For this new serie I have chosen to focus on 7 releases on the Imperial label. Indeed they all will be from the famous 8000 serie, and more precisely (with one exception) in the 8200.
Imperial 8000 had begun in 1947 with releases from Danny Dedmon or Link Davis, and the serie had pursued throughout the late 40s and early 50s with varying success. Sides appeared by Jimmy Heap, Tommy Duncan or more obscure artists as Ed Camp or Harry Rodcay. All had a label adorned by 5 stars, and were issued in red (78 rpm) or blue (45 rpm). Majority of sides were cut in Dallas (Jim Beck’s studio).
In 1953, Imperial had a huge success with the first white cover of Big Mama Thornton’s « Hound Dog » by BILLY STARR (# 8186). It’s a very nice version: belting vocal, haunting guitar, nice piano and accentuated drums. Actually it’s almost a rocker. Recorded in March 1953, it had contenders by Eddie Hazlewood, Betsy Gay and Tommy Duncan, all on Intro. Herald in NY had Cleve Jackson’s version (actually Jackson Toombs — full story elsewhere in the site).
Then comes up CURLEY SANDERS, who cut « Too much loving' » in April 53. A good, fast hillbilly, in average (steel,piano, fiddle, guitar and bass) format.(# 8226). GENE HENSLEE next (# 8204) in June 53 had « I’m like a kid a-waitin' », similar to his other releases, « Dig’n’datin' » or « Rockin’ baby ». July 1953 saw cut the nice, very effective (bass) medium paced « Talking to the man in the moon » by BILLY Mc GHEE (# 8214).
Jackson Cleveland Toombs was born in Murfreesboro, TN (Rutherford Cty), on September 2, 1925.
He came to Nashville with his family in 1937. He started driving a cab in 1950 but his first music job was on WHOP in Hopkinsonville, KY in the mid-forties, and he started writing with Vic McAlpin around 1950 . Their first hit was « Almost », given to George Morgan.
About his session on Speed, Toombs doesn’t remember how he got acquainted with Frank Innocenti. « Pin Ball Fever » (Speed 111) anyhow had a black bass player, and a black piano player, and was a Tennessee Ernie-styled boogie that came very close to greatness. The idea of a pinball novelty hillbilly boogie refers to Red Foley‘s 1954 own « Pinball Boogie ». While at Speed, Toombs offered « Little Bit Late For Loving » to Bob Rogers (Speed 115).
label scan courtesy Udo Frank
Then Toombs had three records on Excello, and the first, « You’re the Only Good Thing » (# 2033), was a big hit. Alas, he didn’t collect the royalties, having sold the song to Innocenti. It was one of these great country love ballads. Gene Autry, Ernest Tubb, Billy Walker had their own version issued. Jim Reeves and Georhe Morgan (twice, a pop and a hillbilly version) hit big with this song.
After his Speed record, Jack had gone to Detroit and worked the bars as a joint act with the York Brothers. Shortly after returning to Nashville, he cut a spirited cover version of « Hound Dog », which was issued as Cleve Jackson and his Hound Dogs on the N.Y.C. Herald label (# 6000) , backed with « Has A Chicken Got A Leg » in 1953. The same piano player seems to be the one who backed Toombs on Speed, and the drummer could be black, having such an unorthodox style in country, almost a rumba beat.
Another Excello issue, « My Imagination/Foolish Jealousy » (# 2041) is far more pop oriented : more of the love ballad, well sung, but backed by an organ !
Finally, in March or April 1956, Toombs cut (this time with his full name) « Kiss-A Me Quick », a real splice of Rockabilly, complete with hiccups and a nice lead guitar (Excello # 2083). The man was very versatile, able to do weeping pop ballads nearly at the same time as out-and-out rockabilly.
After rock’n’Roll had exploded, he began using another pseudonym, Jackie Trent, and had an almost-national hit on the Excello subsidiary label Nasco with « Little Andy » (# 6012, 1958), a pop rocker with chorus, and never recorded again. However he kept songwriting for Cedarwood, and never gave up his day job with the cab company.
label scan courtesy Udo Frank
Article based on notes by Martin Hawkins for the boxset « A Shot In The Dark ». Label scans from various sources, e.g. Terry Gordon’s Rockin’ Country Style, or Udo Frank. Thanks to them!.
Jack Turner is probably best known amongst Rockabilly collectors for his original version of « Everybody’s Rockin’ But Me» and amongst Hillbilly fans for his many R.C.A. Victor sides, but what became of the man who won much acclaims from the Country press in the 1950s ? (suite…)