Welcome to Mellow's Log Cabin. This blog's purpose is to supply information on a diversity of American southern music - ranging from country, blues, old-time and folk to R&B, rock'n'roll and rockabilly. I regularly present my research results about artists, labels, shows and also give guest writers a chance to publish their texts here on occasion.

UPDATES

• Added Villa 2908 to Sylvia Mobley discography.
• Updated the Blake Records discography.
• Added another Light single to Macy Skipper / Sid Elrod.

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Saturday, January 11, 2020

Jerry Smith on Shock

Jerry Smith - Sweet Face (unknown year), Shock 1007


Most discographies doesn't list this record but it seems to be one of Jerry Lee "Smoochy" Smith's earliest discs, if not the first. Smith, famous for being an integral part of Memphis' rockabilly scene in the 1950s (although second generation of the originals, if so to speak, as he arrived not until 1957), also had success in the early 1960s with the instrumental group "Mar-Keys."


Smith was born in 1939 and got his musical talent from his father, who played fiddle, guitar, and harmonica. He also played a bit piano and taught his son the few chords he knew. That was the beginning of Smith's musical career. Father and son began appearing on local Jackson, Tennessee, radio WDXI but tragedy struck, when Smith's father was killed in a car accident. Afterwards, Smith began performing with other groups and by 1953, he played with a gospel quartet and performed on radio again.

Jackson had a small but lively music scene and Smith soon began playing with Carl Perkins' band. When Perkins got into the Sun studio to record "Blue Suede Shoes," he asked Smith to play piano on it (although producer Sam Phillips would have been sceptical about a piano in the band, as he thought this would drown the "Sun Sound"). However, as Smith was only about 15 years old at the time, his mother didn't allow him to travel to Memphis. "Blue Suede Shoes" became a million seller and when Smith got the chance again to record in Memphis as part of Kenny Parchman's band, he was allowed to go.

Smith moved to Memphis in 1957 and recorded several sessions with Parchman and afterwards, became a session musician at Sun until 1959. Smith performed with different acts, including Chips Moman, and through this association Smith became a part of the Mar-Keys, who had a big hit in the summer of 1961 with the instrumental "Last Night."

It is speculative where the Shock single fits in. Smith had at least two more local Memphis releases i this period. One was on the Sandy label with Smith belting out "The Girl Can't Help It" and "Come On Back." Judging from the sound of both records, I'd say the Sandy disc was first and the Shock single afterwards. It is not known where and when this record was recorded but "Sweet Face" features some nice piano work by Smith. He also made a record for the local Chimes label, which was totally different in sound.

Smith continued his career in the music business and recorded for such labels as Rice, Chart, ABC, Papa Joe's Music Box, Decca, Hi-Lowe, and countless singles and albums for Ranwood (mostly hiding under the pseudonym of "The Magic Organ"). He played on several rockabilly revival recordings, including great sides by Eddie Bond and Vern Pullens. In 1983, he became part of the Sun Rhythm Section, a group of original rockabilly performers that toured worldwide.

Smith remains active as a musician to this day. In 2008, he has published his autobiography "The Real Me." A nice interview from back then was made by the Commercial Appeal in Memphis.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Johnny Cash on post-Sam Phillips Sun

Johnny Cash - Get Rhythm (1969), Sun 1103

This is just an oddity in Johnny Cash's discography and not a very interesting one to be sure but I thought someone might like it or find it just enjoying.

This is a reissue as you might expect. Sam Phillips sold the Sun record label on July 1, 1969, for 1.000.000 $ (yes, one million) to Shelby Singleton, who had earlier success in the record business with his Plantation label in Nashville. Shortly after acquiring Sun, Singleton began re-releasing old Sun sides from the 1950s and 1960s, including this Johnny Cash classic. It was originally recorded by Cash (vocals/rhythm guitar) and his fellows Luther Perkins (electric lead guitar) and Marshall Grant (bass) on April 2, 1956, at the Sun Studio in Memphis with Sam Phillips taking seat behind the glass, engineering and producing the session. 

Cash had written the song after seeing a shoe shine boy working on the streets of Memphis. An earlier demo had been recorded by Cash in late 1954 or early 1955 with just his acoustic guitar. With its fast rockabilly beat, the song was initially intended for Elvis Presley but when Presley switched to RCA-Victor, Cash recorded the song himself.

"Get Rhythm" became the flip side of Cash's first no.1 country chart hit, "I Walk the Line" (originally Sun 241) but did not enter the charts itself at that time. When Shelby Singleton dug out the old Sun masters, he paired it with Cash's original recording of "Hey Porter" and released it in October 1969 on Sun #1103. Interestingly, Shelby Singleton edited the tape and added fake applause to "Get Rhythm" (to "Hey Porter" not to unknown reasons) to pretend it was a live recording. He did this possibly as Cash was riding high on the charts with his two Columbia live albums "At Folsom Prison" (1968) and "At San Quentin" (1969). However, this proved to be a clever business strategy as the single reached #23 in Billboard's country charts and also, first on November 15, 1969, peaked #60 at Billboard's Hot 100.

Friday, December 27, 2019

RIP Sleepy LaBeef

One of the true legens in rockabilly music has left us. Sleepy LaBeef had a big influence on many musicians through the year. His career was massive, although not commcercial successful. His guitar playing was distinctive and I can say that he also influenced me a lot.

LaBeef died on December 26, 2019. Read more at variety.com.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

At the Rockhouse

 
Roy Orbison / Teen Kings - Rockhouse (Sun 251), 1956

At the Rockhouse
The story of one of rockabilly music's anthems

The song "Rockhouse" (often also spelled "Rock House"), now a rockabilly anthem, was recorded in its best known version by Roy Orbison but was eventually often covered, especially by modern rockabilly combos. The origins of this song, however, date back to early to mid-1956 or even earlier.

How the house began to rock
Harold Jenkins alias Conway Twitty
Mississippi born Harold Jenkins just got out from the US Army, where he had served in Yokohama. Upon his return, Jenkins soon heard Elvis Presley's recording of "Mystery Train" and, although he was a lover of country music, decided upon a career as a rock'n'roller. He put together a group, which he named "The Rockhousers" and started writing songs. One of them was the band's signature song, "Rockhouse." It was about a dancehall, where all the cool cats went on Saturday nights.If Jenkins had a certain inspiration in mind is not known but you could find lots of those venues across the south back then.

Jenkins auditioned a couple of times at Sun Records but label owner Sam Phillips had little interest in Jenkins. However, a couple of demo sessions were made and in the summer of 1956, one of those sessions produced the demo of "Rockhouse," among some other recordings. The line-up consisted of Jenkins on vocals and rhythm guitar, Jimmy Ray Paulman on lead guitar, Bill Harris on bass (other sources also name Jimmy Evans, which is doubtful however), and Billy Weir on drums. Phillips was impressed enough with the song and purchased it for his publishing company Hi-Lo.

Roy Orbison at the Rockhouse
Roy Orbison in the 1950s
Seeking for song material for Roy Orbison, who just had a noteworthy hit with "Ooby Dooby," Phillips relied on "Rockhouse." Orbison took the song and re-worked it. It was hardly the same song anymore and Orbison sorted out much of the lyrics. On September 17, 1956, Orbison and his band, the Teen Kings, recorded the song along with another tune, "You're My Baby" (a Johnny Cash composition). The lineup included Orbison on vocals and electric lead guitar, Johnny "Peanuts" Wilson on rhythm gitar, James Morrow on electric mandolin (although inaudible), Jack Kenelly on bass, and Billy Ellis on drums. Producer Jack Clement (his first production at Sun) put a good load of echo behind the recording of "Rockhouse" but Phillips was satisfied with the result and released both songs on September 24, 1956, on Sun #251.

Billboard reviewed the disc on October 20 in its "Country & Western" segment as a spotlight and was excited: "[...] Flip [Rockhouse], is another good rockabilly rhythm side, is wraped up solidly by Orbison, who could break thru with a hit follow-up to his 'Oobie Doobie.'" However, the moment of success had passed and the chance to cash in on "Ooby Dooby" had been gone already. The disc did not even found mention in Billboard's territorial charts until the end of the year. Orbison would record more material for Sun but success eluded him until the 1960s, when he became a superstar with such well produced ballads like "Only the Lonely," "Blue Bayou" or "Pretty Woman." When Orbison hit big in 1961 on Monument Records, Phillips hauled out his Orbison tapes and released an album of it to cash in. It was titled "At the Rockhouse" and of course included "Rockhouse."

Billboard Country & Western review, October 20, 1956
(note that Billboard misspelled the name as "RAY Orbison")

Contemporaries at the Rockhouse
Although "Rockhouse" became not a chart hit for Orbison, it got nevertheless enough exposure to spawn some cover versions (this, in part, due to the comprehensive tour activies by Orbison and other Sun artists across the south). The first to record a version of his own was Texas born Buddy Knox. Infact, Knox and Orbison knew each other from mutual appearances on radio and at the advice of Orbison, Knox auditioned at Norman Petty's studio. This resulted in Knox' first hit "Party Doll" in early 1957. On March 20, 1957, Knox and his band, the Rhythm Orchids, held a session for Roulette at the Bell Sound Studio in New York City, where they recorded their version of "Rockhouse" along with some other rock'n'roll covers. The line-up consisted of Knox on vocals, Donny Lanier and George Barnes on guitars, an unknown bass player, and Dave Alldred on drums. The recording was released on Knox's first, self-titled album on Roulette in 1957. Knox would eventually cut another version in 1979 in London, which was released on Rundell and Rockhouse LPs.

Another version was recorded in 1960 by Ralph Jerome, which was issued around October that year on KP #1007. Chan Romero, who recorded the original hit version of "Hippy Hippy Shake" (later to be recorded by the Beatles and the Swingin' Blue Jeans), cut a demo version of "Rockhouse," which was, however, rather a reworking than a cover as Romero changed the lyrics and structure of the song. On that take, he accompanies his singing with his electric guitar. The tape remained unreleased at the time but finally found its way onto the 1995 CD "Hippy Hippy Shake" on Del-Fi Records.


The Bobby Fuller Four in 1962

Fellow Texan Bobby Fuller recorded another version around 1963/1964, before he made his move to Los Angeles and hit bit with "I Fought the Law." Fuller, who had furnished a complete recording studio in his home in El Paso, recorded many demo sessions there with his band, including a rollicking and dynamic version of "Rockhouse." Fuller used a slightly different arrangement for the song and it can be assumed that he and his group also performed the song live on stage. However, it stayed in the vaults until 1984, when it was released as part of the "Bobby Fuller Four Tapes" on Voxx/Rhino. Tragically, the aspiring Fuller had been found dead in 1966 in his car, parked in front of his apartment. The circumstances surrounding his death are unsettled to this day.

Modern day rockabilly versions
Since, "Rockhouse" has become a classic in rockabilly music and has been covered many times by countless modern rockabilly artists, either live or on record. The following is a selection of modern day cover versions:

• Flat Duo Jets on their album "Two Headed Cow" (2008)
• Brian Setzer on  his album "Rockabilly Riot, Vol. 1" (2005)
• The Meteors, live repertoire
• The Straycats, live repertoire
• Slim Jim 'n' the Bopcats on their EP "Rockhouse" (2005)
• The Bel-Airs on their EP "Rockhouse!!"
• Omar and the Stringpoppers, live repertoire and recording (Harold Jenkins arrangement)

Monday, August 12, 2019

Don Willis on Style

Don Willis - A Glass of Wine (1964), Style 45-1921

Don Willis is best remembered today for his double smash single "Boppin' High School Baby" / "Warrior Sam," which became not only every record collector's dream but also two of the most popular original rockabilly songs during the 1970s revival. Today, we put the spotlight on Willis' far lesser known single for Style Wooten's Style custom label. While the top side "Mar's Dame" already creeps in the shadow of "Boppin' High School Baby," the flip side "A Glass of Wine" is even more obscure.

Don Franklin Willis was born on September 30, 1933, in Munford in Tipton County, Tennessee (the same region where Carl Perkins came from). He grew up on a farm stock and his early interest in music applied to country music singers like Ernest Tubb and Eddy Arnold but he also enjoyed pop music by the likes of Perry Como and Bing Crosby.

In the mid-1950s, Willis opted for a professional career in music as he had taken up the guitar by that time and also sang. He took part in a talent contest in Covington, Tennessee, where he met guitarrist Shelby Byrd, who was also a participant. Together with Vaughn Allen Kent, they founded a country band but by 1956, they abandoned the conservative country sound in favor of the new, energetic rock'n'roll and rockabilly sounds that were heard all over the South. They named themselves "The Orbits" and got an audition at the birthplace of rock'n'roll, Sam Phillips' Sun Studio in Memphis. Willis and his band recorded one song for Phillips, "Deep In My Heart I Have a Place for You," which did not impress Phillips enough, however. Unfortunately, the tapes seems to have been lost.


Don Willis and his band, likely mid-1950s (taken from the cover of
White Label LP "Boppin' High School Baby")


Working at daytime at the Kimberly-Clark Company and performing on weekends, Willis tried his hand at songwriting, which produced both "Boppin' High School Baby" and "Warrior Sam" in 1957. The band made some demo recordings of the songs in Nashville, which were heard by Jay Rainwater (Brenda Lee's stepfather), who was taken with the band and then worked on a deal with the major label Mercury Records. However, Willis got to know Estelle Axton and Jim Stewart through a fellow-worker. Axton and Stewart had just set up their brand new but tiny Satellite label and agreed to record Willis and the Orbits. 

Both "Boppin' High School Baby" and "Warrior Sam" were echo-laden, wild and raw rockabilly recordings and presented a great performance. The small-scale production went nowhere, though, as Satellite had not the financial means to promote the single properly. The single appeared in early 1958 on Sattelite #101 (being the second ever released disc on the label, which would evolve into Stax Records). Willis would have been better off with a contract with Mercury but it was too late.

The single became Willis' only record for six years and his career in music remained static. He started another approach in 1964, when he recorded "Mar's Dame" and "A Glass of Wine" for Style Wooten, who issued these well played and well-behaved songs on his Style label (Style #1921). It is likely that Willis actually had to pay for the session, as Wooten ran a custom recording business. Although copies were sent out to radio stations, with another semi-professional label behind his back, Willis' second disc likely sold equally poor.

Willis kept his daytime job and restricted his musical actvities to his spare time. Eventually, he founded the "Memphis Kings," a band wich stayed together for more than 35 years and performed all over the Mid-South. A single was released by the band on the Madison, Tennessee, based Top Gun label and the band also produced an album around 1971 on the MK label. This LP was sold at their gigs and the track list gives an interesting insight of what the band's repertoire was back then. Another single was released in 1974 on Musictown in Nashville.

In the 1970s, the Rockabilly Revival discovered Willis' 1950s Satellite records and made them popular in the European Neo-Rockabilly scene. A bootleg of the original single was made and later, a legal re-issue on Record Mart followed. Today, an original copy of the single is unbelievable worthy and copies were sold for more than $2.000. In 1991, Dutch rock'n'roll explorer Cees Kloop issued a 15-tracks Don Willis LP, including alternate takes of "Boppin' High School Baby," "Warrior Sam" and "Mar's Dame," which were alledgedly found in Willis' collection on acetate. Dave Travis released a CD with Willis' recordings in 2015 on his Stomper Time label.

Willis remained popular with European rockabilly fans and there were plans for a concert in Europe at the Hemsby Rock'n'Roll Weekend, which were cancelled due to Willis' bad health. He passed away on March 1, 2006, in Memphis.


Discography

Satellite 101: Don Willis and the Orbits - Boppin' High School Baby / Warrior Sam (1958)
Top Gun 11610: Memphis Kings - Give Me All Your Love / Our Love Don't Travel on the Same Road
Musictown 0055: Don Willis - The Brighter Side of Life / Can't Find the Feeling (1974)
MK LP 3080: Memphis Kings - The Memphis Kings (ca. 1971)

Monday, February 25, 2019

Hazel Records Discography

Hazel
P.O. Box 11522 East Memphis Station

I discovered Hazel Records much later than Wooten's other labels. It seems that this record label was not fully owned by Style Wooten as the J. Allen Gann release superficially had no connection to the Wooten company but was certainly on the same label (it has a Southaven, Mississippi, adress). Also, the publishing company on the Hazel releases was Abide Music, which is not known to have been a Wooten imprint.

45-1218: Bobby & Hazel - Little Tavern / Hazel Holloway - The Wife of a Wino
45-1219: The Joy of Memphis Quartet - I Know the Lord Laid His Hands on Me / I Feel Like Flying Away (1968)
45-1220: Jimmy McCarter - One Dozen Blue Roses / The Heart You Stole (1968)
45-1221: The Joy of Memphis Quartet - Oh Lord You Know / Tell Me What You Going to Do (1969)
45-1222: Lillian Minor - You Been a Long Time Gone / Bar Room Daddy
45-1223: Hazel Hollowell - I'll Make Believe / There Goes My World
45-1224: Bob Liles - Try Me / Don't Try to Explain
45-1225:
45-1226: J. Allen Gann - Walking Tall in Heaven / A Whole Lot of Whys (on My Mind)

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Floyd and Mary Biggs

Save the memory of Floyd and Mary Biggs

Floyd and Mary Biggs were a husband-wife composer duo, likely from Nashville, Tennessee. The couple caught my attention about four years ago when I corresponded with Kenny Norton, a Murray Nash discovery, and talked about his career in music. He recorded two of their songs in 1965 for Nash's Musi-Center label. During my research on Nash's activities, I discovered that the Biggs had written many more songs. However, I failed to nail down some facts about Floyd and Mary Biggs.

When asked about the Biggs, Kenny Norton replied to me: "I only met Floyd and Mary a few times and that was always in the studio. You probably know more about them than I do. I do know they were very nice and helpful to me as a teenager not knowing exactly what I was doing. At the time I had no idea how much they had contributed to the music business. It was the same with Murray [Nash]. I had no clue how much he contributed. Floyd and Mary were just down to earth people. If you had met them on the street you would have no idea who they were. It was the same for Murray. Mary always worked with me on the piano. I think she understood my situation of having to record 'Oonie Oonie' when I really didn't like the song at all." Floyd Biggs was visually handicapped, according to Norton: "Floyd and Mary seemed to be about middle age when I knew them. They were very simple people. Floyd was not totally blind but close to it."

Mary Biggs first appeared as a songwriter in February 1957, when RCA-Victor released Del Wood's "After Five," written by Mary Biggs, Wayne Meador, and "Red" Biggs (probably Floyd). During the mid-1950s, the couple often worked with Hargus Robbins, a Nashville piano session musician, who was also blind. Together, they also composed Robbins' rockabilly single "Save It," which he released as "Mel Robbins." Floyd and Mary Biggs were active until the mid-1960s, often writing for Murray Nash's catalogue.

The whereabouts of Floyd and Mary Biggs are not known, unfortunately. I have researched and found many people of this name but I haven't found a good track, yet. There was a Mary Katherine Biggs (1932-2018), who lived in Springfield, Tennessee (not far away from Nashville) but there's no hint she's the same Mary Biggs.

I have collected Floyd and Mary Biggs compositions and counted 33 songs so far. You can retrieve my results at 45cat.com.


Thanks to Kenny Norton for sharing his memories with me.

Read more:

Friday, December 28, 2018

Chuck Berry - Bye Bye Johnny

Chuck Berry - Bye Bye Johnny (Chess 1754), 1960
 
Chuck Berry's immense influence can only be estimated. He changed and influenced so many careers, it's impossible to find proper words for his legacy. However, here's a quick one for you from the master of guitar rock'n'roll.

"Bye Bye Johnny" is one of my favourites, although I first heard cover versions of the song and not Berry's original. Mike Waggoner and the Bops laid down an amazing but sadly unknown version of it in the early 1960s. They also cut a similar song entitled "Guitar Man." The mighty Status Quo, UK hard rock and boogie rock giants, recorded their version of the song in 1975 for their album "On the Level." They close every single concert with "Bye Bye Johnny" since decades.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Hob Nob Records

One of the most interesting things in record collecting is (for me, at least) the many small labels in Arkansas. Often, you discover an unknown record with a familiar name - a rock'n'roller from the 1950s that made another record later on, maybe returning to his first love, country music. Or a gospel quartet that performs to this day. One of these hidden treasures is Hob Nob Records in Northern Arkansas.

Hob Nob Records was a low scale label, based in Harrison, Arkansas. It was owned by Earl Nicholson and operated by Hugh Ashley out of his store, which also included a small recording facility. Ashley had played in a band with Mike McAllister, Mike Collins, and Kirk Coffman and in fact, McAllister would record a single for Ashley's label in 1958.


Wallace Waters
Ashley recorded a couple of local country and rock'n'roll artists on Hob Nob, most notable Wallace Waters, the aforementioned Mike McAllister, and Upton Horn. Wallace Waters led a local band in Harrison that played dances all over Boone County. Apparently, Waters was the drummer and the vocalist in the band. He recorded memorable rock'n'roll tune called "Holiday Hill" in 1959. The song had been previously cut by Slim Wilson on Hob Nob. With just his guitar and his singing, it turned out to be a totally different but charming style of old down-home folk. Wallace Waters recorded another single for Trend and kept on performing locally. He is still active in the Harrison area.

Mike McAllister recorded a rollicking and echo-loaded "Twenty One" with a girl called Nancy, whose identity otherwise remains unknown. The flip side was "I Don't Dig It," written by Hugh Ashley. It very well could be that the band heard on this record was Ashley and McAllister's group. "I Don't Dig It" was also re-issued by Rockin' Ronnie Weiser on his Rollin' Rock Records in the 1970s.

Upton Horn recorded a country single for Hob Nob, also in the late 1950s. He went on to become a DJ on KHOZ in Harrison and recorded another single for Table Rock Records in Omaha, Arkansas. Horn was born September 26, 1924, but died tragically way too early on September 9, 1984, in Harrison at the age of 59 years. He was a local celebrity in the Harrison area through the 1960s and 1970s.

If anyone has more info on Hob Nob Records, feel free to pass it along.


Discography

410: Upton Horn - In and Out (Of Every Heart in Town) / A Good Way (for a Good Man to Go Wrong) (poss. 1958)
441: Mike & Nancy - Twenty One / Mike McAllister - I Don't Dig It (1958)
442: Slim Wilson - Holiday Hill / Jealousy's Made of Fear (1959)
443: Wallace Waters - Holiday Hill / Walking and a-Thinking (1959)
EP-401: Frank Watkins - Blue Mule / Saddle Old Spike / Soldier's Joy / Bay Rooster
EP-408: Frank Watkins - Girl I Left Behind Me / Kansas City Rag / Watkins Hoedown / Bad Whiskey / Missouri Fever / Frank's Breakdown (1958)

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Jimmy Walker on Walker

Jimmy Walker - Detour (Walker W-1001), 1965

I bought this record during my research on Paul Westmoreland and his song "Detour," which resulted in my article for American Music Magazine, "At the Detour Inn." "Detour" was composed by Westmoreland and recorded first by Jimmy Walker in 1945 (with Westmoreland on steel guitar). It became a big hit and subsequently cover versions by Spade Cooley, Elton Britt, Wesley Tuttle, Foy Willing, and Patti Page also.

Walker's career, however, never really took off. He became a member of the Grand Ole Opry for one single year, secured a major deal with MGM (but was dropped by the label after one session) and then became a mainstay of WWVA's Wheeling Jamboree. But luck was not on his side. In 1965, he tried again and re-recorded "Detour" along with "Go Back Little Tear." It was released on the Walker label, which was likely his own operation. The line-up on this recording is unknown, but it was a moderate version of his original hit with electric guitar, steel guitar, and piano.