Bopping in Houston, TX: the Freedom Hillbilly serie (1950-52), part 2 – more important artists/records

(Follow-up of the good article by Phillip J. Tricker in a 1992 Hillbilly Researcher issue, with additions by Bopping’s editor). See earlier the first article.

 

For the next release in order of issues we return to a Western swing disc with « Jelly roll blues » (# 5010) by fiddler/vocalist GuyCOTTON” THOMPSON & his Village Boys. The song, a jazz standard, which had been cut Western swing style by Cliff Bruner in 1937, has the steel player definitely Herb Remington. Thompson is best known for making Kokomo Arnold‘s « Milk cow blues » (1934) a western swing standard via his 1941 recording with Johnnie Lee Wills [brother of Bob] on Decca 46012, largely to be recorded later by e.g. Joe Martin on Coral, even in a folkish version by Tom Rush. A well known personality in Houston for a long time he had already recorded for GOLD STAR under his own name   (« How long » #1381) and a vocalist on early Moon Mullican KING releases. Here he is in great form and the Village Boys cook along well.

freedom 5010 cotton thompson - jelly roll blues
decca 46012 johnny lee wills - milk

Jelly roll blues

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Milk cow blues“(1941)

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How long“(Gold Star, 1950)

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gold star 1381A cotton thompson - how long

 

cotton thompson ?? pic

Cotton Thompson ? – center

JACK RHODES RAMBLERS (# 5011) had « Missing persons » and « How can I tell », although untraced do beggar two questions. First, who would the vocalist be : one Fiddling Bob Henderson ? This was not Mr. Rhodes, already a songwriter, bandleader and jack rhodes1 picpromoter, and evidently not a singer. Could it be JIMMY JOHNSON the vocalist, although many others fronted Rhodes’ band? As to « Missing persons », a song with that title appeared on Capitol by FERLIN HUSKEY, and the label credit « Reynolds-Rhodes-Huskey » as songwriters.

Freedom 5013 is untraced. The mysterious TRAILBLAZERS cut « A cowboys silent night » (# 5014), which is delivered ‘acapella’ and has a recitation by CAROL while « Little Moohee » has an acoustic guitar support and GEORGE handles lead vocal. Issued for Christmas 1950, it was cut at ACA studio, a location often used by Freedom, although they also are known to have made recordings at Bill Quinn’s Gold Star setup.

freedom 5015 hub sutter - wantHowever where the next 78 was cut is a real mystery. HUB SUTTER and his Hub Cats were a superb outfit who recorded for LASSO, 4* and Columbus and Hub had a reputation for putting on a very fine act. « I don’t want my baby back » (# 5015) is a magnificent slab of bluesy Western swing, with Hub’s unique vocal style well suited to the song : he was capable of crooning the cooziest ballads or shouting the most whiskey-soaked blues; the backing is excellent with guitar and steel interweaving well.

I don’t want my baby back

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Tellin’ my baby bye-bye

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The matrice numbers have a ‘W’ prefix and this is the only known case at this time. Sutter commenced his career in 1941 with ace guitarist Spud Goodal’s band in Galveston. At the end of WWII he was in Austin with Cecil Hogan’s Swingsters doing his recording debut on the local Hi-Fidelity label, before around 1946 joining Jesse James’ popular band thru 1950 ; so he was singing on some of James’ Blue Bonnet and 4* recordings. He even cut under his name a record on Lasso with « his Galvestonians » [actually Jesse James’ band in disguise]. On Freedom, « I don’t want my baby back » was intended as an answer to Floyd Tillman‘s « I gotta have my baby back », and had an excellent relentless electric mandolin, and quite possibly Herb Remington on steel. His next Freedom release, the rocking « Tellin’ my baby bye-bye » (# 5030) was recorded with R.D. Hendon’s Western Jamboree Cowboys, probably at the same session as Charlie Harris’ « No shoes boogie » (# 5033).

wink lewis pic

Wink Lewis

 

 

Another gap in our knowledge appears at # 5017 and then we have the arrival of one of the most talented Hillbilly singers to come from Texas: JOHNNIE NELMS (born Houston in 1931). His output covers many years and includes a range of labels that extends from Decca to Gold Star, Starday, D and obscure labels like Westry (not in order given). With his Sunset Cowboys, his « If I can’t have you » (# 5018) is pure Texas Hillbilly/Honky tonk music. Great vocal over a superb band with swirling fiddles (Doug Myers), haunting steel (Herb Remington) and brilliant « knocked out rinky dink » piano. The flip side, « The bride to be » has unfortunately an organ backing, but even so Jimmie’s vocal is pure class. Another gap appears at # 5019.

Johnny Nelms (Azalea,Starday)

Johnny Nelms

freedom 5018 johnny nelms- if I ca,'t have you

 

Johnny NelmsIf I can’t have you

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TOMMY SANDS is the most well-known name to record for Freedom. His # 5022 (« Love pains/Syrup soppin’ blues » is extremely rare. Credited as Little Tommy Sands (The West’s Wonder Boy), it is his debut on record. He was not a Texan, born in 1937 in Chicago ; his family moved to Houston when he was young, and he would have been only 14 when he cut his record. Yet his vocal is assured and insouciant, and both sides are excellent boppers with great backing from an uncredited band, except Herb Remington on steel (the lead guitarist, unfortunately afforded no solo space, remains unidentified).

Tommy SandsSyrup soppin’ blues

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The fine uptempo « Somebody’s stealin’ (my baby’s kisses) » (# 5023) by BOB JONES & his Troubadours is a fast Hillbilly bop ditty. One may wonder if this is the same Bob Jones who appeared later on Starday (# 148 and 210) and more later on, on Dixie # 1070 (April 1964)(I want’ cha baby), valued at $ 50-60. Sorry, no picture available.

Bob JonesSomebody’s stealin’ (my baby’s kisses)”

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Gaps appear on # 5024 and # 5026, sandwiching the great double-sider (# 5025) « Cross roads » and « Hula boogie ». tommy durdenThe former is a lugubrious ballad, that was quite a regional hit of little interest, but the latter is a fine bopper with good vocal and the Westernairs providing fine backing which include nice steel. TOMMY DURDEN also recorded for 4* (« That’s where you dropped your candy » with Boots Gilbert) with a band of the same name, led by Vic Cardis (4* 1500) , and for Pappy Daily’s ‘D’ label later, but his main claim to fame is as co-writer of  « Heartbreak hotel ».

Tommy DurdenHula boogie

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freedom 5025 hula boogie

Issue # 5027 is by LAURA LEE & The Ranch Hands, but I’ve not heard « Everybody but me » ; « I’m lonely for you darling » is a good jumping uptempo (fiddle, steel) song..However it would seem that she is LAURA LEE McBRIDE, the wide of Dickie McBride, whose band probably supply the backing. LAURA LEE is a well-known and respected Western swing vocalist, who, besides recording under her own name (i.e. M-G-M 11086 « I love you boogie »), also sang and recorded with Bob Wills.

Laura LeeI’m lonely for you darling

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m-g-m 11086 laura lee &dickie McBride - I love you boogie Laura Lee & Dickie McBrideI love you boogie“(M-G-M 11086)

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Third and last part of the serie (# 5028 to 5042) with more great music in a soon feature.

 

 

Corrections/additions welcome!

Late December 2015 fortnight’s favorites: a merry bopping Xmas (thirteen selections, 1950-1963), y’all!

For this Xmas 2015, as a gift, you faithful visitors of bopping.org will get 13 (yes, thirteen) selections, instead of the usual only 6 ; although for several months I gradually posted more and more tunes. Merry bopping Xmas to y’all !

 

 

« Deep Elem blues » was first recorded by the SHELTON BROTHERS (Bob & Joe on vocals and mandolin/guitar) in February 1935 in Chicago (Decca 5422), before the Prairie Ramblers gave their own version in August of the same year. The song refers to the black quarter in Dallas, where you need 50 $ because of the red headed women there. It was an immediate success, revived by others over the years, namely by JERRY LEE LEWIS, whose 1957 version remained unissued in the Sun archives for 40 years ! Same year saw the WILBURN BROTHERS‘ version (Decca 29887) : Doyle & Ted do a fine job on this song. Later on Jerry Garcia (Grateful Dead) and Levon Helm had their versions too, outside the scope of this blog, as they say.

decca  shelton-brothers  deep

sun 78 logo

Shelton BrothersDeep Elem blues

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Jerry Lee LewisDeep Elem blues

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Wilburn Brothers (Teddy & Doyle)”Deep Elem blues

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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 smith 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 collie galmacy's collie -before

 

 

 

 

Biff & Margie#2

Bill & Marge courtesy Imperial Anglares

columbia collie & marge care

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 collie talkspecialty collie everybody

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 collie worldstarday collie goodbyestarday collie look

 

 

 

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 collie doodlestarday collie 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 bowman 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.