EDWIN HOWARD WITH HIS OWN STORY – Memphis Press-Scimitar amusement editor Edwin Howard tells how ''Forty 'Leven Times'' and ''More Pretty Girls
Than One'' was recorded. (April 27, 1959).
''Almost everybody has ''turned'' on a radio or dropped a dime in a juke box, listening a moment, and said, ''Why, I could
make a better record than that''! More-have said it than acted on it, of course. But the do-ityourself craze has carried over into the record business, all right.
of people, from truck driver to movie stars are making records, and thousands more want to. But what are the average shower-shouter's changes of turning out a hit? To try to find out, I set out to make a record myself.
Because the recording industry in no longer centered in New York and Los Angeles, I didn't even have to leave home. I found I could make a record on a leading international distribution label, right here in Memphis.
Only time time - and the record buying public - can tell whether my record will become a hit or not, but it is made and is being released today to record shops all over the country''.
FORTY 'LEVEN TIMES - ''My do-it-yourself disk is ''Forty 'Leven Times'', a song I wrote myself backed with ''More Pretty Girls Than One'', on the Phillips International label. Doing it myself didn't turn
out to be quite what I expected, tho. Just one person doesn't make a record – whether better or worse than the prevailing platters. It may not take the voice of a Como, but I found it does take
time, teamwork, and patience. Heard of the team that made ''Forty 'Leven Times'' is Sam Phillips, head of Sun Records, and discoverer of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bill Justis, and Johnny Cash. Phillips is one of the country's five or six top independent
record-makers and there are as many as 4000 of them, including the one-timers who try to a hit, and run. I proposed to Phillips that he make and release a record of me singing my own new ''country'' lyrics, with a beat, to a mournful old hillbilly waltz called
''There's More Pretty Girls Than One''. He agreed to go along with the idea. He didn't bother listening to me sing. Apparently gimmicks are as important in the record business as voices, and I had a gimmick, at least. ''If you sound too bad'', he said, ''we
can always cover you up with a vocal group''. Phillips turned me over to his director of artists and repertoire (A&R) Bill Justis, bop talking bandleader whose Phillips International recording of ''Raunchy'', which he wrote with guitarist Sid Manker, sold
well over a million copies, just last week Justis went into business himself, his new label being Play Me Records. A big part of an A&R man's job, especially with an independent company like Sun, is auditioning talent, which these days mean mostly singers''.
ONE OUT OF 100 – ''They come in from all over the sticks, man'', Justis told me while he was with Phillips. ''We end up recording
maybe one out of a hundred''. He auditioned songs, too. ''Everybody wants to do the songwriting scene. We get like 50 or 60 a day thru the mail on tapes. Most of them are real nothing. We use may be one out of every 400 we listen to. It can be a real drag,
but most of our hits have been originals by the artists who recorded them, or by somebody in Memphis. We have four or five who write for us exclusively, and of course they get more material recorded than anybody''.
''One of Sun and Phillips International's regular composers was Jack Clement, a Jack of all musical trades who handled the control board for my recording session. Besides composing and engineering, Clement did
artist and repertoire work and was himself a recording artist. He, too, has just started his own company, with the name, Summer Records. Altho new studios are being built, Sun still operates out of the tiny studio to which Elvis Presley went just over five
years ago to make a record at his own expense. Office space is at such a premium that business is often transacted and lead sheets written in Taylor's Restaurant (plate lunch: 60 cents) next door. In fact Taylor's has been to rock and roll what Pee Wee's Saloon
on Beale Street (where W.C. Handy wrote ''Memphis Blues'') was to the blues.
A GOOD SIGN – ''It was in a booth at Taylor's
that Bill Justis first heard my new lyrics for ''More Pretty Girls Than One''. He was unimpressed ''But that's probably a good sign man'', he reassured me. ''If I hate something it usually turns out to be a hit''. Justis as led if I had anything in mind for
the other side of the record. I said I had an idea for a song to one of the several tunes to 17th century English ballad, ''Barbara Allen'' (Such songs are in the public domain – that is, they are uncopyrighted. By writing new lyrics to a ''P.D.'' tune,
an author can claim full author-composer royalties on it''. What I finally wrote on a piece of copy paper, using the studio piano as a desk was ''Forty 'Leven Times'', a romantic ballad with, I think, a folksong sound.. At first Justis liked this even less
than ''More Pretty Girls'', and I was encouraged. But over the months (18 from idea to record release), it grew on him. He made an arrangement (all in his head, he writes music, but not many guitar players read it), using three guitars and a vocal trio. Now
he thinks it has a good change of becoming a hit. I spent 15 hours working with Justis in preparation for the recording session which resulted in the released record. Phillips himself listened to the various ''cuts'' and offered suggestions as to how they
could be improved. The term ''cut'' is a hold over from the time when records actually were cut with a sharp, wedge-shaped needle. Now only the ''master'', from which the pressings were made, is cut. All the preliminary recording is done on magnetic tape.
The tape recorder has revolutionized the recording industry in the past 10 years and is responsible for the rise of the independent companies''.
OF ROCK AND ROLL – ''Fifteen years ago, there weren't more than 10 recording companies in the whole country-not as many as are operating in Memphis today. Only the big companies in New York and Los Angeles could afford the delicate and expensive
equipment and the large, acoustically perfect studio which were then required for making records. Today, all you need to go into the record business is an Ampex-type tape recorder and a room with a good ''sound'' to record in. Of course, once you're in business,
it takes knowhow to make hits. A touch of genius and a little luck help, too. It is the tape recorder - more than any other single thing – that is responsible for the rise of rock and roll. Tape took the recording business out of the hands of a big bands
and vocalists in New York and Los Angeles and put it into the hands of dynamic young people to whom music was not a profession but an emotion. Like it or not, rock and roll is what resulted when they started putting that emotion on record. Many a record hit
has been made at the control board rather than the microphone, however. ''Witch Doctor'', ''Purple People Eater'', and ''The Chipmunk Song'' are three of the more obvious electric hits. But who know where Ricky Nelson, Pat Boone – and for truly –
would be without electronic echo chambers? Most voices sound better – as you probably know from singing in the shower – with an echo effect which lends resonance and covers up the quavers''.
PHILLIPS LIKED IT – ''Once Justis got the echoey sound he wanted for ''Forty 'Leven Times'' and ''More Pretty Girls Than One'' on tape, Phillips had to give his final O.K. And test
a release date. Phillips listened to the final ''Forty 'Leven Times'' tape over and over again, waxing more enthusiastic each time. By the time the master was cut and send to the pressing plant, he was much more interested in the record itself than in the
story I got making it. Whether or not ''Forty 'Leven Times'' clicks, I found out these four things which wouldbe recording artists would do well to ponder''.
1 – ''Thanks to the tape recorder, which brought the recording industry out of its three or four ivory towers and into hundreds of grass-roots recording shacks all over the country, there are more opportunities than ever before for quick
fame and fortune on the spinning disks''.
2 – ''However, only about one in every 100 persons who audition is ever actually
recorded, and not more than one in several hundreds records released can become a real hit''.
3 – ''And this one-out-of-hundreds
hit is hardly ever what you could call a do-it-yourself project. It takes teamwork to make a hit record from the head of the company right down thru the A&R man, the composer, the artist, and the promotions staff. It also takes a ''sound'' that appeals
to the record-buying public. Sometimes the song itself provides that sound. Sometimes it is something in the way it is recorded. Sometimes it is a certain quality in the voice of the singer. Many successful recording artists cannot perform well before live
audiences. And many top performers just don't go over on records''.
4 – ''But for the lucky few, who aren't so few as they
used to be, the rewards range from considerable to staggering. The average minimum artists royalty on a single record is about 3 cents a copy, the average maximum is about 5 cents a copy. Composers draw from three fourths to a full cent a side. Thus the artist
on a million-selling record stands to make between $30,000 and $50,000. And if he has also written his own material, he can add another $20,000 (or more, if others record his tune) to his bank account. No wonder everybody wants to make a record''.
This article is appeared in the April 27th 1959 edition of the Memphis Commercial Appeal for posterity.