Ernie Barton always seemed to be a highly interesting figure in the history of Sun Records to me, although Sun experts are discordant. It is assured that Barton was a recording artist and worked as a session musician as well as producer for Sam Phillips. Though, it is controversial how important he was.
The son of a sea captain, he was born Ernest W. Barton in the year of 1930 in Tallahassee, Florida. When Elvis Presley bursted onto the scene, Barton decided sell his house in Daytona Beach and moved to Memphis. How Barton got in touch with Sam Phillips is not known but he was hired in early 1957 to work at the Sun Studio. His first session took place on April 6, 1957, of which nothing was released.
In March 1958, he was back in the studio and tried his hand at "Stairway to Nowhere" and "Raining the Blues," two rockabilly tunes Al and Jo Ann Wingate had written. On this day, Barton (rhythm guitar) was backed by Roland Janes (lead guitar), Sid Manker (guitar), and Jimmy Van Eaton (drums) with an additional male vocal chorus. Both songs were released in the summer of 1958 (Phillips Int. #3528), less than one year after the Phillips International label came into existence.
Co-writter Allan Wingate, who recorded under the name of Allen Page for Cordell Jackson's Moon label in Memphis, was a talented songwriter. Jo Ann Wingate was probably his sister or his wife. The duo also penned "High School Sweater," recorded by Wingate (Moon #301, 1957) and Kenny Owens (Poplar #45-106, 1958). Wingate turned to gospel music and preaching in 1963 and died in 1993.
Barton's second single for Phillips Int., "Open the Door, Richard" b/w "Shut Your Mouth" (Phillips Int. #3541, 1959), is heavily discussed by collectors and researchers. Recorded on February 25, 1959, with Roland Janes (lead guitar), Billy Lee Riley (bass, vocals), Martin Willis (sax), Charlie Rich (piano), and Jimmy Van Eaton (drums) and Sun secretary Regina Reese doing some vocals on "Shut Your Mouth", no one has ever seen a copy of this single. Though, Barton later insisted it was released. It added to the confusion that "Open the Door, Richard" was re-released on a compilation as by Billy Lee Riley, who supposedly also recorded a version of that song in 1957. Riley later stated that both he and Barton sang on the 1958 "released" version and that it was one of those party sessions that took place at Sun often.
Things will possibly never clear up completely. However, this was Barton's last Phillips Int. single. He recorded several more songs at Sun but Sam Phillips refused to release any further material from Barton. Nevertheless, he agreed to record Barton's wife Bobbie Jean Farrabee, a lawyer from Little Rock, Arkansas. When Jack Clement and Bill Justis dropped out of the Sun staff in 1959, Barton slipped in as a producer, arranger, and studio musician. He worked with Phillips until 1961 and then left the Sun Studio.
After his affiliation with Sun, Barton recorded two Cash sound-a-likes on the Memphis based Honesty label, "The Ballad of Earl K. Long" b/w "The Man with a Heart of Gold" (Honesty #605). Barton had recorded two earlier versions at Sun before. In 1965, another disc followed on Earl Fox' E&M label from Little Rock, "Ain't I'm a Mess" b/w "Walk with Me" (E&M #1651).
Barton eventually moved to Midland, Texas, and dropped out of sight. In 1987, he was tracked down and interviewed by Colin Escott. Since then, he has again slipped into obscurity and may have died already. The Social Security Index lists a certain Ernest W. Barton (* November 21, 1930; † May 1, 2001 in Montezuma, Colorado).