Feature by Dik De Heer originally published in Blackcar Rockabilly Europe (2006). Additions by bopping.org editor.
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.
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.
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.
Howdy folks ! Hi ! To returning visitors. This a particularly important fortnight feature, because it includes no less than 11 selections !
We begin with an already reviewed artist (December 2010) in the article devoted to the K.C. label Westport. Here is the important and prolific MILT DICKEY. Born 1920, he was D.J. on KCMO during the early ’50s and cut nice boppers for first K.C. located Sho-Me label (# 528), like « Neon love ». The record must have been a regional success, as it was reissued exactly as same on Coral 64146 in 1953. I include the B-side of his Westport 129 disc (« Television love »), the fine weeper « Bleeding heart » with piano and fiddle backing and a good steel as expected. Dickey also released « Checkbook baby » on Coral 64169.
Still in Kansas, but 1963 for the next artist. BOB MARRIOTT & the Continentals is an hybrid of Country-rock, Soul and Rock’n’roll with « I’ll walk a mile » (Jayco 702). I know such an item may come upon Bopping’s visitors’ ears, but I like the drive of the tune, the harsh voice of the singer Chuck Vallent and a good guitar. You can of course disagree and leave a negative comment !
From Nashville in a more settled Country mould here’s PAUL DAVIS. During the ’50s he had two releases on M-G-M, the very fine « I don’t want a backseat driver » (# 12472, to be found on the Cactus « M-G-M Hillbilly, vol. 2 » compilation) and now « Big money » (# 12357, recorded June 18, 1956). « Big money » but a « single man »…Good shuffler according to Nashville standards : steel guitar throughout and good guitar over a relax vocal.
Five years later Davis would record the prototype of any truck repertoire with the original of « Six days on the road » released on the small Bulletin label # 1001 (reviewed June 18 1961, well nearly two years before the Dave Dudley hit). Fabulous wailing steel guitar, a lot of echo both on vocal and backing. By far according to my tastes the best version !
« Carroll county blues » was recorded on March 11 1929 by NARMOUR & SMITH, a duet emanating from Mississipi. The lead figure is taken on fiddle by Will Narmour, who befriended bluesman Mississipi John Hurt, and sustained by Shell (Sheriff) Smith on guitar. The tune has something of hypnotic, and was said to have come from the whistling of some black farmer. It’s been the duet’s greatest hit, and was revived on the Clarion reissue as Jones & Billings. Pretty old and crude Hillbilly !
Out of Trumansburg, N.Y. Seemingly in ’57 comes a pretty tame version of the Drifters’ « Money honey » by JANECE MORGANwith the Melody Men on the Marlee (# 101) label. An agreeable guitar and a too discrete steel over the singer, a poor man’s (woman’s!) Wanda Jackson. She had also a « First from» on Marlee 103, described as « teen rockabilly » on a ebay sale.
The name DEE STONE can be a bit familiar to Bluegrass afficionados, as he had at last 3 issues in 1952-53 on the Blue Ridge (from Virginia) and Mutual (from Illinois) labels, all backed by His Virginia Mountain Boys or his Melody Hill-billys. This time we find him on Blue Ridge 304 for « Countin’ the days », a very good Bluegrass uptempo tune (banjo and fiddle) over a duet vocal. In fact, this could as well be described, minus the banjo, as Hillbilly. Later on (in 1956, according to RCA « G » prefix), the man appears on Eastern (location unknown) for two great boppers, steel to the fore, and a piano : « Sun of love » and « Drifting down this lonely road ». An artist who we wish to hear more from. Final disc in 1960: « Ocean of dreams/After the dance » also on Eastern 12460.
Finally, a R&B rocker, cut in 1954 at a Clarksdale, MS radio station. Ike Turner was present at the session but didn’t play on this harsh-voiced « I’m tired of beggin’ », inspired by Junior Parker‘s « Feelin’ good » 1953 hit [Sun 187] by Eugene « THE SLY FOX ». Here he is pictured 20 years later, as Clarksdale high school principal. Of course the Spark label (# 108) was run by Leiber & Stoller out of Los Angeles, and had in its stall the Robins, Big Boy Groves and Ray Agee. Fox would cut « My four women/Alley music »(# 112) just at the time Atlantic bought this important small label late 1955.
Howdy folks! For this late July 2010 fortnight, I begin with JIMMY DALLAS on the K.C. Shome label (“Crooked Cards“). Good steel and rinky dink piano (common for the era). He was later to have two discs on the Westport label (seel elsewhere in the site for the label’s survey). Nice hillbilly bop from ca. 1952-53.
On to Texas with the very first (?) record by GLEN REEVES, “I’m Johnny On The Spot” on the T.N.T. label from 1955. Reeves would later appear on Republic and Decca, turning into R-a-B and R&R. Here he is in fine form, supported by a tight backing combo, providing uptempo rhythm. Good fiddle.
COYE WILCOX hailed from Dallas, Texas. Here it is his solitary issue on Azalea label, “Zippy, Hippy, Dippy“. Fine steel and strong lead guitar. Flipside was “You gotta quit cheatin‘” (for another fortnight). He had earlier cut a record for Freedom in 1951, fronting Jack Rhodes‘ band. Rhodes is famous for his song writing abilities during the second part of the ’50s, i.e. Jimmy Johnson/Gene Vincent song “Woman Love”, or Ronnie Dawson.
From Booneville, MS, comes HAYDEN THOMPSON, billed as “The South’s Most Versatile Singer”, backed by the Southern Melody Boys, for “I Feel The Blues Coming On” on the small Von label from 1954. Plaintive fiddle, steel guitar and string-bass behind almost murmuring vocal make a very atmospheric Hillbilly Bop record. Von label had also Johnny Burnette Trio and Lloyd McCullough (the latter’s story is intended in Bopping). Thompson would later cut for Sam Phillips, hence the classic “Love My Baby”, then he ended up in Chicago (Profile and Kapp labels) in the late ’50s, and a successful Country career.
HANK MILLS, whose real name was Samuel Garrett, waxed during the late Fifties in San Antonio (Blaze label) the very attractive “Just A Mean Mean Mamma“, with a prominent mandolin, which reminds me of the mid-Forties sound. Mills would later become a highly-prized songwriter, reaching a N°1 in 1965 with Del Reeves.
We come to an end in Houston with a great R&B Rocker from 1956 on the Peacock label: “Pack, Fair And Square” by BIG WALTER PRICE.
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.
the Westport Kids
Billboard advert for the first Westport issue
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…)