Howdy folks ! Eleven selections (yes, 11) this time of small labels and very minor artists, who made for the most part of them only one known record then vanished into obscurity or did something else than a career in music.
From California on the Pico Sundown label (# 113, very late ’50s, let’s hear at BOBBY AUSTIN‘s « Fool, fool, fool » : a jumping little tune, very expressive vocal – the singer knows what he’s talking about, of course. A prominent steel guitar, whose style must BE Ralph Mooney‘s.
A lively « It’s money » by MIKE CLAY follows on the National Sounds label (# 1501), mid ’60s. It’s an uptempo with a harsh guitar. The record itself is produced by « Jack Rhodes », famous producer and songwriter residing in Mineola, TX.
From Louisville, KY, here they are, back-to-back of the Hood label # 1031 by CARL DIXON. More ‘Country’ than hillbilly, however two fine medium-paced Country rockers : « Carry me back to Ark. » and « Hunting out of season ». Surely Dixon has to watch for gamekeepers.. A harmonica throughout is the main instrument.
DICK BILLS began seemingly his career in Arizona on the Vicki label in 1954-55 (an OP- custom issue, « Beggars can’t be choosers »)[see elsewhere in this site my feature on the Four Star OP-serie]. We find him later on the Morgan label (# 107) in California for two medium paced numbers (one is sung by Buzz Burnam – I can’t for Heaven’s sake remember him where/when, but his name rings familiar to my ears). Tracks are « Lost without you », an ordinary bopper, while « Old dusty sun » has a surprising hawaiian-style steel guitar.
Finally Bills reappears in 1961 on the Crest label for a solid « Rockin’ and a rollin’ » (# 1091), backed on the lead guitar by his nephew Glen Campbell.
JIMMY RINGO next artist offers a very nice bopper as late as 1958 on the big concern W.C. Dot (reputed for its pop orientation). « I like this kind of music » (# 15787) has everything Boppers’ addicts could wish for : a nice guitar (a short solo), an interesting vocal, a prominent fiddle, of course no drums and even a banjo solo.
The following artist had a long career as Red River Dave, mostly songwriter, he takes here his real name of DAVE McENERY for a solitary single on a subsidiary label to T.N.T., the aptly named Yodeling # 500. I wonder if they are more numbers in the serie. Both tracks are unusual. « Did the gypsy lie ? » is an intense ballad, while « Jailhouse blues » (backing is made of 2 guitars and a bass) is a sort of folkish hillbilly, very pleasant with its yodel efforts.
Note: Phil Watson, a visitor, had noted what follows: “I heard this was recorded when T Texas Tyler was jailed in 1958 for a drugs offence (he was found carrying weed) and, quick off the mark as always, Red River Dave wrote a song about it – Jailhouse Blues. The lyrics mention a couple of Tyler’s songs.”. Thanks Phil!
Last artist is a completely unknown from Kansas City, MO : ROY BEEMER comes with a shuffler, « Cheatin’ don’t count » has a guitar solo « a la Hank Garland », solos of steel and fiddle. A real good disc on the Artists label # 1459.
“Cheatin’ don’t count”
This first batch of duets will concentrate on bopping Bluegrass tunes. Indeed the choice of tunes is entirely mine, and I post the ones I like very much. The main instruments, as expected, are fiddle and banjo or mandolin, all pushing often an urgent vocal.
The DIXIE DRIFTERS were a small Bluegrass group from Houston, TX ; actually they were the first one to make Bluegrass music so far from Kentucky or Tennessee. Hank Wilson (guitar/vocal & composer) was the leader when they cut « Lies, lies and alibis », a fast ditty on the Minor label (# 112). Enjoy the dobro part! (According to ARLD, this record came out in October 1958). No label scan available, sorry: I’ve just got the music from a Tom Sims’ cassette. Earlier on the boys had another issue on Azalea 110, same style (« Gone forever »). Hank Wilson, as “Slim Wilson” recorded probably one more single for Minor (# 117)”The ring around your finger/Bring a wall around Texas“. And I really don’t know if Hank Wilson and Leon Russell are the same person.
Way up north with the THOMAS BROTHERS (Melvin and Erwin) for an oustanding « Way high, way low » on the Hammond, IN. Mar-Vel’ label (# 355 from 1956). Each voice (3 actually) compete strongly : the highpitched, then the bass man, finally the medium singing « Right in the middle, that’s where I want to be ». A pity they never had another issue. March 22,2018. Actually I found a clip of their EP on Atwell 173, “Let The Light Shine Down“, below.
Third we have a decisive ‘Vocal duet’ on the label : Rena 803 (sub-label to Cozy) from Ripley, WV by RALPH & RUTH. « Hard hearted girl», great rhythm guitar. It’s difficult to assume a date for the issue, maybe late ’50s, or even 1961, as suggested by HillbillyCountry45 (Youtube).
From Pico, California on the Sundown label # 106 : TOMMY GUESS & BILL LOWE do give a lot of energy in their « My foolish heart ». Mandolin solo. They disappeared afterwards 1958. March 22,2018. I’ve added a clip of the flipside, “Unwanted and Alone“. Enjoy!
A beautiful harmony with the NASH BROTHERS, probably from Georgia on the Peach label (# 569) : « My prescription refilled » from March 1959.
Let’s begin this new favorites selection with the first (?) record by an artist who would have much, much later fame as Boxcar Willie. Here he’s named MARTY MARTIN on the Honeycomb label and he sings a good “Mobile, Alabama blues”.
Finally, thanks to a Mr. Noel T, I put my hands on two rare JESS WILLARD disks. First the completely unknown G&G 107 double-sider “I’m branding my darling with my heart” (earlier cut by Jack Guthrie) and “Hillbilly heaven” (this is apparently not Eddie Dean’s song). Both sides are gentle hillbilly boppers from 1957. G&G was a parent label to Ka-Hi which Willard had “I’m telling you” on. Second is the Sundown 126 “Cops and robbers/Night time is cry time” from 1959, posthumously issued. Alas, both sides are completely pop.
Jess Willard “I’m branding my darling with my heart”
Howdy, folks! En route for the new cartload of bopping Hillbillies/Rockabillies and white rockers (this time), plus the usual R&B rocker. First two tunes are by WEBB FOLEY, from Fort Wayne, Indiana it seems. He had “Bee bop baby” on Emerald 2013 in 1957 (flip side is “You ought make records“, listed as “C&W”, alas I didn’t track it down). Rockabilly and that’s all, topical lyrics, good rhythm. Next year he was to have a white rocker “Little bitty mama” (Emerald EP 750), a good one. BUT, beware of his sides on the M label (“Strange little girl/One by one” and “Little town Xmas”), they’re awful! More on Emerald next fortnight.
Next artist must have been a local one, as his label: Royal 100, for COUSIN KEITH LOYD (sic). He cut “Dangerous crossing” (1955?) certainly having in mind Billy Strange’s “Diesel smoke” from a pair of years earlier. Cousin Keith Loyd “Dangerous crossing“
I return to MARVIN RAINWATER. I did celebrate his death last month with one of his most known tracks, “Mr. Blues“. Now I’ve chosen “So you think you’ve got troubles” (MGM 12420), cut a coupe of years later, and a fast good side of its own.
Marvin Rainwater “So you think you’ve got troubles”
BILL LOWE was from West Coast, and cut for the interesting small label Sundown. There he had at least two issues, the one here (# 117), “You set my heart on fire“, a very nice late ’50s hillbilly. Lowe had a duet with TOMMY GUESS, also on Sundown, “Foolish heart” (# 106 – I include it in the podcasts, having copied it from an old Tom Sims’ cassette).
Finally a great R&B Rocker by FLASH TERRY, “ She’s my baby” on the Southbay label (# 500), obviously a S.F. issue. Just take a look at the logo: Southbay must have been inspired by Starday (3 stars). Flash Terry “She’s my baby”
Note (Nov. 30th, 2015) from Steve Gronda: “The Flash Terry on Southbay was bootlegged from my original 45 on Suncoast, a Tampa label run by Doc Castellanos, a local bar owner. Southbay, was based in South Pasadena Florida, about 30 miles from Doc’s bar in Tampa and released this record around 1979.. About 1,000 copies were pressed. The original owner of Suncoast records had no memory of Flash Terry, nor any records or tapes when approached in the early ’70’s by collector Lynn Burnette.”
Enjoy the selections. Any comment or addition/correction welcome!
Born Jess Willard Griffin, 28 March 1916, Washburn, Texas. Died 26 May 1959, Auburn, California.
I must admit that I had never heard of Jess Willard before the release of his Bear Family CD in 2000. Though he recorded for a major label (Capitol), Willard always remained an obscurity and is ignored by the country music encyclopedias.
Jess was named after the boxer Jess Willard, who won the world championship heavyweight in 1915. Born in a small town in West Texas, he was one of seven children. His two big musical influences were his father, a skilled guitarist who passed onto his son his love for Western music and his technical ability, and his best friend, singer Jack Guthrie (1915-1948), whose early death was a great shock to Jess. By then Willard was living in Los Angeles where he began to appear with Ole Rasmussen and his western swing band. It was while sitting in with Rasmussen at Harmony Park Ballroom, singing Jack Guthrie’s “Oklahoma Hills” (a # 1 country hit in 1945), that he was heard by Lee Gillette, then head of Capitol’s country department. Gillette signed him to Capitol and produced Willard’s first session, on June 14, 1950, in Hollywood. When Capitol decided to put Gillette in their pop division, his A&R hillbilly position on the West Coast was taken over by Ken Nelson, who would produce all subsequent Capitol sessions by Willard. Gillette and Nelson noticed that Jess had trouble staying in tune on slow songs, but his vocal limitations were less apparent on up-tempo material. Most of his recordings are good-time honky tonk country, with a touch of western swing. As Jess was no great songwriter, Capitol seemed to regard him at first as a vehicle for covers of other’s hits (like Lefty Frizzell‘s “If You’ve Got the Money Honey“), but from his third session on, Willard sought original material from friends like Tex Atchison (a fiddler in Rasmussen’s band) and Eddie Hazelwood. They were the writers of “Honky Tonk Hardwood Floor” (recorded on May 3, 1951, Capitol 1562), probably Willard’s main claim to fame, especially after it was revived by Johnny Horton at the end of 1957 (Columbia 41110), and, in a more Rock’n’Roll mould, by Clyde Stacy in 1958 (Bullseye 1008). This song is still sung today. A ’90s very modern version was done by Tim O’Brien.
The Capitol recordings benefited greatly from the work of well-known West Coast session men like Jimmy Bryant, Speedy West and Cliffie Stone, and from humourous lyrics (“My Mail Order Mama“, “Turn That Gun Around“, for instance), but none of Willard’s 13 Capitol singles made any significant commercial impact. After a session in September 1952, his Capitol contract was not renewed and Jess would not record again for three years. In the summer of 1953, Willard and Eddie Hazelwood headed to Korea to entertain troops, followed by a four and a half month tour of the Far East.
In 1954 Jess befriended Hank Cochran, who was working in duet with teenage guitarist and future rock ‘n’ roll star Eddie Cochran. Though they were unrelated, the duo billed themselves as the Cochran Brothers. In 1955, the Cochrans toured northern California with Willard, then joined him for a time as members of the California Hayride in Stockton. Jess recorded Hank’s “Every Dog Has His Day” and his own “Don’t Hold Her So Close” for the Ekko label in Hollywood, with possible lead guitar from Eddie – although I (Xavier) don’t really recognize his usual style. The lead guitar would then be played by Hank. A fine record, issued in October 1955 (Ekko 1018), but unfortunately it would remain Willard’s only Ekko release.
When the Cochrans split and left the Hayride, Willard stayed, settling in Auburn, near Sacramento. He was a popular local radio personality and recorded two one-off singles for small labels (Kay-Hi 127 : « I’m Telling You », 1957, and Sundown – « Cops and Robbers », still untraced- 1959) before he died of a heart attack on May 26, 1959, at the age of only 43. Willard was, as Hank Cochran put it, “solid country … no pretense at all. He was as down to earth as you can get.” In the late 1970s, some of his recordings were rediscovered by country fans, and one track, “Honky Tonkin’ All the Time” was included on a Charly anthology in the early 1980s. Had he been alive, Willard would probably be amazed that people are still listening to his music in the 21st century.
(biography taken from Blackcat Rockabilly Europe and written by Dik De Heer – reproduced with permission)
Jess Willard is always at his best with medium up-tempo songs. Name « Cadillac Blues » from his penultimate Capitol session of February 25, 1952. Willard has that distinctive nasal pronunciation, prettily backed by the lead guitar playing of Walt McCoy (already an artist by himself on Crystal records. His « Cowboy Boogie » is to be found on Boppin’ Hillbilly vol. 16), and the steel guitar of Leodie Jackson (also an artist of his own, known for « Steeling The Blues“ or « Double Crossin’ Mama », the latter to be found on the 2001 « Swinging West vol. 2» compilation). Noticeable also is his fine version of « New Panhandle Rag », recently (early 1950) originally done by Webb Pierce on Pacemaker (see elsewhere in this site for Webb Pierce’s early disks). For this version, a fine instrumentation does include harmonica (Jerry Adler), the renowned Tex Atchison (he would later co-write « Honky Tonk HardwoodFloor ») on fiddle, and a very inspired Jimmy Bryant on lead guitar ; the whole being propelled by the solid bass of Cliffie Stone. Indeed his best known track is « Honky Tonk Hardwood Floor », with his tap dance sounds, bar-room styled piano, and on the whole it’s very easily evocative atmosphere of a early ’50s honky tonk. I like very much what is in my mind his best recording session ever, of September 1951 : songs like the two amusing « Turn That Gun Around » (Capitol 1855) and « My Mail Order Mama » (# 1963)(co-written by none other than Mar-Vel’s label Bob Burton’s lead-guitar player Ronnie Durbin, out of Indiana), Willard’s own « Truck Driver’s Boogie » (co-written with guitarist Walt McCoy, who does a superb job here), ; this song has nothing to do with the Milo Twins‘ 1947 song of the same name. Finally from this session, I like particularly « Mistreated Blues » (# 1855) with its line « Nobody wants me to be their darling – I’ve got those lonesome mistreated blues » and always an impressive backing on a slowish uptempo number.
Considering both Ekko sides, they are fine uptembo hillbilly bop songs, Willard in fine form, in front of a sympathetic backing. Everybody in the studio seems to feel relax and enjoy doing their job.
Big Allan Turner, out of England, did fortunately put his hands on a two-sided test pressing of songs, already unissued elsewhere, and published on his site (www.hillbillyresearcher.blogspot.com). They are really demonstration songs: “Please Believe In Me” and “It’s A Sin“, with sparse instrumentation (steel, lead guitar barely audible and bass), and otherwise would have deserved a full backing. No composer credits. Maybe Willard did intend to use them for knocking at another label’s door ?
Finally the Ka Hi issue, “I’m Telling You” (flipside “One Love“, rockaballad – added April 2, 2018)) – this song has been reissued twice recently, on Cactus “High On The Hog – vol. 3” and Collector “Rock and Roll Country Style”. It’s a microscopic label, out of somewhere in California (I only know of another disc, by Freddie Byers – same period, 1957, a good hillbilly bop). Willard is in fine form, and lovely backed by a tight combo (steel, lead guitar, piano,fiddle and bass), singing the evergreen « You’re gonna change, or I’m gonna leave » refrain. Jack Guthrie had had his own version in 1946 on Capitol.
The last record I know of was issued probably in the Summer of 1959, so AFTER the untimely death (at the age of 43) of Willard. It’s on the Pico, Ca. Sundown 127 label, and I have still to hear « Cops And Robbers/Night Time Is Cry Time ». Anyone can help ? Let me know, please ! (Finally heard those sides, they are poppish..)
He died of a heart attack on May 26, 1959, at the age of only 43. Willard was, as Hank Cochran put it, “solid country … no pretense at all. He was as down to earth as you can get.” In the late 1970s, some of his recordings were rediscovered by country fans, and one track, “Honky Tonkin’ All the Time” was included on a Charly anthology in the early 1980s. Had he been alive, Willard would probably be amazed that people are still listening to his music in the 21st century.
Another Jess Willard 45 was unearthed two years ago by a fellow American collector, that on the Californian G&G label # 107. Two very fine tunes, »Hillbilly Heaven » is the A-side while the flipside is a Jack Guthrie (an old compere of Willard) original, « I’m Branding My Darling With My Heart ».(added on April 3, 2018)