• Corrected and extended the post on artists performing under the name of Bill Haney. Thanks to all visitors who commented on this issue! • Updated the post on Fiddlen Jamie, thanks to all visitors who shared their memories with me. • Updated the post on Lynn Pratt, his Hornet label, and Tammy Locke, thanks to Volker Houghton.

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Roy Acuff on Capitol

Roy Acuff and his Smoky Mountain Boys - Whoa Mule (Capitol F2738), 1954

We won't go into detail on Roy Acuff's career and biography as well as his efforts in and importance for country music's history. Rightfully, he is known as "The King of Country Music". Between 1953 and 1955, Acuff's recordings were released by Capitol, the only major label based on the west coast, and Acuff's name and rather old-fashioned style of country music is not really associated with this label. However, he recorded numerous sides for the label in Nashville, beginning in February 1953.

Billboard February 28, 1954
"Whoa Mule" comes from Acuff's December 2, 1953, Capitol session, which took place at the Tulane Hotel in Nashville. He was accompanied that day by Lonnie Wilson and Jess Easterday on guitars, Brother Oswald on banjo/dobro/vocals, Howdy Forrester on fiddle, Jimmy Riddle on harmonica, and Joseph "Joe" Zinkan on bass. Capitol released it with "Rushing Around" from the same session on #F2738 in February 1954. By then, Acuff's days as a hit maker were gone but nevertheless, his discs still must have sold decently, as he recorded steadily during the 1950s and Capitol even promoted this particular discs with ads in Billboard. The song was also included in Capitol's album of Acuff recordings "The Voice of Country Music" (1965) and even had seen release previously in Germany on a Capitol EP in 1963.

"Whoa Mule" is a traditional song/tune known throughout the whole south, mid-western states and even southwestern states. Many artists have recorded it since the 1920s, the first being Riley Puckett's version for Columbia from September 1924. Since then, countless versions have appeared and "Whoa Mule" also made the transition from an old-time tune into bluegrass band repertoire. It is also known as "Kickin' Mule", "Buckin' Mule" or "Johnson's Old Grey Mule".

The following list contains historical recordings which I chose to include here. The list is incomplete - additions are appreciated.

Riley Puckett, Whoa Mule (Columbia #15040-D, Silvertone #3258, Harmony #5147-H), rec. September 11, 1924, rel. October 1925 (Columbia), 1926 (Silvertone, as Fred Wilson)
Bill Chitwood & Bud Landress, Whoa, Mule (Brunswick #2811, Silvertone #3050), rec. November 21, 1924, rel. March 1925 (Brunswick), rel. 1926 (Silvertone)
The Hill Billies, Whoa! Mule (OKeh 40376), rec. January 1925, rel. June 1925
Chubby Parker, Whoa Mule Whoa (Gennett #6120, Champion #15260, Silvertone #5011, #25011, Supertone #9189), rec. April 11, 1927, rel. June 1927 (Gennett)
Al Hopkins & his Buckle Busters, Whoa, Mule (Brunswick #179), rel. 1927
Leonard G. Fulwider, Whoa, Mule, Whoa (Victor #V-40270), rel. July 1930
Gid Tanner & his Skillet Lickers, Whoa, Mule, Whoa (Bluebird #B-5591), rel. August 1934
Al Clauser & his Oklahoma Outlaws, Whoa, Mule, Whoa (Melotone #7-08-63), rel. August 1937
Hinson, Pitts and Coley, Whoa, Mule, Whoa (Bluebird #B-7438), rec. January 24, 1938, rel. February 1938
Prairie Sweethearts, Whoah Mule Whoah (Silvertone acetate), rec. January 17, 1942
Dickie Goodman, Whoa Mule (Rori -R-601), rel. September 1961
The Bootleggers, Whoa, Mule (Autogram AEP 173 [Germany]), rel. 1971
Gwyn Biddix & Toe River Valley Boys, Whoa Mule Whoa (Mayland #MA 006), rel. 1973
Stonecreek, Whoa Mule (Ca Va #S261 [UK]), rel. 1978
Narvis Reptile, Whoa Mule Whoa (Thrust #RUFF 4 [UK]), rel. July 1982
Rosebud Band, Whoa Mule Whoa (Blackvinyl #BV-414), unknown date

45cat entry
• various further entries on 45worlds/78rpm and 45cat on "Whoa Mule" recordings
Traditional Tune Archive
Secondhand Songs (more versions)
Praguefrank's Country Music Discography entry

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Hank Smith on Gilmar

Hank Smith / The Nashville Playboys - Heartbreak Hotel (Gilmar RX 120), 1956

How George Jones Became Starday's Elvis

By 1956, George Jones had landed his first hit in the country music charts, "Why Baby Why", and was Starday Records' rising star. He had recorded for the label since early 1954 but was still building his career. At the same time, rockabilly and rock'n'roll were taking America's music scene by storm. However, Starday had been mainly a country music label and Jones a country boy at heart as his producer and Starday co-owner Pappy Daily was. Though, Daily recognized the potential rock'n'roll was bearing, especially sales-wise.

In 1956, Dixie Records was introduced as a subsidiary of Starday and eventually served for custom recordings, potential original material and, beginning in January 1956, as a mail-order budget soundalike label. Daily coaxed several of his Starday recording artists into the idea of recording covers of the hits of the day, mostly country music but also some rockabilly songs. Jones was no exception and called into the studio. Short of money, he agreed to throw himself into a cover of Elvis Presley's "Heartbreak Hotel", which was released in late January 1956 and became an instant #1 rock'n'roll hit. Jones cut the song shortly afterwards, in March, at Gold Star Studio in Houston, Texas, and his version bears some raw power, much more primitive and energetic than Presley's original, with great support by Starday house musicians Doc Lewis on piano, Hezzie Bryant on thumping bass, and Hal Harris performing an aggressive lead guitar solo.

The recording first saw release on Dixie EP #502 (as an edited, shorter version) under the name of "Thumper" Jones. To say Jones didn't like to record rock'n'roll would be an understatement - he hated it. That's why Daily came up with the name "Thumper" - in order to hide Jones' real identity. Other songs from that EP were credited to Thumper Jones, too: "Blue Suede Shoes", which was in fact recorded by Leon Payne, and "Folsom Prison Blues", which had been cut by Benny Barnes. The longer version of "Heartbreak Hotel" was eventually leased to other budget companies and therefore appeared on a plethora of labels, including Tops, Gilmar, Record-Of-The-Month-Club, and probably some more.

Daily encouraged Jones to cut his own rockabilly songs and shortly after the session for Dixie took place, Jones was back at Gold Star in March to lay down "Rock It" and "How Come It", which were released in May 1956 on Starday #240 (again credited to "Thumper" Jones). These powerful rockabilly performances later became favorites among rock'n'roll music fans but remained a dark spot for Jones and didn't sell well back then, mainly because Starday, which was strictly a country label, didn't know how to promote it properly.

George Jones promo picture, late 1950s

Although Jones never recorded songs as frantic as his rockabilly performances for Starday, he cut a slew of other rockabilly songs that, in some cases, even cracked the charts. He did more sessions for Dixie that produced cover versions, including a rendition of Johnny Horton's rockabilly hit "I'm a One-Woman Man", and later cut rockabilly for Mercury, such as "White Lightning" (a #1 hit for Jones) or "Who Shot Sam" (#7).

In later years, Jones used to dismiss his 1950s rockabilly recordings and rumour goes that he cracked a copy of Starday #240 a fan handed him to sign. The songs, however, are still in circulation on countless rockabilly compilations and several reissues that gather Jones' rockabilly songs.

• Nathan D. Gibson: "The Starday Story - The House That Country Music Built" (University Press of Mississippi), 2011, page 34-36

Wednesday, September 13, 2023

Paul Howard

Paul Howard and his Arkansas Cotton Pickers
Western Swing's Forgotten Visionary

Paul Howard's name, largely forgotten today and only remembered by hardcore western swing fans, should be listed in the Country Music Hall of Fame but unfortunately is not. His band, the Arkansas Cotton Pickers, was the first western swing orchestra to appear regularly at the Grand Ole Opry and brought the swinging, modern sounds to the Opy's listeners. The management of the show was as conservative as it gets, ignoring trends and changing styles in country music largely but Howard was given a spot nevertheless. Many musicians passed through his band - and some of them would develop into the genre's leading session musicians.

Paul Jackson Howard was born on July 10, 1908, on a farm near Midland, Arkansas, a small town not for away from the Fort Smith metropolitan area. Although raised on traditional old-time music and a fan of Jimmie Rodgers' blues drenched version of it, Howard was one of the first rural musicians to welcome the swinging sounds of western swing that came out of Texas in the 1930s. Jon Hartley Fox called Howard a "music visionary" in his book "King of the Queen City: The Story of King Records". Howard became not only a great fan of Bob Wills but also called him a friend eventually.

At age fifteen, Howard ran away from home and moved in with his sister in Kansas. For the next two years, he worked as a construction worker in Kansas, as a coal miner in Oklohoma and finally as a copper miner in Arizona. It was in Bisbee, Arizona, where he met a black man who taught him the first chords on the guitar. This led Howard to becoming seriously interested in music and he bought a guitar and an instruction book soon after. He started out as a performer in 1931, being heard on KOY in Phoenix, Arizona. However, he returned to Oklahoma in 1933 to work as a coal miner again to earn a living. Music was still on his mind and he soon landed a steady job with a movie theater in Fort Smith, Arkansas, where he performed as a Jimmie Rodgers clone during intermissions and after the movies had ended.

Billboard July 20, 1946
Following his engagement in Fort Smith, Howard hit the road, working as a traveling salesman and a radio performer at once. In 1940, he stopped in Nashville and auditioned for George D. Hay and Jack Stapps, program director of WSM, and as a result, was given not only a spot on WSM but also on the Grand Ole Opry. He was still a solo singer at that time, which likely appealed to the conservative Opry management better than a large country dance band. At that time, the Opry had become the leading country music radio show in the United States and became manifest by the early 1940s. In 1941, Howard founded a band, the "Arkansas Cotton Pickers", which became probably the first western swing outfit that regularly played the Opry and featured as much as ten musicians at some point.

During the 1940s, many musicians that later became top names in Nashville went through the Arkansas Cotton Pickers. Guitarists Billy Byrd, Hank Garland and Grady Martin, bassist Bob Moore, steel guitarists Little Roy Wiggins and Sunny Albright, vocalist Nita Lynn - all of them and many more excellent musicians performed with Howard's band and gathered important experiences.

Billboard March 2, 1946
Howard remained the only western swing act during the 1940s' Opry and became a favorite with the listeners, though he began recording not until 1946 for the independent Liberty label from North Hollywood. The session took place in early 1946 and apart from Arkansas Cotton Pickers mainstays like Jabbo Arlington (guitar), also featured a young Billy Byrd and Owen Bradley on piano. "(You Left) A Red Cross on My Heart" b/w "I've Been Lonesome Since You Went Away" (Liberty #6) were two songs Howard later re-released by King Records.

The Liberty release brought Howard to the attention of Columbia Records and his first release for the label appeared at the tail end of 1946, "Oklahoma City" b/w "Somebody Else's Trouble" (Columbia #37204). Over a stretch of two years, Columbia released a total of six singles but none of them became a national hit. In 1949, Howard signed with King and recorded another ten songs for the label from Cincinnati, although these releases did not sell better either.

In 1949, while still recording for King but frustrated with the situation, Howard decided it needed a change and moved from Nashville to Shreveport, Louisiana, where he became a steady member of the Louisiana Hayride, the Opry's competitor that was much more open for modern and innovative country music sounds. His last recording session took place in Shreveport at radio KWKH, which was released on King. Howard stayed with the Hayride until around 1951 but could not find success there either.

Billboard March 2, 1957

During these years, Howard and his band toured extensively through Louisiana, Texas, as well as Arkansas and could be heard over different radio stations. In 1956, he went into promotion, though he continued as a performer as well. He returned to Arkansas, where he fronted a band and toured the state during the 1950s and 1960s. He disbanded his band in 1973 and moved to Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1981, where he continued to book shows and to work with with a bluegrass band. He also returned to Nashville once a year for the Old Timers show and was also a member of the Country Music Association.

Paul Howard died June 19, 1984, in Little Rock, Arkansas, of heart failure. He was 75 years old. That same year, German Cattle Records released an LP with a collection of his recordings. Two CDs followed in 2010 on the TRG label and in 2013 by the British Archive of Country Music.

Hillbilly-Music.com entry
45worlds.com/78rpm entry
Country Music Hall of Fame
Entry at Praguefrank's Country Music Discographies
Steel Guitar Forum
Find a Grave entry
• Jon Hartley Fox: "King of the Queen City: The Story of King Records" (University of Illinois Press), 2020, pages 80-81
• Max M. Cole: "Western Swing at its Best" (liner notes), Cattle LP 57

Sources for Arkansas Cotton Pickers members
Sunny Allbright
Jimmy Byrd
Bob Moore
Nita Lynn
Little Roy Wiggins
Grady Martin
Hank Garland
Rollin Sullivan

Wednesday, September 6, 2023

Dixie Harper on Dude

Dixie Harper and Her All Golden Drifters - I Love You More Every Minute (Dude JB-1502), ca. 1947/1948
(courtesy of Sean Hickey)

Dixie Harper was one of the few country & western women singers that emerged out of Arkansas. There were several national known singers that were born in the Natural State and raised with its culture and, therefore, music. She left the state at an early stage in her life, became known in Fort Worth, Texas, with her band during the 1940s but remained on a regional level and finally laid her career to rest.

She was born Nora Mae Harper on March 27, 1918, to William and Julia Harper. According to official census records, the Harper family was living in the Pine Bluff, Arkansas, area in 1920 so it is likely that Harper was born there. However, information on her early life is scarce. She had at least five siblings and the family moved to Fort Worth, Texas, at some point between 1920 and 1930. Harper, who was known to friends as "Dixie", married a man called Terry Day in the 1930s but had divorced from him again by 1940. The couple had one son, born in 1936.

According to her daughter, Harper decided to try her luck in music after the divorce but to all accounts, she first appeared as a singer not until early 1947, when she began as a solo act. Then, she founded her own band, the Bluebonnet Boys, in summer that same year. The line-up included Harper on vocals and guitar, Durwood Tonn on fiddle, David Baker on guitar, Slim Hensley on electric guitar, and J.L. Hodges on bass. The line-up changed over the years but Durwood "Durrie" Tonn seems to have been one of the few mainstays in the band.

On August 3, 1947, the band took part on a statewide contest for amateur string bands in Dallas, Texas, and although the Bluebonnet Boys were only performing together for about two and a half months by that point, they took first place and became the "Texas State Champion Fiddle Band". Although the outfit would perform under different names in the following years, their nickname was being used frequently (in different variations, though). 

For a brief time during late 1947, the band was performing as "Dixie Harper and her All Gold Drifters", sponsored by All Gold Flour. It must have been during this time that Harper and her band were recorded for the first time. On the Dude label, which was operated by Jim Beck out of his recording studio in Dallas, they recorded "Bubble Gum" b/w "I Love You More Every Minute" (Dude #JB-1502), credited to "Dixie Harper and Her All Gold Drifters". Judging by the name, the disc must have been released in late 1947 or early 1948.

Throughout the late 1940s, Harper and her group was performing regularly in different venues, including the Hilarity Club, Stella's Dine and Dance, the famed Dessau Hall in Austin, Texas, the Cowtown Rodeo events in Fort Worth, plus radio broadcasts in the city on such stations as KCNC. Harper was also part of the first ever television broadcast out of Fort Worth, a country & western show organized by Leslie A. Hoffman, an electronic manufacturer from California who was a pioneer in country music TV shows.

Harper and the band continued to record for Jim Beck as "Dixie Harper and her Blue Bonnet Brats", released on both Jimmy Mercer's Royalty label and on the Personality label. Their recordings consisted of traditional fiddle tunes such as "Soldier's Joy" or "Boil Dem Cabbage Down", as well as of covers of the country hit of the day, including their version of Hank Williams' hit "Lovesick Blues". They also cut some radio transcriptions in 1949 for KCNC.

By September 1950, Harper and the Bluebonnet Brats had changed from KCNC to KCUL, also based in Fort Worth. Harper also appeared regularly on local WBAM-TV, including the TV play "The Crossroads Store". During the next years, it seems she took a step back and became less active in music. It seems she stopped her radio appearances in 1951 and two years later, married Donald Louis Sparks, with whom she had two children. However, they divorced in 1959.

Catalog of Copyright Entries, 1967

While her activities as a performer had ceased during the 1950s, Harper decided in the early 1960s to resume her musical career and founded an all girl band that performed for about two years in the Fort Worth area. She also appeared with Tommy Duncan and the Texas Playboys when they performed in the city. However, in the midst of the decade, she decided to quit altogether and became a private duty nurse, working in this field until 1995. She kept singing as a sideline, appearing with different groups in her spare time.

In 1999, her health began to decline and since 2002, she spent her last years in nursing homes in Texas and Mississippi. Dixie Harper passed away on March 7, 2007, at the age of 88 years. She is buried at Mount Olivet Cemetery in Fort Worth.


Dude JB-1502: Dixie Harper and her All Golden Drifters - Bubble Gum / I Love You More Every Minute (1947/1948)
Personality P-28/31: Dixie Harper and her Blue Bonnet Brats - Devil's Dream / Soldier's Joy
Personality P-29/30: Dixie Harper and her Blue Bonnet Brats - Boil Dem Cabbage Down / Tennessee Wagoner
Royalty P38/39: Dixie Harper and her Bluebonnet Brats - Lovesick Blues / Wabash Cannonball (ca. 1949) 

Wednesday, August 30, 2023

Columbia County Hayride

Rural Entertainment in Southwest Arkansas
The Story of the Columbia County Hayride

Among the countless live stage shows that were held throughout the United States, the Columbia County Hayride was a lesser known example. When the Hayride started, the golden age of American radio had been over for about twenty years by then and many of the Hayride's role model shows had gone off the air. However, the show was one of about a dozen known live stage shows that were held throughout Arkansas and eventually became the longest running show of its kind in Arkansas.

My introduction to the Columbia County Hayride came through Mark Keith, a sometimes performer on the show and fellow record collector. Mark was of great help during some of my Arkansas music researches and when the Hayride finally came to an end in 2023, I took it as an inducement to write down its history.

The Mount Holly Jamboree
The founders of the Hayride were Johnny Sprayberry and Troy Wyrick, two musicians who met in the early 1970s and took a liking to each other when they found out they had common relatives in Texas. They started to play music in their back yards. What started as jam sessions of two musicians developed soon into something bigger. People came by to watch them play and other musicians gathered and sat in. They found an old building in Mount Holly, located roughly between Magnolia, Smackover, and El Dorado in South Arkansas, and fixed it up in order to play live shows there. This was in 1971. The forerunner of the Columbia County Hayride was born.

The early incarnation of the show, when it was still known as the "Mount Holly Jamboree".
Johnny Sprayberry can be seen behind the microphone.

Initially, the show was called "Mount Holly Jamboree" and was not aired live over radio. "All was well for a year or two until the Arkansas State Police pretty much closed it down because people were parking on the sides of the state highway, there was virtually no parking at the building," told me Mark, who got his start at the show later on. Sprayberry and Wyrick held a few shows at the Magonolia fairgrounds in an open air pavilion, though this was not a  proper replacement for the Mount Holly hall. 

Moving to Columbia County
They kept on searching and found another old building, an abandoned school, in nearby Calhoun. Again, the building needed some repair and fixing but in the end, was ready to stage live country music shows again. It was probably at that point when the name "Columbia County Hayride" was designated to the show. The show was held live but was still not broadcast on radio.

Betty Sprayberry on drums, Henry Matthews in front

The original house band of the show, known as the Country Cousins, comprised Johnny Sprayberry on vocals, rhythm guitar, and steel guitar, Troy Wyrick on lead guitar, Don Kennedy on rhythm guitar, Kay Jacks on rhythm guitar, Dorothy Roden on autoharp and mandolin, Vic Reynolds and then Curt Cannon on bass, and Betty Sprayberry on drums. Some of the members also stepped up to the front light, including Sprayberry. Other bands on the show during this time included a rock'n'roll band known as "The Rock & Roll Express", the Shine-Ons, a bluegrasss group fronted by Mary Pate, and the Cox Family that joined around 1972 or 1973, as well as a group called "Night Train", among others.

Some of the artists that appeared on the Hayride became major country music stars. Tracy Lawrence, who was raised in Foreman, Arkansas, and performed on the show, had several hit albums and singles in the 1990s and early 2000s and might be the most successful artist that worked the Hayride stage. Linda Davis was another singer that appeared on the show and eventually found success in the 1990s as a country music singer. The Cox Family became a well-known bluegrass group, working with Allison Krauss, among others, and had a highly acclaimed album out in 2015, "Gone Like the Cotton".

The original line-up of the Country Cousins

Radio broadcasts, another move and the End

In the early to mid 1990s, the Columbia County Hayride finally hit the airwaves. Local Magnolia radio station KVMA taped the show to broadcast it. Around the same time, the show made one more move into Magnolia, switching from the old school house into a former furniture store on West Union Street. The owner of the store, who was a big Hayride fan, had moved his business into a bigger place and gave over his old building to the show management. The Hayride show now housed up to 250 people every third Saturday night at the new place, known as the Union Street Station. The house band changed their name to "Union Street Band" to underline the movement.

Around 1998, the show switched from KVMA to more powerful KZHE, licensed in Stamps, Arkansas, but actually located in Union Street Station. It was quite an improvement for the Hayride to jump from a 1,000 watt daytime station to a 50,000 watt station, serving a radius of 75 miles around Magnolia. In addition, the show began to air live on the station instead of taped shows.

The show continued to draw crowds once a month until Covid hit the world and the Hayride was paused during these years. In 2021, the Hayride celebrated its 50th anniversary with a special show and KZHE conducted an interview with founder Johnny Sprayberry. After the pandemic, the show resumed but made its final run in 2023 after a history of 52 years. This probably made her Arkansas' most enduring country music live stage show.

"I very much loved the Hayride and hate to see it go away... but that's how things go," attests Mark, who has been a performer on the show in the mid 1970s and prior to its end. He still performs in the Magnolia region and appears frequently on KZHE's Gospel Hour show, another live music show in the region.

• My special thanks to Mark Keith, who provided me with all the details necessary for this write-up. 

Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Marvin McCullough on Boyd

Marvin McCullough - Mayby My Baby (Boyd BB-3383), 1961

Tulsa has been a city full of music for long and it was especially a hot bed for western swing music since the 1930s, mainly due to the presence of Bob Wills & the Texas Playboys and the various bands that developed out of it, led by Wills companions like his brother Johnnie Lee Wills or his former steel guitarist Leon McAuliffe. One of Tulsa's later stars was singer and DJ Marvin McCullough, who enjoyed great popularity in the area in the early 1960s.

McCullough was born on September 13, 1934, in Birmingham, Alabama, and collected his first experiences in the radio business on Alabama stations WGAD out of Gadsden and on WANA in Anniston. Nothing else is known about this early stage in his career.

Probably his first recordings were made in the mid 1950s with the Acme record label from Manchester, Kentucky. Today, the label is best remembered for its traditional bluegrass, gospel, and country music releases and it is probable that McCullough's first sides were in a similar style. Acme #1210 was his first release and coupled "I Think I'm Falling in Love with You" with "I Can't Tell My Heart". It was followed by Acme #1215, two religious song performed with support by the Keck Brothers, "The Bible in Song" b/w "My Lord Is Coming Home from Heaven". Although these cuts seem to be McCullough's earliest recordings, no exact release date has been documented or can be traced as Acme releases are hard to date.

In 1950, McCullough joined the staff of KWHN in Fort Smith, Arkansas, near the Arkansas-Oklahoma state border. He remained with the station for five years and in 1955, switched to KRMG in Tulsa, which broadcast out of Leon McAuliffe's Cimarron Ballroom. By 1958, McCullough was appearing regularly with Gene Mooney's Westernaires, a local Tulsa western swing combo that was around for many years, appearing in Northeastern Oklahoma and Northwestern Arkansas. McCullough formed his own band in 1961.

By the early 1960s, McCullough had become the top country music DJ in town. By then, he performed western swing, the predominant style in that region. Billy Parker, steel guitarist and band leader himself, remembered that at one time in the early 1960s, McCullough had three shows daily: one in the morning, a lunchtime show (a slot he had taken over from Leon McAuliffe), and a midnight show. "People would come in as a studio audience and watch him when he was on the radio. The studio room probably had seats for 40 people, but there was never enough room. People would standing around against the walls. Even on his midnight show, he had a studio full," remembered Ira "Rocky" Caple, McCullough's steel guitarist and band leader in his own right, in a 1990s interview with John Wooley.

In 1961, McCullough began recording for local Oklahoma labels, first for Carl Blankenship's Razorback label from Muskogee, located near Tulsa. Blankenship had been a DJ on KWHN in Fort Smith, too (McCullough knew him likely through their mutual days at the station), and had booked Mooney and the Westernaires into several places during the late 1950s. McCullough and his band released "Bitter Tears", sung by Jimmy Hall, and "Sawed Off Shot Gun", an instrumental spotlighting the steel guitar skills of Rocky Caple. 

Billboard May 15, 1961, C&W review

His most popular record came that same year with a song called "Just for a Little While", which saw release in May on the Boyd label (#BB-3383) from Oklahoma City. Both the A side and the B side, "Mayby My Baby", were written by successful songwriter Eddie Miller. "Just for a Little While" was a top seller and saw national distribution by United Artists. Following the success, Boyd released another single by McCullough in 1961.

Billboard November 6, 1961
Capitol Records, which had a noteworthy country roster with the likes of Buck Owens, Ferlin Husky, Tommy Collins, Hank Thompson, Wanda Jackson, and many more, saw enough potential in McCullough to sign him to a recording contract. Though, only two records without significant success saw the light of day on the label. The first came out around September 1962, comprising "Just Inside Your Arms" and "Where Else Could I Go" (Capitol #4820) from a May or June 1962 session. A November session the same year remained unreleased and McCullough's next single was not released until August the next year, "Stranger In My Arms" b/w "'If' Is a Mighty Big Word" (Capitol #5030). For most of the material, McCullough relied on Eddie Miller's songwriting talents.

The unsuccessful run at Capitol seems to have stopped McCullough's career as a recording artist but he continued to work as a DJ. He began working for KFMJ (Tulsa) in 1968 and worked as the station's music director.

In 1971 or 1972, McCullough returned to Alabama and continued to work in radio. "I believe Marvin came to Anniston, Alabama, because his parents were retired there," remembered Fred Azbell, who was a 22 years young radio DJ in the early 1970s, and whom I found through my researches on McCullough. While Azbell was the nighttime announcer on the station, McCullough took over the afternoon shift. Azbell continued: "I got to know Marvin when I worked with him at WANA in Anniston [...]. He had a really wild lifestyle and could not maintain his pace without help from amphetamines. He made more money doing radio remote broadcasts than most people made all week in radio. He was a born entertainer. I was only about 21 or 22 in those days and I always got a kick out of his stories of working in Tulsa."

McCullough played ocassional gigs in Anniston but obviously had stopped recording. "He had lots of old recordings on the Capitol label. He would always claim they were a brand new release, though it was obvious that they were old," Azbell recalls. McCullough's life would take a serious turn, when he went to jail in 1975, as he had shot WANA morning announcer Randy Carter at a gas station between Anniston and Oxford late one night. Apparently, he did not spent too much time behind prison bars: "I have no idea how he beat that attempted murder charge. [...] He was definitely in jail for a while. I don't know the whole story but a mutual friend visited him in jail in Talladega and said he was in pretty bad shape," retells Azbell the story. "I have no idea where he went after that," he concludes.

McCullough had a stroke in 1991, by then he was in his mid 50s. In the late 1990s, he had returned to his old stomping grounds, the Arkansas-Oklahoma border region, and hosted a gospel music radio show in Oklahoma. His turbulent life came to an end in 1998 in Fort Smith, Arkansas, just two weeks after his wife had died.


Acme 1210: Marvin McCullough and Band - I Think I'm Falling in Love with You / I Can't Tell My Heart
Acme 1215: Marvin McCullough and the Keck Brothers - The Bible in Song / My Lord Is Coming Back from Heaven
Razorback: Bitter Tears (with Jimmy Hall) / Sawed Off Shot Gun (with Rocky Caple) (1961)
Boyd BB-3383: Just for a Little While / Mayby My Baby (1961)
Boyd UA-345: Just for a Little While / Mayby My Baby (1961)
Boyd BB-111: Are You Still in Love with Me / Pillow To My Right (1961)
Capitol 4820: Just Inside Your Arms / Where Else Could I Go (But to Her Arms) (1962)
Capitol 5030: Stranger In My Arms / "If" Is a Mighty Big Word (1963)

See also

Recommended reading

• Billy Parker, John Wooley, Brett Bingham: "Thanks -  Thanks a Lot" (Babylon Books), 2021

Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Wayne Raney on New American

Wayne Raney - The Uncloudy Day (New American 45-NA-104), 1960

This release dates back to a time when Raney had turned to gospel music full-time and many of his EP records during this period were probably produced and released for selling them through his show on powerful WCKY in Cincinnati.

The recordings for this extended play 45 were cut in 1960 at Raney's own studio in Oxford, Ohio, which he had established about three years earlier. The line-up included Raney on vocals and harmonica plus his family, which might have included his wife Loys and his children Zyndall, Wanda, and Norma Jean, as well as an unknown guitarist.

"The Uncloudy Day", or better known as "The Unclouded Day", was composed by Ohio born Josiah Kelley Alwood in 1885. It was recorded by several artists during the 1960s. Raney's own version was reused by him for his "All Time Family Favorites" LP on his Rimrock and Gospel Voice LPs (#GV-101) as well as for another 45 release on his Raney label (#104).

See also


Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Ronald Mansfield on Beam

Ronald Mansfield - Tell Me Pretty Words (Beam 707-45), 1957

Beam Recordings was a local Abilene, Texas, based label, that basically recorded country music in the 1950s and 1960s. This particular release by Ronald Mansfield is from 1957 and seems to be the first on the label. Note the publisher "Slim Willet Songs", which suggests Mansfield or the label had a connection with Willet, Abilene's country music stalwart. Although the matrix numbers indicate that "Tell Me Pretty Words" was the top side, the label indeed pushed its flip "Lonely" according to a promo sheet.

Catalog of Copyright Entries, 1958

Catalof of Copyright Entries, 1959

Ronald Mansfield was a TV repair man that had a few releases on Beam and Winston, the latter being Slim Willet's label. His "Someone Else's Arms" was also recorded by Ralph Edwards on Beam and  "Tell Me Pretty Words" was eventually recorded by Slim Whitman. Mansfield was probably not the songwriter and pianist of the same name that recorded with the Massachusetts based group the Dusters.

Billboard December 22, 1958, C&W review

Born Ronald Eugene Mansfield, his birth date was likely December 16, 1930, in the small town Chillicothe, Texas, as was his twin brother Donald. They were born to Clyde and Mary Mansfield. According to an Avalanche Journal newspaper snippet, both brothers were living in Abilene by October 1950.

Mansfield made his debut on the Beam label with the disc featured today, followed by another single on the same label, "Blue Am I" b/w "My Love" (Beam #708) the next year. A third Beam release likely came out in the late 1950s and a fourth not until the 1960s. Also in 1958, Mansfield came to the attention of Slim Willet and started recording for Willet's Winston label, also out of Abilene, which produced another two singles.

No more hints to Mansfield's music career can be found. His brother Donald passed away in 1977. Mansfield eventually lived in Dickinson, Texas, and died on February 26, 2002, at the age of 71 years. He is buried at Oakwood Cemetery in Huntsville, Texas.


Beam 707-45: Tell Me Pretty Words / Lonely (1957)
Beam 708-45: Blue Am I / My Love (1958)
Beam 709: ? / Someone Else's Arms
Winston 1023-45: Thank You / How I've Missed You (1958)
Winston 1028-45: The Ring Mother Wore / Life Sure Changes (As the World Rolls Around) (1958)
Beam 808: If This Is Living / Someones Elses Arms

Find a Grave entry
Entry at 45cat
• Entries for Mansfield and Beam Recordings on Discogs
Rockin' Country Style entry for the Dusters
Avalanche Journal (October 15, 1950), page 18
• Laurie E. Jasinski, Casey J. Monahan: "Handbook of Texas Music" (Texas State Historical Association), 2012

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Zay-Dee Records

Southern Psych from the Zay-Dee label

Zay-Dee Records was the creation of DJ and radio engineer George "Gee" Whitaker, who came to Batesville, Arkansas, around 1963. Previously, he had been a rock'n'roll DJ on the powerful KSEL station in Lubbock, Texas, but his wife Doris originally hailed from Batesville, which took him north to the Natural State.

George Whitaker at KSEL, 1962
(from the back cover
of a Zay-Dee 207 reissue)
Whitaker took a job with KBTA as the station's studio and transmitter engineer. A year later, he decided to try his luck in the record business and set up Zay-Dee Records. The label's name derived from Isaiah "Zay" Dee Whooten, another DJ on KSEL. Whitaker fell in love with that name and apart from his label, also named his second child the same way. Whitaker's job at KBTA was wasn't well paid (he had to drive an ambulance part-time) but soon, a better opportunity came along when Whitaker's father bought KHOZ in Marianna, Arkansas, where he became general manager around 1966.

One of Whitaker's first productions was a record by the Marauders called "Bugg to the Road Runner" (Part 1 and 2), a live recording made at the Arkansas College. Another early single was by Jimmy Payne and the Jokers, an Arkansas rock'n'roll combo that had already recorded for the Bro-Ket label. Payne would go on to release further singles throughout the 1960s.

Zay-Dee became a favorite among record collectors decades later for psychedelic and garage rock jewels like the Paragons' "Black and Blue" or Suspension of Belief with "LSD". The latter's original master was mixed with an opera recording and sound effects by Whitaker (without informing the band) and while it became a favorite among nowadays psychedelic fans, it was dismissed by the group when the members received their copies.

By the late 1960s, Whitaker had moved back to Lubbock, where he released the final disc on Zay-Dee by Gabriel with the Seven Inch Reel. Afterwards, the label was laid to rest and Whitaker continued to work in radio (which he did at least until 2014). Some of the Zay-Dee recordings turned up on a compilation series entitled "Lost Souls", containing rare psychedelic tracks from Arkansas and compiled by Harold Ott. The track "LSD" was also used in the independent movie production "Jane Mansfield's Car".

See also:


Wednesday, May 10, 2023

David & Darlene Robinson on Bejay

David & Darlene Robinson with the Eldon Valley Boys - Green Country (Bejay 1353), 1971

The "Green Country", about which David and Darlene Robinson sing, is the Northeastern part of Oklahoma. The term is used since the early 20th century but became well-known during the 1960s through a campaign initialized by the Oklahoma Department of Tourism and Recreation. Sometimes, the term "Green Country" also refers to the Tulsa metropolitan area, which lies within Northeast Oklahoma.

The copy I bought carried a little handwritten note within the record sleeve, which gave me a little bit of info about the record. "Green Country" as well as the flip "If You Step On Her Hear, You're Walking On Mine" were recorded in June 1971 by David and Darlene Robinson and their band, the Eldon Valley Boys, for Ben Jack's Bejay custom label.  The session took place at Jack's recording studio in Fort Smith, Arkansas. It was the Robinson's debut record, followed by two more releases on what was likely their own imprint, Big Green Country (pressed by Rimrock). One of these discs was solely credited to the Eldon Valley Boys. The Eldon Valley was likely a name for the small community of Eldon, Cherokee County, Oklahoma (in "Green Country"), located in the valley of Baron Fork of the Illinois River.

Unfortunately, I couldn't turn up any info on neither David and Darlene Robinson nor on Raymond "Ray" Robinson, the writer of both sides and likely a family member. I suspect all three to be siblings, however.


Bejay 1353: David & Darlene Robinson with the Eldon Valley Boys - Green Country / If You Step On Her Heart, You're Walking on Mine (1971)
Big Green Country BS 413: David & Darlene Robinson and the Eldon Valley Boys - Green Country / The House That We Live In (1974)
Big Green Country BS 414: The Eldon Valley Boys - It's His Spirit / I Am a Christian