Rockabilly pioneer Mack Banks has passed away on May 4, 2021, at the age of 86 years. Banks, who has secured his place in rockabilly history with his 1956 two-sider "Be-Boppin' Daddy" / "You're So Dumb," was active in music until recent years and was considered as a part of Mississippi's rich music scene. He was an ensemble member of the local "Sparta Opry" stage show for years. After his Fame single, Banks recorded a slew of strictly local 45s for the Vee-Eight label and other companies.
Friday, April 30, 2021
To clear up the misunderstandings that for long have surrounded the name "Roy Lett," I decided to put together this post, although I don't have much information or any of his recordings in my collection. For years, Roy Lett was believed to be a pseudonym for Memphis singer and label owner Shelby Smith, likely much due to the statement in the liner notes to the Stomper Time reissue CD "Fernwood Rockabillies" and possibly also "The Rebel - Rebel Ace Records Story."
However, I received a message from Roy Lett's daughter, stating and verifying that it was actually her father Roy Lett, who recorded "Rosalie" b/w "To Your Heart for a Moment" for Shelby Smith's Smitty Records (#55784) in 1960 - and not Smith hiding under another name. Roy Benton Lett was born on November 16, 1931, likely in Tennessee. He began his career on the Knoxville country music scene and appeared on such radio and TV programmes as WNOX's Tennessee Barn Dance and business man Cas Walker's show. Lett served in the US Marine Corps during the Korean War, eventually leaving as a corporal. By 1958, he and his family lived in Memphis, Tennessee, and Lett was part of Don Gibson's touring band, performing on the Louisiana Hayride with the Gibson troupe. Gibson was one of country music's stars that had emerged from the Knxoville scene.
In 1960, Lett recorded what was likely his only solo outing. The songs were recorded at Slim Wallace's Fernwood studio in Memphis and Wallace contributed the song "Rosalie" for the session, while label owner Shelby Smith penned "To Your Heart for a Moment." Lett's daughter assumed that Lett was performing lead guitar on the recordings.
Tragically, Roy Lett died way too early on June 30, 1963, at the age of 31 years. The circumstances of his death are unknown to me. He is buried at Knoxville National Cemetery.
• Shelby Smith's empire of record labels
• Find a Grave entry
• Special thanks to Roy Lett's daughter Sadonna Lett
Sunday, April 18, 2021
Seven years ago (yes, SEVEN!), I have posted a disc by Curley Jim Morrison of "Rock and Roll Itch" fame (see here). It was always a goal for me to unearth his story and I am now very near to achieve it. His daughter has been generous in providing me with memories and information. The result will be published in a future American Music Magazine issue.
However, I am still looking for other people who knew Jim Morrison, saw him perform, or even played music with him. He was active in Miami, Fort Worth, Clovis, Edwards, California, and Glenwood, Illinois. Feel free to leave a comment if you can provide any details (any info is appreciated).
For today's post, I picked out a song that was recorded by Curley Jim around 1964, a follow up to his local Fort Worth hit "Ace in the Hole," entitled "Campfire." Enjoy it!
Friday, April 9, 2021
"Alone at a Telephone" was recorded during the fall of 1957 at KTAE's studio in Taylor, Texas. The line-up included Jimmy Heap on lead guitar, Horace Barnett on rhythm guitar, Butterball Harris on steel guitar, Perk Williams for the last time on vocals and fiddle, likely Bill Taylor on trumpet, Bill Glendening on bass, and George Harrison on drums. Their second independent production and their first release on the band's newly founded Fame record label, "Alone at a Telephone" and the other song recorded, "I'm One of Those," were fine mid 1950s western swing recordings by a band that soon would make the change to popular rock'n'roll. But for this release, they settled with the style they had played for over ten years by then.
|Billboard C&W review December 23, 1957|
The disc was released at the end of 1957 and saw review in Billboard's C&W segment on December 23 but the magazine staff was not impressed with the record. However, they were more impressed with the band's second Fame release, recorded and released around the same time, and reviewed in the very same Billboard issue. Heap and the Melody Masters continued to record their own songs as well as other artists on their Fame label until 1961. They also would use the Fame label to release their "party" LPs in the 1960s.
|The Jimmy Heap Show at Cow Palace in Tyler, Texas, 1970. On vocals reportedly Bill Taylor and next to him Jimmy Heap on lead guitar.|
• A Heap of Texas Music: The Story of Jimmie Heap and the Melody Masters
• Jimmy Heap and the Melody Masters on Capitol, Part I
• Jimmy Heap and the Melody Masters on Capitol, Part II
Monday, March 29, 2021
This was the Melody Masters' cover of Harry Choates' "Cat'n Around." Choates had recorded the song in 1950, released in July 1950 on Macy's #124 backed by "Gra Mamou" (Big Mamou). He was a popular cajun fiddler in Texas and especially known for his 1946 version of "Jole Blon," which was a #10 hit for Choates and is considered as a cajun classic today. Heap and the Melody Masters likely had the song in their repertoire for some time, when they recorded their rendition on February 27, 1953, at an unknown location in Texas. The line-up consisted of Perk Williams on vocals and fiddle, Jimmy Heap on lead guitar, Horace Barnett on guitar, Cecil "Butterball" Harris on steel guitar, Arlie Carter on piano, and Bill Glendening on bass.
Capitol released "Cat'n Around" on #F2636 in October 1953 with "Make Me Live Again" from the same session. Like Choates' original version, this was an up-temp number and quite a fair approach of the hep cat country music of the time. The Melody Masters are in top shape here, joining Perk Williams on background vocals, with Harris, Williams and Heap performing some good solos on their instruments (although Jimmy Heap seems to be a bit out of tune at the end of his run).
Wednesday, March 17, 2021
Saturday, March 13, 2021
I was informed today by Dave Westheimer that Earl Epps, Houston country music singer, has passed away February 10, 2021, at the age of 91 years. Epps was a mainstay on Houston's country music scene, beginning in the 1950s. He has recorded numerous records during the decades and was performing right until recent years. He was a member of the Alvin Opry for many years.
Although Epps was a country singer from the heart, he is best remembered outside Houston for his 1956 rockabilly recording "Be-Bop Blues," which he cut for Danny Ross' Minor record label. Read his obituary here.
Friday, March 12, 2021
Jimmy Heap and the Melody Masters - Heap of Boogie (Capitol F3434), 1956
We continue our little journey through the life and times of one of Texas' popular western swing dance bands, Jimmy Heap and the Melody Masters. Today featured is their 1956 Capitol release "Heap of Boogie," a western swing instrumental. By that time, the band virtually had dropped from Capitol's stable of artists.
Both "Heap of Boogie" and its flip side, the Jack Rhodes-Dick Reynolds composition "Conscience, I'm Guilty" (which would become #4 hit for Hank Snow in 1956) were recorded on December 12, 1955, at an unknown location in Texas. "Heap of Boogie" was a boogie-based instrumetal, with songwriting credits to Heap, and it featured the drumming of George Harrison for the first time. It was also only the second time the band had used drums on a recording session so far. Band members got their spotlight during the song, performing solos on their instruments, although sax player Ken Idaho is not audible. The line-up consisted of Jimmy Heap on lead guitar, Horace Barnett on guitar, Cecil "Butterball" Harris on steel guitar, Perk Williams on fiddle, Arlie Carter on piano, Bill Glendening on bass, Ken Idaho on saxophone, and George Harrison on drums.
|Billboard May 16, 1956, C&W review|
Capitol released both songs in May 1956 on Capitol #F-3434, thus making the Heap version of "Conscience I'm Guilty" the first one to appear on the market, as Hank Snow's record wasn't out until June. Actually, Snow recorded his version on May 31, 1956, making it a cover version of the Melody Masters original recording. This had happened to the band earlier with "The Wild Side of Life," having recorded the original version but the hit got snatched away by another artist. Although the Melody Masters were a popular band, the majority of their records did not reach the charts, as it was the case with this one. Capitol gave them a final shot a couple of months later with the release of "Mingling" b/w "This Song is Just for You" (Capitol #F-3543) from the same session.
Sunday, February 28, 2021
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.
Horace Barnett and Arlie Carter 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.
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 years 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 standard, "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.
• 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
• 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
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.
|Catalog of Copyright Entries|
|Billboard June 5, 1948|