Atom, uranium and Hillbilly

Every art form had to deal with the arrival of the atomic age in one manner or another. Some artists were reserved and intellectual in their approach, others less so. The world of popular music, for one, got an especially crazy kick out of the Bomb. Country, blues, jazz, gospel, rock and roll, rockabilly, Calypso, novelty and even polka musicians embraced atomic energy with wild-eyed, and some might argue, inappropriate enthusiasm. These musicians churned out a variety of truly memorable tunes featuring some of the most bizarre lyrics of the 20th century. If it weren’t for Dr. Oppenheimer’s creation, for example, would we have ever heard lines like « Nuclear baby, don’t fission out on me! » or « Radioactive mama, we’ll reach critical mass tonight! »?

There are various subgenres (see below) that comprise the master genre we like to call the Atomic Platter, but mainly these compositions celebrate, lament or lampoon the Bomb and the Cold War that sprang from the mushroom clouds over Japan.

The earlier songs are less self-conscious, more naive (in some cases to the point of downright wackiness) and therefore more intriguing. Needless to say, another reason why many of these songs were selected is—put simply—they swing! Pondering the cultural climate that encouraged songs like 1957’s profoundly strange yet catchy Atom Bomb Baby is a lot more rewarding than, say, examining the obvious metaphors from a pre-electric Dylan protest song like « A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall. » And Barry McGuire’s Eve of Destruction is a memorable « important » song. (suite…)

late April 2011 fortnight’s favorites

Hi there. First the state of Utah is not well known among Hillbilly lovers. Sole artist I know from this state is RILEY WALKER. I already posted in a past « fortnight’s favorites » his great « Uranium Miner’s Boogie » (Atomic label – 1951? 1955? Impossible to date this, as it is so crude and primitive). Here I’ve chosen a second offering from Walker, less impressive, although almost equally good, on Atomic (# 703) , the amusing « It’s A Little Late« . Solid backing from his band, the Rocking-R-Rangers.

atomic 703 riley walkerroto 10006-2 norman sullivan

Let’s get back to the mid-sixties and NORMAN SULLIVAN (With The Country Rhythm Boys) on th ROTO label (unknown location), and a fine rendition of the Johnny Cash’s classic « Folsom Prison », given a Country-rock treatment. Could mid-sixties.

Sarg 109 Dave Isbell Let's do it up brownP.R.C. Paul Carnes "I'm a mean mean daddy"country records 1500B Country cousins My heart's huntin' a new home

Then, from a definitely not as known as he deserves – I’ve named SARG records, out of Luling, Texas. This label issued many a fine Hillbilly/Rockabilly/Rock’n’Roll. You name? DAVE ISBELL, Neal Merritt, Herby Shozel, Eddy Dugosh, The Moods, Chester McIntyre, just a few of artitts on the Sarg label between 1954 and 1964. I’ve chosen the great DAVE ISBELL‘s « Let’s Do It Up Brown » (45-109), which has nothing to do with the Memphis’ Bud Deckleman song of the same name. More on SARG records on the pipeline!

Completely unknown to me, this PAUL CARNES, who apparently cut the record at his own expense on the  P.R.C. (penned by Paul R. Carnes) label. I cannot suspect any location, neither date: 1957-1958, I’d assume, for the fabulous « I’m A Mean Mean Daddy« . Very crude vocal, sparse backing. That’s HOW a true rural Hillbilly should be sung and played!

A little more light shed on the COUNTRY COUSINS (Denny Buck and Harold Weaver), who cut the B-side (A- unknown to me) for the very rare Country Records out of Oklahoma City, apparently only on 78rpm. Hence his rarity. This could be from 1955.

Finally, back to Rocking Blues for a change. The nickname « Sonny Boy » was adopted by two big figures in Blues, the first (prewar harmonica artist) was from Chicago, and died in 1948; the second (rn Rice Miller, hailed from Mississipi)  came North in 1954 to cut for Chess as « Sonny Boy  Williamson« . A third, far less known, without douby capitalizing on the popularity of the others, called himself only « Sonny Boy Williams« . He came from Florida, and cut in Nashville for the Duplex label, late ’50s, this little opus, « Alice Mae Blues« . It rocks!

duplex 9005 sonny boy williams alice mae blues

As always, envoy the selections, as I did preparing this feature. Don’t forget to go to « Contact Me » section: some records/books I am selling could be of interest to you. Till then, bye-bye!

Hillbilly Boogie!

HILLBILLY BOOGIE !

Essential component of Rock’n’Roll, this Country stream goes as far as the 30’s. Following the Boogie Woogie wave (1928, Pinetop Smith), everyone includes a boogie in his repertoire : swing big bands (Count Basie : « Basie boogie »), western swing orchestras (Spade Cooley : »Three way boogie », or smaller combos – Country (Tennessee Ernie Ford : « Shot gun boogie », 1951) or Blues (Amos Milburn : « Amo’s Boogie », 1946 – one of thousand artists). And the phenomenon will last a good twenty years. Fast tempo is good for dancers, as in « Hillbilly Boogie » (Jerry Irby, 1949 –Pete Burke at the piano).

Piano style was transposed to

guitar (Arthur Smith, « Guitar Boogie », 1945),

harmonica (The Milo Twins, « Truck Driver’s boogie », 1949),

mandolin (The Armstrong Twins, « Mandolin Boogie », 1949),

– violin (Curley Williams, « Fiddlin’ Boogie », 1949),

– steel-guitar (Speedy West, « Stratosphere Booie », 1954),

– accordion (Nathan Abshire, « Lu Lu Boogie », 1947),

– banjo (The McCormick Brothers, « Red Hen Boogie », 1954),

– vocal too of course (Wesley Tuttle, «Yodelin’ Boogie », 1949).

pee-wee-king

You can recognize a Hillbilly boogie by the presence of a powerful stand-up bass, often slapped : you can hear here the monumental « Bull Fiddle Boogie » by PeeWee King (Redd Stewart on vocal)(1949).

Numerous other instruments can be found in hillbilly boogie such as saxophone, muted trumpet or clarinet.

donnie-bowshier-tight-shoe-boogiebobby-soots-boogie-woogie-blues
hardrockmy-honky-tonk-baby
milo-twins-truck-drivers-boogie

And until now I’d only speak of titles including « boogie » ! There were thousands others on this tempo, not always fast, but « uptempo ». Finally it became the standard in hillbilly music, what we call now Hillbilly Bop. One example between hundred is  Downie Bowshier’s « Tight Shoe Boogie » (King, 1953). The song complains about shoes too tight to dance to the bop. It is doubly ironic, since Bowshier was confined to a wheel chair.

Recommended listening :

We are well treated these times, because there is a plethora of compilations.

– « Country boogie 1939-1947 » (Frémeaux et associés 161) – 36 classic recordings just before and after WWII, from « Oakie Boogie » (Jack Guthrie) to « Square Dance boogie » (Johnny Lee Wills), to « Saturday night boogie » (Al Dexter). A good choice from Gérard Herzaft, the famous compiler.

– « Hillbilly Bop, Boogie & The Honky Tonk », a serie of 3 double-CDs from Jasmine (UK) at bargain price. Buy in confidence, you won’t be sorry !hillbilly-bop-jasmine

– « Hillbilly Boogie » Proper (UK) boxset (4 CD). 100 tunes for £ 10.99. All the greats are here.

– « King Hillbilly Bop’n’Boogie » (UK Ace 854) does concentrate on one of the genre’s best postwar labels. Many uncommon tracks.

king-hillbilly-bop-Hillbilly Boogie » (Columbia Legacy 53940) – 20 essential tracks (1990)  hillbilly-boogie-cd

– If you are looking for something else, try to find (remoted from current catalog) « A Shot In The Dark – Tennessee Jive », a 7-CD Bear Family boxset devoted to Nashville’s small labels from 1945 to 1955.

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