BILL NETTLES & His Dixie Blue Boys (1935-1965): three decennies of Louisiana hillbilly, “Hadacol boogie”

The little historical town of Natchitoches lies on the banks of the beautiful Cane River (Louisiana), and it was there that Bill Nettles was born on 13 March 1903 (another source mention 1907)

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Natchitoches town (red button) in Louisiana

Bill was a member of U.S. marine and he took a part in World War I. Then he got a job as brakeman on the Pacific railroad line and around this time he met his future bride, Emma Lou Rich from Arcadia, Louisiana: on 19 December of 1922 in Shreveport they were married. He and his wife had four children, the eldest of whom, Bill Jr. (1926), enlisted in the Marines in 1943, reported missing at Okinawa albeit surviving and returning home in 1945. He was the inspiration for Bill writing « God bless my darling he’s somewhere ».

Emma Lou Rich was Bill’s dream maid, tireless manager and director of his Fan Clubs, she wrote the paper “Nettle ’em” which would significantly support his success.

nettles seul

Bill’s interest in music was initially satisfied by purchasing records of his favourite singer Jimmie Rodgers, as well as buying platters by Jimmie Davis, Gene Autry and Cliff Carlisle.

Then in 1934 Bill teamed up with his brother Norman to form the Nettle Brothers, with Norman on guitar and himself on mandolin. Unlike many popular duos of the time (Shelton Bros, Monroe Bros, Callahan Bros or Blue Sky Boys, etc.) Bill and Norman refrained from duetting on vocals, which made them stand out from the run of the mills outfits trying to imitate the well known names. Thus it was not long before an offer came their way to appear on radio in Shreveport on KWKH, at that time starring a favourite artist of Bill’s, Jimmie Davis. It was he who got their recording contract with Vocalion (1937).

 

The first session, held in Dallas in June 1937, yelded their first single, « Shake it and take it (like the doctor said – on later issues) »/ »My cross-eyed Jane » which saw Bill vocalising as well as playing mandolin. Augmented by brothers Norman on guitar and Luther on bass with Doc Massey on fiddle, Bill produced a lively performance, reflected in the sales of the record.

The group recorded another session in San Antonio as well as another in Dallas, and all in all eleven singles (a total of 22 sides) were recorded between 1937 and 1938. While their record sales did not set the world alight, their popularity on the radio continued to increase with appearances on KRMD and KXBS (both out of Shreveport, La.), KALB (Alexandria, la.) and KVDL (Lafayette, La.)

Shake it and take it (1937)

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No daddy blues (1937)

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Early morning blues (1937)

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vocalion nettles shake

vocalion nettles daddy

 

 

Gradually the membership of the band increased to the stage where it became known as the Nettles Brothers String Band, and early in 1941 they were signed to the Bluebird label, cutting their first session on June 3rd. Once again the venue for recordings was Dallas with Lonnie Hall (violin), Reggie Ward (string bass) and Jim King (steel guitar) making up the five pieces band. By the time of the second session in October, the line-up had changed to the extent that the steel was gone, Hershell Woodall was on bass instead of Reggie Ward. A lead guitarist and a banjo player were also featured.

bluebird nettle fannin'
vocalion nettles selling

Nettle Brothers: Fannin’ Street blues

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She’s selling what she used to give away (1938)

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Sugar baby blues (1938)

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Bill had started writing songs as early as 1924 when trying to appease his wife after a domestic tiff and writing « My sweet pot of gold ». His pen gained more prominence as his group’s name spread, and other artists started recording his songs. Among the first were Red Foley and Wilf Carter who, as Montana Slim, cut « Too many blues » on Victor (20-2364). Bill’s original version came on Bullet 637 in 1946. Despite being a prolific writer, Bill had failed to copyright any before « Just before we said goodbye ».
Too many blues (Bullet 637):

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It is worth noting that whilst the first records to appear on Vocalion in 1937 were credited to « Bill Nettles & his Dixie Blue Boys », the Bluebird recordings were credited to « the Nettles Brothers ». Bill had in fact played mandolin on a Vocalion session as early as 1935, backing Jimmie Davis and Buddy Jones. Also the Jimmie King who played steel guitar on the first Bluebird session was the father to Claude King, the C&W singer/songwriter of « Wolverton mountain » fame.

Nettles’s beautiful “Have I Waited Too Long?” was introduced at KWKH in 1943 by Radio Dot and Smoky, and later became Faron Young‘s theme song. Along with Harmie Smith, Bob Shelton, Dick Hart, young Webb Pierce, and host Hal Burns, Nettles & His Dixie Blue Boys helped to launch a twice-weekly Louisiana Hayride program on KWKH in the summer of 1945 that predated the more famous auditorium show by almost three years.gotham young hwaited

Faron Young: Have I waited too long (Gotham 415-A)

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After the Bluebird sessions Norman retired from the band, which late in 1945 was signed to RCA-Victor, reverting his name to « Bill Nettles & his Dixie Blue Boys » with brother Luther back on bass. However the rest of musicians were local Dallas sidesmen from the musicians’ union. « They were long haired usicians and did not fit in with Bill’s style. He hated these Victor records », wrote his widow Emma Lou. RCA’s and Bill’s personal conceptions differed completely, in fact recordings were by then “mainstream pop ». So greatly was he disillusioned with RCA that Bill broke his contract and went to Bullet Records.

 

It’s not clear whether this experience with RCA persuaded Bill to reform his own band, but he went to Bullet with a radically new line-up. Danny Dedmon joined as lead guitarist and became a mainstay of the Dixie Blue Boys along with fiddle player Robert Shivers. In between changing of recording labels, Bill moved the family from Shreveport to Monroe, La., where with the exception of short breaks he woud live for the rest of his life. He also started appearing at the local radio station KMLB, where he was to record sometimes. By this stage Bill and his wife had four children. The eldest, Bill Jr. never got deeply involved in his father’s musical career. However one of the remaining children, Loyce (born 1929), became a featured singer in her dad’s band, billed a « The Little Dixie sweetheart ». She became a permanent along with her piano playing husband, Pal Thibodeaux, when the Dixie Blue Boys recorded for Imperial.

 

Nettles & His Dixie Blue Boys helped to launch a twice-weekly Louisiana Hayride program on KWKH in the summer of 1945 that predated the more famous auditorium show by almost three years.

 

Bill cut three sessions with Bullet from Nashville. The first date for Bullet was already on 7 July 1946, probably at Jim Beck’s studio in Dallas, as Beck had a tie with Jim Bulleit. « High falutin’ mama » (# 637) was a prime example of uptempo bluesy country. “Too Many Blues” was recorded by Wilf Carter, as told earlier. Other two songs of the session, « You’re breaking my broken heart again » and « Hungry » (#638) were equally good. Both later sessions held in Jackson, Ms., and in Houston, Tx. remained unissued.

bullet nettles many bullet nettles mamabullet nettles broken

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

High falutin’ mama (Bullet 636) bullet nettles flyer

High falutin’ mama (Bullet 637)

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Hungry (Bullet 637)

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imperial dedmon hula

 

Imperial dedmon Gin
Danny Dedmon: Gin drinkin’ mama (Imperial 8065)

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Bill Nettles: “Ain’t no tellin’ a woman will do” (Imperial 8032)

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Danny Dedmon: “The blues keep hangin’ on” (Imperial 8058)

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After a fleeting stay with Red Bird, an affiliation which failed to produce any released material, Bill Nettles then signed with Imperial, as did Danny Dedmon, recording in his own right with a band credited as « The Rhythm Ramblers », actually the Dixie Blue Boys. Dedmon recorded 19 sides for Imperial, albeit only 9 were with Bill Nettles, all cut in Beaumont, Tx. On a couple of Bill Nettles’ singles, daughter Loyce was allotted the vocal duties.

Euell was the third of the Nettles’ off-spring. He too was born in Shreveport in 1935. Thus he was barely fourteen when he played on Bill’s first Mercury session in April 1949, giving the family a 50% share in the group personnel. Not only did he pay guitar, but Euell also doubled as chauffeur and handyman. His versatility extended to playing bass, fiddle and drums. During his three years stint in U.S. Army in Paris, France, he met his Spanish wife to be.

At the first Mercury session Bill recorded the highly promising « Hadacol boogie ». Covered by Jesse Rogers on RCA (32-0001), whose version outsold Bill’s, It had also a version by Professor Longhair (Roy Byrd), who combined it with Bill’s third Mercury session « Hadacol bounce ». 

A tune he wrote and recorded for that label, “Hadacol Boogie“, in a Monroe radio station in 1949, was a celebration of Dudley LeBlanc‘s restorative elixir. It went to # 9 on the country charts. (“Hadacol Boogie” is alleged to be the first song that Jerry Lee Lewis performed in public, in 1949. Occasionally Jerry will perform the song on stage, though he never recorded it.)

 

Presumably encouraged by this hit, Mercury had on 3 February 1950 ensured in Cincinnati, Ohio that their musicians parade horses (Jerry Byrd, Tommy Jackson and Zeb and Zeke Turner) were sent into the ring for « Push and pull boogie » (Mercury 6330). Turner’s guitar intro is similar to that of the Delmores’ “Blue stay away from me” or early Hank Williams’.

Yet another recording session could not bring more hit. Bill took his residence at radio station KLMB, Monroe on with their own group. The only new name was Sam Yeager who played the guitar. Although “Hadacol bounce” should been even better than the “Hadacol boogie” according to Mercury, it failed.

mercury nettles hadacol mercury nettles bouncemercury nettles push mercury nettles daddy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

rca rogers hadacol

 

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Hadacol boogie (Mercury 6190)

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Do right daddy (Mercury 6209)

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Push and pull boogie (Mercury 6330)

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In 1953 Bill had one of his short spells away from Monroe when he was sponsored by the Surety Gas Co. To appear on WRBC out of Jackson, Miss. Whilst there he cut a session for the local Trumpet label. Sadly nothing was ever issued from these recordings and undoubtedly « When my kitten starts cattin’ around » sounds intriguing. Maybe it was due to the fact that Bill moved on to another radio station elsewhere that caused Trumpet to lose interest, for it was around this time that he moved to KOGT in Orange, Texas, then to KOBX inBeaumont, Texas, finally KFRO in Long View, Texas. It seems likely that this exposure around the Texas area brought Bill to the attention of Starday Records, where he cut the fine « Wine-o-boogie » and « Gumbo mumbo » (# 174). The session included an unissued re-recording of « Shake it and take it » and was probably held at Gold Star studio in Houston (1954), with regular local musicians, Hal Harris (lead guitar), Doc Lewis (piano), Red Hayes (fiddle) and Herbie Remington (steel) providing the backing.

 

 

Wine-o boogie (Starday 174)

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Whilst the advent of rock’n’roll put a brake on Bill’s recording activities, perhaps inspired by his youngest daughter Shirley (born 1936) married to Rev. Gerard Lewis (a first cousin of Jerry Lee Lewis, and a fine piano player in his own right), Bill was « saved » and

baptized in 1958, subsequently becoming a devout Christian. Around 1957/58 The Dixie Blue Boys were performing on radio as a sacred group, before Bill disbanded the group and effectively retired from business.

 

Early 60s he cut in Monroe a whole lot of tracks for an unknown label (private recordings?), all of which do remain untraced and unissued.

 

In 1965 he was talked into a comeback and appeared on his own Nettl label. His preoccupation with the Vietnam War caused him to re-do his old song as « God bless my darling he’s somewhere in Vietnam ». Sadly this revival (3 singles) was short lived : Bill Nettles died on April 5 1967.

Old age pension blues (Nett 10005)nett nettles pension

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Throughout his life he wrote over 300 songs, and had 155 published by leading publishers. It is worth looking at some of the artists who made use of Bill as composer :

Be nobody’s darling but mine – Roy Acuff

Old age pension check – Roy Acuff

Old age pension blues – Shelton Brothers

I just can’t say goodbye – Pete PyleBill+Nettles+songb3b

Louisiana moon – Gene Autry

I still believe in you – Charlie Mitchell

It’s nobody’s fault but my own – Will Johnson

Our last goodbye – Stanley Brothers

Honky tonk blues – Al Dexter

Just forgive and forget – Jimmie Davis

Nobody’s darling but mine – Jimmie Davis (huge 1941 hit) 

Answer to blue eyes – Johnnie & Jack

No time for tears – Bill Boyd

Too many blues – Montana Slim, Red Foley

Have I waited too long – Faron Young

I just don’t know why but I do – Jenx Carman.

 

Of the Dixie Blue Boys, Danny Dedmon, Pal Thibodeaux and Norman Nettles recorded in their own right.

 

Nettles loved to write “answer” songs, such as “Answer To Blue Eyes”, “It’s Your Turn To Walk The Floor For Me”, “I Hauled Off and Loved Her”, and even answered his own songs: “(I Want To Be) Somebody’s Darling” and “Hadacol Bounce”. 

 

 

Reprinted (with written permission) from Adam Komorowski’s article in Hillbilly researcher n° 7 (1988), based on a unpublished text written by Emma Lou Nettles for the 60’s magazine « Western Coral ». Many thanks to Ronald Keppner (Germany) for the loan of rare 78 rpm.

Discography (from Praguefrank): Bill Nettles

BILL N CD 248

Ace stars of texas HT

early June 2013 fortnight favorites

Howdy folks! Ready for a new musical trip? This time, very various things. First, the famous SHAGMAR BULLNASTY in 1963 on the Trash label doing “Tapping That Thing“. It’s a risqué lyrics song they say, I don’t know why. The same song with a slightly different tempo came out as BOLIVER SHAGNASTY on Quartercash (Tennessee label). It is rumoured that these names disguise rockabilly Mack Banks, and that the original version came from J. C. Cale (Youtube carries the story to the tune). Anyhow I offer the original version cut during the 40s by YANK RACHELL on the Bluebird label.

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Tapping That Thing

Shagmar Bullnasty

 

Well listen little kids I’m going to sing a little song

It goes like this and it won’t take long

 

I’m tapping that thing (tapping that thing)

I’m tapping that thing (tapping that thing)

Everybody’s doing it everybody’s tapping that thing

 

Well Ma and Pa was laying in the bed

Ma turned to Pa and then she said

 

Start tapping that thing (tapping that thing)

tapping that thing (tapping that thing)

Everybody’s doing it everybody’s tapping that thing

 

It’s a little old thing all covered with fuzz

The best damn pussy there ever was

 

Start tapping that thing (tapping that thing)

tapping that thing (tapping that thing)

Everybody’s doing it everybody’s tapping that thing

 

Lets tap!

(solo)

 

Well I touched her up high and I touched here down low

I touched her in the middle and she didn’t let go.

 

Say tapping that thing (tapping that thing)

tapping that thing (tapping that thing)

Everybody’s doing it everybody’s tapping that thing

 

Well I got it in the kitchen and I got it in the hall

I got it on my finger and I swing it on the wall

 

Say tapping that thing (tapping that thing)

tapping that thing (tapping that thing)

Everybody’s doing it everybody’s tapping that thing

 

Well I took here in and I laid here on the floor

The wind from her ass blew the cat out the door

 

Said tapping that thing (tapping that thing)

tapping that thing (tapping that thing)

Everybody’s doing it everybody’s tapping that thing

 

Let’s tap a little now

(another solo)

 

Mama’s in the kitchen and Papa’s in the jail

Sister’s on the corner hollerin’ pussy for sale

 

Sayin’ tapping that thing (tapping that thing)

tapping that thing (tapping that thing)

Everybody’s doing it everybody’s tapping that thing

 

Well I cut it once and I cut it twice

The last time I cut it cut it deep and nice.

 

Sayin’ tapping that thing (tapping that thing)

tapping that thing (tapping that thing)

Everybody’s doing it everybody’s tapping that thing

 

Now six times six makes thirty six

I’m only going to hit it about six more licks

 

Yeah tapping that thing (tapping that thing)

tapping that thing (tapping that thing)

Everybody’s doing it everybody’s tapping that thing

 

Yeah everybody’s doing it everybody’s tapping that thing

(thanks to Mark Freese, who transcribed the lyrics)

 

 

From Alabama too came OTHELL SULLIVAN. He cut hillbilly on the Southern label in 1952, then in 1960 this fine uptempo “There’s Sure To Be Goodbyes” on the Reed label.

Another Hillbilly turning up to Rockabilly: BILL BLEVINS. During February 1953, he cut at the Holford Studio in Houston a session for Trumpet’s owner, Lilian McMurray. She issued “A Day Late And A Dollar Short”, typical Hillbilly bop of Mississipi, backed by Jimmy Swan’s band. This is the forerunner to Billy Barton’s song. Blevins resurfaced in 1957 on the very small National label for two rockabillies “Crazy Blues” and “Baby I Won’t Keep Waitin‘”, both threatening medium tempos.

Finally NORMAN SULLIVAN. He’s best known for a 1960 version of “Folsom Prison Blues” on the Roto label. Here is the flip side “She Called Me Baby”.

 

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reed sullivan goodbyes

early August 2012 fortnight’s favourites

Howdy folks. If you are there, you’re in for a musical journey in Hillblly bop music. Here we go for more obscure or lesser known names, who one cannot know anything about, except what it’s in the grooves, or what I gathered – and most of the time the harvest is a meager one. Talking about harvests, let’s not forget the “contact me” section: here are for sale excellent CDs or vinyl records (very nice condition) for sale from my collection. Don’t overpass this occasion!

Chuck Bowers did hail from Arkansas, where he was born in 1921. He was a regular of the St. Louis, MO. Ozark Jubilee and had a spot on KWTO. His acclaimed shuffler “Pig Pen Boogie” on the Kansas City Choice label (# 845) is one of the serie he did for radio or TV appearances. Actually you can find 3 songs by him that contain “boogie” in the title on Youtube! Later Bowers was on Decca for two Nashville produced pop rockers, the better being “Blabber Mouth Sidewalk Stroll” (# 30578) from 1957. I don’t know anything on Bowers afterwards.

chuck bowers

choice bowers pig

bart martin tears

billy martinWay up North and Michigan, on the Bart label. One Billy Martin has the really fine Hillbilly bop ballad “Tears I Couldn’t Hide” on the Bart label (# 7G28). Prominent steel over a very sincere vocal. The same Billy Martin had also « Angel »/ « If It’s Lovin’ That You Want » (Lucky 0009, 1960) and « I’m Home Again » (Fortune 198). . There were also issues on Happy Hearts, D, Cannon and Misty in the 70’s.

The very small – Kentucky based, as said in an old Hillbilly Reserarcher issue  – Dixiana label was launched in 1953, and do seem to have only lasted six months or so. From his 7 issues I chose The Renfro Brothers‘ “Just Over A Girl“, a fast romper led by a boogie pianist and showcased by an accordion (# 103). On the same label was issued Odis Blanton & his Blue Star Rangers, who I will post later the great “Steppin’ High Wide And Handsome“. On Dixiana 105, there is still a Cliff Gross to be found yet (both titles sound interesting).

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a&a angel walking

Walter Scott‘s great “I’m Walking Out” (see Ruby # 240, elsewhere in this site) was cut in 1968 by a L. C. Angel with Coye Farmer on the microscopic Baron label (no # number) out of Trenton, OH. The record gives full personal (steel-guitar-bass); so which instrument was played by Farmer or Angel? Incidentally the very same record was reissued twelve years later on the A & A label (still no #) out of Hamilton, OH. A fine version nevertheless, but the artist is completely out of sight!

Ben Hall has the fine “Moo Mama” Rockabilly on the Cord label (# 101). Very rare one; even rarer is the unissued at the time “Be Bop Ball“, saved from oblivion by the Dutchman!

Finally from a February 1932 session do come the very sexual “Red Nightgown Blues“, cut by Jimmie Davis for RCA-Victor (with sublime slide guitar by Oscar Woods) and issued in the Bluebird serie (# 5699). A tune that suits exactly to Jerry Lee Lewis‘ way of life, and one may wonder how he has not recorded this song (remember “Long Legged Woman” cut for Sun?)

cord hall moo

bluebird davis nightgownFlash (January 23rd, 2012). I received a mail from JIMMY RENFRO. His Dad Jim had not heard their songs within a very long time, so he was stunned and happy. His uncle Raymond did the same. Thanks Jimmy! I include in the posts the flipside of their Dixiana 103, “Ever Ready“. Alas, I don’t know any other record by them.
dixiana renfro-brothers ready

early July 2010 fortnight

Hello folks, here I am again, back in wonderful Vallée du Rhône (where I lived for more than 40 years): Roman monuments, wines, goat cheeses, near Lyon, the second city of France (rivalling Marseille). Here in Vienne we have one of the foremost Jazz Festivals all around Europe (1rst fortnight of July), held in a marvelous Roman theater (fantastic acoustic!). Among all artists will be this year Joe Cocker – he’s not a Hillbilly yet, you know, but one of the truly Soulful artists ever. The show is booked…

All my records are still in boxes, and the library has yet to be set up, later this Summer. So this early July fortnite will be made up of tunes stored on my Macintosch for accidental use like this one. No label pictures, no spare time left to research in my files, only the music. After all, it’s only music we all love that got importance, isn’t?

Here we go.First from Indiana (Ruby label) comes WALTER SCOTT and the fine Hillbilly bop “I’m Walkin’ Out” (1956) complete with swirling fiddles and steel-guitar. Then to Texas, I think (I may be wrong!), with the great HYLO BROWN, whose career was firmly dept in Bluegrass but flirted with Hillbilly at times. I’ve chosen his 1951 rendition of “Lonesome Road Blues” (Four Star). Down in Louisiana, here comes the Pope of Cajun accordion, NATHAN ABSHIRE and one of his first records (although he had already recorded in 1939) under his name, the fine instrumental “Lu Lu Boogie” (Khoury’s label, 1947). On to Nashville, and JIMMY MARTIN, one of the founding members of the Bluegrass style (he’s been once guitar player for Bill Monroe). The song herein is Bluegrass, indeed, but Jimmy has hiccups in his voice…that predate (in my mind anyway) Rockabilly! “Hop, Skip and Wobble” (Decca) Complete with fiddle, banjo, string-bass. Back to the real roots of Hillbilly of the Thirties: (Tom) DARBY & (Jimmy) TARLTON – the haunting “Sweet Sarah Blues” (may be from 1928? 1931? I cannot verify at the moment). Great, strange vocal, and wild dobro.

We finished with two very different tunes, separated by at least 50 years. BIG MACEO (Merryweather) was a fine piano player and intimate vocalist of Chicago in the early 40s. Hear his “I Got The Blues” (backed by Tampa Red on the fluid electric guitar). Then MAURA O’CONNELL (late 1990’s) and the beautiful (both melody and lyrics) “It’s A Beautiful Day”. Enjoy, folks!