Sunday, February 25, 2018

Donald Adkins on Random 60

Donald Adkins - Narco County Jail/I'm Still in Love With You (Random 60)

For a record collector, there is nothing more disheartening than rummaging through thousands of records and finding only generic, major label junk. You've wasted your time for nothing, knowing full well that other collectors have preceded you and carted away anything remotely interesting. This was the state of my despair one gloomy afternoon at a Shreveport flea market in 2005. Not even local '60s and '70s country records -- which most collectors ignore -- were left behind. Out of the countless singles I pawed through that day, only one caught my eye as having any potential: Donald Adkins' "Narco County Jail" on the Random label. I had never heard of the artist, title, or label, and while it appeared to be a '70s pressing, songs about jails from any era usually have something to recommend them. I assumed that "Narco County Jail" was a novelty version of the old folk song, "Dallas County Jail," updated to include something about a recent social menace, narcotics, hence "Narco." Many old songs had been similarly updated by country singers in the '60s and '70s. This must be more of the same.

I was wrong. The record confounded all expectations. Without warning, I was about to be ushered into ... the Adkins Zone.

I spend some time in the Narco County Jail
For not having a beard
I said to the jailer, "What would be my bail
to get out of this here jail?"
He said, "Two dollars is all I'll have to pay
Just to be out and get on my way"
And I could be surety, and try not to fail
To get back in the Narco County Jail
And I cried, "Oh, sweet mama, please go my bail
And get me out of the Narco County Jail"

These lyrics make no sense at all. Why was the person arrested and jailed on a charge of "not having a beard"? Surely some explanation would be forthcoming in the chorus or next verse for this bizarre allegation, but there is no chorus, and the next verse simply repeats the first one. And why "Narco"? It has nothing to do with narcotics, nor is there any county in the United States named Narco. Again, no explanation. Musically, only three instruments are heard: guitar, piano, and fiddle; the fiddle isn't in the same key as the guitar and piano, and pianist is playing an antiquated boogie style of the 1940s, not the ubiquitous Floyd Cramer style of the '60s and later. This, too, was disorienting: how many records have only those three instruments? And while it appeared to be a '70s pressing, aurally, the record sounded like it could have been recorded any time in the 20 years between 1960 and 1980. I could think of no other recording that defied simple chronological context that widely.

Is this "outsider" music? I suppose so. The lyrics are bizarre, the musicianship is questionable, the whole thing is perplexing, irritating, absurd, and intriguing.

There was no address on the label, but the publishing was Cabriolet Music BMI, a company still in business and run by Shreveport disc jockey/entrepreneur "Dandy" Don Logan. I contacted him and he replied that although he had not been in contact with Adkins for decades, he was certainly a Texas-based singer. A while later, I found a second Adkins disc, "We Don't Have to Build a Fence," on the Malibu label. Once again, this had no address, but it was more identifiably a '60s sound, and it was pressed by Rec-O-Press in Arlington (near Dallas), further pointing to a North or East Texas origin for Mr. Adkins. Since that time, a third disc, "Lonely Side Walks," has been documented and has been reissued on the Small Town Country LP (Orien Read). This is a Houston Records "LH" pressing from 1973, but there is still no address on the label.

Thankfully, a digitized copy of the Longview News-Journal recently turned up to help illuminate the inscrutable Donald Adkins. "East Texas Songman Enjoying His Hobby" by Terry Neill, published April 8, 1973, is an unusually detailed and informative piece. In addition to finally providing an address (East Mountain, Texas, a small hamlet just north of Longview), and a photo, the article also tells us exactly how many records Adkins had made to that point (11), why he made them (it's his hobby), where they were recorded (Robin Hood Brians' Studio in Tyler, Sound on Sound in Bossier City, La., and his own house), where they were pressed (Houston Records at the time of writing), what their titles were, which radio stations played them (KFRO in Longview, KEES in Gladewater, and KZAK in Tyler) and how many copies were pressed (typically 300, which answers why so few have ever turned up in recent years).

Donald Adkins "Doing His Thing." (1973)

According to Neill, "Narco County Jail" is a "humorous tale of the jail erected here for the city's centennial celebration several years ago." This doesn't really serve as an explanation, since Longview is in Gregg County, not Narco County, but at least it fixes a date around 1970. The article further reveals that "a friend, Les Bryan," plays guitar and piano on Adkins' records. Presumably, this is the same Les Bryan who played piano with Blackie Crawford's Western Cherokees in the early 1950s. I knew there had to be a Starday connection lurking somewhere in the Adkins saga.

Perhaps some more Donald Adkins singles will turn up in the future. With only 300 pressed each, all are rare today. I wish there had been more "hobbyists" like him, making records on their own terms, defying record industry norms, and making music that can still perplex and confound listeners decades later.

Provisional Donald Adkins Discography

Loneliest Man in Town/ ? (Hilltop?) 1964
April Fool's Day/ ? (Malibu?)
Country Hawaiian Style/Ten Thousand Drums (Malibu 1005) 1960s?
We Don't Have to Build a Fence/It's All Over (Malibu) 1960s
Narco County Jail/I'm Still in Love with You (Random 60) circa 1970
Back to Baltimore/Driftwood (Malibu?) 1970s?
Fast Talking, Slow Walking City Woman (vocal-Donnie Pullin)/Tennessee Hills (Malibu?) 1970s?
Longview Town/The Gifts (Malibu?) 1970s
The Safari/I'll Forgive (Malibu?) 1970s
Lonely Side Walks/Miserable Life (Malibu 1001) LH-8505 1973

Any additional info on Mr. Adkins or his records is welcome.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Ed Miller & The Louisiana Playboys on Playboys 100

Ed Miller & The Louisiana Playboys -  I Had Someone Else / Ed Miller Blues (Playboys 100)

This group and single were unknown to me until 2013, when the Hillbilly Researcher (Al Turner) posted sound files on his blog. Since that time, DivShare went out of business, and the files hosted by their site disappeared, but this record is too good and too unknown to allow that condition to remain. I'm pleased to restore these choice western swing performances here (files below).

Ed Miller and the Louisiana Playboys were based in Monroe, Louisiana, and were featured on KMLB and KNOE radio there from 1945 to 1950. It is from this period that these recordings likely originate. The group's activities after 1950 are harder to trace, but the Monroe newspapers have advertisements for them as late as February, 1961.

Perhaps it was around this time Ed Miller decided to take an old acetate of the group and press a single at Plastic Products in Memphis, as a sort of keepsake for family and friends of the band to remember their glory days. There could have been no expectation of airplay of this type of music during the Twist era. One wishes the acetate had been in better condition, especially the "Ed Miller Blues" side. The surface noise heard is not from the 45 itself, but the original source.

The July 6, 1946, edition of Billboard listed the personnel of the Louisiana Playboys as: Brooks Hamilton (piano), Robert East ("electric standard"), "Pappy" Cairo ("hot electric steel"), Edmond Middleton (rhythm guitar), and Huey Middleton and Tommy Thompson (twin fiddles). Since Ed Miller is not listed, perhaps he was only the vocalist, or was a non-playing member, a la R.D. Hendon or Dave Edwards. "Pappy" Cairo is of course the well-known and ubiquitous Papa Cairo (Julius Lamperaz), who appears to have spent a little time with every hot string band in Louisiana in the 1940s. Cairo is also pictured with the band in a photo that ran in the Monroe Morning World in October 1947 (see below). Not long after this, Miller added a sax player.

"I Had Someone Else" is a version of the 1920s pop fox trot "I Had Someone Else Before I Had You (And I'll Have Someone After You're Gone)," written by Jack Staney and composed by Harry Harris and Joe Darcy. Ed Miller's version is undoubtedly inspired by Milton Brown's later western swing version of the 1930s. 

"Ed Miller Blues" is a bluesy romp in the "Brain Cloudy Blues"/"Milk Cow Blues" tradition. From this side, we can get a few of the names of the musicians -- Paul Jackson on steel, "Mr. Larry (inaudible)" on sax, and  "Bobby -- East, now" on lead guitar. Strikingly, the fiddles and piano -- usually mainstays of any western swing band -- are absent from both sides. 

Acetates were usually forgotten by the musicians who played on them, or worn out by careless listeners who didn't appreciate the fragility of the medium. Fortunately, Ed Miller thought his old band and their music were worth preserving. 

Monroe Morning World - October 19, 1947 - Papa Cairo on steel

Club DeSoto (Alexandria) ad - May 8, 1946

Delta Club (Monroe) ad - April 2, 1947

Sam's Round-Up Club (Monroe) ad - February 11, 1961

Sheet music to an early version of "I Had Someone Else Before I Had You (And I'll Have Someone After You're Gone)" -- 1920s

"I Had Someone Else"

"Ed Miller Blues"

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

High Pockets and the Sun Valley Playboys on Rainbow 1086/87

High Pockets (Manuel Dickerson) and the Sun Valley Playboys - "Then We'll Be Happy" / "Boy Crazy Jane" (Rainbow 1086/87)

Not much is known about the Sun Valley Playboys, who walked into Bill Quinn's Gold Star Studio in 1955 and made this one record. They may have been from the Galveston area, as songwriter A.J. Milutin was a barber in that city. Milutin had faith in "Boy Crazy Jane." Ernie Hunter cut his own version a few years later.

Both sides of this single have been reissued, but with fake digital echo not on the original. The Soundcloud clips are taken directly from the 45 with no additional processing.

"Then We'll Be Happy"

"Boy Crazy Jane"

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Barre Recording/Apogee Records of Victoria, Texas

After 40 years of research, it sometimes seems that no Texas label was so localized that could it nearly escape all documentation, but the Apogee/Barre label and studio from Victoria perhaps comes closest to eluding all 45 rpm collectors everywhere. Late 1960s country is, of course, not a hot genre with a cult following, which helps explain why this operation remained unknown until recently. But such songs as Joe Diamond's "Six White Horses" and Betty Valchar's "The Farmer's Daughter" put the listener more in the late 1950s or early '60s than they do with the sounds we normally associate with the period, and without the pressing plant information I would've assumed that these were from the early '60s at the very latest.

Gene Huckleberry was the man behind this operation, like so many other small studios/labels run out of his house. Nothing is known about him, but he is probably the same Eugene Huckleberry who died in Victoria in 1972. Huckleberry must have viewed this as an interesting hobby, not a commercial operation, as there are no notices in Billboard or anywhere else that I can find. Everything found so far dates from a brief four-year period, 1966-69, but there are a lot of missing numbers, and it is very possible that more than seven releases exist. Oddly, Huckleberry did not use the nearby TNT or Houston Records pressing plants, and instead had all pressing done by Wakefield in Arizona.

The Zebras - What Was Being Done (Baker) / The Moon's Going Down (Baker) (Zebras 305) Vocal: Garland Baker 1966

Teen rock. The earliest known Barre record, Gene had not even bothered to create a label name at this point and therefore "Zebra Records" was selected. Three hundred copies were pressed, which was probably the standard pressing amount for all of the following records. Label photo and info from the On the Road South blog

Henry and the Brushy Creek Bunch - My Old Country Shack (Bennettsen) / Springtime Memories (Bennetsen) Henry Bennetsen, Vocal (Apogee 306) SJW-8949 1966/67

Bluegrass. This is Henry Bennetsen, the fiddler and leader of the Southernaires who had releases on Gilt-Edge, Sarg, and Starday in the 1950s. Henry left that group in the late '50s or early '60s and started the Brushy Creek Bunch. This may be his final recording.

Robert Parker and the Blue Boys - I'm Still in Love (With You) (Parker) / Riff-Raff (Bade-Bridewell) (Apogee 360) 1966/67

Country. No explanation for the jump in numbers from 306 to 360. The first release to identify Victoria as the location.

Joe Diamond - Six White Horses (Diamond) / It'll Take Time (Apogee 362) SJW-9842 1967

Moody and primitive country on the A-Side. Good.

Betty Valchar with the Westerners - The Farmer's Daughter (Valchar) / (Apogee 369) 1967/68

Country. This is probably the same group known as Homer and Gene and Westerners, who had several releases on Sarg from this period. People can be forgiven for thinking this late 1960s release was a '50s record, because the tasty Chet Atkins-influenced lead guitar, Southern vocals, and soundscape do not sound contemporary to the late '60s. Presumably, Valchar was from the Victoria area. A fun record. The six numbers between Joe Diamond and this suggests that there are more releases to be found from this period.

Five Jades - How Can I Try (R. Williams) / You're Gonna Love Me Too (Williams-Brandt-Mueller-Shepherd) (Barre 371) 1968

Victoria group. Light pop with trumpet lead. Not related to Freddy Koenig and the Jades (the El Campo Jades), despite El Campo being located only 53 miles away from Victoria. Label changed from "Apogee" to "Barre." Barre 370 is unknown.

Kelly Hairrell and the Swingmasters  - Key's in the Mailbox (nc) / Table Next to Mine (nc) (Barre 373) Vocal K. Hairrell (SJW-12976) 1968/69

Unheard, but undoubtedly country. The last known Barre/Apogee record as of this writing. Barre 372 is unknown.