« TOPPA Tops ‘Em All » – the rise of a small California output (1958-60)

Covina, Ca. home to Toppa

Toppa was founded in Covina, Ca. by ex-country singer and top DJ (KXLA) Jack Morris. He had had releases on Starday (Custom serie, in January 1955), Sage and Pep and came up with this new label late in 1958. The label lasted way up during the ’70s, and found frequent modest success, although only regionally. Toppa’s best sides have been reissued recently in a 3-CD bootleg Internet boxset (« Toppa’s country » vol. 1, 2 and 3 ) to be found on « UncleGil’s rockin’ archives » blog.: http://adf.ly/1hinq0

I will focus on the first 31 issues (1958-1960).

BROCK WILLIAMS offers « What am I » (# 1001), a nice little rocker, with a little echo, over a good guitar and an assured vocal. The flipside, « Touch of perfection » is a perfect mid-paced bluesy ballad. Wally Black on # 1002 remains untraced (« She’s comin’ home »).

« What am I »

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« Touch of perfection »

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We jump to # 1003 by ERNIE MATHIS : very nice fast, piano-led « Lonesome wheels » and the more slowish « So am I ». Later on he was on Fable. That was the last Toppa issue reviewed by Billboard in 1958.

« Lonesome wheels« 

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« So am I »

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« What’s it to you »

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« What’s it to you » issued on # 1004 by WALLY BLACK is a very good part-styled Cash opus, because of the insistent guitar bass chords motif. Black had previously cut some pop rockers on the Fable label (« Rock and roll mama »).

CATHIE TAYLOR on # 1006 « Two straws and a soda », a poppish teen ballad, merits oblivion.

GEORGE HEFFINGTON, # 1007, and the fast, fine « Ghost of love ». Again a very good guitar throughout. Flipside « Ghost of love »

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« Crazy love » is equally good, although less fast. He much later recorded on the Accent label (ca. 1964-65) « Honky tonk merry-go-round (unheard).

« Crazy love »


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LINA LYNN delivers a R&R instumental, « Lina’s doll » (# 1008) where she’s backed by te Storms, a band that appeared also on the Sundown label, and whose general sound is not dissimilar to Eddie Cochran‘s Kelly Four. # 1009 is by WALLY BLACK, « Gee I hate to go », a light rocker with pop overtones. Its flipside, « I ain’t gonna cry no more » has the same Kelly Four savour. Actually it’s even written by Kelly 4 member : saxophonist Mike Deasy.

« I ain’t gonna cry no more »

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Next offering is a double sider by REX BINGHAM. He goes a bit poppish with male chorus, but has the strong help of Ralph Mooney on steel (two solos) for « Just like before » and « The fire is burning low » (# 1011). He had a « Blind blind heart » in 1959 on Rex 100, which was reissued on Toppa 1028. Was it a sublabel ? « Linda » (# 1012) by LUTHER WAYNE is a fast poppish ditty, quite listenable although.

Two ballads, « Help me forget him/Another woman’s man » (# 1013) by JANET McBRIDE are lovely again with strong help from steel guitar player Ralph Mooney. Later on she cut at Sims and duetted with Billy Barton. WALLY BLACK returns with the fast « I’m a country boy » (# 1014).

Billboard April 24, 1960

« I’m a country boy »

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I’d appreciate very much the double offering at # 1015 by JOHNNY LEON, «You found someone new/Sometimes it doesn’t pay to get up in the morning »[what a true assertion]

 

 

 

good backing (bass and drums) over prominent fiddle and steel. It’s one of the highlights of the serie.

« Sometimes it doesn’t pay »

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And now a comparatively well-known artist, DICK MILLER. He had had already records on M&M, Stanchell and Aggie [see elsewhere his story in this site], as well as around the same time as his Toppa output, on Sundown. His two songs on Toppa are well-sung ballads over the same instrumentation as previous label’s issues, « Make room for the blues/My tears will seal it closed » (# 1016) [the latter was also picked up by Mercury and reissued on # 71658, July 1960.

« Make room for the blues« 

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« My tears will seal it closed »

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DANNY BURKE next (# 1017) comes with again two nice rockaballads, « Wasting my time/Walking in my sleep ». Then CLYDE PITTS offers an out-and-out rocker, « Shakin’ like a leaf » (# 1018) complete with sax and chorus. # 1019 by BILL BROCK : he delivers a fine ballad with the unusual backing of fiddle and steel paired in « I can’t come home ». Same format for # 1020 and DON RICE : « Fire without a flame » and, at last, the fast « Weather man ».

« Weather man »

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The veteran TEXAS BILL STRENGTH brings the fast « Watching the world go by » (# 1021). « Too young to love » (# 1023), a bit poppish (although a good piano backing) come to light with DON HOLIMAN. # 1024 by CHARLIE WILLIAMS is a sincere ballad « World’s champion fool », revived on # 1048 by Dick Miller. Jimmy Snyder (# 1025), Polly Tucker (# 1026, also on Pep), The Horton Bros. (# 1027) left invisible tracks. Then there is a gap until # 1029 : JANET McBRIDE returns in the same style as her # 1013 issue with « Sweethearts by night ».

Another well-known name now on # 1030 : JACK TUCKER . Nice Country-rocker with « No city love you’ll find ». And the final offering is # 1031 by LUTHER WAYNE ; « White line » is a good guitar led little rocker [a Jack Morris’ tune on Sage ], while « The blues got me down again » is a passable effort.

« No city love you’ll find »

Jack Tucker

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All in all, the Toppa label was a County pop one, and the outstanding tracks, according to bopping.org standards, are uncommon. Nevertheless in the regard to the backing, all issues are great. The story did go on, and many good tracks were later cut : Smokey Stover and « On the warpath », more Jack Tucker tunes, Don Rice and « Hideaway heartaches », more Dick Miller (« Back into your past »), Bud Crowder and « Room for one heartache », to name just a few. Fact is the label deserves to be examined, as it contains many good surprises.

Just another word. Toppa had two sublabels early into the ’60s : Toppette and Fedora. I don’t know why several artists of main Toppa artists were assigned to its sublabels, although they had the same style as on Toppa.

 

Sources: Steve Hathaway for some records, Kent Heineman (« Armadillo Killer ») for several more. 45cat.com for more than a label scan. Youtube was also of help. And many, many small facts from my own archives or direct from Internet. And a lot of work to set up this article, but this was a labor of love..

Late January 2017 bopping hillbilly and rockabilly fortnight’s favorites

Howdy folks ! This is the second 2017 fortnight, that of late January. It will cover very various styles, be it hillbilly boppers, country rockers or rockabillies, even one Bluegrass bopper, from 1955 to 1961.

First an uptempo atmospheric bluesy rockabilly from Bald Knob, AR, on the CKM label (# 1000) by BUDDY PHILLIPS with Rocking Ramblers, « River boat blues » from 1956 (valued at $ 100-125). I enclose for comparison the original version of the song by ALTON GUYON and his Boogie Blues Boys on the Judsonia, AR. Arkansas label (# 553), a Starday custom from 1956. This time the song is taken at a slow, lazy, bluesy pace – fine fiddle (valued at $ 150-200). Back to Buddy Phillips for the CKM flipside « Coffee baby » (written by Alton Guyon), less fast than the « River boat blues » side, but good and bluesy. Pity that Phillips disappeared afterwards.

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Buddy Phillips, « River boat blues »

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Buddy Phillips, « Coffee baby« 

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Alton Guyon « River boat blues« 

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Memphian EDDIE BOND (1933-2013) had many strings to his bow : band leader, D.J., radio station manager, night club owner, chief police and editor of an entertainment newpaper (pheww..). Here are his first sides on the Ekko label (# 1015) cut July 1955 in Nashville with Hank Garland on lead guitar and Jerry Byrd on steel. « Talking of the wall » and « Double duty lovin’ » (written by Vernon Claud, later on Decca with « Baby’s gone ») are uptempo Rockabilly/Boppers, very ordinary, which of course went nowhere. They are valued $ 100-150. Later in 1956, Bond recorded a famous string of classic Rockabilly releases on the Mercury label, « Rockin’ daddy » (# 70826) (the original being cut late ’55 by Sonny Fisher – Starday 179) is the most well-known.

« Talking off the wall »

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« Double duty lovin‘ »

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ekko-1015-eddie-bond-double-duty-lovinTwo issues on the Starday associated Dixie label from the late Fifties to the early Sixties. ELMER BRYANT on Dixie 906 from 1960 (value $ 75-100) delivers the cheerful bopper « Gertie’s carter broke », which has a Louisiana bouquet, with fine fiddle and steel. The medium-paced flipside « Will I be ashamed tomorrow », although very good and sincere, is more conventional country.

« Gertie’s Carter broke »

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« Will I be ashamed tomorrow« 

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The other Dixie discussed is Dixie 1170 from 1961 by LITTLE CHUCK DANIELS : « I’ve got my brand on you » is a bit J. Cash-styled, an uptempo bass chords guitar opus with good effect on voice : honest Country rocker. I add by Daniels his issue on Dixie 1153, « Night shift », same style.

« I’ve got my brand on you »

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« Night shift« 

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A plaintive Hillbilly now by BILL STUCKER vocal – Tune Twisters on the Indiana Ruby label (# 430) , « I go on pretending » from 1956 : a nice discreet guitar, some snare drums.

« I go on pretending »


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ROLLIE WEBBER from California was a part of the now well-known Bakersfield sound, and had issues on Pep and Virgelle among other labels. Here he offers « Painting the town » on the Tally label (#150), a fine bopper with prominent steel ( sounds like Ralph Mooney).

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« Painting the town »

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Finally from Detroit on Fortune 187 from 1957 : BUSTER TUNER & his Pinnacle Mt. Boys for « That old heartbreak express ». It’s a bluegrass bopper, Turner is in fine voice, and mandolin to the fore.

« That old heartbreak express »

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Buster Turner on dobro

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That’s it, folks !

Sources : YouTube (Dixie issues) ; my own researches ; RCS for Eddie Bond ; Malcolm Chapman’s blogsite (« Starday customs ») for Alton Guyon.

Portland, OR. Country rock: JOHNNY SKILES (1958-59)

skiles assisFrom Monroe, La, JOHNNY SKILES enlisted in WWII at the age of 17. After the war, he moved from Beaumont, Texas to New Orleans, constantly writing songs and playing his guitar.

His brother-in-law (from Monroe) was Jack Hammons, who co-wrote with him and recorded « Mr. Cupid » for Starday (# 197) in 1955. Col. Tom Parker came through Monroe one day, heard Hammons sing Skiles’ original compositions, and quickly phoned Jack Starnes at Starday to arrange a session.

starday 197 jack hammons - Mr. Cupid

Jack Hammons « Mr. Cupid »

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Johnny Skiles was signed to a songwriter’s contract by Southern-Peer in 1955, although unfortunately nothing ever resulted from it.

Skiles then moved to Oregon (he worked for the U.S. Post Office) in the mid-to-late fifties. His first record was a Starday custom 45, « The twinkle in your eyes/Ghosts of my lonely past », released on Corvette 672 circa 1958. Bob Hill and his Harmony Ranch Hands backed Skiles on these appealing boppers. He was influenced by Hank Williams and Webb Pierce, his boyhood friend from Monroe, on his C&W material.

« The twinkle in your eyes »

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« Ghosts of my lonely past »

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corvette 672b johnny skiles - ghosts of my lonely pastcorvette 672a johnny skiles - the twinkle in your eyes

His next outing was Rural Rhythm 518 « Is my baby coming back/Come paddle footin’ down », cut at Portland Ace studio, and released by Jim O’Neal, the late, colorful country DJ/entrepreneur from Arcadia, California. There are distinct echoes of Johnny Cash on these Skiles Rural Rhythm sides, despite chorus. Another Rural Rhythm, EP 37 ½, had 6 tracks among them « Sundown road » [unheard] by Skiles and Bob Hill.

Then he appeared on the good bopper « Blue shadows » (Rumac OP-287).

 

 

« Is my baby coming back »

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« Come paddle footin’ down »

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« Blue shadows »

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rural rhythm 618a johnny skiles - is my baby comin' backrural rhythm 518B johnny skiles - come paddle footin' downrumac 287 johnny skiles - blue shadows

Rockabilly fans and collectors will be more interested in Johnny Skiles’ Rumac R&R session : « Hard luck blues/Rockin’ and rollin’ » was issued on a Four Star custom pressing as Rumac OP-301 in 1959. Johnny played rhythm guitar, accompanied by his fellow Bob Hill on his custom-made 8-string Fender. « Rockin’ and rollin’ » comes as a lovely Country-rocker – good lead guitar and a lazy rhythm. Ruby Smith owned the Rumac label, although Bill McCall, the owner of Four Star, claimed co-writing credits in his usual fashion as « W. S. Stevenson ». (He was doing that possibly inspired by the « Josea-Ling-Taub » of the Modern label’s Bihari brothers, or maybe more « D.Malone », the nom-de-plume of Duke/Peacock’s Don Robey).

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billboard; June 6, 1959

« Rockin’ and rollin (A two tone beat)‘ »

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« Hard luck blues »

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Two unissued tunes, « Red headed woman » and « Rock jump boogie » were also recorded at the Ace Portland session : both are gentle Country-rockers, with Bob Hill’s inventive and agile guitar well to the fore. They sound demos. 500 copies of « Hard luck blues » were pressed, and intended also as a demo and showcase. In 1959 also, Johnny fronted vocally the group of the Echomores for « What-cha-do-in » on the Portland, OR. Rocket label # 1044). It’s a fast bopper/rocker with a very nice steel (solo), a good lead guitar and a solid rhythm throughout the song. Skiles get a girl replica near the end. A very fine record by him for the era. Thanks to CheesebrewWax Archive Youtube chain for unearthing such unknown goodies! From unknown origin/date (a Jim O’Neal recording), the White label album contained one more by Skiles,   « If your telephone rings », a fast Rockabilly type song.

« Red headed woman »

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« Rock jump boogie »

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The Echomores (Johnny Skiles, vo) »What-cha-do-in »

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After that, Skiles and Bob Hill teamed with Leighton Atkins on organ and Gene Cipolloon on guitar for a serie of Country instrumentals, which were released on some EP’s by Jim O’Neal, sent to D.J.s in the manner of Starday. This way Skiles received a little money, more than from his records. These Eps were used by D.J.s to segue from one segment of commercial to the next, and were released on Rural Rhythm and, yes another O’Neal label, Honey-B. I include a solitary Honey-B 102 issue for the interesting « Comin’ home to you », a medium-paced Rockabilly, despite the girl chorus by the Tonettes.

« Comin’ home to you »

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« If your telephone rings »

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Skiles and his group kept on performing throughout the 60s and 70s on the Pacific Northwest. That’s all is known of him.

skiles & group

 

From the notes (by Cees Klop apparently) of the album White label 8967 « The original Johnny Skiles », published 1991. Additions by bopping Editor. Original labels from 45-cat. Thanks to UncleGil to have provided me the WL album.

Early October 2016 bopping (and rocking) fortnight’s favorites

smokey-rogers

Smokey Rogers

For a reason unknown, most of podcasts won’t open. Just click on the « Download » button to hear the music, when the player fails.

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.

« John’s boogie »

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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.

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Ferlin Huskey, « Lose your blues »

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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 «red-kirk-pic 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 ».

Red Kirk, « Lose your blues »

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Red Kirk, « Cold steel blues »

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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.

« Dallas boogie »

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bb-27-11-54-freddy-dawsonWe 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.

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« I lost my head »

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Now to the early ’60s in Orlando, Florida. WEBSTER DUNN, Jr. delivers a good country rocker on first side, « Black and dunmar-101-b-webster-dunn-jr-black-and-white-shoeswhite 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).

« Black and white shoes »

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« Go go baby »

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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 !amber-275-2-bob-garmon-positively-bluesamber-275-bob-garmon-im-a-ready-baby

« I’m a-ready baby »

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« Positively blues »

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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).lesage-711a-l-red-walter-aw-shucks-baby

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The Blonde Bomber, alias of Walter Rhodes, or Little Red Walter

« Aw shucks baby »

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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.

Made on a ?

Late September 2016 bopping fortnight’s favorites

This is late September 2016 fortnight’s bopping favorites. As prettily usual, I selected a dozen songs which I feel interesting both for their obscurity and/or their appeal. The songs range from early-to-mid ’50s to very early ’60s. Let’s begin on the West coast with the very elusive TOM (Red) WILSON & His Country Music. He sings in the W.C. Western swing manner, added by a tight little combo of steel, piano and guitar, plus bass of course. First two selections combine both sides of his release on Crest 1007 (which was an outlet of Liberty). «Can you bop ?» (with female replica and jive-talk) tells everything. It’s a shuffler from 1955, with a strong Speedy West-styled steel, inked by Cal Veale, a name which crops from time to time on W. C. records.. The flip « Hillbilly parade » keeps the long established tradition of stringing some well-known Western songs. According to the songs cited, one can recognize T. Ernie, Webb Pierce and Ernest Tubb. Nice fiddle. There’s even a fat-bodied guitar picking solo which must be by Merle Travis himself ! Terry Fell had cut previously (1953) on Gilt-Edge 5084 his « Hillbilly impersonations« ; but 12 artists were involved then in place of the half-a-dozen by Tom Wilson.

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crest 1007 tom (red) wilson - hillbilly parade

« Can you bop? »

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« Hillbilly parade »

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Terry Fell & The Fellers (Gilt-Edge 5084, 1953) « Hillbilly impersonations »

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gilt-edge 45 5084 terryfell - hillbilly impersonations


The second release is really disappointing, both « Lonesome seagull » and « It’s me again » (Crest 1020) are weepers.

« Lonesome seagull »

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« It’s me again »

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Next artist is a bit of a mystery. BOB TUCKER & His Sky Riders (vocal chorus by Virgil Hume) don’t give any clue of origin neither date of release. Tucker (neither Hume) never had another record, at least to my knowledge. They do a bopping tune « Quit draggin’ your feet » and a quieter side on « My tears are dry » released on State 4002 B/A. Both feature a really wild and inventive steel, and the singer does a really fine job on the supercharged « Quit » side. The record may date from the 1953/54 era.

« Quit draggin’ your feet »

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« My tears are dry »

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state 4002b bob tucker - quit draggin your feetstate 4002a bob tucker - my tears are dry

 

On to a well-known name, for a not so well-known good Country bop song. DALE HAWKINS was no longer in 1961 with Chess Records, and his days of fame were over, when he cut (with Roger Miller on guitar) the nice and, apparently, autobiographical,         « Wish I hadn’t called home » for Tilt 783.

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« Wish I hadn’t called home »

Two visitors are categoric: Hawkins plays guitar while it’s Miller singing. Thanks, chaps!

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Then VIRGIL HUNT (a repost of as early as May 2012). « Can’t we try again » is a fast 1957 hillbilly bopper, with fiddle and guitar solos issued on Boot Heel 604 [did I write the label’s name right, Dean?], apparently a Tennessee label. Now you get a complete and nice label scan..

« Can’t we try again »

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On the small Livingston, TN. Breeze label (# 401), on to female Rockabilly with SHARIET SEXTON for « Since baby put me down ». Great hick/hip vocal !

breeze 401 scarlet sexton - since baby put me down

« Since baby put me down »

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Finally another Rockabilly, although fiddle and steel present (solos) from Louisiana in 1959 : BOB PREDDY and « Hold what’cha got » on Buddy [not the Texas label] # 2002.

 

« Hold what’cha got »

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Sources : as usual, a great percentage of YouTube ; my own researches (Google, 45rpm-cat) ; thanks to Allan Turner for Bob Tucker A-side.