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)
45-1934 - 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)