A R&B label goes Hillbilly: the SPECIALTY 700 serie (1949-1954)

280px-LAMap-doton-Shreveport

red point: Shreveport

art-rupe

Art Rupe

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)specialty cover 45 prefeJerry Green cut - BB January 3, 1953rred 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 !

Earl NunnDouble-talkin’ woman“(701)

downloadBB 5-3-49 earl nunn

Johnny CrockettJust a minute“(702)

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Bruce TrentAlimony“(703)

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Bruce TrentRiver blues“(703)

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701 earl nunn702 johnny crockett703A bruce trent703BB bruce trent

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leo StancilWhy don’t you quit hanging’ around

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707 stancil - hangin'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

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an agreeable and fresh jumping little tune, similar in style to that of the Bailes Brothers. president 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.

708 take it like a man

Note the ‘old’ Specialty design

711 claude king got the world by the tail

a rare 45

705 she knows why

Claude KingShe knows why“(705)

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bb 14-2-53 claude king

Claude KingTake it like a man“(708)

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Claude KingGot the world by the tail“(711)

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Claude KingRun baby run“(Dee-Jay 1248)

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claude king buste

Claude King

claude king--tillman franks

 

 

 

 

 

 

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).

706 shot jackson - trading

Shot JacksonI’m trading you in on a later model“(706)

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Shot JacksonYou can’t get the country out of the boy“(710)

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shot jackson ? pict

Shot Jackson with Ricky and David House

courtesy David House, one of the boys

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Jerry GreenNaggin’ women and braggin’ men“(712)

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Jerry GreenAre you going my way“(714)

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jerry green today

Jerry Green today

712 green - naggin' women

Jerry Green - 1951(Imperial)

Jerry Green 1951

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.

Smokey StoverWhat a shame“(715)

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smokey stover

Smokey Stover

715 stober - shame

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.

Johnny TylerTake your blues and go“(713)

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Johnny TylerHillbilly preacher“(715)

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Joyce Lowrance & Earney VandagriffHush money” (718)

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717 tyler - preacher718 vandagriff - hush money

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.

Houston, TX: the hillbilly novelties of BIFF COLLIE (1949-1972)

 

Biff (Hiram Abiff) Collie, pioneer country (DJ), show promoter and trade paper reporter, was born on November 25, 1926 in Little Rock, biff collie2 picArkansas, but raised in San Antonio, Texas. He graduated from Thomas Edison High School (San Antonio, Texas) in 1944. Biff’s professional career spanned forty years working such major markets as Houston and San Antonio, Texas and Los Angeles and Long Beach California.

 

Biff Collie began his radio career at KMAC radio in San Antonio as a teenager. After brief stints at Browning and Alice, Texas, he moved on to KNUZ radio in Houston and later to KPRC. Biff started with KNUZ (1948) working as sports reporter, before moving into a disc jockey role. During that time, Glad Music Company had a record store on 11th Street. KNUZ had regular remote broadcasts from their store. Popular recording artists were frequent visitors to the shop. Hank Williams was one of the many artists to stop by. Biff was conducting a remote broadcast from Glad Music in 1948 when Hank Williams visited the store.

biff collie pic

 

Biff was the first country disc jockey (see note below) in Houston, which remains one of the premiere markets for country music radio. While in Houston, he also promoted and booked shows, becoming one of the first to ever book Hank Williams, Sr. and Tennessee Ernie Ford. In 1957, he became manager and emcee for the Philip Morris Country Music Show, which was broadcast nationally on Mutual Broadcasting Radio and CBS Radio. Later he worked mornings on KPRC and hosted a certain up and coming singer from Memphis by the name of Presley at the Grand Prize Jamboree.

 

In 1960, Collie moved to Los Angeles where he remained for the decade, gaining huge popularity over KFOX Radio. He was consistently in the top ten radio personalities in Billboard and Music Reporter magazines and was also named “Best Radio Personality” by the Academy of Country Music, an organization which he served on the Board of Directors and produced the annual awards show in 1967. He moved to Nashville in 1969 and produced the first syndicated radio show, “Inside Nashville,” which ran on stations across the country for many years. He also was a morning man (Collie’s Coffee Club) on KLEE radio in Ottumwa, Iowa.

 

Collie made an attempt at recording, first on Macy’s records in Houston and later for Specialty. His only charted hit was as Billy Bob Bowman in 1972 on United Artists. Collie married the former wife of country legend Floyd Tillman in 1953. Biff later married Shirley Simpson, who as Shirley Collie recorded several duets with Willie Nelson. It was Biff who introduced Shirley to the up-and-coming singer/songwriter and Shirley eventually divorced Collie to marry Nelson.biff Collie's Coffee Club

 

Before his death, Biff earned the Ernest Tubb Humanitarian Award for his contributions. Biff is a member of the Country Music DJ Hall of Fame (1978). Collie died on February 19, 1992 in Brentwood, Tennessee.

 

Radio stations where Biff worked: KMAC (San Antonio, Texas, 1944-45), KWD (Browning, Texas, 1945-46), KBWI (Alice, Texas, 1946-47), KNUZ (Houston, Texas, 1948-55), KPRC (Houston, Texas, circa 1955-57), KLAC (Los Angeles, 1959), KFOX (1960-69, Long Beach, CA), KLEE (Ottumwa, Iowa, circa?), KSIX (Corpus Christie, Texas, circa 1958)

 

Note: Some articles claim that Texas Bill Strength (8/28/1928 — 10/1/1973) was the first country DJ in Houston, but that may not be the case. Texas Bill Strength was a sixteen year old teen in 1944 when he won an amateur contest at the Joy Theatre in Houston. A representative from KTHT radio happened to be present and decided to give Bill his first radio job as a fledgling western singer. In remembering that episode, Bill was quoted, “My Mother thought for sure I was dying and I can’t say what the old man said.” Texas Bill Strength had a modestly successful singing and recording career. He recorded for 4Star, Capitol and Coral records.

 

About KFOX-AM 1280: KFOX was called The Country King. It was the original country music heavy weight in Southern California. It broadcast from the International Tower in Long Beach. During the 1960s, the country music hosts consisted of Dick Haynes, Biff Collie, Charlie Williams and Clifford “Cliffie” Stone. (RJB: Country Music Historian, 9/2010).

 

About the recordings of Biff Collie (bopping’s editor)

The earliest were made for Macy’s in Houston, first with Collie as vocalist fronting Smitty Smith orchestra for « Broken memories » (# 109, November 1949). As you could expect from such a title, it’s a slowie, well sung, but nothing else. Superior lazy backing.

macy's 109B Smitty smith - broken memories

Broken memories

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On Macy’s 126, the record is credited to Biff Collie, either a sign of greater popularity as a D.J, either of his exposure on stage. Both sides, the macho « I want a gal (that cook for me) » and the uptempo « I’ve said it before » are somewhat ruined by an organ, and partly saved by a nice steel guitar.

I want a gal

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I’ve said it before

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macy's 126A biff collie - I want a galmacy's 126B biff collie - I've said it before

 

 

 

 

Biff & Margie#2

Bill & Marge courtesy Imperial Anglares

columbia 20776 biff collie & little marge - I don't care who knows

I don’t care who knows

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Next record by Biff Collie was on the short-lived Specialty Country serie. He’s here nicknamed « Bellerin’ bowlegged boy ». I didn’t put until now my hand [see note below] on « Everybody wants me but you »(Specialty 709). «  Don’t talk about love (the way you do)» on the other side is a fast ditty, with a wild piano well to the fore, added by a typical (for the era) fiddle and a steel. Collie is in good vocal form.

 

Don’t talk about love

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specialty 709 biff collie - don't talk about lovespecialty 709 biff collie - everybody wants me

Everybody wants me but you

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(Note) “Everybody wants me but you” is a good shuffler. Thanks to Steve Hathaway.

 

Then he was signed to Starday and cut 4 singles for them between January 1955 and July 1956. Several tunes remained unissued. The first issue « What this old worlds needs » (# 178) has the typical Starday sound and combination of fiddle, guitar and steel over an assured vocal. Nobody can say if Collie, as a D.J., was not pushing a little more his own record ! I don’t ever heard the flipside « Lonely ». In any case, he returned to the Gold Star studio in Houston for « Goodbye, farewell, so long », a nice piano led uptempo (# 203); Its flip « Look on the good side » is fast, same vein.

What this old world needs

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Goodbye, farewell, so long

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Look on the good side

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starday 178 biff collie - what this old world needsstarday 203 biff collie - goodbye, farewell, so longstarday 203 biff collie - look on the good side

 

 

 

As a proof of his success, he was called again in January 1956 for 4 sides (2 remain unissued).. « Doodle-doo » ( 230) is a novelty, happy side, while « Empty kisses » is a forgettable weeper.

 

 

 

Last session for Starday in July 1956,and it’s a completely different style : »Joy joy joy » (# 251) is an out-and-out rocker, with sax (Link Davis?), in the manner of Glen Barber. The flipside is untraced (« All of a sudden ») nor of course the unissued « Baby let’s mix », which looks promising. There is a lot of music stilll to unearth from the Starday vaults.

Doodle- doo

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Joy, joy, joy

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starday 230 biff collie - doodle doostarday 251 biff collie - joy, joy, joy

 

 

 

One must wait 1972 for the next record of Biff Collie, cut in Nashville under the name of « Billy Bob Bowman ». « Miss Pauline » (U.A. 50597) is plain main Country music, with steel and chorus. Not disagreable music, but nothing exceptional. Another label in 1974 : Collie cut for Capitol 6 sides, 4 remain unissued, and the 45 is untraced.

UA 50957 billy bob bowman - miss Pauline

 

 

 

Miss Pauline

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Sources : biographical details from HillbillyBoogie1 Youtube chain (my sincere thanks to him, whoever he may be), with additions. Scans from 45rpmcat and 78rpmworlds. Music from Hillbilly Researcher serie (Macy’s) or Cactus (Specialty). « Starday » (scans and music) is easily found on the Net. Discography [partly inaccurate] from Praguefrank site.

early October 2013 fortnights favorites

Howdy folks! Hope you are well!! Thanks to you,  more than 78. 600 visitors can not be wrong, so I will keep up the good work with confidence. Latest posts on the site: the ALLSTAR label from Houston, the JACOBY Brothers from San Antonio. In the process of a huge project on BILL NETTLES & His Dixie Blue Boys. More research on Buffalo Johnson, Billy Hughes, list is endless. I found new friends and contributors, first Herr Ronald Keppner from Frankfurt, Germany.

Here we go first for sad news. Surely you have heard sudden death of MARVIN RAINWATER on September 17. What a great loss, as he was one of the greats in Hillbilly/Rockabilly/R&R of the ’50s. Two tracks there. His original version (later done by the Maddox Brothers) of “I Gotta Go Get My Baby” on 4 *. Then his great (mumbling vocal, and a great slap-bass) “Mr. Blues” on M-G-M 12240 from 1956.
I gotta go get my baby (1954)

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Mr. Blues (1956)

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4* DJ I gotta goget my baby mgm 12240 Mr blues

Harry Choates i946 “Jole Blon” had many sequels, including Floyd Tilman‘s “Slippin’ around with Jole Blon“. Here I offer what is supposed to be the original version by BUD MESSNER (with the co-writer of the song, Bill Franklin on vocal) on the Abbey label. In due course, there is the flipside, a nice shuffler called “I died all over you”.

Bill Franklin, “Slippin’ around with Jole Blon (Abbey 15004)

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Bill Franklin, “I died all over you (Abbey 15004)

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abbey slipping aroundabbey 15004 bill franklin I died

Back to old friends:the GEORGIA CRACKERS. Their story (and that of the younger brother of the Newman trio, BOB NEWMAN) has been told earlier in this site. I recently put my hands on one of their early renditions (1947) on RCA-Victor, “That’s the way it’s gonna be” (RCA 20-0038). Fine bopper. Hope someday RCA will reissue all their output.
Georgia Crackers, “That’s the way it’s gonna be”

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rca 0033-B that_s the waybb 8-11-47 georgia crackers

Now for two sides from the multi-faced SONNY JONES. From New Orleans or vicinity, he was at one time called SKINNY DYNAMO (on Marlin and Excello). Here are his very first sides cut with Salvador Doucette on piano in 1952 for Specialty. Great swooping Louisiana Rocking Blues! Later he went on Imperial.

Sonny Jones, “Do you really love me?”

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Sonny Jones “Is everything all right

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specialty 443 sonny jones Do you really love me
specialty 443 sonny jones is everything all right

Have a nice survey of the selections. Comments as usual welcome. Bye

late March 2013 fortnight favourites

Hello there!

This time is a little special one. Very recently the legendary CLAUDE KING passed away. I chose first from his Louisiana original days. First hillbilly bop , 1953, with “Take It Like A Man” (708) on the short-lived hillbilly Specialty serie (mostly cut in Shreveport), then his solitary Rockabilly on the small Dee-Jay label of Nashville (1957)(1248), “Run Baby Run“.

From I don’t know where, but “Mountain” label seems to refer to Appalachian mountains, a LEO GOSNELL on this 4 Star custom, OP 299, for two fine sides: “Juke Joint Honey” and “Woman Running Around“.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Savoy from New Jersey was indeed a big R&B concern. However it had a short lived Country 3000 serie. Here it is RAY GODFREY and his “Overall Song” (3021).

On  Adair 620, a tremendous Bluegrass “A Use To Be” by a BRYANT WILSON.

Finally in California, Fable 546 label, with RAMBLIN’ EVERETT and “Cincinnati Woman“. Excuse me, I was not that inspired to comment this time. Music speaks by itself. Maybe you prefer it?

Johnny Tyler, the “Oakie Boogie” man (1946-1957)

Lehman Monroe « Johnny » Tyler was born in Pochontas, Arkansas, on February 6th, 1918. What he made during the Thirties and how he traveled so far to California in the mid-40s is unknown, neither if he had particular talent in his youth for music. He must although have been a good seller in 1946-47, because RCA-Victor made him cut no less than 35 tracks within a year.

Randolph Cty, Ark. Pocohontas at bottom center

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