Alphabetical Order by the last name of the Artist
Artists J - K - L
- Jackson, George Henry -
- Jackson, Handy (Gaylord ''Gay'' Garth) -
- Janes, Roland -
- Jenkins, Harold -
- Jesters, The -
- Johnson, Mary -
- Johnson, Sherman -
- Johnson, Willie -
- Jones Brothers, The -
- Justis, Bill -
- Kearney, Ramsey -
- Kelly, Jack -
- Kennedy, Tiny -
- Kerby, Raymond -
- Kesler, Stan -
- King, Cast -
- King, Riley B. (B.B. King) -
- Kirby, Ed -
- Kirby Sisters, The -
- Klein, George -
- Lawson, Lathe B. with James Scott Jr. with Charles McClelland -
- Lee, Dickey -
- Leoppard, Clyde & The Snearly Ranch Boys -
- Leslie, Alice (Alice Lesley) -
- Lewis, Jerry Lee -
- Lewis, Joe -
- Lewis, Linda Gail -
- Lewis, Sammy -
- Lichterman, Ira Jay -
- Load Of Mischief -
- London, Johnny -
- Lott, Jimmie -
- Louis, Joe Hill -
- Love, Billie ''Red'' -
- Love, Coy ''Hot Shot'' -
- Lowery, Gene -
JACKSON, GEORGE HENRY - was an American rhythm & blues, rock and soul songwriter and singer. His prominence was as a prolific and skilled songwriter; he wrote or co-wrote many hit songs for other musicians, including "One Bad Apple", "Old Time Rock And Roll" and "The Only Way Is Up". As a southern soul singer he recorded a mere 15 singles between 1963 and 1985, with some success. Jackson was born on March 12, 1945 in Indianola, Mississippi, and moved with his family to Greenville at the age of five. He started writing songs while in his teens, and in 1963 introduced himself to Ike Turner.
Turner took him to Cosimo Matassa's studios in New Orleans to record "Nobody Wants To Cha Cha With Me" for his Prann label, but it was not successful. Jackson then traveled to Memphis to promote his songs, but was rejected by Stax before helping to form vocal group The Ovations with Louis Williams at Goldwax Records.
Jackson wrote and sang on their 1965 hit "It's Wonderful To Be In Love", which reached number 61 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 22 on the Rhythm & Blues chart. He also wrote for other artists at Goldwax, including Spencer Wiggins and James Carr, and recorded with Dan Greer as the duo George and Greer. After the Ovations split up in 1968, he recorded briefly for Hi Records, Sun Records (unissued cuts) and also for Decca using the pseudonym Bart Jackson. As a singer, he had a versatile tenor that was influenced by Sam Cooke, and released many records over the years, for a host of different labels, but his recordings never made him a star.
At the suggestion of record producer Billy Sherrill, Jackson moved to Rick Hall's Fame Studios at Muscle Shoals in the late 1960s, Alabama, where he wrote for leading singers including Clarence Carter - whose "Too Weak To Fight" reached number 13 on the pop chart and number 3 on the Rhythm & Blues chart in 1968 - Wilson Pickett, and Candi Staton. Some of Jackson's songs for Staton, including her first hit in 1969, "I'd Rather Be An Old Man’s Sweetheart (Than A Young Man’s Fool)", are "widely regarded as examples of some of the finest southern soul ever recorded by a female artist, with lyrics that were full of meaning and innuendo, a hallmark of Jackson’s best work''. Jackson also recorded for Fame Records, and had his first chart success as a singer in 1970 with "That's How Much You Mean To Me", which reached number 48 on the Rhythm & Blues chart. The Osmonds visited the Fame studio in 1970, and heard and liked Jackson's song "One Bad Apple", which he had originally written with The Jackson 5 in mind. The Osmonds recorded the song, and it became the group's first hit, rising to the top of the Hot 100 in February 1971; it also reached number 6 on the Rhythm & Blues chart.
In 1972 he briefly rejoined the Hi label, and had his second and last solo recording success with "Aretha, Sing One For Me", an answer song to Aretha Franklin's "Don't Play That Song"; Jackson's song reached number 38 on the Rhythm & Blues chart. He then released several singles for MGM Records, while continuing to write for other artists. In the early 1970s he began working as a songwriter for the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio and, with Thomas Jones III, wrote "Old Time Rock And Roll" which Bob Seger recorded in 1978; Seger's version reached number 28 on the pop chart. While with Muscle Shoals Sound, he also wrote "Down Home Blues", recorded by Z. Z. Hill, which became a theme tune for Malaco Records in the 1980s; "Unlock Your Mind", recorded by the Staple Singers and a number 16 Rhythm & Blues hit in 1978; and "The Only Way Is Up", originally recorded by Otis Clay in 1980. A version of "The Only Way Is Up" by Yazz & The Plastic Population reached number 1 on the UK singles chart, and number 2 on the Billboard dance chart, in 1988.
In 1983, Jackson formed his own publishing company, Happy Hooker Music, before joining Malaco Records as a staff songwriter. There he wrote hits for Johnnie Taylor, Bobby Bland, Latimore, Denise LaSalle, and Z.Z. Hill. He recorded an album of his own songs, Heart To Heart Collect, in 1991 for Hep' Me Records. In 2011, a compilation CD of his Fame recordings, Don't Count Me Out, was released. Jackson died on April 14, 2013, at his home in Ridgeland, Mississippi, from cancer at the age of 68. He left a son and two grandchildren.
Gaylord ''Gay'' Garth ''The Arkansas Belly Roller''. >
JACKSON, HANDY - Is the name of the artist and songwriter shown on the label of Sun 177. Despite the fact that his was one of the releases selected to relaunch the Sun label in January 1953, precious little is known about Handy Jackson other than he was a local musician, who fronted his own tight rhythm and blues combo. However, we do know now that the singer on one side of the disc was named Gay Garth and the rest of the story is to be found under his name.
By coincidence, while exploring one of the graveyards in Leflore Country,
Mississippi, where Robert Johnson was allegedly buried (but apparently was not, given subsequent discoveries).
Than Jim O'Neil found a headstone for Handy Jackson, but according to census data he would have been 47 years old at the time of the Sun disc. Several other people with the same name, can be found in censuses. Then again, just possibly, the name could relate to the family of Al Jackson, who often played in Memphis at the Club Handy.
GAYLORD ''GAY'' GARTH - For over five decades Gaylord Garth went about his business not knowing he had appeared on Sun Records under anothers name, and for those same decades record collectors and music historians went about their business not knowing that the singer on an ultra-rare disc credited to Handy Jackson was living and working in Chicago, singing and playing weekends in night clubs on the South Side where he was known as ''The Arkansas Belly Roller''. Then, fifty years after Garth's appearance in Sam Phillips studio and the release of Sun 177, ''Got My Application Baby'' and ''Trouble (Will Bring You Down)'', there appeared a picture in Juke Blues magazine captioned ''Gaylord Garth'', the Arkansas Belly Roller''. This just had to be the man Sam Phillips had entered into his notebook as Gay Garth.
Sam Phillips' logbook gave Garth's name, his address in Memphis of 131 Essex Street, and noted that Garth had recorded two songs on a 16 inch acetate. He did not record the date of the session but he did note that one of the songs, ''Got My Application Baby'', was issued on January 30, 1953 on Sun 177 along with a different, third, song titled ''Trouble'', after which he put the name Handy Jackson in brackets. When Sun 177 was pressed the name of the performer on both sides was shown as Handy Jackson and there was no mention of Gay Garth at all.
So when Juke Blues arranged for Davis Whiteis to talk to Gaylord Garth about his former life in Memphis it meant that all the mystery were about to be resolved, or were they? Garth remembered recording as a pianist with a band behind another vocalist and he remembered making a couple of vocal tracks himself, but he didn't have any idea who Handy Jackson was.
Gaylord Garth was born in Marianna, Arkansas on December 8, 1924 into a farming community. He told Whiteis he picked cotton alongside M.T. Murphy, who later played guitar behind him many iconic blues singers and gained latter-day fame through the Blues Brothers movie. In his teens Garth fooled around with the guitar and some home-made instruments and then he learned to play piano while he was in the Navy in the mid-1940s. His musical interest focused on Count Basie, Pete Johnson, Joe Turner, and Jimmy Rushing, ''not that gutbucket'' blues, he said. He remember coming to Memphis when he left the Navy, hanging out and playing with various groups: ''I started music in 1949 after I got out of the Navy the first time. I had got so I could carry the piano beat. I played C, G, and F, the keys I could play in''. He was playing with saxophonist Willie Wilkes at a club in Marianna when B.B. King heard him play and apparently decided to add Garth to his emerging group. ''I stayed with him a long time. I had joined the Naval (Reserve) and when the war started back up with Korea they called me back in the Navy, that was 1951''.
Garth felt that he made his first recordings at Phillips' studio before he went back into the Navy, but he also said of recording, ''I didn't know nothing about that stuff. I was dumb to the facts. I'd just gotten out of the Navy''. That would place the session in late 1952 or January 1953 rather than 1950 or 1951. Whatever the date, Garth was then pianist in a band with Willie Wilkes and he described the day, ''They didn't tell me we was going to a session. I hadn't rehearsed nothing. We were just going to back up someone, someone who wasn't a regular member of the band''. Then, he was asked to sing by a man he remembered as Billy Shaw of the New York booking agency, ''just looking for the country style blues... (Shaw) said, 'we want to hear you' but I didn't have no material''. As Shaw booked Rosco Gordon, it is at least possible that he was in Sam Phillips' studio the day Garth was there. Garth said one of the songs he sang was made up during the session, a song he called ''Screamin''. Sam Phillips noted that he had got ''2 number on 16 inch e.t. ''Got My Application'' and ''Screamin' And Cryin'''. When Phillips issued ''Application'' at the end of January 1953 it was backed not by ''Sreamin''' but by Jackson's ''Trouble'', and possibly this was the unremembered song and singer garth had been asked to back up on piano at the session? Garth felt that the other musicians on the session were Wilkes on tenor sax, Richard Williams on alto sax, Robert Carter on guitar and William Cooper on drums.
Sometime in 1953 Garth moved to Gary, Indiana, but returned briefly to Memphis before moving to Chicago to find work. He worked in a hospital kitchen and then a Ford dealership ''loadin' up trucks and all that'' where he stayed until he retired. During the late 1950s and 1960s he led a small band in which he sang and played electric piano. The band, the Gay-Tones, included saxophonist Ernest Cotton from Memphis who had recorded with Eddie Boyd and Memphis Slim and made a disc in his own name on Chicago's JOB label. From the late 1960s onwards, Garth gave up his group and just sat in as a guest musician, often on harmonica, and guest singer. He was also in some demand to perform his trademark belly rolls, guaranteed to cause a stir among the ladies. In 2004 at a Chicago area club, Lee's Unleaded, David Whiteis was still able to witness Garth and ''his impishly lascivious stage act, primal harp squalls, and still potent baritone holler''. All these activities came to a halt on September 13, 2010 when Garth died in his adopted city of Chicago. (MH)
JANES, ROLAND - is not exactly a household name. In fact, only those who are deeply involved with rockabilly music will know who he is. To the latter, though, his is a name revered. It was Janes, along with Scotty Moore and Carl Perkins, who developed the rockabilly guitar style at Sun Records. You'll hear far more from people who did far less than Roland Janes. He was never one for banging his own drum, and his accomplishment as a studio musician, producer, artist and repertoire man have tended to be overlooked.
He was the guitarist whose solos on ''Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On'', ''High School
Confidential'', and countless other Sun records are engrained in our collective memory. His work ran the gamut from the tasteful and economical little solo on the bridge of ''Raunchy'' to the deliriously over-the-top intro to Billy Riley's ''Flying Saucers Rock And Roll''.
And don't forget that he played on and produced Harold Dorman's ''Mountain Of Love'', and issued it on a label he co-owned. As a producer, he recorded Travis Wammack's ''Scratchy'', Mat Lucas's ''I'm Movin' On'', and Jerry Jaye's ''My Girl Josephine'', all of them among the best records to come out of Memphis in the early to mid 1960s.
Roland Janes was born on August 20, 1933, the second youngest in a family of seven in 1933 in a river town in North-East Arkansas called Brookings. It had once been an important lumber community and Roland's father, besides playing guitar, had earned a living as a lumberjack. By the time Janes was born, though, the lumber industry had died and his father had quit playing music. He did have an older brother who apparently played piano, organ and guitar and several of his cousins Loyd and Lonnie Snider, working in a semi-pro band in Corning, Arkansas, played fiddle, guitar, steel guitar, etc.. In fact, of the extended family, Janes was the last one to really start playing.
Before Roland was ten, his parents had divorced. His mother moved to St. Louis and slowly collected each of her children. Roland moved in with her in 1942. For a while, he shuttled hack and forth between his two parents, and it was in 1945 or 1946, during one of the times that he had moved back to Arkansas to live with his father, that he first started playing. His first instrument was a mandolin. The music that he and his cousins made was stone country. On the radio, at that time he says, there was nothing available but big band or country music.
"So I was not influenced at all by black music because I wasn't exposed to it. I came in contact with black music only when I came to Memphis and I'd already developed my style. I picked up on their style when the need arose. I could play blues. In other words, I m very perceptive, not bragging, but I'm very perceptive in that I can pick up on different styles very easily. But, I wasn't influenced by it, I was influenced by country and pop. In St. Louis I listened to people like Patty Page, Joni James and Les Paul. My father, he was a Pentecostal minister, so they had music in the church at that time. That was probably the basis, That's the basis of most country and rockabilly; the church''.
Janes eventually moved to Memphis in 1953. Once there, he went directly into the Marine Corps. "When I came here, it was during the Korean conflict and I enlisted in the service because I was unemployed. I would probably have been drafted anyway because they were drafting at that time. So, I enlisted''. He'd moved to Memphis shortly before he entered the service and returned there after his discharge in 1956, Going to school under the GI Bill, he worked briefly as a laundryman and even ore briefly in a paint factory before turning to music.
Shortly after returning to Memphis, Roland saw an ad placed the local newspaper by Doc McQueen, a pianist who ran a small demo studio from his home. McQueen also led a band at the Hideaway Club, and he'd given a break to Johnny Burnette and The Rock And Roll Trio, who'd just gone to New York and called him en route to say they wouldn't be in that night or ever again. McQueen was looking for a guitarist, and Roland got the job. Through McQueen, Roland met steel guitarist Kenneth Herman who introduced Janes to Jack Clement, who was involved with Slim Wallace in trying to launch a local record label. Wallace had built a studio in his garage on Fernwood Street and their company was to be called Fernwood Records. Their first artist was to be Billy Riley, who was also from northeast Arkansas. Riley was working up some songs for the first Fernwood single, and Clement took them to Sam Phillips at Sun mastering. Phillips liked what he heard and Riley's first effort led to an engineering job at Sun for Clement and a contract for Riley. Soon, Riley's group earned a reputation as one of the hottest working band in the mid-South, and played on countless Sun sessions.
Between 1956 and 1963, Janes was one of the anchors of the 'house band' at Sun Records. In those seven years, he played on the majority of Jerry Lee Lewis' one hundred and fifty plus Sun recordings, was a founding member of Billy Lee Riley's Little Green Men, and hacked up a plethora of lesser Sun artists from Charlie Rich, Sonny Burgess and Barbara Pittman to such unknowns as the Memphis Bells, Jeanne Newman and Tony Rossini (he played a session behind the latter in June of 1962 which included Scotty Moore, Booker T. Jones, Al Jackson and Steve Cropper on bass).
Roland Janes was also the resident guitarist at OJ Records, and can be heard beneath the omnipresent organ on OJ's only hit, Brother Dave Gardner's ''White Silver Sands''. In 1957, he quit Riley to work on the road with Jerry Lee Lewis. He and Jerry roomed together, and he insists that in those early days it was Jerry's bass player/father-in-law, J.W. Brown, and his road drummer, Russ Smith, who were the hellraisers. Falling with out Jerry Lee after a few months, Roland worked a short spell with Bill Justis, then riding the crest of the wave that began and ended with ''Raunchy'', before returning to work with Jerry Lee shortly before the illfated tour of England in May 1958. They worked together until 1959 when Roland returned to Riley's group. By that point he had married and was beginning to question whether he wanted to spend the rest of his days working the road and making forty bucks or less on sessions that led to million-selling records. He and Riley came up with an idea that they would become moguls.
''When Sam Phillips put in the new studio on Madison Avenue'', said Roland, ''Bill and I went to Sam and asked him to let us retain the old studio and record there with the product going to Sun, but we never actually resolved the question and just drifted into doing our own thing. Rita Records was a co-op deal, Bill and I played on everything, which naturally eliminated having to pay a couple of musicians, and we used our old buddies Martin Willis and J.M. Van Eaton. Jimmy Wilson had left the scene (he was working in California with Johnny cash and others) so we used Tommy Bennett and Larry Muhoberac on piano. We came up with a partner, Ira Lyn Caughan, who had a little money. He was an accountant, and we named the label after his daughter. We were searching for a name, and couldn't come up with anything we liked. Mr. Vaughan had a picture of his daughter on his desk, and she was a very pretty young lady. I said, 'What's your daughter's name'? He said, 'Rita', and I said, 'Let's call it Rita Records'. Mr. Vaughan did all the paperwork, and Bill and I took care of production and getting records to distributors. Riley was a tremendous salesman. He could go in, talk someone into something, and probably talk them out of it before he left. He was a much better salesman than me, But I probably had a better business head. We worked out of our homes, but the company address was Mr. Vaughan's business''.
Even before Rita Records started, Roland Janes and Billy Riley had made several tentative gestures in the same direction. They leased an instrumental version of ''Fireball Mail'' to Jaro/Top Rank via Bill Justis. It had been recorded under a pseudonym, The Spitfires, to sidestep Riley's contractual obligation to Sun. ''We borrowed from Duane Eddy and the Champs'', said Roland, ''combined the two, and came up with a tremendous flop''. Before that, Roland had cut an instrumental single that coupled ''Patriotic Guitar'' with the broody and menacing ''Guitarville''. The single was conceived at Sun when Roland was working with Jerry Lee Lewis. Jud Phillips, who had resurfaced to take over Jerry Lee's management after the fiasco in England, started Judd Records after falling out with his brother, and Roland's record came out on Judd. There was some ill feeling between Sam and Roland as a result because it had been cut at Sun, but the record wasn't big enough to cause lasting friction. It showed up on some local charts and bubbled under the Hot 100 but failed to break out.
Rita Records was launched in September 1959. Roland Janes and Billy Riley released their own records together with singles by J.M. Van Eaton and Martin Willis. Riley doubled as a blues singer named Lightnin' Leon. The first and only hit on the label came in 1960 with Harold Dorman's ''Mountain Of Love''. Roland had played on Dorman's 1957 Sun session, and saw more promise than is evident in those very halting demos. ''I knew Harold was a great songwriter'', he said, ''and I couldn't see why someone didn't pick up on him''. They recorded ''Mountain Of Love'' at Hi Records with Jack Clement behind the board. The record climbed the charts, eventually peaking at number 21 on the Hot 100, but things soon started to go wrong. There were disputes between Rita Records and its distribution partner, Bill Lowery. Riley sold his share in the label just as ''Mountain Of Love'' was breaking, and the label folded soon after the follow up, ''Moved to Kansas City'', stiffed. Roland had to lay low for a while, and moved back to St. Louis.
Returning to Memphis, in 1961-1962, Janes opened his own Sonic Studios on Madison Avenue. As well, he was the sole owner, part owner and or session player for a host of small independent Memphis labels throughout the 1960's and early 1970's. ''I leased the building, had it partially completed and then I ran out of funds'', he said. ''It just sat there a good while before I got together enough money to put in the rest of the equipment. I looked at some other studios and saw what they were supposed to look like and how the technical end was handled. We had a big room, 30 x 60 feet, with a soft metal ceiling and we hung burlap bags up there to trap the bass sound. We got a good clear sound out of that studio after some experimentation''. Roland's ideas on production were based on what he had learned from Sam Phillips. ''Sam taught me not to hold back. Just do it and have a good time doing it. Don't get hung up on little minor mistakes. If it feels good, that will come through on the tape''.
For Roland, owning a studio a backward step in terms of recording himself: ''Every musician wants his own studio and it's the worst thing that can happen to you. You think you can finally please yourself but you end up trying to please everyone else just to keep the place afloat. We also thought of ourselves as background musicians and never thought a lot about being featured artists. Even so, we always intended to record more but always put it of''.
Three hits came out of Sonic: Matt Lucas's ''I'm Movin' On'', leased to Smash/Mercury, Travis Wammack's ''Scratchy'', released on ARA and distributed through Atlantic, and Jerry Jaye's delightfully retro ''My Girl Josephine'' on Hi Records. ''I remembered Travis from when he was a little kid'', said Roland. ''and then, after I started the studio, several people told me that Travis was real good on electric guitar now. He had been playing acoustic and singing back when I first remember him. He was working with a friend of mine, Prentiss McPhail, and Prentiss brought him into the studio''. Wammack remembers hitting some hot licks for Roland. ''Later on, Roland even gave me the keys to the studio so I could go and rehearse'', he said. ''He gave me a break and I couldn't believe it because he was the top picker around''. ''Travis was so good'', said Roland, ''that he would become impatient with the other musicians. He would play part and theirs too. Sometimes he'd sound like a lead guitar, rhythm guitar and horn section – all at the same time. I told him to slow down or I'd have to get out my guitar and cut him''. Roland had just leased some cuts by Narvel Felts to Chet Atkins at RCA, and he sent ''Scratchy'' to Chet who sent back a note saying, ''This scares me. I pass''. Eventually, Roland issued the single on ARA, a label he -co-owned with Wayne Todd. Atlantic Records acquired the distribution, and it eventually reached number 80 on the Hot 100, but stunned a generation of guitarists with its new possibilities. The biggest hit to come out of Sonic was Jerry Jay's ''My Girl Josephine''. It was a custom session for which Roland received $13.00, and his principal contribution was to persuade Jaye not to overdub horns and a chorus. The record first appeared on Jaye's own Connie Records before Joe Cuoghi picked it up for Hi Records in February 1967 after it got heavy play on WMPS. Nationally it reached number 29. At the very least, Jerry Jaye gets in the history books for cutting the last hit that cost less than twenty bucks.
Sonic operated during a transitional period in Memphis music. ''We were coming out of the rockabilly thing into something with a heavier beat and in some ways more musically advanced'', said Roland. ''The music we cut was real transition music. It had a little rockabilly, a little soul and so on''. For troublesome customers, Roland had a knob on the console that said ''Control All''. He'd invite the client to adjust it while he ran the tape. They'd play with it until they were satisfied, and had no idea that it wasn't wired to anything.
After the closing of Sonic in 1974, Roland Janes, for the most part, got out of the record business for a couple of years, Roland was to return in 1977 as a producer and engineer at the Sounds of Memphis Recording Studio and, in 1982, at the Phillips Recording Studio on Madison Avenue. In between, he worked as an instructor of recording techniques at a predominantly black vocational school in South Memphis. At Phillips, he engineered Charlie Feathers' Elektra album and Charlie Rich's last album for Sire Records. With his eightieth birthday on the horizon, he still administers the old Sun publishing catalog, Hi-Lo and Knox Music, and engineering sessions at Phillips Recording. Artists including Phil Collins and Bob Dylan, will come to Phillips Recording simply no one in Memphis who knows more about how to make a record.
Roland Janes had been way overweight for years, and his knees troubled him, but he'd spiffed himself up
with some hair color and new glasses. In September 2013, Janes had a heart attack, and went swiftly
downhill from there. He went into the hospital on October 3, and on October 17, Knox Phillips say that
Roland's wife, Betty Janes and the kids had opted to remove life-support after a scan revealed serious brain
damage from a stroke. Roland Janes died the following day, a couple of months past his eightieth birthday.
His family was with him, and Jimmy M. Van Eaton had dropped by the hospital to check on Roland, only to
be present at the moment of his passing.
The funeral was on October 22, 2013. A slideshow showed Roland at different stages of his life and career.
Among the shots was his Bear Family LP, Guitarville, the only album ever released under Roland Janes' own
JENKINS, HAROLD (CONWAY TWITTY) - Conway Twitty was born Harold Lloyd Jenkins in Friars Point, Mississippi, on September 1, 1933, the oldest son of Floyd and Velma Jenkins. Velma named Harold for the bespectacled slapstick comedy star of the silent movies. Friars Point is a small town on the Mississippi, 75 miles south of Memphis. Five hundred people lived there then.
In later years, Twitty liked to draw a parallel between himself and Huckleberry Finn, but the fact remains that Twitty was a child of the Depression.
Floyd worked what can I seen and where he could, and was often away from home at WPA camps. He was part of the crew that built the dam at Sardis, Mississippi, and when Velma went there to live with him, she left young Harold with her mother.
Grandma McGinnis worked at Pa Fuller's boarding house, and it was Pa Fuller who gave Twitty his first guitar. When Twitty was eight, Floyd and Velma came back to Friars Point, and Floyd got a job on one of the ferry boats that crossed the river. Two years later, in 1943, the family moved over to the Arkansas side and settled in Helena.
Music was everywhere in that part of the Delta; it came from the Grand Ole Opry, local radio, tent shows, socials, church, street musicians, and almost every front porch. It was part of the fabric of life. When Twitty began to pick and sing, the Opry stars were his early idols. Roy Acuff, Ernest Tubb, Red Foley, Robert Lunn, The Talking Blues Boys, Eddy Arnold... they all left their mark. In 1976, he recorded a tribute to the Opry, "The Grandest Lady Of Them All", although sentimentality never led him to seek membership because that would have meant giving up the most lucrative night of the week in exchange for the Opry's pittance.
Black music left its mark, too. There was a black church just across the cottonpatch, and Twitty, barely ten years old, would sit on the ditch bank soaking up the music every Wednesday and Saturday. He learned a few licks on the guitar from a black sharecropper he called Uncle Fred. One of the tunes he picket up was "Diggin' My Potatoes", although the song's sexual subtext could have meant little to him. Later, Twitty was a regular on KFFA in Helena, but seemed oblivious to the heavy black music programming on the station, including Sonny Boy Williamson's King Biscuit Flour Hour.
Twitty wrote his first song when he was ten. He sang on the riverboats, and one of the passengers introduced him to the Arkansas Cotton Choppers, who had a regular spot on KFFA. The Choppers let Twitty do a guest spot with them on the station. Twitty and his friend John Hughey and another musician, Wesley Pickett, put together a band called the Phillips County Ramblers. Their sound was hillbilly music, just as it was played in schoolhouses, bars, and on tiny radio stations all across the mid-South.
The earliest Conway Twitty recording to survive is "Cry Baby Heart". It supposedly features him fronting the Arkansas Cotton Choppers, but the steel guitar, bass, and rhythm guitar line-up suggests that it was actually Hughey and Pickett backing him. Twitty insisted that his performance of this Leon Payne song dated from 1046, which is possible because it was written in 1944, but it wasn't a hit until George Morgan recorded it in 1949, so it's likelier that the recording dates from that year. Twitty certainly sounds much closer to sixteen years old than thirteen on the crackly home recording. The Phillips County Ramblers played on weekends, landing gigs in Arkansas, Mississippi, and southwest Tennessee.
There were several breaks in the Phillips County Ramblers' career. Around 1950, Twitty took himself off to Smiths, Alabama for the best part of a year. He had been ordered to break up with his steady girlfriend, and decided to handle the situation by catching a bus out of town. A friend, Sonny Carden, had kin in Smiths, and Twitty stayed with them. When he got back to Helena, h family had moved on to Tallulah, Louisiana where his father Floyd had taken a job on a riverboat. Twitty lived in Tallulah for around a year before returning to Helena in 1952. He finished high school in Helena, and probably reassembled the Phillips County Ramblers soon after he returned.
Twitty married a girl called Ellen in 1953. She was pregnant with his first child, Michael, but it's unlikely that he and Ellen lived together very much or at all. Soon after Twitty graduated from high school in 1953, he went to Chicago and worked as a shipping clerk for International Harvester. He was there when Michael was born, and he arranged for his parents to look after his son. The Phillips County Ramblers went their separate ways. Just before Twitty left Arkansas, he noticed that Slim Rhodes was advertising for a steel guitarist. Rhodes led a hillbilly band which had a regular show on WMC-TV in Memphis, and had just lost his steel guitarist to the draft. Hughey got the job, and stayed until Rhodes died in 1966. In 1968, he rejoined Twitty and remained part of Twitty's line-up until 1988. After that, he played with Loretta Lynn and, more recently, Vince Gill.
Like Twitty, Wesley Pickett went to Chicago, but they didn't assemble another band. Twitty lived in a cramped apartment on the black South Side. Before he left Helena, he had been scouted by the Philadelphia Phillies baseball club, and had been invited to try out in their farm system. They called again in 1954, but Twitty already had another two-year appointment lined up. He'd received a call from the U.S. Army inviting him to go to Yokohama. He was a supply clerk in the army. Wesley Pickett was drafted at the same time, but they didn't go overseas together.
Management contract between Bill Harris and Conway Twitty, July 4, 1956. >
In June or July 1956 - just three or four months after getting out of the service - Twitty became the front man of a band. Sitting on his porch at 1011 Poplar Street in Helena, he was playing guitar when another wannabilly, Bill Harris, heard him, and promptly assembled a small rockabilly group behind him. Harris, who had a steady job with Quaker Oats, took on the role of manager, and, on July 14, 1956, he signed Twitty to a management contract.
The band was to be called Harold Jenkins & The Rockhousers. It comprised Twitty, Harris, and guitarist Jimmy Ray Paulman. Harris played bass, and took care of finding the gigs. Billy Weir later joined on drums, and Jimmy Evans took over on bass from Harris.
On October 22, 1956, Twitty married for the second time. He had met Mickey Jaco in Helena, and they rented a place in Marianna, Arkansas. Before he joined the Army, he probably thought that Nashville was the center of the musical universe. Now it was Memphis - and Memphis was barely an hour's drive away. It seemed as though everyone who was creating a stir in music lived there or recorded there. And most of them were on Sun Records.
The tiny studio with the faded neon sign in the window that said Memphis Recording Service was as close to Heaven as hundreds of kids in the mid-South hoped to get, Conway Twitty among them. "I knew I wanted to be around that label", Conway Twitty said. "The studio was like a hole in the wall, but it looked like Radio City in New York to us. You used your own band and you played. We were trying to create in the studio. We'd start at say 10:00AM, and Sam would say, 'Yes, I've written this and this'... mostly country stuff. Sam would say, 'We can take good country songs and put a new beat to them. Do a new vocal thing'.
But the only vocal licks you had were what Elvis had done. You had to create. take the old songs and change 'em around. We'd write songs in the studio. We'd play four or five hours without a break. We were so wrapped up in it".
"I never did write the right song at Sun, although there were times I felt that Sam Phillips didn't treat me right. (I thought) I had something to offer that he didn't see, but I found out I was wrong. He said, 'I knew you had something or I wouldn't have spent as much money as I did recording you all of those hours, week after week, but it just didn't come together for you and I'".
It's hear to know how many of Twitty's tapes were recycled at Sun. Certainly very few remain, and if Sam Phillips really had the machine switched on hour after hour, week after week then most of the tapes were recorded over.
While Twitty was trying out at Sun, Twitty's management was taken over by Don Seat, agent of General Artists Corporation (GAC), one of the largest artist management companies in the United States. By late 1956, Seat had obviously decided that rock and roll wasn't going to blow over, and that he needed a rock and roller in his stable of acts. Harold Jenkins seemed like a good bet. Seak took the tapes to Bob Shad, Mercury Records New York head of artist and repertoire, and landed a contract. Mercury had been in business since 1945, and by 1957 it was ensconced among the majors. That meant that Mercury didn't really understand a grass roots uprising like rock and roll. No more than a few weeks separated the last tryout at Sun Records, Conway Twitty recorded the first Mercury session on March 13, 1957. Four songs were cut, all of them originals. The name Conway Twitty was decided upon before the first single was released.
At the Flamingo Lounge, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, 1958, with Joe Lewis, guitar; Conway Twitty, guitar; Blackie Preston, bass, and Jack Nance, drums. >
Don Seat wasn't discouraged when Mercury dumped his protege. He found him a booking at the Flamingo Lounge in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. From Hamilton, the band went to the Brass Rail in London, Ontario for a six-week stint. By this point they had broadened their repertoire so that they had two shows worked up.
Seat pitched Twitty's new demos around town and found a taker in Arnold Maxin at MGM Records. It couldn't have been easy to land the deal. Rockabilly was more or less finished, and Twitty was not only branded as a rockabilly but an unsuccessful one at that.
On the first MGM session with producer Jim Vienneau on board, Twitty recorded "I'll Try" was scheduled with "It's Only Make Believe", Conway Twitty had the biggest record on the charts. "It's Only Make Believe" entered the charts in mid-September 1958. His record was number 1, and it got to number 1 in England as well. Within a space of weeks, Conway Twitty had gone from the Canada to the Perry Como Show and Dick Clark's American Bandstand.
In late 1958 and February 1959, Twitty and his band went to Nashville to round out an album and cut two sings for the all-impostant follow-up single "Mona Lisa". Conway Twitty's secondbiggest pop hit after "It's Only Make Believe" came with "Lonely Blue Boy", and it was cut in November 1959. In the summer of 1959, Twitty started filming on Platinum High School, then in 1960, Twitty made another eminent forgettable Zugsmith movie, College Confidential, presumably a followup to Zugsmith's High School Confidential. This one gave Twitty a chance to star alongside that old habituee of the casting couch, Mamie Van Doren, the co-stars included Steve Allen, Jayne Meadows and a down-on-his-luck gossip columnist, Walter Winchell.
Twitty band went through some changes in 1960 and 1961. By the early 1960s, Twitty's hits were tailing off. If he is to believe, he saw country music as the passport to longevity in the business. He came to believe he was a country singer who had sold his heart to rock and roll - and mow he wanted a refund. On September 23, 1960, he went to Sam Phillips new studio in Memphis to cut a country session, but the result were dammed by the studio more than anything else.
One of Twitty's best shots in the early 1960s came with his March 1961 recording of "The Next Kiss (Is The Last Goodbye)", though confounded expectations by dying at number 72. The next single was just as strong, but completely failed to chart. "Portrait Of A Fool", written by Tree Music boss, Buddy Killen, with black songwriter Robert Riley, was Twitty's last Hot 100 hit as a rock and roll singer. It spent two weeks in the charts in January- February 1962, peaking at number 98. Twitty was now noodling around the bottom of the Hot 100 - back where he had started five years earlier with "I Need Your Lovin".
Conway Twitty's last single while he was an MGM artist was Muddy Waters' 1956 blues classic "Got My Mojo Working. It was now mid-1963, and, according to Twitty, he was exerting serious pressure on MGM to record country music. Jim Vienneau, probably trying to excuse his failure to keep Twitty on MGM as a country singer, an epic mistake in light of what happened.
Twitty was not merely out of the charts in 1963, but out of pocket. He had bought some land on Moon Lake in Mississippi with the idea of turning it into a recreation area. His father would run it. In 1965 Twitty moved from Marianna, Arkansas to Oklahoma City. Don Seat hints darkly that Twitty was in trouble in Marianna, though Twitty insisted that he moved for logistical reasons. There was a big park in Oklahoma City that he often played, and most of his showdates were in the mid-West and prairies, so Oklahoma City was central for touring. During the spring of 1965, he walked out half-way through a show at a kids vacation spot in Somers Point, New Jersey. He went home to Oklahoma City, and started booking himself into nightclubs at two hundred dollars a night. In June, he signed with Decca Records as a country singer. Owen Bradley later remembered that Twitty was keener to hedge his bets than he later pretended. The first country hit for Decca came early in 1966, and the first number 1 in 1968.
Chart statisticians rate Conway Twitty's country career as one of the top five of all time. He ruled the late 1960s and 1970s, staying close to a hardcore unreconstructed vision of country music for most of that time. He played to a predominantly blue collar crowd, and seemed to have an intuitive understanding of what they wanted. It was only in the 1980s that his career started slipped. In 1990, he decided to simplify his life, divesting himself of many of his business holdings, including Twittybird Music and its affiliates, which were sold to Sony-Tree Music. In the end, Twittybird was the only one of Twitty's business ventures that had prospered. He had already sold his stake in the Nashville's baseball club, The Sounds, and offloaded his classic car collection, as well as his mobile home business in Dallas, which Don Seat insists lost spectacular amounts of money. Twittyburgers were long gone, but not before draining Twitty of hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of dollars.
By the end of his life, it really didn't matter how good Conway Twitty's songs and records were. His moment had passed. His run had been among the longest. He was still in good voice until the end, though. His last recording was "Rainy Night In Georgia", with Sam Moore, once half of Sam & Dave. It was wrapped up on May3, 1993. On June 5, Twitty was returning to Nashville from Branson when he was taken ill at a truckstop. He died in Springfield of an abdominal aortic aneurysm, three months shy of his sixtieth birthday. He left behind few words, but a lot of music.
JESTERS, THE - were formed in 1964, led by guitarist Edaward LaPaiglia aka Teddy Paige, who had previously led a teenage aggression called the Church Keys, and was heavily into the '5' Royales, (then living in Memphis and recording for the Home Of The Blues label), Carl Perkins, Bo Diddley and Freddie King.
Paige hooked up with singer Tommy Minga, previously of the Escapades, and added rhythm guitarist Jerry Phillips, son of Sun Records Sam Phillips (and fresh from a stint as a fake midget wrestler), bassist Bill Wulfers and drummer Eddie Robertson in short order.
Teddy Paige (guitar), Tommy Minga (vocals), Eddie Robertson (drums), Jerry Phillips (guitar), Billy Wulfers (bass). >
Their set list was heavy on old blues, rhythm and blues and rockabilly tunes as well as originals, some re-writes of classic rhythm and blues tunes, some quite unique, and short of British Invasion hits that were the staple on most local white groups at the time.
At this time Jerry's older brother Knox Phillips was pretty much running the show at the much diminished Sun Records, Sam was disillusioned and bored with the record biz and preferred to concentrate on his radio stations, and Knox began recording the Jesters. Tapes from two sessions with eleven tracks from the original band have survived, as well as the two sides issue on 45, although these would not see release until the late 1980's when they were first issued on Charley's Sun: Into The 1960's box-set and later in 2009 on the Ace/Big Beat CD Cadillac Men: The Sun Masters, which added four Escapades tracks to fill out the CD.
The sides with Tommy Minga singing are all first class, snot nosed, garage howlers, ''What's The Matter Baby'', ''Get Gone Baby'', ''Strange As It Seems'', the original, Minga fronted version of ''Cadillac Man'', a version of Bill Doggett's ''Hold'' with added lyrics and retitled ''The Big Hurt'', the '5' Royales ''Slummer The Slum'' barely re-written as ''Stompity Stomp'', as well as versions of ''Boppin' The Blues'', ''Night Train From Chicago'', ''Heartbreak Hotel'' and the Bo Diddley cop, ''Jim Dandy'' and ''Sweet Sixteen'' would all fit perfectly on any volume of Back From The Grave (Crypt). Certainly had it been released at the time What's The Matter Baby could have given the Standells, Shadows Of Night, Knickerbokers and other crude hitmakers of that year a run for their Beatle boots.
How and why Tommy Minga's voice was deemed unsuitable for issued wax is unclear, but once it was decided to bring Jim Dickinson in on piano and lead vocals, ''Cadillac Man'' was transformed into another creature all together. Rather than a snarling, Them/Rolling Stones styled garage rocker, it became a throw back to an earlier era at Sun, that of full throated screamers like Sonny Burgess and Billy Lee Riley. Sam Phillips was said to be highly excited by the possibilities, and secured Jim Dickinson (who had previously cut two singles under the tutelage of Sun alumni Bill Justis) contract release and put the band back in the studio to cut a/b-side, a version of Little Walter's ''My Babe'' (itself a version of Sister Rosette Tharpe's version of the old gospel standard ''This Train''). ''Cadillac Man'' b/w ''My Babe'' was issued by Sun in 1966 and died a quick death. In a year (1966) that saw the ''Shadows Of Night'', ''13th Floor Elevators'' and ''Standells'' hit the charts, the Dickinson led version of ''Cadillac Man'' had probably less commercial appeal than the material cut with Tommy Minga singing. It was also the beginning of the end for the Jesters. There would be no follow up. At some point they recorded a version of Smokey Robinson's ''What So Good About Goodbye'' with Jimmy Day singing, but it too sat on the shelf for decades.
The band, with Minga back in front, briefly resumed gigging, but soon fell apart. Lack of success had halted their forward motion, and when a rock and roll group is not moving forward, it is dying.
By late 1966 it was over for the Jesters, Tommy Minga put together a new version of the Escapades. They released two singles ''I Tell No Lies'' (issued on both Arbert and XL) and ''Mad Mad Mad'' (Verve) both in late 1966. Teddy Paige played some sessions, ending up on discs by David Allen Coe and Cliff Jackson, left music to work construction and eventually relocated to the U.K where he was said to have taken to wandering around in medieval minstrel garb, complete with saber. He was briefly institutionalized in the nineties after a run in between said sword and a neighbor. Jerry Phillips would find work at the family radio stations, the other two got real jobs.
The Jesters were among the best and most unique garage bands in that peak year for garage band rock and roll. Paige's guitar playing is especially noteworthy, he works in quotes from Lowman Pauling, Freddie King, and Bo Diddley, yet still retained a unique and biting sound. Tommy Minga too had his own style, having perfected the requisite 'teenager with hard on who hates his parents' delivery. Jim Dickinson would of course go on to long and colorful career, recapped after his 2009 death here. Had ''What's The Matter Baby'' been issued on 45, it may have been a hit, or sold so few copies that it would got for $500 on Ebay today, either way, the best sounds the Jesters left behind are among the best garage punk I've ever heard.
JOHNSON, MARY - Mary Elizabeth Johnson was born in Corinth, Mississippi in 1943. Her father
was a policeman and her mother worked at home as the registrar of births and deaths for
the county. Mary expressed her musical gift at a very early age. In early 1956 she recorded
for Sun Records, but no tapes were released.
Not surprisingly, given her talent, Mary found
her way to Nashville and beyond. In 1957 she and a friend sang at local Corinth event. The
performance was witnessed by steel guitar player Royce Littlebrook, who asked if she'd like
Mary Johnson recalled: "I said 'Of course I would!'. Royce then talked to James Joyner and Kelso Herston, who had recently started a small record company in Florence, Alabama. They came to hear me at my home and decided to sign me''.
''Mother and daddy went over the contract for me - I was only about 14 - and signed it. We tried to record but James and Kelso never could get their equipment working right, so they decided to take me to Nashville. They had a connection with Buddy Killen at Tree Music, who worked out a deal with Chet Atkins at RCA Victor. I think Buddy was really blown away when he heard me and saw how young I was. He went ahead and got us an appointment with Chet and I think Chet, too, was pretty impressed. It wasn't long after that I had my first session for RCA".
By this time, Mary's name had evolved into Jeanie Johnson, which is how it appeared on her first three releases for RCA - all produced by Chet Atkins. The first single was cut on January 12, 1958, just before Jeanie/Mary's 15th birthday. Another session was held on April 29, 1958. Her third single, cut on May 21, 1960 was released with a picture sleeve, underscoring how highly RCA regarded the young singer. After this contract expired, Mary resigned with RCA in 1965. Her next two singles were produced by Felton Jarvis and credited to Jeanie Fortune - another name change. "Occasional Tears" (RCA 47-8704) was released in 1965 and her final disc for the label, "Angry Eyes" (47-8914), appeared in 1966. Another single, "Sure As Sin", appeared on Atco 6619 in 1968. It remains one of Mary's favourites.
During her tenure at RCA, Jeanie met and married singer-songwriter Marlin Greene. While she continued to record as a solo artist, Johnson was also singing with Mary Holladay and Susan Coleman in a group they named Southern Comfort. Donna Thatcher was added later to bring further depth to the group. The group wanted a fuller four-part sound like The Sweet Inspirations. When Donna left the group, there skated using Ginger Holladay, Mary's sister.
Their tight and spontaneous harmonies were valued for studio work in the burgeoning southern recording industry and soon Johnson/Fortune/Greene was in demand as a regular backup singer at Chips Moman's American Sound Studio in Memphis, as well as Fame Studios and Muscle Shoals Sound in Florence, Alabama. Mary Johnson also worked regularly as a backup singer at Stax and Hi Records in Memphis, and several studios in Nashville. Mary recalls: "One of the first backup vocal jobs I had was behind Jerry Lee Lewis at Sun in Memphis".
The session, held in August 1963, was the singer's last for the Sun label. In addition to session work as backup vocalists, Southern Comfort recorded material under their own name for Cotilion Records. When in the early 1970s, Ian Matthews' hit "Southern Comfort" came out, The Southern Comfort changed the name because the hit record decided who got to use the name.
Mary Johnson's work appears anonymously on a host of Elvis Presley records recorded during the 1960s. "The first session we ever did with Elvis was "In The Ghetto", recalls Mary Johnson. "That was at American Sound. We also did "Suspicious Minds". We never did appear with him on his stage shows. They used The Sweet Inspirations instead because they were quite a draw in person. I originally got the job singing backup for Elvis because of my recording for RCA. Felton Jarvis, who was Elvis's producer, handled my last session at RCA''.
The Southern Comfort, from left: Ginger Holladay, Mary Johnson, Donna Thatcher, Mary Holladay, with Elvis Presley at the American Sound Studio, Memphis, Tennessee, 1969. >
'' Some time later we had done some work at American Sound and I found out that Elvis was coming in. I remember we spent the night at the Holiday Inn on the river after our session and the next morning as we were checking out I called Felton. That's the boldest thing I think I ever did in my life. I said to him, 'We just found out from Chips that you're bringing Elvis in for a session and we really want to be on it'. He said, 'Well, I'll talk to Elvis about it' and sure enough we got to do it. We almost fainted".
Mary's group, The Southern Comfort, also recorded widely (and performed live with) Neil Diamond. They were seen with Diamond when he appeared on the Johnny Cash TV show. As her original Sun recordings suggested, Johnson was not restricted by musical categories. Her vocal group also appeared on recordings with country artist Bobby Bare, and soul singer Percy Sledge (When A Man Loves A Woman), Joe Tex and Joe Simon.
In 1972 Mary Johnson appeared with Marlin Greene on George Harrison's landmark Concert For Bangladesh album. Mary's group also appeared on 1960s albums by Boz Scaggs and Cher; 1970s albums by Don Nix, Albert King, Lonnie Mack, Gerry Goffin, Dan Penn, Willie Nelson, Leo Sayer and Peter Yarrow.
In 1971 Mary again recorded solo, producing an LP on Elektra called "Mary Called Jeanie Greene" (EKS 74103). A live recording of an tour called "The Alabama State Troupers" was issued on Elektra 75002 in 1972, featuring Jeanie, Don Nix, and blues singer Furry Lewis.
In 1984, Mary recorded as backup singer for Carl Perkins, but she never did get paid for it. After that, things began to wind down. In 1993 her husband Max died, Today Mary-Elizabeth- Jeanie Johnson-Greene-Lee lives in Corinth, Mississippi, not far from where she grew up. She lives a quiet life enjoying none of the material benefits or notoriety one might expect from such as a productive career in the music business. She is not looking for international fame and fortune, but neither was she expecting to be forgotten. Her voice, has graced numerous gold and platina records. She has been heard by millions who never knew who she was.
Sherman Johnson >
JOHNSON, SHERMAN & HIS CLOUDS OF JOY - It seems as if Lillian McMurry at Trumpet Records was sufficiently impressed with Sam Phillips' work on her Tiny Kennedy session to schedule Sherman ''Blues'' Johnson the following week. In Marc Ryan's authoritative work on Trumpet, he quotes a letter from McMurry to Johnson: ''When we first met, you had potentials. It too a whole year to get you off the old track and onto the right one. At first, you didn't realize that it was your piano playing that kept you on the same old tune and was making you break time''.
Phillips had the solution in the shape of Pineas Newborn, Sr., Phineas Newborn, Jr., and Calvin Newborn. Saxophonist Richard Sanders rounded out the group. McMurry had already canceled two releases by Johnson, but she culled two singles from Phillips' session.
Sherman Johnson was born in Meridian, Mississippi on July 22, 1925, was a disc jockey on WTOK, Meridian when he recorded for Trumpet. His first recordings were for Nashboro in 1951, and they're on Bear Family's ''A Shot In The Dark: Nashville Jumps'' box. Both Nashboro sides were longer on personality than skill, and that was McMurry's complaint. Five songs resulted from Johnson's session with Sam Phillips on September 30, 1952. One month later, Phillips sent the tapes to McMurry for all but one song, ''Lost In Korea'', to which he was adding sound effects. Johnson's activities after the Trumpet session are more or less unknown. He wrote a song that Johnny Ace recorded, and cut a session with Paul Gayton for Chess Records in New Orleans in 1957, from which nothing was issued. A session in Shreveport for Ram Records the same year also yielded no releases. Around 1961, he started a label, Mel-O-Juke, in Meridian, but from there the trail goes cold until word came of his death in Meridian in May 1982. (CE)
Willie Johnson, guitarist for Howlin' Wolf (left) with Adolph Duncan. >
JOHNSON, WILLIE - If for nothing other than his recordings with Howlin' Wolf, Willie Johnson belongs in the pantheon of blues guitar greats. His tone and attack became part of Wolf's signature sound, a sound that shaped not only blues but rock and roll. Some of us first became aware of Johnson's identity from the 1962 Crown LP that included Worlf's remarkable ''House Rockin' Boogie''.
After some slashed chords and bluesy fills, Wolf says, ''Play that git-tar Willie Johnson, til it smokes''. Adding, ''Guy on that gi-tar is Willie Johnson, whuppin' jus' some gi-tar''. From that sliver of information, it wasn't hard to figure out who played on most of Wolf's early recordings.
Willie Lee Johnson aka Willis Hone Johnson was born Senatobia, outside Goldwater, Mississippi, on March 4, 1923, one of six children. His parents were sharecroppers, and his father brewed liquor, imparting to his son a habit he would never shed for long. None of the family were musical, but young Willie made the customary experiments with baling wire and a bottle before getting a guitar of his own. Learned guitar from legendary Delta figures such as Willie Brown and Son House. But his own style was thoroughly modern - over amplified and distorted, with many ideas from jazz.
He first met Howlin' Wolf around 1941/1942, and for a while the pair played together on the streets and in juke joints. By the late 1940s, he was working at various times with the Newborn family band and with barber Parker's Silver Kings Band. In a 1994 conversation with John Anthony Brisbin, Johnson said, ''I met Howlin' Wolf in the late 1930s at Dooley's Spur, Mississippi, right out from Robinsville. Him and Son House and Willie Brown was playing together''. Wolf told Son House and Willie Brown that he wanted Johnson to come up and play a number. ''I tunes the guitar my way'', continued Johnson, ''and I struck out on a tune. Son House and Willie Brown backed me up. They said, 'This kid is good. He's gonna be alright someday'''. Wolf literally sat Johnson on his lap, teaching him tunings and licks, and by Johnson's account, Wolf switched to harmonica after Johnson became proficient on guitar. Already, Wolf was a formedable showman. ''He'd get up and clown and do about with his guitar'', said Johnson. ''He got that tail dragger name. He'd put a towel in the back of his belt 'cause he seated so much. He's swing his hips and the towel would look like a tail. People be hollerin' and clappin' and he'd be tellin' ém 'bout he drag his tracks as he go out''.
Still in Mississippi but crossing the river to Helena, Arkansas, Johnson played with Sonny Boy Williamson, Joe Willie Wilkins, and some of the King Biscuit Boys. Settling in Memphis, he hung out with Sammy Lewis and Willie Nix. ''Sammy played harp for Willie Nix a long time. 'Willie played drums and sang, but you never could get along with him. He'd get to drinkin' and want to argue''.
In 1951, Johnson was once again working with Wolf on KWEM, West Memphis and at the Brown Jug nightclub. By Johnson's account, Sam Phillips came into the Brown Jug to see them, and accompanied him on all of his earliestsessions, playing with an amplified power that almost matched Wolf's titanic roaring vocals. He claimed to have written "How Many More Years" one of the many distinctive songs which established Wolf's reputation. Wolf moved north a couple of years later, but Willie elected to remain in Memphis. He worked with Willie Nix, having recorded with him on sides that Sam Phillips sold to RPM and Checker. He also joined Elmore James and Sonny Boy Williamson on their periodic tours of the southern states.
His own recording debut came about in 1955, when he teamed up with harmonica player Sammy Lewis, backing Lewis on "Feel So Worried", his variation on Junior Parker's "Feelin' Good", and singing his own "So Long Baby Goodbye". During this he emits the immortal cry, "Well all right, Sammy, blow the backs off it", a phrase that is better remembered than his performance as a singer.
Shortly afterwards, Wolf's summoned him to Chicago and he remained in Wolf's band until 1961. For whatever reason, Johnson gave up music and got a job making alloy wheels in a car plant. Various efforts were made to induce him back into the music business and Earwig Records boos Michael Franks recorded some sessions in the late 1980s. His last public performance was June 2, 1994, with Sunnyland Slim at Buddy Guy's Legend club on Wabash Avenue in Chicago. His health had been deteriorating for several years before his death at his home in Chicago on February 26, 1995.
Nevertheless, his reputation as one of the great postwar guitarists had already been secured 40 years earlier with his ignitable playing on so many classic Howlin' Wolf recordings.
JONES BROTHERS, THE – Consisted of six voices and one guitar. The group had its origins in Marion, Arkansas in the late 1930s when Cas Jones formed a quartet. Death and normal attrition took their toll, and by the time of the early 1950s Sun sessions a somewhat different personnel was featured.
Along with Cas
Jones, there where Jake McIntosh, William Gresham, Johnny (John Allen) Prye, James Rayford and Eddie Hollins. Charles Bishop played guitar.
The Jones Brothers originally came tom Sam Phillips' attention through Brother Theo Wade, a mainstay of WDIA and the Memphis gospel scene, and Phillips noted that their manager was Walter Oliver. That contact led to several sessions, one held in December, 1953 and the second a month later in January, 1954. Other unknown titles were dated 1955.
Although Phillips recorded gospel sparingly and often for lease to other labels, he liked it. He just didn't think he could sell it. For that reason, the Jones Brothers must have held some special interest to him; he actually released a single by them on his fledgling Sun label. Other than the Prisonaires, whose exceptional circumstances offered Phillips a built-in marketing hook, the Jones Brothers were the only gospel quartet whose music was released on Sun.
Thirty years after their recording session in 1953, five members of the group were still living in Memphis. Along with Prye and Mackintosh, James Taylor was there, as was James Rayford who had joined and recorded with the Jubilaires in Hattiesburh, Mississippi until, he told Steve LaVere, ''the lead singer went to preachin''. Walter Oliver, who had become a minister, also still lived in Memphis. Oliver had not sung in a while and, during an impromptu reunion, he commented ''The pipes are a bit rusty''. Charles Bishop had died around 1965 and Eddie Hollins had become a preacher and moved to Boston.
When Colin Escott and Hank Davis visited Johnny Prye in 1983, he was still living at the same address and held the same day job with McLean Trucking as he had when Sam Phillips had first summoned the group to record in 1953. Prye, born in Clarksdale, Mississippi on March 28, 1924, had remained active in the local gospel scene, singing with several groups and training still others. Perhaps the most notable moment of the interview/Jones Brothers reunion was Johnny Prye's revelation that Elvis Presley had visited the studio during one of the Jones Brothers' sessions at Sun.
According to Prye, Elvis had spontaneously begun to sing with the quartet, enjoying the excitement of the vocal interplay as he had several years later during the Million Dollar Quartet sessions. Prye reported that Sam Phillips had turned on the tape recorder and captured some of this impromptu singing. There are Jones Brother tapes dated 1955 so this is a possibility. Prye indicated that Sam Phillips had given him an acetate of one song featuring Elvis and the quartet which Prye had dutifully stored away in the attic of his modest
Memphis home on Warren Avenue. The acetate was in good company with piles of old tapes and dubs that he kept safely above the living room. That's the good news. The bad news is that the temperature on the streets of Memphis that day was pushing 100 degrees. Forty years of Memphis summers rendered Prye's attic a less than optimal storage place for an acetate of historical value. We gently suggested that Prye have a look around for the disc as well as anything else from that era that might hold collector/historical interest, not to mention financial value. He promised to do so. On the next visit, Prye presented the interviewers with a shoebox of old tapes that contained quartet rehearsals, however there was no acetate and no Elvis. The interviewers left the South, leaving their address and strong encouragement that Prye continue his search of the attic. Not surprisingly, word never came from Memphis.
There are several footnotes to this story. Prye had two sons and a daughter, Beverly. John Jr. was the family historian and ''could have told you everything my father ever sang or recorded'', according to Beverly. ''My other brother, Steven, was a very accomplished person. He graduated from Yale with a degree in English literature and psychology. He later graduated from Harvard Law School and practiced in New York City. He wrote magazine and newspaper articles and received a number of accolades here in Memphis. He became quite ill and suffered on undiagnosed mental disorder that may have been related to Alzheimer’s disease. He was in and out of hospitals in Ohio before his death''. And this information might solve the riddle of why an obscure Jones Brothers acetate, included here, turned up in a thrift store in Medina, Ohio.
Johnny Prye died on march 10, 1987. Brother James Taylor sang at his funeral. Several months after Prye's death, there was considerable damage to his house, causing the roof to collapse and showering the contents of the attic into a downstairs bedroom occupied by Prye's disabled son, John, Jr. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but the next day the rubble, containing whatever tapes and acetates Johnny Prye ever owned, was carted out to the street for garbage pickup. Early the next morning a truck carried that little portion of Memphis history, along with assorted coffee grounds and orange peels, off to the city dump. Eventually it all became landfill, the mute grounding for a new subdivision or mall. (HD)
JUSTIS, BILL - Bill Justis was not grounded in the world of country music and hillbilly bars as many of
Sun's rock and rollers were. He was from a comfortably-off family, William Everette Justis Jr., was born in Birmingham, Alabama on October 14, 1926.
His father was an affluent roofing contractor, and Justis grew up riding shows horses and playing tennis, in sharp contrast with most of those with whom he would one day work. His mother was a classical pianist and encouraged him to play music.
He studied English at University and started to take an interest in jazz music. He took up the trumpet and saxophone and played in local dance bands when he came back to Memphis in 1954, talking like a hipster and looking for a job.
''I was living in Memphis and I'd been married for a time and was working at various jobs around town. I wanted to be in music but I never had been known professionally. Not really. One night I was reading a newspaper article about a guy in New York named Buck Ram, who had to do with the success of the vocal group scene. I read about how much money he had made out of rock and roll so I said, 'That's for me' and I immediately set out to a record store and bought $80 worth of the all-time rock and roll hits. The ones that set the styles. I studied the stuff and found it was so simple, yet basic and savage and that it was difficult to perform. This was 1956. Soon after that I was hired by Barbara Pittman to arrange a session at Sun for her, and Sam Phillips complimented me on the work I had done and asked me to come see him sometime. A couple of months later I did, though by that time I had arranged a session with Wink Martindale in WHBQ. It was the OJ label and Dewey Phillips engineered it; he was a very famous disc jockey at that time. I took the Martindale tape to Sam and he asked to work with him. Jack Clement had arrived as an engineer and we worked there a couple of years''.
Sam Phillips, hearing something he liked in the O-J sessions, hired Justis and gave him the official title of Musical Director. In May 1957 Justis decided that he would try to record a rock and roll tune. He invited Sid Manker over to his house to play riffs while Justis worked out a melody. The results sounded commercial, and Justis decided to record it. Before the session he had read a glossary of teenage jargon in a magazine. He found 'raunchy' in there. After the session, saxophonist Vernon Drane said, "That's the raunchiest damn thing you've ever done. You'll miss a hit if you don't release it". The two ideas connected and Justis had his tune named, ''Raunchy''.
After "Raunchy" became a number 3 pop hit in the late months of 1957, Justis began touring. He had started balding at age 17 and was self-conscious about both his age and his appearance; he felt woefully out of place on package shows. Roland Janes recalls one occasion in Los Angeles. Justis used the opportunity to hire some of his favorite big-band musicians. They sat around all afternoon poking fun at rock and roll, but when it came time to play, Justis found they couldn't get the licks.
Bill Justis recorded some very creditable follow-ups, none of which recaptured the excitement of "Raunchy". On the session reels, he can be heard between takes chiding the musicians in the hipster's patois he had adopted: "OK, girls, let's get real bad now so we can sell some records. Instant crapsville, girls. Here we go...".
In March 1959 Bill Justis and Sam Phillips came to a parting of the ways. In circumstances that are still not entirely clear, Bill Justis and Jack Clement were fired for insubordination. each started his own label, looking to emulate Phillips' success. Justis started Play-Me Records, but found the road Phillips had traveled be a hard one. Economic necessity forced him to take on a job as a PR rep for a trucking line until Bill Lowery at NRC Records offered him a job working in Artist and Repertoire. Bill Justis commuted to Nashville and Atlanta for sessions, eventually moving to Nashville in 1961 to become a freelancer working with Bill Beasley for Hit Records, a company producing sound alike versions of hit songs, while working on independent productions for other labels, soon joining Monument and Mercury as an arranger. He made a number of instrumental albums on Smash and other labels. He played the sax on the soundtrack of Elvis Presley's movie "Kissin' Cousins", soundtrack recording session in October 1963).
Between 1962 and 1966 he usually had at least one of his arrangements on the pop or country charts. His clients included Bobby Goldsboro, Brook Benton, Roy Orbison, Bobby Vinton, and countless others. In early 1966 Bill Justis moved to Los Angeles to take on more legitimate work and possibly get into film scoring, but he returned to Nashville in 1972, his ambition to work on movies still unfulfilled (although he later wrote the "Smokey And The Bandit" scores). Moving between California and Nashville, Justis gave Ray Stevens the title for a million-selling hit ''Gitarzan'' in 1969. He wrote and produced for a range of top names including Ray Charles and Fats Domino as well as mainstream pop singers.
Bill Justis remained in Nashville until his death at the age of 55 from cancer in July 15, 1982, doing what he did best; arranging. His wife, Yvonne, whom he married in 1954, remembered that in church everyone would sing the melody and Justis would hum an arrangement around it. The huge crowd that attended his funeral in the Memorial Park Cemetery in Memphis attested to the respect in which he was held.
KEARNEY, RAMSEY - was born on October 30, 1933, in Bolivar, Tennessee, where he attended high school with his friend Bobby Sisco, who eventually moved to Michigan and became a rockabilly singer in his own right. Kearney became interested in music at the age of 13 and took part in a talent contest, which resulted in a radio spot on WDXI in Jackson, Tennessee in 1948. It was there that he met Carl Perkins, who was a guest on Kearney's show several times. In 1952, Kearney gave up his show and joined the Snearly Ranch Boys in Memphis, Tennessee, a local country band led by drummer Clyde Leoppard.
This group also included such persons as Smokey Joe Baugh, Stan Kesler, and Bill Taylor. One year later, Kearney served in the US Army and upon his discharge, he recorded some songs for Sun Records, which remained unissued.
As the vocalist of the Jimmie Martin Combo, he recorded two songs for Jaxon Records, "Rock the Bop" b/w "Red Bobby Sox" in 1957 at 706 Union Avenue. Jaxon was founded by Martin himself and his group was the first to appear on the label. It was a small company that gave local talents the possibility to record their first single, for example Carl Mann. It was Kearney's first record release; however, the record went nowhere due to missing promotion and distribution.
Kearney later moved to Knoxville, Tennessee, where he became a member of WNOX's Tennessee Barn Dance. It was not until he moved to Nashville that he enjoyed some success both as a musician and as a songwriter. During 1961-1963, he recorded for Hickory and penned such titles as "Emotion," recorded by Brenda Lee, Juice Newton, and Mel Tillis. Kearney is still active as a musician and records for the Safari label at the moment.
Jack Kelly >
KELLY, JACK - Jackie Boy was born near Middleton and Rogers Springs in Hardeman County, Tennessee on March 12, 1905. The son of Ed Kelly and Emma (Amey or Annie) Sain, he spent his life playing in the streets of Memphis, with musicians as Frank Stokes, Will Batts, Dan Sain/Sane. Kelly had two brothers (Willie aka Buddy and David) and three sisters (Emma, Alberta, and Chris aka Lizzie). Lizzie told Steve LaVere that her father, Monroe Bolden (who must have been either Lizzie's dad or Kelly's step-father or both) taught all the Kelly boys how to play music.
With some ten issued 78s to his credit from sessions held in 1933 and 1939, Kelly was a recording veteran by the time he came to Phillips' studio. His group was known as the South Memphis Jug Band but he confined himself to singing and playing guitar.
His trademark was an unlit cigar dangling from his lips, a habit he affected until his death. In 1952, Kelly for the Sun label with Walter Horton credited as by Jackie Boy & Little Walter. He was no j ug-blower himself, concentrating on vocal and guitar duties. According to LaVere, Kelly's death certificate identified his usual occupation as decorator. Although it was generally assumed that he died around 1960, there's a note in Marion Keisker's log book that says ''Deceased'', and Keisker left Sun in 1957. Later research seems to confirm this, dating his death to September 9, 1953. He's buried in Bolivar, Tennessee, close to his place of birth. It's possibly a coincidence but the check register for the Memphis Recording Service dated February 12, 1954, shows that a J. Kelly was paid eighteen dollars for painting at the studio. If it's our Kelly then the check remains uncashed. (CE)
KENNEDY, TINY - Like Sherman ''Blues'' Johnson, Jesse ''Tiny'' Kennedy was recorded as a custom job, and not as a master for re-sale or for Sun. Kennedy, probably born in Chattanooga, Tennessee, on December 20, 1925, was quasi-established artist when Sam Phillips recorded him for Trumpet Records. In November 1949, he'd recorded with Jay McShann for Capitol, and in 1951 Trumpet Records president Lillian McMurry had seen him with Tiny Bradshaw. ''Tiny was so big and fat that when he sang his fat just went up and down rocking with him'', she told Marc Ryan. ''We put him under contract and recorded him''.
Trumpet was based in Jackson, Mississippi, but local studios couldn't handle a medium-sized band and still recorded to expensive acetates, so McMurry first tried WHBQ studios in Memphis, sending Kennedy there with Elmore James.
Disliking the results, she set up a session in Jackson for December 1951 with Mose Allison, but Kennedy blew the ticket money and didn't show. On February 27, 1952, Kennedy violated his Trumpet contract by recording a session with Tiny Bradshaw for King Records in Cincinnati. Taking a third shot at getting Kennedy on disc, McMurry arranged for a session of Phillips' studio, and relied on Phillips' judgement in choosing musicians. Although ''Strange Kind Of Feelin''' wasn't a charted hit, it sold well, justifying McMurry's patience. The flip-side, ''Early In The Morning'' featured a dub of a trained rooster that crowed on-air at WFOR in Hattiesburg, Mississippi for disc jockey Chuck Thompson. McMurry got one more session out of Kennedy before he left for RCA's new Groove subsidiary. ''Strange Kind Of Feeling'' was redone for Kennedy's second Groove single, but didn't do well. As far as we know, Kennedy didn't record again. In 1975, researcher Bob Eagle heard that he was performing in a no-go area of East St. Louis, but his current whereabouts are unknown. (CE)
KERBY, RAYMOND - 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".
Thirty years after recording his closest brush with rockabilly, the demo "Paint Slinger Blues", Raymond Kerby is still slinging paint. Along with work as a house painter, Kerby raises beef cattle and continues to look after most of his own veterinary needs. Despite all of this activity, there is still time for music.
Personal appearances and recording are no longer part of the itinerary, but periodic jam sessions with friends for good old time pickin' are very much part of his life.
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 Choppers broadcast regularly over WREC in Memphis. The Cotton Choppers group that Sam Phillips recorded for Sun was headed by Raymond Kerby, a house painter, contractor, guitarist, cattle rancher and jack-of-all-trades. Kerby was born in 1919 in Halls, Tennessee, a small community outside of Ripley, which is itself eclipsed by nearby Memphis.
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 and, depending guitarist upon the season, 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.
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.
Stan Kesler is an American retired musician, record producer and songwriter, whose career began at the Sun Studio in Memphis, Tennessee. Producer Stan Kesler is best known for forming two of the industry's most renowned studio groups, the American Studios Rhythm Section (otherwise known as the 827 Thomas Street Band) and the Dixie Flyers, only to have both groups stolen away. He co-wrote several of Elvis Presley's early recordings including "I'm Left, You're Right, She's Gone" and "I Forgot to Remember to Forget", and played guitar and bass on hit records by Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis. As a producer, his successful records included "Wooly Bully" by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs.
Born as Stanley Augustus Kesler on August 11, 1928 in Abbeville, Mississippi. He learned to play mandolin and guitar as a child, and steel guitar during his time in the U.S. Marines. After his discharge, he formed a band with his brothers, before joining Al Rodgers in his band, performing in and around Amarillo, Texas. After two years with Rodgers, Kesler moved around 1950 to Memphis, where he played in various country and western swing bands, including the Snearly Ranch Boys led by Clyde Leoppard, who also included Quinton Claunch. Kesler began writing songs for the band to record, and several were taken up by other singers at the Sun studios headed by Sam Phillips. These included Warren Smith, and Elvis Presley, who recorded "I'm Left, You're Right, She's Gone" in 1954, and "I Forgot to Remember to Forget" the following year. Presley's recording of "I'm Left, You're Right, She's Gone", written by Kesler with William E. (Bill) Taylor, was released as a single by Sun Records and reached number 5 on the country chart; his version of "I Forgot to Remember to Forget", written by Kesler with Charlie Feathers, reached number 1 on the country chart in early 1956.
By 1955, Kesler had also become a regular session musician at Sun, playing with the house band on records by Carl Perkins and others before switching to bass, which he played on Jerry Lee Lewis' 1957 hit "Great Balls of Fire", and records by Roy Orbison. He also worked as a recording engineer at the Sun Studio. In the late 1950s, he founded his own record label, Crystal, later starting two more labels, Penn and XL. In the mid1960s, he found success with XL, producing "Wooly Bully" and several subsequent hits by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs. He also worked as a producer with blues musician Willie Cobbs, recording the original version of "You Don't Love Me".
Kesler also engineered recording sessions for Quinton Claunch's for Goldwax label, working with soul singer James Carr among others, and in that capacity put together a band of session musicians who included guitarist Reggie Young, drummer Gene Chrisman, keyboardist Bobby Emmons, and bassist Tommy Cogbill.
After achieving initial success with Kesler at Goldwax, the band was persuaded to leave to join Chips Moman's new American Sound Studio in Memphis, where they had greater success becoming known as the "Memphis Boys". The group went on to unheralded success, playing on 120 hit records in a three-year period. Kesler then put together a new recording group at the Sounds of Memphis Studio, including guitarist Charlie Freeman, bassist Tommy McClure, keyboardist Jim Dickinson, and drummer, Sammy Creason, until they were able to cut a quality session (they backed Albert Collins on his Grammy-nominated Trash Talkin' album), only to have his studio musicians stolen again, this time by Atlantic head Jerry Wexler. The group, naming themselves the Dixie Flyers, relocated to Miami's Criteria studios, where they went on to record successful albums for Aretha Franklin and Jerry Jeff Walker. When Kesler's third studio group was lured away by music attorney Seymour Rosenberg, the producer finally gave up the notion of independent recording and returned to work as an engineer for Sam Phillips.
Kesler eventually gave up the idea of independent production and in 1978 returned to work at the new Sun Studio at Madison Avenue in Memphis as an engineer. He later formed a touring group, the Sun Rhythm Section, with guitarists Paul Burlison and Sonny Burgess, two drummers D. J. Fontana and Jimmy M. Van Eaton, keyboardist Jerry Lee "Smoochie" Smith of the Mar-Keys, and Marcus Van Story. The band toured internationally, and recorded an album on ''Flying Fish Records, Old Time Rock And Roll'' (Flying Fish FF445) in 1987. Stan Kesler is retired from the music industry in the early 1990s, and later lived in Bartlett, Tennessee, close to Memphis.
KING, CAST - was a country musician and
songwriter from Old Sand Mountain, Alabama. King released the album, "Saw Mill Man", in 2005. He was aged 79 at the time of recording. A song from the album entitled "Outlaw" was included in the score of Gus Van Sant's 2007 film, Paranoid Park. "Saw Mill Man" drew comparisons to Johnny Cash's American Recordings series. King's baritone voice and acoustic guitar have been praised as possessing a raw and affecting quality. The narratives of the songs dealt with characteristic country themes such as poverty, broken relationships, and murderous outlaws.
Joseph Dudley ''Cast'' King had been born in Chattanooga, Tennessee on February 16, 1926 and was raised in Dunlop, Tennessee until he was ten years old. Then his father died, King and his mother moved to Pisgah and stayed by his grandparents and he became interested in music after hearing a band perform on stage, and started to learn to play the guitar. In 1944, Kind drafted into the Army and went to Germany in the war, and during that period he in various bands entertaining the troops.
After the war, King started playing lead guitar for Curtis Parton and the Alabama Ramblers for about one year, because he started and formed his own band, playing mostly country music, and were called the Country Drifters. Cast King married Helen McKee in 1948 and the couple had five children, though two unfortunately died. Because of his family and work commitments Cast King didn't have as much time for music as he would have liked, but the Country Drifters played regular live show on radio WROS in Scottsboro, Alabama, and playing shows on various radio stations around the country. Several people told
him the band was so good it should be on record but King took this with a pinch of salt until one day in early summer of 1956 when radio man, Clyde Varner said, ''made some demo tapes and sent them to Sun Records.
Although his opportunity to record a full length album came late in life, Cast King had previously recorded for Sun Records in 1956 and 1957. With his band, The Country Drifters, he cut around a dozen songs at this time. After his two recording sessions at Sun, Cast King returned to Pigah and to his normal life as a parttime musician. He didn't approach other record companies and the rockabilly boom continued without him, as did the country music business for the most part.
By 1987 King was working with Sky Records of Muscle Shoals trying to get some of his original songs recorded but little came of this. Strangely, at the age of 79, it was musician, Matt Downer, who located King and encouraged him to come out of a long musical retirement and record. Downer also played electric guitar throughout "Saw Mill Man". The record was met with favourable reviews from Rolling Stone, Arthur Magazine, Mojo, and No Depression among other publications. In 2006, cast King finally made it to Nashville, playing a show at a Baptist Church, and people wanted him to tour more widely, but he had never been in a plane and didn't intend to start.
King was preparing a second collection of songs when it was discovered that he was suffering from cancer. Cast King passed away at his Old Sand Mountain home in Alabama on December 13, 2007 at the age of 81. (MH) (HD)
KING, RILEY B. (B.B. KING) - Blues singer, nicknamed "King Of The Blues", who was born Riley B. King on a plantation on September 16, 1925, between Itta Bena and Indianola, Sunflower County, Mississippi (birth registered in Indianola). His grandfather was bottleneck guitarist, his father was Albert King and his mother was Nora Ella Pully and were singers. One of five children, he often sang in local churches from 4 years of age. When his parents separated, King moved with his mother to Kilmichael, Mississippi area to attend one-room school house, where he frequent sang in a school spiritual quartet from 1929 to 1934.
After his mother's death, quit school to work outside the music, and he returned to Indianola and continued to develop his music while working as a farmhand on the local plantation, and to live with his father and work outside the music with occasional church choir singing in 1939 into 1943.
He taught self the guitar forming from the Elkhorn Singers gospel quartet to work in local churches circa 1940 into 1943, served briefly in the US Army and sang the blues for the troops at Camp Shelby in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, and Fort Benning in California in 1943.
B.B. King is influenced by Charles Brown, Doc Clayton, Archie Fair, Lowell Fulsen, Al Hibbler, Elmore James, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Lonnie Johnson, Sam McQuerry, Jimmy Rushing, Joe Turner, Aaron "T-Bone" Walker, and Bukka White. He influenced artists like to Luther Allison, Mickey Baker, Elvin Bishop, Bobby Bland, Mike Bloomfield, Lonnie Brooks, Andrew Brown, George Buford, Eric Clapton, Albert Collins, Louis Bo Collins, Larry Davis, Arthur Gunter, Buddy Guy, Sugarcane Harris, Jimi Hendrix, Bee Houston, Luther Johnson Jr., Albert King, Freddie King, Carol Leigh, Little Joe Blue, Little Mack, Little Milton, John Little john, Magic Sam, Johnny Mars, Chicago Bob Nelson, Alvin Nichols, William Norris, Andrew Odon, Elvis Presley, Fenton Robinson, Otis Rush, Son Seals, Lucile Spann, Ted Taylor, Johnny Twist, Phillip Walker, Albert Washinton, Joe Leon Williams, Johnny Winter, and Mighty Joe Young.
In 1943 into 1946, B.B. King returned to Indianola, Mississippi to work outside the music with occasional singing in churches and the streets area, and appeared with St. John Gospel Singers on WJPM-radio in Greenwood, Mississippi, and for WJPR-radio in Greenville, Mississippi in 1945 into 1946.
In 1946 King hitched a ride to Memphis with his mother's cousin, Bukka White to worked at the amateur shows at W.C. Handy Theater and the Palace Theater in Memphis. He returned to the Delta briefly at the end of 1947 and in 1948 harvested a cotton crop. Later that year he returned to Memphis, this time for good, and worked amateur shows at the W.C. Handy Theater and Palace Theater, occasional sang in the local streets and parks for tips. He frequently performed with Bobby "Blue" Bland, Johnny Ace, and Earl Forrest in a group called "The Beale Streeters" in the local bars and clubs in the Memphis area in 1948 into 1949, and appeared regularly on his own 'Pepticon Boy" show on WDIA radio in Memphis. He became a well-known disc jockey at Memphis radio station WDIA when he got his nickname "Beale Street Blues Boy", given to him by station manager Don Kern. B.B. King also known as "Blues Boy", "The Blues Boy From Beale Street", "The King Of The Blues", and "The Bossman Of The Blues". B.B. King is no related to Albert King and Freddie King.
King organized a band, which played on KWEM-radio with Sonny Boy Williamson II (Alex Miller), and worked on the 16th Street Grill in Memphis in 1949 into 1950, and B.B. King recorded with the Tuff Green Band for the Bullet label in Memphis. B.B. King recorded one of Sam Phillips' most acclaimed records "Three O'Clock Blues" for the RPM label at the Memphis Recording Service. The sessions were held at 706 Union Avenue in Memphis on January 8, 1951; May 27, 1951; April 1952 and September 1952. King appeared with Floyd Dixon at the Club Morocco in Little Rock, Arkansas; worked in small clubs and bars in Chicago, Illinois, and in New York City in 1952; recorded with Sonny Boy Williamson II (Alex Miller) for the Trumpet label in Jackson, Mississippi in 1953 and formed his own group to touring the club dates through southern US in 1953; recorded for the RPM label in Houston, Texas in 1953 into 1955; worked at the City Auditorium in Houston, Texas in 1952, and appeared with Bill Harvey Band for working club dates on the West Coast in 1954; worked at the Apollo Theater in New York City in 1954.
In 1955, B.B. King appeared at the Graystone Ballroom in Detroit, Michigan and toured extensively with his own group for working on one-nighters in the clubs, theaters, concert halls, package shows across the US in 1955 into 1961. Worked on the Robert's Show Lounge in Chicago circa 1957; worked with Buddy Guy at the Trianon Ballroom in Chicago in 1958; recorded for the Kent/Crown labels in Los Angeles, California in 1958 into 1962.
Elvis Presley and B.B. King backstage, December 7, 1956, for WDIA Radio Goodwill Revue at Ellis
Auditorium, Memphis, Tennessee. >
B.B. King claims to have known Elvis Presley before Elvis became a successful singer. Elvis Presley frequented these spots and King's music was an important early influence. Elvis Presley appeared with B.B. King at the WDIA Goodwill Review in December 7, 1956. King lends credence to the belief that Elvis Presley hung around several nightclubs in Memphis while still in school.
"He used to come around and be around us a lot", King said. "There was a place we used to go and hang out at on Beale Street. People had little pawn shops there and a lot of us used to hang around in certain of these places, and this was where I met him".
For nearly 20 years he performed some 300 one-night stands a year in black night spots known as the "Chitterlin Circuit". Once a year he played week-long engagements in large urban black theatres such as the Howard in Washington; the Regal in Chicago; and the Apollo in New York.
In the early 1960s King's career was in a slump, with blacks finding his music uncomfortably close to their "down-home" roots and folk enthusiasts considering him too commercialized. King's return to fame came when the Rolling Stones, Paul Butterfield's Blues Band, and other British and American groups acknowledged him as their idol. After his first European tour in 1968 he was finally recognized by American critics, and since that time his career has treadily grown, with frequent television and film appearances.
King's guitar style is influenced by blues guitarists Lonnie Johnson and T-Bone Walker and by jazz guitarists Django Reinhardt and Charlie Christian. He has always played an electric guitar, which he nicknamed "Lucille". His delicate "bent" notes and powerful vocals echo the blues style of the Mississippi Delta where King first learned his music.
From his early years in rural Mississippi to his international acclaim, B.B. King's blues career is a rare success story. He has issued over 700 recordings and continues to produce and perform at a pace younger musicians would find exhausting. His achievements as a blues performer, composer, and spokesman were recognized in 1977 when Yale University President Kingsman Brewster awarded him an honourary doctorate of music with the accolade, "In your rendition of the blues you have always taken us beyond entertainment to the deeper message of suffering and endurance that gave rise to the form". In "Why I Sing The Blues" King explains the meaning of his music.
B.B. King won the Jazz and Pop magazine Readers Poll for the Best Male Jazz Singer of the Year in 1968, won the Natra Golden Mike Award for the Best Blues Singer of the Year in 1969 and 1974, won the French Academie du Jazz Award for the Best Blues Album of the Year in 1968 for his "Lucille" (ABC-BluesWay BLS-6016) album. He won also the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences Grammy Award for the Best Rhythm and Blues Vocal performance by a male in 1970 for his album "The Thrill Is Gone" (ABC-BluesWay BLS-6037), won for Downbeat magazine the International Critics Poll for Best Rock-pop-Blues Group in 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, and 1975, won the Guitar Player magazine Readers Poll for World's Most Popular Guitarist (Top Blues Guitarist of the Year) in 1970,1971, 1972, 1973, and 1974.
B.B. King is honoured with a Day of Blues by city of Memphis on August 27, 1971, and Awarded Key to the City by Mayor Carl B. Stokes in Cleveland, Ohio in 1971, a B.B. King watch marketed in 1971, he is also honoured with a B.B. King Day by Governor Bill Waller of the State of Mississippi in 1972, awarded honourary Doctorate of Humanities from Tougaloo College in Tougaloo, Mississippi in 1973, awarded Humanitarian Award by B'nai B'rith Music and Performance Lodge of New York in 1973. Won Blues Unlimited magazine (UK) Readers Poll for the Best Blues Guitarist in 1973, won the Melody Maker (World Section) magazine (UK) Jazz Poll for the Best Blues Artist of the Year in 1973, won Ebony magazine Black Music Poll for the Best Blues Album in 1974 ("Live at the Regal ABC-724"), won the Ebony magazine Black Music Poll for the Best Blues Album in 1975 ("To Know You Is To Love You", ABC-794), won the Ebony magazine Black Music Poll for the Best Blues Instrumentalist in 1974, and 1975, won the Ebony magazine Black Music Poll for the Best Male Blues Singer in 1974, and 1975, won the NAACP Image Award in 1975, and is honoured with the B.B. King Day by the city of Berkeley, California on June 12, 1976.
B.B. King is the first and greatest bluesman of the modern age of electronic communications, a superb showman, King is one of the world's greatest guitar soloists, and is certainly the best known and most influential bluesman of them all. B.B. King has earned his title "King Of The Blues" because he is simply the best blues singer of his generation.
In 1950, B.B. King lived at 386 Avery Street, Memphis, Tennessee. By 1951, he had moved to 1955 Frisco Apartment number 2. In 1953, the last year he resident in Memphis, he lived at 363 South Orleans Avenue. Today, when not living on a tour bus, he makes his home in Las Vegas, Nevada. (CE)
May 14, 2015, B.B. King, the most recognized blues musician of the modern era, who defined the genre for nearly seven decades and inspired countless artists with his unique style of electric guitar play as the “King of Blues”, died as a diabetic in his sleep at 9:40 p. m. at his Las Vegas home. He was 89.
Ed Kirby in his Manassas High School band uniform, 1940. >
– Trumpeter, saxophonist, and sometime singer, Edward Lee Kirby (aka Prince Gabe) worked for much of his career as ''Prince Gabe'' – because someone once told him he played trumpet like the angel Gabriel.
He led a band known as the Rhythmaires, later changing his optimistically to the Millionaires. His younger cousin, ''Big Lucky'' carter, worked with him for many years as guitarist and singer.
If nothing else, Edward Lee Kirby earns distinction among Sun blues musicians as the only one to write a This was basically the group that Ed Kirby took to Sun Records in January 1957, although by then Kirby was playing saxophone more frequently and sharing vocal duties with book: ''From Africa To Beale Street'', published in 1983.
In it, Kirby scantily limned his background together with that of the blues itself. He was born on March 23, 1929 in Memphis, but his family was from Kilmichael, Mississippi. ''My greatgrandfather, Andy Hemphill, was a great violin player and harmonica player, who played for plantation owners' gatherings'', he wrote. He went on to detail the musical proclivities and specialties of his kin. Levester ''Big Lucky'' carter, learned to play on Kirby's mother's guitar, and another cousin, Jessie Mae Hemphill, later recorded for David Evans' High Water Records. Kirby first went to Beale Street in 1943 with his family band. His early memories included following sound trucks (beer and soda companies would place record players or jukeboxes in trucks and drive slowly through the predominantly African American neighborhoods playing blues records). Kirby took lessons from trumpeter Otto Lee, who'd played with W.C. Handy, and played fourth trumpet in Onzie Horne's eighteen-piece big band. Along the way, he saw nearly every band of any repute that played in Memphis. After a stint in the Army, Kirby assembled a band with a rotating cast of musicians but by 1955 a more stable group, the Rhythmaires, was formed to take up the residency at the Fiesta Room, a club near Orleans and Vance Street in Memphis. When Lucky Carter joined the group, he told Bob Groom, ''Kirby already had a band, him and Lindbergh Nelson the piano player. They had Charles Ballard on drums. Gabe was playing trumpet then''. Linbergh Nelson, the brother of WDIA's portly pianist, Ford Nelson, was from a musical family in Memphis and had led the Jazzettes at the Fiesta Room before Kirby took over. His bass player, Chelsea Taylor, also joined Kirby in 1955.
This was basically the group that Ed Kirby took to Sun Records in January 1957, although by then Kirby was playing saxophone more frequently and sharing vocal duties with Big Lucky Carter. Together they recorded at least eight songs over three sessions in styles that straddled blues, rhythm and blues and doo-wop. To support the lead vocals by Carter, Kirby had the whole band weigh in at times including backing singers Jimmy Ballard and Leroy Beckton. Kirby's sax style varied from mellow to rocking, but Sam Phillips elected to release none of their sides, apparently anything 'different' enough.
In the late 1950s and 1960s the Rhythmaires played on WDIA in the afternoons, advertising their shows at local venues that included the Whirlaway Club at Lamar Avenue, and the Junker Club. When rocking and soulful instrumentals from Memphis were the rage, Prince Gabe and the Rhythmaires made eight recordings for Ruben Cherry's Home Of The Blues label, in 1962, one single appearing on their Six-O-Six subsidiary, and then recorded for Savoy in 1963. Changing their name to the Millionaires, Gabe's band backed Lucky carter on other recordings in the mid-1960s including on Westside, Gabe's own label. Gabe's band continued their local residencies at clubs that increasingly focused on a white audience, including the Clearpool and the Riviera. In later years, Gabe made two albums, featured on ''Rebirth Of The Beale St Blues'' on Four Ace, and wrote his autobiography. He became a booster of the renovated and reborn Beale Street. In 1979, he was co-chair of Blues Stage for the Memphis in May festival, and wholeheartedly embraced Beale Street's official rebirth as a tourist attraction in October 1982. By then, Ed Kirby had developing health problems related to asthma and high blood pressure, and Ed Kirby collapsed at home in Memphis and was dead on arrival at Memphis Veterans Hospital on February 2, 1987 at the age of 57. (CE) (MH)
Bette and Mary Kirby, 1954 >
KIRBY SISTERS, THE - In the mid-1950s, the sisters Bette and Mary, were appearing regularly at Chaylor's Starlight Club in Texarkana. It was a regular gig that drew a steady stream of musicians to the area. The owner of the club had a daughter named Johnnie, who was variously described as "strange" and "very unusual". At some point, Johnnie wrote (or took credit for writing - there is some suggestion that her mother also wrote lyrics) a song called "The Blond In Red Velvet".
The song, like Johnnie, is a far cry from ordinary. Like most people living around the fringes of the music business, Johnnie wanted fame and fortune to smile on her.
It didn't help that the Kirby Sisters were in the spotlight every night. At some
point in late 1955 the Kirbys made some demos at the Starlight Club. The recordings were rough, but they were good enough to demonstrate a world of potential. The tapes were sent to Sam Phillips in Memphis by Bette, renowned to be the most business-oriented of the lot. The Sun label was hot at the time with Elvis Presley, and Sun Records seemed an ideal place to start. Phillips liked what he heard and invited the girls and their band to come to Memphis so that they could experiment in the studio.
Actually, he did more than that. Sometime in late 1955 he made the drive to Texarkana and visited with Bette to discuss her future with Sun Records. It is unclear whether Sam made the trip for the sole purpose of seeing Bette, or whether he was on the road making his regular rounds of regional distributors and disc jockeys. In any case, he called Bette - out of the blue - and asked her to meet him at the Jefferson coffee house for lunch. Bette did so, but the meeting didn't go well.
After 20 minutes, she and Phillips left the shop and drove back to her house so Phillips could meet with Bette's then-husband, Bill Fairbanks. Apparently, Fairbanks was none too codial to Phillips, a fact that mortified Bette. Nevertheless, the arrangement with Sun was solidified and in early February, 1956, the Kirby sisters, drummers Bill Fairbanks, and guitarist Gene Harrell made the all-night drive to Memphis when their last set at Chaylor's Club was over.
The Kirby Sisters never had a record released, by Sun or anybody else. There was at least one earlier demo cut (still in the possession of Del Puschert) somewhere around 1953. Two titles "T-E-X-A-S" and "Rime Will Tell" were sent to Ernest Tubb's record store in Nashville.
The destination seems curious, although there were musicians coming through the Starlight Club all the time, any of whom might have made a suggestion or an offer. In any case, nothing came of that demo, as well as several titles recorded in Dallas after the Sun debacle that Tonk Edwards recalls playing on.
In light of all this non-success, Bette's daughter Sandy wondered aloud why anyone would be interested in the life and music of her mother after all this time: "She was never a star. She never even had a record. Why would anybody care?".
Sanda recalls watching her mother and Aunt Mary play at Chaylor's: "Sometimes when I was little, at least way too young to be in a club, Mama would let me sit way up close by the band just before closing time. I really did like those times. As I got older, she would sneak me in for longer and longer periods of time. Once, around 1954 or 1955 Elvis Presley came into the club and really enjoyed listening to the band. Mama brought him to our house that evening and woke me out of a sound sleep to meet Elvis. I barely stayed up long enough to remember. He signed a picture for me and played on Bill's drums at the club. Mama gave me one of the drumsticks to keep but all of those things were lost in the moves over the years. But just to know that Elvis liked to hear my mom sing and came to out house is enough for me. Mama said he was the nicest young man she had ever met. She said he had such nice southern manners".
Sandy accompanied her mother and aunt Mary to various giggs as well as one recording session - probably the one at Sun.
Bette Kirby took her own life on Valentines Day in 1970. She was 42 years old. Bette's mother had also committed suicide. Mary Kirby died on April 12, 1991 of natural causes. None of their four other sisters were singers or musicians. Bette's daughter Sandy, on the other hand, was probably bitten by the music bug before she understood such things. Sandy recalls: "I wish I knew more about my mother's history. She died too young. I was 21 when she died. In my teenage years I was too busy doing my own thing. I wasn't really paying attention. When I was real young, I was always around the music, but I took it all for granted. And then suddenly it was too late".
Now in her 50s, Sandy is considering recording some songs of her own, including two titles she wrote a long time ago with her mother. It's taken her a long time to come back to the music, but nobody can fault her if she has mixed feelings about the music business.
KLEIN, GEORGE – Born on October 8, 1935 in Memphis, Tennessee, is a disc jockey and television host. He met Elvis Presley in the eighth grade at Humes High School in North Memphis, and they became lifelong friends, until Presley's death in 1977. Klein can be heard weekly on Sirius XM channel 19 Elvis Radio, and on the George Klein Original Elvis Hour on WKQK FM and Sirius XM Elvis Radio. George is an innovator and an ambassador to Memphis music. He has helped bring Memphis music to the world and the world of music to Memphis. George Klein is much more than a friend of Elvis Presley. He was one of the first disc jockeys in Memphis to play rock and roll on the radio, before Elvis.
Filling the airwaves radio disc jockey George Klein sits at the microphone at WMC Radio for a promotional photo on October 24, 1956. >
That was just the beginning of what George would do for Memphis music wise and he became one of the most famous disc jockeys in Memphis history. He had the RKO ''Boss'' jock sound down when he was at WHBQ radio. Klein and Elvis had a lot more in common than their careers, they thought a lot alike. Like Elvis, he doesn’t have an unkind word to say about anyone. He is respectful, kind and caring.
In addition to his work at 56 WHBQ radio, George also had a TV show on WHBQ TV Channel 13 called ''Talent Party''. ''Talent Party'' was always faithful to local talent. Every show featured at least one local act. That show broke a lot of Memphis talent, like a group called Knowbody Else. You may know them better as Black Oak Arkansas. He also helped launch Sandy Posey’s career (''Born A Woman'' and ''Single Girl''). George broke some records on ''Talent Party'' that went on to be national hits. They were songs that couldn’t get airplay on local stations. Songs by artist that George believed in like ''Keep On Dancing'' by the Gentrys and Sam the Sham's ''Wooly Bully'' just to name a couple.
George Klein himself make several appearance on the Sun Records label, Klein performs probably in 1958 a traditional southern Baptist hymn ''Lord Lead Me Home'' in the very style that served as nightly entertainment at Elvis' house. In all likelihood, Klein has simply taken a bit of Graceland and transported it to 706 Union. Klein actually had two releases on Sun Records, one the Jerry Lee Lewis novelty record "The Return Of Jerry Lee" (Sun 301) created to make light of his 1958 British tour debacle. Klein's second Sun release was the forgettable March 1961 ''U.T. Party 1 and 2'' (Sun 358) in 1961.
George Klein at Radio WHEYlate 1950s. It was a daytimer at 1220AM and it operated in Millington. It was a rock station that was a little different and the kids liked. It was located in two stores in the back of a little shopping area on Navy Road in Millington north of Memphis and it was aimed for the Navy Base. It was the station that George Klein had here one of his first jobs and it was the last place that Dewey Phillips worked before he passed away. >
Whenever a group wanted to be on the show George didn’t care what they had done, he cared about what they sounded like. No tape? No problem. George worked out a deal with Roland Janes at Sonic Recording Studios. For thirteen dollars a group could go in and cut one to four songs to lip synch on the show. Even back then studio time was expensive and would run well over a hundred dollars.
George Klein watched to see what other music shows were doing at the time, he noticed that many of them featured regulars. He decided to do the same. He picked two acts to feature every other week, Flash and the Casuals (later Flash and the Board of Directors) and Sherry Grooms were who he decided on.
David ''Flash'' Fleischman (now co-owner of All Memphis Music, an internet station) says, ''I met George Klein four days after turning sixteen and getting my drivers license. I Drove to WHBQ because I wanted to meet this disc jockey. Not because I wanted to be in radio or was interested in radio, but because he booked bands and I was in a band. That was the start of what's been a 48 year friendship. I'm proud to call George Klein my friend and no matter what I do, I can never repay George for what's he's done for me. He's been there and advised me all these years, every step of the way. And one of the things that makes George so special, is that he has helped so many over all these years. As the title of the Tina Turner song says George Klein is "Simply the Best''.
Klein not only discovered Memphis singing talent but other talent as well. During the annual Miss Teenage Memphis Pageant, the Talent Party fashion coordinator spotted a standout beauty. She brought the girl to George’s attention and they sent some pictures of her to a modeling agency in New York. The agency accepted her. She became the model of the year and then Hollywood came calling on Cybill Shepherd.
Today, George Klein hosts a program on Sirius XM radio Elvis channel, Memphis Sounds for WYPL-18 TV , and the Elvis hour for WMC radio in Memphis.
Lathe ''L.B.'' Lawson (above left); James Scott Jr. (above right); Robert Fox (bottom left); Charlie McClelland (bottom right). >
LAWSON, LATHE ''L.B.'' WITH JAMES SCOTT, JR., & CHARLES McCLELLAND – In many ways, the L.B. Lawson-Scott, Jr. songs on the 1952 sessions on 706 Union prefigure grunge-blues and Canned Head-style endless boogies. Some commentators have even draw a parallel with the Rolling Stones' mid-1970s recordings. With two lead electric guitars scrapping at each other Scott Jr's Blues Rockers were prophets, albeit prophets without much honor - or much of anything - at the time.
Singer L.B. Lawson fronted the Blues Rockers for their first and only session. Born as Latge B. Lawson in Enid, Mississippi on November 21, 1929, he played baseball with the Memphis Red Sox in the old Negro Leagues, and began his singing career with a gospel group, the Allen Chapel Specials.
According to Steve LaVere, Bob Eagle, and Jim O'Neal who interviewed the surviving Blues Rockers in 1972, Scott was ferrying the Specials to their gigs when he found that Lawson could imitate anybody, and recruited him for a group he started in 1946. Lawson stayed until around 1956 when he reportedly killed someone in Lambert, Mississippi, and ran away to Chicago. In Lawson's very different account, he was jailed in 1955-1956 for his involvement in trying to settle a dispute between two women. His boss, Harry Robertson of Robert Motors in Clarksdale, bailed him out and he left for Chicago. He was working as a cab driver when LaVere, O'Neal and Eagle met him. As far as we can tell, Lawson is still alive, but cannot be traced.
James Scott Jr. was born in Lexington, Mississippi on January 21, or 27, 1913 (or 1912 according to his application for Social Security). When he was about twelve years old, he talked his uncle (also James Scott) out of an old guitar with just three strings. A year or so later, his mother traded a turkey to a white man for a guitar with all six strings. Scott began picking out some hillbilly songs and worked house parties with Luther Taylor, Cripple Crowder, and Snooky Pryor. According to Al Smith's interview with Pryor, Scott lived close-by, and when he heard that Snooky could play harmonica he would sneak him out of the house on Saturday nights so that they could play house parties. Pryor later said, ''We were really getting paid to rehearse, because we did not get much chance to play before people''. Scott would get Pryor home before his father woke up in the morning. This would have been in the mid-1930s because Pryor left Mississippi in 1937.
The Blues Rockers were formed in 1948 were rounded out by Charles McClelland on guitar and Robert Fox playing a tub bass that Scott had built. Later, Scott bought a drum kit for Fox. Apparently, Fox lived with the Scott's from the age of ten. Charles McClelland was born August 24, 1911 in Brookhaven, Mississippi but his family moved to the Delta when he was an infant. Like Scott, his interest in music was ignited by Luther Taylor. McClelland noted Taylor's style of playing and the female attention he received. After several years' service in Europe during World War II, he returned to the Delta and joined Scott's group.
Scott's recording debut was a bust. He played slide guitar on Boyd Gilmore's RPM-Modern recording of ''All In Mt Dreams'', but his intro was edited out before release and an Elmore James intro was spliced in. The Gilmore session was in January 1952, and the Sun session was probably later that year. The handful of titles they cut at 706 Union were not released at the time, although Scott claimed that the instrumental "Scott's Boogie" was given a radio broadcast - possibly to test local audience reaction.
The Blues Rockers stayed together in Mississippi until Lawson left in 1955. Fox went to Tucson, Arizona, and died there in 1962. Around 1956 Scott moved up to Chicago where he re-formed the group, worked in a factory by day and continued playing parties and clubs by night. ''Scott, an easygoing man, never promoted himself very much'' wrote Jim O'Neal in Scott's obituary. He played occasionally with Eddie Taylor, Carey Bell and Little Arthur, working day jobs in factories. The first single released under his name was on Big Beat Records in 1972, and it was a new version of the Boyd Gilmore song he'd worked on twenty tears earlier.
In 1978, music became his sole career and he began working clubs like Sheila's Lounge and touring with Hip Linkchain and Mojo Elem. In 1981, they played a four-week gig in Paris, France. That same year, Scott made some recordings for Chicago's NPR station, WBEZ, that were licensed to Red Lightnin' in England.
James Scott Jr. died in Chicago on July 18, 1983, a year after touring Europe for the first (and only) time. (CE)
- Born Royden Lee Lipscomb on September 21, 1936 in Memphis, Tennessee, known
professionally as Dickey Lee (sometimes misspelled Dickie Lee or Dicky Lee), is an American pop and
country singer and songwriter, best known for the 1960s teenage tragedy songs like "Patches" and "Laurie
(Strange Things Happen)''. Dickey Lee was unabashedly a pop music fan. ''I was a Hilltoppers freak'', he
said. ''Jimmy Sacca of the Hilltoppers was my main influence. Maybe that's why I was never Sam Phillips'
favorite. I kinda thought of myself as a misplaced Philadelphia teen idol living in Memphis. That wasn't
really Sam's style of music''.
But Lee was a protege of Dewey Phillips and that counted for something with
Sam Phillips. ''Dewey was a legend'', continued Lee. ''When I started listening to him I thought he was black.
By today's standards, he was an illiterate.
He had a grade 6 or 7 education and he would screw up
commercials because he couldn't read two syllable words. He had a lot of pain in his life from accidents he'd
suffered and he had a pill problem because of it but he was a raw, pure talent. He really got Sun going in
Memphis. He'd tell all his listeners, and damn near every kid in the city was listening to him, to blow the
horns on their cars at 10 o'clock. Now Memphis had an anti-noise law but at 10 o'clock, you'd hear nothing
but horns blowing for a 25 mile radius. The chief of police would get on the phone and say, 'Folks, don't do
that anymore'. Dewey would go back on the air and say, 'Folks, the chief of has just called and said we can't
do this anymore. I was going to have do it again at 11:30'. And of course, at 11:30 you'd hear it all again.
Ahmet Ertegun and Jerry Wexler and even Alan Freed used to call him to find out what was moving. The guy
never took payola, never had an ego problem. He was just a big overgrown kid who loved to do what he did.
It was Top 40 that killed him''.
''I got to meet him. I had some songs I'd written and I played them for him and he told me I should get a
group together and come back. So I did. He liked what he heard and he recorded us right there in the WHBQ
studio''. Dewey placed the songs with a fly-by-night label called Tampa Records that was owned by Bob
Scherman. From the start, Royden Lipscomb was Dickey Lee on records. ''Dickey is my mother's maiden
name. I don't even remember how we came up with the name 'Lee' but it sure didn't take too much
imagination. Some guy in Philadelphia called 'Dickey Lee' tried to sue us for using his name, so I changed
my name legally to 'Lee'. We called our group the Collegiates because three of us were going to Memphis
State and four of us went to South Western University in Memphis. Allen Reynolds was the anchor man. He
played rhythm guitar and sang with me. Eddie Weill from Indianapolis was with us. He was a semi-psycho
who went to Memphis State on a basketball scholarship. Nill Talmadge was another. He became a preacher. I
forget the others. I was a commercial art major and a physical education minor but I've never used the skills.
I've only ever worked in music. I just kinda stumbled into it. Dewey Phillips basically made Sam sign me.
Dewey and Sam were real close and Dewey could get Sam to do all kinds of things that other people
couldn't. Sam never produced any of my sessions. Jack Clement was always at the board. We would play a
lot of stuff for Jack and he would pick and choose what we wanted. We'd always record at night and play
until we got something or were too wiped out to go anymore'', Dickey said.
''It was very spontaneous. You didn't have to watch the clock. In fact, the studio clock never worked. It
always had 4:30 on it. When we did our first AFM style session (four songs in three hours) it scared me.
When you're creating you shouldn't be tied down to a time schedule. The big thing in Nashville has always
been quantity. I'd prefer to use the whole three hours to get one quality single. ''Memories Never Grow Old''
was written by me and Stella Stevens, a movie actress from Memphis. We went to Memphis State at the
same time and we double dated once. She had a kid from another marriage and she was going out with this
football player. Anyway, the kid kept calling the football player 'Daddy' and he got scared off. Personally, my
favorite of the Sun cuts was ''Dreamy Nights''. That was pure Philadelphia''.
Lee made his first recordings in his hometown of Memphis for Bob Scherman's Tampa Records and Sun
Records in 1957. Actually, Tampa was a jazz label of some renown that operated for most of the 1950s, and
after Lee became successful on Smas Sherman had no qualms about his single. Talking to the Memphis Press
Scimitar in January 1958, Dickey Lee talked about his second Sun single, yet to be recorded. Playing for a
students, he was asked to sing Elvis's ''Treat Me Nice'', but heard it as ''Dreamy Nights'' and immediately
figured that was a great title. ''Fool, Fool, Fool'' was called ''Fool In Love''. The Collegiates had changed,
shedding a few members. Allen Reynolds and David Glenn were still here, joined by Sam Cole.
''Back in those days everything was loose but we were always on edge during a session because we were
always going for it. Today no-one worries about getting their part right. They can overdub. All the feel has
been lost. Back then we were always on edge, the old adrenalin was flowing. These days they waste more
money on studio time than they do on cocaine'', Lee said. As far as we can tell, there were four sessions at
Sun, Yielding two singles. ''Good Lovin'' was a revival of the Clovers' 1953 rhythm and blues hot; the other
songs were Lee's original, and, after they flopped, he moved on. He recorded one single for Dot at Sun, and
another while under contract to Dot issued under the name Jon Deaux Trio on London's Felsted label.
He achieved his first chart success in 1962, when his composition "She Thinks I Still Care" was a hit for
George Jones (covered by Elvis Presley, Connie Francis, Leon Russell and later Anne Murray as "He Thinks
I Still Care"). Later that year, "Patches," written by Barry Mann and Larry Kobler and recorded by Lee for
Smash Records, rose to number 6.
The song tells in waltz-time the story of teenage lovers of different social classes whose parents forbid their
love. The girl drowns herself in the "dirty old river." The singer concludes: "It may not be right, but I'll join
you tonight/ Patches I'm coming to you''. Because of the teen suicide theme, the song was banned by a
number of radio stations. However, It sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc.
Lee had a number 14 hit in 1963 with a song he co-wrote, a conventional rocker, "I Saw Linda Yesterday''.
The song has a strong resemblance to Dion DiMucci's number 1 pop hit, "Runaround Sue'', released two
years earlier. In 1965, he returned to teen tragedy with "Laurie (Strange Things Happen)'', a song related to
the urban legends known as the vanishing hitchhiker and Resurrection Mary. When the British Invasion
changed the complexion of music Dickey Lee and Allen Reynolds moved back to Memphis for three years.
He and Mitt Addington wrote Jerry Lee Lewis's ''Memphis Beat'' and Gene Simmons' ''The Dodo''. Reynolds
wrote a number 5 rock hit, the Vogues' ''Five O'Clock World'', based on his day job at First National Bank.
After the 1960s, Lee devoted his efforts to country music performing and songwriting. Lee's BMI catalog
holds 330 songs. His 1970s country hits as a singer include "Never Ending Song of Love'', "Rocky" (another
bittersweet song, written by Jay Stevens of Springfield, MO - a.k.a. Woody P. Snow), "Angels, Roses, And
Rain'', and "9,999,999 Tears''. He also wrote with Bob McDill the song "Someone Like You" which
Emmylou Harris included in her album Profile II. The hits stopped in 1981, but from 1980 onward Lee was a
professional songwriter, only rarely performing.
He co-wrote the 1994 Tracy Byrd number 2 hit "The Keeper Of The Stars'', and has written or co-written
songs for a number of other prominent country artists, including George Strait's number 1 ''Let's |Fall To
Pieces Together'', Charley Pride's number 1 hit ''I'll Be Leaving Alone'', and Reba McEntire's number 1
''You're The First Time I've Thought About Leavin'''. He was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of
Fame in 1995. Lee is included as co-writer and singer on singer-songwriter Michael Saxell's 2005 album
Wonky Windmill on the song "Two Men". In 2011, ''Memphis Beat'' became the theme-song of a short-lived
cop show based in Memphis. Meanwhile, Allen Reynolds produced six of Garth Brooks' mega-selling
albums, totalling 34 million records. The two old Collegiates made good.
In 2012, Dickey Lee returned to Memphis for Dead Elvis Week, revealing during a songwriter forum that he
wrote ''She Thinks I Still Care'' with Elvis in mind. Apparently, he'd given the song to Elvis's buddy Lamar
Fike, but Fike had forgotten to play it for Elvis. Eventually, Elvis recorded it, and found out that it was
intended for him. ''Fike, you son-of-a-bitch'', the King reportedly said.
Clyde Leoppard & Snearly Ranch Boys: From left: Stan Kesler (steel guitar); Buddy Holobaugh (guitar); Clyde Leoppard (drums); Bill Taylor (trumpet and vocals); Smokey Joe Baugh (piano and vocals); Barbara Pittman (vocals). >
LEOPPARD, CLYDE & THE SNEARLY RANCH BOYS - Although Clyde has undoubtedly overstated the paucity of 'live' music venues in Memphis, the general point remains true. Clyde's Snearly Ranch Boys were one of the few bands playing regularly in Memphis. Clyde kept a band going right through the changing scene of the fifties.
They played a mixture of western swing and hillbilly and, on their day, the Snearly Ranch Boys were a match for anybody. Clyde himself was more a bandleader than a virtuoso player. He started out on steel guitar then moved to bass, and eventually found a niche behind the drumkit. "Soon after I came to Memphis from Arkansas in 1949", said Clyde Leoppard, "I formed a band and got a job every Thursday night at the Five Gables club here in town.
Now, for some time after that, anyone wanting to go out to a dance in the midweek had just two options. There was the Skyway Restaurant in the Peabody Hotel, which was kinda expensive, or there was Clyde Leoppard playing country music. And that was all, in the city of Memphis, outside of the black clubs".
Through the years, Clyde's featured artists included Bill Taylor, Smokey Joe, Warren Smith, Barbara Pittman, Gene Simmons, Ace Cannon and the Kirby Sisters. All of these artists found their way onto tape at Sun Records, and most had discs issued.
The Snearly Ranch was not in fact a ranch but a boarding house on McNeil Street run by a lady named Alma Snearly. While staying there in 1949, Clyde formed his first western swing band and he soon moved most of his players into rooms at the 'Ranch". The Five Gables gig started out as a solo with Clyde playing steel guitar and drums at the same time, one with each hand. The Thursday night slot proved viable, so Clyde was soon able to bring in Buddy Holobaugh on guitar, Bill Taylor on trumpet and vocals, Lucille Van Brocklin and Joe Baugh who shared the piano duties and doubled as door attendants, and other now-forgotten player. Clyde remained on steel guitar until 1952 when a young Stanley Kesler joined the band and took the instrumental quality up a notch or two. Clyde moved to bass until the advent of rock and roll dictated the permanent use of drums.
The band traveled the mid-South for four years. Then Clyde Leoppard took a day job in insurance and cut back his gigs to concentrate on Thursday at the Five Gables and Saturday nights at the Cotton Club in West Memphis, Arkansas. Clyde also had a spot on KWEM radio in Memphis, starting in 1950. He came on immediately after Howling Wolf. "I don't recall who called him the Wolf", said Clyde, "but the name kinda fitted. He'd sit there - a huge man - with his legs spread apart in front of the microphone, and just howl those blues".
Clyde Leoppard's own style was entirely different, but just as basic in many ways, and aimed at the Arkansas farming community. Clyde shared the country music duties with the likes of Cuzzin Bob Prather, Shelby Follin, Holly Douglas, Pepper and his Shakers, and Delta Dan and his Swampriders. Equally as obscure as these artists was fiddle player Jim Steward who played with Clyde's band on his radio gigs, although Steward went on to play a major part in Memphis music when he formed the Stax label several years later.
Out at Grady Lofton's Cotton Club in West Memphis, Clyde shared Saturday nights with a blues band led by someone he calls "Drummer Red". Clyde was never in the American Federation of Musicians, and he remembers that when he did once apply in 1956 he was turned down on account of his mixing with blues bands. Whether or not this was the real reason, Clyde's non-Union status may have affected his chances as a recording artist.
Other members of Clyde's band worked regularly on Sun sessions though, in particular Stanley Kesler, Buddy Holobaugh, Smokey Joe Baugh and Johnny Bernero. Drummer Bernero in fact ran a band in his own right and it seems that he sat in with Clyde and used Kesler, Baugh and Holobaugh on nights when Clyde wasn't playing. Stanley Kesler also gigged with other bands, including Elvis Presley's Blue Moon Boys. Clyde recalls Elvis Presley borrowing Stanley for a tour of one nighters in Mississippi which averaged 8 dollars a night for each player, less than Stan got at the Cotton Club.
Other later members of the Snearly Ranch Boys was Warren Smith, who shared the spotlight vocals with Elsie Jo and Bette Kirby from Dyersburg, Arkansas. The Kirby Sisters recorded for Sun in February 1956 at the same time as Warren Smith but their efforts were not released. Smith went on to greater things and left Clyde in the spring of 1956. He was succeeded briefly by Barbara Pittman, Gene Simmons and Hayden Thompson, all of whom recorded for Sam Phillips.
Clyde Leoppard remained in the western swing business until early 1960s when the Cotton Club was closed after an under-age girl who had visited the club was murdered nearby. At the turn of the 1960s, Clyde briefly went into the recording business putting in a studio on North Main Street with Stanley Kesler and Jack Clement. later, he bought a fast food shop in downtown Memphis and continued to run a gospel and country recording venture in his spare time. Clyde Leoppard hot lunch palace and little studio fell victims to urban renewal a few years ago and Clyde dropped out of sight.
Clyde Leoppard will not be heard very much as a musician, but at least half a dozen Sun singers owe their first break to him and, as Sam Phillips put it, "Clyde always kept a pretty damn good band". (MH)
Note: The Snearly Ranch Boys got their name from Miss Imah Snearly. Imah owned a mansion located at 233 North McNeil Street in the Evergreen District of Memphis in 1949. Her affinity and desire to help musicians led her to open up her home to any musician who needed a place to stay or live. It became a boarding house (known as ''Snearly Ranch House'') and rehearsal hall for local country musicians.
LESLIE, ALICE (ALICE LESLEY) - "I was born in 1938. My father was born in Liverpool, England. They came over to the States and we moved to Arizona in 1948. I had my own band called the Arizona Stringdusters. We used to perform on KTVN, Channel 3 in Phoenix. I was discovered by Buddy Morrow, who led a big band''. ''He had me come up on stage I sang "Blue Suede Shoes", "My Blue Heaven", "Hound Dog" and "See You Later Alligator". It was during "Blue Suede Shoes" that I kicked my shoes off into the audience and they all loved it''.
I performed at the Silver Slipper in Las Vegas in 1956. Elvis flew out there to see me. We
never performed together but we were friends. In 1956 I recorded "He Will Come Back To Me" for Era Records''.
''I also cut a song I wrote called "Why Do I Feel This Way" (This side remained unreleased). In January 1957 I flew into Hollywood from Vegas and cut one more side called "Heartbreak Harry". The record (Era 1034) came out in April 1957.
While I was in Las Vegas, I was seen by Lee Gordon, an Australian promoter, who signed me for a tour in 1958. I flew over with Eddie Cochran, who was also on the bill. Little Richard and Gene Vincent were on the show as well. This was the same show where Little Richard renounced rock and roll and threw his ring into the ocean. When I got back from Australian, I did a lot of shows in the Dakotas, as well as New Jersey and New York City. I appeared with Bobby Darin in Alabama, and also toured in Quebec, Canada in late 1958 and 1959".
Alice Lesley and Elvis Presley, Las Vegas, Nevada, November 14, 1956. >
At this point, Alice Leslie and Sun Records crossed paths. "I was thinking of going with Sun Records, and did some recordings for Sam Phillips in Memphis, but the deal did not go through".
"I retired in 1980 and have spent a lot of time traveling around the world, studying history and genealogy. I'm very interested in my British roots. I was stricken with cancer in 1995 and I'm a cancer survivor. I'm still fighting to live. I continue to sing and do a lot of charity work. I perform mostly country and western and gospel music and work as a vocal coach to teach stage presence to young singers".
LEWIS, JERRY LEE - Country and Rock and Roll singer born in Ferriday, Louisiana, on September 29, 1935. In his youth, Lewis listened to many Al Jolson records (he still has a large collection). The subject of Jerry Lee's musical influences has been raised countless times, and continues to be because nobody can come up with a very satisfying answer - least of all the man himself, who tends to dismiss such questions by declaring he never had any. Students of the music have suggested to Jerry that he might have been influenced by artists as diverse as country boogie pianist Merrill Moore ("never heard of him, son"), or black boogie-woogie pianist Cecil Gant ("Cecil who?").
One of the few names to elicit a glimmer of recognition is Moon Mullican, the self-proclaimed King of the Hillbilly Piano Players, but Mullican probably did no more than reaffirm Lewis' conviction that the piano had a place in country music. Mullican's music was marked by restraint - never, after all, a hallmark of Lewis' style.
Lewis' cousin, Carl McVoy, was probably his most direct early influence. McVoy's mother, Lewis' mother, and Jimmy Swaggart's mother were sisters; McVoy was older than Jerry Lee and has been to New York with his father, who ran a ministry there for a few years. He learned the primitive joys of boogie-woogie in New York and returned to Pine Bluff, Arkansas, to work in construction. One summer, Jerry Lee Lewis came to stay. "He worried the hell out of me", recalled McVoy, "wanting me to show him things on the piano. I think I was instrumental in the way his style developed, because I got attention when I played. I rolled my hands and put on a damn show. When Jerry went back to Ferriday, he played everything I knew".
And then there was Haney's Big House, a black juke joint outside Ferriday. "Me and Jimmy Lee Swaggart used to slip in there, hide behind the bar, and listen to B.B. King when he wasn't but eighteen years old", Lewis recounted to Dave Booth. "That place was full of colored folks. They'd been picking cotton all day, they had a twenty-five-cent pint of wine in their back pocket, and they was gettin' with it!".
Jerry Lee Lewis and Jimmy Swaggart were regular, though unwelcome, guests at Haney's, owned by their uncle Lee Calhoun. Lewis and Swaggart were later seen as opposite sides of a disordered personality - until it was revealed in February 1988 that Swaggart had been consorting with prostitutes and had, as he termed it, "a problem" with pornography. The public defrocking and humiliation that followed revealed how close, in fact, they were.
In truth, the influences close to home, like Carl McVoy and the roadhouse rhythm and blues bands who played at Haney's, were probably more important in the formation of Lewis' style than artists on the radio.
Yet of the artists whom Jerry heard on the radio, he has always singled out Hank Williams, Jimmie Rodgers, and Al Jolson as "stylists" - by which he means that they, like him, could take any song and mold it into an expression of their own personality.
Later, as his legend and ego grew, Jerry Lee would become more comfortable in making the connection: "Al Jolson", he would declare, "is Number One. Jimmie Rodgers is Number two. Number Three is Hank Williams. And Number Four is Jerry Lee Lewis".
And the one who held the greatest sway over Jerry Lee during his early years must have been Hank Williams. Everyday Saturday night during the late 1940s and early 1950s, Williams sang his bleak songs of misogyny and despair on the Louisiana Hayride and the Grand Ole Opry. He sang with the terrifying intensity of one who is staring the Angel of Death full in the face. Jerry has performed Williams' material throughout his career, and it usually elicits the best from him because he knows that he is up against some stiff competition in Williams himself.
On November 2, 1954, he cut his first acetate disc in the studio of KWKH radio in Shreveport, "I Don't Hurt Anymore"/"I Need You Now". His vocals aren't as strong, or as immediately identifiable, as they would become; the piano playing is a little mawkish and florid, as it would often tend to be on slow numbers. But the Lewis left hand was rock solid. Like Presley's first acetate, it can be invested with as much - or as little - significance as you like. It can be seen as a portent of future greatness, or merely a confirmation of the Hayride's judgment. "I believe", says Lewis, leaning toward the former, "if I heard it today, I'd declare that boy had talent".
In 1955 Jerry Lee Lewis went to Nashville and made the rounds of the record companies, most of which advised him to learn the guitar. One person who gave him a job was Roy hall, a pianist and raconteur who owned a Nashville after-hours drinking spot, the Musicians' Hideaway. After escaping a raid, Lewis went back to Ferriday and took up a steady gig across the river at a Natchez club called the wagon Wheel. Among the souvenirs he brought from Nashville was a song that Roy Hall had sung (and, by Hall's account, co-written) called "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On".
Jerry Lee Lewis grew fond of Elvis Presley's early recordings, and at some point in 1956, after reading an particle about Elvis Presley in Country Song Roundup, he decided that his music might fall upon more receptive ears in Memphis. In 1956 Jerry and his father, Elmo Lewis, sold thirteen dozen eggs and drove north to Memphis using the money they'd raised to book themselves into a hotel.
Then, Jerry Lee become the label's most recorded artist. His first release was "Crazy Arms"/"End Of The Road" (SUN 259) in November 14, 1956. Lewis' biggest hit record was "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" (SUN 267). On the label he was billed as Jerry Lee Lewis and his Pumping Piano. Nicknamed "The Killer", he was the only guest to appear on "American Bandstand" who sang live rather than lip-synch to his record. Jerry made his national debut on "The Steve Allen Show", later naming one of his sons Steve Allen (the boy drowned in the family pool in 1962).
Lewis' career in rock and roll was ruined when in 1958 he married his thirteen-year-old cousin, Myra Gale Brown. (As if wasn't bad enough, Lewis was two weeks short of his final divorce decree from his previous, and second, wife, Jane. He had married his first wife, Dorothy, when he was only fourteen years old).
In 1960 he cut an instrumental on the Phillips International label, "In The Mood"/"I Get The Blues When It Rains" (Phillips 3559), under the name Hawk. Lewis was one of the participants in the famed Million Dollar Quartet session on December 4, 1956, in which Elvis Presley relinquished playing the piano so Lewis could play. In a session at Sun on February 14, 1958, Lewis tried his hand at performing a number of Elvis Presley hits, "Good Rockin' Tonight", "Jailhouse Rock", "Hound Dog", and "Don't Be Cruel", perhaps just to see how he would have done the songs.
He left Sun Records on September 29, 1963, to record for Mercury’s subsidiary label Smash, then run by Shelby Singleton.
In November 1976 Jerry Lee Lewis was arrested for shooting a gun outside the gates of Graceland in the early morning hours, when he was refused permission to see Elvis Presley. Lewis was a patient of Dr. George Nichopoulos, from whom he could obtain prescriptions for vast amounts of legal pills. Lewis has been successful in both the rock and country fields. In 1958 country artist Mickey Gilley recorded an unreleased version of "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" at Sun Records. Gilley, who was once the co-owner of Gilley's, the largest nightclub in the world, is Lewis' first cousin, and both Lewis and Gilley are cousins of evangelist Jimmy Swaggart. Jerry Lee Lewis' father, Elmo Lewis, like Vernon Presley, had spent time in prison - in Lewis' case for making moonshine. In 1962 Elmo Lewis recorded eight unreleased songs for Sun Records.
Elvis Presley recorded several Lewis hits, "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" (SUN 267) and "What'd I Say" (SUN 356). In concert, Elvis Presley performed Lewis' "Breathless" (SUN 288) and "It'll Be Me" (SUN 267). In the 1988 TV miniseries "Elvis and Me" Elvis (Dale Midkiff) was shown singing "Great Balls Of Fire". Both Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis recorded "High Heel Sneakers" and "Tomorrow Night", among other songs.
Jerry Lee Lewis mention Elvis Presley in two songs, "Lewis Boogie" (SUN 301) in 1958 and "It Won't Happen With Me" (SUN 364) in 1961.
Jerry Lee Lewis still toured around the world. (CE)
Joe Lewis at Newsport's Silver Moon Club. >
LEWIS, JOE - Joe E. Lewis was born in the Pennington community near Newport, Arkansas, on January 4, 1937. Pennington doesn't figure on most maps, but it's in the same country, Jackson, as Newport. Lewis’s father and grandfather played at church socials, high school dances and picnics. Aged thirteen, Lewis was in a western band that played Rural Electrical Association concerts in Jackson County. He graduated from Newport High School in 1957.
In Sonny Burgess account, he auditioned at Sun soon after working with Elvis Presley at Newport's Silver Moon club, and was told by Phillips that he needed to upgrade his band. Burgess promptly hired Lewis and Jack Lance from another band. Back then, Burgess band was called the Moonlighters, and at Lois’s suggestion they renamed themselves the Pacers after the Piper Pacer airplane.
Sonny Burgess and the Pacers scored a pretty big non-charting hit on Sun with ''Red Headed Woman''. It would be the biggest record they ever had. The Pacers' recordings make it easy to visualize their bruising act. They formed human pyramids; Lewis, as the tallest and strongest, was on the bottom. They's do the Bug Dance, tossing imaginary bugs on each other before tossing them into the crowd.
On the ferry back to Arkansas after some dates in Mississippi, the Paces met Harold Jenkins who was on the point of reinventing himself as Conway Twitty. When bookings dried up for the Pacers, Lewis and Nance left to join Twitty, whose career appeared to be on the upswing. Right away, they took off for Canada. Joe Lewis stayed with Conway Twitty through his rock and roll years and his rebirth as a country star. He switched from guitar to bass, sang harmony, and did the on-stage patter after Twitty decided that he would remain enigmatically silent. That was until April 15, 1976 when Lewis died in an automobile wreck. According to his girlfriend at the time, Carol Braddom, Lewis had borrowed her red Corvette because she thought he'd be safer in a car than on his motorcycle. Braddom's girlfriend was in the car with him as they drove from Percy Priest Lake to a local store to get some food for a cookout.
Joe Lewis is buried in Newport's Walnut Grove cemetery, quite close to Jack Nance.
LEWIS, LINDA GAIL - Born July 18, 1947 in Ferriday, Louisiana. The youngest sister of Jerry Lee Lewis. Encouraged by his success, she was only 13 when, with sister Frankie Jean, she recorded a single for Sun Records on 13 December 1960. It was not released but it sparked her desire to be a singer. Frankie Jean however, never had her sister's desire to be a singer, although she had made rockabilly duets with Jesse Lee Turner for Sun in 1958, that attracted Chet Atkins. She claimed she wanted to sing Patsy Cline material not rockabilly like her sister and turned down a Decca Records contract.
She toured with Jerry Lee Lewis for
some years and later became involved with the Jerry Lee Lewis Museum at Ferriday. Linda Gail quit school in the early 1960s and took to the road as a backing vocalist with her brother's show.
She gained no preferential treatment from the unpredictable star, on one occasion being embarrassed when, after missing her cue, her brother stopped singing to ask through the microphone ''Are you watching this show or are you in it''? She was not so backward regarding marriage since she first married at 14 and soon divorced to marry a sailor, after a three-day romance, when she was 15. He went back to sea and she never saw him again but soon married Jerry Lee Lewis' best friend Cecil Harrelson. They had two children, Cecil Jnr. and Mary Jean, then divorced but after a brief marriage to husband number four, Jerry Lee Lewis’ guitarist Kenneth Lovelace, she remarried Cecil in 1971.
In March 1963, she duetted with her brother on ''Seasons Of My Heart'' and at the same Sun session, she cut two solo numbers ''Nothin' Shakin'' and ''Sittin' And Thinkin''. They were set for release on Sun 385 but for some reason were not issued. When Jerry Lee moved to Smash Records in 1964, she duetted on ''We Live In Two Different Worlds'', which appeared on Another Place Another Time, his first album for the label. The success of this record led to a duet album, which contained fine versions of ''Milwaukee Here I Come'' and two chart hits, ''Don't Let Me Cross Over'' (number 9) and the less popular ''Roll Over Beethoven'' (number 71). She recorded several singles for the label (some were later reissued by Mercury Records), including ''Turn Back The Hands Of Time'', a superb version of ''Paper Roses'' and ''Before The Snow Flies''. She also
gained her first solo album and registered her only solo chart hit, in 1972, with a Mercury release ''Smile, Somebody Loves You''.
In the early 1970s, the whirlwind life style, as a member of her brother's touring show, finally showed she did not have the stamina or resilience of her sibling. Her health began to cause concern, she also suffered from drug addiction and underwent a nervous breakdown. While confined to hospital in 1976, she almost died but after a long period of convalescence, she regained her health and broke the drug addiction.
In 1977, she married husband number six, Brent Dolan and retired from show business for 10 years, during which time she had two more children Oliver and Annie. In 1987, she re-emerged as a rockabilly revivalist. She again began to appear with her brother and accompanied him on his European tour that included an appearance at London's Wembley Festival. However differences with her brother's sixth wife, Kerrie McCarver, who had vocal aspirations of her own, soon saw Linda Gail leave to pursue a solo career. In this, she was initially helped by husband number seven, a nightclub singer Bobby Memphis (b. Robert Stefanow). With a backing group that included her daughter, Mary Jean, singing backing harmonies and mainly featuring rockabilly material, she began to tour with her own show. She played piano (standing up) in a similar pounding style to her brother and cousin Mickey Gilley and recorded a second album. Her first tour to the United Kingdom, in June 1991, proved so popular (one critic described her as ''the hottest rockabilly act in Europe at this time who served up piano playing rock and roll that was not a million miles away from the style of her illustrious brother'') that she made two further European tours in 1991/1992.
One London show (backed by Sonny West And The Rhythm Kings) was recorded live and released on CD by Deep Elem. In the USA, Lewis released a cassette album on her own label, which contained her much requested self-penned ''I'll Take Memphis'' and a mixture of country and rock. In December 1991, she married husband number eight Eddie Braddock. She continues to perform into the new millennium, especially in Europe where she enjoys considerable success particularly in the Scandinavian countries.
By 1998, (she was now married to husband number nine) she was becoming more respected for her fine singing of material other than rockabilly. In 2000, she collaborated with Van Morrison on ''You Win Again'', which increased her public profile considerably.
LEWIS, SAMMY - Samuel ''Sammy'' Lewis was working with guitarist Willie Johnson when he came to the attention of Sam Phillips. But their Lewis-Johnson Combo was a brief alliance during 1954, working the clubs in West Memphis, Arkansas after Howlin' Wolf had left Johnson behind and before Johnson rejoined Wolf in Chicago.
Sammy Lewis was apparently born in Memphis on September 26, 1928 (though he told Steve LaVere September 1925) but the 1930 census indicates 1926 and some other public records show September 15, 1931 or August 9, 1932.
When Sammy was young, his family moved to the country and he told LaVere that he became interested in music through his guitar-playing father and made his first harp out of a tobacco can with four holes and rocks inside.
The first song he learned was ''If I Could Only Hear My Mother Pray Again''. He wasn't allowed to play blues. later, the first blues he learned was ''Baby Please Don't Go'' and he travelled to West Memphis and Memphis to play the blues influenced by Sonny Boy Williamson and Walter Horton.
Around 1949 he started playing with a guitarist named Leonard and he played occasionally with Willie Nix at Blackfish Lake. State marriage records show that Lewis married Ruth Mae Gatewood of Black Fish, Arkansas on July 23, 1951. Despite forming his group with the older and more influential Willie Johnson, recording for Sun, and seeing the release of ''I Feel So Worried'' in the spring of 1955. Nonetheless his one moment of glory - SUN 218, "Feel So Worried" - remains one of the finest singles ever released on the yellow Sun label.
Lewis remained a parttime musician, working at Baker-Yorks Inc. He told Steve LaVere he played blues harp around West Memphis with a group let by Harman, an old guitar player who was known for ''Who's Gonna Be Your Sweet Man When I'm Gone''. Lewis then worked with Pat Hare, James Cotton and drummer Johnny Bones. After that, he told James LaRocca, he played in a band led by Simon Lane and at one point too to singing with a soul band. He was playing with Houston Stackhouse and Joe Willie Wilkins at Annie Brown's Bar in 1970 when his brief rediscovery led to recordings for the West Memphis label, 8th Street. Jim O'Neal reported that Lewis was still singing exceptionally well in 1979 when he sat in the band at Blues Alley in Memphis. After that he remained under the radar and it seems that he was the Samuel Lewis who died on March 9, 2007 in West Memphis, Arkansas. (MH)
LICHTERMAN, IRA JAY - Sun Records was a magnet for talent. All kinds of talent. In his way, Ira Jay Lichterman was one of the most successful of all Sun graduates. Ira Jay was twelve or thirteen years old when he wrote some songs and sent them to Bill Justis, a family friend. Justis encouraged him, and used one of the songs, "Rockin' Bandit", on a Ray Smith session. Bill Justis had quit Sun by the time Ira Jay Lichterman cut his only Sun single ''You Don't Love Me''/''More Than Anything'' (SUN 351) at the new Madison Avenue studio in 1960. The contract file indicates that the record was leased from Ira's father, but Ira insists that it was a single done for and at Sun Records.
Ira Jay Lichterman with unidentified young woman. ^
After it failed to budge, he continued to work for Justis' Tuneville Music and Play Me Records. In 1962, he got his first major break when he and Ed Bruce wrote "Save Your Kisses", which appeared on the flip-side of Tommy Roe's "Sheila". The following year, Bill Justis took Ira Jay Lichterman to New York. He was handling a kid up there.
At the age of eighteen, Lichterman go to work for the Stax label in Memphis, and wrote with Steve Cropper for William Bell, and at the same time he was commuting to Nashville and writing for Bill Justis' Tuneville Music, were he wrote for Charlie Rich, "No Room To Dance". He wrote jingles for a lot of the top stars, like James Brown and Buck Owens. He wrote for National Homes Corporation, and got a Addy Award for a fertilizer ad. That time, Lichterman produced a syndicated radio program, "Football Over Dixie" in the 1960s and 1970s.
Later, Ira Jay Lichterman had his own music publishing company, "Ira & Friends'' and he wrote for a big ad agency in Memphis, "Ward Archer & Associates'', were he finally got out in 1976 and started with his brothers in the shoe business today.
LOAD OF MISCHIEF - Lead singer Davis Mayo was born in Memphis, and in 1965 he was leading a band called the Coachmen in Little Rock, Arkansas. He made his first recordings at Roland Janes' Sonic Studios on Madison Avenue. ''I met all the other guys in different bands'', says Mayo. ''Ken Woodley played keyboards, Ray Sanders was in a band called the Jokers, Mike Houseal played guitar, but the star was Larry Wall who played bass 'cause he'd come over from the Gentrys. I knew the Coachmen were going to stay in Little Rock so I talked to all these guys and we rehearsed at Ken Woodley's house, and it clicked. I knew Knox and he signed us to Sun''.
Load Of Mischief. From left: Larry Wall, Jimmy Tarbutton, David Mayo, Ray Sanders, Ken Woodley
The record hadn't been out long when Sam Phillips folded Sun to become president of Holiday Inn Records. He transferred the Load Of Mischief master to Holiday Inn, remixing it for its re-release, adding Charlie Chalmers' horn section. ''We weren't happy about that'', notes Mayo. ''I remember arguing with Sam about it. I told him that Columbia Records wasn't in the hotel business, so what was Holiday Inn doing in the record business? I took the unissued Sun masters over to Estelle Axton at Stax, and she signed us to their Hip label. We recorded as ''Paris Pilot'' for Hip. Don Nix was our producer''.
Mayo went on to work with Steve Cropper at his TMI Records, and then recorded with a band called Zuider Zee for Columbia (who were not in the motel business). By then he was under the aegis of British producer Gordon Mills (Tom Jones, Gilbert O'Sullivan, etc.) Ken Woodley and Mike Gardner hung around Don Nix's camp during the booze and pill-fueled 1970s and, until recently (1998), Ray Sanders was the house bass player at the restored Sun Studio on 706 Union Avenue.
LONDON, JOHNNY - Born in Memphis in July 18, 1936 and attended Melrose High School. He first became interested in music in the 7th grade. "I wanted to play football but I was too small, and the next option was the band. later, in the 9th grade, I started playing a few jazz songs and other things. My band director was a famous musician, Tuff Green.
''I played with Tuff Green's band while I was in high school, and I put a group together to play in his place down in Mississippi. We did so well that I decided to form a teenage band, and we had success right away".
Tuff Green, who was one of the few jazz musicians of any repute to have come from
Memphis at that point - was fresh from the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra.
His name frequently comes up when former rhythm and blues musicians who recorded at Sun talk about their early days in the business. The other three member of London's group, The Rockets, are Charles Keel on tenor sax, Joe Louis Hall on piano, and Julius Drake on drums - also received their earliest tuition from Tuff Green.
Although Johnny London cited Charlie Parker and the Basie and Ellington Orchestras as his prime influences, he was obliged to play music which was far removed from the harmonic complexity of Parker or the musical sophistication of Ellington. The Rockets played raucous rhythm and blues: "What I was playing was the music that was selling - not the music I liked. You can't dance to Charlie Parker's music. That's the thing that my band director taught us, and that's what we played with him. You play what the people want to hear if you want to make some money. You can go to a jam session to satisfy yourself".
Johnny London was only fourteen years when he formed the Rockets and first began gigging professionally. He recalled that the police did not care whether the musicians playing in the bars were of age or not. After two years of club work at weekends and during the summer (the entire band was still in high school) they got the chance to record for Sam Phillips. "We saw the studio and wanted to record, so we went over and talked to Sam Phillips. He was interested after taking down some demo sessions. He fell in love with what we were doing and he decided that he'd hire us. After that we started doing some things for him".
The first "official" session was probably on March 1, 1952: London's combo played a version of "Drivin' Slow" and also backed Phillips' wife on "When I Lost My Baby". Sam Phillips was excited with the results and made acetate dubs of both sides, which he rushed over to disc jockey Dewey Phillips at WHBQ. Dewey played them the same evening, and Sam cut masters the following day. On March 5 sent dubs by Air Express to Leonard Chess in Chicago.
One week after that first session the group was called back into the studio and made several new cuts of "Drivin' Slow", together with another instrumental "Flat Tyre". It seems that by this stage Sam Phillips had already decided that he was going to use the London sides to launch the Sun Record label, a project he'd been nurturing for several months. The same night Phillips sent dubs to Jack The Bellboy at KWEM and to Rubye at WHHM, who duly aired the sides as the introduction to the new Sun label. On March 10 Phillips sent the two masters to Shaw Plating and assigned matrix numbers: the following day he gave a dub to Rufus Thomas at WDIA. The first records were pressed on March 27, 1995, and were shipped later the same week.
"Drivin' Slow" had an unique sound, with a haunting, echoey production: "Sam Phillips had a gifted ear. His role was really director. We kept doing it over and over, and he found the sound that he wanted. It was the sound that we were doing all along, though. I remember that he wanted to create a chamber, a hollow sound. That's how the "Drivin' Slow" sound came about. This was something he had never even tried before. So, he did a separation. He created a chamber that he didn't have. He got something similar to (an American) telephone booth. It was a home-made thing - 8'x4' or something like that".
According to London, "Drivin' Slow" was a number 1 record locally, and provided a great deal of additional work for the band. In view of that it is indeed remarkable that London's final appearance in the Sun studio should have been just 10 days after his record had been released, on April 9 he backet Raymond Jones on 10 takes of a straightforward pop song "Let Me Count The Curls". London recalls: "During that time Phillips was also recording Rufus Thomas, and some others. He had his hands in everything. I think we were busy too - trying to make as much money as possible off the record. We were at school at that time, too. Also, we never made as much money off the record as we thought we would. That may have been the reason".
The Rockets continued to play together until 1954. They took on a vocalist, Bonita Cole, but never recorded again. In the fall of 1954 Johnny London went off to college at the University of Arkansas in Pine Bluff. He formed a new line-up of The Rockets that gigged locally, playing for both black and white fraternities and colleges throughout eastern Arkansas, West Tennessee, and Northern Mississippi and Alabama. During this period they also backed up various nationally-famous rhythm and blues singers who were touring in the South.
Johnny London went on to do graduate work at the University of Iowa. There he continued playing in various small jazz groups. Following his graduation he briefly led Bobby "Blue" Band's touring band, handling both musical and business matters. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, London formed a production and publishing company with local sax legend Fred Ford and a silent partner. At one point they came close to signing with Motown Records but the deal fell through, and shortly afterwards London quit music for good, opting instead for a life in the computer industry. He later cited two reasons for his decision: the inability of the Memphis scene to support full-time musicians combined with the increased drug and alcohol abuse among fellow musicians. Today he still lives in Memphis, one of the very few artists from Sun's earliest days still among us. (RB)
LOTT, JIMMIE L. (JAMES)
- Jazz drummer and was a Vietnam War veteran of the Marines. Born on June
29, 1938 in Memphis, Tennessee, Jimmie was a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame and the British
Music Hall of Fame. Jimmie Lott played with the band of Warren Smith for Sun Records, who was one of
the originator of rockabilly music.
From left: Will Hopson, Al Hopson, Jimmie Lott and Warren Smith >
On Warren Smith's ''Miss Froggie'', recorded in February 1957 at 706
Union Avenue, but Jimmie Lott more than finds his way and by the last 30 seconds has contributed one of
the most memorable single stroke drum rolls in rockabilly history. Lott recorded several sessions with Smith,
but eventually left to pursue a career in sales as his family responsibilities mounted.
Jimmie Lott was first drummer to play and recorded with Elvis Presley. On Elvis' "You're A Heartbreaker"
(Sun 215), recorded December 20, 1954, drummer Jimmie Lott was brought in to augment Elvis Presley's
sound. Lott was a well-known local drummer, but the use of a drummer was a major change for Elvis' music.
No record was kept of which cuts Lott played on, but he probably also appeared on the alternate cuts of "I'm
Left, You're Right, She's Gone". Jimmie Lott claims that the same day, "How Do You Think I Feel" and
"You're A Heartbreaker" was recorded. So far though the only tape to surface is one featuring Scotty Moore's
guitar part for "How Do You Think I Feel". Elvis is said to be audible in the background, from a session
December 8, 1954. Does this show that Steve Sholes didn't list everything on a tape, or prove that someone
has a missing tape.
Drummer Jimmie Lott had another brief encounter with the group. He had moved to North Carolina with his
family when Elvis Presley headlined a country package show in Greensboro in February 1956, just as
"Heartbreak Hotel" was breaking. "I went to the back door and Scotty and Bill remembered me", recalled
Lott. "They let me in. Elvis remembered me. He said, "Hey, drummer! and we went and ate breakfast after
Jimmie Lott died on June 10, 1996 at his home after a heart attack at the age of 57. Jimmie is buried at the
West Tennessee Veterans Cemetery, 4000 Forest Hill Irene Road in Memphis.
LOUIS, JOE HILL - Also known as "Chicago Sunny Boy", "Johnny Lewis", "Little Joe", Joe was born Lester (or possibly Leslie) Hill, September 23, 1921, one of four children (3 boys and a girl) in Froggy Bottom, out from Grant's Corner, near where Whitehaven, Tennessee is now, just a few miles south of Memphis, and lived there until about a year after his mother died.
His father was Robert Hill and his mother was Mary Wilson.
Joe Hill Louis learned some harmonica and the guitar from Will Shade in his youth in the early 1930s.
At the age of 14, after frequent beating by his step-mother, he ran away from home to work outside the music with frequent work in streets and dives in Robinsonville, Mississippi area from circa 1935, and fell in with Billy and Drew Canale, the younger members of a well-to-do Memphis family.
The Canales cook welcomed the responsibility of looking after the young lad and he continued to live with and work for the Canales in one household position after another for the rest of his short life. Early in his lifelong stay with the Canales he was put up to fighting a local ruffian named "Prince Henry" and came out the better, a victory which inspired the Canale boys to name him after the then heavyweight champ. Hence the moniker which was to serve him well and stick with him to the end.
Joe Hill Louis' natural musical aptitude was first manifest itself upon the jew's harp, which eventually was replaced by the harmonica, his primary and dominant instrument. The guitar and drums were added in the course of time but not without a great deal of ear-shattering displeasure from the Canales and their friends. At first, of course, his manipulation of the three was very uncoordinated, but he eventually got it all together to the amazement of his friends and the consternation of would-be accompanying guitarists and drummers. Rufus Thomas, the well-known record star and disc jockey reported that Joe was envied by many local musicians for his ability to earn the same amount of money that it would have taken three or four other musicians of singular talents to make. Joe could make all that money by himself; he didn't need anyone else.
Joe Hill Louis worked outside the music at the Peabody Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee in the late 1930s and frequently worked with Eddie Taylor, Willie Borum, Will Shade, Lockhart Hill and others in gambling houses, the streets in Memphis and West Memphis, Arkansas area and frequently worked as one man band in Memphis, Tennessee. He also frequently hoboed through the Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi on working in dances, suppers, ballgame intermissions in the late 1940s into the early 1950s. He recorded for Columbia Records in New York City in 1949.
He through his appearances on street corners and in Handy Park in Memphis and in juke joints and roadhouses in the surrounding countryside, Joe Hill Louis became a popular entertainer in the mod-south area in the late 1940s and it eventually opened the doors of WDIA-Memphis, the local black radio station, for a 15-minute show for a patent medicine called Pepti-con (from B.B. King) on which he was known as the Pep-ti-con Boy. This appellation was later replaced by "The Be-Bop Boy", as indicated by the accompanying photograph.
He through, by an informal union, Joe is reported to have a son named Leslie Hill who was living in Chicago, Joe Hill Louis married his only wife, the former Dorothy "Ruthy" Mae Pearson, on July 25, 1952 and the following year their son was born. Named Robert, he later took Louis as a surname for himself and took name "Joe Louis" in honour of the boxing champion. His brother was Lockhart Hill and was also an great musician. Despite Dorothy's statement that they lived together until Joe died, the marriage may not have been one of constant satisfaction for Joe, for he was soon back with the Canales, who always had a need for a chauffeur or a houseboy, or a bartender at their frequent gatherings. He also worked intermittently for Drew in his vending machine business, packing pennies in cigarette packages by day and playing music in the countryside juke joints and roadhouses at night.
Drew Canale, who was to become Tennessee state senator from Shelby County (Memphis and its environs) (1966-1970), was dabbling in recording in the late 1940s and claimed to have been the first to record Joe, a session which, if ever issued, has yet to be identified. Surprisingly, it was Columbia Records, that was the first to release recordings by Joe Hill Louis.
Over a period of more than three years, between March 31, 1952 and September 9, 1953, Joe Hill Louis recorded a number of sessions for Sam Phillips, alone and with accompanists, which reached release on Modern and Checker as well as on his own labels The Phillips and Sun Records. Sometimes during the mid-1950s, Drew Canale produced a rather curious solitary release on his own Vendor record label. The vocal was credited to Les Vendor Keyboards and contained a spoken introduction by Canal, who later confirmed that the artist was indeed Joe Hill Louis. Made exclusively for use in Canale's own jukebox and vending machine distribution business, no more than a couple of copies are known to exist today. It was reissued from the original stampers for collectors in the mid-1970s on the Mimisa label. Canale recorded him again, however, but by that time, Joe Hill's recording career included sessions for Meteor, Big Town, Ace, Rockin' and House Of Sound and among them are some remarkable records, the Rockin' sides being especially notable. However, this later session for Canale is believed to be Joe Hill Louis' last. A number of attempts, different approaches, were made on a single tune, ironically entitled "late date" and though most of the session still exists on tape, it remains unissued to this day. Joe Louis worked for the Blue Light Club in Memphis; the Brown Jug in West Memphis; the Tennessee House in West Memphis, Arkansas in the early 1950s; recorded for the Rockin' label in Memphis, Tennessee in 1952; recorded with Walter Horton for the Checker label in Chicago in 1952; recorded with Billy Love for the Sun label in Memphis, Tennessee; recorded for Meteor label in Chicago in 1953; recorded for Bigtown label in Memphis, Tennessee in 1954; recorded for the Ace label in West Memphis, Arkansas circa 1954; recorded for the House Of Sound label in Memphis, Tennessee in 1957.
Joe Hill Louis had a great sense of humor and was definitely a ladies' man. He had a different woman for every day in the week. His Sunday gal was Dorothy Houston who said Joe would take her to nice quiet places: church, nice restaurants, quiet bars. He wouldn't take her to gigs as he said they were rough places where the men didn't respect the woman. Perhaps for one of these 'dailies' Joe was doing yardwork when he badly cut his thumb and it became infected with fertilizer. Eventually he contracted tetanus infection with which he collapsed a few days later in his car on Beale Street, beyond help. He was taken to John Gaston Hospital in Memphis, where he died August 5, 1957, loved by his friends and fellow musicians, mourned by many women, and admired much too belatedly by the music public around the world. Joe Hill Louis is buried at the Ford Chapel Cemetery in West Junction, Tennessee. From the late forties until 1956, Joe Hill Louis was among the most popular figures in Memphis and the rural areas of Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi. (CE)
LOVE, BILLY ''RED'' - Billy Love was a serious talent, as a solo artist, a session pianist, and sometime leader of Rosco Gordon's road band. But he spent his life in and out of the armed forces, in and out of employment, in and out of jazz clubs, and in and out of the attention of law enforcement officers.
Billy Love led a full, short frustrating and strange life. Sam Phillips remembered him as ''a supergood musician'', but one who didn't focus on his musical gifts.
Milton Morse Love (aka Billy ''Red'' Love) was born on December 8, 1929 in Memphis, Tennessee, the son of Morse Love, senior and Lizzie Elliott. They were living on Florida Street just south of downtown Memphis in the summer of 1944 when Milton was fourteen years old and about to start work at the St. Louis Warehouse in Memphis.
Love joined the Army in February 1946 when he was a year under age, but by the late 1940s Love was back in Memphis gaining a good reputation as a piano player and teacher. He met budding saxophonist Richard Sanders just in from Yazoo County, Mississippi and they formed a band. Lillie Sanders remembered living on Florida Street near Milton Love and Rosco Gordon: ''Around the year of 1948 through 1951 musicians including my older brother Baby Richard Sanders Jr., Johnny Ace, Billy ''Red'' Love, Earl Forrest, Little Milton, and Rosco Gordon used to rehearse almost every day at Rosco Gordon's family home across the street. While walking home from school daily, I had the opportunity to hear great sounds of blues singing and music... This fair-skinned, freckled-faced, slenderframed, handsome blues singer from across the street used to whistle and wink his eyes at me every time he'd see me. He was Billy ''Red'' Love. He seemed to be a nice, quiet and very mannerable person - but I never forgot the music he'd sing''. Years later, she encouraged her daughters, the Jubert Sisters, to record some of Love's songs.
By the end of the 1940s Love was a formidable singer , pianist, songwriter, arranger. Rosco Gordon told John Floyd, ''Love and I we lived about two blocks apart... my mother got rid of the piano (from our house) so I would go to Billy Love's house periodically, two or three times a week, and I would learn from him. He had so much talent. If you couldn't learn from him you couldn't learn from anybody. He would show you note for note how to make the chord''.
Much of the music scene in those days was across the river in West Memphis, Arkansas where there were a number of clubs and other drinking and gambling houses centered an 7th and 8th Streets and all of them helped support a number of blues musicians. Many of the players who recorded for Sam Phillips worked at Jack Brown's club while Joe Hill Louis held sway at nearby Suggs cafe. The Be-Bop Hall was where the ''better'' musicians played, according to local musician Bo Pete, who gave as examples the likes of George Coleman and Billy ''Red'' Love.
In 1951 Sam Phillips was very busy in his part-time studio (the Memphis Recording Service), recording as much of the local blues and rhythm and blues talent as he could. He had not yet started his Sun label and leased most of his product to Chess and RPM/Modern. Billy Love did some session work for Phillips, backing Walter Horton, Rufus Thomas and Willie Nix, before he got the chance to cut his own record as a singer-pianist. This resulted in the storming drinking song "Juiced", probably cut on July 24, 1951. Phillips was under pressure from Chess to come up with a good follow-up for Jackie Brenston's "Rocket 88" (a number 1 rhythm and blues record, produced by Phillips, his first big success), after "My Real Gone Rocket" had bombed. It was decided to issue "Juiced" under Jackie Brenston's name (Chess 1472). Brenston was a better sax player than a singer and hardly had time for recording, as he was in constant demand on the road. Love was a better singer, wrote his own songs and played a mean piano. "Juiced" was the finest record that Jackie Brenston never made - and that Billy Love was never credited with making. But it did not chart. Love's next session took place in October or November 1951 and yielded three songs, two of which, "Drop Top" and "You're Gonna Cry" were issued as a Chess single (1508), this time credited to "Billy 'Red' Love and his orchestra". "Drop Top" was in the same uninhibited style as "Juiced", an attempt to follow in the slipstream of "Rocket 88". There were four sessions in 1952, but only one single was released, "My Teddy Bear Baby"/"Poor Man" (Chess 1516, now very rare). These two singles seem to have received very little promotional support from Chess and sold poorly. Through 1952 (the year in which Sun Records was launched), Love continued to work as a session pianist at Phillips's studio, but Sam's files are completely silent on Billy Love for the whole of 1953.
On January 19, 1954 Love returned to the Sun studio with a new band and cut five titles. He must have had a real expectation of seeing his first Sun record out in the spring, and so must Sam Phillips, who scheduled "Hey Now" and "Way After Midnight" for release on Sun 205, registering their copyrights with BMI that May. Sam assigned Sun master numbers to the two titles (U 118 and U 119), but the record did not appear with the May batch of Sun discs. By July, the first record by Elvis Presley had been released on Sun 209 and Phillips was too busy promoting his hot new property to release Love's disc. It was the beginning of the end for most blues and rhythm and blues singers at Sun and particularly so for Love who had a reputation for unreliability. Phillips told Martin Hawkins: "Billy Love was a supergood musician but he didn't have the gut desire to succeed. Not that he didn't want to, but I didn't have time to waste and I think Billy's problem was lack of patience and devotion to what he was doing. He played well but there is a kind of dedication and belief in your music that extends beyond the doors of the studio. He did not have that."
One more session was recorded at the Sun studio, resulting in "Blues Leave Me Alone" and the promotional record "Hart's Bread Boogie" for the Hart's bakery in Memphis (released on Harts H B-66). Pat Hare played guitar on that session; Billy played piano on Hare's "I'm Gonna Murder My Baby" (recorded May 14, 1954, originally unreleased).
Around this time Love had joined Rosco Gordon's band and he spent a good part of the 1954-1956 years travelling with Gordon, who re-signed with Sun in 1956 (that's Billy playing piano on "Shoobie Oobie"). In 1957 Love disappeared from Memphis and nobody knew where he had gone. It later turned out that he had relocated to Colorado Springs, playing at Duncan's Cotton Club. He was still living there when he got in trouble with the law in January 1974, accused of selling heroin and possessing an illegal weapon, but apparently this did not lead to a jail sentence.
Love's luck ran out the next year. Milton Morse (Billy ''Red'') Love passed
away on Friday May 2, 1975 and was buried at the Memphis National Cemetery. "Drank himself to death", according to Rosco Gordon. (MH)
LOVE, COY (HOT SHOT) - Coy Love Jr. was into his forties by the time he appeared at Sun Records to record his idiosyncratic harmonica solos and talking vocals. The son of Coy and Lula Love, he was born in Clarksdale, Mississippi, on September 9, 1914, and he said he learned to play harmonica from his father and that he traveled through many states in his twenties and thirties, working and playing music where he could.
His mother told Steve LaVere that her son's picture appeared in the Memphis World newspaper in 1933 or 1934 when he saved someone's life.
Talking to LaVere in 1970, Coy Love claimed to have recorded with Will Shade for Paramount Records during his lengthy and dundry travels around Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, and New Orleans.
He talked about being recorded non-commercially at different times during the 1920s and 1930s. He was arrested and spent time on the Shelby County Penal farm in 1940 or 1941 and he was later in trouble for shooting craps before, in June 1945, he was arrested for loitering and sentenced to 36 days on the Farm again. He talked about broadcasting over WHBQ with Nat Williams Amateur Show and playing with Elvis Presley out in east Memphis.
Love was truly a man who marched to a different drummer, sign painter by trade, who traveled round Memphis on his bicycle looking for work, his leather jacket lettered with part of his highly individual philosophy, and he was reputed to have lived with seven women at one time.
Love got himself a session at 706 Union a few months before Presley did. In January 1954, and by the time Sam Phillips met him Love was as well known as a sign-painter as he was a musician. Sam Phillips would have found his individuality something to be admired even tough he only released one record by him. Love did not record again until August 1963 at Steve LaVere's Memphis Blues & Folklore Center, the front window of which Love had hand-lettered. There he recorded five tunes, two of which appeared on Mr. Bo Weevil Records.
Coy "Hot Shot" Love died in a road accident on Interstate 55 on June 4, 1980, a mile or so outside of Memphis. (MH)
Left: 1st edition of Gene Lowery's ''Dixie Four Collection of Poems and Pictures'', 117 pages, compiled and
written by Gene Lowery (right), circa 1949. >
– Born as Newton Gresham ''Gene'' Lowery on March 8, 1906 in Clanton, Alabama. Son
of a Baptist minister, he was taught strict discipline from the cradle by stern, yet loving parents.
Even before he was old enough to go to school he begin singing and ''sitting in'' on singing schools. He was
directing congregational singing by the time he was eight years old.
He was educated in a Congregational
high school, the Howard College and the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas,
majoring in music. During summer months, while in school, he led music for evangelists. He became a
church music director, a music director for Dempsey W. Hedges' evangelistic party, which toured the South.
Upon leaving seminary in 1929, he obtained his first job as radio announcer at Shreveport, Louisiana. Has
had programs on thirty-two individual radio stations from coast to coast and held position as music director
of some of the large churches of Birmingham, Alabama: Jackson, Mississippi; and Memphis, Tennessee.
In 1938 he organized the Dixie Four Quartet in Jackson, Mississippi, where they had daily broadcast until
1940, when they moved to WMC, Memphis, Tennessee. Gene enlisted in the US Navy in 1942 and served
until 1944. Upon his return from service to Memphis , he reorganized the Dixie Four and resumed
broadcasting. Had ''Faultless Starch'' broadcast on a network for two years, also a Burial Insurance Company
program on local station.
Moved them to Indianapolis, June 25, 1946. Began series of programs for Mutual broadcasting System in
1947. He was also the lead singer for the Dixie Four and they has given 3,000 radio broadcasts and at least
that many concerts, to at least one million people. He published several song books which included songs
and recitations performed by the Dixie Four. In the late 1940s, while in Indianapolis, Gene organized Lowery
Enterprises, which operated a record company with the ''Gospel'' label. In 1950, he formed a new ''Hoosier''
In the early 1950s Lowery transitioned out of his singing role with the Dixie Four. During this period he
organized the Southland Quartet in Olney, Illinois, and managed the Pathfinders. By 1957, he had a group
called the Gene Lowery Singers consisting of Edwin Bruce, Sara Bruce, Nita Smith, and Lee Holt, which
performed as backup singers at Sun Studios in Memphis for Sun recording artists such as Johnny Cash,
Charlie Rich, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis, Barbara Pittman, and many more. In his later years he organized and
managed the Gene Lowery Quartet. Gene Lowery died in 1971.
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