The Tennessee label
It was owned by Alan and Reynold Bubis (cousins) and formed in late 1949 by Williams Beasley who owned Coastline Distribution and was a protege of Jim Bulleit at a time when the Bullet label was having great local and national success. This was a time of expansion in Nashville as the Opry radio show became more and more popular and the number of studios grew. The Tennessee label used Castle or Bullet studios, but also radio stations after-hours (WKDA, WMAK), before Beasley set up his own studio. It had its musicians (The Nite Owls, a bunch of ever-changing musicians) and publishing outlet (first Tennessee, then Babb Music). The biggest hits Tennessee had was in the pop field: Del Wood and her singalong piano solos. But, like Bullet, Tennessee also recorded many excellent hillbilly and honky-tonk songs, and had no idea of recording star names. Beasley was looking for regular sales of 25,000. Often thee had the boogie rhythm and low-life themes that paved the way for country rock and rockabilly music a few years later. The musicians involved frequently included Harold Bradley (g), Farris Coursey (d), Allen Flatt (g) and Ernie Newton (b).
The earliest Tennessee issue bears the number 711 (a superstitious number) and the label folded in November 1952 with number 848. Billboard very rarely reviewed such a small outfit’s products.
Beasley apparently recorded most of the Tennessee issues at Castle studios, then under the production of Owen Bradley. The early issues bear a “Hal Bradley & His Band” tag, although later, Nashville studio musicians were disguised under the general name “The Nite Owls”.
Tennessee went out of business early in 1953 under a cloud of suspicion and legal actions concerning non-payment of royalties and union fees. Beasley survived in the music business through another label, Republic, which he had formed in 1952, and this label continued in action in Nashville until it was sold to a Hollywood company of the same name (owned by Gene Autry) and reactivated on the West coast.
* Banjoist and fiddler, Kirk McGee was a Nashville old-timer when his record of “It’s Too Late To Change Your Mind” (Tennessee 798) and “Missing In Action” (Tennessee 808) were made in 1952. McGee had been a member of one of the earliest hillbilly bands on Nashville radio, the Dixieliners, and had recorded as early as 1925 with his brother Sam and fiddle player Arthur Smith. His style on these recordings retains banjo and accordion but sounds very contemporary ‘50s nevertheless.
* “Mississipi Slim” was Carbel Lee Ausborn. He actually did come from Mississipi (Smythville), and he had a regular radio show on WELO, Tupelo, from 1944 through into the ‘50s. With insight, Slim’s main claim to fame is probably that he played guitar for Elvis Presley’s first ever radio appearance, on WELO, and that he was one of Elvis’ early heroes as he taught the boy to play guitar some. Slim’s recordings do reserve a place in their own right, though, and “You’re Gonna Be Sorry” (Tennessee 738) shows an artist with a powerful voice and his own style.
* Lee Bond (later Bonds) recorded frequently up to and into the rockabilly era. His original 1952 version of “Uh Huh, Honey” is particularly interesting. The song was a small hit for Autry Inman (Decca) and became a rockabilly favourite with Charlie Feathers down in Memphis. Bond’s “Wild Cattin’ Woman” (Tennessee 726) was one of the later Tennessee recordings, and fits into the early rock mould. Bond was a regular on the “Midway Jamboree Show” in Gadsden, Alabama. His band glorified in the name, the “Shady Side Playboys”, and they played in a strong style with striding piano and good steel/fiddle work. Bond was later on Republic, Capitol, Decca, then (late fifties) on Todd before disappearing from music scene.
* John T. Talley was a D.J., singer and bass player whose band, the Tennesseans, were popular over radio WISK in St. Paul, Minnesota and WENO in Madison, Tennessee. The band, with Dave Dudley on guitar, set up a hurrying rhythm on “Shine, Shave And Shower”, a Lefty Frizzell composition (Tennessee 752), where an unknown steel guitarist is well to the fore. Talley went later on Mercury and cut two rockabilly classics, “(I’ve Changed My) Wild Mind” and “Lonesome Train” (70902).
* Bob Williams is a little-known but excellent artist whose “Hot Rod Race” (Tennessee 735, after the success of Arkie Shibley’s 1950 hit) was one of the earliest automobile-song hits and a fore-runner of the popular country-boogie songs of Charlie Ryan and Johnny Bond. “Pickup truck” (Tennessee 770) made in 1951, owes something to Hank Williams, but is excellent in its own right, as is “We’re Steppin’ out Tonite”(Tennessee 834), a classic honky-tonker in Hank’s early ‘50s style. “Morning After Blues” (the flipside of 735) speaks to itself with its nice steel guitar and suitably wobbly hungover piano man.
* The late Billy Wallace (he died in 1978) recorded too for Mercury “That’s My Reward” or “Mean, Mistreatin’ Baby” as he was already 29 years old. On Tennessee 829, “Southwind” is a worthy addition to the train-song catalogue and is performed in typical Wallace style. The flipside is “I’m Gonna Turn You A’Loose” (sic) and features excellent fiddle playing from Nashville session-man Tommy Tucker. Wallace had records on Decca and, among others, Del Ray (“Honky Tonk Row” looks promising).
* Randy Hughes made 9 discs for Tennessee in 3 years. Mostly humorous uptempo songs (“When Elephants Start To Roost In Trees”), but today is still remembered for some salty records: “Birthday Cake”, with its gynecological detail and the warning to “get your fingers out of it, it don’t belong to you”, was also cut by another risqué songs specialist, Skeets McDonald (on Fortune, Detroit, MI); or “Not Big Enough” (also recorded by Jimmie Ballard on Kentucky) and even McDonald’s “Tattoed Lady”. Beside that, he also recorded sacred songs! Hughes was the pilot of the plane which went down in 1963, taking the lives of Hawkshaw Hawkins, Cowboy Copas (Hughes’ father-in-law) and Patsy Cline.
* Ricky Riddle made 3 of the first 7 Tennessee country serie, among them “Boogie Woogie Tennessee”; Harold Bradley assembled a slick backing group of musicians, among them the song’s writer, bass-player Ernie Newton, who played then his first session.
Riddle also covered Skeets McDonald’s “Smoke Comes Out Of My Chimney”. He managed Tennessee Music publishing house, before switching to M-G-M (“Steamboat Boogie”) and Decca (“I’m A Whip-Crackin’ Daddy”). In 1951, he met Marty Robbins, then an unknown aspiring singer, in his Nashville club and brought him to Beasley. Robbins had written some songs (Riddle cut one), but soon was contracted to Columbia. Beasley lost a big chance this day!
* Dick Stratton, prolific record cutter in Nashville, has 4 issues on Tennessee, the best known being “Pistol Boogie” (# 795) with its infectious lazy rhythm. He had earlier had “Slipping Around With Jole Blon” on Jamboree (another Bubis/Beasley venture, to be reviewed later in this site), typical honky-tonk, driven by the tic-toc rhythm of the bass. The sort of sound many a club in Nashville would then resonate of. DICK STRATTON pistol boogie
* Wes Holly had a solitary issue, “Shufflin’ Shoes Boogie” (# 742 ), a fine Bopper in its own right. Could he be the same Wes Holly who has, ‘way up North in Iowa, “Shufflin’ Shoes” on the Iowana label (not heard) ?
Other artists included Helen Carter (“I’m All Broke Out With Love” sold almost as well as anything), Allen Flatt, Jack Hardy, Carl Runner, Kenny Martin (a nice rendition of Lefty Frizzell’s “I Want To Be With You Always”). Tiny Bennett (“Boogie Woogie plowboy“),
Roy Hall (instrumentals), Rebe and Rabe (bluegrass) , Del Wood (pop piano).
Credits: notes on artists from an old Redita album “Nashville Country Rock”; reading of Martin Hawkins’ book “Makings records in Nashville – 1945/1955“. Label scans provided mostly by Al Turner (www.hillbillyresearcher.blogspot.com) and Tony Biggs (bass-player of the Rimshots). A warm thank to both of them!
Dick Stratton “I ain’t cryin’ over you”