It took only one song to put Speck and Doyle into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame : « Music to my ear » was released on their own Syrup Bucket label in 1959, and the song still remains today one of the best examples of rockabilly music ever recorded.
Brother Watson, better known as Speck, and Doyle Wright were born near Bonifay, in the Florida panhandle, on April 2nd 1923 and July 13th 1928 respectively. The family were sharecroppers but moved to Columbus, Georgia in 1942. In the interval the two brothers had been raised on Country music with Bill Monroe and Roy Acuff as their main influences, later adding Ernest Tubb and Hank Wlliams. They had learned to play guitar and sing.
Soon after the move to Georgia, Speck was drafted and sent to fight in Europe, where WWII was raging. After his return to the mainland, he turned to music for a living, performing with brother Doyle. In 1947, they were working on station WRBL in Columbus with a 15-minutes radio show sponsored by a local furniture store. While with WRBL they began a long-time friendship with Ben Ferguson,the station’s engineer who was later to host his own ‘Uncle Benny’s Hillbilly Jamboree ‘, and also work as a producer for Comer Money, well known for his country and rockabilly sides on the Rambler and Money labels.
Early in 1948, Doyle was offered a job as a rhythm guitarist with Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys, right after Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs had left the band to go on their own. Doyle gladly accepted the offer but stayed only a few weeks with Monroe before returning to Columbus to work with Speck on their own live radio show on WRBL.
A few years later, probably in 1951, Doyle sent a tape he had recorded to Lew Chudd, manager of the Imperial label. Although better known as a Rhythm & Blues company, Imperial had also launched their Hillbilly serie (# 8000 onwards) in 1947. Many Southern Country artists were to appear in this serie through the years, with Jerry Irby, Link Davis, Danny Dedmon, Bill Mack, Jimmy Heap, Dewey Groom and Dub Dickerson being well known to fans of ’50s Hillbilly and Rockabilly music.
Chudd was favourably impressed by what he heard and signed Doyle immediately, although a Bllboard snippet reveals there have been a possible fight between Chudd and Art Rupe (Specialty Records, Hillbilly # 700 serie), who, according to the snippet, « had inked » Doyle.
Billboard Jan 26,1952
courtesy UncleGil . Thanks!
For Imperial anyway eight songs were cut at station WRBL in Columbus, Ga. During two sessions held between October 1951 and Spring 1952. Besides Doyle on vocals and rhythm guitar, backing was provided by Gene Jackson (fiddle), Billy Ray Andrews (steel guiar), Little Jim Finger (mandolin) and Speck Wright (bass). All songs were written by Doyle.
Imperial 8127 (« I’m not weeping over you/That’s why I cried ») has until now proven impossible to find, so cannot be commented. If ever you, Reader of this article, is the owner of this record, please show yourself in the comments or the “contact me” header. Luckily remain from this first session the two other songs on Imperial 8132. « Don’t tell me lies » is a mid-paced Hillbilly weeper, and « It just don’t seem right », although a little bit faster, is as ordinary Hillbilly. But it’s not quite a lively beginning for Doyle.
Out of the second session come Imperial 8157, « Ask the Lord » being a fast religious item and « Don’t you know or don’t you care » a decent Hank Williams inspired (at least for the vocals) Hillbilly mid-paced bopper ; last two tracks of the Spring 1952 session were issued in 1953 and comprised the most accomplished Doyle Wright boppers : « Someday you’ll return » and « An ache in my heart » do continue in the Hank Williams mould, with a fine fiddle giving a good tempo. None issue seems to have gained any hit status, even regional. And poor sales do explain the rarity of # 8127.
WRBL opened a TV station in August 1953 and with their popularity spreadng in the area, the brothers’ show was transferred to the new format, continuing until 1964. Between 1947, when the show was first aired on radio, and 1964, Webb Pierce, Hank Snow, Bill Monroe, Johnny & Jack, Cowboy Copas and Kitty Wells, among many others, guested with Speck and Doyle. (Webb Pierce, incidenall, had offered a recording contract to Speck when he appeared on the show in 1952. Not too een on going away from home on extensive tours, Speck denied the offer.)
Through well established on the local music scene, it was not until 1959 that Speck & Doyle were able to cut another session at WRBL, this time using Earl White and Hal Holbrook (fiddles), Lucky Ward (lead guitar), Howard ‘Frog’ Vincent (piano), Lanny Larue (drums) and Jim Finger (bass). Earl White and Hal Holbook were servicemen stationed at nearby Fort Benning. Two songs, « Big noise, bright lights » and « Music to my ear » were released on the Syrup Bucket label, which was created by the two brothers to make their own music available to the public. It is the only record ever released on the label to our knowledge.
« Big noise, bright lights » is a beautiful Hillbilly ballad with heavily featured twin fiddles, great lead guitar break and that matchless Southern flavour that makes this music so fascinating.
« Music to my ear » is THE side that rockabilly devotees around the world have made into an all-time classic. The twin fiddles are gone but the pianist, who was not heard on the other side, comes well to the fore on this track and takes his share of the break along with guitar player Lucky Ward while encouraging shouts from the other musicians are heard in the background. Once again the lead vocalist delivers a first class rendition of the song, while the humorous lyrics add another dimension to an already
dynamite track. This is truly one of the best rockabilly records ever made [valued between $ 800 and 1000] and one has to bear in mind that by 1959, when it was made, the style was dying in the USA. Most major labels had stopped recording anything in the genre. But small independant labels were slower to follow the trends and even if very few were to match the class of « Music to my ear », many rockabilly ems were to be found on indies until the mid-’60s.
After the release of the Syrup Bucket single, Speck & Doyle worked shows in their area with Lefty Frizzell, Hank Thompson, Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Jimmy Dickens and countless others until 1963 when their careers took different directions. While Doyle stayed with WRBL as a technician, still playing TV, show dates and dances until 1982, Speck moved to WJHO, 30 miles West in Opelika, Alabama, hosting his own Country program between 12.30PM and 2.30PM from Monday to Friday for the next 25 years. He officially retired in 1989 but still works part-time for the station.
This is the story of Speck & Doyle. It had to be told, and next time you spin « Music to my ear » or « Big noise, bright lights », or any of Doyle’s Imperial sides, you will know that between the grooves of the records lie the spirit of two authentic and genuine artists who deserved better recognition.
(From Jack Dumery’s article, published by « NDT » # 124, July 1993). Additions by bopping’s editor. With the help of Allan Turner for the Imperial sides.
Howdy folks ! Hi ! To returning visitors. This a particularly important fortnight feature, because it includes no less than 11 selections !
We begin with an already reviewed artist (December 2010) in the article devoted to the K.C. label Westport. Here is the important and prolific MILT DICKEY. Born 1920, he was D.J. on KCMO during the early ’50s and cut nice boppers for first K.C. located Sho-Me label (# 528), like « Neon love ». The record must have been a regional success, as it was reissued exactly as same on Coral 64146 in 1953. I include the B-side of his Westport 129 disc (« Television love »), the fine weeper « Bleeding heart » with piano and fiddle backing and a good steel as expected. Dickey also released « Checkbook baby » on Coral 64169.
Still in Kansas, but 1963 for the next artist. BOB MARRIOTT & the Continentals is an hybrid of Country-rock, Soul and Rock’n’roll with « I’ll walk a mile » (Jayco 702). I know such an item may come upon Bopping’s visitors’ ears, but I like the drive of the tune, the harsh voice of the singer Chuck Vallent and a good guitar. You can of course disagree and leave a negative comment !
From Nashville in a more settled Country mould here’s PAUL DAVIS. During the ’50s he had two releases on M-G-M, the very fine « I don’t want a backseat driver » (# 12472, to be found on the Cactus « M-G-M Hillbilly, vol. 2 » compilation) and now « Big money » (# 12357, recorded June 18, 1956). « Big money » but a « single man »…Good shuffler according to Nashville standards : steel guitar throughout and good guitar over a relax vocal.
Five years later Davis would record the prototype of any truck repertoire with the original of « Six days on the road » released on the small Bulletin label # 1001 (reviewed June 18 1961, well nearly two years before the Dave Dudley hit). Fabulous wailing steel guitar, a lot of echo both on vocal and backing. By far according to my tastes the best version !
« Carroll county blues » was recorded on March 11 1929 by NARMOUR & SMITH, a duet emanating from Mississipi. The lead figure is taken on fiddle by Will Narmour, who befriended bluesman Mississipi John Hurt, and sustained by Shell (Sheriff) Smith on guitar. The tune has something of hypnotic, and was said to have come from the whistling of some black farmer. It’s been the duet’s greatest hit, and was revived on the Clarion reissue as Jones & Billings. Pretty old and crude Hillbilly !
Out of Trumansburg, N.Y. Seemingly in ’57 comes a pretty tame version of the Drifters’ « Money honey » by JANECE MORGANwith the Melody Men on the Marlee (# 101) label. An agreeable guitar and a too discrete steel over the singer, a poor man’s (woman’s!) Wanda Jackson. She had also a « First from» on Marlee 103, described as « teen rockabilly » on a ebay sale.
The name DEE STONE can be a bit familiar to Bluegrass afficionados, as he had at last 3 issues in 1952-53 on the Blue Ridge (from Virginia) and Mutual (from Illinois) labels, all backed by His Virginia Mountain Boys or his Melody Hill-billys. This time we find him on Blue Ridge 304 for « Countin’ the days », a very good Bluegrass uptempo tune (banjo and fiddle) over a duet vocal. In fact, this could as well be described, minus the banjo, as Hillbilly. Later on (in 1956, according to RCA « G » prefix), the man appears on Eastern (location unknown) for two great boppers, steel to the fore, and a piano : « Sun of love » and « Drifting down this lonely road ». An artist who we wish to hear more from. Final disc in 1960: « Ocean of dreams/After the dance » also on Eastern 12460.
Finally, a R&B rocker, cut in 1954 at a Clarksdale, MS radio station. Ike Turner was present at the session but didn’t play on this harsh-voiced « I’m tired of beggin’ », inspired by Junior Parker‘s « Feelin’ good » 1953 hit [Sun 187] by Eugene « THE SLY FOX ». Here he is pictured 20 years later, as Clarksdale high school principal. Of course the Spark label (# 108) was run by Leiber & Stoller out of Los Angeles, and had in its stall the Robins, Big Boy Groves and Ray Agee. Fox would cut « My four women/Alley music »(# 112) just at the time Atlantic bought this important small label late 1955.
Despite a long career that spanned almost 45 years, comparatively little is known about Earl Peterson. He was born in Paxton, Illinois, on February 24, 1927 and moved to Michigan when he was 18 months old. He apparently became proficient on both guitar and drums and formed his own band, the Sons of the Golden West, when he was still in high school. The group secured a regular spot on WOAP, Owosso, then moved to WMYC in Alma, Michigan, before settling at WCEN, Mount Pleasant. WCEN gave Earl and his group a regular show, Earl’s Melody Trails, and made him the talent director, staff announcer and farming news editor. Earl was to study Law after high school but he switched to a musical career instead.
Earl made his debut in the record business when he formed a record label, Nugget Records, with his mother, in January 1950.
Peterson also undertook road trips to publicise his record and, at the same time, worked guest dee-jay spots at various stations. It seems as though his mother, Pearle Lewis, was the driving force behind Peterson. Sam Phillips recalled that the pair arrived on his doorstep early in 1954 pitching « The Boogie blues ». Phillips located some country session musicians to work with Peterson and the result of the session was released in the Spring of 1954. “Boogie blues“(Sun 197)download
“In the dark“(Sun 197)download
The story becomes more convoluted from that point. In October of that year Peterson, with a healthy disregard for contracts and AFM regulations, re-recorded the same song for Columbia. The song was re-copyrighted and probably sold more than the 2500 copies that Phillips had shipped.
“Be careful of the heart you’re going to break” (Columbia 21406)download
In 1960 Peterson and his family established radio station WPLB in Greenville, Michigan. In 1962, they switched to the FM frequency and the following year saw Earl’s retirement from the performing side of the music business. By that point there was an undeniable quotient of rock and roll in country music and, in Bob Lewis’ words, « Earl wasn’t crazy about that stuff ». In 1965 Earl learned that he had cancer but he continued to work at the station until his death in May 1971.
“I ain’t gonna fall in love” (Columbia 21467) download
any Columbia issue coupled an uptempo and a slowie. The vocal is firm and assured, and the backing is on a par with the best what Nashville did offer at the time. Although unknown musicians, there was a steel, a fiddle and on « Boogie blues » (remake of the Sun version) a welcome rinky-dink piano. I posted the tracks side-by-side to let yourself judge.
« Boogie blues » on Sun 197 has sewing fiddle, steel and drums. Peterson’s voice is very reminiscent to that of Jimmie Rodgers, and the song itself derives from pre-war country songs, like Gene Autry’s ‘blues’ songs. Its flipside « In the dark » is a strong shuffler.
« Alimony blues », although in the past (N.L. Redita LP) credited to Peterson, is in fact done by Gene Steele.
« You just can’t be trusted », found on Youtube (Mr. Honky tonk chain), is evidently a ’60s recording, nice done, although I don’t know the original label neither the flipside.
First on the D label (#1034), the very Hollyish “Sady” by DOUG STANFORD. Very nice Rockabilly guitar and vocal hiccups. A medium bluesy “Separate ration blues” by BILL FREEMAN (later on All-star)(vocal “Buddy” Young): good piano, sax and fiddle.
Hillbilly boogie with AL WINKLER for “Show boat boogie” on the Winkler label # 45-88 . Boogie guitar, mandolin, and call-and-response format.
A long line of men dressed in rugged suits filed past iron gates on Manchester Street in Highland Park, Michigan, as they did every morning, into the . One by one, they flashed their Ford badges at the guard stationed in a small shack. Ford Motor Company facility Outside the gate, a 15 year-old boy stood near the shack, hands in his trouser pockets, chatting with the uniformed man inside, who interrupted the conversation every so often to check someone’s identification.
“I brought ya some apples,” the young man said with a Tennessee drawl, and handed a paper sack to the guard, who gave one apple back. After sharing a snack together, the young man asked, “Say, what are my chances today? Like I said before, I’m ready to work at anything.”
The guard tolerated his daily appearances, eventually warming up to his friendly personality and persistence. It was obvious the young man, who showed up at the morning whistle every day, intended to stay in Detroit. “Well,” said the guard while keeping his eye on workers entering the property, “There’s a small opening in the fence about sixty feet east of here. It may be wide enough for you to slip through. I reckon I can’t stop you, if I don’t see you.” He took his eyes off the shuffling plant workers long enough to look the kid in the eyes and say, “I know you won’t cause me no trouble.”
“No, sir!” The wide-eyed young man continued chewing apple.
“I just happen to know a foreman who’s looking for a welder,” said the guard. “If you get in, look up Fred Walker.” The young man thanked the guard, who nodded, too preoccupied to look up. Then he strode east to the gap in the fence, slipped through, and secured a position at Ford.
Working man, day and night
Trained on the job as a welder, Forest Rye had grown up in Erin, Tennessee, west of Nashville. Born December 19, 1910, Rye learned to play fiddle and guitar before he left home in 1924. When Rye was a small boy, champion fiddler Walter Warden, from McEwen, Tennessee, and an early influence on Fiddlin’ Arthur Smith, schooled him in music. Warden lived up the road from the Rye household, and thought so highly of Rye that he gave him a fiddle. When Rye came to Detroit, he found a room in a boarding house, and doggedly spent about a week talking his way into Ford’s Highland Park facility.
A pioneer country music bandleader in Detroit, Rye entertained at house parties through the 1930s, eventually leading groups of musicians in local cafes and bars. In 1937 he married, and moved back to Erin, where he started a grocery with his savings. He visited friends in Detroit occasionally, and after divorcing in 1939, Rye returned to Detroit’s east side, near Chrysler facilities where he worked the day shift.
The area surrounding East Jefferson Avenue near St. Jean included neighborhoods of white Southerners who had moved for work in local factories. In this environment, Rye formed Rye’s Red River Blue Yodlers, and gigged steadily at the Torch Club on East Jefferson. They may have performed on Detroit radio as well.
In early 1942, the band cut a record for the Mellow Record Company, based in the Mellow Music Shop a few blocks away from the Torch Club. “You Had Time Think It Over” backed with “On Down The Line” were pressed on the Hot Wax label (with Mellow catalog number 1616 – it was pressed on Mellow, too). Vocals on the Hot Wax label were attributed to “Conrad Brooks,” a fake name Rye used on the record – perhaps to avoid public association with the hot lyrics of “On Down The Line,” a risqué song made strictly for jukebox plays in bars. The band included Rye’s fiddle, Hawaiian (lap) steel, rhythm guitar, and bass. Side 1 (“You had time”) was uptempo while the B-side (“On down the line” was medium paced.
Rye’s Red River Blue Yodelers, “On down the line” download
Rye’s stage show included humor, and as early as 1942 he was making appearances on the WSM Nashville radio’s “Grand Ole Opry” as comedian Little Willie Rye. This made him the first Detroiter to perform with the “Opry.” Many Detroit musicians would follow Rye’s path, beginning with the York Brothers after World War II. Not to mention a few musicians who moved to Detroit after first performing at the “Opry” (e.g., Fiddlin’ Arthur Smith, Okie Jones, and Chick Stripling).
Rye moved back to Tennessee in 1945 and married again. He returned to Detroit in 1947 as his family began to grow, remaining through 1955. Soon after this third move to Michigan, Rye secured a gig at WXYZ radio with his Sage Brush Ranch Boys, a band that included bassist Earl “Shorty Frog” Allen, who led his own band in Detroit several years later.
Around 1945/46 he cut with his group two sides for the Detroit based Universal company (the York Brothers also recorded for this label). Yet Rye still handles the vocals as disguised “Conrad Brooks“, and very assured. Steel guitar is wild, and Rye is even yodeling a bit. Both sides are very nice uptempos for the era. “Snake bite blues” and “Don’t come crying around me mama“, both written by Rye.
For a couple of years during the late 1940s, Mountain Red appeared with Rye’s Sage Brush Ranch Boys in Pontiac area nightclubs as a featured singer. Red also appeared with Rye on WXYZ, when he wasn’t performing his solo programs at WCAR radio Pontiac.
Sage Brush Ranch Boys, late ’40s – Rye on fiddle
Rye often let other musicians sit in with his band in Detroit nightclubs. Joyce Songer recalled performing with the Sage Bruch Ranch Boys several times, when she and husband Earl started their musical career, around 1949.
Early 1951 Rye cut four sides in Detroit, apparently, for Mercury, two uptempos “Crying my eyes out” (# 6328) and “Won’t you give me a little loving” (# 6329), coupled with the great medium-paced “Midnight boogie blues” (great steel solo!) and “After all these tears”. These 4 sides have not been reissued, except “Midnight boogie blues” on some English compilation.
Rye maintained ties to Nashville, including relationships at WSM with announcer George D. Hay and many performers. Singer Pete Pyle, a 1940s recording artist (Bluebird label) and one-time member of the Bill Monroe and Pee Wee King bands, was a fast friend, eventually moving next door to Rye’s house in Taylor, Michigan. They appeared together in local nightclubs, such as the West Fort Tavern on West Fort Street in Southwest Detroit. In 1953, Rye and Pyle cut sessions for Fortune Records. Rye’s “Wild cat Boogie” and Pyle’s “Are You Making A Fool of Me?” were combined on a single record (Fortune 172). Al Allen (el. g) and Chuck Hatfield (steel) were present on Pete Pyle’s session.
In 1955 Rye and Pyle moved their families back to Tennessee. As Little Willie Rye, Rye worked on Nashville radio as a solo comedian, and with the band of Big Jeff Bess. He wrote songs, operated a song publishing company (Geraldine), produced and made his own recordings, and issued music on his own record label (Forest – 3 known records by other artists in a 5600 serie) , besides playing music in studios and on stages. He also booked acts for WSM radio and Nashville area venues. In 1967 Rye left behind his activities in country music to become a Christian preacher. He passed away April 24, 1988.
Thanks to Ronald Keppner of Frankfurt am/Main, Germany, for the loan of his rare Forrest Rye ’78s on Hot Wax, Universal and Mercury. Without him, this article would have proved impossible to write. Thanks also to Allan Turner, out of England, for getting me the mp3/scans of the rare Pace 45.