Ernie Chaffin’s two Hickory records come from a single session on May 5, 1954 and all the songs were written by Chaffin’s longtime buddy Pee Wee Maddux. Chaffin’s defining moment came with « Feelin’ Low » on Sun in 1956, and the Hickory singles are rather mundane in comparison, although there’s no disguising the quality in his voice. Read the rest of this entry »
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. Read the rest of this entry »
Howdy, folks! Finally moved. More room for records, more space for living. Hope all of you are fine, still prepared for good ole’ Hillbilly music. Two classics will be discussed this time. All the podcast will be 78 rpm but only one 45: many a hiss! Read the rest of this entry »
The original of the song was made by the legendary Rex Griffin, one of those pioneers in Honky Tonk music. Here is his biography by a Bruce Eder:
As a songwriter, performer, and recording artist, Rex Griffin bridged the gap between Jimmie Rodgers and Hank Williams — indeed, it can be said that he bridged the gap between Rodgers and Buddy Holly, and between Rodgers and the Beatles. Griffin was among the first country music stars to record using his own material almost exclusively, and among the least of his accomplishments, one of his songs was covered (albeit without proper credit) by the Beatles. Griffin is the author of the original version of « Everybody’s Tryin’ to Be My Baby, » which Carl Perkins later adapted into his own song, and the Beatles subsequently covered to the profit of all except Griffin, who’d been dead about six years when all of this happened.
Griffin is one of those pre-war figures in country music whose legacy has been unjustly overlooked. He had no hits of his own after 1939, although his biggest hit from that year — « The Last Letter » — continues to get recorded at the end of the century. He was also a direct inspiration to both Hank Williams (whose recording of « Lovesick Blues » was virtually a copy of Griffin’s from ten years earlier) and Lefty Frizzell. One of country music’s first singer/songwriters, Griffin was the model for figures including Floyd Tillman, Willie Nelson, and Merle Haggard (and one could even throw Buddy Holly in there). And, like Williams, his personal demons in love and substance abuse brought a premature end — albeit not as suddenly as Williams’ — to Griffin’s performing career and his life.
He was born Alsie Griffin, second of seven children of Marion Oliver Griffin and the former Selma Bradshaw. He grew up without much formal education and spent most of his early childhood on the farm that his family owned in Sand Valley. By the 1920s, Ollie Griffin was working in Gasden at the Agricola Foundry, and Alsie followed his father there. The family regarded music as a pastime to be pursued after finishing one’s real work.
Alsie felt differently, however, wanting no part of farm life or the factory if there was any way of helping it. His first instrument was a harmonica, but it wasn’t long before he picked up the guitar. Gasden didn’t offer a big future in music, but Griffin took advantage of what was there, playing local parties and dances.
If the guitar was the first instrument that Griffin felt strongly about, his first love was the music of Jimmie Rodgers. He quickly adopted Rodgers’ style as his own and never entirely abandoned elements of his music — especially the yodeling — even once he had his own style nailed down.
Griffin made his first professional appearance on a bill at the Gasden Theater in 1930, and not long after he moved to Birmingham, where better opportunities awaited. He joined the Smokey Mountaineers, and it was there that he got his new first name — the group’s announcer had difficulty pronouncing Alsie, and simply renamed him Rex. The name stayed with him and he moved from city to city across the South, appearing on radio stations in Chattanooga, Atlanta, and New Orleans, among other cities.
His recording career began in 1935, when Griffin was signed to the newly formed Decca Record company, which already had the Sons of the Pioneers, Tex Ritter, Jimmie Davis, and Milton Brown in their roster of country artists. His first recording sessions were held in Chicago on March 25 and 26 of that year, during which he recorded ten songs, accompanied by his own guitar and Johnny Motlow on tenor banjo. All ten number were originals by Griffin, itself an astonishing achievement in those days. All of the material, both in its style and performance, recalled Rodgers — Griffin’s yodeling never let one forget who his inspiration was, although the songs hold up well on their own terms. Also striking about the recordings is Motlow’s banjo playing which, with its trilling, sounds almost like a mandolin.
Griffin’s first releases were successful enough to justify another session for Decca nearly a year later in New Orleans. This time he provided the only accompaniment on ten of the songs and did two additional songs backed by an amplified steel guitar. Among the songs that came out of those sessions was « Everybody’s Tryin’ to Be My Baby, » which in this context sounds almost like a blues composition, recalling works such as Tampa Red‘s « Tight Like That. » The piece was also a dazzling guitar showcase for Griffin, whose prowess on the instrument was considerable. This blues influence was no fluke — « I’m Ready to Reform » from the same session is a superb piece of white blues that can fool listeners as to its origins as easily as Autry’s or Rodgers’ best blues sides.
Griffin’s records continued to sell well, and in May of 1937, this time in New York, he cut two more sides, including his most famous number. « The Last Letter » became his biggest hit, a suicide note set to music. Stories vary as to its origins, the most commonly circulated one being that Griffin, who had a taste for alcohol that would later blight his life, was in a drunken depression over his failing first marriage when he wrote the note, and later set it to music as sobering up. Whatever the circumstances of its composition, the record caught on and became a hit throughout the South, and also brought Griffin the adulation of many of his colleagues, most notably Ernest Tubb, whose 20-year friendship with Griffin began over « The Last Letter. »
The song was covered by other artists, including Jimmie Davis, soon after its release. Gene Sullivan (vocalist for Roy Newman & his Boys) also covered three Griffin songs, including « Everybody’s Tryin’ to Be My Baby, » in the late ’30s, and even bandleader Bob Crosby cut Griffin’s « I Told You So. » Griffin’s own career kept moving forward, with concerts and radio performances throughout the South that made him one of the more popular performers of the era.
Griffin’s next recording sessions in September of 1939 yielded a dozen songs, including the follow-up to his biggest hit, « Answer to the Last Letter« , and his recording of « Lovesick Blues, » which was to be the model for Williams’ recording nearly a decade later that made Hank a star. Also recorded at the session was « Nobody Wants to Be My Baby« , a fast, breezy honky tonk-style number and one of several songs on which Griffin was backed by guitarist Ted Brooks and bassist Smitty Smith. The latter is also a beautiful piece of bluesy honky tonk and deserves to be better known.
Despite the success of « The Last Letter« , Griffin’s record sales were too poor overall to justify the label keeping him, and he was dropped by Decca after 1939. In the mid-’30s, he had played with Billie Walker and Her Texas Cowboys in New Orleans, and in 1940 he rejoined her band in Memphis. He later moved back to Alabama to spend more time with his ailing mother and appeared locally for the next few years. Among the places he played often was the notorious crime-ridden Alabama town of Phenix City, which would later become the subject of two feature films. In Gasden, he performed with a group called the Melody Boys, which included two future members of Tubb’s Texas Troubadors.
In 1941, following the death of his mother, Griffin moved to Dallas, where he had a regular spot on KRLD’s Texas Round-Up. His popularity from these broadcasts made Griffin a natural to take over the Texas Round-Up. This was to be his best broadcast showcase, and had it not been for the war, Griffin might’ve become a major star from his work on KRLD. As it was, the show ended in 1943 as the available talent dwindled amid continued military call-ups.
Griffin moved to Chicago in 1944, and it was there that he made his next batch of recordings. These 16 sides — recorded with a band that may have included Red Foley on guitar — were not intended for commercial release. Rather, they were made for Decca Records’ World Transcription Services, for broadcast over the air by radio stations that licensed them.
Despite these recordings for the company’s transcription division, there was no interest at the time in trying to release new commercial sides by Griffin. To hear the material today is to glimpse some of the best honky tonk-style music of the era — by that time, Griffin had taken on a more modern style, and he had even cut his Rodgers-inspired yodeling to a minimum. In addition to capturing Griffin performing « live » in the studio, these are among the few sides he left that feature him working with a band and, thus, show something of the sound he must’ve had during that early-’40s Dallas period.
The oversight by the record company, in terms of offering him a new contract, is difficult to explain. It is possible, however, that the wartime rationing of shellac (a key ingredient in 78 rpm records) had so dampened interest in any risky new ventures (the record business at one point seemed doomed to shut down) that Griffin never had a chance with his old label.
He made his last recordings in 1946 for Cincinnati-based King Records, which had previously recorded Grandpa Jones, the Delmore Brothers, and Merle Travis, among others. Griffin cut eight sides for King, backed by Homer & Jethro on guitars and mandolin. The sides showed Griffin in decent form, an easygoing honky tonk singer with a smooth style and a good voice, but lacking the sharp edge to his singing and playing that sparked his earlier work, clearly on the decline by this time.
These proved to be his last recording sessions. His worsening diabetic condition, complicated by drinking and other dietary abuses, forced an end to Griffin’s career, and the collapse of his second marriage late in the 1940s sent him into a personal tailspin. He moved to Dallas and still wrote songs, and when his health allowed (he was hospitalized several times), he pitched them actively to singers who had recording contracts, including Ray Price, who cut « Answer to the Last Letter« , « Beyond the Last Mile« , and « I Saw My Castles Fall Today« .
His friendship with Tubb blossomed into a profitable professional relationship for both, as Tubb recorded many of Griffin’s songs, and Griffin also became close to Tubb’s nephew, Douglas Glenn Tubb. Their interest, coupled with the quality of his work, sustained Griffin during the 1950s, and in 1955 he wrote « Just Call Me Lonesome« , his last hit, recorded by Eddy Arnold and Red Foley. His last years were blighted by further ill health, as Griffin was diagnosed with tuberculosis. He was confined to a New Orleans hospital for what proved to be the final months of his life, and died in October of 1958.
Griffin’s death at the age of 46 was a great loss to country music. Moreover, his lack of any hit recordings of his own after 1939 resulted in there never being an LP release of his songs — there was no impetus on the part of Decca Records to explore his recording history, and he was left in limbo as a recording artist, a distant memory to older listeners. The possibility of Decca’s successor, MCA Records, doing anything with Griffin’s music in the 1990s or beyond seems even more remote.
The songs he wrote, however, have endured over the 40 years since. Hank Thompson recorded « An Old Faded Photograph » in 1960, and « The Last Letter » was re-recorded by Jack Greene in 1964 and became a hit once again. Soon after, Tubb cut an entire album of Griffin songs, and other artists who have covered « The Last Letter » include Willie Nelson, Asleep at the Wheel, Waylon Jennings, and Merle Haggard. At the time of his death, Griffin’s quarterly royalty statement from the publisher of his newest songs was 18 dollars and change, a situation that had changed drastically by the 1960s. Additionally, his song « Everybody’s Tryin’ to Be My Baby« , as appropriated by Carl Perkins — the inability of the family to protect the copyright probably cost his daughters millions in royalties — and later covered by the Beatles, has become a rock & roll standard only slightly less familiar than « Blue Suede Shoes » or « Maybelline« . And then there was his version of « Lovesick Blues, » which Williams freely admitted to having learned from Griffin, even though Hank was also familiar with the Emmett Miller original — Griffin did make changes in the lyrics and structure of the song that Williams kept in his version.
In 1970, in recognition of his achievements as a composer, Griffin was among the very first composers inducted into the newly founded National Songwriters’ Hall of Fame in Nashville. In 1996, Bear Family Records of Germany released a long overdue triple-CD career retrospective on Griffin entitled The Last Letter.
In 1938, bandleader and pianist ROY NEWMAN cut in Dallas « Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby« , in a more Western swing mood. Griffin had done it fast- paced, Newman kept it. Whole thing is cheerful, funny, and ideal for dancers. The personnel included: Gene Sullivan on vocal duties, Newman on piano, a young Jim Boyd on guitar, along with Holly Horton (clarinet), Cecil Browen (fiddle), Ish Irwin (bass) and Walter Kirken (banjo). ROY NEWMAN is known for his « I Got Ants In My Pants » and « Rosalie », cut either in Dallas or in New Orleans at the end of the ’30s.
Then ten years later, the song was covered twice. I really don’t know who came first, so I suppose it was GLEN THOMPSON. He hailed from Danville, VA, and had numerous records on the Tornado, (Tennessee) Athens, even his own Glen Thompson labels. Most of his output can be found on a UK. Krazy Kat CD « Tarheel Swing ». Here he delivers a fine, up-to-date hillbilly bop shuffle paced version (uncredited) of the classic on the Manchester, KY Acme label (# 982-B). The steel player is particularly fine (two solos), as the fiddler and the pianist. Lyrics do seem to emanate direct from Griffin. JIMMY SHORT & the Silver Saddle Ranch Boys out on the West coast did their version in 1951 on the 4 Star label (# 1538). A bit Western flavored (as Short yells to invite the members for their solos); the steel Jay Higham is impressive, as the rhythm guitar by Short, who reminds me much of Clyde Moody‘s « The Blues Came Pouring Down » from 1949 (hear this song in his story elsewere in the site).
Billboard April 7, 1951
Then we go to the two last versions we’re interested in. Without doubt, the YORK BROTHERS revived the Griffin song, however strangely crediting it to Wayne Walker and Webb Pierce. Theirs is very good, well-suited to their harmony style, and taken at a Rockabilly tempo. Issued 1957.
Carl Perkins - Sun studio
The musicof GLEN THOMPSON or YORK BROTHERS’ song and the CARL PERKINS song is totally different. The Carl Perkins song has blues-style guitar riffs and a start-stop rhythm closer to « Blue Suede Shoes« . There are two verses in common but Carl Perkins wrote completely new music for his song released on Sun Records in 1957 on the famous « Dance Album » LP 1225.
And the rest is history of Rock’n'Roll, when the song got a world-wide appeal when released in 1964 in England. A fine career for a 1936 session-filler by a long-forgotten honky tonk artist…Finally it was revived in 2003 by JOHNNY CASH, as a tribute to Carl Perkins, his old friend (who had died a couple years before). A nice, strong version.
The Perkins Brothers band (1954)
Carl 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. Three 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 ».
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.
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), Black 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 from 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.
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.
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 ».
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.
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 'left)
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 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 ?).
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
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….
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.
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..
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 !
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.
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!
First we have a boogie by Dick Lewis (Imperial, Los Angeles, 1947) « Beale Street Boogie » – Is this about Memphis’ most famous alley? Let’s stay in Memphis with Ernie Chaffin for a strong Country-rock on Sun records, « Laughin’ and Jokin’ » (Pee Wee Maddux on steel). Then to Nashville with Dick Stratton, a 1951 romper, « Fat Gal Boogie »(Nashboro label). From Florida comes Joe Asher « Photograph Of You » (DeLuxe label) – I dig interplay between fiddle and steel. Then on to Texas, Jimmy Heap’s « That’s That » (Imperial, 1949) energic & never reissued! We come to an end with the York Brothers and their « Monday Morning Blues »; Hope you enjoy, and post your comments if any…