''Flat Foot Sam'' sold reasonably well in regional markets and was Tommy's first real taste of success, no matter how fleeting it may have seemed. Further, the records prosperity may have instilled thoughts of greater fame in Tommy, as he returned to 706 Union early in March
1958 to record a demo session without the backing of Carl and Ed. Of the nine sides he cut at this session, Ballad Of A Broken Heart possessed the
greatest potential; a fact realized when Johnny Cash recorded the tune just two months later on May 15 as Story Of A Broken Heart.
Tommy may have prematurely dashed his hopes on the song becoming
a hit as Sam waited over two years to release Johnny's version of the song and when he did, he assumed credit as the writer (Tommy may
have been experiencing financial difficulty at the time and sold the song to Sam shortly before it was released).
Only two other titles from this session
have survived (or, at least, have been located and since released), I Dig You Baby and You Better Believe It. Both songs illustrate Tommy's creative and now tender
grasp on the teenage idiom of rock and roll, but proved to be worthy of revival a few weeks later when he recorded his second full band
session for Sun on March 16.
Carl and Ed had since parted
company with Tommy. The Hayride was beginning to wind down by 1958 and so too was the support that Carl and Ed particularly, had been showing him. Appearing unforlorn over the split, Ed recalled that "the Hayride and personal appearances were still receptive of Blake so Carl and I were still active, but the fire was gone and in our
mind Blake had blown it". The pair may have contributed to some of the material that Tommy demoed at Sun in March; however, they were no longer Rhythm
Rebels. Leaving the Hayride cast, Ed returned to college (Louisiana State University) to complete a degree in psychiatric social work.
He remained active for a time, playing mostly blues on the college circuit and recording behind various acts who breezed through the studios at KWKH. Shortly after parting company with Tommy, Ed cut two sides for Chic Thompson's ill-fated Chic label based in Georgia. He cut the session at RCA's studio B with Hank Garland and Chet
Atkins arranging the date. Recording only two songs, the countrified My Baby's Got A Picture For A Daddy and the calypso tinged Little
Love Light, he was robbed of a solo release when Chic became embroiled in the Nancy Whiskey affair that followed the stateside success of Freight Train. Ed later graduated from LSU and would go on to work prolifically for the state and as a superintendent for various state institutions for the mentally retarded. He retired in 1986
and says, "I never quit writing or playing. I still write and I still play at least once a week. I never played professionally again after the Hayride
closed its doors and I went back to college. I mostly play country, gospel and a bit of bluegrass today. I still play a few sessions now
and then when somebody needs my creative efforts, but it's mostly helping others demo their material".
When the Rhythm Rebels dissolved, Carl found work with his old school friend Dale Hawkins. He
had joined Dale's band well before Tommy cut his demo session for Sun in March 1958. Some time during the latter half of 1957, Carl headed to Fort Worth, Texas with Dale to
record at Clifford Herring's studio. When listening to the results of this impromptu session, it's no wonder that Dale wanted Carl for his band. The high energy
take of Tarheel Slim's Number Nine Train is consummate rockabilly. So too was Carl's instrumental work out Daredevil, which luckily
still survives on acetate. Carl then followed Dale to Chicago and was featured on a handful of his Checker cuts recorded late that year including Baby Baby (Checker 876), Tornado (Checker 892) and Little Pig (flip of Tornado). Kenny Paulsen was working with Dale by this time as well, and he remembers Carl and Kenny forming a
formidable pair on stage, " - when I had Kenny and Carl at the same time, we'd kill 'em! Just knock 'em out! You talk about skinnin' it, boy!" A
brief stint with Janis Joplin followed in the mid sixties.
Not long after, Carl was gone, a victim of prescription drugs. The final years of his life were hell. Playing long hours and too many gigs eventually
took a toll on Carl's health. He became addicted to over-the-counter drugs and on more than one occasion sort help (he had checked himself
into the Central Louisiana State Hospital late in '61), to no avail. Doctors told him that it was not illegal to use such drugs and admitting him to hospital for
rehabilitation would prove costly. Finally, on the day before his death, Carl called his mother from El Paso desperately pleading for help. He told her that doctors
in El Paso wouldn't admit him for rehabilitation. He managed to find the funds to purchase a bus ticket to Bakersfield, California where
his mother and sister Vaudie were residing at the time. The people who bought the ticket for him had inadvertently purchased a ticket for Long Beach and not Bakersfield. Carl took it anyway and was met in Long Beach by Vaudie. She was an operating room nurse and immediately recognized the symptoms of kidney failure in her younger
brother. She drove him directly to hospital (where, ironically, his mother had been recently admitted for pneumonia) and was whisked into surgery.
He didn't pull through and died from the effects of kidney failure on February 25, 1965. Carl was only thirty and at his peak.
Tom Ruple, the unknown third of the Rhythm Rebels, still resides in Louisiana and maintains contact with Ed. He worked as a drummer at a club in Texarkana for quite some time after the Rhythm Rebels folded. According to Ed, he is now involved with a group playing
Christian music, but his tenor singing voice is very much intact.
With the Rhythm Rebels gone, Tommy utilized Sam Phillips' prime house musicians in Roland Janes, Sid Manker, Stan Kesler,
Jimmy Van Eaton and Jimmy Wilson for his March 16 Sun session. Also, Ed Bruce, who had recorded a handful of dates for Sun since March the previous
year, was added to the lineup on second guitar. Sweetie Pie* and the reworked I Dig You Baby were the strongest cuts from this session, and sensing that the songs may have had
some teen appeal, Sam coupled them for release in June (Sun 300). Two other cuts from this session, a revised version of You Better Believe It and an adaptation
of Ray Smith's Shake Around, remained in the can.
Tommy's second outing on Sun was far more polished than his first, in spite of Roland Janes' presence on the record. The arrangements were certainly
memorable, although Sweetie Pie and I Dig You Baby lacked the hard edge of ''Lordy Hoody'', due primarily to the noticeable absence
of Carl Adams. Tommy's busy take on Shake Around was the only tune from the March 16 session that possessed the same primitive nature as ''Lordy Hoody'' and ''Flat Foot
Sam''. It seems that Tommy's direction was beginning to change and, judging by the poor sales of I Dig You Baby, he was heading the wrong way. The records lack of success
was a clear indication that Tommy Blake's talents did not lie in writing and arranging pop songs, so he countervailed his contract with
Sam Phillips and the hallowed Sun diskery and immersed himself in the country music field.
Before leaving Sun, Tommy may have bequeathed Sam his Marine Corps pal, Jonas B. Ross (otherwise
known as Jerry or Gene). Late in 1958 or possibly early the following year, Jerry supposedly submitted two demos to Sun, neither of which Sam saw fit to release. An
enigmatic figure, Tommy probably met Jerry while the two were enlisted in the Marine Corps and both were based in Shreveport around the time that Tommy cut his second
Sun session. While working as head bell hop at the Captain Shreve Hotel, Jerry seems to have struck a tentative songwriting partnership
with Tommy shortly before the latter's contract with RCA expired in '57. This speculative claim is based on the fact that Jerry co-inked I Dig You Baby with Tommy, while both names appear erroneously as the credited writers of Sweetie Pie, a song that Dale Hawkins first recorded in Chicago for Checker late in '57, at
least three months prior to Tommy's version hitting the market. Jerry's demos of Everybody's Trying To Kiss My Baby and Little One that he submitted
to Sun under the name of Gene Ross, offer only sparse evidence as to the true nature of the partnership the two shared, as the former
title is the only demo since located and bares no indication of the writers responsible for the tune. The sole clue that solidifies the affirmation of a partnership between the pair
is a seven-inch record that Jerry cut in 1959 for the Shreveport based Murco label owned by Dick Martin and Harding Desmarais (could this be Dee
Marais' real name?). The top-side of the Murco single, Everybody's Tryin' (as by Jerry Ross on Murco 1016), is identical in every aspect
to the earlier Sun version and credits Thomas Givens and Jonah Ross as the writers. As Givens was Tommy's given surname, it is fairly clear that the two singers did, for at least a
year or so, work together as songwriters. The flip of Jerry's Murco disc, Small Little Girl, may be a reworking of his still missing Sun demo Little
Jerry wrote at least two other songs with Tommy, including
Alright and a tune that Tommy would record for Bragg in 1964 as Van Givens, titled You And I (Betty Givens was also credited as part
composer). Little else is known of Ross though, aside from a few records that appeared under the name of Gene Ross in 1958 on Herald (the Al Silver owned label?),
Indie and Spry (a re-issue of the Indie disc) and one final release on Time in 1962. There may exist unissued recordings by Jerry in the KWKH tape library too. Ed Dettenheim
is sure that he backed Jerry on two titles recorded at the station's studio, probably around the time he and Carl parted company with
Tommy. With Carl Adams on lead, Jerry cut a rendition of Shadow My Baby (possibly the Glenn Barber song?) and a tune composed by Ed, Mr. Blues. Ed's memory of the session is faint, "It was a low down blues (Mr. Blues) with Carl playing awesome string bending walking stuff. He cut a couple more songs but I don't remember
what they were".
Still longing for that hit record and minus a record label, and even his own band, Tommy returned to Shreveport. He supposedly worked for a time as a deejay on KWKH before
befriending a rising young talent in the country music field, Carl Belew, and forming a far more lucrative songwriting partnership with him than
his previous collaboration with Jerry Ross. Carl had already hit pay dirt by the time he met Tommy. He was still riding high on Johnnie
and Jack's hit RCA recording of his Stop The World (And Let Me Off) (RCA 7137), which had peaked at number seven on Billboard's country charts in February 1958. He had
also been a regular on the Louisiana Hayride since 1957 and appeared on the television networked Ozark Jubilee in 1958. Carl knew what success felt like.
Born in Salina, Oklahoma on April 21, 1931, Carl was given his first guitar at
the age of thirteen. By his fifteenth birthday he had found work in the construction field as a plumber, a vocation that saw him regularly
traversing the mid-west. Carl frequently visited California, where he met Kenny Sowder, a small-time entrepreneur who would eventually become his manager. His first recordings appeared on the 4 Star custom imprint, Sowder. Further sides were issued on 4 Star proper, while Carl was simultaneously performing on the Town Hall
Party in Compton and the Cliffie Stone Show in Los Angeles in 1956. Two years later, he had left the Louisiana Hayride, joining the celebrated Grand
Ole Opry and signing with Decca. Around twelve months later his path crossed with Tommy Blake's when Tommy pitched his banal Cool Gator
Shoes (or Cool Alligator) to Carl. Reminiscent of his earliest attempts to pen rock and roll, Tommy had written the song while recording sporadically at Dee Marais' studio
in Shreveport in 1958. Carl liked the song and cut his version for Decca at Owen Bradley's studio in Nashville during the first week of June 1959. Only two
months before, he had scored a major coup when his recording of Am I That Easy To Forget became a Billboard hit, spawning innumerable
cover versions by the likes of Debbie Reynolds (number 25 Pop), Englebert Humperdinck, Skeeter Davis, Jim Reeves, Orion, Don Gibson and Leon Russell. Trying to cash
in on Carl's good fortune, Tommy misleadingly claimed to be the song's co-writer. Posterity proved otherwise. Tommy was clearly aware of Carl's success. His growing
fame is what Tommy had been striving for himself and he may have thought that associating and working with a fresh and vivacious talent
as Carl could relegate him the prosperity he had been searching for the past few years. Conversely, Carl must have seen something in Tommy that told him the budding songwriter had talent, as the duo's prolific partnership lasted into the coming decade.
Before the year was out, Tommy took one final shot at cutting a rocker. Still based in Shreveport
and recording under the auspices of Dee Marais, Tommy waxed the superlative Folding Money on Marais' own Recco label (Recco 1006). Acquired deviously a few years
earlier in Dallas, Tommy's F-olding Money was a Summertime Blues structured tune possessing an infectious, rhythmic boogie beat evocative of his best recordings for
RCA and Sun. In contrast, the version Carl Belew recorded at his Cool Gator Shoes Decca date is moderately more sublime and remained
unissued until recently. Interestingly, both recordings of the song credit Tommy, Carl and the pseudonymous W. S. Stevenson (4 Star's Bill
McCall in disguise) as the writers. A popular Texan country duo was the true genius behind F-olding Money, but Tommy claimed it as his creation, much like he 'adapted' Dale
Hawkins' Sweetie Pie as his own. Regardless, F-olding Money and its western themed flip, The Hanging Judge, sold poorly and Tommy was short-changed again.
The game was not over for Tommy yet, though. Working with Carl
was bringing out the best in him. While Carl continued making hit records for Decca into the new decade, Tommy was busy putting ink
to paper and rolling out one quality tune after another. The reward eventually arrived in 1961 when Darrell Edwards expressed interest in a song the pair had written titled Tender Years. Both Carl and Tommy could have cashed in on a superb deal, if Tommy had only played his cards right. In need of money, he sold the song to Darrell
who wasted no time in pitching Tender Years to his pal George Jones. George was quick to cut the tune for Mercury (Mercury 71804) under
the supervision of 'Pappy' Daily, and saw a number one country hit with it in 1961. To add to the hurt, James O'Gwynn and Reggie Lucas recorded
the song, turning it into an enticing future nest egg for Darrell Edwards.
By this stage of Tommy's life a firm pattern was beginning to emerge. He had already cheated himself of the benefits that Johnny Horton had reaped with the success of Honky
Tonk Mind. Now, he'd cheated himself again with Tender Years and the bitterness was growing stronger. Booze offered some solace, but the frustration
would always linger. He was determined to succeed and his partnership with Carl Belew continued for a few more years. Tommy cut a few
more records himself, as well. After waxing a disc for Chancellor in 1960 (coupling two tunes co-inked by Belew), he signed with the west coast based 4 Star label,
recording one disc for the company in 1961 (Back Door To Heaven b/w I Try Harder, 4 Star 1765). Released under the moniker of Van Givens, his 4 Star disc aired little
better than any of his previous efforts. Records followed on Bragg, Musicor and Paula through to 1967, but it was now painfully obvious
that Tommy's time had passed and there would be no more chances.
He persevered. Feverishly writing songs on his own and occasionally with others (particularly Clyde Pitts Jr. and Carl Belew's
son, Bobby), he maintained contact with the Nashville establishment, hoping that the elusive hit would soon arrive. Stonewall Jackson's 1967 chart topping Columbia recording of the Blake/Belew composition Stamp Out Loneliness (Columbia 43966, number 5 Billboard) ensured the royalty cheques, however minimal, were still arriving.
However, to help further support his family, Tommy found work as a carpenter during the early seventies. His alcoholism was getting worse, though
and in 1972 he suffered a heart attack. Colin Escott claims Tommy and his family was living in Carthage, Texas at this time and in 1976,
he moved to Nashville. Whether Betty and any of his six children followed is another matter. He'd sworn off the booze after his heart attack in '72, but he wasn't
completely reformed. In his work, Tattooed On Their Tongues, Escott vividly depicted how Tommy had reached his lowest ebb, "Like a dice player, Blake was looking for
the win so high and wild that he would never need to roll again. This time nobody wanted to listen, though, and Blake ended up in Georgia
without Betty. There he met Samantha, and they moved to Shreveport". Escott's portrayal of Tommy's supposed self-destruction should not be taken too literally. According to Sondra Hall, a close friend of Tommy's second wife 'Samantha' (her real name was actually Luvenia Carter), the newly wedded couple lived briefly in Tyler, Texas
before moving to Bossier City, not far from Shreveport. While Tommy had resumed his alcoholism, he wasn't the drug abuser that Escott depicted him
as. Further, Tommy was no wife-beater and tried to be the model husband to his wife, "Samantha was treated like a queen. Van (Tommy)
received a military disability pension along with royalty payments, but Samantha was never satisfied with the money he brought in".
While he may have felt some resentment for not seeing the success he so desperately wanted, he wasn't dwelling over his failures either. Sondra continues, "He was writing and home-recording song after song. He was in contact with performers, notably Ray
Stevens and happier than he had been in years". She went on to outline how she had three ninety minute cassettes of songs Tommy had
written and primitively recorded in a one month period! Escott's claims of Tommy's demise are completely unfounded, too. He stressed how Tommy was virtually a wreck from alcohol and drug abuse, in addition to his total depression. He also presented the assumption that Tommy's behavior towards Samantha is what caused his
death. Sondra disagrees and recollects the events of that fateful Christmas Eve in 1985 ...
"Samantha had been to the grocery market that afternoon - buying food with illegally applied for food stamps. Ursula and
Tamara, her daughters went with her. Van was at home with her cousin Dale and they were playing music and maybe even talking about the "truckstop" tape of nasty lyrics Van had taped & sold to buy Christmas for his family. He (had) bought Sam a pair of diamond earrings. Sam & the girls returned home, not to a trailer park, but
a beautiful 4-bedroom Florida style home with master suite opening to a patio. Van was drinking beer with Dale. Neither of the men would
help with the groceries and this pissed Sam off. Dale left, and Sam began to argue with Van. She slammed out of the kitchen, went into
the garage, where she had her office-unlocked the door, got her pistol, went out the garage door across the patio, entered the master bedroom, got the bullets and loaded the
gun and went back to the garage. She called Van out there and he approached her with his hands behind his back. He asked her Not to be mad and reminded her
it was Christmas Eve. He held out a small jewelers Box to her and said, 'These are for you'. She shot him. One time-thru the heart.
He was dead before he hit the garage floor".
never indicted for murdering her husband. Why the charges against her were dropped may never be known either. As Sondra observed, Tommy was "-happier than he had
been in years". What spurred Samantha to cut him down and end his life so coldly? From all accounts, Samantha (she had assumed the moniker and Social Security number
of her oldest daughter to avoid paying debts) seemed shadier than Tommy had ever been. Maybe she had a sinister motive for wanting to
kill her husband. Surely, such a minor grievance wouldn't be sufficient reason for murder? The truth will probably remain a mystery. As for Tommy, he was cheated for the last time. Samantha made sure of that.
After thirty years of chasing his ambitions, Tommy failed to achieve what he wanted so badly - to write a - number one country hit that he could spend his retirement reaping the
benefits from. He had enough chances, let them slip away at the last moment, then stood by and watched as others benefited from the prosperity that
should have been his. He may not have always been legitimate in his business dealings, but he did have the desire to succeed and genuine
talent. Similarly, he could have easily become the star he envisioned, but he always seemed to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and never knew when to keep his
Whatever is said
about Tommy's integrity is no longer relevant, as the standard of his music can never been altered. Nor can it really be faulted. He was a talented songwriter. His own
recordings illustrated that and, thankfully, he wrote and recorded enough quality material for his name to remain in the limelight long after his passing. In hindsight,
maybe Tommy did finally achieve his ultimate goal.
The author expresses sincere thanks and appreciation to Ed Dettenheim and Sandy Lee for their tireless assistance. Without their invaluable recollections, the life of Tommy Blake (and
many of the other players involved in Tommy's story) could not be fully told. Gratitude is also extended to the following people for their help,
Tapio Vaisenan, Sondra Hall, Terria Givens Allen, Dale Hawkins, Brian Poole, Dave Penny, Dave Sax, Frank Frantik, Cees Klop, Johan
Lofstedt, Joe Wajgel, Dick Grant, Michel Proost and Alasdair Blaazer.
AUGUST 19, 1957 MONDAY
Jerry Lee Lewis performs ''Whole Lot Of Shakin' Going On'' on Dick Clark's ABC-TV show ''American Bandstand''. The episode also features an appearance by future country producer Jimmy
''Prime Time Country'' host Gary Chapman is born
in DeLeon, Texas. A Christian singer, he writes T.G. Sheppard's hit ''Finally'' and Kenny Rogers' ''I Prefer The Moonlight'' and becomes the first husband of Amy Grant.
Decca released Kitty Wells ''(I'll Always Be Your) Fraulein''.
AUGUST 21, 1957 WEDNESDAY
The USSR Launches the first Intercontinental ballistic missile. On October 4, The USSR launches the First artificial satellite Sputnik 1. November 3rd The USSR launches the Second artificial
satellite Sputnik 2 carrying the First animal in space (a dog named Laika). On January 31, 1958, the United States launches the first US satellite Explorer 1. Over the next few years the USSR and The United States continued to advance the technology, but the
crowning glory of this period of history has to be the successful landing of a man on the moon by the United States on July 20th 1969 when Neil Alden Armstrong becomes the first person to set foot on the Moon. Sputnik 1 is often quoted
as the beginning of the Space Race, but in all truthfulness the Space Race began in Germany in World War II, and following the defeat of Germany, American, Soviet and British governments all gained access to the V-2's technical designs and the German scientists
responsible for creating the Guided missile rocket technology ( Used in World War II, V-1 flying bomb nicknamed the Doodlebug and the V-2 rocket which was a single stage ballistic missile used against Great Britain ) The technology provided the beginnings
of mans quest for space exploration.