Earl & Joyce Songer: Michigan hillbilly bop (1950-1954)

Earl Songer was born in 1915 (nearly a century ago..) in Ruth, W. Va. His father was a miner, and none in his family was interested in music, but at an early age Songer became hooked to guitar and harmonica. As a fan of Bill Cox, he developped a one-man band formula.earl songer

Later on in the late ’30s, he secured employment with the Ford Motor Co. In Detroit, Michigan. Never playing professionnally, he nevertheless found opportunities to entertain friends at parties and local functions. It was on such an occasion (a party given by Ford Motors) that he met Joyce (rn Miami Florida) Goode (born in 1924 in Polk Cty, Tennessee), herself being a guitarist : she was so impressed by Songer’s one-man show, that they became close friends. She had been listening closely to Grand Ole Opry and particularly Bill Monroe‘s « Mule skinner blues », so to mastering the instrument.

Earl and Joyce maintained their friendship during his war service and were married in 1945. Settling down in a Detroit suburb, Dearborn, Earl returned to work at Ford while they continued to develop their music, at first for their own pleasure, and gradually more seriously. The professionnal name « Joyce » was chosen for their first 1949 record for Fortune (# 129). They organized their band, the Rocky Road Ramblers. Joyce’s brother Chester played bass, and remained the most consistent member during the five following years.

« The fire in my heart » is intense, with the lifting intro provided by two guitars and great vocal harmonising; this was covered later by Mac Wiseman. The reverse side « Honky tonkin’ blues », an original composition, has a fiddle solo taken by Elton Adams. « Fox chase », second record (# 131), may be boring, as everybody has heard it but once. « Will there be any flowers on your grave », a gospel tune, finds Songer playing harmonica on a rack together with his rhythm guitar, a rare occasion heard although he regularly performed live in this format.
« The fire in my heart«  download

« Honky tonkin’ blues« download

« Whose naughty baby are you?« download

fortune 144A whose naughty baby are you?
Mid 1950 and the third session: a proficient mandolin player, either Bobby Sykes (part of the band in 1953-54) or Ray Taylor, who often sat with them. The latter of course recorded for Clix in the late ’50s (see elsewhere in the site). The amplified mandolin is heard to excellent effect on « Who’s naughty baby are you ? » (# 144), which combine with the boogie guitar provided by Joyce.

 

More of that session saw « My wife, and sweetheart too » (# 141). It may look a sentimental song, but it turns out that Earl Songer is singing about two persons ; and the only answer is « to build a cottage for them both, with the rose ’round the door ». Fine solos from mandolin and guitar. The mandolin sets the pace for the frantic « Mother-in-law boogie » (# 141). Amusing lyrics, and, although not being a hillbilly boogie stricto sensu, it could well be the fastest piece of its type ever recorded, highlighted by Chester Goode’s slapping bass solo. « Mother-in-law boogie« download fortune 141B Ear Songer - Mother-In-LawBoogie

Possibly from the previous session, but without the mandolin, « Spanish fire bells » (# 144) is a joy to hear – a subtle piece of guitar artistry: a friend of Joyce had introduced her to a Chet Atkins piece that impressed her. Elton Adams returns with two fiddle solos, the second one being plucked to sound like a banjo. Also important: the event of a light double-time strumming of the rhythm guitar, which sounds as if there were a third guitar playing the bass runs.

On the next recording date, they chose to bring Walter Atkins (a neighbor) on harmonica. « I won’t confess I’m sorry » (# 155) quite reminiscent of Wayne Raney on his earlier sides (who copied who?) « In a broken heart no love is found » (# 151) finds Earl Songer in good voice, while Bill Monroe‘s « In the pines » is recalled as Joyce joins to duet on « Someone to call my own » (# 155).

fortune 155a I won't confess I'msorry fortune 129A honky tonkin' blues fortune 151B in a broken heart

Elton Adams returns at his best on a mid-1951 session on which Joyce’s guitar is amplified effectively to a full sound. The guitar and the fiddle basically duet together on the hilarious « Dissatisfied » (# 160), which paints a doomsday scenario when women take over the world. Earl tells us of a day where there will be « a mayor lady in every town » and « women policing the streets« . Worst of all is the prospect of « having to obey to your mother-in-law« . The actual title doesn’t appear until the last line and « I guess they’ll always be dissatisfied » seems to infer that such events will never actually happen.

« Dissatisfied« download

 

A November 17th, 1951 date for Coral (recorded in New York or Chicago) saw « We’re satisfied » (# 64127), unusual for string effects, and the vibrant, boogie instrumentally « Smiling through the years« . With the same opportunity they recorded late 1952 another session for Coral: best tunes were the fine « Sansoo » (# 64149) and « Too free with your love » (# 64167), same style as on Fortune.
« We’re satisfied« download
Coral 64149A

coral 64127 we're satisfied

« Sansoo« download

Finally relocated in Dallas, Texas, on May 16th, 1954 (the very same day that Gene Henslee cut « Rockin’ baby« ), they recorded four tracks for Imperial, whose best is the fast « Whoopie baby » (8259). Joyce played steel guitar on them, and sang « It’s a cold, cold love« . « I want your love » (8292) is a fine part-time duet bopper.

« Whoopie baby« download

Sad reality: they parted ways and divorced in 1955. Personal and professional problems caused Earl’s increasingly frequent bouts of excessive drinking and Joyce to feel that their career was set back and opportunities were lost because of his unreliability. After the break of the band, Earl got into real estate and car sales and unfortunately dropped out of music. He moved to Charleston, W. Va. in 1969-70 and passed away in 1972. Joyce teamed up with Rufus Shoffner, a popular local artist who also recorded (« It always happens to me« , Hi-Q, 1962, or « Orbit twist » (American Artist, 1962). She formed a new band similar to those she had organized with Earl, further records followed and she was in demand to many a country, bluegrass, or rock’n’roll session during the later half of the ’50s and early 60s.

It has to be noted that, as far as I know, Earl Songer wrote all his songs.

Freely adapted from Dave Sax’s notes to « Earl & Joyce Songer & the Rocky Road Ramblers – early Country from Detroit vol. 1 » on Old Homestead LP 338 (1991). Never seen a volume 2, supposing gathering the rest of the Earl Songer sides. Thanks to Craig Maki for his help with several Fortune label scans. 

I try to be complete with music presented. If you wish some more tracks, please let me know which ones and I’ll try to satisfy.

Addition (Jan. 22nd, 2015). Craig Maki points out that mandolin player Bobby Sykes is not the singer Bob Sykes, and that a second volume of Earl & Joyce Songer sides was published but only on cassette.

 

imperial 8292I want your lovecoral 64167 too free with your loveEarl Songer

imperial 8259 whoopee baby

 

ohcs_338_1_front

early March 2011 fortnite favorites

Howdy folks! Here is a new batch of Hilbilly Bop goodies, even the odd Rock’n’Roll!

We are beginning on the West Coast with CASEY SIMMONS and his « Juke Box Boogie » on Crystal records from 1950. Call and response format, fine saxophone and a lot of electric guitar. The whole thing romps along lovely!

eddie jackson

Eddie Jackson

crystal 289 simmons

Fortune records offered many a Hillbilly Bop song in its 100 serie. EDDIE JACKSON, famous for his « Rock and Roll Baby« , turns up there with « Baby Doll« , dominated by a good piano.

Sol Kahal’s Macy’s Records had many fine discs, either in Blues field, either in early Hillbilly bop, i.e. by Ramblin’ Tommy Scott or Harry Choates. ART GUNN & his Arizona Playboys cut the decent « Cornbread Boogie » in 1949. Fine harmonica throughout.    macy's 106A art gunn cornbread boogie

They also had on the same label « Boogie Woogie Blues » (for a future fortnight), and later, on own Gunn label Arga in 1958, the superior « Pickin’ and A-Singin’« .

sam nichols pic

Cowboy Sam Nichols

Cowboy Sam Nichols had written (and recorded for Stanchell) the classic « That Wild And Wicked Look In Your Eye« , before he got a contract with MGM records. It was early to mid-fifties and the beginning of truck drivers‘ songs (Terry Fell for example); here the shuffle « Keep Your Motor Hot » from 1954. No label scan available, as I sold the 78 rpm, having only kept the music! Nichols was backed by West coast top musicians: Porky Freeman on guitar, Jesse Ashlock on fiddle, Red Murrell on rhythm and Curley Cochran on steel.

From trucks to trains. Grady CURLEY COLE was a resident D.J. in Paducah, KY, but he cut his fine « I‘m Going To Roll » for L.A. Gilt-Edge label. Nothing more is known about him. Let’s stay in Kentucky for TOMMY HOLMES, backed by Pat Kingery & the Kentuckians. A certain Mr. Vance asked Holmes a record for his politician career ca. 1954. The tune « Jam On The Lower Shelf » is pretty average, mostly when you hear Holmes six years later in an out-and-out Rocker on the Cherry label, « Wha-Chic-Ka-Noka« . Enjoy the selections!

tommy holmes piccherry 112 holmes

late August 2010 fortnight

Howdy, folks! Here we go with 6 « new » Hillbilly Bop goodies from various sources, spanning nearly 20 years from 1949 to 1967. Let’s begin with Indiana’s BLANKENSHIP Brothers. They were a group doing Bluegrass and Rockabilly, as late as 1960. I’ve chosen « I Just Got One heart« , the B-side to their most famous and best tune « That’s Why I’m Blue » (Skyline 106). Way up North in the Detroit, Michigan area. Hillbilly was concentrated on Fortune Records (Jack & Devorah Brown), and the label saw many, many fine releases by Southerners who did entertain the Ford car workers. Many good Fortune sides are to be found in the excellent NL Collector serie « Boppin’ Hillbilly« (« Detroit in the 50’s« , 3 volumes), and here we have one of the earliest sides (Fortune 141, 1949) by EARL SONGER, « Mother-In-Law Boogie« . Songer himself was from West Va. and came to Detroit in the late 30’s; being a fan of Bill Cox, he was a one-man band (vocal/guitar/harmonica), before teaming with Joyce (born in Tennessee). Together they recorded many songs on Fortune: 7 disks within 2 years. Immense success.Earl Songer

Next we have TOMMY JACKSON and « Flat Top Box » from Lexington, KY (Sun-Ray 131) as late as…1967. Great guitar, very modern in style, altho’ the Hillbilly spirit remains untouched. Back to Indiana with the prolific Hodges Brothers Band, fronted by RALPH HODGES for a little classic on Whispering Pines 201, « HONEY TALK » with the buzzing guitar and swirling fiddle. That’s a crossover between Hillbilly and Rock’n’Roll, what they call sometimes Hillbilly Rock.Whispering pines 201 They had a good amount of albums recorded by Chris Strachwitz for Arhoolie in the 1970’s.

And then we have a woman – and God knows they were THAT uncommon in Hillbilly! JEANIE CHRISTIE on the Blue Sky label out of St. Cloud, FLA from 1958: « Flying High« . Great and firm vocal, a solid steel-guitar throughout. A nice record!jeanie christie blue sky

Finally in Virginia for the tiny Liberty label (no connection with the California concern), HENDER SAUL, « I Ain’t Gonna Rock-Tonite« , one of my all-time faves in Hillbilly Rock. Forceful vocal, nice lyrics, great interplay between guitar and fiddle.hender saul liberty 104

I really  hope you will enjoy the selections, and you will comment after a listen or two. You can download everything, of course!

« Lâche pas la patate » (Don’t loosen the potatoe) to quote Cajun Jimmy C. Newman, and keep on Bopping!

Sources: various CDs. Pictures as usual from the excellent Terry Gordon’s site « Rocking Country Style ». Take a look at it!