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, February 28, 2021

Jimmy Heap & the Melody Masters

A Heap of Texas Music
The Story of Jimmy Heap and the Melody Masters


Jimmy Heap is probably not the most famous name in country music history but was a big name in Texas' music scene from the mid 1940s up to the late 1950s. Heap led the Melody Masters, a honky tonk band that enjoyed state-wide success throughout the years. The outfit scored one major hit in 1954 with "Release Me" and had more regional strong sellers to bragg about. In the next upcoming posts, we will focus on some their records that I recently purchased. The first installment of this series will focus on Heap's and the band's career, while forthcoming parts of this series will deal with particular records of them with its background history.

James Arthur "Jimmy" Heap; Jr., was born on March 3, 1922, in Taylor, Williamson County, Texas, a small city nearly 30 miles northeast of Austin. His father, James Arthur Heap, Sr., was the son of an English immigrant and was born in 1880 in a town called Palestine in Texas, located 143 miles away northeast of Taylor. Heap's grandfather, Walter Joseph was born in 1852 in Manchester, England, and had settled in the United States by 1876. That year on May 24, he married Florence Nabors (1862-1945), who hailed originally from Edith, Arkansas, in Milam County, Texas. They had eight children, including James Arthur, who married Lizzie Vanelia Trump (1877-1971) on November 8, 1900. By then, the family already lived in Williamson County. Young Jimmy came to this world in 1922 and he also had a brother, John Arthur, who was likely a bit older. Jimmy still lived in his hometown Taylor, when his father died suddenly at the Heap's home in 1941. His brother already lived in Houston at that time.

About a year prior to his father's death, Heap got interested in music, which was surprisingly late compared to his later fellow musicians. At age 18, Heap worked at a local gas station in Taylor. Herman Bruno "Slim" Gensler, a local business man and musician, regularly stopped by and used to carry his guitar with him to play a song or two. This inspired Heap to master the guitar and take up music as a hobby. But before Heap seriously could think about a career in music, war interrupted his life. Months after his father's death, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour brought the Second World War to the United States and Heap joined the US Army Air Corps. During the war, he was stationed in Sedalia, Missouri, where he first met his wife to be.

Upon his discharge after the war, Heap took the chance and tried music professionally. He set up the Melody Masters with old high school buddies Arleigh A. "Arlie" Carter (piano), William "Bill" Glendening (bass), Louie Rincon (fiddle/banjo), Bill Kaspar, and Tommy Swenson. Soon, they performed all around central Texas and managed to land a weekly spot on Saturday nights at Dessau Hall outside Austin. Their gigs there were instrumental in gaining their first popularity.

After some time, the band began broadcasting live over radio KTAE in their hometown of Taylor in 1948. Their show was in parts sponsored by their regular venue, Dessau Hall. Previously, during the year of 1947, the band held three demo recording sessions at Peterson's Studio in Austin. By then, Horace Barnett had joined the band on rhythm guitar, fiddle, and vocals, while Kaspar and Swenson had dropped out. On their first session, they recorded three songs: the well-known fiddle tune "Cindy" (which was documented as "Sindy" by the studio, however), "Sentimental Journey," and the blues "Milk Cow Blues," which was likely rather a take on Bob Wills' western swing version than on the original by black blues man Kokomo Arnold.

Barnett and Arlie Carter and adopted an old fiddle tune, rearranged it and dubbed it "Dessau Waltz," a tribute to their regular night spot. An early version of this song was cut by the band during their third demo session at Peterson's. When they got the chance to record for the Austin based Lasso record label, they re-recorded it along with "Twin Fiddle Waltz" and both were released as their debut single on Lasso #100 (credited to the "Melody Masters," omitting Heap's name). The line-up on this record included Heap on lead guitar, Horace Barnett on guitar, fiddle and vocals on "Dessau Waltz," another new member namely Cecil "Butterball" Harris on steel guitar, Louis Rincon on fiddle, Arlie Carter on piano, and Bill Glendening on bass. "Dessau Waltz" was eventually re-released in 1951 by Republic Records as by "Jimmy Heap and the Ranch Hands."

"Dessau Waltz" was good enough to let Lasso record the band a follow up. "Lonely Waltz" b/w "Rugged But Right" was cut at radio KVET in Austin, where also their first for Lasso had been recorded. It appeared also in 1948 on Lasso #103. Producer of both discs was Fred M. Caldwell, who was the owner of Lasso. 

Taylor Daily Press, September 2, 1949

The band grew in popularity across Texas and the Southwest and in 1949, Lew Chudds' Imperial Records knocked on the door, offering Heap and his band a recording contract. Many other country performers from Texas were already signed to the label or would sign, although the label had its headquarter in California. Some of the  more recognizable names of Imperial's country roster were Dub Dickerson, Weldon Rogers, Bill Mack, Lew Williams, Adolph Hofner, Charlie Adams, Billy Briggs, and not to forget Slim Whitman. 

Heap and the Melody Masters recorded their first session for Imperial in September 1949 at radio KTAE's studio in their hometown of Taylor. A total of seven songs were recorded and "That's My Baby" b/w "Today, Tonight and Tomorrow" (Imperial #8064) proved to be a good seller for the band. Prior to the signing with Imperial, Houston "Perk" Williams (1926-1994) from Chriesman, Texas, had joined the Melody Masters as a fiddler and vocalist, replacing Louis Rincon. Although the band was blessed with many good singers, it was subsequently Williams, who sang the bulk of the material and gave the band another boost of success with his recognizable voice. In addition, an unknown drummer supported the Melody Masters on their first Imperial session, although the band would not include a frequent drummer until the mid 1950s.

Their recording of "A Million Tears" was an even better seller and the famed Big D Jamboree from Dallas invited them to join its cast. The years 1949 and 1950 saw the band recording several more sessions and the majority of the material was released on Imperial. They also backed Bert Haney and Bill Dowdy for Empire label releases and were recorded live while playing the Big D Jamboree. These live cuts were later released on CD.

Approximately in February 1951, Heap and the Melody Masters recorded one of the songs that would become a timeless classic and had a deep impact on country music. William Warren from Cameron, Texas, (with additions by Arlie Carter) had written "The Wild Side of Life," in which the lyrical ego moans about the honky-tonk lifestyle of a bygone love affair (inspired by Warren's earlier experiences). Recorded at KTAE along with "When They Operated on Papa, They Operated on Mama's Male," Imperial released both songs in March on #8105. The record became a good seller in their homestate and fellow Texan Hank Thompson recorded his version with the Brazos Valley Boys in December 1951. It became Thompson's first number one hit and his biggest one at the same time. The song became not only a standart in country music afterwards, being covered by such stars as Burl Ives, Ray Price, Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter or Freddy Fender, but also crossed over to other genres. UK hard/boogie rockers Status Quo recorded a hit version in 1976 and still perform it in live sets to this day. Rod Stewart, Bonnie Tyler, and Vic Dana, among others, also recorded it. The line "I didn't know God made honky tonk angels" inspired songwriter Jay Miller to write an answer song, "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels," which was a massive hit for Kitty Wells and became another country music anthem.

Capitol Records promotion picture of the Melody Masters. The photo was taken during one of the band's radio broadcasts on KTAE in Taylor, Texas. From left to right: Cecil "Butterball" Harris, Jimmy Heap, Horace Barnett, Perk Williams, Bill Glendening, Arlie Carter

Heap and the Melody Masters enjoyed increasing popularity during these years in the Southwest and especially in Texas. They did their last session for Imperial in September 1951 and when the even bigger Capitol Records came along and offered a recording contract, they naturally accepted. Capitol was also the label that would release Hank Thompson's hit version of "Wild Side of Life." The band held their first recording sessions for the major West Coast label on November 17 and 18, 1951, abadoning the old KTAE studio in favor of the University of Texas studio in Austin. Capitol released their label debut in  February the next year, comprising "Lifetime of Shame" b/w "True or False" (Capitol #F1958).

Their biggest hit would come three later. Vocalist Perk Williams found an old 4 Star record with Eddie Miller on it, singing his own composition "Release Me." The band liked it and added the song to its live performances. After receiving a good reception from their audiences, they decided to record it, which took place on February 27, 1953, at an unknown location. Coupled with "Just to Be with You" on Capitol #F2518 in July 1953, it became a hit not until January 1954, when it climbed to the national Top 5. "Release Me" would become another classic.

Billboard May 10, 1952, advert for their latest Capitol release

Heap and the Melody Masters combined different styles in their brand of country music. Their repertoire stretched from honky tonk tear jerkers to uptempo boppers and western swing. They recorded instrumentals like "Heap of Boogie" or country hep cat music like "Cat'n Around," which foreshadowed the rockabilly craze two years later.

Though combining hot country stylistics in their music, they did not quite reach the status of "rockabilly" while recording for Capitol. The label released two songs that nearly matched the new style, "Sebbin Come Elebbin" and "Go Ahead On" but with Perk Williams' over-the-top vocals and the undeniable western swing backing, both cuts sound more like parodies than serious attempts at the new style of music.

No more hits followed for the Melody Masters and by the end of 1956, they dropped from the Capitol roster. They had done their last session for the label in December 1955 and by then, the Melody Masters had been expanded due to the addition of drummer George Harrison and sax player Kenneth "Ken Idaho" Aderhold. Capitol continued to release discs by them until September 1956, the last being the instrumental "Mingling" coupled with "This Song Is Just for You" (Capitol #F3543).

Left without a major recording deal, the core of the Melody Masters - Heap, Harris, Barnett, and Glendening - decided to record independently and either release the results on their own labels or lease them to other companies. Pianist Arlie Carter had left the band after their last Capitol session and Perk Williams would depart in late 1957. The band released their first independent production in 1957, recorded in June at KTAE, with "See No Man No Yo Yo" b/w "Too Little Much Too Late" on their own label Big Band (#JH-1001). Although Williams was still part of the band at that time, Bill Taylor was already recording with them, who would from time to time fill in as a vocalist during the next years (along with other singers besides the band's members). Born in Alabama, Taylor came from Memphis, where he had performed and recorded with Clyde Leoppard's Snearly Ranch Boys and now teamed up with the Melody Masters. He would perform as "Wild" Bill Taylor or William Tell Taylor occasionally. 

In the fall of 1957, the band recorded the first session for their newly founded Fame label. This would be Perk Williams' last recording with the band. After that, the group ventured more and more into rock'n'roll music and continued to cut records for their own Fame and Splash labels as well as Pappy Daily's D and Dart labels or Slim Willet's Winston label.

With the addition of drums and sax, the band had become more of a rock'n'roll band and by the early 1960s, the members had grown out of their western swing image and had transformed the Melody Masters into a popular dance band, performing the hits of the day. They slowed down recording activities but remained a popular live act. They even played stints at the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas, where they erased some public annoyances with a controversial sex comedy routine by band member Ken Idaho. Instead of backpedaling, they took it even further and recorded a couple of "sex party albums."


A couple of the band's "party albums" that they released on their Fame imprint

Though their heyday was over, the band, at that time renamed "The Jimmy Heap Show," remained a popular live club and dance hall act until 1977, when Heap disbanded the group in June that year. Later that same year, he recorded an album for Huey Meaux's Crazy Cajun label, which also resulted in one single on the subsidiary label American Pla-Boy.

Sadly, Jimmy Heap drowned in a boating accident on December 3, 1977, at the age of 55 years. He is buried at Taylor City Cemetery in his hometown of Taylor. Heap and the Melody Masters may not have been the most successful country music artists but they had a deep impact on country music, recording the original version of one of the genre's leading song examples, "The Wild Side of Life," and scoring the first hit version of another standart, "Release Me." Moreover, they left the legacy of numerous Texas honky tonk and western swing recordings as well as a slew of late 1950s Texas rock'n'roll. Bear Family Records re-released the Melody Masters' complete capitol sides in 1992 on CD. In 2006, another German reissue label Cattle Records, added a second CD reissue entitled "The Wild Side of Life" featuring their Imperial output. A definitive reissue of Heap and the band's complete legacy is still missing, however.


Recommended reading
• Jimmy Heap and the Melody Masters on Fame
• Jimmy Heap and the Melody Masters on Capitol, Part I
• Jimmy Heap and the Melody Masters on Capitol, Part II

Also visit their homepage

Sources
Taylor Daily Press newspaper article
Find a Grave entry
TSHA Handbook of Texas
Austin Chronicle: "Cum on Feel the Noise - The New Dessau Music Hall" (1998)
Praguefrank's Country Discography entry
45cat and 45worlds entry
Rockin' Country Style entry

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Rit Corso on Perfect

Here is an addition to the Perfect label history courtesy of Joe Schmidt. Perfect was part of Harold Doane's little recording empire in Miami and is best known for releasing Tommy Spurlin's country and rockabilly sides. Doane also released a couple of Latin Jazz recordings on Perfect.

BUT: does anyone out there have info on this release? My search came up with nothing about the artist, Rit Corso. The release date of it must be around 1956-1957 (which would be the latest release on the label). I haven't heard the songs either, so this is quite a mystery. The songwriter on both sides was Nellie Bonita Beulke (1896-1973), who was a professional composer from Idaho, it seems. The earliest effort I found was "Love's Question" from 1948. She also penned "Beat, Beat, Beat It" from 1954. "Sweetest Voice on Earth," one of the songs on the Perfect single, was also released by Larry Reed on the Nashville based Deb Records in 1960 (Deb #11760). Beulke co-wrote the song in 1955 with Ted G. Ax, with whom she also wrote "My Cuddle Up Huddle Up Lovin' Baby." Ax also penned "It's Heaven to Be Loving You" in 1955. Beulke also co-wrote "I am a Failure at Everything But Love" with Quincy S. Spann. She died in 1973 and is buried at Gamlin Lake Cemetery in Sagle, Idaho.

See also
The ART record label
The (short) Story of Perfect Records
Miami's AFS label


Catalog of Copyright Entries

Billboard June 5, 1948

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Jimmy Haggett on Caprock


Jimmy Haggett - All I Have Is Love (Caprock 45-107), 1958

Today, we remember country singer, bandleader, DJ, and promoter Jimmy Haggett. He passed away 21 years ago on January 30, 2000. Haggett is best remembered today for his Sun recordings 1955-1956, especially his rockabilly session that yielded such songs as "Rabbit Action," "Rhythm Called Rock'n'Roll" or "How Come You Do Me." He also recorded for Meteor, Caprock, Vaden as well as K-Ark and had his band involved in recordings by Buford Peak and Johnny Moore.

A true Missourian (although he was born on the other side of the Mississippi in Illinois and lived for several years in Arkansas), Haggett led a band through the 1950s and early to mid 1960s that was known originally as the Ozark Mountain Boys and later as the Daydreamers. They played shows all over Southeast Missouri, Northeast Arkansas and West Tennessee. In addition, Haggett was a popular DJ on different Missouri and Arkansas based radio stations and was twice named "DJ of the Year." Today, I featured Haggett's "biggest success" or: what was as near as possible to having a hit. "All I Have Is Love" did well in several local markets in 1958 but finally failed to enter the national charts.

A comprehensive biography of Haggett can be found in one of the upcoming issues of American Music Magazine as part of an extensive Vaden Records cover story.

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)