Born 24 May 1925, Knoxville, Tennessee, USA. Claude « Red » Kirk started playing steel guitar at seven but changed to ordinary guitar and began singing at 10. He served in the US Army during World War II and on discharge played on WNOX Knoxville’s Mid Day Merry-Go-Round and Tennessee Barn Dance. He spent three years as a member of Archie Campbell’s touring show but later his fine vocals, reminiscent of Eddy Arnold, saw him tour and work radio and television at numerous venues including Dayton, Lexington and Louisville. He also played on WLS National Barn Dance in Chicago, the Big “D” Jamboree in Dallas and the Louisiana Hayride in Shreveport and made guest appearances on the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. He made his first recordings for Mercury in 1949, on some being accompanied by noted session musicians that included Jerry Byrd (steel guitar) and Tommy Jackson (fiddle). He later recorded for ABC-Paramount Records, Starday, Dewitt and Great. Died in Bristol, TN, in May 1999. (anonymous biography from allmusic.com)
His radio shows as D.J. : WNOX, Knoxville, TN ; WTMT, Louisville, KY ; WKLO, Louisville, KY ; WOWI, New Alban, IN ; WIMA, Lima, OH. (from hillbilly-music.com)
RED KIRK : an appreciation (by bopping’s editor)
the Mercury and RCA years (1949-1954)
Fine honky tonk music that brought Kirk the somewhow ambitious nickname of « The voice of the country », it spanned five years and gave him two massive hits. Generally backed by the cream of Cincinnati musicians, among
them Jerry Byrd on steel for example, he kept the Mercury label’s executives faith in him to go on in spite of moderate sales of his other records. Most of his recordings for Mercury are uptempos, although his voice pushed him naturally to sing ballads, hence his nickname : he was then a bit crooning and, apart from one or two exceptions, I’ll let them apart. So I will concentrate on uptempo and boppers.
It’s very hard to describe Red Kirk’s version of « Lovesick blues » (Mercury 6189), since it’s so very close to Hank Williams’ one. What is notable is the urgency of the recording, very early (presumably February 1949) after the « original » (which actually was not) of Williams, cut late December 1948. Kirk’s version is credited « Traditional » and includes an accordion part. The other tunes of the session are forgettable ballads (# 6189 and 6204).
« I wasted a nickel » (# 6223) and « Church bells chimed » (# 6274) are good examples of the ballads of Red Kirk : the richness and sweetness of his voice are perfectly emphasized by musicians, as told before, the top notch team of Cincinnati country music : among them, one can speculate Zeke Turner on lead guitar, Tommy Jackson on fiddle. Red Kirk is even (a common practice then) associated vocally to a girl singer, Judy Perkins, for two ballads (# 6237).
Kirk went further in 1952 with the proto-rockabillies « Knock out the lights and call the law » (# 6409) and « Walkin’ ’round in circles » (# 70044) : both include snare drums and predate by two years the Starday sound, which included howling steel and sawing fiddle. Note that the nickname « The voice of the country » was erased, only remain the laconic « vocal by Red Kirk« . But for Mercury, enough was enough. Success had for too long eluded Kirk and they let him go. « Train track shuffle » (# 6358) escaped to my researches, and although the title sounds promising for a train song, nobody seems to own it.
Red Kirk appeared in 1954 as vocalist on a notorious Chet Atkins session held in Nashville, and sang a good mid-paced bopper, « Set a spell » (RCA 47-5956), but this seems to be more a good turn to Kirk than a a step to a new recording label. »Set a spell«
From then on, Kirk went from one small label to another, searching the always elusive hit. In late 1955 he cut two tacks in Nashville for Republic # 7120 : « Davy Crockett blues » is a fine uptempo, with some yodel, based of course on the current rage. Stylistically it’s not that far from his last Mercury sides three years earlier : steel and fiddle gave him a good support. A very convincing side, although in 1956 it was way too late for such a type of song. « Red lipped girl » is a folkish fast, dramatic song which has a strong Indian appeal, as Marvin Rainwater.
In 1957, Kirk choose a Lee Hazlewood/Loy Clingman song « It’s nothing to me » and cut it on the Ring label # 1503 : his rich deep voice does a very good effect on that song, although he copies the original very close. Note that the credit goes to « Patterson », a pseudonym of Leon Payne. Kirk’s ’45 had at any rate made some noise, because the larger ABC bought the sides and reissued them as ABC-Paramount 9814. The flipside « How still the night » is a good ballad, with prominent piano.
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Onto the first Fortnight of this Autumn 2016. SMOKEY ROGERS (1917-1993) was a personality of the West coast and bandleader for s strong number of singers (Tex Wlliams, Ferlin Huskey) and releases (Capitol, Coral, Four Star, Starday and Shasta) from 1945 to 1965. On his (apparently) own label, Western Caravan, he even cut the first ever version of the classic « Gone » (# 901) in 1952. His label lasted with a handful of issues until 1955, among them I chose the great instrumental [not often in bopping] « John’s boogie » (Western Caravan 903). A real showcase for any musician involved (including ex-Hank Penny steel player virtuoso Joaquin Murphy), and every of them takes his solo or shines a way or the other. Splendid piano, horns, guitar, and of course steel, over an irresistible shuffle beat.
Another Smokey Rogers’ record has a young vocalist FERLIN HUSKY in April 1950 for « Lose your blues » on Coral 64063 (October 1950). It’s a nice shuffler with Huskey in good voice, and again Joaquin Murphy on steel.
Billboard Aug. 5, 1950 – a proof of popularity of Red Kirk
Several months later (February 1951), RED KIRK, another singer himself modeled on Hank Williams, took at his turn «Lose your blues » for an acceptable version, quite impersonal but backed by the cream of Nashville (Zeke Turner, Louie Innis, Jerry Byrd, Tommy Jackson) , on Mercury 8257. Kirk had many other good songs, for example « Can’t understand a woman (who can’t understand her man »)(# 6288), « Knock out the lights and call the law » (# 6409), or later on Republic 7120 the double-sider « Red lipped girl/Davy Crockett blues » from 1956, , the good ballad « How still the night » on ABC-Paramount 9814, or his version of Loy Clingman‘s « It’s nothing to me » in 1957 on Ring 1503. I chose another Mercury disc, »Cold steel bues » (# 6309) from February 1951 and in the same ‘bluesy’ vein as « Lose your blues ».
From Nashville, TN to Texas and Fort Worth for an Imperial session held in September 1954. FREDDY DAWSON (vocal) backed probably by himself on steel-guitar, Billy Chamber or Buddy Brady (fiddle), Jimmy Rollins (guitar), George McCoy (bass) and Phillip Sanchez (drums) cut 4 tracks, among them the above average « Dallas boogie » (# 8274)(nice fiddle and steel). 2 tracks do remain unissued, and « Why baby why » may not be the George Jones track, an original Jones song cut in August 1955.
We stand in Fort Worth, this time in 1957 with GENE RAY on the Cowtown label # 646 and « I lost my head », a good uptempo bopper. In November he was to cut for the same label the great Rockabilly cum Rocker « Rock and roll fever » on the EP-677, which contained also the good « Love proof ». Was he the same artist as on Playboy 300, who committed on wax « Playboy boogie » ? Nevertheless as front singer of the Dusty Miller’s band, he also had the great rocker « I’m going to Hollywood » in 1960. All these tunes are to be easily found on YouTube or various compilations.
Now to the early ’60s in Orlando, Florida. WEBSTER DUNN, Jr. delivers a good country rocker on first side, « Black and white shoes » on the Dunmar (owned by DUNmar Peckam and MARy Yingst) label # 101. Echoed vocal, nice crisp guitar (+ a bridge), a welcome steel : a well-produced record. The second side has a sort of poppish vocal, although saved by the same guitar (ordinary solo) and steel : « Go go baby » is a typical Country uptempo ballad. (Record valued at $ 75-100).
Next artist seems to have possibly emananated from Dallas, Texas, as his label Amber, one out of three at the same time. It’s a 4* custom # 275 out in December 1957, and the artist is BOB GARMON, who delivers with « His Studio Combo », a neat and tight little band, one of the best Rockabillies ever, « I’m a-ready baby » (valued $ 500 to 1000). Great guitar solo, cool vocal on topical lyrics, the song has everything a Rockabilly devotee could dream of. The flipside, although bluesy, is equally good : a Rockabilly combo trying its hands at Blues for « Positively blues ». A very desirable record !
Finally a R&B rocker by one of the greats, the albino « Blonde Bomber » (remember the Little Richard-esque « Strollie Bun » on Hull?), here under his other alias, LITTLE RED WALTER for « Aw shucks baby » on the N.Y. Le Sage (# 711) label. Walter is on guitar and harmonica (1960).
The Blonde Bomber, alias of Walter Rhodes, or Little Red Walter
Enough for this time ! Sources are 45cat for label scans, or YouTube or Roots Vinyl Guide, even Rockin’ Country Style. 78Rpm-world (mainly Ronald – thanks to him). My own researches on the Net and my archives. Praguefrank’s Country discography (Smokey Rogers, Red Kirk discos). Michel Ruppli’s « Aladdin/Imperial labels » book. Values from : Barry K. John guide or Tom Lincoln/Dick Blackburn book.