 A). Good fast Bopping tune, rural vocal and amusing lyrics on a lovely backing. Them Boys sure know what to do! From Sydney, OH, they had this EP from 1959, containing the following tunes “Teenage Hop“, “Rock And Roll World” and “You’re The Only One“. Nothing more is known on them, another batch of Country dudes trying their hands at making a novelty record to be sold at the gigs they gave in the area.   jay 2159B lee slaughters hot hamburger

Finally, a strong, real wild “Willie’s Boogie Medley” by LITTLE WILLIE LITTLEFIELD. Once published (32 years ago, not reissued to my knowledge) on an old Ace LP, it contains the 1949 rehearsal session for Modern records by a young Littlefield, still firmly in the Amos Milburn mould. The breaks in tempos are particularly impressive, but, woooow, that right-handed piano swooping above the left-handed rolling basses! What a thrill!

littlefield front réduite

As usual, material from various sources: my own collection, Youtube, ebay, Rockin’ Country style. Enjoy the selections! Comments welcome. Bye!