Handy Jackson is the name of the artist and songwriter shown on the label of Sun 177. Despite the fact that his was one of the releases selected to relaunch the Sun label in January
1953, precious little is known about Handy Jackson other than he was a local musician, who fronted his own tight rhythm and blues combo. However, we do know now that the singer on one side of the disc was named Gay Garth and the rest of the story is to be
found under his name.
By coincidence, while exploring one of the graveyards in Leflore Country, Mississippi, where Robert Johnson was allegedly buried (but apparently
was not, given subsequent discoveries). Than Jim O'Neal found a headstone for Handy Jackson, but according to census data he would have been 47 years old at the time of the Sun disc. Several other people with the same name, can be found in censuses. Then again,
just possibly, the name could relate to the family of Al Jackson, who often played in Memphis at the Club Handy.
Gaylord ''Gay'' Garth for over five decades Gaylord Garth
went about his business not knowing he had appeared on Sun Records under anothers name, and for those same decades record collectors and music historians went about their business not knowing that the singer on an ultra-rare disc credited to Handy Jackson
was living and working in Chicago, singing and playing weekends in night clubs on the South Side where he was known as ''The Arkansas Belly Roller''. Then, fifty years after Garth's appearance in Sam Phillips studio and the release of Sun 177, ''Got My Application
Baby'' and ''Trouble (Will Bring You Down)'', there appeared a picture in Juke Blues magazine captioned ''Gaylord Garth'', the Arkansas Belly Roller''. This just had to be the man Sam Phillips had entered into his notebook as Gay Garth.
Sam Phillips' logbook gave Garth's name, his address in Memphis of 131 Essex Street, and noted that Garth had recorded two songs on a 16 inch acetate. He did not record the date of the session
but he did note that one of the songs, ''Got My Application Baby'', was issued on January 30, 1953 on Sun 177 along with a different, third, song titled ''Trouble'', after which he put the name Handy Jackson in brackets. When Sun 177 was pressed the name of
the performer on both sides was shown as Handy Jackson and there was no mention of Gay Garth at all.
So when Juke Blues arranged for Davis Whiteis to talk to Gaylord
Garth about his former life in Memphis it meant that all the mystery were about to be resolved, or were they? Garth remembered recording as a pianist with a band behind another vocalist and he remembered making a couple of vocal tracks himself, but he didn't
have any idea who Handy Jackson was.
Gaylord Garth was born in Marianna, Arkansas on December 8, 1924 into a farming community. He told Whiteis he picked cotton alongside
M.T. Murphy, who later played guitar behind him many iconic blues singers and gained latter-day fame through the Blues Brothers movie. In his teens Garth fooled around with the guitar and some home-made instruments and then he learned to play piano while he
was in the Navy in the mid-1940s. His musical interest focused on Count Basie, Pete Johnson, Joe Turner, and Jimmy Rushing, ''not that gutbucket'' blues, he said. He remember coming to Memphis when he left the Navy, hanging out and playing with various groups:
''I started music in 1949 after I got out of the Navy the first time. I had got so I could carry the piano beat. I played C, G, and F, the keys I could play in''. He was playing with saxophonist Willie Wilkes at a club in Marianna when B.B. King heard him
play and apparently decided to add Garth to his emerging group. ''I stayed with him a long time. I had joined the Naval (Reserve) and when the war started back up with Korea they called me back in the Navy, that was 1951''.
Garth felt that he made his first recordings at Phillips' studio before he went back into the Navy, but he also said of recording, ''I didn't know nothing about that stuff. I was dumb to the facts. I'd just gotten
out of the Navy''. That would place the session in late 1952 or January 1953 rather than 1950 or 1951. Whatever the date, Garth was then pianist in a band with Willie Wilkes and he described the day, ''They didn't tell me we was going to a session. I hadn't
rehearsed nothing. We were just going to back up someone, someone who wasn't a regular member of the band''. Then, he was asked to sing by a man he remembered as Billy Shaw of the New York booking agency, ''just looking for the country style blues... (Shaw)
said, 'we want to hear you' but I didn't have no material''. As Shaw booked Rosco Gordon, it is at least possible that he was in Sam Phillips' studio the day Garth was there. Garth said one of the songs he sang was made up during the session, a song he called
''Screamin''. Sam Phillips noted that he had got ''2 number on 16 inch e.t. ''Got My Application'' and ''Screamin' And Cryin'''. When Phillips issued ''Application'' at the end of January 1953 it was backed not by ''Sreamin''' but by Jackson's ''Trouble'',
and possibly this was the unremembered song and singer Garth had been asked to back up on piano at the session? Garth felt that the other musicians on the session were Wilkes on tenor sax, Richard Williams on alto sax, Robert Carter on guitar and William Cooper
Sometime in 1953 Garth moved to Gary, Indiana, but returned briefly to Memphis before moving to Chicago to find work. He worked in a hospital kitchen and then
a Ford dealership ''loadin' up trucks and all that'' where he stayed until he retired. During the late 1950s and 1960s he led a small band in which he sang and played electric piano. The band, the Gay-Tones, included saxophonist Ernest Cotton from Memphis
who had recorded with Eddie Boyd and Memphis Slim and made a disc in his own name on Chicago's JOB label. From the late 1960s onwards, Garth gave up his group and just sat in as a guest musician, often on harmonica, and guest singer. He was also in some demand
to perform his trademark belly rolls, guaranteed to cause a stir among the ladies. In 2004 at a Chicago area club, Lee's Unleaded, David Whiteis was still able to witness Garth and ''his impishly lascivious stage act, primal harp squalls, and still potent
baritone holler''. All these activities came to a halt on September 13, 2010 when Garth died in his adopted city of Chicago.
JANUARY 14, 1953 WEDNESDAY
Roy Rogers is the surprise subject of NBC-TV's ''This Is Your Life''. During the show, he's persuaded to sing ''Tumbling Tumbleweeds' with The Sons Of The Pioneers.
JANUARY 15, 1953 THURSDAY
''Winning Of The West'' debuts in movie theaters with a musical collaboration
of future Country Music Hall of Famers, as Gene Autry songs written by Fred Rose and Cindy Walker. Seen on the screen, Smiley Burnette and Frankie Marvis
George Morgan's ''(I Just Had A Date0 Lover's Quarrel''.
JANUARY 16, 1953 FRIDAY
Monroe suffers 19 broken bones in a head-on collision in Highway 31 near White House, Tennessee. He still manages to get out of the car and pull another passenger, Bessie Lee Mauldin, out of the other side. Monroe is unable to tour until May.
JANUARY 17, 1953 SATURDAY
Less than two weeks after Hank Williams was interred at the Oakwood Cemetery
in Montgomery, Alabama, his coffin is dug up and moved to a new site.
JANUARY 18, 1953 SUNDAY
Jim Reeves recorded his first single, ''Mexican Joe'' at the KWKH Studios in Shreveport, Louisiana.
JANUARY 19, 1953 MONDAY
Marty Robbins becomes a member of the Grand Ole Opry, the same day he moves to Nashville from Arizona.
The Memphis draft
board added Elvis Presley's name to the bottom of it's list on January 19, 1952. Eleven days after his 18th birthday, Presley, then in his last year of Humes High School in Memphis, fulfilled his legal requirement to register for selective service. It's doubtful
that the action concerned Elvis much at the time, as he knew there were thousands of names on the draft board's register that would be called before his.
card stock "Selective Service" number is 40-86-35-16 and was signed by Elvis Presley and Crace F. Martony in blue ink. Card issued to Elvis Aron Presley at 698 Saffarans in Memphis, Tennessee. Lists birthdate of Jan. 8, 1935 and birthplace of Tupelo, Miss.
Back of the card lists personal information: brown hair, green eyes, height of 5"11" and weight of 150. Selective Service number ''40-86-35-16''. The card is 2 1/2x3 3.4 inches.
D. Eisenhower was inaugurated as the United States president during January of 1953. Republican Eisenhower and his running mate Richard Nixon defeated Democrat Adlai Stevenson with a total of 442 electoral votes to 89 and a popular vote of 55.2 percent to
44.3 percent. Eisenhower had previously been known for his service as a five-star general during World War II, eventually becoming the Supreme Allied Commander. He also acted as a Chief of Staff for the Army under President Truman, the governor of U.S. occupied
Germany after WWII, the president of Columbia University and the Supreme Commander of NATO forces. During his two-term presidency he was credited with creating the U.S. highway system, strengthening Social Security, easing tensions with the U.S.S.R., creating
NASA, helping to fully desegregate the Armed Forces, and signing some of the first modern civil rights laws.
Dorothy Shay, the Park Avenue Hillbilly, performs at one
of Dwight Eisenhower's inaugural balls in Washington, D.C. Sid Caesar, Fred Waring and Abbott and Costello also perform for an audience that includes vice president Richard Nixon.
20, 1953 TUESDAY
Coral released Tommy Sosebee's only country hit, ''Till I Waltz Again With You''.
JANUARY 21, 1953 WEDNESDAY
Sam Phillips had barely had time to settle into the new house at 1028 McEvers Circle in Memphis. It was the first house he
had ever owned, purchased for a little more than $10,000, with $2,000 he had been able to set aside from his Chess Records hits serving as the down payment. It was a modest gabled bungalow with a small front porch and an attached garage in a postwar Levittown-like
development out by Kennedy veterans' hospital, the same neighborhood in which he and Becky had lived when they first moved to Memphis and boarded briefly in that nice lady from Sheffield's home. There were just two bedrooms and a single bathroom at the end
of the hall, and it sat on a corner lot, giving them a nice yard, but for Becky it would not have mattered if it had been more modest by far. It was their first real home.
24, 1953 SATURDAY
Carl Perkins married Valda Crider from Corinth, Mississippi. They moved to a government housing project in Jackson, Tennessee as the children started
appearing. However, Valda encouraged Carl to work on his music and try for a career in entertainment. Her support has nourished Perkins though a long career as a musician and through many bouts with the bottle and self doubt. In fact, it was Val who heard
a record on the radio that would alter the course of Perkins' career.
Just weeks after his death, Hank Williams hits number 1 with the prophetic ''I'll Never Get Out
Of This World Alive''.
JANUARY 26, 1953 MONDAY
Lucinda Williams is born in Lake
Charles, Louisiana. Her laidback snapshots of Southern life make her a significant figure in the alternate country movement. She also writes Mary Chapin Carpenter's mainstream-country hit ''Passionate Kisses''.
Joe and Rose Lee Maphis sign with Columbia Records.
JANUARY 27, 1953 TUESDAY
Keyboard player Lee Carroll is born in Glasgow, Kentucky. Carrol replaces Marlon Hargis in Exile in 1985, contributing to such hits as ''It'll Be Me'', ''She's Too Good To Be True'' and ''I Can't Get Close Enough''.
Hank Thompson recorded a version of Bill Carlisle's ''No Help Wanted'' at radio station WKY in Oklahoma City.
Tom Douglas is born in Atlanta, Georgia. He authors such hits as Lady Antebellum's ''I Run To You'', Tim McGraw's ''Southern Voice'' and Miranda Lambert's ''The House That Built Me''.
JANUARY 29, 1953 THURSDAY
Drummer Louie Perez is born in East Los Angeles. He joins Los Lobos and co-writes ''Will The Worlf Survive'', a country hit
for Waylon Jennings in 1986.
JANUARY 30, 1953 FRIDAY
Less than a month after
his death, MGM released Hank Williams' ''Your Cheatin' Heart'' and ''Kaw-Liga''.
After Sun Records is re-launched three singles were released on this day, just two weeks
after the partnership with Jim Bulleit had informally commenced. Despite Sam Phillips' strong feeling about it, the Handy Jackson (Sun 177) passed almost unnoticed, by both the marketplace and posterity. The two that accompanied it, however, Joe Hill Louis'
''She May Be Yours (But She Comes To See Me Sometimes) (Sun 178) and Willie Nix, The Memphis Blues Boy's ''Seems Like A Million Years'' (Sun 179) were everything that Sam Phillips had ever promised himself he would deliver.
The Joe Hill Louis record was not dissimilar to other Joe Hill Louis sides, reflecting both his singular strengths and his endearing weaknesses. It was the product of two sessions, November 17, 1952 and December
8, 1952, in which Louis' guitar and harmonica took the lead, but Willie Nix's drums on ''She May Be Yours'', and Albert Williams' piano on both sides, provided a rhythmic solidarity that Joe could not always summon in his more commonplace one-man-band setting.
Both sides showcased the unique joie de vivre of Sam Phillips' first discovery (actually, as Sam himself would have pointed out, Joe Hill Louis was a clear case of the artist discovering him), but it was the A-side, ''She May Be Yours'', a medium-tempo boogie
with a heavy beat, squalling harmonica solos, and the rough vocal bleeding purposefully through the harmonica mike, that revealed the way in which even when much of what Joe sang was taken from traditional sources, it reflected, Sam said, something ''very
personal to him''
The Willie Nix numbers were even more distinctive, as befitted a proud free spirit referred to by one fellow bluesman as ''a little aviatic''. The single
was the product of an October 2, 8, 9, 1952 session which Sam had originally submitted to Chess and presented the same quartet format as the Joe Hill Louis , only this time requiring two musicians (Nix's versatile guitarist, Joe Willie Wilkins, and seventeen-year-old
harmonica player James Cotton, another West Memphis regular, who had already recorded for Sam Phillips with Howlin' Wolf to fill in for Louis' guitar-harmonica combination.