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, October 8, 2014

Marshall Ellis

Marshall Ellis
Memphis Record Producer

Marshall Erwin Ellis is now most famous amongst Memphis music lovers for running the Erwin label that turned out such rockabilly classics as Hoyt Johnson's "Enie Meanie Minie Mo" or Ray Scott's "Boppin' Wig Wam Willie." Ellis, who also ran the Rivermont and Clearmont labels for a short time, was born in Booneville, Mississppi, in 1912. Before moving to Memphis, he lived in Mississippi, Alabama, and Missouri. After his stint in the US Air Force during the war, he began to perform with local bands in Memphis, first with the Cotton Choppers and then with Mel Allen's Melody Boys. But Ellis gave up performing a couple of years later in the early 1950s. One cause was possibly Mel Allen's move to California around 1951.

By then, he earned his living as a barber but music still kept a hold of Ellis. At one point in late 1956, Ellis decided to set up his own recording studio at the Suzone Theatre on Main Street and, at the same time, formed Erwin Records. Because of difficulties to start his business, he decided to utilize Bill McCall's 4 Star OP program to release the first three discs on Erwin. The first of those were two songs by Ellis and his band with female singer Billie High on vocals, released approximately in November 1956. High had a release on the label under her own name later on. The other two were by Carvis Turney ("Honky Tonk Ways" / "The Love That Should Have Been", Erwin #OP-264, 1957) and Len Griffin ("Spanish Rock-a-Rolla" / "Rainbow Love", Erwin #OP-265-45, 1957).

Hoyt Johnson (behind the microphone) and band
Since Erwin had no numerical system, record catalog numbers were assigned discretionary it seems. Thus it is difficult to determine the chronology of the releases. Other Erwin discs that appeared during the curse of 1957 were by Ray Scott ("Bopping Wig Wam Willie" / "My Life's Desire", Erwin #700), Lee Carzle ("I'm Askin' But I'm Not Gettin'" / "What's In Store for Me", Erwin #E-77), and Hoyt Johnson's "It's a Little More Like Heaven" (recorded by Johnny Cash on Sun as "You're the Nearest Thing to Heaven") as well as his classic rockabilly "Enie Meanie Minie Mo" / "Standing in Your Window" (Erwin #555). Many of the recorded material on Erwin was published by E&M Publishing, Ellis' own publishing company (not to be confused with Earl Fox' E&M label from Little Rock, Arkansas).

Johnson's "Enie Meanie Minie Mo" was composed by Reece Flemming, who had played piano previously with Malcolm Yelvington's Star Rhythm Boys, while "Standing In Your Window" was eventually covered by Eddie Bond. Hoyt Johnson, who was born 1935 in Arley, Alabama, was discovered by Alabama DJ Jim Atkins in Alabama. It was Atkins who became Johnson's manager and arranged a recording contract with Marshall Ellis. None of Johnson's Erwin singles sold well, so he moved to other record labels. He recorded for RCA-Victor until 1960 and various other small Memphis labels like Zone and Satellite (which later became Stax). He died in 1989.

Ray Scott, on the other hand, hailed from the German/Dutch community of Bicknell, Indiana, where he was born in 1929. In 1955, Scott moved to Memphis and learned to play guitar, followed by many appearances in local bars and clubs. In late 1956, Billy Riley and his Little Green Men recorded Scott's "Flyin' Saucers Rock'n'Roll" for Sun. After meeting Marshall Ellis in 1957, a recording session at Slim Wallace's Fernwood studio was set up for Scott ca. in July that year, where he recorded "Boppin' Wig Wam Willie." On that day, he was backed by the Little Green Men in disguise - under the name of "The Four Recorders." Billboard reported on August 26 that "M.E. Ellis, head of Erwin Records and E&M Publishers, Memphis, says he has signed Ray Scott, composer, to a two-year artist pact." Another single on Erwin followed and Scott recorded for other labels during the next years. He left the music business in 1971 and died in 1999.

In late 1957, Ellis was joined by H.C. Wilson and William Dotson to create another label, Rivermont Records. This venture lasted only for about six months and three releases, closing in early 1958. However, Erwin continued to release discs by such artists as the Monarchs, Mason Dixon, Merdell Floyd, and others. Some of the records' labels show adresses on it. Probably a later release by Papa Cat, "Mini Skirt" / "Wonder Pill" (Erwin #E-507) shows 2674 Steele - Memphis, Tennessee, as adress. Another adress, "Erwin Records Music Center" on 625 Chelsea Avenue, appeared on Erwin #561, #E562, #E-1069, and #E-503, among some others. The same adress later housed Bill Glore's Glo-Lite Studio. Interestingly, an invoice sent by Plastic Products to Glo-Lite in 1975 charges 5.100 $ for 300 copies of Erwin #700, a reissue of two older songs by Jimmy Evans and Ray Scott.

In 1962, Ellis also operated the Clearmont label in Memphis, which had only two discs released: Johnny Barnes with "Big Johnny Blues" / "Blue Boy" (Clearmont #501) and Jimmy Evans with "The Joint's Really Jumpin'" / "I Just Don't Love You" (Clearmont #502).

Ellis operated Erwin well into the 1970s and recorded such artists as Eddie Bond, Mike Deal, Lynne Burns and others. He kept on producing records until 1992. Marshall Ellis died two years later, in 1994.

OP-258-45: M. E. Ellis & his String Band - I Almost Cried Today / I Guess I'll Wait a Little Longer (1956)
OP-264-45: Carvis Turney - Honky Tonk Ways / The Love That Should Have Been (1957)
OP-265-45: Len Griffin & his Boys - Spanish Rock-a-Rolla / Rainbow Love (1957)
E-65: Hoyt Johnson and the Four Recorders - I Bet You Didn't Know / I'll Have a Broken Heart 
E-65: Hoyt Johnson and the Four Recorders - I Bet You Didn't Know / The Day I Found You
E-77: Lee Carzle with Bobby Mizzel & the Le-Bow's - I'm Askin' But I'm Not Gettin' / What's In Store for Me (1957)
E-184: Rufus Thomas - How Far Will You Go / Let's Talk It Over 
E-501: The Song Masters Trio - Teach Me to Live / Jesus Ever Near to Me (1957)
E-555: Hoyt Johnson and the Four Recorders - Enie Meanie Minie Mo / Standing In Your Window (1957)
700: Ray Scott and the Four Recorders - Boppin' Wig Wam Willie / My Life's Desire (1957)
800: Billie High and the Four Recorders - Wondering If You Still Care / The Blues Got Me (1957)
E-226: Ben Gattis - I'm Leaving This Town / Two Timin' Lover
E-503: Chuck Hensley and the Strollers - Tall Man / Dreams Really Do Come True
E-506: Mike Deal - One Heartbeat Away (from Loving You) / Ode to Adam and Eve
E-507: Papa Cat - Mini Skirt / Wonder Pill
E-508: Paul Bradshaw - My Dog Jack / I Flubbed My First (Dear Hunt)
E-561: Lynne Burns-Gene Williams - Aint Gonna Worry (About You No More) / This Lonely World
E562:  Lynne Burns with Gene Williams Band - Dum Da De Doe / You're Not Homesick
E-100: Merdell Floyd - Juke Box Mama / I Got the Blues from Awaiting (1960)
E-688: Ray Scott - The Train's Done Gone / Just Behind Your Smile (1960)
E-Z 500: Little Sandy Parker - You Once Had Eyes Just for Me / That's the Reason (1963)
E-700: Ray Scott - Boppin' Wig Wam Willie / Jimmy Evans - The Joint's Really Jumpin' (1975)
E-750: Tex Dixon and the Bop Kings - One Has My Name / Funny How Love Can Be
E-1069: The Monarchs IV - Surge / Weekend
E-1071: Jimmy D. Payne - The Devil Lives Across the Street / If You're Living In a Lonely World
1100: Walter Dixon and his Band - Goodbye She's Gone / Slowly Dying
EG 2000: Mike Deal & the Regenerations - Searching for the Lord / ?
EG 2001: Eddie Bond - Someday I'll Sober Up / Here Comes That Train
E-2410: The End - You Never Called / People Talked

600: Retus Blair - Lowdown Feelin' / All I Want (ca. 1957)
R-1159: Kimball Coburn and Sy Rose Orch. - Cute / Boo-Be-Ah-Be (1958)
R-1160: Rex Ellis - You'll Be the Last to Know / Bop Hop Jamboree (1958)

501: Johnny Barnes - Big Johnny Blues / Blue Boy (1962)
C-502: Jimmy Evans - I Just Don't Love You / The Joint's Really Jumpin' (1962)

Thanks to Hillbilly-Researcher, Bayou Bum and Bob



Nice story, I spoke with Marshall Ellis over twenty years ago when I was researching the notes for an ACE LP. The earliest ERWIN release that I am aware of is -

OP-460 "I Almost Cried Today
Vocal - Billie High
OP-461 "I Guess I'll Wait A Little Longer" Vocal - Billie High

c. November 1956

OP 263 is by Alden Holloway

Mellow said...

Thanks! I bet it was an interesting conversation with him. I corrected my text.

Bob said...

Some additions :

E-65 Hoyt Johnson And The Four Recorders : I Bet You Didn't Know / I'll Have A Broken Heart

E-184 Rufus Thomas : How Far Will You Go /Let's Talk It Over

E-Z 500 Little Sandy Parker : You Once Had Eyes Just For Me/That's The Reason (1963)

E-501 The Song Masters Trio "Teach Me To Live" /"Jesus Ever Near To Me" (1957)

E-506 - Mike Deal : One Heartbeat Away (From Loving You)/ Ode To Adam And Eve. Number Scratched In Trail Off - E-1920 And E-1921.

E-508 Paul Bradshaw : My Dog Jack/I Flubbed My First (Dear Hunt)

2410 The End : You Never Called / People Talked (Engineer Stan Kesler /Phillips Studio) (eigthies)

Mellow said...

Thanks Bob!