Howdy folks! Well it’s been quite some time since I last posted. Lot of work this Summer, down in Marseille (south of France) where I’d set my younger daughter as student in her flat up. Last post (today): an important article on the JACOBY Brothers (TNT and Columbia recordings). Nearly all their output is posted in a new presentation. I hope it will please you. Let me know. By now, for this fortnight, we begin with the guitar player of the Miller Brothers, EDDIE MILLER. He lets his bass player Jim McGraw take the lead on this April 1956 4 Star 1693 issue, « Patty cake man« , a typical 4 Star pano led honky tonker.
Another important artist on the West coast was ROCKY BILL FORD, mostly known for his 1951 « Beer drinking blues », easily found on many compilations. Lesser known is his « Willie Dum Dee » on Gilt-Edge 9 from 1951: typical baritone voice for this fine shuffler.
Rocky Bill Ford: Willie Dum Dee http://www.bopping.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/rocky-bill-ford-willie-dum-dee.mp3
From Joliet, Illinois, 1957, comes JIMMIE LAUDERDALE for a joyful, hopping « Right away, quick! quick! » country-rocker on the Jopz label. Nice guitar. Right away, quick quick http://www.bopping.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Jimmie-Lauderdale-Right-Away-Quick-Quick-1957.mp3 Download Now BEN BAKER for two tracks on the Cool label from Harrison, NJ. Atmospheric hillbilly bop (one waltz tempo). Lots of echo on the steel and fiddle. Nice tunes: « Tomorrow your leaving« (sic) and « Too late now« . strong>Tommow you_re leaving/span> http://www.bopping.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Tomorrow-Your-Leaving.mp3 Download
Too late now http://www.bopping.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Too-Late-Now.mp3
Finally a R&B romper with CECIL GANT and « Nashville jumps« , one of the early sides on Bullet out of Nashville. Enjoy the selections! Bye. Nashville jumps http://www.bopping.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Bullet-250-A-cecil-gant-nashville-jumps.mp3
The Steeldrivers « Reckless » Rounder 0624-2 (2010)
Steeldrivers’ singer (Chris Stapleton) left the group and his replacement, Gary Nichols, will be in Craponne. Stapleton, beside being a good vocalist, is first a Nashville songwriter. One can surely see this new group on YouTube. I prefer personnally the fiddle player Tammy Rogers (already seen in Nashville, and 2 times in Paris) and Mike Henderson, mandolin and, most of all,dobro.
Better sides of this hybrid bluegrass band : the powerful fast « The Reckless Side Of Me », the bluesy (great dobro) « Peacemaker », the lively classic bluegrass sound of « Guitars, Whiskey, Guns and Knives » and the haunting (fine vocal by Stapleton) « Ghosts Of Mississipi ». Buy it in confidence !
Tim Hus « Hockeytown » Stony plain (2010)
Tim is a Canadian honky-tonk singer, whose compositions are very promising and interesting. The instrumentation is of classic origin, even comprising accordion (« North Atlantic Trawler ») and the inspiration includes references to trucker’s culture (« Canadian Pacific »). Also noticed were « Picture Butte Charlie », classic honky-tonk sound, and the « Talkin’ Saskatoon Blues ». An artist to look for in the future !
Nadine Landry & Stephen « Sammy » Lind « Granddad’s Favorite» (2010)
A duet (Nadine on vocal and guitar, Stephen on banjo and fiddle) who offer a cajun pot-pourri of old, traditional songs as well as personal compositions. I like Nadine’s high-pitched vocal in « Parlez-nous A Boire » (Invite us to drink), or the good « Les Oiseaux Vont Chanter » (The birds are going to sing). I picked up « Un Ange Pour Toute La Louisiane» (An angel for all Louisiana) too, and the fine instrumental fiddle-led « Brown’s Dream ». Really don’t know if they are used musicians on CD, but felt it a bit monotonous in term of paces and rhythm guitar styling. Maybe a duet to look for in the future.
Eileen Jewell presents Butcher Holler « A Tribute To Loretta Lynn » Signature Sounds (2010)
This is a difficult task of paying tribute to an icon of Country music of the ’70s to the ’90s, but Eileen Jewell (vocal) does it fairly well. Actually her versions of Lynn’s songs may even sound better than the originals, according to Jack Dumery ! I believe him, me being not familiar with Loretta Lynn’s music. Anyway, I particularly liked « Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ On Your Mind »), with Eileen’s assured vocal over a crisp lead-guitar. Other goodies do include « I’m A Honky Tonk Girl », with love gone wrong lyrics which seem suited to Loretta’s image. Let’s also take a listen to the nice shuffler « A Man I Hardly Know » or the good « Deep As Your Pocket », and I’m ending with « You’re Lookin’ At Country », a great Honky tonk song in its own right. A very fine CD, you surely enjoy if you ever decide to pick it.
Pokey Lafarge & Soul City Three « River Boat Soul » Free Dirt Records (2010). Takoma Park, MD
This is entirely something else. Back to roots music and « jazz manouche ». Pokey and his band do offer a large amount of happy old-time music, be it traditional songs (« Claude Jones » or « Sweet Potato Blues ») or own compositions like « Daffodil Blues ». I felt like their sound of traditional instruments, like kazoo, mouth harp, banjo and acoustic guitar. All selections are taken at brisk tempos, even the blues songs. I noticed the slower « Bag Of Bones », full of laziness. A very nice record I recommend to old-time music lovers. But the other people will enjoy it too !
Born Jess Willard Griffin, 28 March 1916, Washburn, Texas.?Died 26 May 1959, Auburn, California.
I must admit that I had never heard of Jess Willard before the release of his Bear Family CD in 2000. Though he recorded for a major label (Capitol), Willard always remained an obscurity and is ignored by the country music encyclopedias.
Jess was named after the boxer Jess Willard, who won the world championship heavyweight in 1915. Born in a small town in West Texas, he was one of seven children. His two big musical influences were his father, a skilled guitarist who passed onto his son his love for Western music and his technical ability, and his best friend, singer Jack Guthrie (1915-1948), whose early death was a great shock to Jess. By then Willard was living in Los Angeles where he began to appear with Ole Rasmussen and his western swing band. It was while sitting in with Rasmussen at Harmony Park Ballroom, singing Jack Guthrie’s « Oklahoma Hills » (a # 1 country hit in 1945), that he was heard by Lee Gillette, then head of Capitol’s country department. Gillette signed him to Capitol and produced Willard’s first session, on June 14, 1950, in Hollywood. When Capitol decided to put Gillette in their pop division, his A&R hillbilly position on the West Coast was taken over by Ken Nelson, who would produce all subsequent Capitol sessions by Willard. Gillette and Nelson noticed that Jess had trouble staying in tune on slow songs, but his vocal limitations were less apparent on up-tempo material. Most of his recordings are good-time honky tonk country, with a touch of western swing. As Jess was no great songwriter, Capitol seemed to regard him at first as a vehicle for covers of other’s hits (like Lefty Frizzell‘s « If You’ve Got the Money Honey« ), but from his third session on, Willard sought original material from friends like Tex Atchison (a fiddler in Rasmussen’s band) and Eddie Hazelwood. They were the writers of « Honky Tonk Hardwood Floor » (recorded on May 3, 1951, Capitol 1562), probably Willard’s main claim to fame, especially after it was revived by Johnny Horton at the end of 1957 (Columbia 41110), and, in a more Rock’n'Roll mould, by Clyde Stacy in 1958 (Bullseye 1008). This song is still sung today. A ’90s very modern version was done by Tim O’Brien.
The Capitol recordings benefited greatly from the work of well-known West Coast session men like Jimmy Bryant, Speedy West and Cliffie Stone, and from humourous lyrics (« My Mail Order Mama« , « Turn That Gun Around« , for instance), but none of Willard’s 13 Capitol singles made any significant commercial impact. After a session in September 1952, his Capitol contract was not renewed and Jess would not record again for three years. In the summer of 1953, Willard and Eddie Hazelwood headed to Korea to entertain troops, followed by a four and a half month tour of the Far East.
In 1954 Jess befriended Hank Cochran, who was working in duet with teenage guitarist and future rock ‘n’ roll star Eddie Cochran. Though they were unrelated, the duo billed themselves as the Cochran Brothers. In 1955, the Cochrans toured northern California with Willard, then joined him for a time as members of the California Hayride in Stockton. Jess recorded Hank’s « Every Dog Has His Day » and his own « Don’t Hold Her So Close » for the Ekko label in Hollywood, with possible lead guitar from Eddie – although I (Xavier) don’t really recognize his usual style. The lead guitar would then be played by Hank. A fine record, issued in October 1955 (Ekko 1018), but unfortunately it would remain Willard’s only Ekko release.
When the Cochrans split and left the Hayride, Willard stayed, settling in Auburn, near Sacramento. He was a popular local radio personality and recorded two one-off singles for small labels (Kay-Hi 127 : « I’m Telling You », 1957, and Sundown – « Cops and Robbers », still untraced- 1959) before he died of a heart attack on May 26, 1959, at the age of only 43. Willard was, as Hank Cochran put it, « solid country … no pretense at all. He was as down to earth as you can get. » In the late 1970s, some of his recordings were rediscovered by country fans, and one track, « Honky Tonkin’ All the Time » was included on a Charly anthology in the early 1980s. Had he been alive, Willard would probably be amazed that people are still listening to his music in the 21st century.
(biography taken from Blackcat Rockabilly Europe and written by Dik De Heer – reproduced with permission)
Jess Willard is always at his best with medium up-tempo songs. Name « Cadillac Blues » from his penultimate Capitol session of February 25, 1952. Willard has that distinctive nasal pronunciation, prettily backed by the lead guitar playing of Walt McCoy (already an artist by himself on Crystal records. His « Cowboy Boogie » is to be found on Boppin’ Hillbilly vol. 16), and the steel guitar of Leodie Jackson (also an artist of his own, known for « Steeling The Blues« or « Double Crossin’ Mama », the latter to be found on the 2001 « Swinging West vol. 2» compilation). Noticeable also is his fine version of « New Panhandle Rag », recently (early 1950) originally done by Webb Pierce on Pacemaker (see elsewhere in this site for Webb Pierce’s early disks). For this version, a fine instrumentation does include harmonica (Jerry Adler), the renowned Tex Atchison (he would later co-write « Honky Tonk HardwoodFloor ») on fiddle, and a very inspired Jimmy Bryant on lead guitar ; the whole being propelled by the solid bass of Cliffie Stone. Indeed his best known track is « Honky Tonk Hardwood Floor », with his tap dance sounds, bar-room styled piano, and on the whole its very easily evocative atmosphere of a early ’50s honky tonk. I like very much what is in my mind his best recording session ever, of September 1951 : songs like the two amusing « Turn That Gun Around » (Capitol 1855) and « My Mail Order Mama » (# 1963)(co-written by none other than Mar-Vel’s label Bob Burton’s lead-guitar player Ronnie Durbin, out of Indiana), Willard’s own « Truck Driver’s Boogie » (co-written with guitarist Walt McCoy, who does a superb job here), ; this song has nothing to do with the Milo Twins‘ 1947 song of the same name. Finally from this session, I like particularly « Mistreated Blues » (# 1855) with its line « Nobody wants me to be their darling – I’ve got those lonesome mistreated blues » and always an impressive backing on a slowish uptempo number.
Considering both Ekko sides, they are fine uptembo hillbilly bop songs, Willard in fine form, in front of a sympathetic backing. Everybody in the studio seems to feel relax and enjoy doing their job.
Big Allan Turner, out of England, did fortunately put his hands on a two-sided test pressing of songs, already unissued elsewhere, and published on his site (www.hillbillyresearcher.blogspot.com). They are really demonstration songs: « Please Believe In Me » and « It’s A Sin« , with sparse instrumentation (steel, lead guitar barely audible and bass), and otherwise would have deserved a full backing. No composer credits. Maybe Willard did intend to use them for knocking at another label’s door ?
Finally the Ka Hi issue, « I’m Telling You » (flipside unknown – this song has been reissued twice recently, on Cactus « High On The Hog – vol. 3″ and Collector « Rock and Roll Country Style ». It’s a microscopic label, out of somewhere in California (I only know of another disc, by Freddie Byers – same period, 1957, a good hillbilly bop). Willard is in fine form, and lovely backed by a tight combo (steel, lead guitar, piano,fiddle and bass), singing the evergreen « You’re gonna change, or I’m gonna leave » refrain. Jack Guthrie had had his own version in 1946 on Capitol.
The last record I know of was issued probably in the Summer of 1959, so AFTER the untimely death (at the age of 43) of Willard. It’s on the Pico, Ca. Sundown 127 label, and I have still to hear « Cops And Robbers/Night Time Is Cry Time ». Anyone can help ? Let me know, please !
He died of a heart attack on May 26, 1959, at the age of only 43. Willard was, as Hank Cochran put it, « solid country … no pretense at all. He was as down to earth as you can get. » In the late 1970s, some of his recordings were rediscovered by country fans, and one track, « Honky Tonkin’ All the Time » was included on a Charly anthology in the early 1980s. Had he been alive, Willard would probably be amazed that people are still listening to his music in the 21st century.
This is Jack Dumery’s new chronicle. Jack kindly chose the CDs and sent them , allowing me to review them with an open ear. And I found in the batch some real treasures in various styles, honky tonk, cajun or gospel hillbilly. Although I don’t have Jack’s writing abilities to English, I hope to pass round the pleasure I had discovering the CDs.
Jack left, Xavier (bopping editor) right - Attignat, 2008
Here we go…
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Earnest Earl Walker was born in Mason County, West Virginia on December 18th, 1915, a few miles from the river town of Point Pleasant. Having been reared in his home locals and also in the Pittsburgh area, he worked as a riverboat man in the late ’30s before being drafted into the military. Read the rest of this entry »
Howdy folks! This time I managed to post 8 tunes, instead of the usual 6. I must say: the matter was significant with the « Move It On Over » story, a tune frequently covered over the years. I picked up 4 versions, ranging from 1947 to the ’60s. Read the rest of this entry »
I’ll try to give the story the best I can. My dad’s family were farmers: grandad was a dutch/german immigrant and grandma was cherokee indian. When my dad was old enough, he couldnt wait to get off the farm, so towards the end of the second world war, he joined the air force where he worked in the hospital and was involved with the u.s.o. My mom and dad met in the service; mom had just returned from being in Japan for four years as part of the occupation force. They met, fell in love and got married, mom became pregnant and I was born at Bowlings Air Force base in Washington, DC. My dad wanted to break into the music business, as he already had been doing u.s.o. shows for the troops, so it was decided to get out of the service and head to southern California: it was 1951 and the beginning of hillbilly and rockabilly, although they didnt call it rockabilly, they called it country and later as the honky tonks started poppin’ up everywhere, they began to call it honky tonk music and because many of the artists themselves came from the country and the hills, they also called it hillbilly, for the purest though I call it honky tonk music. Papa nicks, the blue room, the hitching post, jubilee ballroom, the palomino are just a few of the many honky tonks, that my dad and others like him played everynight, dad drove a truck for his day job and worked the honky tonks at night. As at two a.m. in the morning all the bars in southern california close, so its grab a bottle and everybody head over to the house for a jam session. I can tell you they all came through our house at one time or another, everyone from Little Jimmy Dickens to (Ralph) Mooney on steel to Eddie Drake, Ferlin Husky to Hank Snow. In the garage they would play until the sun came up, those were the days when they created what they call today the Bakersfield sound, working in those small recording studios like Aggie and Toppa, two of the labels my dad was on as well as M&M and Mercury and Sundown. I remember this old honky tonk piano my dad got somewhere, it had a very unique sound and they had it in the garage, so they could jam all night after the honky tonks closed. So when it was time to record « Make Room For The Blues », my dad wanted that true honky tonk sound, so they took the piano to the studio and that’s the one you hear on the song as well as on « World’s Champion Fool », I really loved that old piano and always will wonder what became of it. In 2008 Dick Miller passed away, but what he left us is something that we can all cherish, good old honky tonk music that you can still dance to today. God bless and thanx for your interest & love of this wonderful music, feel free to edit this to suit your needs at your blog, also have many more pics and have 8 tunes on my hard drive and a big cardboard box full of reel to reel tape from the old days, am working on a best of compilation of Dick Miller and his band to release on compact disc in the very near future. Please stay in touch, am always around and love to chat, Roger. Read the rest of this entry »
Billy Wallace had one of the most unique voices in rockabilly music and played a different guitar style than most of the guitarists back then would do. Both, his voice and full-bodied guitar play worked well together on his classic session with the Bama Drifters in 1956 for Mercury Records, on which he laid down four songs. But Wallace had also a long and more successful (but also unknown) career in songwriting. He never achieved the honor he should have.
Wallace was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, in 1917, but his family moved soon after to Athens, Alabama. Previously, his father had worked on the oil fields in Oklahoma. He grew up on his father’s farm and learned to play the guitar at an early age. As a teenager, he began to write songs and was later influenced by the country music stars back then like the Delmore Brothers, Rex Griffin and Roy Acuff but also listened to Hank Smith, Ernest Tubb and Hal Smith.
The original of the song was made by the legendary Rex Griffin, one of those pioneers in Honky Tonk music. Here is his biography by a Bruce Eder:
As a songwriter, performer, and recording artist, Rex Griffin bridged the gap between Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams — indeed, it can be said that he bridged the gap between Rodgers and Buddy Holly, and between Rodgers and the Beatles. Griffin was among the first country music stars to record using his own material almost exclusively, and among the least of his accomplishments, one of his songs was covered (albeit without proper credit) by the Beatles. Griffin is the author of the original version of « Everybody’s Tryin’ to Be My Baby, » which Carl Perkins later adapted into his own song, and the Beatles subsequently covered to the profit of all except Griffin, who’d been dead about six years when all of this happened.
Griffin is one of those pre-war figures in country music whose legacy has been unjustly overlooked. He had no hits of his own after 1939, although his biggest hit from that year — « The Last Letter » — continues to get recorded at the end of the century. He was also a direct inspiration to both Hank Williams (whose recording of « Lovesick Blues » was virtually a copy of Griffin’s from ten years earlier) and Lefty Frizzell. One of country music’s first singer/songwriters, Griffin was the model for figures including Floyd Tillman, Willie Nelson, and Merle Haggard (and one could even throw Buddy Holly in there). And, like Williams, his personal demons in love and substance abuse brought a premature end — albeit not as suddenly as Williams’ — to Griffin’s performing career and his life.
He was born Alsie Griffin, second of seven children of Marion Oliver Griffin and the former Selma Bradshaw. He grew up without much formal education and spent most of his early childhood on the farm that his family owned in Sand Valley. By the 1920s, Ollie Griffin was working in Gasden at the Agricola Foundry, and Alsie followed his father there. The family regarded music as a pastime to be pursued after finishing one’s real work.
Alsie felt differently, however, wanting no part of farm life or the factory if there was any way of helping it. His first instrument was a harmonica, but it wasn’t long before he picked up the guitar. Gasden didn’t offer a big future in music, but Griffin took advantage of what was there, playing local parties and dances.
If the guitar was the first instrument that Griffin felt strongly about, his first love was the music of Jimmie Rodgers. He quickly adopted Rodgers’ style as his own and never entirely abandoned elements of his music — especially the yodeling — even once he had his own style nailed down.
Griffin made his first professional appearance on a bill at the Gasden Theater in 1930, and not long after he moved to Birmingham, where better opportunities awaited. He joined the Smokey Mountaineers, and it was there that he got his new first name — the group’s announcer had difficulty pronouncing Alsie, and simply renamed him Rex. The name stayed with him and he moved from city to city across the South, appearing on radio stations in Chattanooga, Atlanta, and New Orleans, among other cities.
His recording career began in 1935, when Griffin was signed to the newly formed Decca Record company, which already had the Sons of the Pioneers, Tex Ritter, Jimmie Davis, and Milton Brown in their roster of country artists. His first recording sessions were held in Chicago on March 25 and 26 of that year, during which he recorded ten songs, accompanied by his own guitar and Johnny Motlow on tenor banjo. All ten number were originals by Griffin, itself an astonishing achievement in those days. All of the material, both in its style and performance, recalled Rodgers — Griffin’s yodeling never let one forget who his inspiration was, although the songs hold up well on their own terms. Also striking about the recordings is Motlow’s banjo playing which, with its trilling, sounds almost like a mandolin.
Griffin’s first releases were successful enough to justify another session for Decca nearly a year later in New Orleans. This time he provided the only accompaniment on ten of the songs and did two additional songs backed by an amplified steel guitar. Among the songs that came out of those sessions was « Everybody’s Tryin’ to Be My Baby, » which in this context sounds almost like a blues composition, recalling works such as Tampa Red‘s « Tight Like That. » The piece was also a dazzling guitar showcase for Griffin, whose prowess on the instrument was considerable. This blues influence was no fluke — « I’m Ready to Reform » from the same session is a superb piece of white blues that can fool listeners as to its origins as easily as Autry’s or Rodgers’ best blues sides.
Griffin’s records continued to sell well, and in May of 1937, this time in New York, he cut two more sides, including his most famous number. « The Last Letter » became his biggest hit, a suicide note set to music. Stories vary as to its origins, the most commonly circulated one being that Griffin, who had a taste for alcohol that would later blight his life, was in a drunken depression over his failing first marriage when he wrote the note, and later set it to music as sobering up. Whatever the circumstances of its composition, the record caught on and became a hit throughout the South, and also brought Griffin the adulation of many of his colleagues, most notably Ernest Tubb, whose 20-year friendship with Griffin began over « The Last Letter. »
The song was covered by other artists, including Jimmie Davis, soon after its release. Gene Sullivan (vocalist for Roy Newman & his Boys) also covered three Griffin songs, including « Everybody’s Tryin’ to Be My Baby, » in the late ’30s, and even bandleader Bob Crosby cut Griffin’s « I Told You So. » Griffin’s own career kept moving forward, with concerts and radio performances throughout the South that made him one of the more popular performers of the era.
Griffin’s next recording sessions in September of 1939 yielded a dozen songs, including the follow-up to his biggest hit, « Answer to the Last Letter« , and his recording of « Lovesick Blues, » which was to be the model for Williams’ recording nearly a decade later that made Hank a star. Also recorded at the session was « Nobody Wants to Be My Baby« , a fast, breezy honky tonk-style number and one of several songs on which Griffin was backed by guitarist Ted Brooks and bassist Smitty Smith. The latter is also a beautiful piece of bluesy honky tonk and deserves to be better known.
Despite the success of « The Last Letter« , Griffin’s record sales were too poor overall to justify the label keeping him, and he was dropped by Decca after 1939. In the mid-’30s, he had played with Billie Walker and Her Texas Cowboys in New Orleans, and in 1940 he rejoined her band in Memphis. He later moved back to Alabama to spend more time with his ailing mother and appeared locally for the next few years. Among the places he played often was the notorious crime-ridden Alabama town of Phenix City, which would later become the subject of two feature films. In Gasden, he performed with a group called the Melody Boys, which included two future members of Tubb’s Texas Troubadors.
In 1941, following the death of his mother, Griffin moved to Dallas, where he had a regular spot on KRLD’s Texas Round-Up. His popularity from these broadcasts made Griffin a natural to take over the Texas Round-Up. This was to be his best broadcast showcase, and had it not been for the war, Griffin might’ve become a major star from his work on KRLD. As it was, the show ended in 1943 as the available talent dwindled amid continued military call-ups.
Griffin moved to Chicago in 1944, and it was there that he made his next batch of recordings. These 16 sides — recorded with a band that may have included Red Foley on guitar — were not intended for commercial release. Rather, they were made for Decca Records’ World Transcription Services, for broadcast over the air by radio stations that licensed them.
Despite these recordings for the company’s transcription division, there was no interest at the time in trying to release new commercial sides by Griffin. To hear the material today is to glimpse some of the best honky tonk-style music of the era — by that time, Griffin had taken on a more modern style, and he had even cut his Rodgers-inspired yodeling to a minimum. In addition to capturing Griffin performing « live » in the studio, these are among the few sides he left that feature him working with a band and, thus, show something of the sound he must’ve had during that early-’40s Dallas period.
The oversight by the record company, in terms of offering him a new contract, is difficult to explain. It is possible, however, that the wartime rationing of shellac (a key ingredient in 78 rpm records) had so dampened interest in any risky new ventures (the record business at one point seemed doomed to shut down) that Griffin never had a chance with his old label.
He made his last recordings in 1946 for Cincinnati-based King Records, which had previously recorded Grandpa Jones, the Delmore Brothers, and Merle Travis, among others. Griffin cut eight sides for King, backed by Homer & Jethro on guitars and mandolin. The sides showed Griffin in decent form, an easygoing honky tonk singer with a smooth style and a good voice, but lacking the sharp edge to his singing and playing that sparked his earlier work, clearly on the decline by this time.
These proved to be his last recording sessions. His worsening diabetic condition, complicated by drinking and other dietary abuses, forced an end to Griffin’s career, and the collapse of his second marriage late in the 1940s sent him into a personal tailspin. He moved to Dallas and still wrote songs, and when his health allowed (he was hospitalized several times), he pitched them actively to singers who had recording contracts, including Ray Price, who cut « Answer to the Last Letter« , « Beyond the Last Mile« , and « I Saw My Castles Fall Today« .
His friendship with Tubb blossomed into a profitable professional relationship for both, as Tubb recorded many of Griffin’s songs, and Griffin also became close to Tubb’s nephew, Douglas Glenn Tubb. Their interest, coupled with the quality of his work, sustained Griffin during the 1950s, and in 1955 he wrote « Just Call Me Lonesome« , his last hit, recorded by Eddy Arnold and Red Foley. His last years were blighted by further ill health, as Griffin was diagnosed with tuberculosis. He was confined to a New Orleans hospital for what proved to be the final months of his life, and died in October of 1958.
Griffin’s death at the age of 46 was a great loss to country music. Moreover, his lack of any hit recordings of his own after 1939 resulted in there never being an LP release of his songs — there was no impetus on the part of Decca Records to explore his recording history, and he was left in limbo as a recording artist, a distant memory to older listeners. The possibility of Decca’s successor, MCA Records, doing anything with Griffin’s music in the 1990s or beyond seems even more remote.
The songs he wrote, however, have endured over the 40 years since. Hank Thompson recorded « An Old Faded Photograph » in 1960, and « The Last Letter » was re-recorded by Jack Greene in 1964 and became a hit once again. Soon after, Tubb cut an entire album of Griffin songs, and other artists who have covered « The Last Letter » include Willie Nelson, Asleep at the Wheel, Waylon Jennings, and Merle Haggard. At the time of his death, Griffin’s quarterly royalty statement from the publisher of his newest songs was 18 dollars and change, a situation that had changed drastically by the 1960s. Additionally, his song « Everybody’s Tryin’ to Be My Baby« , as appropriated by Carl Perkins — the inability of the family to protect the copyright probably cost his daughters millions in royalties — and later covered by the Beatles, has become a rock & roll standard only slightly less familiar than « Blue Suede Shoes » or « Maybelline« . And then there was his version of « Lovesick Blues, » which Williams freely admitted to having learned from Griffin, even though Hank was also familiar with the Emmett Miller original — Griffin did make changes in the lyrics and structure of the song that Williams kept in his version.
In 1970, in recognition of his achievements as a composer, Griffin was among the very first composers inducted into the newly founded National Songwriters’ Hall of Fame in Nashville. In 1996, Bear Family Records of Germany released a long overdue triple-CD career retrospective on Griffin entitled The Last Letter.
In 1938, bandleader and pianist ROY NEWMAN cut in Dallas « Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby« , in a more Western swing mood. Griffin had done it fast- paced, Newman kept it. Whole thing is cheerful, funny, and ideal for dancers. The personnel included: Gene Sullivan on vocal duties, Newman on piano, a young Jim Boyd on guitar, along with Holly Horton (clarinet), Cecil Browen (fiddle), Ish Irwin (bass) and Walter Kirken (banjo). ROY NEWMAN is known for his « I Got Ants In My Pants » and « Rosalie », cut either in Dallas or in New Orleans at the end of the ’30s.
Then ten years later, the song was covered twice. I really don’t know who came first, so I suppose it was GLEN THOMPSON. He hailed from Danville, VA, and had numerous records on the Tornado, (Tennessee) Athens, even his own Glen Thompson labels. Most of his output can be found on a UK. Krazy Kat CD « Tarheel Swing ». Here he delivers a fine, up-to-date hillbilly bop shuffle paced version (uncredited) of the classic on the Manchester, KY Acme label (# 982-B). The steel player is particularly fine (two solos), as the fiddler and the pianist. Lyrics do seem to emanate direct from Griffin. JIMMY SHORT & the Silver Saddle Ranch Boys out on the West coast did their version in 1951 on the 4 Star label (# 1538). A bit Western flavored (as Short yells to invite the members for their solos); the steel Jay Higham is impressive, as the rhythm guitar by Short, who reminds me much of Clyde Moody‘s « The Blues Came Pouring Down » from 1949 (hear this song in his story elsewere in the site).
Billboard April 7, 1951
Then we go to the two last versions we’re interested in. Without doubt, the YORK BROTHERS revived the Griffin song, however strangely crediting it to Wayne Walker and Webb Pierce. Theirs is very good, well-suited to their harmony style, and taken at a Rockabilly tempo. Issued 1957.
Carl Perkins - Sun studio
The musicof GLEN THOMPSON or YORK BROTHERS’ song and the CARL PERKINS song is totally different. The Carl Perkins song has blues-style guitar riffs and a start-stop rhythm closer to « Blue Suede Shoes« . There are two verses in common but Carl Perkins wrote completely new music for his song released on Sun Records in 1957 on the famous « Dance Album » LP 1225.
And the rest is history of Rock’n'Roll, when the song got a world-wide appeal when released in 1964 in England. A fine career for a 1936 session-filler by a long-forgotten honky tonk artist…Finally it was revived in 2003 by JOHNNY CASH, as a tribute to Carl Perkins, his old friend (who had died a couple years before). A nice, strong version.