Raleigh Preston ‘Peck’ Touchton is easily one of the most noteworthy singers to emerge from the Houston country music scene in the fifties. But unlike most of his peers like George Jones, Touchton only recorded a handful of sides and, through no fault of his own, attained none of the commercial rewards granted some of his lesser known contemporaries. He was rather, another victim of the visionless inertia that typified the music business in Houston.
Born in Belmont, Louisiana on April 28, 1929, Peck migrated to Houston after high school graduation and began working drive-ins and dancehalls with a young band called the Sunset Wranglers. « Our first job was a place called Johnny’s Drive-Inn in North Shepherd, » he remembers today. « Back in those days, that was the way you started out. And us four would stay up there from eight to twelve, and one o’clock on saturday night. It was strictly a drive-in…car hops would pass the kitty, that’s how we made our money. » The group soon graduated to opening shows for established local acts like Jimmie and Leon Short and Bennie Hess.
The original Sunset Wranglers cut several sides for the Freedom and Green Star labels in 1950-51 : 4 sides for Freedom, among them the very nice uptempo « Walk ’em off blues » (# 5028) and the more quieter although equally good « Walkin’ on the top of the world » (# 5040).
download But the Wranglers splintered when singer Rocky Bill Ford successfully coerced the other members into leaving Peck to become his backing band in the wake of his hit « Beer drinking blues ». This turned out to Touchton’s advantage, however, as the new group he assembled was far more experienced than the old one. With this band, Peck moved up to the Starday label in 1954, but the pressing plant accidentally printed George Jones’ name on the label to his record, « Let me catch my breath » (# 160). When Starday procrastinated correcting the gaffe, Touchton grew impatient and asked to be released from his contract. There remain 3 unissued Starday tracks in the can.
Starday’s loss was Sarg’s gain, and Charlie Fitch was happy to capitalize on the other label’s mistake. Fitch had become acquainted with Peck when the Sunset Wranglers backed up Glen Paul at his December 1955 session. Though he had reservations that Peck « sounded too much like Hank Williams », Fitch conceeded that Touchton’s songs had commercial potential. In the meantime the Sunset Wranglers were in great demand: they backed Johnny Nelms in disguise (« Western band« ) on his Azalea double-sider « « After today«
download After today/Cry baby cry » in 1955 and played with him for dates : Peck remembered Johnny very well and often played at his club, The Dancing Barn, on Houston’s East Side: « We were working at the Dancing Barn with Johnny Nelms [c. 1955], » Touchton said in a 1999 interview. « We worked out there a long time. The Dancing Barn was a rough damn club, too. It was on LaPorte Road. (Nelms’s) old man, his daddy, had just got out of the pen for killing a man when we were working out there. His daddy killed one or two people. At least one. You could just look at the old man and know that the old son-of-a-bitch was dangerous. There was a few knives pulled out there during that time. Even the band had fisticuffs with the crowd. »
Peck recorded his Sarg debut, « You’ve changed your tune » and « Then I found you » at ACA [Bill Holford engineer in Houston] on March 7, 1956 (Sarg 132). The line-up of the Sunset Wranglers at this point included Herman McCoy (lead guitar), Doug Myers (fiddle), Hoyt Skidmore (steel guitar), Carlton Wilcox (bass) and Jo Anne Sky Eagle (drums).
Peck only recorded once more (for Caprus Records in 1976), twenty years after his final Sarg record. He looks today at his past : « Back from about 1949 to ’56 or ’57, everybody in Houston just meshed. It was damn near tight-knit. Everybody knew everybody, and most of ’em were real good guys who would help each other. »
Notes by Andrew Brown for the « The Sarg Records Anthology » from 1999. Additional matters by bopping’s editor.
Howdy y’all, folks. This is the late April 2017 fortnight’s favorites selection : 7 artists in very different styles, Hillbilly bop, Bluegrass bop, Boogie woogie and Jumping Blues.
The first record is by a team, that of WALLIE & TEX ISABELL issued on the very small and rare Houston, TX Eddie’s label circa 1951-52. Primarily a R&B label (I only know of saxman Clarence Green, and the first ever record of R&B/boogie pianist Little Willie Littlefield : this man will appear at the end of this selection), it could also release Hllbilly bop like these « Sugar cain gal » [sic] b/w « The good old days » (Eddie’s 1219). The first tune is a jumping little one, where a lap-steel player – at last seemingly – is heard in Hawaïan style, and let lose himself very lovely. The backing is minimal : that steel, rhythm guitar, bass and vocal. A pretty nice track. Its flipside, a little less fast, is a fine ballad. One would like to hear more.
The second artist is not an unknown for any Hillblly bop addict. ROY COUNTS had two great sides on the California Bel Aire label in 1957 ; they are to be heard in the story of Jack Tucker (elsewhere in this site). Here we find him a bit later early ’60’s on the Jedco label (# 5009, location unknown)[1963, California, said DrunkenHobo], also issued on Commerce (# 5009, strangely)[acc. to DrunkenHobo, 2nd pressing, 1964]. « Temptation » is good uptempo in Bakersfield style. A great aggressive steel-guitar, which must be played by Ralph Mooney.
A legend now : LEON PAYNE ; this blind man was responsible for so many good records during the ’50s on many labels too, always had sincere ballads. Here on T.N.T. from San Antonio, TX, he delivers a very nice « I’ll still be around »; an atmospheric steel, the whole reminds one of Joe Carson on the ‘D’ label (« Careless words/Time lock »)[The story of Joe Carson is elsewhere in this site]. « I’ll stil be around »
On to Bluegrass bop with the duet RALPH & ROY who do a fabulous job on Wolf-Tex (a Lancaster, KY label) # 105, « Mountains in Kentucky ». It’s a very fast track, the banjo player offers a feat while the electric guitar has great Rockabilly style solo, too short. That same Wolf-Tex label also issued Harold Montgomery‘s « How much do you miss me » in 1961 (valued at 4 or 500 $), as well as « Ramblin’ » Roy Cunningham (« Waves on the bayou »).
A fast Bopper again with BUD ALDEN & his Buckaroos from California, 1959 [DrunkenHobo rectifies: a 4* custom from Seattle, WA. 1957]. Was then Buck Owens involved in any way in this recording ? (So, if this a Seattle recording, there is no chance of ole’ Buck involved). « When the ice worms nest again » [what a strange title] can be found on the Arctic label (# 701): a good guitar is embroiding the deep vocal of Leon Roach, unknown elsewhere.
From 1948, back to Eddie’s label in Houston (# 1202), and the very first double-sider by « LITTLE WILLIE » LITTLEFIELD. « My bestwishes » is a medium-paced opus, the rhythm is very heavy, and one detects in Littlefield’s voice the influence of his mentor Amos Milburn, like in the latter’s « Cinch blues ». The B-side « Little Willie’s boogie » is a furious showcase of fast piano.
Finally BUDDY CUDD & his Show Buds deliver a fine Jimmie Rodgers influenced « No hard time blues » on the United Low Country # 1006, out of Hampton, S.C. A touch of yodel, a very good guitar (lot of echo). On the same label were Buddy Livingston & his All Girls Band, previously on Savannah, a Starday custom. But this is another story, as they say..
Very little is known about GORDON JENNINGS. He seems to have spent some time in Philly as well as West VA. , Tennessee and Missouri. He was for sure D.J. for certain stations in Saint-Louis, MO (KMOX and WEW), and Bluefield, W.Va. (WHIS and WKOY). He made between 1954 and 59 four records in a Hillbilly style and all four are very good boppers.
West Va. bordering Ky, Tn. and Pa.
Bluefield, Mercer Cty, bottom of the State of W. Va.
What follows is what « Johnn Maddy », seemingly from Arkansas, wrote about Jenning’s « I saw you cheatin’ last night » (Skyrocket) in his YouTube chain :(additions in  by bopping’s editor)
« A tune Gordon co-wrote with two other artists, and released on a Skyrocket single in 1959. He was born on Oct. 21st 1916 and came to a very serious Bluegrass group called The Lonesome Pine Fiddlers back around 1938-39. Together they really became popular on W.H.I.S Radio in Bluefield West Virginia [but they never recorded on discs at this time]. Jennings had several Radio shows out of St Louis as well, when is unknown, but we did find another single Gordon done in 1958 for another label in Philly called »Arcade », but that is the extent of what we learned of Gordon Jennings and his singing career, friends, but still looking for more. Enjoy it Folks, I’ve heard this one done by several artists [Rex Zario on Arcade 202 – other versions by Skeets Yaney and Marty Collins have different credits], but now hearing Gordon the lead composer do it, a good one it is.!!! »
His first record was done in Kingsport, Tennessee for the famous, although quite scarce now, tiny Kingsport label, primarily devoted to Bluegrass (Jimmy Gregg), with some advances towards Hillbilly bop (Reece Shipley, L. C. Smith). It’s the last record of the label, cut around 1954 (#112), and it combines a great bopper « Quit teasin’ me » (uptempo – a bluesy guitar led and a boogie piano – and a nice vocal) and « The telephone girl » (unheard, Allan Turner collection). How Jennings came to this Tennessee label is unknown: one can speculate a leasing of masters by Kingsport label due to radio relations. Anyone has got an idea ?
His second offering was cut in Pittsburg for the tiny Alba label (# 400), and coupled two good sides again, backed by a « String quartet » : the mid-paced « Drivin’ home » and the faster «Three day pass ».
Well-assured vocal fronting a solid backing. The Alan Schafer named in the credits could have been the label’s owner as well as co-writer of the songs. The short Billboard snippet is learning that the disc was going strong in the Pittsburg area.
We jump to 1958 for a third Jennings issue on the famous Philly label Arcade. « Is it yes or is it no » (# 146) is a fine bopper, and has, for the first time in a Gordon Jennings record, a steel guitar, while the lead plays on the bass chords for good effect. The flip side « I wonder if you miss me too » is unheard (Allan Turner collection = unavailable).
Next and final record is to be found again in Philadelphia on the new up-and-coming Skyrocket label, in 1959 [other good records are Rex Zario’s « Go man go, get gone »(# 1001) and Ray Coleman’s « Toodle-oo mambo » (# 1002)]. First side of the Jennings’ disc bears a very good version of Hank Williams’ « My sweet love ain’t around » (Skyrocket 1003), and the flipside is an original, written by Jennings, aided by Tex Zario (himself being an artist and owner of the label) and the unknown to me Lucky Taylor. The song « I saw you cheatin’ last night » is a nice country-rocker (insistant drums) backed by a good embroidering steel guitar, the lead guitar is fine too over a wave of fiddle.
So popular must this song have been that in 1968 on Arcade 202 it was revived by Rex Zario (it’s unclear if Rex and Tex are the same person) in a more rocking style: drums are louder, the steel is more discreet (a short solo), the vocal is a bit smooth. Rex Zario, « I saw you cheatin’ last night »
Sources : YouTube (Johnn Maddy, CheesebrewWax Archives) ; Hillbilly Researcher (Alba) ; 78rpm-worlds (Kingsport) ; 45rpm-cat (Arcade and Skyrocket) ; my own record (Rex Zario) ; Hillbilly-music.com for radio stations and Gordon Jenning’s picture; Billboard archives for personal data.
Howdy folks ! This time two Ladies, and we begin with CHARLOTTE ARDEN, « The Ozark Sweetheart ». on the Flint, MI Dixie label (# 948). She delivers a good uptempo track, « Alone with you » with a fine nuanced voice, good steel. Arden had other issues on Starline 1003 and Glenn 2900 circa 1962-63.
The TEXAS TOP HANDS were an outfit formed in 1945 which lasted until 2009 ! On their own Everstate label, they had more than 50 sides issued. Here we have « You’re rocking the boat », cut in 1949 (Everstate 136) : singer Buck Buchanan is backed by the fine boogie piano of Walter Kleipas and the steel of Wayne Rusty Locke.
We remain in Texas, Beaumont with an early Starday issue (# 107). The fiddler BOB HEPPLER, accompanied by members of « Blackie » Crawford’s Western Cherokies, lets him loose on vocals, as the embroidering steel player (possibly Bobby Black) and the pianist Milton « Burney » Annette with the great uptempo « One step ahead » from September 1953.
A lazy vocal, that of BIG SLIM & the Oklahoma Playboys, over a solid backing, give us « Wheeling boogie ». It’s a romping piano and accordion boogie tune from 1949 on the Page label (# 503). Big Slim had another disc on Page 507 (untraced).
The second woman of this selection came from California on the Fabor label (# 119) : VONNIE FRITCHIE has an energetic vocal for the fast « Sugar booger avenue » (1955). Steel is barely audible.
« Sugar booger avenue »
Finally DAVE DUDLEY in 1960 had the fine « Picture of my heart » on Circle Dot 1006 from Minneapolis. An aggressive steel (great solo). This is 3 years before « Six days on the road »..The Circle Dot label has also the Houle Brothers with the great rocker «Dream night » (#1012).
« Picture of my heart »
As for the past, here are a good amount of boppers cut between 1947 and as recent as 1966.
Fiddler TEX GRIMSLEY was a Louisiana Hayride resident, and played his part on almost – if not all – Pacemaker sides of 1949-50. This label was co-owned by Horace Logan (boss of the Hayride) and Webb Pierce, and was constantly of high standard. Grimsley & his Showboys included guitar player Buddy Attaway [his story is somewhere told in this site], Shot Jackson on steel and the inevitable Tillman Franks on bass, while the vocal duties are taken by (supposed related) Cliff Grimsley, and the tune « Shuffle on down » (Pacemaker 1005) is really a lazy, shuffling call-and-response format bopping song. Shot Jackson produces really wild effects on his steel.
« Shufflin’ on down »
»One little teardrop too late » is a crazy-paced item issued as by PLAIN SLIM & the O’Dell Family on the Davis, WVA Cozy label (# 570) from as late as 1966. Two soli each by fiddle and lead guitar over a strong rhythm guitar. One can wonder how this type of record was launched in a world of current pop music, even commercial Country. The name itself sounds like a pseudonym.
From 1951 and by a veteran, PHIL HARRIS, for the fine « Tennessee hill-billy ghost » on a RCA EP-702. He’s been before during the Forties on Ara (« That’s what I like about me », certainly not the Terry Fell’s song) or Okeh.
Another mystery comes from WVA, that of KED KILLEN, and his superb Hillbilly boppers cut between 1966 and 1969 on his own Western Ranch label. Here are both sides of WR 119. Uptempo side is « Hey pretty mama » , while « Lonesome blues » is slower. Plaintive, wailing voice over a top notch accompaniment – a welcome echo too, and a fine guitar. Both sides could easily have been cut a good 10 to 15 years before.
DICK HART on the Texan label Cowtown Hoedown (# 778) delivers a very fine uptempo bluesy « Time out for the blues ». Solid rhythm, pounding guitar and a wild steel (June 1957). Who will get interest with this important and rich label, Cowtown Hoedown ? Its name was changed a short time later to just Cowtown.
From Texas to near Oklahoma with BILLY WEBB & his Seminoles for « Burdock road » on the Stardale label # 50611 ; label was located in Morris, OK. It’s a solid Hillbilly bopper with good fiddle solo and steel/piano over a shuffle rhythm. There were 3 Stardale labels around the same time.
To get to an end, here are two 4* custom issues on the Nugget label (# 190 and 191) by DUSTY TAYLOR and his Rainbow Valley Rangers. « My shining star » and « Down grade » are very fine Hillbillies. Taylor was also in 1947 on the West coast label Westernair (# 107B) with the great « Ranger boogie » : typical romping ’40s music, accordion to the fore, fiddle is well present. The record is billed « instrumental’ but Taylor has a great, swinging vocal in it. A very pleasant record !
I just found « Boogie blues« , apparently issued on Westernair (untraced label), and on a French compilation, « Country Boogie ». And it’s a romper too!