Hillbilly bopping and fiddling: the MERLE ‘Red’ TAYLOR story

Hillbilly bopping and fiddling: the MERLE ‘Red’ TAYLOR story

Merle Taylor, also known as Mason Dixon, was from the little town of Glen a few miles north of Tupelo, MS where he was born in May 1927. He started with a group called the Country Gospel Singers and then joined the Blue Seal Pals in 1949.

mason dixon (AMM)« Merle was one of the best country fiddle players around », says Quinton Claunch. « He was a good bluegrass singer too, and a super, super guy. He worked with all the big acts in Nashville, Bill Monroe, Cowboy Copas, people like that. I first me him when he joined my group the Blue Seal Pals when we moved from WMC Nashville to WJOI in Florence, Alabama. Bill Cantrell had gone to Chicago for a while and Merle – we called him ‘Red’ – came in. He worked with Buddy Bain’s band on WOMA in Corinth, MS too and Buddy came with us on Meteor’s session ».

Behind Taylor’s assured vocals on « Don’t worry ’bout nuthin’ », there is a classy band kicked off by Bill Cantrell on fiddle [so Merle Taylor is confined to vocal duty] and featuring solos by Terry Thompson on guitar and Kenneth Herman on steel guitar . Ronald Smith also played guitar using the percussive rockabilly effect achieved by damperin’ the strings with paper or a matchbox, and Dexter Johnson played the bass.

« Don’t worry ’bout nuthin’ »

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« I’ll never fall out of love with you »

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meteor 5028 mason dixon - don't worry 'bout nuthin'

meteor 5028 mason dixon - I'll never fall out of love with you

 

 

« When Rockabilly came in, Red used to do a little section of club dates under the persona of « Mason Dixon ». recalled Quinton Claunch:  « Because he was well known as a country fiddler, he did not want people to get confused. So, when it came to this recording, Red said he wanted to use the name Mason Dixon on the record too. It was not a style he was normally associated with. In fact, Les Bihari, boss of Meteor Records] liked the idea so much he called the band the Redskins, after Merle’s nickname. »

 

 

It should be noted that another singer popular in the Memphis area, Walter « Tex » Dixon from Alabama, also used the name « Mason Dixon » – which still had huge resonance in the South – on the Reed label in the late 1950s. [research on Walter « Tex » Dixon is on its way for future feature in bopping.org…]

The much more country-oriented « I’ll never fall out of love with you» sees Quinton Claunch add his walking bass style on electric guitar to the mix, underspinning Merle Taylor’s high tenor voice. Kenneth Herman takes a wonderful steel solo.

 

Merle Taylor had previously recorded two discs for Decca in 1952 (session probably held on Oct. 18) and 1953 (On March 23, 1953) in Nashville, largely with local musicians but including guitarist and songwriter Buddy Bain. Both records paired a slowie and a shuffler. Taylor’s wife Martha Jean Ellis wrote the songs for the second session. Then Taylor toured with Hank Williams at this time and was billed to appear in Canton, Ohio on 1rst January 1953 for the show the latter never lived to give.

« You can’t be a bride without a groom« (Decca 28496)

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« Gimme a little sugar« (Decca 28741)

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Decca 28496B merle taylor - you can't be bride without a groomdecca 28741 merle taylor - gimme a little sugar

 

 

 

 

Merle’s career in Nashville had many high points. He wrote the melody and played fiddle on Bill Monroe‘s classic « Uncle Pen » in October 1950 for Decca. Taylor also toured with the Monroe band for at least two stints between 1950 and 1955, with an interim sojourn with Little Jimmy Dickens. Then he worked with Jimmie Martin and later Ferlin Huskey. Merle played on sessions for M-G-M by Jimmie Martin and the Osborne Brothers. Fiddler Gordon Taylor has said about Red’s work with Monroe : « He did a slow brow with a lot of finger work and a funny reverse. I don’t think there would be the tunes there are now had he not played fiddle because he did something nobody else did ». 

Bill Monroe, « Uncle Pen« (Decca 46283)

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Bill Monroe, « Close by« (Decca 29645)

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Taylor continued at a high level for a few years before he quit playing with the top bands. People say that he had a really bad driking problem and that he had a serious altercation with singer Little Jimmy Dickens one time when he was drunk.meteor 5027 buddy bain - can we live it down?meteor 5027 buddy bain - daydreams, come true

 

buddy bain carte

Bain’s profesional card. Courtesy Eddie DJ Cesc

 

decca 46283 bill monroe - uncle pendecca 29289 bill monroe - close by

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Buddy Bain « Can we live it down« (Meteor 5027)

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Buddy Bain « Daydreams come true« (Meteor 5027)

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After the Meteor recordings, Merle Taylor had cut two songs [in a more poppish vein] for the Bill Justis enterprises, which were issued only in 1989s on the U.K. Zu-Zazz label (# 2005) « Memphis Saturday Night ». One can forget « There’s a light », full of choruses and frankly pop; sole remains of interest the second song, « Love fever », embellished by some fine bluesy guitar and piano. These two unissued songs – not demos- do go stylistically back to 1957 or 58.

« Love fever »

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Taylor also made various sessions as a sideman in Memphis and Muscle Shoals over the years, and was involved in half a dozen bluegrass and fiddle Lps on Old Homestead, Atteiran and Mississipi Trace labels. He also made a solo album produced by Bill Cantrell for Hi Records’ short-lived Hi Country label.

Merle Taylor died on May 3, 1978 in Tupelo, MS.

With thanks to American Music Magazine (Bo Berglind) for the permission given to freely use the Martin Hawkins’ article (AMM # 136, September 2014) on the Meteor label. Pictures were taken from 78rpm-world or from the AMM Magazine, or the Ace CD 885 « The complete Meteor Rockabilly & Hillbilly Recordings ». Thanks to Imperial Anglares for his help. Thanks to Ronald Keppner, who provided both label scans and music of a rare Decca 78. Thanks to Uncle Gil for the loan of Bill Monroe’s music, as the Zu-Zazz LP. Thanks to 45-cat member « Excello-2101 » for the sound to a rare Decca Merle Taylor issue. I have also used Michel Ruppli’s indispensable book : « The Decca labels – A discography, volume 5 » for details on Bill Monroe sessions from 1950 to 1954, and the two Merle Taylor sessions.

The polished yet stomping hillbilly of JOE CARSON (1954-1963), « I’m not allergic to love » to « Time lock »

[I really don’t know where I picked this biography from (a great lack of tidiness on my part in my archives), but it’s so complete and living that I decided to publish it without changing an iota. If any way the pages below are copyrighted and/or authored, I’ll gladly credit it to the right person. My thanks to him/her. Now let’s go.]

« A few years ago an old friend gave me a wonderful gift. I was visiting him at home when, without warning, he suddenly produced a Swan 4 slice toaster box saying, « This is for you. » I insisted I didn’t need a toaster whereupon he laughingly invited me to look inside. I nervously opened the box and my eyes almost popped out of my head (actually they popped out, bounced off all four walls and popped back in again). The box was crammed full of 7 inch singles, all country, all 50s to 70s, rescued from American jukeboxes and included records by George Jones, Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Ernest Tubb, Willie, Dolly, Tammy and a whole lot more.

The amazing thing was that it also contained records by artists whose names I knew but had never heard before and it was a treat to hear them at last. One record, however, intrigued me most. It contained absolutely fantastic versions of two Willie Nelson songs « I Gotta Get Drunk » and « Who’ll Buy My Memories » performed by a guy called Joe Carson. I tried books, magazines, the internet, friends, everything I could think of in an effort to find out more about him but drew a blank every single time, despite the fact that the record was on Liberty, a major label. Who was this guy? Surely with a voice like his he made more than one record? How come no one knew who he was? I didn’t even know which part of the USA he was from, or even if he WAS American. I finally admitted defeat and contented myself with the one record I had. All corrections/additions in […]joe carson

[I already knew Joe Carson for years, via several Mercury and Capitol songs taped on the fabulous Tom Sims cassettes, and wanted other stuff from him. I bought in 1982 the French reissue of his solitary Liberty album, but was a bit disappointed: it sounded more Country than hillbilly, nevertheless well done 1960’s Honky tonk. Anyway I couldn’t last finding everything Carson had recorded before. Then I found the D single from 1959: wonderful Hillbilly uptempo ballads. All in all, he had published 11 singles only during his short career.] (suite…)

« I’m a whip crackin’ daddy »: the story of Ricky Riddle (1950-1971)

rick riddle 1969 picWith a mellifluous, deep voice often compared to western singer Rex Allen, Ricky Riddle was an Arkansas-born, Detroit-bred vocalist who gravitated to the western side of country music. His surname was apt, as he was a restless character, always on the go and never satisfied with life in one place for very long. Born Arvin Doyle Riddle on Aug. 22, 1920, in Rector, Ark., his parents moved him, two brothers and one sister to Hamtramck, Mich., around 1933. The Riddle family eventually settled in a house on McClellan Street in Detroit.

During World War II, Riddle enlisted with the Navy in Chicago, Ill. He served aboard the U.S.S. Adair in the Pacific Theatre. After an honourable discharge in 1946, He returned to Detroit and found a booming country music nightclub scene waiting for him; a result of thousands of new migrants from the South who moved north to build Detroit’s “Arsenal of Democracy.” Riddle pursued the life of a singing cowboy in earnest, writing songs and performing in nightclubs and showcases, sitting in with other entertainers and headlining his own shows.

In 1949, Drake’s Record Shop, located on East Jefferson Avenue, sponsored appearances by Hank Williams, Cowboy Copas and others at the convention center on Woodward Avenue. When Riddle’s friend, singer Eddie Jackson, was hired to open for Williams, Riddle shared the stage with him. Riddle was probably living in Nashville, Tennessee, by then.

Jackson visited Riddle in Nashville during ’49, and Riddle took him to witness his new buddy Clyde Julian “Red” Foley record what became a major hit for Decca Records, “Chattanoogie Shoe Shine Boy.” Compared to the size to which it grew a decade later, the country music business in Nashville was small, thriving through the projects of independent record labels, music publishers and promoters who tapped local artists working at Nashville clubs and radio stations; particularly members of the “Grand Ole Opry” barn dance at clear-channel WSM. In January 1950, Riddle’s first commercial recording appeared as the premier issue of the Tennessee label, a record company created by three Nashville businessmen, including a jukebox serviceman. Riddle’s “Second Hand Heart” on Tennessee no. 711 (numbered for luck, no doubt) was a good seller, and a hit in Detroit. Riddle cut several more releases for Tennessee over the next two years:

Second hand heart download
“Second Hand Heart” and the song on the record’s flip side, “Somebody’s Stealin’ My Baby’s Sugar,” were both covered by several artists, including Houston’s Benny Leaders (4-Star), Bill Johnson and the Casanova Boys (London) and, more than a decade later, Everett “Swanee” Caldwell remade “Second Hand Heart” for King.

« Somebody’s stealin’ my baby’s sugar » download

By 1950, Riddle was operating a nightclub in Nashville. He befriended Arizona singer Marty Robbins, whose first appearance at the “Grand Ole Opry” occurred in early 1951. Probably in 1950, Riddle bought author rights to Robbins’ song “Ain’t You Ashamed,” (# 715) which became Riddle’s second release on Tennessee, # 713. (Detroit musician and Capitol Records distributor Bob McDonald purchased a share in the song from Riddle.) Cowboy singer Bob Atcher covered the song for Capitol. The flipside of “Are you ashamed” was a good honky-tonk, a version (later by Skeets McDonald) of “Smoke comes out my chimney just the same”.

Ain’t you ashamed download

« Smoke comes out my chimney just the same« download

 

Tennessee 711 second hand heart

Tennessee 711B somebody's been stealin' my baby's sugartennessee 715A ain't you ashamedTennessee 713B smoke

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Riddle recorded Robbins’ “Heartsick” for another Tennessee release. He attempted to present Robbins with a recording contract, but the company’s artists and repertoire man passed on the deal. Robbins went on to launch a storied career with Columbia Records in May 1951.

Among other releases on Tennessee, Riddle sang a duet with Anita Kerr, leader of the Anita Kerr Singers, on a heart song called “The Price Of Love,” again attributed to Riddle and McDonald. On “Boogie woogie Tennessee”(# 717) (a take-off to “Tennessee saturday night”), Riddle had Ernie Newton, the bassman who wrote much later “Country boy’s dream” for Carl Perkins. He seems far from young on this recording, and the suave assurance of both Riddle and the backing group is almost at odds with the subject matter. Riddle made 8 records for Tennessee, one of them being “Heartsick”, the first Marty Robbins’ song he recorded commercially. After the label’s biggest hit played out in 1951-52

(Del Wood’s “Down Yonder” of 1951), the Tennessee label closed its doors. 

Boogie woogie Tennessee download
I got other fish to fry
http://www.bopping.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/tennessee-732A-Ricky-Riddle-I-got-other-fish-to-fry.mp3download

The tall, easygoing Riddle persevered; he worked on the Renfro Valley Barn Dance as Wayne Turner, but was canned for habitual drunkeness. He then cut a single for Decca’s subsidiary Coral Records in 1953, the fine double-sider “What do you do” and “You belong to another” (# 64157). In early 1954, he recorded the bouncy “Steamboat Boogie” for M-G-M Records # 11741, with steel guitarist Don Helms and Chet Atkins on electric guitar. Framing the clever lyrics of the song was the refrain: Steamboat boogie / Rock, rock, rockin’ along. But for the fiddles, the song rocked like BillRock Around The ClockHaley’s earliest efforts. The flip side, “A Brand New Heart,” was written by Riddle as a follow-up to “Second Hand Heart.”
Remaining Tennessee sides of interest: “Cold icy feet” (# 758) and the fast “I’m so lonesome” (# 801).
« What do you do« download

« You belong to another« download

« Steamboat boogie« download

« Cold icy feet« download

« I’m so lonesome« download

tennessee 717-A ricky riddle - bw tennesseetennessee 732 I got other fish to fryTennessee 758A cold icy feetTennessee 801B I'm so lonesome

Coral 64157A what do you doCoral 64157B you belong to anothermgm 11741 steamboat boogiemgm 11741 a brand new heart

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 1956, Riddle cut two releases for Decca Records. The first featured the trucker’s “Drivin’ Down The Wrong Side Of The Road,” backed with “I’m A Whip Crackin’ Daddy.” The single sounded like it was recorded at Owen Bradley’s Quonset hut in Nashville. Riddle’s second Decca single featured the Anita Kerr Singers for a country-pop production, “The House I Used To Live In,” and a song with religious content (he had cut similar material for the Tennessee label) called “If Jesus Had To Pray (What About Me?)” During the 1950s, while living in Nashville, Riddle performed as a guest at the “Renfro Valley Barn Dance” in Kentucky, and as a guest on the “Grand Ole Opry.”
His parents moved from Michigan to Tempe, Ariz., and Riddle traveled the country, visiting friends and family while singing in nightclubs along the way.
decca 29813 ricky riddle - driving down the wrong side of the roaddecca 29813 dj icky riddle - I'm a whip crackin' daddy

« Driving down the wrong side of the road« download
« I’m a whip crackin’ daddy« 
http://www.bopping.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/decca-29813-Ricky-Riddle-Im-A-Whip-Crackin-Daddy.mp3download

Around 1968 Riddle settled in Arizona for a spell. There he recorded the finest vocal performances of his career for the Rio Grande label, based in Glendale. For starters, he cut a version of the traditional cowboy song, “Streets Of Laredo,” as well as “Reata Pass,” his own western composition. Riddle reprised “Ain’t You Ashamed” and “Second hand heart” besides coming up with some swinging shuffles like “Don’t You Worry” a cheeky ode to overdoing it at the bar, and “(There’s ) Something In Your Future.” and finally “Jo Ann”. The band was top-notch, delivering punchy performances with quality production and arrangements, including a stellar steel guitarist.
« Something in your future« download
« Jo Ann »
http://www.bopping.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Ricky-Riddle-Jo-Ann.mp3download

dixie 107 hankg on bill

an untraced 45 by Riddle

rio grande 1001 something in your futurerio grande 1001 jo ann
With a broad, toothy smile, Riddle had a likeable personality and visited Michigan often, to see his siblings and their families, and check up on musician friends he grew up with in Detroit. While in town, he made the rounds of local radio stations and sat with country music disk jockeys for on-air interviews. At some point during the 1970s, Riddle moved back to Michigan and took a job as a security guard in Hamtramck. Late one night, Riddle walked out the door of a Detroit bar and was mugged. When police found him, he stank of liquor and the officers mistook his condition for simply being drunk. They placed the unconscious Riddle in a jail cell for the night. When he didn’t respond to attempts to wake him in the morning, Riddle was admitted to the Veterans Administration hospital. Doctors found that Riddle had suffered a stroke resulting from a blow to his head; he was paralysed on his right side.
Riddle’s brother, E. Marvin Riddle, arranged for him to live at the Clintonview Care Convalescent Home in Clinton Township. Relatives and friends visited regularly. Mentally, Riddle was the same person, but he was unable to sing and play guitar. To cheer him up, a niece often called a local country music station to request Riddle’s records, and they played them late at night when he enjoyed listening to his radio. Riddle passed away on Aug. 8, 1988. His ashes were interned at the top of the hill in St. John’s cemetery in Fraser, Mich.
© Craig “Bones” Maki, 2010

Thanks, as usual, to Ronald ’78rpm’ Keppner for scanning the rare Tennessee/Coral/Decca labels. Rest of the tunes do come from Internet, as: Ricky Riddle discography (Praguefrank)

Pee Wee Maddux and Fine: Biloxi, MS, hillbilly (1955-56)

Mississippi-biloxiGo to a map of the U.S., search « Biloxi », and you’ll find this small city in the Harrison county, down south of Mississipi. That’s where the Fine label story begins. But before that and its debuts, we must look at its founders. Professor Marion Carpenter had a recording studio open to local facilities in Biloxi and was associated with steel guitar player Murphy Monroe « Pee Wee » Maddux (born 1923). The latter’s name had over the years several changes : from « Pee Wee » to « Pee-Wee », even « PeWee ». He was also a songwriter (Kitty Wells in 1956 ; or « Fools like me » for Jerry Lee Lewis, or more « Rocky road of love » for Curtis Gordon, even Fats Domino : « What a price »), and his earliest efforts as recording artist (at least he is credited as such on the labels) are to be found in March 1952 on M-G-M records, cut in Nashville : « My hobo heart » and « Lover’s crime ». The vocals were done by a certain Al Britt for two average boppers. Maddux penned a good percentage of the songs on Fine, among them the Ernie Chaffin ones.

mgm 11224 hobo heart

mgm 11281B lover's crime

« My hobo heart« download

« Lover’s crime« download

 

 

In 1954 the pair Carpenter/Maddux launched a microscopic label, Gulf Coast, which they issued a certain DAN SEAL on : « You gotta walk that line » (# 1012) is a lively little opus, but nothing particular, and it sinked into obscurity. But SEAL reemerged next year on the new comperes’ label, FINE for two ballads, « I wake at dawn  (with you on my mind ) » being the best one (# 1003).

« You gotta walk that line« download gulf 1012B you gotta walk

billboard nov. 1955 dan seal:fine

1003 I wake at dawn

« I wake at dawn« download

 

 

JIM OWEN then came with the rollicking « Sie Simon shuffle » (# 1004) : it’s a jumping hillbilly rocker with a fiddle solo and one from Pee Wee Maddux on steel well to the fore. Owen had late ’50s his own Owe Man label where he issued « The key’s in the mail box » (see below). On to JOHNNY BOZEMAN and the good « She’s my bayou babe » (# 1006). Bozeman went afterwards in 1957 on Mobile, Alabama, Sandy label, which he co-founded with Paul Bose, and saw a classic horror rocker « Rockin’ in the graveyard » by Jackie Morningstar in 1959. Bozeman himself had « Blues and I » (# Sandy 1001)(alas, unheard) and what is described in a sale list as « doo wop rockabilly », « How many ».

Jim Owen, « Sie Simon shuffle« download

Johnny Bozeman, « She’s my bayou babe« do<nload

billboard 5 nov 55 fine

November 5, 1955

1004 simon
1006 she's my bayou baby
Other artists on the Fine label included ANN RAYE and his fine (co-sung with Jim Owen) bopper « Our wedding band » (# 1001). Raye had also had earlier 2 singles on Starday and 1 on Decca in 1956. Incidentally she was the daughter of local promoter Frank « Yankie » Barhanovich, and through her father’s activities, went on to share in 1955 some Elvis Presley shows in Biloxi. Moreover on Fine, HANNA FAYE had the ballad « It pays to be true » (# 1008). Other men : J. W. THOMPSON and the good honky-tonker « It’s your turn » (# 1007) – later he cut « When you’re honky tonkin’ » on the Toledo label (# 1003) out of Alexandria, Louisiana. Or B. F. JOHNSON : the fine bopper « I wish I could believe you » (# 1011)(great mandolin!).

Ann Raye & Jim Owen, « Our wedding band« download
1001 our wedding band

Hanna Faye « It pays to be true« download

hannah-fay-cars

Hanna Faye

J.W. Thompson « It’s your turn« download
J.W. Thompson« When you’re honky tonkin‘ »download

B.F. Johnson« I wish I could believe you« download

toledo 1003 j.W.Thompson

 

billboard 12 nov 55 j.w. thompson

J.W. Thompson. Nov. 12, 1955

 

 

 

 

fine 1011 bf jonson - i wish

 

 

 

 

chaffin

Ernie Harvey on steel guitar (according to Linda Maddux)

 

 

 

 

The most important artist however was ERNIE CHAFFIN who made his recording beginnings on Fine with « The stop look and listen song »b/w « The heart of me » (1010), before Carpenter and Maddux went with him to Nashville to meet country promoter Jim Denny and A&R man Paul Cohen. A deal with Decca never concluded but Fred Rose took Chaffin on his burgeoning Hickory label. 4 sides were issued without success, then Chaffin came to Sun, and Maddux backed him on such a classic as « Feelin’ low » (Sun 262).

« The stop look and listen song« download

« The heart of me« download
fine 1010  stop look

hickory 1024 get me on your mind

Ernie Chaffin [Hickory] »Get me on your mind« download

Later on, Carpenter and Maddux helped a lot Jimmy Donley in his early career and got him his Decca contract in 1957.

Maddux cut « New red river valley » (instrumental) for Judd Phillips label Judd (#1010) in 1958. He died and is buried in Gulfport, MS, in 1993.

All in all, a short lived affair (Fine folded after 20 issues, in 1957), but a good starter for many an artist.

 

From the notes of Allan Turner on the BACM CD « A ‘Fine’ hillbilly song – Country music on the Fine label » # 392. Various researches to. Somelocalloser.blogspot for Jim Owen’s Owe Man sides.

 

 

bb 25-12-54 1016

December 25, 1954

Rusty & Doug Kershaw, Louisiana men (1954 -1964)

ace CD

Douglas James « Doug » Kershaw was born on January 24 of 1936 on a houseboat near Tiel Ridge, Louisiana – a tiny island off the Gulf Coast of Mexico. Russell Lee « Rusty » Kershaw was born on 2 February 1938. Their childhood was difficult, and their father committed suicide when Doug was seven, soon after the family moved to Crowley. Their older brother Nelson « Pee Wee » Kershaw formed a band called the Continental Playboys, which the younger boys would later join. Rusty played rhythm guitar, while Doug began to excel on fiddle (he eventually claimed to have mastered 29 instruments). The band became popular and was appearing on KLPC-TV in 1953, alongside Jimmy Newman and Wiley Barkdull. (suite…)