Sunday, October 24, 2010

Rex Griffin on World 15

Above: Rex Griffin performing at the Adolphus Hotel in Dallas during a KRLD broadcast c. 1942. From the collection of the Dallas Public Library. Click to enlarge.

Rex Griffin - Everybody's Tryin' to be My Baby (World transcription 15)

"Everybody's Tryin' to be My Baby"

While Rex Griffin is mainly remembered today for turning the '20s Tin Pan Alley pop tune "Lovesick Blues" into a country song (his 1939 version being the direct inspiration for Hank Williams' huge hit), it's remarkable that his authorship of "Everybody's Tryin' to be My Baby" remains virtually unknown and legally uncredited. Rex first recorded it as a Jimmie Rodgers-esque tune in New Orleans in 1936; this more "modern" version dates from a 1944 World transcription. The song floated around the Southern honky-tonks for many years, where Carl Perkins eventually heard it, rewrote some of the lyrics, and then recorded it for Sun, crediting himself. That alone wasn't so bad -- Perkins probably had no idea who the actual author was -- but after the Beatles revived it in 1964, the song became a lucrative copyright indeed. Yet nobody ever challenged Perkins' authorship, perhaps because they mistakenly assumed that Griffin's version was itself a hokum blues rewrite (it isn't). It wouldn't have helped Griffin by then, anyway. He had died, a broke alcoholic, in a New Orleans charity hospital in 1958.

Griffin worked all over the South, but he lived in Dallas off and on throughout the 1940s and early '50s. He was recruited to the city by KRLD announcer Gus Foster for the Texas Round-Up, the forerunner of the Big D Jamboree. Few photos of Griffin exist, so I was pleased to find this fabulous image of him performing at the Adolphus Hotel in Dallas in the early 1940s. (Thanks to the Dallas Public Library.)

Bear Family released a 3-CD box set of Rex Griffin's complete recordings in 1996.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Curtis Kirk on Abbott 126

Curtis Kirk (with) Red Hayes' Fiddles - I Can't Take It With Me (When I Leave This World) / The Little Things You Do (Abbott 126)

"I Can't Take It With Me (When I Leave This World)"

Jack Rhodes and Red Hayes strike again. "I Can't Take It With Me," audibly recorded at the same late 1952 KWKH Studio session that also produced Freddie Frank's "12,000 Texas Longhorns," (heard here) pre-dates "Live Fast, Love Hard, Die Young" by over two years and perhaps served to inspire it. Besides expressing a universal truth about money and death, Rhodes apparently wasn't exaggerating very much here in advocating a "live only for sex" philosophy. In his mid-40s at the time, he seems to have gone "middle-age crazy" with any number of female companions. "Jack was obsessed with women," Al Petty told me. "There were a lot of death threats."Alas, Jack lazily rhymes "girl" with "world" too many times for this lyric to really go anywhere.

All of the surviving Rhodes/Kirk collaborations are keepers, though. Besides the two Abbott releases, there was the 1951 acetate of "Down Texas Way."

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Morris Mills on Macy's 127

Morris Mills and The Rithumakers - I'd Like to Slip Around / Don't Play This Record (Macy's 127)

"I'd Like to Slip Around"

While RCA-Victor extolled their new seven inch, 45 rpm vinylite format as "the sensible, modern, inexpensive way to enjoy recorded music" in the April 2, 1949 issue of Billboard, many more years passed before most labels adapted to this "sensible" new size. It is easy to understand why. Jukeboxes were the lifeblood of the record industry. There were no 45 rpm jukeboxes in 1949; only slowly would they emerge and, eventually, supplant the 78 rpm jukebox.

Thus, this release on the Macy's label -- the only one known on 45 -- was quite a novelty when it came out around June, 1950. Probably intended purely as a promotional gimmick, it could not have sold much, as it could only have been played on a new RCA 45 turntable at the time. (It was also released as a 78.) It is a "Gold Star process" pressing, and that, too, is something of a surprise. The ever-inventive Bill Quinn quickly figured out a way to master and press records on the new format, but this went unnoticed, as there hardly was any demand for 45s among the local Houston labels until the mid-fifties. By then Quinn was out of the pressing business. A Gold Star repress of "Jole Blon" and a few releases on the Humming Bird label are the only other local 45s I know of from this period.

Morris Mills was a singer from Lufkin who worked a lot in Houston and Beaumont during these years. The backing group on this "answer" record to "Slippin' Around" includes most of Jerry Irby's band: Deacon Evans on steel, Jack Kennedy on piano, and Tony Sepolio on fiddle. Macy's was riding high in the summer of 1950, as the Billboard ad below illustrates, but the regional hits would dry up by late the following year.

Below: Billboard ad, July 15, 1950. Click to enlarge.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Jerry Robinson on Royce 1640

Jerry Robinson - Paper Moon / Here Is Your Heart (Royce 1640)

Carl Mann's 1959 hit revival of Nat King Cole's "Mona Lisa" may have inspired this little-known take on the Harold Arlen standard. About Jerry Robinson nothing is known, but I suspect that the uncredited backing group is Link Davis and the Cajuns. It certainly sounds like the inimitable Walter "Buck" Henson on bass, who was Davis's main bassist. Royce was a label owned by songwriter Ray Jackson, and this is a Houston Records press from about 1961-62.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Peck Touchton on Starday 160

Peck Touchton - Let Me Catch My Breath / flipside by George Jones (Starday 160)

"Let Me Catch My Breath"

Starday's failure to develop Raleigh "Peck" Touchton must be considered one of that label's greatest blunders. This, his only release for the label, was accidentally issued under George Jones's name and never corrected.

By mid-1954, Jack Starns had left Beaumont and moved to Houston. He was still managing the Western Cherokees, and continued to be the driving force behind Starday, but his influence on the label was waning. Pappy Daily and Don Pierce were now asserting themselves, deciding who would be on the label, and this didn't bode well for artists that Jack had signed, like Peck.

"Jack Starns came to some place we were playing," Touchton said in an interview. "We hit it off pretty good. I signed contracts at his house. At the time, he lived in Houston. Man, I thought we were fixing to take off ... old Jack inviting me into his house to sign a contract. A week or two weeks later, we went to Gold Star and cut four sides." Peck used his own band, The Sunset Wranglers, on the session: Doug Myers (fiddle), Hoyt Skidmore (steel guitar), Herman McCoy (guitar), Carlton Wilcox (bass). According to Peck, Eddie Noack was also present at the studio to cut his own session. (This would have been his "Take It Away, Lucky" debut session for Starday.) "He was as drunk as a Cooter Brown," Peck remembered.

After the session, Starns loaded a bunch of master tapes in his car to drive them to Pierce in California, but a "wreck on the highway" apparently caused tapes and paperwork to get separated from their boxes. Pierce, under the impression that Jones was the singer on "Let Me Catch My Breath," mistakenly issued the record under his name with an actual Jones master, "Let Him Know," on the flipside.

Pierce wrote to Touchton on October 13, 1954, apologizing for the error. "It seems we have had all sorts of bad luck ... when Jack Starns got in an auto accident, his letter to me concerning you was lost, and that's how the mistake occurred. I pressed 700 records of 'Let Me Catch Your Breath' but the label showed the artist as George Jones so we had to scrap the records and take a loss."

Unbeknownst to Peck, Don Pierce didn't actually "scrap the records." Most or all of the 700 copies were probably sent to disc jockeys. A Toyota-like "recall" would have been too expensive, and ineffectual anyway. If he did anything, Pierce probably just sent a letter out instructing DJs to not play "Let Me Catch My Breath." Surviving copies exist on both 45 and 78.

Pierce then tried to get Peck on a bigger label, partially because his song "Tonite I'm Getting Married" had just been recorded by Jack Turner for RCA-Victor. Months went by, more letters were sent, but ultimately no major label contract was forthcoming, and by that time Starday was no longer interested, either. Touchton signed with the much smaller Sarg label the following year.

Starday 160 label courtesy Al Turner collection.

Below: Don Pierce's letter to Touchton, October 13, 1954. Click to enlarge.