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

• Amended the Beau Hannon and the Mint Juleps post.
• 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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Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Alabama Hayloft Jamboree

The Alabama Hayloft Jamboree was another barn dance type show that entertained rural audiences across the United States. It was aired over WAPI out of Birmingham, Alabama, and featured Ralph Rogers as its emcee and local country music acts for the entertainment. One of these acts were Happy Wilson and the Golden River Boys, a group that was quite popular in the 1940s and 1950s in the Alabama areas. One of the members was Hardrock Gunter, who later found historical acclaim with his significant recordings in the country and rockabilly music genres.

The Alabama Hayloft Jamboree was on air as early as 1941 with such names as the Delmore Brothers and Fiddlin' Arthur Smith appearing regularly on the show and it was still on the air in late 1953, judging from an advertisement in the Birmingham News. It is not known when the show ended its run. In the 1950s, WAPI turned to a popular music programming, probably ending the show at that time. The station features a talk radio format today.

If someone out there knows more about the Alabama Hayloft Jamboree, fee

Sources
Hillbilly-Music.com
• Andre Millard: "Magic City Nights: Birmingham's Rock'n'Roll Years" (2017), Wesleyan University Press, page 36
• The Decatur Daily, December 15, 1952
• The Birmingham News, November 14, 1953

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Atomic Records

Hayloft Frolic and Rural Rockabilly on Atomic

Main Street in Jackson, Tennessee, ca. 1910

After some ventures into other fields of Southern music, we return to our little series about small Tennessee based labels and continue with a record company from one of the true birthplaces of rockabilly music: Jackson, Tennessee. The city is best remembered in music history as the birthplace of Carl Perkins but moreover, had a lively country and rockabilly music scene during the late 1940s and 1950s.

One of the record labels that turned out local recordings was Atomic Records, which was operated by singer Curley Griffin's father, about whom nothing is known, unfortunately. The company came into existence in 1955 and mainly served as an outlet to release Curley Griffin's own recordings.


Advertisement for a show
at the Jackson Armory
featuring lots of local talent.
The Jackson Sun, June 30, 1954
Early Life of Curley Griffin

Malcolm Howard "Curley" Griffin was born on June 6, 1918, likely in the growing town of Jackson, Tennessee, in Madison County. For long, only snippets of information were available on Griffin, which changed not until 1994, when an article by Claes-Håkan Olofsson appeared in American Music Magazine. With the help of Griffin's son Ron and Carl Perkins, Olofsson had reconstructed Griffin's career. Griffin was born with only limited eye-sight, son Ron later claimed his father had only ten percent vision. Griffin attended a school for the blind and soon became interested in music. His heroes were Bob Wills, Slim Whitman, and of course Hank Williams. In school, Griffin had some fiddle playing lessons but eventually took up the guitar, which became "his" instrument.

Due to his bad vision, it was hard for Griffin to earn a living with a usual day job, although he helped his father (who apparently either owned or worked in a construction business), building houses in the eastern part of Jackson. However, music became a major income for Griffin and by the 1940s, he fronted a country music band and had adopted the nickname "Curley" for performing purposes (most likely due to his curly hair). Likely by that time, he had already married Jimmie Helen Frasier Dunbar, who also appeared with his various bands and with whom he eventually had eight children. By 1940, Griffin lived on 778 East Chester Street in the south of Jackson, judging from a Jackson Sun newspaper clipping from October 30 that year.

By the late 1940s or early 1950s, Griffin and his band had a 15 minutes radio spot over local WDXI, where he was in good company, as artists like Carl Perkins and his brothers or Ramsey Kearney were also performing on the same station. It was there that Griffin first met Perkins, with whom he became friends and would write two hit songs. Perkins remembered Griffin singing in a Hank Williams style, being only limited in singing but very enthusiastic. 

The Founding of Atomic Records
In 1955, Griffin's father, who seems to have been a kind of a business man, became interested in the recording business and therefore, set up Atomic Records. In fact, Atomic was the first of several labels that emerged out of Jackson, releasing records by local bands. Other Jackson based labels would not come into business until the founding of Jimmie Martin's Jaxon label and Lamarr Davis'/Lonnie Blackwell's Lu imprint two years later.

According to Dave Travis' liner notes to his Stomper Time CD "Hot Rockin' Music from Tennessee, Volume 2", the first two recordings for the label were made by Curley Griffin in Nashville, Tennessee. "Gotta Whip This Bear" and "Just for Me" came from this session and featured Griffin's son Ron on lead guitar. They were released around fall 1955 on Atomic #300, pressed only on 78rpm format. After the record's release, Carl Perkins later recalled, Griffin came visiting him with his record, obviously enthusiastic about his debut release, and Perkins approved it.

Griffin followed up his debut with "I've Seen It All" b/w "Magic Moon" (Atomic #302), which were again two straight country music performances. There are no sales figures reported but it is likely Griffin's disc did not sell much as Atomic was strictly a local label.


Sheet music for Carl Perkins' "Boppin' the Blues".
From the collection of Steve Palfrey.
Boppin' the Blues and Dixie Fried

In the meantime, Griffin's friend Carl Perkins had made his way to Memphis, Tennessee, and had secured a recording contract with Sam Phillips' Sun record label. In late 1955, Perkins recorded "Blue Suede Shoes", a song that became a smash rockabilly hit in early 1956. Griffin was captured by the new sound that Perkins performed, wrote "Boppin' the Blues" and showed Perkins the results. Perkins in turn liked what he saw and "picked out a line or two that he had", arranging the song around Griffin's lines that Perkins thought were good. Though songwriting credits went to Perkins and Griffin, it is doubtful if Griffin was ever paid appropriately, although Perkins paid him a few hundred dollars in advance. The song eventually reached #9 on Billboard's C&W charts and #70 on Billboard's Hot 100.

Another song of Griffin's that was recorded by Perkins was "Dixie Fried", a tune with its lyrics based on the raw honk-tonk culture of the south that both Griffin and Perkins were experiencing in and around Jackson. Perkins turned it into a slice of hard-egded honky-tonk rockabilly and while the song became a disappointment in contrast to "Blue Suede Shoes" (peaking at #10 C&W and no entry into the Hot 100), it became some kind of a rockabilly anthem for later generations of rockabilly music fans.


Griffin's Got Rockin' On His Mind
While Perkins became famous nation-wide, appeared on TV but also had to struggle with the dark side of fame, Griffin remained in Jackson. Inspired by Perkins' cat music, Griffin recorded "You Gotta Play Fair", a fast rockabilly with an unmistakably rural charm, which was released on Atomic #303 with "Love Is a Wonderful Thing" on the flip side at some point during the year of 1956.

As Griffin's career in music was closely associated with Carl Perkins, rumors circulated ever since the rediscovering of Griffin's recordings that Perkins played lead guitar on some of the Atomic recordings. Griffin's most popular song to date became "Got Rockin' on My Mind", another backwoods rockabilly song, that was released in early 1957 with the bluesy and equally primitive "Rock Bottom Blues" on Atomic #305. Again, there are people insisting that Perkins played guitar on both tracks but there are no evidences Perkins played on any of Griffin's tracks. Ron Griffin claimed he was the lead guitarist on his father's last two releases (Atomic #303 and #305) and W.S. Holland, drummer with Perkins at that time, never knew Griffin made any recordings. Perkins, however, mentioned in an interview that "Rockin' on My Mind" was recorded at WDXI with himself and his two brothers, a statement that was not confirmed by any other close associate of either Perkins or Griffin.

Rex Hale and the End of Atomic
The definitive answer to this question will probably never turn up and we rather continue the story of Atomic Records, which is near its end, however. The last known release on the label was recorded by a country band known as Rex Hale and his Tennessee Valley Boys, who cut "A Hobo Life" (a rather pre-rockabilly style country traveling song) as well as "Traded My Freedom", a Curley Griffin composition. Rex G. Hale (1927-1968) had another record out on the misspelled Rythm record label from Nashville, Tennessee, recorded with the equally misspelled Rythm Masters. "Down at Big Mama's House", likely inspired by the minor R&B standard "Down at Big Mary's House", and "Darn Dem Bones" had the same rural charm that Curley Griffin's and Hale's Atomic recordings had, although his Rythm disc finds Hale in up-tempo form. Hale originated likely from a small place outside of Jackson and is buried in Mifflin, Chester County, not far away from the city.

Later years of Curley Griffin
Hale's charming country performance was the last (known) release on Atomic and it is likely that Griffin's father shut down the label soon after. His son Curley had limited success in the late 1950s as a songwriter, composing a few songs that were recorded by other artists. Jerry Jeter recorded Griffin's "Blue River" and "I'm Writing the End" for the Fort Worth, Texas, based Bluebonnet label and Tony Snyder cut another two of his tunes for the local, Jackson based, Westwood label, "They Call It Puppy Love" and "Fool for Jealousy".
Although Griffin was described by Carl Perkins as a busy songwriter, his skills in this field were limited. He will always be remembered as being the co-writer of "Boppin' the Blues" and "Dixie Fried", although his contribution to both songs can be regarded as rather marginal

Griffin had to fight health problems during his later years and eventually lost a battle with cancer on October 1, 1970, at the age of 52 years.

Discography

300: Curley Griffin - Gotta Whip This Bear / Just for Me (1955)
301: 
302: Curley Griffin - I've Seen It All / Magic of the Moon (1955)
303: Curley Griffin - You Gotta Play Fair / Love Is a Wonderful Thing (1956)
304: 
305: Curley Griffin - Got Rockin' On My Mind / Rock Bottom Blues (1957)
306:
307: Rex Hale and his Tennessee Valley Boys - A Hobo Life / Traded My Freedom (ca. 1957)

Note: The matrix numbers of #302 and #307 suggest that they were recorded/mastered around the same time.

Sources
45cat and 45worlds entry for Atomic Records

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Jimmy Ford

Good Songs Have Come and Gone
The Story of Jimmy Ford

Jimmy Ford is not exactly a well-known name in the rockabilly and rock'n'roll community but his name appears on several reissues and original copies of his records sell for good money nowadays. Relatively less has been known about Ford himself, a fact that motivated researcher Volker Houghton and myself enough to unearth the story of this Arkansas rock'n'roller.

Although Ford's musical career took place primarily in Arkansas, he originally hailed from the state of Alabama, where he was born James F. Ford on February 15, 1937. His parents, Henry and Frances Herring Ford, were residing in Russell County, Alabama, at the time of Ford's birth. An obituary mentions that Ford joined the US Air Force and served during the Korean War, which meant he was still a teenager while enlisting, as the Korean War took place from 1950 until 1953. This could also be a mistake in the obituary and Ford instead served in Vietnam.

By the late 1950s, Ford had moved from Alabama to Arkansas and had founded a rock'n'roll group called the Sunliners. In the spring of 1959, Ford had managed to record for a local label, Foster Johnson's Stylo label in Little Rock. Johnson also operated the Dub International label, which was most famous for releasing the original version of "Lama Rama Ding Dong" by the Edsels. Ford recorded "Don't Hang Around My Anymore" and "You're Gonna Be Sorry", two self-penned rock'n'roll outings that later saw re-release on various compilations. If the Sunliners were involved in these cuts or if Ford was accompanied by session musicians, is not known. Foster Johnson put out both songs on record (Stylo #ST-2102) around March or April 1959.

Billboard Pop review April 6, 1959

Not long after Ford's debut release had hit the market, he was invited back to cut a follow up. For his next disc, Ford recorded two songs that were done in a contemporary, commercial teen sound. Ford's second record appeared in form of "We Belong (Together)" b/w "Be Mine Forever" (Stylo #2105), once again both composed by Ford. The record was released in May or June 1959 and this record seems to have sold decently as promotion copies of it can be found. Also, shortly after its release, it was also issued in Canada by Ampex Records. How they ended up on Ampex remains a secret that probably only Ford and Johnson knew.

Billboard Pop review June 1, 1959

It seems that Ford remained active as a musician but we couldn't find any hint of activity. It is probable, however, that he earned his doctorate in linguistics at Ohio State University during the early to mid 1960s. He returned to Arkansas, settling in Fayetteville, where he became a professor of foreign language at the University of Arkansas.

There was a record on the Denver, Colorado, based Esther label, by Jimmy Ford, which seems to be out of place location-wise but I am quite sure this is the same artist. Release date information escapes us sadly but the publishing rights on this disc also belonged to J & W Music, the same company that also published Ford's Stylo songs. In addition, his son was living in Denver at the time of Ford's passing, which suggests that the Ford family once lived there.

In 1967, Ford revived his recording career and recorded two of his self-written songs with a band called the Luzers, "Deathhouse Lament" and "Good Times Have Come and Gone", that saw release on MY Records (MY #2914) early that year. The A side was a haunting, folkish song with harmonica, percussion, and acoustic guitar accompaniment. MY was also located in Little Rock and was owned by Earl Fox. The label, along with its sister label E&M, were known during the decade for its garage and psychedelic rock records.

The obituary mentions that Ford "was an accomplished songwriter and musician and had written and performed for many years throughout the country" but further knowledge on his music activities escape us, unfortunately. His brother T.Y. Ford was a drummer and performed in the Prescott, Arkansas, area for years. Be aware that there were several other artists known as Jim Ford or Jimmy Ford, none of them were associated with our Jimmy Ford or at least we do not know of any connection. Ford served as the chairman of the university's linguistics department for ten years before retiring in 1998.

Ford and his wife Mary had one son and three daughters. Jimmy Ford passed away on November 27, 2008, in Fayetteville at the age of 71 years. One of his daughters once said that "You're Gonna Be Sorry" was one of his favorite songs. Recently, Volker Houghton corresponded with relatives of Ford and it seemed that we were getting closer to unearth his complete story. However, we have not received an answer from the Ford family yet.

Discography

Style 2102: Jimmy Ford - Don't Hang Around My Anymore / You're Gonna Be Sorry (1959)
Stylo 2105: Jimmy Ford - We Belong (Together) / Be Mine Forever (1959)
Apex (CAN) 9-76525: Jimmy Ford - We Belong (Together) / Be Mine Forever (1959)
MY 2914: Jimmy Ford and the Luzers - Deathhouse Lament / Good Times Have Come and Gone (1967)
Esther 101: Jimmy Ford - What Love Can Do / Gotta Gal

Sources
Find a Grave entry
Rockin' Country Style entry
45cat entry

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Johnny Tolleson on Chance

Johnny Tolleson - You're In Love with Yourself (and Not In Love with Me) (Chance 31761), 1961

The Chance label out of Fayetteville, Arkansas, released a handful noteworthy rock'n'roll singles, among them was John Tolleson's debut on record, "Summer Love 'N Summer Kissin'" b/w "You're in Love with Yourself" (Chance 31761). Tolleson's short-lived career has remained in obscurity more or less, though being a mainstay on Fayetteville's music scene during the late 1950s and early 1960s. 

Born John H. Tolleson on July 29, 1937, in Board Camp, Arkansas, a tiny place south of Fort Smith in the western region of the state, he learned to play piano through his mother when he was five years old. This started his live-long passion for music and he eventually also learned trombone and drums. When Tolleson was eight years old, the family moved to Greenwood, Mississippi. Upon finishing high school, he joined the University of Arkansas at age 17 and moved to Fayetteville.

There, he joined the Razorback Marching Band on trombone and also performed with Bob Donathan's orchestra. In 1957, when rock'n'roll had captured America, Northwest Arkansas was no exception and Tolleson moved in with the new sound. He founded his own band, John Tolleson and his Bunch, which started likely playing local gigs in Fayetteville. Soon, they must have built up a reputation as they accompanied Conway Twitty and his band on tour through Canada during 1958-1959, serving as Twitty's opening act.

Returning to Arkansas, Tolleson graduated from University with a bachelor of science in education, main emphasis music, but followed up with a bachelor in business administration, which he earned in 1961. That same year, Tolleson got the chance to release his first record. Shortly before, Phil Eagle had formed his own label, Chance Records on East Center Street in Fayetteville, and Fayetteville being a college town, the city had many talented rock'n'roll acts to offer. And many, if not all, were eager to have their own record out. The first one of them was Tolleson.

Billboard August 21, 1961

Tolleson recorded his two self-penned songs "Summer Love 'N' Summer Kissin'" b/w "You're in Love with Yourself (And Not in Love with Me"), which were released in August 1961 on Chance #31761. Even Billboard took notice of the record but as it was obvious, it did not become a national hit. Tolleson also recorded a couple of unreleased tapes for Sun Records in Memphis, which saw the light of day for the first time in 1999 on a CD of Bear Family's "That'll Flat Git It!" series.

After 1961, Tolleson moved to Mason, Ohio, where he began to work for the Baldwin Piano & Organ Company for the next 36 years. During his time with the company, he lived in Cincinnati, Chicago, and Phoenix, eventually becoming vice president of domestic sales. After his retirement in the 1990s, Tolleson returned to Fayetteville and took a job with the University of Arkansas. He died October 6, 2020, at the age of 83 years.

Sources
University of Arkansas obituary
Entry at the UARK David and Barbara Pryor Center for Arkansas Oral and Visual History (including pictures from Tolleson's rock'n'roll days)
Echoes of the Ozarks: Taking a Chance on Fayetteville's Talent
Discogs

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Tani Allen and his Tennessee Pals

Country Boogie from Memphis
Tani Allen and his Tennessee Pals

Tani Allen and his Tennessee Pals was another Memphis based country music act that enjoyed popularity from the very late 1940s until the mid 1950s, before rock'n'roll came along and took country music's young listeners. Although not nearly as durable or famous as Buck Turner's Buckaroos or the Snearly Ranch Boys, Allen and his group played the area for a couple of years and had some influence on early rock'n'roll with recording their original "Tennessee Jive", which was picked up by Bill Haley and turned into Haley's "Real Rock Drive".

Birth of the Jive
Not much is known about the band leader, who actually performed as Tiny Allen in Memphis. Allen founded the Tennessee Pals when the decade of the 1940s faded with Allen being the steel guitarist of the band, other members remain into obscurity to this day. Pretty soon after the band came into existence, Allen contacted Jim Bulleit of Bullet Records in Nashville (there were no record labels in Memphis at that time). He received a positive answer concerning the sound of his band but their vocalist was dismissed by the label. Allen, who originally hailed from Chattanooga, Tennessee, called an old friend of his, Houston E. "Buck" Turner (no connection to Memphis' own Buck Turner), who was a talented singer. Turner came over to Memphis and joined the band as a singer.

It is likely that Allen and the Tennessee Pals recorded their sessions in Memphis, though an assured recording place cannot be given. Adam Komorowski mentions in his liner notes to the box set "From Boppin' Hillbilly to Red Hot Rockabilly" (Proper Records) the Peabody Hotel in Memphis as the most probable place, though Sam Phillips' Memphis Recording Service was in business by January 1950.


When Jive developed into Real Rock Drive

However, the first disc appeared around April 1950 with two of the band's original compositions, "Tennessee Jive" written by Buck Turner and "Rockin' Chair Boogie" written by Ed Crowe (either a member of the group or one of Turner's writing partners) on Bullet #702. The release was credited to "Tani Allen and his Tennessee Pals" instead of Tiny Allen, caused by a communication mistake between label and pressing plant due to the label executives' southern drawl. However, the name stuck and henceworth, the band was called "Tani Allen and his Tennessee Pals".

Billboard May 6, 1950, Country & Western review

Billboard September 30, 1950, Country & Western review

The disc must have sold decently, as two cover versions turned up, although they appeared years after the original version. Bill Haley, Pennsylvania based and once western swing singer and yodeling cowboy at the same time, heard "Tennessee Jive" and reworked it with his band as "Real Rock Drive". Haley had found a new sound on Dave Miller's Holiday and Essex labels with R&B fueled, supercharged western swing, and the first exponent of this new music that developed into rock'n'roll was Haley's cover version of "Rocket 88" from 1951. In that same style, he recorded "Real Rock Drive" in late 1952 in Chester, Pennsylvania (or New York City according to other sources). Miller released his version in November 1952 on Essex #310 and wisely, they put no composer credits on the label as the song was lyrically and melody-wise identical to its original version. However, when the Haley single hit the market, Bullet instantly recognized it was actually a song from their own catalog (published by their Volunteer firm) and sued Essex (despite Buck Turner's advice to wait and see if Haley's version show signs of success). Essex removed "Real Rock Drive" from the market and instead released "Crazy Man, Crazy".

Billboard January 24, 1953, Pop review

Johnny Horton's cover of "Tennessee Jive" must have been prompted by Haley's reworking, as Horton recorded the song shortly after the release of the Haley single, namely on January 26, 1953, at Jim Beck's studio in Dallas, Texas. Though, Horton gave credit to the song's original writers and the song was issued under its original title. Mercury, Horton's label at that time before he found success at Columbia, released "Tennessee Jive" in March 1953, coupled with "The Mansion You Stole", on Mercury #70100.

After the Jive
By the time Haley had reworked "Tennessee Jive" into "Real Rock Drive", Allen and the Tennessee Pals had already their last record released. A total of six discs had been released over an approximate stretch of two years from 1950 until late 1951. Musically, the band kept their uptempo country boogie, sometimes even pre-rockabilly, style on nearly all of their released sides. The band's music was part of a development that occurred across the whole land in country music, covering R&B hits, mixing boogie and rhythm & blues with country music - a sound later evolved into rockabilly and rock'n'roll. And Tani Allen and his Tennessee Pals were located at what became the center of this movement: Memphis. However, they were a couple of years too early to really take part in this musical revolution and disbanded likely even before Memphis became the epicenter of popular music.

Billboard January 19, 1952, Country & Western review

Concerning the Tennessee Pals popularity, it is hard to tell how popular they really were. Bullet managed to constantly send promo discs to Billboard and the band's singles found entry into the magazine's review section. The two cover versions of "Tennessee Jive" also suggests that at least their debut release was a good seller. In addition, Michael Stewart Foley mentions in his book "Citizen Cash - The Political Life and Times of Johnny Cash" that the Tennessee Pals' "Back in the Army Again" from 1951 was "in regular rotation on country station". Cash, who lived not in Memphis until 1954, must have heard this song elsewhere at the time of its release, as he had joined the US Air Force a year before.

A couple of their songs saw re-release on different compilation, including "Tennessee Jive", "Back in the Army Again" (Rockin' Hillbilly, Volume 1, Cactus Records), and "When Hillbilly Willie Met Kitty from the City" (From Boppin' Hillbilly to Red Hot Rockabilly, Proper Records). Thanks to the French Doghouse & Bone reissue label, the band's complete recordings were reissued on long-play vinyl in 2021.

About the band itself, not much is known. After their sixth and last single, released in late 1951 or early 1952, Bullet dropped Allen and his band from its roster. The label offered vocalist Buck Turner to continue recording solo for the label, which he declined. Though, Allen encouraged him to further a solo career in music, which he did and eventually sang and recorded with different bands, including the Dixieland Drifters and his own Town & Country Boys.

Eventually, Allen returned to Chattanooga, where he opened two music stores. There is a mention in the Catalog of Copyight Entries for unpublished music in 1956, documenting the copyright of a song entitled "Pauline, Pauline, Pauline", which Allen had co-written with Carole Smith.

Catalog of Copyright Entries 1956

Tani Allen is buried at Greenwood Cemetery in Chattanooga. If you have more detailed information on Allen and his band, feel free to contact me.

Sources
Tani Allen entry on 45worlds
Bill Haley entry on 45worlds
Johnny Horton entry on 45worlds
BMI archive
• Michael Stewart Foley: "Citizen Cash - The Political Life and Times of Johnny Cash" (Basic Books), 2021
• Bill Haley, Jr./Peter Benjaminson: "Crazy Man, Crazy - The Bill Haley Story" (Backbeat), 2019, p. 54
• Colin Escott: "Bill Rocks" (liner notes), 2006, Bear Family Records
• Adam Komorowski: "From Boppin' Hillbilly to Red Hot Rockabilly" (liner notes), 2005, Proper Records

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Frankie Miller & Dottie Sills on Starday

Frankie Miller and Dottie Sills - Out of Bounds (Starday 45-525), 1960

Frankie Miller is a well-known name in country music history compared to his duet partner on this disc, Dottie Sills. Miller had recorded for Columbia and the small Cowtown Hoedown label, before he signed with Don Pierce's Starday label and hit the charts immidiately with "Black Land Farmer". He had two more hits and in 1960, Starday paired Miller with Dottie Sills, a young country music singer who was performing with the Carlisles at that time.

In fact, Doris "Dottie" Sills was a member of Bill Carlisle's band since approximately late 1954, when she replaced Betty Amos, who went solo from that point on. Sills recorded her first sides with the group in January 1955 in Nashville as a vocalist and guitarist, along with Bill Carlisle (vocals/guitar) and Sherman "Honey Bear" Collins (lead guitar). "Rusty Old Halo", "Bargain Day, Half Off", and "It's Bedtime, Bill" were recorded that day and all three songs saw release on Mercury. By the late 1950s, the band's recording sessions waned but it is probable that Sills remained busy with the group's personal and radio appearances, among their regular performances at the Grand Ole Opry.


Dottie Sills with Bill Carlisle and the Carlisles
From "Bill Carlisle's Souvenir Songs - WSM Grand Ole Opry"

Sills' sister Bobbi also performed with the Carlisles (possibly as a replacement for Dottie) and at the end of the decade, it seems that Dottie Sills pursued a solo career in country music. Billboard mentions her a few times as part of Opry package shows, including appearances in the Caribbeans.

Billboard December 14, 1959

Billboard April 11, 1960

The Carlisles recorded their last session on September 8, 1960, with an all-star cast of Nashville studio musicians, including Hank Garland and Grady Martin on guitars, Floyd Cramer on piano, Joe Zinkan on bass, and Buddy Harman on drums. The two recordings from that session, "John Came Home" and "Skin' Im Quick" were released on Columbia.

Billboard November 21, 1960
A couple of months earlier, in June 1960, Sills had been paired with Starday's Frankie Miller to record a session of duet songs. Miller remembered the session when asked about it recently (March 2022) by Starday expert Nate Gibson but couldn't come up with any details on neither the event nor Sills: "Frankie thought that perhaps Pete Drake had arranged the session, though Dottie didn't seem to appear on any other Starday sessions. Around the same time, in the late '60s, Dottie also did a duet with singer-songwriter Don Gibson." Nate Gibson continues: "I talked with Frankie Miller today and he recalled that Dottie was a real pretty gal with a great singing voice, and that she was frequently appearing with Jumpin' Bill Carlisle, but didn't recall much more about her. Frankie thought that perhaps she was Bill's niece or cousin, though Bill frequently told audiences that his bandmates were family members when that wasn't true."

The session included musicians Jerry Shook on lead guitar, Pete Drake on steel guitar, Junior Huskey on bass, Hargus Robbins on piano, Jimmy Riddle on harmonica, and Buddy Harman on drums. Five songs were cut that day and "Out of Bounds" as well as "Two Lips Away" were paired for single release on Starday (the disc also saw release in Canada on Sparton) in November 1960. Chart success eluded both songs, however, and the remaining recordings were released various times on different Starday budget LPs.

The song "Out of Bounds (Again)" had a bit of life on its own as the song originally hailed from the cataloge of Fort Worth record entrepreneur Major Bill Smith, composed by Howard Hausey and Bob Graves. Hausey released his own version of the song, and it is a very good version to be honest, in 1962 on Smash under his performing alias "Howard Crockett". Interestingly, on this release composer credits went to Hausey and a certain Whitton instead of Bob Graves.

But back to Dottie Sills. Although she had no hit record on its own, she was obviously considered to be a capable duet partner and it is said that she recorded a session with country music star Don Gibson but details escape us, unfortunately. It seems these recordings never turned up. Just as mysterious as this session was Sills' whole career. Nobody knows where she came from or where she went to. So if anyone out there has information on Dottie Sills, please share them with us and solve one of country music's mysteries!



Sources
• 45cat entries for Frankie Miller and the Carlisles
• Depicted Billboard articles
• Praguefrank's Country Discographies entries for Frankie Miller and the Carlisles
• Marion Brown: "The Encyclopedia of Popular Music" (University of Michigan), 2006, page 189
• Thanks to Bernd Wirth and Nate Gibson as well as Frankie Miller for their assistance

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Glen Glenn R.I.P.

Orin Glen Troutman, better known to rockabilly fans around the world as "Glen Glenn", has passed away on March 18, 2022. He was one of the best known original 1950s rockabilly artists with several of the genre's classics released in the 1950s. His death was reported today by several music enthusiasts, including researcher Volker Houghton and singer/guitarist Darrel Higham.

He was born 1934 in Missouri but his family moved to California in the 1940s. He and his friend Gary Lambert began working the west coast country music circuit in the 1950s and by 1957, they had adopted the new rockabilly sound. They recorded a slew of singles for ERA and Dore, including songs like "Everybody's Movin'", "One Cup of Coffee and a Cigarette" or "Blue Jeans and a Boy's Shirt", which gained cult status among rockabilly fans in the 1970s. Apart from his studio recordings, Glenn also left behind a wealth of demo tapes and live recordings that saw release from the 1970s onwards. He kept on touring well into the 21th century.

Here's on of my favorite recordings from Glen Glenn, his 1958 ERA song "Would Ja'".

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Gene Autry on Columbia

Gene Autry - Back in the Saddle Again (Columbia 4-20084), 1951

I have been a fan of Gene Autry's music for many years, so I couldn't pass this record when it popped up recently. The label of my copy is a bit damaged and seems to lose connection with the vinyl but it plays great though. "Back in the Saddle Again" ranks among my Autry favorites - besides such songs as "That Silver-Haired Daddy of Mine" (one of his earliest recordings), "Riding Double", "Have I Told You Lately That I Love You", "Can't Shake the Sands of Texas (from My Shoes)", or his versions of "South of the Border" and "You Are My Sunshine" (I could continue this list with several other titles). Autry was an extremely popular performer and actor, so the information provided here may not be new to you but I can't help but give you a little insight on his career and this particular disc.

"Back in the Saddle Again" is one of Autry's best remembered hits. Co-written with fellow western singer and actor Ray Whitley, the song became his signature song and was first released in September 1939 on Vocalion #05080, originally as "Back to the Saddle", and re-recorded by Autry for OKeh in 1940 under its correct title. It was an instant hit and was reissued several times in the years to come, including this issue from 1951, which was actually part of a record set with some of Autry's most popular hits.

Orvon Grover "Gene" Autry was born on September 29, 1907, near Tioga, Texas. Autry worked for the railroad in the 1920s, where he met his mentor and companion Jimmie Long, and also appeared on radio in Oklahoma. He signed his first recording contract with Columbia in 1929, previously auditioning unsuccessfully at Victor with Long. Autry also performed on the famed National Barn Dance on WLS in Chicago during these years. From 1930 through the early years of that decade, Autry recorded for Victor, Gennett, but mostly for the American Recording Corporation (ARC), often with Jimmie Long, and his recordings were released on a plethora of ARC labels like Perfect, Conqueror, Oriole, Banner, among others. His style during these years was heavily influenced by Jimmie Rodgers - in fact, Autry was one of many Singing Brakeman sound-a-likes. His sound was guitar and blues based and lyrically often included sexual connotations. In later years, Autry would relativize or even deny Rodgers' influence on him (similar to Jimmie Davis).

The year of 1934 saw Autry's first movie engagement for a Ken Maynard western production. At that time, movie studios tried to develop a new style of western with a "singing cowboy". Most of the western actors, including a young John Wayne, tried their hands at singing during this time but most of them had not a talent for it. Although Autry would appear in only one scene in his first movie, it was a success and he already starred the next movie. In addition, ARC records were sold and advertised through Sears-Roebuck warehouses and his face became known all over the country. Autry soon became the first star of this new genre called western or cowboy music and its accompanying B western movies.

Movie poster of "Ride Ranger Ride"

Western music today is known as a style or variation of country music but actually is a genre of its own (although connected and affiliated with country music and its root forms). The historic cowboy songs were often performed a Capella or with sparse instrumental accompaniment, mostly harmonica, guitar, or jew's harp, but by the 1920s often featured accompaniment by guitar, fiddle, or banjo. Actually it was one of Autry's early innfluences, Jimmie Rodgers, who recorded a couple of well selling songs in which he began to glorify and create the romantic life of cowboys in the wild west, therefore shaping the image that became so important for western music. Musically, the music began developing into a style that drew heavily from other popular genres, including jazz. Guitars, fiddles, and upright bass were used but also accordion, harmonica, and sometimes even wind instruments. Therefore, a style was created that had more in common with western swing than with traditional folklore. And Gene Autry became its first star.

Cover of one of "Autry's Aces" fan magazine issues

Until 1942, Autry could be seen in countless B-western movies in which he had enough opportunity to sing his songs, which were released on record at the same moment, selling well throughout the country. Often appearing with him was his sidekick Smiley Burnette. During World War II, Autry fought overseas as a pilot and when returning home, he had to find out that Roy Rogers from the Sons of the Pioneers, another successful and influential western group, had eclipsed him in popularity. While Autry's career as an actor never achieved the same level as before the war, his recording career remained as successful as it was. Until the early 1950s, he regularly achieved high chart positions in Billboard'c C&W charts and scored a couple of Christmas hits in the late 1940s that also crossed over into the pop charts (most notable "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer").

Promotional picture of Autry and his horse "Champion"

By the mid 1950s, his records didn't find entry into the charts anymore and movies about true and brave singing cowboys were outdated. Autry concentrated more on business, purchasing several hotels and even a baseball team. He also founded the west coast based Challenge record label, which had a big hit in 1958 with the rock'n'roll instrumental "Tequila" by the Champs.

Autry retired from show and music business in 1964 but continued to invest in real-estate as well as radio and television firms. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1969 and into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970. Gene Autry died on October 2, 1998, in Studio City, California, at the age of 91 years.

Sources

See also
I recommend reading the Wikipedia article on Western Music (the German-language article on this topic is even better), a genre often overlooked in context with country music.

Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Buck Turner and the Buckaroos

Rural Entertainment from Memphis
Buck Turner and the Buckaroos

Buck Turner (center) and the Buckaroos with Sam Phillips in Phillips'
Memphis Recording Service studio, prob. 1950 (image from unknown source)

Buck Turner and his band, the Buckaroos, were one of Memphis' most popular country music bands in the 1940s and early 1950s. They were mainstays on local radio and Turner was even involved in bringing Sam Phillips' Memphis Recording Service up and running, therefore paving the way for the musical revolution that would come (at least to some small degree).

Actually, there were at least three different artists using the name "Buck Turner". Before we proceed, it makes sense to tell apart the different Buck Turners. There was a blues singer named Babe Kyro Lemon Turner, who most frequently performed as "Black Ace" but also used "Buck Turner" and various other names for performing and recording purposes. The other one was more similar in musical style but considerably younger. Houston "Buck" Turner was from Chattanooga and was active as a songwriter and singer, working steadily during the 1950s and 1960s with Gene Woods, the Dixieland Drifters, and Murray Nash. To add to the confusion, he was also working with another Memphis based act, Tani Allen and the Tennessee Pals.

Considering the group's popularity in Memphis and surrounding areas, it is surprising that researchers and journalists have mostly omitted Buck Turner and the Buckaroos from history books and articles. It is also astonishing that this group, and this fact may have caused their absence from the books, made no commercial recordings.

The leader and namesake of the band, Bodo Otto "Buck" Turner was born in 1909 in rural Greene County, Southeast Mississippi, near the Alabama state border. The area was sparsely populated (only about 6,000 habitants in 1910) and its economy based on hog and cattle breeding. It seems that Buck Turner had German ancestors but his father's family, originally coming from South Carolina, lived in Mississippi since the early 19th century. Parts of his mother's family came from Alabama. Turner's parents married in 1896 in Greene County and had a total of nine children, Buck Turner being the youngest. In 1910, a year after his birth, his mother died from blood poisoning. His father passed away in 1924 when Buck Turner was circa 15 years old.

By the early 1930s, Turner seems to have married and moved northwest to Covington County, Mississippi, as we found a grave at Mount Olive City Cemetery of an infant: Bodo Otto Turner, Jr., who was born on May 4, 1934, and died on June 1, 1934, at the age of 28 days. We have no proof that this child was Buck Turner's son but it is quite probable. After the early loss of his parents, this would have been the third tragic incident in his life.

Billboard September 5, 1942
Newspaper advertisements from a local Jackson, Tennessee, paper indicate that Turner began performing music around 1933. By the late 1930s (probably even earlier), Turner had left Mississippi in favor of the booming city of Memphis, just across the Mississippi-Tennessee state border. By this point, he had assembled a group of musicians, which became known as the "Buckaroos". Soon, Turner and his band were performing in Memphis as well as Southwest Tennessee and North Mississippi. They would play school houses, beer joints, and other venues across these areas. The Buckaroos soon became regulars on local Memphis station WREC with their early morning show and developed into mainstays over the years. By 1944, their show could be also heard on WHBQ, sponsored by Black & White Stores.

Line-ups of the band cannot be determined from the few sources but particular names are known, though. Blind pianist Paul Whiteside was a long-time member of the group, at least performing with the band during the 1940s and early 1950s. Other names included fiddler, guitarist and singer Homer Clyde Grice and multi-instrumentalist Grover Clater O'Brien, both from Mississippi. Harry Bolick and Tony Russell cite O'Brien in their book "Fiddle Tunes from Mississippi" regarding Buck Turner: "After he [O'Brien] finished his schooling and before he joined the Army in 1945, Grover played with several country bands including an often low-paying one with Buck Turner: 'One boy that used to play with us was Buck Turner, and we were starvation box-beaters...' Still 'He said he made way more money playing music than working on the farm or in the sawmill.'"

Billboard July 25, 1942
A testimony to the Buckaroos' popularity was given by professor Al Price, who grew up in Mississippi during the 1940s and mentioned the band in his autobiography. "[...] The favorite musical group in our area was the Buck Turner Band from Memphis. Fans such as my mother and father made them popular and rich. Their radio program could be heard all over North Mississippi. They booked shows throughout the mid-South. I remember one special show they did at the Legion Lake, which was located about halfway between Coffeeville and Oakland, on Highway 330. [...]" Although Turner and the Buckaroos likely did not get rich from their fans, their enduring popularity in the rural areas of North Mississippi and Southwest Tennessee likely gave them a welcomed income. Price continues: "[...] One night the Buck Turner Band performed for the dance. I was not allowed to go inside, but I could see what was going on from the door. After about an hour, and after several men had gotten fairly drunk, a fight broke out on the dance floor. I was horrified, but my mother made sure that I was out of the way and prevented my dad from going inside. The band tried to get outside by a back door to avoid getting involved. They had a blind guy playing for them, and I could see them trying to direct him out of the door. Some of the spectators were helping them escape the scene." In the end, a man was stabbed during the fight. This incident also shows that Turner and the band had to deal with the rough habits that were common back then at dances, beer joints, and many other venues throughout the South. The "blind guy" that Price is mentioning was pianist Paul Whiteside.

Billboard 1944 Music Year Book

But Turner and the Buckaroos were more than a popular regional country band. In fact, through their radio shows and countless personal appearances in the area, they had an influence on many young men that later became part of Memphis' thriving music scene and the development of rock'n'roll. Kern Kennedy, pianist with Sonny Burgess' Pacers, cited the band as one of his influences. "We listened to KNBY Newport and WREC Memphis. A group from Memphis I enjoyed was Buck Turner and the Buckaroos. They had a blind piano player named Paul Whiteside that really inspired me."

Besides from a musical point of view, Buck Turner assured his little mention in history books by putting up some money for Sam Phillips' newly opened Memphis Recording Service, the tiny recording studio that would evolve into Sun Records. Phillips had opened the studio on January 2, 1950, on 706 Union Avenue but at first, found little to none musical acts to record but rather earned some money by recording private acetates, funerals or school events. Turner and Phillips knew each other from WREC, for which Sam Phillips worked, too, at that time. Turner and the band recorded their show on WREC for the Arkansas Rural Electrification Program to send out to different radio stations in Arkansas and Phillips transcribed those recordings. In Martin Hawkins' book "Good Rockin' Tonight", Sam Phillips is cited: "The very first job I had after opening my recording studio was in January 1950. I recorded transcriptions for radio with a country singer, Buck Turner. This was for the Arkansas Rural Electrification Corporation. We made fifteen-minute programs that I transcribed onto big ol' sixteen-inch discs. They were distributed to about eighteen or twenty stations." Turner was so pleased with the sound of their shows' recordings that he offered Phillips to invest some money in the venture. In the end, he put in approximately $ 2.000 to buy some hardly needed equipment.

In addition to the radio shows, Phillips had plans to record Turner and the Buckaroos as commercial artists, although this was not a goal straight from his heart but an intermission until Phillips found something that really caught his ear. He also recorded Slim Rhodes' band, another Memphis mainstay on the country music scene, and both were "good solid local combos [but] I never did see anything particular about either Buck or Slim's band that stood out, as far as style," Phillips is cited by Peter Guralnick in his book "Sam Phillips - The Man Who Invented Rock'n'Roll". By summer 1950, Sam Phillips' own "The Phillips" record label (in partnership with DJ Dewey Phillips) had come into existence and the first release was out by local blues man Joe Hill Louis. Phillips also announced that he would record more acts on his new label, including "Your Red Wagon" by Turner and Buckaroos, who "had a knocked-out version of the tune [that] we feel certain...will sell." Due to different reasons, the label crashed and its life ended even before it really began. None of the tapes survived, if they ever existed. Plans on recording Turner and the band were laid to rest finally. By September 1952, Phillips had paid off Turner completely, which ended their relationship both artistically and mercantile. Turner's wife was not happy with her husband's venture either, so it was likely a welcomed way of exit.

As the band's association with Sam Phillips came to an end by 1952, it seems they never had the chance of recording commercially again. However, they remained a popular act in those years and seemed to feature a couple of artists that later became well-known to rockabilly fans - another proof for their historical significance. Both Hayden Thompson and Johnny "Ace" Cannon performed with the band at least occasionally. It seems the Buckaroos were a rock'n'roll tinsmith similar to Clyde Leoppard's Snearly Ranch Boys - though on smaller scales. In fact, both Thompson and Cannon performed with the Snearly Ranch Boys, too.

The Buckaroos remained active throughout the 1950s, playing such events as the annual Farmers Day celebrations in Arkansas. Their radio show likely came to an end in the late 1950s when live music on air was replaced by DJs. There is no exact break-up date documented for the Buckaroos but late 1950s or early 1960s seems to be a good bet.

Billboard April 16, 1966


Buck Turner switched from live music to working as a DJ on WREC and Billboard named him in its April 16, 1966, issue one of Memphis' top disc jockeys in the pop LP sector. A year before, he was part of a six song EP released by Eddie Bond's Millionaire label (Millionaire #MC-109/10) that featured popular Memphis DJs of the time, including Bond, Chuck Comer, and Turner, who is featured with "What Will I Do". This seems to be Turner's only commercial recording.

In 1966, Buck Turner passed away at age of approximately 56 years. He is buried at Memorial Park Cemetery in Memphis. His death remained largely unnoticed just like his efforts in Memphis music, which paved the way for rock'n'roll music.

Sources
Goodwin Family History Website
Find a Grave entry
45cat entry for Millionaire EP
• Al Price: "Gravel and Dirt - A White Boyhood in the Segregated South" (Xlibris US), 2020
• Peter Guralnick: "Sam Phillips - the Man Who Invented Rock'n'Roll" (Little, Brown), 2015, pages 74, 88, 97
• Martin Hawkins/Colin Escott: "Good Rockin' Tonight - Sun Records and the Birth of Rock'n'Roll" (St. Martin's Press), 1991, pages 111-112
• Harry Bolick/Tony Russell: "Fiddle Tunes from Mississippi" (University Press of Mississippi), 2021, pages 192, 486
• Marvin Schwartz: "We Wanna Boogie - The Rockabilly Roots of Sonny Burgess and the Pacers" (Butler Center for Arkansas Studies), 2014, page 158

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

Buddy Keele on Eugenia

Jack & Buddy Keele & Ozark Melody Boys - Memories of You (Eugenia 1002), 1964

This record comes from a batch of Style Wooten 45s that I bought recently from Bruce Watson, the man who opened his massive Designer Records collection for Big Legal Mess that in turn released an amazing 4CD reissue set of Memphis gospel recordings a couple of years back.

Finally, this gem and milestone of Style Wooten legacy is in my possession. This is not like Slim Dortch's "Big Boy Rock", the holy grail of Eugenia Records, but I won't lie when I tell you that Buddy Keele's Eugenia record was on my want list, too. The music is nothing special, though I like it very much. Both "Time After Time" and "Memories of You" are relaxed country music and the recordings have a rural charme, comparable to Buck Trail's "Young Sweethears". This is one of Style Wooten's earliest productions from 1964 and the music sounds quite out of date for mid 1960s Memphis but there were still artists that performed this kind of music and people who enjoyed listening to it.

About Buddy and Jack Keele and their band, the Ozark Melody Boys, I know exactly nothing. Actually, "Mailing My Last Letter" from Slim Dortch's Eugenia record as well as his "A Long Time" and "Broad Tennessee" from Dortch's Lightning Ball single have that same rural sound and I wonder if the Ozark Melody Boys were backing him up on that number.

See also:
The Ballad of Big Style Wooten
Eugenia Records discography