Sunday, May 23, 2010

Red Hayes on Starday 164

Red Hayes - A Satisfied Mind / Doggone Woman (Starday 164)

"A Satisfied Mind"

Am I the only person disturbed by the fact that Red Hayes' original version of "A Satisfied Mind" was last reissued when Lyndon Johnson was President? Apparently so. After his Starday single came and went in 1954, it appeared on a couple of various artists albums in the '50s and '60s, and then dropped off the map completely. This is partially due to the fact that it's not rockabilly, or even close to rockabilly, and therefore of no interest to the market driving reissues of '50s music; and partially because of the horrendous mismanagement of the Starday catalogue in the hands of its current Nashville keeper, the infamous used car salesman, Moe Lytle. There was a chance to correct this on a recent reissue of 1954-55 era Starday material, but "A Satisfied Mind" was left off in favor of its throwaway flipside, "Doggone Woman." I'm pretty sure Red Hayes is spinning in his grave.

Joe "Red" Hayes in the late '40s or '50s. Courtesy Kevin Coffey Collection.

This is particularly troubling because I believe that Red's original is the best version of "A Satisfied Mind." When Porter Wagoner covered it (making it a #1 hit in 1955), he introduced the vocal trio arrangement, deliberately trying to make it sound like a gospel quartet. Most subsequent versions have stuck to this idea, but I prefer Hayes's original treatment, sans the trio/quartet. There is a heartfelt simplicity to Red's vocal that I think is absent from all of the more famous renditions.

Adding insult to injury is the circulation of a completely spurious tale that involves Hayes, "A Satisfied Mind," and a UFO abduction. Colin Escott, writing about the song's origins in the recent Bear Family CD "Dim Lights, Thick Smoke, and Hillbilly Music: 1955" (which features Wagoner's version), says that there are "at least two stories" about the song's genesis. "In one, Red Hayes had an encounter with a UFO. A quasi-magnetic force pulled his arm up against the extra-terrestrial object, inflicting a burn, and, after the burn healed, Red realized that the aliens had given him a song by way of compensation."

The "other" story was the one which Hayes himself related to a journalist in 1973: "The song came from my mother. Everything in the song are things I heard her say over the years. I put a lot of thought into the song before I came up with the title. One day my father-in-law asked me who I thought the richest man in the world was, and I mentioned some names. He said, 'You're wrong, it is the man with a satisfied mind.'" Colin concludes by stating, "It's hard to know which version to believe."

No, it's not hard to know which story to believe. The story Hayes himself told is the believable one. The "story" involving a UFO abduction is an imaginative variation on the eternal theme of bullshit tall tales that musicians of less truth than tongue love to circulate among the drunk and the credulous, and should be given about as much credence as some of the more elaborate 9/11 conspiracy theories.

Red Hayes and Johnny Manson in Dallas, March, 1951. 

Colin speculates that Hayes recorded "A Satisfied Mind" at Jack Rhodes' motel, which is on firmer ground than the UFO story, but it, too, is incorrect. Red cut this at Gold Star in Houston with his old cronies Al Petty (steel), Freddie Frank (rhythm guitar), and Leon Hayes (bass), augmented by Sonny Burns (lead guitar) and an unknown studio pianist. Singer Gene Tabor drove down with the group from Odessa, and recorded his "A Real Gone Jesse (I'm Hot to Trot)" at the same session. (Gene remembered that Eddie Noack was also present, not recording, but observing in Gold Star's control room.)

Jack Rhodes, who wasn't at the session, received co-writer credit on "A Satisfied Mind," and has been referred to as the song's co-author in the literature for the last 55 years. But did Jack, in fact, actually "co-write" it? Probably not. "He didn’t write one word of 'Satisfied Mind,'" Freddie Frank told me in 1999, "but Red was broke, and I think Jack let him have $500." Red's little brother, Kenneth "Little Red" Hayes, agreed, stating in a 1995 interview that "Jack got credit for a lot of songs he didn't write. My brother wrote 'Satisfied Mind' back in about '52. He wrote it in 15 minutes." In his 1973 quote, Red himself gives no indication that Rhodes had any hand in writing the lyrics.

Unfortunately, we don't have Rhodes' side of the story, but it's known that he would often purchase songs from others, as just about every other professional songwriter did at the time. A great deal of unnecessary finger-waving has been expended in modern music journalism toward people who purchased songs in the '50s. There was nothing controversial or underhanded about it most of the time, and it only becomes an issue when the song in question was a hit -- which, most of the time, it wasn't. If Red sold Jack an interest in the song's ownership, he had every right to be co-credited. The writer's credits on records indicate who owned the song, not who wrote it. If only modern music journalists would learn this, we would be spared a lot of nonsense.

Hayes remained a full-time musician the rest of his life, but only put out a few more records as a vocalist. He was touring with Faron Young in England when he died in 1973. He was 47.

Now, will somebody give his original version of "A Satisfied Mind" the proper reissue it deserves?