Ken Hammock is certainly not a household name in music history – even in collector scenes he is an obscure figure. Only two record releases – one on Dixie and the other on Starday – were his contribution to American music but nevertheless, these recordings are now sought after collector items.
Hammock first appeared in the late 1940s, when he was a member of the Tennessee Valley Boys led by Clyde Grubb. This group was possibly the same that was a featured act on the Grand Ole Opry and recorded on Victor sometimes after 1942. May it as it be, Hammock left the band around the summer of 1948 and founded his own act, which he called the “Tennessee Valley Gang.” Members of the gang included H.J. Keck (fiddle/guitar), Ray West (guitar), Jimmy Wisher (“hot guitar” as called in Billboard), Jimmie Brewer (guitar), Johnnie Brewer (bass) with Hammock possibly on lead guitar.
In 1948, they performed on a tent show and joined WGAP in Maryville, Tennessee, in January 1949. The next nine years are a blanket in Hammock’s career since there is no mention of him performing. He appeared in 1958 on the Dixie label with a rockabilly instrumental called “Blue Guitar Jump” with Hammock taking over the lead guitar. By then, a singer called Hugh Lewis was a member of the group and he is the one who can be heard on Hammock’s second single, “Now or Never” b/w “Gotta Find Some Way” for Starday. Both tracks were solid Country performances. These tracks were possibly recorded in Ashland, Kentucky.
Hammock again disappeared for a while. In 1970, there was a Ken Hammock who accompanied the Bailey Brothers on some of their recordings in Knoxville, Tennessee, backing the duo up on string bass. There’s no indication that this is the same musician.
Dixie 45-2009: Blue Guitar Jump / Angel in Person
Starday 45-370: Now or Never / Gotta Find Some Way
Recordings with the Bailey Brothers
These recordings were released on Old Homestead LP OHCS 138 in 1982
Knoxville, Tennessee, in June 1970
Charlie Bailey (vcl/mand), Danny Bailey (gtr/vcl), Ken Hammock (bs)
“Mary of the Wild Moor”
“Jack and Mae”
“The Sweetest Gift”
“Where No Cabins Fall”
“He’s Still Knocking”
“Step Out in the Sunlight”
“I’d Rather Have Jesus”
“Blow Your Whistle Freight Train”
Beside that, nothing is known about Ken Hammock. The Starday issue (“Now Or Never“, # 370) is a great mid-tempo Hillbilly bop side. Electric bass, guitar constantly chanting around Hugh Lewis’ vocal. A great tune!
I really don’t know where I picked this story up! Someone can help? Yes, Alexander Petrauskas did! The article was first published in his site: http://hillbillycountry.blogspot.com. but without pictures and sounds. Thank Alexander!
Article of Phillip J. Tricker reprinted from ‘Roll Street Journal’ n° 1 (1981)
all additions are in brackets […]
The name Bill Browning had been one that I had seen on a few lists over the period of quite a number of years. He seemed to be on interesting labels but I had never been fortunate enough to hear any of his records until November 1977.
Yes I remember it very well indeed. It was my first trip the the USA looking for records, and in a Texas warehouse I came across three copies of Bill Browning‘s « Don’t Push-Don’t Shove » (Starday 432). Back at my motel that evening I became a Bill Browning fan and I have spent the five years since trying to obtain his records.
A native of West Virginia [real name Wilmer L. Browning. Born 1931 in Wayne County, W.Va. Died in 1978 – maybe cancer], Bill formed his first band known as the »Kanawha Valley Band » when he was in his mid teens, and they had a radio show on WTIP in Charleston, West Virginia, for some years.
When he was 24, he moved to Cleveland, Ohio, in 1955. He then formed another group, the « Echo Valley Boys » [comprising Art Fulks, Merl Hoaf, Jackie Wooten, Roy Barker and Marshall Looney], and they appeared regularly in the area. It was about this time that Bill got into recording for the first time and from there the story takes an unusual twist.
It has been claimed that the Bill Browning who recorded for Island and Starday, among others, is a different artist from the Bill « Zekie » Browning, who had records issued on Ruby and Lucky. What follows is just one man’s opinion and the reasons for arriving at them. The earliest date I can place on a record by A Browning is the one on Ruby, # 220, which is credited « Rainbow Rhythmaires – vocalist Zekie Browning ». The years 1957-1960 find all the discs as by Bill Browning, usually with Echo Valley Boys. Next woud appear to come the Stardays (# 432 and 488), and here we find an interesting clue. On Starday 488B (Country Strings), credited to Bill Browning, there is a line in the song which goes :
« Zeke picked on the country strings »
Now the highly distinctive style of guitar playing on this record is also to be heard on both sides of Lucky 0001 (I’ll pay You Back/Breaking Hearts), credited to « Zekie » Browning.
Another strange occurrence was that « Breaking Hearts » was issued under both names on Island and Lucky 0001. When I finally got hold of the Lucky issue, I was somewhat stunned that they were not even the same songs. Not even similar. Against the mid tempo Island bopper, the Lucky song is a Hillbilly weeper (with a duet vocal with Don Boone)(the song remains untraced, and was not reissued by White label on the “Lucky label” LP, not even available on Youtube, where it’s always confused with the Island tune of the same name).
There is a similarity on SOME of the records vocally, but when it comes down to the final analysis, I feel that the biggest clue is in the guitar work. On all the records I have managed to obtain/hear, the quality of the guitar work is of a uniform high standard. It is highly probable that he played on other artists records, and as lead guitarist [It is claimed on the sleeve of the « Cincinnati Rockabilly » Lee LP, that he played lead on Nelson Young‘s « Rock Old Sputnick », Lucky 0002. In return, Nelson Young played in Zekie Browning’s band].
As a final thought. the names of Bill and Zekie Browning are both used as recording credits, but, and this is I think important, only the name Bill Browning appears as a song writing credit. ALL of the eight sides on the four records I own credited to Zekie Browning have got Bill Browning as the composer. I believe they are one and the same. An artist whose Rockabilly records excite me, and who’s more Hillbilly tracks show a true love of Country music. He was never a big star, but I bet he brought happiness into many lives. [One final note : Tapio Väänanen found that the rights to Bill Browning songs were owned by his family, who seems to hold the rights to Zekie’s too. Strange…On final analysis, maybe they were distant relatives…Who knows ?
According to Tapio Väänanen, of Finland, Bill “Zekie” Browning was born March 25, 1925 in Hyden, Kentucky and raised in Wooton.
He lived and performed in Hamilton and Cincinnati, Ohio.
Finally he died November 29, 1999.
Once more according to Mr. Väänanen, Bill Browning was born 1931 in Wayne County, W.Va. He moved later to Cleveland, Ohio. He died in 1978.
So it seems that Mr. Tricker’s 1981 speculations were wrong. Just a serie of strange and amusing coincidences…
Either one of both Brownings do offer superior Rockabilly music, from 1957 to 1960. Bill Browning (Island, Starday) has more records, even an LP (2 tracks) and an entire LP (’60s), the best and available tunes are disposable on podcasts below. Best tracks are :
« Ramblin’ Man » (Island 1) is a very fine Rock-a-ballad, propelled by a strong rhythm guitar. A good mandolin player takes a short solo. Singer is in fine form, and the guitar player seems to enjoy doing some licks.
« Wash Machine Boogie » (Island 2), a classic in its genre. Again a strong rhythm, a boogie guitar (an agreable solo). Echo Valley Boys do sing in unison with Browning for the refrain. A piano player has his own solo. Amusing lyrics.
« Dark Hollow » (Island 7) is a really fine side. Train song, very well sung, with emotion. This is the original version to Luke Gordon (see elsewhere in this site for his story), and of course the best-known one by Jimmy Skinner.
« Borned With The Blues » (Island 7), as the title suggests, is a medium-paced blues. Again the singer is at ease. The guitar takes a nice solo. Good atmospheric blues record, as Rockabillies sometimes did : Gene Vincent (« Vincent’s Blues »), Bob Luman (« Amarillo Blues »), to name just a few.
« Let The Bible Be Your Guide » (Island 8) is nothing but a plain sacred country song. It anyway adds something new to Bill Browning’s range of songs.
« Breaking Hearts » (Island 10). Again a nice bopping disc, this time adorned by a good steel player and fiddle (both take short solos). The voice of the singer is a bit high-pitched for a good effect.
« Sinful woman » (Island 11), again this very effective interplay between steel and fiddle, for a very nice fast Hillbilly bopper.
« Down In The Holler Where Sally Lives » (Island LP), a fast, unison sung bopper ; good Rockabilly guitar.
« Love Left Over » (White label 8814)(Island unissued), a fine Rockabilly fast side – prominent mandolin, and a short but good guitar solo. A lot of echo on the vocal.
« Answer To Your Telephone » (White label 8814) (Island unissued), again a fast side. Steel player to the fore. Very good guitar solo. Fiddle present. May come from the « Breaking Hearts » session.
« “Don’t Push Don’t Shove » (Starday 432), from 1958-59. A fast drum intro, very good out-and-out Country-rocker. Strident guitar and steel. Browning in nice voice shape.
« Down In The Hollow » (Starday 488), from 1960. The theme must have been a favorite of Browning, as it is note-for-note the Island recording, leased to Starday.
” “Country Strings” (Starday 488 B), a fast, superior Bopper.
I did separate from the tracks above the followings : « Hula Rock », « Makes Me Feel-A- So Good » and « Gonna Be A Fire », spoiled by obstrusive choruses, too commercial and pop-oriented, at least to my ears.
he Later he had records on Marpone, Alsta, among other labels.
And that’s it for the first Bill Browning. Bill Zekie Browning recorded first for the Hamilton, Ohio Ruby label (# 220), « I’ll Agree » (1955 ? or later ?), and, although the record is now untraceable, it’s also forgettable : I have heard it moons ago, and it was a hell of a slow Hillbilly weeper…
No Then on Lucky 0001, « I’ll Pay You Back » is superior ! What I could call, in search of a better term, a fast bluesy Rockabilly, complete with slapping bass and a very good guitar solo. Singer (named here «Bill “ Zekie » Browning) has a somewhat husky voice, perfect for this kind of song. A minor classic, which reminds me of Jess Hooper (« Sleepy Time Blues » on Meteor!
« “Breaking Hearts » remains untraced, so I cannot comment. According to Phillip Tricker, it’s a Hillbilly weeper on a waltz tempo.
Billboard March 7, 1960
“Bad Case Of The Blues » (Lucky 0005), a superior Bopper for 1959. This time a pianist and a drummer add their touch, while steel and fiddle do shine all way through.
He then had a double-sided instrumental on Lucky 0011, « Spinning Rock Boogie/Creepin’ And Crawlin’ », backed by the Dynamics. Original record untraced and forgotten (I am unable to find at this time my copy of the White label LP « The Lucky label » WLP 8858!)
Later he was to be found on Enola, during the ’60s, for two 45s. « Glass Of Wine » (# 313) is a nice ’60s Country-rocker with strong guitar. This song was credited to Walter Scott, I’d assume the same man who had “I’m Walkin’ out” on Ruby in 1956 (posted in a past fortnight’s favorite). Enola 312 « Loser’s Blues » looks promising, but does escape to my searching antennas.
As usual, label shots were taken from Terry Gordon’s RCS site, or YouTube. Music from « Ramblin’ Man », a bootleg LP devoted to Bill Browning on Island and Starday. TRG in Holland issued a bootleg called « Hula Rock : The Island Recordings », which gathers every issue of this short-lived label. Then, old White label 8817 (« Island recordings ») and 8858 (« The Lucky label ») complete the lot. Then nothing more.
A message from Bill Zekie Browning grandchild: “This story is not all correct on the Bill “Zekie” Browning part, he is my grandpa he died when I was 19 years old. There is not a picture of him on this site, that must be another Bill. He was an amazing musician he could play every instrument. He loved the guitar, harmonica and banjo the most. He played music for me and my family all the time, especially at Christmas. He always kept his harmonica in his left shirt pocket. He was an awesome grandpa, we spent alot of time together, I am his first born grandchild. My grandma, his wife Phyllis is a gentle, kind beautiful woman, just turned 70 years old, living healthy and well, she was much younger than my grandpa.” Please send us a picture of the actual Bill Zekie Browing!
Thanks to visitor DrunkenHobo (Dean C.) who pointed out two major errors in this article on November 4, 2011.
picture sent by Mz. Christina Brinkenhoff, daughter-in-law to Zeke Browning (July 8th, 2014). At last we now know how did look Zekie Browning..
Alas, once again I have turned up empty on the info front. Apart from this disc, I’ve seen “Pogo The Hobo” / “Forever” – Starday 150 – on a record list as a $10 rocker – but I’ve not heard it so couldn’t possibly comment. A side is a nice kicking hillbilly tune with a western swing flavour, with nice guitar solo, alongside steel guitar & piano. B side is a weeper with steel guitar & piano to the fore. Andrew Brown states that there was a country singer named Don Payne who was from Austin, Tx. He assumes that Don Payne is the same one who recorded for Starday
Starday 528WANDA BALLMAN with Eeny, Meeny, Miney and Mo (August 1955)
New Star 529OTIS PARKER (August 1955
They Don’t Have To Operate (They Just Pull The Zipper)/ False Love AffairThink It Over/ I’m Gonna Keep My Eye On You
I know a little regarding Wanda – she was from Jonesboro, AR and one of her compositions (“I’m Sorry I’m Not Sorry”) was recorded by Carl Perkins as a flipside to “Dixiefried” (Sun 249). Oh, and she recorded a few demos at Sun Records. She seems to have been a reasonably prolific songstress as she has had her tunes covered by the likes of Loretta Lynn , Kitty Wells & Charlie Pryde amongst many others. Both sides of this 45rpm are pretty good tonkin’ stuff. and anybody who sings Honky Tonk as “Hawnky Tawnk” will always get my vote. Sadly, Wanda passed away on Sept 21st 2005 at her home in Goodlettsville, TN.
The A side is a fast paced comedy-hillbilly with piano & guitar accomp. B side is a typical country “broken-hearted” song. I found a mention of a record on Holiday 109 by an Otis Parker (“Bugle Call From Heaven” / “Many Times“) – rev by Billboard on 29th Sept 1951, but I can’t say if it’s the same artist.
Corresponded with Cheryl Parker, the daughter of Otis.(2009) Here’s her story ….Before I answer your questions, let me provide you with a little history. My father and mother divorced when I was 12 years old after 25 happy/unhappy years together. There were 8 children, I am next to the youngest (I am 51). My father was the typical country music person…….”sacrifice everything for the love of it”. He knew everyone who was anybody in the late 40s and early 50s. He worked behind the scenes at the Grand Ole Opry back before the people who sang there made the big bucks they make today. Many of them visited our home after the shows, were over to eat and drink. Jim Reeves was a frequent visitor and friend (through their mutual work in radio)……..he held my sister on his lap and sang “Roly Poly” to her. Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs were good friends of my father (my other sister remembers having the biggest crush on Scruggs, she said she would sit at his feet and stare at him……she was only about 4 at the time)…….as was Tex Ritter. He was at my fathers home in Reno not long before he (Tex) died. My parents went through alot together and loved each other………they just couldn’t live together. My father remarried, my mother never did.
I didn’t see my father from the time I was 12 until I turned 25 when I heard he was back in Tennessee and that he was ill. Two of my brothers and I made the trip to see him. We visited with him for a few days and then the next time I saw him was at his funeral. My father was a talented man………just not good at being a father. Sounds like a country song doesn’t it? I don’t hold it against him though…….none of us are perfect.
My mother had several of his recordings but in 1972 someone broke into our home and trashed it, shattering all of his records “for fun”………I guess. I have no idea if any of them survive anywhere else. One that he did stands out in my mind because it was so beautiful……..it was called “This Is My Life”…….I haven’t heard it since I was a child, but I still remember the tune and some of the words. It turned out to be the story of his life as it went….it was about being gone and forgotten What a shame that I don’t know if a copy exists somewhere.
I do have a couple of 45s that he gave me when I visited him……….he recorded them under the name of Jimmy Parker……..the name he went by later in life. His full name was James Otis Parker.
I just wanted to share this info with you so that you would understand why I don’t have many photos of him……..or know much about his life as a whole.
Just a little trivia………..he spoke fluent Spanish, was self taught on the piano and guitar, taught college courses for a time, and…..he stuttered. Not all the time……..just when he got excited or upset….then he stuttered badly.
Even though I didn’t get to spend the time I would have liked with my father, I am proud of his talent …………he just had to dream……..which isn’t entirely bad.
I am glad that something of what he did remains………….I am sure that more of his music is out there somewhere, I just don’t know where………or how to find it. I guess I will have to treasure what I have. I am sure you probably know that the “Zipper” song is on a CD being sold on Amazon. It’s on there with other songs by other artists of the era and was released by Jasmine Music out of the UK. I contacted them about it and was informed of the “public domain” law……..which I was already aware of. My father didn’t protect what he created. It may be the law………but it doesn’t make it right.
Anyway………..on to your questions……………………
Where and when was Otis born?
He was born on March 19, 1920 in Brush Creek, TN He was the son of a tobacco farmer. His mother died when he was young but his father outlived him by several years.
Can you remember the bands he played in?
Unfortunately, I do not know of any bands, other than one he lead in the 1970s. My father did mostly solo work.
Was he ever on TV and radio performing in the 50’s?
I don’t know if he was ever on tv (I know he was later in life in Reno) but he worked for the Grand Ole Opry in the late 40’s. And he also co-owned a radio station with Grandpa Jones and worked for several radio stations. It was while working in the radio station field that he made most of his recordings.
Can you remember who was in his band?
No, sorry. Other than the one in later years, I have no info.
Where was the disc recorded and when?
My older sister seems to remember that the “Zipper” song was recorded while they lived in Beaumont, Tx. (before I was born) They lived in several places…..Nashville, Athens, TN, Athens, Ga, Rome Ga,, Atlanta, Ga., Beaumont, Tx. and Mobile, Al (where I was born)
Can you remember how many copies were pressed?
I have no idea how many copies were made of the recording. Nor any of the many others he did. Zipper was not the only song he wrote and recorded.
Who paid for the recording and the record?
I would imagine my father did. He might have had some backing but I believe most of the money would have been his.
What did he do after the record musically? Was he still performing?
My father was what some call “a jack of all trades”…. and he was full of “wander lust”…he worked for many years in the music industry and then decided he wanted to see the world so he became a chef and joined the merchant marines and traveled the world for several years before going back into the business in the late 60’s/early 70s. His life WAS a country song……….full of drama, pain, sadness. In later years he went by Jimmy…….a nickname for James, his real first name……..Otis was his middle name.
When and where did he pass away?
He passed away on November 28, 1984 in Carthage, TN which is about 60 miles east of Nashville. He is buried in a cemetery on a hill with Tennessee hills all around. At his funeral they played one of his songs “Will There Still Be Country Music”, it’s about dying and wondering if there would be country music in Heaven and would he have a place there. It was a fitting song.
I thank you for your interest in my father………..he would have been impressed that his music was still interesting to someone.
Gee, not often do I get to add more than a few lines on any artist listed here.
Starday 530 THE MUSICAL-AIRES (September 1955)
Hop-a-Long Sister Mary / Wildcat Boogie
The Musical-Aires were Rich Mauney, Carol Dills & Jim Waller. “Hop-A-Long Sister Mary” was also issued as “Skip Along Guitar” on STARDAY ep-258. It was then subsequently issued on STARDAY LP 176 as “Skip Along” and credited to TOMMY HILL. Both sides are nice country / hillbilly guitar led instrumentals. Reminds me of early Chet Atkins.
Starday 531JOHNNY SUTHERLAND (October 1955)
We’ll Have A Time, Yes Siree / I’m in Love
Two fine uptempo fiddle-led hillbilly sides with a fine band backing Sutherland’s slightly flat vocals. It has been suggested that this recording came from the Gulf Coast part of Texas. He had in the early fifties an issue on John Erikson’ Talent 777 . I’m kinda curious to find out what doing the “Willy-Wuck-Wick” means as mentioned on the A side, but perhaps it’s better that I don’t know at my age.
Georgia 532 CLYDE BEAVERS (October 1955)
I Won’t Always Love You / My Baby Is Gone
The Starday Custom series continues with it’s apparent love of naming a record label after the state that the recording was from. Perhaps it was a coincidence that each artist chose this, or Starday suggested it to them. Anyhow, compared to many artists in this listing, there’s info I can mention on this artist. Clyde was born in Tennga, GA on the 8th June, 1932 and was a DJ on WJAT from Swainsboro, GA. As a young boy, Clyde Beavers never let anyone know that he wanted to be singer, and he has stated “his biggest thrill as a recording artist was meeting people” Both sides are pleasant hillbilly with perhaps the B side being the better of the two, although for me, the accordian solo spoils what could’ve been a better disc. He also recorded “The Black Knee Socks” / “Susie Darlin” – WONDER 105 & “Crying For My Baby” / “ The Man In The Glass” – MERCURY 71185 amongst others. Wonder Records was from Atlanta, GA and was owned by Bill Lowery. Clyde also formed KA$H RECORDS with Tom Reeder in Nashville during February 1963. His entertainment experience included WCGA – Calhoun, Ga. (1957), WBRO – Waynesboro, Ga. – (1959) and WENO in Nashville besides playing clubs and appearing US Military bases throughout the States. There’s a huge amount of info on Clyde in Billboard magazines, but it’s all from the 60’s and, at this time, I’m not sure if there is more than one artist of that name.
Indiana 533 ROY FISHER (November 1955)
Just Suppose / I’ve Got A Feeling
Michigan City, Indiana
Well, I may well have a label shot, but as yet I haven’t heard this disc. (Oct. 16th, 2012. Yup, thanks HillbillyBoogie1 – Youtube – “I’ve Got A Feeling” is a good bopper, fine lead guitar) As for the artist – once again I have as much info as a UK bank manager has integrity. There was a Roy Fisher who recorded for the New England record label in 1961 (“Pool Stick Window” / ” Moon Powers” – #1004) which could be the same guy, but I’m clutching at straws here really. (New England was out of Houston, TX circa 1961/2 and owned by Dan R Andrade.)
Moonlight 534 CARL TANNER (November 1955)
Sweet Talkin’ Baby / What Makes The Blues
Another pleasant hillbilly disc which kinda borders on a rockabilly feel, especially with the lovely guitar solo on the A side, but he struggles vocally with the slower tempo of the flip. Carl was a semi-regular presence on the “Peach State Jamboree” on WJAT from 8:15pm ’til Midnight and MC’d by Johnnie Bailes. He has another release on this label coming up later (# 568)
Starday 535 JOE GIBSON (December 1955)
Puttin’ On The Dog / Oh Brother
On the 3rd December 1955, Billboard mentions a Joe Gibson who was still fronting the Georgia Peach Pickers for Curley Williams, having his first record released on Starday so I’m presuming this is the same guy. I can’t say more than that at present. The A side is a tough, Texas infectious rhythm shuffler with a nice guitar & steel guitar solos. The B side is pleasant uptempo hillbilly with a honky tonk piano, fiddle and steel guitar all taking small solos.
Starday 536 LEO OGLETREE (December 1955)
Crooked Dice / You Done Got Me
Lee was from Tucson, AZ where this disc was recorded. He also worked at WGAC out of Augusta, GA for a spell. The A side is a mid paced hillbilly bopper with Lee boasting of his dice rolling prowess (although by the end of the song he gets caught with dice up his sleeve). This side was penned by Jimmie O’Neal (see COAST 500) and Johnny Tyler, who performed over WGST in Atlanta, GA in 1954 and also recorded for Starday (main series) and for O’Neals’ Rural Rhythm label. Flipside is more of the same, penned by the great Eddie Noack. Nothing on WM Minor either. This sounds like a Texas recording to me. The steel player is Hal Rugg.
Lucas 537 FRANCIS RODGERS (December 1955)
Jolly Old Fellow / Oh Gee – Oh Gosh – Oh Golly
Never seen or heard this disc. I presume Ray Lucas owned the label (or at least paid for it.)
Starday 538 TOMMY CASTLE (January 1956)
Wanderlust / I’ve Done More Accidentally
Possibly one of the great unknown Rock-A-Billy discs in the Starday Custom catalogue. Jack Rhodes (more on him later on Starday 560/561) had set up a small recording / demo studio at the back of a hotel he owned in Mineola, TX where artists could come along and record demos, especially ones that Jack had written. The unknown Tommy Castle probably cut this Rhodes-penned disc at the hotel with (possibly) Freddy Franks (bs) and Al Petty (steel guitar) and an unknown guitar player who hops all over the disc like a man possessed.
The A side is a great shuffling, two-chord ditty with Tommy claiming to suffer from “Wanderlust” – an inability to settle down in one place. This song that could’ve gone onto greater things if picked up by a seasoned country star (Hank Williams, had he lived long enough would have been a good bet), or perhaps even Luke McDaniels. The flipside is a great bopper with a super, finger-picked guitar solo (he also cuts loose whilst Tommy is singing to; almost threatening to take over on occasions). This side was co-written by Freddy Franks. A fantastic 45rpm! According to Tom Lincoln, Castle is Tommy Cassel (of Cassel Records), although at least one other collector says they are two different artists.
Big State 539 ROY ROBINSON (January 1956)
I Told It To Jesus / Little Romeo
This disc was issued twice. The first release is vocal with accoustic guitar accompaniment. The second release is vocal with guitar, steel guitar, bass and fiddle accompaniment. The only means to distinguish between the two releases is that the second issue has the letters RE in the dead wax / run off after the A & B designation. In a way, I think I prefer the accoustic version, especially the religious A side (gospel, in my mind, should always be sparse in instrumentation). Flipside is a happy little ditty about a young (some say very young) “Don Juan” who chats up the girlies with the aid of candy bars and bubble gum. Kinda cute. This disc would have perhaps made a good demo, though I’ve yet to discover if anybody covered it. Perhaps that’s why he rerecorded it with a full hillbilly band and reissued it a few months later. The gospel track loses something with the band behind him but the B side comes off better with instrumentation. I drew a blank on Roys’ identity – a familiar story where these artists are concerned. I did find an artist with the same name on TRC (Texas Record Company) with songs entitled “Blood Weed” / “In Your Arms” – TRC 8457 – which was reviewed by Billboard on 15th Sept 1962, but I have no clue as to if it’s the same guy. Both of these sides were published by Glad Music which is a tenuous link.
Starday 540 FRANK EVANS and the Western Hayriders (January 1956)
I’m Different / Another Love Like You
Frank was singing as a child on WHBO in Tampa, FL. (According to Frank, the radio station was so small, the signal “ … just barely made it over the tree tops”.) He was 15 years old when he cut this, his first recording, at the Burdette Sound Studios in Tampa, backed by the Western Hayriders (who were already an established band by this time & included Pete Howell on lead guitar & Dusty Robbins on steel guitar). Frank plays the banjo on these sides. The A side is a nice uptempo number with Frank soloing on the banjo with nice support from both lead & steel guitar. The flipside is a hillbilly weeper. It’s a great debut from an underrated artist. Soon after, Frank formed his Top Notchers (more on them later on Starday 567).
Starday 541 JACK MORRIS (January 1956)
My Pony Wants To Go / Cooing On The Wrong Pigeon
A great West coast swinger from Morris and his band which (to my ears) sounds like it included Speedy West and Jimmy Bryant. The A side is a fast-paced hillbilly bopper with clever, humourous lyrics – the type of song I could imagine Tennessee Ernie Ford covering with great aplomb. 541-B was picked up and recorded by Merrill E Moore on Capitol Records 3311. Jack also turns up on Sage Records from Hollywood, CA (“White Line” / “Stop Teasing me” – SAGE 228, “”Four Wheeled Bungalow” / “Glad I’m Looking Back On You” – SAGE 232)
Starday 542 HOYT SCOGGINS and the Saturday Nite Jamboree Boys (February 1956)
What’s Gonna Happen To This Old World / Kneel Down With Jesus
The second disc by Hoyt bemoaning the state of the world as it turns its back on God.. Nice accompaniment by lead guitar, banjo, fiddle & dobro. Not heard the B side as yet. No label shots either.
Rondo 543 HAROLD SMITH with Slim Green & the Trailriders and Danny Clark (February 1956)
Waiting For Someone / Listen To Me Baby
Nothing on Harold Smith at present. The slow A side is another tale of a broken heart with some nice & simple steel guitar through the solo, accompanied by a competent piano player. Flip is a fast “call-and-response” disc which reminds me of a typical early hillbilly disc from Fortune Records (Detroit, MI). Great boogie piano throughout with nice fiddle, steel & guitar breaks. On the label, it states “A DC-HS Production”, which is Danny Clark and Harold Smith.
Hoyt’s 544 RANSOM GOSPEL SINGERS (March 1956)
I’ll Tell It / I’ll Make It Home Someday
Yet another in a long line of Starday Custom discs I haven’t seen, heard, or know nothing about.
Sage 545 DON REDFIELD and The Sage Dusters (March 1956)
I Can’t Go Back / Montana Waltz
Thanks to Al Turner who not only managed to hear the record, but he also found a snippet on the artist in a Country Music Round-Up magazine. I’ll quote it here in full. “Young Don Redfield’s background is about as unusual as the come for folks in the country music field. For Don is a native of Boston, MA and began his musical career by studying classical violin for four years. All this changed however when he moved out to Montana in 1945. There, he traded two rabbits and six phonograph records for his first guitar, and has stuck with that instrument ever since. In high school Don organized his first dance orchestra known as the Tune Timers. While attending Rocky Mountain College, he rounded up a vocal trio known as the “Three Bears,” which appeared on a series of radio programs in Billings. This group was so well received that in no time at all they become greatly in demand for personal appearances throughout the Billings area. In the winter of 1952, Don carried two half-hour broadcasts from the Amvets in Billings and had two fifteen minute shows a week on KOOK. At present, he’s keeping quite busy by participating in an occasional stage show, playing over KMON in Great falls and teaching guitar.”
All that besides, “Montana Waltz” is exactly as it says on the label – a waltz. He’s got a pleasant voice but the recordings are slightly muddy, which is a shame really. “I Can’t Go Back” is taken at a fast clip with fine instrumental support from fiddle, steel guitar & lead guitar. The sound is more muffled here than the slow B side; not so much that it spoils the disc but enough to detract from what is a fairly decent record, especially the nice Chet Atkins / Ronnie Durbin guitar solo.
Hoyt’s 546 WALTER PONDER, Jr. (March 1956)
I Had A Chance / Carry On
A nice piano led gospel-type number, sung with feeling (as almost all gospel records are). Both sides are slightly similar to each other and that’s a good thing cos it’s a great record. I found a Walter Ponder Jr listed on the net as having a CD release in 2001 where he sings 14 gospel songs. The brief bio says he was a two time winner of a contest at the Apollo Theatre in NYC (no dates). He also had his own TV show in Jacksonville, FL and has been singing since the age of four. He also had his own prison ministry and apparently received high recognition for his rendition of the National Anthem. He was last heard of running & organizing “Thunderbolt Ministrys” out of Jacksonville.
Starday 547 MACK KING with the Western Hayriders (March 1956)
This Is Your Life / No Wings – No Halo
This is the same Mack King who also appears on Nugget Records (“No Special Reason” / “You Better Get Going” – NUGGET 1004), and is also backed by the the Western Hayriders (who also backed Frank Evans -who also appears on Nugget). But we’re getting ahead of ourselves as Nugget 1004 was pressed in 1958. By the time Starday 547 was issued, Mack had served in military and was at this time, located in Tampa, FL. Mack also played 3 shows supporting Elvis Presley in Tampa. For some reason they issued this 45rpm with Starday matrix numbers instead of the usual A/B prefix. Anyhow, The A side is a nice country ballad. The flip is a mid-paced hillbilly/country swinger with fine guitar and steel guitar support. Mack’s got a nice voice for this kinda stuff; melodic but slightly lazy vocals. Cool stuff!
Gulf Coast 548 TOMMY TOLLESON and the Western Playboys from Palacios, Texas (March 1956)
Warm Spring Waltz / Think Of Me
Tommie was born on the 5th July 1936 – one of six children. Blind from an early age, he attended the Texas State School for the Blind (although Tommie could differentiate between day and night but not much more) which could boast other such luminaries as Leon Payne & Hub Sutter. Learning not only how to play but to tune a piano, he formed the Western Playboys to perform in bars when he was home from the school. Aged 19, this is his first record release – 300 copies pressed and another 100 shipped out to DJ’s , Radio Stations etc – the standard Starday Custom deal. « Warm Springs Waltz » was dedicated to the Warm Springs Foundation which was a cure centre. He was 22 when he graduated from the school and returned to Palacious, TX where he took up music pretty much full time. He recorded for Dan Menchuras’ KOOL label before operating his own record label – Gulfcoast Records – where he released polkas, waltzes, boogie woogie and the torrid rocker “Carla Blues” (Gulfcoast 101). He died April 23rd 1997. “Think Of Me” is a ballad whilst the flip has a cajun/waltz feel. Not as torrid as « Carla Blues » or « A Gal Named Sue », but nevertheless a nice little tune.
Rambler 549 CURLEY MONEY and the Rolling Ramblers
(March 1956) Playing The Game / Why must I Cry
Unlike many of the artists in the Starday Custom series, Curley was quite a prolific artist, though this seems to be his only Starday pressing. Curley was born Robert Earnest Money in Halesburg, Alabama in March 1925. He moved to Columbus in 1942 and passed away in 2003. Quite a few of his Rambler Record releases were pressed by RCA. The A side is a nice country bouncer, with guitar, steel guitar and sawing fiddles. Flip is a waltzy-little number.
Curley Money & Rolling Ramblers
L & C 550 LUKE GORDON acc by C. Smith and the Tennessee Hayriders (March 1956)
Goin’ Crazy / Married Life
Luke Gordon was born Gordon Brown in Quincy, Kentucky on Friday 15th April, 1932 and was next to the youngest of 6 boys and 2 girls. Luke started his music career on radio station WPAY in Portsmouth, Ohio with the Rhythm Rascals and became good friends with Zeke Mullins who was a DJ at WPAY. Luke served in the US. Army during the Korean Conflict and upon his discharge in 1953 he headed for Norfolk, Virginia where he met up with Jimmy Dean and did a show with him. He then went from there to Warrenton, Virginia with Jimmy and they won the ‘Best Vocalist’ at a JC contest. He also appeared on the ‘Old Dominion Barn Dance in Richmond, Virginia. Luke then went to Tennessee and entertained the folks with Ray Price & The Western Cherokees.
After his stint in Tennessee he returned to Virginia and the Washington D.C. area to work with fiddler Curley Smith at radio station WGAY, Silver Springs, Maryland and do personal appearances. Curley set up a number of recording sessions for Luke with Ben Adelman and the result was released on L & C & STARDAY 550 during 1956. Luke started his own QUINCY record label which was based in Quincy, Kentucky. He also appeared on ISLAND, BLUE RIDGE, EMPIRE & NASHVILLE amongst others (see his story elsewhere in the site).
“Married Life” is a Luke The Drifter type monologue which bemoans how bad married life can be. I class this type of song as “Bar Room Advice”, the wisdom of an unhappily married man. “Goin’ Crazy” is a nice shuffling country ditty, supported by a fine lead guitarist.
All appreciations do come from excellent Malcolm Chapman’s site: Starday Custom. Visit him!
Although the STARDAY Record Company were not, by any means, the first to dabble with custom pressings, they became – almost fifty years later – one of the most famous and their vanity pressings are greatly sought after nowadays. What was originally a sideline to scrape a few bucks together, and add more songs to their growing music publishing portfolio, the “custom” or “vanity” business began to really flourish after 1956, when every Tom Crook, Lee Voorhies or Red Moore wanted to make a record of their own. The almost total lack of exposure left the vast majority of the releases dead in the water, but the artist could walk about, handing out his or her own record, a little like a vinyl business card.
Of course there were other companies competing for the custom-pressing dollar; RCA, COLUMBIA, and to a lesser extent CAPITOL, had extensive custom pressing services, even if sometimes the end product was marred by the use of recycled wax and an inferior sound quality. The Rite Pressing Co from Ohio were more prolific, but again the sound and the quality of the pressings was not always going to help anybody get airplay. STARDAY on the other hand, had many releases that have great sound. Sure, there are a few “bedroom” recordings – Plez Gary Mann for example, and a few that appear to have been recorded in the “outhouse” most notably the “Lo-Fi” Trice Garner release. However, on the whole the sound and recording quality always seemed a lot clearer than the competition, thus making airplay an easier bet. Of course, most of the artists couldn’t afford the deals involved in the payola scandal so it didn’t make much difference. (more…)
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:
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“.
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.
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.
Then 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.
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!
Finally a classic R&B rocker: “Flat Foot Sam” by T.V. SLIM & His Heartbreakers. Hope you enjoy the selections! Bye.