YET ANOTHER VIEW OF THE JESTERS - Bizarre. That's the epithet Knox Phillips returns to again and again when attempting to categorize the head-scratching contents of this collection by his bother Jerry's short-lived mid-1960 combo, the almighty Jesters. It
is ironic that the legend of the Jesters is based upon their lone single ''Cadillac Man'', which, fantastic as it is, was neither performed by the working version of the group, nor was a hundred per cent representative of them. The truth is that the Jesters
were even more edgy and uncontained and, in the loco-motion of Teddy Paige's crazed guitar runs and Tommy Minga's rebel yell, were the true analogue to the great Memphis wildmen of the 1950s, be they blues belter or hillbilly cat. The material constitutes
some of the most vital and cathartic rock recorded for the Sun label.
Bizarre is also perhaps the most useful description of the tale about to unfold
of how this music came to be, and the paths of at least some of those involved. Prepare to have your mind boggled, but remember that in Memphis, that most quixotic of rock and roll locales, bizarre is just par for the course.
The Phillips brothers spent their youth fully exposed, on a musical and social level, to the artists their father Sam had discovered, from Elvis Presley to Roy Orbison to Howlin' Wolf and Charlie Rich. A fierce
champion of the independent spirit, Sam's growing disillusion with the record industry meant he neither expected nor directly encouraged his sons to follow in his footsteps, but their interest and desire to work in music was as heartfelt as his had been. Fitting
then, that the fruit of their labours, the Jesters, would approximate the musical excitement that Sam had unleashed a decade before.
However, an aggregation called
the Jesters had existed for some time prior to the involvement of the Phillips, centred around one of the most colourful characters in Memphis music: Edward LaPaglia, aka Teddy Paige. A cherished devotee of the blues, Teddy formed his first band, the Church
Keys, at Christian Brothers High in 1963, with a line-up that would evolve into the Jesters by the following year. From the outset, Teddy marched to a different tune, but his ability on the fretboard commanded respect from all.
According to Teddy Paige, ''We did a lot of rhythm and blues stuff, like the 5 Royales. You were more or less expected to plat what was on the radio. Most of the time I went along with the singers, as they
were never into my Carl Perkins, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry format''!
Even as a pre-teen, Jerry Phillips himself had undergone of the more notable initiations into
the entertainment business available. A Phillips family friend was legendary wrestler Sputnik Monroe, whose showboating antics had made him massively popular in the late 1950s, and whom had taken an avuncular interest in the tough, if diminutive, Jerry. Another
family friend, disc jockey Johnny Dark, had a wrestler associate, Tex Morgan, who hit upon a novel, if voyeuristic, twist on the sport.
According to Jerry Phillips,
''Rex knew this midget, Fabulous Frankie Thumb, that wanted to get into the wrestling business, and asked if I'd be interested in teaching him some wrestling moves, and then fighting, with him in public. So I became ''Delayne Phillips, The World's Most Perfectly
Formed Midget Wrestler''! We wrestled around the south, southeast for about a year and made some good money. Of course, they were telling everybody I was a grown man''!
was the nature of entertainment in the mid-south in the early 1960s. And Jerry's parents were supportive of the venture, to a point.
Jerry said, ''One night in
Marked Tree, Arkansas, me and this midget dude were fighting outside the ring, and a guy came out from the audience and tried to stab me. So that made my parents think, 'Maybe we oughta bring an end to this, That was one of the most fun times in my life but
it didn't last very long''.
After giving up this promising career, Jerry, a somewhat rebellious kid, took up guitar and within a couple of years was playing professionally
behind vocal trio Jimmy Day and The Knights. A major mentor was Teddy Paige, whom he got to know after Paige transferred to his school, White Station High.
says further, ''I was about 11 or 12 when my brother gave me my first guitar. I took lessons and picked stuff up from Teddy or whomever else. Jimmy Day and The Knights was probably the first legitimate band I was in. They, Jimmy, John Robinette and Willie
Cason, were basically singers and they were good. That was when white kids were getting turned onto rhythm and blues, so we stayed booked all the time. Pretty much University Of Tennessee fraternities, though we did Alabama, Mississippi
and Arkansas State, as well as church and high school dances''.
Phillips' friendship with Teddy led to the formation of a new band in the summer of 1965, with a
self-assured front man by the name of Tommy Minga. Recently graduated from White Station High, Minga was an East Memphian who had previously lad a band named the Escapades in 1964, comprising Jim Tarbutton (lead), Joe Tilman (rhythm), Richard Brown (bass)
and Eddie Robertson (drums). It was the same kind of format as the Knights or Jesters, with backing vocalists and an rhythm and blues favoured set. Robertson came along, bass player Billy Wulfers was hired, and the combo inherited the name of Tommy's last
outfit, the Escapades: pictorial evidence confirms this, and it is quite likely that the recordings made with Minga logged as being by the Jesters were in fact taped when they were performing live as the Escapades. In the interests of clarity, we shall however
refer to the band as the Jesters from this point.
''Teddy was the leather for sure, and the driving force because he was the best player'', recalled Jerry. ''Teddy
wasn't acting for anybody. To show you the kind of guy he was, he borrowed my amp to play a gig, and about two weeks later called up to tell me, ''Boy , you gonna have the red ass at me. I sold your amp''! Teddy was semi-anti-social. He would aggravate the
crowd at the fraternity gigs, telling them, 'Here's another song you probably don't know'! There were some instances where we'd have to defend ourselves. But people respected Teddy's playing, and our ability to play with him''.
It's likely this had much to do with the Jesters' repertoire which was distinctly at odds with the soul or British-flavoured content of bands sets in that period. The Jesters' take on rhythm and blues was amped-up
and righteously ragged, more juke joint than teen club. That made concessions to accessibility by including some Stones or Kinks material, but largely the band's sound was that heard on this disc, although there is no doubt that their insouciant attitude was
100 percent 1965.
''I was a big blues fan like Teddy, but I liked the Beatles and the Stones'', said Jerry. ''I can't imagine Teddy not being aware of some of those
British bands that had not players, like the Yardbirds. Our repertoire was the stuff that Minga was written, and the blues that Teddy threw at us. If we ever did a British song, it would have been something like ''You Really Got Me'', but I'd say we were in
a minority in what we played''.
According to Teddy, ''Some of the British groups were good. I was onto it, because I was collecting the same records at the same
time. I knew where they got their ideas from. I was into Chicago blues, and some of the Memphis style. I loved Freddie King and tried to get that sort of a sound. We used to plat ''San-Ho-Zay'' and others on gigs, and I knew about ten of those tunes note for
The Jesters did everything expected of an up-and-coming outfit in the Memphis of the mid-1960s, including the rigeur appearance on George Klein's ''Talent
Party TV Show''. Jerry had access to his fathers' studio, but it was his older brother Knox that would be the enabling factor in harnessing the raw energy of Teddy, Tommy and company to tape.
''I went to White Station High, graduated in 1963, and attended Southwestern from 1964 to 1967'', recalled Knox. ''During the time I was in college, I was social commissioner, so I booked all the bands. I'd been working at the studio
since I'd been in high school, and recording a lot of acts from later 1964 on. However, Sam was trying to discourage Jerry and I, from going seriously into music. He felt the possibility of prevailing in the independent record business would be a shallow and
disappointing experience for us. So in the mid-1960s, we were kinda on our own''.
''Our dad would encourage us in everything we'd do, but he never wanted us to
be like him. He was really supportive, but he wanted us to work for it. He never said, 'I'm gonna show you how to do this''', said Jerry. ''Sam would always let us go in the studio and do whatever, and of course when he listened, he'd give an opinion. He could
have shut us down but he wasn't that kind of guy. If he didn't hear something in who Knox was working with, the Radiants or whomever, then he would have made that clear' Knox Phillips spent many hours producing Randy and The Radiants,
the best of which can be heard on their Sun anthology ''Memphis Beat'' (Big Beat CDWIKD 267). Understandably, Knox also booked his younger brother's bands at Southwestern, and took a keen interest in the Jesters.
''I'd always try to use them because they were Jerry's band'', said Knox. ''Fraternities do stupid stuff, but by the end of the gig, they probably hated them. At times I had to change the name of the band to
book them again! They were the Escapades, and different configurations, but they always sounded good, and for me, Jerry was always the star. He was a fabulous rhythm guitar player. And Teddy was one of the weirdest people I'd ever met''!
Not long after the Jesters' formation, Knox began to record them at the Phillips' Madison Avenue studio. They turned ''Heartbreak Hotel'' into a Jimmy Reed-like blues, and spiced the
Carl Perkins; classic ''Boppin' The Blues'' with a sinuous lead from Paige. But such cover material was blown away by the sheer punk-blues ferocity of Tommy Minga's tremendous originals. Some of these have obvious Memphis antecedents, ''Get Gone Baby'' recycles
the classic riff of Willie Cobb's ''You Don't Love Me'', the pounding ''Stompity Stomp'' is a sideways cop of ''The Slummer The Slum'' by the 5 Royales. But the energy is fully the Jesters' own. The rhythm section pumps madly, Minga alternates between hushed
admonition and outraged bawling, and Teddy's guitar throughout is the proverbial headless chicken of rockabilly yore, hot-rodded with a corrosive blues edge. Unwittingly or not, the band had zeroed in on the primal Sun sound.
''The Minga stuff sounds more like true Sun rockabilly than anything else does in the 1960s, and it's a testament to our influences from Sun'' Jerry Phillips continued. ''That was ingrained in my system, and
it certainly influenced all of us in that band. Tommy didn't have wacko DNA like Teddy, he just liked to have fun. He was also a good songwriter, and did write most of the originals. He'd jump, dance around, he was a showman''.
Teddy said, ''It really was like that, us going crazy in the studio. We were really enthused on those first sessions. I'm playing a Les Paul custom, and we used a blown Fender Bassman amp, with three speakers
and a tube pulled halfway out, to get a distorted sound''.
According to Knox Phillips, ''I'd never cut anything with this kind of energy ever, and I never cut anybody
who consistently played such cool guitar. Minga was fabulous on some songs, ''no mo, no mo'', I loved that! Minga's voice and Teddy's guitar blend pretty well. It was over the top. There was nothing else like that in Memphis being recorded by white people''.
One of the last items Tommy taped with the band was a tune of Teddy's entitled ''Cadillac Man'', which wed classic Chuck Berry car-chase lyrics to a raucous blues-on-speed
rhythm. Minga delivers the tune in a cool, understated fashion, but Paige didn't agree with the way his song had turned out, and this apparently exacerbated tensions between him and the singer. Whether Teddy engineered it or not, Tommy's sudden departure from
the band would seem to have occurred right at that moment.
Jerry said, ''I think, the early ''Cadillac Man'' is a good version, but Teddy just wasn't happy with
it. And I don't think he would have that much influence over that song unless he wrote it, to be able to kick Minga off the session and have Jim Dickinson come in. Minga was pretty bitter about that''.
''Now that I hear him, Tommy was a cool singer, and he really could have been produced into something. How we replaced him, in those days there was no mercy, just the act and that was it'', says Teddy.
If the band, by now definitely operating as the Jesters, were to re-cut the tune, they would need a singer. As veteran of the local music scene for years, and at once both traditionalist
and non-conformist, Jim Dickinson embodied the vibe Paige was no doubt looking for. He showed up at Phillips Recording in November or December 1965, not knowing what to expects, but Jim's piano-pumping contribution to the re-tooled ''Cadillac Man'' was perfectly
in sync with the tenor of the track.
According to Jim Dickerson, ''Teddy called me. I thought it was to play piano on a demo. I probably wouldn't have gone if I
knew I was gonna sing, because I was under contract to Bill Justis at the time. It was Teddy's plot! As well as ''Cadillac Man'', we did ''Jim Dandy And Sweet Sixteen'' and ''Night Train From Chicago'', which were both in Teddy's notebook of songs. ''Night
Train'' kinda jumps around, but that solo, damn, it doesn't sound like any white man I ever heard''.
''Jim seemed to have professional experience'', said Teddy.
''He sang straight old blues things well, but he was always trying to do something unnatural and kooky. We started ''Cadillac Man'' with the arrangement that Minga had sung, but Jim couldn't play the left hand on the piano, so we literally had to adapt to
him. There's a guitar break at the end, otherwise it's pretty much a piano record, but we were enthusiastic about piano. In fact, we had often tried to find a piano player, and nothing but wimp would show up''.
According Knox, ''Jim was just an experiment. Minga was the voice of the band, but I don't think he got ''Cadillac Man'', so it was right to have Dickinson. The one thing that I never liked at the time was,
when I brought up the piano solo, the drums came up too. Now it sounds really good, it kinda swells into something special. Sam wasn't anywhere around ''Cadillac Man'', but we played it for him and he loved it''. anachronistic as it
might have seemed to any other label, this new ''Cadillac Man'' fit the Sun template exactly. Thus a release was authorized, necessitating a second date with Dickinson for a B-side, which was cut several weeks later, the session is logged with the Musicians
Union as January 22, 1966.
Alec Palao, El Cerrito, California, 2008
THE ESCAPADES - were an American garage rock band from Memphis, Tennessee, who were active in the 1960s. They became one of the most popular groups in the Memphis area during the mid-1960s and recorded two singles. "I Tell No Lies",
the A-side of their debut single, became a big hit in Memphis and around the South. They were signed to Verve Records, who released their follow up, "Mad, Mad, Mad", which featured a fuzz-toned guitar line. Their work is highly regarded by garage rock enthusiasts
and collectors and has appeared on various compilations.
The Escapades were originally founded by Tommy Minga in early 1963 in East Memphis, Tennessee.
Their original lineup included Minga on vocals and Jerry Phillips on guitar, son of record producer and owner of Sun Records, Sam Phillips, as well as Billy Wulfers on bass, and Eddie Robinson on drums. Another member of the early version of the group was
Jimmy Tartbutton. One of their chief competitors in the east Memphis scene was the Jesters, led by Teddy Paige, a student at Christian Brothers High. In 1964, when some of the members of his band went to college, the Jesters broke up. The Escapades also broke
up at this time, but both groups would re-surface later with different lineups.
In 1965 Paige re-formed the Jesters, and brought in some of the former members of
the Escapades: Minga and Phillips, as well as Billy Wulfers on bass and Eddie Robinson on drums. They went to Sun Studios to record a version of song written by Minga, "Cadillac Man", accompanied on piano by famed Memphis session man Jim Dickinson. However,
Paige and producer Sam Phillips felt that the both "Cadillac Man" and its flipside needed a different kind of vocal and had Dickinson sing on both tracks, much to the chagrin of Minga.
soon left the Jesters to re-form a new version of the Escapades. He joined fellow students at Oakhaven High School, guitarist Benny Kisner, keyboardist Ron Gordon, and drummer Ronnie Williamson, along with bassist Dale Roark, who was attending Memphis State
University. Sometimes the group would play at the Skateland Frayser roller skating rink. The Escapades were known for an exciting live show which included Ron Gordon's stage antics.
to Gordon, ''We always got the crowd going... We loved to play the Roaring 1960s, and I would be up on that high stage they had and dance while I played this Farfisa organ I had. As I danced, I would rock the organ like I was going to turn it over into the
crowd. They would scream with each rock, but I never dropped it''.
The group quickly became one of the most popular bands in the Memphis area. They recorded their
fist single "I Tell No Lies" backed with "She's The Kind" at John Fry's Ardent home garage studio, which was released on Stan Kessler's Arbet label. The record became a local hit and received airplay all over the south. MGM/Verve Records became interested
in the group and picked up the record, re-releasing it on their XL label later that year.
The group recorded their follow up "Mad Mad Mad" b/w "Try So Hard"
at sam Phillips Recording Studio at 639 Madison Avenue in Memphis, which was issued on Verve in late 1966 and produced by Stan Kesler. The distinctive fuzz-toned guitar part in "Mad Mad Mad" was played by Memphis session man Tommy Cogbill.
The band's manger, Johnny Dark, set up a tour of the Southeast accompanying Sam the Sham & the Pharos, the Swinging
Medallions, Tommy Roe, and Napoleon the 14th. The second single failed to achieve the success of the first. Following the tour, the group returned to Memphis to play local gigs, but several of the band's members were drafted into the military to fight in Vietnam.
Eventually, all of the band's members ended up in the service, except for Ron Gordon. In late 1967 the group broke up. Gordon went on to play with a reconstituted version of the group the late Otis Redding's previous backup group, the Bar-Kays. Later Gordon
was hired by Stax Records, working on several projects before eventually becoming their art director. He would go on to design album covers for over a hundred LPs on there and would win a Grammy for his art work on Issac Hayes' ''Black Moses''.