STUDIO SESSION FOR HARMONICA FRANK FLOYD
AT THE MEMPHIS RECORDING SERVICE FOR SUN RECORDS 1954
 
SUN RECORDING STUDIO
706 UNION AVENUE, MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE
STUDIO SESSION: THURSDAY JULY 1, 1954
SESSION HOURS: UNKNOWN
PRODUCER AND RECORDING ENGINEER - SAM C. PHILLIPS
 
If Sam Phillips was after a fusion of black and white music, he'd found it. The problem was that it was the black and white music of the 1920s, if not the 1890s. Sun 205 was delightfully at variance with everything that was selling in 1954, but so, it must be said, was Elvis Presley who trailed Frank by just a few months. Frank used to say this was the first rock and roll record, which, of course, it wasn't, but there's a wonderful drive and contagious energy here that has survived the years well. Sam Phillips maintained that he recorded these titles in 1954 and not 1951 as had once been supposed. Certainly, aural evidence would bear out that Frank returned for another session. The sound quality is markedly improved and Phillips obviously used two tape machines to achieve the slapback effect. A mighty thank-you to Sam Phillips from posterity for preserving Harmonica Frank for us.
 
"... You see I played rock and roll before I ever heard of Elvis Presley. I saw him in Memphis before he ever made a record with Sam Phillips on North Main in Memphis Tennessee...".
From a letter Frank wrote to Greg Shaw
 
A part-Cherokee Indian, Frank Floyd came from pure sharecropping stock and as a teenager in the 1920s he entertained carnival crowds with novelty songs, fire-ating and hypnotism. He first showed up at The Memphis Recording Service in 1951 and cut two singles which were leased to Chess Records in Chicago.
 
After the and of a gig with Eddie Hill, Frank Floyd secured a radio spot in Dyersburg, Tennessee. He was probably still there when Sam Phillips recorded two more sides by him and issued them on his Sun label in July 1954. Some trade papers remarked that he record was a good blend of black and white styles but, barely two weeks later, another Sun record hit the streets that was a stunningly contemporary mix of rhythm and blues and hillbilly music. Elvis Presley had make his debut. Frank's music seemed like an anachronism by comparison and Sam Phillips never contacted him again.
 
"THE GREAT MEDICAL MENAGERIST" - B.M.I. - 3:05
Composer: - Frank Floyd
Publisher: - Hi-Lo Music Incorporated - Copyright Control
Matrix number: - U 124 - Master
Recorded: - July 1, 1954
Released: - July 1954
First appearance: - Sun Records (S) 78/45rpm standard single SUN 205-A mono
THE GREAT MEDICAL MENAGERIST / ROCKIN' CHAIR DADDY
Reissued - 1994 Bear Family Records (CD) 500/200rpm BCD 15801-3-3 mono
THE SUN SINGLES COLLECTION - VOLUME 1
 
This talking guitar blues hybrid lies somewhere between Grandpa Jones and W.C. Fields, yet there is a clear hint of the soon-to-be-famous Sun slap back surrounding Floyd's quaint tent-show style of performing.
 
Here probably a miniature autobiography, it is a catalogue of all the prim and decent people Frank made asses of, and of the jobs his fun cost him The first lines have the perfection of myth: "Ladies and gentlements, cough white dodgers and little rabbit twisters, step right around closely, tell ya all about a wonderful medicine show I use ta work with...".
 
Was Frank's standard medicine show shtick that he could have performed in his sleep. This kind of humour would have to move to the city before it could think about getting rural. As with any style that was first recorded in the 1920s, its tempting to identify it with the person who first recorded it, and in this case the talking medicine show blues was first recorded by one Chris Bouchillon and subsequently adapted by Robert Lunn, and Frank owes a heavy debt to both.
 
What is a medical menagerist? Most of us long ago stopped wondering. Frank apparently wrote this song about his days in the Happy Phillipson Medical Show although parts of the song seem to derive from Chris Bouchillon's ''Born In Hard Luck/The Medicine Show'', which apparently sold 90,000 copies in 1927, one of them quite possibly to Frank Floyd. Frank runs through his schtick, throwing a few humorous couplets to get the folks gathered around. Just a few years before Frank recorded this tune, Hank Williams and a galaxy of stars were participating in the Hadacol Caravan and the blackface duo of Jamup & Honey was still on the Opry, so perhaps it is not quite as anachronistic as it seems. In any event, this is a fascinating little glimpse back into a past that none of us will ever experience. The blues may have timeless relevance but ''The Great Medical Menagerist'' is charmingly trapped in a lost world of salves, balms, potions, purgatives, tonics, and cure-alls.
"ROCKIN' CHAIR DADDY" - B.M.I. - 3:01
Composer: - Frank Floyd
Publisher: - Hi-Lo Music Incorporated
Matrix number: - U 125 - Master
Recorded: - July 1, 1954
Released: - July 1954
First appearance: - Sun Records (S) 78/45rpm standard single SUN 205-B mono
ROCKIN' CHAIR DADDY / THE GREAT MEDICAL MENAGERIST
Reissued - 1994 Bear Family Records (CD) 500/200rpm BCD 15801-3-4 mono
THE SUN SINGLES COLLECTION - VOLUME 1
 
Here he reaches for falsettos, talk to himself, corrects himself, roaring into town: "Rock to Memphis, dance on Main. Up stepped a lady and asked my name. Rockin' chair daddy don't have to work. I told her my name was on the tail of my shirt!".
 
It is the historical status of the flipside, "Rockin' Chair Daddy" (SUN 205), that caused Frank to wonder if he had in fact invented rock and roll. As Billboard observed, "This side is an unusual mixture of rhythm and blues and country music.
 
The singer is a country artist, instrumentation is the type used for downhome blues wax". The review went on to lament the "poor recording", a problem no doubt stemming from the fact that Frank Floyd sang with his harp firmly planted in one side of his mouth. He had long since given up attempts at using a conventional rack for his harps, preferring to sing and play with them sticking out of his mouth and, on occasion, his nose. The man was truly an original.
Any hopes that this unusual mixture of rhythm and blues and country music would be developed by Sam Phillips were dashed when another singer, working the same hybrid ground, caught Phillips' attention.
 
He was younger than Floyd and better looking. Within several days, Elvis Presley would have his first Sun record on the market. Frank Floyd's Sun single are released on July 1, 1954. Frank Floyd, vocal, guitar and harmonica. Frank Floyd's life deserves a book, or at least a TV movie. His life and struggles are from another time, an era that few Americans remember but most romanticize. He was in his element performing at rural medicine shows or singing on a back porch. Yet, when he turned to Colin Escott and Hank Davis in 1981, and asked us with the innocence of a child, "Is it true? Did I make the first rock and roll record?", it wasn't possible to be quite so dismissive.
 
Frank Floyd recorded for Sam Phillips on several occasions in 1951, and Phillips leased two (or strictly speaking, two-and-a-half) singles to Chess Records in Chicago. When Floyd recorded for Sun, not many reviewers knew what to make of it.
 
Name (Or. No. Of Instruments)
Harmonica Frank Floyd - Vocal, Guitar and Harmonica
 
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