Saturday, August 22, 2009

Lee Rose on Country Hit 233

Lee Rose - I've Got The Downhearted Blues / Lonely Heart, Stop Crying (Country Hit 233)

"I've Got The Downhearted Blues"

You gotta love these "time warp" records that occasionally turn up from the '60s; even when they're not very good, you're still charmed by them. Listening to this Lee Rose single immediately puts the listener in the mind of...1953? 1954 at the latest? Try 1964. Rock and roll, Rockabilly, the Nashville Sound, the Bakersfield Sound, Ray Charles' Country albums, Phil Spector, Chubby Checker, the Singing Nun...these minor distractions simply didn't exist in Lee's world. Jimmie Rodgers and Ernest Tubb did, though, and dammit, that was enough for him. Such single-minded dedication is rare in pop music's empires of sand.

Lee Rose on stage with Buddy Brady (fiddle), Roscoe Clark (guitar), and Jerry Gimble (bass). Mayfair Auditorium, East Texas State Fairgrounds Tyler, Tx, 1953-54. Click on image for full-size view.

Lee Rose, whose real name was apparently Rosamond, probably came from the Henderson, Tx., area -- a later "Country Hit" single by him has a Henderson address -- and most likely was a country disc jockey in the Northeast Tx. area who sang occasionally, mostly for the "old-timers" who still appreciated the Rodgers/early Tubb sound. Billboard noted in a 1950 issue that he had recorded for Freedom, but if anything was released, only God and Lee Rose know for sure. 

Wink Lewis on Queen 153 (UPDATE)

Wink Lewis (with) Buz Busby Band - Low Ball Blues / Stand Still (Queen 153)

"Low Ball Blues"

"Stand Still"

Singer/Disc Jockey: rare indeed was the CV of any aspiring country star in the 1950s that didn't list both qualifications. Most of them, like Biff Collie for example, were far better disc jockeys than singers. A small minority, like Bill Mack and Fred Crawford, were far better singers than disc jockeys. But the court of public opinion -- cold, brutal, but more often, merely silent -- doesn't have time to weigh everything in the balance, and therefore many a deserving singer shuffled dejectedly off to a lifetime spent in soundproof booths reading from prearranged "playlists," usually featuring boring, tepid vocalists who simply got lucky with a few hits.

What of Winfred Earl "Wink" Lewis (1926-2007), then? He zig-zagged all around Texas and Louisiana for most of the '50s and '60s, DJ'ing for a variety of 10,000 watters, along the way cutting some very good records on small labels...a few of which he owned, or co-owned,  including Queen. By the mid-'60s we find him in Houston,  still trying to put out records, this time on the Pla-Boy label (Jimmie Heap's Banned In Tijuana album...if you've never heard it, don't worry: the title is the most clever part). Lewis then drops off the radar. 

Billboard, May 21, 1955

Lewis is probably best remembered for his uncredited vocal on Hoyle Nix's 1955 "Real Rockin' Daddy," which is a western swing record often mistaken for rockabilly (record collector logic: since it has the word "rock" in the title, what else could it be?). That record is simply an update of Wink's slightly earlier "I'm a Honky Tonk Daddy" (Feature), which is also quite good honky-tonk from the Jay Miller Studio. 

From this same time period (late 1955/early 1956), still based in the West Texas town of Snyder (south of Lubbock), Lewis emerges with "Low Ball Blues" (actually the B-side) b/w a strong ballad, "Stand Still," already recorded by Jerry Dove on TNT. The least known of Lewis's records, I think it makes a worthy companion piece to "Real Rockin' Daddy." Unfortunately, Lewis tried to "lowball" production costs by having the Queen records pressed by cheapo TNT, so even mint copies of these singles usually play with a massive dose of hiss. Anybody out there who can "remaster" this so we can actually hear the band, feel free to do so. 

Thanks to Joe Specht and Kevin Coffey. 

Roy Lee Brown on Swing 101

Roy Lee Brown and His Musical Brownies - Ice Man Song / Weeping Willow (Swing 101)

"Ice Man Song" (Swing 101-A)

If this record is any guide, the free and easy spirit of 1930s western swing didn't begin to fade in Fort Worth until the war -- the Korean war, not WWII. For all intents, "Ice Man Song" sounds like something straight out of 1937, helped by a plethora of crude sexual metaphors and hot solos (though nobody present here would be mistaken for Cecil Brower or Bob Dunn). It being 1947, it hadn't quite dawned on the band that they need to only record songs that are "safe" for radio play -- this was done for the jukebox trade only, so anything goes. If the Musical Brownies had tried this just a few years later, they probably would have been subpoenaed by the House Committee on Un-American Activities for the crime of corrupting Texan youth. 

The song comes from a highly unlikely source: Fred Waring, the ultra-square orchestra leader who specialized in nice waltz music for great-grandmothers. In 1926, Waring recorded an innocent, dumb song about an ice man (a common sight in those pre-refrigerator days) called "Any Ice Today, Lady?" whose first verse Roy Lee follows closely:

Any ice today, lady? It's nice today, lady; 
How about a little piece today? 
Oh, it's only a quarter,
You know that you oughter 
Get a little before it melts away
But then it veers swiftly off-course, with a couplet found nowhere in Waring's original:

We wouldn't try to fool you, you're smart as a fox
If you want a bigger piece, well, how big is your box?

The rest of the song is merely an excuse to use "box" and "piece" as double-entendres as many times as possible. This is pretty hot stuff for 1947. Take that, Fred Waring! 

The band recorded four songs which were pressed on their own, very cool "Cow Town" label. A picture of the label design for the other Cow Town release can be seen here.

But, with or without the band's knowledge, it was also pressed on the Swing label. Swing (usually misidentified as "Swing With The Stars," which was its slogan, not the actual label name) was a record company/pressing plant run out of Paris, Texas, by disc jockey/songwriter/entrepreneur Jimmy Mercer. The Swing label lasted a couple of years, but since Mercer was pressing on highly fragile shallac (perhaps recycled from old discs in some cases), not much on this label has survived these 60+ years later. There were a couple of releases by Homer Clemons (more on him later), a few blues items bought from Gold Star, and a few miscellaneous country releases like this one. Mercer had better luck with his Royalty label, which do turn up occasionally ("Benzedrine Blues" on Royalty is singled out for praise in Nick Tosches' Country), but he couldn't sustain his shoestring operation past 1950, when he shut his doors and moved to Illinois. 

Roy Lee's band continued playing for several years, but he didn't record again until the 1980s. He is best known for assisting Cary Ginell with his essential book, Milton Brown and the Founding of Western Swing. And no, by that time, Roy Lee certainly didn't want to be reminded of the "blue" material he'd recorded a lifetime before.

* Fred Waring's original version can be heard on this YouTube video here.

Dick Stubbs on Starday 143

Dick Stubbs - Wired For Sound / Hillbilly Swing (Starday 143)

"Wired For Sound"

Dick Stubbs was a steel guitarist from Oklahoma who was part of the fertile Los Angeles scene of the late 1940s and '50s. He worked in Merle Travis's band for a few years, and played on lots of LA sessions -- I wouldn't be surprised if some records that people think feature Speedy West in fact have Stubbs on them. As far as I know, his one stop at Starday in 1954 was the only record he put out under his own name. Both sides are fantastic instrumentals featuring Stubbs and the underrated guitarist/fiddler Dickie Phillips, who eccentrically played both guitar and fiddle in his lap, a la Thumbs Carlille. If you've ever seen the Soundie video of the Tex Williams band performing "Tulsa Trot," you have seen Phillips' amazing technique in action. Does anybody remember him?

"Wired For Sound" was recorded at Crystal Studios in Los Angeles with Don Pierce producing.