- RUDY GRAYZELL -
''LET'S GET WILD''

Bear Family Records BCD 16837 AH
1 CD digipac with 40-page booklet
Genre: Rockabilly / Country
Tracks 32
Playing Time 82:55

The first comprehensive anthology of one of the original legendary rockabilly stars! Includes the previously unissued complete version of ''Let's Get Wild'', plus four other unreleased recordings. Includes the original hit version of ''Duck Tail'' now a rockabilly classic! Rudy's story is told in extensive liner notes ''Don't You Mess With My Ducktail''. That was Rudy Grayzell's hit song. But his story is longer and stranger than anyone knew. His first record, ''Looking At The Moon'' and ''Wishing On A Star'', was a big hit in 1953, and one year later he recorded the first cover version of ''Hearts Of Stone''. After that, he joined the legendary Starday label to record ''Duck Tail'', ''Let's Get Wild'', and several other classics. And then he was on the legendary Sun label for one single. In the interviews accompanying this set, Rudy talks about performing ''Duck Tail'' naked in a graveyard for several drunken women, and talks about his many marriages, his brushes with Elvis Presley (Elvis gave him the nickname Rudy Tutti), making love to a woman during a tornado, playing with Doug Sahm when Sahm was nine years old, and much else. Among his other accomplishments, Rudy was the first Hispanic rock and roller; he was born Rudolfo Jiminez in south Texas. This set includes his complete recordings for Abbott, Capitol, Starday, Sun, and Award. It all adds up to the last word on one of the first names in rockabilly.

GRAYZELL, RUDY - Born Rudolfo Jiminez on June 8, 1933 in Saspamco, Texas, just south of San Antonio, Rudolfo Jiminez was of Spanish ancestry on his father's side and Italian on his mother's. As a youngster he was exposed to a wide range of music, pop, country, rhythm and blues and Mexican music. His Hispanic hertage melted into his early grounding in country music and his love of rhythm and blues to create a sound that one reviewer likened to Roy Orbison on a three-day drunk in Tijuana.

His father worked for a pipeline company, and Rudy grew up in San Antonio listening to Hispanic music blasting in from south of the border and country music blasting in from all around. He loved it all, but he especially loved Ernest Tubb on the Grand Ole Opry. ''I liked this chick named Norma'', he told Dan Davidson, ''but she liked some guy who played guitar and that just tore me up. So I had my folks buy me a guitar and I learned to play it''.

Aged seventeen, he assembled a combo called the Silver Buckles and they played the clubs and bars. ''They allowed you to play in clubs if you were underage'', he explained. ''You just couldn't drink. We did all the songs that were popular. Lefty Frizzell, Webb Pierce, Faron Young, Floyd Tillman''. At South San Antonio High School (known locally as South San), it was compulsory to pass algebra in order to graduate, so Rudy aced the subject by dating the math teacher. From that point he left school, music was his sole meal ticket. For someone with no charted hits, that's beyong improbable.

Band members came and went. Sometimes, Rudy led his own band; sometimes he played with Eddy Dugosh's Ah-Ha Playboys or Johnny Olenn; sometimes, they worked with him. Dugosh has faded from view, but Olenn had a log career ahead of him in music, film, and lounges. Doug Sahm probably fits into the story around this point. Rudy says that Sahm was eleven, (which would by 1952 and 1953) when Rudy showed up at his high school and told the teacher that he was Sahm's uncle and needed to take him out of school. No one seemed to question how a short Hispanic guy could be a lanky German kid's uncle. Sahm was proficient on steel guitar, electric guitar, and fiddle, but played steel for Rudy.

Doug remembered that Rudy was still in school as well, which seems unlikely. In Sahm's unfocused recollections, he remembered playing steel guitar for Hank Williams in September 1952 on what would be the hillbilly king's last birthday... the last of twenty-nine. Hank celebrated his birthday at The Barn, a club booked and co-owned by Charlie Walker, a San Antonio disc jockey and recording artist. Walker was a pivotal figure in Rudy Grayzell's career, so it all eems to fit together somehow.

As of mid-1953, Rudolfo was an Abbott recording artist. Abbott's owner, Fabor Robison, changed his name to Rudy Grayzell, figuring that the country market wasn't ready for someone called Jiminez. Rudy's first Abbott single, "Looking At the Moon And Wishing On A Star" was clearly inspired by the recent hit "Don't Let the Stars Get In Your Eyes". It was covered by Skeets McDonald and Charline Arthur and even saw a belated United Kingdom release, on London HL 8094, in November 1954. After two more singles on Abbott, Rudy either quit the label or was dropped after one year.

Charlie Walker then landed Grayzell a contract with Capitol, where Ken Nelson produced his recordings and he was billed as "Rudy Gray". "Hearts Of Stone", the first Capitol single, was a cover of a number by the Jewels from Los Angeles, but Rudy's version was outsold by the Fontane Sisters (number 1 pop) and the Charms (number 1 rhythm and blues, number 15 pop). His flip-side, "There's Gonna Be A Ball", was hillbilly with rhythm and blues overtones. By this time Grayzell had changed the name of his band to the Texas Kool Kats. Two further Capitol singles went nowhere and in early 1956 Rudy signed with Starday, run by Pappy Daily in Houston.

It was here that he cut his best rockers. "Duck Tail"/"You're Gone" was an excellent rockabilly two-sided, but a cover of "Duck Tail" by Joe Clay for RCA's Vik label stole much of its thunder. The fourth Starday single, "Let's Get Wild", released in mid-1957, had Grayzell almost going over the top, but it was probably too wild for most radio stations and didn't get much airplay.

On three of the four Starday singles, Rudy was credited as Rudy "Tutti" Grayzell. He says that the nickname came from Elvis Presley, who called him "Rudy Tutti", but, like several other tall stories from Grayzell, this has to be taken with a grain of salt.

His next stop was at Sun Records in Memphis and again, Charlie Walker was the intermediary. As a rule, Sam Phillips didn't record artists who had already recorded for other labels, but he made an exception for Rudy (and also for Onie Wheeler around the same time). There was one session spread over two days in October 1957, arranged by Bill Justis, which resulted in the single "Judy"/"I Think Of You" (Sun 290), plus two slow numbers that now see the light of day for the first time on the Bear Family Record label.

It was probably in 1958 that Grayzell moved to San Jose, California, and signed with Award Records. His first recording there was an unreleased cover of Wynona Carr's "Should I Ever Love Again". A 1959 session yielded the novelty "The F.B.I. Story", credited to "Rudy Grayzell and his Thunderbirds, accompanied by the Sparkles". It was his last record for several decades.

By 1960, former Sun recording artist Rudy Grayzell was in Las Vegas at the Fremont Hotel, and insists that Wayne Newton was his supporting act. He stayed eighteen months before heading to Seattle when the World's Fair was there. It was the same story for years. Booking agents would see him and offer him an extended gig somewhere, and he'd go. He was even back in San Antonio for a while. For the last thirty or more years, Rudy has been based in Portland, Oregon. It might have been Eddy Dugosh who got him to Portland. One of Dugosh's former band members, Frank Wood, said that Dugosh's Redtoppers moved from Redding, California to Portland in 1959 to take up a residency at Elmo's Supper Club, and so it's likely that Rudy replaced Dugosh at Elmo's. Photos of Dugosh, Johnny Olenn, and Rudy Grayzell from that time show neatly turned out guys in check jackets and bow ties, so it's pretty clear that rockabilly had given way to supper club music.

Slowly, though, Rudy Grayzell reclaimed his unruly rockabilly roots. An undated review from a Portland newspaper said Rudy's then-regular gig at the Jolly Rogers club: ''A compact, barrel-chested man with a mop of wavy brown hair and a wide, friendly grin. Rudy never failed to take the place by storm. He sang a lot of poorly-chosen covers, mainstream country stuff or maudlin ballads mostly, but when the mood would strike him he'd let loose with one of his own badass compositions, ''Let's Get Wild'', ''Duck Tail'', or ''Judy''. He’d plant his feet wide like he was getting ready for a stiff wind, square his shoulders and squint into the ether. As he sang, he'd rock back and forth and the veins would stand out in his neck. He could still really let it all hang out. The Jolly Rogers' owner, and old fellow with a ten gallon stomach and a yen for endless Seven-and-Sevens en menthol lights, once climbed up onto the bar and did an impromptu boogaloo during a particularly fiery rendition of ''Let's Get Wild''. During breaks Rudy would cruise the room, talking to all the regulars, shaking hands with an iron grip. He was old school show biz''.

For many years, recording sessions were few and far between, but in 1987 Rudy Grayzell's comeback began with a session for Sundial. In 1990, he began appearing in Europe and became a familiar face at festivals. Audiences encountered the same manic energy that impressed the reviewer in Portland ten years earlier and the kids in Texas twenty-five years before that. In 1991, he recorded for Billy Miller and Miriam Linna's Norton Records and in 1998 he recorded for Sideburn. He announced that he planned to open a club that would serve Tutti Tacos, but the first Tutti Taco has yet to be served. Lately, Rudy Grayzell has been working with the husband-and-wife team of Victoria and Rider McDowell. Victoria was a schoolteacher in Carmel, California when (shades of Fabor Robison) she concocted a dissolvable tablet called Airborne designed to boost the body's immune system, thereby preventing colds and flu. Without proof that Airborne prevented anything, she eventually had to pay the Federal Trade Commission a fine of $23.3 million and settle another class action suit for $6.5 million. Her husband, Rider, had been an investigative reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, and developed a stage show featuring Rudy Grayzell. Anyone near Monterey this fall should check out Zombie Voodoo Scream Party. Rudy plays an evil Elvis clone, Teddy Corn. It's a new millennium, but the weirdness continues. (CE)

Original Sun Recordings licensed from Sun Entertainment, Inc.

 
 
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