Sun 4 Sep 2011
|LJ Thomas & His Louisiana Playboys||Baby Take A Chance With Me||Sun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958|
|Dr. Ross||Dr. Ross Boogie||Sun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958|
|Howlin' Wolf||Baby Ride With Me (Ridin' In The Moonlight)||The Complete Recordings 1951-1969|
|Jackie Boy & Little Walter||Selling My Whiskey||Sun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958|
|Joe Hill Louis||We All Gotta Go Sometime||The Be-Bop Boy With Walter Horton & Mose Vinson|
|Albert Williams||Hoodoo Man||Sun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958|
|Jimmy & Walter||Before Long||Sun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958|
|Junior Parker||Feelin' Good||Mystery Train|
|Willie Nix||Bakershop Boogie||Sun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958|
|Walter Bradford||Reward For My Baby||The Complete Recordings 1951-1969|
|Walter Horton||West Winds Are Blowing||The Be-Bop Boy With Walter Horton & Mose Vinson|
|Houston Stokes||We're All Gonna Do Some Wrong||Sun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958|
|Walter"Tang" Smith||Hi-Tone Mama||Sun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958|
|Woodrow Adams||Train Time||Sun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958|
|Honeyboy Edwards||Sweet Home Chicago||Sun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958|
|Charlie Booker||Walked All Night||Let Me Tell You About The Blues: Memphis|
|Boyd Gilmore||Believe I'll Settle Down||Sun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958|
|D.A. Hunt||Greyhound Blues||Folks, He Sure Do Pull Some Bow!|
|Mose Vinson||Come See Me (My Love Has Gone)||Sun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958|
|Houston Boines||Carry My Business On||Sun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958|
|Rufus Thomas||Walking In The Rain||Tiger Man 1950-1957|
|Earl Hooker||Move On Down The Line||Earl Hooker And His Blues Guitar|
|Billy Emerson||Hey Little Girl||Red Hot|
|James Cotton||Cotton Crop Blues||Mystery Train|
|Little Milton||Homesick For My Baby||Sun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958|
|Coy "Hot Shot" Love||Harpin' On It||Jook Joint Blues|
|Billy Love||Hart's Bread Boogie||Sun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958|
|Pat Hare||Bonus Pay||Mystery Train|
|Kenneth Banks||High||Sun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958|
|Eddie Snow||Ain't That Right||Sun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958|
|Rosco Gordon||Tired of Living||I'm Gonna Shake It|
|Ike Turner||I'm Gonna Forget About You Baby (Matchbox)||Sun Records The Blues Years 1950-1958|
|Frank Frost||Pocket Full of Shells||Very Best Of Frank Frost: Big Boss Man|
Sam Phillips at the console
In past shows we've spotlighted numerous small independent labels that specialized in blues and R&B. Today we finally get around to the remarkable music Sam Phillips conjured up in his small Memphis studio. We won't be talking about Elvis, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis or Johnny Cash today. Before those guys started recording for Sun, the label recorded a steady diet of blues between 1950 through 1954. Prior to launching Sun in 1952 he recorded blues that were leased to Modern, Chess, Gilt-Edge and 4 Star. Junior Parker, Little Milton, James Cotton all made their debuts for the label and artists like B.B. King and Howlin' were recorded by Phillips at the dawn of their careers although neither had a record issued on the label. There's also a slew of fabulous sides featured today by little remembered artists like Jimmy DeBerry, Walter Bradford, Woodrow Adams, Houston Stokes, Charlie Booker and Pat Hare among others. The bulk of the sides on today's program were issued on the Sun label while a few others were leased to other labels. Phillips recorded lots of material but had limited resources so many fine sides remained unissued at the time only to be issued decades later. Much of the material in today's notes come form the book Good Rockin' Tonight: Sun Records And The Birth Of Rock 'N' Roll by Colin Escott and Martin Hawkins.
In October 1949 Sam Phillips signed the lease on a small strorefront property at the junction of union and Marshall Avenues, near the heart of downtown Memphis (706 Union). Working with the slogan "We Record Anything-Anywhere-Anytime," Phillips opened the doors of the Memphis Recording Service in January 1950. As for the equipment, Phillips, noted: "I had a little Presto five-input mixer board. It was portable and sat on a hall table. The mixer had four microphone ports, and the fifth port had a multiselctor switch where you could flip it one way and get a mike and flip it another to play your recordings back. That was my console." By 1954 Phillips had upgraded his equipment and installed two Ampex 350 recorders: one console model and another mounted on a rack behind his head for the tape delay echo, or "slapback", for which Sun became famous. By "bouncing" the signal from one machine to another, with a split-second lag between the two, he created his characteristic echo effect. He made the switch from acetates to magnetic tape in late 1951.
|Recorded spring/summer 1950 at Memphis Recording Service.
300 copies pressed by Plastic Products on August 30, 1950.
"I opened the Memphis Recording Service", recalled Phillips, "with the intention of recording singers and musicians from Memphis and the locality who I felt had something that people should be able to hear. I'm talking about blues-both the country style and the rhythm style-and also about gospel or spiritual music and about white country music. I always felt that the people who played this type of music had not be given the opportunity to reach an audience. I feel strongly that alot of the blues was a real true story. Unadulterated life as it was. My aim was to try and record the blues and other music I liked and to prove whether I was right or wrong about this music. I knew, or felt I knew, that there was a bigger audience than just the black man of the mid-South. There were city markets to be reached, and I knew that whites listened to blues surreptitiously." At first Phillips recorded music in the hopes of it being leased to other record labels. The first deals he lined up were with 4-Star and Gilt Edge Records. Phillips' first foray with his own label was simply called Phillips and lasted just a few weeks in the summer of 1950. Joe Hill Louis' "Gotta Let You Go b/w Boogie In the Park" was the sole record issued on the label. Around this time Phillips began a relationship with the Bihari brothers who owned the Modern label out of Los Angeles. They began issuing Phillips produced records on their RPM subsidiary including five singles from a young B.B. King. Phillips also placed Joe Hill Louis with RPM/Modern. In 1953, after recording for Chess, Louis recorded a record issued Sun 178, "We All Gotta Go Sometime b/w She May Be Yours (But She Comes To See Me Sometime)."
On March 5, 1951 Ike Turner, a DJ on WROX in Clarksdale, Mississippi had driven up to Memphis with a band featuring his underage cousin Jackie Brenston. They had worked up a number called "Rocket 88" and wanted to audition it for Phillips. Phillips sent a dub to Chess who put it out in April 1951, hitting number one on the R&B charts by May. This caused a rift with Modern Record who were upset and not getting a chance to issue the record. Ike was also upset at not getting a chance to record under his won name and defected to Modern where he became a talent scout, cutting many sessions around Memphis. More trouble followed when Phillips place Roscoe Gordon's "Booted" with Chess, eventually hitting number one. Modern felt Gordon was still under contract for them and cut their own version for RPM. Eventually the problems were resolved with Modern getting Roscoe Gordon and Chess getting Howlin' Wolf.
After “Rocket 88” Turner and his band became session regulars around Memphis; they went on to back legendary bluesmen like Howlin' Wolf, Elmore James, Bobby Bland, Jr. Parker, Buddy Guy, Otis Rush and a host of Sun artists . During the early '50s, Turner switched from piano to guitar, and also doubled as a talent scout for the Bihari Brothers' Los Angeles-based Modern Records, where he helped get early breaks for artists like Howlin' Wolf and B.B. King. After leaving Memphis and cutting sides for Federal in '56 and '57, Turner self-produced recordings in St. Louis in 1958 and sold them to Sun which is where our selection, "I'm Gonna Forget About You Baby (Matchbox)" comes from. The vocalist is Tommy Hodge.
Still more problems arose when Phillips signed Howlin' Wolf to Chess. Soon after coming to West Memphis, Wolf secured steady work playing whorehouses, black baseball parks, and other spots that catered to country folk in search of a little diversion. Wold landed a spot on KWEM in 1950, Monday through Saturday a between 4:45 and 5:00 P.M. "A disc jockey from West Memphis told me about Wolf's show", recalled Sam Phillips to Robert Palmer. "“When Wolf sat down in that little old chair with his big feet sticking out and began to sing, this guy didn’t know anything was around him! I mean he was singing to exactly the thing that we all want to make contact with, and that is the ears of the world. Maybe that’s one person. Maybe it is everybody on the globe. But Wolf had nothing in mind but just to make sure that he conveyed everything that was in his mind, and in his heart, and in his soul when he opened his mouth to sing.…He was, boy, pouring out his soul! And I mean you could just see it in addition to feel it…He sung his ass off—and that was a big ass! …“I think that he had that honest sound and that heartfelt feeling that he gave with that unbelievably different, totally different, voice that the young people that I was looking for that didn’t have anything they could call their own would have heard this man and said, ‘Man, he is…telling it like it is.’ The freedom that he gave you and the truth that he told and felt in his songs were something to hear. And then to hear the way that he sang ’em, it is something that I just wish everybody could hear right now."Wolf recorded in Sun studio between Spring 1951 and October 1952.
By 1952 Phillips decided to start his own label. "I truly did not want to open a record label but I was forced into it by those labels [RPM & Chess] either coming to Memphis to record or taking my artists elsewhere. …Sun Records was forced on me but at the same time, it presented the opportunity to do exactly as I wanted. …I honestly can say I know what it's like to have a baby. That's what Sun Records was to me."
The first record on Sun was to be number 174 by Walter Horton and Jack Kelly titled "Blues In My Condition b/w Selling My Whiskey" [billed as by "Jackie Boy and Little Walter"] but a negative reaction to samples circulated to radio stations persuaded Phillips not issue the record commercially. Sun 175 by Johnny London titled "Drivin' Slow" was the first record to appear in record stores. Other Horton tracks from Phillips’ studio appeared on the Modern and RPM labels under the name of “Mumbles.” He also backed Joe Hill Louis during this period. Horton traveled back to Memphis to record for Sun Records again in 1953, waxing his signature song "Easy" with guitarist Jimmy DeBerry in 1953. DeBerry had recorded some sides before the war and got a chance to record one more record for the Sun.
A secret ingredient on many Sun sessions was the aggressive, feedback sound of guitarist Pat Hare. The earliest records of Hare's participation indicate that he was a member of Howlin' Wolf's first electric group in the late forties. In addition to working the Memphis circuit, this group played regular sessions on the local Arkansas radio station KWEM. Always on the lookout for talented sidemen, Phillips soon picked up on "the new guitarist with the angry, spine-tingling tone", and recruited Hare to play on James Cotton's debut session for the Sun. Other Sun artists to benefit from Hare's grating guitar included "Hot Shot" Love and Big Memphis Ma Rainey. Some sources also indicate him as being the guitarist on legendary recordings such as "Love My Baby" by Little Junior's Blue Flames, and Roscoe Gordon cites Hare as the guitarist on several of his records. Hare also plays behind the fine but obscure singer Walter Bradford. Bradford's "Dreary Nights b/w Nuthin' But The Blues" (3rd Sun record issued) as yet to be found. Bradford cut four other records in 1952 for Sun but they were not issued at the time. But Hare also found time in May 1954 to record a couple of sides under his own name, both of which remained unissued in the Sun vaults till many years later: "Bonus Pay" (Sun 997), a fast-paced R&B romp, and the infamous "I'm Gonna Murder My Baby."
Mose Vinson was another important Sun session artist. Originally from Holly Springs, MS, Vinson worked as a clean-up man and part-time pianist for Sam Phillip's Sun label in Memphis. Between sessions, Vinson would sit at the piano and play "44 Blues" so often he eventually convinced Phillips to record him in 1954. In addition, he also appeared on records by James Cotton, Walter Horton, Joe Hill Louis and others, although his own Sun sides went unreleased for 30 years.
In 1951 Junior Parker formed his own band, the Blue Flames, with guitarist Pat Hare. Parker was discovered in 1952 by Ike Turner, who signed him to Modern Records. He put out one single on this record label, “You’re My Angel.” This brought him to the attention of Sam Phillips, and he and his band signed onto Sun Records in 1953. There they produced three successful songs: “Feelin’ Good” (which reached # 5 on the Billboard R&B charts), “Love My Baby,” and “Mystery Train” ,with Floyd Murphy (Matt “Guitar” Murphy’s brother) on guitar, later covered by Elvis Presley. For Presley’s version of “Mystery Train”, Scotty Moore borrowed the guitar riff from Parker’s “Love My Baby”.
Before the age of eighteen Roscoe Gordon had won the Talent Show at Beale Street's famed Palace Theater and was appearing on WDIA, America's first all black radio station. Through WDIA's owner James Mattis he was sent to see Sam Phillips who recorded him, leasing his sides to the Bihari Brother' RPM label out of L.A., charting for the first time with "Saddled The Cow (Milked The Horse) b/w Ouch! Pretty Baby" which went to #9 R&B in September of '51. Then Phillips sent two versions of the same master– Booted, one to RPM and a slightly different alternate take to Chess in Chicago. The Chess version hit #1 R&B in February of '52 kicking off a three way tug of war which ended up with RPM securing Gordon's contract.
Rufus Thomas was already a professional entertainer in the mid-’30s, when he was a comedian with the Rabbit Foot Minstrels. He recorded music as early as 1941, but really made his mark on the Memphis music scene as a deejay on WDIA, one of the few black-owned stations of the era. He also ran talent shows on Memphis’ famous Beale Street that helped showcase the emerging skills of such influential figures as B.B. King, Bobby Bland, Junior Parker, Ike Turner, and Roscoe Gordon. Thomas had his first success as a recording artist in 1953 with “Bear Cat,” a funny answer record to Big Mama Thornton‘s “Hound Dog.” It made number three on the R&B charts, giving Sun Records its first national hit, though some of the sweetness went out of the triumph after Sun owner Sam Phillips lost a lawsuit for plagiarizing the original Jerry Leiber/Mike Stoller tune. Thomas, strangely, would make only one other record for Sun, and recorded only sporadically throughout the rest of the 1950's.
A 1952-53 stint in the Air Force found Billy Emerson stationed in Greenville, MS. That’s where he met young bandleader Ike Turner, who whipped Emerson into shape as an entertainer while he sang with Turner’s Kings of Rhythm. Turner also got Emerson through the door at Sun Records in 1954, playing guitar on the Kid’s debut waxing “No Teasing Around.” Emerson’s songwriting skills made him a valuable commodity around Sun — but more as a source for other performers’ material later on. His bluesy 1955 outing “When It Rains It Pours” elicited a cover from Elvis a few years later at RCA, while Emerson’s “Red Hot” became a savage rockabilly anthem revived by Billy Lee Riley for Sun. After his “Little Fine Healthy Thing” failed to sell, Emerson exited Sun to sign with Chicago’s Vee-Jay Records in late 1955.
James Cotton began his professional career playing the blues harp in Howling Wolf‘s band in the early 1950s. He made his first recordings as a solo artist for the Sun Records label in Memphis,Tennessee in 1953. Cotton began to work with the Muddy Waters Band around 1955.
Honeyboy Edwards just passed on August 29, 2011 in Chicago. Prior to recording a slashing version of "Sweet Home Chicago" fpr Sun (not issued at the time) he had been recorded for the Library of Congress by Alan Lomax in 1942 and cut a commercial 78 for ARC in 1950 as Mr. Honey.
Ike Turner, who was a talent scout for Sun Records introduced Little Milton to Sam Phillips, who signed him to a contract in 1953. With Ike Turner and band band backing him, Milton cut various Sun sides. Unfortunately, none of them were hits, and Milton's association with Sun was over by the end of 1954.
Billy Love did some session work for Phillips, backing Walter Horton, Rufus Thomas and Willie Nix, before he got the chance to cut his own record as a singer-pianist. This resulted in the storming drinking song "Juiced", probably cut on July 24, 1951. ove's next session took place in October or November 1951 and yielded three songs, two of which, "Drop Top" and "You're Gonna Cry" were issued as a Chess single (1508), this time credited to "Billy 'Red' Love and his orchestra". On January 19, 1954 Love returned to the Sun studio with a new band and cut five titles. One more session was recorded at the Sun studio, resulting in "Blues Leave Me Alone" and the promotional record "Hart's Bread Boogie" for the Hart's bakery in Memphis. He did session work for Sun as well, appearing on records by Pate hare, Roscoe Gordon and others.
Tim Schloe of St. Paul found “Greyhound Blues,” a 1953 single by Alabama bluesman D.A. Hunt, in a collection he bought in 2007. The recording sold for more than $10,000 on eBay to collector John Tefteller. The flipside is Lonesome Ole Jail."
Our final selection is from Frank Frost. Frost moved to St. Louis, Missouri when he was 15 and began his musical career as a guitarist. He toured in 1954 with drummer Sam Carr and Carr’s father, Robert Nighthawk. Soon after, he spent several years touring with Sonny Boy Williamson, who helped teach him to play harmonica. Around 1960, Frost moved with Carr to the Mississippi Delta. After he played a show with the guitarist Big Jack Johnson, they added him to their group. Together they attracted the interest of the record producer Sam Phillips. He produced the album Hey Boss Man for Phillips International in 1962. In the 60's Phillips created two different subsidiary recording labels: Phillips International and Holiday Inn Records. Neither would match the success or influence of Sun.By the mid- 1960s, Phillips rarely recorded. He built a satellite studio and opened radio stations, but the studio declined and he sold Sun Records to Shelby Singleton in 1968.