Corpus Christi, Tx. Rockabilly: ALVIS WAYNE, “Sleep Rock-A-Roll, Rock-A-Baby”

Feature by Dik De Heer originally published in Blackcar Rockabilly Europe (2006). Additions by bopping.org editor.

Alvis Wayne

is one of those obscure rockabilly artists from the 1950s who wasn’t discovered by European fans until the rockabilly revival of the 1970s. His brilliant recordings for the small Westport label (1956-58) were not released in Europe at the time, although one of them was belatedly issued in the UK in 1963, but in the midst of Beatlemania it was completely overlooked.

Alvis Wayne Samford was born in Paducah, Texas, but lived there only a few months. His family (Alvis was the oldest of five children) lived in several towns around San Antonio before settling in the coastal city of Corpus Christi (South Texas) in 1953. Alvis took an interest in music at an early age and received a guitar for his tenth birthday. In early 1956 he was approached by Corpus Christi musician Tony Wayne (Anthony Wayne Guion) who asked him to join his hillbilly band for a tour of South Texas. However, life on the road proved to be a bitter disappointment for the four band members and they soon headed back home to Corpus Christi. Next Alvis joined a Western swing band, Al Hardy and his Southernaires, but Tony Wayne wanted him back. He told Alvis “Hey, I got us a record contract with Westport Records in Kansas City and they want some rock ’n’ roll records.” Tony also said that he had already written five songs. All Alvis had to do was record them.

Kansas City was nearly 1000 miles away, but Alvis Wayne, as he now called himself, never had to make that trip. He did his first session in a makeshift studio in Corpus Christi, probably in July 1956. Alvis thought it was a merely a session to record some demos for Westport, so he was shocked when he found out that the label had issued two of the three recordings (“Swing Bop Boogie” and “Sleep Rock-A-Roll Rock-A- Baby”) as a commercial single (Westport 132). Both sides are great slices of authentic rockabilly with wild steel, demented guitar, great slapping bass and a good echo on vocal. “Accompaniment by Tony Wayne and his Rhythm Wranglers” was printed on the label, though they never played on the session ; instead Al Hardy’s band did. The third song from that 1956 session was “I Gottum”, which stayed in the vaults for some 17 years, before its first issue on Ronnie Weiser’s Rollin’ Rock label.

The debut single must have sold in respectable quantities, for in 1957 Westport asked him back for a second session, which resulted in the single “Don’t Mean Maybe Baby”/ “I’d Rather Be With You” (Westport 138). This became his biggest seller, topping the local South Texas charts for six weeks without making a national impact. In 1963 it got a surprise release on the British Starlite label.

Rare U.K. issue (1963)

The third Westport single, “Lay Your Head On My Shoulder” (1958), was recorded in Houston. Another great rockabilly side, but it failed to click and Alvis left the music business in disillusion. He spent four years in the US Air Force (1960-1964). After returning to civilian life, he formed his own country band and had singles released on two small labels, Kathy (1966) and Brazos (1969). But at that point in his life he was convinced that he would never hit the big time.

Then, in 1973, the British Injun label reissued “Lay Your Head On My Shoulder”, coupled with the previously unreleased “I Gottum”. Around the same time, Ronny Weiser of Rollin’ Rock Records in California reissued four Westport recordings on an EP. Alvis became a cult hero of the European rockabilly scene, although he didn’t know it at the time. Weiser tracked him down and recorded three new numbers with him in 1974, including the risqué “I Wanna Eat Your Pudding”. A legal repro of the Starlite 45 was issued in the UK in 1977 and “Don’t Mean Maybe Baby” became a hit all over again in the British rock n roll clubs.

Rollin’ Rock EP-002

An LP containing his entire rockabilly legacy was released in 1994 on the British Pink ’n’ Black label. In 1999 Alvis finally visited the UK (Hemsby) for the first time and was overwhelmed by the reception. He became a regular on the international rock and roll circuit. Also, he began recording again for the revitalised Rollin’ Rock label, which resulted in two well-received CDs, “Rockabilly Daddy” (2000) and “Proud Of My Rockabilly Roots” (2001). Alvis Wayne passed away on July 31, 2013, at the age of 75 at his home in Bacliff, Texas.

With warm thanks to Dik De Heer, who allowed me the use of the article published in “Black Cat Rockabilly Europe” site; UncleGil who furnished me with all the soundfiles; 45cat for labels.

Westport label (1955-1962): Kansas City hillbilly, rockabilly, country-rock

WESTPORT sleeve

a Westport 45 rpm sleeve – courtesy Udo Frank

 

Westport Records was formed in 1955 by Dave Ruf and his brothers as an outlet to record both their son and daughter, billed as the Westport Kids . The first single released by the new label was Westport 125 by the Westport Kids called “Right or Wrong / Hold Me My Darling“. I don’t know why the company’s catalog began at 125 – a mystery that will probably never get solved. However, Westport started out as a country label, recording also such artists as Milt Dickey and Jimmy Dallas, who was a local country star in Kansas City. Their recording studio called Westport Enterprises, Inc. was based in Westwood, Missouri, a town near Kansas City, where the Rufs also lived. The studio was active as early as the late 1940s and I suppose many of the later Westport recordings were cut there. The Rufs’ son, Bobby, had his own release (he was 11 years old) with the pleasant « Cap Gun Cowboy » as Cowboy Bobby.

Westport Kids

the Westport Kids

bb 54 westport- kids

Billboard advert for the first Westport issue

westwood kc

Westwood suburb, south of KC

Several Westport country artists also appeared on the Cowtown Jubilee (KCMO). The Cowtown Jubilee aired over 50,000 watt radio station KCMO out of Kansas City, Missouri. From an article in 1953, I estimate the show started sometime in 1950 as they had mentioned it had been on the air for three years.

The emcee for the show was Dal Stallard, a disc jockey for KCMO at the time. Helping him out at times were Hoby Shepp, who was the producer of the show and also the band leader of the “Cowtown Wranglers”. Singer-composer, Milt Dickey could also lend a hand with the announcing chores.The Cowtown Jubilee had a mix of the regular cast members along with guest stars and amateur talent. Before each show, the “Talent Quest” – a contest for budding stars would have a chance to try out their talents.The show was held every Saturday night at the Ivanhoe Temple in Kansas City, Missouri (at the corner of Linwood and Prospect), which had seating accommodations for 1,828 attendees. The show was said to be four and a half hours long, but there is no indication if the full length of the show was broadcast over the air.   (more…)