Monday, April 23, 2018

Rex Rinehart (Lonnie Lillie?) on Yucca 117

Rex Rinehart - Poor Wanderin' Boy (Rinehart) / What a Shame (Rinehart) (Yucca 117)

"Poor Wanderin' Boy"

"What a Shame"

Rex Rinehart and Lonnie Lillie are two hopelessly lost ciphers of the Texas vinyl netherworld. No information has ever been published about either, no photos exist, no recollections. Nothing. Spud Goodall, the guitarist on"Truck Driver's Special" (Marathon 5003), Lonnie Lillie's sole release, was tracked down and interviewed, but he had no memory of the singer or the session.

Were Rex Rinehart and Lonnie Lillie the same person?

Rinehart released three singles on the Alamogordo, New Mexico Yucca label in 1959-60, and one further single on the Bulletin label (with a Nashville address) in 1961. His name appears in a few West Texas newspapers from this period. He's one of the opening acts for the Stonewall Jackson-Shirley Ray-Little Jimmy Dickens show at the Amarillo City Auditorium on October 13, 1964.

The Amarillo Globe-Times, October 13, 1964.

While going through Charlie Fitch's files in 1998, I was surprised to discover that Lonnie Lillie had unsuccessfully auditioned for Sarg. Charlie had retained a letter Lonnie had written him in 1956 from Hobbs, New Mexico, asking that he send any copies of the Marathon single he still had to him COD. A striking aspect about this letter was the unusual font used.

Lonnie Lillie letter to Charlie Fitch (Sarg Records), November 30, 1956. Click to enlarge. 

The memory of this letter came back when I picked up a copy of the Rex Rinehart single on Yucca, which contained a typewritten note using the same font. The similar vocal pitch between the Lillie single and this one also made me begin to suspect that Lonnie had changed his name to the flashier "Rex Rinehart" when he moved from the Central Texas area to West Texas. More research is needed, however. 

Rex Rinehart promo note to disc jockeys for Yucca 117.

Someone named Lonnie L. Lillie died in an automobile accident near Luling on February 25, 1965. The article that ran in the Austin American noted that he was a resident of Wadsworth -- a small town near the coast -- but was the son of a San Marcos family. Lillie left behind a widow and four step-children. No mention is made of a music career. He was 28.

The death of Lonnie Lillie. Austin American, February 27, 1965. 

Admittedly, all this is highly speculative. But I suspect that the person who died near Luling in 1965 was the same person who recorded "Truck Driver's Special," and later four more singles under the pseudonym Rex Rinehart. No hard evidence exists to connect these dots, but perhaps a relative of Mr. Lillie or Mr. Rinehart will surface to confirm or deny these suspicions.

Lonnie Lillie "Truck Driver's Special" (Marathon 5003)

Rex Rinehart "Going Back (To My Baby)" (Bulletin 1002)

Rex Rinehart: "More Than Me" (Bulletin 1002)

Sunday, April 15, 2018

On the Road with Blackie Crawford & the Western Cherokees: The Bobby Black Interview

The Western Cherokees are invariably remembered today because of their association with Lefty Frizzell, George Jones, and Ray Price, obscuring the fact that the group existed as a discrete unit for many years. Guitarist/vocalist Robert Lawrence “Blackie” Crawford (1923-1984)), an ex-Marine and WWII veteran, was the founder and leader of the group, which originally went by the Sons of Texas and, briefly, the Tune Toppers. Their pedigree as the backing band on a few of Frizzell’s biggest early hits (most notably “Always Late,” which Blackie co-wrote) earned them their own recording contract with Coral Records in late 1951. They were ably managed by Jack and Neva Starns, veteran promoters and club owners in East Texas. By early 1953, they were based in Oklahoma City, but this would change when the Starnses purchased a large dance hall on the northern outskirts of Beaumont, Texas, a few months later. 
Steel guitarists are often a historian’s best friend, easily and vividly remembering details from decades past that remain a fuzzy, distant blur to their fellow bandmembers, and, happily, Bobby Black is no exception. Though his tenure with the Western Cherokees was brief (lasting less than a year, from spring to the fall of 1953), his insights are vital, giving us a clear snapshot of an otherwise murky and confusing time. Crucially, Bobby was in the band when the Cherokees were recruited by Jack and Neva to help launch the Starday label with two marathon sessions that probably occurred over two days at ACA Studios in Houston in the summer of 1953. ACA cut 78 rpm masters of the first four Starday singles on May 21, 1953. 
The following is based on interviews with Bobby Black on June 9, 1996; August 21, 1997; and February 2, 2005. (AB)

Andrew Brown: Bobby, you’re from California, correct? 
Bobby Black: Yeah. I’m originally from Arizona, but I’ve lived in California most of my life. 
How did you become involved with this band that was based in Oklahoma at that time? 
Well, I was playing what was the second gig of my career, at a place called Tracy Gardens in San Jose, California. I was 17 years old. Pee Wee Whitewing had been the house band’s steel player. All of the name artists, when they came through the area, would always appear there. So we got a chance to either back up these people or open for them — including Hank Williams, Bob Wills, Ernest Tubb, and Lefty Frizzell. The Western Cherokees were backing up Lefty on his tour. He was the number one guy at the time. Everybody was raving about him, and he was packing these places. So, they picked Pee Wee up (to tour with them), so I took Pee Wee’s place in the house band. 
When Pee Wee left the Cherokees, he recommended me. Why, I don’t know. (Laughter) There were a lot of pretty good steel players in Texas and Oklahoma. It was probably just because we were buddies. I had just started going to college at San Jose State. I was just about finished with my first semester when they called (in spring, 1953). I took the train to Oklahoma City – that’s where they were at first. We played at the Trianon Ballroom. Seems like we did that every other Saturday — we’d alternate with Hank Thompson. That was our headquarters for a while. Then we moved down to Beaumont. 

Bobby Black playing Pee Wee Whitewing's steel guitar at Tracy Gardens, San Jose, California, c. 1951. 
(Bobby Black Collection)

I remember my first night with those guys was at the Trianon Ballroom. I was so nervous. I remember going down to the Trianon and setting up before I’d even met anybody. I’d arrived in town maybe a couple of hours before. 
I set up, and met the guys when they came in. I was, like I said, so nervous and scared. We started playing. I had a cup of Coke sitting on stage, and some guy (audience member) with a bottle of whiskey in a brown bag kept pouring whiskey in my Coke. I’d reach down and drink, and after a while I just got plastered. I don’t have any recollection of that night. I didn’t drink then and I don’t drink now, but I guess that I thought I was going to be cool since I was away from home, and with these guys...I’m going to really start living it up. 
The next day, we went down to Ardmore, Oklahoma, to play some club. Of course, I was sober. Nobody said a dang thing to me the whole time. We played the first set, and Blackie and everybody gathered around me when we took a break...they shook my hand, patted me on the back. They were so happy that I’d played like I did. They said they were going to send me back home on the train, 'cause I’d played so bad the night before. (Laughter) Then I realized how stupid I must have been. 
Who else was in the band when you joined? 
Blackie (guitar), Pee Wee Wharton and Bob Heppler (fiddles), Burney Annett (piano), Bud Crawford (bass), and Jimmy Dennis (drums). We were based in Oklahoma City only a few months. It seemed to me like I was with the band six years, but I was probably with them only six or seven months. So much happened to me and the band during that time that it seems like a lot longer than that. But probably half of the time I was with them was spent in Oklahoma City, the other half in Beaumont. Neva’s Club in Beaumont was our headquarters, but we traveled around a lot. 

Robert "Blackie" Crawford (1951).

What precipitated the move from Oklahoma City to Beaumont? 
It’s funny, I didn’t pay that much attention to the politics of what was happening. All I cared about was just playing. The only thing I can think of is that the Starnses were friends with Blackie, and Neva’s was a new place, so they contacted Blackie to see if he wanted to play there — just make it our headquarters. 'Cause that’s what happened, of course. 
What was your impression of Jack and Neva Starns? 
I didn’t have much of a relationship with them. Jack...I don’t want to say he was a cut- throat businessman, but he was sort of a typical hustler type. A cigar-puffing guy. But I shouldn’t make any judgements, because I can’t say I knew him or Neva that well. Most of the time I was just hanging out with the guys in the band. We lived together for a while, the whole band. In Oklahoma City, anyway, we lived in one house. Blackie’s wife always cooked for us. It was kind of neat. A lot of fun — we had a lot of good times. 
I always liked Blackie. He was a character. He was a World War II veteran. He told me a story of climbing up a tree in some island in the Pacific and shooting a Jap sniper. The guy’s blood and everything got all over him...he freaked, and said he never got over the experience. And, every once in a while, he’d go into these terrible migraine headaches. They would lay him out -- he’d be in agony. So he’d have these weird attacks. 
Yes, apparently that was why he left the band later on. 
Really? I had no idea. When I left the band, it was a cheerful parting. We all got along real well. But I was homesick, and I decided to get married. I had broken up with my high school sweetheart when I left, so I felt like it was time to go back home, get married, settle down -- but it was a great experience for me. 

The Western Cherokees hanging out with members of the Bill Wimberley band at the Cowboy Inn in Wichita, Kansas, 1953. From left: Larry Black, Bobby Black, Jimmy Dennis, Cotton Whittington, fan, Blackie Crawford, fan, Gene Crownover. Click on picture to enlarge. (Bobby Black Collection)

How far away from Beaumont would you tour? There’s that one picture of you taken at the Cowboy Inn in Wichita, Kansas — would that be as far north as you’d tour? 
Probably. I remember playing in Texarkana. I remember playing the Big “D” Jamboree and the Louisiana Hayride. Those were the occasions when we’d wear those big war bonnets, headdresses. Fortunately we didn’t have to wear those all the time. Shreveport was as far east as I remember going. I guess it was mostly in Texas and Oklahoma that we toured...and Louisiana. We used Chrysler limousines with trailers to travel in. There were two of them. They were painted up with “The Western Cherokees” on the sides, and on the trailer, too. I remember seeing those back when they were backing up Frizzell in California. 
It got kind of rough in those cars. I remember trying to sleep while somebody was driving. It was really uncomfortable. 
That probably also contributed to your leaving the band, eh? 
Yeah. I got tired of that kind of fast. (Laughter) 'Course, I was pretty young, so I could take it, but I could never do something like that now, that’s for sure. 
We used to play in Houston at Magnolia Gardens. We backed up Tommy Sands there, among many others. I met Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys out there. I remember seeing a guy get shot right in front of me there while we were playing. He didn’t get killed. He was drunk, or raising hell, and the cops came right up in front of me and shot the guy. It was always so hot and humid there. I’d never encountered that until I left California. 
Another place we played a lot in Houston was Cook’s Hoedown. I can still see the red and white checkered tablecloths they had on the tables there. It’s funny, I never met Herb Remington there. I saw him play once at Cook’s, but didn’t get to meet him. 
We went out with Webb Pierce a lot. He was really hot at that time. So many guys like him didn’t have their own bands. They’d hire these, what were called “pick up” bands -- usually out of Texas or Oklahoma. 'Cause they were pretty good units who could play a lot of styles. In those days, swing was kind of still happening, so before and after the star got up and sang, the band would do all their swing stuff. And get away with it. (Laughter) So when Ray Price picked up the band, it evolved into the Cherokee Cowboys. 
After I had left the band and had been gone for a while, they did a tour with Ray Price out here in California. I think it was in Sacramento...I drove out to see them. It was the last time I saw Blackie and those guys. 

From left: Bobby Black, Bob Heppler, and Luther Nallie, 1953. (Bobby Black Collection.)

At live shows, did Blackie do most of the vocals, or did Bob Heppler share them with Blackie? 
Heppler of course did some, but Blackie did most of them as I recall. Heppler was a pretty good singer, but at the time I thought he sounded a little bit too “poppish.” (Laughter) It sounds fine to me now. 
Do you remember Rusty McDonald? I liked his singing, his writing...him personally. Few people have ever heard of the guy. I played a lot of gigs with him. In fact, I think I met Jimmy Day and Floyd Cramer during one of those Rusty McDonald gigs. At times, Blackie and the whole band would back him up. Rusty would hire the band to back him up for different things. And sometimes, he’d just pick up part of the band, without Blackie. And I did most of those gigs. I always liked working with him. He had a sound and style that I really liked. 
You mentioned Neva’s Club in Beaumont as being the band’s headquarters during mid-to-late 1953. Can you describe what it was like? 
Neva’s was like a miniature Longhorn Ballroom. Do you remember the Longhorn Ballroom in Dallas? We played there a few times, as well. Neva’s had a nice, large hardwood dance floor...they had a little restaurant there, kind of a typical place like they had in those days. It was fun to play there. 
George Jones was living in Beaumont then. I had met him before that, though, at the place I mentioned in San Jose. That was when he was still in the Marines. He was stationed out here at Moffett Air Field. He’d be in uniform -- he’d come out and sing with us. Nobody knew who he was; he was just “George Jones, the Singing Marine.” He’d do Lefty Frizzell songs. So when I went with Blackie, I saw him and said, “Hey! You’re that guy...” There was always that kind of thing going on back in those days. 
Did George Jones appear with the band at this point? 
No. He came up to the radio station that one time, just to watch us play, I guess. 

The Western Cherokees, Polaroid snapshot taken at Neva's Club in Beaumont, 1953. This is the only known photo of the 1953 band on stage. From left: Bobby Black, unknown, unknown (Norman Stevens?), Blackie Crawford, Robert Shivers (first fiddle), Bob Heppler (second fiddle), Milburn "Burney" Annett. Click to enlarge. (Bobby Black Collection)

In that snapshot of the band playing at Neva’s, there’s a guy playing lead guitar that looks like Norman Stevens. I didn’t think he had worked with Blackie after 1951. 
That’s probably who it was. Maybe he was just sitting in when that picture was taken. I don’t remember him being in the band when we were working. 
Were you on a salary? How did Blackie pay you? 
No, we would get paid by the gig, as I recall. And it wasn’t much, as you can imagine. I think in those days we would get between ten and fifteen dollars a night per man to play. But I thought I was on top of the world, actually. I didn’t make any money, but I sure had a lot of fun. 
How many records do you remember making with them? 
I was in the band when we did all of the very first Starday recordings, (for example) “Cherokee Steel Guitar.” One of the things that stands out, I did a thing with Patsy Elshire (“Someday I Know He Will”). I did sort of a Joaquin Murphey-type solo. Naturally, it was not as good as Joaquin. ‘Cause I was influenced by Joaquin a lot. That was one of the tunes I remember hearing on the radio after I came back out here. Eddie Kirk was a disc jockey, and he played it. And after it finished, he came on the microphone and said something to the effect of, “Hey folks, that steel break was so neat, I wish I knew who it was...I’m gonna play it for you one more time.” And he played the solo over again. And man, I was in hog heaven. I was soaring on cloud nine. 

Patsy Elshire - "Someday I Know He Will" (Starday 109) featuring Bobby Black on steel guitar, plus Robert Shivers or Bob Heppler (fiddle), and Burney Annett (piano). 

What about “You All Come” by Arlie Duff? 
There’s a funny story behind “You All Come.” We were over at Jack Starns’ house when we worked up those songs. We had Arlie Duff come over, Patsy Elshire, and all those people. So we went over all the different songs we had. I think Blackie wrote a few of 'em. And, of course, Arlie Duff wrote “You All Come.” He was a schoolteacher in town. The flipside was “Poor Old Teacher.” Arlie was a likeable guy, kind of a clown. It was hard to believe he was a teacher. We didn’t look down on him, but he had the most insignificant songs that we were going over, I felt. I thought, “Man, why are we doing these tunes? They’re so corny.” We were always looking for something more swinging to play, so I felt like we had to lower ourselves to play these. I remember somebody, maybe Blackie, saying, “Aw, play really corny on this stuff,” so I did, of course. 
That must have been a surprise when “You All Come” became a massive hit. 
Oh, I couldn’t believe it. I remember when we recorded it, I thought it was the corniest thing. It was almost a joke to me. As it turned out, naturally, that was the thing that made the most noise. 
Those first Starday sessions were recorded in Houston. I thought they were done at ACA Studios, but Patsy Elshire insisted that she recorded her first single at Floyd Tillman’s studio, which was in his house. Does that sound plausible? 
It wasn’t a home. It was a high-ceilinged, warehouse-looking place that had been converted into a studio. I do remember seeing those egg crates on the walls. I’m sure I would have remembered if it was at Floyd’s, because I knew who he was. We backed him up on some shows in Houston, but I don’t remember ever recording at his place. 
We were in there, at the most, two days. We did a whole bunch that first day. It seems to me that we may have gone back the next day and done the rest. 
By that time, Luther Nallie had joined the band. Luther thought that Pee Wee Wharton was playing fiddle and singing backup vocals on those first sessions. But Bob Heppler had no recollection of him playing there. 
It could recollection is kind of vague at times. So, that’s possible. (Fiddler) Robert Shivers came along later. Pee Wee Wharton wasn’t with the band very long. He was with us in Oklahoma City. I don’t think he went to Beaumont. We had twin fiddles there (in Beaumont), Heppler and Shivers. 
Luther Nallie was playing lead guitar. He wasn’t in the band very long (either). 

Western Cherokees - "Cherokee Steel Guitar" (Starday 102) featuring Bobby Black on steel guitar, plus Robert Shivers or Pee Wee Wharton and Bob Heppler (fiddles), Burney Annett (piano), Blackie Crawford (guitar) , Luther Nallie (tenor banjo), Bud Crawford (bass), and Jimmy Dennis (drums). Recorded at ACA Studio in Houston circa May, 1953. 

Did you come up with “Cherokee Steel Guitar”? How did that evolve? 
No, I think that was Bobby Garrett’s thing. Garrett was in the band at one time before me. They had been doing it a while before I joined. Blackie showed me how it went. 
There were a lot of good steel players in that band — Jimmy Biggar, Bobby Garrett, (Curly) Chalker, and of course, Pee Wee Whitewing. So I was fortunate to be, for a short time anyway, a member of that group. I always felt kind of proud, because I thought I was in fast company with so many good steel players. 

Bobby Black on stage.

What kind of a steel guitar did you play? 
I had a Bigsby. As a matter of fact, I was with Blackie in Beaumont when I got my Bigsby. Boy, that was a day I’ll never forget. It had been on back order for over a year. Before that, I had a double-neck Fender. But I used my Bigsby on all of those Starday things. God, I regret the day I let that guitar go. I don’t even know what I did with it. I sold it to somebody I guess, but I don’t even remember who. I’d give anything to have it back now. 
When I left the band and came back here, it doesn’t seem like it was long after that that I got a call from Burney Annett. He said that he and bunch of the guys were going to Springfield, Missouri, to do the Ozark Jubilee with Red Foley, and they were thinking about using me or Curly Chalker. Chalker took the gig, but it kind of pleased me that they called me first. Curly had a personality that was kind of weird at times. He didn’t get along that well with a lot of people. So I think that was why they called me first. And I turned 'em down. I’ve always kind of regretted that in a way. 

Any final thoughts on Blackie Crawford? 
I really liked Blackie. He had a certain machismo about him, kind of a tough guy. But he treated me good. To this day, I remember some of the rules he had. I thought they were kind of unusual. It was because of some of the previous members of the band, including Curly Chalker — probably primarily because of Curly Chalker. One of them was that no wives or girlfriends could come to the gigs. (In California) I was used to seeing guys bring their wives or girlfriends to the gigs. But I guess that fights would break out. I never saw that happen while I was with the band, mainly because that rule was observed. 
But Blackie was a fatherly figure to me. He was probably just a young guy (laughter), but I saw him as this older, fatherly kind of guy to me. 

Bobby Black's Starday Discography
101 Mary Jo Chelette
A: Cat Fishing
B: Gee, It's Tough To Be Thirteen

102 Blackie Crawford
A: Mariuch (Mottie-Ooch)
The Western Cherokees
B: Cherokee Steel Guitar

103 Bob Heppler
A: I Don't Like It
B: If You Don't Mind

104 Arlie Duff
A: You All Come
B: Poor Ole Teacher

105 Blackie Crawford and the Western Cherokees
A: Huckleberry Pie
The Western Cherokees
B: Hot Check Baby

106 Arlie and Lois Duff
A: A Million Tears
Arlie Duff
B: Stuck-In-A-Mud Hole

107 Bob Heppler
A: Handle With Care
B: One Step Ahead

108 not issued

109 Patsy Elshire
A: Someday I Know He Will
B: Two Can Play The Game

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Peggy Little on Pathfinder 16111/16112

Peggy Little - If I Had Wheels (Buddy Lackey) / Hardest Easy Thing (Jerry Lane) (Pathfinder 16111/16112)

Although most associated with the 1950s, Jack Rhodes continued to produce records, discover artists, and work on songwriting and publishing right up until his death in 1968. One of the later labels he was involved with was Benny Harris's Pathfinder out of Mineola. For this label he apparently discovered and recorded a young Peggy Little. Jack didn't write "If I Had Wheels," but he did co-own the publishing (Allroads Music BMI), and the dead wax says, "Rhodes." This record, a Rite pressing dating from 1966, is a little late for this blog, but is presented here for its' rarity and Jack Rhodes involvement.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Sound Files Restored (and Other Renovations)

When our former file hosting site (DivShare) went kaput in March, 2015, all the sound files on this blog disappeared into the ether. Discouraged, I moved on to other things, but the voices unfairly resigned to a digital purgatory kept nagging me and calling me back. I'm pleased to announce that after three years of silence, the sound files on Wired For Sound have now been restored via a new hosting site, Soundcloud.

It appears that many of the files on this blog were also cloned by YouTube users (or were uploaded from their own collections in some cases). Since I don't have any faith that Soundcloud will be any more reliable or longer-lived than DivShare, I've linked to these YouTube videos in many cases.
A few B-sides were lost during the reconstruction, but 98% of the songs on the blog in March, 2015, are back again -- sometimes in improved sound.

I've also added sound files to former posts that had none, such as the Lightnin' Hopkins, George Ogg, and Durwood Haddock pages, and while doing that I decided that a complete sweep of the blog was necessary to bring it up to date. Dead links were corrected or deleted, new information was added to certain pages, and new images were added where I could find them.

Here are the pages most affected by the renovation:

"No Color in Poor": San Antonio's Harlem Label - Sound files added for most releases, and the discography has been updated to include the two Harlem LPs released by L.R. Docks in 1979. We've come a long way since 1998, when I first began searching (in vain) for any information on this label.

Otis Glover on Phamous 101 - Updated and rewritten to include information from a 1951 article about the Phamous label that ran in the Austin American-Statesman, and more information about "Blind Boy" Otis Glover.

Lightnin' Hopkins - The 1954 ACA Sessions - Sound files added.

Goldband Records: The Early Years - Sound files added, label images added.

Vanity of Vanities: The Special Edition Label - Sound files added, including (for the first time on the Internet) Peppermint Harris's single "I Had a Dream" b/w "Twenty-Four Hours."

Solid Jackson Hipsters on Nucraft 103 - Rewritten with new information and sound files of Jack "Scat" Powell's 1930s recordings.

Rusty McDonald on Chesterfield 354 - Updated with new information about McDonald's previously unknown association with Albuquerque, New Mexico, during this period.

Rusty McDonald on Intro 6061 - Updated with a new photo from McDonald's family, and the only known film footage of a young Rusty from the 1943 film "Springtime in Texas" has been restored.

Durwood Haddock - Updated with sound files.

Western Swing in Houston: The George Ogg Interview - Updated with sound files, including previously unknown live radio broadcasts of the Peck Kelley Trio posted on YouTube recently.

A lot more new information and sound files will be added this year, so check back often.

Onward and upward.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Rusty McDonald with Cliff Bruner on Ayo 105

Rusty McDonald in the late 1930s/early 1940s.

Rusty McDonald, vocal with Cliff Bruner and his Texas Wanderers - Ouch/You Took Advantage of a Broken Heart (Ayo 105)


Rusty McDonald's second record, which may be described as a "jump blues-western swing novelty," went unnoticed at the time of its release in 1950, buried on the flipside of an organ-drenched pop ballad on a local Houston label. The 28-year-old McDonald's absence from recording during the previous decade is still one of the unexplained mysteries in Texas/Oklahoma music. It could not have been simply that he was constantly on the road during those years -- plenty of other people were, too, and that didn't prevent them from seeking out (or being sought by) the labels so active both in the pre- and postwar years in Texas. Perhaps record companies thought his voice was too "pop" sounding -- but the same could be said about dozens of others who did record, from Dickie McBride to Adolph Hofner.

The circumstances surrounding this session, held at ACA around October, 1949, are somewhat chaotic. Credited to Cliff Bruner and his Texas Wanderers, the group is actually Richard Prine and his All-Stars from Beaumont. Bruner's band had broken up not long before this, but he was called back to play fiddle and share singing duties. The other musicians heard are: Deacon Anderson (steel guitar), Ben "Moon" Mullins (piano and writer of "Ouch"), Buck Henson (bass), and Richard Prine (drums). McDonald may play rhythm guitar. How he came to sing with the All-Stars isn't known, but he remained associated with the Beaumont area off and on for years, holding down a daily radio program there in 1953.

Shortly after this, Bruner would leave Beaumont for Amarillo, where he opened a club with Rip Ramsey. McDonald was soon off with Bob Wills. On April 27, 1950, they recorded "Faded Love" for MGM in Los Angeles, and nobody asked about "Ouch" ever again.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Donald Adkins on Random 60

Donald Adkins - Narco County Jail/I'm Still in Love With You (Random 60)

For a record collector, there is nothing more disheartening than rummaging through thousands of records and finding only generic, major label junk. You've wasted your time for nothing, knowing full well that other collectors have preceded you and carted away anything remotely interesting. This was the state of my despair one gloomy afternoon at a Shreveport flea market in 2005. Not even local '60s and '70s country records -- which most collectors ignore -- were left behind. Out of the countless singles I pawed through that day, only one caught my eye as having any potential: Donald Adkins' "Narco County Jail" on the Random label. I had never heard of the artist, title, or label, and while it appeared to be a '70s pressing, songs about jails from any era usually have something to recommend them. I assumed that "Narco County Jail" was a novelty version of the old folk song, "Dallas County Jail," updated to include something about a recent social menace, narcotics, hence "Narco." Many old songs had been similarly updated by country singers in the '60s and '70s. This must be more of the same.

I was wrong. The record confounded all expectations. Without warning, I was about to be ushered into ... the Adkins Zone.

I spend some time in the Narco County Jail
For not having a beard
I said to the jailer, "What would be my bail
to get out of this here jail?"
He said, "Two dollars is all I'll have to pay
Just to be out and get on my way"
And I could be surety, and try not to fail
To get back in the Narco County Jail
And I cried, "Oh, sweet mama, please go my bail
And get me out of the Narco County Jail"

These lyrics make no sense at all. Why was the person arrested and jailed on a charge of "not having a beard"? Surely some explanation would be forthcoming in the chorus or next verse for this bizarre allegation, but there is no chorus, and the next verse simply repeats the first one. And why "Narco"? It has nothing to do with narcotics, nor is there any county in the United States named Narco. Again, no explanation. Musically, only three instruments are heard: guitar, piano, and fiddle; the fiddle isn't in the same key as the guitar and piano, and pianist is playing an antiquated boogie style of the 1940s, not the ubiquitous Floyd Cramer style of the '60s and later. This, too, was disorienting: how many records have only those three instruments? And while it appeared to be a '70s pressing, aurally, the record sounded like it could have been recorded any time in the 20 years between 1960 and 1980. I could think of no other recording that defied simple chronological context that widely.

Is this "outsider" music? I suppose so. The lyrics are bizarre, the musicianship is questionable, the whole thing is perplexing, irritating, absurd, and intriguing.

There was no address on the label, but the publishing was Cabriolet Music BMI, a company still in business and run by Shreveport disc jockey/entrepreneur "Dandy" Don Logan. I contacted him and he replied that although he had not been in contact with Adkins for decades, he was certainly a Texas-based singer. A while later, I found a second Adkins disc, "We Don't Have to Build a Fence," on the Malibu label. Once again, this had no address, but it was more identifiably a '60s sound, and it was pressed by Rec-O-Press in Arlington (near Dallas), further pointing to a North or East Texas origin for Mr. Adkins. Since that time, a third disc, "Lonely Side Walks," has been documented and has been reissued on the Small Town Country LP (Orien Read). This is a Houston Records "LH" pressing from 1973, but there is still no address on the label.

Thankfully, a digitized copy of the Longview News-Journal recently turned up to help illuminate the inscrutable Donald Adkins. "East Texas Songman Enjoying His Hobby" by Terry Neill, published April 8, 1973, is an unusually detailed and informative piece. In addition to finally providing an address (East Mountain, Texas, a small hamlet just north of Longview), and a photo, the article also tells us exactly how many records Adkins had made to that point (11), why he made them (it's his hobby), where they were recorded (Robin Hood Brians' Studio in Tyler, Sound on Sound in Bossier City, La., and his own house), where they were pressed (Houston Records at the time of writing), what their titles were, which radio stations played them (KFRO in Longview, KEES in Gladewater, and KZAK in Tyler) and how many copies were pressed (typically 300, which answers why so few have ever turned up in recent years).

Donald Adkins "Doing His Thing." (1973)

According to Neill, "Narco County Jail" is a "humorous tale of the jail erected here for the city's centennial celebration several years ago." This doesn't really serve as an explanation, since Longview is in Gregg County, not Narco County, but at least it fixes a date around 1970. The article further reveals that "a friend, Les Bryan," plays guitar and piano on Adkins' records. Presumably, this is the same Les Bryan who played piano with Blackie Crawford's Western Cherokees in the early 1950s. I knew there had to be a Starday connection lurking somewhere in the Adkins saga.

Perhaps some more Donald Adkins singles will turn up in the future. With only 300 pressed each, all are rare today. I wish there had been more "hobbyists" like him, making records on their own terms, defying record industry norms, and making music that can still perplex and confound listeners decades later.

Provisional Donald Adkins Discography

Loneliest Man in Town/ ? (Hilltop?) 1964
April Fool's Day/ ? (Malibu?)
Country Hawaiian Style/Ten Thousand Drums (Malibu 1005) 1960s?
We Don't Have to Build a Fence/It's All Over (Malibu) 1960s
Narco County Jail/I'm Still in Love with You (Random 60) circa 1970
Back to Baltimore/Driftwood (Malibu?) 1970s?
Fast Talking, Slow Walking City Woman (vocal-Donnie Pullin)/Tennessee Hills (Malibu?) 1970s?
Longview Town/The Gifts (Malibu?) 1970s
The Safari/I'll Forgive (Malibu?) 1970s
Lonely Side Walks/Miserable Life (Malibu 1001) LH-8505 1973

Any additional info on Mr. Adkins or his records is welcome.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Ed Miller & The Louisiana Playboys on Playboys 100

Ed Miller & The Louisiana Playboys -  I Had Someone Else / Ed Miller Blues (Playboys 100)

This group and single were unknown to me until 2013, when the Hillbilly Researcher (Al Turner) posted sound files on his blog. Since that time, DivShare went out of business, and the files hosted by their site disappeared, but this record is too good and too unknown to allow that condition to remain. I'm pleased to restore these choice western swing performances here (files below).

Ed Miller and the Louisiana Playboys were based in Monroe, Louisiana, and were featured on KMLB and KNOE radio there from 1945 to 1950. It is from this period that these recordings likely originate from. The group's activities after 1950 are harder to trace, but the Monroe newspapers have advertisements for them as late as February, 1961.

Perhaps it was around this time Ed Miller decided to take an old acetate of the group and press a single at Plastic Products in Memphis, as a sort of keepsake for family and friends of the band to remember their glory days. There could have been no expectation of airplay of this type of music during the Twist era. One wishes the acetate had been in better condition, especially the "Ed Miller Blues" side. The surface noise heard is not from the 45 itself, but the original source.

The July 6, 1946, edition of Billboard listed the personnel of the Louisiana Playboys as: Brooks Hamilton (piano), Robert East ("electric standard"), "Pappy" Cairo ("hot electric steel"), Edmond Middleton (rhythm guitar), and Huey Middleton and Tommy Thompson (twin fiddles). Since Ed Miller is not listed, perhaps he was only the vocalist, or was a non-playing member, a la R.D. Hendon or Dave Edwards. "Pappy" Cairo is of course the well-known and ubiquitous Papa Cairo (Julius Lamperaz), who appears to have spent a little time with every hot string band in Louisiana in the 1940s. Cairo is also pictured with the band in a photo that ran in the Monroe Morning World in October 1947 (see below). Not long after this, Miller added a sax player.

"I Had Someone Else" is a version of the 1920s pop fox trot "I Had Someone Else Before I Had You (And I'll Have Someone After You're Gone)," written by Jack Staney and composed by Harry Harris and Joe Darcy. Ed Miller's version is undoubtedly inspired by Milton Brown's later western swing version of the 1930s. 

"Ed Miller Blues" is a bluesy romp in the "Brain Cloudy Blues"/"Milk Cow Blues" tradition. From this side, we can get a few of the names of the musicians -- Paul Jackson on steel, "Mr. Larry (inaudible)" on sax, and  "Bobby -- East, now" on lead guitar. Strikingly, the fiddles and piano -- usually mainstays of any western swing band -- are absent from both sides. 

Acetates were usually forgotten by the musicians who played on them, or worn out by careless listeners who didn't appreciate the fragility of the medium. Fortunately, Ed Miller thought his old band and their music were worth preserving. 

Monroe Morning World - October 19, 1947 - Papa Cairo on steel

Club DeSoto (Alexandria) ad - May 8, 1946

Delta Club (Monroe) ad - April 2, 1947

Sam's Round-Up Club (Monroe) ad - February 11, 1961

Sheet music to an early version of "I Had Someone Else Before I Had You (And I'll Have Someone After You're Gone)" -- 1920s

"I Had Someone Else"

"Ed Miller Blues"

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

High Pockets and the Sun Valley Playboys on Rainbow 1086/87

High Pockets (Manuel Dickerson) and the Sun Valley Playboys - "Then We'll Be Happy" / "Boy Crazy Jane" (Rainbow 1086/87)

Not much is known about the Sun Valley Playboys, who walked into Bill Quinn's Gold Star Studio in 1955 and made this one record. They may have been from the Galveston area, as songwriter A.J. Milutin was a barber in that city. Milutin had faith in "Boy Crazy Jane." Ernie Hunter cut his own version a few years later.

Both sides of this single have been reissued, but with fake digital echo not on the original. The Soundcloud clips are taken directly from the 45 with no additional processing.

"Then We'll Be Happy"

"Boy Crazy Jane"

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Barre Recording/Apogee Records of Victoria, Texas

After 40 years of research, it sometimes seems that no Texas label was so localized that could it nearly escape all documentation, but the Apogee/Barre label and studio from Victoria perhaps comes closest to eluding all 45 rpm collectors everywhere. Late 1960s country is, of course, not a hot genre with a cult following, which helps explain why this operation remained unknown until recently. But such songs as Joe Diamond's "Six White Horses" and Betty Valchar's "The Farmer's Daughter" put the listener more in the late 1950s or early '60s than they do with the sounds we normally associate with the period, and without the pressing plant information I would've assumed that these were from the early '60s at the very latest.

Gene Huckleberry was the man behind this operation, like so many other small studios/labels run out of his house. Nothing is known about him, but he is probably the same Eugene Huckleberry who died in Victoria in 1972. Huckleberry must have viewed this as an interesting hobby, not a commercial operation, as there are no notices in Billboard or anywhere else that I can find. Everything found so far dates from a brief four-year period, 1966-69, but there are a lot of missing numbers, and it is very possible that more than seven releases exist. Oddly, Huckleberry did not use the nearby TNT or Houston Records pressing plants, and instead had all pressing done by Wakefield in Arizona.

The Zebras - What Was Being Done (Baker) / The Moon's Going Down (Baker) (Zebras 305) Vocal: Garland Baker 1966

Teen rock. The earliest known Barre record, Gene had not even bothered to create a label name at this point and therefore "Zebra Records" was selected. Three hundred copies were pressed, which was probably the standard pressing amount for all of the following records. Label photo and info from the On the Road South blog

Henry and the Brushy Creek Bunch - My Old Country Shack (Bennettsen) / Springtime Memories (Bennetsen) Henry Bennetsen, Vocal (Apogee 306) SJW-8949 1966/67

Bluegrass. This is Henry Bennetsen, the fiddler and leader of the Southernaires who had releases on Gilt-Edge, Sarg, and Starday in the 1950s. Henry left that group in the late '50s or early '60s and started the Brushy Creek Bunch. This may be his final recording.

Robert Parker and the Blue Boys - I'm Still in Love (With You) (Parker) / Riff-Raff (Bade-Bridewell) (Apogee 360) 1966/67

Country. No explanation for the jump in numbers from 306 to 360. The first release to identify Victoria as the location.

Joe Diamond - Six White Horses (Diamond) / It'll Take Time (Apogee 362) SJW-9842 1967

Moody and primitive country on the A-Side. Good.

Betty Valchar with the Westerners - The Farmer's Daughter (Valchar) / (Apogee 369) 1967/68

Country. This is probably the same group known as Homer and Gene and Westerners, who had several releases on Sarg from this period. People can be forgiven for thinking this late 1960s release was a '50s record, because the tasty Chet Atkins-influenced lead guitar, Southern vocals, and soundscape do not sound contemporary to the late '60s. Presumably, Valchar was from the Victoria area. A fun record. The six numbers between Joe Diamond and this suggests that there are more releases to be found from this period.

Five Jades - How Can I Try (R. Williams) / You're Gonna Love Me Too (Williams-Brandt-Mueller-Shepherd) (Barre 371) 1968

Victoria group. Light pop with trumpet lead. Not related to Freddy Koenig and the Jades (the El Campo Jades), despite El Campo being located only 53 miles away from Victoria. Label changed from "Apogee" to "Barre." Barre 370 is unknown.

Kelly Hairrell and the Swingmasters  - Key's in the Mailbox (nc) / Table Next to Mine (nc) (Barre 373) Vocal K. Hairrell (SJW-12976) 1968/69

Unheard, but undoubtedly country. The last known Barre/Apogee record as of this writing. Barre 372 is unknown.