Bear Family Records

Sun Records didn't even begin as Sun Records. It was January 1950 when Sam Phillips opened the Memphis Recording Service. Local blues singers like B.B. King, Howlin' Wolf, Ike Turner, and Rufus Thomas soon heard about Phillips' studio. He leased their records to other companies, and told everyone that starting his own label was the last thing on his mind. But he scored some big hits for those other labels and felt like he wasn't getting a fair shake, so, in 1952, he started Sun Records.

Original Sun Recordings licensed from Sun Entertainment, Inc.



New Releases of Bear Family Records (Germany)
The Sun Records Box Set Trailers

- Bear Family Sun Records Box Sets Trailer -

Billy ''Red'' Love - ''Gee... I Wish - The Sun Years, Plus'' (BCD 17149 AH)
Billy Riley - ''The Outtakes'' (BCD 17122 BR)
Bill Yates - ''Blues Like Midnight - The Sun Years, Plus'' (BCD 17277 AH)
Carl Perkins - ''The Sun Era Outtakes'' (BCD 17240 ER)
Doctor Ross - ''Juke Box Boogie - The Sun Years, Plus'' (BCD 16939 AH)
Jack Earls & The Jimbos - ''Slow Down - The Sun Years, Plus'' (BCD 16935 BG)
Rudy Grazell - ''Let's Get Wild'' (BCD 16837 AH)
Various Artists - ''Sun Ballads'' (BCD 17213 CH)
The Prisonaires & The Marigolds - ''Only Believe...'' (BCD 16893 AH)

For Biographies of Artists see: > The Sun Biographies <
Sun recordings can be heard on the playlists from 706 Union Avenue Sessions on > YouTube <


Bear Family Records BCD 17149 AH
1 CD digipac with 48-page booklet
Genre: Rhythm & Blues
Tracks 26
Playing Time 72:47

A landmark first CD reissue of one of the best... but least known... rhythm and blues singer-pianists from Memphis! Twenty six high class boogie, blues and rhythm and blues sides recorded between 1951 and 1954 by Sam Phillips at Sun Records.

Includes all 4 Billy 'Red' Love sides recorded by Sun and issued by Chess Records in 1951 and 1952 including the extremely rare, never before reissued, ''My Teddy Bear Baby'' / ''Poor Man''! Includes Love's classic recording of ''Juiced'', issued under the name of Jackie Brenston as the follow up to ''Rocket 88'', plus both sides of he Sun single that never was, ''Hey Now'' / ''Way After Midnight''. Includes the rare promotional disc for Hart's Bakery in Memphis, ''Hart's Bread Boogie! 10 tracks not originally issued in the 1950s and 10 more tracks issued here for the first time! Features the cream of Memphis rhythm and blues musicians. Included a booklet by Martin Hawkins contains the first ever biography of Love's unusual career and amazing life. Rare photographs including the first ever solo shot of Billy Love!

This time, it's Billy Love,and his story fills a void in the story of Memphis music. Love was Sun's rhythm and blues session pianist and led Rosco Gordon's road band for some years. In and out of the forces, in and out of employment, in and out of jazz clubs, and in and out of the attention of law enforcement officers, Billy Love led a full, short, frustrating and strange life. But in his singing, songwriting, arranging and piano playing he was up there with the best. This CD tells it all!

BILLY ''RED'' LOVE - Billy Love was a serious talent, as a solo artist, a session pianist, and sometime leader of Rosco Gordon's road band. But he spent his life in and out of the armed forces, in and out of employment, in and out of jazz clubs, and in and out of the attention of law enforcement officers.

Billy Love led a full, short frustrating and strange life. Sam Phillips remembered him as ''a super-good musician'', but one who didn't focus on his musical gifts.

Milton Morse Love (aka Billy ''Red'' Love) was born on December 8, 1929 in Memphis, Tennessee, the son of Morse Love, senior and Lizzie Elliott. They were living on Florida Street just south of downtown Memphis in the summer of 1944 when Milton was fourteen years old and about to start work at the St. Louis Warehouse in Memphis.

Love joined the Army in February 1946 when he was a year under age, but by the late 1940s Love was back in Memphis gaining a good reputation as a piano player and teacher. He met budding saxophonist Richard Sanders just in from Yazoo County, Mississippi and they formed a band. Lillie Sanders remembered living on Florida Street near Milton Love and Rosco Gordon: ''Around the year of 1948 through 1951 musicians including my older brother Baby Richard Sanders Jr., Johnny Ace, Billy ''Red'' Love, Earl Forrest, Little Milton, and Rosco Gordon used to rehearse almost every day at Rosco Gordon's family home across the street. While walking home from school daily, I had the opportunity to hear great sounds of blues singing and music... This fair-skinned, freckled-faced, slenderframed, handsome blues singer from across the street used to whistle and wink his eyes at me every time he'd see me. He was Billy ''Red'' Love. He seemed to be a nice, quiet and very mannerable person - but I never forgot the music he'd sing''. Years later, she encouraged her daughters, the Jubert Sisters, to record some of Love's songs.

By the end of the 1940s Love was a formidable singer , pianist, songwriter, arranger. Rosco Gordon told John Floyd, ''Love and I we lived about two blocks apart... my mother got rid of the piano (from our house) so I would go to Billy Love's house periodically, two or three times a week, and I would learn from him. He had so much talent. If you couldn't learn from him you couldn't learn from anybody. He would show you note for note how to make the chord''.

Much of the music scene in those days was across the river in West Memphis, Arkansas where there were a number of clubs and other drinking and gambling houses centered an 7th and 8th Streets and all of them helped support a number of blues musicians. Many of the players who recorded for Sam Phillips worked at Jack Brown's club while Joe Hill Louis held sway at nearby Suggs cafe. The Be-Bop Hall was where the ''better'' musicians played, according to local musician Bo Pete, who gave as examples the likes of George Coleman and Billy ''Red'' Love.

In 1951 Sam Phillips was very busy in his part-time studio (the Memphis Recording Service), recording as much of the local blues and rhythm and blues talent as he could. He had not yet started his Sun label and leased most of his product to Chess and RPM/Modern. Billy Love did some session work for Phillips, backing Walter Horton, Rufus Thomas and Willie Nix, before he got the chance to cut his own record as a singer-pianist. This resulted in the storming drinking song "Juiced", probably cut on July 24, 1951. Phillips was under pressure from Chess to come up with a good follow-up for Jackie Brenston's "Rocket 88" (a number 1 rhythm and blues record, produced by Phillips, his first big success), after "My Real Gone Rocket" had bombed. It was decided to issue "Juiced" under Jackie Brenston's name (Chess 1472). Brenston was a better sax player than a singer and hardly had time for recording, as he was in constant demand on the road. Love was a better singer, wrote his own songs and played a mean piano. "Juiced" was the finest record that Jackie Brenston never made - and that Billy Love was never credited with making. But it did not chart. Love's next session took place in October or November 1951 and yielded three songs, two of which, "Drop Top" and "You're Gonna Cry" were issued as a Chess single (1508), this time credited to "Billy 'Red' Love and his orchestra". "Drop Top" was in the same uninhibited style as "Juiced", an attempt to follow in the slipstream of "Rocket 88". There were four sessions in 1952, but only one single was released, "My Teddy Bear Baby"/"Poor Man" (Chess 1516, now very rare). These two singles seem to have received very little promotional support from Chess and sold poorly. Through 1952 (the year in which Sun Records was launched), Love continued to work as a session pianist at Phillips's studio, but Sam's files are completely silent on Billy Love for the whole of 1953.

On January 19, 1954 Love returned to the Sun studio with a new band and cut five titles. He must have had a real expectation of seeing his first Sun record out in the spring, and so must Sam Phillips, who scheduled "Hey Now" and "Way After Midnight" for release on Sun 205, registering their copyrights with BMI that May. Sam assigned Sun master numbers to the two titles (U 118 and U 119), but the record did not appear with the May batch of Sun discs. By July, the first record by Elvis Presley had been released on Sun 209 and Phillips was too busy promoting his hot new property to release Love's disc. It was the beginning of the end for most blues and rhythm and blues singers at Sun and particularly so for Love who had a reputation for unreliability. Phillips told Martin Hawkins: "Billy Love was a supergood musician but he didn't have the gut desire to succeed. Not that he didn't want to, but I didn't have time to waste and I think Billy's problem was lack of patience and devotion to what he was doing. He played well but there is a kind of dedication and belief in your music that extends beyond the doors of the studio. He did not have that."

One more session was recorded at the Sun studio, resulting in "Blues Leave Me Alone" and the promotional record "Hart's Bread Boogie" for the Hart's bakery in Memphis (released on Harts H B-66). Pat Hare played guitar on that session; Billy played piano on Hare's "I'm Gonna Murder My Baby" (recorded May 14, 1954, originally unreleased).

Around this time Love had joined Rosco Gordon's band and he spent a good part of the 1954-1956 years travelling with Gordon, who re-signed with Sun in 1956 (that's Billy playing piano on "Shoobie Oobie"). In 1957 Love disappeared from Memphis and nobody knew where he had gone. It later turned out that he had relocated to Colorado Springs, playing at Duncan's Cotton Club. He was still living there when he got in trouble with the law in January 1974, accused of selling heroin and possessing an illegal weapon, but apparently this did not lead to a jail sentence.

Love's luck ran out the next year. Milton Morse (Billy ''Red'') Love passed away on Friday May 2, 1975 and was buried at the Memphis National Cemetery. "Drank himself to death", according to Rosco Gordon. (MH)

Original Sun Recordings licensed from Sun Entertainment, Inc.



Bear Family Records BCD 17122 BR
2-CD mini-box (CD-size) with 68-page booklet
Genre: rock and roll
Tracks 79
Playing Time 148:59

Billy Riley is a classic figure from Sun’s golden age. The set contains outtakes of every one of Riley's Sun singles, 78 tracks with studio chatter and previously unreleased recordings. Includes a lavishly illustrated booklet with previously unpublished photos, revised and expanded Sun discography and track-by-track commentaries. A fascinating behind-the-scenes look at recording in the SUN studio during the 1950s. The most complete and detailed look at Billy Riley's Sun career is now available only on Bear Family Records.

Billy Riley is one of the unsung heroes of rockabilly. To many collectors, Riley's six Sun singles, issued between 1956 and 1959, guarantee him charter membership in rockabilly heaven. Forget the fact that Riley never had a national hit record. Songs like ''Red Hot'' and ''Flying Saucer Rock And Roll'' enshrine Riley as one of the founding fathers of rock and roll. That assessment is shared by record collectors, historians and Bob Dylan, who paid public tribute to Billy Riley and performed with him in 1992. This unprecedented boxed set brings together virtually every Billy Riley outtake of the 12 sides originally released by the SUN label in the 1950s. It offers the deepest look yet at Billy Riley's recording activity in the historic Memphis studio. Taken together, this set and Bear Family's 2-CD release of ''Classic Billy Riley'' offer the most complete look at Billy Riley at Sun Records ever to be released. This boxed set also includes a lavishly illustrated booklet featuring never-before seen photos of Riley at work in the studio and on tour with his backup group, the Little Green Men. It also includes a revised and expanded Sun discography, detailed track-by-track commentaries, and new interview material by Sun historian Hank Davis. Its 78 tracks include revealing studio chatter and offer a deep, behind-the- scenes look at life in the Sun studio. This is a set that no fan of Billy Riley or vintage Sun Records can be without.

BILLY RILEY - Billy Riley only had six records issued under his own name on Sun Records. Sparse as his output may haven been, in rockabilly annals he remains a titan. His recordings of "Flyin' Saucer Rock And Roll" and "Red Hot" are by themselves sufficient to ensure his immortality. The other recordings - both issued and unissued - are evidence of a man with catholic taste and talents versatile enough to match them. Riley a product of Irish and Cherokee ancestry, born on October 5, 1933 in Pocohontas, Arkansas although the family moved often throughout the rural Mid-South. "Back when I was a kid growing up, we lived on a plantation with mostly black people on it. Every Saturday and every Sunday you could usually find a little group of dudes under the trees playing blues. A white guy, Tommy Hamblin, who came from a family of string musicians, taught me how to play three or four chords on the guitar. We started playing with the black musicians, going the blues with them. He and I man, we were black as the rest of' em".

Billy Riley had bought a Sears-Roebuck Silvertone guitar at the age of nine from his girlfriend. "She had lost interest in the instrument after it had been sprayed by the termite control people. So I bought it off her, refinished it and learned how to play it". By that time he had already mastered the harmonica, an instrument that his father had taught him.

The family grew up in what can only described as abject poverty. "We lived in a tent. A big ol' Army tent. My dad put a floor in it and built walls around it. Then he built two log cabin rooms adjoining - kitchen and dining room". Billy Riley dropped out of school at age 10 and started working to help support the family. In common with every other family in the vicinity, the Riley's owned neither records nor a phonograph. Electricity was uncommon in rural areas at that time but battery radios were available and very popular. Riley fondly recalls listening to and being influenced by Hank Williams and Lefty Frizzell via the radio in the late 1940s. However, he heard no blues on the radio as the advent of black radio programming was still a few years distant.

One of the seasonal highlights for the Rileys and neighboring families was the traveling tent shows. The cost was 25c. "We wouldn't see them if they were too far away", Riley recalled, "cause we had no car. About the only way we could get to any place was to walk or find a ride".

Halfway through his thirteenth year, Billy Riley's family left the plantation in Arkansas and headed southeast to Tupelo, Mississippi bringing their tent with them. Riley's father was working as a painter but after a year with work at a premium the family pulled up roots again and headed back to Arkansas - this time to Osceola. While in Tupelo though, Riley had made his first public appearance, performing live on radio station WELO. In 1948 Billy Riley tried to enlist in the armed services. Only 15 years of age, he was rejected. By 1949 the family had moved back to Pocohontas although his sister stayed in Osceola. Riley tried again to enlist and with his sister signing the necessary papers attesting that he was 18 (Riley had no birth certificate), he became an employee of Uncle Sam.

For Riley, the Army was just a way out of grinding rural poverty although he eventually saw some benefits: "While I was in the service I got more interested in music because I won some talent shows at the service club". Playing in these talent shows, singing hard country music along the lines defined by Hank Williams, Lefty Frizzell and Hank Thompson, Riley first performed in a full band context. He was even offered a position in Special Services but surprisingly turned it down due to stage fright. During his hitch in the service, he made his first private recordings including the Hank Williams weeper "My Son Calls Another Man Daddy".

It is unclear exactly how long Billy Riley spent in the service. He recalled to Bill Millar that he returned briefly to civilian life and then re-enlisted for three years. In any event, Riley probably found himself back in civilian duds around 1953 or 1954.

Music was now much more than a hobby and upon discharge he joined a couple of country bands that worked in and around Jonesboro, Arkansas - C.D. Tennyson and the Happy Valley Boys and the KBTM Ranch Boys. While supporting himself and his first wife with a day job in a shoe factory, Billy Riley could be heard regularly on three local radio stations - KBMT and KNEX in Jonesboro and KRLA in Paragould. Both the bands with whom Riley worked taped their shows on Sunday for broadcast during the week. At the same time, Riley together with the bassist and the bassist's wife from the KBTM Ranch Boys rose early in the morning to perform live on a gospel show.

Not making a lot of money in the shoe factory or with his music, Riley was talked into moving to Memphis by his brother-in-law. Together they opened a restaurant and Riley briefly forsook music. After the restaurant failed, Billy Riley worked as a meat cutter and than as a truck driver for Industrial Coverall. "That's when my mind was on music. When I wrecked that truck I was singing 'Trouble Bound'. I worked there until I wrecked two trucks".

Riley joined Slim Wallace's Dixie Ramblers. Wallace was a local truck driver who played bass in a band which also featured Jack Clement, then attending Memphis State University. Wallace and Clement got the notion to start a record label, Fernwood Records, named after the street upon which Wallace lived. The studio was a primitive affair, literally situated in his garage.

The Dixie Ramblers consisted of Roland "Slim" Wallace, Jack Clement, Billy Riley, Wayne McGinnis and Ramon Maupin, they played straight ahead hard country music, mostly on the weekends. Its interesting to note Riley's first playing experience - at least on guitar - was with black blues musicians on the plantation where he lived with his parents. yet, up to this point in his semi-pro career, he had only publicly played country music. As with many other future rockabillies he never realized that he had an option. He was white, therefore if he wanted to play music, he played country. That was simply what white Southern musicians did. Riley explained: "After hearing Elvis and seeing what was happening, a lot of us guys got away from the country stuff. We wanted to get with what was happening. When it was new it was something completely different from what anybody had ever done. It was something that fit me because it sounded black. It was still country but it had that black feel and that was what I wanted. It was something I was brought up on". After Billy Riley had played a couple of months with the Dixie Ramblers, Jack Clement had the idea that the first release on Fernwood should be by Billy Riley. Surprisingly in view of Riley's growing infatuation with the new music, the Dizie Ramblers first attempted a country song, a Riley original entitled "Think Before You Go". At that point the group consisted of Riley, Wallace, Bob Deckelman on steel guitar and a fiddle player.

They recorded two songs, "Trouble Bound" and "Think Before You Go". in a primitive studio Clement had built in Wallace's garage. Clement took the masters to Sam Phillips, who responded to the eerie, bluesy intensity of "Trouble Bound" and offered a job to Clement and a contract to Riley. Sam Phillips counseled against releasing the countrified "Think Before You Go", so Riley concocted a rockabilly novelty, "Rock With Me Baby", that he recorded at the WMPS studio in Memphis. Purchasing the masters from Fernwood, Sam Phillips issued Riley's debut single in May 1956.

With a record on the market, Riley needed to put a band together, Clement was too busy at Sun to be playing clubs and Bernero had always been temporary. That left only guitarist Roland Janes. Riley and Janes had met a teenage drummer, J.M. Van Eaton, when Van Eaton had been down at Sun with another group. He was quickly drafted into the fold, as was upright bassist Marvin Pepper. By the end of 1956, Riley's group had been co-opted as the house band at Sun Records.

After a four year involvement with Sun, Riley decided to quit again, Jack Clement and Bill Justis had been dismissed in early 1959. Both started their own labels. Riley did some work for Justis, cutting an instrumental record pseudonymously for Jaro/Top Rank under the name "Spitfires". By this point he had reunited with Roland Janes and they held down a steady gig at the Starlight Club in Memphis. It was there that they came up with the idea for Rita Records settled in the old Sun studio.

One of the first moves was to bring Harold Dorman to the label. Dorman had been languished around town since 1856, trying to hustle a deal for himself and his writing partner Wiley Gann. Riley and Janes took Dorman and Gann to the Hi studio, paid Jack Clement to handle the board and emerged with "Mountain Of Love" which became a nationwide hit in 1960.

Rita Records was a short-lived venture and Riley's involvement in it was even shorter. Commercially, none of Riley's records had much impact. Sam Phillips has more than once lamented this fact, stating that he does not understanding why Riley never broke through. To Riley though, its simple: "Jerry Lee and Sam got too this what happened to me".

Through the 1960s and 1970s, Riley persevered in the music business. He recorded under his own name and a host of pseudonyms including the Megatrons, the Rockin' Stockings and Sandy & the Sandstones. The list of labels for whom he recorded is even longer. He even achieved a small breakthrough on the Entrance label in 1972 with the Chips Moman produced "I Got A Thing About You Baby" that later Elvis covered. Immediately preceding his deal with Entrance, Riley had returned to the re-born Sun label owned by Shelby Singleton in Nashville, launching it in fine style with "Kay". Both "Kay" and "Red Hot" were - in their way - definitive performances but the gulf between them highlighted Riley's real problem: he lacked an identifiable style. With all the talent in the world, Riley would not stick in one groove long enough to reap the rewards. His versatility was his greatest asset and his greatest drawback.

Since 1983 Billy Riley has refused to gig, recorded little and released nothing. If the right offer under the right conditions came along he would probably give it one last go-round. In the meantime, he supports himself as a contractor, rarely dwelling upon his impressive - if less than successful - past. All of us involved with this project revere Billy Riley for his music. When Joyce met Billy on April 11, 1975, she knew nothing about Billy's music or Sun Records. She fell in love with a hard-working man who was raising two daughters, ages 3 and 6, by himself. Only later did Joyce discover the music featured here. Joyce and Billy were married just about two weeks after they met, on April 26, 1975. Joyce was still with Billy 34 years later when he died of colon cancer on August 2, 2009. The final years of Billy's life were a medical and,consequently, a financial nightmare. (HD) (SP)

Orginal Sun Recordings licensed from Sun Entertainment, Inc.



Bear Family Records BCD 17277 AH
1 CD digipac with 48-page booklet
Genre: Rhythm and Blues
Tracks 33
Playing Time 87:27

Contains all the sessions for Sun Records and singles made by Bill Yates in Memphis at the turn of the 1960's and an astonishing collection of unknown and unissued sides. Includes the three renowned Sun singles by one of the very best, bluesy and soulful, white vocalists ever to appear on that label, together with 12 unissued tracks! Plus the three very rare singles on IST and Pixie Records. In addition, there are seven unissued sides made for the Home Of The Blues label in Memphis. In a 48-page booklet, writer Martin Hawkins brings together the untold story of Bill Yates and his music with rare photographs!

Bill Yates had a background in gospel music and was an exceptional vocalist and a good pianist. During his time in Memphis, he worked on the edge between the emerging rhythm and blues/soul sound of the city and the late night blues and ballads of the day. His story is told here for the first time. Apart from his three renowned Sun singles, this music is incredibly rare and a welcome addition to the picture of Memphis music at the turn of the 1960s. Bill Yates worked a lot with the Billy Adams band, and there is a companion CD (BCD 17116) containing Billy Adams' part in the story. Note: There are other artists named Bill Yates in the rock and roll history books, principally a bluegrass player, but in Memphis music there was only one Bill Yates.

BILL YATES - He was known as Bill Yates in Memphis and on almost of his records, but he was born Billy Vance Yates on December 21, 1936 in Columbus, Georgia. His father, Hubert Vance Yates, was born in Mississippi around 1912 and his mother, Kitty, sic years younger, came from Oklahoma. Hubert was a traveling evangelist who seems to have moved regularly between the area around Columbus, the north Carolinas, and northern Mississippi. At the time of the 1940 census the family was living on Desota Avenue in Kannapolis, North Carolina. Hubert was listed as H.B. Yates employed at the YMCA in an athletic capacity. Billy Vance Yates was the oldest of three children born in Columbus (though, strangely, in a census arror he was recorded as Billy Vance Yates, female). His brother, Leonard Charles, was a couple of years younger and his sister, Carolyn, was a further year younger.

These three would be joined in September 1943 by their new young brother, Hubert Vance Yates Jr., known as Vance, born in Kannapolis. ''All three brothers and their sister were interested in music and they all had a natural ability to sing and play'', report Charles Yates' sons, Rusty and Jeff, who are Billy's nephews and musicians themselves. Rusty told Martin Hawkins: ''Their father was a roving evangelist, and the family all sang in church right from the beginning. That was their introduction to music. The family was always traveling, but they spent a lot of time in north Mississippi nor far from Memphis. They were living in Mississippi when they formed a kids' gospel group in church. Charles, Bill and Carolyn were three members, and at one point they drafted in the pre-teen Elvis Presley who went to the same church when Hubert was preaching near Tupelo. The boys all stayed in tough with Elvis in later years''.

Trough the 1950s, the Reverend Hubert Yates was based in Columbus, according to the annual City Directories, and it seems that Billy Vance Yates spent most of his teenage years there, honing his musical skills and planning a life as a touring musician. Rusty Yates said, ''In Georgia, Uncle Bill grew up as a natural piano player. But he could play great harmonica and he could play guitar too. Hoe could just do it. He started to play at various places there, and later Uncle Vance started to play with him too''. The events of those years are a little unclear but guitarist James Lucky Ward (who later played with Elvis Presley, Barbi Benton and Janis Joplin) remembered as a teenager, ''toiling in drifter bands behind now-obscure headliners like Hugh Lee Ott, Billy Vance Yates, briefly touted as the white Ray Charles, and Curley Money at Georgia clubs like the Chansaw.

Ward played with Money on an unissued Sun session that included ''Chainsaw Charlie''. Local news ads show that Billy Yates and Vance Yates played all along the Georgia coast and into Alabama ant it is likely that Billy made his recording debut as pianist with Jerry Lott who, as The Phantom, recorded the frantic rocker, ''Love Me'' in Mobile in 1958. The record came out on Dot Records and Lott later told Derek Glenister: ''I'm telling you, it was wild. The drummer lost one of his sticks, the guitar player's glasses were hanging sideways over his eyes, and the piano player screamed and knocked his stool over''.

By the time Bill Yates had already met and hung out with the big name piano pounder of the era, Jerry Lee Lewis, According to Rusty: ''Uncle Bill moved to Memphis sometime around the mid-1950s. Bill and Vance moved there together. He told me they flat broke and they slept in a car, or in fields by the roadside, just so they could save enough money to get somewhere to stay. They got to know Billy Adams and Uncle Bill and Billy Adams went out on tour with Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis and others from Memphis. They traveled around in a big old hearse at one tome, Bill told me Jerry Lee Lewis was very unreliable and sometimes he'd be the headliner but when the show started he would not be there, so Bill would go out and do the show for him, Bill could play piano just like Jerry Lee''.

In May 1959, Billy Yance Yates was married in Mobile, Alabama to Mary Giles. According to Rusty, ''Uncle Bill and Mary had sons, Dusty (Hubert), and Leslie, and daughters, Tanya and Denise, but in the end Bill didn't stay with Mary''. It seems that Bill was always off on the road somewhere, working in Memphis or elsewhere. By 1961 he had his eyes on Hollywood. The Columbus, Georgia Ledge-Enquirer of July 2, 1961 reported: ''Youths Join Presley Group For Hollywood: Two Columbus youths, Vance Yates Jr., and Bill Vance Yates, have joined the entourage of rock and roll singer Elvis Presley and will soon leave Memphis for Hollywood, where Presley is due to make another movie. Vance Yates Jr. was in Columbus yesterday for a few days before rejoining the band which accompanies Presley at his personal appearance and on recording dates. Young Yates plays the bass fiddle in the four-man band. His brother, Billy Vance, is a bodyguard for Presley''. Rusty Yates confirmed: ''Bill did spend time as Elvis's bodyguard. Bill was a big guy. Bill was always around Elvis and his friends. My father Charles was later in the Speer Quartet, who worked with Elvis, but the one who was closest to him though was Uncle Vance. When Elvis became famous and used to hire out whole movie theatres, then Bill and Vance would always be right there with him. In 1960, when I was about 6 months old, my dad was recording at RCA in Nashville with the Speer Quartet and Elvis came along to listen one day, because he loved that music. Elvis picked me up and said something like ''what a fine boy I was – and then I threw up on him. That's the story anyway''. While Billy and Vance were following the gospel and rhythm and blues or rock and roll, their brother Charles had become a member of the Prophets Quartet, originally from Knoxville, and the famous country gospel group, the Speer Family. Later, during the 1970s, Charles was in Elvis Presley's touring show and after that the Masters Five alongside gospel greats J.D. Sumner and Hovie Lister.

Despite his occasional trips away with the Presley entourage, Bill Yates' bread and butter work remained in Memphis. He had a regular gig at the 5 gables Club in the late 1950s where he formed a band known as the T-Birds. Then he hooked up again with drummer Billy Adams, who had just come of the road in 1961 to form a band. Adams band had the resident at Hernando's Hide-A-Way at 3210 Old Hernando Road in south Memphis, a nightclub of some note where the band gave exposure to many up-and-coming Memphis musicians. Rusty Yates remembered visiting his uncle Bill there: ''I know Bill played with Billy Adams a lot. As a boy, about 4 or 5 years old. I remember being taken to a club where Adams had his drums set up, probably the Hide-A-Way, and I sat on Adams' lap and he helped me to play the drums. I remember that we''.

Other regular members of the Adams band where bass player Jesse Carter, guitarist Lee Adkins, multiinstrumentalist Gene Parker, and saxophonist Russ Carlton. Jesse Carter remembered: ''I met Bill Yates at the 5 Gables Club when he was playing as a single on South Bellevue. When he later moved to the Hide-A-Away we played together there and then he joined with Adams, and then I did too. His brother Vance Yates would play with us sometimes. He was a great vocalist and bassist, a good man. Bill Yates was a real character, but he also had a great voice and was a good entertainer. He could always liven the crowd up when he came along. He was a great piano player. He came from somewhere around Macon, Georgia and his dad was a Holiness preacher. The family was all into gospel singing. I think that's where he got his presence from, his projection of a song. But he was a shady character – he was unreliable, he might just disappear for a white''.

So by 1961, Bill Yates had learned his trade and become part of a band whose musicians were wellrespected and becoming regulars at the recording studios around town. The next step for him was surely to get a recording contract for himself. The established label in Memphis was Sun, followed by the emerging operations at Hi, Stax,or Fernwood. Other smaller fly-by-night labels came and went but one that looked promising had just been operated by Ruben Cherry, and named Home Of The Blues after Cherry's local record store.

All through the time he was recording at Sun, Bill Yates worked with the Bill Adams group at Charles Foren's Hernando's Hide-A-Way club, and when Foren established the new Vapors Supper Club on Brooks Road in south Memphis in 1969 Yates ans Adams moved there. By that time, Adams had set up a booking agency, Memphis Artists Attractions, booking Yates and many others locally and across the Holiday Inn network. Memphis's Key TV Guide for April 1973 captured the local scene, carrying ads for the Admiral Benbow lounge – ''Billy Adams' Show and Danceband plays nightly except Sunday... Bill Yates pianist, plays at cocktail time Mon-Fr'' – and for the Downtowner Motor Inn. On Union Avenue – ''the Billy Yates Trio appears from 8 to 1 six nights a week''. That year Adams and Yates were competing with other entertainment, dinning and dancing options that included Linda Ann, vivacious blonde, playing at the Casino Lounge, Eddie Bond and his TV Stompers at the E B Ranch, Charlie Freeman at the Admiral Benbow Club Lounge, Jesse Lopez (brother of Trini Lopez) at the Rivermont Holiday Inn, and Larry Garrett and Lee Adkins at the Vapors''.

Eventually, Bill's absences from Memphis grew permanent. At some point, he and Vance Yates worked as the Yates Brothers on shows booked out of Nashville by the Wil-Helm Talent Agency formed by Don Helms and the Wilburn Brothers. It is not clear how long this lasted but it is likely the Yates boys wound up in Las Vegas. By the close of the 1970s Bill Yates had settled there. He lived at various addresses in Vegas through the 1980s, including Ramona Circle and Karen Avenue. His nephew, Rusty confirmed: ''Bill spent a lot of time playing music in the west, especially Las Vegas, from the late 1970s through the 1980s. He was an actor too, and he was an extra and stuntman in the movies. I remembered seeing him in his western gear, mainly westerns. But I remember one time when Batman was in big in the movies they hired Bill to make personal a ppearances at movie theatres as Batman. He'd go in there and leap around and play the part. That was back in the 1960s''.

When Bill Yates moved west, his sister Carolyn was also singing in lounges across the country including venues in Vegas and Lake Tahoe. Working as Carol Lee through the 1960s and 1970s, her publicity noted that she was from the backwoods of Georgia and her singing had ''journeyed from the church to the club to concerts'' but that she was ''an entertainer first of all'', singing from songbooks as diverse as Sinatra and Ray Charles. She also sang country, not least her own song ''I Won't Mention It Again'' that stayed at number 1 for thirteen weeks when recorded by Ray Price.

It was from Vegas that Bill Yates contacted his nephew Rusty, a budding musician, in 1979: ''I was nearly 20 years old and working for my dad, who wanted me to go into the service. But then Uncle Bill called from Las Vegas and invited me to come out and play music with him there. In January 1980, I arrived and I was expecting to play piano, which was my instrument. But he pointed me to the drum kit and I said I should get on the drums. He needed a drummer. So I did that for a year at the King 8 Casino and then after that I did it a couple years more. The King 8 had opened in 1974 on Tropicana Avenue off the southern end of Vegas' main strip. It was a decent enough venue, if not quite the standard of the International where Elvis Presley had held sway for many years. Bill played little of Presley's music but after Presley died in 1977 Bill recorded four songs: ''Elvis We Miss You'', ''Golden Guitar'', ''Poor But Proud'', and ''Number One Country Music Star''. The recordings were a mix of blues, gospel, and country influences with story lyrics and an intense, conversational vocal style.

They were of their time and perhaps typical of part of the Yates act of the day. Rusty Yates said: ''When we were in Vegas, Uncle Bill would play an amazing range of music on piano. He'd play like Liberace and then he'd play like Fats Domino and then he would play George Shearing or some ragtime. He could play it all. He would play his own songs too, sometimes, thing like the ''M&Ms'' song and ''Big Big World'' that was written by his friend Red West''. Al least two of Yates' later recordings were issued. A label called Memphis Country Sights And Sound issued ''Poor But Proud'' and ''Greatest Star Of All'', one an in-vogue nostalgic country song and the other an imaginative tribute to Hank Williams where Yates buys the car Hank took his last journey in. It would make sense that the Elvis tribute was also issued but a copy of that disc is still to be found.

The Las Vegas marriage records show that Billy Vance Yates was married twice in the city of the quick ceremony. On July 20, 1985 he married May Elizabeth Nolan and on April 14, 1989 he married Cathy Lynn West. Rusty Yates confirmed: ''Bill didn't stay with Mary when he went away to Vegas. He married there twice but they didn't last. He didn't talk to his first wife for years and didn't stay in touch with his children at that time''.

According to Rusty, ''Uncle Bill spent a lot of time out west. After he left Vegas, then he went to Pinedale, Wyoming in the early 1990s. At that time in life he became a ''mountain man'' going on trips into the wilderness and living that kind of life. He and William Golden from the Oak Ridge Boys would do that together sometimes. They's disappear off and live in the hills and made their own leather gear and that sort of things''. In July 2000, the Sublette County Journal carried a feature on an event called the Quick Draw, where local artists and sculptors created works on the spot, using local people and scenes as their inspiration. Their journalist wrote: ''As I stepped up to take a picture of one artist at work, I noticed that the lump of clay before her looked and awful lot like the mountain man who was watching her work. The artist introduced herself as Joyce Killebrew from Sedona, Arizona; then the mountain man spoke. Bill Yates is from Memphis, Tennessee, and had worked with Elvis for six years as a piano player. He then playfully scolded me for taking his picture when he didn't have his teeth in''.

The Quick Draw occurred at about the time Bill Yates' health started to nosedive. Rusty said, ''There came a time in Wyoming when Uncle Bill was in failing health. He had diabetes, and someone contacted my dad and said that he needed to be looked after and so his family brought him back to Louisiana. Then he got into contact with his first wife and children again in Mississippi. He had lost both legs and was very ill''. Bill moved to Forrest near Hattiesburg, Mississippi and his daughter Denise Nugend, said ''We were estranged for many years before his illness but I convinced him to move closer to his children. He passed away in 2007 after a long illness''. The Wayne County News reported, ''Graveside funeral service for Bill Yates, 70, of Hattiesburg, were held on Saturday, December 8, 2007, at the Isney (Ala) Cemetery. Born Dec. 21, 1936, Yates was a musician. He died on Wednesday, Dec. 5, 2007, at Forrest General Hospital in Hattiesburg''.

To Rusty Yates, ''Uncle Bill was as good a musician as you'd ever hear. He always had places to play in Memphis and in Vegas. But he would just get a hankering yo go and do something else. Wherever he was, he'd just take off from there. Uncle Vance was exactly the same way''.

Of the singing Yates family, Charles Yates is the survivor and still an accomplished gospel singer. Vance Yates died in Corpus Christi, Texas in 2012, aged 68. His nephew said, ''He was in very bad health – the conduct of his earlier life caught up with him''. Their sister Carolyn died aged 44, in 1983. But there is a new generation of the musical Yates family. Charles's sons Rusty and Jeff run the Rusty Yates Band out of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Rusty grew up singing in church where his grandfather preached. He plays keyboards and sings, like his uncle Bill, and has a repertoire that includes a nod to Ray Charles, like his uncle Vance. (MH)

Original Sun Recordings licensed from Sun Entertainment, Inc.



Bear Family Records BCD 17240 ER
5 CD Mini-Box Digipac with 132-page booklet
Genre: Rockabilly / Rock And Roll
Tracks 152
Playing Time 359:54

152 tracks and 45 separate songs. Outtakes from all of Carl's Sun era recordings in one place! Everything from Carl's earliest hillbilly titles through his final recording for the film ''Jamboree''. Contains previous unissued titles and outtakes of almost all known songs. Lavishly illustrated booklet contains previously unpublished vintage photos. Complete up-to-date discography. Detailed track-by-track music commentary. Previously unpublished interviews with Carl's son Stan, and drummer W.S. Holland.

Carl Perkins was the best guitar player who ever set foot in the Sun studio. He was no slouch as a singer and song writer also. Until Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis became megastars, nobody, and that includes Elvis, sold more records at Sun than Carl Perkins. But Carl was so much more than ''Blue Suede Shoes''. In addition to eight singles and an album's worth of material, Carl left behind a treasure trove of recorded material consisting of unissued titles and studio outtakes. Many of these tracks have appeared over the years but, incredibly, there were still vintage recordings awaiting discovery. Here present them for the first time, along with every known Carl Perkins outtake from the Sun era. Finally. it's all here in one place, along with some delicious moments of studio chatter, false starts and song fragments. You've never heard Carl like this before.

Bear Family also offer some memorable home recordings from the Sun era, some of them previously unissued. They show Carl playing and singing in the privacy of his own living room. The accompanying liner notes written by Sun historians Hank Davis and Scott Parker provide extensive song-by-song commentary to bring you even closer to the music. The booklet also includes rare photos, and revealing and previously unpublished interviews with Carl's son Stan Perkins and drummer W.S. ''Fluck'' Holland.

CARL PERKINS - Rock and Roll and Rockabilly Pioneer. Although Perkins is closely associated with his current hometown of Jackson, Tennessee, he was born in the far northwest corner of the state, close to the banks of the Mississippi. His birth certificate gives his parents address as Route 1, Ridgely County, Tiptonville, Tennessee, and their names as Fonie "Buck" Perkins and Louise Brantley. Their second child, born on April 9, 1932, was christened Carl Lee Perkins. The misspelling of the family name suggest that the literacy of government employees was barely a notch higher than that of the people they were cataloging. It was the height of the Depression, and Buck Perkins was a sharecropper without a market. The family lived first in a three-room shack and then in a one-room storehouse. The kids in the neighbourhood brought castoff clothes for the Perkins brothers, and Carl has often told the story of how kid asked for his pants back after Carl had tackled him in a football game.

Music entered Carl Perkins life from two directions: the Grand Ole Opry from Nashville, and a black sharecropper from across the field. The black sharecropper was named John Weststrook (or Westbrooks), and Perkins called him Uncle John. "He used to sit out on the front porch at night", Perkins told Lenny Kaye, "with a gallon bucket full of coal oil rags that he'd burn to keep the mosquitoes off him, and I'd ask my daddy if I could go to Uncle John's and hear him pick some".

In the same way that Perkins rarely sings a song the way twice, he never seems to tell a story exactly the same way. In some versions, Uncle John gives Carl his guitar on a Saturday and dies the following Wednesday. Shortly after the end of World War II, Buck Perkins moved his family to Bemis, Tennessee, where his brothers worked in the cotton mills. Buck was refused a job in the mills because of his deteriorating lungs, and the Perkins family went back to sharecropping, although by this time they had a house with electricity and a refrigerator. Perkins soon found a use for the electricity when he bought a cheap Harmony electric guitar and plugged it in.

Although he will generally claim to have no direct influences, Carl Perkins' style was obviously formed by listening to the guitarists who worked on the Opry. In particular, he remembers "Butterball" Page, who played single-strings leads with Ernest Tubb for a few years in the late 1940s. Another important influence was probably Arthur Smith, whose 1946 hit "Guitar Boogie" influenced a generation of pickers and set a new standard for sheer technique.

And then there was the blues. It's unlikely that Perkins was allowed to listen to the rhythm and blues stations, but he never forgot the lessons that Uncle John had taught him. The choices of venues available to the brothers was limited, virtually confined to church socials and honky-tonks; the Perkins Brothers Band gravitated naturally toward the latter. Jay Perkins handled some of the vocals, singing in a rough-hewn voice modeled on Ernest Tubb. But it was Carl who was both principal vocalist and lead guitarist. By 1954 their repertoire included a fair sampling of hillbilly standards, "Always Late (With Your Kisses", "Jealous Heart", "Honky-Tonk Blues", and the inevitable "Lovesick Blues"; there was also a little pop music, in the shape of "I'll Walk Alone".

The reason revolves around Carl Perkins and the nature of his music. By 1954 Perkins had evolved a unique style. It was not pure honky tonk music but a hybrid that borrowed much in terms of feeling, phrasing and rhythm from black music. "I just speeded up some of the slow blues licks", said Carl. "I put a little speed and rhythm to what Uncle John had slowed down. That's all. That's what rockabilly music or rock and roll was to begin with; a country man's song with a black man's rhythm. Someone once said that everything's been done before, and it has. It's just a question of figuring out a good mixture of it to sound original".

One of his first moves was to bring in a drummer. Drums, of course, were forbidden on the Grand Ole Opry but Perkins decided that he needed them to reinforce the rhythm and keep it danceable. His first drummer was Tony Austin, who would later record at Sun but lasted no more than a few gigs in 1953. He was replaced by W.S. "Fluck" Holland who was originally from Saltillo, Mississippi but had gone to school in Jackson with Clayton Perkins. He bought a set of Brecht drums and habituated many of the black bars in town because, as a drummer working in country music, he had few role models.

Between 1953 and 1955 music provided nothing more than a small addition to Perkins' income from the Colonial Bakery in Jackson. The honky tonks paid $2.00-3.00 a night but enabled the Perkins brothers to hone their music and cultivate their drinking habits at minimal cost.

On January 24, 1953 Carl Perkins married Valda Crider from Corinth, Mississippi. They moved to a government housing project in Jackson as the children started appearing. However, Valda encouraged Carl to work on his music and try for a career in entertainment. As Perkins observed, there were many country boys who were playing with a blues feel and working on the hybrid that later became known as rockabilly music. One of those who had independently worked up a similar style of course, was Elvis Presley. "The first time I heard Elvis was when my wife was in the kitchen", recalled Perkins to Dave Booth, "and she said, 'Carl, that sounds just like y'all. Hearing him do "Blue Moon Of Kentucky" set a flame afire in me and oddly enough I'd been doing that song too".

A few weeks later, the Perkins Brothers Band headed for Memphis. The office manager, Marion Keisker, apparently told them to go away but they met Sam Phillips on the street outside the studio. Carl Perkins first recorded for Flip Records, a nonunion subsidiary label of Sun Records. His first release was "Movie Magg" (FLIP 501), recorded on January 22, 1955. Carl Perkins first met Elvis Presley in Bethel Springs, Tennessee, in 1954, where Perkins was playing a club. Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley appeared together in Memphis on November 13, 1955. Perkins recorded his composition "Blue Suede Shoes"/"Honey Don't" (SUN 234) on December 19, 1955. On March 27, 1956, Perkins was injured in an automobile accident that took the life of his brother and manager Jay. Disc jockey David Steward fell asleep at the wheel while the band was en route to New York City to appear on TV's "Ed Sullivan Show" and "The Perry Como Show", which would have given them national exposure. At the time of the accident, Perkins' version of "Blue Suede Shoes" are released on January 1, 1956, reached on February 18, 1956 for 24 weeks on the Country charts peaked at number 1; on March 3, 1956, "Blue Suede Shoes" reached for 21 weeks on the Billboard Most Played In Juke Boxes chart peaked at number 2 for 4 weeks; on March 10, 1956 the number reached two on the Billboard Hot 100 charts; and peaked for 16 weeks on the Rhythm and Blues charts for 4 weeks at number 2. After the accident he was taken to the General Hospital in Dover, Delaware, where he received a Western Union telegram from Elvis Presley on March 28, 1956, that read: "We were all shocked and very sorry to hear of the accident. I know what it is for I had a few bad ones myself. If I can help you in any way please call me. I will be at the Warwick Hotel in New York City. Our wishes are for a speedy recovery for you and the other boys. Sincerely Elvis Presley, Bill Black, Scotty Moore, and D.J. Fontana".

From 1954 to 1957, Carl Perkins and his band, recorded several brilliant recordings for Sun Records as follow, "Movie Magg"/"Turn Around" (Flip 501) 1954, "Let The Jukebox Keep On Playing"/"Gone, Gone, Gone" (SUN 224) 1955, "Blue Suede Shoes"/"Honey Don't" (SUN 234) 1955, "Sure To Fall"/"Tennessee" (SUN 235) 1955, "Boppin' The Blues"/"All Mama's Children" (SUN 243) 1956, "Dixie Fried"/"I'm Sorry I'm Not Sorry" (SUN 249) 1956, "You're True Love"/"Matchbox" (SUN 261) 1956, "That's Right"/"Forever Yours" (SUN 274), and "Lend Me Your Comb"/"Glad All Over" (SUN 287) 1957.

In 1957 his last single hit the market, Carl Perkins had quit Sun Records. He and Johnny Cash had been approached by Don Law from Columbia Records in August 1957 who proposed that both artists move to Columbia. An agreement in principle was signed with Columbia in November 1957 and the contract was dated January 25, 1958. With his career as a rock singer fading fast, Carl Perkins turned back to the honky tonks. He also turned to the bottle. His alcoholism was precipitated by the death of his older brother Jay from a malignant brain tumor on October 22, 1958. 1959 was the last year in which Carl Perkins entertained serious hopes of recapturing his place in the sun. Later in 1959 W.S. Holland quit the line-up. He tried managing Carl Mann for a while and then opted for the security of playing drums behind Johnny Cash. By this point, Perkins had stated working long stints in Las Vegas which would hardly seem to be his natural habitat. In August 1963, Carl Perkins signed a two-year contract with Decca Records and recorded four titles in Nashville where MOR, country had co-opted rockabilly beyond recognition. The session got off to a sluggish start with two of the least exciting songs in the Perkins canon. On June 1, 1964 is historically resonant, Perkins attended a Beatles session at Abbey Road in Liverpool where his Scouse admirers completed five takes of "Matchbox" between 2:30 and 5:30 pm.

Back in the USA, Carl Perkins worked clubs with George Morgan, Webb Pierce and Faron Young. In mid-July, he caught his left hand in the blades of an electric fan at a club in Dyersberg, Tennessee. He was taken 60 miles to hospital in Jackson while blood dripped through the floorboards of his Buick. The surgeon was persuaded not to amputate two of his fingers. In mid-October, Carl Perkins flew to London for a second tour of England. It was tabled The Rhythm and Blues Show 1964 and Carl topped the first half of a bill which included The Animals, Tommy Tucker, Elkie Brooks, Ray Cameron, The Quotations, The Nashville Teens, The Plebs and, at selected venues, Barry St. John. In 1980s, Carl Perkins still live in Jackson, Tennessee, and the part of Carl Perkins that he will leave behind consists of a handful of recordings, only a few of which were released during his tenure with Sun, but recordings that still form the bulk of his stage repertoire today. They also remain, all told, one of the landmarks of pure, carefree rock and roll. From 1965 through 1975, Carl Perkins constantly drinking alcohol and toured with Johnny Cash in the United States.

Elvis Presley, who recorded a faster version of Perkins' "Blue Suede Shoes" in 1956, was present at Perkins' recording session on December 4, 1956, when he recorded "Matchbox" (SUN 261) and other songs. That impromptu get-together was later dubbed the Million Dollar Quartet. Elvis Presley last played with Carl Perkins on July 4, 1976, for a Bicentennial concert in Memphis. After Elvis Presley's death, Carl Perkins recorded the tribute record "The Whole World Misses You" (JET 117). In 1974, Carl Perkins wrote and recorded the novelty record "The E.P. Express" (Mercury 73609) in his own rockabilly style. In 1986, Carl
Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, and Roy Orbison recorded as the group "Class Of 55" at Sun Recording Studio, 706 Union Avenue in Memphis, Tennessee, "We Remember The King" (American Smash 88142-7). RCA's Chet Atkins once remarked to Sam Phillips when Carl Perkins had the number two record in the country with "Blue Suede Shoes", "We thought for a while we bought the wrong Sun artist". In 1987, Carl Perkins was elected in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, included with Eddie Cochran, Bill Haley, Roy Orbison, and Ricky Nelson.

The Beatles recorded the following Carl Perkins compositions: "Honey Don't", flip-side of "Blue Suede Shoes", "Everybody's Trying To Be My Baby", and "Matchbox". On February 4, 1969, Jackson, Mississippi celebrated Carl Perkins Day. Carl Perkins once said of Elvis Presley, "This boy had everything. He had the looks, the moves, the manager, and the talent. And he didn't look like Mr. Ed, like a lot of us did. In the way he looked, way he talked, way he eyed, he really was different". On January 19, 1998, about 10:30 p.m., Carl Perkins died in Madison County General Hospital in Jackson, Tennessee, following a series of strokes and an extended stay in Intensive Care at the age of 65. (HD) (SP)

Original Sun Recordings licensed from Sun Entertainment, Inc.



(The Memphis Recordings and The Michigan Singles)
Bear Family Records BCD 16939 AH
1-CD digipack with 44-page booklet
Genre: Blues
Tracks 32
Playing Time 87:58

32 high quality sides by one of the iconic singers and musicians of Memphis blues and boogie, recorded when he was part of the small group scene, renowned for his prowess as a harmonica player and vocalist! Contains all the Chess and Sun singles and the unissued songs recorded by Sam Phillips in the early 1950s, including the famed ''Chicago Breakdown''! Also contains all the DIR, Fortune and HI-Q singles made in Michigan, including the equally renowned Cat Squirrel! The booklet contains rare photographs, and liner notes by Martin Hawkins!

Isaiah Ross was born in Mississippi, made his reputation as a bluesman in Memphis, then moved to Michigan emerging occasionally to perform as a one-man band. Ross was not the first to use the theme of the musical medic come to help you feel better, but Ross was one of the very best at creating highly rhythmic back country dance music and at recycling folk blues couplets, mainly drawn from the recordings of Sonny Boy Williamson, to which he added some of his own wry humour and wit. From the beginning with Sam Phillips in Memphis, his style on Chess and Sun had a freshness that sounded current and he made a surprisingly wide range of blues recordings on the Detroit labels DIR, Fortune, and HI-Q. Sam Phillips once said: "Doctor Ross had a very special sound. He had a great command of his music and a real instinct for what was going on around him. ''Chicago Breakdown'' is one of the better records I think I ever heard in my life''.

DOCTOR ROSS - With a stage name of ''Doctor'', a theme song about curing the boogie disease, and over 30 years performing as a one-man man, it's no surprise that fans, publicists and commentations built Doctor Ross into an even more clear-cut groove than he developed for himself. But back in the early 1950s, the music Ross made for Sam Phillips was not performed as a one-man band and it had a freshness that sounded current even though it was based on much older songs and styles. Doctor Ross was not the the first to use the theme of the musical medic come to help you feel better - Doctor Clayton and others got there first - but Ross was one of the best. Georgia Tom recorded some musical medic themes pre-War but Ross's take on it was the boogie - that if you wanted to hear the music, or wanted to dance, or wanted the other thing, then he was your man.

Born in Tunica, Tunica County, Mississippi, in October 21, 1925, gained his nickname in the US Army and is reference to some medical knowledge he obtained while in the service. He played for his service buddies in 1943 into 1947 in the Philippines at the Pacific Theater of Operations and frequently entertaining the troops, and in 1950 became fully professional, broadcasting over radios KFFA, WROX and finally WDIA in Memphis.

Charles Isaiah "Doctor" Ross played a guitar and a harmonica mounted on a rack around the neck while playing a bass drum and/or high hats with foot pedalsand, he played also the kazoo. Ross were at their best playing rhythmic riffs and boogie-woogie patterns, which gave a fuller sound.

Perhaps it was the surplus of country blues talent and the notorious competitiveness of the blues scene in Memphis that sustained this one-man band, for they could simulate the sound of a larger combo while being hired to perform for the price of a lone musician.

Doctor Ross grandparents were Indians, his father was Jake Ross, a farmer who played the harmonica. Ross is raised on a farm and is one of 11 children, was interested in music in the early years and learned the harmonica at the age of 6 years. Occasionally he worked at the local churches and parties in Tunica, Mississippi area in 1934 and worked with George P. Jackson at the local roadhouses and juke joint in Tunica, Mississippi in 1936.

In the late 1930s; he teamed with Willie Love to on tour with the Barber Parker Silver Kings Band and working on dances through the Mississippi Delta; worked with Wiley Galatin, or solo, at the local house parties in the Tunica area in 1942 into 1943. After the Army in 1947, Doctor Ross returned to Tunica to work outside the music on a farm and appeared on WROX-radio in Clarksdale, Mississippi in 1947, and frequently worked at the local dances, parties and picnics in the Tunica area through the end of the 1940s; appeared with his own Doc Ross and His Jump and Jive Boys on Katz Cloting Shore Show on KFFA-radio in Helena, Arkansas in 1949; worked on Owl Cafe in Helena, Arkansas in 1949; working on Hole-In-The-Wall; the Isidore's Bar; the Roger's Club and appeared with Sonny Boy Williamson II (Alex Miller) on the King Biscuit Time on KFFA-radio in Helena, Arkansas in 1950. He also appeared in 1950; with his own Doc Ross and His Jump and Jive Boys on WDIA-radio in Memphis, Tennessee.

Sam Phillips heard this broadcast and invited him to the Memphis Recording Service studio. He recorded with the Doc Ross and His Jump and Jive Boys for the Chess label in Memphis, Tennessee in 1951. Recorded for Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee from 1951 into 1954. He was heavenly influenced by Joe Hill Louis and, like him, recorded a great deal for Sam Phillips. His two singles "Come Back Baby"/"Chicago Breakdown" (SUN 193) and "The Boogie Disease"/"Jukebox Boogie" (SUN 212) sold quite well.

Doctor Ross married in 1952 and after divorce in 1954 he married that same year again. Ross have 2 children, and is influenced by De Ford, Arthur Crudup, Lonnie Glossen, George Jackson, Muddy Waters and John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson.

Ross toured with the King Biscuit Boys on workings in juke joins through the Arkansas and Missouri area in the early 1950s; appeared on KLCN-radio in Blytheville, Arkansas in 1953, and worked outside the music in Champaign, Illinois. In 1953-54, Ross appeared on the Doc Ross Show, on WDIA-radio in Memphis, Tennessee and formed the group Dr Ross and the Interns group for working on local club dates in Memphis, Tennessee in 1953 into 1954.

In 1954 into 1990s, he soon left Memphis and the music for the car plants of Flint and Detroit, Michigan often worked as one-man band in Flint, Michigan. Since rediscovery he has made many tours of Europe, playing as a one man band in Flint, Michigan and Chicago, Illinois from 1954 into 1970s; recorded on his own DIR label in Flint, Michigan in 1958; recorded for Fortune label in Detroit in 1959; recorded for Hi-Q label in Detroit in 1961 into 1963; recorded for the Testament label in Flint in 1965; worked at the University of Illinois, Urbana, Illinois in 1965; toured with the American Folk Blues Festival on working concert dates through England and Europe in 1965 (portion of the Hamburg, West- Germany concert are released on the Fontana label); recorded for the Blue Horizon. Xtra labels in London, England in 1966; worked at the Ann Arbor Blues Festival in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1970; at the Holiday Inn Bar in Saginaw, Michigan in 1971; at the Mariposa Folk Festival in Toronto, Canada in 1971; recorded with The Disciples for the Foretune label in Detroit in 1971; toured in England and Europe on working concert dates, radio appearances and TV-show in 1972; recorded for the Big Bear-Munich label in London, England in 1972; recorded for the Esceha label in Koblenz, West Germany in 1972, and worked on the Montreux Jazz Festival in Montreux, Switzerland in 1972 (portion are released on the Big Bear-Polydor/Excello labels).

In 1973, Doctor Ross on the Ann Arbor Blues Festival in Ann Arbor and toured with the American Blues Legends on working concert dates through England and Europe in 1974 (portions are released on Big Bear label); appeared on In Concert Show on Radio-4, London, England in 1974; worked BJ's Buffeteria in Bay City, Michigan in 1977, and toured in Europe working concert dates in 1977.

According to Ross, Sam Phillips told him if he could find a white man who could play and sing as good as a black man, he would make him a million dollars. Doctor Ross recalls, "The next time I went back, Elvis Presley had come through... so they took my promotion off of my record and they put it on him... I was probably one of the first ones. Me, Joe Hill Louis, and Willie Nix. There was a bunch of us there that was on that thing. But we were the ones who really started it".

There can be little doubt that Doctor Ross is one of the most individual and expressive blues singers and player around today, Ross has the artistic ability and lifetime experience to create significant blues. Charles Isaiah "Doc" Ross died at May 28, 1993 in Flint, Mississippi of the age of 68.

Original Sun Recordings licensed from Sun Entertainment, Inc.



Bear Family Records BCD 16935 BG
2 CD digipac with 48-page booklet
Genre: Rockabilly / Rock And Roll
Tracks 41
Playing Time 122:21

Rockabilly, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Billy Riley and Warren Smith were among his friends and label-mates! Two CDs of music spanning 40 years, plus an in-depth interview. Hear Jack tell about his wild life in Memphis, during the rockin' fifties! The ultimate collection of one of Sun Records' earliest rockabilly bands, the Jimbos, with several previously unissued Sun tracks!

Jack Earls witnessed the birth of rockabilly in Memphis, and slapped its infant behind. It was called rock and roll, but it was a new rock, crafted by a community of working men and country musicians striving to get records out on Sam Phillips' Sun label. Jack's neighbors included Elvis Presley, Johnny and Dorsey Burnette, Paul Burlison, Johnny and Bill Black, and many other musicians. Between 1955 and 1957, Jack wrote and recorded his own songs with his own band, the Jimbos. From several sessions at Sun, Jack saw a single release in early 1956, issued among a barrage of classic rockabilly platters. Although his record ''Slow Down'' b/w ''A Fool For Lovin''' You (Sun 240) was a regional hit, Jack decided against touring and supported his family by working days and playing music in Memphis at night. During the mid-1960s, Jack and his family joined the century's great migration of Southern-born people moving north, and they settled in Detroit, Michigan. Jack drove trucks for the Chrysler Corporation, and swam in the long-established country scene of the city. Rediscovered by fans of his Sun recordings during the 1970s, Jack made more records for Gary Thompson's Olympic label in Detroit, showing the world that his voice had grown in power and expression. Since the nineties, Jack has headlined at rockabilly and rock and roll festivals across Europe and the United States. Today, the voice and personality of Jack Earls win over fans of rock and roll at any stage he mounts. Whether he sings an hour for a crowd of thousands in Sweden, or he sits in with a local band in a Detroit bar, Jack gives it everything he's got, and Memphis rockabilly lives on.

This collection presents two CDs of Jack Earls, including every Sun session with the Jimbos (with several previously unissued tracks); and all of Jack's recordings made in Detroit, from the first commercial release of ''Take Me To That Place'' on Ry-Ho in 1973, to his 1999 ''I Started Rockin' A Long Time Ago''. In an extended interview with Jack on disc two, he recaps his musical career and tells vivid stories about rockin' in Memphis. With this collection, we witness the timeless quality of Jack's voice a voice that Sam Phillips personally chose for his Sun label in 1955 a voice as unique as any of Phillips' other, more famous discoveries a voice of pure rockabilly fire.

JACK EARLS - was born August 23, 1932, in railroad town Woodbury, Tennessee, a rural community about 50 miles southeast of Nashville. It was, and still is to some extent, Uncle Dave Macon (1870-1952) territory. In fact, the famous 'Dixie Dewdrop.' banjo picker, singer, veteran of vaudeville and arguably the first country music star of the WSM Barn Dance (later known as Grand Ole Opry) was a neighbor of the Earls household and a welcome visitor during Jack's early childhood.

During visits, Macon liked to gather everyone to participate in a round of songs. When it came time for the boy hiding beneath the porch to sing with ''Muleskinner Blues'' and other songs from his mother. Mrs Earls was her son's singing teacher early on.

Some of Macon's delivery also left a mark on Earl's style. Both Earl's and Macon's vocals have been described in print as aggressive or even primitive, but how can those terms (especially the latter) be taken seriously when these men had been singing for a lifetime before their recording careers began? Macon gathered his songs and cultivated his public persona during the late 1800s, and Earls' mother grew up in the early 1900s - decades before the introduction of over-the-counter electronic microphones and amplification. One can only imagine the hair-raising, expressive voices of their 19'h century mentors.

Out in the country - years before he settled in Memphis - Earls harvested a variety of experiences. His father, an army veteran wounded during service, died before Earls could get to know him. He grew up with two brothers, four half-brothers and one sister on a farm. When Earls was seven years old, his older brother Richard, who worked in a Chattanooga cotton mill, took him in for a while. By age 13 he was back home and finished with school. With his brother Herb, Earls worked at the Uselton farm near Manchester. During the mid-1940s —breakout years for Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys — the Earls
boys, together with two Uselton sons, often performed bluegrass and country songs while passing a hat outside the Manchester courthouse.

When a traveling carnival invaded the outskirts of town, Earls ran away with the troupe to work as a sideshow ''wild boy.'' Curious customers paid a coin to enter a dimly lit tent and peer past a partition to observe a dark pit with a shallow pool of water containing a disheveled wild man and a wild boy wrestling a dozen fake alligators and one real baby gator. ''My brother Herb told me I'd better not leave with the carnival. but when night come, I was gone. I left town with the show, and my mom didn't know where I was at, for a
longtime'', said Earls. After a week or two of beating up stuffed gators for hamburgers the wild duo quit the carnival. Relying on handouts and the Salvation Army for food and shelter, they hitchhiked out to Chattanooga, where an uncle promptly sent Earls home. It was Richard who picked him up from the farm again, and delivered him to Memphis around 1949.

In 1950 he got married and attempted a move to Detroit that didn't take. After Earls returned to Memphis, he and his wife set up house in a neighborhood where music was a common pastime for many residents. ''Bill Black lived two streets over from me," said Earls. Johnny Black, Bill's brother - lived there, Scotty Moore lived around the corner, and Elvis's house was right behind mine''.

Outside of work; he played music infrequently with friends and family. At the end of a late shift., Earls often took his guitar into the back seat of his car, sang and vented whatever ideas came to his mind. By the time he and five other guitar pickers entered the studio of the Memphis Recording Service in the summer of 1955, Earls had several self-written songs waiting to be heard.

The Memphis Recording Service at 706 Union Avenue was located a few minutes' walk from the Earls' home. Just out of high school, Elvis Presley (1935-1977) had gone to the recording service in 1953 to cut a demonstration disk. He imagined he might attract the attention of the owner. Sam C. Phillips (1923-2003), who also ran a little label called Sun Records from the building. In 1954; Phillips got around to calling him back, and his first record was released in July (SUN 209 ''That's All Right''/''Blue Moon Of Kentucky'').

Presley's success with Sun astonished Earls who didn't care for ''That's All Right'' when he first heard it. Hank Williams had been gone less than two years, and was still Earls' favorite singer.

Presley's early records inspired controversy, love, and even hate from listeners. However, as steady sales led to more and better gigs for Presley and his band-mates, guitarist Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black, growing numbers of country musicians in the neighborhood - and soon, from beyond Memphis - cut demo records at the little studio in hopes that Phillips would produce a release for them on Sun.

Phillips, who started the Sun label almost exclusively with blues artists, felt that he helped Presley deliver something unique to the world. with his particular blend of country, pop and rock and roll music. Phillips was also enthusiastic about drawing out spontaneous performances from musicians who could deliver the sound of pure emotion. Presley's regional success encouraged Phillips to look for other local musicians with a new mixed-up style. Carl Perkins (1932-1998), another bakery employee (Colonial Bakery in Jackson), arrived with his rockin' honky tonk band in late 1954. Johnny Cash (1932-2003) and the Tennessee Two made their first Sun recordings during the spring of 1955.

By 1955, country musicians found the studio inviting and the locals turned it, as well as the restaurant next door, into a busy gathering place. Johnny Black, who had known Presley when they were teenagers in high school, moved back to Memphis from Corpus Christi after he heard Presley's first Sun record (and recognized his brother's bass playing on it). Black and Earls both wound up working at the Colonial Bakery in town. Black's enthusiasm for the new music helped Earls make up his mind to audition for Phillips at the Memphis Recording Service.

"Johnny Black and I went down there with five or six other guys. and one crippled man who played mandolin,'' said Earls. They paid ten dollars for two performances to be etched into the sides of an acetate disk. "One of em was ''A Fool For Lovin' You''. 'I had that song written by then. Sam wasn't there at the time, but Marion Keisker, the office secretary said ''I love your voice. Why don't you come back and see Sam?"'

Earls and Black returned with the record and their guitars in hand, and Phillips liked Earls' voice and his songs, "He said before we started to cut anything, we needed to lose the band and put together a new one. He said, 'That band ain't worth a shit', "said Earls, Black switched from guitar to bass and recruited his friends Danny Wahlquist for drums and take off guitarist Warren Gregory, who also drove a truck. "Warren used to park his truck and take naps during his shift." said Earls. "He had a little sign he'd put in the window while he slept that read. Genius at work''.

In 1994, Gregory visited Earls. He told me that he grew up picking country and jazz. but developed an appetite for the blues. "I used to visit W C. Handy (1873-1958) at his house in Memphis."said Gregory, although this strains credibility as Handy moved from Memphis to New York in 1917, "We'd sit on his front porch and play music together'', said Gregory. '' Back in them early days, all of us rock and rollers didn't have nothing. and we all supported each other. If anyone needed some help in nightclubs or in the studio - even if it meant pushing a broom - we helped each other out''.

After cashing his royalty check, Earls bought a new Indian Chief motorcycle. "I got it out there on Poplar Avenue ... They brought it out and showed me how to ride it. I'd ride that thing for a little while, and then the motor would quit. Man, I rode that thing for hours, until/got to where t could ride it pretty good. My wife was working at a potato chips company, and I picked her up and brought her home. Then I wound up buying a Harley from the same place where Elvis bought his''.

The band worked for a while at Sleepy Eyed John's Bon Air Club, and eventually found steady employ at the Palms club on Summer Avenue. "We worked there for about six years. Friends used to come and sit in with us all the time. People like Bill Black, Charlie Feathers, Billy Riley, Bud Deckelman ... The Palms was a bottle club, where you'd bring in your own bottle and they'd sell ice and setups. We played three or four nights a week."Earls also visited and sat in with other bands, including Eddie Bond's at his club out on Highway 51.

The studio was an exciting place to visit day or night because "Sam was always wantin to get something goin' - somethin' new''. Earls and the band continued to record demos of songs that he wrote without the aid of paper, while driving his bakery truck or during solitary late nights in his Buick. ''I never wrote anything down ... Back then, I had more sons than knew what to do with'', he said. ''Sometimes me and Johnny Black used to go to the studio and record stuff for Sam's wife. She was on the radio''. In 1955. Phillips helped launch WHER Radio in Memphis. The on-air staff was composed entirely of women, including Phillips' wife.

Around 1963, Jack Earls started playing music at a club called the Wagon Wheel east of Memphis, in Millington. He and a friend bought the place soon after they started working there. "It was a bottle club, and I kept it open all night long. When I could see the sun coming, then I closed the doors! After the bars shut down in Memphis. everyone would come out to the Wagon Wheel, and we packed the place. Different people used to come out to my club and sit in with the band. Gene Simmons, Bobby Wood - I bought a blue Cadillac from Bobby Wood, once. Smokey Joe Baugh played with us. He had that ''Signifying Monkey'' (on Sun)''. When the work began to feel like a grind, Earls sold the club and moved to Detroit in 1966. He drove a truck hauling auto parts and concentrated on helping his wife raise their family.

Around 1970, Earls took his guitar to Fortune Records on Third Street in Detroit. Owner Jack Brown helped Earls cut demos of five songs onto an acetate disk, but a release by the company was never worked out. Earls started playing in Detroit-area clubs at night. In 1973, he made a deal with Ry-Ho Records in Romulus, based in a storefront at Grant and Goddard roads.

Tennessee-born singer and bandleader Loyd (Lloyd) Howell (1932-2008), who, with bassist Don Rye (d. 2007), owned the Ry-Ho studio and record label, booked country music talent shows in Detroit with Ry-Ho Records as sponsor. Ry-Ho recording contracts were given as prizes to the winners. Howell was the same man who cut a rockin' version of ''Little Froggy Went A-Courtin''', for the Nashville label (a Starday subsidiary) in 1961, as well as singles on Fortune with his band the Brite Stars, like ''Don't Hang Around'' and ''Truck Driving Jack'' (on Fortune subsidiary Hi-Q).

Earls purchased a package where he cut two songs with the Ry-Ho studio band (the Brite Stars), and Howell and Rye pressed 45rpm records of the results. A new Earls original, ''Mississippi Man'', was chosen to back ''Take Me To That Place'' (which first saw the light of day on this record). Howell's son Jeff remembered playing electric bass on ''Take Me To That Place'', along with Phil Cutrell on drums, Frank Childs on lead guitar and his sisters Vicki Dianne and Pamela Jo singing backup. An unidentified pianist from local country singer Alice Faye's band played on both sides. Don Rye played bass on ''Mississippi Man'', on which Earls revealed his affinity for Merle Haggard's songs with his vocal. Compared to his Sun recordings, Earls' singing on his Ry-Ho disk revealed a more confident and controlled delivery. The record made it evident that Earls was keeping up with trends in country music. ''It turned out pretty good'', said Earls. "I ordered several hundred records and sold them all''.

He hired on at Chrysler around the same time, and stuck with the company through his retirement 30 years later. At night, Earls played country music peppered with 1950s rock and roll with a band he fronted. Sometimes his oldest son would join him on drums. Native Michigander and songwriter Marshall Crenshaw played bass with Earls for a while. Detroitbred country and rockabilly singer Don Rader (19372004) teamed up with Earls in the clubs as well. "Me and Don Rader used to play at VFWs (Veterans of Foreign Wars] and Eagles, all kinds of different (social] halls'', said Earls. ''We used to have CB coffee breaks. There was three of us who'd put them together I had the band, and one would take care of the door and one would take care of the bar. We'd rent a club at 21 Mile Road and Van Dyke, and it was ... a bunch of CBers having a coffee break, but it was really a beer break ... We'd rent a hall, get kegs of beer and potato chips, and get someone to watch the car's. (We would) do it once or twice a month mew. Everybody was CBing then, you know, everybody was on the radio''.

One day in 1975, Earls received a phone call from Gary Thompson, then living in Warren. He knew about Earls from European rockabilly compilation albums of Sun recordings, as well as the Ry-Ho single, which he discovered in a friend's collection. ''My daughters sister-in- law was watching Gary Thompson's kids, and had given her one of the Ry-Ho records. Gary was going through her records... and he found mine. He said. 'Where'd you get this record? She said. 'That's my sister-in-laws dad. He told her., This guy made recordings on Sun Records!' ... Then Gary wanted to know if I'd put out more records with him, so I did. He was putting up the Money and he paid me so much (per song) every time he put out an album. ''Flip, Flop And Fly'' was the first song we done. I was half-asleep when we cut that, and so was the band!"

After collecting and selling records since the 1960s, Thompson opened a used record shop in St. Clair Shores in 1972. Upon meeting Earls and Rader in 1975, he was inspired to start the Olympic Records company and began issuing new recordings by Earls and Rader, which led to Thompson reissuing rockabilly sides by Michigan-based artists, as well as other hard-to-find 1950s rock and roll music. Earls' first Olympic trial, recorded live in the basement of Rader's house, yielded a knockout version of Joe Turner's ''Flip, Flop And Fly'' and Piano Red's ''She Sure Can Rock Me''. "Johnny Clark played that fast guitar'', said Earls. "Lee
Sloan was thumping around on an upright bass because he didn't know how to play it''. Drummer Ace Avery and pianist Tom Stewart rounded out the sound. Although Thompson advertised the recordings as having a 1950s sound. Clark's fierce guitar style could have suited any late 1960s garage band. "I was driving for Chrysler, and I had drove all night ... Don had a little bitty basement and we couldn't get a real good sound, but Gary put it out.

Then we cut at Sound Patterns, out on Grand River. Big studio. They put out television programs and everything out there''. ''She Sure Can Rock Me'' was cut both in Rader's basement and at Sound Patterns. ''The good cut was done at Sound Patterns'', said Earls. ''Then we cut down in my basement, when I got my studio together (in 1977). We cut ''Roll Over Beethoven'' one Sunday morning, and on the same day we cut, ''Call Me Shorty''. ' The former is the well-known Chuck Berry rock and roll anthem. The latter was a rocker Earls picked up while living in Memphis. ''Everybody did that song'', he said, including Jerry Lee Lewis' cousin Mickey Gilley, who recorded it for Dot Records in 1958. (Although Gilley lived in East Texas, evidence of visits to Memphis during the late 1950s was caught on tape at the Sun studio, where Gilley out a few demos.)

His recordings from this period showed that Earls, like a true stylist, conjured new life into the songs he chose. His singing had matured since his days in Memphis, to a level where he could sing with perfect control of his voice. And a ghost of Sam Phillips' influence was evident in Earls' constant efforts to come with new approaches to the old songs he remade.

Earls continued his work/music way of life through the 1980s while cultivating his children as they grew into musicians who followed his example. Around 1987, three of his sons helped him record Gene Vincent's 1956 hit ''Be-Bop-A Lula'' in his basement studio. Although he wasn't releasing new recordings, Earls still received occasional offers to perform overseas. He consistently turned down invitations to perform in Europe, citing responsibilities to his family and job. With some prodding from Don Rader and fellow Sun recording artist and Detroit producer Johnny Powers, in 1996 Earls accepted an invitation to headline at the ''Hemsby Rock And Roll Weekender'' in England. He was overwhelmed by the reception he received. "They treated me like the second coming of Elvis'', exclaimed a grateful man who had witnessed the first. Much like Sleepy Eyed John's little bulldog winning a tug-o-war game by pulling the rag free and landing upsite-down on his back. Earls was astonished when the audience called for several encores. ''I guess I'm in demand now, overseas'', he said. ''I get two or three offers a year. I'll keep doing it as long as I can give it everything I got''.

In 1999, guitarist Marv Weyer, a Pontiac native who worked a long career from the late 1950s with Tamla and Hi-Q recording artists Nick & The Jaguars, to Barbara Mandrell in California and Nashville in the 1960s and 1970s, to Eddie Jackson and Swannee Caldwell in Detroit, asked Earls to contribute a song to an album he was producing. Like a seasoned blues singer, Earls came up with an idea for ''I Started Rockin' A Long Time Ago'', and then assembled the lyrics while in front of the microphone, started rockin' down in Memphis, Tennessee Yeah,

I started rockin' down in Memphis. Tennessee, Yeah,
I started rockin' down in Memphis, Tennessee-born
And old Sam Phillips seen a little song in me
He said, 'Son, you're lookin' fine,
Sign it right there on the dotted line
Come on baby, let's make some history'

The band included all the members of the Big Barn Combo, a rockabilly quartet that I sang for, plus Marv Weyer on lead guitar. We had figured out a method of using one microphone to record Weyer's tunes, and we used the same setup with Earls. He sat on a stool in front of the mike with my old flattop guitar. and the gates to Memphis country rock and roll heaven opened wide. In person. Earls communicated the overall feeling he wanted to the band by using his voice and moving his body, resulting in a punchy, yet loose performance, filling the room with crackling energy and echoes of my favorite Sun records of 1954 to 1957. Earls really had started rockin' a long time ago, and he made us feel it in our bones. It was the most exciting recording session I'd witnessed. It also resulted in one of the best performances on Weyer's album. We recorded a warm-up performance of ''Rock Bop'' (a.k.a. ''Let's Bop'') to check recording levels, placement of musicians in the room, etc. Earls took both tracks overseas, and sold them on a Stompertime 45rpm extended-play record at his European concerts.

His recordings with Sweden's Sleazy Rustic Boys appeared on subsequent releases for Eviken Records (a 45rpm single, and an album/compact disc). Songs included new originals like ''My Little Mama'' and ''Tribute To Carl Perkins'', to old originals like ''Game Of Love'' and ''Comin' Back Home'', and surprising remakes. like a vocal of Bill Doggett's ''Honky Tonk''.

Since the release of his Sun recordings during the 1970s and 1 980s, the influence of Earls' music has been felt across a worldwide spectrum of fans of vintage Sun Records. Among more recent examples found stateside, the Gravediggers, a psychobilly band from California, cut a break-teeth version of ''Let's Bop'' (future Fly-Rite Boy Wally Hersom played on it) in 1985; California roots band the Paladins injected some blues into ''Slow Down'' on a 1986 album, In 2000, the Big Barn Combo remade ''Sign On The Dotted Line'' for an album, and backed Earls at the Rockabilly Rebel Weekender in Indianapolis, his first festival booking in the U.S. Better-publicized tributes followed in 2005, when Stray Cats guitarist/crooner Brian Setzer cut an instrumental arrangement of ''Slow Down''. and then a vocal of the same song for a live album released in 2007.

With a supportive family who cherish his music yet keep him grounded, Earls keeps himself busy. As a result of his early schooling in song, and forsaking the grind of a fulltime singing career, he mastered and preserved his soulful voice - a captivating, uniquely American voice that breathes new life into echoes from the previous two centuries.

At the time they were recorded, most of his Sun efforts weren't ready for public release. Now we can listen to this collection and catch sparks of excitement in Jack Earls' early experiences from within the thick of Memphis rock and roll; we can witness his later studio trials, cheer on his dogged tug on the rag of destiny, and celebrate his many rounds of play. Now, let's bop this one! (CBM)

Original Sun Recordings licensed from Sun Entertainment, Inc.



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.

RUDY GRAYZELL - 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.


''SUN BALLADS 1953 - 1957''

Bear Family Records BCD 17213 CH
3 CD digipac with 92-page booklet
Genre: Country & Rockabilly
Tracks 78
Playing Time 204:27

The first-ever in-depth look at the ballad side of the Sun Records legacy. Surveys a 10-year period from the earliest blues and hillbilly days to the Golden Age of rockabilly and into the early 1960s.Contains 78 tracks featuring Sun's best-known artists, as well as obscure and rarely reissued artists and titles. Contains in-depth historical material and detailed track-by-track commentaries. A must-have for all music historians, as well as die-hard SUN fans and collectors.

Sun Records earned its widespread fame as the Memphis-based birthplace of rock and roll pioneers like Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Billy Riley, as well as icons of American music such as Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison and Charlie Rich. Sun was also home to blues legends like Howlin' Wolf, B. B. King, Rufus Thomas, Jr. and Rosco Gordon. Label owner Sam Phillips truly did it all with his little Memphis label, and built a legend in the process.

Although Sun is best known for rockers and rockin' music, it turns out that even rockers had their mellow moments. Sun managed to record a surprising number of them and built a very effective library of ballads as well. This side of Sun's legacy has never been examined in depth - until now.

Sun ballads surveys a 10 year period of Sun's history from the earliest blues and hillbilly days to the golden era of rockabilly and beyond, into the early 1960s. This collection combines some of Sun's best known recording pioneers with a few truly obscure artists and rarely reissued titles; it contains a lavishly illustrated book with detailed track by track commentary by Sun historian Hank Davis. This 3-CD set is an unprecedented treasure trove for Sun fans and collectors.

Original Sun Recordings licensed from Sun Entertainment, Inc.



Unissued and Rare Nashville Vocal Group Recordings
Bear Family Records BCD 16893 AH
Genre: Vocal Group / Rhythm & Blues
Tracks 28
Playing Time 77:22

The new Prisonaires titles reveal an even wider range of vocal harmonies and musical abilities, influences and styles than the Sun recordings. The Prisonaires rock with ''Caldonia'' and ''Bony Moronie'', they sing sincere versions of ''Suppertime'' and ''Gentle Hands'', they reprise their best-known songs including ''Just Walkin' In The Rain'', and they make fun with ''The Boastin' Texan'' and other titles. Get this CD and you'll hear The Prisonaires as never before; you'll have completed your Prisonaires collection; and you'll have the complete story of the Marigolds/Solotones.

This CD is one of three discs telling the complete story of the Prisonaires and of their lead singer, Johnny Bragg. The early part of the tale has been told in our CD of Sun recordings, BCD 15523: The Prisonaires - ''Just Walkin' In The Rain''. This CD, ''Only Believe...'' tells the middle part of the story. Watch out later for our planned CD 'World Of Make Believe,' containing all the rare and unissued recordings by Johnny Bragg as a solo vocalist.

The Prisonaires
When The Saints Go Marching In
In The Garden
Bony Moronie
Gentle Hands
Just Walkin' In The Rain
The Boastin' Texan;
Warden's Message
A Prisoner's Prayer
Only Believe
Senor Siskin

The Marigolds
Rollin' Stone
Why Don't You
Don't Say Tomorrow
Rollin' Stone (2)
Two Strangers
Love You, Love You, Love You
Juke Box Rock And Roll
It's You Darling, It's You

The Solotones
Front Page Blues
Pork And Beans

The Prisonaires
Baby Please
What'll You Do Next
There Is Love In You
Rockin' Horse
Two Strangers
Lucy You Know I Want You

THE PRISONAIRES - Johnny Bragg, 27-years-old from Nashville, was the lead singer in the Prisonaires, and convicted on 6 counts of rape, and sentenced 594 years in prison. Other members of the group are, John E. Drue, 29 years-old from Lebanon, lead tenor vocal, sentenced 3 years for larceny; Marcel Sanders, 29-years-old from Chattanooga, bass vocal, sentenced 1 to 5 years for involuntary manslaughter; 30-year-old Williams Steward, baritone vocal and guitar who has been imprisoned since he was 17 years old, got to crying, his mother was crying, because he was sentenced 99 years for murder; and Edward L. Thurman, 36-years-old from Nashville, tenor vocal, also sentenced 99 years for murder. The group was made up of inmates from the Tennessee State Penitentiary. They wrote and recorded for Sun Records. According to prison records, Johnny Bragg was a bastard kid, born in Nashville, Tennessee on January 18, 1926, and jailed on May 8, 1943 on six counts of rape.

According to Bragg, he was born on May, 1929 (the earlier date is his brother's birth date, which he used because the City had no trace of his own birth), and the prison term was the result of a frame-up and terrible misunderstanding. "My troubles started when I was twelve years old", said Bragg cagily. "My friend was dating my girlfriend, we got to fighting, and she said I tried to rape her. While they had me, they put all these unsolved cases on me, told the peoples I was the one. Later some of them said they was wrong, and wanted to clear their consciences before they died. A lady goes to my church, and she shakes her head and says, 'We sure did you wrong, John'".

Once inside, Bragg joined a gospel group with Ed Thurman, William Steward, Clarence Moore and another whom Bragg recalls only as 'Sam'. They subsequently argued, and Bragg formed another group called the Prisonaires. He later brought in 36 year-old Thurman (99 years for murder) as manager, and 30 year-old Steward (99 years for murder) as music director. Guitarist Steward had a convict since his seventeenth birthday. They were joined in the early 1950s by John Drue (3 years for larceny), and Marcel Sanders (1 to 5 years for involuntary manslaughter). Incidentally, it appears as though Steward was not the same William Steward who recorded country blues for Sun. The William "Talking Boy" Steward tapes were recorded in 1951, and Bragg recalls that William Steward never played country blues.

It is unclear how the Prisonaires came to be heard outside the prison walls. A contemporary report stated that Joe Calloway of WSIX, Nashville, was at the prison for a newscast, heard the group and arranged for them to have a regular show on WSIX, and on the local black station, WSOK. Calloway's approach came as a wind of change was blowing through the prison. Previously known as 'Swafford's Graveyard' after the previous warden, the jail was now being managed by James Edwards, a friend of Governor Frank Clement, who wanted to prepare the inmates for their return to society.

According to Johnny Bragg, he had already made contact with the outside world - in particular with hillbilly singers, who would come to the penitentiary to buy songs. "Word go around there was a nigger who could write any kind of songs", said Bragg. "Hank Williams come out there, Roy Acuff, Ernest Tubb, Little Jimmie Dickens... they all come". Among the songs that Bragg claims to have sold was "Your Cheatin' Heart", and it is at least possible that Williams bought the genesis of the song from Bragg, as he bought other songs that he made uniquely his own. One of those who came to the prison looking for copyrights was Red Wortham, owner of Wortham Music.

Johnny Bragg says that Wortham came to buy songs from him; according to the 'Commercial Appeal' report, Wortham came to the prison to check out a hillbilly songwriter (possible Clarence "Two Hats" McKeel who later wrote songs for Hugh X. Lewis and others, and helped write the lead-sheet for "Just Walking In The Rain"), but was asked to listen to the Prisonaires.

Not regarding himself a judge of rhythm and blues acts, Wortham sent a tape of the Prisonaires made at WSIX to his cousin, Jim Bulleit. By that point, Bulleit had a long career in the Nashville music business - as a partner in Bullet Records, as manager of his own labels, and representative of others. Early in 1953 he bought himself a minority holding in Sun Records, and one of his first moves was to forward Wortham's tape to Sam Phillips with the recommendation that the group be signed. That tape is probably the one that contains earlier versions of "Just Walking In The Rain" and "Baby Please", together with the Louis Jordan tune "That Chick's Too Young To Fry". The songs were tapes over a WSIX radio show, "Youth On Parade", starring Pat Boone.

Johnny Bragg recalled that he had written "Just Walking In The Rain" (SUN 186) in conjunction with Robert Riley, an inmate who couldn't sing. They were walking to the prison laundry, when Bragg said, "Here we are walking in the rain. I wonder what the little girls are doing?". Riley said it sounded like a good song title, and they quickly worked up the song.

Bulleit evidently persuaded Phillips to record the group, while Wortham retained the music publishing rights. Sam Phillips released "Just Walking In The Rain" on July 8, 1953. On July 28, Jud Phillips went to Nashville to meet Bulleit and the Prisonaires. Jud had joined Sun a few months earlier, and was learning the fine art of record promotion and distribution. "They boys (Prisonaires) are getting from 10 to 25 letters a day from all over the country", wrote Jud. "They plan to bring all of them to you when they come over. They make me think of a bunch of baby birds. They are fine boys all of them. I get great joy out of helping people like that... I know you do too".

Phillips also got great joy from watching the orders roll in. Ebony magazine reported that "Just Walkin' In The Rain" sold almost a quarter of a million copies, and heaped praise on the Sun label. If Sam Phillips was able to press 50,000 of this song he was lucky, but the publicity was important to Sun.

The Prisonaires' lead singer, Johnny Bragg, told a number of reporters that Elvis Presley helped with the lyrics to "Just Walkin' In The Rain". Colin Escott and Martin Hawkins, in Good Rockin' Tonight, published in 1991, report Braggs' claim that Elvis Presley was in the studio when the Prisonaires recorded "Just Walkin' In The Rain". It is unlikely that Elvis Presley was hanging around Sun Records during the Prisonaires recording sessions. "It was hard to keep Elvis Presley from the studio", Marcus Van Story remembered. "He loved the Prisonaires gospel sound". Despite this, Bragg's claim remains unsubstantiated. "I don't remember Elvis watching the Prisonaires record", Ronald Smith commented. The Prisonaires were nevertheless an important influence upon both Elvis Presley and Sam Phillips. Elvis Presley was mesmerized by Bragg's vocals, and Sam Phillips was intrigued by the crossover sound the Prisonaires produced.

The group making personal appearances on day passes throughout the state, and - with considerable complication - outside the state. They were held up by warden James Edwards(*) and Governor Clement as shining examples of rehabilitation. "The hopes of tomorrow rather than the mistakes of yesterday", gushed Clement, who brought the group to the governor's mansion, and bought William Steward a new guitar. His enthusiasm earned him the unissued paean "What About Frank Clement (A Mighty, Mighty Man)", which had "Parole - Please" written all over it.

Sam Phillips found it impossible to continue the Prisonaires' success, however. As the follow-up record to "Just Walkin' In The Rain" Phillips selected "Softly And Tenderly" (SUN 189). Billboard reviewed this release enthusiastically, but it failed to sell in large numbers. Sun Records then released two more pop Prisonaires records before the group faded into obscurity. There remain a number of unreleased Prisonaires recording, years later, released by Bear Family Records in Germany.

Around early 1955, the group started breaking up. Drue and Sanders were released, followed by Steward and Thurman. Surprisingly, Thurman's release excited some controversy in the local press, "The people of Tennessee can only hope that the killers still behind bars are non singers", said the editorial in the Nashville Tennessean on April 29, 1955. Bragg re-formed the Prisonaires as the Marigolds with a new set of faces including Hal Hebb (Bobby Hebb's brother).

Unknown to Bragg, though, events were taking place that would help to secure his future once he got outside. In May 1954, Joe Johnson (later president of Challence Records, then working for Gene Autry's publishing company, Golden West Melodies) arranged for Autry to acquire the copyright of "Just Walking In The Rain" from Red Wortham, shortly after, Autry recorded a dismal version for Columbia, but Don Law, Columbia's head of country Artist and Repertoire, saw something in the song, and when he was in New York he ran into Mitch Miller who was scouting songs for a Johnny Ray session. Ray recorded "Just Walking In The Rain" on June 29, 1956 in his usual petulant style, and it provide to be his commercial rebirth after a year or two in the wilderness.

Johnny Bragg claims to have had a premonition of Ray's recording, but he had no premonition of the vast amount of money it would bring him. "The first cheque was for $1400", recalls Bragg, "and I told the warden to go ahead and put the cheque in the commissary so I could buy some candy and so on. I thought the amount was $14.00! The next cheque was for $7500". Johnny Bragg received and invitation to the Annual BMI Awards dinner in New York for December 3, 1956. The invitation specified that he could bring a guest, who - had he gone - would probably have been an armed guard.

By this point, Johnny Bragg was far less keen to sell compositions. He successfully pitched a few of his songs, including "Don't Bug Me Baby", recorded by Milton Allen for RCA in 1957 (and reissued on Bear Family BFX 15357). Ernie Young, owner of Ernie's record Mart and Excello/Nashboro Records, signed the Marigolds and they cut four singles, including "Two Stranger", first recorded by the Prisonaires at Sun. At roughly the same time, another unissued Prisonaires song, "Don't Say Tomorrow" was cut by the Hollyhocks on Nasco Records. Detail hounds may care to note that the Marigolds also cut an unreleased version of the song.

Johnny Bragg was finally released from prison in 1959, and he started recording for Decca Records in Nashville and writing for Tree Music. However, he was back behind bars again the following year for robbery and attempted murder, charges that Bragg asserts were setup. "A man whose name I can't say, said 'If that Bible totin' governor turns that nigger loose, I'll get him back inside even if I have to frame him", said Bragg darkly. "They charged me on three counts and finally got me on a charge of stealing $2.50 - and I had all kinds of money. It was pitiful". UPI reported that Johnny Bragg had indeed been indicted on harges of stealing $2.50, but that he had done so at gunpoint, whereupon two other white women identified him as the man who had tried to attack them. One of the charges finally stuck, and Johnny Bragg went back inside in May 1960.

A few months later, the Elvis Presley connection had its final postscript. Bragg was visited by Elvis Presley, who had just returned from West-Germany. "He asked repeatedly", said Bragg, "Did I need a lawyer, was there anything he could do for me". Needing help so bad he could taste it, Bragg nevertheless declined. "They said if I didn't take the case to the Supreme Court, they'd get me out in nine months", asserted Brag, "but I didn't get out in nine months, and that messed me up a little bit".

An article in the local press in Nashville reads: ELVIS VISITS PRISON. En route home to Memphis after Wednesday's visit to the State Legislature, singer-actor Elvis Presley stopped for approximately 45 minutes at the State Prison. He toured the various workshops, dining hall, and death-house, and talked briefly with song-writer Johnny Bragg, who is doing time for a parole violation. "It was Elvis' idea to drive by the penitentiary", one of his traveling companions - buddy-guard - said. "He has known Bragg from back when he was starting out as an entertainer; scrounging for a living".

Upon his re-release seven years later, Johnny Bragg formed Elbejay Records in partnership with Raymond Ligon and Cyril Jackson, and recorded three singles for them.

By his account, he forgave Red Wortham for cheating the Prisonaires out of publishing royalties on "Just Walking In The Rain", and brought him in as Artist and Repertoire manager at Elbejay Records.

Johnny Bragg's troubles didn't end upon his re-release, though. He was returned to prison for shoplifting, and released on parole (for the third time) following the death of his wife, leaving him a single parent. With his faith and his health still more-or-less, intact, though, he has done better than the other members of the Prisonaires. They all died in varying degrees of poverty or distress. The saddest case was that of William Steward who died of alcohol poisoning in a cheap motel room in Florida. Only Robert Riley manager to eke a
more-or-less successful career in the music business. Before his death he became a contracted writer at Three Music and cranked out country-soul songs for Nashville-based labels such as Dial, Todd and Sound Stage Seven.

The Prisonaires gained their moment of fame as a novelty act, but, as his music proves convincingly, their work transcends more novelty appeal. Johnny Bragg had a stilling lead tenor that ranks alongside that of his idol, Bill Kenny of the Inkspots. The music they cut for Sun Records was quite unlike anything else on the label - sophisticated and urbane, largely lacking the raw edge that Sam Phillips cherished. Certainly, there were some performances that missed the mark, but there's also "Just Walking In The Rain", a classic by any criterion.

There is fierce pride in Johnny Bragg - evident in the way he spits out the world "Penitentiary". There is also darkness within him, which he laid aside to produce some hauntingly beautiful music.

Original Sun Recordings licensed from Sun Entertainment, Inc.

''The Voice of Johnny Bragg''

Executive Producer – Tom Paley
Produced by Cass Paley & Ryan Ranney
Edited by Ryan Ranney
Associate Producer – Sheridan Weir
Written by Cass Paley
Directed by Cass Paley

A Cassel Production


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