Dick Miller, California Honky tonk (1955-1961): the birth of the Bakersfield sound

dick miller pic1    I’ll try to give the story the best I can. My dad’s family were farmers: grandad was a dutch/german immigrant and grandma was cherokee indian. When my dad was old enough, he couldnt wait to get off the farm, so towards the end of the second world war, he joined the air force where he worked in the hospital and was involved with the u.s.o. My mom and dad met in the service; mom had just returned from being in Japan for four years as part of the occupation force. They met, fell in love and got married, mom became pregnant and I was born at Bowlings Air Force base in Washington, DC. My dad wanted to break into the music business, as he already had been doing u.s.o. shows for the troops, so it was decided to get out of the service and head to southern California: it was 1951 and the beginning of hillbilly and rockabilly, although they didnt call it rockabilly, they called it country and later as the honky tonks started poppin’ up everywhere, they began to call it honky tonk music and because many of the artists themselves came from the country and the hills, they also called it hillbilly, for the purest though I call it honky tonk music. Papa nicks, the blue room, the hitching post, jubilee ballroom, the palomino are just a few of the many honky tonks, that my dad and others like him played everynight, dad drove a truck for his day job and worked the honky tonks at night. As at two a.m. in the morning all the bars in southern california close, so its grab a bottle and everybody head over to the house for a jam session. I can tell you they all came through our house at one time or another, everyone from Little Jimmy Dickens to (Ralph) Mooney on steel to Eddie Drake, Ferlin Husky to Hank Snow. In the garage they would play until the sun came up, those were the days when they created what they call today the Bakersfield sound, working in those small recording studios like Aggie and Toppa, two of the labels my dad was on as well as M&M and Mercury and Sundown. I remember this old honky tonk piano my dad got somewhere, it had a very unique sound and they had it in the garage, so they could jam all night after the honky tonks closed. So when it was time to record “Make Room For The Blues”, my dad wanted that true honky tonk sound, so they took the piano to the studio and that’s the one you hear on the song as well as on “World’s Champion Fool”, I really loved that old piano and always will wonder what became of it. In 2008 Dick Miller passed away, but what he left us is something that we can all cherish, good old honky tonk music that you can still dance to today. God bless and thanx for your interest & love of this wonderful music, feel free to edit this to suit your needs at your blog, also have many more pics and have 8 tunes on my hard drive and a big cardboard box full of reel to reel tape from the old days, am working on a best of compilation of Dick Miller and his band to release on compact disc in the very near future. Please stay in touch, am always around and love to chat, Roger.  (more…)

early October 2011 fortnight’s favorites

Howdy folks! Back from a long, long trip, which sent me first to Britanny (far West) to Corsica (far south East), during three weeks! Fortunately I had prepared the next meeting with you this early October, to bring for your listening (and seeing too) pleasure some goodies I did pick from various sources, and which I hope you will enjoy as much as I chose them.

First on the Acme label, out of Manchester, KY, for a very crude and rural Hillbilly duet (bordering on Bluegrass) , very reminiscent of the Thirties so-called white blues (e.g. Frank Hutchison), although this “Coal Miner’s Blues“. Ed Romanyuk and Sister Elsie Pysar:  The label says it all: “Old time singing with guitars“. Hear it!

Nacme romaniuk coal ow on the West Coast, for two lovely tunes, very different in style, by GENE McKOWN. Originally from Kansas City, he hailed to California by the mid-fifties, and had two records, first on Fable, then later on Aggie. On Fable 571, he offers a fine, fast Hillbilly disc, “I’m Still Wondering Why“, added by a “Fiddlin’ Slim” (who joins McKown on the refrain). Two or three years later, McKown has completely absorbed the new trend in “Rock-A-Billy Rhythm” , a real strong Rocker on Aggie 1001, a newly formed label on the California scene in 1958.  On this one, he belts out, and surely, one can wonder if this is the same singer as on Fable. Later, he returned to Kansas City and had pop-country records on Brass, among others, in the early ’60s.

fable McKown stillaggie mckown rhythm

On to Florida with a December 1958 classic, “Hey, Mr. Porter“, by RALPH PRUITT (Lark 1506, the promotional issue before it was commercially issued on MERIDIAN 1506). Strong lead guitar introduction, then an assured vocal, before a swooping piano solo, and the steel sets up an atmospheric solo. Sounds like the boys were together for a long time, a very tight outfit. That is what I call ’50s Country-rock, a mix of Hillbilly (vocal) and Rock’n’Roll (backing).  It is the sort of record that grows on you, every time you hear it, even after 30 years of listening.  Pruitt was born in Tennessee, but located himself in Florida, where he cuts this single.He died in 1986.

lark  pruitt PorterOne more Hillbilly bop styled song:  “Hot Hamburger” by LEE SLAUGHTERS and His Cumberland Play Boys on a JAY label EP (2159 A). Good fast Bopping tune, rural vocal and amusing lyrics on a lovely backing. Them Boys sure know what to do! From Sydney, OH, they had this EP from 1959, containing the following tunes “Teenage Hop“, “Rock And Roll World” and “You’re The Only One“. Nothing more is known on them, another batch of Country dudes trying their hands at making a novelty record to be sold at the gigs they gave in the area.   jay slaughters hot

Finally, a strong, real wild “Willie’s Boogie Medley” by LITTLE WILLIE LITTLEFIELD. Once published (32 years ago, not reissued to my knowledge) on an old Ace LP, it contains the 1949 rehearsal session for Modern records by a young Littlefield, still firmly in the Amos Milburn mould. The breaks in tempos are particularly impressive, but, woooow, that right-handed piano swooping above the left-handed rolling basses! What a thrill!

littlefield front réduite

As usual, material from various sources: my own collection, Youtube, ebay, Rockin’ Country style. Enjoy the selections! Comments welcome. Bye!