Pee Wee Maddux and Fine: Biloxi, MS, hillbilly (1955-56)

Mississippi-biloxiGo to a map of the U.S., search « Biloxi », and you’ll find this small city in the Harrison county, down south of Mississipi. That’s where the Fine label story begins. But before that and its debuts, we must look at its founders. Professor Marion Carpenter had a recording studio open to local facilities in Biloxi and was associated with steel guitar player Murphy Monroe « Pee Wee » Maddux (born 1923). The latter’s name had over the years several changes : from « Pee Wee » to « Pee-Wee », even « PeWee ». He was also a songwriter (Kitty Wells in 1956 ; or « Fools like me » for Jerry Lee Lewis, or more « Rocky road of love » for Curtis Gordon, even Fats Domino : « What a price »), and his earliest efforts as recording artist (at least he is credited as such on the labels) are to be found in March 1952 on M-G-M records, cut in Nashville : « My hobo heart » and « Lover’s crime ». The vocals were done by a certain Al Britt for two average boppers. Maddux penned a good percentage of the songs on Fine, among them the Ernie Chaffin ones.

mgm 11224 hobo heart

mgm 11281B lover's crime

« My hobo heart«  download

« Lover’s crime« download

 

 

In 1954 the pair Carpenter/Maddux launched a microscopic label, Gulf Coast, which they issued a certain DAN SEAL on : « You gotta walk that line » (# 1012) is a lively little opus, but nothing particular, and it sinked into obscurity. But SEAL reemerged next year on the new comperes’ label, FINE for two ballads, « I wake at dawn  (with you on my mind ) » being the best one (# 1003).

« You gotta walk that line« download gulf 1012B you gotta walk

billboard nov. 1955 dan seal:fine

1003 I wake at dawn

« I wake at dawn« download

 

 

JIM OWEN then came with the rollicking « Sie Simon shuffle » (# 1004) : it’s a jumping hillbilly rocker with a fiddle solo and one from Pee Wee Maddux on steel well to the fore. Owen had late ’50s his own Owe Man label where he issued « The key’s in the mail box » (see below). On to JOHNNY BOZEMAN and the good « She’s my bayou babe » (# 1006). Bozeman went afterwards in 1957 on Mobile, Alabama, Sandy label, which he co-founded with Paul Bose, and saw a classic horror rocker « Rockin’ in the graveyard » by Jackie Morningstar in 1959. Bozeman himself had « Blues and I » (# Sandy 1001)(alas, unheard) and what is described in a sale list as « doo wop rockabilly », « How many ».

Jim Owen, « Sie Simon shuffle« download

Johnny Bozeman, « She’s my bayou babe« do<nload

billboard 5 nov 55 fine

November 5, 1955

1004 simon
1006 she's my bayou baby
Other artists on the Fine label included ANN RAYE and his fine (co-sung with Jim Owen) bopper « Our wedding band » (# 1001). Raye had also had earlier 2 singles on Starday and 1 on Decca in 1956. Incidentally she was the daughter of local promoter Frank « Yankie » Barhanovich, and through her father’s activities, went on to share in 1955 some Elvis Presley shows in Biloxi. Moreover on Fine, HANNA FAYE had the ballad « It pays to be true » (# 1008). Other men : J. W. THOMPSON and the good honky-tonker « It’s your turn » (# 1007) – later he cut « When you’re honky tonkin’ » on the Toledo label (# 1003) out of Alexandria, Louisiana. Or B. F. JOHNSON : the fine bopper « I wish I could believe you » (# 1011)(great mandolin!).

Ann Raye & Jim Owen, « Our wedding band« download
1001 our wedding band

Hanna Faye « It pays to be true« download

hannah-fay-cars

Hanna Faye

J.W. Thompson « It’s your turn« download
J.W. Thompson« When you’re honky tonkin‘ »download

B.F. Johnson« I wish I could believe you« download

toledo 1003 j.W.Thompson

 

billboard 12 nov 55 j.w. thompson

J.W. Thompson. Nov. 12, 1955

 

 

 

 

fine 1011 bf jonson - i wish

 

 

 

 

chaffin

Ernie Harvey on steel guitar (according to Linda Maddux)

 

 

 

 

The most important artist however was ERNIE CHAFFIN who made his recording beginnings on Fine with « The stop look and listen song »b/w « The heart of me » (1010), before Carpenter and Maddux went with him to Nashville to meet country promoter Jim Denny and A&R man Paul Cohen. A deal with Decca never concluded but Fred Rose took Chaffin on his burgeoning Hickory label. 4 sides were issued without success, then Chaffin came to Sun, and Maddux backed him on such a classic as « Feelin’ low » (Sun 262).

« The stop look and listen song« download

« The heart of me« download
fine 1010  stop look

hickory 1024 get me on your mind

Ernie Chaffin [Hickory] »Get me on your mind« download

Later on, Carpenter and Maddux helped a lot Jimmy Donley in his early career and got him his Decca contract in 1957.

Maddux cut « New red river valley » (instrumental) for Judd Phillips label Judd (#1010) in 1958. He died and is buried in Gulfport, MS, in 1993.

All in all, a short lived affair (Fine folded after 20 issues, in 1957), but a good starter for many an artist.

 

From the notes of Allan Turner on the BACM CD « A ‘Fine’ hillbilly song – Country music on the Fine label » # 392. Various researches to. Somelocalloser.blogspot for Jim Owen’s Owe Man sides.

 

 

bb 25-12-54 1016

December 25, 1954

Fifty-fifty honky tonkin’ George McCormick = « Done gone » George & Earl (1952-1963): Dot, MGM, Mercury, Somerset

George & Earl

They were two very different singers who teamed for a brief two years to make some of he most interesting duet recordings of the 1950s. Normally vocal duos were kinfolks who had sung together since the cradle but George McCormick from Tennessee and Earl Aycock from Mississipi did not meet until they were in their early twenties.

George McCormick was born on June 16 1933 and spent his early life near Carthage, the hilly area north of Nashville. The life was tough in rural Tennesseee ; George took an interest in music and formed a string band with two friends, the Thomas Brothers, playing in the local area. They left to Nashville, hoping they could find work with Carl Tipton – what they did, in 1947, but he wouldn’t geting much work and they couldn’t make no money. So the partnership ceased. Next step was a meeting with Big Bess (Jeff), and it paid $ 45 a week. The Thomasses worked four, five or six different shows every morning between 5:30 and 8:30 with any WLAC artist from Bob Jennings to Andy Wilson or Mac O’Dell.

Big Jeff Bess

For several years George played guitar and bass alongside a number of up and coming musicians who passed through Big Jeff’s Playboys band, until too the lead in some shows and was even allowed to make his first recordings as a vocalist : as George Mack on one of Jeff’s Dot Records discs in 1952, he played and sang « I courted an angel » and « I don’t talk to strangers » (Dot 1096). He left in 1953 to play in Martha Carson’s band on WSM radio and the Grand Ole Opry and got a contract with M-G-M Records, for whom he cut 12 tracks within less than one year between August 1953 and July 1954. His first two singles were « Fifty-fifty honky tonkin’ » (MGM 11598) and « Hi there sweet thing » (MGM 11656). « Fifty-fifty » was a song Fred Rose had apparently written especially for Hank Williams, a tale of relationships and nightlife brimming with homespun insights.

McCormick really does sound like Hank on this, without being a ‘soundalike’ : he had the spirit and the style and a hard edge to his voice but a degree of originality too. Musicians Jerry Byrd and Tommy Jackson did their best to recreate the trademark Drifting Cowboys licks and the rhythm section of Chet Atkins, Ray Edenton and Lightning Chance takes the performance along at an appropriately jaunty pace. This first song bas backed by « Don’t add an ex to your name » a clever song written by Knoxville’s Arthur Q. Smith. The disc was a good territorial seller and it could have easily been a major hit. « Hi there sweet thing » was another catchy Hank-ish song and it also gained good reviews.

Four days after Christmas in 1953 George McCormick was back in the studio with the same band. Almost a year after Hank Williams had died the featured song was « The sundown train », with McCormick perfecting the keen edge to his voice until he sounded almost more like Hank than Hank. The flipside was « Flutter bug », a Fred Rose song that still recalled the honky tonkin’ Williams sound and rambling cowboy themes but which had some smoother edges and more crafted lyrics than many of his contemporaries.

George was called for his third six-monthly MGM session on 1 July 1954. This time the musicians took their sound from Hank’s band : in fact they were Hank’s band, the Drifting Cowboys. Sammy Pruett on guitar, Don Helms on steel, Jerry Rivers on fiddle and Cedric Rainwater on bass. The session saw issued the rollicking « Don’t fix up the dog house » (written by Don Helms), and recalling some of Hank’s earliest songs where the dog house had been the indicator of wife troubles. Perhaps the best recording was held back from release and didn’t see the light of day for three years. It was « I’ll keep your name on file ». By the summer of 1954 George had three singles on MGM and had been gone some months from the Jeff Bess show. He had started regularly with Martha Carson, when they arrived in Alabama and did take a new bass player, name Earl Aycock.

Sidney Earl Aycock was born in Meridian, Mississipi in 1930. He took an interest in hillbilly music at a young age and played guitar/bass with local bands of east Mississipi, even joining Bill Nettles’ Dixie Blues Boys and playing bass on « Hadacol Boogie ». After a stint in USAF he worked as a DJ before auditioning for Martha Carson. Towards the end of 1954 he teamed up with George McCormick to sing duets as part of the Martha Carson Show. According to the latter, « Earl liked Carl Smith. My favorite was Hank Williams. That’s one reason Earl and I sounded so good together ; our styles had a nice blend. Generally Earl sang the lead and I sang tenor harmonies. »

Before long the new duo started to think about making records. They heard Mercury’s A&R man Dee Kilpatrick was looking to sign a duet act. The deal was made in January 1955, and in next February George and Earl were in the studio for their first Mercury release. All in all, the duet recorded twelve songs ; Mercury issued them over a period of a year and a half. From the opening few seconds of the first session it was clear that the legacy of Hank Williams was not going to frame the sound of a George and Earl record. Earl had a clearer diction ; Chet Atkins, at home with raunchier stuff, had brought another lead guitarist, Joe Edwards, who had a more driving style. This was echoed by the attacking approach of fiddler Benny Martin. Rhythm section (Bob Moore and Ray Edenton) was augmented by drummer Buddy Harmon and Floyd Cramer on piano. This was an altogether ‘bigger’ sound with something of the new rockabilly styling McCormick had heard when playing with Elvis Presley on package shows.

The prime song was « Got anything good », a gloriously tight recording that fit right between uptempo honky tonk and rockabilly. The song was written by Detroit-based country singer Rufus Shoffner (« Mother-in-law boogie » on Fortune). The flipside, « Can I » was about a woman leaving her man. Again there is a good balance between country and rockabilly with a take-off guitar solo from Chet Atkins and fiddle runs setting the pace as much as the drums. « Billboard » review of April 1955 was good and before long Mercury issued the other two tracks of the session. « Sweet little miss blue eyes » is introduced by a fiddle riff and develops onto a fast-flowing love song where the singers take substantial solo parts as well as their duet sections. The song was something of a hit and has become a minor standard as recorded by Carl Smith, Bill Monroe, Ray Price, Vince Gill. The song was given to them by Don Helms and Merle ‘Red’ Taylor (the man who cut in 1955 « Don’t worry about nuthing » in Memphis on Meteor records, as Mason Dixon). In contrast, « Going steady with the blues » has a more modern stop-time sound and features Joe Edwards on guitar behind an exclusively harmony vocal.

Sometime in the summer of 1955 the hot new vocal duo was back in a Nashville studio for Mercury although the details and the musicians are not known. The instrumentation is similar to the first session ; just add Shot Jackson on steel guitar and almost certainly Del Wood on piano. « Heartaches » opens with a full-throated duet that gives way to a solo lead by Aycock and a modern-sounding take on the fiddle and the steel solo duet. It was backed on the third George and Earl single by « Don’t don’t don’t », provided by Louisiana-based record producer J. D. Mller. A fourth single coupled Autry Inman’s « Take a look at my darlin’ » with « Cry baby cry », a song written by Gene Davis (later Bo Davis on Crest) and inspired by « Why baby why ». It is kicked off in trademark style by fiddler Benny Martin and the duo sing strongly over a tinkling piano until the piano and fiddle take solos. Earl has a more ‘country’ voice, while George has moved further away from Hank’s style.

Early weeks of 1956, that was the third Mercury session. Musicians unknown, but could be largely the same again. « Remember and regret » is a plaintive love song written by Wayne Walker, one of in-house songwriters employed by Nashville publishers. This is a country-sounding record with fiddle solos and embellishments well to the fore but it retains the tinkling piano and the drum-augmented beat.

The next song was different entirely : out of nowhere comes a pop vocal leading to a cheerful and impossibly catchy lyric about « Eleven roses ». Originally a song poem and cut by a NY doo-wop group : quite how the song made its way into a hillbilly session in Nashville is a mystery.

The two last songs were in fact issued first : « Done gone » and « Better stop look and listen ». « Done gone », written by Don Helms was intended to be a hit. McCormick remembers : « It had a rocking style and Joe Edwards really played up that rockabilly guitar ». The Mercury label had equally high hopes on the other side, provided by J. D. Miller (and also recorded by Johnny Jano , although unissued at the time). It opens with a hurrying duet leading into an Elvis Presley-styled lyric from Earl and a ringing and rocky guitar solo probably by Joe Edwards. Just at the time Earl Aycock moved to Texas (the origin state of his wife, who wanted him to stop touring around) to become again a disc-jockey, so the duet ended overnight. The story of Earl Aycock will come separately.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

George McCormick carried on for a while with the Martha Carson Show, but she wanted to go to New York and work up there. He said : « She had a big following including a lot of Christian people and she was a big star in country gospel music. » He told Martha Carson : « I’m not going to the city, I’m staying right here in the country ».

When he finally severed his connection with Martha Carson’s show, George needed new work and a new record label. He then worked for two years with the Louvin Brothers, whom he had backed up on the Opry show for a couple of years in 1952-1953. He played rhythm and sang (baritone) wih them, touring all around the country.

The new record label was MGM and his session took place on January 12 1957 at the RCAVictor studio in Nashville. Fiddle and steel sounds of earlier MGM sessions are long gone ; it seems to be Joe Edwards on guitar and Buddy Harman on drums. Pianist, bass player and chorus are unidentified. The session produced four songs, although George’s final single, « Doubt », was backed by « I’ll keep your name on file » from three years ago. The first single coupled the Joe Gibson’s moody « The blues moved in this morning » with the Bryants’ « After all we’ve been through ». « Blues » has a fine guitar solo but is marred by an irritating, repetitive piano figure while « After all » moves close to a pop ballad sound. Last track « Ain’t got nothing but the blues » is lost.

George’s vocals on this session are self-consciously less country than in former years and it is clear he was capable of many different vocal performances. MGM although did not exercise their option for another session, and George probably didn’t know it would be several years before he recorded again as a solo vocalist : actually Hank Williams tribute sessions in 1963 for two low-budget labels. He toured extensively in the East with Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper until 1965, when Porter Wagoner hired him in his Wagonmasters. He appeared in many of the 686 episodes of the Porter Wagoner TV show. Then his last three singles were in 1968-69 on the Stop label : best seller being « Big Wind ». Then he went to work with Billy Grammer and along the way for controversial Alabama Governor George Wallace, before he left after an incident, and went with Grandpa Jones. He stayed with Jones twenty-two years and retired in 1996.

Porter Wagoner TV show

Article based on notes of Martin Hawkins for the BF George & Earl CD « Better stop look and listen ». Some label scans do come from John Burton, Udo Frank or Dean C. Morris : thanks to them. Music from various sources, including a Tom Sims’ cassette. Pictures from the records or from the web.

Billboard Aug. 19 1957 "Blues moved in this morning"

 

Geore & Earl's worst record

Bear Family LP 15173 (1985)

Rusty & Doug Kershaw, Louisiana men (1954 -1964)

ace CD

Douglas James « Doug » Kershaw was born on January 24 of 1936 on a houseboat near Tiel Ridge, Louisiana – a tiny island off the Gulf Coast of Mexico. Russell Lee « Rusty » Kershaw was born on 2 February 1938. Their childhood was difficult, and their father committed suicide when Doug was seven, soon after the family moved to Crowley. Their older brother Nelson « Pee Wee » Kershaw formed a band called the Continental Playboys, which the younger boys would later join. Rusty played rhythm guitar, while Doug began to excel on fiddle (he eventually claimed to have mastered 29 instruments). The band became popular and was appearing on KLPC-TV in 1953, alongside Jimmy Newman and Wiley Barkdull. (suite…)