Born in 1927 in Georgiana, near Chapman, Alabama. When he’s 10 years old, his family moves to Mobile. At this age he’s already a guitar player. At 15 he plays in clubs. After discharge from the Navy, he’s lucky to get a job as DJ for WCAB radio. The manager wanted « rural humor », and Jack succeed, so much that his early morning show « Tunes & Times » got on television. He had a regular guest, soon to become friends : Luke McDaniel.
King records offered him a recording contract in October 1952. Almost all his sessions took place in Mobile, at the WCAB radio station ; one in Shreveport, Louisiana, and only one in Cincinnati.
Cardwell scored a # 3 hit with the Death of Hank Williams, which was just about the first tribute to make it out after the singer’s untimely death on the very first day of 1953. His best King sides are in Hillbilly bop style : You’re looking for something (fine steel guitar)
and the raunchy Whiskey, women and loaded dice. These sides have been recently reissued on Cactus Cds. Dear Joan also reached the Top Ten before Cardwell cut his final session in January of 1955, under primitive conditions, with his own band in Mobile. The music cut at this date was right at the moment when the direction of rock’n’roll was still uncertain, and white Southern musicians interpreted the new rhythm in differents ways. Hillbilly bands would often play R&B and R&R songs while still retaining the traditional instrumentation of fiddle and/or steel guitar. Jack Cardwell’s covers of two R&B hits – Ko Ko Mo and Whadaya Want – would seem a perfect case in point. There is a tremendous energy to the entire session which include the contribution of a precocious 13 years old Jackie Hill. Ko Ko Mo easily beats the rather polite R&B hit by Gene & Eunice in the energy stakes. Day Done Broke Too Soon This Morning ( King 1444) is actually…Rock’n’Roll! Unfortunately all this effort amounted to little in terms of success and Jack had to wait for two years before an isolated, but superb, record on Starday (# 310 Hey, hey Baby/Once every day), two sides penned by Luke McDaniels. Finally, with McDaniels’ help, he tried a pop record on Sandy – again to no avail. Jack Cardwell gave up in 1958.
Recommended listening: Jack Cardwell (Cactus CD) Jack had two more records in the ’60s, it seems, both political and dedicated to Alabama Governoship candidate Big Jim Folsom. They are to be found on the Cinema (« The Ballad Of Big Jim Folsom ») and Le Noir labels (« Big Jim Folsom »). After that, Cardwell disappears completely.
article revised December 5th, 2011