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.


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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Spade Records story

Bennie Hess ran several labels during the 1950s, but all of them folded after about one year. Hess’ label Spade Records was one of these labels (although it survived nearly two years). But in one point, Spade was different: it produced some very good rockabilly sides which are by now favorites among rockabilly collectors.

Hess was born in 1914 in Texas. A descend of German immigrants, he was entertained at an early age by the legendary Jimmie Rodgers, who worked together with Hess’ father on the railroad. By 1946, Hess was performing on KRLP and moved to California one year later. For the Black & White Record Company he made his first recordings. In 1948, he formed his first label Opera Records, which folded in 1951 and was followed by OK’ed Records.

In early 1956, after a short stint in Nashville, Hess set up a new label called Spade Records. Spade went on to record several classic Rockabillies just like Royce Porter and Ray Doggett. The first releases of his company are unknown to us at the moment, but he recorded Ray Doggett in August 1956 and issued his single Go Go Heart (Spade 1928) that same month. Just before he had brought Doggett into the studio, Hess had been searching talents and found a bricklayer and country singer named Vern Pullens at a radio station in Mississippi and invited him to Houston, Texas, to record him. Because of his work as a bricklayer, Pullens could only leave his home on weekends. On September 27, 1956, Pullens travelled to Houston and cut his first single at radio KTRH’s studio, Bob Crazy Baby / It’s My Life, backed by local Houston musicians. With a percussive slap bass and fine vocals by Pullens this songs are now all time greats in rockabilly music. Pullens would go on to cut one more session that year, but all tapes remained unissued. In 1957, Pullens had a second issue on Spade.

Left: A photo of Vern Pullens (around 1928-2001), possibly made in the 1950s as a Spade promo

Right: Royce Porter during a personal appereance

Another well-known artist was Royce Porter, who stimulated Hess’ interest in him by sending a demo tape. Hess was reportedly so impressed that he immediately drove from Houston to Brownsville to sign him to a contract. Porter later recorded one single for Spade which was issued in 1957. Bennie Hess himself also had one issue on the label with Wild Hog Bop b/w You Called Me Honey.

Anyway, after less then 10 releases, Spade Records was closed down in December 1957. Many of Spade's releases were recorded in the ACA Studios (and also pressed by them), one was pressed by the RCA Victor custom service and some don't show a matrix number. After Spade, Hess ran several more labels.

In the 1970s, Hess reactivated Spade Records because of the Rockabilly Revival. He produced recordings by Carl Gillion, Paul Cross and also some by himself. Besides, his old buddy Vern Pullens recorded one good rocker on Spade entitled You Don’t Mean To Make Me Cry. Hess continued Spade in the 1970s and 1980s. He died in 1984.

45-1927 - Vern Pullens: Bob Crazy Baby / It's My Life (1956)
45-1928 - Ray Doggett: Falling Tear Drops / Go Go Heart (1956)
45-1929 - Johnny McAdams: Is There No Love For Me, Love / Nine O'Clock (1956)'
45-1930 - Vern Pullens: Would You Be Happy / It Took One Moment (1957)
45-1931 - Royce Porter: I End Up Crying / A Woman Can Make You Blue (1957)
45-1932 - Ray Doggett: It Hurts the One Who Loves You / That's the Way Love Is With Me (1957)
45-1933 -
45-1934 - Jack Prince: Rockum Beat / I've Got Troubles (1957)
45-1935 - Vern Pullens & BJ Johnson: Country Boy's Dream / What Am I to Do (1957)
5693 [!] - Bennie Hess: Wild Hog Bop / You Called Me Honey
11975 - Vern Pullens: Rock On Mabel / Long Gone
unk. # - Vern Pullens: Elvis Stole My Gal / Rock On Mabel (1975)


Anonymous said...

When I lived in Nashville in the 70's certain delusional people were called "squirrels." Squirrels were people who in one glance told you:
1. They had a dream of becoming a Country Music star.
2. They didn't stand a chance in hell of becoming one.
3. They would never, ever actually understand that they didn't have a shot.
The pre-eminent squirrel was Bennie Hess. He owned a dilapidated house on Music Row, across from Pete Drake's office. The house was plastered with all manner of badly hand-painted promotional material for Troy Hess, Bennie's ten year old son. Out in front the family van was again plastered with ridiculous, hand painted baloney about "Nashville's Youngest Star." It must've seemed to Bennie like this was a great way to launch little Troy's career, but to music business professionals it was a truly pathetic gesture that screamed Squirrelly. Clearly Bennie was trying to live out his dreams through his son.
I often wondered if Troy could sing, and finally found out he played a local morning TV show on which I played in the backup band for another act. Troy could not sing, he had no sense of time, and his every gesture was badly coached and ineffective. When the host interviewed the poor boy, every word out of the kid�s mouth was scripted, badly and delivered as though at gunpoint.
My heart went out to that poor kid. I'm sure he just wanted to be a normal boy playing with his friends, but his father had laid this horrible trip on him.
I hope he recovered from his horrific upbringing, and has gone on to live a decent life.
Bennie Hess was a monster.

Mellow said...

Don't be to hard to Bennie Hess. Sure, Hess used his son to make HIS dreams come true about a successful career in country music and it wasn't right to push his son in front of a audience up from the age of two years. But the time you saw Troy, he was ten years old. So it's not unnormal that he couldn't sing (and his father wasn't the best singer either). By the way... Troy was still busy in music years after his father's death with his own band, so I believe he liked what he did (or he hasn't got an alternative...).

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Anonymous,funny you r talking about my dad,especially since he is no longer around. But my question is why r u so much of a coward that u won't identify yourself. Even though I was a child in Nashville, there were alot of "smaller" people like you that I was around when I lived there. What it said on the van was "World's Youngest Recording Star", not "Nashville's", & it was a title I gained by not only recording my 1st record at 2 years old, but by the time I was 10, I had already been on several nationwide TV shows, had performed on stage with Bob Wills, Ernest Tubb,Johnny Cash, Dolly & Porter, & was featured n numerous newspapers,& magazines including Billboard, Country Music Magazine as well as several books about the music industy including 1 of Mel Bay's instructional books. But I guess all that doesn't qualify n your opinion.
And which show were u referring 2 that u played on??Hmmm. I did many, including the "Dean Martin Replacement Show". As far as my singing goes, why don't u check out the newly released on DVD "All You Need Is Love" by the BBC which actually shows me playing guitar & singing at the age of 10. It seems pretty well in tempo & in key, but then again , I've never reached the heights of being a "backup- musician", so I really wouldn't know.
Oh & by the way Bennie Hess is considered 2 b a legend n the Texas Music scene, and when he was not being a "Monster" as u refer 2 him, he somehow found time 2 record on Mercury Records, & b the founder of SPADE records, a label that is considered to be 1 of the greatest rockabilly labels of all time, as well as produce records on both Floyd Tillman,& Kenny Rogers.Scary stuff!!! Now as far as I go, if u really wondered if I could sing so much, u should've gone down to Broadway & gone inside either The Lawrence Bros Record Shop,Buckley's Record Store, or Ernest Tubb's Record Shop, because at the time, all of them carried my records. Oh & 2 both u & MELLOW, just 4 the record I still perform in my native Texas, and as far as singing well r not, I would think you would need 2 at least b able 2 carry a tune b4 COLUMBIA Records would pay 4 u 2 come back 2 Nashville & cut a demo session n which they rented RCA's studio & had an unknown producer by the name of Blake Mevis ( who produced the 1st 2 albums on George Strait) produce it all the while using the Nashville A team musicians. By the way I don't think you (Anonymous) were n that line-up. I don't think that professional studios can afford 2 use anonymous "back-up musicians", but that's just my humble unknown person opinion! But please don't let my upbringing as a child cause u 2 lose anymore sleep at night. I have somehow been able 2 make it through & go on 2 perform at little ol places like the ASTROHALL, The Jimmie Rodger's Festival, The Houston Festival,Gilley's,as well as most of the major dancehalls n Texas. Not 2 mention there r dozens & dozens of blogs on the internet regarding me & my dad. And another thing, as far as the music business professionals u were around, I was around people like Lefty Frizzell,Biff Collie, Marty Robbins, Hank Snow, & Buddy Lee of Buddy Lee Attractions(one of the largest agencies in Nashville at the time who did bookings 4 me), & some of my mom's bosses: Loretta Lynn,the Wilburn Bros., Mel Tillis, Hank Williams Jr., & Gene Watson. I don't recall any of them having anything but good things 2 say about me, but maybe n your opinion these folks don't deserve the title of music business professionals.
So please Anonymous, let this note give your little ol heart some ease. TROY HESS is alive and doing well, and if as far as I get is only what I have mentioned well I'll settle 4 that. I will sign this as you did.. ANONYMOUS, but if u ever want 2 reach me, email me @ showay@aol.com, most sincerely, "Little" TROY HESS

Mellow said...

Troy, I'm sorry you had to read these comments about you father. I did not intend to hurt you or to insult your father, I'm sorry.

Anonymous said...

Mellow, it's ok,...but that's the problem with not only the music business, but this world as well: People are almost programmed to repeat what they have heard or been told, often without any proof of such. Again, many people have the attitude that I was pushed into it. I loved it! Always have , always will! As far as not being able to sing, I guess that's a matter of opinion. Again, I don't suppose I would've performed on that many shows if I could not sing. With no formal vocal training, I am proud of both my abilities and accomplishments as a child. And also, now as an adult. As far as dad goes and his ability; have you ever heard some of Ernest Tubb's earliest stuff. Bad, very bad, and I'm a huge fan of his. Dad, in his later years became a much more solid vocalist. I don't think Mercury Records was in business to sign & record people who cannot sing. But, look on the bright side, you didn't get everything wrong: I did like what I did, and continue to do so! But, hopefully both you and Anonymous will pick up a copy of the book I'm writing once it is finished. I think then, you both will be more enlighten. Oh, & just for S & G's, pick up the copy of the DVD " All You Need Is Love: Makin Moonshine". I'm the last performer at the end, and I sing "Jambalaya" ..just my 10 year old self and my guitar. I think that pretty well contradicts Anonymous whole description of me... GOD I feel sorry for haters and those who enviously covet!!!! Makes you wonder if he had a bad child hood, and had a dad who abandoned him at an early age.

Anonymous said...

Vern pullens is my grandfather. He was such a good husband and father! My mother loved him dearly. He is still loved and missed by many. He's the reason I picked up the guitar! Such a great man! Ripple3ffect@gmail.com

bubble007jack said...

45-1933 Bill Wright Master of servant/ Stumblin’ around (1957)
excellent hillbilly!!!