DAFFAN records (1955-1958) (from Kevin Coffey’s notes to “The Daffan Records story”, Bear Family BCD 15878, 1995)
Ted Daffan was at a crossroads both in his life and his career in the fall of 1955.
His days as a best seller for Columbia were behind him, his last recent big hit was as recent as 1950: “I”ve Got Five Dollars And It’s Saturday Night”. He’d had a decade of enormous success following his 1941 departure from Houston’s Bar X Cowboys to form his Texans. (…) He found himself back where he started in 1952, teamed for a time with old buddy Jerry Irby, who had also fallen on hard times (see elsewhere in the site for Jerry Irby’s story). By 1955, he’s reached a seeming standstill.
He had recently purchased the house and recording studio on Robert E. Lee street from Floyd Tilllman. (…) Eddie Noack sought him out that fall: he had written the somewhat uncharacteristic “These hands”, but could get no one interested in doing anything with it.
It was actually a partnership between Daffan and the late Herman Shoss, an old friend from high school days who played first violin in the Houston Symphony. Both they were part of the ‘house’ band that Daffan had put together for recording sessions, a band rounded up with old cohorts Buddy Buller on lead guitar and Lew Frisby on bass. Buller had been part of Daffan’s first band in 1933 and had lent his solid, distinctive lead guitar to all of Daffan’s prewar sessions; Frisby was one of the ‘hillbillies’ Daffan had joined in the Blue Ridge Playboys in 1934. He was later a long-time member of Floyd Tillman’s backing band and a busy recording session player, as well. Daffan added pianist Pete Burke, another veteran who had played with the Blue Ridge Playboys, the Bar X Cowboys and Jerry Irby’s Texas Ranchers. Daffan himself would alternate between steel guitar and baritone ukulele. He decided against using drums on his sessions (…) and his unusually but highly rhythmic uke adds a distinctive touch to many sides. “I’m a pretty good rhythm man,” he says. “My success was due to my ability to set up jazz patterns…That’s why I played ukulele. You can get great rhythm out of it.”
The combination of sounds – Daffan’s distinctively thin-toned steel or catchy baritone uke rhythm; the graceful violin of Shoss; the tasty jazz guitar of Buller; the unmistakable whorehouse piano of Burke – was singular, sparse and clean, all qualities that were trademarks of Ted Daffan. If Schoss’s violin sometimes defeated a song’s momentum – it felt particularly out of place on the uptempo Irby sides – its unintentional evocation of turn-of-the-century parlor romance sometimes actually worked to a performance’s advantage (at times it blended well with some of the old-fashioned qualities of Jericho’s voice, for example). “It’s funny,” says Daffan. “He could play first violin in the Houston Symphony but couldn’t quite cut country.” On the other hand, Buddy Buller’s excellent and sophisticated guitar work strengthened every session. Sadly, this underrated musicians’s best work with Daffan, recorded in Hollywood in 1942, remains for the most part unissued.
Daffan made interesting choices, too, in the artists he chose to record, recruiting seasoned vets rather than untried up-and-comers, until he recorded William Penix in 1958. (…) The fact that singers Irby, Jericho and McBride also played their own rhythm accompaniment was a plus. “That way, I saved a musician.”
The first Daffan Records releases, Jericho’s These Hands and the Daffan/Irby Tangled Mind, were successful beyond Daffan’s wildest expectations: both hit big regionally.(…) Unfortunately, when he could get distribution, Daffan could rarely get payment for records delivered. (…) Daffan’s hopes of leasing his masters to bigger labels were thwarted when those labels simply covered the songs: Hank Snow hit big with both These Hands and Tangled Mind. (…) By the end of 1957, Daffan had given up. He accepted an offer to go to Nashville to work with Hank Snow in a publishing venture. He revived his label out of frustration briefly later in the year, when he found and recorded William Penix, a singer-songwriter he felt had potential to be “another Hank Williams”, but couldn’t find a label interested in the sides. (…) He issued a second Penix release in ’62, then there was a flurry in the mid-sixties (Margaret Elliott, Johnny Bundrick) followed by a last try, with the Pickering Brothers (who were “The Picks” on the overdubbed Buddy Holly sessions in Clovis, NM) in 1971.
Jerry Jericho (1918-1993) has been a long-time vocalist with Ben Christian’s Texas Cowboys from 1941 to the early 50’s. He embarked then in a solo career as Smiling Jerry Jericho on Four Star, until the advent of television and rock and roll eventually kicked him down. He recorded a fine session for Starday, then switched to Daffan, before he cut sides for Allstar in the late 50’s. He was also a regular on the Louisiana Hayride. His absolute sincerity was one of the keys to his success.
Jerry Irby (1917-1983) – see elsewhere in this site for his complete story. He recorded for Daffan the hit Tangled Mind, then, never one to shy from whatever current trend might yield a hit, Irby recorded a mambo (That’s Too Bad), rockabilly (Clickety Clack), as well as the bizarre, pseudo-inspirationnal (and surely somewhat autobiographical) A Man Is A Slave.
Floyd Tillman (1914-…) was unquestionably the biggest star to record for Daffan, and his session for the label ranks not only as one of the most unusual of his career, but arguably one of the best.
Laura Lee McBride (1920- 1989) had been vocalist for Bob Wills’ Texas Playboys between 1943 and 1944, when she married guitarist Dickie McBride. Ventures in California as well in Houston, recording contracts with MGM; they too suffered from rock and roll, although they were regulars on television. Their shared session for Daffan is probably their oddest. Dickie’s sides were his only religious recordings. Laura lee was not typically a blues singer, but I Want My man is one of her best recordings.
“Fidlo” (1930- ) was actually Leon Eriksen, a Galveston singer who performed in and around that city for over two decades. Darrel Edwards, song writer of both Fidlo’s songs, Hopelessly and Triflin’ Heart, put together a fine band that included his frequent collaborator Herbie Treece on lead guitar, Lee Holeman on steel and Houston’s session stalwart Hal Harris on rhythm guitar.
Ted Lee. His recordings seem to emanate from Waco, as they feature the unmistakable fiddle of Johnny Gimble (he played mandolin on Who’s Getting Your Love) and the steel of Eldon “Curley” Roberts.
William Penix (1927-1973) He was from Shawnee, Oklahoma, and “he walked into my office in Nashville one day and said he had some songs,” Daffan remembers. “And when he sang them to me, I said, “That’s talent.” “I worked with him for about three months getting that stuff ready and then I put together the little band, musicians I wanted.” Hank Snow’s fine lap steel guitarist Joe Talbot, who also played acoustic standard lead on Dig That Crazy Driver; Marvin Hughes on piano and Sleepy McDaniels on bass. Daffan once again pulled out his baritone uke. Unfortunately, Daffan’s high hopes were dashed. Nobody was interested. Penix managed only one release, on Pappy Daily’s D label in 1961 – You Take The Medicine (I’ll Take The Nurse) is a classic, as good as his Daffan sides.
The Pickering Brothers (John and Bill) had been chorus mates for Buddy Holly in 1957.
All artists’ pictures scanned from the Bear Family CD. Daffan 45s from Rockin’ Country style. Billboard adverts from Billboard archives.