Welcome to Mellow's Log Cabin. This blog's purpose is to supply information on a diversity of American southern music - ranging from country, blues, old-time and folk to R&B, rock'n'roll and rockabilly. I regularly present my research results about artists, labels, shows and also give guest writers a chance to publish their texts here on occasion.

UPDATES

• Added Big Style #101 to Big Style Records discography.
• Added more information to the Bob Taylor post, thanks to Jimmy Hunsucker.

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Sunday, January 10, 2021

Ed Bruce R.I.P.

Country music star Ed Bruce died January 8, 2021, at the age 81 years in Clarksville, Tennessee. Bruce was originally from Keiser, Arkansas, and got his start at Sun Records in Memphis in the 1950s, where he recorded such songs as "Rock Boppin' Baby" as Edwin Bruce.

He had a first hit with "Walker's Wood" in 1966 but was more successful as a songwriter during those years, noteworthy "The Last Train to Clarksville," which became a top hit for the Monkees. Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings scored a hit with Bruce's "Mammas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys," which was a #15 hit for Bruce in 1975. He had a #1 with "You're the Best Break This Old Heart Ever Had" in 1981. He was also active as an actor, for example starring the TV series "Bret Maverick" along with James Garner.

My first encounter with Bruce was when I heard a live version of his "If It Was Easy," but my favorite recording of him is his original "Mammas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys." The following video shows Bruce performing it in his later years.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

More from Bey Ireland

 Bey Ireland - My Bimini Baby (Panama P108), 1959

Following my recent post, in which I explained the general facts about the flip side of this disc, regarding song titles, songwriter, artists and record label - we will go deeper into the history of one of the artists, Bey Ireland namely.

The man with the strange sounding name was apparently a South Florida resident in the 1950s. He first appeared on Prom Records, which was part of Henry Lapidus' Synthetic Plastics record empire out of Newark, New Jersey. The budget label, which featured cheap versions of the actual hits of the day, was renamed "Promenade" in 1956. Ireland cut a few songs for the label in late 1955, including a cover of Georgie Shaw's hit "No Arms Can Ever Hold You." The recording was paired on Prom #1133 with "Dogface Soldier" by Maury Laws and his Orchestra on the slip side. It was also released on a Prom EP #701 at the same time. In 1956, he appeared with a version of "To You My Love" on Prom EP #714.

About three years later, Ireland began recording for Harold Doane. Doane ran the American Recording and Transcription Service (often shortened to ART) in Miami and had made himself a name with the first commerical recordings of goombay and calypso music in the early 1950s. By the mid to late 1950s, Doane also recorded local rock'n'roll as well as country acts and released the results on his three small record labels: Art, Perfect, and AFS. Ireland first cut a disc for AFS, featuring "Old Chuck Wagon" b/w "A Stocking Full of Love" (AFS #304, 1958), accompanied by the Stardusters. Likely that same year, he followed up on Art with "Snap, Crackle and Rock" b/w "Baby Sitter's Rock." Both songs were written by Ruth Hardt (see the previous post for more info on her) and Ireland's versions were rollicking rock'n'roll performances. He was again backed by the Stardusters as well as the Tommy Miles Trio. As Doane's companies had no financial means to put behind the releases, both records stood no chance on the national market. If at all, they were good local sellers.

About a year later, Ireland recorded Ruth Hardt's "My Bimini Baby" and "Popcorn and Candy Bars." They were issued on Herb Wolff's Panama label in Miami. However, success eluded Ireland again and at some point afterwards, he made the move to Nashville, epicenter of the country music industry. Or, at least, he recorded exclusively for Nashville record labels from that point on. It is likely that his extensive tour activies also began around this time.

In 1964, Ireland appeared on the RIC label with one single, followed by "You Gotta Have That Feeling" b/w "Someday I'm Gonna Go Back Home" for the Newport label in 1966, a snarky rock'n'roll and country flavoured garage outing. While Ireland had relied on other people's song material previously, he had begun recording his own compositions by then. All in all, he registered a total of 13 songs with BMI over the years. Also in 1966, he cut "All I Want for Christmas is a Go-Go Girl" for Newport, which developed some underground fame in present times due to the its lyrics and the rocking garage sound. He had another disc on Newport, one on JED and possibly his last one on the country label NSD in 1981.

Ireland toured extensively with his band across the south during the 1970s and 1980s. We last find mention of him in the Alabama Journal on December 31, 1985, as he played a dance on New Year's Eve in Montgomery. By that time, he had possibly settled in Alabama, as he was also billed as "The Alabama Flash" on the picture sleeve of his JED single. What happened to him afterwards has not been revealed yet. There are hints that he already passed away.


Discography

Prom 1133: Bey Ireland - No Arms Can Ever Hold You / Maury Laws & his Orchestra - Dogface Soldier (1955) (also on Prom EP #107 + 3 tracks by other artists)
Prom 714: Bey Ireland - To You My Love (+ 3 tracks by other artists)
AFS 304: Bey Ireland and the Stardusters - Old Chuck Wagon / The Stardusters - A Stocking Full of Love (1958)
Art 177: Bey Ireland with the Tri-Tones & the Stardusters - Snap, Crackle and Rock / Baby Sitter's Rock (1958)
Panama 108: Bey Ireland - Popcorn and Candy Bars / My Bimini Baby (1959)
RIC S 120-64: Bey Ireland - It's Love / Don't Let It Happen to You (1964)
Newport 101: Bey Ireland and the Emeralds - You Gotta Have That Feeling / Someday I'm Gonna Go Back Home (1966)
Newport 102: Bey Ireland - All I Want for Christmas Is a Go-Go Girl / Christmas Without You (1966)
Newport 103: Bey Ireland - Hello Pillow / You Better Take Me Home
JED 3-79: Alabama Rose / Lady I Care (1979)
NDS 112: Bey Ireland - Midnight Barroom All Alone Miss'n You Blues / Devil (1981)

See also 45cat and discogs for details.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

A Saturday Night with the Reavis Brothers Band

A Saturday Night with the Reavis Brothers Band
Special thanks to Andy Reavis

 
If you were living in the Southwest Missouri area in the 1950s or 1960s, you probably danced to the music of the Reavis Brothers Band on Saturday nights. This country music combo, which really consisted of seven brothers, was based in Southwest Missouri and entertained audiences with their music from the late 1950s until the early 1970s. The Reavis Brothers are today largely forgotten outside the southwestern region of the state in the heart of the Ozark Mountains, which is much due to the fact that they never released any records that could give collectors a hint to their existence. Coincidentally, Andy Reavis, a son of one of the Reavis Brothers, contacted me (actually to correspond about another Ozark country artist, Red Yeager) and provided me with details on his family's journey in Ozark country music.

The Reavis Brothers hailed from the small community of Crane, Missouri, a small, rural town with a population of nearly 1.000 habitans in the 1950s. The brothers' parents, Loren Elmer "Buck" Reavis (1904-1970) and his wife Thelma (McCullah) Reavis (1909-1974) cultivated a farm and Buck worked in the construction business most of his life. "His emphasis on being independent and being your own man carried forward with each son and made them strong as a family despite no formal education," remembers Andy Reavis, the grandson of Buck and son of Ted Reavis. Times were hard and life was not easy in the rural areas of the country. The oldest of the seven brothers was Robert “Bob” Reavis, born in 1929, followed by James “Jim” Reavis in 1930, William “Bill” Reavis in 1936, Jerry Reavis in 1937,  Teddy “Ted” Reavis in 1938, Gary “Butch” Reavis in 1945 and Kenneth “Kenny” Reavis in 1946.

Likely main street in Crane, Missouri, ca. 1940s

In the 1950s, Southwest Missouri became a country music hotbed and at one point rivaled Nashville, which had established itself as the capital of country music. The importance of the area to country music was mainly due to the production of the Ozark Jubilee in Springfield, Missouri, a local TV show hosted by Red Foley and featuring such notable artists as Brenda Lee. Other television shows like the Porter Waggoner show and Slim Wilson show soon appeared as well.  Many country music stars became regulars on the Ozark Jubilee and the music and entertainment business gained ground in Southwest Missouri. However, Springfield never outstripped Nashville as the epicenter of country music. But there were other hot places in the Ozarks for country music, too. In 1959, when Springfield's popularity as a country music hotbed declined, the Mabe family band started their "Baldknobbers" act in Branson, Missouri, followed by the Presley Country Jubilee in 1967. Both shows are still in existence and started Branson as an entertainment spot.

The rising of Southwest Missouri as a country music and entertainment region influenced the Reavis Brothers to start a band. None of them had completed high school nor had they any former musical education but they discovered they were musical inclined, nevertheless. "As brothers they stuck together which brought them into the band idea. They were never afraid to try something new," explains Andy. It was around 1957 when they decided to start a band. They borrowed money to purchase instruments and learned to play by ear. Inspired by such country artists as Ray Price or Faron Young, they started out as a honky tonk dance band and soon played weddings, political events, coon hunts, on local radio and several of the pubs and watering holes around Southwest Missouri. Their stage act also featured comedy routines in the style of such duos as Lum & Abner.

The line-up of the newly born band consisted of Teddy Reavis on vocals and guitar, Jim Reavis on vocals and electric guitar, Jerry Reavis on vocals and rhythm guitar, Bob Reavis on steel guitar, Bill Reavis on vocals and bass as well as Butch Reavis on drums and Kenny Reavis on vocals. Shortly after they started the band, the Reavis Brothers landed a spot on radio KRMO, a station in Monett, Missouri, featuring live Saturday morning performances. Other local radio stations KBHM, KSWM and KWTO also featured their music. It is needless to say that their regular radio appearances boosted their popularity and led to other engagements with a loyal group of regular followers.


Monett, Missouri, home of KRMO, in the 1950s


In 1957, the band made their first recordings at KRMO. These were not professional recordings but demo tapes that are in rough shape today. The cuts, done in a traditional country style, included two songs from 1955, Elvis Presley's “I Forgot to Remember to Forget” and Jimmy Works’ “Don’t Knock, Just Come On In” (which was not actually a hit recording but Work was a popular artist), or classics like “San Antonio Rose.” They stirred up some attention by a Nashville agency. In the end, however, nothing came of it. The brothers did another recording session in the 1960s, likely in 1966. They recorded one of that year’s hit, Jim Reeves’ “Blue Side of Lonesome” and Hank Locklin’s “I Feel a Cry Coming On,” which was the flip side to his Top 50 hit “Insurance.” Both songs were originally urban Nashville sound recordings but the Reavis Brothers Band managed to bring an ancient country charm to them. The session also produced an untitled instrumental and a version of Marty Robbins’ “The Hands You’re Holding Now,” which had been covered during the 1960s by different artists.

The Reavis Brothers Band, ca. 1960s, when they were featured acts at the Hillbilly-Land USA auditorium in Eagle Rock, Missouri

Through the 1960s, the Reavis Brothers continued to perform at talent contests and radio stations as well as other occasions. They were offered to promote two big and popular brands, Mountain Dew and Hillbilly Bread but declined the offer, which probably prevented wider recognition. They were also associated with Hillbilly-Land USA in the 1960s. Hillbilly-Land USA was an auditorium located on the banks of Table Rock Lake in Eagle Rock, Missouri, near the Missouri-Arkansas state border. It hosted popular music shows on weekends for years, including shows by the Reavis Brothers band. The brothers also featured guest musicians to boost their act, including fiddler Paul Thomas from Purdy, Missouri, or female vocalist Reitha Bigelow. Both appeared several times with the band in the 1960s.

In the early 1970s, the Reavis Brothers called it a day and retired from performing in public. "After the length of time involved in entertaining I think they just tired of the commitment. Kids were getting older and everyone pursued different vocations which drew them away from music," assumes Andy Reavis. They continued to play music at private family gatherings, however. Butch and Bill Reavis continued to perform with other bands, while Jerry and Ted both sang in church. Bill died in 1997, Jim im 2000, Ted in 2003, Bob in 2017, and Butch in 2019 leaving Jerry Reavis and Kenny Reavis as the remaining surviving brothers. Musical talent has been handed down through generations of the Reavis family, as Bob's grandson Caleb Reavis became a country and gospel performer. Bill's son Dusty Reavis also went on to become a musician, though he preferred other music genres.

Although they were not as famous as such Ozark performers like Slim Wilson or Speedy Haworth, the Reavis Brothers were popular enough in Southwest Missouri to earn them a display at the Ralph Foster Museum at the College of the Ozarks in Hollister, Missouri. Thousands of people danced to the music of the Reavis Brothers on a Missouri Saturday night - an effort worth enough to remember them.

Friday, November 27, 2020

Bey Ireland & Ruth Hardt on Panama

Bey Ireland - Popcorn and Candy Bars (Panama P108), 1959

I was interested in this record mainly because of the song titles and their songwriter instead of the actual performance. The reason why "Popcorn and Candy Bars" and "My Bimini Baby" looked so interesting for me, is the fact that Miami rockabilly artist Kent Westberry and his band, the Chaperones, also cut a version on both titles. The songs were penned by amateur songwriter Ruth Hardt, the wife of a local Miami doctor. She approached Harold Doane, who owned the American Recording and Transcription Service and its record labels Art, Perfect, and AFS. Doane in turn called one of his artists, Kent Westberry, who had cut a record on Art before. Backed by studio musicians including guitarist C.W. Keith, Westberry recorded the aforementioned two songs plus another of Hardt's compositions, "Turkish Doghouse Rock." Doane surprisingly released "Turkish Doghouse Rock" along with "Popcorn and Candy Bars" on Art #174 in 1959, although they were intended to be demo tapes. "My Bimini Baby" stayed in the vaults and the whereabouts of the tapes are unknown, unfortunately.

Also in 1959, Ruth Hardt managed that her songs were recorded on a second occassion, this time for the local Panama label, owned by Herb Wolff. The record featured "Popcorn and Candy Bars" b/w "My Bimini Baby" and on both sides, Bey Ireland took over the vocals, another local singer who performed rock'n'roll at that time. Ireland also had a great release on Art in his own right, "Snack, Crackle and Rock" / "Baby Sitter's Rock" (Art #177, ca. 1958). Also, these songs were written by Ruth Hardt. He later went to Nashville, where he cut several country singles on local labels including RIC, Newport, and JED. He toured the south at least until the early to mid 1970s.

Herb Wolff, Jr., was a National Airlines pilot until 1959, when he set up Panama Records. He regularly flew the New York-Miami line. The adress of the label was Box 146 at Airport Station in Miami, which makes it probable that Wolff still held his job as a pilot when founding Panama. The first record that appeared was by Buddie Satan (Panama #106) in June 1959. He found a business partner in the Compo Company based in Canada, which not only pressed his records but also handled the distribution. Cash Box announced the release of two LPs on the label by Buddy [!] Satin ("Satin Take's a Holiday") and Alan Dean ("Music to Bawl by") on June 20, 1959. The magazin gave the headquarter of the firm as Coral Gables, Florida. Alan Dean, "one of Panama's stars" as decribed by Cash Box in November 1959, went on a promotion tour in Australia after the release of his single "Don't Do It" b/w "The Come Back" (Panama #111). 

The Cash Box, June 20, 1959

The last disc of Panama was released early in 1960. Then, Wolff discontinued the label and instead founded another firm called Artistas Panamenos, which was indeed located in Panama. Billboard reported on November 14, 1960, that Wolff was searching for pressing plants at that time to manufacture his discs. Thereafter, Wolff vanished from the radar. There was a Herb Wolff, Jr., who appeared on October 18, 1971, in the Kingston Daily Freeman as the secretary-treasurer of the Cornell Hose Company, a volunteer fire company in Kingston, New York. If this is the same man, is not known.

More records on the Panama label can be found at 45cat.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Cecil Campbell on MGM

Cecil Campbell - Fog Rising on the Mountain (MGM K12245) 1956

Cecil Campbell is one of those artists that had built a reputation from the 1930s onwards, which he still held in the 1950s, but he is largely forgotten today. He helds his place in western swing history with the leadership of his band, the Tennessee Ramblers, and recording for RCA-Victor in the 1930s and 1940s. In rockabilly circles, he is best remembered for recordings like "Rock and Roll Fever" or "Dixieland Rock." The latter's flip side, the haunting "Fog Rising on the Mountain," is featured today.

Cecil Robert Campbell was born on March 22, 1911, in Danbury, North Carolina. Campbell grew up working on his father's tobacco farm and eventually began appearing on radio WSJS in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, by 1932. Previously, he had worked with different old-time groups locally. Campbell played guitar, tenor banjo, and was also a singer. His main instrument, however, became the steel guitar. He started out on acoustic dobro in the early years but eventually would follow the trend and switched to an electric steel guitar. He also became known for his showmanship and entertaining the audiences with his comedy act.

While visiting his brother in Pittsburgh in the early 1930s, Campbell was asked by Dick Hartman to join his band, the Tennessee Ramblers. Hartman had founded the group in 1928 for appearances on WDKA. The Ramblers' repertoire consisted of old-time fiddle music but they also tried their hand at a new style that was emerging during the early 1930s, which was soon to be called western swing. Members at that time included Hartmann on harmonica, guitar, and vocals, Kenneth "Pappy" Wolfe on fiddle and vocals, as well as Harry Blair on guitar and vocals (sometimes also referred to as "Horse Thief Harry"). And since many performers used nicknames, Campbell was often called "Curley" at that time. He joined the group on guitar, steel guitar, banjo, vocals, and by 1933, Hartman and the band had relocated to Charlotte, North Carolina, where they first appeared on WHEC, sponsored by the Crazy Water Crystals Company, and switched to WBT in 1936, where they became a mainstay.

Dick Hartman's Tennessee Ramblers, mid 1930s: Harry Blair,
Cecil "Curley" Campbell, Fred "Happy" Morris,
Dick Hartman, Kenneth "Pappy" Wolfe

The Tennessee Ramblers soon enjoyed a rising popularity, last but not least due to their regular performances on WBT and also its live stage show, the Crazy Barn Dance. The group also toured the country and appeared on different radio stations across the land. By the time the band first recorded in 1935, the group also featured fiddler Jack Gillette and later that same year also Fred "Happy" Morris on bass. Their first session took place on January 3, 1935, in New York City, where they cut numerous songs that were released on Bluebird. Some of them were also used for release on Montgomery Ward, His Masters Voice, and other labels.

The band continued to record until fall 1936, also as "Hartman's Heart Breakers" or "Washboard Wonders." This incarnation of the Tennessee Ramblers held its last session with RCA-Victor on October 11, 1936, in Charlotte. The Tennessee Ramblers kept on performing and also began appearing in various B western movies, including "Ride Ranger Ride" (1936), "The Yodelin' Kid from Pine Ridge" (1937, both starring Gene Autry), among others. Hartman left in 1938 but the band continued without him, simply calling themselves "The Tennessee Ramblers" now, led by Jack Gillette (previously, they were mainly billed as "Dick Hartman's Tennessee Ramblers").

The group got the chance to record for RCA again in 1939, starting on February 2 in Rock Hill, South Carolina. They recorded up until 1941 and Bluebird released discs by the Ramblers until April 1942, when the war brought the recording industry to an halt. By then, some of the original members had left and the line-up consisted of Campbell, Jack Gillette, Tex Martin (real name Martin Shorpe), and Harry Blair.

Don White, Claude Casey, and Cecil Campbell, ca. 1940s.
Both White and Casey were also popular Carolina based
artists and regulars on WBT.

In 1945, when the last original member of the band, Harry Blair, departed, Campbell took over the leadership of the Tennessee Ramblers, perfoming now under the name of "Cecil Campbell's Tennessee Ramblers" (which now included guitarist William Blair and bass player Roy Lear). This new unit now became his backing band instead of being an attraction in its own right. Campbell managed to secure a recording deal with RCA in 1945 after World War II. The first release of the new outfit hit the market just in time on January 1, 1946, featuring "Hawaiian Skies" b/w "Midnight Boogie" (RCA-Victor #20-1790, recorded ca. December 1945). Previously, Campbell had taken part in a Washington, D.C., joint session with Arthur "Guitar Boogie" Smith in ca. September 1944 and its results were released on Super Disc 78rpm releases in September 1945.

Campbell remained popular, not only in the Carolinas but also in other parts of the United States, through tours and appearances on such WBT shows as the Dixie Jamboree and the Carolina Hayride (which was broadcasted coast to coast over CBS from 1946 onwards).

While Campbell put out numerous singles during the 1940s and 1950s, his only chart hit recording was "Steel Guitar Ramble" in May 1949. Many of his 1940s RCA sides showcase his skills on the steel guitar, as Campbell and the Ramblers included many instrumentals in its repertoire. Campbell and RCA parted ways in 1951 but he continued to record for different labels afterwards. In 1952, he cut two singles for the local Charlotte based Big Wheel label and followed up with one disc on Palmetto Records in 1953. Both the Big Wheel and Palmetto recordings were taped down at radio WBT's studio in Charlotte, produced by Arthur Smith.

In 1955, Campbell signed a contract with the major MGM label. As nearly every other country music artist in those days, Campbell also incorporated some rock'n'roll material into his act, namely such songs as "Dixieland Rock" (1956, which was, however, hopped up western swing) or "Rock and Roll Fever" (1957). Both "Dixieland Rock" and its noteworthy flip side, the haunting country tune "Fog Rising on the Montain," were recorded in April 1956 possibly at Music City Recording in Nashville with an unknown line-up (except for Campbell on steel and vocals, logically). Both tunes were released on May 8 that year (MGM #K12245).

After his stint with MGM, Campbell took a break from recording but continued to do personal appearances. However, his popularity had waned since the beginning of the decade. Although he tried his hand at rock'n'roll to refresh his sound, his age and dated western swing sounds were not pleasing the young audiences anymore. In 1958, he went into the real estate business and remained active in this field until the 1970s.

Cecil Campbell's Tennessee Ramblers, 1950s


Nevertheless, he had not abandoned music. In 1964, Arthur Smith produced an instrumental album by Campbell, recorded in Smith's Charlotte studio and released by Starday as "Steel Guitar Jamboree." A year later, Campbell founded his own Winston label, on which he occasionally released recordings. He continued to perform live with the Tennessee Ramblers, often appearing at the annual Western Film Fair in Raleigh, North Carolina, well into the 1980s.

Cecil Campbell died on June 18, 1989. An interview with him made in 1982 is stored in the Country Music Hall of Fame archives. Reissue label Jasmine Records released a 24 tracks CD by Campbell entitled "Steel Guitar Swing." Also, the British Archive of Country Music (BACM) has collected 24 tracks from different stages of Campbell's career on the CD "From Tennessee Farms to Hawaiian Palms." BACM has also gathered selected tracks from the pre-war era of the Tennessee Ramblers on two CDs ("Dick Hartman's Washboard Wonders/Tennessee Ramblers" and "Tennessee Ramblers, Vol. 2: The Jack Gillette Years").

Recommended reading:
• Cecil Campbell discography on 45cat and 45worlds
• Entry at the Country Music Hall of Fame 
Cecil Campbell and the Tennessee Ramblers on hillbilly-music.com (attention: the 1928 Brunswick recordings credited to the Tennessee Ramblers are by a different group of the same name)
Dick Hartman's Crazy Tennessee Ramblers advertisement

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

The Story of Sheldon Gibbs

Western Swing from the Desert
The Story of Sheldon Gibbs and his Arizona Ranch Boys

I came across Arizona musician and entrepreneur Sheldon Gibbs while researching the times and career of rockabilly one-shot Dennis Herrold. Where's the connection between Herrold, a Texas based artist, and Gibbs, who was located in Phoenix? Both artists likely never met in their lives. The bridge between these two men is Dale Noe, who at one point played in Gibbs' band but also performed alongside Dennis Herrold in a Texas based combo. While going deeper and deeper into the research, I did a quick search on Gibbs and have scraped together what I could find.

Every city in the 1950s had men like Gibbs: they were musicians, led a band, were heard on radio, ran clubs or bars and also were also part time record producers. Henry Sheldon Gibbs was born on March 10, 1903, in Kentucky. By the late 1920s, he had married his wife Ola (born in 1904 in Eureka Springs, Arkansas), who gave birth to their daughter Joan in 1928. The couple resided in Eureka Springs at that time but had relocated to Phoenix, Arizona, by the end of World War II. However, it is likely that Gibbs and his family had moved there at least a year earlier.

The Arizona Republic ran an advertisement on August 30, 1945, that announced the reopening of "their newer and better Gibbs Café," a spot which was operated by Gibbs and his wife on 612 West Van Buren Street in Phoenix. The opening ceremony featured live music performances by Gibbs and his Willow Breeze Playboys. Around the same time, the band became mainstays on KPHO radio.


Eventually, the Willow Breeze Playboys changed their name to the Arizona Ranch Boys. However, the former name was used by Gibbs for one of his large ballrooms in Phoenix, the Willow Breeze Ballroom. He ran another one in the city, the New Frontier Ballroom. The band got so well-known and popular that Gibbs established two incarnations of the Arizona Ranch Boys, so they could play both ballrooms at the same time. Billboard reported on November 29, 1947, that Gibbs and the band had moved from KPHO to KOY. At that time, the band consisted of Gibbs, Whitey Thompson as well as Paul R. Herndon on guitars, Art Hawkins on steel guitar, Slim Forbes and Frankie Bourland on fiddles, Ed Russell on piano and accordion, Jimmy Carroll on banjo, Jerry Allen on banjo and "vibes", and Gene Herndon on bass. The group also featured a vocal trio consisting of Gibbs, Paul R. Hendon and Jimmy Carroll, billed as the Bar-G-Trio on stage.

Soon, Gibbs became the program director of the station and one day, faced a young, unknown amateur singer by the name of Martin David Robinson, who had worked various odd jobs after his discharge from the US Navy in 1946 and was earning his money as a truck driver by then. He had heard a cowboy singer on KOY and thought the singer "was pretty bad. One time, he got right in the middle of his song and he forgot the words and didn't know what to do. And I thought, man, this guy has got to be making a living doing this." Robinson went to the station, auditioned with "Strawberry Roan" and Gibbs was persuaded immidiately. He fired the other singer and engaged Robinson, who appeared on the station as "Jack Robinson." This singer would eventually be known as Marty Robbins, one of country music's biggest stars.

In 1950, Gibbs set up his own record firm called Desert Recording Company with its label, Smart Records. The company was located on 1213 East Highland Avenue in Phoenix. From 1950 up to 1953, he released several 78rpm records by his band on this label. The first appeared in Noveember 1950 as by Sheldon Gibbs and his Arizona Ranch Boys, feauring "Chinese Breakdown" and "Wakeup Susan." By 1952, a young guitarist by the name of Dale Noe had become a member of the band. In May 1952, Gibbs released a record featuring Noe as a vocalist and guitarist, "I'm Sorry I Got in the Way" b/w "Houn' Dog Boogie." Billboard reviewed the disc on May 24 and especially the latter side is of interest here with Noe showcasing his skills on the guitar. Billboard commented: "Sheldon Gibbs and the combo beat out a rhythmic instrumental with energy. Should catch a fair share of juke coin." The single caught some juke coin in the Phoenix area likely but not too much outside.

Although the Arizona Ranch Boys performed mainly western swing, "Houn' Dog Boogie" pre-shadowed the rockabilly and rock'n'roll sounds that would come out of Phoenix only few years later by the likes of Sanford Clark, Joe Montgomery, Jimmy Johnson, Lonesome Long John Roller, and others.

Billboard C&W review, May 24, 1952

By 1952, Gibbs also emceed his own local TV show and was spinning records on KPHO again, as reported by Billboard on May 10, 1952. He was also promoting other artists in the region.

By 1960, Gibbs was on KRIS and his Willow Breeze Ballroom on Grand Avenue had developed into a hotbed for local musicians that would hold jam sessions there on the weekends. At the same time, Gibbs founded the Hilligan label, operated from the same adress as the ballroom. The label was mainly an outlet to release two recordings by country turned rock'n'roll singer Jimmie Patton, who had previously immortalized himself with the raw "Yah! I'm Moving" on Sage Records. For Hilligan, he recorded the trememdous "Okie's in the Pokie," which is now a favorite among rockabilly fans. The other side was not as energetic as "Okie's" but "Hut-Hurp Rookie's Marching Song" was a rocking country style song with a fast piano solo. Gibbs released them on Hilligan #001/2 in 1960 and on both sides, he gets co-writting credits. Both sides were picked up by Russell Sims, who released them on his Sims label (Sims #117) in September 1960. "Okie's in the Pokie" was issued without the spoken intro, however.

Gibbs spent the rest of his life in Phoenix, where he died on February 24, 1983, at the age of 79 years. He was buried at Greenwood Memory Lawn Cemetery. His wife Ola followed in 1995, his daughter Joan in 2012.


Discography 


Smart 1001: Chinese Breakdown / Wakeup Susan (1950)
Smart 1002: Santa Claus Breakdown / Leather Brichtes (1950)
Smart 1003: Ragtime Annie / Sally Goodin' (1950)
Smart 1004: Boil Them Cabbage Down / Mississippi Sawyer (1950)
Smart 1007: Varsovienna / Sugar in My Coffee'o (1951)
Smart 1013/15: Waltz of the Hills / Your Last Chance
Smart 1014: I Ain't Gonna Laugh No More / Bird Book Boogie
Smart 1016: I'm Sorry I Got in the Way / Houn' Dog Boogie (1952)

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

The Mystery of Dennis Herrold

Hi there folks! Just a quick note that Bear Family Records is releasing the LP/CD "The Mystery of Dennis Herrold" on April 3. I have been involved in this project heavily as I had the honor to write the extensive liner notes for this awesome release.

I have been long into the story of Herrold and have published an article about him in American Music Magazine in 2015, which was the most complete biography of him back then. Now, Bear Family gathered Herrold's complete Imperial recordings plus bonus tracks on this outstanding release. The liner notes are much more detailed than my article and reveal the true story of Dennis Herrold for the first time.

Be sure to grab your copy here.

It was a real pleasure for me to do this project. Stay tuned for more!

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Jerry Smith on Shock

Jerry Smith - Sweet Face (unknown year), Shock 1007


Most discographies doesn't list this record but it seems to be one of Jerry Lee "Smoochy" Smith's earliest discs, if not the first. Smith, famous for being an integral part of Memphis' rockabilly scene in the 1950s (although second generation of the originals, if so to speak, as he arrived not until 1957), also had success in the early 1960s with the instrumental group "Mar-Keys."


Smith was born in 1939 and got his musical talent from his father, who played fiddle, guitar, and harmonica. He also played a bit piano and taught his son the few chords he knew. That was the beginning of Smith's musical career. Father and son began appearing on local Jackson, Tennessee, radio WDXI but tragedy struck, when Smith's father was killed in a car accident. Afterwards, Smith began performing with other groups and by 1953, he played with a gospel quartet and performed on radio again.

Jackson had a small but lively music scene and Smith soon began playing with Carl Perkins' band. When Perkins got into the Sun studio to record "Blue Suede Shoes," he asked Smith to play piano on it (although producer Sam Phillips would have been sceptical about a piano in the band, as he thought this would drown the "Sun Sound"). However, as Smith was only about 15 years old at the time, his mother didn't allow him to travel to Memphis. "Blue Suede Shoes" became a million seller and when Smith got the chance again to record in Memphis as part of Kenny Parchman's band, he was allowed to go.

Smith moved to Memphis in 1957 and recorded several sessions with Parchman and afterwards, became a session musician at Sun until 1959. Smith performed with different acts, including Chips Moman, and through this association Smith became a part of the Mar-Keys, who had a big hit in the summer of 1961 with the instrumental "Last Night."

It is speculative where the Shock single fits in. Smith had at least two more local Memphis releases i this period. One was on the Sandy label with Smith belting out "The Girl Can't Help It" and "Come On Back." Judging from the sound of both records, I'd say the Sandy disc was first and the Shock single afterwards. It is not known where and when this record was recorded but "Sweet Face" features some nice piano work by Smith. He also made a record for the local Chimes label, which was totally different in sound.

Smith continued his career in the music business and recorded for such labels as Rice, Chart, ABC, Papa Joe's Music Box, Decca, Hi-Lowe, and countless singles and albums for Ranwood (mostly hiding under the pseudonym of "The Magic Organ"). He played on several rockabilly revival recordings, including great sides by Eddie Bond and Vern Pullens. In 1983, he became part of the Sun Rhythm Section, a group of original rockabilly performers that toured worldwide.

Smith remains active as a musician to this day. In 2008, he has published his autobiography "The Real Me." A nice interview from back then was made by the Commercial Appeal in Memphis.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Johnny Cash on post-Sam Phillips Sun

Johnny Cash - Get Rhythm (1969), Sun 1103

This is just an oddity in Johnny Cash's discography and not a very interesting one to be sure but I thought someone might like it or find it just enjoying.

This is a reissue as you might expect. Sam Phillips sold the Sun record label on July 1, 1969, for 1.000.000 $ (yes, one million) to Shelby Singleton, who had earlier success in the record business with his Plantation label in Nashville. Shortly after acquiring Sun, Singleton began re-releasing old Sun sides from the 1950s and 1960s, including this Johnny Cash classic. It was originally recorded by Cash (vocals/rhythm guitar) and his fellows Luther Perkins (electric lead guitar) and Marshall Grant (bass) on April 2, 1956, at the Sun Studio in Memphis with Sam Phillips taking seat behind the glass, engineering and producing the session. 

Cash had written the song after seeing a shoe shine boy working on the streets of Memphis. An earlier demo had been recorded by Cash in late 1954 or early 1955 with just his acoustic guitar. With its fast rockabilly beat, the song was initially intended for Elvis Presley but when Presley switched to RCA-Victor, Cash recorded the song himself.

"Get Rhythm" became the flip side of Cash's first no.1 country chart hit, "I Walk the Line" (originally Sun 241) but did not enter the charts itself at that time. When Shelby Singleton dug out the old Sun masters, he paired it with Cash's original recording of "Hey Porter" and released it in October 1969 on Sun #1103. Interestingly, Shelby Singleton edited the tape and added fake applause to "Get Rhythm" (to "Hey Porter" not to unknown reasons) to pretend it was a live recording. He did this possibly as Cash was riding high on the charts with his two Columbia live albums "At Folsom Prison" (1968) and "At San Quentin" (1969). However, this proved to be a clever business strategy as the single reached #23 in Billboard's country charts and also, first on November 15, 1969, peaked #60 at Billboard's Hot 100.

Friday, December 27, 2019

RIP Sleepy LaBeef

One of the true legens in rockabilly music has left us. Sleepy LaBeef had a big influence on many musicians through the year. His career was massive, although not commcercial successful. His guitar playing was distinctive and I can say that he also influenced me a lot.

LaBeef died on December 26, 2019. Read more at variety.com.