Wheeling, W. Va. hillbilly: the DUSTY OWENS story (1954-57)

Dusty Owens was born on September 2, 1930 in Fairdealing, Missouri as Robert James Kucharski. Shortly after his birth, his family moved to Flint, Michigan where he spent most of his childhood. When he was 6 years old, Robert took violin lessons in school but he later moved to accordion which seemed to be more to his liking. In 1947, while in High school, he joined a local western band called the O.K. Boys to play the accordion. Later that year Robert became their front man and changed the band’s name to Dusty Owens and his Rodeo Boys.

In 1947 Owens entered Flint Technical High School but he soon dropped out and moved to Saginaw, Michigan, to find a job as a professional musician. It was in St. Joseph, Missouri, while working for radio station KFEQ that he received his first official pay as a musician. When Glen Harris of Shenandoah, Iowa radio station KMA asked Dusty to come work for him, he moved to Iowa. At KMA he got acquainted with the famous Blackwood Brothers Quartet and with Ike Everly, the father of Everly Brothers Don and Phil. Ike was largely responsible for Dusty’s later career: he stimulated Dusty to concentrate on a singing rather than on playing the accordion and he helped him to get his own weekly 15-minute radio show at KMA. Ike treated Dusty as his pupil and took him to all kinds of events that might be helpful for Dusty’s singing career.

In 1949 Dusty Owens recorded several radio transcriptions for “Mother’s Best Flour” as well as for “Lassie Feeds” but when he got married later that year, he returned to Flint to work as an accordion teacher at a local school of music. In 1951, he and his former band the Rodeo Boys regrouped and briefly worked for radio station WHO, Des Moines. Apart from doing their regular weekday radio shows, the Rodeo Boys also were part of the “Iowa Barn Dance Frolic” that was broadcasted on Saturday nights.

In 1953, Dusty and his band joined the Wheeling Jamboree from Wheeling, West-Virginia, which was one of the most famous barn dances at the time. That same year Owens signed a songwriters contract with Acuff-Rose and on October 1, 1953 he signed a recording contract with Columbia Records. It was a standard contract for one year against a royalty rate of 2% of 90% and two one-year options.

On October 28, 1953 Dusty Owens did his first recording session for Columbia, with Hank Williams’ Drifting Cowboys and Chet Atkins providing the back-up. During the session at the Castle studio in Nashville’s Tulane hotel, he recorded four songs that were all self penned. Columbia released “Hello, Operator” and “The Life You Want To Live” (Columbia 21202) in January, 1954 and in May they released “Just Call On Me” and Somewhere She’s Waiting” (Columbia 21260).

The second recording session for Columbia was done on June 3, 1954, and again, Columbia released all four songs.

Don Law decided to exercise the first option in Owens’ contract and on June 21, 1955, he did his third recording session for the label. Only two songs of this session were eventually issued and Columbia didn’t exercise the second option.

In 1956 Owens recorded six songs for his own Admiral label, including his most famous song “Once More” that was later cut by many others including George Jones, Melba Montgomery, the Osborne Brothers, Roy Acuff and Dolly Parton. During the 1960’s he recorded for Wynwood, but the quality of those recordings was inferior to his previous output.

Dusty Owens, a music appreciation (by bopping’s editor)

The Columbia sides (1954-1955) are generally of high standard. Although Owens is more at ease with medium paced tear-jerkers, he offers also some very good fast boppers. Let’s investigate his records side by side.

« Hello, operator » (# 21202) is a fast uptempo with fine fiddle and bass. A steel solo and a brisk vocal. Its flipside «The life you want to live » is a sincere medium paced shuffler.

Billboard April 30, 1954


“Hello, operator”

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“The life you want to live”

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Billboard June 26, 1954

More of the previous one with the follow-up « Just call on me » # 21260) : a warm voice over a fine fiddle. Its flipside « Somewhere she’s waiting » is an uptempo which shines the steel of Don Helms in.

“Just call on me”

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Somewhere she’s waiting

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A good song is « They didn’t know the difference (but I did) » (# 21310), an uptempo with fast fiddle and bass. « A love that once was mine » is a weeper that can be remoted.

Billboard Oct. 23, 1954

They didn’t know the difference (but I did)

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The last 4 Columbia sides are all medium paced weepers, sometimes very sincere, but excitement is gone, and no song really comes to light.

The Admiral sides are in comparison far superior than the Columbias.

A very great early 1956 fast duet first « It’s goodbye and so long » (# 1000) with Donna Darlene (1938-2017), paired with the all-time hit « Once more » : an energetic blend of duet vocal, fiddle and steel.

It’s goodbye and so long

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Once more

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« Cure that shyness » (# 1002) has Don Owens solo and is a fast bopper. « A place for homeless hearts » is a medium paced tune with great ‘hillbilly’ voice. « Hey honey » ( 1004) is a good version of the Wiley Barkdull song (Hickory 1074) and dates from 1957. The flip « Our love affair » is a fast shuffler with strong bass.

Cure that shyness

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A place for homeless hearts

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Wiley Barkdull, “Hey honey”

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Dusty Owens, “Hey honey”

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I am putting aside Dusty Owens last sides (Admiral 1008) once his label was relocated in Florida : both songs are really poppish and outside the scope of this blog.

I added the very fine Rockabilly/bopper « You’re not doin’ me right » (Admiral 1003) by Donna Darlene, certainly backed by Dusty Owens’ Rodeos.

You’re not doin’ me right

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And mention must be made of the Abbie Neal Rockabilly platters on the label: “Newton’s law” (# 1001), “If again” (# 1006) and “Hillbilly beat” (# 15000). They may come in later fortnight’s favorites.

Biography and Columbia songs taken from W. Agenant « Columbia 20000 serie » blog ; Admiral songs from various sources, mainly YouTube. Labels from 45-cat or 78rpm-world. Dusty Owens pictures from Hillbilly-Music site.

Early January 2018 bopping fortnight’s favorites

Hello, folks ! This is the first 2018 (early January) fortnight’s favorites’ selection. As usual, a mix of Hillbilly boppers, Rockabillies and Country rockers.

First come WADE JERNIGAN for « So tired », a fine Rockaballad on the Mobile, AL, Sandy label (# 1010). Good steel and extrovert vocal. Despite some research, he didn’t cut any other record.”So tired” was written par Johnny Bozeman, apparently the owner of the label, who recorded “She’s my bayou babe” on the Biloxi, MS. Fine label 1006, and also had “How many/The blues and I” (pop ballads) on Sandy.

sandy jernigan tired

So tired

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Then four tracks by the Virginian KEN LIGHTNER and the Hay Riders. He recorded in 1961 on Dixie (a Starday custom label) # 913 his most well-known track (it even appeared on a volume of the late Cees Klop Dixie CD series), « The Corner of love ». Some would call it a teen rockabilly. It bears though a nice steel battling with a good guitar, even a short piano solo, and to be true, a light vocal. Slowier is the flipside “Am I still the one“, once more with a mellow steel. The same goes for the short (less than 2 minutes) « Mary Ann » on the Wheeling, Wva. Emperor label 220 from 1959 ; again a fine steel, and a very alluring rhythm. Finally on the Kingston # 418 label, the song « Big big love », which is a easy-going country-rocker led by steel again.

The corner of love

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Am I still the one

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Mary Ann

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Big big love

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dixie lightner stilldixie lightner corneremperor lightner marykingston lightner love

On the Kentucky label (# 575) from Cincinnati, BOB MOONEY has an amusing talking blues, « A sucker born every day », which is a tour de force for the steel guitar : it’s litterally cracking and howling. He already had cut “Aubomobile baby“[sic] on Cozy 317/318 in 1953, and “Sucker” was reissued on REM 350 in 1964.

A sucker born every daykentucky mooney sucker

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From Louisiana now, two tracks by BUCK WHEAT (rn C.M. Wheat, from San Antonio, Tx). Backed by the Wheatbinders. A lazy Rockabilly/country rocker first with « Texas woman » on the Goldband label (# 1093, from 1959) ; then « Twitterpated » on the Folk-Star label (# 1303, a subs. to Goldband) : a great piano led shuffle beat, a bluesy guitar solo.

Texas woman

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Twitterpated

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golldband wheat texasfolk-star whea twitterpated

We come to an end with both sides of Columbia 21031 (October 1951) by the MERCER BROTHERS, Charlie and Wallace. They originated from Metter, south of Georgia, and began to appear at the Louisiana Hayride in 1948. « It ain’t no use » and « Tell me who » have a distinguished Delmore Brothers appeal. No surprise, since Wayne Raney himself backed them on harmonica for the session.

“It ain’t no use

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Tell me who

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If you enjoy the selections, please leave me a comment. Same goes if you didn’t!columbia mercer usecolumbia mercer who

The WEBSTER BROTHERS, a Bopping Bluegrass duet (1954-1962)

This Knoxville bluegrass brother group was largely overshadowed by the Brewster Brothers, with whom the siblings Audie and webster brothers picture2Earl Webster performed and recorded as part of a unit that was named with a great deal of brotherly love: the Brewster Brothers and Four Brothers Quartet. The implied confusion is enough to make one’s head spin along the lines of a deep shot of the liquor brewed in the hills above Knoxville. The band name suggests the presence of three sets of brothers, four of them related, but in reality there was only the combination of the Webster Brothers and the Brewster Brothers , totalling four. This is by no means the worst mistake in math in terms of bluegrass band names. That honor would probably go to the 7 Flat Mountain Boys, which was usually a quartet. At any rate, some bluegrass fans assume the Webster Brothers were like the Brewster Brothers in that they became prolifically recorded sidemen working in the bands of bigger webster brothers picturebluegrass and country names, such as Carl Butler or Red Allen. This premise is normally based on the existence of players such as or Otis Webster or Jackie Webster, but neither of these old-time pickers nor any other Webster was a part of the Webster Brothers unit. Audie Webster played mandolin, guitar, and sang, while his more handsome brother Earl Webster was cut out to be a frontman, learning to handle lead vocals and rhythm guitar in order to live up to expectations. In tandem with the Brewster Brothers, it was the Webster Brothers who got to wear the light-colored suits and the former brothers got the dark stripes. Whatever meaning this might have in the bluegrass hierachy is unknown, but it seems important to mention. Singer Carl Butler, also a Knoxville lad, also formed a working combination with the Webster Brothers, cutting some records with them for Columbia, but owed no strict allegiance to the family. Butler also sang with other area brother groups, such as the Bailey Brothers – who, coincidentally appeared on the Grand Old Opry with the Brewster Brothers — and the Sauceman Brothers. In a sense, the basic concept of the lead vocal in a Knoxville bluegrass “brother” band of the ’50s can be likened to an old-time mystery: one can always assume the Butler did it. One he did with the Webster Brothers was Somebody Touched Me » a bluegrass gospel warhorse that has been cut in nearly 50 different versions.

Somebody touched me

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carl butler colour pictureThe Webster Brothers collaboration with Carl Butler was going on for a full year, between October 1954 and November 1955 – they had already cut themselves 4 sides in March 1954 . During this term they recorded 16 sides, either on the Okeh label (a subsidiary of Columbia), or on the main label. An half was made of religious songs, well settled in Bluegrass tradition, the other included rural Boppers that had an appeal to the white market. Their best songs were : « Kisses don’t lie »/ »I wouldn’t change you if I could » (Okeh 18052)

Kisses don’t lie

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I wouldn’t change you if I could

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(Carl Butler lead singer), « It’s all left up to you »/ « Till the end of the world rolls around» (Okeh 18056)

“It’s all left up to you”

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okeh Webster end

Till the end of the world rolls ’round

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 “Angel band” Columbia 21353, Carl Butler lead: fine vocal harmonies), the great hillbilly bopper « Road of broken hearts » (Columbia 21421) « 

Angel band

downloadcolumbia Webster RoadRoad of broken hearts”

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Seven year blues

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Seven year blues » (Columbia 21421), the good medium-paced, Hank Williams styled « Watching the clock » (Columbia 21503)(Carl Butler lead singer) and the religious « Somebody touched me » (Columbia 21563). They had one of the best accompanying teams in the country : Dale Potter on fiddle, and Ernie Newton (or Jr. Huskey) on bass.

Watching the clock

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My heart won’t let me forget

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columbia Butler & Webster clockdo-ra-mi webster forget

Years later the Webster Brothers issued in 1962 on the Nashville Do-ra-me label (# 1432) a modern Bluegrass song, « My heart won’t let me forget». One more ’45 on the IHS label and that was it, they disappeared from music scene.

(Nov. 2nd, 2018). A visitor (Daniel – thanks to him) advised bopping.org of another, later 45 rpm by the Webster Bros., under the name of “Earl & Audie” on K-Ark 753, released in 1967: “Blue, Blue’s In Green” – nice ballad (good steel): downloaddownload k-ark zarl&audie blue
Sources : a biography by Eugene Chadbourne on AllMusic site. Ronald Keppner and 78-world for label scans. Willem Agenant (Columbia 20000 serie) for the music.

mid-summer 2017 (end of August) bopping fortnight’s favorites (1955-1961)

Howdy folks ! This is the mid-summer fortnight’s selection. All the tunes were recorded between 1956 and 1961. With the last one we begin : 1961, in London, OH on the Karl label (property of Clay Eager) # 3022. LACY KIRK does a very fine job on « This is saturday night », fast tempo, nice steel and fiddle. Value $ 100-200. The flipside « What happened to our love » is a great sincere ballad.

This is saturday nightkarl Kirk night

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karl Kirk happenedWhat happened to our love

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Next from Chicago: BILLY PRAGER & his Caravans and a wild double-sider from December 1958 on the (R&B) Crystal label (# 106) . The steel guitar is particularly effective and does very strange sounds for « Do it bop », while « Everybody’s rockin’ » is a bit more conventional Rockabilly/rocker. $ 300-400. This Crystal label has nothing to do with the Memphis one of the same name : serie 500 (Jimmy Knight and « Hula bop » or Jimmy Pritchett « That’s the way I feel » – with great swooping piano by some player who sounds very, very much like Jerry Lee Lewis !/Nothing on my mind  »).

crystal Prager bopDo it bopcrystal Prager rockin

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Everybody’s rockin’

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ONIE WHEELER was a Great. Born in 1927 in Senath, MO. he pursued his career during nearly 50 years, just ending it on the stage of the Friday Night Opry one day of 1984. Here are two sides aimed by collectors, and for good reasons : they are among his best tunes of the ’50s, cut in Dallas in June 1956 for Columbia : « Onie’s bop » and « I wanna hold my baby » (Columbia 21523) are good examples of the commercial Rockabilly a massive major had to offer, the B-side being in my mind the better one.

Onie’s bop

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I wanna hold my baby

onie wheeler & band

Onie & band at KWOC radio- Poplar Bluffs, MO.

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columbia Wheeler bopFrom Pittsburgh, PA. NELSON RAY came in 1957 with the loud (drums) columbia Wheeler holdRockin’ Bopper « Walkin’ shoes » on the Rebel label (# 104). A good copy turns up at $ 300 or 400.

Nelson RayWalkin’ shoes

rebel ray shoes

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“I won’t always love you

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clyde beavers picture

CLYDE BEAVERS next, on the Georgia (Starday custom) label # 532 from Tennga, Ga. « I won’t always love you » is a bluesy tune over a drivin’ medium rhythm, in all cases a primitive bopper from 1955. Later Beavers specialized himself (’60s) in drinking or smoking songs, like Lattie Moore‘s « Here I am drunk again » or Webb Pierce‘s « Cigarettes and whiskey (and wild, wild women) ».

« Sal’s house » was declined back-to-back of another Dixie (# 121) by CARSON WILLIS from Greer, South Carolina. This « Sal’s house # 1» seems to be a real mess ! Date : 1959.”

dixie Willis houseSal’s house, #1

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Late July 2017 bopping fortnight’s favorites

Hello, people ! Let’s begin this new July 2017 fortnight’s favorites selection with EARL PETERSON (b. 1927, d. 1973), a well-known figure out of Michigan. Apart from an early issue on his own Nugget label in 1949, he cut two sessions for Columbia in 1955 ; one of the songs involved was « I ain’t gonna fall in love » (# 21467). Light vocal, bass guitar, piano, all these combine for a fine bopper written by Vernon Claud. Peterson’s story is to be found in this site, was published January 2016.

“I ain’t gonna fall in lovePeterson Earl "I ain't gonna fall in love"

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Next artist KENNY ROBERTS was an ubiquitous one : Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Pennsylvania, although he was born (1925- d. 2012) in Tennessee as George S. Kingsbury. His speciality was yodeling, and more than one of his songs showed this : « I was born to yodel », « She taught me to yodel » or « The Arizona yodeler ».

Hillbilly fever

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Roberts Kenny "Hillbilly fever"

The song I chose of him is the fine « Hillbilly fever », issued February 1950 on the Coral label (# 64032) : his puffed vocal comes to a good effect, and he yodels lovely, mentioning Hillbilly songs of the era. Main instruments are harmonica and fiddle.

Now two Rockabillies by DANIEL NIX on the Zion, IL N&R label (Starday custom) from 1959. « Compensation blues » (# 741) is a medium-paced opus ; strong vocal and guitar to the fore. The follow-up is « Unlucky man » (# 756), the fastest of both tracks.

Compensation bluesNix Daniel  "Compensation blues"Nix Daniel "Unlucky man"

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Unlucky man”

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On to Texas and Louisiana with RAY ROGERS, Western swing bandleader. His first selection comes from the 1950 Star Talent label (# 758B) : « Mississipi blues » is mid-paced and includes a muted trumpet and a fine steel. The second issue « How can you be so mean » is a fast bopper on the Delta label (# 2840) from an unknown year : chimes and trumpet are the main instruments.

Rogers Ray "Mississipi blues"Rogers Ray  "How can you be so mean"Mississipi blues

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How can you be so mean”

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Way up North in Indianapolis with BOB HILL & his Melody Boys on Nabor 105. « This old train (is leaving my blues behind )» is a fast Rockabilly from 1959, lot of echo and a prominent fiddle. The second issue, « Empty dreams and empty arms » (Nabor 114B) is a shuffler from 1961-62, which has a lot of nice steel, a loud bass and a prominent rhythm guitar. A good record for this era. The song was revamped by Eddie Hill, unknown label. (The muddy sound, I’m sorry, comes from an old Tom Sims cassette).

This old train”

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“Empty dreams and empty arms”

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Finally « Wild cherry » by LEROY WASHINGTON is a pure R&B rocker on the Excello label (# 2144) from 1958. Guitar Gable plays the lead guitar.“Wild cherry”

downoadWashington Leroy "Wild cherry"

Sources : UncleGil for Daniel Nix files ; YouTube for Kenny Roberts. Ole’ Tom Sims’ cassettes for Bob Hill.