EARL PETERSON, the Michigan’s Singing Cowboy (1950-1955)

earl pic1Despite a long career that spanned almost 45 years, comparatively little is known about Earl Peterson. He was born in Paxton, Illinois, on February 24, 1927 and moved to Michigan when he was 18 months old. He apparently became proficient on both guitar and drums and formed his own band, the Sons of the Golden West, when he was still in high school. The group secured a regular spot on WOAP, Owosso, then moved to WMYC in Alma, Michigan, before settling at WCEN, Mount Pleasant. WCEN gave Earl and his group a regular show, Earl’s Melody Trails, and made him the talent director, staff announcer and farming news editor. Earl was to study Law after high school but he switched to a musical career instead.

Earl made his debut in the record business when he formed a record label, Nugget Records, with his mother, in January 1950.

nugget 1B earl peterson - take me back to michigan

« Take me back to Michigan«  download

Peterson also undertook road trips to publicise his record and, at the same time, worked guest dee-jay spots at various stations. It seems as though his mother, Pearle Lewis, was the driving force behind Peterson. Sam Phillips recalled that the pair arrived on his doorstep early in 1954 pitching « The Boogie blues ». Phillips located some country session musicians to work with Peterson and the result of the session was released in the Spring of 1954.
« Boogie blues« (Sun 197)download
« In the dark« (Sun 197)
http://www.bopping.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/In-the-dark.mp3
download
sun 197 earl peterson - boogie bluessun 197 earl peterson - in the dark

The story becomes more convoluted from that point. In October of that year Peterson, with a healthy disregard for contracts and AFM regulations, re-recorded the same song for Columbia. The song was re-copyrighted and probably sold more than the 2500 copies that Phillips had shipped.

columbia 21364 earl peterson - boogie blues

columbia 21364 earl peterson - believe me

 

 

 

« Boogie blues« (Columbia 21364)download
« Believe me » (Columbia 21364)
http://www.bopping.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/21364-Believe-Me-Earl-Peterson.mp3
download

Peterson’s half-brother, Bob Lewis, recalls that Peterson was desperately unhappy with the quality of the Sun recording and that may account for his lack of reserve when Don Law approached him to re-record the tune. In any event, Peterson had a few singles released on Columbia but they were shipped into changing market conditions (released between February 1955 and July 1956) and Peterson may have tired of the constant touring necessary to support his releases. His mother ran a resort club, the Bass Lake Pavillion, and Earl formed a band that included twin steel guitars, two lead guitars, two fiddles and his half-brother on drums and he played here on a regular basis supporting all the acts that worked the area as singles. In this way, Earl and the boys backed Marty Robbins, Moon Mullican and many more. The ’53 Buick which Earl had driven all those miles was increasingly confined to short trips.

 

« I’m not buying, baby« (Columbia 21406)download>

« Be careful of the heart you’re going to break » (Columbia 21406)download

columbia 21406 earl peterson - I'm not buying, baby

columbia 21467 earl peterson 78 I ain't gonna fall in love

columbia 21467 earl peterson - I'll live my life alone

In 1960 Peterson and his family established radio station WPLB in Greenville, Michigan. In columbia 21406 earl peterson - be careful of the heart1962, they switched to the FM frequency and the following year saw Earl’s retirement from the performing side of the music business. By that point there was an undeniable quotient of rock and roll in country music and, in Bob Lewis’ words, « Earl wasn’t crazy about that stuff ». In 1965 Earl learned that he had cancer but he continued to work at the station until his death in May 1971.earl peterson2

« I ain’t gonna fall in love » (Columbia 21467) download

« I’ll live my life alone » (Columbia 21467) download
Earl Peterson’s music, a survey by bopping’s editor

  • any Columbia issue coupled an uptempo and a slowie. The vocal is firm and assured, and the backing is on a par with the best what Nashville did offer at the time. Although unknown musicians, there was a steel, a fiddle and on « Boogie blues » (remake of the Sun version) a welcome rinky-dink piano. I posted the tracks side-by-side to let yourself judge.
  • « Boogie blues » on Sun 197 has sewing fiddle, steel and drums. Peterson’s voice is very reminiscent to that of Jimmie Rodgers, and the song itself derives from pre-war country songs, like Gene Autry’s ‘blues’ songs. Its flipside « In the dark » is a strong shuffler.
  • « Alimony blues », although in the past (N.L. Redita LP) credited to Peterson, is in fact done by Gene Steele.
  • « You just can’t be trusted », found on Youtube (Mr. Honky tonk chain), is evidently a ’60s recording, nice done, although I don’t know the original label neither the flipside.

« You gotta be my baby« (Columbia 21540)download

« World of make believe« (Columbia 21540)download

Sources : « The country years » (1987) by Colin Escott ; page on Earl Peterson – also music from « Columbia 20000 » (Willem Agenant) ; scans from 78rpm-world ; « The Hillbilly researcher » for scan and music to Nugget 78rpm.

« You just can’t be trusted » (’60’s)download

columbia 21540 earl peterson - you gotta be my baby

SUN Records: Hillbilly Bop sides (1955-1957) (part 2)

perkins brothers

The Perkins Brothers band (1954)

sunlogoCarl Lee Perkins (1932-1998) is too well known, and information on him is easily available. Search with your engine or go direct to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_Perkins also Rockabilly Hall Of Fame site http://www.rockabillyhall.com/CarlPerkins.html. The Perkins Brothers (Jay B. rhythm guitar, Clayton, bass – later W.S. Holland, d) band began performing in the Covington, Tennessee, area in 1953 and quickly found success with a Hillbilly-boogie type music heavily based on Blues. When they heard in July 1954 Elvis’ Blue Moon Of Kentucky on radio, they decided to go see Sam Phillips to record. First they were cut in Country vein (Turn around, a ballad,  being their first disc on Flip 501), because Phillips would not them rivalling with Elvis. With the latter’s departure in November of 1955, they were given freehand, and the result was « Gone gone gone » (Sun 224) in September 1955 : a romping Hillbilly bop, almost a Rockabilly. 224 perkinsThree months later, Perkins cut Blue suede shoes, the rest is history…

 

Smokey Joe (Baugh), vocalist and piano player for the Clyde Leoppard Snearly Ranch Boys (see part 1) had one single (Sun 228, reissued as Sun 393 in the 60s) under his name taken from the 4 sessions he cut on his own between August 1955 and 1956. His style is heavily based on R&B, there is even his raucous voice which reminds one of Fats Waller. « The Signifying Monkey » is a sort of amusing recitation, and a whole lot of then hip animals like monkeys and baboons is cited. The steel-guitar (played by Stan Kesler) is very unobstrusive, and there’s even a trumpet on the B-side « Listen To Me » ! All in all a record on the border of Hillbilly and R&B, the sort of thing Phillips was still looking for, even after the departure of Presley and the crossover success of « Blue Suede Shoes ». He cut similar nature material left in the can (and later issued in Europe) with tracks like « Hula Bop » and « She’s A Woman ».

228smokeyMaggie Sue Wimberly

 

Little is known about Maggie Sue Wimberly who went to Sun in October 1954 and cut a solitary single (Sun 229) : « How Long/Daydreams Come true ». In the early part of 1954, Sam Phillips had turned down Bud Deckleman and his song (co-penned by the team Quinton Claunch/Bill Cantrell) « Daydreamin’ ». Deckleman had been to Lester Bihari of Meteor and had a huge hit with this record. Phillips tried to catch up on the success and recorded a follow-up, « Daydreams Come True » by Wimberly, which came nowhere. One of the rarest Sun records ever…A fine Hillbilly weeper though. 

 

Charlie Feathers (1932-1998) is also well known. See his official site : http://www.charliefeathers.com/ for a very detailed biography. He arrived at Sun from Mississipi in 1955 and recorded with the duet Quinton Claunch (fiddle)/Stan Kesler (steel) one bopping fast novelty « Peepin’ Eyes » (Flip 503). He claimed later to have directed Elvis Presley’s late Sun sessions, and actually wrote and gave him I Forgot To Remember To Forget (Sun 223) ; Sam Phillips wanted Feathers as a Country singer, and he was not allowed to sing anything else than the great « I’ve Been Deceived » (Flip 503) or the beautiful Defrost Your Heart (Sun 231). Even his demos of Rockabilly songs (Bottle To The Baby, complete with hiccups, later re-cut for King in July 1956 ; or Honky Tonk Kind) were rejected by Phillips. That is why he came, through his brother-in-law, in touch with Meteor Records, and cut the classic Rockabilly « Get With It/Tongue Tied Jill » on April 1rst, 1956.

feathers picfeathers231
flip503

 

Jimmy Haggett was inspired by the phrasing of Jim Reeves, and took (without knowing it) a Luke McDaniels’ song, « No More » (from 1952), although with different lyrics. Flip was « They Call Our Love A Sin » (Sun 236). The record had sold 448 copies a year after release, and the songs are pretty tame. Shortly after, Haggett tried his hands at Rockabilly but felt uneasy and hired a front singer to replace him. But that’s another story.

 

Warren Smith (1932-1981) is well documented too. See : http://www.rockabillyhall.com/WarrenSmith.html. He went from Mississipi as lead singer of Clyde Leoppard Snearly Ranch Boys and was presented to Sam Phillips early in 1956 by Johnny Cash who gave him his very first song: Rock’n’Roll Ruby (Sun 239) – which George Jones claims to have written, instead of Cash. Anyhow the demo of it by Cash was published in U.K. in the 80s. But Smith was an ably Country singer – the best he heard at Sun, to quote Phillips – and his renderings are quite good  flavored Rockabilly/Hillbilly Bop songs : I’d Rather Be Safe Than Sorry (Sun 239), 239bBlack Jack David (Sun 250), So Long I’m Gone (Sun 268), Tonight Will Be The Last Night (unissued at the time) or later effort Goodbye Mr. Love (Sun 314). Disappointed by a constant rivality with Jerry Lee Lewis, he moved to Hollywood and Liberty Records in 1959 as a Country singer and succeed a little.

 

The Miller Sisters (Elsie & Jo) were a local Memphis act, discovered by Phillips in 1955. Elsie Jo Miller and Mildred Wages did originate Miller Sistersfrom Elvis’ hometown, Tupelo, Mississipi ; they were offered to record for Sun at 5 occasions between March 1955 and July 1957, so Sam Phillips must have been confident enough in them as a duet. First they cut a passable Hillbilly weeper on Flip 504 (Someday You Will Pay), backed by the then cream of Sun studio musicians : Stan Kesler on guitar, Quinton Claunch on steel-guitar, Bill Cantrell on fiddle, Marcus Van Story on bass ; even Charlie Feathers used spoons on this tune ! Later in 1956 they embarked on the Rockabilly bandwagon and cut a little classic, Ten Cats Down (Sun 255), with the accompaniment of members of Clyde Leoppard Snearly Ranch Boys, aptly augmented by the sax of Ace Cannon. They were also involved as vocalists on Cast King 1956/1957 session (originally unissued) which produced the beautiful « Can’t find time to pray ». They did disappear after 1957.

sun 255

 

Slim Rhodes (Ethell Cletus ‘Slim’ Rhodes) (see part 1) had a Hillbilly boogie romper on Sun 238 with « Gonna Romp and Stomp » ; he had well adapted from the wild sounds of Hillbilly Bop instrumental « Skunk Hollow Boogie » (Gilt-Edge 5015, recorded at Sun in July 1950) to the new trends of 1956. « Romp… » is still Hillbilly Bop in essence, but the pace is Rockabilly (note the classic guitar solo), as is their next effort (Sun 256) : Take And Give/Do What I Do (vocal Dusty Rhodes). Two very fine Sun records ! Last recording of Rhodes for Phillips was in 1958, and of far lesser interest (I’ve never been so blue), hence unissued then.

sun 238

riley vieux

 

Billy Riley (Pocahontas, Ark., 1933 ; dead August 2, 2009). Born to a poor sharecropping clan, Riley developed a passion for blues and learned to pick guitar watching the older black musicians his family worked alongside. Although he made some early appearances performing on local radio, Riley’s career took shape after he was discharged from the Army in the mid-’50s. Moving to Memphis, Riley soon hooked up with a crew of fledgling country musicians that included « Cowboy » Jack Clement. He and his truck driver partner, Slim Wallace, founded the tiny Fernwood label in a South Memphis garage and cut Riley’s debut recordings, « Trouble Bound » and « Think Before Your Go« (still unissued today). Clement took the tapes to Sam Phillips over at Sun Records so he could master a single. Impressed by what he heard, Phillips ended up hiring Clement to work at Sun, and signed Riley. Hence « Trouble Bound/Rock With Me Baby » (Sun 245). Riley and his group – which included drummer J.M. Van Eaton and guitarist Roland Janes — would also become the de facto house band at Sun, providing the backing on numerous hits. Another Hillbilly song recorded at a Rockabilly pace is the underrated « I Want You Baby » (Sun 260), overshadowed by the A-side which made Riley famous until today, the classic « Flyin’ Saucer Rock’n’Roll ».sun 245

 

Malcolm Yelvington & band

Malcolm Yelvington and band, 1956

Malcolm Yelvington (see part 1) had well adapted to 1956 trends with his unique brand of Western Swing/Hillbilly Bop for a February 1956 session which produced the uptempo « Rockin’ With My Baby » (full of reference to then R&R hits) and the slower, much more interesting « It’s Me Baby » (Sun 246). Later Yelvington recorded mainly mainstream Country, always flavored of Western swing : tracks (unissued then) like « Trumpet » or « Goodbye Marie », to be found on 1990’s Bear Family compilation « Sun – The Country years » 10-LP boxset. It also included a different version of « Yakety Yak » to that Meteor Records released in 1956.sun 246 it's me baby

 

It was not before October 1956 that Sam Phillips (too busy cutting Rockabilly and Rock’n’Roll sessions) recorded more Hillbilly, this time with Ernie Chaffin. The latter went from Biloxi, MS. and had had records from 1954 on Fine and Hickory labels. « His style was as unique as Johnny Cash’s : he depended on a percussive, repeated rhythmic pattern and minimal instrumentation. Unlike Cash’s work, however, Chaffin’s songs (most often composed by his acoustic guitar player Murphy ‘Pee Wee’ Maddux) were highly melodic and his voice had considerable range.  While the songs were lyrically more conventional than the stark lonesome ballads of Cash, Chaffin’s songs drew much of their power from unusual and arresting chord changes. » (Hank Davis) Between October 1956 and June 1958, Chaffin had 7 Sun sessions, resulting in 4 Sun singles, the best being the first two, and the most memorable and accomplished tracks being « Feelin’ Low » (Sun 262) and «Laughin’ And Jokin’ » (Sun 275). Both are on the border of Hillbilly Bop, and announce the future Country music of the late 50s/early 60s, when Rock’n’Roll and Rockabilly were integrated into it. All in all Ernie Chaffin recorded 15 songs for Sun, and they are all on the Bear Family boxset .

ernie chaffin BF

Ernie Chaffin 'left)

262 a78

 

Sam Phillips made relatively few mistakes in his choices, but after the discovery of Cast King (Joseph Dudley King) tapes in the Sun vaults, it is surprising why he didn’t release ANYTHING by him, like another mystery, the now famous Jimmy Wages. Maybe too busy with Rock’n’Roll bands ! Cast King cut one convincing religious narration (« Can’t Find Time To Pray ») in 1956 with the Miller Sisters as backing vocals, but the most interesting track was to come in June or July 1957 with « When You Stop Loving me » : « It is a splendid song and must have stood a fair chance of success. Although neither the composition nor the performance are really polished, the end product is quite spectacular (…) Instrumentally it’s a gem, featuring standout steel-guitar work and some nice dobro. » (Hank Davis/Colin Escott). It’s a « Country waltz beautifully sung, which stands alongside Sun’s finest Country records and his non-appearance is a mystery. »

 

mack self

Mack Self

Mack Self was a real Country singer, and although he tried a variety of other styles when at Sun, he always retained a country purity in his vocals and his band was never going on rough edges. He had 5 sessions between 1955/1956 and 1959 and only had two singles (from which one on Phillips International), the other being  (Sun 273) « Easy To Love/Everyday » . The solitary Sun release had very little chance of success in 1957, and actually sounded anachronic for the times being. Beautifully sung Country ballads ; and Phillips allowed Self to sing that, when he released at the same period pounding rockers by the likes of Carl Perkins, Tommy Blake, Wade & Dick, Ray Harris ! But a real treasure was unearthed in the 1990s on the aforementioned Bear Family boxset : Self had recorded a Hillbilly session in 1955/1956, complete with steel-guitar and fiddle. « Easy To Love » is plaintive, and the fiddle of Bill Cantrell well to the fore. The same session gave us a near-Rockabilly Hillbilly Bop, « Goin’ Crazy », complete with slapping bass (Jimmy Evans – is he the same guy as the one later on Rivermont and « The Joint Is Really Jumpin’ » rasping piano rocker ?).273 easy

 

We came to an end with the Hillbilly Bop sides cut by Elvis Presley. Actually he cut at least 8 Hillbilly sides in his own unmistakingly style, and 5 went their way as B-sides of his Sun singles. They are too well-known, but listen to them closely as Hillbilly Bop sides…Johnny Cash was also near Hillbilly, although he never used steel-guitar neither a fiddle – but his style was really his own and did in fact owe very little to Hillbilly…Do not forget The Rhythm Rockers (Sun 250) and « Fiddle Bop/Juke Box, Help me find my baby » – actually Hardrock Gunter. Phillips leased them from Emperor Records, it wasn’t his production.

 

 

 

 

Credits: all the color pictures that bear « The Country Years » do come from the Bear Family boxset BCD 15211 « Sun – The Country Years »

All label pictures do come from www.rockincountrystyle.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


SUN Records: Hillbilly Bop sides (1954-1956) (part 1)

Sam Phillips never had much chance with Country music. From 1950 to 1956 he cut Blues and Black R&B; from 1956 on he cut Rockabilly and Rock’n’Roll. Here below are his only attemps in the early years to record Hillbilly Bop. In the second part however, we will see names like Carl Perkins, Charlie Feathers, Malcolm Yelvington, Ernie Chaffin, Warren Smith, Mack Self doing Hillbilly Bop or Country music with much more success than Sam had had in the early days of SUN Records….

SunSamcontrol

 

Harmonica Frank Floyd (1909 in Tacapola, Mississipi ; died 1984). A phenomenon, who spent 30 years with medicine shows all around the South. He went in 1951 to see Sam Phillips and recorded several Country Blues : Swamp Root, the traditional Step It Up And Go, Goin’ Away Walkin’ and Howlin’ Tomcat, soon sold to Chess in Chicago. He sounded black, and many Blues collectors until the seventies (his rediscovery by Steve LaVere) were wrong with him…In 1954, Sun issued two sides (Sun 205) : Rockin’ Chair Daddy and The Great Medical Menagerist. « …Daddy » from 1951 is proto-rockabilly with strong rhythm guitar, wild vocal, and mouth harmonica. He had a strong career when rediscovered in 1974 and recorded for Adelphi.

p30031ch14751 swamp rootch1475d1 step it up & gosun 205

Earl Peterson (Feb. 24, 1927 in Paxton, Illinois. died 1971). made his beginnings at a radio station in Michigan. Become popular, he cut a first disc on Nuggett records, before signing at Sun in 1954. He recorded 4 titles, the best being « Boogie Blues » (Sun 197): sewing fiddles, steel-guitar, drums and bass, and a vocal very reminiscent of Jimmie Rodgers ; and the song itself derives from pre-war Country songs, like Gene Autry’s « Lowdown Blues ».

 

Doug Poindexter & The Starlite Wranglers. Born in Arkansas, he too went to Sun in 1954 and cut (May 25, 1954) two sides of Hillbilly weepers : Now She Cares No More For Me and My Kind Of Carrying On. Published on June 1rst, 1954 on Sun 202. Two of the Wranglers were…Bill Black (bass) and Scotty Moore (lead-guitar), soon to back up the young Elvis less than two months later. Good  hillbilly sides, tending towards Rockabilly. Poindexter then left for insurance business..

poindexter202

Earl Peterson (Feb. 24, 1927 in Paxton, Illinois. died 1971). made his beginnings at a radio station in Michigan. Become popular, he cut a first disc on Nuggett records, before signing at Sun in 1954. He recorded 4 titles, the best being « Boogie Blues » (Sun 197): sewing fiddles, steel-guitar, drums and bass, and a vocal very reminiscent of Jimmie Rodgers ; and the song itself derives from pre-war Country songs, like Gene Autry’s « Lowdown Blues ».earl peterson 197

 

 

howard seratt copie

Howard Seratt in April 1964 (rare picture from Martin Hawkins)

Howard Seratt, from Arkansas. Country gospel. Two sides (Sun 198), alone with his guitar & harmonica  for Troublesome Waters/I Must Be saved. Nice sincere vocal. 1954

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hardrock Gunter (Feb. 17, 1925 in Birmingham, Alabama). He had a long recording story behind him when he sold two songs to Sam Phillips in 1954 (Sun 201) : Gonna Dance All Night was a proto-Rock & Roll song, and a recut of a previous 1950 Bama issue. Fallen Angel is far quieter. Gunter had a long career afterwards, recording prolifically and still entertaining afficionados in Europe in 1995 !gonna dance 201

 

 

 

 

Slim Rhodes (Pocahontas, Arkansas, 1913 ; March 10, 1966 – thanks for the death info, Alex)). Guitar player and bandleader, very popular in the Memphis area in the late 40s/early 50s. Phillips leased several of his 1950-1951 recordings to Gilt-Edge. His first Sun single (Sun 216) was sung by Brad Suggs and billed « ordinary » by Billboard in May 1955. Rhodes would afterwards cut Romp and Stomp (Sun 238), a romping Hillbilly Boogie with steel-guitar and fiddle. It must have been a good seller, as the guitar solo was taken note-for-note on Harold Shutter’s « Bunny Honey » (Goldenrod 300 from May-June 1957), then Do What I Do (Sun 256), a superb Rockabilly in 1956 (vocal Sandy Brooks). He had several issues on Gilt-Edge. For Sun 238 and 256, please see SUN Records: Hillbilly sides (part 2).

 

Malcolm Yelvington (1927, Covington, Tennessee) led his first band, The Star Rhythm Boys, during the late 40s, wih pianist Reece Fleming. He cut his first sides in 1954 for Sun, among them his personal Western swing treatment of Sticks McGhee’s R&B classic Drinkin’ Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee (Sun 211). The guitar player follows Brownie McGhee’s solo, and Reece Fleming plays the Your Red Wagon theme (it was then adapted for Rock around the clock). All in all, it is a pretty proto-Rockabilly song, a fine blend of black & white styles. Later on (see part 2), Yelvington came close to Rockabilly (Sun 246) with Rockin’ With My Baby.sun 211

 Clyde Leoppard & the Snearly Ranch Boys were a group firmly associated with Sam Phillips during 1955-1957. Clyde Leoppard (steel), Johnny Bernero (d), Smokey Joe Baugh (p), vocalist Bill Taylor, Buddy Holobaugh (g) backed Smokey Joe, Warren Smith, and numerous other artists during this period. They had a solitary issue on Flip 502 (Sun subsidiary label) in 1954, and they handle right the charming piece of nonsense « Split personality », a romping Hillbilly bop. Smokey Joe had his own issue on Sun 228 in 1956 with « Signifying monkey ». His vocal is crude, and, as once said, a sort of Rockabilly Fats Waller (see part 2).

 

See part 2 for 1956-1958 Sun Hillbilly sides elsewhere on this site!