YORK Brothers (Leslie & George): Hamtramck Mama – 1940s Hillbilly into 1950s and beyond

Few realize the vintage of the YORK Brothers’ earliest recordings, and that their first and biggest record, « Harmtrack Mama », was actually recorded in 1939 ! Released in Detroit on the upstart Universal label, « Hamtramck Mama » (Universal 105/106) was the very first independant Hillbilly record of a new era which would only really get into full swings toward the end of W.W. II. It reached markets in many parts of the country (over the years selling at least 300,000 copies in the city of Detroit alone) and was as much an achievement for Universal as it was for the Brothers. The record can be found with many distributor names and label variations, some very crudely printed, indicating that they had big trouble keeping up with the demand.


late November 2011 fortnight’s favorites

Howdy, folks! We do embark for a new musical journey into Bluegrass, old-time Hillbilly, and border Rockabilly Hillbilly bop.

First from North Wilkesboro, Western North Carolina, do come the CHURCH BROTHERS. Three brothers, Ralph, Bill and Edwin (each’s instrument unknown) and a fourth partner, Ward Eller, provided on the Jim Stanton’s Rich-R-Tone label, later on Drusilla Adams’ Blue Ridge label, a nice serie of  enthusiastic tunes between 1951 and 1953, before they were disbanded by the mid-’50s. The elder Bill was playing (certainly guitar) with Roy Hall & his Blue Ridge Entertainers before the WWII, and was joined later by younger brothers. Alas, they were reluctant to travel very far, and, being modest and straightforward country boys, they were less and less involved in music – and more and more tied in their farms and families. Here you can hear the fabulous banjo-led “I Don’t Know What To Do“, which I don’t even know the original issue number of, having picked it from an old Tom Sims’ cassette. This track escaped to Rounder LP 1020, a shame because in my mind it’s by far their best track ever. Final note: the Church Brothers backed Jim Eanes on his regional hit “Missing In Action” (1952).

church brothers

GRANDPA JONES (Born Louis Jones, 1913 – died 1998) was a banjo player, comedian, and long-time associate with Grand Ole Opry. He had adopted the name ‘Grandpa’ at 22,because he sounded old on the radio. He recorded with Merle Travis and the Delmore Brothers as Brown’s Ferry Four for King (religious sides). Here you can hear his hilarious and stomping “Grandpa’s Boogie” (King 822) from 1948.

folio grandpa jonesking 812aa  grandpa jones grandpa boogieLouis_'Grandpa'_Jones (1913-1998)

CHARLIE MONROE along with famous brother Bill was at the very beginnig of Bluegrass music, but he deliver also some very good Hillbilly, as here with “Down In Caroline” from the ’40s (RCA 48-0391B ). Note the boogie guitar for a song much covered afterwards, e.g. the Church Brothers.

charlie monroe (1903-1975)rca 21-0391 charlie monroe down in caroline From Texas and a bit later. The first issue on the Gainesville Lin label (Buck Griffin…) by a rather unknown WAYNE JETTON and “A Crazy Mind Plus A Foolish Heart” (Lin 1000). A good average uptempo ballad. Then, on the San Antonio TNT label, a bordering Hillbilly bop/Rockabilly bop, “Be Bopping Baby” (TNT 9009) by RANDY KING, from 1956. Good topical lyrics, and fine backing.

lin 1000 wayne jetton a foolish mindtnt 9009 randy king be bopping baby

Finally a belter from 1956 by a R&B lady (unusual on Bopping!), “Alabama Rock’n’Roll” by MABEL KING on the Rama (# 200) New York label. Enjoy the selections! ’till then, bye-bye!

rama 200 mabel

early August 2011 fortnight

Howdy folks! Plain hot summer, so it’s time for a few more Hillbilly bop/Rockabilly tunes. Note that I will take holidays during this month, so next fortnight early September.

From California first, CHUCK HENDERSON and the fine, steel-guitar dominated 1959 romper “Rock And Roll Baby” on the Ozark label. No more info available.

ozark 959 chuck henderson

Big Jeff

Big Jeff

Grover Franklin “BIG JEFF” Bess is a Nashville legend. He sold beer, cure-all tonics and baby chicks on the Gallatin, TN, WLAC radio from 1946 for 16 years. Appeared in two Elia Kazan films and owned several night clubs, e. g. the famous Nashville’s Orchid Lounge Club. Virtually every major session player in Nashville was a member of The Radio Playboys at one time or another. In fact, the great Grady Martin started out playing fiddle for Big Jeff in the early days. He had records on World, Cheker (sic) and Dot, and today his 1951 “Step It Up And Go” stands as one of the most early Rockabillies. I’ve chosen his first on Dot, “Juke Box Boogie” (1004), strong guitar, and a swinging tight combo. dot 1004A big jeff juke box boogie

Indeed Bess has his own CD on Bear Family 16941 “Tennessee Home Brew“, which gathers all his issued sides, plus a lot of unissued or radio extracts. Big Jeff’s story is intended in the future in Bopping.

Then, from a Dutchman’s Collector comp’, KELLY WEST & His Friendly Country Boys and the great “Grandpa Boogie“. Don’t know anything about the original label, or which part of the U.S. it came from. I’d assume 1954-55. Fine fiddle (a solo) and lead guitar. On to Nashville again, this time late ’50s on the aptly named Starday subsidiary Nashville: KEN CLARK offers a folky “Truck Driving Joe” (very early issue on the label, 5009 – he had a 45 on Starday earlier) with a nice steel-guitar, typical of the late ’50s.

nashville 5009 ken clark Truck driving joe

From Cincinnati, OH, on the King label (# 1403) and a 4-tracks session (held Oct. 15, 1954) comes the very good “Oo-Ee Baby” by RALPH SANFORD. Typical King instrumentation for this medium uptempo Hillbilly bop. The singer is unknown to me elsewhere, here in fine form.

ralph sanford bb 26 mars 55 ralph sanford

Billboard March 26, 1955

On July 19, the famous, although long-forgotten LIL GREENWOOD passed away at 86. I enclose a Youtube snippet of a September 2007 live gig, “Back To My Roots“. She’s in real fine form! For more information on her, go to:http://inabluemood.blogspot.com/2011/07/lil-greenwood-former-ellington-vocalist.html

Enjoy the selections!

Lil Greenwood selection:

late January 2011 fortnight favorites

Howdy, folks. And the hillbilly bop goes on, with 6 new favorites. This time I’d dig deeper in my archives, taken from excellent mid-’80s Tom Sims’ collector cassettes. The guy owned at the time ca. 50 or 60.000 singles! Some 25 years beyond I still discover little gems out of these cassettes, as the three debut choices.

Mark Foster and a loping piece of fast Hillbilly, “My Baby Doll” – I don’t even know the original label. It could be from ’56 or ’57. ** See NOTE down the page. Then Robbie Shawn, accompanied by Wynn Stewart (1958?) on the Linde-Jo  label for “It’s Time For me To Go” – I suspect the presence of steel guitar virtuoso Ralph Mooney. Now on the Joplin label, and the unknown Sammie Lee, for the very nice mid-tempo “Oklahoma Blond Headed Gal“, complete with rural vocal, fiddle and steel.

Unto “regular” finds, for The Drifter on the Maid label, out of Columbia, Tennessee (vocal Tommy Moreland). These Tennessee Drifters are not to be confused with earlier ones on Dot (with Big Jeff or George Toon).  I know Moreland had other records, but could not find more information, or didn’t care to take time to it. Very fine mid-tempo Rockabilly, heavy echoey lead guitar.  maid 100 tenn.drifters

The career of the Sons of the Pioneers goes back to early ’30s and they had big hits throughout until the ’60s, most well known being “Cool Water” (also done by Hank Williams). Here I’ve chosen their spirited rendition (April 1952) of the Billy Strange‘s original “Diesel Smoke, Dangerous Curves“. sons

Finally, the prolific Mac Odell, a native from Alabama, and his “Penicillin” on King. Fast vocal, one wonders how he came to sing that fast without stuttering!

mac o'dell pic

Mac Odell

ling 1251 mac odell

NOTE about “Mark Foster” (first selection). A visitor whose great pseudonym “Drunken Hobo” from England hides a fine listener and connoisseur of Hillbilly Bop advises me the tracks “My Baby Doll” is actually by CLIFF WALDON & His Westernairs. Label: Mark 107. The label do come from Utica, NY. I finally found it: Waldon was apparently from Oklahoma and had “Indian Gal” twice, first on Stardale, second on Mark. Listen to this track: it has 5 solos! 2 by the steel player, 2 by the fiddler, and even the bass player has his own. No electric lead guitar audible. And a lovely happy voice by Waldon. Thanks again, Dean!

late November 2010 fortnight’s favourites

Howdy, folks. Sometimes it is easy to assemble a “fortnight” feature, sometimes not. This time it has not been that easy, I don’t know why. I tried to vary tempos, origin, labels, and I am not sure I did succeed. Only your visits and interest could say I was O.K.

First in this new serie, CECIL CAMPBELL, backed by the Tennessee Ramblers. He was steel player (born 1911) in the Virginia/North Carolina region, and found moderate but constant success with his records on RCA-Victor. Here I’ve chosen his 1951 “Spookie Boogie“; he explains in his own words what he wanted to do with this tune:

cecil capbell

Cecil Campbell

He was looking for an “…unusual hollow type of rattling sound designed to send cold chills rushing down the spine.” He couldn’t find that sound on the musical instruments. But as fate would have it, one of the members of the Tennessee Ramblers had false teeth and that mysterious sound that appears on the tune “Spooky Boogie” was made by a pair of chattering false teeth.” Later on, he was to have a minor Rockabilly classic in 1957 on M-G-M (12487) called “Rock and Roll Fever“.

king 1117 jimmie osborne

From Kentucky comes now JIMMIE OSBORNE, the “Kentucky Folk Singer”. He had a string of releases on KING, with strong success, among them the amusing “Automobile baby“. Osborne played the Louisiana Hayride, as well as the Opry, until his suicide in 1957, at the early age of 35.

jimmie osborne pic

Jimmie Osborne

On to Texas. FRED CRAWFORD is a relatively well-known artist, whose 9 Starday singles were of constantly highest musical level. “Cornfed Fred”, as he liked to be called, was a long-time D.J. on KERB radio station of Kermit, and considered himself more a radio man than an artist. Here below is “You Gotta Wait“, a very nice 1954 Bopper. He later went to D, and committed a pop song, “By The Mission Walls”, whose main claim to fame is the backing by no one but Buddy Holly.


Fred Crawford

starday 170 Fred CrawfordThen TEXAS BILL STRENGTH, who had on Coral Records “Paper Boy Boogie“. Another version does exist by Tommy Trent on Checker 761 from 1952. I don’t know which one came first. The song was even revived by Hank Williams as a demo. Strength (1928-1973) had a long carreer, beginning on radio KTHT, Houston, in 1944, and recording for 4 Star, Capitol, Sun and Nashville. He re-recorded “Paper Boy Boogie” on Bangar as late as 1965.

texas bill strength pic

During the Sixties, ARK records from Cincinnati did issue many a fine disc, mainly in Bluegrass or Sacred. In a past fortnight I included a Jimmy Murphy song, which I consider one of his best, “I Long To Hear Hank Sing The Blues“. Here we have a pseudonym, and there is not any chance, I’m afraid, to discover who really was TEXAS SLIM. A very superior double-sided “When I’m old And Gray” and “Look What You Gone And Done To Me” (ARK # 309). Stunning association of banjo and steel. Hear it!

k-ark 309 texas slim

Finally a classic R&B rocker: “Flat Foot Sam” by T.V. SLIM & His Heartbreakers. Hope you enjoy the selections! Bye.

checker 870 t.v. slim