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.

Bill Carter, “By the sweat of my brow”, California hillbilly bop/rockabilly

Nothing to do with Jimmy Carter’s supposed brother ! That Bill Carter was a member of the Big Jim DeNoone’s Rhythm Busters.Bill Carter autographe

His story begins on December 12, 1929, when he was born in Eagleton, Arkansas, one of ten siblings, the son of an itinerant share cropper. By the time he was nine years old, he was singing on KGHI out of Little Rock, Arkansas. In 1937 , the family moved to Broken Bow, Oklahoma. Bill’s father got a job with the Southern Pacific Railroad in Indio, California, in 1943, and the family headed west. Bill’s interest in music was encouraged, and he took voice lessons during his teens, as well as performing on radio stations KRBO (Indio) and KROX (Modesto), modelling himself on Eddy Arnold. After graduating from Coachella Valley High school, Bill gained employment with the Johnson lumber Company in Grass Valley, and confined his performings to weekends.

In 1949 he joined USAF, and whilst stationed at Lackland and subsequently Parks AFB in Calfornia, Bill formed several bands, playing with the likes of Shorty Lavender (lead guitar and fiddle), Slim Roberts (fiddle), and Bob Cooper (drums). His music was firmly strenched in C&W and performing at NCO clubs kept his hand in. Whilst still in the Air Force, he got to perform with Cal Smith’s band in San Leandro, as well as playing dates in the San Francisco area, and venturing as far afield as San Antonio, Texas radio stations to perform. (more…)

early December 2012 fortnight’s favorites

Howdy, folks. My selection for this fortnight will be made, as usual, of lesser known artists up, and various times, ranging from approx. 1953 to early ’60s.

SHORTY LONG in 1961 was certainly no newcomer to music, as he had been cutting records on King in 1951, sharing a session with BOB NEWMAN. The latter in 1955 was reported as having joined Long’s Santa Fe Ranchers. Here  Long offers the fast “Forget Her“, an hybrid song containing a slap-bass as well as banjo, mandolin and steel on the Smiling 2675 label. Long is billed here “Kentucky”, no doubt his original state. Both Shorty Long and Bob Newman paired in 1955 as Dalton Boys for a solitary “Roll, Rattler, Roll” on the X label: next fortnight.(April 2, 2018. Note the Shorty Long  here has probably nothing to do with the Pennsylvania born Shorty Long – records on King, Valley and RA-Victor; see his story elsewhere in this site)

On a Evansville, IN Eunice 1007 label, DARRELL LEE offers an average Country-rocker/Rockabilly “Really Do You Care?“.

Shorty Long

1958, TIM JOHNSON on the West Monroe label Leo (# 784) – which is actually a Starday custom issue – do come with the fine shuffler. A bit George Jones vocally, good fiddle and steel.

On Kasko 1643 (Santa Claus, IN) from 1965 RED LEWIS has a country-rocker “Yes, Indeed“(nice guitar, discreet steel) “I’ll Move along“.

The earliest track do come from Nashville in 1953. JOHNNY ROWLAND is a kind of mystery, although his voice seem very  professionnal. He founds himself on Republic 7023 with the fine “Ohio Baby“.

Finally SONNY MILLER on the Boyd label, no doubt early ’60s. Good steel in “Lonesome Old Clock

Sonny Miller

early July 2012 fornight’s favourites

Howdy folks, we embark for a new serie of obscure hillbilly bop records. TED WEST is not an unknown artist. He cut 1952 for Republic in Nashville the fine “She Bent My Pole” and the equally good (with sound effects) “Parking Worries” (see in the site the article on Republic Records, from July 2011). He cut two sessions in 1953-1954 for M-G-M, which I did extract the nice “Call Of The Devil’s Ride” (# 11539) from. Backing accompaniment may be by the Drifting Cowboys. A good shuffler from the days before Nashville was not rotten neither too commercial. (more…)

BULLET, “ALWAYS A SMASH HIT” – the grandaddy of Nashville indie country labels (600-755 country serie): 1946-1952

               Bullet Records : a presentation

The Bullet Recording and Transcription company was formed in late 1945 by former Grand Ole Opry booking agent Jim Bulleit, in partnership with musician Wally Fowler and businessman C. V. Hitchcock. (more…)