Alphabetical Order by the last name of the Artist
Artists P - Q - R
- Parchman, Kenny -
- Parker Jr., Herman (Little Junior) -
- Pendarvis, Tracy -
- Penner, Dick -
- Perkins, Carl -
- Perkins, Pinetop -
- Peterson, Earl -
- Pinkney, Bill -
- Pittman, Barbara -
- Poindexter, Doug & The Starlight Wranglers -
- Powers, Johnny -
- Powers, Wayne (Untold Sun Stories) -
- Presley, Elvis -
- Price, Bob -
- Pride, Charley -
- Priesman, Magel -
- Prisonaires, The -
Pritchett, Jimmy -
- Quinton Claunch & Bill Cantrell Connection, The -
- Randolph, Tot -
- Randy & The Radiants -
- Ray, Earl -
- Redell, Teddy (Reidel) -
- Rich, Charlie -
- Richardson, Rudi -
- Richy, Paul (Richey) -
- Riley, Billy -
- Ripley Cotton Choppers, The -
- Ross, Doctor -
- Rossini, Tony -
PARCHMAN, KENNY (KENNETH) - was born on January 15, 1932 near Jackson, Madison County, Tennessee into a rural community located area between the two later fulcrums of our music, namely Memphis and Nashville.
Known as Kenny by his family, he listened to music over the airwaves from an early age and it was not long before his proud parents provided him with a small guitar. Indeed, his mother taught him his first guitar licks and soon he showed all the signs of developing into a competent picker.
For sure, it was not an easy life out in the country, but the Parchman family handled it well, until tragedy struck shortly before Christmas 1944. Their little house in Five Points Community burnt down and Kenny's father suffered severe injuries, so bad that he passed away soon after.
The family was left without anything but family and friends in the local community launched an appeal through the Jackson Sun newspaper. The result that the sum of $1103.87 was raised for the family and, with the help of their neighbours, they soon occupied a newly built four-room house.
It was here that Kenny grew up and received his education at the local school. At the last mentioned, he got together with a group of school chums and formed his first band that were soon playing all the local hops and dances.
Before this aspect of his career could go too much further, Kenny received his call up papers for the US armed forces. He was drafted into the army and subsequently received a honourable discharge circa 1955. Back on Civvies Street, he held down a day job driving a Wells Fargo truck carrying monies and other valuables plus played music most nights in the local clubs. It was around then that Kenny came into contact with a young talented piano player by the name of Jerry Lee Smith. Smith recalls: "Kenny was one of the first bands I worked for. I was about fourteen and a half years old at that time. Kenny heard me play and he came and asked my mother if she'd mind if I played piano for him. I was with Kenny for about six or eight months, then Carl Perkins heard me and asked me to play for him. But Carl came real big with the success of "Blue Suede Shoes" and I had to go back playing with Kenny because my mother wouldn't let me go on the road with Carl, that's because my father was killed in a car accident. The next thing we knew, Carl was a hit and was driving around in a Cadillac, and we still had a Chevrolet. Mother said, "Next time someone wants you to go, I'll let you go!" After that Kenny and I worked together for about a year and we cut some tapes at Sun.". At that time, Kenny's band employed various different musicians like George Sykes or R. W. Stevenson on bass, a guy called Elmo, Bobby Cash or Kenny's brother Ronnie Parchman on drums, Jerry Lee Smith on piano with Kenny adopting the lead guitar and vocal duties.
Jerry Lee Smith is perhaps better known today as "Smoochy" Smith and got this nickname from Kenny. The band was playing a date at a local movie theatre opening for the big film. The guys, apart from Smith, were up on the stage and after waiting a little while for him had to commence playing. Jerry was fully occupied with a cute little girl in the audience. When he finally scampered on to the stage, Kenny introduced him to the audience as "Smoochy". Ever since then, the name has stuck with Jerry.
It is the dreams of every musician to get a record released and then have a hit, Kenny and his band were no exception. The best-known label in the area was, of course, Sun Records and this was a magnet for attracting the talent in Memphis and surrounding region. Sun had changed its direction from recording blues into becoming the greatest exponent of rockabilly the recording world has ever known and already had numerous first rate releases under its belt. Contact was made with Sun's owner, Sam Phillips, as a result of the connection between Smoochy and Carl Perkins with the result that around August 1956 a contract was signed. Kenny and his band went into the tiny studio at 706 Union and rocked their socks off. Sam Phillips particularly appreciated "Love Crazy Baby" and "I Feel Like Rocking" and readied the record for release but at the eleventh hour decided not to issue the disc. The reasons for this have never been explained but when Kenny was asked years later about the circumstances, he replied: "God, man, I don't know why Sam Phillips never released my record. My manager left town shortly before the record was to be released. Maybe Phillips didn't want to release a single if I didn't have a manager behind me. I felt for sure we were going to have a record out on Sun, tough. Maybe this is one of the odd occasions when Sam made an error of judgment as these two sides have later become cult classics, especially in Europe, and have been recorded by numerous revival bands.
Kenny and the guys returned to the Sun Studio on January 5, 1957 for a second session. At this he laid down the first version of his self-penned "Treat Me Right" and a second version of "Love Crazy Baby" but history repeated itself in that there was no subsequent record release. Parchman returned to the Sun Studio on several occasions throughout 1957, either to cut new songs or rework earlier recordings. Most of the songs Kenny recorded at Sun were his own compositions but one tune he recorded over again that was not written by him was the classic "You Call Everybody Darling". This was a song by Sam Martin, Ben Trace and Clem Watts and was first published in 1946. It was a number one hit in 1948 for Al Trace and his Orchestra and the same year also saw chart versions by the Andrew Sister, Ann Vincent and Jack Smith. Since then it has been often revived, especially during the rock 'n' roll era, by the likes of Bill Haley and Fabian.
In July 1957, Parchman received an invitation from Jimmy Martin to record for his (Martin's) new Jaxon label that was located in Jackson, Tennessee. Jimmy Martin was a local musician and had a good ear for the current sounds. He started Jaxon Records as a launch pad for his Jimmy Martin Combo plus its various musicians and issued Ramsey Kearney's first record but under his name. Ramsey suffered similar circumstances to Kenny in that he was another artist who, after recording two songs for Sun, saw no resulting record release by Sam Phillips. The Jaxon label was also the first step to an illustrious career for another young guy from Jackson, Tennessee by the name of Carl Mann. Carl scored big with his rocked up version of 'Mona Lisa' for Phillips International, a subsidiary of Sun Records. One intriguing aspect to all this was that Jimmy Martin used Sun's Hi-Lo publishing firm for his own releases. Possibly he hoped to get better business deals that way with Sun. It is also possible that some or many of the Jaxon recordings were actually made at the Sun Studio whose facilities were available for hire. This would certainly explain why Kenny was a frequent visitor there during 1957. However, we digress. Kenny was more than happy to record for Jimmy Martin and so "Treat Me Right''/''Don't You Know" was released on JAXON 504. The duet partner on "Don't You Know" is reputedly Kenny's brother Ronnie.
At the end of 1957 or early 1958 he went back to the Sun studio for the penultimate time to basically re-cut a few songs. However, the session also saw the laying down of one new number, the aforementioned ''Tennessee Zip''. This is a song much in the style of his close friend Carl Perkins and his influences shine through.
Also early 1958, Kenny received an offer from Lonnie Blackwell to record for the latter's new LU label out of Jackson, Tennessee. The songs for this release were "Get It Off Your Mind" and the instrumental "Satellite Hop" which had the number LU 504 (same as his JAXON single).
Smoochy remembers: "Kenny liked to party and we had a lot of fun together. We played shows all over the place... we used to play on top of old drive in theatre concession stands. We got up there and did a show with snow on the ground and it was so cold the people couldn't get out of their cars. They listened to us through the drive-in speakers and so at the end of the song, instead of applause we got the horns blowing! We were doing a lot of rockabilly and some of the old hillbilly songs - we'd speed them up and add drums and everything to give them that rockabilly sound".
After Smoochy left the band, he relocated to Memphis and started working as a session musician around the city. He recorded with Billy Lee Riley, Rayburn Anthony, Warren Smith, .."I'm not listed as piano player many times, 'cause I was young and I wasn't in the Musicians Union. Sam Phillips gave me a dollar for each year of my age to cut those records and when he turned in the bill into the union, he either put Jerry Lee Lewis' name on there or sometimes Jimmy Wilson's name.
Smoochy went on to become a founder member of both the Mar Keys of 'Last Night' fame as well as The Sun Rhythm Section who also comprised Jimmy Van Eaton (subsequently replaced by D. J. Fontana), Stan Kesler, Sonny Burgess and Paul Burlinson. The latter group toured Europe on several occasions and headlined at Hemsby.
Kenny made his final visit to the Sun Studio on October 5, 1959 when he recorded two songs. These were another version of "Treat Me Right" and his favourite "You Call Everybody Darling".
One of the most famous clubs in the Jackson, Tennessee area, was The Pineridge Club. Virtually every musician from the region has played there. In fact, the club still survives to this very day. It has burnt down a few times but has always been rebuilt. Tony Austin who played drums for such artists as Johnny Burnette Trio, Carl Perkins and Carl Mann remembers: "I played there several times. It was a big old house turned into a bar. You could get into all the trouble you wanted to at the Pineridge. I played there with Rayburn Anthony and Kenny Parchman a few times. Kenny was a good guy - played a black Les Paul Gibson and he was doing mainly rockabilly and blues with a little country''.
Carl Mann too recalls: "We'd be playing at different clubs around Jackson and we'd go to the Pineridge and sit in sometimes. This is where I often saw Kenny. We both had a good group and he had a big following in Jackson. He came to Houston one time and played bass for me. Eddie Bush was supposed to go but he backed out. We were playing an Elks Lodge or something and we were driving back to go right out to Houston, but in the car Eddie decided he didn't want to go - he wanted to go to Nashville to get his own deal or something. So I called Kenny, it was about one o'clock in the morning, I woke him up and he went to Houston with me. He played bass and I played my own lead guitar." Seemingly, Kenny did not get paid for the dates he played with Carl Mann. And on a sad note, it has now been confirmed that Eddie Bush is no longer with us - he was found dead on a street in Arizona.
One of the last shows Kenny did at the Pineridge Club was in 1975 and this was taped for his private enjoyment. Some of the songs thus recorded have been added onto this CD to give the listeners an insight of what Kenny and his band sounded outside the studio. The sound quality is not perfect but amply demonstrates that he still could say "I Feel Like Rockin'".
Kenneth also founded his own construction company in Jackson and was busy building houses. His unique selling point was to utilizing a basic set up for all the houses but then vary by incorporating personal additions from each buyer. He developed large areas in and around Jackson this way. You always can spot the houses he and his company built they have that unique identity and look attractive. A lot of the streets he developed have the names of his family members and naturally there is a Parchman Drive. His wife Lorene, who took care of the office, made sure the people got the best deals with the banks and thus were able to afford their new dream homes. By doing business in such an open and honest way, Kenny became a well-respected and popular pillar of the Jackson community.
Even in towns like Jackson crime became a problem over the years, so Kenny was looking in 1986 for a security system for his construction office compound. He found out that his old buddy "Smoochy" Smith operated such a company and so he was hired to install a burglar alarm system. They ran into each other from time to time after that but did not play music together again.
The construction business was good for Kenny and his family and they enjoyed a good quality of life in their large two story brick house on the outskirts of Jackson and which was just a couple of miles away from the Carl Perkins home. Whenever Kenneth got home after a hard working day and wanted to relax, he went to his music room and played on his guitar. That to him was peace of mind. However in 1991, he developed the disease Mycobacterium Avium which he contacted working with bricks. His family clubbed together and bought him a new electric piano thus permitting him to play all the music that he wanted to. However, in 1997, Kenneth became seriously ill and was forced into spending a month in hospital. His family managed to get him back home to nurse him.
On 2nd June 1999 and, after a six year long and painful sickness, Kenneth Parchman sadly p assed away of heart failure . He left behind his second wife Lorene Pruitt, his four daughters Alicia Parchman, Jeannie Hart, Diane Alper and Denise Calton and his two sons Mikael Wayne and Tommy Parchman. Kenneth Parchman is buried at the Big Springs Methodist Church Cemetery in Big Springs, Madison Country, Tennessee.
PARKER JR., HERMAN - Also known as "Little Junior", it was as a harmonica player that Little Junior Parker became recognized as a consummate bluesman. Born on March 27, 1932, Clarksdale, Mississippi, his father was Herman Parker, Sr. end his mother was Jeannetta Henry, he grow up just across the Mississippi from Memphis, Tennessee - in West Memphis, Arkansas, to Willie and Jermeter Parker. He live up on a farm near there, and his schooling was tailored to the seasonal requirements of farm work. He frequently sang with local gospel quartets as a child and worked frequently on the local streets for tips as a child.
Herman Parker started his singing career at the age of eight to the utter delight of his playmates and surprise of his loving parents. Shortly afterwards he began to sing with the local church choir where he established an unforgettable impression on the people privelegged to witness his outstanding talents.
When Junior started singing professional though, it wasn't gospel music but blues. Everyone needs an idol and a mentor and Junior's was Sonny Boy Williamson II, a...
...saturnine character also known as Alex Rice Miller who later recorded for Chess Records in Chicago. He was also influenced by Roy Brown, John Lee Hooker, Junior Wells and influenced artists to Bobby Bland, Little Frankie Lee, Little Mack, Big Mama Thornton, and Elvis Presley. Herman Parker was nicknamed "Junior" by blues singer Sonny Boy Williamson II.
Sonny Boy Williamson II didn't stay anywhere too long, and, after he left West Memphis, Junior Parker played in Howlin' Wolf's band from 1948 to 1950 (eventually assuming leadership), working clubs through Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, and Missouri into early 1950s. Parker had learned much of his technique from Rice Miller in West Memphis. In the early 1950s, Herman Parker worked with B.B. King's Beale Streeters group in Memphis.
Herman Parker married with Geraldine "Jerri" Cox and he soon formed his own band, Little Junior's Blue Flames, includes L.C. Dranes and Matt Murphy's guitar work distinguished this tight unit, Bill Johnson and Ike Turner on piano, and the group working in the clubs in the Memphis, Tennessee area circa 1951 into 1952.
As a talent scout for Modern Records, Turner provided a much needed piano on some sessions and then acted as the agent selling the sessions to various record labels, including as Modern label in 1952. Herman Parker has hosted his own show on KWEM in West Memphis. It was after Pat Hare and John Bowers were added on guitar and drums that Parker's music caught Sam Phillips' attention at Sun Records. Parker's first record for the fledgling Sun label, "Feelin' Good", released in July 1953, and was a rhythm and blues hit. On October 3, 1953, it entered the National Rhythm and Blues chart, to Parker's surprise, peaking at number 5 during its six-week stay. The song that influenced Elvis Presley was Parker's "Love My Baby", because it contained the exact guitar licks and musical tone of Elvis' recording of Little Junior Parker's classic song "Mystery Train". Little Junior Parker's early recordings often featured a saxophone, but they remained in the Delta blues tradition. Pat Hare's lead guitar was the model for Scotty Moore, and Parker's country sounding harmonica was instrumental in shaping Elvis Presley's music.
In the early 1950s, Little Junior Parker often played on Beale Street, and he was close to B.B. King throughout his professional life. There was a tone to Little Junior Parker's vocals that Elvis Presley imitated. Elvis Presley also spent a great deal of time listening to "Mystery Train" and "Feelin' Good". In the wake of "Feelin' Good" and "Mystery Train", Junior Parker began playing with Johnny Ace Revue in Memphis, Tennessee in 1953 into 1954, killed himself backstage in Houston on Christmas Eve 1954, and Bobby "Blue" Bland package on the Blues Consolited shows booked out of Houston by Don Robey, one of the few black entrepreneurs in the music business at that time. Don Robey also owned two record labels, Duke and Peacock.
Duke had been an independent Memphis label in its earliest days, and one of its first signets was Bobby Bland. Junior was working shows with Bobby Bland, and signed with Duke in early 1954 - shortly after it became part of Robey's little empire. Junior stayed with Duke Records for twelve years. In 1954-1958 worked 5-4 Ballroom in Los Angeles, California, in 1960 Civic Auditorium, Chicago, in 1964 at the Ashland Auditorium in Chicago, in 1964-1966 at the Apollo Theater, New York City, 1964-1966 in Cozy Bar in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
In 1966, Junior Parker split with Don Robey. The rumour was that he was having an affair with a woman that ran Robey's artist booking agency, and that Robey didn't want any artist too close to the business. Junior moved to Chicago, and signed with the Chicago-based Mercury Records. Worked in 1968 at Regal Theater, Chicago.
In 1968 Parker signet with producer Sonny Lester who moved him from United Artist to Minit label in Los Angeles, on to Capitol, recorded for Mercury-Blue Rock label in Chicago in 1969; and finally in 1970 to his own Groove Merchant label. All this time, Herman "Junior" Parker was still making a good living playing the black lounges, mostly in the South. In 1970-1971 worked for Burning Spear in Chicago, 1970 Ann Arbor Blues Festival, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 1970 High Chaparral, Chicago. Herman Parker with Jimmy McGriff recorded for Capitol Records, with Jimmy McGriff, Golden Slipper, Newark, New Jersey, and in 1971 portion released on United Artist label.
It was discovered in late 1971 that he had a brain tumour, and he died on the operating table at St. Francis, Hospital in Blue Island, Illinois on November 18, 1971. Herman Parker is buried in West Memphis, Arkansas. He was one of the greatest blues singers of them all. Junior's music is warm, earthy and it swings. (CE)
PENDARVIS, TRACY - Had the misfortune to arrive at Sun just a little too late. If he had arrived in 1956 instead of 1958 or early in 1959 then his career night have taken a different direction. As it was, he made some of the best records to appear on the magic yellow label as the new decade approached. Certainly, he was the only artist whose style harked back to the golden days of Sun Records. Tracy Rexford Pendarvis (his real name, incidentally) was born in Shamrock, a tiny settlement outside Cross City, Florida on February 8, 1936.
Technically, Florida is part of the South but its music usually owed much more to the proximity of the Caribbean than the Mississippi Delta. However, WSM's clear channel brought the Grand Old Opry into Pendarvis's life and he developed a lifelong fondness for the music of Marty Robbins.
It might not have been the mid-South, but it was hillbilly country, near the Panhandle. Bluegrass musicians broadcast from nearby Live Oack, and Tracy said his mother owned every Jimmie Rodgers record. The Opry was on the family radio every Saturday night. Tracy and his buddy, Johnny Gibson, played...
...in square dance bands for three bucks a night. He also liked gut bucket blues such as Jimmy Reed and, later, the raw sounds pioneered by Chuck Berry and Little Richard. Even Fats Domino was a little too smooth tor Tracy Pendarvis.
"My buddy Johnny Gibson played terrific blues guitar. We'd sit up until two or three o'clock in the morning, talking about how we were going to be big. We entered this contest on WDVH In Gainesville, Florida and won it." Their success in the talent contest got Pendarvis and Gibson a shot on the small Scott label. Both "It Don't Pay" and "One of These Days" got some local action but "It Don't Pay" was more than a title, it was the watchword at Scott Records. Aside from a chance to meet Connie Francis, Pendarvis had little to show from his affiliation with the label. ''Nobody knew anything about recording down in Florida'', said Tracy years later. ''It was all out of time and nobody cared. They put it out anyway and we never thought it would get around as much as it did. We never got paid, though. You could learn a lot about contracts back in those days. I had several good lessons – the Scott record was the first''. There was another Scott single, issued in March 1958, just a few weeks after the first.
By this point, Pendarvis had married and had started a career as an electrician, However, both he and Gibson together with drummer Merrill "Punk" Williams decided that they needed to be on Sun Records, so they got in Pendarvis's car and drove to Memphis without calling ahead to set up an appointment. They were met at the door by Ernie Barton who arranged an audition with Sam Phillips. The rawness in the group appealed to Phillips and he signed them on the spot. He also produced their first two sessions. ''We'd drive straight up'', said Tracy, ''maybe write a little along the way, jump out of the station wagon and start recording''. The first single, ''A Thousand Guitar'', was a throwback that used the old studio's sonic qualities to the fullest advantage. Tracy's sparse trio was fattened up with a pianist playing the lower register. It was an ominous, moody sound, and the guys understood the virtue of laying back. Tracy's eerily charged vocal was heard to even better advantage on the second single, ''Southbound Line''. Tracy had written it for an old flame in Mississippi. ''Things went wrong between us – as they will'', he said. Majorie LeBruce where are you tonight''.
Tracy Pendarvis live on stage >
The three singles which were issued during Pendarvis's tenure with Sun met with scant acclaim. The musical climate was changing. Phillips own Carl Mann pointed the way towards the future with lightweight material and a smoother approach to singing. Pendarvis was virtually an anachronism and the short-lived vogue for the material he produced had just about passed. Feeling success within their grasp, Tracy Pendarvis and his band hit the road.
They ventured as far as Connecticut but Phillips and his staff failed to call in favors with Dick Clark or anyone else. Eventually, the group broke up. ''There's two things will bust up a group'', Tracy said resignedly. ''Not making it – and making it. You can't win for losing''. The last session, held at the new studio on Madison Avenue, was overproduced. Johnny Gibson had moved to Atlanta where he became a police officer.
He also suffered from comparisons with Elvis Presley, whom he claims not to have liked. In particular, Pendarvis's voice...
...made the strange transition from a deep and mature baritone to a high whine in much the same way as Presley's voice during the early years.
The end of Pendarvis's association with Sun is clouded in some mystery. Pendarvis claims that he left because his contract was not transferred to Smash at the same time as Jerry Lee Lewis and Charlie Rich but, if that was indeed the case, then there is a key piece of the puzzle missing because Pendarvis had long since ceased recording for Sun when Rich and Lewis departed in 1963. In any event, in 1962 Pendarvis started his own record production company, Descant Records, that worked in tandem with Bill Lowery's NRC complex in Atlanta, Georgia. He worked on recordings by Lowery's proteges including Jerry Reed, Joe South and Ray Stevens.
After a year Pendarvis folded Descant Records and moved to Chicago while his divorce was in progress. He played the lowlife honkytonks in Chicago and Cicero, Illinois, before remarrying and moving in 1969 back to his native Florida. In 1970 Wynn Stewart had a sizeable hit with one of Tracy's songs, ''It's A Beautiful Day'', but he couldn't parlay that into a career. For the last couple of decades Pendarvis worked in audio technology. In 1980s he installed a studio in his hometown of Tavares. He listened to modern rock music with something bordering on open contempt. What they call "rock" today has no connection with rock music. "These clowns like David Bowie don't know a thing about rock. It's a prostitution of it. Little Richard did real rock and what he didn't do, Chuck Berry did''. Right on, Tracy! He understood the blues and country music that underpinned it. He knew how to create a compelling rhythm track and write a good, melodic song. If only he and his band had tumbled out of their station wagon into the old Sun studio at the tail and of 1956 instead of 1959.
In 1992, Tracy Pendarvis made a trip to the ninth Hemsby Festival in England to a wild reception. He was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1996 and died in Gainesville, Florida on January 25, 1997. ''Even when the whole rockabilly thing started, I wanted to be on Sun'', he said. ''I bless Sam for bringing out what we had. We just walked in there like a bunch of fools. We weren't good - but we had something''.
Photograph of Dick Penner a student at North Texas State College in Denton, Texas. He stands behind a piano holding a microphone, June 19, 1958 >
PENNER, DICK - Born Allen Richard Penner, In November 1936, Chicago, Illinois. Dick Penner had two releases on Sun, one solo single and one as half of a duo. However, he is probably best known as the cowriter of "Ooby Dooby", Roy Orbison's immortal rockabilly classic. Born in Chicago, but his family moved to Dallas, Texas the following year. Unlike mos of his contemporaries at Sun Dick grew up in comfortable surroundings.
He acquired an early liking for country music and by age 16 he had taken up the guitar. He listened to hillbilly music and rhythm and blues and recalls Johnnie & Jack and Clyde McPhatter among his favorites. Soon after taking up the guitar, he played his first gig for the Methodist Youth Fellowship in a church basement. He sang Hank Williams's then-current hit, ''I Heard That Lonesome Whistle Blow''.
The following year, his musical career started in 1953 at the 'Big D' Jamboree in Dallas where Dick and his partner Dave Young performed Johnny & Jack songs and comedy routines. ''There was wrestling on Tuesday night and country music on Saturday night'', said Penner. ''The Ed McLemore Sportatorium was a big corrugated steel building that seated a lot of people. I remember that Elvis came through there one time. He already had a strong regional identity and there was an electricity in the air when he turned up. The guys had driven in from Amarillo, Texas, which is way the hell out in west Texas and they were 45 minutes or an hour late. They got right out of the car and got on stage. Presley's music was so different I was thrilled. It was a real learning experience and I wanted to be like that. (In fact, Elvis played the Big D Jamboree on several occasions and never played Amarillo the night before, but the essence of Penner's story is probably correct, if the detail isn't. Penner later dated Presley's appearance to June 18, 1955).
In 1954 Penner enrolled in North Texas State College in Denton, and performed on campus as a solo act, before he met Wade Moore quished it. Together they wrote "Ooby Dooby" in February 1955. With one of them unaware of what the other was doing, Penner signed the song to Sun's Hi-Lo Music and Moore signed it to Peer International. According to Penner, Peer paid Phillips for one hundred percent of the song, but the song is currently credited to both companies.
"Wade and I took a six pack of beer onto the flat roof of the fraternity house and it took us three minutes", Penner told Dominique Anglares. The song came to the attention of fellow student Roy Orbison, who recorded a demo of the song with his band, the Wink Westerners, and sent it to Columbia Records. The label was not interested in Orbison, but pitched the song to Sid King and the Five Strings, who recorded it on March 5, 1956, in Dallas. According to most available sources, Roy cut "Ooby Dooby" himself one day earlier, on March 4. If this is correct, the tiny Je-Wel label must have done a real rush job with the record, because by the time Roy rerecorded the song for Sun (March 27, only 23 days later), the record had not only been released, but already attracted the attention of Sam Phillips at Sun. But it is not impossible. Sam issued the Sun version of "Ooby Dooby" in May, after releasing the under-age Orbison from his Je-Wel contract. It peaked at number 59 on Billboard's pop charts and was covered by Janis Martin for RCA. There were later versions by Jerry Lee Lewis (recorded September 1957, but unissued until the early 70s), Matt Lucas and Creedence Clearwater Revival, among others.
Wade and Dick were signed to Sun in September 1956 and had their only joint session on December 16 of that year. The result was the single "Bop Bop Baby"/"Don't Need Your Lovin' Baby" (Sun 269, issued in April 1957), credited to Wade and Dick, the College Kids "Bop Bop Baby", unusual because of its minor key, was used on the soundtrack of the Johnny Cash biopic "Walk The Line", where it is played on the car radio in the spring of 1956, "Don't Need Your Lovin' Baby" is really a solo vehicle for Penner. An alternate version came out under his own name on two different Sun compilations.
Before the single had been released, Penner returned to the Sun studio by himself on February 16, 1957. At least five sides were cut, but only "Cindy Lou" and "Your Honey Love" were released at the time (Sun 282), unfortunately for Penner on the same day, November 3, 1957, as "Great Balls Of Fire", which got all the promotion from Sun. The melody of "Cindy Lou" is remarkable, as it does not have any chord changes. Very few songs are performed in a single chord. The strident guitar player on this track is Don Gilliland. Two other songs from this session, "Fine Little Baby" and "Move Baby Move" were issued on a French bootleg Sun single in the mid-1970s (Sun 615) and in 1995, "Someday Baby" turned up on the CD "Unissued Sun Masters" released on Charly CPCD 8137.
After graduating from college in 1958, Penner went into the Army for six months before resuming school as a graduate student. He stayed with academia. In a sense, walking into a lecture theater is performing as much as stepping onto the stage at the Paramount Theater in Hope, Arkansas, but with little of disappointment that comes from driving hundreds of miles to play for a handful of people.
Dick Penner quickly accepted that he was not cut out for the music business and opted for an academic career instead. He finished up as a Professor of English literature at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville Until he retired in 2000. Since retirement, he has traveled widely. France, Greece, Nova Scotia, the Netherlands, Belgium, and many places in the United States. His last contact with the Phillips family came in 2005 when Sam's son, Knox, called to tell him that ''Bop, Bop Baby'' was to be used in the Johnny Cash biopic, ''Walk The Line''. Meantime, ''Ooby Dooby'', the song that took a few minutes to write on the frat house roof nearly sixty years ago, is still a little oil well in Wade and Dick's back yards.
Looking back on his brief time at Sun, Penner concluded, ''Sam could recognize whether a song was going to be commercial or appealing. For example, I had a tendency to sing ballads in a very sentimental or dreamy way. He wanted something with more of an edge to it. Something sexier. I remember I was sitting on one of the stools in the studio singing a ballad and Sam stopped us and said, 'Imagine you're making love to this woman', but my experience was so limited, it was hard to come up with any scenes you could really call romantic. Sam certainly had a charisma about him. He wasn't one for casual conversation. He was very intense in the studio. I remember he had a purple Cadillac convertible and one night he said, 'Come on, I'll take you back to the house'. He was barefoot and he got into this posh purple convertible. It was such spontaneous music. I read an article recently about a producer who had programmed some music into the computer and he had introduced some errors into the coding so that it would sound more human. That all seems so foreign compared with the time in Sam Phillips' studio''.
PERKINS, CARL - Rock and Roll, Rockabilly Pioneer. Although Perkins is closely associated with his current hometown of Jackson, Tennessee, he was born in the far northwest corner of the state, close to the banks of the Mississippi. His birth certificate gives his parents address as Route 1, Ridgely County, Tiptonville, Tennessee, and their names as Fonie "Buck" Perkins and Louise Brantley. Their second child, born on April 9, 1932, was christened Carl Lee Perkins. The misspelling of the family name suggest that the literacy of government employees was barely a notch higher than that of the people they were cataloging.
It was the height of the Depression, and Buck Perkins was a sharecropper without a market. The family lived first in a three-room shack and then in a one-room storehouse. The kids in the neighbourhood brought castoff clothes for the Perkins brothers, and Carl has often told the story of how kid asked for his pants back after Carl had tackled him in a football game.
Music entered Carl Perkins life from two directions: the Grand Ole Opry from Nashville, and a black sharecropper from...
...across the field. The black sharecropper was named John Weststrook (or Westbrooks), and Perkins called him Uncle John. "He used to sit out on the front porch at night", Perkins told Lenny Kaye, "with a gallon bucket full of coal oil rags that he'd burn to keep the mosquitoes off him, and I'd ask my daddy if I could go to Uncle John's and hear him pick some".
In the same way that Perkins rarely sings a song the way twice, he never seems to tell a story exactly the same way. In some versions, Uncle John gives Carl his guitar on a Saturday and dies the following Wednesday. Shortly after the end of World War II, Buck Perkins moved his family to Bemis, Tennessee, where his brothers worked in the cotton mills. Buck was refused a job in the mills because of his deteriorating lungs, and the Perkins family went back to sharecroppin, although by this time they had a house with electricity and a refrigerator. Perkins soon found a use for the electricity when he bought a cheap Harmony electric guitar and plugged it in.
Although he will generally claim to have no direct influences, Carl Perkins' style was obviously formed by listening to the guitarists who worked on the Opry. In particular, he remembers "Butterball" Page, who played single-strings leads with Ernest Tubb for a few years in the late 1940s. Another important influence was probably Arthur Smith, whose 1946 hit "Guitar Boogie" influenced a generation of pickers and set a new standard for sheer technique.
And then there was the blues. It's unlikely that Perkins was allowed to listen to the rhythm and blues stations, but he never forgot the lessons that Uncle John had taught him.
The choices of venues available to the brothers was limited, virtually confined to church socials and honky-tonks; the Perkins Brothers Band gravitated naturally toward the latter. Jay Perkins handled some of the vocals, singing in a rough-hewn voice modeled on Ernest Tubb. But it was Carl who was both principal vocalist and lead guitarist.
Carl Perkins' birth house, Tiptonville, Ridgely County, Tennessee >
By 1954 their repertoire included a fair sampling of hillbilly standards, "Always Late (With Your Kisses", "Jealous Heart", "Honky-Tonk Blues", and the inevitable "Lovesick Blues"; there was also a little pop music, in the shape of "I'll Walk Alone".
The reason revolves around Carl Perkins and the nature of his music. By 1954 Perkins had evolved a unique style.
It was not pure honky tonk music but a hybrid that borrowed much in terms of feeling, phrasing and rhythm from black music. "I just speeded up some of the slow blues licks", said Carl. "I put a little speed and rhythm to what Uncle John had slowed down. That's all. That's what rockabilly music or rock and roll was to begin with; a country man's song with a black man's rhythm. Someone once said that everything's been done before, and it has. It's just a question of figuring out a good mixture of it to sound original".
One of his first moves was to bring in a drummer. Drums, of course, were forbidden on the Grand Ole Opry but Perkins decided that he needed them to reinforce the rhythm and keep it danceable. His first drummer was Tony Austin, who would later record at Sun but lasted no more than a few gigs in 1953. He was replaced by W.S. "Fluke" Holland who was originally from Saltillo, Mississippi but had gone to school in Jackson with Clayton Perkins. He bought a set of Brecht drums and habituated many of the black bars in town because, as a drummer working in country music, he had few role models.
Between 1953 and 1955 music provided nothing more than a small addition to Perkins' income from the Colonial Bakery in Jackson. The honky tonks paid $2.00-3.00 a night but enabled the Perkins brothers to hone their music and cultivate their drinking habits at minimal cost.
On January 24, 1953 Carl Perkins married Valda Crider from Corinth, Mississippi. They moved to a government housing project in Jackson as the children started appearing. However, Valda encouraged Carl to work on his music and try for a career in entertainment. As Perkins observed, there were many country boys who were playing with a blues feel and working on the hybrid that later became known as rockabilly music. One of those who had independently worked up a similar style of course, was Elvis Presley. "The first time I heard Elvis was when my wife was in the kitchen", recalled Perkins to Dave Booth, "and she said, 'Carl, that sounds just like y'all. Hearing him do "Blue Moon Of Kentucky" set a flame afire in me and oddly enough I'd been doing that song too".
A few weeks later, the Perkins Brothers Band headed for Memphis. The office manager, Marion Keisker, apparently told them to go away but they met Sam Phillips on the street outside the studio. Carl Perkins first recorded for Flip Records, a nonunion subsidiary label of Sun Records. His first release was "Movie Magg" (FLIP 501), recorded on January 22, 1955. Carl Perkins first met Elvis Presley in Bethel Springs, Tennessee, in 1954, where Perkins was playing a club. Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley appeared together in Memphis on November 13, 1955. Perkins recorded his composition "Blue Suede Shoes"/"Honey Don't" (SUN 234) on December 19, 1955. On March 27, 1956, Perkins was injured in an automobile accident that took the life of his brother and manager Jay. Disc jockey David Steward fell asleep at the wheel while the band was en route to New York City to appear on TV's "Ed Sullivan Show" and "The Perry Como Show", which would have given them national exposure. At the time of the accident, Perkins' version of "Blue Suede Shoes" are released on January 1, 1956, reached on February 18, 1956 for 24 weeks on the Country charts peaked at number 1; on March 3, 1956, "Blue Suede Shoes" reached for 21 weeks on the Billboard Most Played In Juke Boxes chart peaked at number 2 for 4 weeks; on March 10, 1956 the number reached two on the Billboard Hot 100 charts; and peaked for 16 weeks on the Rhythm and Blues charts for 4 weeks at number 2.
After the accident he was taken to the General Hospital in Dover, Delaware, where he received a Western Union telegram from Elvis Presley on March 28, 1956, that read: "We were all shocked and very sorry to hear of the accident. I know what it is for I had a few bad ones myself. If I can help you in any way please call me. I will be at the Warwick Hotel in New York City. Our wishes are for a speedy recovery for you and the other boys. Sincerely Elvis Presley, Bill Black, Scotty Moore, and D.J. Fontana".
From 1954 to 1957, Carl Perkins and his band, recorded several brilliant recordings for Sun Records as follow, "Movie Magg"/"Turn Around" (Flip 501) 1954, "Let The Jukebox Keep On Playing"/"Gone, Gone, Gone" (SUN 224) 1955, "Blue Suede Shoes"/"Honey Don't" (SUN 234) 1955, "Sure To Fall"/"Tennessee" (SUN 235) 1955, "Boppin' The Blues"/"All Mama's Children" (SUN 243) 1956, "Dixie Fried"/"I'm Sorry I'm Not Sorry" (SUN 249) 1956, "Youre True Love"/"Matchbox" (SUN 261) 1956, "That's Right"/"Forever Yours" (SUN 274), and "Lend Me Your Comb"/"Glad All Over" (SUN 287) 1957.
In 1957 his last single hit the market, Carl Perkins had quit Sun Records. He and Johnny Cash had been approached by Don Law from Columbia Records in August 1957 who proposed that both artists move to Columbia. An agreement in principle was signed with Columbia in November 1957 and the contract was dated January 25, 1958. With his career as a rock singer fading fast, Carl Perkins turned back to the honky tonks. He also turned to the bottle. His alcoholism was precipitated by the death of his older brother Jay from a malignant brain tumour on October 22, 1958. 1959 was the last year in which Carl Perkins entertained serious hopes of recapturing his place in the sun. Later in 1959 W.S. ''Fluke'' Holland quit the line-up. He tried managing Carl Mann for a while and then opted for the security of playing drums behind Johnny Cash. By this point, Perkins had stated working long stints in Las Vegas which would hardly seem to be his natural habitat. In August 1963, Carl Perkins signed a two-year contract with Decca Records and recorded four titles in Nashville where MOR, country had co-opted rockabilly beyond recognition. The session got off to a sluggish start with two of the least exciting songs in the Perkins canon. On June 1, 1964 is historically resonant, Perkins attended a Beatles session at Abbey Road in Liverpool where his Scouse admirers completed five takes of "Matchbox" between 2:30 and 5:30 p.m.
Back in the USA, Carl Perkins worked clubs with George Morgan, Webb Pierce and Faron Young. In mid-July, he caught his left hand in the blades of an electric fan at a club in Dyersberg, Tennessee. He was taken 60 miles to hospital in Jackson while blood dripped through the floorboards of his Buick. The surgeon was persuaded not to amputate two of his fingers. In mid-October, Carl Perkins flew to London for a second tour of England. It was tabled The Rhythm and Blues Show 1964 and Carl topped the first half of a bill which included The Animals, Tommy Tucker, Elkie Brooks, Ray Cameron, The Quotations, The Nashville Teens, The Plebs and, at selected venues, Barry St. John. In 1980s, Carl Perkins still live in Jackson, Tennessee, and the part of Carl Perkins that he will leave behind consists of a handful of recordings, only a few of which were released during his tenure with Sun, but recordings that still form the bulk of his stage repertoire today. They also remain, all told, one of the landmarks of pure, carefree rock and roll. From 1965 through 1975, Carl Perkins constantly drinking alcohol and toured with Johnny Cash in the United States.
Elvis Presley, who recorded a faster version of Perkins' "Blue Suede Shoes" in 1956, was present at Perkins' recording session on December 4, 1956, when he recorded "Matchbox" (SUN 261) and other songs. That impromptu get-together was later dubbed the Million Dollar Quartet. Elvis Presley last played with Carl Perkins on July 4, 1976, for a Bicentennial concert in Memphis. After Elvis Presley's death, Carl Perkins recorded the tribute record "The Whole World Misses You" (JET 117). In 1974, Carl Perkins wrote and recorded the novelty record "The E.P. Express" (Mercury 73609) in his own rockabilly style. In 1986, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, and Roy Orbison recorded as the group "Class Of 55" at Sun Recording Studio, 706 Union Avenue in Memphis, Tennessee, "We Remember The King" (American Smash 88142-7). RCA's Chet Atkins once remarked to Sam Phillips when Carl Perkins had the number two record in the country with "Blue Suede Shoes", "We thought for a while we bought the wrong Sun artist".
In 1987, Carl Perkins was elected in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, included with Eddie Cochran, Bill Haley, Roy Orbison, and Ricky Nelson. The Beatles recorded the following Carl Perkins compositions: "Honey Don't", flip-side of "Blue Suede Shoes", "Everybody's Trying To Be My Baby", and "Matchbox". On February 4, 1969, Jackson, Mississippi celebrated Carl Perkins Day. Carl Perkins once said of Elvis Presley, "This boy had everything. He had the looks, the moves, the manager, and the talent. And he didn't look like Mr. Ed, like a lot of us did. In the way he looked, way he talked, way he eyed, he really was different". On January 19, 1998, about 10:30 p.m., Carl Perkins died in Madison County General Hospital in Jackson, Tennessee, following a series of strokes and an extended stay in Intensive Care at the age of 65. (MH)
PERKINS, PINETOP - Joe Willie ''Pinetop'' Perkins began his career in music playing the guitar behind Willie Love in the Mississippi Cafe in Leland, Mississippi. He was born on July 7, 1913 in Belzoni, 30 miles South-East of Leland.
''I grew up hard'', he said in a 2008 interview with ''No Depression'' magazine. ''I picked cotton and plowed with the mule and fixed the cars and played with the guitar and the piano. What I learned on my own, I didn't have much school. Thee years''.
Aged thirteen, he moved to Chicago for a while before returning to farm in the Delta. Until 1943, Perkins played guitar and piano but dropped the guitar after a knife injury to his arm severed some tendons.
Whilst working with Willie Love, Perkins also learned to play the drums. When Love went off to join Rich Miller, Perkins formed a brief partnership with Boyd Gilmore before going to work with Robert Nighthawk when he moved to Helena in 1943, and eventually, Sonny Boy Williamson II summoned him to join the King Biscuit Boys in Helena, Arkansas.
Since Joe Willie Wilkins was already in the band, and Perkins would often play "Pinetop's Boogie-Woogie", he became known as Pinetop Perkins.
Leaving the King Biscuit Time, Perkins made his way to Memphis, where he accompanied B.B. King on a programme sponsored by Lucky Strike. Perhaps his previous connection with Gilmore brought him to the Sun studio to accompany Boyd Gilmore and Earl Hooker, and on a session from July 15, 1953, Perkins recorded "Pinetop's Boogie Woogie". Soon after, he rejoined Robert Nighthawk and came north to Chicago, playing on Nighthawk's recording of "Jackson Town Girl". He spent the next couple of decades moving between Chicago, St. Louis and Cairo, Illinois, working with Nighthawk, Albert King and Earl Hooker.
In 1969, Muddy Waters asked him to replace Otis Spann in his band and Perkins remained until 1980, when he, Jerry Portnoy and Little Willie Smith left to form the Legendary Blues Band. After recorded two albums, Perkins left the band and entered a semi-retirement from which he still regularly emerges to play gigs and records. ''I played more of a bluesy type than Spann did'', he told Muddy's biographer, Robert Gordon. ''I taught myself off records, Memphis Slim, them old piano players, then added to it, Yeah, hard and loud, beat it to pieces''.
In 1980, he formed the Legendary Blues Band before quitting later in the decade to focus on a very late blooming solo career. The awards came late, but not too late. He documented his career in a 2007 DVD, ''Born In The Honey''. At age 97, he won a Grammy Award for Best Traditional Blues Album for Joined at the Hip, an album he recorded with Willie "Big Eyes" Smith. Perkins thus became the oldest-ever Grammy winner, edging out comedian George Burns who had won in the spoken word category 21 years earlier (he had tied with Burns, at the age of 95, in 2004). After moving from the Chicago suburbs to Austin, Texas, in 2003, he went to Antone's several nights a week to greet fans and sell merch.
A little more than a month later, Perkins died on 21 March 2011 at his home in Austin, Texas after playing cards with drummer Kenny Smith. At the time of his death, the musician had more than 20 performances booked for 2011. Shortly before that, while discussing his late career resurgence with an interviewer, he conceded, "I can't play piano like I used to either. I used to have bass rolling like thunder. I can't do that no more. But I ask the Lord, please forgive me for the stuff I done trying to make a nickel." Along with David "Honeyboy" Edwards, he was one of the last two original Mississippi Delta blues musicians, and also to have a personal knowledge of and friendship with Robert Johnson. (CE)
PETERSON, EARL - Despite a long career that spanned 45 years, comparatively little is known about Earl Peterson. He was born on February 24, 1927, in Paxton, Illinois and moved to Michigan when he was 18 months old. He apparently became proficient on both guitar and drums and formed his own band, the Sons of the Golden West, when he was still in high school. The group secured a regular spot on WOAP, Owosso, and then moved to WFYC in Alma, Michigan, before settling at WCEN, Mount Pleasant. WCEN gave Earl Peterson and his group a regular show, Earl's Melody Trails, and made him the talent director, staff announcer and farming news editor.
Earl Peterson made his debut into record business when he formed a record label, Huggett Records with his mother. Peterson also undertook road trips to publicise his records and, at the time, worked guest disc jockey spots at various stations. It seems as though his mother, Pearle Lewis, was the driving force behind Peterson. Sam Phillips recalls that the pair arrived on his doorstep in early 1954 pitching "The Boogie Blues". Phillips located some country session musicians to work with Peterson and the result of the session were released in the Spring of 1954.
The story becomes more convoluted from that point. In October of the same year Earl Peterson, with a healthy disregard for contracts and AFM regulations, re-recorded the same songs for Columbia. The song was re-copyrighted and probably sold more than the 2500 copies that Sam Phillips had shipped.
Peterson's half-brother, Bob Lewis, recalls that Peterson was desperately unhappy with the quality of the Sun recordings and that may account for his lack of reserve when Don Law approached him to record the tune. In any event, Earl Peterson had a few singles released on Columbia but they were shipped into changing market conditions and Peterson may have tired of the constant touring necessary to support his releases. His mother ran a resort club, the Bass Lake Pavillion, and Earl Peterson formed a band that included twin steel guitars, two lead guitars, two fiddles and his half-brother on drums and he played there on a regular basis supporting all the acts who worked the areas as singles. In this way, Earl and the boys backed Marty Robbins, Moon Mullican and many more. The 1953 Buick which Earl had driven all those miles was increasingly confined to short trips.
In 1960 Peterson and his family established radio station WPLB in Greenville, Michigan. In 1962 they switched to the FM frequency and the following year saw Earl's retirement from the performing side of the music business.
By that point there was an undeniable quotient of rock and roll in country music and, in Bob Lewis' words, "Earl wasn't crazy about that stuff". In 1965 Earl learned that he had cancer but he continued to work at the station until his death in May 1971.
Pearle Lewis had been the driving force behind Earl's career. "She was the matriarch", recalled Bob Lewis, "Kick you in the butt, get you goin'. His career meant a lot to her". Mrs. Lewis had the deep misfortune to bury her son. She died in 1979.
Perhaps the most vivid image we are left with is that of Earl and his mother getting out of their 1953 Buick in front of 706 Union, probably unaware that it housed a would-be captain of the rhythm and blues industry. Did Mrs. Lewis force Earl to knock on the door? If she did, it guaranteed Earl a greater degree of immortality than she could ever have guessed. He made the first Sun country record with a remotely contemporary sound and set the stage for Phillips' eventual move into country music during the next couple of years. It was Earl Peterson's musical direction and singing style that was important in influencing the young Elvis Presley. (CE)
PINKNEY, BILL - The Original Bill Pinkney - born 15 August 1925 in Dalzell, Sumter County, South Carolina, and died 4 July 2007 in Daytona Beach, Florida. Pinkney was singing alongside Brook Benton in the Jerusalem Stars when Clyde McPhatter drafted him into the Drifters in 1953.
After McPhatter left, Pinkney sang lead on a few songs, including "Steamboat" before the Drifters' manager (and owner), George Treadwell, fired him in 1957.
Then headed to Memphis and did a tour with Bill Justis and Roland Janes, which probably accounts for this one-off single. In all likelihood, it was recorded shortly before Pinkney put together a group called the Flyers with Bobby Hendricks that made one record for Atco Records.
Pinkney meanwhile was still recording occasionally with the Drifters until Treadwell fired the lot in 1958. He then formed a group called The Original Drifters that lasted well into the 1970s.
Bill Pinkney’s death on 4 July 2007 marks the end of a significant era in Drifters history. He was found dead at the Hilton Daytona Beach Oceanfront Resort. Pinkney was scheduled to perform with the Original Drifters for Fourth of July festivities there. Bill Pinkney was 81 years old.
When he returned from World War II Bill was decorated with four bronze stars for action in France and Germany. He had his own Army gospel quintet in Europe, the US Friendly Five, then after his return home Bill formed the Singing Cousins and also sang with the Wandering Four. A move to New York provided Pinkney with an opportunity to play in the Negro Baseball League for the New York Blue Sox and he also sang with the Jerusalem Stars (with Benjamin Franklin Peay - a.k.a Brook Benton) then moved on to the Southern Knights before crossing the secular divide to the Drifters.
The Drifters, from left: Bill Pinkney, Willie Ferbie, Clyde McPhatter, Andrew Thrasher, Gerhart Thrasher >
Though Bill was not present in the first line up of Clyde McPhatter’s Drifters in June 1953 when they recorded their first Atlantic session (who were in fact Clyde (lead), William Anderson, David Baughan (tenors), David Baldwin (baritone), James Johnson (bass)), he was present on the next famous session in August 1953 when the iconic ''Money Honey'' was recorded.
This time the line up was Clyde (lead), Gerhart Thrasher, Bill Pinkney (tenors), Andrew Thrasher (baritone) and Willie Ferbee (bass) and by the third session Ferbee was gone and Pinkney had taken over his more familiar role as bassman.
Bill’s biggest claim to fame came in February 1954 when he recorded a shared lead with Clyde on the Drifters sensational version of ''White Christmas''. The group remained unchanged until McPhatter was drafted into the US Army in October 1954.
At that time Pinkney became ‘leader’ of the group, handling their organisation and finances when they were out on tour. As spokesman for the group he went to the Drifters manager George Treadwell in mid 1956 on their behalf to try to negotiate a better wage deal for them. Treadwell owned the Drifters name-mark under ‘Drifters Incorporated’ and paid them each a low weekly wage. A row broke out, Pinkney was sacked and Andrew Thrasher quit. New members were recruited and they continued to tour. Pinkney formed a new group the Flyers with ex Swallow and McPhatter sound-alike Bobby Hendricks but their Atco single didn’t chart and when Treadwell needed a new lead for a Drifters session in April 1958, Hendricks was in place. The money troubles rumbled on and Treadwell sacked the Drifters in May giving their name to the Crowns, another group he had under contract. This was the group that cut ''There Goes My Baby'' which took the ‘new’ Drifters to the top of the pop charts in June 1959.
Meanwhile Bill had cut the single ''After the Hop'' in Memphis on Sam Phillips ‘Phillips International’ label as Bill Pinky & the Turks. He then formed the first group of Original Drifters but they couldn’t get a recording deal in New York under that name and Treadwell brought actions against them at venues when they performed. They made two singles for End in 1959 as the Harmony Grits, though neither sold well but by 1964 Pinkney had managed to get legal recognition for the Original Drifters. James Brown produced ''Don’t Call Me'' / ''I Do The Jerk'' (featuring Jimmy Lewis and Bobby Hollis) for Fontana. The Original Drifters first came to the UK in 1966 and they returned here several times with various lineups. They cut a series of one shot singles for Veep, Game, Southern Charisma, S&J and Christopher, over the following 20 years, then in 1988 they signed to Marion Carter’s Ripete Records who issue several singles and two albums (''Christmas With The Drifters'' and ''The Anthology''). For almost 50 years Bill performed with the Original Drifters as they toured the world. Many fine singers passed through their ranks including David Baughan, Gerhart Thrasher, Chuck Cockerham, Benny Anderson, Ali/ Oli Woodson, (who Joined the Temptations) and more recently Richard ‘Knight’ Dunbar, Vernon Young (died February 2005), and Ron McPhatter, Clyde’s son.
For many years it was a struggle but more recently Bill Pinkney had begun to gain some recognition for his many years of pioneering and tireless performing. In the past few years he was represented by Maxine Porter and Superstar Unlimited, who run a website (www.originaldrifters.com) that lists the group’s upcoming gigs, photos and many salient facts about this extraordinary man. Pinkney has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame in 1988, Vocal Group Hall Of Fame in 2000 and the Beach Music Hall Of Fame. In February 1999, he was honoured by the Rhythm And Blues Foundation as a Pioneer.
South Carolina awarded Bill its highest civilian honour 'Ambassador Of Entertainment' and established a state park in birthplace of Dalzell, Sumter County, SC. Pinkney was also awarded an honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts by Coastal Carolina University in May 2001. He even received a letter of recognition from Nelson Mandela and the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame for its ‘Legends’ series has filmed an oral history of his life for archival inclusion. In addition to those mentioned above there are other Original Drifters CDs available and a DVD ‘Doo Wop 51’ (US format) which features Bill and Bobby Hendricks. In 2003 he published his autobiography ''Drifters 1: Bill Pinkney'' himself. In recent years Pinkney ran the Original Drifters on a rotational basis to cover the countrywide appearances. Like the Drifters themselves BPO had there copyists and spin off groups. No doubt the Original Drifters will continue without Bill, but he was the man that made it all happen. He was the last of the ''Money Honey'' line up to die and only Bobby Hendricks remains from that first Drifters incarnation.
Bill Pinky (Pinkney) died on July 4, 2007 at the Daytona Beach Hilton, preparing for yet another gig. He had moved back home, basing himself in Sumter, South Carolina, where he was buried, and where the Willie (Bill) Pinkney Community Park is named in his memeory.
Peter Burns, July 2007
PITTMAN, BARBARA - Although she never came within striking distance of a national hit record, Barbara Pittman's place in rock and roll history is assured. Her four year affiliation with the legendary Sun label during its peak years more than qualifies her. Barbara recorded four singles for Sun and Phillips International between 1956 and 1960. ''I Need A Man''/''No Matter Who's To Blame'' (Sun 253); ''Two Young Fools In Love''/''I'm Getting Better At The Time'' (PI 3518); ''Everlasting Love''/''Cold Cold Heart'' (PI 3527); The Eleventh Commandment''/''Handsome Man'' (PI 3553); and the fifth as a member of The Sun Rays titled ''Love Is A Stanger''/'''The Lonely Hours'' (Sun 293).
She also left a host of unreleased material for future generations of musical archaeologists. Quite apart from her recording activities, Barbara is also known for her long relationship with Elvis Presley at the time in both their lives when stardom was barely a dream.
In 1954, Barbara Pittman's mother brought her to the Eagle's Nest and The Cotton Club, where she sang at intermissions.
She also sang with local drummer Clyde Leoppard with the Snearly Ranch Boys at the Cotton Club in West Memphis, Arkansas. Legend has it that Elvis Presley recommended Barbara to Sleepy-Eyed John Lepley at the Eagle's Nest and he signed her after an audition. She and Elvis Presley together at the Catholic Girls High School in Memphis. She also dated Elvis Presley for a time, and went on to record for Sun. Stan Kesler's tune "Playing For Keeps" was the demo song she used when auditioning for Sam Phillips at Sun. The song had been written for Elvis, and Barbara performed it in a Presley vein. She was one of the most talented female country-rockabilly singer in Memphis.
Nearly 50 years later, it is obvious that Barbara Pittman was never simply a one dimensional rockabilly singer, a 'female Elvis' or Sun's answer to Janis Martin, as she was variously called. Her life story has taken some unexpected turns and through it all Barbara Pittman has retained a healthy perspective and sence of humor uncommon to many veterans of the early days of rock and roll. Barbara sums up herself clearly with the observation "There never been anything typical about me from day one".
Indeed, Barbara's career has been the proverbial press agent's dream. As a kid, she spent time behind the scenes at her uncle's pawn shop on Beale Street, where she listened to jam sessions with legendary blues men like B.B. King. Barely into her teens, Barbara appeared along with her classmate Elvis Presley at the Eagle Nest nightclub in Memphis, until she was fired for being underage. Barbara's association with Elvis Presley grew naturally out of shared history and the central role that music played in both of their lives.
"I sang with him, I knew him, I lived down the street from him when we were kids in North Memphis. His mom and mine used to get together to have what they called Stanley parties. They call them Tupperware parties now. I practically lived out at Graceland in the 1950's before Elvis went into the service. He was going to take me on the road with him, and then he got drafted".
Barbara offers some fascinating recollections of Elvis in the earliest days of his Sun affiliation.
"I remember we were playing at a Catholic school on Jackson Avenue one evening. This was back in 1955 before Elvis had dyed his hair black. It was still blond. He had his dad's old pushmobile, we used to call it. You used to have to push it to get it started. It was pouring down rain when we came out of the show. Elvis had this black shoe polish in his hair. This was before he could afford to dye it properly. It was raining and the shoe polish was running down his face and all over his clothes. All these little screaming girls were after him and here's Elvis looking like Al Jolson in make up. It was awful. The King standing there with black dye running all down his face".
Barbara recalls time spent at 706 Union Avenue: "Elvis and I used to go down to the Sun studio in the afternoons after he got off from work. Sam had given him the key to the studio and he and I used to go down there. Sam was hardly ever there and Elvis used to answer the phone. There was really nothing going on there in the afternoons at that time. Everything was done at night. So Elvis and I were taking care of the studio. A lot of people were talking to Elvis on the phone at that time and never even knew it".
In the Memphis authorities believed Barbara was too young for night life in the local clubs, Barbara accommodated their wishes by going out on the road. She began touring with cowboy star Lash LaRue.
"I was with him for a year. The late part of 1955 and the early part of 1956. We went all over the country. He had quite a show. He really could use that old whip. They used to do fight scenes, he would knock ashes off cigarettes with his whip, knock guns out of guys hands.
He hired me on as a baby sitter and then he let me sing. I performed whatever was selling at the time. Songs like "Let Me Go Lover" and "Just Because". Barbara's career with Sun began in earnest when she returned to Memphis, a seasoned veteran of life on the road and still a teenager.
"Actually, I had auditioned for Sun before I ever went on the road with Lash. Sam told me to go out and learn how to sing. I had only been singing for about two months at the time. He said 'Come back when you know how to sing'. So I did. When I came back from the road with Lash, I met Stan Kesler and he had this tune he wanted to get Elvis to record. It was called Playing For Keeps". I did the demo. When Stan played it for Sam later, he didn't even recognize that it was the same girl he had sent away a year earlier".
Barbara continued to record demos throughout her career at Sun Records. curiously, she has no clear recollection of recordings of "Take My Sympathy" or "Sentimental Fool", songs represented by three distinctly different versions, which date from obviously different sessions.
"I was also singing over in West Memphis, Arkansas, with Clyde Leoppard's band. There were no age problems over there because they didn't serve drinks. Their clientele was sometimes 13 or 14 years old. So I got together with Sam and signed a contract in the late part of 1956. I still have a canceled check from Sam for a $100. He paid it to me when I signed and the check is dated October 9, 1956".
After her affiliation with Sun Records ended, Barbara Pittman headed west. She continued to support herself in the entertainment business. She recorded discs on the Tower and Manhattan labels, recording a number of movie sound tracks under a variety of names (Barbara and The Visitors; The Thirteenth Committee) which hardly conjured up images of her tenure with Sun Records. Few Sun fans who went to see a Vincent Price movie called Dr. Goldfoot And The Girl Bombs realized they were listening to Barbara Pittman singin the theme song.
While on the West Coast, Barbara continued to rub shoulders with the famous gigging with luminaries like Johnny and Dorsey Burnette, The Righteous Brothers, while major stardom continued to elude her. It is now over forty years since Barbara left Sun Records. Not surprisingly, the four years spent with the tiny Memphis label continue to play a disproportionately large role in her life. Barbara continues to sing and perform, occasionally taking time to accept awards and inductions into musical Halls of fame.
With all this time and experience, Barbara's preference remains clear. "At this point in my life I'd love to do some blues. Just blues. An album of gutsy blues. Just like I wanted to do when I was at Sun. But I couldn't. You know, Sam wanted me to do Connie Francis stuff. Little girly tunes. Cutesy, petite and pretty, and I just wasn't there. I came from North Memphis. I was beating up the boys by the time I was 3. I just refused to sing that stuff. I never did like Connie Francis and Frankie Avalon and all that bunch".
Barbara Pittman died at her Memphis home on October 29, 2005, of heart failure. She was 67.
Doug Poindexter & The Starlite Wranglers, 1953-1954. From left: Bill Black, Tommy Dealey, Doug Poindexter, Millard Yow (steel), Clyde Rush, Scotty Moore >
POINDEXTER, DOUG & THE STARLITE WRANGLERS - Country band, headed by Doug Poindexter, who appeared in the local clubs in Memphis and who cut a few records for the Sun label. Poindexter was born in Vandale, Arkansas and developed a liking for country music sometime before he moved to Memphis in the 1940s. Like many people at that time, Doug's inspiration was Hank Williams.
Inspired by Hank, he formed a band with fiddle player Tommy Seals, guitarist Clyde Rush and steel player Millard Yeow. Poindexter played acoustic guitar and sang.
Sometimes in 1953 Doug named his band the Starlite Wranglers and booked them into local night clubs - the The Bel-Air, Bon Air, Eagle's Nest and the Beaufort Inn in Memphis, are all he can now remember - and out on the road around the mid-South. The next logical development was to make a record, so the...
...band went over to see Bill Fitzgerald at Music Sales, the local record distributor. "Bill was the main record salesman in town at that time", Doug recalled. "told him I wanted to record for MGM, just like Hank had done. Well, Bill didn't exactly laugh out loud at us, but he was amused. In the end, he sent us down to see Sam Phillips. Sam listened to us and said he liked what we were doing. But he said he wanted something a little different from the Hank style".
In 1952, Scotty Moore, a regular player from Humbolt, Tennessee had got out of Army and moved to Memphis. He had contacted Sam Phillips and had been asked to scout around town for musical talent to work with. Whether it was Scotty Moore who approached Poindexter or Sam who put the two together is now unclear, but the result was that Scotty and his friend bass player Bill Black, joined the Starlite Wranglers. The band worked out a new sound while they played a residency at Eagle's Nest on Lamar Avenue in Memphis.
In 1952 Johnny Burnette occasionally sang with the band. Scotty Moore recalls, "Sam had told us he was looking for something new. He encouraged me to try things out. So I developed a mixture of finger-picking and a harder, rhythm and blues method. We tried it out on Doug's record and Sam liked it".
The Starlite Wranglers, including Scotty Moore and Bill Black, went on the road promoting his new single (SUN 202) at Sun, and Doug recalls playing a large country music show at Overton Park Shell in Memphis. After a month or so on the road, the band was contacted by Sam Phillips who asked that a new singer, Elvis Presley, be allowed to go along. He also asked Scotty and Bill to work up some songs for Elvis Presley to record. The result was that Doug Poindexter's band included Scotty and Bill and Elvis for local gigs at the Eagle's Nest on Lamar Avenue. Out of town dates were normally met without the three newcomers.
"The time they recorded Elvis' first record", Doug Poindexter remembered, "I was out of town with the band and Scotty and Bill had been left behind so they could record. Then when Elvis started to be in demand, Sam offered us all a regular gig in Shreveport. At the time, records was in funny state of business and I wasn't sure I wanted to go with in. I had a pretty good job and frankly I thought the boy Elvis would starve to death. Anyhow, Scotty and Bill wanted to go ahead and they did, but I stayed in Memphis. Shortly after that I decided to quit. I've never regretted it because I knew there were professional musicians out there who were better than I was, and they were starving. There was no way to foretell what would happen to Elvis. As far as recordings, well Sam never came up with the right song for me and I guess he soon forgot about me, maybe it was just as well. What he did want me to do was to open a country radio station in town with him - he talked to me about becoming a disc jockey, but I didn't know anything about it so I said 'no!'".
When Sam Phillips originally considered having the Starlite Wranglers back Elvis Presley, but when two of the band's members, Bill Black and Scotty Moore, first began backing Elvis Presley, the sound they created filled the bill. An agreement was reached among Elvis Presley, Bill Black and Scotty Moore that Elvis would get 50 percent of future earnings, with Bill Black and Scotty Moore each getting 25 percent. Later, when Colonel Tom Parker entered the picture, they were paid a flat fee. (MH)
POWERS, JOHNNY - Born John Leon Joseph Pavlik in 1938 in East Detroit, Michigan, he was the oldest of five children. The family later moved to the small town of Utica, Michigan, just north of Detroit. Pavlik was exposed to music from an early age by members of his father's family, who all played music for weddings and local dances. It was country music, however, that first drew Pavlik into music on a personal level; he discovered Lonnie Baron, a veteran country singer with a show on local radio and would listen and try to play along with a guitar that he'd bought for $2.50 from a school mate Tony Lawson who is now a neighbor.
He later got some helpful instructions from Marvin Maynard, a musician who moved from West Virginia to Utica, Michigan. In 1953, at the age of 15, Pavlik met Russ Williams Jr., a guitar player for his brothers band, Jimmy Williams and the Drifters, a local country band that played at a local venue called Bill's Barn and got a featured radio show on WDOG, a radio station out of Marine City, Michigan. They became good friends. Pavlik then joined the band as a rhythm guitar player. He also played rhythm guitar on two single records recorded by the...
...band, "Rainbow Heart'', "Teardrops And Memories'', and "Loveless Kisses'', and " Dream On Little Heart''. But it wasn't long before rock and roll attracted Pavlik; it was Jack Scott's recording, "Baby She's Gone'', that drew him into rock and roll.
Courtesy of Russ Williams Jr., Pavlik discovered Elvis Presley when he was still a Memphisbased phenomenon. He heard his song "Milk Cow Blues Boogie'', which really interested him. It was a country song with a rock and roll beat. Soon after he heard Carl Perkins "Blue Suede Shoes" and "Honey Don't''. Before long he was adding the beat to his own country songs.
In 1955, he got an audition with Fortune Records with Jack and Devoera Brown in Detroit. He paid $100.00 for his own session to record a pair of songs, "Honey Let's Go, To A Rock And Roll Show" b/w "Your Love'', which was released on the Fortune label. When he finished his recording session, Mrs. Brown said to Pavlik, you need to change your name. She then noticed he was eating a candy bar, and said to him, what kind of a candy bar are you eating? He said, Power House. That's it! Your new recording name is Johnny Powers.
He named his band the Rocket's. In 1957, Johnny Powers changed the band's name to the Tom Cats, which consisted of Marvin Maynard on bass, Clark Locker, a.k.a., Johnny Clark on drums, and Stan Getz on lead guitar. They played at Bills Barn and went on to the Fox label with a pair of regional hits, "Long Blond Hair" b/w" Rock Rock''. They recorded a lot of song demos,, some of which have surfaced as bootleg releases in recent years.
Among his strongest work from this period were a pair of originals, "Mama Rock'', and "Indeed I Do'', released on Leedon Records, Lee Gordon's Australian record label. On both recordings, he sounds like the young, wild Elvis Presley that just arrived at RCA, and the group sings uncannily like the Jordanaires.
Things began to happen for Johnny Powers when his manager, Tommy Moers, and a Detroit radio personality, Mr. Don Zee as he would say, "two ee's if you please'', got Johnny a contract with Sun Records on July 6, 1959, heralded with the release of "With Your Love, With Your Kiss" b/w "Be Mine''. A second single never followed. It's been believed that Sam Phillips started losing interest in releasing new product when the music started to change. He later sold Sun Records to Shelby Singleton.
In 1960, Johnny was asked to meet with Barry Gordy. He later became the first white artist signed to Motown Records and the only artist in history to have recorded for both, Sun Records and Motown Records, the two most historic independent, legendary record companies In the world. Power's reputation as one of Michigan's preeminent progenitors of rock and roll was secured by a May 1999 article in the Detroit News, in which he was included with Bob Seger, Berry Gordy, Jr., and the MC5 in a "Michigan at the Millennium" list of the state's musical heroes. Powers also was the subject of a lengthy profile in the October 1994 issue of New Country magazine.
Powers is perhaps best known as the music legend who recorded a rock' and roll classic seminal hit, "Long Blond Hair'', a song that continues to thrill rockabilly aficionados witnessing Powers' live performances, listening to reissues of the original recording, or tapping their feet while enjoying the song's appearance on the soundtrack to the Show Time Cable Network's film, Reform School Girls. The song's infectious popularity is evidenced by the anecdote Powers relates in which he was approached after a Detroit gig. "I just finished...
... a show with Aaron Tipin, and a guy told me he finally got a chance to hear me do "Long Blond Hair''. It was one of his all-time favorite songs''. The fan turned out to be Ed Salamon, Westwood One's radio network president of programming.
While at Motown, Powers worked with producers and songwriters Eddie Holland, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder's producer, mentor and author of "Fingertips'', Clarence Paul. His five-year tenure at Motown enabled Powers to develop his talents as a songwriter and producer, abilities that flourished at Sound Incorporated and Sidra/Drew Records, the Detroit-area studios and record companies he co-owned in the 1960s and 1970s. He also oversaw the label's recording-pressing and distribution operations. The many recordings he mastered for such labels as Epic, Capital, Warner Brothers, Roulette, Private Stock, Philly Groove, Ariola America, and many other labels evidence Power's brilliance as a producer of rock and roll, rhythm and blues and soul-tinged music. In his long and varied career, Powers also performed selective independent music promotion in Michigan and Ohio.
In addition to his successes as an artist and producer, Power's entrepreneurial skills resulted in the publishing companies begun by him. Powerhouse Music and his current enterprise, Jet-Eye Music, Inc. With Jet-Eye, Powers played a pivotal role in revitalizing the career of his friend George Clinton by licensing Clinton's music to various labels around the world. Jet- Eye is also responsible for reissuing classic recordings by numerous rock, jazz and doo-wop acts of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s with internationally recognized labels in the United States, Europe and Asia. Powers negotiated and placement his performance of "Say It" in the Hemdale Film's production of Mosquito which aired originally on USA Cable Network and it continues to air on U.S and international television networks.
While becoming a musical jack-of-all-trades, Powers confesses that his first love is performing this music in front of live audiences. Each visit he says results in a growing legion of international fans. One of his favorite memories is playing a country music festival in France, which was hosted by a TV star, Patrick Duffy. The enthusiastic audience response resulted in Powers receiving an invitation to the event's VIP tent, where high-ranking French politicians and celebrities entertained him.
Johnny Powers boasts a career that encompasses every facet of the music industry. The ever-youthful Powers continues to tour the United States and Europe today, performing new and classic recordings with a voice recently Described by the LA Time's music critic Mr. Robert Hilburn as "big as Lake Superior''.
POWERS, WAYNE - It is not possible to overstate the importance of Winston Cogswell (a.k.a Wayne Powers and Wayne Cogswell) to Rhode Island music history. Not only was a Rhode Islander literally present at the birth of rock and roll inside the Sun Studios in Memphis, Tennessee in the mid-1950s, but while there, he made numerous, innovative and significant contributions to what became known around the world as ''The Sun Sound''. Wayne Winston Cogswell was born in 1928 in northern Maine just two miles from the Canadian border. As a very young boy, his family relocated to Warwick, Rhode Island where he took up the guitar.
He later, as a young man, gained his first experience playing professionally at area dances and nightclubs. In the summer of 1954, he moved to Memphis, Tennessee with an eye to starting a cattle-hauling business. His sister Louise was already living there and his brother-in-law's family owned a stockyard which was in need of transportation services, so Winston surmised they'd be able to work together. To support himself at first, he took a job selling Kirby vacuum cleaners door-to-door and happened to sell one to Sam Phillips, the owner...
... of Sun Records, and the two struck up a friendship. He started the successful Cogswell Livestock Trucking Company moving cattle from Texas and Missouri to Nashville and later a second successful company with his brother-in-law.
By the end of 1955, during one such visit, Sam was telling Winston how he was looking to move further into the new ''rock and roll'' segment of the pop market and was on the hunt for more artists. He mentioned that another Sun regular, guitarist and vocalist Ray Harris, was looking for a guitar player and songwriting collaborator and suggested that the two should get together.
Ray Harris and Wayne Cogswell were soon introduced and formed a partnership writing songs and rehearsing together. The duo quickly placed one of their songs for release with Sun under Ray Harris's name, ''Come On, Little Mama'' in 1956. Its a blazing slice of rockabilly in its infancy with an incredible Cogswell solo placing him squarely on the same plane as his virtuoso compatriots at Sun, Scotty Moore, by then acting as Elvis'' s band leader, and Roland Janes from the studio house band. The B-side is another ''Harris- Cogswell'' original, ''Where’d You Stay Last Night''. It’s a slower, bluesier number, but still in the rockabilly style with more great guitar from Winston. The record charted well in the south and made some noise nationally, so Phillips was looking for a follow-up release.
The duo’s next record is now considered a rockabilly classic: ''Greenback Dollar, Watch And Chain''. The song is a Harris rock and roll rewrite of a traditional folk song and was recorded at a now-legendary wild and drunken session which featured more blazing guitar from Winston, backing vocals by Winston and recent Sun signing Roy Orbison, and Jerry Lee Lewis on the piano. The B-Side, ''Foolish Heart'', was a Cogswell original and, like its predecessor, is again slower and bluesier than its companion piece and features Winston playing in style more akin to B.B. King than Scotty Moore. Released in the summer of 1957, the new record again did well in the southern markets and Ray and Winston hit the road, playing shows throughout the south and southwest. One humorous incident from their travels is when the two auditioned for – and were accepted for, an appearance on the nationally broadcast ''Major Bowes Amateur Hour'' radio show. They just figured it would be a good way to promote their records, but they were disqualified when Bowes realized the two seemed a bit too “professional” and discovered they had nationally released records out! But, all in all, between Sam's refusal to send his artists out together on package tours and the demand for Ray's and Winston’s services back at Sun headquarters, their roadwork was limited. They did manage to accompany Elvis to Tupelo, Mississippi where they opened the show for him on his first, hugely successful and emotional return to his hometown after his initial successes.
By 1958, with Elvis gone to the greener pastures at RCA Victor and facing compulsory military service, Ray Harris decided that his ''…future lay on the other side of the studio glass'', as he remarked in a later interview, and left Sun and his partnership with Winston to become a founding partner in Hi Records. He secured his shares with a $3.00 investment and the delivery of a signed contract for the services of Elvis's soon-to-beout- of-work bassist and his group, Bill Black's Combo. (Hi Records became one of the most successful independent labels of the 1960s and 1970s, most notably with soul legend Al Green.)
Wayne Cogswell remained at Sun and became a mainstay at the label working behind the scenes as a composer, producer, arranger and guitarist, and he collaborated on sessions with all the major figures at the company including Bill Justis, Jack Clement and, of course, Sam Phillips himself. He stepped up to the mic again as a recording artist, this time as lead vocalist, for a release on Sun's sister label, Phillips International. The single is Winston's valiant attempt to move the Sun ''sound'' into the future. For this release, Sam Phillips rechristened Winston Cogswell with a stage name that is now rock and roll legend: Wayne Powers. The A-side is an early example of white doo-wop, contemporary with early attempts at the style by New York City groups such as Dion & The Belmonts and The Mystics. There’s still a country/southern vibe about the cut and it foreshadows what RCA and Decca would be doing in the coming years as ''The Nashville Sound'' attempted to grab its share of the rock and roll market with Skeeter Davis and Brenda Lee. The B-side, ''Point Of View'', is a light rockabilly sound, much in the same vein as the style being pioneered on the West Coast by the singer/songwriter brother team of Johnny and Dorsey Burnette and guitarist James Burton behind teen television star Ricky Nelson. (During the midnight session for ''Point Of View'', Elvis dropped by unannounced at the studio and inadvertently ruined a take! They started over and that next take became the record.)
Either side of the Wayne Powers release might have proved a national smash for the company and made Winston a star, but it was not to be. Despite their incredible successes with Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis, the business office of the Sun organization was in disarray and cash-flow was an enormous problem. The record was not heavily promoted and Phillips really preferred that Winston remain in Memphis working behind the scenes anyway. By this time, Winston was married with three children and was having difficulties making ends meet. He was not getting paid as an artist (the distributors’ slow return process was blamed) nor seeing any royalties as a songwriter (despite the fact that his songs were handled by Phillips own in-house publishing company, Knox Music). Most weeks, he was not even seeing an hourly-wage paycheck for all the studio work!
At one session in 1959, he recorded his own version of a rock and roll dance instrumental he called ''Teensville''. Knowing he had a smash on his hands, he reckoned that he had some leverage with Phillips. Sam wanted to release the record, but Winston refused to sign it over until he'd seen some back pay and royalties. When Sam was not forthcoming, Cogswell decided to set himself up with another publishing company. Now calling himself ''Wayne Cogswell'' (a combination of his given and stage names), he pitched it to a Nashville publisher who placed it at RCA with the legendary guitar genius Chet Atkins himself!
The song was a smash! Wayne began funneling many of his compositions toward Nashville and he developed a friendship and working relationship with Buddy Killen of Tree Music, the most powerful publisher in music city at the time. He had two more cuts with Chet Atkins, ''The Slop'' and ''Rainbow's End'', and even greater success with a song he'd written with his then wife Dolores, with whom he'd begun a songwriting partnership, ''Someday, Someday'', which hit big for Skeeter Davis.
He stuck around Memphis for a while attending to his usual duties in the studio and along the way, he composed and produced one more truly classic slice of Sun Records history, ''Somehow Without You'' by Mickey Milan. Mickey was one of just a handful of female artists at the company and Wayne knew she'd be perfect for the song. He asked another Sun artist, Bill Justis, to co-produce and provide the backing band. (Wayne recently done Bill a similar favor by working on the arrangement for Bill's international smash hit, ''Raunchy''.) Mickey's record is now considered one of the finest Memphis recordings of all-time and beloved worldwide by fans and collectors. He also collaborated closely with Jack Clement on the arrangement and production of Johnny Cash's ''Ballad Of A Teenage Queen'', the record which pushed the door open on the pop charts for The Man In Black''.
As the 1950s were drawing to a close, Wayne Cogswell decided that the only way to provide for his family was to leave Sun and look for other opportunities. He figured that, as a composer, he could still do business with the publishing companies without being on the scene and in 1960, Wayne, Dolores and their kids relocated to Rhode Island where his mother was still living. He took a stop-gap job at Grinnell, the fireprotection giant, in Cranston while he decided what his next musical move would be. It was there that he met Ray Peterson, a composer and pianist from Warwick. With another friend, electrical engineer Ken Dutton, the trio formed what was to become the most successful record company in the history of Rhode Island, Wye Records.
UNTOLD SUN STORIES BY WAYNE POWERS – "I was born in Maine about two miles from the Canadian border, but we moved to Rhode Island when I was young. Got my start playing nightclubs there. I moved to Memphis in 1955. My sister Louise lived there, and my brotherin- law's daddy awned a stockyard. I wanted to start a business hauling cattle''.
''First time I went I was selling Kirby vacuum cleaners door-to-door. Sold one to Sam Phillips. Cost him $285.00! Then I started Cogswell Livestock Trucking Company. I was picking up cattle in Texas and Missouri and hauling them to Nashville. Then I went into business with my brother-in-law, still hauling cattle".
"I went to Sun, met Sam, and he mentioned to me that Ray Harris was looking for a guitar player, so I went and worked with Ray. We went back to Sam, auditioned and cut those records. Then I took him two songs, "Point Of View" and "My Love Song". I think he heard something in them. He said they needed something to fill out the sound, so I put an ad in the paper and four guys responded. They were maybe 13 or 14 years old. Black guys. I called them the Montclairs. We all went to Sam and auditioned again and Sam was real enthused. He was the one that changed my name from Winston Cogswell to Wayne Powers. He thought my real name stunk. The first time I used the new name was on Wink Martendale's television show".
"Then around 1959 I wrote "Tennsville". I recorded it for Sun, but I wouldn't let Sam put it out. I sent it to Chet Atkins at RCA, and he recorded it, and it was a hit. The last part of 1959, I left Memphis for Rhode island and started Wye Records with another guy named Ray Petersonn. The president was a guy named Kenneth Dutton who owned the studio. Me and ray Peterson wrote and recorded an instrumental called "Night Theme". We issued it as by the Mark II, and it was a Hot 100 hit. It started to break and we got offers from Warner Bros. and Roulette. We went with Roulette, cause they were in New York. Big mistake. So many people have recorded that tune. Al Hirt, Ernie Freeman, Bob Crosby, 101 Strings. I ran Wye Records for a while, and carried on making demos. I wrote "Someday, Someday" that was a hit for Skeeter Davis, and I'm still kinda in the business".
PRESLEY, ELVIS ARON - Nicknamed as "The King Of Rock And Roll", Elvis Presley is probably the most famous singer and entertainer of the 20th century.
Born at 4:35 a.m. on January 8, 1935 (Astrological sign of Elvis is Capricorn) in East Tupelo, Mississippi, the son of Vernon Elvis and Gladys Love Smith Presley, and reared in Memphis in near poverty, he became an international celebrity and one of the wealthiest entertainers in history. Elvis' twin brother, Jesse Garon, was stillborn and buried in an unmarked grave in the Priceville Cemetery the next day.
In his early childhood, Elvis Presley loved to sing the gospel songs that were sung in the First Assembly of God Church just one block from his family's home. Elvis attended the church with his parents, who also enjoyed joining in on the musical praises.
While in the fifth grade at Lawhon Elementary School, Elvis' teacher, Mrs. J.C. Oleta Grimes, discovered that Elvis had an unusual singing talent when he extemporaneously...
...sang "Old Shep" in class one day. Grimes informed the school's principal, J.D. Cole, of Elvis' talent and, on October 3, 1945, he entered Elvis Presley in the annual talent contest at the Mississippi- Alabama Fair and Dairy Show. The talent contest was sponsored and broadcast live by Tupelo radio station WELO. Singing "Old Shep", Elvis Presley did not win second place, five dollars. Nubin Payne actually won second price that year, she still has her trophy.
On Elvis' birthday on January 8, 1946, he received his first guitar - a $7.75 model purchased by his mother at the Tupelo Hardware Store. According to the proprietor, Forrest L. Bobo, Elvis wanted a rifle and raised quite a ruckus in the store when it became evident that Gladys was not about to buy him the gun.
Elvis Presley was influenced by many country, gospel, and blues artists from his area, who lived adjacent to the African American neighborhoods of ''Shake Rag'' and ''On the Hill'' location next to the railway tracks, and according to musicians who have stated that Elvis Presley may have been especially swayed by the music of ''Tee-Toc'' or Lonnie Williams, and in the summer of 1948 the Presley's moved to Memphis, Tennessee. Though the circumstances remain clouded, it appears that Vernon Presley was in trouble with the law. Apparently he had been selling moonshine whiskey. Reportedly, Tupelo authorities gave Vernon two weeks to leave town. In any case, the Presley's moved from Tupelo to Memphis in September 1948, and Elvis Presley was enrolled at the Christine School. The following year he entered Humes High School.
From 1948 to 1953, Elvis Presley frequent on Beale Street and he joins the black bars and jukes listening to the black musicians, and his years at Humes High were unevenly, except for his senior year. During that year, 1952 to 1953, Elvis Presley was persuaded by his history and homeroom teacher Mrs. Mildred Scrivener, to perform in the annual Humes High Minstrel Show, which she produced.
While attending Humes High School, Elvis Presley went to work for the Precision Tool Company on June 3, 1951. He was employed there only a month. After graduating from high school, Elvis Presley frequently in the Beale Street area's, and was hired by the Crown Electric Company as a truck driver. His job consisted primarily of delivering supplies to the men on construction sites.
During a lunch break on a Saturday afternoon in July 1953, Elvis Presley stopped in front of the Memphis Recording Service at 706 Union Avenue. The Memphis Recording Service was a lucrative sideline for Sam Phillips, the owner of Sun Records. While there were several similar companies in Memphis. Elvis chose the Memphis Recording Service because it was owned by Sam Phillips. Legend has it that Elvis wanted to make a record for his mother's birthday; however, Gladys Presley's birthday was on April 25, so that story can be discounted.
Marion Keisker, a former "Miss Radio of Memphis" and then Sam Phillips' studio manager, was in the studio when Elvis Presley proceeded to record two songs "My Happiness", and "That's When Your Heartaches Begin". Midway through "My Happiness", Keisker recognized in Elvis Presley the quality that Sam Phillips was looking for: "A white singer with a Negro voice". She immediately threaded a piece of discarded recording tape onto the Ampex tape recorder used in the studio and succeeded in recording the last third of "My Happiness" and all of "That's When Your Heartaches Begin". Before Elvis left the studio with his record, Keisker asked for his address and telephone number.
On Monday, January 4, 1954, Elvis Presley again returned to the Memphis Recording Service to make another four-dollar demo. In early June of 1954, Sam Phillips couldn't locate the black singer of a demo record of "Without Love" that he brought back from Peer Music in Nashville. He decided to record it with someone else, and Marion Keisker suggested he try Elvis Presley.
On Monday, July 5, 1954, Elvis Presley made his first commercial recording session at Sun Records. The first song he put on tape was "Harbor Lights". During a refreshment break, Elvis began cutting up and singing an upbeat version of Arthur Crudup's blues standard "That's All Right", and his musicians Scotty Moore and Bill Black joined in. The next evening they decided on an up-tempo version of Bill Monroe's "Blue Moon Of Kentucky" for the flip-side of the record.
Sam Phillips took acetates of Elvis' first record to many of the local disc jockeys. On the evening of July 7, 1954 on his WHBQ radio program, "Red Hot and Blue", disc jockey Dewey Phillips played "That's All Right". The response was so terrific that Dewey Phillips called Elvis at home to arrange an interview. The interview and record made Elvis an overnight celebrity in Memphis.
On July 12, 1954, Elvis Presley signed a managerial contract with Scotty Moore, and later that week signed a recording contract with Sun Records. The following week, on July 19, "That's All Right"/"Blue Moon Of Kentucky" (SUN 209) was released. Eventually sales totaled less than twenty thousand copies, but it was the beginning of a career that would be unmatched by anyone in the history of the entertainment industry.
Elvis Presley's first professional appearance after signing with Sun Records was at the Overton Park Shell on July 30, 1954. Slim Whitman was the featured performer that day.
Elvis soon began making many professional appearances, among them the grand opening of the Katz Drug Store in September 1954. On October 2, 1954, he made his first and only appearance at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee, singing "Blue Moon Of Kentucky". The audience response was lukewarm and Jim Denny, the talent coordinator for the Grand Ole Opry, suggested that Elvis Presley go back to driving a truck. Two weeks later, however, Elvis performed on the "Louisiana Hayride", and the response was so good that he was asked to become a regular.
On January 1, 1955, Scotty Moore, no longer able to fully devote his time to the management of Elvis Presley's career, relinquished his managerial duties to WMPS disc jockey Bob Neal.
Elvis Presley, Scotty Moore, and Bill Black auditioned for "Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts" in New York City in April 1955, failing to make the show.
In the fall of 1955, Sam Phillips was faced with a problem: should he continue to devote his energies to promoting Elvis, or should he sell Elvis' contract to the highest bidder and use the money to develop several of the potential stars he had at Sun Records. He chose the latter. At the Warwick Hotel in New York City, on November 20, 1955, Sam Phillips sold Elvis' Sun contract to RCA Victor for the total sum of $40,000 ($25,000 from RCA and $15,000 from the Hill and Range Music Company), plus a $5,000 bonus to Elvis Presley to cover the amount he would have received in royalties from Sun Records.
Though he was with Sun Records for only sixteen months, Elvis Presley recorded five records: SUN 209 ("That's All Right"/"Blue Moon Of Kentucky''); SUN 210 ("Good Rockin' Tonight"/"I Don't Care If The Sun Don't Shine"); SUN 215 ("Milkcow Blues Boogie"/"You're A Heartbreaker"); SUN 217 ("Baby, Let's Play House"/"I'm Left, You're Right, She's Gone"); SUN 233 ("Mystery Train"/"I Forgot To Remember To Forget").
In late 1954, Colonel Thomas Andrew Parker, a former carnival worker, began taking an interest in Elvis' career, and it was Parker who helped to secure the RCA Victor contract. In 1955, Parker assisted Bob Neal in booking several performances for Elvis Presley. Although Bob Neal was Elvis' legal manager, Parker began to guide his career in mid-1955. On March 15, 1956, Tom Parker officially took over the managerial duties.
After signing with RCA Victor, all of Elvis' Sun singles were re-released on RCA's label, and on January 10, 1956, Elvis Presley had his first recording session for RCA Victor in Nashville, Tennessee. The first song put on tape was "I Got A Woman", but the big hit from the session was "Heartbreak Hotel", a tune written by Tommy Durden and Mae Boren Axton. "Heartbreak Hotel", backed with "I Was The One", was released on January 27, 1956, and the following evening, Elvis, Scotty, and Bill made their national television debut on the Dorsey Brothers "Stage Show". Five more appearances followed. By the time of the last appearance, on March 24, "Heartbreak Hotel" was the number one song on Billboard magazine's popularity chart, and Elvis Presley was on his way to becoming a millionaire.
Elvis Presley made a screen test for Hal Wallis of Paramount studios on April 1, 1956. He did a scene from "The Rainmaker" with veteran actor Frank Faylen and sang "Blue Suede Shoes". Two days later, Elvis made the first of two appearances on "The Milton Berle Show". A disastrous two-week stand at the New Frontier Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada, followed later in April and early May. Originally scheduled for four weeks. Elvis' last Las Vegas debut was cut short after the second week because of poor audience response. On June 5, 1956, Elvis made his second appearance on "The Milton Berle Show", and "The Steve Allen Show" followed on July 5, 1956. Elvis Presley's big break came when he performed on "The Ed Sullivan Show" on September 9, 1956. After that he was truly a national phenomenon. His performance was viewed by an estimated 54 million people.
Elvis' first movie, Love Me Tender, premiered in November 1956, and he was on his way to becoming a successful movie star. Three other films were made in the 1950s: Loving You, Jailhouse Rock, and King Creole.
Before filming King Creole, Elvis Presley received his draft notice. Originally scheduled to report for duty on January 20, 1958, Elvis requested and received a deferment to March 24, 1958 so that he could finish filming King Creole.
On Monday morning, March 24, 1958, Elvis Presley was inducted into the U.S. Army. He received his indoctrination at Fort Chaffee, Arkansas, and was then sent to Fort Wood, Texas, for boot camp. Though Elvis' Army career was primarily uneventual, two events did occur that were to change his life.
While Elvis was stationed at Fort Wood, Texas, his mother Gladys became ill. She died on August 14, 1958, at the Methodist Hospital in Memphis. Gladys Presley was forty-six, though it was erroneously believed she was forty-two.
In September 1958, Elvis Presley was assigned to the Second Armored Division in West Germany. During his stay in Germany, Airman Currie Grant introduced Elvis to his future wife, Priscilla Beaulieu.
Vernon Presley also met his future wife in West Germany. Davada (Dee) Stanley was in the process of divorcing her husband, an Army sergeant, when Vernon met her. On July 3, 1960, Vernon Presley and Dee Stanley were married in a private ceremony in Huntsville, Alabama. Elvis Presley did not attend.
Soon after Elvis' discharge on March 5, 1960, he travelled to Miami, Florida, to film the Frank Sinatra-Timex Special "Welcome Home, Elvis" for ABC-TV. Just before Christmas 1960, Elvis placed a call to Colonel Joseph Beaulieu to ask for permission for Priscilla to spend the holiday at Graceland. After talking with Vernon Presley, Colonel Beaulieu agreed. More that a year later, Elvis arranged Priscilla to live at Graceland, enroling her in Immaculate Conception High School in Memphis.
Elvis Presley gave a benefit concert for the USS Arizona Memorial Fund in Honolulu, Hawaii, on March 25, 1961. It was to be his last live performance for eight years. "Good Luck Charm", was Elvis' last number one single until 1969, was released the following year.
During the 1960s, Elvis busied himself with making movies, filming twenty-seven of them during the decade. His most successful film was Viva Las Vegas in 1964. None of the movies received rave reviews from the critics, but Elvis' legion of fans made certain that they all showed a profit at the box office.
Musically, the mid-1960s was a period of decline for Elvis Presley. None of his singles released reached number one and almost all of them were from his movies. His records weren't the giant hits they were in his golden years of the 1950s and early 1960s. Elvis' decline can be attributed to several factors. Foremost among them is the advent of the British invasion and, specifically, the Beatles. The sheer number of instrumental and vocal groups and single performers on the music charts simply diluted the market. There was more competition for the public's record-buying dollar, and it took a much stronger record to reach number one or to become a million-seller.
On May 1, 1967, Elvis and Priscilla were married at the Aladdin Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada. Nine months later, on February 1, 1968, their child, Lisa Marie, was born. Elvis' marriage and the birth of Lisa Marie seemed to give him a new drive for success and the urge to perform before a live audience again.
After seven years of concert inactivity, Elvis Presley decided to start performing before the public once again. The first step on his comeback trail was an NBC television special titled "Elvis". He filmed the special in June of 1968 at NBC's Burbank, California, studios. The special, which aired on December 3, 1968, received critical acclaim and good ratings. In January and February 1969, Elvis Presley had his first Memphis recording session since his days with Sun Records. His recordings at the American Sound Studios were among the most dynamic of his career.
On July 31, 1969, Elvis began a spectacular one-month engagement at the International Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada - his first appearance in Las Vegas since the disastrous booking at the New Frontier Hotel thirteen years earlier.
In November 1969 Elvis Presley once again reached the top of the music charts with "Suspicious Minds" his first number one song since 1962. At the same time, Change Of Habit", his last movie (except for two documentaries), was released.
Elvis Presley was presented an award by the U.S. Jaycees for being one of the "Ten Outstanding Young Man of America" in 1971. Two years later one of the crowning achievements of Elvis' career occurred. On January 14, 1973, Elvis performed before a worldwide television audience in a special called "Elvis - Aloha From Hawaii". A taped and expanded version of the special was aired by NBC-TV in the United States on April 4, 1973.
Everything seemed to be coming up roses for Elvis Presley in the early 1970s - at least professionally. But the constant touring, filming, and long periods of separation from Priscilla put a strain on their marriage. In addition, Priscilla had to compete with Elvis' entourage, the Memphis Maffia, for his attention. In 1972, Priscilla left Elvis for Mike Stone, her karate instructor. Elvis and Priscilla were divorced in October 1973.
Even before his divorce, and shortly after his separation, Elvis began dating other woman. Although he dated Sheila Ryan, Malessa Blackwood, and several others. Linda Thompson was foremost in Elvis' life and was his steady companion from 1972 to 1976. Linda had been a Miss Tennessee.
Toward the end of 1976, Elvis had a new steady girl-friend - Ginger Alden, a first runner-up in the 1976 Miss Tennessee beauty pageant. According to Ginger Alden, Elvis proposed to her on January 26, 1977, and they were to be married on Christmas Day of 1977, That day never came. Elvis Presley made several concert appearances in 1977, the last in Indianapolis on June 26, 1977.
On the night of August 15-16, 1977, just one day before leaving on yet another tour, Elvis visited the office of dentist Lester Hoffman to get a cavity filled. A few hours later, he played racquetball with his cousin Billy Smith and his wife, Jo. After playing racquetball, Elvis went to bed. He awoke late in the morning to go to the bathroom, taking a book, "The Scientific Search For The Face Of Jesus", with him to read.
Shortly after 2:00 p.m., Ginger Alden found Elvis slumped on the floor. She called Joe Esposito, who tried to revive Elvis Presley. At approximately 2:30 paramedics Charlie Crosby and Ulysses S. Jones arrived at Graceland to render assistance and to take Elvis Presley to the Baptist Memorial Hospital. All attempts at resuscitation by the doctors failed, and Elvis Presley was pronounced dead at 3:30.
Throughout the world, Elvis' fans went into mourning, and many booked flights to Memphis. Reverend C.W. Bradley officiated at the private funeral services at Graceland an Thursday, August 18, 1977, and Elvis Presley's body was later entombed at Forest Hill Cemetery next to that of his mother. Because of an attempted body snatching on August 29, and the tremendous crowds at Forest Hill Cemetery, the bodies of Elvis and Gladys Presley were moved to the grounds of Graceland on the night of October 2, 1977.
Much speculation surrounds the death of Elvis Presley. He did have a history of health problems, three previous heart attacks (cardiac arrhythmia, and drug did contribute to his death, some claim he had been taking prescription drugs because he was slowly dying of bone cancer. No matter what the cause of death, the world lost a greatest entertainer and the King Of Rock And Roll - Elvis Presley.
His Memphis home, Graceland (open to the public since 1982), one of the most popular tourist attractions in the South, is an enduring reminder of the quintessentially southern character of Elvis Presley.
On August 12, 1992, RCA and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) posthumously awarded to Elvis Presley 110 gold, platinum and multi-platinum albums and singles, the largest presentation of gold and platinum records in history. Included was a gold award for a new box set, Elvis, The King Of Rock And Roll, The Complete 50s Masters, for which there had been enough advance orders to prompt the RIAA to give it platinum status. In late 1993 another box set, Elvis: From Nashville to Memphis, The Essential 60s Master I, went gold, selling over 100,000 units of this five-disc collection. This brings Elvis Presley's total of gold, platinum, or multi-platinum titles to 111. This brings his total of times to go gold or platinum to 274 units, as one must go gold twice to go platinum, and some of the titles are multi-platinum.
Elvis Presley stood at number one on the list of certifications, with more than twice as many certifications as any of the nearest contenders. As of August 1992, the Beatles came in at number two with 41 titles, followed by the Rolling Stones with 39, Barbara Streisand with 37, and Elton John with 37.
It is estimated that Elvis Presley has sold in excess of one billion records worldwide, more than any other artist in the history of recorded voice. (PG)
PRICE, BOB – Sometime during the fall of 1951, a childhood friend of Quinton Claunch named Price Twitty came to Memphis to play few country music gigs. In a strange reversal of the Harold Jenkins story, Twitty rejected his surname for a stage name, Bob Price. Claunch recalls that Price sang very little and ''mainly in the bath'', yet Price was no novice and had pursued an intermittent career in country music, recording for Decca on August 22, 1949. Bob Price had what Claunch characterizes as, ''an unusual voice, and his own way of phrasing a song that was his main claim to fame''.
In November 1951, Claunch called Sam Phillips and took Price down to the studio at 706 Union Avenue. This was Claunch's first venture as a record producer. Although somewhat lightweight, Bob Price's unusual phrasing impressed Phillips sufficiently to call a recording session. Claunch recalls that before the session he, Price, and guitarist Paul Buskirk recorded a demo of ''How Can It Be'' at WLAY radio studio in Muscle Shoals.
Moving back to Memphis for the proper session on December 2, Claunch found that the additional session players Sam...
...had brought in were not capable of making the sounds he intended the world to hear and he was somewhat dissatisfied with the outcome. Nevertheless, Sam Phillips was involved at the time with leasing country material to the newly established country series of the Chess label, and he was able to sell ''How Can It Be'' and ''Sticks And Stones'' for release on Chess 1495 in March 1952. Two other songs had been recorded by Phillips. A snatch of ''Why So Blue'' remains on tape, but ''Donatin' My Time'' appears to have been recorded over along with the master tape of the two issued items. The inconspicuous sales of Chess 1495 compared unfavourably with the good sales on rhythm and blues recordings from Phillips' studio, and this may have put Sam Phillips off country music for a while. It would be another two years before Claunch came to Sam again with a song to resurrect his recording career.
PRIDE, CHARLEY – Strangely, it doesn't rate a mention in his autobiography or his official website but it is a fact that Charley Pride, one of RCA's biggest-selling artists of all time, who registered 36 number 1 country hits, made his first recording for Sun Records. It;s strange because most singers are keen to be associated with Sun, whether their records were released or not (and Charley weren't). Stranger still because Sun was just the sort of quirky label where Pride might have thrived eight years before he did make it into the big time.
The official story prefers to highlight that Pride was ''born to poor sharecroppers, one of eleven children in Sledge, Mississippi; a timeless everyman, revered by his musical peers and adored by countless millions of fans around the globe. His golden baritone voice has transcended race and spanned the generation''. Maybe so, but being on Sun never hurt anybody's reputation.
Charley Frank Pride was born on March 18, 1939 in Sledge, Mississippi into a farming community, his dreams of a way to a better life were focused as much on baseball as on music.
He took up the guitar in his teens and taught himself to play from the instructions that came with his Sears Roebuck instrument. By then he was already making a name as a pitcher with various Negro American League and minor league baseball teams, including the Memphis Red Sox, and his musical performances were confined to singing and playing on the team bus between ballparks.
The ''Hattieburg American'' newspaper of May 6, 1954 reported: ''two of the Negro American League's leading aggregations will play at the Greater Hattieburg Park at 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Among the stalwarts who will display their talents here are Billy Gibson, flashy second sacker now being scouted by the New York Giants, and Charley Pride, fancy southpaw elbower and property of the New York Yankees''. By August 27, 1958 ''The Troy (NY) Times'' pictured Pride above a story headed: ''Two All-Star teams picked from the Negro American League clash at Hawkins Stadium – Charley Pride, above, star hurler for the Memphis Red Sox, will be seen in action Friday and Saturday''.
Charley Frank Pride was twenty years old when he auditioned at Sun. But, when Charley Pride's breakthrough came in 1966 it was organised by Jack Clement, the same producer who had been at Sun. Whether Jack Clement was there on the actual day, sometime in 1958, when Pride came into 706 Union Avenue is unknown. Then in 1959 Pride was required to join the Army for two years. It took another few years for him to realize that he wasn't going to make it in baseball on his return. He had married Rozene at age 18 in 1956 and in the post-Army years, with family commitments, he worked in construction in Great Falls, Montana for a time, continuing with ball and music as lesser activities. In 1961 the ''Helena Independent'' of Montana was reporting on Pride's minor exploits with the baseball but it was also carrying ads for shows at the Friendly Main Tavern where, on May 27, 1961: ''TONIGHT – Charley PRIDE with his guitar sings the songs you want to hear. See Hear Enjoy. Charley Invites All of His Many Friends to Come In To See Him From 9 P.M. Pride also took a singing job with a country band he met at the bar. He was then spotted by country singer Red Sovine who told him to contact Cedarwood Music in Nashville. Pride said later, ''no-one had ever told me that whites were supposed to sing one kind of music and blacks another – I sang what I liked in the only voice I had''.
In Nashville, Cedarwood's Jack Johnson became his manager and took him to producer Jack Clement who recorded Pride in August 1965 in the hope he could interest a label in the world's first black country star. Clement said, ''I took it to Chet Atkins because I had been telling him about the whole thing. A lot of people showed up at the session. It was a circus. It was full of confirmed spectators. Chet wouldn't say yes or no. I must have played it for all the labels in town. I would play it for people, and they'd say, 'That's sounds great'. And then I would show them Charley's picture. I ran into Chet down by the Coke machine one day. He said, 'What did you ever do with that collered boy'? I said, Í ain't done nothing yet, I'm fixing to press it up. Put it out myself'. He said, 'I've been thinking about that. We might be passing up another Elvis Presley'. RCA just went ahead and released it. Didn't tell nobody nothing. They decided, which I admired them for, they ought to just treat this as good country product. It did pretty well. Opened a lot of doors''.
That first record, ''The Snakes Crawl At Night'' issued as by Country Charley Pride, was a small hit. Two disc later and he was in the country Top Ten, and then came his first number 1 hit, ''All I Have To Offer You (Is Me)''. During the following fifteen years Charley Pride scored an unrivaled number of top country hits. ''Kiss An Angel Good Mornin'''was his biggest, country and pop, in 1971 and became his signature tune. He sold over 70 million albums and stacked away a mountain of awards and honors including membership of the Grand Ole Opry and the Country Music Hall Of Fame. Today Charley Pride still performs but, an admitted manic depressive, he mainly lives in Dallas with Rozene and his memories. His stroll into Sun Records in 1958 doesn't seem to feature strongly among them.
PRIESMAN, MAGEL - Born January 11, 1927 as Magel Louise Priesman that's pronounced "Preese-man", was from Charlotte, Michigan. She was a disc jockey on a local station, and a songwriter, thirty years old when she recorded for Sun Records in July 1957. Her lone single (Sun 294(, was released in April 1958, nearly a year after it was recorded. Nobody, it seemed, had a line on the oddly named Ms. Priesman. Because her style was far removed from the qualities that attracted most Sun fans, there seemed little impetus to track her down.
From left: Jerry Lee Lewis, Magel Priesman (and insert), and Roland Janes >
Magels' story, including a fascinating excerpt from her diary during the fateful visit to Memphis, paints a striking portrait both of the artist and of the quirky and wild Memphis music scene in June 1957 when her sides were recorded. Magel was from Charlotte, Michigan, where she worked as a disc jockey and she aspired to be a singer/songwriter but was pretty well tied to home where she was raising a blind four year old boy. Magel was 30 years old when she recorded for Sun.
She's read a book about Elvis Presley which said that Sam Phillips was an honest man, so she decided to go see him. And she'd heard that Sam was close to Dewey Phillips so Dewey was her first stop. "He was as popular as Elvis, doing that radio show "Red Hot And Blue", and TV show as well", she said. "He called Sam, and Sam said, 'Bring her on down'''. ''I took my tape in with me, and he listened to it back in a little darkroom, and then he signed me up. We recorded the next day. Jack Clement was the engineer, and Bill Justis was the arranger".
During her brief visit to Memphis, which can be considered successful by any standard, Magel not only signed a recording contract. Sam Phillips offered Magel Priesman a job on his new all-girl radio station, WHER, but she had a blind four-year old son, Johnny, back in Michigan, and returned home. As is the case with many artists who were on Sun in the golden era, she has always wondered what would have happened if she had stayed around Memphis and tried harder for a career in music.
Years later, Magel Priesman took her songs down to Nashville, but never recorded again. "Being at Sun was the best dream of my life come true", she said. Magel Louis Klepper-Priesman living in Holland, Michican passed away on February 26, 2013.
The Prisonaires consisting of Williams Stewart, Johnny Bragg, Ed Thurman, John Drue, Marcell Sanders >
PRISONAIRES, THE - Johnny Bragg, 27-years-old from Nashville, was the lead singer in the Prisonaires, and convicted on 6 counts of rape, and sentenced 594 years in prison. Other members of the group are, John Drue, 29 years-old from Lebanon, lead tenor vocal, sentenced 3 years for larceny; Marcel Sanders, 29-years-old from Chattanooga, bass vocal, sentenced 1 to 5 years for involuntary manslaughter.
And finally 30-year-old Williams Steward, baritone vocal and guitar who has been imprisoned since he was 17 years old, got to crying, his mother was crying, because he was sentenced 99 years for murder; and Edward Thurman, 36-years-old from Nashville, tenor vocal, also sentenced 99 years for murder.
The group was made up of inmates from the Tennessee State Penitentiary. They wrote and recorded for Sun Records. According to prison records, Johnny Bragg was a bastard kid, born in Nashville, Tennessee on January 18, 1926, and jailed...
...on May 8, 1943 on six counts of rape. According to Bragg, he was born on May, 1929 (the earlier date is his brother's birth date, which he used because the City had no trace of his own birth), and the prison term was the result of a frame-up and terrible misunderstanding. "My troubles started when I was twelve years old", said Bragg cagily. "My friend was dating my girlfriend, we got to fighting, and she said I tried to rape her. While they had me, they put all these unsolved cases on me, told the peoples I was the one. Later some of them said they was wrong, and wanted to clear their consciences before they died. A lady goes to my church, and she shakes her head and says, 'We sure did you wrong, John'".
Once inside, Bragg joined a gospel group with Ed Thurman, William Steward, Clarence Moore and another whom Bragg recalls only as 'Sam'. They subsequently argued, and Bragg formed another group called the Prisonaires. He later brought in 36 year-old Thurman (99 years for murder) as manager, and 30 year-old Steward (99 years for murder) as music director. Guitarist Steward had a convict since his seventeenth birthday. They were joined in the early 1950s by John Drue (3 years for larceny), and Marcel Sanders (1 to 5 years for involuntary manslaughter). Incidentally, it appears as though Steward was not the same William Steward who recorded country blues for Sun. The William "Talking Boy" Steward tapes were recorded in 1951, and Bragg recalls that William Steward never played country blues.
It is unclear how the Prisonaires came to be heard outside the prison walls. A contemporary report stated that Joe Calloway of WSIX, Nashville, was at the prison for a newscast, heard the group and arranged for them to have a regular show on WSIX, and on the local black station, WSOK. Calloway's approach came as a wind of change was blowing through the prison. Previously known as 'Swafford's Graveyard' after the previous warden, the jail was now being managed by James Edwards, a friend of Governor Frank Clement, who wanted to prepare the inmates for their return to society.
According to Johnny Bragg, he had already made contact with the outside world - in particular with hillbilly singers, who would come to the penitentiary to buy songs. "Word go around there was a nigger who could write any kind of songs", said Bragg. "Hank Williams come out there, Roy Acuff, Ernest Tubb, Little Jimmie Dickens... they all come". Among the songs that Bragg claims to have sold was "Your Cheatin' Heart", and it is at least possible that Williams bought the genesis of the song from Bragg, as he bought other songs that he made uniquely his own. One of those who came to the prison looking for copyrights was Red Wortham, owner of Wortham Music.
Johnny Bragg says that Wortham came to buy songs from him; according to the 'Commercial Appeal' report, Wortham came to the prison to check out a hillbilly songwriter (possible Clarence "Two Hats" McKeel who later wrote songs for Hugh X. Lewis and others, and helped write the lead-sheet for "Just Walking In The Rain"), but was asked to listen to the Prisonaires.
Not regarding himself a judge of rhythm and blues acts, Wortham sent a tape of the Prisonaires made at WSIX to his cousin, Jim Bulleit. By that point, Bulleit had a long career in the Nashville music business - as a partner in Bullet Records, as manager of his own labels, and representative of others. Early in 1953 he bought himself a minority holding in Sun Records, and one of his first moves was to forward Wortham's tape to Sam Phillips with the recommendation that the group be signed. That tape is probably the one that contains earlier versions of "Just Walking In The Rain" and "Baby Please", together with the Louis Jordan tune "That Chick's Too Young To Fry". The songs were tapes over a WSIX radio show, "Youth On Parade", starring Pat Boone.
Johnny Bragg recalled that he had written "Just Walking In The Rain" (SUN 186) in conjunction with Robert Riley, an inmate who couldn't sing. They were walking to the prison laundry, when Bragg said, "Here we are walking in the rain. I wonder what the little girls are doing?". Riley said it sounded like a good song title, and they quickly worked up the song.
Bulleit evidently persuaded Phillips to record the group, while Wortham retained the music publishing rights. Sam Phillips released "Just Walking In The Rain" on July 8, 1953. On July 28, Jud Phillips went to Nashville to meet Bulleit and the Prisonaires. Jud had joined Sun a few months earlier, and was learning the fine art of record promotion and distribution. "They boys (Prisonaires) are getting from 10 to 25 letters a day from all over the country", wrote Jud. "They plan to bring all of them to you when they come over. They make me think of a bunch of baby birds. They are fine boys all of them. I get great joy out of helping people like that... I know you do too".
Phillips also got great joy from watching the orders roll in. Ebony magazine reported that "Just Walkin' In The Rain" sold almost a quarter of a million copies, and heaped praise on the Sun label. If Sam Phillips was able to press 50,000 of this song he was lucky, but the publicity was important to Sun.
The Prisonaires' lead singer, Johnny Bragg, told a number of reporters that Elvis Presley helped with the lyrics to "Just Walkin' In The Rain". Colin Escott and Martin Hawkins, in Good Rockin' Tonight, published in 1991, report Braggs' claim that Elvis Presley was in the studio when the Prisonaires recorded "Just Walkin' In The Rain". It is unlikely that Elvis Presley was hanging around Sun Records during the Prisonaires recording sessions. "It was hard to keep Elvis Presley from the studio", Marcus Van Story remembered. "He loved the Prisonaires gospel sound". Despite this, Bragg's claim remains unsubstantiated. "I don't remember Elvis watching the Prisonaires record", Ronald Smith commented. The Prisonaires were nevertheless an important influence upon both Elvis Presley and Sam Phillips. Elvis Presley was mesmerized by Bragg's vocals, and Sam Phillips was intrigued by the crossover sound the Prisonaires produced.
The group making personal appearances on day passes throughout the state, and - with considerable complication - outside the state. They were held up by warden James Edwards(*) and Governor Clement as shining examples of rehabilitation. "The hopes of tomorrow rather than the mistakes of yesterday", gushed Clement, who brought the group to the governor's mansion, and bought William Steward a new guitar. His enthusiasm earned him the unissued paean "What About Frank Clement (A Mighty, Mighty Man)", which had "Parole - Please" written all over it.
Sam Phillips found it impossible to continue the Prisonaires' success, however. As the follow-up record to "Just Walkin' In The Rain" Phillips selected "Softly And Tenderly" (SUN 189). Billboard reviewed this release enthusiastically, but it failed to sell in large numbers. Sun Records then released two more pop Prisonaires records before the group faded into obscurity. There remain a number of unreleased Prisonaires recording, years later, released by Bear Family Records in Germany.
Around early 1955, the group started breaking up. Drue and Sanders were released, followed by Steward and Thurman. Surprisingly, Thurman's release excited some controversy in the local press, "The people of Tennessee can only hope that the killers still behind bars are non singers", said the editorial in the Nashville Tennessean on April 29, 1955. Bragg re-formed the Prisonaires as the Marigolds with a new set of faces including Hal Hebb (Bobby Hebb's brother).
Unknown to Bragg, though, events were taking place that would help to secure his future once he got outside. In May 1954, Joe Johnson (later president of Challence Records, then working for Gene Autry's publishing company, Golden West Melodies) arranged for Autry to acquire the copyright of "Just Walking In The Rain" from Red Wortham, shortly after, Autry recorded a dismal version for Columbia, but Don Law, Columbia's head of country Artist and Repertoire, saw something in the song, and when he was in New York he ran into Mitch Miller who was scouting songs for a Johnny Ray session. Ray recorded "Just Walking In The Rain" on June 29, 1956 in his usual petulant style, and it provide to be his commercial rebirth after a year or two in the wilderness.
Johnny Bragg claims to have had a premonition of Ray's recording, but he had no premonition of the vast amount of money it would bring him. "The first cheque was for $1400", recalls Bragg, "and I told the warden to go ahead and put the cheque in the commissary so I could buy some candy and so on. I thought the amount was $14.00! The next cheque was for $7500". Johnny Bragg received and invitation to the Annual BMI Awards dinner in New York for December 3, 1956. The invitation specified that he could bring a guest, who - had he gone - would probably have been an armed guard.
By this point, Johnny Bragg was far less keen to sell compositions. He successfully pitched a few of his songs, including "Don't Bug Me Baby", recorded by Milton Allen for RCA in 1957 (and reissued on Bear Family BFX 15357). Ernie Young, owner of Ernie's record Mart and Excello/Nashboro Records, signed the Marigolds and they cut four singles, including "Two Stranger", first recorded by the Prisonaires at Sun. At roughly the same time, another unissued Prisonaires song, "Don't Say Tomorrow" was cut by the Hollyhocks on Nasco Records. Detail hounds may care to note that the Marigolds also cut an unreleased version of the song.
Johnny Bragg was finally released from prison in 1959, and he started recording for Decca Records in Nashville and writing for Tree Music. However, he was back behind bars again the following year for robbery and attempted murder, charges that Bragg asserts were setup. "A man whose name I can't say, said 'If that Bible totin' governor turns that nigger loose, I'll get him back inside even if I have to frame him", said Bragg darkly. "They charged me on three counts and finally got me on a charge of stealing $2.50 - and I had all kinds of money. It was pitiful". UPI reported that Johnny Bragg had indeed been indicted on harges of stealing $2.50, but that he had done so at gunpoint, whereupon two other white women identified him as the man who had tried to attack them. One of the charges finally stuck, and Johnny Bragg went back inside in May 1960.
A few months later, the Elvis Presley connection had its final postscript. Bragg was visited by Elvis Presley, who had just returned from West-Germany. "He asked repeatedly", said Bragg, "Did I need a lawyer, was there anything he could do for me". Needing help so bad he could taste it, Bragg nevertheless declined. "They said if I didn't take the case to the Supreme Court, they'd get me out in nine months", asserted Brag, "but I didn't get out in nine months, and that messed me up a little bit".
An article in the local press in Nashville reads: ELVIS VISITS PRISON. En route home to Memphis after Wednesday's visit to the State Legislature, singer-actor Elvis Presley stopped for approximately 45 minutes at the State Prison. He toured the various workshops, dining hall, and death-house, and talked briefly with song-writer Johnny Bragg, who is doing time for a parole violation. "It was Elvis' idea to drive by the penitentiary", one of his traveling companions - buddy-guard - said. "He has known Bragg from back when he was starting out as an entertainer; scrounging for a living".
Upon his re-release seven years later, Johnny Bragg formed Elbejay Records in partnership with Raymond Ligon and Cyril Jackson, and recorded three singles for them. By his account, he forgave Red Wortham for cheating the Prisonaires out of publishing royalties on "Just Walking In The Rain", and brought him in as Artist and Repertoire manager at Elbejay Records.
Johnny Bragg's troubles didn't end upon his re-release, though. He was returned to prison for shoplifting, and released on parole (for the third time) following the death of...
...his wife, leaving him a single parent. With his faith and his health still more-or-less, intact, though, he has done better than the other members of the Prisonaires. They all died in varying degrees of poverty or distress. The saddest case was that of William Steward who died of alcohol poisoning in a cheap motel room in Florida. Only Robert Riley manager to eke a
more-or-less successful career in the music business. Before his death he became a contracted writer at Three Music and cranked out country-soul songs for Nashville-based labels such as Dial, Todd and Sound Stage Seven.
The Prisonaires gained their moment of fame as a novelty act, but, as his music proves convincingly, their work transcends more novelty appeal. Johnny Bragg had a stilling lead tenor that ranks alongside that of his idol, Bill Kenny of the Inkspots. The music they cut for Sun Records was quite unlike anything else on the label - sophisticated and urbane, largely lacking the raw edge that Sam Phillips cherished. Certainly, there were some performances that missed the mark, but there's also "Just Walking In The Rain", a classic by any criterion.
There is fierce pride in Johnny Bragg - evident in the way he spits out the world "Penitentiary". There is also darkness within him, which he laid aside to produce some hauntingly beautiful music. (CE)
PRITCHETT, JIMMY – It's ironic that Jimmy Pritchett, who never had a record out on Sun, is featured in one of the few pieces of video to survive from Sun's early days.
One by one, the Billy Riley band (Roland Janes, Jimmy Wilson, and James M. Van Eaton) come out of the studio, along with Jack Clement, Sam Phillips, and Bill Justis. And than Jimmy Pritchett comes out too. It's possible that the soundless 8mm film was taken while they were working on ''That's The Way I Feel'', although Stan Kesler reported different personnel.
Pritchett worked with the Snearly Ranch Boys in West Memphis, and when Stan Kesler started up Crystal Records with the money of Gene Luchessi and bootling magnate Drew Canale behind him, he signed Jimmy.
''Canale put one thousand dollars into the label and expected ten thousand back the next week'', Kesler remarked sardonically. Pritchett was among his first signings. Kesler intended to record Pritchett's session at WHBQ, but the equipment malfunctioned so he asked Sam Phillips if he could hold the session at Sun.
The Moon Discs, Floydada,Texas, 1960. From left: Doug Walding, bass guitar; Junior Walding, drums, at right: Jimmy Pritchett, guitar, Price Pritchett, guitar >
''On this particular occasion, the equipment went bad'', he told Ross Johnson and Bob Bowman. ''Billy Riley was with me, and he said, 'Hell, I\ll call Sam, I'll make him loan his studio to you'. 'Cause Sam didn't rent out his studio to nobody. Sam said, 'Ok, come on, y'll can do it'. It was Riley, Johnny Bernero, Ace Cannon, Jan Ledbitter on bass, and I think Smokey Joe on piano''.
In truth, it sounds more like the guys filing out of the studio in the film clip: Billy Riley, Roland Janes, Jimmy Wilson, and Jimmy M. Van Eaton. Kesler knew a good band when he heard one, though. Later in 1957, he recorded Jean Kelly aka the Cotton Patch Cinderella. For that session, he assembled the core of the future American Studio rhythm section: Reggie Young, Gene Chrisman, and Bobby Wood.
In years to come, Jimmy M. Van Eaton insisted that he played on Jimmy Pritchett's session, and reported that Pritchett had...
...died several years ago in 1990, leaving us a commercial rockabilly morsel with more questions than answers. Who were the composers, Lewis Smith and Robert E. Hyde? How did the song reach Johnny Burnette, who recorded it in 1960, even though it wasn't released at the time? Who was the ''Van'' who sang on the other side of Pritchett's record, ''Nothing On My Mind''? But, above all, who was Jimmy Pritchett.
Quinton Claunch and Bill Cantrell (right) >
QUINTON CLAUNCH & BILL CANTRELL CONNECTION, THE – A part from the emerging success of Elvis Presley in the country music market and the guiding role played by Sam Phillips, perhaps the most important influence on recorded country music in Memphis in the early and middle 1950s was exerted by the songwriting and production team of Quinton Claunch and Bill Cantrell.
''There were old friends I had known for many years'', recalled Sam Phillips. ''We all lived in the same part of Alabama back when we were starting out. My home was in Florence and they operated in Muscle Shoals area. In fact, as a radio announcer I used to put Bill Cantrell on the air in the early 1940s in Muscle Shoals. He would sing and play guitar''. After crossing paths with Sam briefly in Nashville and Memphis during the next decade, Bill Cantrell and Quinton Claunch finally developed a semi-official liaison with Sun Records in 1954 when Sam was moving into the country marked and needed people with a country music background to find and developed talent for...
...his label. While working for Sam Phillips, guitarist Claunch and fiddle player Cantrell also worked with Meteor Records as an independent production team before helping to form Hi Records in 1957. Their part in the Sun story was concentrated mainly into the years 1954 and 1955, but in that time they worked so successfully with Charlie Feathers, the Miller Sisters, Maggie Due Wimberly and others that they virtually became the Sun country sound. Aided often by Stan Kesler on steel guitar, Cantrell's fiddle played embellished many fine country songs, while Claunch's bass string electric guitar work provided a powerfully rhythmic effect that drove along much of Sun's country output from that period. Best of all, their music was no lukewarm attempt to popularise or give a rocking beat to country music. Theirs was the last of the pure hillbilly sounds.
Bill Cantrell described himself as ''a farm boy from Kackleburg, Alabama, population 300''. Among those 300 at one time were the Loden family, including future country star Sonny James. Cantrell first took up playing guitar and fiddle at square-dances back in the late 1930s, recalling such dances as the major source of entertainment out in the country where he lived. His first professional music jobs were with radio stations in Birmingham, followed by a stint in the Army and then a move to Florence where he formed a country band. It was at this time, in 1942, that he first mat Sam Phillips who was then working as an announcer at radio station WLAY in Muscle Shoals. Cantrell's band, the Dixie Pals, gained a sponsor in the Blue Seal Flour Co. of Columbia, Tennessee and Cantrell obtained a spot on the Florence radio station WJOI sometime after Sam Phillips moved to Decatur, Alabama in 1943 and from there on to WLAC in Nashville. Phillips was still in Nashville in the early part of 1945 when Cantrell's renamed Blue Seal Pals gained a regular Saturday morning radio show on the rival Nashville station, WSM.
Commuting to Nashville from Muscle Shoals, the band had by now been joined by Quinton Claunch. Originally from Tishomingo, Mississippi, Claunch had moved to Muscle Shoals in his teens and met Cantrell on a trip to Memphis. ''I came to Memphis one time just nosing around to see what was going on'', he told John Floyd. ''I met Cantrell at one of Slim Rhodes. Noontime shows. Found out he was from Alabama too, and we hit it off''. Between 1946 and 1948 the Blue Seal Pals worked professionally in Nashville on WSM and as a backing group on tour with WSM Grand Ole Opry acts. Their jobs included acting as straight men for country comics Minnie Pearl and Rod Brasfield. Musically, they were able to keep up with trends in country music on the emergent Nashville scene. Bill Cantrell moved briefly to Chicago by by 1948 both he and Claunch had settled in Memphis. They both found Memphis a more convenient location for family reasons. They also quit full time music work. Quinton Claunch obtained a job as a salesman for a steel products company which he retained for 43 years.
In Memphis, Claunch and Cantrell continued to play country music intermittently through the early 1950s, mostly with singer Bud Deckelman and his brothers. This group would occasionally make live performances or appear on radio but their activities were fairly low key. The leading country bands in Memphis at the time were the Slim Rhodes Show, Buck Turner's Buckaroos, the Bob McKnight Band, the Garrett Snuff Variety Boys, and Clyde Leoppard's Snearly Range Boys. Sometime during the fall of 1951, a childhood friend of Quinton Claunch named Price Twitty came to Memphis to play few country music gigs. In a strange reversal of the Harold Jenkins story, Twitty rejected his surname for a stage name, Bob Price. Claunch recalls that Price sang very little and ''mainly in the bath'', yet Price was no novice and had pursued an intermittent career in country music, recording for Decca on August 22, 1949. Bob Price had what Claunch characterizes as, ''an unusual voice, and his own way of phrasing a song that was his main claim to fame''. In November 1951, Claunch called Sam Phillips and took Price down to the studio at 706 Union Avenue. This was Claunch's first venture as a record producer. Although somewhat lightweight, Bob Price's unusual phrasing impressed Phillips sufficiently to call a recording session. Claunch recalls that before the session he, Price, and guitarist Paul Buskirk recorded a demo of ''How Can It Be'' at WLAY radio studio in Muscle Shoals.
Moving back to Memphis for the proper session on December 2, Claunch found that the additional session players Sam had brought in were not capable of making the sounds he intended the world to hear and he was somewhat dissatisfied with the outcome. Nevertheless, Sam Phillips was involved at the time with leasing country material to the newly established country series of the Chess label, and he was able to sell ''How Can It Be'' and ''Sticks And Stones'' for release on Chess 1495 in March 1952. Two other songs had been recorded by Phillips. A snatch of ''Why So Blue'' remains on tape, but ''Donatin' My Time'' appears to have been recorded over along with the master tape of the two issued items. The inconspicuous sales of Chess 1495 compared unfavourably with the good sales on rhythm and blues recordings from Phillips' studio, and this may have put Sam Phillips off country music for a while. It would be another two years before Claunch came to Sam again with a song to resurrect his recording career.
During the interceding years, Claunch and Cantrell were writing songs with Bud Deckelman for use on their evening and weekend country gigs. One song in particular, ''Daydreamin''', gained a good audience reaction so in the summer or early of 1954 Claunch finally approached Sam Phillips with a view to recording the song. ''I don't recall exactly when this was'', Claunch mused, ''but it was just before Elvis Presley broke onto the market. Sam told us, 'I'm too busy with other things. That 'Daydreamin' is a good song and I'd like to use it someday. I intend to record more of that kind of music but right now I can't do it''.
In another conversation with John Floyd, Quinton added, ''We took the demo to Sam. He said, 'Well, I like the concept but you need to do this and that'. I felt I knew as much about country music as he did''. And so Claunch and Cantrell sent elsewhere. Claunch continues, ''It happened that there was another studio in town, Meteor over on Chelsea Avenue, so we decided that we couldn't wait on Sam forever. We took the song over to Lester Bihari at Meteor. He too was mainly recording blues up to that point, but he took a chance with ''Daydreamin''' and it was a hit''. Bill Cantrell described the kind of chance taken by Les Bihari, recalling that it was really a two sided deal. ''Les had not issued a record in a little while because his recorder was bust. Bud Deckelman was a mechanic, and he had to patch up the old recording machines that Les used before we could go in there and record''. ''Daydreamin'''was recorded in the latter part of 1954 by Deckelman with a band that included Bud's brother Dood and Quinton Claunch on guitars, Bill Cantrell on fiddle, Dan Chambers on bass and Eddie Emanus on steel guitar. The record was issued in January 1955 and charted locally before being covered by Jimmy Newman on Dot Records in Nashville. Newman's version entered the national country charts in April 1955. The song has since become a minor country standard. On the strength of the one record on Meteor, Bud Deckleman was signed by MGM Records as one of the many next Hank Williams' and went on to make several good country discs.
Sam Phillips had been aware of the Deckelman saga, not least because he had mastered the Meteor disc on his own equipment at 706 Union. The success of ''Daydreamin''' must have galled Sam, but it also helped to convince him that this recently increased excursions into the hillbilly marketplace were justified. Before ''Daydreamin''' hit, Sam had started to use Claunch and Cantrell on his sessions, particularly with Carl Perkins. Now he called them and offered a more substantial deal. They would work either with his singers or find their own, writing and polishing the songs to be recorded and rehearsing the bands up to session standard. ''We didn't have a contract'', Sam recalled. ''it was just a general understanding. They were trying to find an outlet for their services. Their main interest was in scouting talent and songwriting. Plus, they could work on a song as musicians which was very useful to me''. Claunch and Cantrell accepted this chance to make music and money though they both recall that there was more of the former than the latter. ''After the hard work was done, mostly at night after we got off our regular jobs'', said Cantrell, ''and after the session itself, if Sam found anything on tape he could use, then we'd get paid''.
Sun's push toward the country market commenced in the fall of 1954. Sam concentrated on the promotion of Elvis Presley for most of the year and Bill and Quinton concentrated on working with several artists including Carl Perkins, Charlie Feathers and the Miller Sisters who would start off Sam's new Flip label at the turn of the new year. Possibly the first of Phillips' artists to work with Claunch and Cantrell was Charlie Feathers. He had apparently contacted Phillips during 1953 if not earlier, but found that Sam was too involved with blues recording to commit time to him. Now, under the guidance of Claunch and Cantrell, Feathers was able to channel his undoubted talent into a Flip Records release. The first, unissued, session of Feathers was held in the fall of 1954 and apparently included ''Runnin' Around'', a Feathers song based on the Hank Williams formula, the Claunch and Cantrell song ''I've Been Deceived'' and several titles since lost. According to Claunch these included the rhythm and blues tune ''Corrine Corrina'' (since discovered and released on Zu-Zazz) and several Claunch and Cantrell originals. It was some time later, in February 1955, that Sam Phillips accepted cuts of ''Ive Been Deceived'' and ''Peepin' Eyes'' for release on Flip 503 that April. By then the country production deal had also yielded ''Turn Around'' and ''Movie Magg'' (Flip 501) by Carl Perkins and ''Someday You Will Pay'' (Flip 504) by the Miller Sisters. Claunch was enamored of Feathers' talent, but realised the problems: ''It that guy hah a little education and common sense'', he told John Floyd, ''he could have been where Carl Perkins had got, or a lot of those guys. He could feel a song, but man, putting up with him was something else''.
Carl Perkins, Charlie Feathers and the Miller Sisters had found Sam Phillips of their own accord, and in turn had been passed on to Bill and Quinton to rehearse. Maggie Sue Wimberly, in contrast, was a Claunch and Cantrell protege. Like Bob Price, Maggie Sue was known by Quinton for her ability to sing around the house back in Muscle Shoals. At one time she lived within a few streets of both Price and Claunch. It was on one of their trips home that Claunch and Cantrell decided to take Maggie Sue to Memphis to see Sam Phillips. Maggie Sue, born in Muscle Shoals in 1941, was very young, only 14, but possessed an acceptably adult voice and sufficient talent to persuade Phillips to record her. She later recalled her Sun session, saying ''I had never given much though to country music before I went to Sun to cut ''How Long''. I was singing in a gospel choir, the Harmonettes, when Quinton and Bill asked me to change to country music. I soon found that country was down to earth music. I felt comfortable singing it''. There is some uncertainly about the genesis of Sun 229 by Maggie Sue. The disc coupled two Claunch and Cantrell songs, ''How Long (Can It Be)'' and ''Daydreams Come True'', and was evidently issued in December 1955 judging by the known release dates of other Sun singles. However, the filed session details give the recording date as March 18, 1955, some nine months before the release date. It is possible that Sam Phillips was too busy with Elvis Presley and other artists to issue the record immediately it was ready. It is also possible that he only decided to put the record out at all when he learned that Les Bihari of Meteor had also recorded a version of ''daydreams Come True''. The Bains' version came out on Meteor early in 1956. Sam obviously would not have wanted to lose out on the sequel to ''Daydreamin'''as he had on the original song. One other twist to the story is that demo tapes of Carl Perkins singing ''Turn Around'' dating from October 25, 1954, also contain two cuts of Maggie singing ''How Long can It Be''. It is not clear whether this was the true date of the Wimberly session or whether, tragically, some of the Perkins tape was re-issued for Maggie's session in March 1955. In any event, the changing musical climate at the dawn of 1956 doomed ''Daydreams Come True''. It only sold a little two thousand copies.
Maggie Sue returned to Sun for one subsequent session, where she attempted various blues and rock and roll titles. Neither Claunch nor Cantrell were involved in this exercise and nothing came of it at the time. Maggie Sue returned to singing for her own amusement and in local choir until she re-emerged in the 1970s under the name Sue Richards, having some minor country hits and working in the Tammy Wynette show. Maggie Sue had been a childhood acquaintance of Virginia Wynette Pugh back in Alabama.
Through 1955, the Claunch and Cantrell productions prospered with Sun's growing involvement in country music. They consistently made classically fine hillbilly music. Their formula was a modified Hank Williams sound, and it was very effective. Quinton Claunch explained it this way to John Floyd: ''Bill and I were cutting pretty much straight country, but Memphis could never cut down-home redneck country. They didn't have the engineers who understood it, didn't have the musicians who could play it professional like the guys in Nashville. It was a lot more rough. I played that peck rhythm, a thump rhythm on guitar. Sam asked me to do it, and it went over real well''. It was taken to its logical conclusion when Luther Perkins recorded with Johnny Cash. No fiddle, no steel guitar, no electric guitar fills, just the peck rhythm.
Claunch and Cantrell liked full country productions. Around the simple bass and rhythm backdrop there was the interplay of steel guitar. Fiddle, and plaintive, high-pitched hillbilly vocals. Cantrell provided the fiddle, but the key instrument was often the steel guitar. Usually, but not always, this was played by Stan Kesler whose timely and inspiring solos served to put the finishing touch onto many of the Claunch and Cantrell songs. Among the best of their music was ''Turn Around'' and ''Let The Jukebox Keep On Playing'' by Carl Perkins, ''Finder Keepers'' and ''You Can Tell Me'' by the Miller Sisters, and ''I've Been Deceived'' and ''Defrost Your Heart'' by Charlie Feathers.
The end of the road for this country music production deal was signaled in December 1955 when the Claunch and Cantrell song ''Sure To Fall'' was scheduled to appear on Carl Perkins' next record, backing ''Honey Don't''. At the last moment, Sam and Carl decided to use a new rock and roll song Carl had come up with titles ''Blue Suede Shoes''. Bill reluctantly agreed to leave ''Sure To Fall'' off the record: ''That little mistake cost me about $140.000 in royalties. From that moment on Quinton and I decided we should put our songs on the back of every record we could. The only way to control this was to have our own record company. That was really the time when Hi Records was born, at least in our minds''.
''Sam wanted us to work with Barbara Pittman'', Claunch told Floyd. ''She couldn't sing. We worked with her night after night, month after month, but couldn't get nothin' going. No voice, no range, no feeling. So Bill and I left and went to work with another Memphis label, OJ. Then Bill and I and Ray Harris started Hi Records with Joe Cuoghi''. Claunch was forced out of Hi for peddling a Bill Black combo soundalike to Chess, and he started Goldwax Records. Cantrell remained one of the Hi partners until the label was sold to Cream Records in 1977. (MH)
RANDOLPH, TOT - Born as Theautry Randolp on July 1, 1933, in Memphis, Tennessee, and he attended the Melrose High School, where he learned to play the saxophone. By the late 1940s he'd gotten involved in the Memphis blues scene, playing with men like Howlin' Wolf, Johnny Ace, and Joe Hill Louis - however in 1951 he told Cilla Huggins he left for Nashville to take a Degree and for a while his playing was confined to his spare time and vacations.
Tot Randolph at Blues Alley, Memphis, June 1979 >
It was during one of these breaks that he played on Lou Sargent's "Ridin' The Boogie" - as presumably, was his solo session which yielded "Blues Train" - but most of his recordings seem to have taken place in Nashville, Tennessee, for Excello Records, where he appeared on sessions for Earl Gaines, Kid King, and Good Rockin' Beasley.
He formed a band in Nashville, playing clubs downtown but by 1959 he was shown in the City directories as a teacher and it is known that he also taught in Springfield, Tennessee later...
...on where he was the band director at Robertson High School. In Nashville, the maintained a part-time band through the 1960s and 1970s known as the Tot Randolp All Stars, playing lounge music at fancy restaurants and bars including The Hearth in Madison, Tennessee.
Moving back to Memphis, he continued to play as a hobby and joined the band at Blues Alley on the fake Beale Street scene as Lillian Mae Glover (aka Memphis Ma Rainey) remaining in the city as one of the last of original Sun-era musicians. (MH)
RANDY & THE RADIANTS - Memphis' legendary garage and rock and soul band. Randy and the Radiants began their long careers as teenage garage rockers, produced for Sun Records by the legendary Sam Phillips and his son, Knox. Their popularity in Memphis and the Mid-South earned them an opening spot for the Dave Clark Five on their first American tour in 1964, and their two singles on Sun Records, released in 1964 and 1965, have become collectors' items for garage band enthusiasts. The band's second incarnation, which began in 1974 and lasted well into the 1990s, included two rare singles for ABC Records in 1978.
The Radiants were fresh off the road as the backing band and opening act for Rock and Roll Hall of Fame members, The Impressions, and were at the peak of their performing abilities when they entered the original Sun Studios to record in 1990. The band's founders, Randy Haspel and Bob Simon, were living in Nashville, writing country songs for a Music City publisher, only every third composition sounded like classic Memphis Soul, something the Radiants did very well. The recordings were intended for release on a West Coast,...
...new-age label, but the deal fell apart and the tapes sat on the shelf for several years. When Sun Studio changed management, the master tapes were acquired by Randy, who remixed and digitized the songs with Sun Studio master engineer, James Lott, and issued the CD in limited release on his own label, Slick Records in 1997.
BOB SIMON - singer, songwriter, co-founder of the Radiants, Bob was the bands' original songwriter whose catchy sixties songs can be heard on the new anthology, "Memphis Beat:The Sun Recordings 1964-1966''. Bob was the only artist signed by Sun Records as a staff songwriter and he continues to work with Knox Phillips in writing and publishing. Bob wrote "What Am I Gonna Do About You," a number 1 hit for Reba McIntire, and his songs have been recorded by the Impressions, and the HooDoo Rhythm Devils. He was music director for the Impressions from 1988-1990.
RANDY HASPEL – (not on this picture) singer/songwriter, co-founder and rhythm guitarist. Randy has worked as an artist and writer in Memphis, Knoxville, Nashville, and New York. His first recorded songs were with the Knoxvillebased, psychedelic-country band, Rich Mountain Tower, who recorded for Ovation Records. Randy's "The Summer There Was No Baseball'', became a national sensation in 1981 and was played on HBO and NBC, and his "Call The Wrecker For My Heart'', was recorded by George Jones. Other artists recording his songs include Rufus Thomas and the Impressions. Randy wrote the liner notes for the new Radiants' Ace Records anthology as well as for the Rufus Thomas CD,"Just Because I'm Leavin''', on Segue Records, which featured the Radiants' rhythm section. Randy has been a radio announcer, journalist, and social commentator, writing the blog, Born-Again Hippies and still lives in Memphis.
STEVE SPEAR – bass player, Steve joined the Radiants in 1974, after working with legendary Memphis blues band, Moloch with Lee Baker, and with Louis Paul of the Guilloteens. He has played bass for Tony Joe White, B.B. King, Rufus Thomas, Larry Raspberry & the Highsteppers, and the Impressions. Steve is featured bassist on Rufus Thomas' CD, "Just Because I'm Leavin''', and currently plays in the Memphisbased, British Invasion band, Down 2 Five.
MIKE GARDNER – drummer, Mike Gardner (1946-1991) was the Radiant's drummer from the very first gig in 1962, and is also featured on the new Ace/Big Beat UK anthology; "Memphis Beat: The Sun Recordings 1964-1966''. Mike was one of Memphis' most in-demand drummers, working with the Gentrys, Larry Raspberry & the Highsteppers, and Rufus Thomas, among others. He was also drummer for the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and earned two platinum albums for his work with Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefers.
DONNIE BAER – lead guitar and vocals, Donnie Baer (1951-2000) was the Radiants' fiery lead guitarist, joining the band in 1974 after a stint with Louis Paul of the Guilloteens. Known as one of Memphis most tasteful players, Donnie can also be heard on Rufus Thomas' "Just Because I'm Leavin'" CD. Donnie toured with the Impressions and played, most memorably in Memphis and Dallas, with Eddie Harrison & the Short Kuts. Known for combining the styles of both Albert and B.B. King, Donnie is fondly remembered by Memphis music fans.
Randy and The Radiants: Above: Randy Haspel (vocals and guitar); Ed Marshall (lead guitar); Mike Gardner (drums). Below: Bob Simon (songwriter and vocals); Howard T. Calhoun, Jr. (bass and piano); Bill Slais, Jr. (sax and vocals) >
THE SUN DAYS WITH THE RADIANTS
by Randy Haspel, 2007
The door between the control room and the studio at Sam C. Phillips' Memphis Recording Service on Madison Avenue, home of Sun Records, sprang open and Sam Phillips came bounding through asking enthusiastically:
'' What's that you're playing''? ''It's just a tune from our song list, Mr. Phillips''. We were just warming up. Sam replied, ''Keep playing that song. I want to get it on tape''. I had heard this conversation somewhere before. I answered, ''Mr. Phillips, that song was a big hit just a little over a year ago''. ''I don't care what it was'', replied the inventor of rock and roll. ''I think it's a hit record''. I cut my eyes quizzically at my bandmates.
Could Sam possibly believe that six teenagers who grew up in 1950s Memphis would not know the Elvis legend? We were the spawn of Elvis and knew every detail of his meteoric rise to glory, including the story of how ''That's Alright Mama'' came to be. But that was 1954, and this was 1964. was Sam Phillips, a decade later, trying to pull an Elvis on us?
At age 15, and leader of Randy & The Radiants, I wasn't about to second-guess the man who had discovered not merely Elvis, but Howlin' Wolf and Ike Turner as well. When Sam returned to the console and announced ''We;re rolling'', we played and sang with all the enthusiasm we could muster, and then prepared to do it again. But after hearing the playback, Mr Phillips declared, ''It's a hit! I don't need a another take''. And so, ''The Mountain's High'', made famous by Dick & Dee Dee in 1961, became the first single on Sun Records by Randy & The Radiants, released December 11, 1964. The flip side was an original called ''Peek A Boo'', written by my partner and friend Bob Simon. Of course, ..Mountain High'' was not a hit. When Bob and I first heard the song on the car radio, after I had slammed on the brakes and our screaming had died down, I turnes to him and said, ''That wasn't very good, was it''? I thought the band had a crisper tigher sound when we played live, but Sam Phillips recorded us in a way that every instrument bled into the microphone of every other, and it all sounded so raw. It took me years to understand that Sam's recording philosophy was to find talented amateurs and attempt to bring out abilities in them that even they did not know they had.
If Phillips had issued ''Mountain's High'' to gauge the band's popularity, what happened next took him by surprise. A Bob Simon song called ''Walk Softly'', written at age 14, was heard by former Sun artist and producer Bill Justis, whose instrumental ''Raunchy'' had earned Sam a gold record in 1957. Justis recorded Bob's song in Nashville with a singer named Joanne Tauchstone, and the release, on Monument Records' subsidiary Sound Stage Seven, became an instant regional hit. Sam Phillips had to wonder how a song by an artist that he had just signed could have got away. After that, Bob's songs were given priority in our recording sessions.
The Radiants came to Sun Records through a circuitous route. For Bob and me, this was already our third attempt at assembling a band. We began singing together in 1958 when I was 10 and Bob was nine, and as soon as our fingers were strong enough to hold a metal string against a fretboard, we started playing guitar. Bob grew up a block from my family's house in East Memphis, and we had much in common. Other than attending the same school, we both had older sisters who loved to dance and used their little brothers to practice the latest steps. Rhythm and blues had taken over as teen music in segregated Memphis, thanks to the legendary disc jockey Rufus Thomas and Dewey Phillips. radio station WDIA 1070 featured rhythm and blues late in the afternoon, after the gospel programs were over, with Rufus', ''The World's Oldest Teenager'', at the microphone. But WDIA went off the air at sunset, so their entire listenership, black and white, tuned to pop station WHBQ to hear Dewey's manic program, Red, Hot & Blue, mixing gospel with doo wop, and rock and roll, all accompanied by his repid-fire, country boy drawl. When Dewey introduced Elvis to the world, hundreds of young Memphis boys ran out to find guitars. At first, Bob and I played songs at each other, like a tennis match, until the day when, while we were singing the Skip & Flip versions of ''Cherry Pie'', Bob broke into spontaneous high harmony and it stopped me cold. ''Where'd you learn to do that''? I asked. Bob replied, ''I didn't learn it. I just hear it''. Being older, I instructed, ''Keep Doing it''.
Entering Junior High, we formed a group called the Casuals, but became victims of our own success. As our popularity grew, my school grades dropped, until my parents insisted I leave the band, as Bob had done several months earlier. Back-up singer David Fleischman moved up front and the group became Flash & The Memphis Casuals, whose 1966 single, ''Uptight Tonight'', is the title track of a recent Big Beat garage band anthology. I never considered the Radiants to be a garage band. We were a living room band that started in 1962 when Bob and i and Gregg Grinspan became a vocal trio in search of a group. Gregg found Howard Calhoun in class, who had a band called the Embers, named after a popular local restaurant. As ''The Embers'', featuring the Radiants'', Bob, Gregg, and I came out in matching yellow shirts and did dance routines, before we gathered around the microphone to sing. We settled on the radiants after the first few gigs, several years before the Chicago vocal group with the same name came to prominence. Our song list consisted many of rhythm and blues hits by Hank Ballard, James Brown and the Drifters.
There were only a handful of teen bands in Memphis, but the two best were Tommy Burk and the Counts, and the LeSabres. These two groups represented the division in loyalties within Memphis' teen culture. The Counts were a tightly rehearsed band, with two horn players and harmony vocals. They wore matching blazers with their own specially designed crest on the pocket, to add an air of nobility. The LeSabres were wilder; they wore leather jackets and retained the oily Elvis hairstyle with the ducktail in the back, but were equally as entertaining. The LeSabres' crowd were working class kids, greasers and hoods; the Counts' fans were generally Ivy kids (for Ivy League) with Money to spend on clothes. The Radiants didn't want to be like Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps; we wanted to be like the Counts. We began to play school dances, churches, YMCA's and backyard parties. By 1963, after the usual personnel changes, our line-up was fixed. I sang lead and played rhythm guitar. Bob also sang lead, wrote songs, and arranged harmonies. Howard Calhoun and Mike Gardner played bass and drums respectively. Bill Slais Jr played sax and sang back up, and Ed Marshall played lead guitar. We had other singers, including Tony Rossini, a Sun recording artist in hos own right who had left another outfit just to come and sing with us.
The Radiants were still considered up and comers, but we were perfectly placed for the events of early 1964. I had first seen a picture of the Beatles in Life magazine after their 1963 Royal Command Performance but didn't give it another thought until I heard ''I want To Hold Your Hand'' on the car radio. I drove directly to the record store, but they only had the single. When ''Meet The Beatles'' was released a week later, I got the early tip and listened to it over and over with fellow Radiants and other mesmerized friends. Once we saw the lads on Ed Sullivan, it was all over. This was the realization of what we aspired to; a self-contained band who played their own instruments, sang all the vocals and recorded their own songs. No one had to tell us as musicians that the Beatles were going to be the next big thing. At our next rehearsal, Mike loosened up his trap cymbal and played with the slashing motion used by Ringo, and Ed tightened his guitar strap and wore it higher like George. I sang the John songs and Bob sang the Paul songs, while Howard deciphered their chord changes on piano.
Bob Simon had been a precocious songwriting talent since he was 12. His first attempts were folk songs, but he soon showed a gift for melody and structure. The first rock and roll song he played for me was too good to be anyone's first song, and I actually accused him of plagiarism. The tune, ''True And Sweet'', had a chord structure similar to Major Lance's ''Monkey Time'', only Bob wrote his song a year earlier than Curtis Mayfield. I became his biggest songwriting fan. Bob was so accomplished and dedicated that I never considered trying to write a song of my own until the ripe old age of 19. The Beatles gave Bob focus and direction and sent him into overdrive.
After the Fabs' breakthrough, and the accompanying British Invasion, the Memphis music scene exploded with new venues for teen dances. Every skating rink and department store was looking for bands with youth appeal. The Radiants were already professionals, but when we added a half-dozen Beatle songs to our set lists, our bookings grew too numerous for us to handle. We had begun to play a series of Saturday night dances in a hot gymnasium at a local YMCA, a popular gathering spot for kids from all over the city, sponsored by a small radio station in nearby Millington, Tennessee. The station's staff included Dewey Phillips, in the decline of his career, as well as John Dougherty, an unassuming young man closer to our age, whose on air name was Johnny Dark. As the crowds continued to grow, we asked John if he would be interested in managing us. We had never had a manager and he had never managed but, almost immediately, our bookings skyrocketed, as did our asking price.
John also booked us at college fraternities, who up until that time had lived on a steady diet of southern soul bands like Doug Clark and the Hot Nuts. It was rarity for sophisticated college men to hire high school students to play, but if they wanted the new music, we had it. We set up for Sigma Nu at Ivy-walled Southwestern College in Memphis, and after our first set, John approached with a blond-haired fraternity man in a white -V-necked tennis sweater, looking like he had just stepped out of Gentleman's Quarterly. Introduced as Knox Phillips, he extended his hand warmly. ''You guys are great'', he opined. ''Johnny's been talking about you, and we wondered if you'd be interested in coming down to the recording studio and playing for my father''? We had no idea that a portion of Johnny's high school years were spent living in the Phillips family home as a surrogate brother to Sam's two sons, Knox and Jerry.
The next Sunday afternoon found us at Phillips Memphis Recording Service, and though this modern facility had been there since the late 1950s, it was still referred to as the ''new studio''. Sam greeted us in the lounge wearing a Ban-Lon shirt and a yachtsman's cap, and was gracious and charming. He told us Knox had raved about us and that he was excited to hear us, making us feel at home while simultaneously applying a little pressure to live up to those reviews. We hauled in the equipment and, after a few songs, Mr Phillips offered a five-year contract with Sun Records. Knox's enthusiasm had sealed the deal and he was going to participate, for the first time, in observing his father's production techniques, and to learn to work the console soundboard that looked like the cockpit of a giant airliner. The contract required both our parents' permission and signatures, since we were underage. After we had all joined the local musicians union, the Radiants did the session that produced our first record.
For a while, the band's name alternated between the Radiants and Randy & The Radiants, a moniker that was beginning to stick. Although I wasn't promoting a name change for the sake of my ego, I didn't object very much either. Sam made it official when he printed it on the label with the yellow rising sun. He felt it made us sound like the first wave of British bands: Gerry and The Pacemakers, Freddie and The Dreamers. It also avoided confusion with the Chicago Radiants, but added more with Randy & The Rainbows. For years since, I have had to explain that I was not the guy that sang, ''Denise''.
Dewey Phillips himself first played out record on the radio station in Millington, and tough it didn't sell many copies, it was a beginning. We lip-synched the record on disc jockey George Klein's Saturday afternoon television show, Talent Party, and when Bob's ''Walk Softly'' began climbing the charts, a columnist named Robert Johnson took a special interest in us, and began writing a series of articles about out adventures. The crowd and the excitement grew, until one afternoon at rehearsal in the late autumn of 1964, John showed up with some news. Memphis had a brand new Coliseum that had never hosted a rock concert, and almost a year after the Beatles had first appeared in the States, no British band had yet played in the city. ''You know the Dave Clark Five have booked at the Coliseum in December''? said John, so calmly that I believed he was just informing us he had used his contacts to get us good seats. Instead, he paused dramatically, ''You guys are opening the show''. Our cheers could be heard down the block.
The concert's start had been changed from evening to afternoon to accommodate all the young fans. It was the Mid-South Coliseum's first experience with the world's second most popular band, and the security was tighter than a presidential visit. The Radiants were locked in our dressing room by noon, four hours before showtime, so we tuned and retuned our guitars and stewed over the fact that we had heard that opening acts in other cities along the Dave Clark Five's tour had been booed. When the announcer finally shouted ''Here's one of Memphis' favourite bands, Randy & The Radiants'', we ascended the back stairs to the stage into a world of flashbulbs and the ''endless scream''. Our hometown was treating us like stars, but we were all back in class the next morning. In that one week in December 1964, our first single was released. Randy & The Radiants became the first rock band to play the Coliseum before 12,500 screaming fans, and I turned 17 years old. Going into 1965, the Radiants were the hottest band in Memphis. We were on television, radio and in both local newspapers, and the Dave Clark Five show put us on the road all over the South. Our jobs took us from West Tennessee into eastern Arkansas and deep into the Mississippi Delta. We were welcomed with equal enthusiasm at high school proms in Little Rock, Arkansas and graduation dances in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Since we only played on weekends, our roadwork made our Memphis appearances into mini events. The band's big news was that Sam Phillips wanted us back in the studio.
Outside the control room, Sam Phillips was always friendly and welcoming, but once the session started, he was all business. If a mistake was made, Phillips began clicking the playback button in the headphones; the signal to begin again. It wasn't uncommon for us to do a song 15 or 20 times, yet have Phillips decide he liked take 2. He pushed me to give the vocals everything I had. Sam didn't pass out compliments idly. The most he would say was, ''That was pretty good. Let's try one more'', but it gave me pleasure to sing an old rhythm and blues phrase that I had worked up, just to see him smile. Both Sam and Knox were now looking for the most commercial sounding tune for our new single. Along with Bob Simon's songs, Sam brought in songs by teenage writers Donna Weiss and Mary Unobsky, and John Monasco, piano player for our favourite local group, Jimmy Day and The Knights. Bob had written another ''I don't trust my girlfriend'' song called ''Truth From My Eyes'', which I particularly liked and upon which I sang the lead. Bob found comfort in composing his most personal thoughts, then allowing me to voice them. Sam Phillips' favoured a Donna Weiss song, ''My Way Of Thinking'', which opened with a variation of the distinctive guitar riff made famous by the Kinks in ''You Really Got Me'', it was the cleanest we had yet sounded, but the band felt uneasy about releasing a song that was so derivative of another groups's style, something that Sam Phillips himself used to always decry as a ''followers mentality''. The band lobbied hard for Bob's song to be the A-side. We didn't believe that Sam had ever heard of the Kinks.
If Sam Phillips served as a father figure to Elvis, Carl, Jerry Lee, Johnny and the first generation of Memphis rock and rollers, our experience with him was more like working with your actual dad. Knox served as our liaison and a voice between the generations, and thus Sam Agreed to ''Truth From My Eyes'' as our new Sun release, and in Memphis it took off in both popularity and sales, Johnny Dark accepted a disc jockey position in Poplar Bluff, Missouri. We carried on without him as best we could, but found ourselves unable to sufficiently exploit our hit record, other than to play it live. As the radio world revolves, John got a job at Memphis' WMPS AM60, and though he was no longer out manager and it seemed the record had run its course, he gave it a second life. It became the most requested song on WMPS to begin playing it again. Randy & The Radiants appeared to be on the brink of a breakthrough.
But despite the unflagging support of Knox Phillips, Sun still did their promotion the old fashioned way and seemed to be caught off guard by the single's success. Our friends and rivals, the Gentrys, had made a record called ''Keep On Dancing'', the local popularity of which resulted in a major label release and a Top 5 national hit. But Sun was among the last of the old school independents, and Sam had stopped leasing masters back in the 1950s. His brother, Judd Phillips, was as amiable with strangers as Sam was tacitum, and he was pressed back into action to travel to the major cities of the South, both to promote ''Truth From My Eyes'' and to arrange for the first major Randy & The Radiants tour. In the midst of a generational shift, however, and showbiz being what it is, the tour never materialized. We all had more pressing problems.
Bob excluded, the radiants all graduated high school in 1965, the year Selective Service began drafting half a million men to go to Vietnam. Enrolling in college offered a student deferment, and so all the band was going to attend Memphis State University. At 16 and still under the charge of my parents, I was being told that it was time to put away childhood things and leave Memphis for college as had long been planned. When I expressed my desire to stay home and attend Memphis State, i was told, ''Not if you expect us to pay for it''. The Radiants were making good money, but not enough for college tuition, so it was determined that I would leave the band in the fall of 1965 to attend the University in Knoxville, four hundred miles away. We continued to play and record as if nothing was goin' of to change, but come September, I entrusted my Fender Stratocaster to Bob and bid the band farewell. When I left Memphis, we had a number one song, one of the hottest bands in town, and two years to go in a recording contract with Sun Records.
With Bob as lead singer, the Radiants added a second horn player and maintained status as one of the most sought-after bands in the South. When I finally returned home for a Christmas break and went to hear the band, their experience and maturity had made them into an even tigher performing unit, which is a self-deprecating way for me to say they sounded better after I left. Knox Phillips was now recording the band, including some of Bob's most promising commercial songs, and Sam had diverted his attention from the record business to the family-owned radio stations, but there were no further releases. Soon after, Sam Phillips sold Sun Records. And following Bob Simon's high school graduation, he too was sent away to college. The band hung on for a while longer, but when Howard Calhoun, its best musician, quit, that effectively ended the joy-filled, five-year union of the Radiants - at least the first incarnation. But that's another story.
RAY, EARL - A member of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa tribe, Earl Ray (known in Pima as Lo-Doc, is a singer, linguist, and tribal activist and is currently the only person who reads and writes the Salt River Pima dialect. On his debut recording in 2005 with Canyon Records, ''Traditional Songs Of The Salt River Pima'', Earl sings a collection of rare and historic songs evoking the rich mythology and cultural pageantry of the The 'Akimel 'O'odham (meaning River People), formerly known as the Pimas, live in the deserts of Arizona on the Salt River and Gila River Reservations.
Earl has spent more than two decades researching the culture of his people. As a native speaker he understood the loss of his language, which prompted him to learn to read and write his own Pima dialect at the University of Arizona in 1978-1979 under the instruction of Dr. Ofelia Zepeda.
Eventually Ray''s work took him to Amsterdam in the Netherlands, where he lived for four and a half years. There he contributed information to the...
...National Museum of Ethnology, in Leiden, where Pima artifacts were discovered as a part of the collections of the Hemenway Expedition, in the 1880s. Ray has produced teaching videotapes and also helped save the Hole-in-the-Rock, a sacred site in Phoenix that was a prehistoric astronomical observatory used by the Huhukam.
In 2006, Charly Records released via internet several early demo-recordings of Earl Ray, recorded on September 12, 1958 possible in the Sun Studio in Memphis. This demo recordings can now be fee downloaded from the iTunes website and digital media player.
REDELL, TEDDY (REIDEL) – His unique style of piano playing has been a fixture of American music for half a century. Born as Theodore DeLano Riedel on June 7, 1937 in Quitman, Arkansas, and Teddy’s early years were spent on the family farm. Teddy learned to play piano from his grade school teacher Annie Witt, who focused his lessons around boogie woogie and ragtime popular during the 1920s and 1930s. By his teens, Teddy had developed his own style and was writing his own songs. Teddy’s break came at the age of 15 when he was asked to perform on KWCB radio in Searcy, Arkansas, on a program profiling young musicians from area schools.
The station was soon flooded with requests for replays of his performance, ''Steel Guitar Rag''. Lloyd Sutherland asked Teddy to join his band for their weekly radio program on KWCB, and Teddy began playing live shows with Sutherland and his band around central Arkansas.
In the winter of 1955, popular recording star Wayne Raney brought Teddy to Missouri to appear on his television...
...program on KRCG in Jefferson City. In May 1955, Teddy followed Wayne to Wheeling, West Virginia, where he appeared Saturday nights on ''The World’s Original Jamboree'' on WWVA radio. During the week, Teddy toured with Wayne and his band in Pennsylvania and upstate New York. In the fall of 1955, Teddy followed Wayne to WSLB in Baltimore, Maryland, and then briefly to XERF in Del Rio, Texas.
Teddy returned to Arkansas and began touring with Tommy Trent in 1956. Arlen Vaden asked Teddy to play backup for a recording session in 1959. When the lead singer came down with laryngitis, Teddy was given the studio time. ''Knocking On The Backside'' and its flipside, ''Before It Began'', was released on Vaden Records under the stage name Teddy Redell. It quickly became a popular selection in the juke boxes of eastern Arkansas. Teddy Redell also appeared on Hi Records around the time that he auditioned at Sun, but later concentrated on songwriting for Sonny James' companies
Teddy’s second release, ''Corrina Corrina'' / ''Gold Dust'', was recorded at King Studios in Cincinnati, and released on the Vaden label in 1960. His third release, ''I Want To Hold You'' / ''Pipeliner'' soon followed, but it was his fourth release that would become his most famous. ''Judy'' was recorded in 1960 and released as the B side of ''Can’t You See'' on the Vaden and Atco labels. The following year, ''Judy'' was released by Elvis Presley and stayed for several weeks on Billboard’s Hot 100.
Teddy was drafted into the U.S. armed services in 1960. He completed basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, and served the remainder of his two years at Fort Bliss, Texas. During his army years, Teddy continued to play local bars around El Paso. Teddy returned to Arkansas in 1962 and began touring under his own name. In October 1962, Teddy joined with the Pacers to record his fifth release, ''Poor Ole Me'' / ''Between Midnite And Dawn'', on Razorback Records. In 1963, Teddy grew tired of the road and settled in Benton, Arkansas, to learn piano tuning from a professional piano technician.
During the 1960s, he continued his songwriting career with an exclusive agreement for Sonny James. In 1964, Teddy married his wife Rose, and they eventually settled in Rose Bud, Arkansas, where he established his own piano service business.
Teddy returned to the music scene in the 1970s, performing regularly at local private clubs around Searcy. In 1979, Teddy was approached by record producer Cees Klop of the Netherlands. The first compilation of Teddy’s Vaden recordings appeared on LP on White Label, along with...
...a new LP of Teddy’s popular club standards from the 1970s, such as ''Roll In My Sweet Baby’s Arms''.
Teddy’s first European tour in 1988 took him to show dates in the Netherlands and Sweden, followed by a live album release on Collector Records. His second tour in 1991 took him again to the Netherlands and new venues in Germany. A CD compilation of this greatest works appeared that same year. Teddy toured the Netherlands and Sweden again in 1997. His fourth and most recent European tour was to the famous Hemsby Music Festival in England in 2002. A new CD of recordings spanning the 50 years of Teddy’s musical career was released for the tour. Teddy’s most recent appearance was at Rockin’ 50’s Fest II in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
Teddy retired from piano tuning in 2011 but continued to perform for special events around Arkansas. Teddy Redell died after a second heart attack on September 3, 2014, at the age of 77.
Charlie Rich and Martin Willis (saxophone) played at little night club in a parking garage across from Court Square on Second Street, Memphis, Tennessee, circa 1957 >
RICH, CHARLIE - Allroundsinger-songwriter-pianist Charlie Rich, who is nicknamed the "Silver Fox" was born on December 14, 1932 in Forrest City, Arkansas. There probably weren't many affluent people living in Forrest City during the Great Depression, so the Riches' economic circumstances were hardly exceptional.
By the 1940s, the family finances had stabilized and they settled in Colt, Arkansas. Rich early interest in music was nurtured by contact with C.J. Allen, a black tenant farmer on the Rich family's land. Unlike many bluesmen in the area, Allen made his music on piano, rather than a guitar. The Rich family was very religious, and singing the Lord's praises was an important part of their lives.
Charlie's widow Margaret Ann recalled, ''Charlie played some guitar when he was younger. It was actually his first instrument.
He used to listen to his mother and father sing. They did music in their church, harmonizing with two other people, backed by a guitar. That music had a deep emotional effect on Charlie. He used to listed to it and then go into his room and cry. He and his sister did some singing with the guitar when Charlie was in high school as well''.
While the guitar may have been his first instrument, playing it was not a fully satisfying experience for Charlie Rich. That may have had to do with his lack of technical competence or, more likely, with his associating the guitar with the strong religious values of his family. Charlie searched beyond the guitar for musical expression. The piano was an obvious choice. The trouble was that Charlie Rich took the piano in directions that were unacceptable in the strict Missionary Baptist Rich household. Charlie soon experienced similar problems to those that faced fellow Sun alumnus Jerry Lee Lewis.
''I was an embarrassment to my mom and dad'', Charlie recalled to journalist Alan Cackett. ''I had been brought up to believe that dancing, rhythm and blues and drinking were sinful. They had high hopes for me and were not happy with the direction I was taking''.
The piano wasn't the only path away from the musical fold. When he was 17 years-old in high school, Charlie Rich began to play saxophone and was sufficiently competent to perform with the band. It is little known that while he was still in high school, Charlie spent a summer in Texas. During this time, he had his own radio show, a 15 minute broadcast during which he sang and played the piano.
Charlie Rich went off to Arkansas State College with help from two unlikely sources: a football scholarship and a financial gift from a proverbial rich uncle. Charlie transferred to the University of Arkansas as a music major. Charlie quit school and joined the Air Force. In may, 1952 he married Margaret Ann Greene and they honeymooned in Memphis at the ritzy Peabody Hotel, courtesy of Uncle Jack. While they were in Memphis, they blew the $45 they had between them on records. Music was simply that important to both of them. As Margaret Ann would later recall, ''The first piece of furniture in our house was a tape recorder''.
The Air Force life took them to Enid, Oklahoma, where Charlie combined military duties, such as they were, with musical gigs. Charlie played piano and some sax with the Velvetones. The group featured solo vocals by Charlie as well as some hip duets by Charlie and Margaret Ann. When Charlie returned to Arkansas in 1955, he and Margaret Ann purchased a 500 acre farm near Forrest City. Although they had lived reasonably well on his Air Force salary and music income, the purchase price was largely subsidized by Uncle Jack. Even though a bumper cotton and soybean crop during the first year allowed Charlie to pay back much pf the loan from his uncle, it was clear he was not cut out to be a farmer. It is no accident that most farmers are asleep by 10 and up with the dawn. In that time, Charlie was barely getting into the Memphis' jazz clubs by ten and sometimes got home just in time to see the sun rise. He plainly was not going to be a poster boy for the Farmer's Hall of Fame''.
By 1957 Charlie Rich and Margaret Ann were living in West Memphis, Arkansas with their three children. Charlie was farming by day and hating every minute of it. Several nights a week he'd drive into Memphis and play a gig at a jazz lounge like the Vapors. It was not just the money they needed; those gigs were mental health for Charlie. Margaret Ann realized something had to change.
''I knew that Elvis had gone to Sam Phillips so I thought maybe Charlie could try his luck there also. I left our three children at home with a baby sitter, crossed the river, and went to Sun. I brought a tape of Charlie that we had made at home. I can't remember which tunes were on it, or whether they were even originals. Charlie wasn't doing much writing back then. That came later'', Margaret Ann said.
It was Bill Justis who launched Charlie Rich to Sun Records. They he met him at gigs as well as parties sponsored by the musicians union. Charlie for what he could to at this point, playing and writing to their artist roster, included for Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Ray Smith.
According to Margaret Ann, ''Bill was very very hip. Truthfully, he was way too hip for Sun. I remember him saying right at the start, 'What do you need me for? You're Rich already'. Justis listened to the demos. He finally gave me some Jerry Lee Lewis records and sent me home with the message that Charlie should come in when he could play that bad''.
''Bill and Charlie got to know each other better after that. They did some gigs together around town. Bill really encouraged Charlie to start writing. Told him that's where the money was. When Sam finally met Charlie, he told him the same thing. Charlie was so sophisticated in his playing but Sam told him he needed material for his artists''.
In recalling Charlie's initiation to Sun years later, Sam Phillips was struck by the similarity between Rich and Elvis - not in their music or physical appearance, but in the fact that neither would come right in and ask to be recorded. In both cases, the path was indirect and somewhat tortuous.
Margaret Ann said, ''They didn't know what to do with Charlie. They knew they had a very talented musician on their hands, but they had no idea how to use talent''. Setting a pattern that would haunt him for much of his recording career, Charlie followed directions. He went home to '''get bad''.
His first efforts were even worse than Bill Justis had envisioned. Songs like "Little By Little", "Rock And Roll Party", and "Donna Lee" are survey reminders of Charlie's first flirtation with rock and roll. It wasn't a pretty sight. It wasn't simply the age barrier: artists like Carl Perkins and Chuck Berry were turning out credible tunes about teenage angst and hi jinx. Charlie's efforts sounded like an aging uncle desperately trying to sound hip. Both Bill Justis and Sam Phillips shook their heads. Charlie's earliest attempts were really awful.
Charlie continued to work at it. He also took some halting stabs at writing country music, a genre several eons removed from his beloved Stan Kenton. Again, the early efforts, many of which are preserved on self conscious and mannered demos, fell short of the mark. But Charlie got better. In fact, he got a lot better. Within several months, Charlie's name began appearing as the composer credit on Sun records. In April 1958, Charlie Rich wrote both sides of Ray Smith's release, "Right Behind You Baby''/ "So Young". A month later his song "Ways Of A Woman In Love" (co-written with Bill Justis) appeared as one side of Johnny Cash's latest record. Three months later, Rich was responsible for both sides of Jerry Lee's latest outing, ''''Break-Up''/''I'll make It All Up To You''. two months later, he had one side of ray Smith's next single, ''Why Why Why''. Then it was ''I Just Thought You'd Like To Know'' for Johnny Cash a month later. Charlie Rich had finally arrived at Sun Records. His distinctive piano licks were starting to show up on quite a few Sun sessions in early 1958.
Finally, in August 1958, having squandered every excuse he could muster, Charlie Rich entered the Sun studio to record his own debut single for Sun sub-label, Phillips International, "Philadelphia Baby" as an investment in stardom. Member as pianist of the Sun house band as a big happy family has much truth to it. But there was also a glimmer of trouble in paradise.
In February, 1959 Charlie Rich set his mind to recording a second single. Although Charlie's recording career was originally driven by a desire to place his own material, one side of the record somewhat surprisingly featured a non-Rich original. Incredibly, Charlie was unable to capture commercial success again during his tenure at Sun. Charlie continued to record some powerful and memorable sides for Sun, but none of them dented the pop marketplace. part of the problem was undoubtedly the fact that Charlie had never written teen-oriented material. He was, in every sense, an adult artist. His concerns and priorities just did not resonate with adolescents. "Lonely Weekends", had been a fear occurrence - one of those rare instances where kids and adults shared a problem: being alone on a weekend. But from then on, Charlie spoke to people with mortgages, drinking problems and ex-lovers.
In the early 1960s, Charlie Rich left Sun on March 15, 1963 and began his RCA tenure by recording a critically acclaimed album, Rich continued to record RCA in Nashville. Although the RCA recordings were smooth by any reckoning, there are several unmistakable gems.
In 1965, Charlie left RCA and signed w ith Mercury, where he was produced by Jerry Kennedy for their Smash affiliate. In the fall of 1966, Charlie Rich returned to Memphis having again tasted the fleeting kiss of fame and fortune. Directionless, and with dwindling revenues from records sales, Charlie signed with the Hi label.
After three years (and two different record deals), he was back recording in Memphis. The Hi sessions represent one of the more curious periods in Charlie's recording career. At the same time, with almost schizoid abandon, Charlie recorded a series of powerful blues and soul tunes for Hi Records, some of which have, only recently, found their way into release.
In December 1976, Charlie signed with Epic Records for what would turn out to be the longest recording affiliation in his professional life. Charlie's fortunes began to rise by 1973, the quality of his bookings improved as well. In some cases, there was no change in Charlie's onstage manner. Charlie re-signed to Epic Records in 1973 for the next five years, and within a year scored the crossover country hit "Behind Closed Doors" hit, that would stand as the landmark in his career. "Behind Closed Doors" won a Grammy and Charlie was voted Entertainer Of The Year by the Country Music Association in 1974.
Charlie Rich and Epic Records ended their ten year relationship in 1977, at which point he began a brief affiliation with United Artists Records and producer Larry Butler. This period, along with his brief appearance on Elektra in 1980 and 1981, marks the artistic lowpoint of Rich's recording career. Some time during 1979, Rich, along with George Jones, Willie Nelson, Conway Twitty, and a host of country superstars, joined Ernest Tubb for a series of duets that were released on the Cachet label.
Beginning in 1981, Charlie Rich remained essentially detached from the music business for a decade. His earnings, and a series of shrewd investments allowed him that luxury. Charlie was an original invester in the Wendy's hamburger chain, reportedly selling his shares in 1979 for cash installments totalling $4 million.
Even though, Charlie was not involved in the music business throughout most of the 1980s, and Rich was never far from music. During this period Rich paid a group of local musicians to spend time with him jamming in his home studio. These regular Tuesday night sessions were a source of musical sustenance for the players, although it wasn't until 1992 that the music from these informal jams finally coalesced into Rich's final CD. The critically acclaimed CD "Pictures And Paintings" appeared on the Sire label in 1992.
Charlie Rich saw Elvis Presley alive in the elevator of the Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium before a football game in 1976. Charlie Rich composed "I'm Comin' Home", which Elvis Presley recorded in 1961. Charlie Rich died on July 25, 1995. The official cause of death was a pulmonary embolism - a blood clot in the long. Charlie and Margaret Ann had just driven to see their son Allan perform in a casino in Mississippi.
The unavoidable truth is that if Charlie Rich had won the Arkansas State Lottery, he would probably never have written or recorded most of the music in his Sun recordings. That piano at 706 Union was always miked, and that mike was attached to a tape recorder that seemingly had no OFF button.
Five years earlier, Sam Phillips was so strapped for funds he had found it necessary to recycle tape. Elvis Presley's sessions were recorded on top of blues tracks by Doctor Isiah Ross. God only knows who or what was recorded on top of priceless Elvis outtakes. By the time Charlie hit the scene, the gods of pop music had smiled on Sun Records and tape was in good supply. Thankfully, Charlie Rich filled a lot of it.
Charlie Rich began recording career at the legendary Sun label in Memphis, recording for Sam Phillips. Without question, Rich's earliest work is his most interesting. It is also the rawest, least disciplined and most revealing. Rich was never more prolific as a songwriter than during his formative years at Sun. There is nothing in his later career - that spanned more than three decades - that wasn't foreshadowed in some manner at Sun.
During his Sun days (roughly 1958-1962), Charlie took his first halting (and awkward) steps toward rock and roll. He got better at it very quickly and his wonderfully expressive Presleyish voice often carried the day on material like ''Big Man'' and ''Lonely Weekends''. He also made his first claims on the title of ''White Soul Singer Extraordinary''. You can hear it on the undubbed versions of ''It's Too Late'' or ''Apple Blossom Time'' or ''Time And Again'' is you choose to sample Charlie's music more deeply (e.g. BCD 16152). During this period, Charlie was also pressed into service as a country music writer, often appearing as composer of Johnny Cash titles as that singer wound down his affiliation with Sun in 1958. Cash was saving all his new material for a fresh start at Columbia Records and was only too glad to meet his contractual obligations at Sun by recording Charlie Rich sons. Charlie willingly provided them, stretching himself in the process.
RICHARDSON, RUDI (RUDY) – If nothing else, Rudi Richardson belonged among the losers and misfits who populated Sun's release schedule. His birth name was Rudolph Valentina Riles.
His father's name was Cyrus Lockett and his mother's maiden name was Martha Marie Waidlington, so presumably Rudi was the offspring of an earlier marriage or affair between Martha and someone named Riles. He was born in Memphis on September 30, 1923, and was three when his family moved to Chicago.
After attending Douglas School, he graduated from DuSable High and entered the club scene as Rudolphe Richardson – America's Only Male Torch Singer. Staring in 1944, he worked steadily at Rudy's Chicken Shack, The Hurricane, El Casino, Rupneck's, and Kennedy's Honey Dripper Lounge.
An advertisement for his appearance at the Flamingo Lounge called it ''One of 63rd Street's gay spots'' – and this was in the late 1940s, at least twenty years before ''gay'' became a neologism for homosexual. All of those nightspots were...
...in Chicago's Bronzeville neighborhood, home to a thriving, clandestine gay scene. Some of Bronzeville's fabled club acts, including Tony Jackson, Sippie Wallace, Frankie ''Half-Pint'' Jaxon, and George Hannah were quite openly gay. Richardson joined their number. The scant accounts left to us mention that he usually accompaniment himself on the piano.
Rudy Richardson's first record appeared on New Jersey's Manor label in 1946. Chicago's Miracle Records signed him later that year and advertised a release party on August 16, 1946. ''Chauffeur'' on Miracle was his biggest hit. During a spoken monologue, he said, ''Chauffeur, take me home, I'm really gone... Don't think I'm wiggin', man, I'm just gone, you understand''. The louche hipster jive was Richardson's stock-in-trade. In December 1946, Manor released another Richardson recording on the flip side of a Cats & A Fiddle single. More singles appeared on Chicago's tiny Rim Records in 1949, but nightclub work paid the bills. Richardson appeared often in nightspots throughout the early 1950s, including a long residency at the Kitty Kat Club. By 1953, he was billed as Rudi (with an I) Richardson. In 1956, he opened McKie's Disc Jockey Lounge on Cottage Grove, the site of many legendary jazz shows.
On May 11, 1957, just weeks before the release of his Sun single, Richardson was in Chicago for the funeral of his father, Cyrus Lockett. The next time he received a mention was in June 1958 when he was found dead of denatured alcohol poisoning in a Nashville rooming house just one block south of Fisk University. Denatured alcohol was pure alcohol that had been rendered unfit for consumption, meaning that it was either a drink of last resort for an alcoholic or a means of committing suicide. Richardson was appearing at the Del Morocco nightclub, an upscale lounge where he'd sung on-and-off for the previous three years. His body was discovered at 12:30 p.m. On June 1. The coroner figured he might have died eight hours earlier. A report on June 3, 1958 in the Chicago Defender noted coyly that he'd participated annually in Finney's Fancy Dress Ball and that he'd never married.
A few weeks after Richardson's death, Johnny Cash recorded ''Fool's Hall Of fame'' for Sun. The recording was annotated as never to be released, although the reason is lost to time. Later that year, Huelyn Duvall's recording of the song appeared on Challenge, but wasn't a hit. Roy Orbison recorded it for Sun in 1957, but his recording didn't appear until 1973. Rudi Richardson didn't live long enough to see himself become a footnote in rock and roll history, much less capitalize upon it.
RICHY, PAUL (RICHEY) - was born on April 11, 1939, in Promised Land, Arkansas. Paul L. was the son of the Reverend C. R. and Arah (Craig) Richardson and brother of the late songwriter, pianist and producer George Richey, widower of singer Tammy Wynette. Paul Richey came to Memphis in 1954, and after an disc jockey convention in 1960 in Nashville, Sam Phillips brought him up to Memphis again where on March 11, 1960, he cut one disc for Sun Records, ''The Legend Of The Big Steeple'' b/w ''Broken Hearted Willie'' (Sun 338), written by Sun producer Charles Underwood. In 1964, Paul co-wrote David Houston's Top 20 single, ''Love Looks Good On You''.
Besides the Opry star, Paul worked with such other artists as Pete Drake, Charlie Rich, Cowboy Jack Clement, Diane Jordan, Faron Young and once managed George Jones. In partnership with his brother he also had Brougham Hall Music. After working for many ears in Nashville as a producer, songwriter and publisher, Paul Richey, died on March 27, 2012 in Nashville at the age of 72.
RILEY, BILLY - Billy Lee Riley only had six records issued under his own name on Sun Records. Sparse as his output may haven been, in rockabilly annals he remains a titan.
His recordings of "Flyin' Saucer Rock And Roll" and "Red Hot" are by themselves sufficient to ensure his immortality. The other recordings, both issued and unissued, are evidence of a man with catholic taste and talents versatile enough to match them.
Riley a product of Irish and Cherokee ancestry, born on October 5, 1933 in Pocohontas, Arkansas although the family moved often throughout the rural Mid-South. "Back when I was a kid growing up, we lived on a plantation with mostly black people on it.
Every Saturday and every Sunday you could usually find a little group of dudes under the trees playing blues. A white guy, Tommy Hamblin, who came from a family of string musicians, taught me how to play three or four chords on the guitar. We started playing with the black musicians, being the blues with them. He and I man, we were black as the rest of' em".
Billy Riley had bought a Sears-Roebuck Silvertone guitar at the age of nine from his girlfriend. "She had lost interest in the instrument after it had been sprayed by the termite control people. So I bought it off her, refinished it and learned how to play it". By that time he had already mastered the harmonica, an instrument that his father had taught him.
The family grew up in what can only described as abject poverty. "We lived in a tent. A big ol' Army tent. My dad put a floor in it and built walls around it. Then he built two log cabin rooms adjoining, kitchen and dining room". Billy Riley dropped out of school at age of 10 and started working to help support the family. In common with every other family in the vicinity, the Riley's owned neither records nor a phonograph. Electricity was uncommon in rural areas at that time but battery radios were available and very popular. Riley fondly recalls listening to and being influenced by Hank Williams and Lefty Frizzell via the radio in the late 1940s. However, he heard no blues on the radio as the advent of black radio programming was still a few years distant.
One of the seasonal highlights for the Rileys and neighboring families was the traveling tent shows. The cost was 25c. "We wouldn't see them if they were too far away", Riley recalled, "cause we had no car. About the only way we could get to any place was to walk or find a ride".
Halfway through his thirteenth year, Billy Riley's family left the plantation in Arkansas and headed southeast to Tupelo, Mississippi bringing their tent with them. Riley's father was working as a painter but after a year with work at a premium the family pulled up roots again and headed back to Arkansas - this time to Osceola. While in Tupelo though, Riley had made his first public appearance, performing live on radio station WELO.
In 1948 Billy Riley tried to enlist in the armed services. Only 15 years of age, he was rejected. By 1949 the family had moved back to Pocohontas although his sister stayed in Osceola. Riley tried again to enlist and with his sister signing the necessary papers attesting that he was 18 (Riley had no birth certificate), he became an employee of Uncle Sam.
For Riley, the Army was just a way out of grinding rural poverty although he eventualy saw some benefits: "While I was in the service I got more interested in music because I won some talent shows at the service club". Playing in these talent shows, singing hard country music along the lines defined by Hank Williams, Lefty Frizzell and Hank Thompson, Riley first performed in a full band context. He was even offered a position in Special Services but surprisingly turned it down due to stage fright. During his hitch in the service, he made his first private recordings including the Hank Williams weeper "My Son Calls Another Man Daddy".
It is unclear exactly how long Billy Riley spent in the service. He recalled to Bill Millar that he returned briefly to civilian life and then re-enlisted for three years. In any event, Riley probably found himself back in civilian duds around 1953 or 1954.
From left: Billy Riley, Roland Janes, Marvin Pepper, and Jimmy M. Van Eaton >
Music was now much more than a hobby and upon discharge he joined a couple of country bands that worked in and around Jonesboro, Arkansas, C.D. Tennyson and the Happy Valley Boys and the KBTM Ranch Boys. While supporting himself and his first wife with a day job in a shoe factory, Billy Riley could be heard regularly on three local radio stations, KBMT and KNEX in Jonesboro and KRLA in Paragould.
Both the bands with whom Riley worked taped their shows on Sunday for broadcast during the week. At the same time, Riley together with the bassist and the bassist's wife from the KBTM Ranch Boys rose early in the morning to perform live on a gospel show.
Not making a lot of money in the shoe factory or with his music, Riley was talked into moving to Memphis by his brother-in-law. Together they opened a restaurant and Riley briefly forsook music. After the restaurant failed, Billy Riley worked as a...
...meat cutter and than as a truck driver for Industrial Coverall. "That's when my mind was on music. When I wrecked that truck I was singing 'Trouble Bound'. I worked there until I wrecked two trucks".
Riley joined Slim Wallace's Dixie Ramblers. Wallace was a local truck driver who played bass in a band which also featured Jack Clement, then attending Memphis State University. Wallace and Clement got the notion to start a record label, Fernwood Records, named after the street upon which Wallace lived. The studio was a primitive affair, literally situated in his garage.
The Dixie Ramblers consisted of Roland "Slim" Wallace, Jack Clement, Billy Riley, Wayne McGinnis and Ramon Maupin, they played straightahead hard country music, mostly on the weekends. Its interesting to note Riley's first playing experience - at least on guitar - was with black blues musicians on the plantation where he lived with his parents. yet, up to this point in his semi-pro career, he had only publicly played country music. As with many other future rockabillies he never reaslized that he had an option. He was white, therefore if he wanted to play music, he played country. That was simply what white Southern musicians did. Riley explained: "After hearing Elvis and seeing what was happening, a lot of us guys got away from the country stuff. We wanted to get with what was happening. When it was new it was something completely different from what anybody had ever done. It was something that fit me because it sounded black. It was still country but it had that black feel and that was what I wanted. It was something I was brought up on".
After Billy Riley had played a couple of months with the Dixie Ramblers, Jack Clement had the idea that the first release on Fernwood should be by Billy Riley. Surprisingly in view of Riley's growing infatuation with the new music, the Dizie Ramblers first attempted a country song, a Riley original entitled "Think Before You Go". At that point the group consisted of Riley, Wallace, Bob Deckelman on steel guitar and a fiddle player.
They recorded two songs, "Trouble Bound" and "Think Before You Go". in a primitive studio Clement had built in Wallace's garage. Clement took the masters to Sam Phillips, who responded to the eerie, bluesy intensity of "Trouble Bound" and offered a job to Clement and a contract to Riley. Sam Phillips counseled against releasing the countrified "Think Before You Go", so Riley concocted a rockabilly novelty, "Rock With Me Baby", that he recorded at the WMPS studio in Memphis. Purchasing the masters from Fernwood, Sam Phillips issued Riley's debut single in May 1956.
With a record on the market, Riley needed to put a band together, Clement was too busy at Sun to be playing clubs and Bernero had always been temporary. That left only guitarist Roland Janes. Riley and Janes had met a teenage drummer, J.M. Van Eaton, when Van Eaton had been down at Sun with another group. He was quickly drafted into the fold, as was upright bassist Marvin Pepper. By the end of 1956, Riley's group had been co-opted as the house band at Sun Records.
From left: Jimmy Wilson (piano), Martin Willis (saxophone), Billy Riley (vocal, guitar and harmonica), Jimmy M. Van Eaton (drums), and Pat O'Neill (bass) >
After a four year involvement with Sun, Riley decided to quit again, Jack Clement and Bill Justis had been dismissed in early 1959. Both started their own labels. Riley did some work for Justis, cutting an instrumental record pseudonymously for Jaro/Top Rank under the name "Spitfires". By this point he had reunited with Roland Janes and they held down a steady gig at the Starlight Club in Memphis. It was there that they came up with the idea for Rita Records settled in the old Sun studio.
One of the first moves was to bring Harold Dorman to the label. Dorman had been languished around town since 1856, trying to hustle a deal for himself and his writing partner Wiley Gann. Riley and Janes took Dorman and Gann to the Hi studio, paid Jack Clement to handle the board and emerged with "Mountain Of Love" which became a nationwide hit in 1960.
Rita Records was a short-lived venture and Riley's involvement in it was even shorter. Commercially, none of Riley's records had much impact. Sam Phillips has more than once lamented this fact, stating that he does not understanding why Riley never broke through. To Riley though, its simple: "Jerry Lee and Sam got too this, what happened to me".
Through the 1960s and 1970s, Riley persevered in the music business. He recorded under his own name and a host of pseudonyms including the Megatrons, the Rockin' Stockings and Sandy & the Sandstones. The list of labels for whom he recorded is even longer. He even achieved a small breakthrough on the Entrance label in 1972 with the Chips Moman produced "I Got A Thing About You Baby" that later Elvis covered. Immediately preceding his deal with Entrance, Riley had returned to the re-born Sun label owned by Shelby Singleton in Nashville, launching it in fine style with "Kay". Both "Kay" and "Red Hot" were, in their way, definitive performances but the gulf between them highlighted Riley's real problem: he lacked an identifiable style. With all the talent in the world, Riley would not stick in one groove long enough to reap the rewards. His versatility was his greatest asset and his greatest-drawback.
Since 1983 Billy Riley has refused to gig, recorded little and released nothing. If the right offer under the right conditions came along he would probably give it one last go-round. In the meantime, he supports himself as a contractor, rarely dwelling upon his impressive, if less than successful, past.
All of us involved with this project revere Billy Riley for his music. When Joyce met Billy on April 11, 1975, she knew nothing about Billy's music or Sun Records. She fell in love with a hard-working man who was raising two daughters, ages 3 and 6, by himself. Only later did Joyce discover the music featured here. Joyce and Billy were married just about two weeks after they met, on April 26, 1975. Joyce was still with Billy 34 years later when he died of colon cancer on August 2, 2009. The final years of Billy's life were a medical and, consequently, a financial nightmare.
Raymond Kirby (left) and heartbreaker Jettie Cox, two members of The Ripley Cotton Choppers >
RIPLEY COTTON CHOPPERS, THE - The 78rpm single Sun 190 ''Silver Bell'' b/w ''Blues Waltz'' by the Ripley Cotton Choppers remains one of the rarest records Sam Phillips ever recorded. After two years of releasing nothing than black music, Phillips had decided to broaden his base of operations. In July 1953, he scheduled the first recording session with the Ripley Cotton Choppers, and later that year released Sun's first country record.
It had hillbilly stamped on the promo copies so that country disc jockeys would take a second look and maybe listen. The Ripley Cotton Choppers took their name from a group of Tennessee musicians who had performed widely during the Depression years. Although they had never recorded, the original Cotton Chopper broadcast regularly over WREC in Memphis.
The Cotton Choppers Phillips recorded for Sun were headed by by Raymond Kerby, a house painter, contracter,...
...guitarist, cattle rancher, and jack of all trades. Kerby was born on April 21, 1919 in Halls, Tennessee, a small community outside of Ripley, which is itself eclipsed by Memphis, some forty miles to the south. Other members of the Cotton Choppers included Kerby's uncle, Jesse Frost, who did most of the singing; Raymond's brother, James Kerby, who played guitar; Ernest Underwood, who sang and played fiddle; James Haggard on mandolin; Bill Webb, another guitarist, and depending upon the seasons, James or Pete Wiseman on string bass. On occasion, a woman named Jettie Cox also sang with the band and even recorded some unreleased material for Sun.
The Cotton Choppers came to Sun's attention because Hoyt Wooten, Phillips' old boss at WREC, told Ernest Underwood about Sam Phillips. Underwood was the only member of the Choppers who had also played with the original group, and he and Wooten were old friends. A phone call was made and Ernest Underwood and Raymond Kerby drove down to meet Sam Phillips. The primary meeting went well and a formal audition was set up. That went well also and the group's first session was arranged. It produced "Blues Waltz", the vocal side of the Choppers' release. As Raymond Kerby recalls, Phillips had them repeat the song over and over again until he was satisfied with it. "Blues Waltz" featured a harmony vocal by Ernest Underwood and Jesse Frost, now both dead. James Haggard's madoline, the only time this instrument appears on an issued Sun record, is prominently featured. The instrumental flipside, ''Silver Bell'' (not the traditional Christmas song) was recorded at a later session. It features twin guitar work by Raymond Kerby and Bill Webb who played lead. The session which lasted all night, also produced two unreleased vocal sides called ''Roses And Sunshine'' and ''Pretty Baby''. ''Roses And Sunshine'' features a vocal duet which includes Jettie Cox. This track still exists today on a well-worn acetate. Nothing is known about ''Pretty Baby''.
Sam Phillips and The Ripley Cotton Choppers caught each other's eye at just the right moment in time. Within the next two years, Sam Phillips virtually abandon blues and traditional country music for Elvis Presley and the first generation of rockabillies and The Ripley Cotton Choppers would cease to be a group. Because the Cotton Choppers came to Sun and were one of the first country groups Phillips recorded, they received a historic offer. Sam Phillips was looking for a backup band to work with his new discovery: a vocalist whom Phillips was sure would put the company on the map and make everybody rich. After their final session, late into the night, Sam Phillips came out of the control room and sat down with the Choppers for one of his patented 'heart to heart' talks.
He made his offer: there were no guarantees, but he liked Kerby's picking and thought everybody might benefit from the merger. Were they interested? It was late that night and Kerby asked if they could think on it a bit. "Sure", said Phillips, "take your time". The sun had already come up by the time the Choppers got back to Ripley, and they had already made up their minds. The Ripley Cotton Choppers decided not to back up Elvis Presley. He was an unknown, and it would have meant dropping their present vocalist, Kerby's uncle Jesse Frost. In this casual moment, Raymond Kerby passed up his chance at immortality which, as we all know, fell into the nimble fingers of Scotty Moore.
Kerby's memories of Sam Phillips are borne out by information that has since come to light. "He was always saying 'These people in Memphis are making fun of me. They think if you don't play popular music, you ain't playing music. But I'm going to show 'em'". Raymond Kerby also recalls Phillips' conduct in the studio. "He kept trying to get us to do something we never did understand. He wanted us to play and sing more like a colored man. He kept saying if he could just find him a white boy who...". Phillips was fairly insistent about this but the Cotton Choppers were never able to cross that maggie line. Nevertheless, the title of the very first country record that Sam Phillips released on Sun still had the word "blues" in it. An ironic footnote to Phillips' quest is that a year or so before their Sun audition, the Choppers had recorded a rough demo of an original song called "Paint Slinger Blues". It was a simple 12-bar blues written by Kerby, his brother James, and his uncle, Jesse Frost. It was composed spontaneously as the three men sat around after a hard day's work. Raymond Kerby still had his paint splattered overalls on when the line "I'm an old paint slinger and I sling my paint all day" came into being. Because they never took the song seriously, the Choppers never even auditioned the song for Phillips. As an old acetate shows, "Paint Slinger Blues" comes surprisingly close to the sound and style that Sam Phillips was looking for. Kerby confides that most of his group was not overly impressed with Sam Phillips' operation. "Half of us figured we were wasting our time. We figured Sun Records wasn't big enough. They'll never do anything for anybody". When this 78rpm was finally released, it never appeared on 45rpm, Phillips told Kerby, "Now don't quit if this record don't make it. You too good a guitar player".
By virtually any yardstick SUN 190 did not make it. It certainly got lots of local action and seems to have been on every jukebox between Memphis and Ripley. Kerby recalls, "We never did see any royalties on it. But you could turn the radio on, sometimes ten or twelve different stations would be playing it at the same time. Bob Neal had a show on WMPS. He used "Silver Bell" as his opening and closing theme". The Choppers did little touring, virtually all of it confined to within 50 miles of Memphis. Kerby recalls playing on a bill with Carl Perkins at the Jackson Armory in 1954. They may have smiled 'hello' backstage, but really never made contact. The last contact Kerby with Sam Phillips was in early 1955. He had run out of copies of his record and called Phillips to buy some more. Kerby still has the shipping box that held a dozen 78rpms. It is postmarked January 10, 1955.
The Kerby's have two sons and a daughter. Like his father, John Kerby also has strong musical interests and actually recorded in a rockabilly style for the fledling Diane Records. His only session was held in 1959 when John was still in high school. Bill Black produced the date, which resulted in a fine rockabilly offering called "Get Hot Or Go Home". Like his father, John Kerby succeeded in making one of the rarest records to come out of Memphis in the 1950s. Raymond Kerby has been making music a long time. He started playing guitar when he was about fifteen. He played with a USO band during World War II. He's played with countless local groups, including an all-black band that used to perform at baseball games. "I would have liked to make music a career but things just didn't work out that way", he said, and of course he wasn't alone in that. Thirty years after recording his closest brush with rockabilly, the demo ''Paint Slinger Blues'', Raymond Kirby was still slinging paint. Along with work as a house painter, he raised beef cattle and looked after most of his own veterinary needs. Despite all of this activity, there were still periodic jam sessions with friends and good old time pickin' remained very much part of his life. He died on September 10, 2006 in Lauderdale, Tennessee. An obituary of Kerby's son, Johnny Lee, noted that John Kerby too was dead by 2008. (HD)
ROSS, DOCTOR - With a stage name of ''Doctor'', a theme song about curing the boogie disease, and over 30 years performing as a one-man man, it's no surprise that fans, publicists and commentations built Doctor Ross into an even more clear-cut groove than he developed for himself. But back in the early 1950s, the music Ross made for Sam Phillips was not performed as a one-man band and it had a freshness that sounded current even though it was based on much older songs and styles. Doctor Ross was not the the first to use the theme of the musical medic come to help you feel better - Doctor Clayton and others got there first - but Ross was one of the best.
Georgia Tom recorded some musical medic themes pre-War but Ross's take on it was the boogie - that if you wanted to hear the music, or wanted to dance, or wanted the other thing, then he was your man.
Born in Tunica, Tunica County, Mississippi, in October 21, 1925, gained his nickname in the US Army and is reference to some medical knowledge he obtained while in the service. He played for his service buddies in 1943 into 1947 in the Philippines at...
...the Pacific Theater of Operations and frequently entertaining the troops, and in 1950 became fully professional, broadcasting over radios KFFA, WROX and finally WDIA in Memphis.
Charles Isaiah "Doctor" Ross played a guitar and a harmonica mounted on a rack around the neck while playing a bass drum and/or high hats with foot pedalsand, he played also the kazoo. Ross were at their best playing rhythmic riffs and boogie-woogie patterns, which gave a fuller sound.
Perhaps it was the surplus of country blues talent and the notorious competitiveness of the blues scene in Memphis that sustained this one-man band, for they could simulate the sound of a larger combo while being hired to perform for the price of a lone musician.
Doctor Ross grandparents were Indians, his father was Jake Ross, a farmer who played the harmonica. Ross is raised on a farm and is one of 11 children (six girls and five boys), was interested in music in the early years and learned the harmonica at the age of 6 years. ''My father's name was Jake Ross and my mother's named Lulu Ross'', he told Barry Lee Pearson. ''My father and them used to work over 107 acres of land. I used to be the water boy. I take water to the fields for them. My father was mostly a new ground man. He'd clean up the woods about hundreds of acres. And he was a harmonica player. ''Music was in both sides of the family. Some of them played violins and banjos. Lots of them plated fiddles, pianos and organs. My uncle, Jody Nixon, was a great guitar player. That was my uncle on my mother's side. My sister and them used to have one string upside the wall. Put a brick at the bottom end and maybe a bottle up at the top end and make some of the best music you ever heard. I guess when I was born I just had that in my blood. My sister got married to a World War One veteran and he bought me a couple of harmonicas. Then, a couple more years, I had another sister to get married and she bought me four harmonicas''. Being left-handed, he played the harmonica upside down (as he would the guitar), meaning in his words, ''I have my coarse keys to the right and my fine ones to the left''.
Occasionally he worked at the local churches and parties in Tunica, Mississippi area in 1934 and worked with George P. Jackson at the local roadhouses and juke joint in Tunica, Mississippi in 1936. ''He heard me playing one day and he decided, ''I'm gonna ask your father can you go out with me to play birthday parties''. Jackson was born in Alligator, Mississippi on May 16, 1920. He took up the guitar aged 17 and taught himself to play slide but it was his friend Wiley Galatin (whose name recently metamorphosed into Gatlin) who taught the teenage Jackson how to play conventional guitar. ''He never was a great guitar player'', Jackson told Hartmut Munnich. ''He just had something going that the people in the South liked''. Jackson and Ross became a team around 1939, with the occasional addition of Doc Tolbert, who provided percussion on a bucket, an arrangement that lasted until Jackson joined the Army in 1942.
In the late 1930s; he teamed with Willie Love to on tour with the Barber Parker Silver Kings Band and working on dances through the Mississippi Delta; worked with Wiley Galatin, or solo, at the local house parties in the Tunica area in 1942 into 1943. ''So G.P. played in natural and Wiley played in Spanish. I like both of them playing but I liked Wiley more because he would get the notes more plainer on the guitar. Wiley had plenty plays because he was big time around here''. They formed a band with guitarist John Dillon and washboard player Reuben Martin. Dillon was sent to Parchman Farm in 1950 for murder and there's speculation he was the John Dudley Alan Lomax recorded there in 1959. As work became more frequent, Ross had trouble with Galatin. ''Wiley, he'd mess around, ''Oh, I ain't gonna get drunk'', you laying about two o'clock in the morning. Wiley done fell drunk many times. I had to have somebody to pack him up. I had another young man that come in there so he'd play''.
On December 16, 1943 Ross entered the Army and, returning to Tunica in August 1947, Doctor Ross, in Tunica to work outside the music on a farm and appeared on WROX-radio in Clarksdale, Mississippi in 1947, and frequently worked at the local dances, parties and picnics in the Tunica area through the end of the 1940s; appeared with his own Doc Ross and His Jump and Jive Boys on Katz Cloting Shore Show on KFFA-radio in Helena, Arkansas in 1949; worked on Owl Cafe in Helena, Arkansas in 1949; working on Hole-In-The-Wall; the Isidore's Bar; the Roger's Club and appeared with Sonny Boy Williamson II (Alex Miller) on the King Biscuit Time on KFFA-radio in Helena, Arkansas in 1950. He also appeared in 1950; with his own Doc Ross and His Jump and Jive Boys on WDIA-radio in Memphis, Tennessee.
Sam Phillips heard this broadcast and invited him to the Memphis Recording Service studio. He recorded with the Doc Ross and His Jump and Jive Boys for the Chess label in Memphis, Tennessee in 1951. Recorded for Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee from 1951 into 1954. He was heavenly influenced by Joe Hill Louis and, like him, recorded a great deal for Sam Phillips. His two singles "Come Back Baby"/"Chicago Breakdown" (SUN 193) and "The Boogie Disease"/"Jukebox Boogie" (SUN 212) sold quite well.
Doctor Ross married in 1952 and after divorce in 1954 he married that same year again. Ross have 2 children, and is influenced by De Ford, Arthur Crudup, Lonnie Glossen, George Jackson, Muddy Waters and John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson.
Ross toured with the King Biscuit Boys on workings in juke joins through the Arkansas and Missouri area in the early 1950s; appeared on KLCN-radio in Blytheville, Arkansas in 1953, and worked outside the music in Champaign, Illinois. In 1953-54, Ross appeared on the Doc Ross Show, on WDIA-radio in Memphis, Tennessee and formed the group Dr Ross and the Interns group for working on local club dates in Memphis, Tennessee in 1953 into 1954.
In 1954 into 1990s, he soon left Memphis and the music for the car plants of Flint and Detroit, Michigan often worked as one-man band in Flint, Michigan. Ross married Beatrice, Willie Love's second cousin. Then he fell out with his wife, who began a court case, ''I said, 'You took a woman out of the South, take her North and you know she can destroy you in no time. In three days she can destroy you, bring your pup tent down''.
Since rediscovery he has made many tours of Europe, playing as a one man band in Flint, Michigan and Chicago, Illinois from 1954 into 1970s; recorded on his own DIR label in Flint, Michigan in 1958; recorded for Fortune label in Detroit in 1959; recorded for Hi-Q label in Detroit in 1961 into 1963; recorded for the Testament label in Flint in 1965; worked at the University of Illinois, Urbana, Illinois in 1965; toured with the American Folk Blues Festival on working concert dates through England and Europe in 1965 (portion of the Hamburg, West- Germany concert are released on the Fontana label); recorded for the Blue Horizon. Xtra labels in London, England in 1966; worked at the Ann Arbor Blues Festival in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1970; at the Holiday Inn Bar in Saginaw, Michigan in 1971; at the Mariposa Folk Festival in Toronto, Canada in 1971; recorded with The Disciples for the Foretune label in Detroit in 1971; toured in England and Europe on working concert dates, radio appearances and TV-show in 1972; recorded for the Big Bear-Munich label in London, England in 1972; recorded for the Esceha label in Koblenz, West Germany in 1972, and worked on the Montreux Jazz Festival in Montreux, Switzerland in 1972 (portion are released on the Big Bear-Polydor/Excello labels).
In 1973, Doctor Ross on the Ann Arbor Blues Festival in Ann Arbor and toured with the American Blues Legends on working concert dates through England and Europe in 1974 (portions are released on Big Bear label); appeared on In Concert Show on Radio-4, London, England in 1974; worked BJ's Buffeteria in Bay City, Michigan in 1977, and toured in Europe working concert dates in 1977.
According to Ross, Sam Phillips told him if he could find a white man who could play and sing as good as a black man, he would make him a million dollars. Doctor Ross recalls, "The next time I went back, Elvis Presley had come through... so they took my promotion off of my record and they put it on him... I was probably one of the first ones. Me, Joe Hill Louis, and Willie Nix. There was a bunch of us there that was on that thing. But we were the ones who really started it". Doctor Ross was filmed at a concert on January 10, 1993 and subsequently a DVD, ''Doctor Ross The Harmonica Boss'' was issued.
There can be little doubt that Doctor Ross is one of the most individual and expressive blues singers and player around today, Ross has the artistic ability and lifetime experience to create significant blues. Ross decided to retire after 37 years from General Motors Shop during the summer of 1993, but Charles Isaiah "Doc" Ross died at May 28, 1993 in Flint, Mississippi of the age of 68 before that day arrived.
Doctor Ross was survived by seven children from his three marriages (and three divorces) and 20 grandchildren. Ross' funeral was attended by 200 people, and family friend Robert Williams told the Flint Journal: ''He was a loner who rarely visited or called anyone. I used to take his dinner to him daily to make sure he was eating. He'd stay at home, he'd go to work and work all day. Then he'd come home and watch his black and white television set... watch the Tigers. He would practice music by himself - wouldn't let anyone in the house. He wasn't selfish, he'd help you with his heart. He was close to his family. He didn't care about money and never spent any on himself. He wouldn't buy a color television and drove a 1979 Buick''.
A few years after Ross' death one of his sons sold a pile of Ross' memorabilia at a flea market in Detroit, including Ross' contract with Sun Records that now resides in the Rock And Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio.
ROSSINI, TONY - Like it or not, Tony Rossini made as many Sun singles as Elvis Presley, Billy Riley, Warren Smith and Sonny Burgess. One listen to his records tells you that Tony was a schoolkid; he was in fact just barely thirteen. His father, who was a schoolteacher in Memphis's when Tony recorded for Sun, had once played in orchestras. It wasn't his father who led him to Sun, though; it was a blue collar worker at Memphis's firestone plant, Dan Padgett, who fancied himself as a songwriter. Padgett had seen Tony at high school hops and asked him to demo some songs.
He then took the demo's to Scotty Moore, newly installed as the studio manager at Sam Phillips' Madison Avenue studio, and Scotty came to see Tony at a junior high school hop and signed him.
"Scotty produced the first session and Sam helped", is the way Tony remember it. "I don't really know what Sam was shooting for when he signrd me, It was out of character in terms of what motivated abd excited him. I was just thirteen, going to Colonial Junior High . Brenda Lee was big then, and so...
...was Eddie Hodges, so maybe Sam thought it was a trend " Sam was right; it was a trend, but one he should have left alone.
Sun Records didn't really have the experience or connections necessary to break an artist in this style. "That first release got played pretty strong around Memphis" says Tony. "I was doing shows with Jerry Lee Lewis and Roy Orbison, but I was like the added attraction because I din't have any hits''.
Then Tony drafted in 1968 and went to Vietnam and spent fourteen months there. He came back in January 1970 and in March he went to California and worked for Screen Gems and did demos for B.J. Thomas and others. Then he went to Capitol Records for an contract via Boyce and Hart and worked and doing club gigs in Orange County, up and down the coast.
Tony based in Louisville, Kentucky he still working on the lounge circuit. Anthony ''Tony'' Rossini Jr. passed away on Thuesday, March 18, 2014 in Edgewood, Kentucky at the age of 67.
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