JACK EARLS - was born August 23, 1932, in railroad town Woodbury, Tennessee, a rural community about 50 miles southeast of Nashville. It was, and still
is to some extent, Uncle Dave Macon (1870-1952) territory. In fact, the famous 'Dixie Dewdrop.' banjo picker, singer, veteran of vaudeville and arguably the first country music star of the WSM Barn Dance (later known as Grand Ole Opry) was a neighbor of the Earls household and a welcome visitor
during Jack's early childhood.
visits, Macon liked to gather everyone to participate in a round of songs. When it came time for the boy hiding beneath the porch to sing with ''Muleskinner Blues'' and
other songs from his mother. Mrs Earls was her son's singing teacher early on.
Some of Macon's delivery also left a mark on Earl's style. Both Earl's and Macon's vocals have been described in print as aggressive or even primitive, but how can those terms (especially the latter) be taken seriously when these
men had been singing for a lifetime before their recording careers began? Macon gathered his songs and cultivated his public persona during the late 1800s, and Earls'
mother grew up in the early 1900s - decades before the introduction of over-the-counter electronic microphones and amplification. One can only imagine the hair-raising, expressive voices of their 19'h century mentors.
Out in the country - years before he settled in Memphis - Earls harvested a variety of experiences. His father, an army veteran wounded during service, died before Earls could get to know him. He grew up with two brothers, four half-brothers and one sister
on a farm. When Earls was seven years old, his older brother Richard, who worked in a Chattanooga cotton mill, took him in for a while. By age 13 he was back home and finished with school. With his brother Herb, Earls worked at the Uselton farm near Manchester. During the mid-1940s —breakout
years for Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys — the Earls
boys, together with two Uselton sons, often performed bluegrass and country songs
while passing a hat outside the Manchester courthouse.
When a traveling carnival invaded the outskirts of town, Earls ran away with the troupe to work as a sideshow ''wild boy.'' Curious customers paid a coin to enter a dimly lit tent and peer past a partition to observe a dark pit with a shallow pool of
water containing a disheveled wild man and a wild boy wrestling a dozen fake alligators and one real baby gator. ''My brother Herb told me I'd better not leave with the
carnival. but when night come, I was gone. I left town with the show, and my mom didn't know where I was at, for a
longtime'', said Earls. After a week or two of beating up stuffed gators for hamburgers the wild duo quit the carnival. Relying
on handouts and the Salvation Army for food and shelter, they hitchhiked out to Chattanooga, where an uncle promptly sent Earls home. It was Richard who picked him up
from the farm again, and delivered him to Memphis around 1949.
In 1950 he got married and attempted a move to Detroit that didn't take. After Earls returned to Memphis, he and his wife set up house in a neighborhood where music was a common pastime for many residents. ''Bill Black lived two streets over from me,"
said Earls. Johnny Black, Bill's brother - lived there, Scotty Moore lived around the corner, and Elvis's house was right behind mine''.
Outside of work; he played music infrequently with friends and family.
At the end of a late shift., Earls often took his guitar into the back seat of his car, sang and vented whatever ideas came to his mind. By the time he and five other guitar pickers entered the studio of the Memphis Recording Service in the summer of 1955, Earls had several self-written
songs waiting to be heard.
Memphis Recording Service at 706 Union Avenue was located a few minutes' walk from the Earls' home. Just out of high school, Elvis Presley (1935-1977) had gone to the
recording service in 1953 to cut a demonstration disk. He imagined he might attract the attention of the owner. Sam C. Phillips (1923-2003), who also ran a little label called Sun Records from the building. In 1954; Phillips got around to calling him back, and his first
record was released in July (SUN 209 ''That's All Right''/''Blue Moon Of Kentucky'').
Presley's success with Sun astonished Earls who didn't care for ''That's All Right'' when he first heard it. Hank Williams had
been gone less than two years, and was still Earls' favorite singer.
Presley's early records inspired controversy, love, and even hate from listeners. However, as steady sales led to more and better
gigs for Presley and his band-mates, guitarist Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black, growing numbers of country musicians in the neighborhood - and soon, from beyond Memphis
- cut demo records at the little studio in hopes that Phillips would produce a release for them on Sun.
Phillips, who started the Sun label almost exclusively with blues artists, felt that he helped
Presley deliver something unique to the world. with his particular blend of country, pop and rock and roll music. Phillips was also enthusiastic about drawing out spontaneous performances from musicians who could deliver the sound of pure emotion.
Presley's regional success encouraged Phillips to look for other local musicians with a new mixed-up style. Carl Perkins (1932-1998), another bakery employee (Colonial
Bakery in Jackson), arrived with his rockin' honky tonk band in late 1954. Johnny Cash (1932-2003) and the Tennessee Two made their first Sun recordings during the spring of 1955.
By 1955, country musicians found the studio inviting and the locals turned it, as well as the restaurant next door,
into a busy gathering place. Johnny Black, who had known Presley when they were teenagers in high school, moved back to Memphis from Corpus Christi after he heard Presley's
first Sun record (and recognized his brother's bass playing on it). Black and Earls both wound up working at the Colonial Bakery in town. Black's enthusiasm for the new music helped Earls make up his mind to audition for Phillips at the Memphis Recording Service.
"Johnny Black and I went down there with five or
six other guys. and one crippled man who played mandolin,'' said Earls. They paid ten dollars for two performances to be etched into the sides of an acetate disk. "One of em was ''A Fool For Lovin' You''. 'I had that song written by then. Sam wasn't there at the time, but Marion Keisker,
the office secretary said ''I love your voice. Why don't you come back and see Sam?"'
Earls and Black returned with the record and their guitars in hand, and Phillips liked Earls' voice and his songs, "He said before
we started to cut anything, we needed to lose the band and put together a new one. He said, 'That band ain't worth a shit', "said Earls, Black switched from guitar to
bass and recruited his friends Danny Wahlquist for drums and take off guitarist Warren Gregory, who also drove a truck. "Warren used to park his truck and take naps during his shift." said Earls. "He had a little sign he'd put in the window while he slept
that read. Genius at work''.
1994, Gregory visited Earls. He told me that he grew up picking country and jazz. but developed an appetite for the blues. "I used to visit W C. Handy (1873-1958) at his
house in Memphis."said Gregory, although this strains credibility as Handy moved from Memphis to New York in 1917, "We'd sit on his front porch and play music together'', said Gregory. '' Back in them early days, all of us rock and rollers didn't have nothing. and
we all supported each other. If anyone needed some help in nightclubs or in the studio - even if it meant pushing a broom - we helped each other out''.
After cashing his royalty check, Earls bought a
new Indian Chief motorcycle. "I got it out there on Poplar Avenue ... They brought it out and showed me how to ride it. I'd ride that thing for a little while, and then
the motor would quit. Man, I rode that thing for hours, until/got to where t could ride it pretty good. My wife was working at a potato chips company, and I picked her up and brought her home. Then I wound up buying a Harley from the same place where
Elvis bought his''.
worked for a while at Sleepy Eyed John's Bon Air Club, and eventually found steady employ at the Palms club on Summer Avenue. "We worked there for about six years. Friends
used to come and sit in with us all the time. People like Bill Black, Charlie Feathers, Billy Riley, Bud Deckelman ... The Palms was a bottle club, where you'd bring in your own bottle and they'd sell ice and setups. We played three or four nights a week."Earls
also visited and sat in with other bands, including Eddie Bond's at his club out on Highway 51.
The studio was an exciting place to visit day or night because "Sam was always wantin to get something goin' - somethin' new''. Earls and the band continued to record demos of songs that he wrote without the aid of paper, while
driving his bakery truck or during solitary late nights in his Buick. ''I never wrote anything down ... Back then, I had more sons than knew what to do with'', he said.
''Sometimes me and Johnny Black used to go to the studio and record stuff for Sam's wife. She was on the radio''. In 1955. Phillips helped launch WHER Radio in Memphis. The on-air staff was composed entirely of women, including Phillips' wife.
Around 1963, Jack Earls started playing music at
a club called the Wagon Wheel east of Memphis, in Millington. He and a friend bought the place soon after they started working there. "It was a bottle club, and I kept it open all night long. When I could see the sun coming, then I closed the doors! After the bars shut down in Memphis.
everyone would come out to the Wagon Wheel, and we packed the place. Different people used to come out to my club and sit in with the band. Gene Simmons, Bobby Wood -
I bought a blue Cadillac from Bobby Wood, once. Smokey Joe Baugh played with us. He had that ''Signifying Monkey'' (on Sun)''. When the work began to feel like a grind, Earls sold the club and moved to Detroit in 1966. He drove a truck hauling auto parts and
concentrated on helping his wife raise their family.
Around 1970, Earls took his guitar to Fortune Records on Third Street in Detroit. Owner Jack Brown helped Earls cut demos of five songs onto
an acetate disk, but a release by the company was never worked out. Earls started playing in Detroit-area clubs at night. In 1973, he made a deal with Ry-Ho Records in Romulus, based in a storefront at Grant and Goddard roads.
Tennessee-born singer and bandleader Loyd (Lloyd) Howell (1932-2008), who, with bassist Don Rye (d. 2007),
owned the Ry-Ho studio and record label, booked country music talent shows in Detroit with Ry-Ho Records as sponsor. Ry-Ho recording contracts were given as prizes to
the winners. Howell was the same man who cut a rockin' version of ''Little Froggy Went A-Courtin''', for the Nashville label (a Starday subsidiary) in 1961, as well as singles on Fortune with his band the Brite Stars, like ''Don't Hang Around'' and ''Truck Driving
Jack'' (on Fortune subsidiary Hi-Q).
purchased a package where he cut two songs with the Ry-Ho studio band (the Brite Stars), and Howell and Rye pressed 45rpm records of the results. A new Earls original,
''Mississippi Man'', was chosen to back ''Take Me To That Place'' (which first saw the light of day on this record). Howell's son Jeff remembered playing electric bass on ''Take Me To That Place'', along with Phil Cutrell on drums, Frank Childs on lead guitar and his sisters
Vicki Dianne and Pamela Jo singing backup. An unidentified pianist from local country singer Alice Faye's band played on both sides. Don Rye played bass on ''Mississippi Man'',
on which Earls revealed his affinity for Merle Haggard's songs with his vocal. Compared to his Sun recordings, Earls' singing on his Ry-Ho disk revealed a more confident and controlled delivery. The record made it evident that Earls was keeping up with trends in
country music. ''It turned out pretty good'', said Earls. "I ordered several hundred records and sold them all''.
He hired on at Chrysler around the same time, and stuck with the company through his retirement
30 years later. At night, Earls played country music peppered with 1950s rock and roll with a band he fronted. Sometimes his oldest son would join him on drums. Native Michigander and songwriter Marshall Crenshaw played bass with Earls for a while. Detroitbred
country and rockabilly singer Don Rader (19372004) teamed up with Earls in the clubs as well. "Me and Don Rader used to play at VFWs (Veterans of Foreign Wars] and Eagles, all kinds of different (social] halls'', said Earls. ''We used to have CB coffee breaks. There was three of us who'd
put them together I had the band, and one would take care of the door and one would take care of the bar. We`d rent a club at 21 Mile Road and Van Dyke, and it was ...
a bunch of CBers having a coffee break, but it was really a beer break ... We'd rent a hall, get kegs of beer and potato chips, and get someone to watch the car's. (We would) do it once or twice a month mew. Everybody was CBing then, you know, everybody was on the radio''.
One day in 1975, Earls received a phone call from
Gary Thompson, then living in Warren. He knew about Earls from European rockabilly compilation albums of Sun recordings, as well as the Ry-Ho single, which he discovered in a friend's collection. ''My daughters sister-in- law was watching Gary Thompson's kids, and had given her one of
the Ry-Ho records. Gary was going through her records... and he found mine. He said. 'Where'd you get this record? She said. 'That's my sister-in-laws dad. He told her.,
This guy made recordings on Sun Records!' ... Then Gary wanted to know if I'd put out more records with him, so I did. He was putting up the Money and he paid me so much (per song) every time he put out an album. ''Flip, Flop And Fly'' was the first song we done.
I was half-asleep when we cut that, and so was the band!"
After collecting and selling records since the 1960s, Thompson opened a used record shop in St. Clair Shores in 1972. Upon meeting Earls and
Rader in 1975, he was inspired to start the Olympic Records company and began issuing new recordings by Earls and Rader, which led to Thompson reissuing rockabilly sides
by Michigan-based artists, as well as other hard-to-find 1950s rock and roll music. Earls' first Olympic trial, recorded live in the basement of Rader's house, yielded a knockout version of Joe Turner's ''Flip, Flop And Fly'' and Piano Red's ''She Sure
Can Rock Me''. "Johnny Clark played that fast guitar'', said Earls. "Lee
Sloan was thumping around on an upright bass because he didn't know how
to play it''. Drummer Ace Avery and pianist Tom Stewart rounded out the sound. Although Thompson advertised the recordings as having a 1950s sound. Clark's fierce guitar style could have suited any late 1960s garage band. "I was driving for Chrysler, and I had
drove all night ... Don had a little bitty basement and we couldn't get a real good sound, but Gary put it out.
Then we cut at Sound Patterns, out on Grand River. Big studio. They put out television programs
and everything out there''. ''She Sure Can Rock Me'' was cut both in Rader's basement and at Sound Patterns. ''The good cut was done at Sound Patterns'', said Earls. ''Then we cut down in my basement, when I got my studio together (in 1977). We cut
''Roll Over Beethoven'' one Sunday morning, and on the same day we cut, ''Call Me Shorty''. ' The former is the well-known Chuck Berry rock and roll anthem. The latter
was a rocker Earls picked up while living in Memphis. ''Everybody did that song'', he said, including Jerry Lee Lewis' cousin Mickey Gilley, who recorded it for Dot Records in 1958. (Although Gilley lived in East Texas, evidence of visits to Memphis during the
late 1950s was caught on tape at the Sun studio, where Gilley out a few demos.)
His recordings from this period showed that Earls, like a true stylist, conjured new life into the songs he chose. His singing had matured since his days in Memphis, to a level where he could sing with perfect control of his voice. And
a ghost of Sam Phillips' influence was evident in Earls' constant efforts to come with new approaches to the old songs he remade.
Earls continued his work/music way of life through the 1980s while cultivating
his children as they grew into musicians who followed his example. Around 1987, three of his sons helped him record Gene Vincent's 1956 hit ''Be-Bop-A Lula'' in his basement studio. Although he wasn't releasing new recordings, Earls still received occasional offers
to perform overseas. He consistently turned down invitations to perform in Europe, citing responsibilities to his family and job. With some prodding from Don Rader and
fellow Sun recording artist and Detroit producer Johnny Powers, in 1996 Earls accepted an invitation to headline at the ''Hemsby Rock And Roll Weekender'' in England. He was overwhelmed by the reception he received. "They treated me like the second coming of
Elvis'', exclaimed a grateful man who had witnessed the first. Much like Sleepy Eyed John's little bulldog winning a tug-o-war game by pulling the rag free and landing
upsite-down on his back. Earls was astonished when the audience called for several encores. ''I guess I'm in demand now, overseas'', he said. ''I get two or three offers a year. I'll keep doing it as long as I can give it everything I got''.
In 1999, guitarist Marv Weyer, a Pontiac native who worked a long career from the late 1950s with Tamla and Hi-Q recording artists Nick & The Jaguars, to Barbara Mandrell in California and Nashville in the 1960s and 1970s, to Eddie Jackson and Swannee
Caldwell in Detroit, asked Earls to contribute a song to an album he was producing. Like a seasoned blues singer, Earls came up with an idea for ''I Started Rockin' A
Long Time Ago'', and then assembled the lyrics while in front of the microphone, started rockin' down in Memphis, Tennessee Yeah,
I started rockin' down in Memphis. Tennessee, Yeah,
I started rockin' down in Memphis, Tennessee-born
And old Sam Phillips seen a little song in me
He said, 'Son,
you're lookin' fine,
Sign it right there on the dotted line
Come on baby, let's make some history'
The band included all the members of the Big Barn Combo, a rockabilly quartet that I sang for, plus Marv Weyer on lead guitar.
We had figured out a method of using one microphone to record Weyer's tunes, and we used the same setup with Earls. He sat on a stool in front of the mike with my old
flattop guitar. and the gates to Memphis country rock and roll heaven opened wide. In person. Earls communicated the overall feeling he wanted to the band by using his voice and moving his body, resulting in a punchy, yet loose performance, filling the room with
crackling energy and echoes of my favorite Sun records of 1954 to 1957. Earls really had started rockin' a long time ago, and he made us feel it in our bones. It was the
most exciting recording session I'd witnessed. It also resulted in one of the best performances on Weyer's album. We recorded a warm-up performance of ''Rock Bop'' (a.k.a. ''Let's Bop'') to check recording levels, placement of musicians in the room, etc.
Earls took both tracks overseas, and sold them on a Stompertime 45rpm extended-play record at his European concerts.
His recordings with Sweden's Sleazy Rustic Boys appeared on subsequent releases for Eviken Records
(a 45rpm single, and an album/compact disc). Songs included new originals like ''My Little Mama'' and ''Tribute To Carl Perkins'', to old originals like ''Game Of Love'' and ''Comin' Back Home'', and surprising remakes. like a vocal of Bill Doggett's ''Honky
Since the release
of his Sun recordings during the 1970s and 1 980s, the influence of Earls' music has been felt across a worldwide spectrum of fans of vintage Sun Records. Among more recent
examples found stateside, the Gravediggers, a psychobilly band from California, cut a break-teeth version of ''Let's Bop'' (future Fly-Rite Boy Wally Hersom played on it) in 1985; California roots band the Paladins injected some blues into ''Slow Down''
on a 1986 album, In 2000, the Big Barn Combo remade ''Sign On The Dotted Line'' for an album, and backed Earls at the Rockabilly Rebel Weekender in Indianapolis, his first festival
booking in the U.S. Better-publicized tributes followed in 2005, when Stray Cats guitarist/crooner Brian Setzer cut an instrumental arrangement of ''Slow Down''. and then a vocal of the same song for a live album released in 2007.
With a supportive family who cherish his music yet keep
him grounded, Earls keeps himself busy. As a result of his early schooling in song, and forsaking the grind of a fulltime singing career, he mastered and preserved his soulful voice - a captivating, uniquely American voice that breathes new life into echoes from the previous two centuries.
At the time they were recorded, most of his Sun
efforts weren't ready for public release. Now we can listen to this collection and catch sparks of excitement in Jack Earls' early experiences from within the thick of Memphis rock and roll; we can witness his later studio trials, cheer on his dogged tug on the rag of destiny, and celebrate his
many rounds of play. Now, let's bop this one!
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