Monday, January 31, 2011

Solid Jackson Hipsters on Nucraft 103

Solid Jackson Hipsters - Stormy That Gal Of Mine / Where Are The Words (Nucraft 103)

"Stormy That Gal Of Mine"

The first of two releases by this outfit, who may or may not have been based in Houston in 1952, when ACA mastered four sides by them. I would guess that vocalist Jack "Scat" Powell ("Solid Jackson") was something of a jazz novelty act along the lines of Harry "The Hipster" Gibson, and, as white R&B goes, this is not bad.

According to an article entitled "'Scat' Powell Has Unique and Rhythmic Singing Technique" (Jackson, MS Clarion-Ledger, February 23, 1936), Powell was born in Boulagee, Alabama, but moved to Oklahoma City at an early age. He was a star of the OU Sooners football team during his college years. After college, he moved to Chicago in the early '30s, where he joined the Frankie Masters Orchestra as a featured vocalist. The article goes on to say that "Jack made his professional debut at the College Inn (in Chicago), and has been heard at the Club Forest in New Orleans, the Clubs Continental and Clover in Hollywood, and more recently at the St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco." Around this time, he appeared in an uncredited role in the Jean Harlow film "Reckless" (released April, 1935).

After leaving Masters, Powell joined Willie Farmer and his Orchestra, with whom he recorded several sides, including a version of Louis Armstrong's "Old Man Mose" for Bluebird in 1937-38.

Not long after this, Jack somehow managed to get invited to a Duke Ellington session, where he made "Love in Swingtime" (Brunswick 8200).

In the same period, Powell sang on Cootie Williams and his Rug Cutters' "Blue is the Evening" (Vocalion 4324). This is actually Ellington's band. I'd love to know how Powell got mixed up with the #1 band in America.

The 1940s are something of a blur in the career of Powell. The halcyon days with the likes of Duke Ellington were over, but he was still in the music business. In 1948, he was working as a disc jockey at WKY back in his adopted hometown of Oklahoma City.

The second Nucraft single, "Hipster's Jump" b/w Boom Bah" (unheard by me) was enthusiastically reviewed by Billboard in its Rhythm and Blues section on January 17, 1953, calling it a "good hunk of wax" and "a good side on a new label."

The Nucraft singles didn't sell, and by 1956, Powell was in Springfield, Missouri, selling cars. He still made stage appearances as late as 1963 in Springfield. Jack's ultimate resting place is unknown.

Solid Jackson on Candix is a different artist.

Ad for Jack "Scat" Powell appearing in Joplin, Missouri (May 22, 1948)

               Ad for Jack "Scat" Powell appearing in Springfield, Missouri (March 31, 1963)

Friday, January 28, 2011

Conrad Johnson on Gold Star 621

Conrad Johnson and his Orchestra - Howling On Dowling / Fisherman's Blues (Gold Star 621)

"Howling On Dowling" (vocal by Conrad Johnson)

Conrad Johnson (1915-2008) is usually mentioned today only in the context of his years as the band instructor for Kashmere High School, particularly during the sixties and seventies. It was in that time frame that the Kashmere Stage Band made several albums and singles that are now highly regarded by the soul/funk cognoscenti. A documentary film about the band was recently made.

Call me old-fashioned, but I've always preferred 1940s jazz/swing/blues over soul/funk, and it profoundly irritates me to see this decade continually undervalued, or (more often) just plain forgotten. It was a jumping time, and Johnson, who was leading his own band in Houston as early as 1939, made quite a few memorable singles during the last few years in that decade. I suspect that part of the reason why he isn't recognized as much as he should be for these records is that they were usually only credited to his vocalists -- people like Goree Carter, Lonnie Lyons, L.C. Williams, and that frequent visitor to Houston, Big Joe Turner. The other part of the problem is that these records weren't hits. Like many others on the scene, he was then ignored by Don Robey's Duke/Peacock labels, and so Conrad's recording career sadly was put into deep freeze after 1950. A lot had changed by the time he returned to a studio 20 years later.

This is Conrad's debut record, inspired by the Third Ward's most famous thoroughfare, and made for the newly launched Gold Star "race" series. I've estimated that it was recorded and/or released around September, 1947, based on the fact that a contract exists for Curtis Amy (Gold Star 618) that is dated July 18 of that year. This is the only record in which Conrad sets down his alto sax and sings. The other musicians are believed to include Sam Williams (tenor sax), Ed Harris (baritone sax), Jimmy Vincent (trumpet), and unknown piano, bass, drums. The record must not have sold much as it is one of the rarest issues on Gold Star, and once again the above label is a Photoshop "historic recreation," not the real thing. Thankfully Bruce Bastin saved this from oblivion and reissued it on a Krazy Kat LP in 1989.

These were the days when Dowling Street must have been really buzzing. As Conrad sings in the bridge,

On Dowling Street is where you meet
The greatness (?) of a nation
Chicks, shows, records, and barbeque
Ice cream parlor, and El Dorado, too

The final verse is a call-and-response with the band:

Dowling Street's got a solid beat
When you're there everything's allreet
Rettig's fine
Ice Cream's fine
Market (?) Dowling
Movies are howling

...I can't make out the last two places mentioned.

"Shows" probably refers to the Dowling Theater (2110), which had stage shows and talent contests in addition to movies. "Records" refers to Eddie's Record Shop (2818), makers of the Eddie's label (Eddie Henry was probably Bill Quinn's point man for Gold Star's 600 series). "Barbeque" could mean any of the food joints on the street, or specifically the Avalon Barbeque (2715). "Ice Cream Parlor" is Rettig's Ice Cream (2901). The El Dorado Ballroom was three blocks south at the corner of Dowling and Elgin.

The Eldorado Ballroom, the only structure on the street (besides churches) still recognizable from 1947, laid dormant for the last few decades, but has made an improbable comeback in the 21st Century. Conrad himself reappeared to play and talk about the old days at a concert/interview session hosted by Roger Wood on February 19, 2003. I was pleased to participate in this event by supplying the above songs, which were played to the delight of the crowd, and Conrad told me he got a big kick out of hearing these again for the first time in 55 years. "Howling On Dowling" was then used as the theme for the Eldorado fundraiser on May 17, 2003,which generated $75,000 in funds for the building's ongoing renovation and restoration. The Aurora Picture Show people have been making good use of the venue recently, a trend which I hope will continue.

Below: The heart of Dowling Street, from the 1949 Houston City Directory. Click to see full sized view.


Thursday, January 20, 2011

Sammy Harris on Freedom 1539

Sammy Harris And Orchestra - King Zulu / Fatso (Freedom 1539)

"King Zulu" (vocal by Leon Whitehead)

"Fatso" (vocal uncredited)

Time has not been especially kind to Houston's African-American orchestra leaders of the 1940s and '50s. Sammy Harris, I.H. Smalley, Sherman Williams, Ed Golden, and others were the biggest names on the scene of their time, but they recorded little (if any) and made the unfortunate career move of playing saxophones instead of guitars. This is pretty much unforgivable. Even worse, they appear to have had no influence at all on the Blues Brothers.

Sammy Harris is only mentioned once by his peers in Alan Govenar's huge Texas Blues book, in a passing reference from Grady Gaines, who remembered Harris as his high school band instructor. Grady apparently didn't think it worth mentioning that Sammy, who played alto sax, also led one of the most popular and exciting bands in town for many years. They were regulars at hotspots like the Eldorado, Club Matinee, and Club Ebony.

Below: Houston Informer, February 10, 1951.

It probably didn't help matters that Harris only made this one record, but if you're going to make just one, you should make it count. "King Zulu" and "Fatso" are pure fun. There is a strong Louis Jordan and Amos Milburn influence working here. It was recorded at ACA in 1950 and probably released around September of that year. The record itself is a high quality flexible vinyl pressing by Gold Star/Research Craft.

Other than Harris and vocalist Leon Whitehead, the personnel here is unknown. The Houston Informer wrote in its November 22, 1952, issue that the group included Richie Dell Thomas (nee Archie or Archia) (piano), Henry Sloan (trombone), Paul Wallace (tenor sax), Roy Patterson (trumpet), Leon "Popeye" Whitehead (vocals), and Duke Barker (drums), so perhaps some of these men were present on the "Zulu" session. A Club Matinee ad from early 1951 (shown above) cites Roger Wallace as the group's "sensational tenor sax" player; I presume he's the same person as Paul Wallace. Richie Dell Archie/Archia was the sister of Tom Archia, the Chicago saxist who helped launch the Aristocrat label.

Below: Houston Informer, February 6, 1954. Click to enlarge.

Below: Richie Dell Archie in the Houston Informer, February 10, 1951.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Bob Tucker and his Sky Riders on State 4002

Bob Tucker and his Sky Riders (vocal by Virgil Hume) - Quit Draggin' Your Feet / My Tears Are Dry (State 4002)

"Quit Draggin' Your Feet"

"My Tears Are Dry"

Little information has survived on Bob Tucker: it is known that he played a custom made Bigsby steel guitar and worked the West Texas / New Mexico circuit from the 1940s to at least the 1960s. And that's about it. "Quit Draggin' Your Feet," featuring lead vocals from Virgil Hume and some nice steel breaks (but still is relegated to the "B" side), probably dates from around 1951-52. It is Tucker's only record from this period. This was "rediscovered" and introduced to a wider audience (i.e., 500 people) during the 1990s on the Boppin' Hillbilly LP series, but miscredited to Gabe Tucker.

At a certain point, Tucker decided that Clovis, New Mexico, needed two recording studios, and operated one out of his garage there. I don't think Norman Petty lost much sleep about this potential threat to his business. Tucker is apparently the person who owned the Caron label, which gave us some OK early '60s rock and roll from The Sparkles and Murle Richardson.

Tucker's Bigsby sold for $16,000 last year, which I think is one of the highest prices ever paid for a steel guitar.

Bob Tucker and his Sky Riders in the 1950s, with Lonnie Campbell (drums), Paul Stambaugh (piano), and Truman Welch (guitar - far right). Click any photo to enlarge. All photos courtesy Kevin Coffey Collection.

Virgil Hume with Lefty Frizzell in Amarillo, probably December, 1950.

Dance poster.

Virgil Hume in Amarillo, c. 1953.

Bob Tucker's Bigsby steel guitar (made in 1950).

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Rusty McDonald on Intro 6061 (Update)

Rusty McDonald - You Got the Right Number / Call Operator 209 (Intro 6061)

"You Got the Right Number"

We've already heard Rusty McDonald's outstanding Chesterfield record (heard here). This one on Intro pre-dates that by two years, and we find Rusty going for a pure honky-tonk sound here a la Frizzell. In fact "You Got the Right Number" sounds as if it was intended to be the answer record to "If You've Got the Money (I've Got the Time)." The flipside is a cover of the Floyd Dixon R&B tune.

Rusty McDonald in the 1950s.

The musicians are unknown but this was recorded in Los Angeles at Radio Recorders on August 5, 1952. Dick Stubbs remembered sitting in on a couple of Rusty sessions so perhaps he's present on the steel.

Rusty McDonald appearing at Crystal Springs in Fort Worth, late 1950s.

McDonald was living and playing in the Beaumont area as well as his home town of Lawton, Oklahoma, during these years. Billboard reported on December 5, 1953, that McDonald was a DJ on KSWO in Lawton and had his own TV show there.

Some film footage of Rusty McDonald has been posted to You Tube. It captures him appearing with the Callahan Brothers and Spud Goodall (lead guitar) in the 1943 western, "Springtime in Texas." I think this is the only film footage of Rusty.


Kevin Coffey: "The personnel on "You've Got The Right Number" is in fact known. It included Rusty on rhythm guitar, Harry Sims on fiddle, Freddie Tavares on steel, Hank Caldwell on bass, and Rusty's Dallas/Callahan pal Freddie Burkhalter on piano. Dick Stubbs' memory about recording with Rusty was correct, too -- he's on the 10 tracks cut at Rusty's previous Intro sessions a few months before. Those sessions used Eddie Kirk's big group, which was almost entirely made up of Texas-Oklahoma guys (Stubbs, Manson & Belken on fiddles, Burkhalter on piano, Bill Carson on lead guitar, Jack Loyd on bass, Lucky Word on drums).

"Old Joe Clark"

"Turkey in the Straw"

Thanks to the Hillbilly Researcher #3 for information on the Intro label.