The Van Winkle Brothers (Arnold and Lee) were musically prolific from 1956 to 1962 . Nobody seems to have any informaion on their childhood, although U.S. 1940 Census gives for Arnold a birthdate in 1935 ; but the birthplace is in Tennessee, when they made their careers as far as Indianapolis.
Their first waxing was done in 1956 on the Singalong label, and was pure pop songs. But in 1957, Arnold Van Winkle cut three fine sides for Larry Short’s Ruby label in Hamilton, OH. Backed by the Rainbow Rhythmaires, he offers what is now considered as a minor Rockabilly classic : « An old rusty dime » (Ruby # 540) has an energetic lead guitar, a steel and a barely audible fiddle, the whole set up at a fast pace. The flipside is slower and more conventional Country bopper : « How many heartaches make a tear ». Here the prominent instrument is the fiddle, which takes a short solo. The third track, « It looks like a dead end to me » remained unissued until its release on a Dutchman’s compilation in 1983. It retains again this fine guitar and a very welcome piano.
“An old rusty dime”
“How many heartaches make a tear”
“It looks like a dead end to me”
One must wait December 1959 or early 1960 to find Arnold and Lee together, this time under the name of « The VAN BROTHERS » on the Poor Boy label, out of, first Richmond, IN, then relocated to Muncie, IN. Founded by veteran Wayne Raney (and Jimmie Zack – no apparent relation to Eddie) its initial release was Raney’s « We need a whole lot more of Jesus (and a lot less Rock and roll) » (# 100). Ironically two of label’s later releases became some of Rockabilly music’s most worthy original 45rpm records. An original copy of Norman Witcher‘s « Somebody’s been rockin’ my boat /Wake me up » sells today for 1000 U.S. $ up to 1500. Another expensive record is « Servant of love » by the Van Brothers, which reach up to 400 U.S. $ and more.
“Servant of love”
On Poor Boy, the Van Brothers were backed by a probable 3-brothers band, the GENTRYS, comprising Gary Gentry on bass, Larry Gentry on drums and Dale Gentry on lead guitar. They originated from Kentucky or Ohio, and began playing music at a very early age : Dale Gentry was only 15 when he worked for Little Jimmy Dickens.
« Servant of love » is a good example of the incredible guitar playing of Dale Gentry (3 fabulous solos). The Van Brothers and the Gentrys also worked on other tracks, for example the great very bluesy (2 versions) « Seven-up and whiskey ». A fine steel and a pouding piano are heard for good effect on « Sweet Marie » or « Uncle Jim Riggs will » (the latter issued 2 years later on Walton – see below).
“Doin’ my time”
The Gentrys’ next record was released in 1960 or 61 on another Dixie, comprising two good instrumentals, « Swanky » and « Swooney ». Guitar and bass men were the Gentry, augmented by Zandel Rainey (piano and vocal interjections on « Swooney ») and Bobby Bailey on drums. These two sides do remind me of the S. F. Wailers (on Golden Crest).
The Poor Boy office of Richmond also housed Walton Records, whose owner Norman Walton in 1962 released a serie of EPs : one vas devoted to the Van Brothers (flipside by the Gentry Bros.). Another (003) was billed « Norman Walton & the Van Bros. » : its flipside was a reissue of the Poor Boy 111 tunes. Walton EP 005, another to « Arnold & Lee the Van Brothers » and Walton EP 1500 for several more Van Bros. tracks. « Doin’ my time », an energetic version of the Osborne Bros. classic, remained unissued until 1997. Norman Walton wrote or co-wrote many Van Bros. songs.
“Take that lock from your heart”
“Uncle Jim Riggs will”
“Seven-up and whiskey”
After that, the Gentry teamed up with Gil Richmond and Earl King for several tracks on Walton, e.g. « Stop, slow down », which was also issued on the Ohio Fraternity label, before being withdrawn for legal reasons. They also backed Jimmy Walls for two records, « What a little kiss can do » and « Look at me eyes », both great country rockers.
“Stop, slow down“
Jimmy Walls “What a little kiss can do”
Jimmy Walls “Look at me eyes”
Arnold Van Winkle “Way up on the mountain”
The Van Brothers dissapeared until a last record by Arnold Van Winkle (with Doyle Crawford) on the Ohio Jalyn label for an E.P. of sacred songs in 1968, among them « Way up on the mounain ». And that was it.
Sources : Youtube, Eagle LP, hillbillycountry-blogspot (for « Poor boy » story), RCS,and anyone whose information I took from.