Every region of the country had their local star- that person that teetered on the brink of stardom. Radio deejay. Recording artist. Performer. Promoter. Talent scout. Music Publisher. Maybe they ran their own label. Sometimes a studio.
They ALWAYS seemed to be one step away from finally making it…. just one step away.
Our local guy was Fred Crawford.
Billboard June 2, 1956
Like many I was first ushered to Fred through the 1956 Starday release “Rock Candy Rock” (# 243), a steady little piano/guitar jiver that has unfortunately overshadowed his stronger country/hillbilly efforts. On the same disc, the B-side “Secret of my heart” is back to Crawford’s hillbilly roots: it is a solid medium paced very strong opus.
I’m not sure when Fred first began his professional career. His obituary mentioned that as an 11 year old he had “You Are My Shine“‘d his way to a talent show victory on Shreveport’s KWKH. Also mentioned in the same obituary is that by age 25 his recording career was underway. Would assume this would have included his incredibly rare 4-Star custom press, « My inky Dinky baby/Empty feeling in my heart » (Promotional OP-163, from 1953) – it may even appear this record was never issued, as no one has ever seen a copy.
Not mentioned is that Fred had a decent string of excellent releases on the infamous Starday label, all of which are WELL worth tracking down. The rockabilly of “Rock Candy Rock” stands in contrast to his other releases for the label. As does the pop effort “By The Mission Wall“, notable for being recorded in Clovis with Norman Petty producing, Buddy Holly playing guitar, and the Bowman Brothers providing back-up vocals.
Not included in the podcasts (altho’ fully downloadable) upon request) are the following Starday tunes: Time will take you off mymind (St. 124), “Empty feeling in my heart” (124)[also done six months before on the elusive Promotional label OP-163,] “I’ve learned something from you” (St 272),”You’re not the same sweet girl” (# 314) Then A- side of ‘D’ label #1158 “Im all alone”, easily available elsewhere this site. As other tracks on AOK being less interesting. Being so much a country boy, Fred Crawford has not been reissued until now (except for the odd tune on compilations), which is a shame, as his music, specially that cut for Starday, is of very high standard.
Fred was born F. Benjamin Crawford on January 24, 1928, and died on January 13, 1998. He’s buried in the veteran’s corner (because of his activities during WWII) in the Colorado City cemetery out of Mitchell County, Texas.
Largely inspired by the posts of two blogs, Lone Star Stomp and Westex, both from Texas and done in the 2007/2010 period (same Summer period).
My most sincere thanks go to Armadillo Killer for sending many a side. Without his help, the article couldn’t be done – at least this way.
(Fred Crawford: a personal appreciation (bopping’s editor)
“You Gotta Wait” (# 170) is just an outstanding uptempo hillbilly call to action, while the flipside « I just need some lovin’ » (written by labelmate Jimmy Walton) is just equally good.
But I feel that Fred’s crowning achievement is “Can’t Live With ‘Em” (# 199) : never has a white boy had such a bad case of the blues. Note that the songwriter is Mineoloa ‘local guy’ Jack Rhodes. Classy backing : a bluesy lead-guitar, a rinky-dink piano, a strong bass.
Billboard July 2, 1954
Other notable records from this era include : the very solid and macho inspired « Never gonna get married again » (# 156), the great uptempo « First on your list » (# 145 : here’s a wild steel guitar over a Hank Williams‘ typical uttering), also cut by Jack Tucker (released on « X » 0193) – no one can say for sure who came first, and the composer of this small classic, Tom Lancaster, doesn’t give any clue.
Eddie Noack‘s written « Me and my new baby » (# 218), and « Lucky in cards » (# 272) are other winners. And there’s no filler or weak track : every B-side is of high standard too, as the fast « Each passing day » (# 156), « Just another broken heart » (# 218) and the great ‘Starday swan song‘, his last on the label : « You’re not the same sweet girl » (# 314)
There was also at least one waxing for the D label : fine 1960 honky tonkers (# 1058) « I’m all alone » and « Charlies gone ». After that Fred was strictly local, recording for Tommy Allsup/Max Gorman’s Westex/AOK stable, Spiral (which was housed in the former AOK studios), Tic-Toc, Lobo, and a label or two more. Among those efforts are a couple of records supporting his beloved Monahans High School football team and an odd little tribute to coin collecting [untraced].
Fred was a songwriter for others too : I found once a song he gave to Smilin’ Jerry Jericho in 1954, the fine uptempo «I Can’t Give You Anything But Me » (Starday 133). Surely there may have been other Fred compos for others. If a visitor finds one, please do advise me of the find with the « contact me » button!
Despite being a presence on the country music scene in Houston for over 30 years, Johnny Nelms never found the right song or right label to break out of the local honky-tonks. His long recording career included stops at Gold Star, Freedom, Starday, D, Tilt, Westry, Bagatelle, (briefly) Decca, and probably others, but none of these give the likes of Peck Touchton or Eddie Noack anything to worry about. They are decent C&W records, but nothing more. He was more successful as a club owner, pipefitter, Mason, and eventually a politician, serving in the Texas House of Representatives during the 62nd Legislature in 1971-72. When I met him in 1996, he was a bail bondsman in downtown Houston. (No, I wasn’t there to see him about bailing me out of jail.)
For my money, Nelms’ 1955 outing on the Azalea label is his finest hour. The record, made at Bill Quinn’s Gold Star Studio before it’s renovation, is pretty low-fidelity, but Johnny’s singing is great and musically, “After Today” is what ’50s honky-tonk is all about: raw, direct, and emotional…”white man’s blues,” as (ironically) a black country music fan explained to me once. The uncredited backing band here is Peck Touchton‘s Sunset Wranglers, which includes Doug Myers (fiddle), Herman McCoy (guitar), Hoyt Skidmore (steel guitar), and George Champion (piano) — the same band heard on Peck’s Starday and first Sarg session. Peck remembered Johnny very well and often played at his club, The Dancing Barn, on Houston’s East Side:
“We were working at the Dancing Barn with Johnny Nelms [c. 1955],” Touchton said in a 1999 interview. “We worked out there a long time. The Dancing Barn was a rough damn club, too. It was on LaPorte Road. (Nelms’s) old man, his daddy, had just got out of the pen for killing a man when we were working out there. His daddy killed one or two people. At least one. You could just look at the old man and know that the old son-of-a-bitch was dangerous. There was a few knives pulled out there during that time. Even the band had fisticuffs with the crowd.”
Azalea moved around a lot. Starting in Mobile, Alabama, it moved to Houston for awhile, then Dallas, and the final releases have a Fort Worth address. To make things more confusing, Nelms’ record was advertised in Billboard on July 16, 1955, with a New Orleans address. Presumably, label owner Dave Livingstone was a guy who “got around.” He was certainly tenacious, releasing 31 records over about seven years. None were hits, but there were quality outings from the Hooper Twins, James O’Gwynn, Dixie Drifters, Coye Wilcox, Adrian Roland, the Country Dudes, Joe Poovey, and Marvin Paul. The label should be of interest to anyone into ’50s Texas country music.
Nelms was born January 9, 1931 in Huttig, Arkansas (not Houston like he told me in 1996). He died at age 70 in Houston on February 17, 2001.
(from Andrew Brown and his blogsite « Wired for sound », 2009)
Johnny Nelms records – an appreciation (by bopping’s editor)
Both Gold Star 1386 (1950) sides [Note Nelms without “s”] are average Texas Country tunes, one fast (« I’ll learn ya, dern ya ») , the other slow – with minimal instrumentation, they can be forgotten. “I’m so Ashamed” was re-recorded just ten years later on “D” Records!
Let’s jump to 1955 and arguably the cream of the entire Johnny Nelms output with the Azalea issue. « After today » (Azalea 104) is what hllbilly bop is all about : strong and emotional vocal over a medium paced tempo, solid backing (fiddle and steel) ; « Cry, baby cry » goes in the same vein, only adding echo for a good effect, as often in Starday records.
Billboard July 16, 1955
And deservedly Nelms’ next outing was issued on the famous yellow label, and both sides (« A tribute to Andy Anderson/Everything will be all right », Starday 238)) are very good examples of the ‘Starday sound’. It’s surely ole’ Doc Lewis tickling the ivories, and possibly Ernie Hunter who’s sewing his fiddle, plus Herby Remington on steel. Great sides of 1956, reminding certain Sonny Burns‘ or Fred Crawford‘s tunes, and very near in intensity to Azalea.
It’s interesting to note that the original of « After today » had been done in 1951 by the veteran of Honky-tonk in Houston : Jerry Irby, on the Hummingbird label (# 1001) . Included below.
Next record in 1957 on the Tilt label, and the change is significant, as for the first time Nelms imitates (consciously?) someone : Johnny Cash, for a train song, « Mr. Freight Train » (Tilt 1195). Any ‘string band’ instruments removed, sole remains a nice insistant guitar, and the result is fine. Flipside is an average slowie, « Hurt is the heart ».
Finally from 1959 to 1961, Nelms went on the Pappy Daily’s ‘D’ label, and had 4 singles of an high standard, considering the era. « Yoshe’ » and « Memories for a pillow » (D 1114) are uptempos, « Old broken heart » is a mid-paced inspired item, but its flipside « Half past a heartache » (D 1195) is better. « Picture of my heart » is a slowie, and « I’ve never had the blues » D 1178) is of course bluesy. (note a fine swooping piano).
No image available of the boys neither of Bill Morgan at the moment. Maybe someone has one picture? Pease help!
This Bill Morgan has nothing to do with the Columbia songwriter and artist (1954-55), brother to George Morgan.
By the mid-1955, Texans Bill [Morgan, rhythm guitar] and Carroll [Hunt, lead guitar] came from Beaumont, Texas, to Lake Charles’ (La.) Goldband recording studio and cut their first sides. They were issued on Goldband 1034 early 1956, comprised of two Hillbilly boppers tunes : « Love me just a little bit » has harmony vocals in the bridge, the rest
being sung by Bill Morgan ; fine backing of fiddle and steel by the Netche Valley Boys; « My blue letter » is faster and equally good. The boys try with brio to sing harmony all along the track. Again great aggressive fiddle, as on « Honest to goodness baby » (Goldband 1053) issued 1957. The B-side « Love grown cold » is a slowie ; the vocals are plaintive but the spirit (a piano is added) of the other sides remain intact.
Departing from Goldband Bill & Carroll left behind them 5 unissued songs only published in France and U.K. during the late ’80s. A first version of the future Dixie classic “Feel so good“, a perfect example of Hillbilly bop heading towards Rockabilly (great guitar and fiddle backing).The medium paced « Shadow on my heart » is reminiscent of « Love grown cold », but a little faster. Enters even an accordion player. Some mambo rhythm for « Boo hoo », then « Hold me baby » is a fast number, quasi-rockabilly (at least for the guitar playing), a bit Everly-ish. The last tune, « Bluff city rock » is pure rock’n’roll, with heavy drums and tickling piano, and again that fine guitar.
Next step was on Madison, TN, Dixie label. Both of the guys were reunited under the name « BILL CARROLL » for a second version of their previous « Feel so good » (Dixie 2010) – a sharp lead guitar, and a firm vocal. This is the best ever of their product – value $ 300-400, and one would hear their B-side « In my heart » , not available since its November 1958 issue.
From then on, it seems that both of them went separate ways, as further recordings are all assigned to « BILL MORGAN ». First in 1959 (reviewed by Billboard in August) on Pappy Daily’s « D » label (# 1092) . « Your wicked love » is a fast bopper: clear voice, nice backing of piano and an ordinary guitar, probably not by Carroll Hunt. Things are slower for the flipside « At home with mom », full of echo. Next step is on the Dart label (a sublabel to « D ») for « Red hot rhythm combo » (# 137) in 1960 : a good jumping little rocker. The guitar riff is fine and insistant, and Morgan is in good voice.
The man moved again to Texas, and had a good amount of recordings until 1972, when his trail goes cold. On Delta Records, he had late 1962 # 501 « I need your love » picked up by Chess and reissued on # 1841, a good little rocker. Then on Delta 504 in 1963, « She gave me lovin’ », once more a fine rocker. Then on Gem (1964-65) a similar instrumentation for the energetic « Tennessee moon » (# 5) or the lovely (female chorus) « Land of the midnight sun » (# 7)(not posted here). I did not hear further recordings on New World, Stoneway and Myra, so cannot comment neither podcast them.
Another Bill Morgan appeared on Rebel 249 (VA.), who had nothing apparently to do with this artist. Indefatigable visitor (and corrector) DunkenHobo points out a different version of “I need your love”(Chess) by a BOBBIE MORGAN on (Tx) Blackbird 505. It is aurally not an alternate of the Chess issue; a seemingly female vocal; no speeded up tempo I’d assume; and this time a good piano. Producer Bill Morgan, says DrunkenHobo. So maybe Bobbie was his wife? Here it is for what it’s worth:
Sources: 45rpm.com site; notes to Goldband LP 107 “Bop stop rock”; notes to BF 16408 “D & Dart”; YouTube.(53jaybop chain for the Goldband 1034 label scans)
Howdy folks ! Very different things this time, and the recordings do go from 1936 until 1960.
Let’s begin with the unknown (surely a one-offer) GLENN KIRBY and his good, gentle shuffler « I love blue eyes » issued in Texas on TNT 138 in July 1956. A steel and piano solo plus throughout fiddle, although nothing exceptionnal.
SHORTY ASHBURN, our second artist, was equally unknown despite his 3 records issued on Nashville labels at the turn of 1950-51. Without doubt he only cut 4 songs at the same session for the Bullet label, which were issued upon # 749 « Triflin’ heart », a nice shuffler with piano and steel solos. The guitar player is rather uninspired (or too badly paid trying to shine). Ashburn went the same way with « More & more » (# 752) ; all his sides were written (or co-written) with Jimmy Rule, a mathematics teacher mostly famous for ghostwriting Hank Williams‘ booklet, « How to write folk and western music to sell ». The 3rd Ashburn record was written by Autry inman, who found himself in the position he had prophetically shown up, when he was arrested by the FBI in 1972 for bootlegging records : « You’re under arrest » was given to Ashburn and issued on the small Jamboree label (# 514).
PETE PIKE is a rather well-known figure in Hillbilly and Bluegrass circles. His incomplete story was given in this site in January 2011, and many facts have been thrown to light since then. I’ve chosen the fabulous slice of Hillbilly bop from 1960, « Cold gray dawn », issued on Rebel (Maryland) # 228 : great steel and expressive vocal.
As a change, we move to March 1936 for a New Orleans session by MILTON BROWN& His Musical Brownies. The song may be vaudeville or poppish, the backing is splendid : nice fiddle by Cliff Bruner, and a fabulous lap-steel solo (40 seconds!) by the late Bob Dunn. The song is « Ida ! sweet as apple cider », originally on Decca 5325, and reissued on 46002 in 1946.
From Metter, south of Georgia came Wallace and Charlie, the MERCER BROTHERS. They were young farmers and bought their first Sears & Roebuck guitar in 1939 with the money from picking cotton. They had soon after the WWII a show on WMAZ, then entered the Louisiana Hayride in April 1948, as The Blue Ridge Boys. Columbia signed them and recorded the duet, augmented by the harmonica of Wayne Raney, in August 1951. After seemingly sufficient sales, they had a second session in May 1954, backed by Doyle Strickland on fiddle. They sounded like the Delmore Brothers. Here is their « What’s he got that I ain’t got » (Columbia # 20978), you can judge by yourself. After their departure from Columbia, they went to WIBB in Macon where they did alternate country and sacred radio shows.
The last artist was very young, only 18 and still in high school when he entered WRJW radio station in Picayune, MS. to record his double-sider for D Records in September 1958. Pappy Daily had a contact in Picayune, Fred Henley (the local Colonel Parker) who sent up for DOUG STANFORD. His record « Sady/Won’t you tell me » (D 1034) had a gifted guitar player, Billy Fred Stockstill, even younger than Stanford : « He could do that Chet Atkins stuff good as Chet », he said.
Sources : « A shot in the dark » boxset, notes by Martin Hawkins ; « The complete D singles…collection, volume 1 », notes by Colin Escott. « Columbia 20000 », the site of Willem Agenant. My own archives. YouTube and 45rpm-cat.
This fortnight’s favorites feature will be separated in two sections. First we will be wandering between some artists of various importance. Second we will hook up on a familiar theme in 1954-55, that of « Daydreamin’ »…
First comes the very unknown from the early days, WALLY MOORE& His Tennesseans. He cut seemingly first for the R&B indie Acorn (a subsidiary of N.J. giant Savoy label), which had its Hillbilly serie : « A dream lives on » (# 317-B) in 1951. A sweet little jumping bopper with good voice from Moore. The steel is uninspired, but the guitar takes a fresh short solo. Earlier he had been on the big concern Savoy – again in its 3000 Hillbilly serie – for the proto-Rockabilly « Down at the picture show » (# 3025). He had also a good disc on # 3023, “Tie a little string around your finger” (announced by 7th Jan. 1950 Billboard issue); I include the reverse side, “A vision of yesterday“, a weeping ballad for a change, because of the mandolin accompaniment and the Hawaii style steel (which sounds like Jerry Byrd, according to the provider of this 78rpm, Ronald Keppner). Finally Moore had another record on Regent 170 [unheard] then he disappeared from my researching antennas.
Galen Gart’s ARLD gives the date of Savoy 3024 (wedged in between the two Wally Moore issues) as issued in January 1950, and Acorn 316 on March 1951.
Billboard Feb. 18, 1950
The name CURLEY SANDERS surely rings a bell to many. He had first waxed for Dallas’ Star Talent label (« Last on your list », # 749), then he came to Imperial in 1951, Concept later, finally on Jamboree. That’s when in 1956 he cut his most famous track « Brand new Rock’n’Roll », a fiery slice of wild Rockabilly (# 590). I’ve chosen his second issue on Jamboree (# 1833A) « Heartsick and blue », again with the Kentucky Rangers : backing of piano, a rockabilly picking guitar solo, a good steel solo and a welcome mandolin solo over a urgent vocal. Sanders story was told in this site in March 2013.
From West Monroe, La. comes the back-to-back Dos record by AL DOSS (# 944). Fine uptempo of « That’s my baby ». Quieter is the double-voiced flipside « Everytime you waltz again ». A nice little record. Doss had another good record on Dos # 945 with two boppers: “Why do dont” and “Everytime you waltz“.
Both sides have a “GS” written in wax; so a Gold Star recording location (Houston) is probable.
In 1954 on Meteor # 5014 BUD DECKLEMAN had a mammoth hit with « Daydreamin’ », the quintessential Hillbilly bop heard even in New Orleans [n° 2 in Cashbox charts], or Des Moines (Iowa), not to say Memphis [n° 1] of course. Sam Phillips had previously turned down Deckleman and was bitterly biting his fingers..Les Bihari (Meteor label’s boss), who had renamed Daydreamers the label’s house-band (for Jess Hooper, Barney Burcham and Jimmy Haggett), was very cutup when Deckleman agreed to the offer made by M-G-M, still in the hunt for another Hank Williams. Bud Deckleman waxed a dozen sides [all were released] between 1955 and 1956, and athough he had a small success with « No one dear but you » (M-G-M 11952, March 1955), his style really out of date at the time being eluded him the renewal of his contract with M-G-M. Here it is « I gotta find a way », the very last song he cut for M-G-M on October 18, 1956 (# 12419), and the penultimate issue (before # 12552, « I done fell too fer/As long as I can dream », a prophetically title !). Good, excellent bopper, very confident and driving. The story of Bud Deckleman can be found in this site, as it has been told in May 2009. Unfortunately Deckleman’s career gradually came at its end in 1957, because he was out of date and, according to Q. Claunch « You’d never be quite sure you could rely on him ». Final record in 1961 on Stompertime # 1400, « I’ll be the one/I’m sorry now », a fine swansong in the M-G-M days mould. Deckleman died in February 1998.
And that’s when the story of « Daydreamin’ » begins, thanks to its writers, Mrrs. Bill Cantrell and Quinton Claunch. (respectively guitarist and fiddler on the « Daydreamin’ » session) : led by Sam Phillips in astray, they wrote the follow-up, « Daydreams come true » for Maggie Sue Wimberly at Sun (# 229) and Buddy Bain, Kay Wayne and Merle (Red) Taylor at Meteor (# 5027). Note that both of them played on the two sessions!
In the meantime « Daydreamin’ » had been covered at least 7 times, first by Jimmy Newman (Dot), who hit to # 7 in early 1955 with it; then by Wanda Jackson, Carl McVoy, and later by Tibby Edwards (on Todd) or Warren Storm. I include the version made very early by DOUG BRAGG on Coral (# 61364) – recorded January 1955, it’s a carbon copy of Deckleman’s, which went unsuccessful. He liked the theme, as he even had also his sequels to « Daydreamin’ » on Houston, Tx. D Records 3 years later : « Daydreaming again » (# 1018)[with little yodels..] and its reverse, « If I find my dream girl » ! Of course Bragg also recorded for Dixie and Skippy. His story was told in this site in December 2012.
Sources : my own archives ; notes by Martin Hawkins to Ace CD « The complete Meteor rockabilly and hillbilly recordings » ; 45cat and 78rpm-world. Michel Ruppli’s « The M-G-M label » (session details). As usual thanks to Ronald Keppner for his precious help on Wally Moore 78rpm. Thanks DrunkenHobo for the press snippet.