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

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

The United Southern Artists label

Of the many small and local labels that were founded during the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s in Arkansas, the United Southern Artists label out of Hot Springs was one of the longer running and prolific record companies. Since 2010, I am trying to research the history of this record label but still, its whole background remains foggy, although I have interviewed several original recording artists over the years. The recorded output concentrated on rock’n’roll and country music, the latter became eventually the label’s main genre.

United Southern Artists, shortened to United Southern one year after its formation, was founded on March 13, 1961, in Hot Springs, Arkansas, a city with a population of nearly 30,000 habitants, located in the beautiful landscape of the Ouachita Mountains, and known for its many heat springs. Contrary to many local labels in the US, which where one-man companies operated out of its owners’ houses or garages, United Southern Artists was founded on a much more professional base. Billboard reported the founding in its March 20 issue and mentioned that Burton Wilton LeMaster (1895-1970) was president of the company and Carl Friend, a songwriter from Memphis, served as its A&R manager. The imprint was not only intended for releasing music but also for managing and promoting its artists. In unison, a publishing firm was formed to handle the music catalogue: Ouachita Music. United Southern had its offices in Suite 312 in Hot Springs’ Thompson Building, built in 1913 and still one of the city’s most prominent landmarks (nowadays known as the “Waters Hotel”). Although the company was equipped with own offices, it housed no own recording facilities and therefore had to rely on capacities of such recording studios as Leo Castleberry’s local studio or Echo Studio in Memphis.

Thompson Building in Hot Springs, Arkansas, 1910s

Daily business was handed over to LeMaster and Friend but the actual owner of the company remained in the background: John Wilbur Roddie. He was born in 1903 in Poplarville, Mississippi, was living in Hot Springs by 1950 and earned his living as a songwriter, publisher, author, and entrepreneur. At one time, he was vice-president of the National Garment Manufacturing Company and owned the Roddie-Miller Publishing Company. The latter published several songs recorded for the Hot Springs based Caesar and SPA record labels by different artists (partially written by Roddie). Roddie might have been involved in these labels, too, though this is an assumption only.

Billboard March 20, 1961

Speaking of SPA Records, this was a label associated with United Southern Artists prior to the actual founding of United Southern. SPA was likely operated by local country singer, TV personality and recording studio owner Leo Castleberry and/or John Roddie. The actual ownership is unclear at its best. In fact, Castleberry recorded for the label and his first release on SPA was “Teenage Blues” b/w “Come Back to Me” (SPA #100-10) in 1960. There were a few more releases on the label that year and the following, including a single by Memphis music stalwart Eddie Bond, “Only One Minute More” b/w “I Walk Alone” (SPA #25-1001) issued around November 1960. When United Southern was established a couple of months later, its first release was comprised of Castleberry’s recordings “Teenage Blues” and “Come Back to Me” as United Southern Artists #5-101. Original copies of the SPA release have often either the original label name blacked out or “United Southern Artists” overwritten on it. It is my understanding that Castleberry’s release was considered to be potential enough for the debut release of the new Roddie-Friend-LeMaster imprint and therefore was re-released. The SPA label in turn became dormant and Castleberry even went on to work as an A&R scout for United Southern.

There was another early 1961 release by Tiny Collins, pressed by RCA in 1961 and carrying the record number 6-101. This is quite odd as the 6-prefix would not be introduced to the label's numerical system until 1964. For now, my only explanation is that the number was assigned erroneously. 

Billboard November 27, 1961
The year of 1961 saw several more releases on United Southern. There was country music by Eddie Bond (probably brought to the label through Bond’s disc on SPA) and Ray Mitcham, pop music by Little Rock TV host Steve Stephens, as well as surf/rock’n’roll/garage rock by such groups as Beau-Hannon and the Mint Juleps, Dave’s Travelers, the Uniques, among others. The label experienced a minor success with Texas based country singer Hank Milton’s “Gatling Gun” b/w “As You Were” (#5-105, July 1961). Billboard reported in its August 14 issue that “Carl Friend, a.&r. director for United Southern Artists, Hot Springs, reports that Hank Milton’s new release ‘Gatling Gun’ b.w ‘As You Were’ is making big noise on KCUL, Fort Worth; KWAM, Memphis, and KDXE, Little Rock.” This mention, however, remains the only evidence of success for this single. Another regional strong seller was the Pacers' (former backing band of Sun artist Sonny Burgess) "New Wildwood Flower" b/w "The Pace". Bobby Crafford recalled in Marvin Schwarz' book "We Wanna Boogie": "'The Pace' was probably one of the best records we did, but United Southern Artists was the worst company we ever dealt with." However, Crafford didn't explain what that meant in detail.

The label released at least a total of 14 45rpm singles during 1961, though release information on certain discs is vague only. Even one of those, United Southern Artists #5-104 by the Uniques, was released in Australia through the Strand record label. It seems that the label pressed several releases still in 1961 but issued them not until early 1962. One factor for this could have been the leaving of Burton LeMaster. Tom Luce replaced LeMaster as president in January 1962. I assume the last months of the previous year were troublesome for United Southern as there could have been a fall-out with LeMaster, which ended in his leaving. This would explain why so many releases were pressed in 1961 but held back until early 1962. This is, however, nothing but speculation on my side.

The first release of the new year was probably Geannie Flowers with “There Oughta Be a Law” b/w “Lock, Stock, and Barrel” (#5-114). It also brought a completely new label design. Instead of the plain blue labels with silver printing and the label name printed in italic font, releases from #5-117 onward carried a white label with red printing and the label’s name depicted in a red italic font (shortened to “United Southern”), rounded out with a confederate flag.

United Southern continued to release recordings by local artists but with a much lower frequency. The estimated eight releases during the year 1962 included country and bluegrass music by the Sunny Valley Boys (featuring husband-and-wife duo Leon Tidwell and Myra Collins) and the Crystal Mountain Boys, and rock’n’roll by two groups known as the Galaxies and the Thunderbirds. However, the biggest success for the label that year was probably by Ricky Durham, who cut “Mr. Were-Wolf”, a song composed by local Arkansas band leader Bobby Garrett, and a cover of Buddy Holly’s “Raining in My Heart” (#5-116). Although I could not find any hints concerning the success of the single, it caught the attention of the bigger independent label Jubilee Records, which picked it up and re-released it on its “Jubilee Country & Western” imprint.

Billboard January 19, 1963
For the year 1963, only five releases on United Southern are documented so far. As rock’n’roll was fading by then, Carl Friend concentrated on country music acts, still the predominant music style in rural Arkansas. Pauline Boyette, Bob Land, Lance Roberts, and Dale Fox (with support by Memphis’ famous vocal group, the Gene Lowery Singers) recorded for United Southern during this year, as well as James Fred Williams, who cut a gospel EP disc for the label. In January 1963, Billboard also reported that Dan Emory was signed to a recording contract but no release by him has been found so far. One of the year's more successful releases was Russ Elmore's "Black Gold" b/w "Sittin' at the Table" (#5-119) (although already pressed a year earlier), which reached the #36 spot on KREM's charts in Spokane, Washington, in April.

While early releases from the label, especially those issued in 1961, turn up quite often, it seems that later discs were pressed in less quantities as they are harder to find nowadays.
By that time, the SPA label had been reactivated and released a few discs during 1963 with the involvement of John Roddie. It seems the high hopes he had for the United Southern label were crashed and the ambitious start of the company had developed into a restrained sideline business. While both LeMaster and Friend had reported frequently to Billboard at the beginning and had sent promotional copies to both Billboard and Cash Box, they ceased their communication with trade papers already in 1962.

In 1964, the executives at United Southern introduced a new four-digit numerical system, beginning now with a 6- and starting again at 101. This system replaced the old catalog numbers, which had started at 5-101. The first release in this new series was split for two artists, Bob Millsap and Peggy DeCastro, performing “Daugie Daddy” and “The Ring from Her Finger” respectively (#6-101). At least three more releases followed in 1964, the last known being by the Tradewinds, “A Boy Named Jerry (and a Girl Named Sue)” b/w “The Heart of the Month Club” (#6-104).

If there were more releases on United Southern is possible but doubtful as none have surfaced so far. By that time, the label had vanished from trade papers like Cash Box or Billboard. It is likely that the label had come to an end by late summer 1964 as Billboard reported on August 8 that Carl Friend and former United Southern recording artist Lance Roberts had taken new jobs with Joey Sasso’s Music Makers Promotion Network in Nashville, Tennessee. Ouachita Music, the label’s publishing arm, was still in existence by 1968, then based on 125 Albert Pike in Hot Springs.

During its three-years-existence, United Southern had released around 40 different singles, extended play records, even an album, and managed – although unconsciously at the time – to preserve local music culture.

After the discontinuation of United Southern, the executives of the label went separate ways. LeMaster moved to Louisiana around 1964 following his departure from United Southern. He had been born on December 16, 1895, in Oakland City Junction, Indiana, but grew up in New York State, and died on January, 1970, in a Jackson, Mississippi, hospital. He had served his country during World War I in the US Navy.

Carl Friend remained in the music business well into the 1970s, heading various music publishing and production companies. In 1964, he moved to Nashville, where he worked with Joey Sasso’s Music Makers Production and founded his own promotion business, Carl Friend Enterprises. In the late 1960s, he had some minor success as a songwriter. Various artists recorded his compositions, including Hank Williams, Jr., and Billie Jo Spears, who had a #48 country hit with “He’s Got More Love in his Little Finger”, co-written by Friend, Mack Vickery, and Bruce Roberts. While he was based in Little Rock in 1971, Friend moved back to Memphis the following year and co-founded Rivermont Music Productions with Bobby Burns. The firm was said to release a 15 volume “History of the States” LP series but never followed through with it, which eventually caused Friend legal disputes. He also founded two soul-oriented labels, Bluff City and Plush, and became president of Memphis based Casino Records, which enjoyed moderate chart success with artists like Jimmy Dean or Vic Dana.

John Roddie remained in Hot Springs after United Southern folded and likely stayed in the music publishing business, at least until the late 1960s. He died on December 11, 1980, at the age of 77 years. He is buried at Memorial Gardens Cemetery in Hot Springs.

Leo Castleberry continued to play TV and personal appearances in and around Hot Springs. He also operated the Torch and Castletone labels and died June 9, 2016, at the age of 84 years.

5-101 – Leo Castleberry: Teenage Blues / Come Back to Me (1961)
5-102 – Ray Mitcham: Initiative / Long Lonely Nights (1961)
5-103 – Steve Stephens: Pizza Pete / How It Used to Be (1961)
5-104 – Uniques: Renegade / Malaguena (1961)
5-105 – Hank Milton: Gatling Gun / As You Were (1961)
5-106 – Eddie Bond: This Ole Heart of Mine / Second Chance (1961)
5-107 – Dave's Travelers: Traveler's Rock / Movin' (1961)
5-108 – Beau-Hannon: It’s All Over / Brainstorm (1961)
5-109 – Dean Purkiss: Chivato / Alone Without Love (1961)
5-109 – Lloyd Marley: Fade with the Tide / Ooh Poo Pah Doo (1961)
5-110 – Jimmy Forrest: Night Train / Bolo Blues (1961)
5-111 – Earl Grace: Christmas Is Just Around the Corner / Santa Town (1961)
5-112 – Pacers: New Wildwood Flower / The Pace (1961)
5-113 – Ray Mitcham - Stood Up Again / I Can't See (1961)
5-114 – Geannie Flowers: There Oughta Be a Law / Lock, Stock and Barrel (1962)
5-115 – Thunderbirds: T Bird Rock / End Over End (1962)
5-116 – Ricky Durham: Raining in My Heart / Mr. Were-Wolf (1962)
5-117 – Galaxies: It’s All Over Now / Be Mine (1962)
5-118 – Sunny Valley Boys - My Son Calls Another Man Daddy / Teardrops, Teardrops (Please Stop Falling) / Myra Collins - The Hard Way / Divorce Denied (1962)
5-119 – Russ Elmore - Black Gold / Sittin' at the Table (1962)
5-120 – Dot Beck: Ed Went a-Courtin' / When Is Tomorrow (1962)
5-121 – Crystal Mountain Boys: Homin' Heart / A-Hangin' on the Vine (1962)
5-122 –
5-123 –
5-124 –
5-125 – Ramblers: Riverside Twist / Lonely Senorita (1962)
5-126 –
5-127 –
5-128 –
5-129 –
5-130 – Pauline Boyette: Parade of Broken Hearts / Footloose (1963)
5-131 – Walter Archie: The Joke's on You / Blue Autumn (1963)
5-132 –
5-133 – Lance Roberts: It Was Fun While It Lasted / ? (1963)
5-134 – Bob Land: Down in the Valley / Lost Soul (1963)

GLP 101 – James Fred Williams - Hold on to God's Unchanging Hand / Stay with Me Jesus / I Need the Lord / Every Child of God (1963)

6-101 – Tiny Collins - In the Meantime / Acapulco (1961)
6-101 – Bob Millsap: Daugie Daddy / Peggy DeCastro: The Ring From Her Finger (1964)
6-102 –
6-103 – Dale Fox & the Gene Lowery Singers - It Can't Be True / Call Me Again (1964)
6-104 – The Tradewinds - A Boy Named Terry (and a Girl Named Sue) / The Heart of the Month Club (1964)

LP 101 - Betty Fowler Four – 4 to Go (1962)

Beau-Hannon and the Mint Juleps

45cat entry
SPA 45cat entry
Rockin' Country Style entry
• Discogs entries for United Southern Artists and United Southern
• Find a Grave entry for Burton LeMaster, John Roddie, and Carl Friend
• Marvin Schwartz: "We Wanna Boogie: The Rockabilly Roots of Sonny Burgess and the Pacers (University of Arkansas Presss), 2014, page 154
• various Billboard issues

• Special thanks to those who provided additional discographical information: Johan L, Rocky Lane, DL, Ken Clee of the "Directory of American 45 RPM Records", Franck, and Bob


Rocky Lane said...

Another Southern Artists record:

5-107 - Dave's Travelers: Traveler's Rock / Movin'

The A-Side is on Collectors CLCD 4418 track 3.

Mellow said...

Thanks Rocky! Your additions is highly appreciated!

Bob said...

104 : flip is Malaguena

5-111 Earl Grace : Christmas is just around the corner/ ?

6-101 Bob Millsap : Daugie Daddy/Peggy DeCastro : The ring from her finger

5-125 The Ramblers : "Riverside Twist", "Lonely Senorita"

Unknown said...

i believe some isuues are on u.s.a labels stamped?

Anonymous said...

United Southern Artists, Inc/United Southern (from #117) Hot Springs, AR
United Southern Artists 101 - Dean Purkiss - Chivato/Alone without Love 1961/Aug. 7 Bb pop rev. [May be wrong issue number in Bb, should be 109??]
United Southern Artists 5-101 – Leo Castleberry - Teenage Blues (Leo Castleberry) (LO8W-7783)/Come Back to Me (LO8W-7784)(1960)
United Southern Artists 5-103 – Steve Stephens - Pizza Pete (Carl Friend) (M8OW-3329)/The Way It Used to Be
United Southern Artists 5-104 – The Uniques - Renegade/Malaguena 1961/Jun. 5 Bb rev.
United Southern Artists 5-105 – Hank Milton - Gatling Gun/As You Were 1961/Jul. 24 Bb rev.
United Southern Artists 5-106 – Eddie Bond - This Ole Heart of Mine (Clunch-Cantrell) (M8OW-8051)/Second Chance (M8OW-8052) 1961/Jul. 24 Bb rev.
United Southern Artists 5-107 - Dave's Travelers - Traveler Rock/College Affair 1961/Oct. 9 Bb rev.
United Southern Artists 5-108 – Beau-Hannon and The Mint-Juleps - It’s All Over (Jim Bohannon) (M8OW-8036)/Brainstorm (Larry Fity?) (M8OW-8035) 1961/Sep. 4 Bb rev.
United Southern Artists 5-111 – Earl Grace - Christmas Is Just Around the Corner (Earl Grace-Stan Kesler)/? 1961/Nov. 27 Bb ment.
United Southern Artists 5-112 - The Pacers - The Pace (Quachita, BMI) (M8OW-8403)/New Wildwood Flower (Quachita, BMI) (M8OW-8402) 1961/Dec. 18 Bb rev.
United Southern Artists 5-113 - Ray Mitchum - Stood Up Again/I Can't See 1961/Dec. 25 Bb ment.
United Southern Artists 5-114 - Geannie Flowers - There Oughta Be A Law (Quachita, BMI)/Lock, Stock and Barrel (Quachita, BMI) 1962/Jan. 27 Bb pop rev. singing debut!! 11 years old, http://www.genniferflowers.com/home.html
United Southern Artists 5-115 – Thunderbirds - T Bird Rock (Davis-Wiemers-Haffron-Garrett) (M8OW-8397)/End Over End (Davis-Wiemers-Haffron-Garrett) (M8OW-8397) 1962/Jan. 27 Bb pop rev.
United Southern Artists 5-116 - Ricky Durhan - Raining In My Heart/?
United Southern 5-117 – Galaxies - It’s All Over Now (Alfred Chersowith?) (MO8W-4247)/Be Mine (Doise Taylor) (MO8W-4248) 1961
United Southern 5-119 - Russ Elmore - Black Gold/?
United Southern 5-120 - Dot Beck - Ed Went A Courtin/When Is Tomorrow
United Southern 5-121 - Crystal Mountain Boys - Homin' Heart (MO8W-4336)/A-Hangin' On The Vine (MO8W-4337)
United Southern 5-125 – Ramblers - Riverside Twist/Lonely Senorita
United Southern 5-130 - Pauline Boyette - Parade Of Broken Hearts/Footloose
United Southern 5-134 - Bob Land - Down In The Valley (Arr: Bob Land) (P4KM-5406 609U-134)/Lost Soul
United Southern 6-101 – Bob Millsap - Daugie Daddy (609U?) / Peggy DeCastro: The Ring From Her Finger

Billboard 1963/Jan. 19 states that Lance Roberts and Dan Emory are being signed for managements and recording contracts (to united)

Connected with
Hot Springs, AR
100-10 Leo Castleberry - Teen Age Blues (LO8W-7783) / Come Back to Me (LO8W-7784) 1960
25-1001 Eddie Bond - Only One Minute More (Sonny James & Richard Hollingsworth) (LO8W-3326) / I Walk Alone (LO8W-3327) 1960

Some copies of these have SPA crossed over and stamped with United Southern Artists.

/Johan L

DL said...

I stumbled across this article while researching this United Southern release:
Dale Fox (with the Gene Lowery Singers): It Can't Be True bw Call Me Again. Both were written by Carl Friend and Dale Fox.

Ken Clee said...

Here are some additions for the United Southern Artists label courtesy of "The Directory of American 45 RPM Records":
102 Ray Mitcham Initiative/Long Lonely Nights
110 Jimmy Forrest Night Train/Bolo Blues
111 flip is: Santa Town
116 flip is: Mr. Were-Wolf
133 Lance Roberts It Was Fun While It Lasted/
I have a possible alternate flipside for #107: Traveler's Rock/MOVIN'
Also have a different listing for #109: Lloyd Marley Fade With The Tide/Ooh Poo Pah Doo

Mellow said...

Thank you very much Ken, your additions are always highly appreciated! I have incorporated your information, exept for #107. As you noted, I also list "Movin'" as the flip side. Your mistake or mine?

Ken said...

My listing for #107 agrees with your listing - Traveler Rock/Movin'. Anonymous listed another flip, "College Affair" as the flip to Traveler Rock. I was agreeing with you, but perhaps the one he lists is an alternate flip.

Boots said...

If anyone here has the recording in a digital format, or would be willing to sell me the record, I would really like to own a copy of my great-grandfather's record: 5-121 – Crystal Mountain Boys: Homin' Heart / A-Hangin' on the Vine. I can be contacted at shmorglegorf@gmail.com

Thank you!

Anonymous said...

United Southern 6-102 "Curley" Williamson, The Creator & I Know.

franck said...

Another Artist

5-131- Walter Archie: The Joke's On you/??????

Apesville said...

Link dead

lfite said...

My name is Larry Fite, one of the original members of the mint juleps,,,I wrote the back side of "its all over"---please correct my name spelling----my email if anyone is interested is lfite21@windstream.net----Blessings, L. Fite

Anonymous said...

Can anyone tell me where I can get a copy of the song "the pace" by the pacers? My father first heard it at his prom in 1963...jeepinbaby4ever@yahoo.com. thank you

Unknown said...

Great information on this label.I just recently found a 45rpm on United Southern by The Galaxies.Good stuff.

Unknown said...

I have a a 45 of The Pacers. It was my mom's. The paper cover is signed by sonny Burgess and 4 others. Any idea if I could sell it if so what would it be worth?

Mellow said...

Hi. I have found two old auctions at popsike: https://www.popsike.com/php/quicksearch.php?searchtext=pacers+united+southern&sortord=

Seems it has some value and maybe even more when it's signed by the band members. In most cases, it also depends on what the buyer is willing to pay.