Very few information available on this North Carolina artist. He’d begin in Bluegrass style on Blue Ridge with « There’ll Be No Wedding Bells For Me », the flipside being Honky tonk: « Half Hearted Love » on Blue Ridge 401. Here he delivers a fast number with gospel overtones. His superb voice is well suited to this kind of number and aided by his Mimosa Quartet on backup harmony and a romping piano player.
label courtesy John Burton
Then his second disc, « If I Could Just Make It In », a real stomper of a number on Blue Ridge 202, a label based in North Wilkesboro, N.C.. With a driving beat and some superb guitar and piano behind Joe’s vocal. Joe was a DJ at WMNC, Morganton, some thirty odd miles at the time. He was later to secure a contract with MGM.
North Wilkesboro in far North West of the state
In my opinion (Phillip J. Tricker), one of the great unknowns of Hillbilly music. A piano is always very prominent on his recordings and I wonder if indeed it is Joe who pounds the ivories. The Mimosa Boys are a very tightly knit outfit that sounds like they are been together for a long time. Excellent steel and fiddle (Jim Buchanan ?) provide solid foils to some amazing piano work which is much more powerful than the usual ‘rinky dink’ style usually associated to Hillbilly recordings from this period, 1953. « Hitch-Hikin’ Blues » slows the pace a little but is in own right a very classy Honky tonkin’ side with some lovely work from the fiddle player while the steel player underpins everything well. THE side is « Hillbilly Boy », fast and furious, fantastic piano, short steel & fiddle solo. Both on MGM 11612.
Joe has two unissued sides from this July 1953 session.
He then disappeared completely, which is a real shame!
Flash! I came today (July 21, 2011) on 3 more discs by Joe Franklin. Via the « Starday-Dixie Rockabilly vol 2 » on (UK) Ace, I found he was vocally fronting the Hi-Liters in 1958 for a (probably) Don Pierce production on Mercury. Both sides (« Dance Me To Death » and the unissued-at-the-time « Big Bad Wolf« ) are to be found on Mercury 71342 from 1958.
Strangely Michel Ruppli’s book « The Mercury label » gives the recording location as Universal studio in Chicago. Great rockers, a voice similar to the MGM artist of 5 years before, with again that rollicking piano (some could say a la Little Richard) in the background. The original flipside of « Dance Me To Death » is sung by a Daryl Petty (« Cha Cha Rock« ). « Too Late For Tears » (Daryl Petty, vocal) remains unissued.
Then billed as « Joe Franklin and the Hi-Liters« , he had two more discs between 1959-60 on the Durham, North CarolinaRenown label. They are of far lesser interest. The Renown 113 « Who Put The Pep In The Punch/True Blue » (latter song written by Darryl Petty) is billed as « white vocal group » by 45rpmrecord.com blogsite. Franklin returns to his bluegrass roots with « The Belle Of Tennessee » (Renown 114), although more pop/folk than real Bluegrass. « Swanee River Rock« , the final side, is a sax led instrumental, with again fine piano in the background.
Sources: Boppin’ Hillbilly serie (3 volumes), Youtube, 45rpmrecords.com.
Final note: Mr. David Hill wrote me this message on Feb. 20th, 2012: « I was saddened to hear that Joe Franklin had passed, but I appreciate the info from your site. I have a newspaper article around 1958, Bristol, VA concerning Darrell Petty, who was Joe Franklin’s piano player and his association with Joe, and the sale of Petty’s song A MILLION MILES FROM NOWHERE. I would like to share all my info with those interested. I would like to know what happened to Darrell Petty. Sincerely, David Hill ». So now we know who was the piano player on these discs! In a second message, Mr. Hill sent me scanned the article from « Bristol Herald Courier », which gave more details on Darrell Petty. He had only 9 fingers, having been injured at 10 in a saw mill. The drummer was Mel Taylor, who later went with the Ventures, and another Franklin’s musician was Joe Buchanan (unknown instrument). It seems that anybody lost their trail after 1959-60. Here it is the first ever picture of Darrell Petty, tanks to Mr. Hill.
Flash (Friday, May 25, 2012), the excellent and undefatigable Mr. David Hill sent me a message as follow: « Here are some more photos and info I obtained from Burke County Public Library in Morganton, NC. This was Joe’s hometown. Daryl Petty passed away in the 70’s with cancer. I have been in touch with Joe’s sister. There is a display in the Burke County Museum on Joe and The Hi-Liters. I plan to visit there one day soon. Still bopping, David Hill ». Below are the press snippets of the Morganton, N.C. News Herald he sent me, from the beginning of 1958, also the Joe Franklin obit from 2001. Thanks, Mr. Hill!
Morganton N.C. News Herald, Jan. 21, 1958
Morganton, N.C. News Herald, Jan. 1, 1958
Morganton News Herald, Feb. 27, 1958
Latest news (Jan. 9th, 2013) : message from Jim Buchanan, fiddler/drummer for Joe Franklin (1951-1959)
I was the eleven year old Fiddler/Drummer with Joe Franklin beginning in 1951. I performed on the Ed Sullivan TV Show with Joe and daily live TV Shows at WCYB Channel 5 in Bristol Va.during the early Fifties. If you want to know anything about Darryl Petty, Ray Austin, James Duckworth, Charlie Connley or any other Mimosa Boys/Hi Litersn, ask the only living Member of the Band. I was there a part of it from the beginning. I have Audio recordings of the Mimosa Quartet recorded at WTOE Spruce Pine NC while Joe was a DJ there. I also have all the major news paper articles published during the time that I was with Joe Franklin. The Burke County Museum has the Suit that I wore on the Ed Sullivan Show as well as other articles such as pictures of me while with Mel Tillis performing at President Ronald Reagans inaugural ball in 1980. I left Joe Franklin in 1959 to work with Arthur Smith in Charlotte NC at WBTV. Later into Bluegrass Music with Jim and Jesse and the Virgina Boys WSM in Nashville. Mel Tillis during the 70s and part of the 80s.
David Grisman in San Francisco. George Jones in the 90s till 2008. Now teaching from Home in Franklin TN. Also a recording studio and producing and publishing. Church Band each
Sunday and simi retired from touring with groups. I can now do it my way….. after 60 yrs.
Yours truly, Jim Buchanan – jim firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks, Mr. Buchanan! Now we know the name of Joe Franklin’s musicians.
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 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.
note « The Rock and Roll Boys » backing
Empire EP issued 1961
“Married Life” is a Luke The Drifter type monolog 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. (Then again, if they were so smart ……. ) “Goin’ Crazy” is a nice shuffling country ditty, supported by a fine lead guitarist.
DARK HOLLOW lyrics
Mount Vernon LP 156 (Ben Adelman’s sides)
And that is all I know on LUKE GORDON! His Starday sides are easily available on the Dutch compilation above. What happened to such a talented guy afterwards? He has records even in 2005!
Biographical information gathered from excellent Malcolm Chapman’s Starday Custom Series site.
Discographical data from Dick Grant’s researches on Ben Adelman’s archives and from famous Praguesfrank’s site http://countrydiscography.blogspot.com/search?q=luke+gordon
Pictures, as usual, from various sources, e.g. Rockin’ Country Style.
bopping editor’s notes:
Luke Gordon’s records are difficult to find, without doubt being poor sellers at the time. I couldn’t find but the Dutch compilation above.
The standout track is « Goin’ Crazy« , which is par to what Memphis had best to offer in 1955/56: name Bud Deckleman or other Meteor artists. Raw, crude medium Hillbilly bop; firm barytone vocal, top-class backing of fiddle, guitar and steel. BUT one thing: I first heard this track via a Tom Sims’ cassette way back in the 1980’s on the L&C label, and it has a dobro…not heard on the Starday track on Collector. Not same timing too. However, to my knowledge, nobody has ever noticed the difference. The dobro-backed « Goin’ Crazy« , which has a sort of Bluegrass feel to it, is superior, at least to me, to the « regular » Starday version. The voice is higher too. To confuse a little more tracks, « Dark Hollow » from 1958 (Blue Ridge label # 502) has also a dobro…It is indeed the Bill Browning tune issued on Island, and revived, among others by, by Jimmy Skinner who hit with it in 1958 on Mercury. Can anyone shed some light on this story? You can judge by yourself, since the two versions are podcasted below.
Note (November 14, 2011) on « Goin’ Crazy« . Praguefrank discography list this very first song recorded by Luke Gordon as « unissued ». But it mentions Buzz Busby on mandolin and John Duffey on dobro (+ the Stonemans Bros. on bass and fiddle), that’s exactly the aural line-up I did detect on the L&C issue (# 555) (as transferred from the Tom Sims’ cassette). Since, still according to Praguefrank, L&C 555 was reissued on Starday 555 (in its ‘Custom’ serie), one must admit that both versions of « Goin’ Crazy » (one with mandolin/dobro, the other without) were issued with the SAME number…Anyway you can hear the great difference between both versions in the podcasts below.
Quincy 932 has until now eluded my research, and must be the rarest Gordon’s record. However the mention of « The Rock and Roll Boys » as backing band sounds interesting, and proves that Gordon had well adapted to new trends. Note that in the discography he cut his sides during a split session (same backing band apparently) as Billy Adams. « Lonely Heartache » from 1961 is as fine as Gordon’s earlier sides: a nice Hillbilly uptempo weeper (fiddle/steel solo) propulsed by a loping bass. Don’t miss it in the podcasts.
Some 80’s issues on the World Artist Productions. I’ve still have to hear them yet!
FLASH: Luke Gordon died Tuesday September 14th, 2010 after a long illness. Hillbilly-Music.com has already published a biography on him at http://www.hillbilly-music.com/news/story/index.php?id=8932
Revised on November 14th, 2011. Thanks to a visitor, Bill Hancock, we now know the name of the dobro player on « Goin’ Crazy« : « Lew Childrey played Dobro in Goin Crazy » . So it could be not John Duffey? Also, I put my hand on Mount Vernon LP 156 (thanks YouTube), so I can now podcast 6 more fine Hillbilly bop tracks from late 1954 to 1959, cut in Washington, D.C. Among them is « Christmas in Tennessee« , whose lead guitar player is none other than young Link Wray!
Later addition (December 26, 2011). I got the 1980 album « Picture Show » on World label 5000. Very nice Country rockers, Gordon in fine voice, sympathetic backing (steel well to the fore). So I add in the podcasts two numbers: « Oblivion » and « Alimony« .