Born in Bolt, W. Va, Jimmy Dickens began his musical career in the late ’30s, performing on WJLS radio station in Beckley, W.a. While attending West Va. University. He soon quit school to pursue a full-time music career, and traveled the country performing on various local radio stations under the name « Jimmy the Kid ».
In 1948 Dickens was heard performing on WKNX, a radio station in Saginaw, Michigan, by Roy Acuff, who introduced him to Art Satherley at Columbia Records and officials from the Grand Ole Opry. Dickens signed with Columbia in September and joined the Opry in August. Around this time, he began using his nickname, Little Jimmy Dickens, inspired by his short stature (4 « 11, 150 cm).
Dickens recorded many novelty songs for Columbia, including « Country boy », « A-sleeping at the foot of the bed » and « I’m little but I’m loud ». One day, after having told Jimmy he needed a hit, Hank Williams wrote « Hey, good lookin’ » in only 20 minutes while on a plane with Dickens, Minnie Pearl and her husband. A week later Williams cut the song himself, jokingly telling Dickens « That song’s too good for you ! »
In 1950, Dickens formed the Country Boys with musicians Jabbo Arrington, Grady Martin, Bob Moore and Thumbs Carlile. It was during this time that he discovered future Country Music Hall of famer Marty Robbins at a Phoenix, AZ television station while on tour with the Grand Ole Opry road show. In 1957 he left the Opry to tour with the Philip Morris Country Music Show.
Dickens was active in music until nearly his death on January 2nd, 2015.
Good solid early ’50s Honky tonk music as shown in the several examples below :
« F-o-o-l-i-s-h me, me » (Columbia 20692), a nice honky-tonker, was cut in February 1950, and covered the same year by Charlie ‘Peanut’ Faircloth [see a previous fortnight’s favorites section for the latter’s version). It has definitely the crisp guitar sound of Grady Martin.
« Rock me » (Columbia 21206), also known as « She sure can rock me », was an old Willie Perryman R&B belter, well adapted here by Dickens, obviously conscious of the « double-entendre » of the lyrics. As intended, piano is prominent instrument.
« Hillbilly fever », cut at the same session as « F-o-o-l-i-s-h me, me », was initially a Kenny Roberts song (Coral). Here Dickens is doubled on vocal by his rhythm guitar player. Note the rare label scan of a Japanese issue (« American folk music ») !
« Hillbilly fever« download
« Salty boogie » (Columbia 21384) is almost rockabilly. Fiddle is still present, but lead guitar is well to the fore as in « Hey worm (you wanna wiggle) » (Columbia 21491), and indeed there are drums.
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
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 quickDownload 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> Download
Too late now
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
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 !
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.