Tommy Trent is an unknown artist among the thousands who tried to make up during the ’50s. He had only a hit in 1952, the justly acclaimed « Paper Boy Boogie », which apparently attracted a little attention : it was covered the same year by a singer of star status, Texas Bill Strength, on Coral. But this is only a small part of his interesting story.
Born March 8, 1924, in Strawberry plains, TN, he apparently was doing professionnal music in Arkansas and north of Louisiana by the late ’40s. He had then located himself in Little Rock, AR, and was deejaying Country music 3 hours a day on the waves of KTHS in Hot Springs. He also had a strong connexion with Shreveport, La. and could have been with his band a regular on the Louisiana Hayride, broadcasted every Saturday evening by the powerful 50.000 watt KWKH radio station. That’s where without doubt he met Hank Williams, a then regular of the show (having been fired from Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry because of his drunkiness on stage). He recalled in a ’80s interview a short anecdote about him and Williams on the Hayride. « Since he was the main drew, a drunken Hank Williams was Horace’s [Logan, MC and chief of the La. Hayride] nightmare scenario. On one outside date for the Hayride, Horace bribed fellow artist Tommy Trent to keep Hank from imbibing hard liquor. The tour bus headed for Little Rock with Tommy sitting attentively next to Hank, watching him like a hawk. Hank was wearing tight clothings – jeans and a western shirt – with no room to hide whiskey. Each time to bus stopped Horace would pat Hank down as if he was a cop searching a criminal for a hidden gun. Nothing was found and Horace was convinced his plan had succeeded and that a sober Hank would tear up the house in Arkansas. Instead Hank’s drunken half showed up and it was a disaster. When the troupe boarded the bus to return to Shreveport, Hank looked mischievously at Horace. « I know what you did, Hoss », he said in a drunken stupor. « You gave Tommy twenty bucks to keep a bottle from me. The problem is I gave him fifty bucks to carry it for me ! »(1)
It was without doubt with the help of Stan Lewis, a record shop owner and a seasoning talent scout for Chess records in Chicago, that Tommy Trent got to record first. Chess had from time to time the desire to break into southern hillbilly market, and made some success of it, for example in 1954 with Jimmy & Johnny‘s « If You Don’t, Somebody Else Will » on a short-lived Hillbilly 4800 serie.
So one day of 1952, Tommy Trent entered KWKH studio run by Bob Sullivan. Added by a fine musicians’ troupe, among them shined a very good steel player and a fiddler, he cut two sides for Chess, the above mentioned « Paper Boy Boogie » (writing credit absent), a very nice romping Hillbilly bop, paired with the above ordinary uptempo ballad « Sweetheart I’m Missing You » (Checker # 761, Chess’ subsidiary label). It surely had a regional impact, but it, to my kowledge, never entered the nation’s Country charts. It seems that Trent, like many others, did have a record, not to attract a bigger label’s attention, but more to sell it on their personal appearances.
“Paper boy boogie“
After that, Trent pursued his activities as a singer, fronting his band and touring. A 1953 Billboard snippet reports that he had his own Hillbilly Park in Little Rock, AR. Another snippet talks about an ex-Slim Whitman songwriter/musician (?), Curley Harris, who did join Tommy Trent at KWKH.
Allan Turner, the King of Hillbilly researchers, has unearthed a song performed by Trent on the Louisiana Hayride: stye traight hillbilly waltz-tempo “Sweetheart I’m missing you“, which however could be a revamp of the Checker B-side.. It was issued on a HBR # 68 compilation of “Louisiana Hayride artists”.
Tommy Trent “Sweetheart I’m missing you” (live?)
Next record was cut in Little Rock for the small Carmack label in 1956. This time he and his bad back one Virginia Brannon for a fast Hillbilly, « Truck Driver Roll » (# 501), which apart the female vocal, included a mandolin player and none other than Teddy Reddell on piano. The flipside is a conventional hillbilly uptempo weeper (piano, steel and mandolin) by « Tommy Trent & Mountain Valley Trio ». Indeed such a disk went nowhere. And Trent continued deejaying at KTHS in Hot Springs, but didn’t give up his performing career. We found him four years later for four sides cut at KTHS studio, for Dan Mechura and issued on his prolific Houston All Star label. « Just For Tonight » («# 7184) is a very nice Rocker. Well sung (assured vocal), with a rollicking piano (T. Reddell), drums and a very short uninspired steel solo. This is the side he’s best remembered by rockers for. Another real solid tune is «A Mile To The Mailbox » (# 7198), with strong guitar (bass chords played), and a real fine fiddle.
Then Trent had his last record on a small Arkansas label, T Bar T, in 1965, for a revamp – this time more Countryfied – of « I Walk A Mile (To The Mail Box » (T Bar T 665-T-0962). Label was located in Little Rock. And that was it. Tommy Trent died July 25, 2003. Another Country boy, who never made it between his first try in 1952 and his final one in 1965, but always sincere to his kind of music he seems to have revered all of his life, either playing it, cutting it, or deejaying it.
(1) from the book “Shreveport Sounds in Black & White”, by Kip Lornell.
Sources: label scans from Allan Turner‘s site “Hillbilly Researcher” or Germany’s Alexander Petrauskas‘ “Arkansas45s“. Pictures from Collector CD 2860 “High Steppin’ Daddy”