The Holy Grail of Rock’n’Roll: « ENDLESS », the lost album of Eddie Cochran — a short novel…

Endless part 1

1964. Four years since Eddie Cochran died at home, he has never been so popular than among his English fans . They repeatedly called , through their fan club, for the Liberty label to publish new titles of their favorite rocker. The leaders of the parent company in Los Angeles are bored . They gave satisfaction to requests by issuing three albums in four years, after screening their archives and demos acquired from the former Eddie Cochran manager / accomplice , Jerry Capehart. They announce when they release the latest album  » My Way » in England, that they have nothing else , leaving the fans bitter and disappointed .

There are rumors in 1965. Cochran, at a very young age, has released two discs on a microscopic record label : Ekko Records, and collectors are fighting over to get them . We learn that he has also recorded a ballad,  » Three Stars » , as homage to the three departed stars early in February 1959. All this helps to maintain the tension among his fans, who show some bitterness towards Liberty records : they think actually that the label’s leaders keep unreleased tracks they refuse to publish for a profit as insufficient compared to the investment required (research, creating artwork, advertising). Employees relate more money to the company that advertises the comic Jerry Lewis or crooner Johnny Burnette .

A new 45s is finally released in 1966 with  » Three Stars » . Fans rejoice : they were right insisting and asking. For all that they want not to relent. This release demonstrates the existence of unreleased tracks in the archives .

Who then is the origin of a new rumor, this time concerning not a title , but … ten ? The only explanation , since Liberty refuses to grant access to its archives: someone at the parent company in Los Angeles (Ca.) knows the catalog and distills information to avid fans of novelty in England.

Especially it is not an isolated song, but a far more important matter. Liberty had had made ready a couple of years earlier to publish an entire album, which was was even assigned a catalog number , and yet the label had all stopped at the last moment. No ‘test pressing’, no ‘advance copy’ to disk jockeys . However, the anonymous informer described the cover ( already printed ) of the album, his stated number : F 3358 Liberty and its title, « Endless « . Confident nod to the supposed endless amount of new songs? Or logical sequence to the last album released in the United States,  » Never to be forgotten « ?

 

 Endless Part 2

In his motel room in San Fernando , GD (let’s name him by his initials only) is waiting for a phone call . The girl he had met the previous week was not a price of beauty , but it mattered little to him. He had met her by idleness in a cafe on Sunset Boulevard , she was sensitive to the difference with this french lover : not blonde, not skinny tanned, not come to California for surf, not to see the stars either. He was attentive and talkative , his accent was funny , they had got out arm in arm and had walked around the mole along the beach. Joggers crossed them and sometimes they were down on the beach to avoid when they were in two or three abreast . Her little pastel pink dress , her demure look of small secretary amused him. It was her day off and she loved wandering aimlessly.

What do you do in your life, she took the initiative.

Clerk in a insurance office. I check the contracts reported by inspectors, and calculate insurance premiums . An exciting job …

Oh , ‘she said , with a hint of pity , I understand. It was the work of my father, I ought to hear him when he came home , every day was a mountain trouble to climb.

You talk about him in the past …

He died four years ago of a heart attack. I am alone, my mother left us when I was three years old, I have never seen her again . We lived, my father and I, in a small apartment in San Bernardino, I went to the Hernandez High School, in the Chicano neighborhood. My father earned a little, we conducted a small secluded life, and my only entertainment was the movies, or to go with my father fishing. But tell me a little about yourself, in your turn .

It’s funny, my fate is like yours. I grew up with my mother, my father had left us too when I was four. We lived a housing estate near Paris. Few money, but with the movies , I loved the music. Rock’n’roll. At that time , I dreamed of California as a wonderful and inaccessible country. And see, now I spend my holidays today with you.

 

 

*****

 

 

It was quite easy , in fact, to work my way into Liberty . Maria- Helena worked there as a librarian , and was working in archives annex on Lennox Avenue. That’s what she told me later in the afternoon , while we sipped a milkshake from a street vendor on the Sunset Strip pier . She seemed to take pride with her job , while having a bit of shame of it as a lackluster job. I was glad, of course, without showing anything yet. In fact , I sized her up . Would she rather , not to trust me, but be proud working in an area resembling the Pentagon archives – at his level – for me to get there ? It required careful handling. The afternoon went by. We stopped to admire the feats of surfers , the sky was tinged with pink. We chatted about odds and ends : gulls, the curious form of a dune , the silhouette of a passing guy on neon signs waterfront. Later, in a Chinese restaurant where I invited her . She nibbled his shrimp fritters when I resumed :

Is it possible to show me your archives ?

Why , she retorted ? You know, it has nothing interesting : shelves up to ceiling stocked with tapes. And then , without being a secret deposit of U . S. Army, it’s still a sensitive spot . The firm that I work for keeps there all records in its possession. And we do not enter into it without a good reason …

I whispered , more and more calmly:

And what your job is, in a place as protected as Fort Knox ?

Well , nothing really exciting. I update the maintenance registry. When the production studio on Sunset needs a recording, I research and make a copy . In fact, it is rather an engineer who comes on site, and I help him find what he seeks .

And you always manage to give him satisfaction?

It is not always easy: despite the care taken in the standing collections, and that of recording sessions , sometimes we seek long for a tape. A few weeks ago, we spent two full days to find a recording of Bob Wilson, you know, the leader of the Beach Boys. It was on a small tape listed under the name of his early band, The Frogmen, which was recorded at Liberty before he’d sign with Capitol . Fortunately, residual , we put our hands on it, especially because Stan, the engineer, remembered the name. He had assisted the one who had formed him, Bob Levine, during the recording session, now 7 or 8 years ago …

So you must be the only person able to find the record of someone there?

Well, not yet . There is the file system. But it is true that sometimes, without me, it would be virtually impossible. But why do you ask me that?

Well, imagine that over there, in Europe, we are confident that Liberty still holds unpublished tapes of Eddie Cochran, a rocker who died in 1960. It was thought that his record label did not want to publish, but from what you say, it is quite possible that they are lost. You could look for?

Well, I don’t have any order of the production. And I do not know the artist. I would, of course, easily find what bears his name , but if it’s under a different name … Listen , come to the store, I’ll call you when I have some spare time. I’d love to find something in a field that I believe to be the only one to know .

 

We talked about something else wielding rods for fried rice . We laughed in finding common emotions mentioning movies and actors forgotten, Wallace Berry and Jane Hawken . She knew a little Brigitte Bardot and Jean- Paul Belmondo .

We go to movie ? I suggested .

OK , they give a John Ford at the Hall in Venice, near here, on Park Heights .

 

Well, the movie. I tried to take interest into it, to hold my desire to put my hand on my neighbor’s shoulder. I looked at her profile stealthily, changing place on my chair: wide-eyed , alternately smiling or anxious depending on the scenes, she seemed absorbed by the ordinary western theme, although signed by a master. I was dying to seduce her: she alone could take me to the Liberty archives. ‘ Do nothing sudden,’ I repeated to myself, let her dream along with a french lover. It seems it pleases her. If you are turtle doving too openly, she will escape. She appreciates your thoughtfulness, well she strikes herself … ‘ At the end of the movie, I escorted her to her car parked a few blocks away. Few words. She smiled silently, I was wondering ‘Am I so much like Gregory Peck ?’  I tossed on the ticket cinema the phone number of my motel, gave him the standard formulas , ‘ It was a great pleasure … I hope to see you soon … ‘ she was always smiling, ‘bye , Frenchie boy , ‘see you later, do not worry, I’ll call you.’ I spotted a taxi that brought me back to my room in San Fernando.

 

**

*

 

Two days later, on a Tuesday, when he returned from a day trip in the moyave desert, the old keeper of Black Admiral motel where he had his room gave him a yellow memo . « A young lady called for you . She asks you call her back , « she added . He read  » Maria Helena – 2748 6173 09 . » From the small cabin hall, after three rings , he heard her voice.  » Hi! Gilles , she uttered Guil , are you okay ? Come see me tomorrow 26 at 11 A.M. at the archives – this is 3720 Lennox Avenue , five blocks east of Sunset Avenue, near Filby ‘s store – you turn right onto McGovern to the industrial area. Behind a small building with three floors, enter right into the courtyard, looking for ‘Liberty United’ and ask the janitor for me . Bye « 

He spent the evening in the excitement, trying to calm him down by the sea. Pacific rolls, slightly phosphorescent, made him deaf . They really did not extinguish his thoughts. They ran even more wild . The next day he would get into the Liberty archives, and who knows, discover , with any luck , what millions of people imagined without daring to hope to hear: ten unreleased songs by Eddie Cochran, famous as lost … He had difficulty controlling the current of his thoughts . What would he do if he found these songs out ? Obviously, Liberty did not intend to publish them or tomorrow or ever. And if he’d steal them ? But how ? And what to do with them? Provided they actually exist already . Bah ! he would see the next day. Multicolored neon lights blinked out of sight on the waterfront , signalling insurance firms, banking , or scrolling ads. Spotlighted restaurants . Cars succeeded without making haste . Gilles returned to the motel. Restless sleep .

 

The next day he took his rental car, consulted the map of LA and spotted McGovern . He let in the clutch and slipped in the thick traffic. 9:00 A.M. Parked in the area that Maria- Helena had told him , he’d go for a breakfast . Then he hung in the streets windows shopping until 11:00. He found a place in front of the building that was described to him and did the rest on foot. Lennox Avenue , 3720 : a large courtyard lined with warehouses and loading docks, and in the background , a kind of front surmounted by a sign reading  » Liberty United Records . » He push the door. Long corridor in front of him . On the right, a small glass room , a guy sitting reading the newspaper. Before him on the desk, a register and a telephone. He looks up ,  » Hi!  » Gilles told him that Maria- Helena is waiting for him. He push a button and hangs up,  » Maria , someone for you at the reception desk. » The hallway is lined with posters: artists , concerts, double pages of Billboard , the ceiling, large neon signs , along the wall , two metal waggons. The set is outdated, gray baseboards, it looks like the entrance to a clinic for poor people. Maria- Helena appears, smiling . Dead leaf sweater , jeans , heels . She holds his hand,  » Hi! Gilles how’da do ?  » She turned to the guard : » Gilles is French , vacationing here – he is interested in my job , I make him visit the archives .  » The guy just smiled , nodded ,  » Have fun, lovers ! » and revisits his paper.

– Come, Gilles , do not lose me , you would end up not out , she shoots me with a sneer .

– This is so great? From the outside , you would not think .

– Wait till you see …

We pass the door, I ‘m speechless . Face to face with vertical gray metal beams that rise , rise to heights of three men to the ceiling. They support shelves full of flat items, also arranged vertically , of all colors. A narrow passage between shelves, metal ladders shrinking more. I quickly identify brown 30×30 parcels, such as those containing the albums that I get from the United States, other slimmer boxes, for conservation tapes (format Ø 26 cm) and other smaller boxes . On the edge of all that I see , abbreviations and numerical codes properly drawn with black pen. Strong neon lights violently illuminate everything. A heavy silence reigns here , only deafened by the noise of the fan , and I can make the back wall at least thirty feet from where I stand out, stunned , overwhelmed . Maria- Helena is already at the other end and calls me ,  » C’mon over there , Gilles, » his voice reaches me, with echo, as through a speaker. I am looking for where it can come from: the corner of a lighted window, a narrow corridor between the shelves lets me separate the glow. I rejoin her slowly, nodding to view objects up to my eyes. As I enter, she is standing in front of a green metal filing cabinet that occupies the entire wall of the office, the drawers are already drawn on the front of the labels that I recognize the kind of shorthand for the large room. Maria quickly flips the finger index cards and told me : « I am looking for sheets of recording sessions, you told me ? Eddie Cochran ? » Nervous , I agree with a nod , trying to get an eye at the sheets over his shoulder, but she goes too fast … On my left, through the window, the room archives, thick and overwhelming: a forest of shelves. I see colored edging above the top of some boxes: probably albums. I return to the big desk. On a table behind me, two trained professional tape readers, a mixer and other devices with VU meters, cables run to two speakers. Right at the bottom, two desks which are piled with boxes of archives, on one of them, which looks like a microfilm reader. Maria- Helena continued his research, opened other drawers, consulted sheets. She turns to me:  » Sorry , Gilles, everything that we have on the artist you are interested in is the rating ERC – 001-017 – probably the recording sessions listed with the AFM , the union musicians, but maybe … » A wall phone rings, she joins him in three strides, « Yes … – Who? – … – OK you can take the item at 1 this noon , bye . – Work , she apologizes with outstretched arms , I look for a tape, they need it on Sunset. Yes, I said, when the phone rang , I noticed from the records reviewed, that one included an unusual reference, if it amuses you to look for, it’s JWC 008 , but I wonder what it can match … « 

 

***

 

 

And they are back in the archive room. Maria- Helena noses already about somewhere in rows, a metal ladder slips squealing on a tube, it squeaks every climbing level.

And about him, where to start? It takes a driveway, decrypts the odds, nothing in apparent order. If he is going to ask her for help, she tells him to cope , she did not have spare time … So, let’s come, and if a ratings plan were in the office? In the background, behind a hinged door, the sound of voices, a telephone, the muted music.

First return to the metal cabinet of the office. He examines the multiple drawers: their labels seem to defy research. Then marks sealed in the following , he recognizes a sort of alphabetical order. A workbook marked J , he pulls it out , glances at sheets . Almost at the bottom he pulls out a sheet JWC 008 , his heart jumps , appears the name  » Eddie Cochran  » and the indication of an album  » Endless  » .. a word  » WITHDRAWN  » drawn to the line card in diagonal : the album publication was interrupted. Follow twelve tracks that he decrypts feverishly . Only two are familiar to him: an instrumental ( Eddie’s Blues ), the first ever published on the French album with which he had some years earlier discovered the music of Cochran, and  » Hurry up « , her friend Sharon Sheeley had proposed as a demo to Ritchie Valens . Other songs he knows them by their original versions , those of Elvis Presley ( Trouble, Blue moon of Kentucky), Ricky Nelson (Poor little fool , also composed by Sheeley) , Chuck Willis (From the bottom of my heart ) but he had never heard that they were in the repertoire of Cochran .

He remains stunned, his hands are sweaty and his knees tremble with excitement. Thus, Liberty claimed to have unearthed all its archives, fans refused to believe , and he has discovered that their faith was justified. Better! These twelve new tracks, the album lost and never published, this Grail is THERE, on the other side of the glass in a niche among colossal shelves of this kind of archives cathedral. How to get his hands on this album or the tape, again without the help of Maria – Helena , who said also earlier not to know this number?

The viewer ! He’ll sit ; in a cabinet, a drawer. First : good pick. A plan of archives, combinations of letters and a thick stack of sheets, marks, each coupled with a transparent envelope containing a sheet of microfilm. Flipping the workbook, he identifies the rating JWC – 008 therein – extract microfilm and place it in the viewer. Contact ON, the display shows the place of the archives room. He adjusts the microscope and notes pins (5 ° span left , 6 shelf , 3 niche) , puts the microfilm in place in the workbook back and turns off the viewer. His hands are still moist , he does not force rushing on what he wants . Back in the hall .

Maria- Helena , laden with equipment , tapes and record hardly spills him into the hallway and calls out : « How are you doing, Gilles ? You found ? I wear the equipment in the control copying and will be back again in half an hour , bye … « 

 

***

 

It’s my turn me to play . Span F: he pushes the scale and strength to slowly climb the ladder . At the height of his nose piled vertically tight surveys earlier objects: boxboard savvy height , holsters tape , envelopes, thick plastic : there he guesses photographs and album covers .

He manages the 6th level, snore yellowish ceiling fans . At five meters above the concrete floor , the smell of dust and mold is much stronger : all cardboard beneath him . Neon lights above his head create shadows .

He looks a little while, locate the mark: a strong chipboard box , 30×30 dimension , 10 cm thick , which bears the number he wants. Before him is perhaps what remains of the lost album of Eddie Cochran, « Endless » …

My heart is pounding , my hands are shaking.

Along the beam hangs a plastic folder containing headlines, bands laminated cardboard for identifying objects out : I write the mark, and slides instead of cardboard I pull carefully . it is not so heavy – pinning an arm against my chest, with the other hand , I cling to each bar to go down . Once on the ground , I joined the office , make a place for me , untie the ribbons and cardboard.

 

****

 

Endless part III

 

Chesterfield County Hurts , England. Saturday, July 27, 1970 . Howard McCullough sorts its courrier. On his desk , three dozen letters from around the world : Australia, Japan, Germany, United States , and even Argentina , Holland, Sweden . He is a collector and dealer in records, mainly American rock’n’roll of the 50s. He puts aside the letters of his buyers, looking for a rare piece to complement their collection; he makes ??another pile with these of his touts, his scouts, that throughout the United States, rummage flea markets, charity sales, garage sales , and they sen him the discs they found. He then put them on sale in huge catalogs of auctioning that he sends his correspondents worldwide. His office is in a indescribable mess, shelves all around the room support thousands of albums, there on the stools, others leaning against the walls. In a corner , a huge stack of brown cardboard, which he uses to ship the discs to the winners of his sales.

McCullough knows with great precision the music of the ’50s, and it is not uncommon that he gets his hands on rare pieces, limited pressings , acetates (first pressings) .

A letter draws his attention . Posted in France , it comes from a correspondent, also casual buyer looking for rare pieces. The envelop opened , McCollough skims throughout the letter, and whispers,  » My Goodness, so it exists…  » sitting on the desk. Then, in three strides, he passes into the adjoining room, also full of catalogs, books, magazines ; he digs a moment, unearths the catalog of the Liberty label, leafing quickly and staying with eyes vaguely looking. By mistake, the catalog mentions a 3558 album LRP on behalf of Leon Bibb, a singer of folk songs . And in this letter , Gilles tells him that he’s got in hand an album of Eddie Cochran and model number . Single copy , of course. McCullough reads the letter , details of securities , the description of the package: no error, everything corresponds with the rumor that survives for several years. He concedes defeat : he found him with a better scent . It must be said that the album in question was never marketed , and someone had to find it out directly from the archives of Liberty. It is still an achievement. What is the price of such a piece ? McCullough has no idea that the price could reach , it is also not for sale yet. Certainly not the provenance , and its owner can not do anything with it…

 

****

 

 

Los Angeles, Lennox Avenue. The cardboard Gilles discovered contained a tape , photos, comp model indicating the twelve tracks on the album « Endless « . Since that time the rumor ran, he managed alone to get his hands on this legendary album. He trembles with excitement, read and read again the sheet recording session that accompanies the initial tape. The JWC marks are clear : the producer is none other than Jerry W. Capehart, friend, mentor, artistic director of Cochran. But , dammit, why this album was never released ?

Maria- Helena reappears , still smiling , and deposits on the table supporting the viewer the cardboard she relates. « You found it, Gilles ? This is fantastic! How did you do ?  » He said to him , she laughed, admiring . « Will you listen to this tape ? » He flushed with emotion. She got to the console with tape readers , puts the reel on its axis and positions the tape on the empty spool . Amp on, the tape is running, It’s great Eddie Cochran, the same level as « Summertime Blues » and  » Somethin’ else ». He revisits « Trouble » of Elvis with the same grunts as in « Milkcow Blues » , his version of « Blue Moon of Kentucky » is Country as « Cut across Shorty ». The rest of the album is in the same vein, as good . The pleasure of hearing these new songs is huge, of course, but how do someone listen to and, who knows, take them ? When she returned half an hour later, he asked the question. « No, Gilles , this tape belongs to Liberty , and I am its depositary . If my boss ever saw the tape is lost , I’d lose my job. » He’s setting out again, argues . This album has been deposited there over five years , its mark is lost – even she has not recovered it. He feels her reluctant

OK , Gilles, I’ll make you a copy, but it will be stuffed . Regular noise , like a champagne cork that pops in to prevent commercial exploitation. Are you going with that? I will leave the package outside the front entrance, you can get tonight after 6 P.M. when the store is closed. And now I’m going to get you back , I still have to work before the break. « 

 

****

***

 

Chatenay -Malabry , Paris area, France, in September 1969 .

 

Someone gets home at night in his small apartment , and carefully loop his door and windows. In his room, he approaches his stereo setup, it has a big tape recorder . One reel is installed on its axes. He turns his amp, adjust the volume, press a key on the recorder. Red light . A click, the tape turns … Guitar intro immediately recognizable : Eddie Cochran, this is « Trouble ». Just for him . He tastes the bitter with this unique pleasure. Being the only one in the world to listen to twelve unreleased tracks from Eddie Cochran, and not being able to share this pleasure with anyone …

early February 2012 fortnight’s favorites

Howdy, folks! Finally moved. More room for records, more space for living. Hope all of you are fine, still prepared for good ole’ Hillbilly music. Two classics will be discussed this time. All the podcast will be 78 rpm but only one 45: many a hiss! (suite…)

SUN Records: Hillbilly Bop sides (1955-1957) (part 2)

perkins brothers

The Perkins Brothers band (1954)

sunlogoCarl Lee Perkins (1932-1998) is too well known, and information on him is easily available. Search with your engine or go direct to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_Perkins also Rockabilly Hall Of Fame site http://www.rockabillyhall.com/CarlPerkins.html. The Perkins Brothers (Jay B. rhythm guitar, Clayton, bass – later W.S. Holland, d) band began performing in the Covington, Tennessee, area in 1953 and quickly found success with a Hillbilly-boogie type music heavily based on Blues. When they heard in July 1954 Elvis’ Blue Moon Of Kentucky on radio, they decided to go see Sam Phillips to record. First they were cut in Country vein (Turn around, a ballad,  being their first disc on Flip 501), because Phillips would not them rivalling with Elvis. With the latter’s departure in November of 1955, they were given freehand, and the result was « Gone gone gone » (Sun 224) in September 1955 : a romping Hillbilly bop, almost a Rockabilly. 224 perkinsThree months later, Perkins cut Blue suede shoes, the rest is history…

 

Smokey Joe (Baugh), vocalist and piano player for the Clyde Leoppard Snearly Ranch Boys (see part 1) had one single (Sun 228, reissued as Sun 393 in the 60s) under his name taken from the 4 sessions he cut on his own between August 1955 and 1956. His style is heavily based on R&B, there is even his raucous voice which reminds one of Fats Waller. « The Signifying Monkey » is a sort of amusing recitation, and a whole lot of then hip animals like monkeys and baboons is cited. The steel-guitar (played by Stan Kesler) is very unobstrusive, and there’s even a trumpet on the B-side « Listen To Me » ! All in all a record on the border of Hillbilly and R&B, the sort of thing Phillips was still looking for, even after the departure of Presley and the crossover success of « Blue Suede Shoes ». He cut similar nature material left in the can (and later issued in Europe) with tracks like « Hula Bop » and « She’s A Woman ».

228smokeyMaggie Sue Wimberly

 

Little is known about Maggie Sue Wimberly who went to Sun in October 1954 and cut a solitary single (Sun 229) : « How Long/Daydreams Come true ». In the early part of 1954, Sam Phillips had turned down Bud Deckleman and his song (co-penned by the team Quinton Claunch/Bill Cantrell) « Daydreamin’ ». Deckleman had been to Lester Bihari of Meteor and had a huge hit with this record. Phillips tried to catch up on the success and recorded a follow-up, « Daydreams Come True » by Wimberly, which came nowhere. One of the rarest Sun records ever…A fine Hillbilly weeper though. 

 

Charlie Feathers (1932-1998) is also well known. See his official site : http://www.charliefeathers.com/ for a very detailed biography. He arrived at Sun from Mississipi in 1955 and recorded with the duet Quinton Claunch (fiddle)/Stan Kesler (steel) one bopping fast novelty « Peepin’ Eyes » (Flip 503). He claimed later to have directed Elvis Presley’s late Sun sessions, and actually wrote and gave him I Forgot To Remember To Forget (Sun 223) ; Sam Phillips wanted Feathers as a Country singer, and he was not allowed to sing anything else than the great « I’ve Been Deceived » (Flip 503) or the beautiful Defrost Your Heart (Sun 231). Even his demos of Rockabilly songs (Bottle To The Baby, complete with hiccups, later re-cut for King in July 1956 ; or Honky Tonk Kind) were rejected by Phillips. That is why he came, through his brother-in-law, in touch with Meteor Records, and cut the classic Rockabilly « Get With It/Tongue Tied Jill » on April 1rst, 1956.

feathers picfeathers231
flip503

 

Jimmy Haggett was inspired by the phrasing of Jim Reeves, and took (without knowing it) a Luke McDaniels’ song, « No More » (from 1952), although with different lyrics. Flip was « They Call Our Love A Sin » (Sun 236). The record had sold 448 copies a year after release, and the songs are pretty tame. Shortly after, Haggett tried his hands at Rockabilly but felt uneasy and hired a front singer to replace him. But that’s another story.

 

Warren Smith (1932-1981) is well documented too. See : http://www.rockabillyhall.com/WarrenSmith.html. He went from Mississipi as lead singer of Clyde Leoppard Snearly Ranch Boys and was presented to Sam Phillips early in 1956 by Johnny Cash who gave him his very first song: Rock’n’Roll Ruby (Sun 239) – which George Jones claims to have written, instead of Cash. Anyhow the demo of it by Cash was published in U.K. in the 80s. But Smith was an ably Country singer – the best he heard at Sun, to quote Phillips – and his renderings are quite good  flavored Rockabilly/Hillbilly Bop songs : I’d Rather Be Safe Than Sorry (Sun 239), 239bBlack Jack David (Sun 250), So Long I’m Gone (Sun 268), Tonight Will Be The Last Night (unissued at the time) or later effort Goodbye Mr. Love (Sun 314). Disappointed by a constant rivality with Jerry Lee Lewis, he moved to Hollywood and Liberty Records in 1959 as a Country singer and succeed a little.

 

The Miller Sisters (Elsie & Jo) were a local Memphis act, discovered by Phillips in 1955. Elsie Jo Miller and Mildred Wages did originate Miller Sistersfrom Elvis’ hometown, Tupelo, Mississipi ; they were offered to record for Sun at 5 occasions between March 1955 and July 1957, so Sam Phillips must have been confident enough in them as a duet. First they cut a passable Hillbilly weeper on Flip 504 (Someday You Will Pay), backed by the then cream of Sun studio musicians : Stan Kesler on guitar, Quinton Claunch on steel-guitar, Bill Cantrell on fiddle, Marcus Van Story on bass ; even Charlie Feathers used spoons on this tune ! Later in 1956 they embarked on the Rockabilly bandwagon and cut a little classic, Ten Cats Down (Sun 255), with the accompaniment of members of Clyde Leoppard Snearly Ranch Boys, aptly augmented by the sax of Ace Cannon. They were also involved as vocalists on Cast King 1956/1957 session (originally unissued) which produced the beautiful « Can’t find time to pray ». They did disappear after 1957.

sun 255

 

Slim Rhodes (Ethell Cletus ‘Slim’ Rhodes) (see part 1) had a Hillbilly boogie romper on Sun 238 with « Gonna Romp and Stomp » ; he had well adapted from the wild sounds of Hillbilly Bop instrumental « Skunk Hollow Boogie » (Gilt-Edge 5015, recorded at Sun in July 1950) to the new trends of 1956. « Romp… » is still Hillbilly Bop in essence, but the pace is Rockabilly (note the classic guitar solo), as is their next effort (Sun 256) : Take And Give/Do What I Do (vocal Dusty Rhodes). Two very fine Sun records ! Last recording of Rhodes for Phillips was in 1958, and of far lesser interest (I’ve never been so blue), hence unissued then.

sun 238

riley vieux

 

Billy Riley (Pocahontas, Ark., 1933 ; dead August 2, 2009). Born to a poor sharecropping clan, Riley developed a passion for blues and learned to pick guitar watching the older black musicians his family worked alongside. Although he made some early appearances performing on local radio, Riley’s career took shape after he was discharged from the Army in the mid-’50s. Moving to Memphis, Riley soon hooked up with a crew of fledgling country musicians that included « Cowboy » Jack Clement. He and his truck driver partner, Slim Wallace, founded the tiny Fernwood label in a South Memphis garage and cut Riley’s debut recordings, « Trouble Bound » and « Think Before Your Go« (still unissued today). Clement took the tapes to Sam Phillips over at Sun Records so he could master a single. Impressed by what he heard, Phillips ended up hiring Clement to work at Sun, and signed Riley. Hence « Trouble Bound/Rock With Me Baby » (Sun 245). Riley and his group – which included drummer J.M. Van Eaton and guitarist Roland Janes — would also become the de facto house band at Sun, providing the backing on numerous hits. Another Hillbilly song recorded at a Rockabilly pace is the underrated « I Want You Baby » (Sun 260), overshadowed by the A-side which made Riley famous until today, the classic « Flyin’ Saucer Rock’n’Roll ».sun 245

 

Malcolm Yelvington & band

Malcolm Yelvington and band, 1956

Malcolm Yelvington (see part 1) had well adapted to 1956 trends with his unique brand of Western Swing/Hillbilly Bop for a February 1956 session which produced the uptempo « Rockin’ With My Baby » (full of reference to then R&R hits) and the slower, much more interesting « It’s Me Baby » (Sun 246). Later Yelvington recorded mainly mainstream Country, always flavored of Western swing : tracks (unissued then) like « Trumpet » or « Goodbye Marie », to be found on 1990’s Bear Family compilation « Sun – The Country years » 10-LP boxset. It also included a different version of « Yakety Yak » to that Meteor Records released in 1956.sun 246 it's me baby

 

It was not before October 1956 that Sam Phillips (too busy cutting Rockabilly and Rock’n’Roll sessions) recorded more Hillbilly, this time with Ernie Chaffin. The latter went from Biloxi, MS. and had had records from 1954 on Fine and Hickory labels. « His style was as unique as Johnny Cash’s : he depended on a percussive, repeated rhythmic pattern and minimal instrumentation. Unlike Cash’s work, however, Chaffin’s songs (most often composed by his acoustic guitar player Murphy ‘Pee Wee’ Maddux) were highly melodic and his voice had considerable range.  While the songs were lyrically more conventional than the stark lonesome ballads of Cash, Chaffin’s songs drew much of their power from unusual and arresting chord changes. » (Hank Davis) Between October 1956 and June 1958, Chaffin had 7 Sun sessions, resulting in 4 Sun singles, the best being the first two, and the most memorable and accomplished tracks being « Feelin’ Low » (Sun 262) and «Laughin’ And Jokin’ » (Sun 275). Both are on the border of Hillbilly Bop, and announce the future Country music of the late 50s/early 60s, when Rock’n’Roll and Rockabilly were integrated into it. All in all Ernie Chaffin recorded 15 songs for Sun, and they are all on the Bear Family boxset .

ernie chaffin BF

Ernie Chaffin 'left)

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Sam Phillips made relatively few mistakes in his choices, but after the discovery of Cast King (Joseph Dudley King) tapes in the Sun vaults, it is surprising why he didn’t release ANYTHING by him, like another mystery, the now famous Jimmy Wages. Maybe too busy with Rock’n’Roll bands ! Cast King cut one convincing religious narration (« Can’t Find Time To Pray ») in 1956 with the Miller Sisters as backing vocals, but the most interesting track was to come in June or July 1957 with « When You Stop Loving me » : « It is a splendid song and must have stood a fair chance of success. Although neither the composition nor the performance are really polished, the end product is quite spectacular (…) Instrumentally it’s a gem, featuring standout steel-guitar work and some nice dobro. » (Hank Davis/Colin Escott). It’s a « Country waltz beautifully sung, which stands alongside Sun’s finest Country records and his non-appearance is a mystery. »

 

mack self

Mack Self

Mack Self was a real Country singer, and although he tried a variety of other styles when at Sun, he always retained a country purity in his vocals and his band was never going on rough edges. He had 5 sessions between 1955/1956 and 1959 and only had two singles (from which one on Phillips International), the other being  (Sun 273) « Easy To Love/Everyday » . The solitary Sun release had very little chance of success in 1957, and actually sounded anachronic for the times being. Beautifully sung Country ballads ; and Phillips allowed Self to sing that, when he released at the same period pounding rockers by the likes of Carl Perkins, Tommy Blake, Wade & Dick, Ray Harris ! But a real treasure was unearthed in the 1990s on the aforementioned Bear Family boxset : Self had recorded a Hillbilly session in 1955/1956, complete with steel-guitar and fiddle. « Easy To Love » is plaintive, and the fiddle of Bill Cantrell well to the fore. The same session gave us a near-Rockabilly Hillbilly Bop, « Goin’ Crazy », complete with slapping bass (Jimmy Evans – is he the same guy as the one later on Rivermont and « The Joint Is Really Jumpin’ » rasping piano rocker ?).273 easy

 

We came to an end with the Hillbilly Bop sides cut by Elvis Presley. Actually he cut at least 8 Hillbilly sides in his own unmistakingly style, and 5 went their way as B-sides of his Sun singles. They are too well-known, but listen to them closely as Hillbilly Bop sides…Johnny Cash was also near Hillbilly, although he never used steel-guitar neither a fiddle – but his style was really his own and did in fact owe very little to Hillbilly…Do not forget The Rhythm Rockers (Sun 250) and « Fiddle Bop/Juke Box, Help me find my baby » – actually Hardrock Gunter. Phillips leased them from Emperor Records, it wasn’t his production.

 

 

 

 

Credits: all the color pictures that bear « The Country Years » do come from the Bear Family boxset BCD 15211 « Sun – The Country Years »

All label pictures do come from www.rockincountrystyle.com