• Added info on Jimmy Ford, thanks to Volker Houghton. • Extended and corrected the post on Happy Harold Thaxton (long overdue), thanks to everyone who sent in memories and information! • Added information to the Jim Murray post, provided by Mike Doyle, Dennis Rogers, and Marty Scarbrough. • Expanded the information on Charlie Dial found in the Little Shoe post.

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

The Poor Boy Connection

The Poor Boy Connection
Wayne Raney's First Adventure in Record Production

Wayne Raney had been an established artist by the mid 1950s but his heyday as a recording artist had been over by then. His influential work with the Delmore Brothers had come to an abrupt end when Rabon Delmore died in 1952. Raney's last hit and biggest hit, "Why Don't You Haul Off and Love Me" from 1949, was eight years old when he decided to try his luck and switch to the other side of the studio.

In 1957, Raney returned to WCKY in Cincinnati and continued to sell song books and harmonicas on air successfully. That same year, Raney decided to switch sides and established his own Wayne Raney Studio in nearby Oxford, Ohio, operating the Poor Boy, American, New American, and Down Home labels out of it. He also set up Oleta Publishing, which became his outlet for composition for the next decades. In late 1957, Raney recorded "We Need a Whole Lot More of Jesus (and a Lot Less Rock and Roll)" and "Don't You Think It's Time", which saw release on Poor Boy #100 the following year (although Billboard would not announce the founding of Poor Boy until February 1959) and the former became a hit in the gospel hit. "We Need a Whole Lot More of Jesus" was also recorded by several other artists in the years to come and became a minor standard.

Raney's business partner was Jimmie Zack, a singer and songwriter who worked in Raney's band before the founding of the recording studio and record labels. Born James Zack Yingst in 1924 in Fair Oaks, Arkansas, Zack penned about a dozen songs, mostly with Raney or Raney's son Zyndall. Zack's "Evil Ways" b/w "I Can't Do Without You" (American #102, 1960) has been featured on a few compilations. He had another release on Starday's Nashville imprint, "Lost John's Gone" b/w "My Get Up and Go" (#5010), which was released in 1961 and probably recorded at Raney's Oxford studio or, though rather unlikely, at his Rimrock studio.

Raney and Zack operated a handful of labels out of the Oxford studio with changing adresses, however, They also began an association with Norman Walton of Richmond, Indiana, who operated Walton Records and probably served as a manager for the Raney/Zack labels.

Location of the labels' addresses:
Oxford, Ohio / Richmond, Indiana / Muncie Indiana

The Poor Boy label was started in 1958. The first release (Poor Boy #100) showed a Richmond post box address. Then, they changed it to a Muncie, Indiana, post box address. Muncie is located about 43 miles southeast of Richmond on the Indiana-Ohio state border. Poor Boy releases #105 up to #107 showed addresses in both Muncie ("Home Office") and Richmond ("General Manager Office"). The final releases on Poor Boy only had a Muncie address. The label was closed down in 1960. Its last release is probably the best known: "Sweet Marie" b/w "Servant of Love" (Poor Boy #111) by the Van Brothers, Arnold and Earl Van Winkle. Both songs were also reissued by Norman Walton on the Walton label. Other notable recordings on Poor Boy include those by Raney himself, Norman Witcher, and Connie Dycus.

American was headquartered in Muncie. It was only active in 1960 and released four discs, including Zack's "Evils Ways". They also operated a New American label out of his Raney Recording Studio in Oxford, Ohio, that same year, which issued a string of bluegrass EPs featuring the likes of Wade Mainer, Clyde Moody, the Stanley Brothers, among other well known names. The tapes possibly came into Raney's possession through his job with WCKY. The last release on New American, a six track gospel EP, was re-released on the one-off Raney label as well.

Down Home Records was another very short-lived venture and released only one disc, a gospel EP by Raney and his family. These as well as other cuts recorded by Raney were also leased to Starday Records.

The Walton label was founded by Norman Walton in 1961 and released a slew of country and gospel singles and EPs up to 1966. Even an album by Gil Richmond was recorded in 1964 on Walton. Several of the songs recorded on Walton were co-written by Norman Walton, including Winston Shelton's sides. Similar to Poor Boy, the record labels also showed different addresses. The address on Winston Shelton's EP was 2923 Boston Pike in Richmond. Possibly these addresses were printed on account of the particular artist.

Many of the releases, especially Raney's EPs on his own labels and Starday, were promoted and sold by him through his radio show over WCKY, which was a powerful station and gave Raney a wide audience (similar businesses were run by WCKY DJs Nelson King and his successor, Arlen Vaden). However, by 1961, Raney decided to pack up things and move back to Arkansas. He discontinued his mail order business, the small labels he had established previously and bought a 180 acre farm near Concord, Arkansas, not far away from his birth place. On his farm, Raney raised Black Angus cattle but his farmer life only lasted for a few months. Later that year, he built the Rimrock Recording Studio and also established a pressing plant and, in 1965, his own Rimrock record label.

Norman Walton continued to release 45s and even some LPs on the Walton label until at least 1966 but discontinued it at some point. Wayne Raney sold the Rimrock company in 1975 to Stax Records of Memphis, Tennessee, and died in 1993.

If anyone has more information on Jimmie Zack or Norman Walton, please feel free to share your memories or information in the comments or via contact form.


101: Charlie Moore & Bill Napier and the Dixie Partners - Story of Love / Big Daddy of the Blues (1960)
102: Jimmie Zack and the Blues Rockers - I Can't Do Without You / Evil Ways (1960)
103: Krazy Kords - Malaguena / Return to Me / That's My Desire / Ol Man River (1960)
104: Rocky Rose - Won't You Reconsider / This Is the First Time (1960)

Down Home
100: Wayne Raney & Raney Family - I'll Be Listening / Where the Soul of Man Never Dies / I Need the Prayers / In the Shadow of the Cross / The Wrath of God / We Are Going Down the Valley

New American
101: Don Reno & Red Smiley - Springtime in Heaven / Stanley Brothers - He Said If I'd Be Lifted Up / Tommy Magness - Jesus Will Save Your Soul / Harlan County Four - John Three Sixteen / Brother Claude Ely - Little David Play on Your Harp / Clyde Moody - I Feel Like Traveling On
102: Trace Family Trio - My Mothers Dying Message / Clyde Moody - Through the Pearly Gate / Wade Mainer - God's Radio Phone / Tommy Magness - When I Safely Reach That Other Shore / Mac Odell - Be on Time / King's Sacred Quartet - The World Can't Stand Long
103: Esco Hankins - Mother Left Me Her Bible / Wade Mainer - He's Passing This Way / Bailes Brothers - Ashamed to Own the Blessed Savior / Trace Family Trio - I've Got a Longing to Go / Tommy Magness - Wings of Faith / Clyde Moody - I Need the Prayers
104: Wayne Raney & Family - A Little Pine Log Cabin / Hand in Hand with Jesus / I Found It in Mothers Bible / Where No Cabins Fall / The Uncloudy Day / An Empty Mansion (see also Raney 104)

Poor Boy
100: Wayne Raney - We Need a Whole Lot More of Jesus (and a Lot Less Rock and Roll) / Don't You Think It's Time (1958)
102: Norman Witcher - Somebody's Been Rocking My Boat / Wake Me Up (1958)
103: Raney Family - When Heaven Comes Down / Lilac Bouquet (1959)
104: The Gays - Don't Rush Me / You're Never There (1959)
105: Les & Helen Tussey / Golden Hill Boys - They Went Around / Married to a Friend (1959)
106: Les & Helen Tussey / Golden Hill Boys - If Jesus Was in the Hearts / We've Got to Answer (1959)
107: Danny Brockman and the Golden Hill Boys - Stick Around / Don't You Know It's True (1959)
108: Connie Dycus - Same Old Thing / Hand Full of Ashes (1959)
109: Wayne Raney - Simply Wonderful / Everybody's Going Crazy (1959)
110: Originales - Bandstand Sound / Lend Me Your Ear (1959)
111: Van Brothers - Sweet Marie / Servant of Love (1959)

104: Wayne Raney & Raney Family - A Little Pine Log Cabin / Hand in Hand with Jesus / I Found It in Mothers Bible / Where No Cabins Fall / The Uncloudy Day / An Empty Mansion (see also American 104)

001: Richmond Friendly Four - Lord / I've Been a Hard Working Pilgrim / He Will Go / He Knows the Way / Someday They'll Be No Tomorrow (1961)
003: Norman Walton & Van Brothers - Take That Lock from Your Heart / Too Many Women / Sweet Marie / Servant of Love (1962)
005: Gentry Brothers - My Wildwood Flower / Uncle Orie - Uncle Sam (1962)
007: Gil Richmond and Earl King - Doing Things / Let Me Talk It Over with My Heart (1964)
008: Betty Browning - Do You Remember / My Larry (1964)
009: Gil Richmond and Earl King - Stop, Slow Down / Your Faithful Fool (1964)
010: Jimmy Walls - What a Little Kiss Can Do / Stop Look and Listen (1965)
011: Flora C - Walk Away, Walk Away / A Dairy of Dreams (1966)
EP-950: Winston Shelton and the Country Gospel Singers - From Bethlehem to Calvary / Stop and Think / I'm Not a Poor Man / On the Banks of Old Jordan
1500: Jimmy Walls - Hello Out There World / Look at Me Eyes (1966)
2500: Van Brothers - Uncle Jim Riggs Will / Lonesome Tonight for Tomorrow (1965)


No.#: Gil Richmond and the Golden Hill Troupe - Hootenanny Roundup (1964)

Recommended reading

See also


Wednesday, June 5, 2024

Wild Bill Graham

The Wild Drummer of Columbus
"Wild" Bill Graham & the Escalators

"Wild" Bill Graham released only a few singles during the decades and while he even had a strong regional hit on his hands in the 1960s, the world outside seems to have overlooked him. He is not to be confused with jazz musician Bill Graham, who enjoyed greater fame than his namesake.

Graham was a drummer and band leader, guiding the extremely popular black R&B band "The Escalators" in Columbus, Ohio. While neither soul nor R&B is my area of expertise, Graham caught my attention because he made a rare 45rpm record with a vocalist known as Bobby Wayne. Bobby Wayne of "Swing Train Twist"? This would be my area for sure. But even now I'm not sure of it's THE Bobby Wayne I'm looking for.

Wild Bill Graham, ca. 1950s
Taken from the book "Listen to the Jazz"

Biographical information on William Henry "Wild Bill" Graham is hard to come by. He was said to be a multi-instrumentalist but favored the drums, on which he really could turn lose, living up to his nickname to its fullest. His home base was Columbus, Ohio, were he and his bands were based during the 1950s up until the 1970s. Graham played several clubs and venues around Columbus, including the Club 7-11, the Musical Bar, and the Melody Show Bar in Springfield, Ohio. He led various combos there, the most popular became the Escalators.

However, before that, Graham made his recording debut in 1956 for Cliff Ayers Emerald record label from Indiana. His "Mama Chita" b/w "Sinbad Blues" was a strong regional seller reportedly. Especially "Mama Chita", introduced by Graham with a wild drum solo, was a savage piece of R&B. It was followed in 1958 by another moody sax driven shouter, "Good News Baby" with Paul Rey on vocals. This one was released on the Columbus based Canto label.

Billboard May 12, 1956 R&B review

Cash Box June 16, 1956, review

In 1962, Graham recorded a single which brought him to my intention. I had previously put considerable effort into researching the story of West Virginia born DJ Bobby Wayne, who is best remembered among record collectors for his "Swing Train Twist" from 1962. Shortly afterwards, Graham's single on the House of Joan label appeared. While Johnny Albert took over vocal duties on the A side of this release, Albert was joined by a certain Bobby Wayne on "Roll Clean Out of Your Life" on the B side. Wayne was working in Ohio, too, at that time. So he could be same. Proofs? Negative.

Graham took a break from recording for a few years but was back in the studio in 1966. By then, he founded a R&B ensemble known as "The Escalators". They recorded for another local, short-lived label, Nassau Records. This time credited to "Billy Graham and the Escalators", they released a loose cover of Jessie Hill's 1960 hit "Ooh Poo Pah Doo" plus an instrumental called "East 24th Ave". The latter was co-written by Graham and producer Bill Moss, a Columbus celebrity who was a DJ on local WVOK and owned the Nassau label.

Apparently, the single took off and was taken over by Atlantic Records, which re-released the single at the tail end of 1966. In early 1967, it saw also release by Atlantic in Canada and the UK. Surprisingly, I did not found any reports on success in Billboard, which is unusual for a disc that obviously went well enough for a big label to push it. In addition, there was no follow-up to "Ooh Poo Pah Doo" to built on its success.

Graham and the Escalators continued to work the Columbus area, where they remained favorites of the audiences. "As a high school senior, I was the President of St. Agatha CYO in Upper Arlington in 1967. Our Easter Sunday Dance each year was one of the teenage highlights on the spring. I begged my adult advisor to book Billy Graham and the Escalators for the dance. Upper Arlington being VERY WHITE at the time, he was very reluctant. He gave in and they 'rocked the house!' SRO, we had to turned people away at the door. Traffic jam, noise in the neighborhood it was unbelievable," recalls one witness. "We had a great time and made a lot of money that night."

Wild Bill Graham (far left) with the Escalators, ca. early 1970s.
Otis Clay (fourth from left on trumpet)

At some point, the Escalators disbanded but reformed in the early 1970s. Throughout the years, many local musicians were members of the Escalators. Phil Graham, Graham's cousin, was featured on bass, Robert Lowery was the vocalist on "Ooh Poo Pah Doo", Chips Willis played saxophone, Graham's daughter Brenda sang and Otis Clay was a trumpeter with the band. Unfortunately, it escapes me what happened to Graham and the band.

If anyone has more information out there, feel free to pass it along.


Emerald 2010: Wild Bill Graham - Mama Chita / Sinbad Blues (May 1956)
Canto 31458: Doctor Bop - Satin and Velvet / Paul Prey and Wild Bill Graham Quartet - Good News Baby (1958)
House of Joan No.#: Johnny Albert and "Wild" Bill Graham Orch. - April Fool / Johnny Albert and Bobby Wayne and "Wild" Bill Graham Orch. - Roll Clean Out of Your Life (1962)
Nassau 100: Billy Graham and the Escalators - Ooh Poo Pah Doo / East 24th Ave (1966)
Atlantic 45-2372: Billy Graham and the Escalators - Ooh Poo Pah Doo / East 24th Ave (Dec. 1966)

45cat entry
Memories commented by band members and relatives
Short Profile on Soulbot.uk
Chips Willis obituary
• David Myers, Arnett Howard, James Loeffler, Candice Watkins: "Columbus: The Musical Crossroads" (Arcadia Publishing), 2008

• Various: "Listen for the Jazz - Key Notes in Columbus History" (Arts Foundation of Old Towne), 1990, page 80

Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Pete Peters on Dixie

Pete Peters and the Rhythmakers - Dizzy (Dixie 45-836), 1960

Pete Peters' trademark was rocking up bluegrass and folk standards, though he maintained a bluegrass feel in most of his recordings due to the presence of a banjo. His most cherished cut is his reworking of the bluegrass classic "Rolling In My Sweet Baby's Arms", which he titled "Rockin' 'N My Sweet Baby's Arms", which appeared on several rock'n'roll reissue compilations since the 1980s. It is hard to come by information on Peters. The great amount of men named or nicknamed Pete Peters makes it hard to research anything at all. Here's my humble try.

Pete Peters promo picture
This photo has been used a few times, including in
one of the Buffalo Bop reissues' booklets

Peters was active in the Virginia-North Carolina border region and was probably based in Reidsville, North Carolina, at least for some time during the 1960s. He was obviously drawn to old folk standards, as his discography reveals, though his first recordings were in a different style.

He made his debut in 1957 for the Virginia based P&J label, releasing "Wig-Walk" b/w "Teen-Age Love Affair" (#100) with his band, the Rhythmakers. While the A side was a fine saxophone driven jiver, its flip was an almost doo-wop like ballad. A similar disc followed in 1958, comprising "Fanny Brown" and "Mean Woman", again with the Rhythmakers and vocal support by a group known as the Five Notes.

In 1960, Peters changed his style to what became his trademark. He took the old bluegrass classic "Rolling In My Sweet Baby's Arms", rocked it up with adjusted lyrics, and recorded it as "Rockin' In My Sweet Baby's Arms". He sent in the tapes to Starday's custom pressing division and got back probably 500-1000 copies of the disc. Its flip side was occupied by a song called "Dizzy", a bluesy Peters original that bears some similarity with Jimmy Reed's "Ain't That Lovin' You, Baby".

Billboard April 24, 1961, pop review
"Limited Sales Potential"

Peters had set the way for his next singles, which included banjo led tunes. His next one was of that kind, though this time an original: "Rocking Banjo", backed by a country ballad, "Blue Heartaches", which appeared in 1961 on Jim Eanes' Lance label from Richmond, Virginia. In 1964, Peters again used Starday's custom services for pressing his rendition of the old minstrel song "Red Wing", backed by "Wig Walk" (maybe a re-recording?), released on Dixie #1096 in 1964. Shortly afterwards, another Dixie disc appeared with Peters' haunting, archaic, almost six minutes long version of the English ballad "Barbara Allen", backed by "Little Rosewood Casket" and "Red Wing" (Dixie #1098).

Peters recorded at least another two 45rpm discs, "I've Got That Blue and Rainy Day Feelin'" b/w "Just Give Me One More Chance with You" (New Artist #100), for which different sources give three different release dates: 1965, 1968 and 1970. Peters probably also recorded on Shamrock in 1968.

Apparently, no more records saw release by Peters afterwards. If someone knows more about his whereabouts and his career, feel free to contact me.

P&J 100: Pete Peters & his Rhythmakers - Wig Walk / Teen-Age Love Affair (1957)
P&J 101: Pete Peters / The Rhythmakers with the Five Notes - Fanny Brown / Mean Woman (1958)
Dixie 45-836: Pete Peters & the Rhythmakers - Rockin' N My Sweet Baby's Arms / Dizzy (1960)
Lance 002: Pete Peters - Rocking Banjo / Blue Heartaches (Apr. 1961)
Dixie 1096: Pete Peters - Red Wing / Wig Walk (1964)
Dixie 1098: Pete Peters - Barbara Allen / Little Rosewood Casket & Red Wing (Nov. 1964)
New Artist 100: Pete Peters - I've Got That Blue and Rainy Day Feelin' / Just Give Me One More Chance with You
Shamrock 505: Pete Peters with the Marlen Playboys - In a World All My Own / From the Bottom of My Heart (1968)

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Jerry Lee Williams

Jerry (Lee) Williams was an important figure in Indianapolis’ country and rock’n’roll music scene of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. A talented guitarist in his own right, Williams favored to stay in the background, though, and became the owner of a group of record labels that gave countless local Indy singers and bands an opportunity to release their music.

Gerald “Jerry” Lee Williams was born on April 12, 1934, in Indianapolis and by the 1950s, had become an accomplished guitarist, probably playing the local bars in town. He was friends with Stan Cox and Earl Brooks, the latter being a country musician, too, and the trio decided to start their own record company which they named “Solid Gold”. The label was headquartered on 359 Burgess Ave on the east side of Indianapolis. They started with a girl group known as the Crysler Sisters, producing some pop recordings that saw release in 1956 on Solid Gold (“You Can’t Run Away (From Your Heart)” b/w “Little Church (By the Side of the Road)”, #713).

359 Burgess Avenue - home of Solid Gold Records

Williams followed up with another girl group, this time the Cassidy Sisters, whose release pointed towards the music that would follow, although it was still far away from hard-edged rock’n’roll. “Teen-Age Flirt” b/w “Don’t Teach Me” (Solid Gold #714, 1957). It was not until the next release at the end of 1957 that Williams set the route for the label’s future releases with Bill Peaslee’s “Hypnotized” on one side and Jay Haye’s acoustic bluesy “Tellin’ Lies” on the other side (Solid Gold #715).

Williams would record mainly rock’n’roll music on Solid Gold during the next years, including one record for his own band, the Crowns, which featured the instrumentals “The Go-Tune” and “Wibcee” (Solid Gold #778) and it was the B side that became a local favorite in 1959. Williams, Brooks, and Cox founded another two record labels: Nabor Records came into existence in 1958 at 243 Summit South Street. Nabor was mainly used for country music, Earl Brooks’ favorite style. Yolk Records, a rather short-lived venture, followed in 1960.

In between, in 1959, Williams set up a label under his sole supervision, K-W Records, which had three releases that year three more in 1960 and 1961 (under the shortened name K Records). Probably the most prominent acts on this label were rock’n’roll group Keetie and the Kats as well as Tommy Lam, a local performer and friend of Williams’. Lam also recorded the collectors’ favorite “Speed Limit” on Williams’ Nabor label in 1959.

Williams was well-connected in the Indianapolis music scene. He was friends with Jan Eden, who had turned his garage into a recording studio and it is probable that some of Williams productions were recorded there. Another friend of Williams’ was Aubrey Cagle, another local rock’n’roll and country performer, for whom Williams also played lead guitar. Surprisingly, Cagle never recorded for any of Williams’ labels, possibly because Cagle had founded his own Glee label in the late 1950s.

Though Williams put much effort in his productions and his labels, none of them could stimulate any noteworthy success outside of Indianapolis and around 1964, Solid Gold was stopping to release 45rpms and Yolk followed around the same time. KW/K had already been laid to rest in 1961. It was only Nabor Records that was kept well alive until the early 1970s, releasing mainly country music for the local market.

Although Williams would work all this time in his day job as a bearing specialist, he never gave up music. He kept up producing, performing, and record collecting. In the 1970s and 1980s, he played guitar alongside Aubrey Cagle, Lattie Moore, and Art Adams. He set up NEW Records (he took the name from the initials of his wife, Nancy Elisabeth Williams, whom he had wed in 1959), which released a few discs in the early 1970s, including one by Lattie Moore. He was friends with Moore and bought the SAGA record label, which Moore and a few others recorded for in the late 1950s.

In 1993, a disc appeared on the Silverball label comprising Tommy Lam's "Speed Limit" and a instrumental by Williams', "Outta Gas". The label was based in Nashville and the circumstances how this came into existence is unknown at the moment. In 1996, Williams produced the album “Branching Out” by rockabilly singer Ronnige Haig, also playing drums on that release, and two years later, he released the “Real Cool” CD with Aubrey Cagle’s 1950s and 1960s songs (the only one so far). He also produced recordings by Art Adams. Around 2006, Williams was interviewed by local music collector Tony Biggs. It was probably the first occasion someone documented Williams' efforts for Indianapolis' local music scene.

Jerry Lee Williams passed away on May 22, 2015, at the age of 81 years in Indianapolis. He is buried at Washington Park East Cemetery. His wife Nancy Elisabeth followed him in 2018.

Jerry Lee Williams Label Overview
• Solid Gold:    1956 - ca. 1964
• Nabor:    
       1958 - ca. 1972
• Yolk:    
          1960 - ca. 1965
• K / K-W:   
    1959 (K-W), 1960 - 1961 (K)
• NEW:    
        1972 - 1973

Find a Grave entry
Diccionario Rockabilly blog (Spanish)
• Several 45cat entries: Solid Gold, Nabor, Yolk, K-W, K, NEW, SAGA
• Several Rockin' Country Style entries: Solid Gold, Nabor, Yolk, K-W, K

Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Swift Jewel Cowboys

The Swift Jewel Cobwoys at the Mid-South Fair in Memphis, 1938

Cowboy Swing in Memphis
The Story of the Swift Jewel Cowboys

Among Memphis' 1930s and 1940s country music acts, the Swift Jewel Cowboys were one of the few groups that made recordings. They were much heavier on jazz than Bob Wills or Milton Brown - with nods to Duke Ellington or Cab Calloway - but used the cowboy image quite heavier, too. They were on Memphis radio for much of the 1930s and inspired many future musicians through their broadcasts, including Sonny Burgess and Bill Justis.

The group was the brainchild of Frank B. Collins, manager of Jewel Oil & Shortening Company's refinery in Houston, Texas. Collins had searched for a possibility to promote the company's salad dressing and other products. To underline the down home image of his employer's products, he chose to set up a cowboy band to provide "old time entertainment with tunes and songs of yesterday". Though, it would become obvious soon that the Swift Jewel Cowboys were not an old-time string band but a hot western swing act.

The group came into existence in April 8, 1933, performing personal appearances around Houston. They mostly played at grocery stores and openings of supermarkets, while attendees served a Swift Jewel packet-top as a free ticket to their shows. Early members of the Swift Jewel Cowboys included singer and guitarist Elmer "Slim" Hall (the only known founding member), guitarist Texas Jim Lewis, who later founded his own group, the Lone Star Cowboys, and, hired by Lewis, steel guitarist Leon McAuliffe, who went on to write music history as part of Bob Wills' Texas Playboys.

More than a year after their founding, the group was transferred to Memphis, Tennessee, as in the fall of 1934, Frank Collins had been sent to the Memphis Swift Jewel office, too. In Memphis, the band began daily broadcasts on WMC, beginning on November 4, 1934. By March 1936, they had switched to WREC in Memphis and could be also heard on KRLA in Little Rock, Arkansas, and on WLAC in Nashville, Tennessee, broadening their popularity across the whole Mid-South. Their morning show even became part of of national syndicated CBS network for eight months in 1938.

One of the Swift Jewel Cowboys
on a rodeo
Their appearances had broadened, too, since their arrival in Memphis. To be a band member, it was not only demanded by manger Frank Collins to be a good musician, singer, and songwriter, but also to be able to ride. Naturally, they performed at many rodeos but also at fairs, vaudeville shows, school houses, hospitals and probably many more venues and occasions.

By then, the line-up of the Swift Jewel Cowboys had underwent some major changes. The band now included Slim Hall on vocals and guitar, David "Pee Wee" Wamble on bass (joining in late 1936 or early 1938), piano, and vocals (he could also play cornet and trumpet), Clifford "Kokomo" Crocker on vocals and accordion, Alfredo "Jose Cortes" Casares on fiddle (who hailed from Monterey, Mexico), Farris "Lefty" Ingram on fiddle and clarinet (from Hickman, Kentucky, joining in early 1936), as well as Calvin "Curly" Noland on bass and vocals. Teenage multi-instrumentalist Jimmy Riddle filled in when some of the members were on vacation and Jim Sanders, originally from Alabama, acted as a manager (besides Collins) and scripted their shows.

This line-up recorded a three-day session in July 1939 at Memphis' Gayoso Hotel for Vocalion Records. One some of the recordings, they were joined by Jimmy Riddle on harmonica. Of course there were songs like "Raggin' the Rails" and "My Untrue Cowgirl" that tried to erase the illusion of a cowboy band but the musicians' repertoire consisted rather of jazzy tunes and standards like "Memphis Blues", "Kansas City Blues" or "Fan It". Their recordings were released on Vocalion (and one disc on OKeh) during 1939 and 1940, the first being "Willie the Weeper" b/w "Memphis Oomph! (Is It True)" on Vocalion #05052 in August 1939. Some of their recordings were later reissued in the late 1940s by Columbia Records, who was the parent company of Vocalion and OKeh.

By 1942, times had changed. World War II had brought restrictions to the USA that made it hard for the band to maintain their busy touring schedule. In addition, some of the members were drafted and the band decided to disband in the summer of 1942, playing a farewell concert on the 4th of July at Memphis' Fairgrounds. Most of the members remained in the music business, many of them on a local or regional level, however.

An old can of Swift's Jewel

Praguefrank's Country Music Discographies entry
45worlds/78rpm entry
Joe Bone: "Pee Wee Wamble - Last of the Swift Jewel Cowboys" (obituary)
• Bob Pinson: "Encyclopedia of Country Music" (Oxford University Press), 1998, page 520
• Tony Russell: "Country Music Originals: The Legends and the Lost" (Oxford University Press), 2010
• Tony Russell: "Chuck Wagon Swing" (liner notes), String Records LP
• Richard Carlin: "Country Music: A Biographical Dictionary" (Routledge), 2003, page 232

Wednesday, May 1, 2024

Van Brothers

Arnold and Lee Van Winkle, the Van Brothers

The Van Brothers

Servants of Indiana Rockabilly

Kentuckians Arnold and Lee Van Winkle recorded one of rockabilly's prototype songs, "Servant of Love", although this piece of backwoods rock'n'roll and guitar magic only reached moderate popularity outside the hardcore collector's scene. In the 1950s and 1960s, the brothers waxed several fine recordings and with these became part of Indiana's country and rock'n'roll music legacy.

Although there are sources out there stating the brothers hailed from Tennessee, it is more likely their home state was East Kentucky. Their ancestors lived in the Jackson/Rockcastle/Knox Counties since the mid 19th century and by the late 1910s, the family resided in Jackson County. Lee and Arnold's father "Pappy" Powell Van Winkle was married twice; his first wife died in 1915 and left him with two young sons., Andrew and Virgil. Pappy then married Chessie Leger, who also brought two sons into the marriage. They would go on to have another six children together. Arnold was born on June 10, 1937, while Lee's birth date still remains unknown.

They came from a musical family, as their father was a fiddler and their older brother Clyde also played the guitar. By the mid 1950s, they had relocated north to the Ohio-Indiana state border region and ha begun performing as the "Van Brothers". They cut their first record in 1956, featuring "Down the Trail to Home Sweet Home" b/w "My Baby's Arms" on the one-shot Singable label (#61101). Probably located in Indiana, nothing is known about this label, which released only this very record, pressed by Rite Record Productions from nearby Cincinnati.

Arnold Van Winkle, ca. 1950s
After that, Arnold went solo for one disc in 1957 and recorded for Larry Short's Ruby label out of Hamilton, Ohio. The disc comprised "An Old Rusty Dime" and "How Many Heartaches Make a Tear" (#RU-540), produced likely at Short's own studio with the Rainbow Rhythmaires, which was probably Short's band. Both sides were co-written by Short and Norman Walton. With the latter, Arnold and Lee would work together on and off for the next years. The session produced a third track, "Looks Like a Dead End to Me", which remained unreleased, however.

Although Ruby had distributors in such near cities as Indianapolis or Cincinnati, the disc was overlooked. Eventually, Arnold and Lee began performing as the "Van Brothers" in Indiana and made contacts in the late 1950s with the Poor Boy record label, a small outfit from Richmond, Indiana, operated by country music star Wayne Raney and Jimmie Zack. Poor Boy was Raney's first venture into the record producing side of the music business. However, the Van Brothers' record for the label was also its last one issued.

For this disc, they recorded "Sweet Marie", a beautiful harmony country ballad co-written by Norman Walton and the Van Brothers, and "Servant of Love", written again by Walton. Arnold and Lee cut this session with the Gentry Brothers, a country and rock'n'roll music combo from Ohio/Kentucky, with whom the Van Winkles apparently worked constantly during the early 1960s. It was Dale Gentry's exceptional talents on the electric guitar that made this song an outstanding rockabilly performance. Other members of the group included Gary Gentry on bass and Larry Gentry on drums (although no drums are audible on the Van cuts). Wayne Raney had built a small studio in Oxford, Ohio, roughly 25 miles southeast of Richmond, which could have been the place of recording.

Released on Poor Boy #111 in December 1959, it was reviewed by Billboard the following May with "Sweet Marie" as the top side. Although it was possibly a good seller locally, it didn't move anybody outside the region. Poor Boy Records was discontinued then, so Arnold and Lee switched to Norman Walton's own label, simply named Walton Records, which he founded in 1961.

Two more records by the Van Brothers followed for Walton. One appeared in June 1962, an EP that comprised the Van Winkles' Poor Boy songs as well as two new country recordings, "Take That Lock from Your Hair" and "Too Many Women" (Walton #003). No more discs appeared until 1965, when Norman Walton released the brothers' "Uncle Jim Riggs Will" and "Lonesome Tonight for Tomorrow" on Walton #2500, both composed by Arnold Van Winkle. This became the Van Brothers final release.

Cash Box June 9, 1962, religious review

It is reported that Arnold and Lee had a fall-out at some point and stopped talking with each other. For the next years, musical activities ceased. There was an EP by Arnold on the Dayton, Ohio, based Jalyn label in 1968 featuring sacred material. Arnold had married Rosella Rowland in 1966 and founded a family with her. Arnold's wife as well as his children were musically inclined, too, and by the 1980s, they had founded a family gospel group. They recorded at Delbert Barker's Central studio in Middletown, Ohio, releasing one 45rpm record and a whole album.

Arnold Van Winkle remained in the Richmond area, where he most likely still resides. His wife Rosella passed away in 2019. The whereabouts of Lee Van Winkle are unknown to me.

In the past 40 plus years, the brothers' recordings have been reissued numerous times, especially "Servant of Love". Cees Klop included several of their recordings on his "The Rocking Masters" LP (White Label #8811) in 1979. The same year, the Redwood label released "Servant of Love" on their "Rockabilly Country" LP. German Eagle Records released a full album of Van Brothers cuts in 1992 entitled "Seven-Up & Whiskey...the Servant of Love", which collects several songs of unknown origin but excludes the brothers' Singable disc and Arnold Van Winkle's solo recordings.


Singable 61101: The Van Brothers with the Moderns - Down the Trail to Home Sweet Home / My Baby's Arms (1956)

Ruby RU 540: Arnold Van Winkle / The Rainbow Rhythmaires - An Old Rusty Dime / How Many Heartaches Make a Tear (1957)

Poor Boy 45-111: Van Brothers - Sweet Marie / Servant of Love (Dec. 1959)

Walton EP 003: Norman Walton / Van Brothers - Take That Lock from Your Hair / Van Brothers - Too Many Women / Van Bros. and Walton - Sweet Marie / Norman Walton / Van Brothers - Servant of Love (June 1962)

Walton 2500: Arnold & Lee, the Van Brothers - Lonesome Tonight for Tomorrow / Uncle Jim Riggs Will (1965)

Jalyn 327: Arnold Van Winkle and the Gospel Meltones - Old Brush Arbor / I See a Bridge / Arnold Van Winkle and Doyle Crawford with Paul Fox & Kelly Caudill - Way Up on the Mountain / I'm Ready to Go Home (1968)

Central 80114: Van Winkle Family (A. Van Winkle & G.F. Tanner) - With Him I Never Shall Die / Come Morning (1980)


Central No.#: The Van Winkle Family: "Sings Country Gospel" (1980s)
Eagle 309014: The Van Brothers: "Seven-Up & Whiskey...the Servant of Love" (1992)

Note: A few recordings of the Eagle LP are from unidentified sources. These include "Seven-Up & Whiskey" (two versions), "I Wish It", and "John Henry Junior", which were likely recordings from the late 1950s or early 1960s. "What a Little Kiss Can Do" and "Stop Look and Listen" were originally released on Walton by Jimmy Walls in 1965.

• 45cat entries for Van Brothers and Arnold Van Winkle
• Rockin' Country Style entries for Van Brothers and Arnold Van Winkle 
• Find a Grave entry for Rosella Van Winkle and Clyde Van Winkle
Rosella Van Winkle obituary
Indiana Music Makers
Gospel Jubilee entry
Bopping.org (Internet Archive)

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

The Lonesome Rhodes on RCA-Victor

he Lonesome Rhodes (Sandy and Donna) - "Nothin' But Heartaches Here" (RCA-Victor 47-9134), 1967

The Lonesome Rhodes were Sandra (nicknamed Sandy) and Donna Christine Rhodes, daughters of Perry Hilburn "Dusty" Rhodes and "Dot" Rhodes, who, along with Dusty's brothers Ethmer Cletus "Slim" Rhodes and Gilbert R. "Speck" Rhodes, were members of Slim Rhodes' Mountaineers, longtime Memphis country music performers and once Sun recording artists.

Of course born into a musical family, both Sandra and Donna were blessed with the same talent and naturally got their early music education from their family. A career in music was predicted and in 1964, they released their debut "How Much Can a Lonely Heart Stand" b/w "Why, Why, Why" on the local Memphis based Penthouse label (#5001) in 1964 as "The Rhodes Sisters". This record came to the attention of the bigger independent Dot label and the sisters re-recorded it for release on Dot in May that year. A single on the Dial label followed in 1965. At that time, their sound was a mixture of country and pop music.

Sandra and Donna came to the attention of country music singer Skeeter Davis, who had recorded their "How Much Can a Lonely Heart Stand" for RCA-Victor in 1963, scoring a minor hit withh it (#17 C&W, #47 Hot 100). She supported the sisters and signed them to her Crestwood publishing firm and by the mid 1960s, Sandra and Donna were recording and performing as "The Lonesome Rhodes". Their style was far from the sounds of the Rhodes family band but like their father and uncles had experimented with the new rock'n'roll sounds of the 1950s, Sandra and Donna were mixing country, soul, pop, and rock into their own brand of music.

They held their first session for RCA-Victor in August 1966 at RCA's studio in Nashville, Tennessee, produced by either Felton Jarvis or Chet Atkins. Although the exact line-up is unknown, it is probable they were accompanied by some of Nashville's A-Team musicians. From this very first session hails today's selection, the driving "Nothin' But Heartaches Here", a great slice of music with a style not clearly assigned to one genre. It's a little bit of country, a little bit of pop, and a little bit of rock. Paired with "The Least You Could Have Done", it saw release as the Lonesome Rhodes' second single on RCA-Victor #47-9134 in March 1967.

Probably too indefinable for the record company to promote on the one hand and for the public on the other, the single didn't reach the charts. All of their other RCA releases, five in total, shared the same fate and the Rhodes recorded their last session for the label in July 1967 with their final RCA disc appearing a year later in September 1968 ("The Lights of Dallas" b/w "I'm Missing You", #47-9629). A self-titled album of their recordings was released by RCA the same year.

Already in May 1967, Sandra had a solo release out on the Senat label, for which she worked with Wes Farrell. She was married to Memphis songwriter-producer-musician Charles Romain "Charlie" Chalmers and along with sister Donna they formed a trio that produced soul music under different names into the 1980s. They first recorded for Diamond and Hi as "The Joint Venture" in 1969 and 1972 respectively, then as "Rhodes, Chalmers and Rhodes" (later shortened to RCR) for Warner Brothers in 1975 and finally for the Florida based Radio label in 1980.

Besides that, both Sandra and Donna released solo discs during those years. Sandra recorded one single and one album for Fantasy in 1972, which was also released in the Netherlands the following year. Donna had a single on Epic out in 1968 as well as a solo album released on the same label in 1971, then recorded for Hi in 1973, Charlsand in 1974, for Unidisc in 1982 (which saw also release in Canada and the Netherlands on Ramshorn), and for Mahogany.

Chalmers also produced two releases on Sandra and Donna's mother Dot Rhodes for Epic in the early 1970s. RCR was also busy in the 1970s recording with many of Memphis' southern soul stars such as Aretha Franklin, Al Green, OV Wright, Willie Mitchell, and others, therefore playing an important part in the development of soul. 

Sandra Rhodes and Charlie Chalmers eventually divorced but kept on working together closely. They recorded with British soul singer Reuben James in 1994 and also backed Al Green on his 2005 album "I Can't Stop", produced by Willie Mitchell. Around that time, Sandra was residing in Mammoth Springs, Arkansas, playing guitar at local country shows, joined occasionally by her sister Donna.


Wednesday, April 17, 2024

Blankenship Brothers on Bluegrass

Blankenship Brothers with the Sundown Playboys - Lonesome Old Jail (Bluegrass 45-816), 1959

In the past years, I have been digging deep into Arkansas' country and rock'n'roll music history. Though, before the Natural State came to my attention and became my specialty, the state of Indiana was near the mark. Numerous live stage shows were broadcast from the state during the 1940s and 1950s, countless small independent labels existed during the 1950s and 1960s and Indianapolis alone was home to so many bands, artists, labels, and clubs. It was a thriving scene but a topic that is rather unexplored with so many interesting singers and bands. One of those artists were Dennis and Floyd, the Blankenship Brothers, whose legacy was kept alive by collectors and lovers of "hickabilly" or rockabilly hick music.

Before we dig deeper into their story, it is better to mention that there were several acts by the name of the Blankenship Brothers or Family. An old-time family band known as the Blankenship Family recorded for Victor in the early 1930s. There was another brother act, Jess and "Gonie" Blankenship were another old-time duo, performing around Beckley, West Virginia, and appearing on the city's WJLS radio in the late 1930s. There was possibly even a third act that went by that name - more about this issue later, though.

Brothers Dennis and Floyd Blankenship's family hailed originally from the Tennessee-Kentucky border region but both made their home in Indiana by the late 1950s. Dennis was the older brother, born Garland Dennis Blankenship on November 18, 1923. His place of birth is obviously disputed, as his obituary mentions Macon County, Tennessee, as his birthplace, while official records mention Allen, Kentucky. However, six years later, brother Floyd C. was born on April 9, 1929, in Lafayette, Macon County, Tennessee. Their parents Thomas Stone "Tom" and Allie Lee (Jent) Blankenship had at least seven children and looking at their birthplaces, it seems that the family moved back and forth between adjacent counties Allen, Kentucky, and Macon, Tennessee. Father Tom's family were longtime residents of Macon County, at least since the early 18th century, but it was Tom's grandfather Joel Blankenship who married Ellen Grey from Allen, Kentucky, bonding the family to both places.

Dennis Blankenship served his country during World War II and upon his return, married Berneze Thomas from Scottsville, Allen County. Floyd married around five years later. By the 1950s, both had made the move to Indianapolis, an industrial center and the booming state capitol of Indiana. The city was also home to many automobile manufacturers, once rivaling Detroit, and attracted many rural southerners that were seeking for easier work, escaping the hard farm labor, and better living conditions. Among them were the Blankenships, who brought along their bluegrass music from their home states Kentucky and Tennessee, and by the late 1950s, Dennis and Floyd had formed a band known as the Blankenship Brothers, which also included fiddle, mandolin, banjo, and bass, though the exact line-up remains blurry.

The success of both the 45rpm format and rock'n'roll, which caused an upswing in private owned, independent record labels, also came to Indiana and in the middle of the decade, several local companies had been set up, turning out country music as well as rock'n'roll. The Blankenship Brothers' development and music style reflected both: in 1959, they started making their own records and several of their recordings featured elements of rock'n'roll, although they always retained a rural bluegrass chop.

To break into the record business, the brothers decided to work with the Starday record company from Texas, which had started a custom pressing service in the 1950s. They sent off two of their recordings, "Tears I Cried for You" and "Mary", which were pressed in May 1959 with a label the brothers had aptly requested to call Bluegrass Records. Later obituaries state that "Mary" made the national top 10, which is hard to believe and most likely a misunderstanding on the obituary's author's side. I couldn't find any hint to "Mary" being successful at all.

The Blankenship Brothers Band (feat. far right Russell Spears)
Photo from the German Dee-Jay Jamboree issue (1988)

Their first record had been pure bluegrass with banjo, fiddle, and haunting vocals, harking back to the ancient sounds of their homes in Kentucky and Tennessee. For their next release, Floyd and Dennis adapted a slightly more modern style, though they were far away from the sweet teenage sounds that dominated the charts. "Lonesome Old Jail", with a great electric lead guitar, searing fiddle, and some nice harmony singing, became one of the songs collectors loved years later. Coupled with the sweet "Too Late", it was released on Bluegrass late in 1959. On this release, their backing band was dubbed "The Sundown Playboys", which at one time included Russell Spears (who later in turn recorded for Indy based labels Yolk and Nabor) and Miles Ray Miller on electric guitar, who was a close friend of the Blankenships.

Their third Bluegrass release came in the summer of 1960, comprising "The Story (The World Will Never Know)" and "You Went and Broke My Heart". Again, the band featured an electric lead guitarist but both songs were rather traditional material. This was the brothers' last release produced through Starday under the Bluegrass imprint.

In 1960, the Blankenship Brothers decided it was time for their own label and established Skyline Records and their publishing firm, the Blankenship Brothers Music Company. Shortly after their last Bluegrass release, their first Skyline record came out, featuring "Easy to Love-Hard to Forget" backed by "Don't Tell Me Your Sorry". Another disc appeared later that year with "I Got Just One Heart" and "That's Why I Am Blue", the latter being another prime example of the rockabilly hick sound.

While those first two Skyline releases were more on the straight country side, it was their third and last disc on the label that again became an underground favorite some twenty years later. "Waiting for a Train", surprisingly not a Jimmie Rodgers cover but a Blankenship original, featured some solid electric guitar work, a thumping walking bass, and rhythmic acoustic guitar played probably by one of the brothers. The other side was occupied by "Hard Up Blues", another favorite, delivered in a similar manner. The disc came out later in 1960 and was possibly the Blankenships' final release altogether.

There appears to have been another record by a group called the "Blankenship Brothers & the Pontiacs" from May 1964 featuring "Heap Big Blues" and "Travelin'' on the Harron label (probably also a Starday custom press). However, it is not clear if these guys were also Dennis and Floyd Blankenship or another act of the same name. It's not mentioned in any discography apart from the Starday custom pressings listing in Nathan D. Gibson's book "The Starday Story".

Apart from their record chronology, the Blankenship Brothers' career is hazy and only sketchy documented. What venues they played or if they appeared on local radio remains as much a mystery as the musicians they performed with. It is probably worthy to note that the brothers' songs were all original compositions. Floyd Blankenship abandoned secular music in 1967 and became a reverend, founding the True Word Baptist Church around 1970. He was also the founder and leader of a gospel group known as the Kings Servant Quartet. He kept a day job for 38 years, working for Stokley Van Camp and retiring in 1989. While Floyd stayed in Indianapolis, Dennis eventually returned to Kentucky and made his home in Scottsville. Reportedly, he also became a minister.

In 1988 (or 1999, depending which source you believe), a local Indianapolis label called Blue Sky Records (the name being apparently a syncrisis of the Blankenships' labels Bluegrass and Skyline) issued a long-play album entitled "Bluegrass & Rockabilly Kings from Indiana", containing the brothers' twelve sides recorded for their labels. Though some of the information used for this post came from the liner notes of it, the anonymous author obviously knew even less about the brothers' lives than I do. The label bears the old Blankenship address on Spruce Street, though I doubt Dennis or Floyd got any knowledge of this LP as the liner notes are so hazy. This has been the only time the Blankenships' recorded works have been gathered in one place for re-release. Since the 1980s, some of their songs have found their way onto European rockabilly compilations.

Dennis Blankenship died on February 20, 2003, at the age of 79 years at a Scottsville nursing home. His brother Floyd passed away November 9, 2011, at the age of 82 years at Community Hospital East in Indianapolis. He is buried there at Orchard Hill Cemetery. Though much overlooked back then, the Blankenship Brothers are part of Indiana's rockabilly legacy and have presented the world with some of the most unique recordings ever made in that field.

Bluegrass 45-773: Blankenship Brothers - Tears I Cried for You / Mary (May 1959)
Bluegrass 45-816: Blankenship Brothers with the Sundown Playboys - Too Late / Lonesome Old Jail (November 1959)
Bluegrass 45-870: Blankenship Brother's - The Story (The World Will Never Know) / You Went and Broke My Heart (July 1960)
Skyline 45-105: Blankenship Brothers - Easy to Love - Hard to Forget / Don't Tell Me Your Sorry (1960)
Skyline 45-106: Blankenship Brothers - I Got Just One Heart / That's Why I Am Blue (1960)
Skyline 45-107: Blankenship Brothers - Waiting for a Train / Hard Up Blues (1960)
Harron 1073: Blankenship Brothers and the Pontiacs - Heap Big Blues / Travelin' (May 1964)

45cat entry
Rockin' Country Style entry
Indiana MusicPedia entry
• Discogs
• Liner Notes from Blue Sky LP 100 on bopping.org (Internet Archive)
Floyd Blankenship Find a Grave entry
Dennis Blankenship Find a Grave entry
Bluegrass Records entries and Blankenship Brothers entries at Malcolm Chapman's Starday Custom Series blog
WJLS photostream on Flickr
• Nathan D. Gibson, Don Pierce: "The Starday Story - The House That Country Music Built" (University Press of Mississippi), 2011, page 237
• Thanks to Mike Martin

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Pine Mountain Jamboree

The Pine Mountain Jamboree logo, taken from one of the show's cassette tapes

It appears that there have been quite a couple of family-friendly country music live stage shows in Arkansas that emerged in the second half of the 20th century. These were often non-radio shows, people could only experience the fun they promised when attending the shows. Sometimes recordings were made, like it is the case for Eureka Springs' Pine Mountain Jamboree.

The show was founded by the Drennon family, led by Dave and Deanna "Dee" Drennon. Mike and Mindy Drennon helped also but it is unknown to me how they were related. The show started in 1975 and became a popular one, as it continued for over four decades. It featured mostly country musicians, though the cast remains another blank spot in the show's history. Country and gospel classics were performed live on stage, mixed with comedy. The building housing the show was located on Highway 62 in East Eureka Springs and featured vacation homes, shops, and other entertainment as well.

Several recordings were made in the early 1980s. Two LPs appeared in 1981 and 1982 and at least two cassette tapes were issued, too, although it's not clear if the LP tracks differed from the cassettes. There appears to have been a CD in 2003 entitled "Thirty and Counting" (though the show's 30th anniversary would not have been until 2005), which suggests the show was still in existence at that time.

The Drennons retired from the show business eventually and leased the building to Mike and Dale Bishop, who continued to put on shows there for the next years under the name of "Pine Mountain Theatre". The Bishops discontinued their shows, however, and the Drennon family finally sold the estate and buildings to the local Pig Trail Harley-Davidson shop, who turned over management of the Pine Mountain Jamboree to Mark Wayne Beers.

The opening show under Beers' supervision took place in May 2015. During the following months, the show featured such acts as Walt Morrison, Kimberly Swatzell, the Brick Fields Band, Buster Sharp, as well as Beers himself. Beers was ambitious but had to close the show in late 2015 with the last show being on November 12 that year. The building on 2015 East Van Buren (Highway 62) is still standing but abandoned nowadays.

The Pine Mountain Jamboree building in recent years
Source: Google Street View

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Carl Blankenship

Source: Al Turner

The Country Cut-Up from Muskogee
The Story of Carl Blankenship

Although hailing from Oklahoma, mandolinist and singer Carl Blankenship was a driving force in the Fort Smith, Arkansas, area's music scene. Apart from his work as a performer, he was also a radio DJ, a songwriter, and record label owner throughout the 1950s and 1960s.

Homer Carl Blankenship was born on January 11, 1924, in Wagoner, Oklahoma. At that time, Wagoner was a small city with a population of about 3.000 people, located near Tulsa and Muskogee - and the Oklahoma-Arkansas state border is not far away either. Blakenship was born to William Louis and Edna (Stewart) Blankenship, who owned a farm outside the town, where he and his three siblings grew up. He first attended Star School and after graduating from Wagoner High School, he worked for the Katy Railroad company.

He then joined the US Army's Signal Corps and during Word War II, he spent time overseas, including in France. While on home leave in 1943, he married Leota Anderson. Upon his return to the United States, he was honorably discharged and worked briefly for the Veretans Administration. Blankenship and his wife moved to Muskogee in 1949 and in the 1950s, he began working as a salesman for Herzfeld's Beauty Supply.

Around 1951, Blankenship met singer-guitarrist Cliff Waldon through a mutual befriended salesman and they soon formed a duo, subsequently known as the "Country Cut-Ups". Their first appereance took place at a Sunday School event from Muskogee's First Baptist Church. By June 1956, the duo was performing on KWHN's Saturday Night Radio Center Jamboree in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and had made guest appearances at radio live shows such as the Big D Jamboree in Dallas, Texas, the Cowtown Howdown in Fort Worth, Texas, and the Barnyard Frolics in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Around the same time, Blankenship and Waldon managed to secure a recording deal with Dale Siegenthaler's Stardale label out of Morris, Oklahoma (about 30 miles southwest of Muskogee). Around spring of  1956, they travelled to Dallas (possibly while they were appearing at the Big D Jamboree) and held their first recording session at Jim Beck's studio. Accompanied by a studio band featuring Jim Rollins on guitar, Bob Meadows on steel guitar, Billl Simmons on piano, and Fred Scott on bass, the duo recorded "A Rose for Mother" and "It Takes Money", both written by Siegenthaler with the help of Stardale recording artist Carl Tilton. 

Both songs were released on Stardale #13 in June 1956. It remained their only joint release, though, and soon, Blankenship and Waldon went seperate ways. Waldon had recorded two solo songs probably at the same session, which saw release at the same time on Stardale (#12) and in Canada on Ampex a year later. Following their breakup, Waldon went rock'n'roll and recorded two discs for the Mark label.

Blankenship stayed true to his country roots and by early 1958, had found a new duet partner in Arkansas native "Little" George Domerese. They gained a spot on KWHN in Fort Smith and began performing the Arkansas-Oklahoma border region. 

Inspired by Siegenthal's entrepreunism in the record business, Blankenship decided to establish his own Razorback record label in early 1958. Possibly intended to be mainly an outlet for his own discs, he nevertheless found several local artists that recorded for him in the years to come. The debut release, however, was reserved for Blankenship's own recordings of "What's Another Broken Heart" and "The Kind to Cheat" (Razorback #101) in March 1958.

For the next years, Blankenship would appear on local radio, spinning the discs also on KOLS in Pryor, Oklahoma, in 1960, did live shows, played personal appearances in the region, as well as recorded for and led his own Razorback label well into the 1960s. He closed down Razorback in 1962 and his KWHN show with Domerese ended in 1964. It seems that he ceased musical activities from that point, although he performed with his own bluegrass band at festivals, church meetings as well as family gatherings and led the the singing class in the local church's Sunday School.

Besides all that, Blankenship held down his day job as a salesman and finally, he and his wife bought the Herzfeld company in 1973, changing the name to Blankenship Beauty Supply. He retired in 1987 and sold the business.

Carl Blankenship passed away on November 19, 2006, at the age of 82 years at Muskogee Regional Medical Center. He is buried at Fort Gibson National Cemetery. His wife Leota followed two years later.

Stardale 13: Carl and Cliff /  The Country Cut-Ups - A Rose for Mother / It Takes Money (1956)
Razorback 101: Carl Blankenship - What's Another Broken Heart / The Kind to Cheat (1958)
Razorback 105: Carl Blankenship - I Can't Live to See Tomorrow / I'd Like to Set You to Music (1959)
Razorback 108: Evay and Gene Travis with Carl Blankenship - The Kings Highway / Loved Ones Are Waiting in Heaven (1960)

See also

• various Billboard and Cash Box news items