What little recognition Carvel Lee Ausborn enjoys today is due to the fact that he hosted a show called « Pickin’ and singin’ hillbilly » on WELO, Tupelo, Mississipi, starting in June 1944. Originally a 15 minutes Saturday show, it increased to 30 minutes and finally to one hour, five days a week. It preceded WELO’s Saturday afternoon Jamboree sponsored by the Black and White store, and on those who got up to sing on the show’s amateur spot was none other than Elvis Presley. The musical influence that Mississipi Slim had over a pre-pubescent Elvis wasn’t that great, but for awhile in 1945 and 1946, Slim epitomized all the glamor of the music business for ten or eleven-year old Elvis. The customized guitar, the easy patter…how alluring it must have seemed to an impressionable kid from the poor end of town. Elvis probably hung around Slim until the Presleys left town at the end of 1948.
By all accounts, Slim (born in Smithville, MS., ca. 1923) was a quiet, easy-going fellow who sang country songs, but liked to call himself an actor and paid as much attention to « giving a show » as to singing. He was a Jimmie Rodgers disciple, and a cousin of the Opry comedian Rod Brasfield. In 1948, he went to WSIX in Nashville with Goober & his Kentuckians. He got onto Opry once or twice.
With a mellifluous, deep voice often compared to western singer Rex Allen, Ricky Riddle was an Arkansas-born, Detroit-bred vocalist who gravitated to the western side of country music. His surname was apt, as he was a restless character, always on the go and never satisfied with life in one place for very long. Born Arvin Doyle Riddle on Aug. 22, 1920, in Rector, Ark., his parents moved him, two brothers and one sister to Hamtramck, Mich., around 1933. The Riddle family eventually settled in a house on McClellan Street in Detroit.
During World War II, Riddle enlisted with the Navy in Chicago, Ill. He served aboard the U.S.S. Adair in the Pacific Theatre. After an honourable discharge in 1946, He returned to Detroit and found a booming country music nightclub scene waiting for him; a result of thousands of new migrants from the South who moved north to build Detroit’s “Arsenal of Democracy.” Riddle pursued the life of a singing cowboy in earnest, writing songs and performing in nightclubs and showcases, sitting in with other entertainers and headlining his own shows.
In 1949, Drake’s Record Shop, located on East Jefferson Avenue, sponsored appearances by Hank Williams, Cowboy Copas and others at the convention center on Woodward Avenue. When Riddle’s friend, singer Eddie Jackson, was hired to open for Williams, Riddle shared the stage with him. Riddle was probably living in Nashville, Tennessee, by then.
Jackson visited Riddle in Nashville during ’49, and Riddle took him to witness his new buddy Clyde Julian “Red” Foley record what became a major hit for Decca Records, “Chattanoogie Shoe Shine Boy.” Compared to the size to which it grew a decade later, the country music business in Nashville was small, thriving through the projects of independent record labels, music publishers and promoters who tapped local artists working at Nashville clubs and radio stations; particularly members of the “Grand Ole Opry” barn dance at clear-channel WSM. In January 1950, Riddle’s first commercial recording appeared as the premier issue of the Tennessee label, a record company created by three Nashville businessmen, including a jukebox serviceman. Riddle’s “Second Hand Heart” on Tennessee no. 711 (numbered for luck, no doubt) was a good seller, and a hit in Detroit. Riddle cut several more releases for Tennessee over the next two years:
By 1950, Riddle was operating a nightclub in Nashville. He befriended Arizona singer Marty Robbins, whose first appearance at the “Grand Ole Opry” occurred in early 1951. Probably in 1950, Riddle bought author rights to Robbins’ song “Ain’t You Ashamed,” (# 715) which became Riddle’s second release on Tennessee, # 713. (Detroit musician and Capitol Records distributor Bob McDonald purchased a share in the song from Riddle.) Cowboy singer Bob Atcher covered the song for Capitol. The flipside of “Are you ashamed” was a good honky-tonk, a version (later by Skeets McDonald) of “Smoke comes out my chimney just the same”.
Riddle recorded Robbins’ “Heartsick” for another Tennessee release. He attempted to present Robbins with a recording contract, but the company’s artists and repertoire man passed on the deal. Robbins went on to launch a storied career with Columbia Records in May 1951.
Among other releases on Tennessee, Riddle sang a duet with Anita Kerr, leader of the Anita Kerr Singers, on a heart song called “The Price Of Love,” again attributed to Riddle and McDonald. On “Boogie woogie Tennessee”(# 717) (a take-off to “Tennessee saturday night”), Riddle had Ernie Newton, the bassman who wrote much later “Country boy’s dream” for Carl Perkins. He seems far from young on this recording, and the suave assurance of both Riddle and the backing group is almost at odds with the subject matter. Riddle made 8 records for Tennessee, one of them being “Heartsick”, the first Marty Robbins’ song he recorded commercially. After the label’s biggest hit played out in 1951-52
(Del Wood’s “Down Yonder” of 1951), the Tennessee label closed its doors.
The tall, easygoing Riddle persevered; he worked on the Renfro Valley Barn Dance as Wayne Turner, but was canned for habitual drunkeness. He then cut a single for Decca’s subsidiary Coral Records in 1953, the fine double-sider “What do you do” and “You belong to another” (# 64157). In early 1954, he recorded the bouncy “Steamboat Boogie” for M-G-M Records # 11741, with steel guitarist Don Helms and Chet Atkins on electric guitar. Framing the clever lyrics of the song was the refrain: Steamboat boogie / Rock, rock, rockin’ along. But for the fiddles, the song rocked like Bill “Rock Around The Clock” Haley’s earliest efforts. The flip side, “A Brand New Heart,” was written by Riddle as a follow-up to “Second Hand Heart.”
Remaining Tennessee sides of interest: “Cold icy feet” (# 758) and the fast “I’m so lonesome” (# 801).
“What do you do”
In 1956, Riddle cut two releases for Decca Records. The first featured the trucker’s “Drivin’ Down The Wrong Side Of The Road,” backed with “I’m A Whip Crackin’ Daddy.” The single sounded like it was recorded at Owen Bradley’s Quonset hut in Nashville. Riddle’s second Decca single featured the Anita Kerr Singers for a country-pop production, “The House I Used To Live In,” and a song with religious content (he had cut similar material for the Tennessee label) called “If Jesus Had To Pray (What About Me?)” During the 1950s, while living in Nashville, Riddle performed as a guest at the “Renfro Valley Barn Dance” in Kentucky, and as a guest on the “Grand Ole Opry.”
His parents moved from Michigan to Tempe, Ariz., and Riddle traveled the country, visiting friends and family while singing in nightclubs along the way.
Around 1968 Riddle settled in Arizona for a spell. There he recorded the finest vocal performances of his career for the Rio Grande label, based in Glendale. For starters, he cut a version of the traditional cowboy song, “Streets Of Laredo,” as well as “Reata Pass,” his own western composition. Riddle reprised “Ain’t You Ashamed” and “Second hand heart” besides coming up with some swinging shuffles like “Don’t You Worry” a cheeky ode to overdoing it at the bar, and “(There’s ) Something In Your Future.” and finally “Jo Ann”. The band was top-notch, delivering punchy performances with quality production and arrangements, including a stellar steel guitarist.
“Something in your future”
This time, the artist, whom we know little of, will be presented mostly by his music and his compositions.
BILLY HUGHES, born Everett Ismael September 14, 1908 at Sallislaw, Oklahoma, settled in the 30s in California following the Okies’ exodus. From 1945, Billy Hughes & his Buccaroos engraved until 1959 a slew of very good hillbilly boppers, some of which became classics, such as “I’m tellin’ you,” “Tennessee Saturday Night” and “Take your hands off it (Birthday cake) ». Many artists took them over, to name a few : Ernest Tubb, Red Foley, Jack Guthrie, Johnny Tyler, Jess Willard, Cowboy Sam Nichols, Bud Hobbs or Skeet’s McDonald – even Tennessean old-timer Kirk McGee. Hughes’ music is usually relaxed, ‘lowdown’ with a Western swing touch, which is normal since Hughes frequented the best artists of the West coast. So he wrote dozens of songs, and hung up during the 60s. He had owned the Fargo label, active in 1946 in Los Angeles (Sam Nichols, Terry Fell, Johnny Tyler) and issued a strange « Atomic sermon » in 1953. He disappeared May 6, 1995 in Horatio, Arkansas.
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…)
Billy Wallace had one of the most unique voices in rockabilly music and played a different guitar style than most of the guitarists back then would do. Both, his voice and full-bodied guitar play worked well together on his classic session with the Bama Drifters in 1956 for Mercury Records, on which he laid down four songs. But Wallace had also a long and more successful (but also unknown) career in songwriting. He never achieved the honor he should have. Wallace was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, in 1917, but his family moved soon after to Athens, Alabama. Previously, his father had worked on the oil fields in Oklahoma. He grew up on his father’s farm and learned to play the guitar at an early age. As a teenager, he began to write songs and was later influenced by the country music stars back then like the Delmore Brothers, Rex Griffin and Roy Acuff but also listened to Hank Smith, Ernest Tubb and Hal Smith. (more…)