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"
Very few information available on this North Carolina artist. He’d begin in Bluegrass style on Blue Ridge with « There’ll Be No Wedding Bells For Me », the flipside being Honky tonk: « Half Hearted Love » on Blue Ridge 401. Here he delivers a fast number with gospel overtones. His superb voice is well suited to this kind of number and aided by his Mimosa Quartet on backup harmony and a romping piano player.
label courtesy John Burton
Then his second disc, « If I Could Just Make It In », a real stomper of a number on Blue Ridge 202, a label based in North Wilkesboro, N.C.. With a driving beat and some superb guitar and piano behind Joe’s vocal. Joe was a DJ at WMNC, Morganton, some thirty odd miles at the time. He was later to secure a contract with MGM.
North Wilkesboro in far North West of the state
In my opinion (Phillip J. Tricker), one of the great unknowns of Hillbilly music. A piano is always very prominent on his recordings and I wonder if indeed it is Joe who pounds the ivories. The Mimosa Boys are a very tightly knit outfit that sounds like they are been together for a long time. Excellent steel and fiddle (Jim Buchanan ?) provide solid foils to some amazing piano work which is much more powerful than the usual ‘rinky dink’ style usually associated to Hillbilly recordings from this period, 1953. « Hitch-Hikin’ Blues » slows the pace a little but is in own right a very classy Honky tonkin’ side with some lovely work from the fiddle player while the steel player underpins everything well. THE side is « Hillbilly Boy », fast and furious, fantastic piano, short steel & fiddle solo. Both on MGM 11612.
Joe has two unissued sides from this July 1953 session.
He then disappeared completely, which is a real shame!
Flash! I came today (July 21, 2011) on 3 more discs by Joe Franklin. Via the « Starday-Dixie Rockabilly vol 2 » on (UK) Ace, I found he was vocally fronting the Hi-Liters in 1958 for a (probably) Don Pierce production on Mercury. Both sides (« Dance Me To Death » and the unissued-at-the-time « Big Bad Wolf« ) are to be found on Mercury 71342 from 1958.
Strangely Michel Ruppli’s book « The Mercury label » gives the recording location as Universal studio in Chicago. Great rockers, a voice similar to the MGM artist of 5 years before, with again that rollicking piano (some could say a la Little Richard) in the background. The original flipside of « Dance Me To Death » is sung by a Daryl Petty (« Cha Cha Rock« ). « Too Late For Tears » (Daryl Petty, vocal) remains unissued.
Then billed as « Joe Franklin and the Hi-Liters« , he had two more discs between 1959-60 on the Durham, North CarolinaRenown label. They are of far lesser interest. The Renown 113 « Who Put The Pep In The Punch/True Blue » (latter song written by Darryl Petty) is billed as « white vocal group » by 45rpmrecord.com blogsite. Franklin returns to his bluegrass roots with « The Belle Of Tennessee » (Renown 114), although more pop/folk than real Bluegrass. « Swanee River Rock« , the final side, is a sax led instrumental, with again fine piano in the background.
Sources: Boppin’ Hillbilly serie (3 volumes), Youtube, 45rpmrecords.com.
Final note: Mr. David Hill wrote me this message on Feb. 20th, 2012: « I was saddened to hear that Joe Franklin had passed, but I appreciate the info from your site. I have a newspaper article around 1958, Bristol, VA concerning Darrell Petty, who was Joe Franklin’s piano player and his association with Joe, and the sale of Petty’s song A MILLION MILES FROM NOWHERE. I would like to share all my info with those interested. I would like to know what happened to Darrell Petty. Sincerely, David Hill ». So now we know who was the piano player on these discs! In a second message, Mr. Hill sent me scanned the article from « Bristol Herald Courier », which gave more details on Darrell Petty. He had only 9 fingers, having been injured at 10 in a saw mill. The drummer was Mel Taylor, who later went with the Ventures, and another Franklin’s musician was Joe Buchanan (unknown instrument). It seems that anybody lost their trail after 1959-60. Here it is the first ever picture of Darrell Petty, tanks to Mr. Hill.
Flash (Friday, May 25, 2012), the excellent and undefatigable Mr. David Hill sent me a message as follow: « Here are some more photos and info I obtained from Burke County Public Library in Morganton, NC. This was Joe’s hometown. Daryl Petty passed away in the 70’s with cancer. I have been in touch with Joe’s sister. There is a display in the Burke County Museum on Joe and The Hi-Liters. I plan to visit there one day soon. Still bopping, David Hill ». Below are the press snippets of the Morganton, N.C. News Herald he sent me, from the beginning of 1958, also the Joe Franklin obit from 2001. Thanks, Mr. Hill!
Morganton N.C. News Herald, Jan. 21, 1958
Morganton, N.C. News Herald, Jan. 1, 1958
Morganton News Herald, Feb. 27, 1958
Latest news (Jan. 9th, 2013) : message from Jim Buchanan, fiddler/drummer for Joe Franklin (1951-1959)
I was the eleven year old Fiddler/Drummer with Joe Franklin beginning in 1951. I performed on the Ed Sullivan TV Show with Joe and daily live TV Shows at WCYB Channel 5 in Bristol Va.during the early Fifties. If you want to know anything about Darryl Petty, Ray Austin, James Duckworth, Charlie Connley or any other Mimosa Boys/Hi Litersn, ask the only living Member of the Band. I was there a part of it from the beginning. I have Audio recordings of the Mimosa Quartet recorded at WTOE Spruce Pine NC while Joe was a DJ there. I also have all the major news paper articles published during the time that I was with Joe Franklin. The Burke County Museum has the Suit that I wore on the Ed Sullivan Show as well as other articles such as pictures of me while with Mel Tillis performing at President Ronald Reagans inaugural ball in 1980. I left Joe Franklin in 1959 to work with Arthur Smith in Charlotte NC at WBTV. Later into Bluegrass Music with Jim and Jesse and the Virgina Boys WSM in Nashville. Mel Tillis during the 70s and part of the 80s.
David Grisman in San Francisco. George Jones in the 90s till 2008. Now teaching from Home in Franklin TN. Also a recording studio and producing and publishing. Church Band each
Sunday and simi retired from touring with groups. I can now do it my way….. after 60 yrs.
Yours truly, Jim Buchanan – jim email@example.com. Thanks, Mr. Buchanan! Now we know the name of Joe Franklin’s musicians.
The story of Frank Rice and Ernest W. Stokes goes back to 1933, when they were known as « Mustard and Gravy« . They came from Virginia, and discovered by Smiley Burnette, doing minstrel-shows. In 1950, they cut for Gotham the fine « Be Bop Boogie« , accompanied by a trombone! The song found its way several years later in a Calypso style by Don Hager on the Oak label.
Nothing is known on Les Willard, surely a Nashville singer, here backed by Hank Williams’ Drifting Cowboys, for the romper « Double Up And Catch Up » in 1955.
Red Mansel was from Texas, and had a contract with Dan Mechura‘s Allstar label ca. 1958 for the equally fine « Johnny On The Spot« . He had already cut for Starday Custom (# 523) in 1955, the piano-led medium tempo « Broken Fickle Heart » (see elsewehere in this site for « Starday Custom serie (# 500-525).
From Texas came also on the T.N.T. (« Tanner’n’Texas ») label the duet The Jacoby Brothers (George, the uncle and Boy, the nephew), respectively on mandolin and guitar. They offer here the very fast « Bicycle Wreck« , with a fantastic mandolin solo.
Red Woodward and his Red Hawks were familiar in the period 1945-1950 on WBAP radio from the Dallas-Fort Worth area. I’ve chosen his « Cowboy Boogie » from 1947, on Signature label. Relaxed vocal, fine backing, and a guitar solo which seems being acoustic one!
Finally a R&B Rocker from 1954 by the great Lightning Hopkins. Hope you enjoy the selections. Don’t forget to have a look at my « contact Me » section, for records and books for sale from my collection. You could be amazed! Bye
Hello folks! Being a bit late, I am coming back from Corsica a day late. This is the first time I post two tracks by the same artist, but both tunes are so good I hope you will agree with me. From Florida, 1959 or 60, on a custom label, Arvil, ARVIL MEERS cut two very special songs, accompanied by his own guitar, « Muddy River« , with yodel overtones, and « The Future I Hold« . The disc was reissued by Dixie.
A good bopper on Starday (custom serie), late 1955, « Puttin’ On The Dog » by JOE GIBSON. Is this the same guy, JOE D. GIBSON, who had « Good Morning Captain/21 » on New York Tetra label in 1957?
One of the most enduring images in Hillbilly is the singing brother act. They were litterally thousands in the genre, one of the most famous being the Delmore Brothers. Robert and J.C. Andrews, the ANDREWS BROTHERS were no exception, hailing from Alabama. They had numerous records on MGM, the best being « Hot To Trot » from 1955. Fine banjo and close vocal harmonies.
Another brothers combo, by far less known, actually a one-off venture, comessurprisingly in 1963 from Indianapolis on the Nabor label from Indianapolis. The RUSSELL BROTHERS do offer a superior rural hillbilly vocal, guitar and steel solos with « You Cheated On Me« . That is the proof that Hillbilly was not dead even at the beginning of British invasion.
Finally, a curious mixture of R&B and Jazz by the SLIM GAILLARD QUARTETTE, from 1945, on the Atomic label: « Atomic Cocktail » seems to be a strange beverage. I appreciate the swing of the combo, and I hope you do the same!
Howdy folks! Here is a new batch of Hilbilly Bop goodies, even the odd Rock’n’Roll!
We are beginning on the West Coast with CASEY SIMMONS and his « Juke Box Boogie » on Crystal records from 1950. Call and response format, fine saxophone and a lot of electric guitar. The whole thing romps along lovely!
Fortune records offered many a Hillbilly Bop song in its 100 serie. EDDIE JACKSON, famous for his « Rock and Roll Baby« , turns up there with « Baby Doll« , dominated by a good piano.
Sol Kahal’s Macy’s Records had many fine discs, either in Blues field, either in early Hillbilly bop, i.e. by Ramblin’ Tommy Scott or Harry Choates. ART GUNN & his Arizona Playboys cut the decent « Cornbread Boogie » in 1949. Fine harmonica throughout.
They also had on the same label « Boogie Woogie Blues » (for a future fortnight), and later, on own Gunn label Arga in 1958, the superior « Pickin’ and A-Singin’« .
Cowboy Sam Nichols
Cowboy Sam Nichols had written (and recorded for Stanchell) the classic « That Wild And Wicked Look In Your Eye« , before he got a contract with MGM records. It was early to mid-fifties and the beginning of truck drivers‘ songs (Terry Fell for example); here the shuffle « Keep Your Motor Hot » from 1954. No label scan available, as I sold the 78 rpm, having only kept the music! Nichols was backed by West coast top musicians: Porky Freeman on guitar, Jesse Ashlock on fiddle, Red Murrell on rhythm and Curley Cochran on steel.
From trucks to trains. Grady CURLEY COLE was a resident D.J. in Paducah, KY, but he cut his fine « I‘m Going To Roll » for L.A. Gilt-Edge label. Nothing more is known about him. Let’s stay in Kentucky for TOMMY HOLMES, backed by Pat Kingery & the Kentuckians. A certain Mr. Vance asked Holmes a record for his politician career ca. 1954. The tune « Jam On The Lower Shelf » is pretty average, mostly when you hear Holmes six years later in an out-and-out Rocker on the Cherry label, « Wha-Chic-Ka-Noka« . Enjoy the selections!