Cowboy Howard Vokes, Pennsylvania’s King of Country Music (1958-60)

cowboy howard vokes "this prison I'm in"

The Honorable ‘Cowboy’ Howard Dean Vokes is born in Clearfield, PA. on June 13, 1931. His father works in the coalmines to provide the needs of his big family, wife, 6 girls and 7 boys.
His mother handles her children in a firm education. Anytime uncles and cousins turn up at the family’s house it’s with their mandolin, harmonica and guitar. No wonder why young Howard
got his inspiration to use a broomstick as a guitar.
In this musical world, the Grand Ole Opry or the Supper Time Frolic shows fit very well the introduction to music of the multi-talented artist to come. He also lends an attentive ear to Buckshot Morgan, Rusty Herman or Slim Bryant on the local radio airwaves.

Howard started to play harmonica when only 6 years old to give it up for guitar 5 years later, right after the Vokes family set up in New Kensington, PA. in 1941.
When 15 years old, he got his first start on local shows and entertained on various radio programs such as WKPA, New Kensington or WAVL, Apollo.
A hunting accident broke his right ankle in 1948 and put him for 6 weeks in a hospital. His personal therapy is in writing songs and improve his guitar playing.
When ready he forms his first own group, The Country Boys. Together they travel throughout northern USA and some parts of Canada.

On March 1955, Wanda Jackson is in the Bradley’s Recording Studios in Nashville with a song written by the young Howard : «Tears at the Grand Ole Opry », issued on Decca 29514.

Wanda JacksonTears at the Grand Ole Opry

downloadwanda Jackson "Tears at the grand ole opry"

This same year, he puts his songwriting talents to the service of Hank King (or Russian origin: rn Papalia) for two tracks to appear on the Blue Ribbon label # 1925, « Your Atom Bomb Heart »/« I Want To Know (Why You Don’t Care For me ). They also appear on Blue Hen 223.

hank King " Your Atom bomb heart"

Hank King, “Your atom bomb heart

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Also, for the Cicero, IL. based duo Denver Duke & Jeffrey Null who record in October 1955 « Hank Williams That Alabama Boy »  issued on the Blue Hen label. Jeffery Null & Denver duke "Hank Williams that Alabama boy"

Denver Duke & Jeffery Null, “Hank Williams that Alabama boy

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Howard becomes their manager and main songwriter. He gets a record deal to his protégés with the Mercury label ; and he decides to handle his own career. So, in 1958 he cuts his very first single in the School House Studio in Jeanette, PA. backed by Johnny Drolz (steel), Skeets Martin (electric guitar) and Bob Rose (bass) issued as ‘Cowboy’ Howard Vokes : « Ghost Of a Honky-Tonk Slave », a pure medium honky-tonker with a strong Hank Williams influence, « This Prison I’m In »  is another honky-tonker, but slower and with a more driving vocal. Steel-guitar is omnipresent on both sides of this Del-Ray 204 single.

Canadian issue

Cowboy Howard Vokes "Ghost of a honky tonk slave"Ghost of a honky tonk slave

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This prison I’m inCowboy Howard Vokes "This prison I'm in"

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Real success comes with his second single : « Willie Roy, the crippled Boy », cut in 1959 in Cleveland, OH, with the same musicians as on his first record with additional help from his friend Rudy Thacker on guitar. This leads to many tours throughout the USA and TV and radio shows.

Cowboy Howard Vokes "Willie Roy, the crippled boy"

Willie Roy, the crippled boy

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It’s not until 1961 that Howard meets with a second hit, « Mountain Guitar » (Del-Ray 205) after Rudy Thacker, writer of the song, cut the original version on Blue Hen 234. The great Roy Acuff also had his own version on Hickory 1134 in 1961.

Mountain guitar

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Full Howard Vokes’ repertoire, recorded between 1958 and 1960, is of a high quality in an authentic and traditional sound in this shifting area.

The love I once knew“(Del-Ray 211)

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“”Forever“(Del-Ray EP 250)

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Tears at the Grand Ole Opry“(Mountain LP 2002)

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Keep cool but don’t freeze“(Mountain LP 2002)

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Down in the hollow“(Mountain LP 2002)

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After 4 singles and 1 EP on Del-Ray, Howard records an album for the Starday label in Madison, TN. The session is produced by Don Pierce on August 2, 1963. 14 songs are issued on the album « TRAGEDY & DISASTERS IN COUNTRY SONGS » (Starday LP-258).

On February 1st, 1969, Howard uses the same Starday recording studios for another Country session, backed by DJ.Fontana (drums), Al Gore (flat top guitar), Jeff Newman (steel guitar), Joe « Red » Hayes (fiddle), Bill Linneman (bass). The 12 tracks appear on the « HOWARD VOKES SINGS THE SONGS OF BROKEN LOVE AFFAIRS » (Folk-Variety FV 1212).

Completely devoted to the Country Music cause, Howard Vokes remains the big promotor of this style in the state of Pennsylvania. He launches 2 labels, Vokes and Country Boy, to support new talents without forgetting the old veterans happy to get attentive ears again.

A deserved homage is paid to him in 1987 with a song written by Ray D.Jones and recorded by Mel Anderson, « The King Of Country Music In Pennsylvania » (Country Boy CB-106).

 

This article was originally written in French, then translated by Jack Dumery.

“Whammy Bammy Buzzard Goozer” – from Hillbilly to Rock’n’roll: the LOUIE INNIS story (1946-1956)

LOUIE INNIS (biography by Greg Adams, Allmusic.com). [Additions by Bopping’s editor.]

Louie Innis was born on January 21, 1919 (d. Aug. 20, 1982) in Seymour, Indiana. His role as a session guitarist is often emphasized but the fact is that, for us, it was not his most important role.

Louie Innis (sometimes credited as Louis) is one of those 50-year-old hillbilly boppers that thrill country music collectors. He never had a success [that’s not true], but his recordings for King and Mercury were cheerful, boogies uptempos and proto-rockers that show the musical mastery and the vocal work of Innis.

He was part of Hank Penny’s The Plantation Boys in the early 1940s, performing guitar and bass chores alongside Carl Stewart and Zed Tennis as violinists, and Roy Lanham’s solo guitar. Here is an example of Louie Innis work as rhythm player during a Hank Penny March 1945 session in Cincinnati, OH.: “Talkin’ about you” (King 512)

king penny talkin'

hank penny picture

Hank Penny

Talkin’ about you

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They worked with The Delmore Brothers, Merle Travis, Bradley Kincaid and Grandpa Jones. They also accompanied WLW pop singer Doris Day. After the march of Lanham, in 1944 the band toured with the USO before Penny traveled to California at the behest of [Merle] Travis, and the group undid. Later, when Penny was under contract with RCA, Innis composed a pair of songs to him, “No Muss-No Fuss-No Bother“(RCA 58-0183)  and “Hold The Phone” (1951).rca penny fuss

No muss-no fuss-no bother

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«(You ain’t nothin’ but a female) Hound Dog“, a duet with Charlie Gore, is an issue that has surfaced in rockabilly compilations, although it was recorded in 1953, indicating that Innis was on the road to rock & roll, though he was never permanently installed on it.

charlie gore picture

Charlie Gore

king gore dog“(You ain’t nothin’ but a female) Hound dog

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There are very few biographical data we could gather about Innis; however, on King Records’ promotional discs some details about the performer were outlined: on King 1225 (1953) he was defined: “Composer, vocalist, instrumentalist and emcee [presenter at Indiana Hoedown on WFBM], Louis innis excels in every facet. An Indiana guy who started on the radio at age 16, Innis has already made up a few hit songs. »

 

In King 1406 (1954) it was stated: “Indiana native Louie Innis became interested in music for the first time thanks to the local hairdresser who knew a few chords on the guitar, and both played and did duets between cuts of hair and shaved, almost every day. »

 

On the other side of the same single was noted: “A familiar figure among the broadcasts of folk music is Louie Innis. One of the outstanding rhythmic guitars in the business, Louie Innis worked with Red Foley for two and a half years at the Grand Ole Opry and has recorded with over fifty different artists ».

 

King 4861 (1955) noted: “(….) His work as a guitarist is much appreciated and is required by many great country stars. Louie is currently working as an emcee at the Indiana Hoedown in Indianapolis, Indiana. »

 

And on the flipside it was said: “Born in Shelbyville, Indiana, 35 years ago, Louie Innis was driven into music business when he was expelled from high school. He and some other students “played hookey” (skipped classes) one day. “The other guys lied about why they had gone away, but I told the truth,” he explains. “Later, when the director found out, he begged me to come back, but I said ‘no thank you’, and I took music seriously with the blessing of my parents.”

 

As a composer, in addition to his own songs, highlights “Seven Nights To Rock“, along with Buck Trail and Henry Glover, for Moon Mullican (1956), a classic rockabilly that he never got to record:

 

Seven nights to rockking mullican seven

Seven nights to roll

Seven nights I’m gonna show my face

With a different woman in a different place

Seven nights to rock

I’ve got seven nights to roll

Seven nights to rock

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Monday, I’m gonna rock with Jane

Tuesday, it’s gonna be Luane

Wednesday, it’s Esteline

Thursday, it’s Betty Sue and me

Friday, it’s Linda Lue

Saturday and Sunday any chick’ll do

 

Monday, Sister Suzie’s ball

Tuesday, I’m at the union hall

Wednesday, I’m at the roadhouse inn

Thursday, I’m at the lion’s den

Friday, I’m at the Chatter Box

Saturday and Sunday everybody rocks

 

Skip, Hop & Jump Country Style” is a German 23-track anthology of recordings of Innis on Mercury and King between 1949 and 1955, full of Innis novelties and a few hillbilly covers of pop and R & B hits such as “Oh! Babe by Louis Prima and “Hearts of Stone” by the Charms. «Stomp that thing» is a recent (2017) digital anthology to be found on Uncle Gil’s Rockin’ Archives blogsite.

broncocd innis

hmc cd innis

unclegil.blogspot.fr (43 tracks)

Louis Prima: “Oh! babe

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RH prima babe

Innis used a superb rhythmic section filled with resources like palms, bells, whistles and howls, as a precedent of what Sid King & the Five Strings would do next. Innis had a prominent band in which Zeb and Zeke Turner, Jerry Byrd, Tommy Jackson and Don Helms paraded in different stages, along with Maddox Brothers & Rose, to the category of talents that “should have been», but never received sufficient recognition.

 

 

 

 

 

LOUIE INNIS : an appreciation track per track (by Bopping’s editor)

If the reading of comments is boring you, go direct to the podcasts, label scans and downloads.

Sterling and Deluxe issues (1947-late 1948)louie innis picture

« LOUIE & THE INNIS CLAN » (on Sterling)

«Look in the looking glass» is a fast Western swing novelty. Good guitar, steel (Jerry Byrd?) + a welcome trumpet solo. (N.Y.C. Sterling 207 – probably recorded in Nashville).

billboard26-4-47 innis

Billboard April 26 , 1947

Look in the looking glass

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«Tennessee Central» is of course a train song that’s « Rockin’ and reelin’». Fast. No fiddle. Trumpet main instrument. Steel effects of train. Agile lead guitar. (N.Y.C. Sterling 209 – probably recorded in Nashville).

Tennessee Central

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LOUIS INNIS

«I guess you just don’t care» is a mid-paced ballad. An accordion; fiddle, guitar and bass. Vocal is a bit Hillbilly crooning. (New Jersey Deluxe 5059, also probably recorded in Nashville). First song written by Louie Innis. Leased by King ? The session has nos less than 7 unissued songs left.

I guess you just don’t care

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sterling innis looksterling innis tennesseedeluxe !nnis guess

= On December 22, 1948, Innis did the rhythm guitar duty for the Hank Williams‘ session that released « Lost on the river » and « Lovesick blues ».

 

 

Mercury issues (July 1949-November 1951)

« LOUIE INNIS & THE STRING DUSTERS »

«Better back up mama» (# 6217) Billed on label «Country boogie and blues» : uptempo Bopper ; prominent fiddle, Jerry Byrd takes a steel solo. Probably Zeke Turner on lead guitar. Innis on energetic rhythm guitar.

“Better back up mama”

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«Chattanoogie boogie». Same style. Call-and-response format, billed on label «Country boogie».
“Chattanoogie boogie”

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mercury innis backmercury innis chattanoogie

= On August 30, 1949, Innis accompanied on rhythm guitar Hank Williams once more (and for the last time) on «I’m so lonesome I could cry», «I just don’t like this kind of livin’», «My bucket’s got a hole in it». Tommy Jackson was on fiddle, and probably accompanied Louis Innis on his first Mercury session, with Ernie Newton on bass, at E.T. Herzog Studio in Cincinnati, OH.

«She’s mean to me» (# 6225, reissued # 6273) is a real fine shuffler. Zeke Turner in good form. Byrd has his solo. Certainly Tommy Jackson on insistent fiddle.

One more «Country boogie» as noted on the label : «Jug band boogie» (# 6244). A novelty by the use of a washboard, handclaps, and the growls of Innis (imitating T. Texas Tyler). A fine bopper.

mercury innis meanmercury innis jug

“She’s mean to me”

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“Jug band boogie”

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«I thought she was a local (but she was a fast express)» (# 6273). Not written by Innis, it’s his second train-inspired opus. Very fast song, an harmonica (for the only time in Innis’ records), fiddle is prominent. Discreet steel, imitating a train bell. A promising «Woman hating blues» from this August 1950 session remains unissued.

Another pop novelty from the pen of Louis Prima, given the Hillbilly bop treatment, «Oh ! Babe» (# 6293). Tailor-made for Prima, a very nice version by the versatile Innis. An insistent guitar riff.

I thought she was a local

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Oh! Babe

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mercury innis localmercury innis babe

Then, without doubt, the greatest and the best selling pairing, Mercury 6312 : «Boogie woogie baby» has agressive drums and steel (solo). Zeke or Zeb Turner takes a good solo too. One of the masterpieces of Louie Innis, predating by 5 years the Rockabilly yet to come. Then his greatest claim to fame which also must have him secured a lot of money: «Goodnight Cincinnati, goodmorning Tennessee». Very fast train song. Jerry Byrd steel omnipresent.

cincinnati partitioncincinnati partition2Boogie woogie babyjerry byrd picture

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Goodnight Cincinnati, goodmorning Tennessee”

downloadmercury innis boogiemercury innis cincinnati

This song had many versions, the first to be waxed (March 1rst, 1951) and, in my opinion, the best, by Shorty Long on King 953;

Shorty Long version:

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by Marty Robbins on the stage of G.O.O. in June, Tex Williams too:billboard cincinnati

Marty Robbins version:

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even a pop version by Al Trace & Orchestra (vocal Bobby Hart). Ten years later it became a new hit in May 1961 in the hands of Rusty York. That’s an enduring Hillbilly rocker classic. 

Rusty York version (King 5511)

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billboard 31-3-51 trace

Billboard March 31, 1951

king york cincinnati

More to come with the next pairing. «Honky-tonk man» (# 6335) from May 1951. Strong country boogie guitar, loud drums, great steel. Same goes for the flipside, «Stomp that thing» (penned Innis-Turner) is a tour-de-force, his fastest song ever, without fiddle, and proto-rockabilly. Great song !

Honky tonk man

download “Stomp that thing

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mercury innis honkymercury innis stomp

In June 1951, Hank Penny cut the Louie Innis songs that were specially written for him : «No muss-no fuss-no bother» and «Hold the phone», although the session took place on the West coast (Innis not present).

So strangely «I’ve got a red hot love» (on the label, «Louie Innis » alone) (# 6370) from late 1951 returns to classic style Hillbilly bopper – the theme song is as usual. The fiddle is back, and the voice is always winkling. From the same session remained unissued «I’m the lonesomest guy».

“I’ve got a red hot love

downloadmercury innis red

billboard 3-6-50 innis

 

 

 

LOUIE INNIS – The King years (1953-1955)

Remember. If my comments are boring you, go direct to podcasts, downloads and labels scans.

Louie Innis didn’t have in 1952 any recording pact, and without doubt he devoted himself to his work on WLW (Cincinnati, Midwestern Hayride) and WFBM (Indiana Hoedown), or recording sessions for others artists.

Billboard March 1953

February and March 1953. «Who’ll give me, you’ll give me, who’ll give me kisses» (# 1180) is a fast novelty and unpretentious very good bopper with its catch phrase.

Who’ll give me, you’ll give me, who’ll give me kisses

billboard 16-5-53 gore

Billboard May 16, 1953

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king innis kisses
Next thing is a true and well-known mark in Innis story. He duetted indeed with billboard 53 goreCharlie Gore for an hilarious version of the then R&B hit of Big Mama Thornton, which they changed to «(You ain’t nothin’ but a female) Hound dog» (# 1212). A nice shuffler, handclaps, a fine guitar solo. It’s true that such a tune  announces rockabilly.
 See above for the podcast.

From the same February 1953 session came « Whammy Bammy Buzzard Goozer », a non-sense out-and-out rocker. The fiddle solo is inventive, lot of drums and a saxophone backing (# 1225).

billboard 6-53 innis

Billboard June 1953

king innis whammyWhammy bammy buzzard goozer

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From September 1953 to September 1954. More train songs. First a novelty bopper «I ain’t got a pot (to peel potatoes in)» (# 1260) : an agressive steel, some discreet drums.

I ain’t got a pot

king innis locomotive

 

downloadking innis pot

Then the very fast «I got a round trip ticket» » from November 1953. Train effects by the steel payer ; pizzicato played fiddle, which seems mandolin . Plus, «There’s a red hot fire (in the old locomotive)» (# 1392) (penned Roberts = maybe Bob Newman under his usual pseudonym as writer), again a fast train song.

“I got a round trip ticket

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There’s a red hot fire

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Finally a cover of another R&B hit, “Hearts of stone” (# 1392), originally done by the Black vocal group The Charms. Innis does a fine mid-paced rendition of the song. Good steel and guitar. This crossover use of R&B and C&W songs was common at King for years, and gave many a new, fresh song.

The Charms, “Hearts of stone

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Louie InnisHearts of stone

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king innis heartsdeluxe charms hearts

Finally from October 1954 to May 1955. – Innis aided by Al Myers (lead guitar), Jerry Byrd and a bass player, formed The Country Cats for a 4-instrumentals session. Fine relaxed boppers : «Hot strings» (# 1410) and «Sun shadows» (# 1430).

king cats strings

king cats shadows

 

 

Al Myers

 

 

 

Hot strings

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Sun shadows

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Back to Louie Innis recording sessions. He did a good version of the old spiritual « Nobody knows you when you’re down and out », another crossover (# 1406). «The kissing chain» (which he didn’t write) is another mid-paced good novelty. Al Myers makes prowesses on lead (# 1415). The flipside «Let’s make up tonight» goes same, and is equally good bopper. The final side «Sing your song baby» (# 4861) has chorus and a fine guitar. Innis is tending clearly toward rock’n’roll, that he never really reached. Actually he never recorded anything after this last King 1955 session.

“The kissing chain”

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“Let’s make up tonight”

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“Sing your song, baby”

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king innis kissingking innis makeking nnis song

In 1961, King issued a remaining track from the Deluxe session of 1948 (unheard). Why this occurred ?

 

Further adventures of Louis Innis after 1955

He seems to have devoted himself to writing songs for others. Here below is a partial list of artists whom he’d work for :

  • Chet Atkins, « Mister Misery », 1954
  • Chet Atkins, « Set a spell » (vocal by Red Kirk), 1954
  • Fuller Todd, « Old fashioned », 1957
  • Brenda Lee, « I’m learning about love » (with Grady Martin), 1960
  • Charles Brown, « Christmas questions », 1961
  • Conway Twitty, « Portrait of a fool » (with Buddy Killen), 1961
  • Joe Henderson, « Mr. Voice », 1962
  • Jimmy Logsdon, « The life of Hank Williams » (with Hawkshaw Hawkins), 1963
  • Lois Williams, « Don’t take my child away », 1970

and a lot more into the ’70s.

Louie Innis also arranged songs for Don Lane (M.C.A.), date unknown.

Those songs were rejected for certain reasons (primarily because they’d take too much room) :

Oklahoma City/Foggy river (Sterling) ; I’d be ashmaed if I were you (DeLuxe)

Good morning Judge/My dreamboat stuk a snag/I grabbed for the engine (Mercury)

It don’t pay to advertise/Mexican Joe/What a way to die/Suicide/You’ve got it/What’s she got/She rurn’t it/Nobody knows you when you’re down and out/You’re not happy till you’re mad/Jealous hearted woman (King). A good amount of them is on the « Stomp that thing » compilation (on Uncle Gil’s Rockin’ Archives blogsite: unclegil.blogspot.fr)

My thanks go first to Uncle Gil’s Rockin’ Archives blogsite, and as usual, Ronald Keppner for the loan (scan and music) of rare 78 rpm’s. Then to Greg Adams (all music site) for the only biography available on Louis Innis ; to the people of the « King Project » (for Hank Penny King side) ; 78rpm and 45rpm scans on always fruitful « 45worlds.com ». My old fellow Tony Biggs for « Whammy… ». YouTube was useful too. There had been a whole lot of work for this issue : it’s really been a « labor of love » ! I hope you’ll appreciate the result of the study. Thanks for your comments : they always give me courage to go further and deeper into Hillbilly bopping music..

RED KIRK, “Lovesick blues” boy, “The voice of the Country”

Born 24 May 1925, Knoxville, Tennessee, USA. Claude “Red” Kirk started playing steel guitar at seven but changed to ordinary guitar and began singing at 10. He served in the US Army during World War II and on discharge played on WNOX Knoxville’s Mid Day Merry-Go-Round and Tennessee Barn Dance. He spent three years as a member of Archie Campbell’s touring show but later his fine vocals, reminiscent of Eddy Arnold, saw him tour and work radio and television at numerous venues including Dayton, Lexington and Louisville. He also played on WLS National Barn Dance in Chicago, the Big “D” Jamboree in Dallas and the Louisiana Hayride in Shreveport and made guest appearances on the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. He made his first recordings for Mercury in 1949, on some being accompanied by noted session musicians that included Jerry Byrd (steel guitar) and Tommy Jackson (fiddle). He later recorded for ABC-Paramount Records, Starday, Dewitt and Great. Died in Bristol, TN, in May 1999. (anonymous biography from allmusic.com)

His radio shows as D.J. : WNOX, Knoxville, TN ; WTMT, Louisville, KY ; WKLO, Louisville, KY ; WOWI, New Alban, IN ; WIMA, Lima, OH. (from hillbilly-music.com)

RED KIRK : an appreciation (by bopping’s editor)

  1. the Mercury and RCA years (1949-1954)

Fine honky tonk music that brought Kirk the somewhow ambitious nickname of « The voice of the country », it spanned five years and gave him two massive hits. Generally backed by the cream of Cincinnati musicians, among

them Jerry Byrd on steel for example, he kept the Mercury label’s executives faith in him to go on in spite of moderate sales of his other records. Most of his recordings for Mercury are uptempos, although his voice pushed him naturally to sing ballads, hence his nickname : he was then a bit crooning and, apart from one or two exceptions, I’ll let them apart. So I will concentrate on uptempo and boppers.

It’s very hard to describe Red Kirk’s version of « Lovesick blues » (Mercury 6189), since it’s so very close to Hank Williams’ one. What is notable is the urgency of the recording, very early (presumably February 1949) after the « original » (which actually was not) of Williams, cut late December 1948. Kirk’s version is credited « Traditional » and includes an accordion part. The other tunes of the session are forgettable ballads (# 6189 and 6204).Kirk Red "Lovesick blues"

“Lovesick blues

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« I wasted a nickel » (# 6223) and « Church bells chimed » (# 6274) are good examples of the ballads of Red Kirk : the richness and sweetness of his voice are perfectly emphasized by musicians, as told before, the top notch team of Cincinnati country music : among them, one can speculate Zeke Turner on lead guitar, Tommy Jackson on fiddle. Red Kirk is even (a common practice then) associated vocally to a girl singer, Judy Perkins, for two ballads (# 6237).

I wasted a nickel

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Church bells chimed”

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Judy Perkins

Billoard August 5, 1950

Time goes on, and we reach the second Red Kirk hit, in November 1950 : « Lose your blues » is a bluesy bopper with some yodeling, backed by Jerry Byrd.

Lose your blues

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Never been so lonesome

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Kirk Red "Cold steel blues"Kirk Red "Never been so lonesome"

Out of the HW pattern was the slow, bluesy « Can’t understand a woman (who can’t understand her man) » # 6288), and the fast, double-voiced « Sugar-coated love «  # 6332)[a very fine guitar solo.]

 

 

Can’t understand a woman (who can’t understand her man)”

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Sugar coated love

Billboard June 9, 1951

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Kirk Red  "Can't understand a woman (who can't understand her man)"kirk red  "Sugar- coated love

 

 

Kirk went further in 1952 with the proto-rockabillies « Knock out the lights and call the law » (# 6409) and « Walkin’ ’round in circles » (# 70044) : both include snare drums and predate by two years the Starday sound, which included howling steel and sawing fiddle. Note that the nickname “The voice of the country” was erased, only remain the laconic “vocal by Red Kirk“. But for Mercury, enough was enough. Success had for too long eluded Kirk and they let him go. « Train track shuffle » (# 6358) escaped to my researches, and although the title sounds promising for a train song, nobody seems to own it.

Kirk Red "Knock out the lights and call the law"Kirk Red  "Walkin' 'round in circles"

Knock out the lights and call the law

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Walkin’ ’round in circles

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Red Kirk appeared in 1954 as vocalist on a notorious Chet Atkins session held in Nashville, and sang a good mid-paced bopper, « Set a spell » (RCA 47-5956), but this seems to be more a good turn to Kirk than a step to a new recording label.”Set a spell

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Atkins Chet (Red Kirk vocal) "Set a spell"

  1. The final Red Kirk years (1956-1967)

From then on, Kirk went from one small label to another, searching the always elusive hit. In late 1955 he cut two tracks in Nashville for Republic # 7120 : « Davy Crockett blues » is a fine uptempo, with some yodel, based of course on the current rage. Stylistically it’s not that far from his last Mercury sides three years earlier : steel and fiddle gave him a good support. A very convincing side, although in 1956 it was way too late for such a type of song. « Red lipped girl » is a folkish fast, dramatic song which has a strong Indian appeal, as Marvin Rainwater.

Billboard Jan. 21, 1956

Kirk Red  "Davy Crockett blues"Kirk Red  "Red lipped girl"Davy Crockett blues”

download “Red lipped girl”

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In 1957, Kirk choose a Lee Hazlewood/Loy Clingman song « It’s nothing to me » and cut it on the Ring label # 1503 : his rich deep voice does a very good effect on that song, although he copies the original very close. Note that the credit goes to « Patterson », a pseudonym of Leon Payne. Kirk’s ’45 had at any rate made some noise, because the larger ABC bought the sides and reissued them as ABC-Paramount 9814. The flipside « How still the night » is a good ballad, with prominent piano.Kirk Red  "It's nothing to me"Clingman Loy  "It's nothing to me"Kirk Red  "How still the night"

“It’s nothing to me”

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“How still the night”

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Later on in 1958, Kirk recorded a single on Starday regular serie (# 421) : « Dark streets/I wonder », to me are very ordinary Country songs, well in the Nashville mould. Then he had two ’45s on the DeWitt and Spot labels (one track « Hurtin’ all over » is common to both of issues), but I didn’t hear them.
Dark streetsKirk Red  "Dark streets"

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Finally on Great (a sublabel to Chart) in 1967 (# 1075), he recut « It’s nothing to me », and he does a very fine job with this modern version (it even has a brass section and violins). The flipside is « Sleep, little brother », a sincere ballad.
It’s nothing to me

downloadKirk Red "It's nothing to me"

And that’s it. Red Kirk disappears from the musical scene, and no one knows what he did (perhaps radio?) between 1967 and his death in 1999 in Bristol, Tennessee.

 

Sources: 45-cat and 78rpm-world; YouTube for some tracks; the invaluable help once more of the indefatigable Ronald Keppner; my own archives.

“TOPPA Tops ‘Em All” – the rise of a small California output (1958-60)

Covina, Ca., home of Toppa Records

Covina, Ca. home to Toppa

Toppa was founded in Covina, Ca. by ex-country singer and top DJ (KXLA) Jack Morris. He had had releases on Starday (Custom serie, in January 1955), Sage and Pep and came up with this new label late in 1958. The label lasted way up during the ’70s, and found frequent modest success, although only regionally. Toppa’s best sides have been reissued recently in a 3-CD bootleg Internet boxset (« Toppa’s country » vol. 1, 2 and 3 ) to be found on “UncleGil’s rockin’ archives” blog.: http://adf.ly/1hinq0

I will focus on the first 31 issues (1958-1960).

BROCK WILLIAMS offers « What am I » (# 1001), a nice little rocker, with a little echo, over a good guitar and an assured vocal. The flipside, « Touch of perfection » is a perfect mid-paced bluesy ballad. Wally Black on # 1002 remains untraced (« She’s comin’ home »).

What am I

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Touch of perfection

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Williams Brock "What Am I"Williams Brock "Touch Of Perfection"
We jump to # 1003 by ERNIE MATHIS : very nice fast, piano-led « Lonesome wheels » and the more slowish « So am I ». Later on he was on Fable. That was the last Toppa issue reviewed by Billboard in 1958.

Lonesome wheelsMathis Ernie "Lonesome Wheels"

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So am I

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Black Wally "What's It To You"

“What’s it to you

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« What’s it to you » issued on # 1004 by WALLY BLACK is a very good part-styled Cash opus, because of the insistent guitar bass chords motif. Black had previously cut some pop rockers on the Fable label (« Rock and roll mama »).

CATHIE TAYLOR on # 1006 « Two straws and a soda », a poppish teen ballad, merits oblivion.

GEORGE HEFFINGTON, # 1007, and the fast, fine « Ghost of love ». Again a very good guitar throughout. Flipside Heffington George "Ghost Of Love"Heffington George "Crazy Love"“Ghost of love”

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« Crazy love » is equally good, although less fast. He much later recorded on the Accent label (ca. 1964-65) « Honky tonk merry-go-round (unheard).

“Crazy love”

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LINA LYNN delivers a R&R instumental, « Lina’s doll » (# 1008) where she’s backed by the Storms, a band that appeared also on the Sundown label, and whose general sound is not dissimilar to Eddie Cochran‘s Kelly Four. # 1009 is by WALLY BLACK, « Gee I hate to go », a light rocker with pop overtones. Its flipside, « I ain’t gonna cry no more » has the same Kelly Four savour. Actually it’s even written by Kelly 4 member : saxophonist Mike Deasy.

I ain’t gonna cry no more

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Black Wally "I Ain't Gonna Cry No More"

Next offering is a double sider by REX BINGHAM. He goes a bit poppish with male chorus, but has the strong help of Ralph Mooney on steel (two solos) for « Just like before » and « The fire is burning low » (# 1011). He had a « Blind blind heart » in 1959 on Rex 100, which was reissued on Toppa 1028. Was it a sublabel ? « Linda » (# 1012) by LUTHER WAYNE is a fast poppish ditty, quite listenable although.

Two ballads, « Help me forget him/Another woman’s man » (# 1013) by JANET McBRIDE are lovely again with strong help from steel guitar player Ralph Mooney. Later on she cut at Sims and duetted with Billy Barton. WALLY BLACK returns with the fast « I’m a country boy » (# 1014).

Billboard April 24, 1960

I’m a country boy

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I’d appreciate very much the double offering at # 1015 by JOHNNY LEON, «You found someone new/Sometimes it doesn’t pay to get up in the morning »[what a true assertion]

 

 

 

Leon Johnny "Sometimes It Doesn't Pay To Get Up In The Morning"good backing (bass and drums) over prominent fiddle and steel. It’s one of the highlights of the serie.

“Sometimes it doesn’t pay”

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And now a comparatively well-known artist, DICK MILLER. He had had already records on M&M, Stanchell and Aggie [see elsewhere his story in this site], as well as around the same time as his Toppa output, on Sundown. His two songs on Toppa are well-sung ballads over the same instrumentation as previous label’s issues, « Make room for the blues/My tears will seal it closed » (# 1016) [the latter was also picked up by Mercury and reissued on # 71658, July 1960.Miller Dick "My Tears will seal It Closed" Miller Dick "Make Room For The Blues"

Make room for the bluesMiller Dick on stage

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My tears will seal it closed

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DANNY BURKE next (# 1017) comes with again two nice rockaballads, « Wasting my time/Walking in my sleep ». Then CLYDE PITTS offers an out-and-out rocker, « Shakin’ like a leaf » (# 1018) complete with sax and chorus. # 1019 by BILL BROCK : he delivers a fine ballad with the unusual backing of fiddle and steel paired in « I can’t come home ». Same format for # 1020 and DON RICE : « Fire without a flame » and, at last, the fast « Weather man ».

Weather man

downloadBrock Bill " I Can't Come Home"

The veteran TEXAS BILL STRENGTH brings the fast « Watching the world go by » (# 1021). « Too young to love » (# 1023), a bit poppish (although a good piano backing) come to light with DON HOLIMAN. # 1024 by CHARLIE WILLIAMS is a sincere ballad « World’s champion fool », revived on # 1048 by Dick Miller. Jimmy Snyder (# 1025), Polly Tucker (# 1026, also on Pep), The Horton Bros. (# 1027) left invisible tracks. Then there is a gap until # 1029 : JANET McBRIDE returns in the same style as her # 1013 issue with « Sweethearts by night ».

Another well-known name now on # 1030 : JACK TUCKER . Nice Country-rocker with « No city love you’ll find ». And the final offering is # 1031 by LUTHER WAYNE ; « White line » is a good guitar led little rocker [a Jack Morris’ tune on Sage ], while « The blues got me down again » is a passable effort.

No city love you’ll find

Tucker Jack

Jack Tucker

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All in all, the Toppa label was a County pop one, and the outstanding tracks, according to bopping.org standards, are uncommon. Nevertheless in the regard to the backing, all issues are great. The story did go on, and many good tracks were later cut : Smokey Stover and « On the warpath », more Jack Tucker tunes, Don Rice and « Hideaway heartaches », more Dick Miller (« Back into your past »), Bud Crowder and « Room for one heartache », to name just a few. Fact is the label deserves to be examined, as it contains many good surprises.

Just another word. Toppa had two sublabels early into the ’60s : Toppette and Fedora. I don’t know why several artists of main Toppa artists were assigned to its sublabels, although they had the same style as on Toppa.

 

Sources: Steve Hathaway for some records, Kent Heineman (“Armadillo Killer”) for several more. 45cat.com for more than a label scan. Youtube was also of help. And many, many small facts from my own archives or direct from Internet. And a lot of work to set up this article, but this was a labor of love..

Early October 2016 bopping (and rocking) fortnight’s favorites

smokey-rogers

Smokey Rogers

For a reason unknown, most of podcasts won’t open. Just click on the “Download” button to hear the music, when the player fails.

Onto the first Fortnight of this Autumn 2016. SMOKEY ROGERS (1917-1993) was a personality of the West coast and bandleader for s strong number of singers (Tex Wlliams, Ferlin Huskey) and releases (Capitol, Coral, Four Star, Starday and Shasta) from 1945 to 1965. On his (apparently) own label, Western Caravan, he even cut the first ever version of the classic « Gone » (# 901) in 1952. His label lasted with a handful of issues until 1955, among them I chose the great instrumental [not often in bopping] « John’s boogie » (Western Caravan 903). A real showcase for any musician involved (including ex-Hank Penny steel player virtuoso Joaquin Murphy), and every of them takes his solo or shines a way or the other. Splendid piano, horns, guitar, and of course steel, over an irresistible shuffle beat.

John’s boogie

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wc-903-smokey-rogers-johns-boogie

Another Smokey Rogers’ record has a young vocalist FERLIN HUSKY in April 1950 for « Lose your blues » on Coral 64063 (October 1950). It’s a nice shuffler with Huskey in good voice, and again Joaquin Murphy on steel.

coral-64063-smokey-rogers-lose-your-blues

Ferlin Huskey, “Lose your blues

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bb-5-8-50-red-kirk

Billboard Aug. 5, 1950 – a proof of popularity of Red Kirk

Several months later (February 1951), RED KIRK, another singer himself modeled on Hank Williams, took at his turn «red-kirk-pic Lose your blues » for an acceptable version, quite impersonal but backed by the cream of Nashville (Zeke Turner, Louie Innis, Jerry Byrd, Tommy Jackson) , on Mercury 8257. Kirk had many other good songs, for example « Can’t understand a woman (who can’t understand her man »)(# 6288), « Knock out the lights and call the law » (# 6409), or later on Republic 7120 the double-sider « Red lipped girl/Davy Crockett blues » from 1956, , the good ballad “How still the night” on ABC-Paramount 9814, or his version of Loy Clingman‘s « It’s nothing to me » in 1957 on Ring 1503. I chose another Mercury disc, »Cold steel bues » (# 6309) from February 1951 and in the same ‘bluesy’ vein as « Lose your blues ».

Red Kirk, “Lose your blues

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Red Kirk, “Cold steel blues”

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mercury-6257-red-kirk-lose-your-blues11-50mercury-6309-red-kirk-cold-steel-blues

From Nashville, TN to Texas and Fort Worth for an Imperial session held in September 1954. FREDDY DAWSON (vocal) backed probably by himself on steel-guitar, Billy Chamber or Buddy Brady (fiddle), Jimmy Rollins (guitar), George McCoy (bass) and Phillip Sanchez (drums) cut 4 tracks, among them the above average « Dallas boogie » (# 8274)(nice fiddle and steel). 2 tracks do remain unissued, and « Why baby why » may not be the George Jones track, an original Jones song cut in August 1955.

“Dallas boogie”

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imperial-8274-freddy-dawson-dallas-boogie

bb-27-11-54-freddy-dawsonWe stand in Fort Worth, this time in 1957 with GENE RAY on the Cowtown label # 646 and « I lost my head », a good uptempo bopper. In November he was to cut for the same label the great Rockabilly cum Rocker « Rock and roll fever » on the EP-677, which contained also the good « Love proof ». Was he the same artist as on Playboy 300, who committed on wax « Playboy boogie » ? Nevertheless as front singer of the Dusty Miller’s band, he also had the great rocker « I’m going to Hollywood » in 1960. All these tunes are to be easily found on YouTube or various compilations.

cowtown-646-b-gene-ray-i-lost-my-head

“I lost my head”

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Now to the early ’60s in Orlando, Florida. WEBSTER DUNN, Jr. delivers a good country rocker on first side, « Black and dunmar-101-b-webster-dunn-jr-black-and-white-shoeswhite shoes » on the Dunmar (owned by DUNmar Peckam and MARy Yingst) label # 101. Echoed vocal, nice crisp guitar (+ a bridge), a welcome steel : a well-produced record. The second side has a sort of poppish vocal, although saved by the same guitar (ordinary solo) and steel : « Go go baby » is a typical Country uptempo ballad. (Record valued at $ 75-100).

Black and white shoes

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Go go baby

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Next artist seems to have possibly emananated from Dallas, Texas, as his label Amber, one out of three at the same time. It’s a 4* custom # 275 out in December 1957, and the artist is BOB GARMON, who delivers with « His Studio Combo », a neat and tight little band, one of the best Rockabillies ever, « I’m a-ready baby » (valued $ 500 to 1000). Great guitar solo, cool vocal on topical lyrics, the song has everything a Rockabilly devotee could dream of. The flipside, although bluesy, is equally good : a Rockabilly combo trying its hands at Blues for « Positively blues ». A very desirable record !amber-275-2-bob-garmon-positively-bluesamber-275-bob-garmon-im-a-ready-baby

I’m a-ready baby

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Positively blues

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Finally a R&B rocker by one of the greats, the albino « Blonde Bomber » (remember the Little Richard-esque « Strollie Bun » on Hull?), here under his other alias, LITTLE RED WALTER for « Aw shucks baby » on the N.Y. Le Sage (# 711) label. Walter is on guitar and harmonica (1960).lesage-711a-l-red-walter-aw-shucks-baby

little-red-walter

The Blonde Bomber, alias of Walter Rhodes, or Little Red Walter

Aw shucks baby”

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Enough for this time ! Sources are 45cat for label scans, or YouTube or Roots Vinyl Guide, even Rockin’ Country Style. 78Rpm-world (mainly Ronald – thanks to him). My own researches on the Net and my archives. Praguefrank’s Country discography (Smokey Rogers, Red Kirk discos). Michel Ruppli’s « Aladdin/Imperial labels » book. Values from : Barry K. John guide or Tom Lincoln/Dick Blackburn book.

Made on a ?