Hello Folks ! This is the late May 2017 bopping fortnite’s selection. It begins with a Starday custom disc on the Friendly label [from Milan, TN] (# 853) by RAY BELL : « Yodelin’ catfish blues » [what a title!], which is a cross, in my mind, between Rockabilly and Bopper. Dating from 1960 or even later. No guitar solo. A good song anyway which growns on one’s ears at every listening. Bell had another disc on Queen (obviously distributed by King), but a Jay Miller production: it is a suggestion of a Louisiana recording or at least a link. Same Queen label has a Miller protégé, Katie Webster. So the link may be strong. « Blues tavern » (# 24006, June 1961) is a decent uptempo hillbilly ballad. He also had two “leased” titles on the same date which went unissued at King.
Next selection is by three guys (brothers) also well-known, first as the Willis Brothers (led by the eldest of them, James « Guy » Willis) then later as OKLAHOMA WRANGLERS. They put between 1946 and 54 on line a fine string of Country rockers and hillbilly Boppers. I’ve chosen – an uneasy task – two boppers. First the fast «Hoot howl boogie » from April 1951, issued on RCA 20-4309. Piano accompanying throughout the tune (Vic Willis), nice guitar solo (Guy Willis) over a fiddle part (Skeeter Willis) + two unknowns : steel player and a thudding double-bassist. It has an irressistible beat.
Second song is a program per se : « Hillbilly rhythm » (RCA 20-4848, cut May 1952). Not as fast as the previous song, it’s excellent all the way. Fiddle part is more prominent, while the brothers sing the refrain in unison. Guy Willis even plays in a style Merle Travis had done famous several years ago. More on the Oklahoma Wranglers in a not too distant future, when I put my hands on biographical details.
MALCOLM PARKER seems to have migrated from Nashville to West coast (or was it the opposite). The first record noticed was on a California label, Mesa 101: a mid-tempo, nice rhythm-guitar and vocal led for « The tears you saved », stylistically from the early ’60s, although the label indicate « Stereo », which may indicate a 1970’s issue: a great record for this era! Then a second issue on Code, a Nashville label (# 301), early ’60s too. It’s a great rocker (piano and great guitar solo) for « Come along with me ». Perhaps different artists with the same name ? I found (but unheard) one side described by its vendor as « hillbilly » , « The panther den/We’re through » on the Bee (location unknown : label too much damaged), on the RootsVinylGuide site, which is usually very helpful. But not this time ! Anyone help us all?
ART ONTARIO is a well-known figure among Rockabilly circles. He had releases on Dixie (« It must be me », # 2019 (Madison, TN) in 1959, then as Art Buchanan, on sparse Dixie regional issues or on Flame during the early ’60s. Now a rare Starday custom, Illinois label (# 725) presents « Wiggle walkin’ boogie ». A great vocal, an insistant lead guitar (solo) over fine inventive drums. A nice record.
A jumping little tune now on an Atlanta Leo’s label (# 2016) for BLUEGRASS ERVIN : « I won’t cry alone ». Lots of fiddle (at times, played pizzicato, like a mandolin; at other times, duetting with steel). Steel is great, plus a clever guitar player. A great, great light country-rocker !
Finally FREEMAN ERVIN [apparently no connection with the preceding artist] in 1962 for « Living doll » on the Newbury, OH Bryte label # 241. Banjo-led, and high-pitched vocal. Good bopping Bluegrass to finish this issue.
Sources: thanks to UncleGil Rockin’ Archives (Oklahoma Wranglers files) ; HillbillyBoogie1 Youtube chain ; RootsVinylGuide for various scans, as 78rpm-world ; BF CD for Carl Butler personal on this session ; RCS for Art Ontario.
Dixie – The very name evokes pictures of the Southern areas of the USA. Dixie records have been fascinating collectors for over 35 years now . Of course the word Dixie was used by many different labels throughout the States, anyway it is the main 2000 series that I am interested. Formed as an offshoot of Starday in late 1957, the idea seemed to be trying out new artists who, if successful, were transfered to Starday or using label as a custom one. Shelby Singleton seems to have been the man in charge at the beginning. Three of the first five discs were recorded in Daz Dood’s TRI-DEC label studio (Miami, Florida) and BENNY JOY’s « Spin The Bottle » was actually released on TRI-DEC 8667 in ’57 with « Hey High School Baby » on the flip. The Dixie release (2001) does sound slightly different, but as the vocal comments are same, it would appear that Starday re-mastered and the bass and drums sound more muffled on this hot slab of Rockabilly. Of a number of tracks recorded at this session, « Steady With Betty » was placed on flip of the Dixie issue and has some outstanding guitar in the break.
The other two discs recorded at TRI-DEC were GENE WATSON’s I’ll Always Love You/Little Valley (2003), a couple of ballads of little interest, and the marvelous rockin’ JIMMIE LEE « Three Little Wishes » (2005), one of the better but lesser known items on the label. With his band « The Playboys », Jimmie lays down a fine rocking opus that has a superb break split between a hot pumping piano and a very biting guitarist, and with handclaps and vocal comments, all making for a quality item.
Sandwiched between these Florida recordings are the first Texas recordings, both by DOUG BRAGG and probably recorded at Seller’s Recording Studio in Dallas. Issue 2002 couples « Red Rover/Lovin’ On My Mind », both tracks being slowish pounders of which the latter is the better of the breaks which combines piano and guitar, although to be fair the vocal is tougher on « Red Rover ». It is the second Bragg release that is the better of the two with « Pretty Little Thing » (2004) being an excellent fast rocker that has a very good break from the guitar and piano. There is a chorus in this that fits in well and the guitarist solo’s on to the end of the record. Doug recorded for quite a few Texas labels such as D during the 50’s and 60’s.
The next three releases on Dixie are all by Texas artists. DEE (Mullinax) & PATTY (Timmons) have a nice duet Bopper with « Don’t Tease Me » (2006) on which the band are very solid behind their relaxed vocalising. They were also on D and Mercury. ORVILLE COUCH, a Country singer from the Dallas/Fort Worth area had discs on boty Starday and Dixie in 1958 and his « Easy Does It » (2007) can best be described as a Rock ballad with obstrusive chorus, but he has a good voice and the guitarist is excellent on this one, although he always sounds more at home on Hillbilly material he cut for Starday and I assume that the Dixie release, probably arranged by local producer/manager Jim Shell, was a deliberate attempt to sell to the teenage market.
The very next release is one of the all-time Rockabilly greats with DERRELL FELTS & The Confederates : « Playmates/The Weepers » (2008). A crashing guitar intro and Derrell’s urgent vocal supported by driving bass and frantic drummer all combine to make « Playmates » so damn good with a superb guitar break. Texan Derrell Felts slows it down for the flipside « The Weepers » but it’s still top quality Rockabilly with lead and rhythm guitars combining for a really fine break. KEN HAMMOCK (also on Starday) offers an instrumental « Blue Guitar Jump» (2009).
The next disc is one of the least known, and arguably one of the best on the label with BILL CARROLL’s brilliant « Feel So Good » (2010) which came out at the end of 1958. I am very intrigued by the songwriting credit of Shuler/Hunter (Eddie Shuler of Goldband, and Pete Hunter, a Southern D.J. ?). The sound on this one is very similar to many of the classic rockabilly platters on the Goldband label. A real ‘lived in’ vocal on this an dit is a very catchy song with a piercing guitar break as Bill tells his tale helped by a couple of backup voices.
Eddie Skelton, courtesy Dennis West
EDDIE SKELTON had three Dixie records as well as at least two on Starday itself. Strangely they being issued at the same time too. Eddie who was from the Virginia’s had formed a band with his brother called the Rhythmtones and their first one on Dixie « Keep It Swinging » (2011) is a much sought after rocking gem that has a hot guitar behind a good vocalist and a cat who jumps all over the piano in the second break. Great one. Dennis West says (December 2015) Eddie was from Kingsport, TN.
Yet another elusive disc has been DEE JOHNSON’s « Just Look Don’t Touch » (2012) which has been described to as a solid Country rocker. There is no (2013) : unlucky number ?
Following the gap comes « Your Lying Ways » (2014) by BILL GOODWIN & His Western Ramblers. This is not as strong as his « Teenage Blues » (Starday) but is none the less a solid Country rocker with fine steel guitar, an dis a lot better than the later 60’s releases he had on Bandbox in Denver, Colo.
EDDIE SKELTON returnsfor an instrumental work out on« Rebel’s Retreat » that rocks along showcasing guitar/piano/sax and has a slow rocker « Love You Too Much » (2015) that has a nice brooding sound to it with some excellent bluesy piano and guitar.
The disc by MEL PRICE that comes next « Little Dog Blues » (2016) is the best rocking record I’ve heard by him. The first important ingredient is that the song has something going for it. Mel’s voice suits this self penned song and the backin, was the Santa Fe Rangers, is of high standard with brilliant guitar. I wonder why two of the tracks cut at this session were issued in Dixie 800 series. Mel had a number of releases on Starday, Blue Hen and Regan, and despite the name of his band, appears to have been active along the North Eastern seaboard of the USA.
CATHY KELLEY’s « Blues Hanging Around » (2017) is a Country rocker that sounds very Nashville and lives up to its title, and came out in mid-59.
Right from the opening notes of GROOVE JOE POOVEY’s famous « Ten long Fingers » (2018) with C.B. Oliver’s piano pumpng behind Joe’s assured vocal and a growling sax player who gets a good and dirty sound from his horn. An absolute classic whose rarity pales when one considers how rare his « Move Around » (Dixie 733) just a year before.
Use of the word rare, very overused with records brings us nicely to ART ONTARIO and his « It Must Be Me »(2019) which is a very fine bluesy rocker with an unusually toned guitar that has two excellent breaks. Mind this one is certainly not as rare as this son of Ohio’s « Queen From Bowling Green » issued under the name of ART BUCHANAN (Dixie 823).
For a chunk of good old Rock’n’Roll you’ll have to go a long way to beat « Blast Off » (2020) by the unknown ALDEN HOLLOWAY. Set at a fast jive pace, this one has some blisering guitar work and a good old honking sax before the guitar returns. The other side is an instrumental « Swinging The Rock » featuring both the above ; I wonder is his « Loving Is My Business » (Starday 714) was cut at the same session. Holloway was a Virginian.
I have been unable to throw any light on HUGHEY BUNCH & The Bradley Farm Hands and their « South Wind » on Dixie 2021. It is not the same « South Wind » that was cut by the late Billy Wallace on REPUBLIC, but is a nice Hillbilly Rock side that has a very prominent banjo on this side and also on the flipside « Cry Tomorrow » which just gets the edge with me as the guitar work is better. Bunch was from Morristown, TN. according to Dennis West.
By now, the latter months of 1959 signs of pop rock begin to show up as on DEE JOHNSON’s « Back To School » (2022), which was probably cut at an earlier session. A basic line up of guitar and rhythm section aided by handclaps, a chorus and tinkling piano ; it is quite pleasant.
I was impressed by JAY GALLEGHER and his « Crazy Legs » (2023). A fast tempo’d rocker opened by a heavy drummer, a rocking guitar and a really pumping piano. There is a chorus on this but it suits the song and the guitarist cuts loose a great break amidst the handclapping. The flip is a bit of a shock too : « Steady Flame » is not so fast but I almost prefer this side with it’s clever guitar break that is followed by the pianist who is really enjoying himself. Dixie 2024 (Larry Streeter) unheard.
EDDIE SKELTON goes instrumental once more with « Curly » (2025). Mid paced guitar/piano/sax that is pleasing rather than exciting as it takes too long to get into its stride. And so we come to the end of the DIXIE 2000 series with BOBBY MACK and his « Who Put The Blues In Your Heart » (2025) which is a nice piece of Nashville Country.
(reprint from Phillip J. Tricker’s article in Roll Street Journal # v8, Summer 1984)
Recommended listening: Collector CD 4411 and the Dixie Collector series (2222 to 4444)