Updates

• 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, December 20, 2023

Arkansas-Oklahoma Jamboree

Downtown Fort Smith, Garrison Avenue, 1950s

The Arkansas-Oklahoma Jamboree was held in Fort Smith, Arkansas, located (as the show's name suggests) in the Arkansas-Oklahoma border region. The show was the brainchild of wrestling promoter Jimmy Lott and we only find mention of this show in November 1956 in both the Billboard and Cash Box publications. Linda Flanagan, a local country music singer still in her teens, was slated to be the star of the show. It was held at the Sports Arena, sometimes also billed as Jimmy Lott's Sports Arena.

Jimmy Lott

James Newman "Jimmy" Lott was born on January 31, 1908, in Jefferson County, Alabama, and grew up in Birmingham. He was active in both football and boxing during high school and after graduating, he became a professional wrestler, known as "Kid" Lott in the early and mid 1930s. In the early 1950s, he relocated to Fort Smith, Arkansas, and gave up wrestling in favor of promoting. He promoted mostly for LeRoy McGuirk's Tri-State Wrestling organization and many of its events were held at the Sports Arena.

In 1956, he briefly branched out promoting other kind of events, including his Arkansas-Oklahoma Jamboree. However, it is not known if this show was a one-shot or if it became a regular feature in Fort Smith. It was neither mentioned if it aired on radio. The same year, there is mention of a show entitled "Saturday Night Radio Center Jamboree" on KWHN that could have been the successor of Lott's show. In 1958, Billboard told its readers about the "Country Music Jamboree" that took place on Thursday nights (eventually changed to Friday nights) at the Sports Arena. It aired live over KWHN and also featured Linda Flanagan as well as local artists like Little George Domerese, Jerry Roller, and Carl Blankenship. Though it is not clear if this was the same show, a successor or an entirely new program.

Lott retired from promoting in the early 1970s and passed away on January 3, 1979, in Panama City, Florida.

See also
Linda Flanagan on Razorback

Sources
Wrestling Data
Jimmy Lott Find a Grave entry

Wednesday, December 13, 2023

Cathy Collins on Whirlwind

Cathy Collins - This Tie That Binds (Whirlwind 1), 1970

This is really a mysterious release. Obscure label, obscure singer, obscure songwriter. Cathy Collins had a crystal-clear voice and two releases on Whirlwind, this being the first, and there was another disc on the infamous California based Rural Rhythm label, which could have been of another singer of the same name, though. That's it for Collins.

Billboard May 23, 1970

Both songs for this release were written by Elton Mitchell, who also penned two further tracks that were recorded by Collins for her second Whirlwind single. Mitchell is likely not the singer of the same name who recorded for a gospel label called Universal out of Denham Springs, Louisiana, in the 1980s. Further research on Mitchell resulted in the perception that Elton Mitchell is quite a common name.

Producer John Hurley is probably the best known person among the figures that were involved with this disc. He is best remembered as a songwriting partner of Ronnie Wilkins and both penned several tunes in the 1960s that became hits, including "Son of a Preacher Man" for Dusty Springfield or "Love of the Common People" for Waylon Jennings. They were both living in Nashville by the mid 1960s but left for California in 1970, so I assume this was one of Hurley's last productions in Music City USA. Which, in turn, leads me to the assumption that Collins' recording session took place there.

The Whirlwind label was based in Sheridan, located south of Little Rock in Central Arkansas. Little Richie Johnson, who was based in Belen, New Mexico, and who promoted and plugged numerous small labels across the country in the 1960s and 1970s as well as working with such stars as Willie Nelson, George Jones, or Merle Haggard, was involved with the label. Dalton Edwards, who is credited as a manager on Collins' releases, could have had a hand in it, too. Only four releases are known so far on Whirlwind and by 1971, the label seems to have folded.

See also

Sources
45cat entry

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Gathright's Saturday Night Jamboree

West Second Avenue in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, ca. 1910
Pine Bluff was home to "Gathright's Saturday Night Jamboree", one of Arkansas'
earliest live stage country music shows

One of the earliest, if not the earliest, live country music stage show took place in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, entitled "Gathright's Saturday Night Jamboree". At that time, Pine Bluff was a 21,000 residents city with an agricultural based economy, perfect surroundings for a weekly Saturday night country show.

The Saturday Night Jamboree grew out of a weekly, informal jam sessions by local musicians that took place at Gathright Van & Storage Transit Company. Beginning around 1942, the session soon attracted audience and became popular among the citizens, developing the informal meetings into shows. Local radio KOTN began broadcasting these shows on January 9, 1943, as "Gathright's Saturday Night Jamboree".

Soon, the attendants outgrew the capacity of the store and the show moved to another venue known as "Gathright's Hayloft". By September that year, larger station KARK out of Little Rock had added the show to its programming, which resulted in two broadcasts of the show: each Saturday the first segment aired state-wide over KARK and a second segment aired locally over KOTN.

Emcee of the show was Joe Wallace. The cast was made up of local talent, including such acts as Smokey Goodwin, Eva Pappas, Two Guys and a Gal, Gene Gray, Bill Dudley, the Original Tune Peddlars, Gathright's Quartet, Fanny Evans, and the house band of the show, the Troubadors. This band also featured local fiddler and singer M.T. "Fiddlin' Rufus" Brewer, who later joined the Louisiana Hayride along with Sammy Barnhart.

It is not known to me when the show ended its run. Any info is highly appreciated!

Sources
The Day the Music Died - by Bob Brewer (son of M.T. Brewer)
• Jimmy Cunningham, Jr., Donna Cunningham: "Delta Music and Film: Jefferson County and the Lowlands" (Arcadia Publishing), 2015, p. 61

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.

Discography
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)

EPs
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)

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

Beau-Hannon and the Mint Juleps

Sources
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

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Sammy Barnhart on OKeh

Sammy Barnhart - Get Off My Telephone (OKeh 4-18002), 1953

Sammy Barnhart's name could be seen on a few records during the 1950s, on Louisiana Hayride advertisements, and in programs of several radio stations. Though, he remained only a local fixture, most notable in Arkansas. This is my attempt to document the career of an artist that has fallen through the cracks and never gained the attention he deserved.

Samuel "Sammy" Barnhart was born on December 29, 1917, in Nacogdoches County, Texas (contrary to some sources that claim his birth state was Arkansas), to Levi and Lizi Eliza Barnhart. With two brothers and two sisters, he was the couple's second youngest child.

Barnhart started his career in the 1940s and had moved to Little Rock, Arkansas, by early 1947. By then, he had joined Alma "Little Shoe" Crosby's Cowboy Sweethearts, a group that appeared on local KLRA and were the main act on the station's "Arkansas Jamboree Barn Dance". Also frequently on the bill was an act called "Union County Boys" that might have included Barnhart as well.

Approximately in 1948, Barnhart left Arkansas for a couple of years and headed south to Shreveport, where he performed on KWKH with the Union County Boys, which included such musicians as Ted Rains and Fiddlin' Rufus at one time or another, and they also appeared on the station's famous Louisiana Hayride show. He worked with such artists as Hawkshaw Hawkins during this time but left Shreveport in 1950. The next two or three years are a bit sketchy but we find him working with Tommy Scott's show in Denver, Colorado, around June 1953 with Jimmy Winters. This job did not last long for Barnhart though, as Billboard reported the next month that both men had left the show.

Billboard June 17, 1950

Barnhart moved east again and wound up in Knoxville, Tennessee, where he worked at WNOX. Already in late 1952, he had signed a recording contract with Columbia's OKeh label and a session from December 8 that year at Castle Studio in Nashville yielded four songs, which saw release on OKeh the next year. The first of them appeared in the summer of 1953, comprising "Wedding Bell Waltz" b/w "Get Off My Telephone" (OKeh #18002).

Billboard December 5, 1953
Country & Western Artists' Directory

Barnhart returned to Little Rock in either 1954 or in 1955. By then, the Arkansas Jamboree Barn Dance had been replaced by a live stage show entitled "Barnyard Frolic" and Barnhart became not only a cast member but also the emcee of the show. In addition, he could be heard on KLRA during the week. Barnhart was part of an all-star show featuring Elvis Presley in February 1955 and again in August 1955 at the Robinson Auditorium.

From 1953 until 1954, OKeh had released a total of four singles by Barnhart but none of them showed enough success to encourage the label to extend his contract. Following his affiliation with OKeh, Barnhart signed with Decca Records and held one session for the label on June 14, 1955, at Bradley Studio in Nashville. From the four songs recorded that day, only "I Don't Want It on My Conscience" and "Blue Mountain Waltz" (Decca #29640) were released around two months later. "Idle Hours" and "Honky Tonk Fever" remained in Decca's archives. It remained Barnhart's only session for the label.

After 1955, hints to Barnhart's musical career become rare. The last mention I could find was an advertisement in the New Oxford Item in its August 6, 1959, issue, announcing a personal appearance by Hawkshaw Hawkins and Barnhart, among others. According to his obituary, he spent most of his life in Cushing, Nacogdoches County, Texas, though this may not apply to the 1940s and 1950s. The obituary further mentioned that Barnhart was a welder as well as a construction worker and it's probable that he returned to these occupations after his music career. Apparently, he had worked for the Rusk State Hospital prior to his retirement in 1982.

Sammy Barnhart died on February 4, 1997, at the age of 79 years at his home in Cushing. He is buried at McKnight Cemetery in Cushing. His wife Ercil followed him in 2015.

Recommended reading

Sources
• Peter Guralnick: "Looking to Get Lost: Adventures in Music and Writing" (Hachette UK), 2020
• various Billboard issues

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

Little Shoe

Little Shoe (center) and her Cowboy Sweethearts, ca. 1946
at KLRA (Little Rock, Arkansas)
Source: Red Neckerson

Little Shoe - A Pioneering Female Country Music Singer in Arkansas

The female country music singer and band leader known as "Little Shoe" was a pioneering figure in Arkansas country music and radio history, as she organized one of the earliest country music live stage shows in the state. Her "Arkansas Jamboree Barn Dance" ran from 1946 until the ending of the decade or even until the beginning of the next one - no assured information on its further history are documented, unfortunately.

She was born Alma Crosby on January 26, 1910, and it is mentioned by author Ivan M. Tribe that she was a niece to Cousin Emmy, another pioneering female country music artist. Little Shoe, like her aunt, learned to play banjo to accompany her singing.

In the 1930s, she was part of Frankie More's Log Cabin Boys and Girls that were cast members of the famed WWVA Jamboree out of Wheeling, West Virginia - her aunt Cousin Emmy was also briefly a member of this group. It is likely that she got her name "Little Shoe" around that time. More came to WWVA in 1936 and stayed there until 1941 and Tribe mentions in his book "Mountaineer Jamboree" that Little Shoe stayed full five years in the group (probably the longest serving member of all), which means she was with the group in the same time frame. From there, Little Shoe went to different radio stations across the country, including KMOX in St. Louis, Missouri, and then KMBC in Kansas City. During these years, she developed the idea of establishing her own live stage show but none of the radio stations she auditioned for believed in her concept.

Along the way, she founded a group that became known as the "Cowboy Sweethearts". The group included her future husband Charles Edward "Charlie" Dial (born March 3, 1917), who was a singer in his own right. At some point during these years, the group also featured a young Wayne Raney. Around the mid-1940s, Little Shoe and the Cowboy Sweethearts were heard over WJBC in Bloomington, Indiana, but soon, they moved south to Little Rock, where radio station KLRA liked her idea of a live stage show.


Billboard January 26, 1946


The Arkansas Jamboree Barn Dance premiered in January 1946. In addition to the Saturday night live version, Little Shoe and her band also did three studio versions each day over KLRA. Crosby and Dial married in Lonoke, County near Little Rock around that time. They also hosted a children show on the station around the same time.

Little Shoe left KLRA in the late 1940s and it is likely that with her leaving, the Arkansas Jamboree Barn Dance also came to an end. She also divorced from Charlie Dial at some point. Dial would go on to be a popular radio performer in the Memphis and West Memphis regions. He worked as a towboat pilot during the 1980s and worked for the Patton-Tully Transportation Company from Memphis. He could be found on the Mississippi River comanding the "Helen Tully" with three other crew members. Dial was killed on July 19, 1984, while on the Mississippi near Cape Girardeau, Mississippi, as another boat hit the Helen Tully. His body was not found until about a week later. He had married several times since his divorce from Little Shoe, being married to Juanita Dial at the time of his passing.

It escapes my knowledge what Little Shoe did after she left KRLA. Alma "Little Shoe" Crosby died on August 12, 1988. If anyone has more information on her or Charlie Dial, please feel free to pass it along.

See also
Arkansas Jamboree Barn Dance

Sources
Hillbilly-Music.com entry
• various Billboard news items
Charlie Dial Find a Grave entry
• Ivan M. Tribe: "Mountaineer Jamboree - Country Music in West Virginia" (The University Press of Kentucky), 1996, pages 49-50
• "Body of towboat crewman found after mishap on Mississippi River" (July 22, 1984), The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky)

Wednesday, November 8, 2023

Arkansas Jamboree Barn Dance / Barnyard Frolic

Joseph Taylor Robinson Memorial Auditorium in Little Rock, Arkansas,
where both the Arkansas Jamboree Barn Dance and the Barnyard Frolic
staged from 1946 until 1960

Live from the Rock
Barn Dance Shows from Little Rock, Arkansas

Of the few known country music live stage shows airing out of Arkansas, the "Arkansas Jamboree Barn Dance" was one of the better known examples. The show originated out of Little Rock and enjoyed some years of success in the 1940s. It was the creation of female country music singer Alma "Little Shoe" Crosby, who was responsible for the show in its early years. Later on, the Barn Dance was replaced by another show of the same format, the "Barnyard Frolic".

Little Shoe was already a veteran performer by the time she set up the Arkansas Jamboree Barn Dance. Born in 1910, Crosby had worked with Frankie More's Log Cabin Girls and Boys before founding her own group, the Cowboy Sweethearts. Like many other country music performers of her era, Crosby moved from radio station to radio station during the 1930s and 1940s. By 1946, she had performed on such stations as KMBS in Kansas City, KMOX in St. Louis, WJBC in Bloomington, Indiana, and WWVA in Wheeling, West Virginia (where she also appeared on WWVA's famed Jamboree).

Billboard April 6, 1946
Crosby and her band came to KLRA in Little Rock, Arkansas, likely in late 1945. She had the idea of directing a live stage show in mind for some time by then but none of the stations she had appeared on or auditioned for saw enough potential in it. Then, she persuaded the KLRA executives and on January 1, 1946, the Arkansas Jamboree Barn Dance premiered at the Robinson Auditorium. The show was held on Saturday nights and portions of it aired live on radio at 10:30 pm. In addition to the Saturday night live shows, Crosby also hosted a weekday studio version on KLRA. Cast members of the show included Crosby, who also acted as emcee, and the Cowboy Sweethearts, the Armstrong Twins, the Union County Boys, Frank Dudgeon, the Stamp Baxter Rainbow Quartet, the Crystal Mountain Boys, among others.

Around 1949, Crosby left KRLA. She died in 1988. If the Arkansas Jamboree Barn Dance came to end or if it was continued is not known to me. By late 1954, KRLA had a replacement entitled the Barnyard Frolic, which was staged at the Robinson Auditorium in Little Rock. Chick Adams produced the show while Sammy Barnhart, who had already performed with his own band and with the Cowboy Sweethearts on the Arkansas Jamboree Barn Dance, served as the shows' emcee. It seems that there was also a TV version of the Frolic.

Billboard September 10, 1955

The Barnyard Frolic lasted until 1960 and apart from local talent, also included many better known names such as Sandy and Alvadean Coker, "Texas" Bill Strength, Tommy Trent, Nita Lynn, Lonnie Glosson, the Venables, and others. Also, many of the Memphis rockabilly artists made guest appearances on the show, including Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Sonny Burgess, Slim Rhodes, and Lloyd McCollough. Reportedly, Presley's performance was received so badly by the rural audience that he had to stop performing and leave the stage.

Most of the information of the "Barnyard Frolic" came from Arkansas record collector Gary Corry, who was based in Little Rock and did some research on the show's history.

Sources

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Tommy Trent

The Dixie Fun Barn Dang at WAGA (Atlanta, Georgia), ca. 1947
with Tommy Trent (next to the microphone on the left)

Tommy Trent - Little Rock's Forgotten Star

Although Tommy Trent was a native Tennessee boy and made various stops during his early career, his biggest impact probably came when he settled in the early 1950s in Little Rock, Arkansas. There, he became one of those all-around music entrepreneurs - operating a record label, a live music venue, and performing in his own right.

Thomas Francis "Tommy" Trent was born March 8, 1924, in Strawberry Plains, Tennessee. He was one of seven children of Dyo M. and Alice C. Trent and came into a musical inclined family. Trent would eventually learn to play guitar as well as bass and found also he had a talent for singing. His father died in 1935, when Trent was still a child.

Trent started his career in 1943 in nearby Knoxville, where he joined Mel Foree's Victory Boys and as part of this group, could be heard on the city's popular radio program "Mid-Day Merry-Go-Round". It was also during this time that Trent made his first experiences in a recording studio as part of Knoxville singer Pappy Gube Beaver's background band (which also included Chet Atkins on fiddle). Beaver recorded for Capitol in Atlanta in 1945. Knoxville was a tinsmith for future country music stars, including such as Chet Atkins, Red Kirk, Bill Carlisle, and Don Gibson, but Trent did not stayed too long there and set out on the road. He spent about three months with Paul Howard's Arkansas Cotton Pickers in 1944, performing on the famed Grand Ole Opry with this group, but soon left again.

By the summer of 1945, he travelled with a tent show and a short time later, he performed with a group known as the Dixe Fun Barn Gang on WPDQ in Jacksonville, Florida. This same group, including Trent, then moved to Atlanta, where they were heard on WAGA from September 1946 until December 1948 and also performed one-nighters in the surrounding areas. They had a show called the "Dixie Fun Barn", which centered around Trent, and was heard several days a week and was one of the most popular country music shows on the station at the time, according to author and Atlanta country music expert Wayne W. Daniel. After leaving WAGA, the group had a rather brief engagement at WQAM in Miami before they would return to Atlanta to perform on WGST for a couple of months (October 1949 until January 1950). During this brief stint, Trent also appear on the station's Georgia Jamboree live show.

Billboard November 29, 1947


During the next two years, Trent founded a new band and managed to land a spot on the famed Louisiana Hayride in Shreveport. Apart from the regular Saturday night broadcasts over KWKH, Trent took also part in the Hayride's tours across the south and appeared alongside such stars as Hank Williams. Along with Tommy Hill and Webb Pierce, he also hosted a nightly DJ program right after the Hayride.

In 1952, Trent and an unknown group of back-up musicians, which might have been his own band, went into KWKH's studio in Shreveport to record two songs: "Paper Boy Boogie" and "Sweetheart I Am Missing You". These recordings were, possibly with the help of record shop owner and talent scout Stan Lewis, released on Chess' subsidiary label Checker Records (#761) in September 1952. Lewis was an important personality in Shreveport's music scene and had placed such acts as Jimmy & Johnny with Chess, so it's eligible to assume this also happened with Trent.

Although Trent's first solo record did not make the national charts, it must have been a promising release as Texas Bill Strength covered "Paper Boy Boogie" for Coral the same year. Trent performed these songs also on his personal appearances and Hayride live recordings of both have survived in the show's archives. Trent was also captured live on the show singing Louis Innis' "No Muss, No Fuss, No Bother".

During his tours, Trent passed through many different places, including Arkansas, and in 1952, finally settled down in the Natural State's capitol, Little Rock. He began hosting a three-hour DJ show on local KTHS, a station that had moved from Hot Springs to Little Rock shorty before, and opened his own Hillbilly Park in the city around 1953. This live music venue, modeled after country music parks in the northeastern states, featured performances by country stars throughout the summer. By 1955, portions of those concerts also aired over KTHS under the name of "Arkansas Hayride". Local talent on these shows included such acts as Shelby Cooper and Gene Davis.


Billboard September 3, 1955

By late 1954, Trent and his band had introduced a show also on KATV, Little Rock's local television station. At that time, the band consisted of Trent on vocals and guitar, comedian Les Willard on vocals and rhythm guitar, Cotton Nixon on fiddle, J. D. Raley (later replaced by Leroy Brannon) on steel guitar, Max Fletcher on bass, Don Taylor on "solos" (as reported by Billboard, whatever that means). A short time later, Trent's brother Coy also joined the group, which was initially known as the Dixie Mountaineers and by April 1955 as the Country Playboys. Apart from performing and doing radio work, Trent also pursued other business interests and opened up a restaurant in May 1955, "Tommy Trent's Chuck Wagon".

Tommy Trent had not recorded since his Shreveport debut session in 1952 but he changed this four years later. With a band that included prominent Arkansas western swing fiddler Kinky King (who alternated between drums and fiddle) and soon-to-be rockabilly pianist Teddy Redell, Trent recorded "It's My Turn to Cry Over You" as well as "Truck Drivers Roll" at the KTHS studio. On the latter, Virginia Brannon took over lead vocals. Brannon was a member of Trent's band and went on to be his wife. Both songs were released in 1956 on the Little Rock based Camark label. This was still pure country music, although by 1956 times had changed, and although Trent was a bit late, he would change his music style on recordings to a more hard-etched sound later on.

In the early 1960s, Trent contiued to record for independent labels. His first record for Dan Mechura's Allstar Records, a label from Houston, Texas, that specialized in country music, was recorded in the spring of 1959 at KTHS and released the same year. The recordings featured his wife Virginia as well as Delores King on harmony vocals, Bill Dixon on lead guitar, possibly Bobby Pearl on steel guitar, Kinky King on fiddle, Teddy Redell on piano, and Mex Fletcher on drums. The results, "Just for Tonite" and "Storm of Love", were released on Allstar #7184. The A side was penned by Vriginia Trent, while the flip was a composition of background singer Delores King.

A second session for Allstar was cut in spring 1960 at KTHS with the same line-up, produced "A Mile to the Mailbox" and "Love Me" (Allstar #7198). The A side was a "medium-beater" (as Billboard put it) rock'n'roller, while its flip was a pure country side. Billboard placed the disc, which appeared around March 1960 in its "medium sales potential" review section and it's likely that it didn't sell better than the magazine predicted.

In 1962, KTHS was sold and became KAAY, which urged Trent to switch to KXLR, also based in Little Rock. Around the same time, he gave up his spot on KATV for a show on KTHV. By then, he had given up his Hillbilly Park in favor of a new live venue, Tommy Trent's Fun Barn, which was located on Pike Avenue in North Little Rock (previously known as "The Juroy"). This place featured regular live performances by local talent as well as top names on Saturday nights and was a popular spot during the 1950s and 1960s. Some of the names that appeared on these shows included locals such as Bobby and his Buddys, sisters Peggy & Patty Kuske, Robert "Bob Holladay, George Lyle & Laura Glenn, Bobbie Holdcraft, among others. The stars who passed through Trent's Fun Barn reads like a who's who of Nashville, including Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash, the Carter Family, Dolly Parton, Waylon Jennings, the Osmons, Tammy Wynette, George Jones, Grandpa Jones, Little Jimmy Dickens, Ferlin Husky, Faron Young, Loretta Lynn, Kitty Wells, Marty Robbins, Jim Ed & Maxine Brown, Conway Twitty, Roy Acuff, String Bean, and probably a lot more.

The Fun Barn live shows as well as Trent's TV shows were very popular in Arkansas. Testimony to that are countless people who remembered the shows fondly: "My mother Clarice Brannon Lawrence and Tommy Trent’s wife Virginia Brannon Trent were cousins and my parents took us kids to the Tommy Trent Fun Barn in North Little Rock, Arkansas, nearly every weekend to hear all the country singers and new talents that would play and sing there," recalled Lavonda Lawrence Roberts. Betty Holbrook remembered: "I remember watching and listening to Tommy Trent sing in the '50s." And Charles Jackson added: "As a small boy in Conway, Arkansas, in the early '50s, our family always listened to Tommy as he deejayed his radio program." These valuable memories came from French collector Xavier Maire, whose blog sadly went offline.

Trent re-recorded one of his aforementioned Allstar songs as "I Walk a Mile (to the Mail Box)" along with "This Week End", released in 1965 on the T Bar T label. T Bar T was likely Trent's own company and I assume the name stood for Trent's initials (T bar T = T-T = Tommy Trent). He also recorded Carolyn Dixon and Olen Bingham for his imprint.

Trent retired from the music business in 1970. He was the president of a Little Rock publishing firm in the 1980s. Tommy Trent died on July 5, 2003, at the age of 79 years in Bryant, Arkansas, a suburb of Little Rock. He was what I call a local music entrepreneur. Memphis had Eddie Bond, Abilene had Slim Willet, and Little Rock had Tommy Trent.

Discography
Checker 761: Tommy Trent - Paper Boy Boogie / Sweetheart I Am Missing You (1952)
Camark 501 Virginia Brannon / Tommy Trent Band - Truck Drivers Roll / Tommy Trent and Mountain Valley Trio - It's My Turn to Cry Over You (1956)
Allstar 7184: Tommy Trent - Just for Tonight / Storm of Life (1959)
Allstar 7198: Tommy Trent - Love Me / A Mile to the Mailbox (1960)
T Bar T 665T-0962: Tommy Trent - I Walk a Mile (to the Mail Box) / This Week End (1965)

Sources
• various Billdboard news items
• Wayne W. Daniel: "Pickin' on Peachtree" (University of Illinois Press), 2001, pages 167-168, 185

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

North La. Hayride

The North La. Hayride, ca. 1960s
Tom Ruple (drums), Brian Ritter (steel guitar), Governor Jimmie Davis (vocals),
Coy Bohannon (guitar)


Rural Entertainment in Louisiana
The North La. Hayride

My record collecting friend from Southwest Arkansas, Mark Keith, has brought the spotlight to another local stage show. After he brought the Columbia County Hayride and the Arkansas Hayride to my attention, we now spotlight the North Louisiana Hayride (always spelled North La. Hayride) from Homer, Lousiana. Mark, who is also a multi-instrumentalist and still plays shows today, started playing the North La. Hayride in the late 1970s.

The show was started by musicians Coy Bohannon, Durwood Gathright, and Omar Volentine and its first show staged at the American Legion building in Homer in November 1962. By then, the original Louisiana Hayride from Shreveport, which is actually also located in the northwestern corner of Lousiana, had ended. For the North La. Hayride's first show, country music star Margie Singleton was brought in as a special guest. Singleton's aunt was living in Homer then and through her, the show's management was able to book Singleton.

The show featured music from a variety of acts every Saturday night. The first portion of the show featured the stage show, lasting for an hour to an hour and a half. After a break, during which the chairs were removed, a dance began which usually lasted until midnight. "There was no drinking, it was a family show," remembers Mark. "I only saw one fight there and it was people in their 70s - and it was wild," he adds with a grin.

Carl Lowe on stage
About a year after its inauguration, Volentine left the show and was replaced by Theron "Chief" Deloach, who became the emcee and booking agent. Coy Bohannon functioned as the house band's leader, a position he held for about 24 years. The early line-up of the house band included Carl Lowe on bass, whose family was a regular act on the show from 1964 until the late 1970s. Mark Keith started playing the Hayride in 1977 and appeared with the show on and off until its end. Carl Lowe quit playing bass the same year, followed by Kenny Shelton, who in turn was replaced by Mark in 1978. In the 1970s up to the 1990s, the house band consisted of musicians like Wayne Mattox, Sammy Lawrence, Jerry White (all three piano), David Butler and Larry Taylor (both on saxophone), Perry Moses, Brian Crittenden, and Shelia Lynn (all on drums), Brian Ritter (steel guitar), Larry Mozingo, Benny Shelton, and Tom Ruple.

Regulars and guest artists throughout the early years included Bill Bohannon, Ray Langston, Ginger Kelley, Ray Frushay, Gene Wyatt (of "Lover Boy" fame), Joe Stampley (drawing a crowd of approxiamtely 1,200 people), and Johnny Russell . Performers during later years included Jackie Martin, Cathy Denmon, Benny Shelton and the Shelton family, Angela Allen, Ken Lewis, among others. Regarding Johnny Russell's appearance on the show, Mark recalls: "Years ago, I interviewed Johnny Russell and I asked him if he remembered playing it [the North La. Hayride]. He said he sure did. He said the guy that booked him, 'Dearwood Gaythright' (that's how he pronounced it) told him 'now nobody will come in until I go out and sing a couple of songs'. Russell said there was virtually no one inside but Durwood sang and people poured in!"


Larry Monzingo, Billy Lowe, and Coy Bohannon
on stage
Although the Hayride never hit the airwaves, it was a major source of entertainment in the area and popular not only among the artists but also among the audiences. "It was a big deal. It was a step up from the Columbia County Hayride and it was a going Jessie. I played in the staff band from 1978 to 1980, then played with someone else, came back and played from 1982 to 1989. Then, after I joined the Sounds of Gold in 1990, we played there every four to six weeks until Claiborne Country opened in 1995. It was a major part of my life."

In 1972, local entrepreneur Dooley Peterson decided to built a hall for the North La. Hayride and rented it out to the show's management. Deloach retired from managing the show in the early or mid 1980s, a few years prior to his passing, and Coy Bohannon left in 1986 or early 1987, leaving Durwood Gathright as the sole manager of the show. He operated it during the show's last ten years of existence.

In 1994, a snow and ice storm damaged the roof of the show's building so much that it couldn't be used anymore. Gathright moved the North La. Hayride into the American Legion building in Minden, a little southwest of Homer. Dooley Peterson was reluctant to reconstruct the building but gave in in the end. It then featured shows known as "Claiborne Country" for some time, becoming a rival to the Hayride, which ended its run finally in 1995. The original building in Homer is abandoned nowadays.

Sources
• Thanks to Mark Keith for sharing his memories, information and photo material for this post.

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Paul & Roy on Mercury

Paul & Roy, the Tennessee River Boys - Spring of Love (Mercury 6374-X45), 1952

When I first posted this record in 2012, I had no idea who the duo of Paul & Roy were. The internet was no help back then and it's still not today. This duo seems to be forgotten, although they recorded a slew of singles throughout the 1950s, the majority of them even for the big Mercury record label.

Paul & Roy were blind singer/guitarist Paul Boswell and mandolinist/singer Roy Pryor. They performed together for at least over a decade, starting likely in the late 1940s. They went on tour with Cowboy Copas through Canada around that time and it seems that they were quite cross-linked in the Nashville music scene. Philip Pryor, son of Roy Pryor, remembered so many now famous musicians that hung around with his father, it is astonishing the duo remained so obscure. Musicians like Benny Martin and Little Jimmy Dickens or radio personality/producer Noel Ball were only some of those names. Boswell also worked as a session musician.

Paul & Roy gained a recording contract with Mercury in 1951 and their first disc comprised "Every Dog Must Have His Day" b/w "You're All Alone, Tonite" (Mercury 6360). I once compared their sound to those of popular duo Johnnie & Jack, whose bluegrass-country-gospel melting was successful and influential as well. It is no surprise that Pryor and Boswell were friends with one of their brothers.

From their second release for Mercury, we feature their own composition "Spring of Love" from early 1952. This is another fine example of their sound and songwriting talent. Apart from writing most of their own material, Pryor also wrote or co-wrote songs performed by other artists. Country comedy duo Lonzo & Oscar used to sing Pryor's "Mama's on a Diet" at the Grand Ole Opry until they were told to omit the song as Pryor was not in the Musicians' Guild at that time. Pryor also co-wrote "I'll Keep Your Name on File" with George McCormick, who recorded it for MGM in 1957.

Paul & Roy continued to record for Mercury until 1953, releasing a total of six discs over two years. They would not record until 1959 when they made ties with Nashville entrepreneur called Mr. Pace, who was originally active in the pinball machine business, before starting out as a record label and publishing firm owner. Paul & Roy's two releases for Pace were two of the label's earliest releases but also remained their last sides.

Pryor and Boswell drifted into obscurity in the 1960s and only few seem to remember their recordings now. The British Archive of Country Music has released a CD in 2013 comprising their complete recorded output.

Discography
Mercury 6360: Every Dog Must Have His Day / You're All Alone, Tonite (1951)
Mercury 6374: Spring of Love / You’ve Been Cheating on Me, Darling (1952) 

Mercury 6406: Only Pretending / The Shape My Heart’s In (1952)
Mercury 70027: You Made the Break / The Way You Lied to Me (1952)

Mercury 70121: Don’t Ever Tell Me / Wicked Love (1953)
Mercury 70197: The Flower of Old Tennessee / I'm Lost Without You (1953)

Pace 1003: Meet the Lord Half Way / There Will Be No Disappointments (1959)
Pace 1004: Free, Twenty-One and Ambitious / I Wish You’d Be a Country Girl (1959)

See also

Sources
• Thanks to Roy Pryor's son, to Paul Boswell's son and to Bob for sharing their knowledge and memories with me.
• Entries on 45cat and 45worlds/78rpm