- THIS PAGE CONTAINS -
Jimmy M. Van Eaton
Marcus Van Story
Johnny ''Ace'' Cannon
Smokey Joe Baugh
Jerry Lee Smith
The Little Green Men
SAM PHILLIPS AND THE STUDIO AT WORK
Label Owner, Producer & Recording Engineer
Samuel Cornelius Phillips knowed somethin' ''different'', concluded Ray Harris, reflecting on the vicissitudes of the record business by the light of the Donut King in Tupelo, Mississippi. ''You've got to know talent in this business, and Sam knowed talent. He was in the right place at the right time, but just look at the bushel barrel of top talent that came out of there''.
Phillips' achievement rests in three things he did that - due to luck or judgment - were intrinsically right. First of all, he settled in Memphis, a unique and largely untapped musical community. Once there, he found talent all around him, talent in performers whose styles were unswayed by the accepted norms of commercial American music. And once he had found these artists, he developed ways of working with them to capture their talent and discovered ways of introducing it to a broad, national audience.
The fact that Phillips was not a musician was a distinct advantage. Schooled musicians continue to wince at the sour notes, botched chord changes, and off-key vocals that populate some of his recordings. But Phillips responded to the feel he heard in an artist, not to technical expertise. A trained musician behind the board would have shooed both Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash back out onto the street; Sam Phillips saw two diamonds in the rough. Where others shied away from the unpolished, Phillips gravitated toward it.
He wasn't without his limitations, though. Ray Harris, in another trenchant observation, said, ''Sam was a genius with three- or four-piece bands. When it got beyond that – boom!''. Once the intimacy of the small group was gone, Phillips was less effective. The one-on-one rapport that he cherished - and with which he was most effective - was impossible with a large group The only Top 20 hit on Sun Records that had more than four instruments was Charlie Rich's ''Lonely Weekends'' (and that only had five).
In a one-on-one situation, though, Phillips could work his spell. ''You could look into his eyes'', said Jim Dickinson, ''and see whirling pools of insanity. You knew that he was looking down into your guts and you thank at that moment, 'That's how he looked at Howlin' Wolf. That's the way he looked at Elvis Presley Something happened. Maybe it can happen to me'. That's what he does that's magic''.
''It was spontaneous'', said Dickey Lee, who cut his second and third records for Sun. ''You didn't have to watch the studio click. In fact, the click never worked. It was stopped at fourthirty. You shouldn't be tied down to a time schedule when you're creating. Everything was loose, but we were always on edge too - we were always going for it. Today no one worries about getting their part right, because the can overdub. The feel has gone. Back then, the adrenaline was gong''.
Phillips himself seems to understand the effect he had in the studio: ''I saw my role as being the facilitated, the man who listened to an artist for his native abilities, then tried to encourage and channel the artist into what would be a proper outlet for his abilities. I wasn't interested in just a god singer. There had to be something distinctive there for me to want to spend time with an artist''.
As recording technology evolved from single-track to multitrack, the ''producer'' (a coinage adopted from the movie business) worked as the liaison between the technology and the talent, controlling the increasing number of options open for postproduction, such as overdrawing. The producer's function was an outgrowth of the established role of the recording supervisor. At major labels, this was the person with creative responsibility: selecting repertoire with - or for - the artist, booking the studio time and musicians, and representing the company at the session. By the mid 1960s, the advent of multitrack recording allowed producers more latitude to add to, subtract from, or otherwise alter performances. From that point, the finished product increasingly bore the imprint of the producer.
Sam Phillips was both an engineer and a producer; his level of involvement in the creative process marks him as possibly the first producer in the later sense of the word. His options for postproduction were few: he could do limited overdubs and edits; he could add a little echo or change the tape speed; but to do any more was against his philosophy. ''Too many people go into a studio depending on overdubbing and covering up'', asserted Phillips in 1982. ''There's too many musicians doing too damn much. I don't go for it. I understand all the techniques and the bullshit, but I just don't see the spontaneity. I'm not saying you shouldn't overdub the occasional instrument, but you can have too many crutches. People think, 'Well, that track wasn't bad, but we can always bring him back in again, drop the voice in here or take that instrument out of there'. The result may be a little prettier, the tonal quality may be good, but an awful lot of the essence is gone''.
''Today I see and hear too much of the lack of the real soul that comes from knowing, 'This is it. I can do it. It might need one, two, four, or five takes, but I can do it myself right here anti now''.
''Atmosphere is so important. There is so much psychology in dealing with artists. If you don't know what you are doing with people and don't care about them individually - their strong and weak points - both psychologically and musically, you are bound not to get the best from them''.
Phillips also approached sessions with one overriding concern: to keep things simple. He can be heard on tape again and again in the hundreds of sessions he produced, telling the musicians not to overplay. On a Presley outtake of ''When It Rains It Really Pouts'', Phillips warns Scotty Moore – hardly prone to overplaying anyway: ''Scotty, don't get too damn complicated in the middle there''. He also wanted the vocals to be direct and honest. ''I wanted to feature the person who was supposed to be featured and set up the atmosphere that got the best result (for the singer)'', he said later.
Evolving a philosophy of the record production and applying it on a day-to-day basis made Phillips one of the most important innovators in the business. But there's a paradox in all this. Phillips was one of the first engineers to bring an artistic vision to the process of recording (that is, to produce), yet the genius of his recording philosophy dictated that the technology should never become an end in itself – should never sacrifice the virtue of simplicity that he cherished.
Currently involved in the family music publishing business, Sam Phillips received the Trustees Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences - the highest honer NARAS gives nonperformers - at the 1991 Grammy Awards. Samuel Cornelius Phillips died on Wednesday July 30, 2003, of respiratory failure at St. Francis Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee at the age of 80.
Songwriter, Producer, Guitarist & Engineer
Jack Clement is one of the few people associated with Sun Records who are more famous for what they did after the Sun years than during the heyday of rockabilly. Clement is a highly talented record producer, musician, occasional recording artist and genuine 'character', known as ''the minstrel'' or ''cowboy''. Clement had made his name largely in country music, discovering Charley Pride and Don Williams and delivering their music to a world audience. Clement played on important but subordinate role at Sun between 1956 and 1958 as songwriter, studio engineer and musical catalyst. Through this time, he was constantly at odds with Sam Phillips about wanting to develop the Sun sound, to make it more musical. It is entirely possible that Johnny cash would not have broken into the pop market in such a big way without Jack Clement
Born on April 5, 1931 in Memphis, Tennessee, raised and educated in Memphis, Jack Henderson Clement was performing at an early age. Clement lived there until 1948 when he signed up for a year stint in the U.S, Marines. At home he'd loved music of all kinds but especially the radio broadcasts of Roy Acuff and Merle Travis. The guitar wizardry of Travis taught him that music cold be either simple or complicated but that it had to be good. He would never tolerate second-raters even when recording the simplest of three-chord rockers. He couldn't get to see Merle Travis perform, but he did go down to Smilin' Eddie Hill's ''High Noon Roundup'' show which took place every day in a Memphis department store window and went out over radio WMC. He would join the crowd around the store and listen to Hill, Harmonica Frank, Slim Rhodes, Wayne Raney and the Delmore Brothers, and especially to the Louvin Brothers' light harmonies and plaintive hillcountry songs. The Marine base where Clement was stationed was just outside Washington, D.C., and here in 1948 he was first exposed to bluegrass music. ''That was when I fell in love with the five-string banjo'', he recalled, ''and I just had to get one and practice on it straight away''. Soon, he was proficient enough to play duets with Roy Clark, later a country superstar but then a resident artist at a Washington club called ''The Famous''. On Saturday nights, he would travel down to Maryland with Scotty Stoneman's band. Scotty was the mainstay of the popular Stonemans. He played fiddle, with mandolin, banjo and bass support from Jack Clement, Buzz Busby and Jimmy Stoneman. The group was completed by Ralph Jones on dobro and Clement recalls Jones being one of the finest oldtime country musicians he ever knew. In 1952, Jack returned briefly to Memphis. Soon, he was off to Wheeling, West Virginia with Buzz Busby doing, ''a bluegrass comedy duet thing, kinda like Homer & Jethro''. Also at that time Jack played in Baltimore and Boston and he made his first record in 1953, for the Sheraton label in Boston, Massachusetts. ''This was in 1953. We had been playing a radio show in Baltimore when Aubrey Mayhew, who managed Hawkshaw Hawkins, asked us to do a show in his WCOP Hayloft Jamboree in Boston. While we were doing that James Daliano, a famous French horn player, came in and said he wanted to record us for his Sheraton label. Daliano was the owner but he let Aubrey run the label. We recorded my first two published songs, ''I can't Say Nothing At All'' and ''I Think I'll Write A Song''. They were by Buzz and Jack, and we did them in the style of Webb Pierce''.
Sheraton Records only distributed locally in the north-east, so nothing came of this development and Jack got tried of the duo. Being a developing ''crazy'', he went off to join an Hawaiian band in Washington. He then wound up back to Memphis in 1954. That year he answered an advert for training dance instructors and he became an employee of the Arthur Murray School of Dancing on Main Street and to study English at the Memphis State University from 1953 to 1955.
On evenings and weekends, Jack Clement shows with a western-swing influenced country band run by a pal of his, truck driver Slim Wallace. Wallace's Dixie Ramblers played a regular spot at a club in Paragould, Arkansas, and while returning one night Jack and Slim plotted their entry into the record business. Slim put up most of the 450 dollars they needed to buy an old Magnecord tape deck from disc jockey Sleepy Eyed John, and Jack built himself a studio in Slim's garage. The garage was on Fernwood Drive, so the label was to be called Fernwood Records.
The first Fernwood disc does not exist. It was to be ''Trouble Bound'' and ''Rock With Me Baby'' by Arkansas wild man Billy Riley. After working on the songs, Jack Clement needed somewhere to have his tapes mastered for transfer to disc. On the advice of Bill Fitzgerald at Music Sales Distributors, Jack went to Sun Records. Sam Phillips reward Clement's tape of Riley singing ''Trouble Bound'' and offered both Jack and Billy Riley a job. Clement joined Sun on June 15, 1956. His only remaining interest in Fernwood was to use Sun's facilities to make masters, and to add the echo to the number one hit ''Tragedy'' by Thomas Wayne. This had been recorded at Hi Records since the garage studio was still incomplete. ''Sam Phillips always wondered how they got that echo'', says Jack with a grin, ''but I figured it didn't take but a few minutes so why should I tell him''.
On the question of whether Sam Phillips really controlled the development of the Sun sound, whether he was ''the man'' or just lucky, Jack Clement is in no doubt. ''All of Sam's early success was entirely Sam's. Elvis, Carl, Cash. My work was with developing Cash's sound, and with Bill Justis and Charlie Rich. I was into making things musical. Sam was not, but he understood one thing that I didn't at that time. He understood ''feel in music''. I was interest in machines and the way recordings would be better. Sam liked empty, hollow, tubby sounds, but he knew a thing or two I didn't. He let me do that I liked, but he retained ultimate control of what was issued. The first time Same gave me an artist to work with, it was Roy Orbison. I recorded ''Rockhouse'' with Roy and it was good. But Roy was not into what the Sun studio was capable of back then''. Jack spent many hours working with several artists that he particularly liked. He began to recall them with obvious pleasure. ''Cash. Sam gave me Johnny Cash from ''Home Of The Blues'' onwards. Sonny Burgess. He was a fine artist but he didn't really fit into a groove, same with Conway Twitty who never made anything that sounded much like a record. Then Ernie Chaffin and Mack Self, these were excellent country singers''. In Jack Clement's view, Sun was not making records quite ''musically'' enough. He was responsible for getting Cash into the pop market and for trying a range of experiments with vocal backings and steel guitar sound. What he did like at Sun was firstly the depth of talented artists, and secondly the relaxed atmosphere. He could do what he liked; work all night on a session, write songs in Taylor's cafe next door, like Cash's ''Guess Things Happen That Way'', or even build a bathroom in the control room. He once told Sam he could built an office for promotion girl Barbara Barnes for a hundred dollars. So he canceled sessions and set to with the woodwork. He also spent time helping to master recordings for his buddies on rival labels, and on developing his own musical sound as a performer.
The Jack Clement sound was country, but it was not Sun sound. It was acoustic, with ringing tones instead of the muddy Cash bass sounds. It was worked out with the help of Clement's buddy, Jimmy C. Wilson, Jack says, ''Wilson was nearly as crazy as me. He was a bit of a nut. He lived in rooms above Taylor's and he was a great player if he was in the mood. He had a pet coon which he used to bring in and cain to the piano. He used to dismantle and rebuild old guns up in his room and he set fire to the place one time. After that he loosed off a rocket, a home-made thing, up there and they threw him out. He went to California and married Nudie the tailor's daughter''. In February 1957, Clement and Wilson, plus coon, took off for the RCA Studios in Nashville. They hired bass player Bob Moore and recorded for songs. ''Ten Years'' was the major contender, a light, pleasant country balled with an epic story song feel to it. It's the Jack Clement style, and it was repeated in October when Jack recreated the sound at Sun on ''Black Haired Man''. This was a fast, rhythmic development of the cash beat, a gunfighter balled of real class and a fairly successful record. The flip ''Wrong'', is light singalong country pop with a prominent acoustic guitar from Jack.
There, Clement worked with future stars such as Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash. But most importantly, he discovered and recorded Jerry Lee Lewis while Sam Phillips was away on a trip to Florida, one of those recordings, "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On'', was selected in 2005 for permanent preservation in the National Recording Registry at the Library of Congress. In 1957, Clement wrote the song "Ballad Of A Teenage Queen" that became a crossover hit for Johnny Cash. Other Cash hits written by Clement included "Guess Things Happen That Way", which was number 1 country and number 11 pop in 1958, and the humorous "The One On The Right Is On The Left", which was a number 2 country and number 46 pop hit in 1966. Clement performed "Guess Things Happen That Way" on the Johnny Cash Memorial Tribute show on CMT in November 2003.
Leaving Sun Records early in 1959 with his part in a string of million-selling productions behind him, Jack Clement used the proceeds of his song copyrights to buy equipment and to set up Summer Records on Main Street in Memphis. Apart from an atrocious novelty called ''Motorcycle Michael'', Summer bombed. Clement kept busy, though, fooling around with productions for Pepper Records (including his own song, ''Return Of A Teenage Queen''), Hi Records (Tommy Tucker's ''Miller's Cave'') and for Echo Records, which he formed with Stan Kesler and Clyde Leoppard and for which he built a studio on Manassas Avenue. In the fall of 1959 Jack Clement had blown all his money and, in his words, ''decided I had to do some work''. He called Chet Atkins in Nashville and was hired as junior producer for RCA, then the most important label in the industry.
After Clement's first stint in Nashville, he went to Beaumont, Texas, to work with music publisher Bill Hall. While there, he pitched ''She Thinks I Still Care'' to George Jones and arranged ''Ring Of Fire'' for Johnny Cash. In 1965, he returned to Nashville, and went on to become a significant figure in the Nashville music business, establishing a publishing business, and his own recording studio, making records for stars such as Ray Stevens and his biggest coup Charley Pride, but he also signed Townes Van Zandt, the Stonemans, and several others left-of-center country artists. With Charley Pride money, he built a studio on Belmont Boulevard next to Shelby Singleton's reconstituted Sun Records before moving a few blocks south
In 1971, he co-founded the J-M-I Record Company, he signed Don Williams to his label, but felt betrayed when Williams wriggled out of the deal to sign with ABC. From the 1970s onward, Jack Clement newly named Cowboy Arms Hotel and Recording Spa became Nashville's ground zero for off-kilter country.
Jack Clement wrote a number of highly successful songs that have been recorded by singing stars such as Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Ray Charles, Carl Perkins, Bobby Bare, Elvis Presley, Jim Reeves, Jerry Lee Lewis, Cliff Richard, Charley Pride, Tom Jones, Dickey Lee and Hank Snow. He was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1973. He also produced albums by Townes Van Zandt and Waylon Jennings.
Clement was involved in a few film projects as a singer or songwriter on soundtracks, and produced the 1975 horror film Dear Dead Delilah that marked the last film performance by actress Agnes Moorehead. In 1987 Clement was approached by U2 to record at legendary Sun Studio in Memphis, Tennessee. He had never heard of U2 but took the session based on the urging of someone else in his office. The result was a portion of the U2 album Rattle and Hum ("When Love Came To Town" with BB King, "Angel of Harlem" about Billie Holiday, and "Love Rescue Me" with backing vocals by Bob Dylan), as well as the Woody Guthrie song "Jesus Christ," which appeared on 1988's "Folkways: A Vision Shared, A Tribute to Woody Guthrie & Leadbelly. Portions of the 2 sessions also appear in the film ''Rattle and Hum''.
In 2005, a documentary on Clement entitled Shakespeare Was a Big George Jones Fan was created by Robert Gordon and Morgan Neville, pieced together from Clement's home videos and interviews with peers, including Jerry Lee Lewis and Bono. Clement currently hosts a weekly program on Sirius XM Satellite Radio's Outlaw country (channel 60) from 2pm to 6pm (Eastern) on Saturdays. Jack Clement has been inducted into the Rockabilly Hall of Fame and the Music City Walk of Fame.
On June 25, 2011, a fire destroyed Jack's home and studio on Belmont Boulevard in Nashville. Jack was unhurt, but many priceless recordings and memorabilia were lost. Jack has two children. A daughter, Alison, also a singer and writer, and a son, Niles, an engineer and photographer. Alison Clement has a website also where you can read about her experiences in the music business as the daughter of a renowned Legendary Sun Producer.
On the occasion of Sam Phillips' death, Jake Clement spoke movingly at the memorial service, barely able to staunch tears as he recalled some of their late night telephone conversations.
On April 10, 2013 it was announced Jack Clement would be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. A virtual jack of all trades in the entertainment business, Cowboy Jack Clement, 82, died Thursday August 8, 2013 at his Nashville home following a lengthy illness from liver cancer.
Saxophonist, Producer & Arranger
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.
Guitarist & Producer
Roland Janes 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 name.
National Sales and Promotion Manager
Born as Cecil Ross Scaife in Helena, Phillips County, Arkansas on April 13, 1927 to Brooks and Elsie Lumpkin Scaife. He attended the University of Arkansas at Monticello where he was President of the Student Body, voted ''Most Likely to Succeed'' as well as ''Wittiest'' among his peers. In 1986, he was selected Alumnus of the year and an endowment was established in his honor. He did his graduate study at Texas Christian University. Ever so theatrical, soon after graduation he was off to Broadway when he was selected the winner of a Mid South talent contest sponsored by the Memphis Press Scimitar. He loved acting throughout his life and was in numerous films in Hollywood and appeared on Broadway.
In his early years he worked with KFFA Radio, in Helena, Arkansas and then was hired by Sam Phillips as the first National Sales and Promotion Manager for Sun Records in Memphis. One of his biggest acts was hired in 1955 Elvis Presley to a Helena, Arkansas show although he also worked with Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Mann and Charlie Rich at Sun Records. Sam Phillips then asked him to move his family to Palm Beach, Florida where he managed the nations first all girl radio station, WLIZ.
In the early 1960s the family made their last move and it was to Nashville where he opened the third multitrack recording studio in Nashville. He later created one of the first gospel labels in the nation, ''Songs of Faith'', which celebrated the Gospel Music Industry’s first million selling record, ''Sorry I Never Knew You'''. When Cecil retired in 1998 he had in his desk the receipt from where he paid the original charter fee for the Gospel Music Association of which he was one of the original founders. Scaife's other achievements include having served on the National Board of Governors/Grammy Awards Committee, serving as a lifetime elector to the Country Music Hall of Fame Committee, a member of the Country Music Association and the National Association of Recording Merchandisers. He also served as president of the Nashville Chapter of the Recording Academy (NARAS) and was responsible for bringing in his friend, Dick Clark, to host the Nashville segment of the Grammy Awards Show which was featured on the national Grammy Award show. He was commended for serving on President Nixon's council to combat drug abuse in the entertainment industry and being recognized by the Religious Heritage of America for his work. He was an executive with CBS Records for many years where he had the distinct honor of giving Johnny Cash his Gold Record Award for ''I Walk the Line''. Cecil Scaife retired due to illness in 1998 after running Music Incorporated which he and his wife Sherytha stared together the early seventies. It was one of the largest Christmas Music Catalogues in the country.
Cecil Scaife was a renaissance man in the truest sense of the word. He was known for his dapper fashion sense and loved to dress up. He wore many hats, literally. He was most known for his black cowboy hat and his Tennessee Walking horses but had a true love of the sea and was often seen in his ''Captain's'' cap. He designed his beloved yacht, Commodore's Lady that he docked in Florida and in Nashville for many years. He was a teacher with an open door policy, a Gideon reaching out to others, a disciplined coach, an award winning record producer, a loyal friend, a true cowboy, a caring and generous father and a loving and doting husband.
Cecil Scaife was a visionary and was the force behind the music business program at Belmont University. He was a Music Row pioneer and veteran, and was the visionary that planted the seeds for what has blossomed into today’s thriving Mike Curb College of Entertainment and Music Business. He knew Belmont had a Music Education department and a Business department and he suggested to then President of Belmont College, Dr. Herbert Gabhart, that he consider combining the two and form a Music Business Department. He asked his good friend Bob Mulloy to help him create and then oversee the project and throughout the years under Bob’s watchful eye, it became the world-renowned Curb College. The Cecil Scaife Visionary Award has been established in his honor and was given earlier this week to Record Producer Tony Brown. Last years recipient of the Cecil Scaife Visionary Award was Mike Curb.
Cecil Scaife was a member of the Soujorners Class at First Baptist Church in Nashville. On March 5, 2009 Cecil Ross Scaife died at the age of 81 in Nashville, Tennessee and is buried in a private graveside in historic Mount Olivet Cemetery.
Singer & Session Musician
Billy Lee Riley was an American rockabilly musician, singer, record producer and songwriter and for Sun Records also a session guitar player. His most memorable recordings included "Rock With Me Baby," and "Red Hot". Born on October 5, 1933 in Pocahontas, Arkansas, the son of a sharecropper, Riley learned to play guitar from black farm workers. After 4 years in the Army, Riley first recorded in Memphis, Tennessee in 1955 before being lured to Sun Studios by Sam Phillips. He recorded "Trouble Bound" for Jack Clement and Slim Wallace. Sam Phillips obtained the rights and he released "Trouble Bound" b/w "Rock With Me Baby" on May 1956 (Sun 245). His first hit was "Flyin' Saucers Rock And Roll" b/w "I Want You Baby" released January 23, 1957 (Sun 260) with backing piano by Jerry Lee Lewis, after which he recorded "Red Hot" b/w "Pearly Lee" released September 14, 1957 (Sun 277).
"Red Hot" was showing a lot of promise as a big hit record, but Sam Phillips pulled the promotion and switched it to "Great Balls Of Fire" by Jerry Lee Lewis. Riley felt that his own chances of chart success were compromised by Phillips diverting resources to Lewis' career. He had other Sun recordings and they, likewise, did not have a lot of sales as his promotion had stopped. Like other artists such as Sonny Burgess, Hayden Thompson, Ray Harris and Warren Smith, chart success largely eluded him.
Considered good looking and with wild stage moves, Riley had a brief solo career with his backing band "The Little Green Men". Riley and his Little Green Men were the main Sun studio band. They were Riley, Roland Janes, J.M. Van Eaton, Marvin Pepper, and Jimmy Wilson, later joined by Martin Willis.
In 1960, he left Sun, and started Rita Record label with Roland Janes. They produced the national hit record "Mountain Of Love" by Harold Dorman. He later started two other labels Nita and Mojo. In 1962, he moved to Los Angeles and worked as a session musician with Dean Martin, the Beach Boys, Herb Alpert, Sammy Davis Jr. and others, as well as recording under various aliases.
In the early 1970s, Riley quit music to return to Arkansas to begin his own construction business. In 1978 "Red Hot" and "Flyin' Saucers Rock And Roll" were covered by Robert Gordon and Link Wray, which led to a one-off performance in Memphis in 1979, the success of which led to further recording at Sun Studio and a full-time return to performing.
Rediscovered by Bob Dylan in 1992, who had been a fan since 1956, Riley played rock and roll, blues and country-blues. His album Hot Damn! (Capricorn, 1997) was nominated for a Grammy Award. He was injured falling on a slippery department store floor in 2005, requiring two surgeries as a result. In 2006, he released a country CD, Hillbilly Rockin' Man.
The Rockabilly Hall of Fame reported in summer 2009 that Riley was in poor health, battling stage four colon cancer. His last public performance came in June 2009 at the New Daisy Theatre on Beale Street in Memphis, when he took part in "Petefest 2009," honoring historian Pete Daniel, who had befriended Riley while helping launch the Memphis Rock N' Soul Museum. Supported by a walker, Billy Lee rocked out on "My Gal" and other of his old hits. He succumbed to colon cancer on August 2, 2009, in Jonesboro, Arkansas.
JIMMY M. VAN EATON
Born as James Marcus Van Eaton on December 23, 1937 in Memphis Tennessee. Jimmy played on countless sessions for Sun records in Memphis and helped give many recordings that little bit extra, because he cut some of the best rock and roll records most of America never heard. His work with Jerry Lee Lewis was stunning, they played in complete syncopation. Jerry Lee usually only did one take of a song, so it's not as if Jimmy could have a think about what drumming might fit the song. He had to adlib on the same channel as the Killer - and they didn't miss the mark very often. Jerry Lee has said that he was "The creative rock and roll drummer".
Although he worked with no end of one-shot artists, he was also a semi-permanent member of Billy Lee Riley's legendary band, The Little Green Men. They were the mainstay of many of Sun sessions as well as creating a couple dozen classics with Riley. Listen to ''Flying Saucers Rock And Roll'', Roland Janes' guitar intro is suitably "other planetish" but wouldn't have had half the impact without Jimmy's crashing symbols.
Jimmy Van Eaton was born and bred in Memphis and saved his paper-round pocket money to buy his first set of drums. He wound up with a music scholarship to the University of Memphis. He formed his first band, The Jivin' Five while still in high school. They played a dixieland style but it was with a rock and roll band, The Echoes, that he cut a demo at Sun studios. Jack Clement engineered the session and was impressed enough to point him and the bands bass player, Marvin Pepper in the direction of Riley, whose debut single had been released and was ready to take a band on the road.
With Jimmy becoming the studio's premier drummer, his usual week entailed sessions during the week, followed by live shows on the weekends. The Little Green Men had taken to wearing matching green outfits on stage, custom made by a Memphis tailor. Another thing they did for publicity was a 72 hour music marathon at the Starlite Club in Memphis.
Jimmy finally left Sun when he went north with Billy Lee. He also worked in the Memphis area away from Sun, playing on "Mountain Of Love" by Harold Dorman, for Rita Records. Other labels he worked for included Hi, Pepper, and Fernwood Records.
He started to drift away from music and got into the vending machine business. He found God and gave up music altogether until he started a gospel group, The Seekers, with some friends. Nowadays, Jimmy is a successful investment banker, but he has had the odd foray into the rockabilly world. He was the original drummer for the Sun Rhythm Section but when he got tired of the traveling, moved aside for D. J. Fontana. He did the 706 Reunion album with Billy Lee Riley and Roland Janes and for a while in the early 1980's he worked with Jerry Lee again. He worked on Charlie Feathers Elektra album as well as with Billy Lee for Hightone. His most recent album is The Beat Goes On (706 Records, 1998).
MARCUS VAN STORY
Upright Bass & Harmonica
Marcus Van Story, one of the original musicians who crafted the rockabilly sound that made Sun Studio in Memphis famous. Van Story was known as the ''slap bass king'' for his prowess on the upright bass and is well known as an multi-instrumentalist. He toured with Memphis musicians and recorded at Sun Records during the era when Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison and other artists were redefining American music.
VanStory, whose name is misspelled ''Van Story'' in most reference works, last recorded at the studio at 706 Union, when he was reunited with Sun guitarist Scotty Moore and drummer D. J. Fontana for sessions with rock legend Carl Perkins. Van Story had toured and recorded with the Sun Rhythm Section, a group of six veteran musicians who had worked with Elvis Presley, Charlie Feathers, and others. The ensemble's most recent album was ''Old Time Rock 'N Roll''.
Marcus Van Story's longest association during the classic era of the late 1950s and early 1960s was with Warren Smith, a Sun rockabilly star who never achieved the fame of Presley or Perkins. Smith was best known for such wild rock songs as ''Ubangi Stomp'' and ''Miss Froggie'', the story of a woman "shaped just like a frog" who enjoyed "drinking muddy water and sleeping in a hollow log''. On the road with Smith, Van Story would sometimes black out a tooth and paint freckles on his face to add an element of hillbilly humor to the act.
Van Story was born in Corinth, Mississippi., and first became involved in music at the local church. He moved to Memphis in 1946. He began playing in local clubs, and made the acquaintance of Sun Records founder Sam Phillips. Van Story added harmonica and backup vocals to some records, as well as playing bass. He recorded his only solo album in 1977, ''Drinkin' Wine Spo-dee-oh-dee - Memphis Wildcat Marcus VanStory''. The album was released by Barrelhouse Records of Chicago. In recent years, Sun Rhythm Section tours took Van Story all over the world, especially Europe. The other members of the group were Fontana, guitarists Paul Burlison and Sonny Burgess, guitarist and bass player Stan Kesler, and pianist Smoochy Smith. Van Story worked as a welder when not recording or on tour. For more than 14 years, he worked at Sweet's Trailer Hitch & 4-Wheel Drive shop on Summer Avenue in Memphis. He was an Army veteran and a member of Bethel Baptist Church.
Marcus Van Story passed away on Methodist Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, April 24, 1992 at the age of 71 and is buried in Memorial Hill Gardens Cemetery.
Engineer & Session Musician
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.
Although his professional musical career only lasted from 1956 to 1966, he was fortunate to have been associated with ground-breaking artists and musicians who were instrumental in laying the foundation for the rock and roll show and recording industry.
Born William Martin Willis in 1938 in Memphis, his entry into the musical world began in 1949 as a fifth grade school youngster at Hollywood Jr. High in Memphis, Tennessee, when a saxophone player named John Henry Cannon (later known as Ace Cannon) came into his fifth grade class with a snare drummer and cymbal player and played the Dark Town Strutters Ball for the class.
He said right then that he wanted to be able to do that. This desire was further reinforced upon hearing and seeing musical artists such as the Dorseys, Harry James, Artie Shaw and others in movies and listening to Dixieland jazz on Sunday nights broadcasted live on the radio from the Blue Room in New Orleans.
His dad was musically inclined and played the steel guitar and harmonica, so he borrowed a tenor saxophone from one of his friends so that he could see if Martin could play it. At school, He formed a band of eight grade school buddies that they named “The Jivin’ Five” and since there wasn’t a trombone player who could play well enough in their school, his mom bought him a used one so he could play with the band. In the meantime, he played all the instruments available in school such as the flute, trumpet and sousaphone and his mom bought him a clarinet and the squawking and squeaking practicing in the laundry room began (later he used it on Bill Black’s Smoky Part 1). This little band played at bank openings, movie theaters and talent shows.
In 1953, he entered high school at Memphis Tech and his dad gave him a Silvertone guitar to learn to play (this paid off later when he would work with guitarists in arranging various music for the groups). From 1955 – 1956 he played in area night clubs (in those days they didn’t question your age if you were in the band) and his mom made the down payment for him for an alto sax and he was ready to venture into the professional arena. He labored with the instruction books and in the school bands (concert, football and marching) and placed 1st chair in the Tennessee Allstate Band.
In 1956 Jimmy M. Van Eaton and Martin Willis played in a talent show at Memphis Tech High School and a musical association that lasted more than 50 years began. 1956 proved to be a pivotal period in his musical career when playing in a local night club he was approached by Bill Harris, the manager of Harold Jenkins and the Rockhousers, to play with his rock and roll band. Martin was a student at Memphis State University and a big fan of Bill Haley and the Comets and their ''Rock Around The Clock'' recording so he went with the group. They would pick him up on Friday afternoon after school and they would spend the weekend playing dates.
Harold Jenkins later changed his name to Conway Twitty. It was with Conway that Martin got his first experience in the recording industry at the famous Sun Studio in Memphis followed by sessions in Nashville at the Owen Bradley Studio for Mercury Records. It became evident that Martin needed a tenor sax so he bought a used one and this gave him more flexibility to play in the guitar keys, E, A and D.
In 1957 Willis went to Canada with Conway Twitty, and later with Billy Riley played in lounges, Flamingo Lounge in Hamilton, and lounges in London, Ontario. When Willis came back to Memphis in 1958, the Riley band basically became with Willis the nucleus of the Sun house band.
Jimmy M. Van Eaton and he finished the engagement and left Conway to join Billy Lee Riley and the Little Green Men at the Brass Rail in London, Ontario after which the band returned to Memphis to work the clubs and recording at Sun Records.
This was a very active period that Martin experienced with the bands as we worked clubs, made recordings, played dances and even performed a 72-hour marathon for publicity. Their recording work gave them great experience as they were the “studio band” that backed up many artists (and paid the bills). One of the most unusual “gigs” was when they were hired to promote Aunt Jemima corn meal mix for the Quaker Oats Company. They would play just about any job available including drive-in movie theater roof tops, Dairy Queens and college dances and Martin made a lot of studio recordings for artists including Bill Black.
After the musical jobs became infrequent and our recording work dwindled, He went to Chicago in 1960 to play with the Eddie Cash show band and also with the fabulous Blue Jays which was a fun job and allowed him to record at RCA backing Louise Brown. While working the show bars, Martin received a call from Bill Black inviting him to join his group to record and travel. This call got Martin a tour of the cold snowy Chicago and took him to Miami to play the Juke Box Operators convention where the group received the Most Played Instrumental Group award for Smoky and White Silver Sands and started them on the road to multiple successes in personal appearances and recordings including performing Yogi and Smokie, Part II in the movie Teenage Millionaire. The Combo recorded many singles and even a country and western album entitled Bill Black Combo Goes West featuring the steel guitar great, John Huey (that turned a few heads). Bill wanted to start his own label so he recorded Martin’s first solo single on clarinet entitled, ''It Is No Secret'' and ''Kook'' for Black’s own label, Louis Records. They also recorded several instrumentals in Black’s own studio, American Recording, on Chelsea avenue in Memphis where, as a youngster, Martin used to go with his mom to shop in the 5 & 10 cent store that previously occupied that space.
Martin continued to record behind local artists and then Bill Harris came up with the idea for him to wear a derby to promote Martin’s next single, ''Cattawampus''/''San Antonio Rock'', produced by Billy Lee Riley and Roland Janes for their record label, Rita Records. The derby became Martin’s trademark but a hit record wasn’t in the cards for him so he continued his club performances at the NiteLiter Club first, with the Johnny Bernero Band and then Reformed my own group, The Marty Willis Combo consisting of a group of Memphis State students that were top musicians. They were the most popular band in Memphis and had a very successful tenure but the club was sold so they moved on to the classy Top of the 100 Club performing their dance music and comedy routines to very pleased crowds. One night, Kemmons Wilson, the founder of the Holiday Inn chain, came by and invited Martin to come and talk with him about his personal club, Club LaRonde, a revolving private restaurant and lounge atop the MidCity Building.
As things progressed, Martin not only received managerial training and experience but also got to sit in with the band, a trio named the Holiday Trio that was bolstered with a trumpet and trombone on weekends. From there he went to the famous Peabody Hotel as Catering Manager and then was promoted to his first hotel general manager position at the new Sheraton Motor Inn in Tallahassee, Florida and the hospitality business gained a former musician as a manager.
In 2006, Martin was invited to come out of retirement and perform at the Memphis in May concert in Memphis with Billy Lee Riley and the Little Green Men and his old high school friend, Jimmy M. Van Eaton, along with Little Richard, James Brown and Chicago. In 2008, the Memphis Federation of Musicians, Local #71, nominated Martin for the American Federation of Musicians’ Hall of Fame.
JOHNNY "ACE" CANNON
Was a fixture on the Memphis music scene for many years before he finally struck paydirt with ''Tuff'' at the tail end of 1961. While New York and other major centres seemed to have a virtually inexhaustible supply of top flight saxophonists, it seems in retrospect as though Memphis didn't have more than a handful of good white sax players who could work in pop or western swing based music. Ace Cannon and Martin Willis seem to head that list.
Cannon was born on May 5, 1934, in Grenada, Mississippi, John Henry Cannon, Jr. preferred his nickname ''Ace''. Gaining a love for music from his father, who was a professional hillbilly country guitar player, Ace took up the saxophone in fifth grade. After dropping out of college, he began playing nightclubs. According to Johnny Bernero, Cannon joined Johnny Bernero and the Atomics in 1958.
When the Johnny Bernero band split, Johnny "Ace" Cannon concentrated on session work at Sun. He recorded a session in his own right that included a track entitled "Tuff" written by Johnny Bernero. Bernero went on the payroll at Hi Records in Memphis. By this stage Ace Cannon was signed to Fernwood in
Memphis, but was making little or no progress. Cannon also played with The Bill Black Combo, as well as managing the group, and it was he who signed Gene Simmons to front the band vocally on dates.
Bernero talked Joe Cuoghi into taking Cannon on at Hi Records, and they recorded "Tuff", agreeing to split everything 50-50. The first royalty cheque that came in was made out for $20,000! Overwhelmed by a vision of unsurpassed riches, Cannon informed Bernero that he was not going to honour their 50-50 agreement, and also appropriated the writer credits on the flipside, "Sittin' Tight", a tune that Bernero had written.
"Tuff" hit number 17 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 in 1962, and the follow-up single "Blues (Stay Away from Me)" hit number 36 that same year. In April 1965, he released Ace Cannon Live (HL 12025); according to the liner notes by Nick Pesce the album was recorded in front of a live audience inside Hi's recording studio, and Pesce claims this was the first time such an album had ever been recorded (as opposed to previous live albums recorded in concert venues).
Johnny Ace Cannon was inducted into both the Rock And Soul Hall of Fame and the Rockabilly Hall of Fame in 2000. In May 2007, his hometown hosted its first annual Ace Cannon Festival, and on December 9, 2008, he was honored with induction into the Mississippi Musicians' Hall Of Fame.
After years of travelling and entertaining fans the world over, he moved back to Calhoun City in the late 1980s and resides there today. He still plays numerous dates each year, and can be found most days working on his golf game at his home course.
SMOKEY JOE BAUGH
Smokey Joe Baugh, who was sometimes credited simply as "Smokey Joe", was one of the more unusual and mysterious figures hovering around the mid-1950s music scene in Memphis. He was born in Helena, Arkansas in 1932, and by age of 14 had started playing piano at least semi-professionally in Memphis and West Memphis. He later became a member of the Shelby Follin Band, which brought him into contact with guitarist Paul Burlison, and, in turn, Baugh would get some of his first wide local exposure of the radio, teamed up with Burlison playing with Chester "Howlin' Wolf" Burnett on West Memphis radio station KWEM. He later played and recorded with Clyde Leoppard's group the Snearly Ranch Boys, who were associated with Sun Records, they recorded the single "Split Personality" b/w "Lonely Sweetheart'', which got them booked onto some of the Sun package tours covering the south.
It was at Sun that Baugh aspired to serious stardom. His raspy voice was distinctive and unusual enough, and seemed to fit the notion that Sam Phillips had long held as a benchmark, a white artist who could sing like a black man, to get him a shot at a recording contract of his own. He cut his first session later in 1955, and found himself billed as "Smokey Joe", this may have been a conscious effort on Phillips' part to create some ambiguity in Baugh's identity, for the benefit (or to the profitable confusion) of listening audiences. As it turned out, only two songs were ever released from his four sessions, "The Signifying Monkey" b/w "Listen to Me Baby". That record made some noise locally in the late summer and early fall of 1955, and as it turned out, far beyond the boundaries of Memphis "Smokey Joe" did, indeed, show a special appeal among African-American listeners. This fact was brought home when he was invited to play the Apollo Theatre in Harlem. Baugh might have gone on to be another Moon Mullican or Jerry Lee Lewis, or even Merrill Moore, but for reasons that weren't clear to anyone at the time, Sam Phillips started keeping him at arm's length soon after his debut release, this despite Phillips' personal enthusiasm for the brand of barrelhouse blues at which Baugh excelled.
Sun didn't issue anything else from Baugh's recording sessions at the time. It was, thus, an amazing discovery to listeners three decades or so later, when Baugh's groundbreaking Hawaiian record, "Hula Bop'', dating from 1955, finally surfaced. Baugh kept busy in various band settings, including records by Warren Smith, Gene Simmons, Carl Perkins, and Barbara Pittman, amongst other artists. He worked with the Bill Black Combo during the 1960s and started his own country outfit, the Midnite Cowboys, in 1970 with guitarist Buddy Holobaugh, by then, he had moved to Waco, Texas, as a by-product of his chaotic personal life. The secret behind Baugh's lack of success lay in the fact that he was a chronic substance abuser, involving both booze and pep pills, problems he apparently never fully licked; according to Colin Escott; as of the second half of the 1960s Baugh owed money to too many people on the Memphis music scene, and so he headed to Texas. He passed away in Monterey, California in 1999 at the age of 67.
Guitarist Jimmy Ray Paulman played in Harold Jenkins' (Conway Twitty), The Rock Housers, a group Levon Helm says was the best one in the Marvell, Arkansas, area, before joining Helm, George Paulman, and Will Jones, as Ronnie Hawkins' backing group in 1957. Paulman, described by Hawkins as "the best rhythm guitar player in the history of rock and roll", plays on the first two Ronnie Hawkins albums and also on early single releases. He left the group in 1959, shortly after Fred Carter Jr. was hired as the Hawks' second guitarist. Levon Helm claims that the character "Luke" in the Band's song ''The Weight'' is actually Jimmy Ray Paulman.
Jimmy Ray Paulman has a great rockabilly musical background working also with artists like, Conway Twitty, Billy Lee Riley (part of the "Little Green Men"), Sonny Burgess & The Pacers, Ronnie Hawkins & The Hawks and Jimmy Evans. He was Sun studio musician, from 1956- 1957.
Jimmy has played on many hits for the Sun, Mercury, Roulette and M.C.A. record labels. He was the guitar man on Billy Lee Riley's "Red Hot", and of course, played on Ronnie Hawkins' "Mary Lou", "Forty Days", and "Ruby Baby", and was on Conway's unissued "Rock House". A side note: his friend Billy Weir played drums on all of Conway's Sun recordings and one of the Mercury sessions, but left the band before Conway got famous. Jimmy Ray Paulman and Rockabilly Hall of Famer Jimmy Evans co-wrote "Memphis 1955''.
Guitar player, born as Sidney Manker on January 25, 1932 in Memphis, he lived there until he was drafted at age 20. After his return to Memphis in the mid-1950s, he went to the Academy of Art to study design until the guitar (or 'starvation box', as he called it) entered his life. Manker was an advanced student of jazz-guitarist and teacher Lyn Vernon, when Manker co-wrote and played the hypnotic guitar line of "Raunchy'', by the Bill Justis Orchestra. Released by Sam Phillips on the Phillips International label, the record became the biggest instrumental hit of its time, selling over three million copies. The sales of "Raunchy" enabled Sid Manker to concentrate upon his Memphis Jazz Quartet, there, he befriended a local jazz musician named Sidney Chilton, who convinced Manker to teach his young son, Alex, later best known as the lead singer of the Box Tops and Big Star, to play the guitar.
Although Sid Manker continued to work sessions at Sun and tour with Bill Justis. During one of the follow-up sessions to "Raunchy", Manker received a phone call telling him that his mother had died. "I was so close to her that her death left me in a state of mental collapse", recalled Manker to the Memphis Press Scimitar in 1959. "The day after her burial I went to a friend's house and he told me he would give me some sedation. I didn't know it was heroin. Well, that was it. I was hooked. The friend gave me about five shots over the next three days, and I was full-fledged addict. From then on, it was three shots a day, seven days a week. I spent over $200 a day on dope".
Sid Manker's account sidesteps the fact that heroin was the final stage in a long career of substance abuse. On a tour of Canada in 1957, Sid Manker was so stoned after consuming all of his drugs before going through customs that even a head-on collision between the tour bus and a car only elicited the comment, "Far out, man". Along with the argot of the jazz musician, Manker had acquired the penchant for narcotics that really took care of all his royalties from the 3 million sales of "Raunchy".
In April 1960 Sid Manker was sent to the penal farm for six months. After his release, he married and dropped out of sight. He and his wife, Linda, moved to Biloxi, Mississippi, in 1969. Sid Manker continued to compose and worked at the Axent studio in Biloxi until his death, of a heart attack, on December 15, 1974.
JERRY LEE SMITH
For years, rockabilly and Sun sound freaks knew than most of the piano credits given to Jerry Lee Lewis as session musician on 706 Union Avenue and that's is not true. We knew than most of that session work was done by underage Jerry Lee ''Smoochy'' Smith and, for Musician Union policy, old Sam Phillips had to make up his files books. In 1986, Smoochy came in light worldwide as member of the Sun Rhythm Section with Stan Kesler, Jímmy M. Van Eaton, Marcus Van Story, Sonny Burgess and Paul Burlison. But what about his early years with Carl Perkins and Kenny Parchman. What about his work with the Mar-Keys in the early 1960s or with George Jones in the early 1980s'. So his book accurately titled ''The Real Me'', published by Blink Publishing Company (Bartlett, Tennessee) is a welcome addition on any southern country and rock and roll music lover’s library. You can’t have records on ''Sun'', ''Lu'', ''Jaxon'', ''Hi'' and miss that book. If you are a fan of Carl Perkins, Kenny Parchman or Jerry Lee Lewis, you better had to find that book while you can.
To give you the taste for reading, I just wrote that little report on that 88 keys wizard rambling life and times. A life made of up and down, success and fail, churches and jails, true love and cheating, rockabilly and gospel, money and misery.
Jerry Lee Smith trial started on November 13, 1939 in Missouri from a dad who played guitar, fiddle, harmonica and a little on piano. He was a good story-teller and could play a lot of Ozark Mountain songs. From there the family moved to Arkansas where Jerry’s dad owned a restaurant and later a Funeral Home. That what you can call to be versatile … Around 1945, the family settled in Jackson, Tennessee and when reaching the fifth grade at county school he was fast to join a group a tough guys and to start to smoke. At nine years old, his dad bought a piano to his sister but he was quick to get his kicks under the stool and to start to make music with his dad. Around 1952, Howard ''Curly'' Griffin asked to his dad to play fiddle with his band on his radio show on WDXI located in Jackson. Roy Lee Smith agreed only if his son could play the piano with them. Carl Perkins and his brothers played that very same show and, later, Jerry Lee will join them band. Around that time Jerry Lee may have hear the same radio another great Jackson singer named Ramsey Kearney who hosted a Saturday morning show from 1948 to 1952. Then, long before Elvis, Carl used to play ''Good Rockin' Tonight'' and another 'rhythm and blues ditty from Stick McGhee ''Drinkin' Wine Spo- Dee-O-Dee''. Curly Griffin, born in 1918, will stay close to Carl Perkins and co-authored with him ''Dixie Fried'' and ''“Boppin The Blues'' having himself several records on ''Atomic'' from 1955 to 1957.
On a bad day of January 1954, the fate hit the family when Jerry and his dad were involved in a car crash with a truck near Dyersburg, Tennessee. His dad was killed and Jerry got his legs trapped under the engine for four hours. Jerry Lee saved his legs from the doctor, thanks to a high patrolman who pulled him up. So the family beginning life without dad and Jerry Lee had to get a job. After playing with some small combos, Jerry Lee joined again Curly Griffin's band on the Jayhawk café to play on Friday and Saturday night. Being a regular on that night club Jerry Lee meet, around 1955, Kenny Parchman another local musician who had lost his dad in tragic conditions too and Carl Perkins. Carl Perkins offered him to join his band for $ 5.00 a night plus tip so Jerry Lee moved from that place where he earned $ 2.50 a night and enjoyed to be in a band with a drummer.
Soon Kenny, leading the Dixie Blues Boys, asked Jerry Lee to come back for $ 10.00 a night and even hired a drummer called Elmo to please him. A month later, Carl offered a raise to $ 15.00 if he agrees to play with him at the Supper Club. There he soon realized that the life he was living was not the Christian life he had been taught. Soon cames the drinks and the morning headaches. Carl asked to Jerry Lee’s mother to bring him in Memphis for a forthcoming session but she won’t being afraid because the car accident. That session was probably the one who gave life to ''Blue Suede Shoes''. Soon Carl Perkins will be on the road and Jerry Lee will start playing again with Kenny Parchman. Jerry Lee’s mother may had save him his life 'cause few months later Carl and his band were seriously injured in a car crash in Delaware.
Kenny’s band was mostly playing hillbilly, bluegrass, country song and a few rhythm and blues songs from Piano Red or Joe Turner speeding it up and putting a strong drums beat. That sound close to rock and roll, but with no horn, will be soon definite as hillbilly bop or rockabilly. They play on WDXI Radio in Jackson and moved them act from the Jayhawk café to the Pine Ridge Club, in Jackson, before goin' to Sun Records in Memphis a week-end on August 1956. They played ''Love Crazy Baby'' and ''Treat Me Right'' for Sam Phillips who agreed to set up a session the next week-end. That first session will produce the great ''Love Crazy Baby'' and ''I Feel Like Rockin'', two ultimate rockers who should have been issued on Sun 252 if Sam Phillips had not made up his mind for some unknown reason. That will cost the band them work at the Pine Ridge Club because the owner filled the hole with Rayburn Anthony and his band. Without place to play, Jerry Lee played for a while with Rayburn.
Kenny will later bring his band on The Humbolt Club' in Humbolt, Tennessee, Slick’s Pit in Ripley, Tennessee and on movie theatres in Kentucky, Texas and Louisiana. That’s on one of those theatres than Jerry Lee came to be called ''smoochy'' after being late on stage for that activity backstage with a cute little smoocher. Nothing coming from Sun, Kenny decided to book his band near Memphis for a three months stunt at the Navy Officer Club in Millington, Tennessee. Here Ace Cannon, a sax player, joined them band and later moved with them to a club named The Broken Drum in Memphis. Kenny went to record more songs at Sun and Sam asked to Jerry Lee, now living in Memphis, to play on some records he will cut for others artists for one dollar for each year of his age. Smoochy was not in the Musicians Union and the Union scale was $ 45.00 so Sam had to pay under the table and to fill the session work under Jerry Lee Lewis name. Other regular piano player at Sun was Jimmy Wilson and sometime his name was also used instead Smoochy. Smoochy remember playing with Warren Smith and some other cats.
Still with Kenny, Smoochy started to write a few songs among them the ultimate ''Tennessee Zip'' who stayed in the Sun vaults for years. That song was just issued as Sun 252, the missing single, a couple of years ago and is yet a collector item. He also wrote a song titled ''Hey, Hey, Little Girl'' for a singer in need for a song at Sun. It could be Tommy Blake who came from Shreveport, Louisiana for various sessions. Somewhere in 1957, Smoochy get married and was back in Jackson, with Kenny, at The Pine Ridge Club again. With Kenny he recorded, in Jackson, two fabulous sides ''Treat Me Right''/''Don’t You Know'' issued on Jaxon 504. An extremely rare record and a much sought after collector item. He will also pump that 88 keys on Kenny’s ''Lu'' recordings from 1958 ''Get It Off Your Mind'' and ''Sattellite Hop''. Jerry Lee remember Kenny like one of the best he had the pleasure to work with. And among the one he worked or rubbed shoulders you can add Curtis Hobock, Billy Wayne, Eddie Bush or Carl Mann. Not small caps!
That rambler was soon back again in Memphis working for Eddie Bond and, later, for Gene Simmons, from Tupelo, Mississippi, who recorded ''Hey, Hey, Little Girl'' in 1964 for Hi Records. He also worked again with Ace Cannon at the Starlight Club in Memphis before moving to California and coming back penniless because he was underage to work there. He quickly started to work with Chips Moman before teaming steadily with Danny Taylor, a drummer, and doing comedy routines at The Castaways in Memphis. He will made some recordings for Roland Janes Sonic label and Chips Stax Records with Rufus Thomas and Otis Redding. He worked also with Jim Stewart Satellite 'Records and co-wrote and worked out Last Night, under the name of The Mar-Keys. That song became a huge hit and they started to do shows with Ike & Tina Turner, Dion, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Wanda Jackson from Florida, Virginia, Kentucky, Georgia to Michigan until early 1963.
Then he became manager of the ''Smoochys Sho Bar'' who closed in lass than one year for gambling in a place of business. Hard times started with a move in Florida who will end with 15 days in jail and a $ 100 fine. Flat broke Smoochy headed back to Memphis and started over working at the Airport Lounge and the Castaways before reopening The Tropical Club. Next move, in 1967, will be to work with Holiday Inns who started booking bands in them hotels all over the USA. In 1971, a new project lead him to run the ''Smoochy's Steak House and Lounge'' in Raleigh near Memphis for four years. There are more very enjoying adventures until Smoochie joined the Sun Rhythm Section. His rambling will bring him and that band in Karthoum, Koweit City, Norway, France or England.
In 1989, at Hemsby, in England, he meet Bo Bergling, the editor of ''American Music Magazine'' in Sweden. That magazine offered in 2005 a superb feature about Kenny Parchman (number 105) and the last issue (number 116) brings a mind blowing paper about The Stewart Brothers, another Jackson band, who cut a fabulous record for ''Lu'' in 1959. That paper was cooked by Jimmy Stephenson, from Jackson, who was also a helping hand on various Tennessee Rockabilly CD’s issued by Stomper Time records from England. If I have been waiting since years to have info's about those Jackson’s ''foot soldiers'', I feel like having found the pot of gold on the end of a rainbow. Enjoy those memories of one all those rockin’ cats who was there when it happened in Tennessee and who never stopped to pump those 88 keys until now. If you only know about Jerry Lee Lewis, you will learn there was another Jerry Lee who could play piano laying on the floor to look under petticoat! It was in the 1950s when the rock started to roll!
The profoundly strange Jimmy Wilson remains something of a mystery man. Wilson was coopted for session piano work in late 1956 for Sun Records, and played regularly at the studio until he left for California in 1958. Jimmy Wilson had an obsession with guns, and preferred working on his gun collection to playing session piano. He lived in a room above Taylor's Cafe, next door to the studio, but not even his proximity to the studio could lure him away from refurbishing or there wise caring for a new firearm.
Gene Simmons (who began his career with Sun Records and later broke through on Hi Records with "Haunted House") remembered Wilson firing indiscriminately at passers-by from a tour bus that was taking them through southern Ontario, and he was eventually evicted from the rooms above Taylor’s after he launched a home-made rocket from his apartment.
Jimmy Wilson's strangeness appears to have stemmed from more than a bad attitude; most agree that he was mentally disturbed. He had a pet raccoon that he later stabbed and let die in the studio with the knife embedded in it. His bizarre conduct continued on stage, as Billy Riley recalls: "Wilson was not like anyone I knew. He had nothing in common with anyone in the world. He was in one minute and out the next. I've seen him on stage playing a rock number just great, then, all of a sudden, he'd have a change come over him and he'd just quit playing and be staring straight ahead. Then he'd start playing Chopin or something right in the center of the song. We'd holler at him and he'd start playing rock and roll again. He played with us for five years and nobody knows where he came from or what happened to him".
Never an outstanding pianist, Jimmy Wilson nevertheless fitted in well on sessions, playing with Johnny Cash, Billy Riley, Warren Smith, and many others. He also worked professionally in Memphis under the pseudonym of Jan Dillard. At some point in 1958, Jimmy Wilson bummed twenty dollars from everyone he knew and head out to California, where he later married the daughter of Nudie the Rodeo Tailor, the man responsible for Elvis Presley's gold lamé suit. Nudie Cohen promised to bankroll his career if he went straight, but the news soon reached Memphis that Jimmy Wilson had been committed. Besides the recordings that bear his stamp, Wilson left one enduring contribution to the Sun sound: he was the man who showed Sam Phillips how to place tacks on the hammers inside his piano to achieve a harsher, more metallic sound.
Elbert Leroy ''Johnny'' Bernero Is the Sun studio staff drummer between late 1955 and the close of 1958, and drummer for the Dean Beard Band who played on some of Elvis Presley's Sun cuts, although he was never credited, Bernero set a high standard for drummers. Born in Memphis on September 22, 1931 and started playing drums in 1951 when he joined Smokey Joe Baugh at the 81 Club on Highway 51 in Memphis. He later spent some time with the Jack Hale big band before he became the session drummer at Sun Records in 1955.
''One night, back in 1951'', he said, ''I was going down Highway 51 and I stopped in the 81 Club. Smokey Joe and Mickey Demora were playing there and their drummer had had to much to drink and was out back someplace. Someone said, 'Johnny can play drums', but I had never played drums before in my life except on the football field. Anyway, I played that job and no-one knew anything different because they were half out of it. It was cold that night And I had a car and they didn't so I drove them home. They liked that and they hired me. I played with them two or three months before I took lessons. The music director for the Jack Hale Orchestra gave me six or seven lessons. He left town for a while and I played with Jack Hale, a big fifteen piece band. We played the Slipper, the Claridge, the Peabody and rooms like that so I learned on the job. The music I enjoyed the most in terms of playing was always Dixieland. Everything you ever worked on and sweated to learn, you can use. I remember when I first started and I wanted to learn solo work, this guy who was teaching me said, 'John, you need to learn how to play. Forget about solo work, you need to learn how to play with the band'. He described it like a stage-coach: 'When they pop that wip, boy, that stage has gotta move. You've got to push. When that trumpet player stands up, you make him feel like he never played like that before. You master that, and you'll never be short of work'. He was right''.
Bernero worked across the street from Sun at the Memphis Light, Gas and Water Company. ''I went across one day and acquainted with Sam and he called me for all the sessions except those when the guy brought his own drummer'', said Bernero. ''I had an arrangement with my superintendent that I could get off during the day and make these sessions. I was making several sessions a week in 1955 and 1956. I left my drums set up in there. I didn't work on Presley's first sessions bu Sam called me over soon after Presley started''. In this way, he met Elvis Presley in late 1954 and early 1955. Johnny Bernero played drums for Elvis Presley on "I Forgot To Remember To Forget", "Tryin' To Get To You", "I'm Left, You're Right, She's Gone", "Mystery Train" and "When It Rains It Really Pours".
''Elvis was one of the nicest people. Over at Sun we called Sam Phillips 'Sam'. Everyone was that way but Elvis. He'd always say, 'Mr. Phillips this' and 'Mr. Phillips that...'. I always got a lot more on Elvis's sessions than I did on the others because Elvis would may me a little on the side. I remember one time we had cut one side and started on another. Elvis went up in the control room with Sam and they were up there about 30 minutes. We were just sitting around on the floor chewing the fat. Then Elvis came back down and came over to me and said, 'John, we're not going to finish this session but I really appreciate you coming over'. Then he gave me $50. The next thing I heard Sam had sold Elvis's contract to RCA''. This was probably the November 1955 session that yielded the unfinished versions of ''When It Rains It Really Pours''.
According to Johnny Bernero, Elvis called him to work on the road, but with five kids and a steady job he decided against it (D.J. Fontana joined Presley's Blue Moon Boys as a salaried employee in August 1955, so it's quite likely that Presley asked Bernero to joined the band before that). Bernero remembered playing the July 4, 1956 show at Russwood Park in Memphis when Elvis famously told the hometown crows, ''Those people in New York ain't gonna change me none''. Bernero remembered, ''When it came time to go on, there was all kinds of arguing about who would go on last. Didn't anyone want to go on first. People were waiting and Elvis picked up his guitar and said, 'Come on, John. We'll go on now'. He was that type of person. Real humble''.
Bernero's recordings were made toward the end of 1956. ''I watched Sun grow but Sam never changed much'', said Bernero. ''He was a real nice fella. Down to earth and very easy to work for. He's mostly leave the musicians alone and work with the singers to get the sound he wanted. We'd often do ten takes which was real unusual in that time. I talked him into letting me bring my own band in. You see, I'd been sitting in this restaurant waiting for Smokey Joe one time and I looked at the jukebox and there were maybe five or six Sun records on the jukebox and I'd played on 'em all. All the guys were driving Cadillacs, making big money and I was getting $15 a session. That's when I really got the idea of bringing my own band in. Those cuts sounded good at the time we recorded them but Sam didn't feel they were commercial. Joe Cuoghi at Hi might have taken a chance on them. He was more a gambler. Cuoghi had 300 or 400 jukeboxes all over the South and this was the way he tested out his product. He's press up 500 and send them out to see how many layers he got. If the response was good, he'd press 20,000. He was a smart fella. Sam was more hesitant''.
By 1956 Bernero had ditched the ever-unreliable Smokey Joe because he was notoriously unreliable and replaced him with Thurman "Ted" Enlow for Sun Records and Enlow sang on Bernero's recordings such tunes as "Bernero's Boogie", "Rockin' At The Woodchoppers Ball", and "Cotton Pickin' Boogie" were evidence of Bernero's talent. Bernero who recorded for Memphis' Fox Records in 1955 and had a minor hit with "Rakin' And Scrapin'" for Atlantic Records in 1956.
Johnny Bernero was not a rock and roll drummer, his roots were too deeply implanted in western swing. Bernero started working with Carl McVoy at the VFW Club. They worked as a duo until Ace Cannon came in on tenor sax. By this point, Johnny Bernero had stopped working at Sun and was on the payroll at Hi Records. He arranged with Joe Cuoghi that Ace Cannon be transferred from Fernwood to Hi Records, and Bernero and Cannon agreed to go into the music business together as partners. Together they wrote "Tuff". It was released under Cannon's name but the partnership ended in some acrimony when the first royalty cheque rolled in. "Ace said, 'John, you know this is the first chance I've had to make any real money and I just can't see giving half of it away'. My countenance fell. Anyway, after some legal proceedings, I ended up getting 30% of what I was entitled to".
After that embittering experience, Johnny Bernero soon quit the music business and even sold his drums, and became an insurance salesman. For many years listeners wondered who the uncredited drummer was on some of Elvis Presley's Sun recordings, falsely believing that it was D.J. Fontana. But Fontana has stated that he never played on any Sun record. Johnny Bernero was the session drummer that Sam Phillips used when he wanted to change his musical direction. However, he left behind a small but wonderful legacy of music rooted in his first love, western swing. Johnny Bernero died of respiratory failure on July 28, 2001 in Fulton, Kentucky, at the age of 69. He is burial at the Water Valley Graves County, Kentucky.
THE LITTLE GREEN MEN
Backing band for Billy Riley and were the main Sun studio band at 706 Union. Billy Riley is one of the most important founders of the original rockabilly sound. His band was the first to record what became the rock and roll sound, by adding piano, and sax to the rockabilly mix of guitar and drums. Riley and his Little Green Men recorded the true ground zero of what we know today as rock and roll, building upon earlier works like Jackie Brenston and Ike Turner's "Rocket 88. Riley was highly influential as leader of "The Little Green Men," which were featured on most of the Sun records recorded from 1956 between 1959. Working together, and as extras, this group became the Sun sound.
The original members were Billy Riley, vocals and guitar; Roland Janes on leadguitar; Jimmy M. Van Eaton on drums, Marvin Pepper on bass, and Jimmy Wilson on piano, later joined by Ace Cannon and later Martin Willis on saxophone and clarinet. Pat O'Neil on bass replace Marvin Pepper and Riley replacing Roland Janes on guitar. According to Billy Riley, ''When we did ''Flying Saucer Rock And roll'', that night on December 11, 1956, Sam gave our band its name. He said, 'We'll call you the Little Green Men'. So he put the name on the record, and we just lived with it''.
© - 706 UNION AVENUE SESSIONS - ©