Hello, this is the late October 2019 favorites’ selection, and very different things this time.
These are two tracks of the nearest JIMMY MURPHY ever bordered to Rockabilly. A veteran (his 1951 sides on RCA-Victor) of Country bluesy sides, with an appeal to religious ones, like « Electricity ».(RCA 21-0447), and his two-sided November 1955 « Here Kitty Kitty »/ »I’m Looking For A Mustard Patch » (Columbia 21486) sounded (with Onie Wheeler on harmonica) as if they had been recorded in..1945. That was the main problem for Jimmy Murphy, always behind the times. Nevertheless great acoustic guitar and assured,vocal. A must for Rockabilly fans.
Next HANK CADWELL and the Saddle Kings on the West coast D’Oro label (# 103) do come with a Western swing tinged opus, « Alibi » from late ’40s : accordion solo, fiddle solo, lovely assured vocal and chorus.
Then ABE LINK, or A. BLINK (he went under both names) on the Ohio Canton label. « Skeleton Bookie », « and the Western Spotlighters » (S.T.R.C Canton 106) has beautiful steel effects for a Halloween (?) disc, while « Yodelin’ Blues » (Canton 107) is very different. A classic shuffling bopper from 1955. Lot of yodel of course, and a lot less steel.
We jump to 1961 for a male duet. A nice country-rocker by PHIL BEASLEY and CHARLEY BROWN on the Briar (# 111) label, from unknown location. « Good Gosh Gal » has loud drums, and a nice guitar throughout (a fine solo).
On the B.W. label (location unknown), here’s KENNY BIGGS (B.W. 615) for a nice Country-rocker « There’s No Excuse » (early ’60s). One expects in this very melodic tune some chorus (very unobstrusive if ever present).
Col. Tom Parker paid the Norfolk, Va. and Jacksonville, Fl. radio stations not to play PHIL GRAY’s disc on Rhythm 101, and even gathered the copies to destroy from a too Elvisy (Sun style) Rockabilly. He even had done to prevent Gene Vincent to be unplayed in vain. Gray was 15 years old when he cut « Pepper Hot Baby » and « Bluest Boy In Town ». Great guitar, Elvis-style hiccups (the song is like « Baby Let’s Play House »), a real success. This disc is so rare that a copy, when it comes on auction, may get as high as $ 3000 !
Fred (Frederick Austin) Kirby was born on July 19, 1910 in Charlotte, North Carolina. His father worked as a preacher and he had nine brothers and sisters. When he was a kid, Fred’s mother taught him to play the guitar, and she later also helped him to master the fiddle. Fred became involved in the music business by accident: in 1927, while living in Florence, South Carolina, he joined his nephew to visit a friend at local radiostation WBT, and while singing some of his songs in the lobby of the station, Fred got noticed by a WBT employee. Fred was hired on the spot to make regular appearances on one of the station’s shows, and would remain to work for almost 20 years. In the early 1930s Fred lived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he worked with people like Cliff Carlisle and with bands like “The Briarhoppers”, “The Smiling Cowboys” and “The Carolina Boys”.
Fred’s first recordings date from 1932 for the ARC label, but none of them have ever been released. In 1936 Fred signed with Victor’s Bluebird. His first recordings with Bluebird were “I’m A Gold Diggin Papa” and “The Lonesome Lullaby“. Next year he’d cut a session for Bluebird with Cliff Carlisle, which saw him duetting with Carlisle for « Cowboy’s Dying Dream ». It was even released in U.K. on Regal Zonophone. In 1938 Fred got signed by Decca where he recorded 16 songs. Quite a prolific artist in those days..Everyone then was yodeling, from Jimmie Rodgers to Gene Autry; so also did Kirby.
In 1939 he and Don White, a musician from West Virginia with whom he had gotten acquainted in the early 1930s, moved to Cincinnati, Ohio to work for radiostation WLM as the “Carolina Playboys”. The following year, Fred moved to St. Louis to join radiostation KMOX. In St. Louis he gained local fame for selling over 5 million dollars worth US War Bonds during the war
In 1943 Fred moved back to Charlotte, North Carolina and returned to his previous employer : WBT radio. Shortly after, he and Don White regrouped as the Carolina Playboys and in the years after the War they both recorded for the Sonora label, both as the Carolina Playboys and separately. It was with Sonora that Fred recorded his most successful song, “Atomic Power” (Sonora 7008) in May 1946: that song was later recorded by many other artists, including Rex Allen and Red Foley. Later on Kirby released a Decca issue, « Precious Lord I’ll Be There » (Decca 46083), giving an indication of his forthcoming career, secular as well as religious.
In June 1951 Columbia prolonged Fred’s recording contract for another year, but it wasn’t until July 9, 1952 before Fred did another recording session. During that session, eight songs were recorded and six of them were actually released by Columbia., among them the religious bopper « My Soul Is Not For Sale », also « When The Devil Sends His Calling Card » (Columbia 21056) ; “We’re No Longer Sweethearts” and “A Pocket Full Of Candy” remained unissued. This 1952 session turned out to be his last one for Columbia: due to the lack of success of his records, Columbia decided not to renew his contract. Later on Fred had a release on Gotham (a NYC/Philadelphia label) with the evergreen “Wreck Of The Old 97” (# 404), a very good version.l
In the early 1950s Fred again started working for WBT radio, but this time he mainly concentrated on radioshows for the younger audience. Later, when television became more popular he was very successfully as a producer and presenter of specialised kiddie shows: his “Junior Rancho” would run for over 20 years. Nevertheless, Fred’s radiowork lasted even longer: his shows were broadcasted until the spring of 1991. In the 1990s, Fred’s health progressively declined: he suffered from Parkinsons disease, which eventually forced him to move to a nursing home where he died on April 22, 1996.
Sources: biography mainly from W. Agenant “Columbia 20000 serie”; additions from “hillbilly-music.com”; pictures from google. Soundfiles and label scans from the indefatigable Ronald Keppner: my warmest thanks to him, whom the feature could not have been written and completed without. ; also some help from UncleGil Rockin’ archives. The rest is a matter of time and…love! Please leave a comment below!
Hello, folks ! Hello to past visitors ; hi ! to new ones. This is the late April 2019 fortnight’s selection.
Let’s begin with a Starday custom record issued mid-1959 by HENRY McPEAK on the HG label (# 771). McPeak was born 1929 in Snowville, Va. « I Feel Like Yelling » is a fast bopper : lots of guitar ( a great solo picking), an assured vocal (which reminds me of The Lonesome Drifter, alias Tommy Johnson). McPeak had another disc the next year on HG # 851 with « When You Kissed Me »: very different, more melodic. Again that good guitar, even a Rockabilly solo. The record goes on sale from $ 280 to 380.
BOB BURTON next (aided by Rex Jennings and Shorty Ashford) delivers on Harry Glenn’s owned Mar-Vel 952 (issued 1954 in Hammond, IN) the good « Forty Acres Of My Heart » : a fast fiddle solo and a short steel solo. The three musicians join unison in the chorus. Of course, Burton had other good records on Mar-Vel as « Boogie Woogie Baby Of Mine » (Mar-Vel 951) or « Tired Of Rockin’ » (Mar-Vel 953, 1956).
Next was issued in 1961 on the D label # 1185. Good bopper is « Crawling Back To You » by JOHNNY DOLLAR, great steel led on a fast number. Dollar (his real name), despite many a good record, never got it big, and remained a minor artist. He had several occupations : truck driver, life insurance salesman, lumber yard man among others when he could. He was also dee-jaying (thanks Merle Kilgore) on Shreveport’s KZAE, and finally cut for D, aided by Shelby Singleton.
An oldie (1950) on Columbia 20704 now : JOHNNY BOND was a constant Bopper in the early ’50s with things like this « Mean Mama Boogie », cut on the West coast. Great harmonica by Jerry Adler, a little guitar by Jerry Scoggins ; Bond is in particularly good voice.
On the Hammond label and as late as 1965, here’s JIM OERTLING & the Bayou Boys for two selections. « Old Moss Back » (# 267) has a terrific guitar intro, an urgent vocal and a fine guitar solo. « Back Forty » (# 268) is a mid-tempo with nice vocal and a Rockabilly guitar solo.
Not to be confused with Nat King Cole’s bass player in the ’50s, this Charlie Harris is a Texas music legend who has been active in genres such as Western swing and country & western for at least half a century. One of Harris’ biggest fans is country icon Willie Nelson. The red-headed stranger took time in a 1974 written tribute to Bob Wills to also lavish praise on a group known as the Texas Top Hands. This is one of at least two legendary Texas music outfits that this guitarist has played with; another is Ray Price & the Cherokee Cowboys Band. This Charlie Harris has nothing to do with the one on King (early ’60s) or Golden Eagle label, neither more with Bob Tucker, who cut for State # 4002 the great bopper « Quit Draggin’ Your Feet ».
With Ray Price, Harris took on the important responsibility as frontman, stepping forward at the start of the show to warm up the audience and set the stage for the arrival of the headliner. He also took on this role with country star Stonewall Jackson. Fiddlers Johnny Bush and Buck Buchanan were also members of the Texas Top Hands who continued to be Harris’ associates in the Price outfit. The magnificent Johnny Bush — one of the only people with this surname that Texans are really enthusiastic about — actually played drums in the Texas Top Hands before he switched to fiddle. (Bush and Jimmy Day played together in 1997 in the Offenders, a Texas superband project that also involved Nelson and many others.) In the much dimmer past, Harris also worked in Western swing combos led by Adolph Hofner.
No biographical statistics on Harris are available, except he was a Texas native, and must have been in his early ’20s at the beginning of the 1950’s.
First record which Charlie Harris appears on is a R. D. Hendon’s Western Jamboree Cowboys disc in 1950, on the Freedom label. The origins of the Western Jamboree Cowboys, one of Houston’s most popular and prolific post-war country groups, can be traced to 1947, when some young musicians formed a group to appear at a small downtown nitery called the Sphinx Club, which was run by R.D. Hendon, an ex-oilfield roughneck and Navy veteran from Marquez, Texas. By 1949, the band who called themselves the South Texas Cowboys, were proving so popular that Hendon realized he needed a much bigger club to accommodate the crowds. So he purchased the Old main Street dance Hall – better known by his street address, 105 ½ Main – gave it a ‘western’ theme and rechristened it the Western Jamboree Night Club. The band’s name change followed suit and, by 1950, the club was drawing huge crowds six nights a week. In addition, the band broadcast live over KLEE, where Hendon also worked as a disc jockey. Hendon insisted on putting his name up front as the band’s leader, although his complete lack of musical talent prevented him, for the most part, from being much more than an announcer.
« No shoes boogie » (Freedom 5033), probably the Cowboys’ earliest recording, was virtually an advertisement for the Western Jamboree Club and is unquestionably one of the best Freedom records, an excellent example of the hard-rocking, shuffle-beat swing that was common in Texas before rock and roll. Recorded at Gold Star and released in March 1951, « No shoes boogie » features one of the best of Hendon’s ever-changing lineups. In addition to the excellent vocal and hot electric guitar work of Charlie Harris, the group included Theron Poteet (piano), Johnny Cooper (rhythm guitar), Tiny Smith(bass) and Don Brewer (drums). As often was the case on Freedom sessions, the band’s regular steel man (Joe Brewer) was replaced on this date by former Texas Playboy Herb Remington. Remington’s fills behind Harris’ vocal and his dazzinly fast single-string solo rate among his finest, most exciting performances. Flipside by comparison is a tame weepy ballad, « Those Tears In Your Eyes »
After the Freedom session, the Western Jamboree Cowboys recorded numerous sides for Four Star (Charlie Harris vocal), Gilt Edge, Blue Ribbon, Shamrock and Starday and featured such musicians as singer-guitarist Eddie Noack, the underrated Harold Sharp and trumpeteer-vocalist Bill Taylor.
The Four Star recordings were inaugurated by another coupling, yet under the name « R. D. Henden »[sic] that featured Charlie Harris on vocal, who was soon to leave the group. « Oh ! Mr. President » (4* X-20) was a rush-job in the spring of 1951, a rare, overtly political song dealing with the firing of General MacArthur by President Truman. «The flipside « Don’t Say No » was a real weeper, again sung by Harris, and musically forgettable.
After leaving the Cowboys, Charlie Harris went on to work with Gabe Tucker in Houston, Walt Kleypas and Adolph Hofner in San Antonio, and later played and recorded with Ray Price, among others. The almost ten-years tenure of the Western Jamboree Cowboys came to an abrupt end when R. D. Hendon, who’d always suffered from bouts of depression, committed suicide on September 8, 1956. The Western Jamboree Club remained vacant for several years after his death and was eventually demolished around 1960, symbolizing the end of an era.
While largely a sideman, Harris also stepped forward to host his own television show out of Corpus Christi, an endeavor that managed a secure broadcast spot for a surprisingly long time.
Bass player Gabe Tucker was a familiar band leader and promoter frequently seen in the Nashville area: indeed he had been a part of the original Nashville edition of Eddy Arnold’s Tennessee Plowboys. He recorded at least one Texas session himself which he sent in to Dot (located in Gallatin, Tennessee). Randy Wood (Dot’s owner) created a short-lived 200 serie for bought material and released Gabe’s (& His Musical Ramblers) fine bluesy « It’d surprise you » (Dot 201), which became a popular song for others : Red Sovine had his own version on M-G-M (# 11214) ; the Tucker labelmate Margie Day, fronting the Griffin Brothers, cut her own, R&B style (Dot 1094). It was actually covered by female singers like Rosalie Allen (on RCA-Victor), who found it an ideal song to air the woman’s point of view. The Gabe Tucker sides represent the only truly authentic (Texas) Western swing on Dot Records. The trumpet had been popular for a good amount of years but was going out of style by the time this record appeared. Charlie Harris takes all the vocals but is not credited on the labels, including the interesting novelty « Cracker barrel farmer » (# 201), with the unusually clever lyrics and the songs clicked despite their old-fashioned sound.
From a different session and better recorded, « You better do better baby » (# 204) is another classy performance by Harris which could just possibly originate fom a Nashville session. It’s backed by the fine uptempo ballad « Rainyday Sweetheart ».
From various Dot sessions came also the fast « Jive Around Old Joe Clark » and the excellent shuffler « Streamline Country Girl » (# 1097).
Harris was apparently Tucker’s front man, this time credited, for another performance on the Gaylord [real forname to Tucker] Music label (# 4926), two nice ballads and again classy performances : « I’m Reaping Heartaches Over You » and « You’re The Only Love ».
We only find Harris again on vocal for « Sing A Sad Song », cut during a Ray Price session in December 1964 for Columbia, again a ballad, a genre in which he’d excel.
One can come across two more 45s by Harris on the Mega label in the early ’70s (untraced).
Sources : From Andrew Brown & Kevin Coffey notes to « Heading back to Houston » Krazy Kat 12 ; YouTube’s « Hillbilly Boogie1 » chain ; my own archives ; 78-worlds (Gaylord and Dot label scans) ; Ronald Keppner for Gaylord sound and Freedom B-side ; Steve Hathaway for 4* X-20 soundfiles ; Eugene Chadbourne, All Music Guide.
Nothing is known about this important, although quite obscure artist of the 1940’s and ’50’s. Even not any statistic of birth or death, although he was certainly livng in the Dallas, TX area, and was born there during the ’20s. Nothing more is known about his childhood and beginnings in music, so we are forced to deal only with the records he appeared on.
From 1939 until 1952 he was closely associated with another Texan, AL DEXTER and worked with him either as washboard player (in the ’30s), sometimes harmonicist, and in some cases held the vocal duties into the Dexter’s band, « The Troopers », not forgetting he was also songwriter : he was co-writer (with Tex Ritter) of the all-time Hank Williams‘ classic, « Dear John ». But more about that later.
In 1939, he was a member of the Al Dexter’s Troopers, as said before, and offered the group a good selling disc : « Wine, women and song » – recorded in December 1939 and issued on Vocalion 5572, it was covered by Texas Jim Lewis in September 1940 (Decca 05875), and by the Prairie Ramblers (Decca 05878) – the song must’ve looked to Decca’s executives a lucrative seller). When re-recorded by Dexter on Columbia 37062 in April 1945, he was a second time covered (a reissue) by Jim Lewis (Decca 46021). It attracted two more versions in 1946 by Frankie Marvin (San Antonio 107) and Dick James (Coast 234).
Gass gave Al Dexter (or co-wrote with him) two more songs in 1941/42 : « The Money You Spent Was Mine » (Okeh 6206) and « Honky Tonk Chinese Dime »(OKeh 6604). He played the harmonica on « Diddy, Wah, Diddy With A Blah !Blah ! » (Vocalion 6255) – which Dexter re-recorded later on King as « Diddy Wah Boogie » (# 885). Gass also held the vocal duty for « Sunshine » (Vocalion 04988, reissued in 1946 on Columbia 20240), both coming out of a long 8-track June 13th 1939 session.
As far at it concerns records, Aubrey Gass disappeared from the music scene between 1941 and 1946. Was he drafted in U.S. Army during W.W. II such a long time is improbable. Anyway, his first record under his real name was issued mid to late 1946 in Houston by Gold Star (# 1318) and coupled a then-famous for veterans couplet, « Kilroy’s Been Here » and « Delivery Man Blues ». Backed by the Easterners (guitar, bass, fiddle, steel and piano), Gass on alert vocal and harmonica delivers a joyful A-side, although the bluesy B-side is equally at home. Indeed both sides were written by Gass, who saw the following year a reissue of his Gold Star disc on the new DeLuxe (#6001) label, a proof of the popularity of the record.
It must also be noted that a song « Kilroy Was Here » was recorded and released by Paul Page on Enterprise; reviewed by Billboard on August 31, 1946, no one can say who came first for sure.
« Dear John » […] was his biggest song ; in fact, it was the only hit he ever wrote. The first version was by Jim Boyd, younger brother of Dallas-based western swing artist Bill Boyd. Gass apparently knew Jim Boyd, offered him « Dear John », and Boyd recorded it on March 11, 1949. Soon after, Tex Ritter got his finger in the pie. Ritter probably promised to get the song cut by a big name, like himself, or to get Gass a contract with his label, Capitol, if he could get a piece of the song. The fact that Gass recorded « Dear John » for Capitol (# 40239, or # 1427) some five months after Boyd suggests that Ritter lived up to his half of their convenant. Hank Williams later picked (early 1951) up the song, this time co-written « Ritter-Gass ». Note : Jim Boyd’s version is already written by Gass and Ritter…
The session for Capitol took place in Dallas on August 9th, 1949 (Billboard announced both the contact signing and the recording session on Sept. 17) and supplied four more Gass-written songs. The backing of Wesley Tuttle and Group (specially come to Dallas) was made of Gass himself (vocal/harmonica), probably Tuttle (rhythm-guitar), a steel, a bass player and a drummer. First came the already discussed « Dear John » : Gass is full of energy on harmonica, has a husky voice, as on the fast « Look Me Up » and (by far the most hard-rocking tune of the lot) « K.C. Boogie ». The last song, « Gee But I’m Lonely Tonight », is a slowie and Gass doesn’t seems at ease here.
« Dear John » had numerous versions, among them an R&B rendition by Dinah Washington, which climbed at n°3 in the charts. It also had a follow-up in 1953 as « A Dear John Letter », first by Jean Shepard (Capitol 2502).
Next recording session Aubrey Gass collaborated for was done on May 19, 1950 by Al Dexter and his Troopers again. Gass was present, and played some harmonica on several tracks, but still being contracted to Capitol, could not sing at all. He plays (distinct style easily recognizable) on « Blow That Lonesome Whistle, Casey » (King 875)[very near in essence to “K. C. Boogie“], « Walking With The Blues » (which he co-wrote) (King 884), then both sides of King 913 : « Diddy Wah Boogie » and « You’ve Been Cheatin’ On Me ».
Al Dexter & His Troopers, “Blow That Lonesome Whistle, Casey”
At unknown dates he cut several demos at Sellers Studio in Dallas, between 1950 and late 1951. Three of them found their way on the British/Nederland Boppin’ Hillbilly compilation n° 2810. Due to legal rights, we are not allowed to offer these great sides. They are : « Columbus Stockade Blues », « Here Today And Gone Tomorrow » and « Walkin’ Out Of Town ».
But « Counting My Teardrops » and « Fisherman Boogie », cut late 1951 or early 1952, were issued under Gass’ own name by Sellers as acetates, and released just as they were under Al Dexter’s name (« Vocal by Aubrey Gass») on Decca, respectively 28345 and 28137 during the first half of 1952. Both tracks were probably recorded (given date by Michel Ruppli’s book « The Decca label » as Feb. 7, 1952) with the Al Dexter band : trumpet, rhythm-guitar, piano (particularly rolling in « Fisherman’s boogie»), steel, bass and drums and no harmonica at all. This 14 tunes session has no less than 8 unissued tracks, and could well reveal some surprises.
A recent discovery on eBay has surfaced an unissued Audiodisc dated (as handwritten on label) May 23,1956. « Garbage Man » by Gass is a strange novelty : only vocal, harmonica and rhythm guitar. The acetate was gone on December 19, 2017 for $ 118,00.
In 1962 (June) Aubrey Gass gave Tom O’Neal « Two Many Tickets » (released first on Cheatham 104, then reissued on Starday 607), a country rocker ; it’s probably Gass who played the harmonica in this song, as well as on the flipside « Sleeper Cab Blues ».
Further research has unearthed a demo of « Corn Fed Gal », cut for the « Boyd Recording Service » in Dallas. The strange thing is that this version runs at 2 mn 05, while the Helton version has a duration of 2 mn 22. So then, are they the same ? Could it be that the lucky owner of the Boyd record please stand up and say the truth about this point. I am inclined personnally towards two different versions. This demo was sold on eBay in 2010 for $ 136,00.
Last record is on the Swansee label # 1908 (mid-’60s) by Mr. G. « Pork-N-Beans » and « Sittin’n’Thinkin’ » are unheard, both written « Aubrey A. Gass », so cannot comment. Remember (see above) his actual name was Aubrey Andrew Gass.
Sources : my sincere thanks to UncleGil for Bronco Buster, the King Project, the Starday project and BACM music ; many (if not all) label scans do come from 78rpm-worlds ; thanks to ole’ Ronald Keppner for Sellers acetates ; Dave Sichak of hillbilly-music.com for Aubrey Gass only known picture ; Gripsweat site for 1956 acetate ; Colin Escott, « Hank Williams, The Biography » for the « Dear John » story. Billboard books for notifications of releases (Thanks Imperial!).
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