Detroit’s country music scene of the 1950’s featured a solid mix of talents and clubs where folks could stomp ’till two o’clock every night of the week, with some of the wildest sounds this side of Mason-Dixon Line. One man who was there in the thick of the good times was Eddie Jackson, who assembled the hottest bands and shows in town for two decades straight !
He was born in Cooksville, Tennessee, and Eddie’s family, like many Southerners, moved to Detroit during a period a growth in automobile manufacturing. As a youngster during the 1930s and 40s, he took up guitar and singing, and idolized musical giants such as Hank Penny, Milton Brown, Bob Wills and Tommy Duncan (he even met Wills and Duncan in Stockton, CA, while Eddie served with the Navy during WWII). Upon his honorable discharge by Uncle Sam in 1947, Jackson returned to Detroit, and was offered to lead a band the same night he arrived ! From then on, Eddie Jackson and his various combos were crowd-pleasers at shows all over Michigan, parts of Ohio, and Ontario. Around 1950, Eddie’s first group, the Melody Riders, cut a record in Detroit. The song « I’m willing to forget » was his first composition (Fortune 134).
(Accompanying the Riders was Hal Clark on guitar, who later changed his name to Hal Southern and co-wrote « I dreamed of a hillbilly heaven ».) Hal Clark sang his comp on the flip « New set of blues« . As the scene got cooking, Jackson’s band started sizzling, and they found
Hal Clark (Fortune 146) « I don’t mean a thing to you »
themselves booked nightly. Ted’s 10-Hi Bar, on the east side, was the sight of Detroit’s first C&W Jamboree, as hosted by Eddie Jackson and his Cowboy Swingsters (including Tracey White on guitar, and ‘Smitty’ Smith on bass). For several months, the trio performed 15-minutes radio broadcasts from WMLN-FM in Mount Clemens.Eddie Jackson also led a country music variety show, « The Michigan Barn Dance » on Detroit NBC affiliate Channel Four TV, during the early 1950’s.
« Baby doll »(first version)
« Baby doll »(second version) (Shelby 297) and « Please don’t cry » were recorded after that, and through the 1950’s the Swingsters played regular shows at a nightclub called the Caravan Gardens.
« Baby doll«
Eddie Jackson solidified the band’s line-up with Joe Magic on bass & drums (played at the same time!), ‘Uncle’ Jimmy Knuckles on piano, and Tracey White on take off guitar. This group attracted big crowds, as well as popular country singers like Webb Pierce, Jean Shepard, Lefty Frizzell, Red Foley & many other top artists who often stopped in to perform songs with the Swingtsters ! Jackson also had his own program on Royal Oak radio station WEXL-AM, where he spun records and sometimes broadcast from the Caravan. In 1959 the Swingsters cut their most popular record record in Detroit : « I’m learning » backed with the rocker « Blues I can’t hide »(Caravan 101). Even though Jackson says he preferred « Blues… », the ballad « I’m learning » went through the roof of WEXL’s country & western charts. As a result, Eddie was able to pay cash for a new ’59 Cadillac with a convertible top !
Eddie cruised down to Nashville and recorded two more singles, including « You put it there » (Caravan 1004), a song from his last session in a recording studio. By the late 1960’s he quit performing regularly, in favor a starting a successful business. Knuckles, White and others have since passed on. But whenever Eddie Jackson sings and entertain people, the crowd’s humor rises, and sparks fly.
Tom Beamon Forse, « You better go now » on Rodney 514 (Starday custom), 1954-55 : great rockabilly guitar led, slap bass bopper featuring Beamon on vocals, his brother Ted on lead guitar, JT “Tiny” Smith on bass, Charlie Craddock on steel guitar and a unknown piano player. Born Beamon Tom Forse on 4th December 1934 in San Augustine, TX, he had a radio show with his brother Ted at KTXJ (Jaspar, TX) and he knew George Jones since he was a child.This disc was cut at Gold Star Studios, Houston TX., and it was inspired by hearing Elvis Presley’s “That’s All Right Mama” being played over the radio. Flipside is an equally good medium paced bopper « The rest of my life ». The disc was financed by Rodney Spaford (hence the label name I guess) who was a rich guy from Sabine, TX.
Beamon moved to California after this release, and he recorded as Tom Forse on Rich-Vein Records (owned by Terry Fell) : « I’m gonna tell your conscience on you » and « They call you a small fry » are superlative 1955-56 medium boppers. Beamon/Tom on vocal, Eddie Cochran on rhythm guitar, Connie « Guybo » Smith on bass and Ralph Mooney on steel. Beamon also booked top acts on the west coast and wrote songs for Terry Fell, who would pay him cash for them. Beamon died in 2004. Tom and Truitt Forse were cousins.
Finally both tracks of Johnny Vincent‘s Ace 528 (June 1957) by Mercy Baby (rn. Jimmy Mullins). He was a drummer/singer for Frankie Lee Sims ; actually Sims handles the lead guitar duties on the haunting « Marked deck » and the energetic « Rock and roll baby ».
Howdy folks, over a period of 15 years, here are the selections of this fortnight.
The earliest track on a strange label, Atlantic, mostly known for R&B and Jazz. They had a short-lived (1 year, 1949-1950) « Folk and Western series », and the very first issue was by LOY GORDON & his Pleasant Valley Boys, for a revamp of the then-popular Sticks Mchee’s original « Drinkin’ wine spo-dee o-dee » (Atlantic 721). Here they are very true to the original. No solo taken by any instrument, but a fine Hillbilly romper. A mean fiddle and steel, and a fine boogie guitar. This was billed as « Folk ballad » on the label !
Loy Gordon « Drinkin’ wine spo-dee-o-dee »download
From Marion, Ohio, 1960. The ROUND UP BOYS (hidden identity) do offer « Rock and Roll baby » on Hark 504. Like the title says, it’s rockabilly with a chugging rhythm. The composer, a Mz . Edna Bright, doesn’t help much.
Next is by two brothers who had a career of at least 30 years, Bob & Joe, the SHELTON BROTHERS. They recorded as early as 1935 a first version of « Deep Elem blues » [the Red Light quarter of Dallas]. The song had been done in 1933 by the Lone Star Cowboys (Leon Chappelear), and was cut by numerous artists later, including a second version (there) by the Sheltons in 1947 on Decca 46008.
On the flip side they had their own « Just because », revived in 1955 by Guess Who. Chugging rhythm, great mandolin. Next Decca 46009 was another nugget : « Ida Red » later renamed « Maybelline » by Chuck Berry. That’s how popular the Sheltons were.
A Gene Simmons production then from Memphis on the Tupelo label (# 2984) from 1964, a good rockabilly by CHARLES K. « The Right bird ».
Way up North in Detroit on the Michigan label Elm 724 : BETTY PARKER does offer « Love is even colder », a fine Bopper backed by Eddie Jackson & Swingsters (of « Rock’n’roll baby » fame on Fortune). Piano led, steel, guitar, an organ solo. Whole thing reminds me of another artist of the area, Palford Brady.
Finally PAUL MIMS, from Louisiana. He delivers « I blowed my top », a call-and-response format, medium paced ditty (long guitar solo and fine steel) on the Shell 121 label.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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