Robert Autry Inman was born in Florence, Alabama, on January 6, 1929. He passed away at 59, on September 6, 1988.
At the age of five, he learned to play the guitar, and when he was twelve he had formed his first band, The Alabama Blue Boys. Two more years later, he was proud of an own radio show on WLAY in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. The income was too small for a full-time job, so he took an additional job in a cotton mill or as a court clerk and two more radio shows at WJOI and WMFT. Not too much later he also worked as a court reporter in Atlanta, Georgia.
His appearances at WWVA’s Wheeling Jamboree after the mid 1940s brought him to the attention of the Grand Ole Opry in 1947. While in Nashville, he got acquainted with Jim Bulleit of Bullet records, circa July 1949. That’s when his first two records were cut (# 682 “You’ve Got To Leave Those Other Guys Alone”, a fine bopper, and “Double Crossed” (# 687). His 4 sides on Bullet are certainly cut with Hank Garland on lead guitar: his playing is astonishing and clearly show he had his sights on a career in jazz rather than in country music. All in all, catchy songs and well-performed, although upstaged by the band.
From 1949 to 1950, he was bass player in the band of Cowboy Copa’s Oklahoma Cowboys, a little later he joined George Morgan’s Candy Kids. He also played steel guitar in both bands.
While still with Morgan, he wrote “Mr. Moon”, a hit for Carl Smith in 1951.
Inman left Morgan in 1952 and signed a recording deal with Decca records. His first single, “Let’s Take The Long Way Home” (Decca 46407) didn’t make the charts, but brought him to the attention of important people in the music business. His cover of the song he had written for Lee Bonds, “Uh-Huh Honey” (Bonds got his own version on Tennessee 804 – his complete story is to be found on this site: just “click” on the upper left “artist” button) got a little action. Years later the song was revised Rockabilly style by Charlie Feathers on Philwood 229 in 1967.
Inman’s biggest hit came in 1953 with “That’s All Right” (Decca 28629), which reached # 4 on the Billboard charts. Alas, just as the single was peaking, he was inducted into the Army for a two-year itch, so he couldn’t exploit his hit.
Only two more items made the charts in his career: “The Volunteer” on Sims (1963) and “Ballad Of Two Brothers” with Bob Luman on Epic (1968).
After his discharge from Army in 1955, he carried on as before. The Louvin Brothers recorded his song “I Don’t Believe You’ve Met My Baby”, Johnny Cash did “Second Honeymoon”, and Dinah Shore cut “Blues In Advance”. Even Hank Williams had loved his song in 1952 “I Cried Again”, to the point of singing it on the radio.
Although there have hardly been recorded so many soulful songs by one artist in the 1950s after Hank Williams’ death, it remains a mystery why Autry did not attain the success he had deserved. His compositions certainly belong to the best of all Country music ever had to offer. If Decca hadn’t believed in Autry, they would have not recorded so many singles on him: 22 singles in all from February 1952 to July 1957. His best sides were Fuzzy Owen‘s « A Dear John Letter« , « Stop Stallin’ (Start Fallin’ In Love) » or « Pucker Up » (not the Huelyn Duvall song of 1958). Decca even combined him to a duo with Floyd Robinson under the pseudonym “Jack and Daniel” (6 singles in all, between March and July 1953, to compete with RCA Victor’s discovery, Johnny & Jack. Their output was mosty novelties, as Pee Wee King‘s « Tennessee Tango« , The Carlisles‘ « Knothole« , or their own amusing (penned by Mary Drummond) « Don’t Make Love In A Buggy (‘Cause Horses Carry Tails)« .
However Inman’s contract with Decca ceased in 1957, just after his biggest success to come: as a matter of fact, he cut “Be Bop Baby” in April 56, a classic Rockabilly today (2013). A completely different song of the same name reached to # 1 in Billboard charts in August 1957 in the hands of Ricky Nelson on Imperial 5463. Also in 1955 he cut a superb rockabilly, « I Wanna Make Love« , as a demo for Decca, which was unearthed (which way ?) by Cees Klop in 2008 on the Holland’s « Rock and roll Country style » CD (Collector 2870), included in the podcasts below.
Then RCA Victor signed him in 1958 for two singles of pop rockers (not included in this site), among them “Mary Nell”, obviously dedicated to his wife. Label changes, from United Artists (3 singles, 1960-61), his own Lakeside (1 single and an LP), Mercury (1 single in 1961), Epic (6 singles between 1967 and 1969), and lesser known labels (Koala, Jubilee, Million, Glad), including his own Risque label (4 “party records” in 1967, whose he got legally worried for) during the 1960s until the 1980s.
Interesting thing: one “Mary Drummond” wrote a lot of his Decca sides (at least 9 songs) in 1952, and I wonder if she was related to him.
Inman was a very talented songwriter (he wrote a nice percentage of his songs, and gave quite a lot to others). On Decca, he cut a lot of nice ballads, in the mainstream ballad hillbilly style of 1953-54, but he had some shufflers and boppers too (hear them in the podcasts below, I’ve chosen the best of them). His compere Floyd Robinson in the duet “Jack & Daniel” knew his own chart success in 1959 with his RCA-Victor pop hit “Makin’ Love”. Before that he had hillbilly sides on King records (1953-55).
The last time that the public heard about Inman was in 1972. It was reported that he was imprisoned for illegal duplication of records and tapes in his three companies (among them, Million and Thousand ). Inman claimed he had been busted over a “technicality”, although he admitted that he had “reproduced several hundred song titles, and missed paying royalties on a few”. He went to jail, and died on September 6, 1988, at the age of 59.
Some of his compositions are still played by various country and bluegrass bands.
compiled from notes to Cattle CD 324, « A shot in the dark » Bear Family notes (for the Bullet sides), and various sources, including mine’s mind! I love Autry Inman.