The story of Khoury’s Recordings starts in 1949 with a man named John Hardin « Virgel » Bozman. He was a rustic singer/guitarist (born in Oklahoma) and part-time comedian who sometimes billed himself, with tongue-in-cheek, as « The Arkansas Sinatra« . He seemingly was also a house painter. He had apparently been a staple on the San Antonio country and western music scene for some time. Virgel Bozman was an eccentric Texas bandleader who became fascinated by Cajun music. He had already recorded a Hillbilly record for Bill Quinn, « Griding for my darling » (Gold Star 1324), which was virtually impossible to locate even when it was new. A 1945 contract for Bozman exists, so he may have had an unknown release on Quinn’s earlier Gulf label, or the sides could have become the later Gold Star release. Bozman revamped his band as the Oklahoma Tornadoes in 1947 with new musicians of the caliber of Cajun fiddler Floyd LeBlanc. Together they came up with a viable French-English novelty « La Prison ». Somehow Quinn failed to see the potential of the song and buried it on the flipside of « The hokey pokey » – a piece of pure corn by the Gold Star Trio. But the song still caught on as it was flipped over on the juke boxes in several regions, and copies show up today with mint « A » sides and plowed « B » sides. With the right promotion, the record had the ingredients to become at least a regional hit in the Hillbilly market. Bozman was not deterred and began to feature Cajun music more prominently, although he himself could not speak French outside the words that were scribbled on paper for « La Prison ».
from l.ro r.: Floyd LeBlanc, Iry LeJeune,Bennie Hess (at mike), Virgel Bozman; 1947-48
While stationed at a San Antonio military base near the end of WWII, Cajun fiddler Floyd Leblanc befriended Bozman. Together, they had joined Bennie Hess’ Oklahoma Tornados country hillbilly band as a guitar player but Virgil also dabbled in his own material as well. In mid 1948, Floyd had helped Iry Lejeune record two tunes with the band on Hess’ label “Opera” and they had him touring with the group for quite some time in 1948. Cajun music was well on it’s way back and while selling cow horns in Lake Charles, Virgil ended up moving from Texas to Louisiana in order to record it.
The O.T. Years
Then came George Khoury, a Turkish-American businessman from Lake Charles and record store owner. In 1947, as an owner of a record shop, he noticed a lack of Cajun music being recorded in south Louisiana and decided to open a business to compete with Ed Shuler’s Goldband Records and J. D. « Jay » Miller’s Fais-Do-Do and Feature labels. His base of operations was just around the corner from Ed’s on Railroad Ave in Lake Charles.
Khoury never had his own studio, however; he would rent out other studios and press the records in other places. He had his record shop in Lake Charles and many agree he helped Virgil finance his new record label « O.T. Recordings », named after Hess’ band. Together, Virgil would try to find new talent for producing records and Khoury would sell the records in his shop. Even his “O.T.” logo resembled a cattle brand. According to author John Broven:
« Khoury was [Virgel’s] sponsor, so to speak, because he didn’t have that much money. He was a good salesman, he had a lot of gab because being a cowhorn salesman he had to have a lot of gab. »
Like Bennie Hess, Bozman stories abound, including his siphoning gasoline out of customer’s cars while they were at the Hilltop Club near his home and at one point driving an old car without a floor. He woud often play the fool’s role in the band as the traditionally required comedian. He was also a fine Hillbilly artist in his own right (« Blues for Oklahoma », O. T. 109) and obviously loved South Louisiana music, working hard to make a success of his labels. By the outset of 1949, the enthusiastic Bozman actually moved his wife and five children to 349-A Route 1 at Westlake in South Louisiana and set up is own OT ‘Hits of Louisiana’ label to tap into the market directly.
Virgil kicked off his label with his own recordings, which were a hillbilly tune « Tell Me If You Love Me » and a Cajun tune « The Cameron Waltz » (#101). The rare Oklahoma Tornadoes record is shrouded in mystery that reflects his initial indecision. The two songs were first recorded in English by Bozman but were cancelled and instead released with uncredited French vocals. The singer’s identity is still subject to much speculation.
Later he issued another Hillbilly bopper, « Blues for Oklahoma » (# 109) [strident mandolin over a loping rhythm] and the more Western swing tinged « Troubles, troubles » (# 112). His B-sides are average little boppers.
But he knew he needed other groups. It would be Eddie Shuler that would help Bozman get his first major outside recording artist. Eddie Shuler, a record producer in Lake Charles, had been approached by Cajun accordion player Nathan Abshire to record on his label after seeing the success of Iry Lejeune’s recordings. Eddie Shuler, who worked for the KPLC radio station, was too busy with the promotion of Iry LeJeune and put Nathan’s band in touch with businessman Virgil Bozman. Also, Virgil had been familiar with Nathan’s music since Floyd had played in Nathan’s band years before. Virgil had noticed how Eddie Shuler produced his records for Goldband. According to Eddie Shuler, Bozman’s recording methods were very strange. He recalled:
« He kept the pot boiling by selling cowhorns (the famous Longhorns) and it is how he landed in Lake Charles one day. He discovered fast how I managed to get artists recorded by a third person and he decided to follow my steps. He arrived at the station studio, gave a bottle of booze to the sound engineer, asked him to cut an acetate, left with it and got it pressed somewhere else.
He sold cow horns. In fact, I still have one of his cow horns over the entrance to my door there that he gave me back at that time. I let him sing on my radio show. Anyway, he went then and teamed up with George Khoury and then he went out and found Nathan Abshire. »
Pine Grove Blues Success and Aftermath
Nathan Abshire, 1972
In May of 1949, Virgil gathered Nathan Abshire with Earl Demary ‘s backup band in the KPLC studio, located inside the Majestic Hotel in Lake Charles, to cut 8 tracks; the first of which was the legendary « Pine Grove Blues » for the O.T. label (#102). It was a loose interpretation of an old blues tune called “In The Pines”. His Pine Grove Boys band included Roy Broussard and Ernest Thibodeaux on vocals, Earl Demary or Ernest Thibodeaux on guitar, Atlas Fruge on lap steel, Jim Baker on bass guitar, Oziet Kegley on drums, and either Will Kegley or Wilson Granger on fiddle. The flipside contained a less-than-impressive “Kaplan Waltz” based on Angelas Lejeune’s 1929 recording of “Pointe Noir”. Since most Cajun 78s usually reached a pressing figure of 500, it was a big hit, pressing around 3,200 copies of the single. Virgil sold boxfulls of “Pine Grove Blues” from the back of a large hearse.
However, Virgil kicked the label off with a string of tunes containing a discography of Cajun songs such as Nathan’s cover of Leo Soileau’s « Grand Mamou » (#106), « Lake Charles Two Step« (#106), “New Orleans Waltz” (# 110), “Hathaway Waltz” (# 111), a re-recording of his pre-war “French Blues” (# 110), and an improved swingy version of his first hit called “Pine Grove Boogie” (#111). At one point that year, Virgil and Khoury convinced the hit artist of the area, Harry Choates, to wax a record, trying to capitalize on his fame giving it “Jole Blon’s Gone” (#107) and the obscure « Lake Charles Waltz » (#107). Neither Nathan nor Harry could recreate the success of the Pine Grove Blues O.T. recording.
Other musicians Virgil managed to get were Cleo Harves [Blues] and Jerry Barlow on his listings. (# 103, # 105). The label would eventually move to San Antonio, run by James Bryant and Bennie Hess (former partners at Bill Quinn’s Gold Star records), however, by the end of 1949, O.T. suddenly dried up.
He released his last 4 recordings he was holding onto, outsourcing the pressings by mailing his masters to Stephen Shaw and George Weitlauf in Cincinatti, OH. The records contained Nathan performing covers of the Breaux tune “Step It Fast” (# 114) and a rendition of Harry Choates’s famous Jole Blon hit called « Jolie, Petite Juilette » [sic](# 114). The other one labeled as Sandy Austin was the stage name for Abe Manuel when he and his brother Joe played Corpus Christi in 1950. They recorded « Scrambled Eggs » and a Joe Falcon cover called » Madame Saustain » (# 113). The O.T. label only produced 14 records that are known to exist.
Both Hot Rod [not to be confused with the California R&B outfit] and O.T. disappeared after 1952, as Virgel Bozman, who without doubt made easier the pot boiling by selling cow horns. Harmon Boazeman (not in any form related to Virgel) joined the Circle C Band in 1952 and cut in 1956 « No love in you » for Sarg.
Sources : the main sources were the abundant and precise notes of Dave Sax for ‘Cajun honky tonk – The Khoury recordings volume 2‘ ; also Chris Strachwitz for the « Nathan Abshire – « French blues » CD. These notes were freely adapted (and sometimes simply recopied). Many personal pictures do come from the accompanying booklets : I am working on the assumption that not many a reader owns those two CDs. Also I was inspired by the feature written on Khoury’s Records by Wade Falcon, available in this site or in his fine « earlycajunmusic.blogspot.fr » blogsite. Thanks to him. And this feature woud have been far incomplete (Hot Rod and O.T. Records) without the aid of the invaluable Ronald Keppner – million thanks go to him. Remaining pictures from 78rpm-world (45worlds.com). The picture of Nathan Abshire (’50s) comes from « Louisiana Music », a booklet by Lyle Ferbrache and Andrew Brown. Thanks to them. Some help from « JoDee », thanks to her!
LOUIE INNIS (biography by Greg Adams, Allmusic.com). [Additions by Bopping’s editor.]
Louie Innis was born on January 21, 1919 (d. Aug. 20, 1982) in Seymour, Indiana. His role as a session guitarist is often emphasized but the fact is that, for us, it was not his most important role.
Louie Innis (sometimes credited as Louis) is one of those 50-year-old hillbilly boppers that thrill country music collectors. He never had a success [that’s not true], but his recordings for King and Mercury were cheerful, boogies uptempos and proto-rockers that show the musical mastery and the vocal work of Innis.
He was part of Hank Penny’s The Plantation Boys in the early 1940s, performing guitar and bass chores alongside Carl Stewart and Zed Tennis as violinists, and Roy Lanham’s solo guitar. Here is an example of Louie Innis work as rhythm player during a Hank Penny March 1945 session in Cincinnati, OH.: « Talkin’ about you » (King 512)
They worked with The Delmore Brothers, Merle Travis, Bradley Kincaid and Grandpa Jones. They also accompanied WLW pop singer Doris Day. After the march of Lanham, in 1944 the band toured with the USO before Penny traveled to California at the behest of [Merle] Travis, and the group undid. Later, when Penny was under contract with RCA, Innis composed a pair of songs to him, « No Muss-No Fuss-No Bother« (RCA 58-0183) and « Hold The Phone » (1951).
«(You ain’t nothin’ but a female) Hound Dog« , a duet with Charlie Gore, is an issue that has surfaced in rockabilly compilations, although it was recorded in 1953, indicating that Innis was on the road to rock & roll, though he was never permanently installed on it.
There are very few biographical data we could gather about Innis; however, on King Records’ promotional discs some details about the performer were outlined: on King 1225 (1953) he was defined: « Composer, vocalist, instrumentalist and emcee [presenter at Indiana Hoedown on WFBM], Louis innis excels in every facet. An Indiana guy who started on the radio at age 16, Innis has already made up a few hit songs. »
In King 1406 (1954) it was stated: « Indiana native Louie Innis became interested in music for the first time thanks to the local hairdresser who knew a few chords on the guitar, and both played and did duets between cuts of hair and shaved, almost every day. »
On the other side of the same single was noted: « A familiar figure among the broadcasts of folk music is Louie Innis. One of the outstanding rhythmic guitars in the business, Louie Innis worked with Red Foley for two and a half years at the Grand Ole Opry and has recorded with over fifty different artists ».
King 4861 (1955) noted: « (….) His work as a guitarist is much appreciated and is required by many great country stars. Louie is currently working as an emcee at the Indiana Hoedown in Indianapolis, Indiana. »
And on the flipside it was said: « Born in Shelbyville, Indiana, 35 years ago, Louie Innis was driven into music business when he was expelled from high school. He and some other students « played hookey » (skipped classes) one day. « The other guys lied about why they had gone away, but I told the truth, » he explains. « Later, when the director found out, he begged me to come back, but I said ‘no thank you’, and I took music seriously with the blessing of my parents. »
As a composer, in addition to his own songs, highlights « Seven Nights To Rock« , along with Buck Trail and Henry Glover, for Moon Mullican (1956), a classic rockabilly that he never got to record:
« Skip, Hop & Jump Country Style » is a German 23-track anthology of recordings of Innis on Mercury and King between 1949 and 1955, full of Innis novelties and a few hillbilly covers of pop and R & B hits such as « Oh! Babe by Louis Prima and « Hearts of Stone » by the Charms. «Stomp that thing» is a recent (2017) digital anthology to be found on Uncle Gil’s Rockin’ Archives blogsite.
Innis used a superb rhythmic section filled with resources like palms, bells, whistles and howls, as a precedent of what Sid King & the Five Strings would do next. Innis had a prominent band in which Zeb and Zeke Turner, Jerry Byrd, Tommy Jackson and Don Helms paraded in different stages, along with Maddox Brothers & Rose, to the category of talents that « should have been», but never received sufficient recognition.
LOUIE INNIS : an appreciation track per track (by Bopping’s editor)
If the reading of comments is boring you, go direct to the podcasts, label scans and downloads.
Sterling and Deluxe issues (1947-late 1948)
« LOUIE & THE INNIS CLAN » (on Sterling)
«Look in the looking glass» is a fast Western swing novelty. Good guitar, steel (Jerry Byrd?) + a welcome trumpet solo. (N.Y.C. Sterling 207 – probably recorded in Nashville).
«Tennessee Central» is of course a train song that’s « Rockin’ and reelin’». Fast. No fiddle. Trumpet main instrument. Steel effects of train. Agile lead guitar. (N.Y.C. Sterling 209 – probably recorded in Nashville).
«I guess you just don’t care» is a mid-paced ballad. An accordion; fiddle, guitar and bass. Vocal is a bit Hillbilly crooning. (New Jersey Deluxe 5059, also probably recorded in Nashville). First song written by Louie Innis. Leased by King ? The session has nos less than 7 unissued songs left.
= On December 22, 1948, Innis did the rhythm guitar duty for the Hank Williams‘ session that released « Lost on the river » and « Lovesick blues ».
Mercury issues (July 1949-November 1951)
« LOUIE INNIS & THE STRING DUSTERS »
«Better back up mama» (# 6217) Billed on label «Country boogie and blues» : uptempo Bopper ; prominent fiddle, Jerry Byrd takes a steel solo. Probably Zeke Turner on lead guitar. Innis on energetic rhythm guitar.
= On August 30, 1949, Innis accompanied on rhythm guitar Hank Williams once more (and for the last time) on «I’m so lonesome I could cry», «I just don’t like this kind of livin’», «My bucket’s got a hole in it». Tommy Jackson was on fiddle, and probably accompanied Louis Innis on his first Mercury session, with Ernie Newton on bass, at E.T. Herzog Studio in Cincinnati, OH.
«She’s mean to me» (# 6225, reissued # 6273) is a real fine shuffler. Zeke Turner in good form. Byrd has his solo. Certainly Tommy Jackson on insistent fiddle.
One more «Country boogie» as noted on the label : «Jug band boogie» (# 6244). A novelty by the use of a washboard, handclaps, and the growls of Innis (imitating T. Texas Tyler). A fine bopper.
«I thought she was a local (but she was a fast express)» (# 6273). Not written by Innis, it’s his second train-inspired opus. Very fast song, an harmonica (for the only time in Innis’ records), fiddle is prominent. Discreet steel, imitating a train bell.A promising «Woman hating blues» from this August 1950 session remains unissued.
Another pop novelty from the pen of Louis Prima, given the Hillbilly bop treatment, «Oh ! Babe» (# 6293). Tailor-made for Prima, a very nice version by the versatile Innis. An insistent guitar riff.
More to come with the next pairing. «Honky-tonk man» (# 6335) from May 1951. Strong country boogie guitar, loud drums, great steel. Same goes for the flipside, «Stomp that thing» (penned Innis-Turner) is a tour-de-force, his fastest song ever, without fiddle, and proto-rockabilly. Great song !
In June 1951, Hank Penny cut the Louie Innis songs that were specially written for him : «No muss-no fuss-no bother» and «Hold the phone», although the session took place on the West coast (Innis not present).
So strangely «I’ve got a red hot love» (on the label, «Louie Innis » alone) (# 6370) from late 1951 returns to classic style Hillbilly bopper – the theme song is as usual. The fiddle is back, and the voice is always winkling. From the same session remained unissued «I’m the lonesomest guy».
Remember. If my comments are boring you, go direct to podcasts, downloads and labels cans.
Louie Innis didn’t have in 1952 any recording pact, and without doubt he devoted himself to his work on WLW (Cincinnati, Midwestern Hayride) and WFBM (Indiana Hoedown), or recording sessions for others artists.
Billboard March 1953
February and March 1953. «Who’ll give me, you’ll give me, who’ll give me kisses» (# 1180) is a fast novelty and unpretentious very good bopper with its catch phrase.
« Who’ll give me, you’ll give me, who’ll give me kisses »
Then the very fast «I got a round trip ticket» » from November 1953. Train effects by the steel payer ; pizzicato played fiddle, which seems mandolin . Plus, «There’s a red hot fire (in the old locomotive)» (# 1392) (penned Roberts = maybe Bob Newman under his usual pseudonym as writer), again a fast train song.
Finally a cover of another R&B hit, « Hearts of stone » (# 1392), originally done by the Black vocal group The Charms. Innis does a fine mid-paced rendition of the song. Good steel and guitar. This crossover use of R&B and C&W songs was common at King for years, and gave many a new, fresh song.
Finally from October 1954 to May 1955. – Innis aided by Al Myers (lead guitar), Jerry Byrd and a bass player, formed The Country Cats for a 4-instrumentals session. Fine relaxed boppers : «Hot strings» (# 1410) and «Sun shadows» (# 1430).
Back to Louie Innis recording sessions. He did a good version of the old spiritual « Nobody knows you when you’re down and out », another crossover (# 1406). «The kissing chain» (which he didn’t write) is another mid-paced good novelty. Al Myers makes prowesses on lead (# 1415). The flipside «Let’s make up tonight» goes same, and is equally good bopper. The final side «Sing your song baby» (# 4861) has chorus and a fine guitar. Innis is tending clearly toward rock’n’roll, that he never really reached. Actually he never recorded anything after this last King 1955 session.
In 1961, King issued a remaining track from the Deluxe session of 1948 (unheard). Why this occurred ?
Further adventures of Louis Innis after 1955
He seems to have devoted himself to writing songs for others. Here below is a partial list of artists whom he’d work for :
Chet Atkins, « Mister Misery », 1954
Chet Atkins, « Set a spell » (vocal by Red Kirk), 1954
Fuller Todd, « Old fashioned », 1957
Brenda Lee, « I’m learning about love » (with Grady Martin), 1960
Charles Brown, « Christmas questions », 1961
Conway Twitty, « Portrait of a fool » (with Buddy Killen), 1961
Joe Henderson, « Mr. Voice », 1962
Jimmy Logsdon, « The life of Hank Williams » (with Hawkshaw Hawkins), 1963
Lois Williams, « Don’t take my child away », 1970
and a lot more into the ’70s.
Louie Innis also arranged songs for Don Lane (M.C.A.), date unknown.
Those songs were rejected for certain reasons (primarily because they’d take too much room) :
Oklahoma City/Foggy river (Sterling) ; I’d be ashmaed if I were you (DeLuxe)
Good morning Judge/My dreamboat stuk a snag/I grabbed for the engine (Mercury)
It don’t pay to advertise/Mexican Joe/What a way to die/Suicide/You’ve got it/What’s she got/She rurn’t it/Nobody knows you when you’re down and out/You’re not happy till you’re mad/Jealous hearted woman (King). A good amount of them is on the « Stomp that thing » compilation (on Uncle Gil’s Rockin’ Archives blogsite: unclegil.blogspot.fr)
My thanks go first to Uncle Gil’s Rockin’ Archives blogsite, and as usual, Ronald Keppner for the loan (scan and music) of rare 78 rpm’s. Then to Greg Adams (all music site) for the only biography available on Louis Innis ; to the people of the « King Project » (for Hank Penny King side) ; 78rpm and 45rpm scans on always fruitful « 45worlds.com ». My old fellow Tony Biggs for « Whammy… ». YouTube was useful too. There had been a whole lot of work for this issue : it’s really been a « labor of love » ! I hope you’ll appreciate the result of the study. Thanks for your comments : they always give me courage to go further and deeper into Hillbilly bopping music..
Howdy, folks ! This is the early June 2017 bopping fortnight’s selection, between 1937 and 1947, with some projections in the very early ’60s.
Here we go before WWII with BILL NETTLES & his Dixie Blue Boys for his first recording session, held in Dallas, TX on June 22nd, 1937 (nearly 80 years ago…) His story has already been written in this site, and I will focus on one track, « Oxford (Miss) Blues », described on the label as « hot string band with singing ». Really hot fiddle (Dock Massey, who’s also singing, among cheers and yells) and strong slapping bass (by Nettles’ brother Luther). They didn’t do such great tracks so often, even in the ’40s and ’50s.
ALSIE « REX » GRIFFIN (1912-1959) made most of his career during the ’30s on Decca, as a follower of Jimmie Rodgers, and a fine yodeler too. Here on the decline (one of his last records) in Cincinnati on King 584 (February 1947), I chose « I’m as free as the breeze » : nice hot guitar player (obviously inspired by the late Django Rheinhart) and a discree steel for a good mid-paced bopper.
Griffin was also responsible for three classics, « Everybody’s trying to be my baby » (one feature in this site is devoted to this song and its continuation), « Won’t you ride in my little red wagon » (the signature song of Hank Penny), and the morbid « The last letter ».
HANK STOLLINGS went on the RCA-pressed 1961 Versatile 101 « Date with the blues » (vocal Chuck Louis) with a deep-voiced country rocker ; 2 fine fiddle solos, and a good loud guitar too.
From the same or similar era (late 1959) we find also BEN JACK & Country Boys for «I’m entitled to your love», a mid-paced light country rocker with fiddle emanating from Tulsa, OK, to be found on the Cimarron label # 4048. This label was owned by Leon McAuliffe, former steel player in the Bob Wills’ Playboys.
Back to TOMMY FAILE (reviewed early May with « That’s all right » on Lawn 104, NYC label) and the flipside of this December 1960 issue, « The rest of my life ». Arthur Smith is seemingly on lead guitar (on bass chords) for this baritone-voiced, female chorus backed (unobstrusive) country rocker.
Indiana born, on a Chicago label, comes BOB PERRY for two tunes. First a famous small Rockabilly classic,« Weary blues, goodbye » on the Bandera label (# 1303, from 1959), valued at $ 150-200, it has a very strong rhythm guitar (obviously played by Perry himself) and a fantastic steel guitar solo . So tame in comparison is the second Perry issue on Cool 158, « Gone with the wind », which is a gentle Rockabilly/rocker (all the same attaining $ 75-100). Perry went later on Top Rank and BandBox.
Jimmie Dale got his start in hillbilly music with the guidance of Dave Miller, who was a famous New Jersey-Newark disc jockey.
He organized his own band and they made personal appearances in the New York night club circuit. Jimmie also appeared at Carnegie Hall, Frank Daly’s Meadowbrook and the top spot on Dave Miller’s television show. By 1953, he was being heard over radio station WAAT in Newark, New Jersey.
Dale had other boogies in the same style.
Sources : 45cat and 78rpm-worlds, YouTube (e.g. Rockin’ TomKat for Bob Perry on Cool) ; Hillbilly-Music.com (picture of Rex Griffin and Jimmie Dale) ; also Wikipedia for Rex Griffin bio. My own archives.
Born 24 May 1925, Knoxville, Tennessee, USA. Claude « Red » Kirk started playing steel guitar at seven but changed to ordinary guitar and began singing at 10. He served in the US Army during World War II and on discharge played on WNOX Knoxville’s Mid Day Merry-Go-Round and Tennessee Barn Dance. He spent three years as a member of Archie Campbell’s touring show but later his fine vocals, reminiscent of Eddy Arnold, saw him tour and work radio and television at numerous venues including Dayton, Lexington and Louisville. He also played on WLS National Barn Dance in Chicago, the Big “D” Jamboree in Dallas and the Louisiana Hayride in Shreveport and made guest appearances on the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. He made his first recordings for Mercury in 1949, on some being accompanied by noted session musicians that included Jerry Byrd (steel guitar) and Tommy Jackson (fiddle). He later recorded for ABC-Paramount Records, Starday, Dewitt and Great. Died in Bristol, TN, in May 1999. (anonymous biography from allmusic.com)
His radio shows as D.J. : WNOX, Knoxville, TN ; WTMT, Louisville, KY ; WKLO, Louisville, KY ; WOWI, New Alban, IN ; WIMA, Lima, OH. (from hillbilly-music.com)
RED KIRK : an appreciation (by bopping’s editor)
the Mercury and RCA years (1949-1954)
Fine honky tonk music that brought Kirk the somewhow ambitious nickname of « The voice of the country », it spanned five years and gave him two massive hits. Generally backed by the cream of Cincinnati musicians, among
them Jerry Byrd on steel for example, he kept the Mercury label’s executives faith in him to go on in spite of moderate sales of his other records. Most of his recordings for Mercury are uptempos, although his voice pushed him naturally to sing ballads, hence his nickname : he was then a bit crooning and, apart from one or two exceptions, I’ll let them apart. So I will concentrate on uptempo and boppers.
It’s very hard to describe Red Kirk’s version of « Lovesick blues » (Mercury 6189), since it’s so very close to Hank Williams’ one. What is notable is the urgency of the recording, very early (presumably February 1949) after the « original » (which actually was not) of Williams, cut late December 1948. Kirk’s version is credited « Traditional » and includes an accordion part. The other tunes of the session are forgettable ballads (# 6189 and 6204).
« I wasted a nickel » (# 6223) and « Church bells chimed » (# 6274) are good examples of the ballads of Red Kirk : the richness and sweetness of his voice are perfectly emphasized by musicians, as told before, the top notch team of Cincinnati country music : among them, one can speculate Zeke Turner on lead guitar, Tommy Jackson on fiddle. Red Kirk is even (a common practice then) associated vocally to a girl singer, Judy Perkins, for two ballads (# 6237).
Kirk went further in 1952 with the proto-rockabillies « Knock out the lights and call the law » (# 6409) and « Walkin’ ’round in circles » (# 70044) : both include snare drums and predate by two years the Starday sound, which included howling steel and sawing fiddle. Note that the nickname « The voice of the country » was erased, only remain the laconic « vocal by Red Kirk« . But for Mercury, enough was enough. Success had for too long eluded Kirk and they let him go. « Train track shuffle » (# 6358) escaped to my researches, and although the title sounds promising for a train song, nobody seems to own it.
Red Kirk appeared in 1954 as vocalist on a notorious Chet Atkins session held in Nashville, and sang a good mid-paced bopper, « Set a spell » (RCA 47-5956), but this seems to be more a good turn to Kirk than a a step to a new recording label. »Set a spell«
From then on, Kirk went from one small label to another, searching the always elusive hit. In late 1955 he cut two tacks in Nashville for Republic # 7120 : « Davy Crockett blues » is a fine uptempo, with some yodel, based of course on the current rage. Stylistically it’s not that far from his last Mercury sides three years earlier : steel and fiddle gave him a good support. A very convincing side, although in 1956 it was way too late for such a type of song. « Red lipped girl » is a folkish fast, dramatic song which has a strong Indian appeal, as Marvin Rainwater.
In 1957, Kirk choose a Lee Hazlewood/Loy Clingman song « It’s nothing to me » and cut it on the Ring label # 1503 : his rich deep voice does a very good effect on that song, although he copies the original very close. Note that the credit goes to « Patterson », a pseudonym of Leon Payne. Kirk’s ’45 had at any rate made some noise, because the larger ABC bought the sides and reissued them as ABC-Paramount 9814. The flipside « How still the night » is a good ballad, with prominent piano.
Hello Folks ! This is the late May 2017 bopping fortnite’s selection. It begins with a Starday custom disc on the Friendly label [from Milan, TN] (# 853) by RAY BELL : « Yodelin’ catfish blues » [what a title!], which is a cross, in my mind, between Rockabilly and Bopper. Dating from 1960 or even later. No guitar solo. A good song anyway which growns on one’s ears at every listening. Bell had another disc on Queen (obviously distributed by King), but a Jay Miller production: it is a suggestion of a Louisiana recording or at least a link. Same Queen label has a Miller protégé, Katie Webster. So the link may be strong. « Blues tavern » (# 24006, June 1961) is a decent uptempo hillbilly ballad. He also had two « leased » titles on the same date which went unissued at King.
Next selection is by three guys (brothers) also well-known, first as the Willis Brothers (led by the eldest of them, James « Guy » Willis) then later as OKLAHOMA WRANGLERS. They put between 1946 and 54 on line a fine string of Country rockers and hillbilly Boppers. I’ve chosen – an uneasy task – two boppers. First the fast «Hoot howl boogie » from April 1951, issued on RCA 20-4309. Piano accompanying throughout the tune (Vic Willis), nice guitar solo (Guy Willis) over a fiddle part (Skeeter Willis) + two unknowns : steel player and a thudding double-bassist. It has an irressistible beat.
Second song is a program per se : « Hillbilly rhythm » (RCA 20-4848, cut May 1952). Not as fast as the previous song, it’s excellent all the way. Fiddle part is more prominent, while the brothers sing the refrain in unison. Guy Willis even plays in a style Merle Travis had done famous several years ago. More on the Oklahoma Wranglers in a not too distant future, when I put my hands on biographical details.
MALCOLM PARKER seems to have migrated from Nashville to West coast (or was it the opposite). The first record noticed was on a California label, Mesa 101: a mid-tempo, nice rhythm-guitar and vocal led for « The tears you saved », stylistically from the early ’60s, although the label indicate « Stereo », which may indicate a 1970’s issue: a great record for this era! Then a second issue on Code, a Nashville label (# 301), early ’60s too. It’s a great rocker (piano and great guitar solo) for « Come along with me ». Perhaps different artists with the same name ? I found (but unheard) one side described by its vendor as « hillbilly » , « The panther den/We’re through » on the Bee (location unknown : label too much damaged), on the RootsVinylGuide site, which is usually very helpful. But not this time ! Anyone help us all?
ART ONTARIO is a well-known figure among Rockabilly circles. He had releases on Dixie (« It must be me », # 2019 (Madison, TN) in 1959, then as Art Buchanan, on sparse Dixie regional issues or on Flame during the early ’60s. Now a rare Starday custom, Illinois label (# 725) presents « Wiggle walkin’ boogie ». A great vocal, an insistant lead guitar (solo) over fine inventive drums. A nice record.
A jumping little tune now on an Atlanta Leo’s label (# 2016) for BLUEGRASS ERVIN : « I won’t cry alone ». Lots of fiddle (at times, played pizzicato, like a mandolin; at other times, duetting with steel). Steel is great, plus a clever guitar player. A great, great light country-rocker !
Finally FREEMAN ERVIN [apparently no connection with the preceding artist] in 1962 for « Living doll » on the Newbury, OH Bryte label # 241. Banjo-led, and high-pitched vocal. Good bopping Bluegrass to finish this issue.
Sources: thanks to UncleGil Rockin’ Archives (Oklahoma Wranglers files) ; HillbillyBoogie1 Youtube chain ; RootsVinylGuide for various scans, as 78rpm-world ; BF CD for Carl Butler personal on this session ; RCS for Art Ontario.