The image of the blind troubadour is a familiar one in Country music’s history.For many born this way, or struck down with blindness in infancy, music was their only tangible means to forge an independant path through life. Perhaps the most famous blind troubadour in Country, in the post years at least, was Leon Payne. Although he achieved more success through his songwriting than his own recordings. Equally prolific on the songwriting front, yet denied the same degree of success, was Leroy Jenkins : he was born on July 28, 1921 in Texas. Only six months old he turned blind. From the age of seven he attended the Texas School for the Blind in Austin. Here he learned to play the guitar. In 1942 he entered “Abilene Christian College”, to become a priest, meanwhile preaching in churches in the neighborhood. A year later he quit college and moved in with his wife, a blind woman he recently had married. He wanted to become an artist and he and his wife moved to Dallas, Texas. He found a job in a nightclub where he sang and played guitar with fellow artists. He was a popular act and consequently he was offered a contract to host his own show at a local radio station.
In 1946 he had his first success when he wrote the song “Tell Me Now Or Tell Me Never”, which Roy Acuff recorded for Columbia (# 37099). He was then part of Miss Ludy & her Crazy Gang who were performing on KRLD, Dallas.
Jenkins made his first recordings in September 1949 for the Talent label from Dallas [it’s unclear if it concerns the famous Star Talent/Talent label, which had only a 600/700 serie]. It’s however likely these recordings were made at Jim Beck’s studios in Dallas.
Beck was a key figure in the development of country music in Dallas. Another question appears when it comes to master # (BB 164/165) for « You two timed me three timed me » and « Forever and ever », as these numbers do seem Blue Bonnet (another Dallas label) cuts. Note that the B-side was also given at an earlier stage of research (by Al Turner) as another version of Wayne Raney’s « Why don’t you haul off and love me ».
Next Jenkins record with his Texas Showboys was made also in Dallas for the Jim Beck’s own Dude label (# 1507), and « Too fat boogie » is a hillbilly bop romper. Note that the flipside “If I could buy your love” (untraced) was cowritten with Beck and (apparently) Riley Crabtree.
Nevertheless it was probably Beck who arranged an audition for Leroy with Columbia’s A&R man Don Law.
Leroy Jenkins signed his Columbia contract on March 1, 1951. It was a contract for one year and four songs. He would get 2% of 90% of the sales. There were two options for an additional year against 3%.
On March 13, 1951 he had his first Columbia session in Beck’s studio. Four powerful songs were recorded of which « Hard time hard luck blues » (# 20815) was a strong rhythm-guitar led country-blues tune. Its flipside however was a weeper, « I’m crying but nobody cares».
The remaining tracks of this first recording session were “Time Passes By” and “Please Don’t Tell Me That You Love Me” (# 20853) both weepers, although good examples of classic honky tonk ballads out of Texas in the early ’50s. During his second and final Columbia session (8/2/51) again four songs were recorded. Out of the 4 tracks, the two weepers « You’re talking to a broken heart » (# 20931) and « Don’t be a home breaker » (# 20878) were striking a balance between the two uptempos « I just don’t know » and most of all the fast « Tennessee sunshine ». Jenkins of course wrote all of his material.
After that last record Jenkins disappeared from the music scene, and maybe returned to priesthood. He died December 18, 1990, and must not be confused either with the jazz violinist, or the Ohio televangelist of the same name. Nor of course with current artist Leeroy Jenkins.
Sources : 78rpm for label scans (thanks to Ronald Keppner) ; W. Agenant’s site « Columbia 20000 » for Columbia sides ; also his biography of L. Jenkins was of great help, as Al Turner’s in Hillbilly Researcher # 10 ; Uncle Gil Rockin’ Archives for Dude and Flair sides; Roots Vinyl Guide for some label scans. My own researches (photographs, various data, personal appreciations and additions).
The mainstay of this ensemble was Jimmy Lee Fautheree. Born (James Walton Fautheree) on April 11, 1934 in Smackover, Arkansas. When he was 12 years old, his aunt bought him a guitar and he was fortunate that his parents wanted him to be an entertainer : so Fautheree became an accomplished guitarist at the age of 16 He spent many hours and dayspracticing guitar and singing with two of his younger brothers, Lynn and Jackie, both of whom in adulthood would follow him in musical pursuits. Their father was an oilman and moved his family from town to town as jobs became available, but settled in Dallas in 1946. The family was very musical minded, so Jimmy came by it honest.Jimmy liked and was around most phases of music : blues and hillbilly were his favorites, but country and gospel also fell into place. Ernest Tubb and Jack Guthrie were big influences, but Merle Travis left a definite impression on Jimmy with his distinctive finger-picked electric guitar style.
Following a successful appearance on the Big « D » Jamboree, Jimmy Fautheree was soon a regular feature of the Dallas Country music scene. ‘Country’ Johnny Mathis, not to be confused with the pop crooner of the same name, hailed from Maud TX, where he was born in 1935. Mathis is arguably the most notable of the many individuals that made up the other half of the Jimmy & Johnny guise. Mathis had already garnered some experience in the recording field, having waxed a handful of sides for the JB [an extra-Bullet outfit of Jim Bulleit] in 1951 and Talent (Dallas, Texas) (1949) labels. Jim Bulleit acted also as manager for Jimmy Fauthereee (see below Billboard snippet).
In 1951, the boys were invited on to the Louisiana Hayride and very quickly became part of the house band which was then run by bassist Tillman Franks (more on him in the article devoted elsewhere in this site to the early days of Webb Pierce in Shreveport). Recently unearthed tapes of the Hayride concerts stand testament to their talent. Shortly after joining the prestigious show, Fautheree was signed to a recording contract with Capitol records. His first Capitol session took place at the Louisiana Hayride in 1951 in Shreveport, Louisiana. Four songs were recorded – “Go Ahead and Go” (a Jimmy Lee original), the fine uptempo “I’m Diggin’ A Hole To Bury My Heart” (# 2153) and here, Fautheree was also renamed “Jimmy Lee“. He went on to be a great star in the hillbilly field. One of his Capitol records is interesting,”Blowin’ And Goin’” as it includes a muted trumpet, an unusual instrument in early ’50s Country, but in Lee Bond‘s Republic sides, e.g. “How About A Date“, cut at the same time as Jimmy Lee (see elsewhere for this label’s story)
Billboard 1952 snippet
In 1953, the pair Fautheree-Mathis recorded « If You Don’t, Somebody Else Will » for Feature (a Crowley, La. Jay D. Miller label), but it wasn’t until the following year, when they re-recorded the song for Chess, that it made the n°3 spot and became their only hit record. Jimmy Lee continued working and recording under the name of Jimmy & Johnny (Decca), albeit now with his brother Lynn. The new duet cut superb Rockabillies : the furious « Sweet Love On My Mind » (written by Wayne Walker, and shortly thereafter recorded by Johnny Burnette and the Rock’n’Roll Trio on Coral)(# 30061), the lazy uptempo Hillbilly bop bordering Rockabilly « Sweet Singing Daddy » (# 29772), the equally good « What ‘Cha Doin’ To Me » (# 30410), while the latter’s flipside, « I’ll Do It Everytime » was titled « Skiffle-Billy Beat » ! They were featured on Faron Young‘s band – Faron Young & The Deputies, on to the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, performing there many times on the famous stage. Jimmy was featured in many shows of Elvis Presley’s early years, with Elvis being Jimmy’s opening act several times. Wow, how many can say that has happened for them ? Fautheree also did teaming up on Chess with Wayne Walker for the major 1955 Rockabilly classic « Love Me » with its furious steel-guitar and Fautheree’s own raucous, gutbucket bluesy guitar. In addition, he made later some solo recordings : in 1958, he cut the out-and-out rocker « Teen-Age Wedding » for the Vin label in New Orleans under the name Johnny Angel.
KWKH was a radio studio, also the only recording studio in Shreveport. Its studio was built as a room within a room : about two ft. away from the outside walls of the building, another wall was constructed stuffed with fiberglass. The only windows faced the annoncer’s booth and an area in front of the studio where the coffee machine and several chairs and tables were situated. The dimensions of the studio were approximately 25×30 ft. with a 12-foot ceiling, which was similar to the Dallas’ Jim Beck’s studio facility. Nevertheless, engineer Bob Sully excelled in being able to make the most out of what was available. For instance, he discovered that an echo effect was possible through feeding the output back into the board. Which he did, with Jimmy Lee & Wayne Walker « Love Me ».
Mathis teamed early in 1955 with a Dallas club owner, Les Chambers, who put on several singles on Starday by himself. The pair issued two nice fast Hillbilly boppers : « Everybody Else Does (Why Can’t I ») (Starday 181), as an answer to « If You Don’t, Somebody Else Will », and « Give Me A Little More » (Starday 206).
Chambers soon disappeared, recording-wise, while Johnny Mathis switched naturally under the protection of Starday, when this label and Mercury went to a common venture early in 1957. There he had «One Life » (# 71273), as several tracks on various artists albums, e.g. « Hillbilly Hit Parade ». He even cut uncredited for the
low-budget Dixie label a nice version of the, I believe he was
the originator, Porter Wagoner song « I Thought I Heard You Call My Name » (# 526). Later in 1958, he recorded Rockabilly on ‘D’ as Les Cole and the Echoes (« Bee Boppin’ Daddy /Rock-A-Bye-Baby», # 1010). He and Fautheree were reunited in the late fifties for a couple of releases on ‘D’, (“My Little Baby” , # 1089 ) and one for the Los Angeles Republic label (« Knock On Wood », # 2014), in 1961 before finally dissolving the act, and once again each one going their own way.
During the 1960s, Jimmy Lee recorded for the Paula label in Shreveport : a more modern version of « Can’t Find The Door Nob » (sic, # 239) (1966) and one very tough, fine guitar-led instrumental: “Box Full Of ‘Git’” Next year, he cut the nice, loud rocker “Overdue ” (also on Paula 279), then on the Lodema label, more instro with “Project X-9” and the awesome country bopper “Laziest Man In The World” (Lodema # LR 101, 1983).
Jimmy produced several Gospel albums, his first in the late 1970’s. Lynn Fautheree died in 1989 from asbestosis. It would not be before 1995 that Jimmy & Johnny performed again together for the first time in 35 years, when they recorded a gospel tune “It Won’t Be Much Longer“, released on the Dallas based TIMA Records in 2000. It was their last recording together. It was however their last recording as Johnny became ill in 1999. He was invited to come back for a reunion on the Louisiana Hayride show on June 27 and 28, 2003, titled “One More Ride“, at the original Municipal Auditorium, 706 Elvis Presley Ave., Shreveport, Louisiana. Jimmy opened the Friday night show by singing one of his recordings, “Unknown Legends“, written by Johnny Mathis. That song was perfect for the night, and as many of the original performers such as Kitty Wells, Johnny Wright, Bonnie, Maxine, and Jim Ed Brown, Billy Walker, just to name a few, were present to once again perform their talents, and could say, “we are home once again“.
Also last year (2003), Jimmy performed a Rockabilly Show, “The Ponderosa Stomp”, in New Orleans, Louisiana, backed by Deke Dickerson and the Ecco-Fonics Band. That performance went so well that Deke invited Jimmy Lee to his Fort Horton studios in Austin, TX., to record with the band. The result is: “I Found The Doorknob“, Jimmy Lee’s first recording in forty years! The new CD features the hit “I Found The Doorknob” (answer song to “Can’t Find The Doorknob“), and many others including “Gotta Get You Near Me Blues“, “Overdue“, “Box Full of Gits” (Jimmy’s admirous guitar picking), “I’m Diggin a Hole“, “Big Mamma Blues“, “Nine Pound Hammer“, and many more. This CD is available through the web site – dekedickerson.com, his first album for nearly 30 years.
Jimmy went to Rye, Sussex, England, and performed the Rockabilly Rave Show on March 7, 2004, doing an outstanding performance playing his guitar and singing to many a fan who never thought they would get to see their favorite artist in person. This was also the first time he ever did perform in Europe. Three months later, he lost his battle against cancer : he passed away at his home in Dallas TX, on June 29, 2004.
As a solo artist, Johnny Mathis released several singles for D, United Artists and Little Darlin’. His final charting single was “Please Talk to My Heart,” released in 1963. He also encountered significant success as a songwriter, penning songs for Johnny Paycheck, George Jones and Webb Pierce, among others.
Mathis suffered a stroke in February 1999, and was no longer able to perform. He died on September 27, 2011, one day prior to his 78th birthday
There was also a release on TNT which is by a different Jimmy & Johnny duet; a Jimmy Lee has « Look What Love Will Do » on Vin 1010, and a record on Feature is by a Jim & Johnny, once again no relation to Messers Fautheree and Mathis.
Biography based on Dik De Heer work (www.rockabilly.nl), Walter Stettner’s own, from « Steel Guitar Forum » (published on the Rockabilly Hall of Fame site), and, most of all, from the very fine and indispensable book « Cowboys, Honky-tonks and Hepcats » written and published by my good friend Tony Biggs. Nearly all pictures were provided by Tony, too. And all the music comes from his fabulous collection…Thanks-a-lot, Tony!
One of the most prolific Southwestern labels of the postwar era in Texas was Dallas’ Talent/Star Talent Records, owned and operated by Jesse Erickson. In number of actual, documented releases in its hillbilly serie (700), it may indeed have been the most prolific. Erickson’s 80-odd issues over a roughly four year period beginning in 1948 appear to be the most by a Texan hillbilly label until Starday came along in 1953.
Of course, volume doesn’t necessarily correspond with quality, but many of Talent’s – it became Star Talent about halfway through his life – releases were classics of postwar country music, like Hoyle Nix’s “Big Ball’s In Cowtown”, Slim Willet’s “Tool Pusher On A Rotary Rig” and Riley Crabtree’s “Shackles And Chains”. And many more were prime examples of the changing musical climate of the region, when Western swing was slowly displaced to straightforward Honky tonk.
The label was also unusual in the way it evolved from a strictly local label (Buddy Walker issues) to far-flung markets like New Orleans (Ray Rogers), Arkansas (Buster Doss) or Memphis (Freddie Burns).
It’s yet to be established exactly when Erickson began recording Talent sessions, but the birth of the label seems to have coincided with the musicians’ union recording ban (the Petrillo ban), on January 1rst, 1948. Erickson drew talent from the lively local scene which revolved around the Lone Star Jamboree (later Big D Jamboree), held every Saturday at Ed McLemore’s. Involved was disc jockey Al Turner. Among Jamboree’s early stars were Riley Crabtree and a youngster, Buddy Walker, at the same time salesman for Erickson’s record shop, and the first to sign for Talent – he had the first 6 releases on the label.
Talent’s inaugural release, Buddy Walker’s “Bordertown Fiesta”, became a regional hit. Recorded at the Seller’s studio, it included a nebulous house band made up of Jamboree house band regulars: lead guitar player Buster White (later Leon Rhodes), Tex Melton (later Jimmy Kelley) on steel guitar, and fiddler Ted Hodges (later Billy Jack Saucier). The obscure female pianist Aline McManus also played on several early sessions. Back to Walker. A smooth (though indeniably country) and appealing singer, typically with his first B side, the strong “We Lived A Lie”.
Gene O’Quin (his story can be found in its entirety on the site), was probably still short of 16 when he made “Next Sunday Darling Is My Birthday” (Talent 708). Alongside his longtime buddy Boots Borquin, he was already a a seasoned club and stage performer, as his poignant et assured vocal attests. Both were regulars of the Jamboree, but O’Quin would have his second disc ,backed by the Jamboree house band and credited to him alone: a forgettable “Pennies for Papa” coupled with Hank Williams’ “The Blues Come Around” (Talent 741). Soon after, O’Quin would hitchike to California and sign for Hometown Jamboree and Capitol Records.
Erickson’s first move outside of North Texas was bandleader Hoyle Nix, a fiddler whose West Texas Cowboys based out of Big Spring. Nix rose to regional stardom amid the West Texas oil boom. He took a page from his idol Bob Wills’ book when he, as Wills had done often, revamped an old folk standard as “A Big Ball’s In Cowtown” (Talent 709). The song not only became Nix’s signature tune (he re-recorded it in 1959 for the Caprock label, of Big Spring), but also by far the biggest hit of Talent/Star talent, selling 10.000 copies in the Dallas area alone, and remaining in print long after most of Erickson’s early reissues were deleted. It was also a hit for the neo-Western Swing outfit Asleep At The Wheel in the 1980’s.
Alton “Tex” Melton was an early regular steel guitarist of the Big D Jamboree. He was the steel player on a number of early Talent sessions, but also a singer/songwriter (without steel), on his line fine bluesy issue “It Won’t Do Baby” (Talent 714). He seems to have dropped out of sight afterwards.
Aline McManus, whom about nearly nothing is known, was a session pianist and had a lone issue, “Television Love” (Talent 722, vocal Jack Padgett). The song has nothing to do with television however, but is a fine bopper with twin fiddles and probably George McCoy on steel. Vocalist Jack Padgett (who had previously recorded for his own Echo label) came originally from Oklahoma, and relocated in Fort Worth, Tx. when he was approached by Jesse Erickson.
His “Boogie Woogie Gal” (Talent 729) is one of three he had on the label. Afterwards, relocated in Odessa, he wrote “Cowtown” for Tex Ritter, then switched to Four Star.
Cowboy Dixon is a real mystery, and we only have his music, the solitary fine “Everything’s Gonna Be Changed” (Talent 733); otherwise we are clueless!
The Seven Rowe Brothers were from Oklahoma, and had spent several postwar years in California when they settled in Dallas. Fronted by vocalist and sometimes fiddler Jack Rowe, they were shortly to begin a long association with Al Dexter. The Rowes at this time included Earl and Lightnin’ on fiddles, Luke on guitar, and A.D. on bass, usually augmented by various steel guitar players, lead guitarists and drummer Freddie Cantu. “Polk County Two Step” (Talent 732) is derived from the Bob Wills’ tune “Faded Love”. The Rowes continued to perform professionnally through the 1990s, though death and ill-health had decimated the act.
Johnny Mathis, from Maud, Texas, was one of the most important artists to have gotten their start on Talent. Ex-steel guitar player with Riley Crabtree’s band, he cut “Before You Call” (Dave Lander’s current hit) at a Crabtree session. Mathis soon became a solo performer on the Jamboree where he met future partner Jimmy Fautheree. They both recorded solo before teaming up with “If You Don’t Somebody Else Will” in 1954. Their relationship was on and off again for years and in the late ‘50s Mathis began a distinguished solo career per Pappy Daily’s D records, recording some excellent honky-tonk records under the name Country Johnny Mathis (to distinguish him from the pop star).
Johnny Bee, born Balducci, was a fine singer, with a deep, resonant baritone. He had a tendency to sound like Ernest Tubb, and the best track by him is “Hang-over Blues” (Talent 744).
from the Tony Biggs collection
Snuffy Smith, an ex-bass player, had worked in Southern California, before relocating in Hobbs, New Mexico. He had recruited champion fiddler Tex Atchison and future Pee Wee King’s drummer Sticks McDonald (who billed himself as the “Krupa of Western Swing”). He later formed the Snuff Dippers, and cut “Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide” (Star-Talent 753 – the first issued under the modified name). By the late ‘50s Smith had joined Bob Wills as bus driver, bassist and sometimes singer.
Riley Crabtree (his entire story is to be found in this site) was one of the most prolific Texas country singers of the postwar years. He had a regional hit with “Shackles and Chains”, before signing with Columbia in 1950. Obviously influenced by Jimmie Rodgers, he cut eight of his sides. A regular on the Jamboree, he then went to Ekko (1955 – Eddie Cochran onguitar), and continued to record for small labels throughout the ‘50s ans early ‘60s.
Hank Harral is best remembered today as the owner of Caprock records in the late ‘50s, where he issued his classic “Tank Town Boogie”. Born 1913, he made his debut as the Happy Yodeler on Amarillo’s KGRS in 1928. He worked here and there as bandleader and DJ, and recorded for Star Talent “Tank Town Boogie” and “Dream Band Boogie” (Star Talent 760).
Freddie Burns was a popular Memphis country dance and radio band that numbered a young fiddler Sonny James (absent from the Star Talent sides). The fiddler then was Speedy McNatt, who sings with Burns on the excellent “Juke Box Boogie”, coupled with the equally fine “Two Piano Boogie” (Star Talent 762), with the blind pianist Ray Martin. The Freddie Burns’ band, the Ranch Hands, are not known to have recorded again.
Burns Brothers/Sunny Burns. From Jackson, Ms., Sunny (not the Starday artist Sonny Burns), Slim and Pee Wee, recorded, for unclear reasons for Star-Talent in Dallas (3 singles). They played straightforward country with western swing overtones. They chose strong material, “I Can Sleep Again At Night” (Star-Talent 765) and “Agreed To Disagree” (769). They served later as training band for future rockabilly Joe Clay.
Slim Willet. Erickson was astute enough to sign as many singing deejays as he could, a practice guaranteeing his releases would get air play. Born Winston Moore in 1919 (his full story is also featured in this site), he was a popular DJ in Abilene. He had ambition . His debut single, “Tool Pusher On A Rotary Rig” and “I’m Going Strong” (Star Talent 770) were uptempos. Later Willet would go to Four Star after his “Don’t Let The Stars Get In Your Eyes” became an unlikely major hit in 1952. Over the next years, Willet recorded prolifically (Winston, Edmoral) before his death in 1966.
Wayne Walker. Not to be confused with the Hoyle Nix guitar player, nor the singer-songwriter from Shreveport, he was a Houston singer. He was moderately successful as a songwriter (R.D. Hendon, Jerry Jericho) and his lone Star-Talent issue (“Who’s Kiddin’ Who” – 776) is one of the rarest of the label.
Notes from Krazy Kat’s CD “Playboy Boogie”. Thanks to Al Turner for label scans.
Howdy folks! Thanks for visiting my site: you are never less than 35-50 people each day. This is the proof the site is of interest to you, and it gives me in turn enthusiasm and heart to go ahead, search and find more hillbilly bop gems for your own pleasure.
Robert AUTRY INMAN (as christened) from Alabama had begun his musical career as bass player for Cowboy Copas and George Morgan in the latter part of the ’40s. A first recording contract wth Bullet in Nashville occurred in 1949, I will tell more about him in a future feature, when I have gathered enough biographical information (which is actually very sparse for his early career). 1952 saw him inked by Decca records, where he enjoyed moderate success, fine boppers and ballads. In 1956 he embarked freely on the rockabilly bandwagon and cut the classic two-sider “Be-Bop Baby/It Would Be A Doggone Lie“, I’ve chosen the latter side, in my opinion the better of both.
Tommy Durden late 1990s
From Kansas City, early ’60s, a pleasant jumping country-rock tune on the ‘R‘ label, “There’ll Sure To Be Other Times” by OTHEL SULLIVAN. He had another 45 on Wonder, which I have not heard. Judging by the RCA custom pressing number, it dates from 1960.
The next artist in question, TOMMY DURDEN, born 1928 in Georgia, had a low-profile career for more than 40 years. Singer and steel-guitar player, he is best known today for being the co-writer of “Heartbreak Hotel”, which gave him comfortable royalties, even if he never wrote a follow-up. Early ’50s saw him , no one knows how, cutting for Houston’s Sol Kahal’s Freedom label, backed by the Westernaires. He had a regional hit, “Crossroads” (rejected by Four Star’s Bill McCall as “too pop”); but fare more interesting was “Hula Boogie“: Durden on vocal, a deft mandolin solo by Boots Gilbert (one-time Durden’s wife, later to have the classic “Take It Or Leave It” on Fortune), and a stinging, hot steel-guitar by the young Herb Remington.
From the Ohio State comes now BOBBY RUTLEDGE. He recorded for the Akron Zipp label some Hillbilly bop sides (“Southern Fried Chicken“); here you have the furious “Go Slow Fatso” from 1956.
BUSTER DOSS & his Arkansas Playboys recorded first for Dallas Talent label this “Graveyard Boogie” in 1949, aimed at horror/halloween followers. Fine steel, call and response format, and a romping piano. He was the uncle of Bob Doss, famed for his Starday sides of the late fifties.
Finally a boogie classic by CECIL GANT – he would die early February 1951 in Nashville, a mere 60 years ago, after a short 6 years musical run and innumerable boogies and ballads. Here I’ve chosen one of his best instrumental tunes, “Screwy Boogie“. Enjoy the selections!