Sid King, a ‘nom de disque‘ for Sid Erwin, was born in Denton, Texas (in the Dallas-Fort Worth area) on Octber 15, 1936. Around 1952, he formed a band in high school as an extension of his appearances on a local radio station, KDNT. « I brought Melvin Robinson [on steel guitar], Ken Massey [bass] and my brother Billy [lead guitar], and then Dave White joined us a year or so later on drums. » Shortly after the band came together, Sid made a few appearances as a solo act on the Big ‘D’ Jamboree in nearby Dallas, but eventually he decided to concentrate on working with his band.
Along with Lefty Frizzell, Webb Pierce, Hank Williams and the inevitable country influences, Sid and the band absorbed some R&B – the Drifters, the Clovers, Fats Domino and so on. It was the R&B influence – rather than Western swing – that necessitated a drummer in the line-up, although they kept a faily steady diet of country music on KDNT. Every show included an instrumental modelled after Jimmy Bryant and Speedy West.
It was on KDNT that they inherited the name « Western Melody Makers ». In 1954 they became featured artists on the Saturday Night Shindig show broadcast from WFAA-TV, Dallas. Sonny James was the show headliner before he graduated to the Big ‘D’. It was there that they were heard by Jack Starns, ex-Lefty Frizzell’s manager and the co-owner of Starday Records. The label operated out of Starnes’ office in Beaumont, and was riding with his first hit, Arlie Duff’s « Y’ All Come », when the Western Melody Boys recorded a 4 songs session for them. But, unhappy with the result, they re-cut their first and only Starday single at Jim Beck’s studio in Dallas. The top side was the novelty « Who Put The Turtle In Myrtle’s Girdle ». The Beaumont session gave them an early meeting with another Starday act trying for that first breakthrough, George Jones.
Jim Beck who had been instrumental in the recording or discovering several of Columbia records’ biggest stars, such as Lefty Frizzell and Marty Robbins, saw some potential in the Western Melody Makers and played their tape to Don Law, head of country music A&R. Law signed them to a six-month contract with an option on another 6 months to start at the expiration of their Starday term.
The band renamed themselves « The Five Strings », and later gave Sid the name « Sid King », to rhyme with « Strings ». The first Columbia session was held at Beck’s studio on December 16, 1954. They continued in a novelty groove with « Put Something In The Pot, Boy ». The second single drawn from this session was « Drinkin’ Wine Spoli Oli », a very thinly disguised re-write of Sticks McGhee‘s « Drinkin’ Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee », a 1949 hit not only for McGhee, but also for Lionel Hampton and Wynonie harris. It had just been revived by Malcolm Yelvington for Sun Records, but Sid recalled that Dave White had written « Spoli-Oli » as far back as 1952. No other country artist was making music with such an aggressive R&B slant for a major label.
Even though neither of the first singles – nor any subsequent single – made a dent in the charts, Columbia must have experienced sufficiently healthy sales to encourage them to renew the Five Strings’ one-year contract. In July 1955, the group cut « Purr Kitty Purr » and « Sag, Drag And Fall » – which are sired from « Shake Rattle And Roll », « Flip, Flop And Fly », etc. and proved that King had quickly come to terms with the new music. For his part, Jim Beck had mastered the art of mixing the rhythm section aggressively upfront in an approximation of the Bill Haley sound.
The Five Strings guested on the Louisiana Hayride in 1955 while Elvis Presley, Johnny Horton and Jim Reeves were regulars. Their first 1956 visit to Beck’s was to record a hasty cover version of Carl Perkins‘ « Blue Suede Shoes ». King’s was among the first to cover, and he seemed to mix and match Perkins’ original with western swing riffs and black vocal group harmonies. Once again, Joe Turner was godfather to the flip side : « Let ‘er Roll » was cloned from « Honey Hush ».
King was back in the studio on March 5, 1956. The purpose was to record « Ooby Dooby », whose tortuous history began in late 1955, when Wade Moore and Dick Penner gave the song to Roy Orbison, then a fellow student at North Texas State in Denton. Orbison recorded it at a demo session for Jim beck, who played the acetate to Don Law : the latter decided the song suitable for Sid King. But on the day before King’s session, Orbison re-recorded the song at Norman Petty’s studio for Je-Wel Records. This ended up in Sam Phillips’ hands, who quickly arranged for Orbison to record it yet again. Both Orbison’s Sun recording and King’s version hit the streets in mid-April, but it was Orbison who took the prize.
By the time The Five strings were due to record again, Jim Beck was dead (from inhaling carbon tetrachloride, which he used as a tape-head cleaner). Don Law gave them the choice and they plumped for Radio Recorders in Hollywood. Stand-out tracks of this August 22, 1956 session are « Good Rockin’ Baby » and the famous « Gonna Shake This Shack Tonight », which renamed a whole serie of reissues on the Bear Family label.
The final Columbia session (September 1957) was held at Clifford Herring’s studio in Fort Worth. The menu was strictly R&B. « I’ve Got The Blues » was an approximation of the New Orleans sound, and it was released with a cover of a Del Vikings’ song.
By 1958, though disillusion was creeping through the band. They had been sent on tour through virtually every state in the continental U.S. But, despite all the exposure, they had failed to get the big breakthrough.
Finally, thanks to Pat Boone and the Denton days, Sid got a short contract with Dot Records. He cut in a lighter pop-country style ; it suited Sid’s voice better than the demands of flat-out rock’n’roll. But due to lack of success, the group disbanded.
In 1965 King bought a hairdressing business with his brother Billy, and it proved to be successful for them. The Europeans came a’calling for them in 1980, so they recorded intermittently since then.
From the notes of Colin Escott to 1991 Bear Family CD « Gonna Shake This Shack Tonight » (BCD 15535)
Don’t miss the 2000 U.K. Roller Coaster double CD « Rockin’ on the radio » : 4 (yes, four!) live shows from 1954 to 1956, on Texan radios or «Big ‘D’ Jamboree », plus 17unissued studio recordings and demos ! The Strings do their thing, as hits of the time, « Rock The Joint », « In The jailhouse Now », « Good Deal, Lucille» or « That’s All Right » for example.