Around 1948-49, several big R&B concerns, like Apollo, Modern, Imperial began to squint from the East and West coasts at the lucrative Country music market of the South. Major labels (RCA, Decca, M-G-M) were already running it, but without being locally positioned, they were losing sales, and could not exploit completely this rich soil. So people like Modern’s Bihari Brothers, Imperial’s Lew Chudd, or Specialty’s Art Rupe did seek for D.J.s and A&R men to help them to recruit good talent. And studio for recording locally. The Biharis concluded contracts with Sam Phillips, who leased them a good amount of Blues, which not prevented him to sell other sides to the Chess Brothers in Chicago. Finally Les, one of the Biharis, launched on place in Memphis Meteor records in 1952. The label found immediate success with Elmore James, and later in 1954 in the Country charts with Bud Deckleman. The Chesses came to an agreement to furnish them with masters with local promoter in Shreveport, La. Stan Lewis, who used the facilities of recording at night in the KWKH radio studio. Lew Chudd liked Jim Beck’s studio better in Dallas, Texas and found a certain commercial success with Texan artists : Billy Briggs or Jimmie Heap to name only two. Art Rupe (Specialty) preferred KWKH for its East Texas/Louisiana border position. It has been suggested that his first Southern sides had been engineered by Johnny Vincent in Jackson, MS. But the aural evidence show the very distinctive Stan Lewis feel. Billboard (January 12, 1949) gave notice that Rupe had just inked his first 4 artists on the new Specialty 700 label. All of them were barely known, no doubt they had been approached by Stan Lewis’ relations or talent scouts. Actually only Earl Nunn may be localized with his band, the Alabama Ramblers, for the first issue. Previously he had co-written in 1944 with Zeke Clements the controversial (for its racist words) « Smoke on the water » for Red Foley (Decca 6102). He was probably vocally fronted by Billy Lee, who would have his own record (# 704) a little later.
EARL NUNN offers an enjoyable lazy mid-paced « Double-talkin’ woman », with a steel well to the fore (# 701). Actually the very same steel appears on these early sessions, and one can wonder if this is a studio man, possibly Shot Jackson ; the latter was indeed hanging around at KWKH, and even had his own issues (# 704 and 710, discussed below), not to talk about his work on Pacemaker with Webb Pierce. JOHNNY CROCKETT (# 702) has «Just a minute », a very fast talking blues in the manner of Tex Williams with piano and steel effects, that could easily fall into the novelty category. BRUCE TRENT third (# 703) delivers a jumping sad « Alimony » and the medium paced bluesy « River blues ». It can be noted that he had backed with his Western Tunesters some Hal Carey on a Ca. Jewel label (# 7002).
BILLY LEE does the ordinary hillbilly « I don’t know why I love you » (# 704), while LEO STANCIL had to wait July 52 for the release of his excellent effort « Why don’t you quit hangin’ around »(# 707)(two sides penned by Earl Nunn). Long steel solo for an awesome bopper, with sweet Southern accent !
It seems that the first 4 issues were released in a relatively short time after the label was launched, for example Specialty 703 (Bruce Trent) was reviewed by Billboard in March 1949, 704 in June 1949 although both the full years 1950-51 were blank in releases. Maybe Art Rupe was expecting more sales before cutting more records.
Things began to change a bit in 1952 with the advent of three new artists in the roster : namely CLAUDE KING, BIFF COLLIE and SHOT JACKSON. Collie has been discussed in full earlier in this site, so I omit him here. Claude King (born in Louisiana in 1923,deceased 2013) was not a newcomer. As soon as 1947, he had teamed with guitarist Buddy Attaway and bassist/entrepreneur Tillman Franks as « Buddy and Claude » for an issue on the small President label (HB-10), and a frequent theme for the era, « Flying saucers »
“Buddy & Claude“”Flying saucers“
In December 1950, he recorded 4 tunes for the local Pacemaker label, which were also leased to the big Gotham East coast concern. On Specialty he cut three sessions, 10 tunes in all (2 remained unissued) – he wrote them all – between Spring and December 1952. « She knows why » (# 705) is an uptempo sad ballad (the same old story of the broken-hearted guy), which became seemingly the first hit of the Specialty Country & Folk label. At last, it had good sales and spinning reports in the South. So much so that it even had its answer song « He knows why » by Jeanette Hicks (Okeh 18021). « Take it like a man » (# 708) : the second release of Claude King has more rhythm and an insistant bass, a prominent piano and nice steel solo. Vocally King is in fine form, as in the next song « Got the world by the tail » (711), a little faster although in the same format as 708. Indeed King and his Hillbilly Ramblers had already found their way to the Louisiana Hayride saturday night show that had strong connection with KWKH radio. Actually Claude and Buddy Attaway were cast members of the Hayride since 1948, and wrote songs at the turn of the decade for Kitty Wells and Webb Pierce, who got them through Tillman Franks. Last Specialty 716 by him, « Now that I have you », remains untraced.
Claude also worked one of Hank Willams’ last tours, as his driver and opening act. He also toured in the Shreveport area with Johnny Horton, but they spent more time fishing and hunting together than in the studio ! Record wise, he remained without a contract until 1957, when he cut the famous rockabilly/rocker « Run baby run » for Dee-Jay (# 1248), and turned in 1961 on Columbia in Nashville for « The comancheros » and « Wolverton mountain » ; but this is another story..It’s interesting to note that, if King wrote all his material, he’d publish his songs sometimes at a curious « Ark-La-Tex » publishing house other than the regular « Venice music » for Specialty recordings.
The third new artist to appear in 1952 on Specialty is SHOT JACKSON (1920-1991), a steel guitar player. He did hang around at KWKH in 1950 and was the player (even sometimes singer on « Beautiful Hawaiian shores », or solist on some instrumentals) for all the Pacemaker sessions of Webb Pierce between December 1949 and January 1951. So it’s him playing steel on « California blues » to name only 1 of the score (circa 23) tunes cut by Pierce at KWKH. Jackson even had his Pacemaker record (# 1004) although sung by Pierce uncredited ! Needless to say, since Pierce, except 2 or 3 occasions, never used a fiddle, that Shot Jackson was the real force behind Pierce. He was indeed naturally intended to record for Specialty as soloist.
His 4 sides are uptempo honky-tonks, nothing spectacular, except in a negative way : the machist « I’m trading you in on a later model » (# 706), and the deceiving « You can’t get the country out of the boy » (# 710) – such a title did merit a better treatment. Barely audible steel (short solos), an omnipresent fiddle; the voice of Jackson is forgettable. Note that current Hayride artists Johnnie & Jack gave him 3 of his 4 songs ; in return Jackson was to play dobro for them on numerous records onwards. Surely he was better on instrumentals, and after he built, with the help of Buddy Emmons (house steel-player at Starday), a double-neck steel baptized « Sho-Bud », he was to come again in light in 1962 on a compilation dedicated to steel guitarists (Starday EP 236).
Shot Jackson “I’m trading you in on a later model“(706)
The third generation of artists on the Specialty 700 serie begins with the Texan JERRY GEEN. (born 1931) He was signed by Art Rupe early in 1953 and cut 4 sides.
« Naggin’ women and braggin’ men » (# 712) is a real good bopper, a tinkling piano well to the fore, followed by a nice steel and a rather embarrassed lead guitarist. « Are you going my way » (# 714) is a shuffler, well-sung and agreeable, with the same backing format. Leader is still shy ! Luckily piano and fiddle come to rescue the solo ..Green was also active indeed on the La. Hayride, before being drafted into the Army until 1955. He then relocated in Arkansas for a radio show « Country Capers » on a Fort Smith KFPW station. Then later he hit the big time with « Tripod the three leggged dog » which led him to Grand Ole Opry in 1967.
Next artist was SMOKEY STOVER, D.J. in Baytown, Tx. He liked Claude King « She knows why », according to a Billboard snippet! Very few details came to light about him, except these : a native of Texas (Huntsville, 1928), he had his own band at 16 and began a long carreer Country D.-Jaying in Pasadena in 1948 only to retire from radio in 1995 in Gallatin, TN! In the meantime, he had been on numerous stations out of Texas, Mississipi, Louisiana (where he tried a career as singer), even New Mexico. He had records on Starday, Ol’podner, Stampede, Sage, Toppa. So now let’s value his Specialty product, cut at KWKH on November 15, 1952. « What a shame » (# 715) is a mid-paced opus ; nothing particular, a nice shuffler as too many in this era. Soli (guitar and fiddle) are interplayed and welcome. Vocal is firm but without any personal touch.
This is not the case with JOHNNY TYLER, a veteran (first sides in 1946 : « Oakie boogie » on Stanchel) whose story has been told in this blog before. He offers the bluesy partly double-voiced mid-paced « Take your blues and go » (# 713) ; good surprise : a spare harmonica a la Wayne Raney, without a sufficient volume. « Hillbilly preacher » (# 715) reminds me at times of someone sounding like, say, Luke McDaniel : fine guitar over an insistant rhythm backing. This type of material predates Tyler’s Ekko sides of March 1955.
Last but not least, the elusive EARNEY VANDAGRIFF, whose story is hard to write. The details on him are near zero, except he came from Texas, and that he had records on Starday and Rural hythm between 1954 and 1957, among them the famous « Atomic kisses ». Here he delivers in a duet with Joyce Lowrance the happy and fast bopper « Hush money » (# 718), with a fine steel throughout and insistant fiddle.
And that was it, Art Rupe decided after 18 issues it was time to close a relatively not so lucrative affair, and concentrate his hopes (and money) on black music, be it Gospel (e.g. Soul Stirrers), R&B (a huge catalog) or, before long, Rock’n’Roll. A sign moreover of poor sales is given by the rarity of these Specialty 700 sides. Rupe’s rivals of Chess, Modern and Aladdin had come to the same conclusion for their part. Sole Meteor in Memphis remained open with the smash success of Bud Deckleman (« Daydreamin’ ») in 1954, before the advent of Rockabilly in 1956, and closed in 1957. But Sun was then at the right position to take advantage in the race for the hits.
Sources : Cactus CD « Specialty hillbilly » for music and CD tracks. Iconographic material : 78tpm.worlds for 78rm scans. Youtube for President Claude King 78 (scan & msic). Various entries on Internet for Art Rupe, Speciaty logo, Smokey Stover, Billboard records reports. Dominique Anglarès (warm thanks !) for Jerry Green and Shot Jackson pictures, also a full Bllboard page and interesting precisions. David House for Shot Jackson picture with Mr. House on Shot’s knee.
From Phillips J. Tricker’s article in « Roll Street Journal » # 19 (Spring 1987)
Ramblin’ Jimmie Dolan – the very name evokes to me pictures of a man of travel, a man of the West. His name turns up frequently on record lists and he had sole thirty four releases issued on at least three different labels, and the majority on the major CAPITOL. Those thirty plus discs were put out over the comparatively short period of 7 years and much of his material has been overlooked by many collectors as a few of his later less inspiring releases are those that surface most frequently and I believe a some what false picture has emerged, musically, on an artist who contributed much to our kind of record collecting [hillbilly bop/hillbilly boogie].
As often happens, the early years of the singers we investigate are shrouded in mystery. Jimmie is no exception. In fact by our comencing at the start with his birth on the 29th October 1924, we meet our initial problem. I have seen two versions in print. The first said rural part of Missouri while in a radio interview in 1952 Jimmie’s reply was « Wyoming ». As his first reported radio work was at KWK in St. Louis, Missouri ; and as a boy he was a great fan of Western movies, I tend to place a little more credence on the former location. This thought is supported by these two points. During his earliest days in the music business, he did not use that tag – Ramblin’ – but by the time of 1952 interview, not only he was using that word in his name, but was often billed as « America’s Cowboy Troubadour ». In that case, maybe it was considered a better ploy to give impression of coming from a state synonymous with cowboys – Wyoming. A third version comes from www.hillbilly-music.com. Dolan would have been born largely earlier, same day and month in 1916 and…California, which would be his musical base during the ’40s and ’50s. Who knows ?
Howdy, folks! Back from holydays on Italian Ligurian Riviera. Believe me, it’s hot over there, nice small towns beyond the sea but not bopping music at all, aaargh! A nice not-feeling-at-home anyhow, that’s the most important. Hope you all had good holydays too, and ready to embark for more work, more trouble – world do seem to go head-over-heels. Fortunately we have the music!
Let’s begin this favourites’ return with a strange item: a fair Hillbilly on a Boston, East Coast label. Al Hawkes had launched his Event label in Feb. ’56, recording first only Country, thus KEN FAIRLIE (# 4264) for “The Table’s Turned” – nice fiddle, and smooth vocal for a very short (1’42) tune. Later on, Hawkes would have on his stable Rockabillies/Rockers Curtis Johnson, Ricky Coyne, even young Dick Curless. Recently I posted the LLOYD McCOLLOUGH story, and repeat here one of his finest songs on the Nashville/Los Angeles EKKO label (which published in its short existence very important discs by the likes of Jess Willard, The Cochran Brothers or Johnny Tyler): “Until I Love Again” (# 1023). Entire output of McCollough can be found on a U.K. Stompertime CD. Next record he had was Rockabilly on the Nashville Republic label. This Ekko release is from ’55.
From Raymondville, Texas comes FLETCHER HANNA, with Joe “Red” Hainer and the Ozark Playboys, for the nice shuffling “Hepcat Boogie” – topical lyrics, references to “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Blue Suede Shoes“, and a very short slap bass solo – on the Valley 101 label (not to be confused with the Tennessee label of the same name – remember Reece Shipley or Darrell Glenn). Very good atmospheric (steel guitar) record. Must be from ’56.
From California on the Happy Hearts label (a very rich and interesting one), JIMMY HAYES with the Coney Ridge Ramblers for “Tom Cat Boogie” (# 141) from as late as 1961. Another shuffler with a good guitar player, who makes some nice licks.
Now on the legendary Dixie label. BILL WILLIS had Starday custom releases, such as “Boogie Woogie All Night” or “Goin’ Down To Sal’s House” (Dixie 502) (respectively on Ace or Collector CDs). Here, he is vocal duetted (Goldie Norris?) on a rattlesnake-drummed “Where Is My Baby“. Nothing spectacular, just an ordinary ’57 Southern record.
Finally a real R&B blaster! YOUNG JESSIE in a New York session with Mickey Baker on guitar and Sam “The Man” Taylor on tenor saxophone – added by (unknown) baritone sax, bass and drummer, for the fantastic “Hit, Git And Split” for the Modern label. Why this was not a hit is a mystery: without doubt, the barrier of racism in ’56 and the savagery of the record, which must have been banned by radio stations, even in the Alan Freed’s territory. One of the real all-time R&B rockers classics!
Hope you enjoy the selections! Comments welcome. Bye
Next fortnight early October – I will be out of town by mid-September.
Howdy folks! Here are my ‘new’ favourite tunes of early this month. As usual I try to give you oddities to illustrate the music, although lacking of inspiration and enthusiasm this time!
Red and Lige, The TURNER BROTHERS, were a duet group from Tennessee. I don’t know if they were related to the more famous brothers, Zeke and Zeb (King and Bullet labels). They offer here a strong Country-boogie with “Honky Tonk Mama” on the Radio Artist label (the one which issued Jimmie Skinner first sides). Circa 1950.
PECK TOUCHTON, a native of Texas, had a solitary release on Sarg (“You’ve Changed Your Tune“). He also recorded for Pappy Daily’s Starday label, without seeing any issue, following a mixing of label stickers during a car wreck! The whole story was told by Andrew Brown in his excellent site, Wired For Sound. See it here:
Touchton’s record, “Let Me Catch My Breath” was finally issued under the name of George Jones (Starday 160).
Out of Texas or West Louisiana, and at one time associated as a singer with Bill Nettles, DANNY DEDMON had records as early as 1947 on Imperial. Here is his “Hula Hula Woogie“, typical Texas Honky-tonk of the late Forties, with a touch of Western swing. The Rhythm Ramblers were actually Nettles’ band.
George McCormick (he had discs on M-G-M, for example, “Fifty-Fifty Honky Tonkin’ Tonight”) and Earl Aycock teamed as GEORGE & EARL in 1956, and had a string of Rockabilly releases on the Mercury label. I’ve chosen one of their most dynamic sides, “Done Gone“. Nashville musicians behind them. The duet folded shortly afterwards.
Out of Nashville came CLAY EAGER on the Republic label. Although he was a celebrity as D.J. in the St.Louis/St.Paul, MO, area, he had cut this fine “Bobbie Lou” in Nashville. We finish with the wild, rasping young ETTA JAMES on the West Coast. “Tough Lover” is backed by the ubiquitous Maxwell Davis.
Howdy folks. Maybe you’re still on Holydays? Bopping (and the editor) didn’t take any spare day to rest, and kept busy all Summer long, and were preparing a new hot slice of Hillbilly goodies. This time it spans from 1947 to…1966. Lotta good music, for your own pleasure, all of you Cherished visitors/listeners/downloaders all over the World! Some strong numbers, one could say hard-core Rock’n’Roll influenced Rockabilly, just to make a change from the previous post devoted to the gentle, sometimes smooth music by JACK BRADSHAW. I like Jack anyway, be sure to check this post! And another tune, in particular, very near to Western swing (even a very risqué song for the time being).
Jimmy Murphy, 1950’s
So, OK for embarking? We begin with JIMMY MURPHY (see elsewhere in this site with help of the search engine at upper right). His commercial days at Columbia (1955-1956) were largely over when he entered (after an unreleased Starday session – now available on Ace records) again in the Bill Lanham studio and recorded one of his best tunes ever, very sensitive and sincere, in 1962, for the Ark label, “I Long To Hear Hank Sing The Blues“. Unclassifiable music: between Hillbilly, Folk music and Bluegrass.
Let’s go on with HOMER “Zeke” CLEMONS. He hailed from Texas during the mid to late forties with his outfit, the Swingbillies. As soon as 1947, they were recording their “Operation Blues” (lyrics below), an early risqué song which actually met such enormous success on the first label, Bluebonnet, that Modern out of Los Angeles leased the tune, as “Operation Blues # 2“, next year, and re-released it even 16 years later, under the name “Hank Brown” (Royalty label)
OPERATION BLUES (Homer Clemons) ?Now won’t you climb up on the table,?Pull up that gown?Raise up that left leg, ?Let that right leg down?Pull off them stockin’s,?That silk underwear?’Cos the doctor’s got to cut you, mama, ?Don’t know where??The doctor knows his business?The doctor knows just what to do??Too much of (?), ?One old ( ?)?Two pair of step-ins?That’s all I can say (save)?Your ribs are all loosened,?Your carburettor’s stalled?I’ll duck into your hood, ?And clean your spark plugs all??The doctor knows his business?The doctor knows just what to do… Is it a car (spark plugs), or anything (-one) else that the doctor is visiting?
On to 1966. Dayton, Ohio. WIBBY LEE is a real unknown – no information has ever surfaced about him, at least to my knowledge. He cut 3 disks for the small Jalyn label, all good Boppers, Rockabilly borderline, a real anachronism for the time. Just vocal and electric guitar (Is there any bass?) on “I’m Lost Without Your Love” .
Just WHO was Ted DIXON, or Walter DIXON, or even MASON DIXON? Once in the now-long-ago defunct “Roll Street Journal” magazine, the handsome Phillip J. Tricker promised the readers the story of Mr. Dixon, which never saw the light…First, it seems the three were the same person. Second, they had numerous records on labels as small and elusive as Reed (Alabama), Erwin (Tennessee), the most approaching to a major (everything is relative) being Meteor, out of Memphis (the Los Angeles’ Modern label outfit). Here I have chosen by MASON DIXON the superlative “Don’t Worry About Nuthin‘”, complete encouragement to leave troubles behind, and take the good side of life. Swirling fiddle, great happy vocal, thudding bass: the optimal crossing between Hillbilly and Rockabilly, being cut 1955.
Then on to Texas. Ted Daffan’s label, ably named Daffan (its story is on the line). A great 1957 offering by a guy by the strange name of FIDLO. “Trifling Heart” has a solid Country-rock guitar, the singer’s voice is firm and confident; great steel-guitar throughout (solo interplay between lead and steel), all loped by a thudding bass. Finally we have a minor classic in “We’re Bugging Out” (Murco 1014) by another unknown, TOMMY BOYLES (1959). I think the tune could easily fall in the category of Country-rock. Never-the-less, a fine romper in its own right. Boyles had another record on the N.J. based Granite label in 1960. A good country-rocker too.
Tommy Boyles, late 90’s
As a bonus, a great Rocking Blues in the hand of FENTON ROBINSON on the Duke label (# 191), “Crazy Crazy Loving“, from Texas, 1958. I LOVE Blues too!
And as usual, I hope you all will appreciate the selections. I do my damn best to give you pleasure (pics and music). Bye!