Monday, April 19, 2010

Bar X Cowboys on Eddie's

Elmer Christian and The Bar X Cowboys - Cocain Blues (sic) / I Wish I'd Never Learned to Love You (Eddie's no #)

"Cocain Blues"

The "bad man ballad" "Cocaine Blues" was already decades old when it created a minor sensation in the country music world during 1947-48. Slumber Nichols' version on S&G (reissued on Imperial) appears to have been the first postwar version (John Dilleshaw and Riley Puckett had recorded it in the '20s); Nichols was covered by Roy Hogsed on Coast (recorded May 20, 1947) and Billy Hughes on King (with different lyrics); these in turn inspired Dick Dyson's Musical Texans' version on Tri-State. The best-selling version was Hogsed's, after it had been reissued on Capitol in the summer of 1948 (#15 Juke Box on August 21, 1948). The worst-selling version was this one by Houston's venerable western band, the Bar X Cowboys, from probably late 1948/early 1949.

Bar X Cowboys stationary.

Eddie's was a label owned by Eddie Henry, the Dowling Street record store owner/distributor. Most of his releases were jump blues, but -- rather daring for a black man in the South in the late '40s -- he also made a few excursions into country and Czech music. Most of Eddie's sessions were cut at ACA or Gold Star, so why he chose to record the Bar X Cowboys at a house (possibly his own) is a mystery -- fear of the Musician's Union during the ban of '48, perhaps? The audio was, as can be heard here, very poor (you can hear the levels increase during the song), and singer Paul Brown remembered that the record wasn't very audible on jukebox playback. This would have been enough to ensure a brief shelf-life, but -- to make things even worse -- the record was pressed on possibly the most fragile shellac I've ever beheld. Any copies that didn't crack in 1948 have surely broken over the last 60 years, and it's a miracle that even one copy survives today.

This was probably the last Bar X Cowboys record with Elmer Christian as the bandleader. Between this session and their first Macy's session, Elmer went into semi-retirement and gave the band to Paul Brown, who led the group until their last hurrah in 1954. The personnel on "Cocain Blues" is: Paul Brown (vocal), J.D. Standlee (steel guitar), Truman "Tweedle-O" Williams (lead guitar), Roy "Sleepy" Thompkins (fiddle), Elmer Christian (bass), Tommy Sanders (drums), and possibly Ralph Smith (piano).

The Bar X Cowboys, Houston, c. 1947. From left: J.D. Standlee, Elmer Christian, George Edgin, Tommy Sanders, Sleepy Thompkins, and Paul Brown.