Sunday, December 20, 2009

Texas Rhythm Boys on Royalty 600

The Texas Rhythm Boys - Benzedrine Blues / Mr. Man in the Moon (Royalty 600)

"Benzedrine Blues"

In his seminal 1977 book Country: The Biggest Music in America (later given the incredibly awful subtitle The Twisted Roots of Rock and Roll), Nick Tosches tantalizes readers by referring to the Texas Rhythm Boys' "Benzedrine Blues" as "country music's only timeless contribution to drug music." It can be safely assumed that 99.9% of the book's readership has never heard this record, which was released c. 1948 on Jimmy Mercer's Royalty label out of Paris, Texas, and never reissued. Mercer also produced the Swing label, which was examined here.

Benzedrine was an over the counter amphetamine, widely used and abused by professional musicians. Approved by the FDA and readily available at drug stores for most of the 1940s, it was not really considered a "drug" at the time any more than, say, Hadacol was considered a drug, making Tosches's observation a bit daft. It wasn't mentioned in 1940s country music probably because it wasn't considered interesting enough to sing about -- not for any supposed taboo about "drug music." The Texas Rhythm Boys, however, begged to differ. The final verse celebrates the mixing of benzedrine with caffeine:

You can go on a coffee diet
It makes you laugh and dance all night
It gives you atomic energy
Won't you try a tip from me
Just one sip and you'll agree
You roll, roll, roll on down the line

Nothing at all is known about Alvin Edwards and the Texas Rhythm Boys, a generic name for a rather generic group. "Benzedrine Blues" is their only known record.

More on Royalty can be found here.

Jimmy Johnson 1951 acetate

Jimmy Johnson at home in Tyler, c. 1954. Photo courtesy Betty Lou Love.

"Mama Loves Papa (And Papa Loves The Women)"(unissued acetate)

Probably from the same demo session for Burton Harris that produced the Curtis Kirk acetate (heard here), Jimmy Johnson's first attempt at the Jack Rhodes song "Mama Loves Papa (And Papa Loves The Women)" is slightly faster, but otherwise close to the version he cut in Dallas for Columbia the following year. Lyrically, this is not one of Jack's better efforts, though if the stories of his womanizing are true then it can be seen as autobiographical. The steel guitarist dominates the song, and the playing is quite good considering that Al Petty and Bobby Garrett (the two possible steel guitarists) were both still teenagers at the time. It's probably Bobby, as some of the fills here are very similar to the Columbia version, which he plays on.

Jimmy Johnson, who was barely out of his teens himself here (but sounding years older), couldn't sustain a career in music past the mid-1950s. His now-famous Starday single in 1956 was his last hurrah before turning to the oil fields in Tyler full-time. He died at age 49 in 1980.

Thanks to Burton Harris.