Joaquin = Jazz + Steel Guitar

EarlJoaquinMurphey (who co-wrote yesterday’s featured song “Steel Guitar Jubilee“) is held in very high esteem among steel guitarists, with one performance in particular — “Oklahoma Stomp” by Spade Cooley’s Orchestra — almost single-handedly cementing his reputation (Bob Dunn, notwithstanding) as the first “sophisticated jazz steel guitar player,” as Texas Steel Guitar Hall of famer Tom Morrell would eulogize in The Independent‘s 1999 obituary of Murphey.

Spade Cooley 78Ace music historian Rich Kienzle – in Southwest Shuffle – points out:

“Murphey’s abilities to combine complex chordal work with remarkably fluid, expressive single-string soloing set him apart from any other steel guitarist in the country” while the aforementioned “Oklahoma Stomp,” is a “Murphey tour de force that’s lost none of his power in the nearly six decades since he recorded it.”

Kevin Rainey’s 2001 tribute to the great steel guitarist for The Journal of Country Music, “Earl ‘Joaquin’ Murphey:  Steel Man Extraordinaire,” notes that Murphey was very much a musician’s musician — “Joaquin is my idol,” the almighty Speedy West once declared.  One-time Bob Wills musician, Herb Remington, would witness Murphey’s performing with Tex Williams‘ group and remark to Rainey:

“I thought it was a clarinet playing.  I couldn’t find him in the band.  I went up to the bandstand and I couldn’t find the steel guitar.  He was playing a little lap steel way back in the back of the bandstand.  And when he played, it was like hearing a good clarinet solo.  A jazz solo, which is what he listened to.  And it just dumbfounded me.  I’d never heard a steel guitar like that before.”

In fact, if you listen to “Oklahoma Stomp,” Murphey’s guitar actually sounds like a clarinet around the 1:20 mark in the song — must be heard to be believed.

Not a lot of pictures of Earl ‘Joaquin’ Murphey out there

Joaquin MurpheyThough he would initially make his mark with the Spade Cooley Orchestra, Murphey would depart soon after.  Rainey informs:

“In 1946, Murphey and accordionist George Bamby left the Cooley band to join Andy Parker and the Plainsmen (themselves a Cooley spin-off, having formed from a nucleus in the band led by Cooley bassist and vocalist, Deuce Spriggens).  The band worked Pappy Cheshire’s show on KMPC, did the Saturday night Hollywood Barn Dance, recorded for the Coast label, and appeared in some of Eddie Dean‘s westerns.  Murphey’s performance of ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’ on Coast remains one of his most revered performances, though it has yet to be reissued on CD.”

How curious that the ever-dependable PragueFrank does not affirm Murphey’s musical presence on Andy Parker and the Plainsmen‘s version of “Sweet Georgia Brown” – a performance that historians and music enthusiasts concede to be Joaquin and no other:

“Sweet Georgia Brown”     Andy Parker and the Plainsmen     1946

Musical question mark[YouTube audio not yet available]

Wait a minute, I swear I listened to “Sweet Georgia Brown” on YouTube about a week ago … and now I can’t find hide nor hair of it!   Was that just a dream – or did it really happen?  Today’s blog piece hinged on “Sweet Georgia Brown” being the featured song.  Now what?

Plan B:  “Let’s Go Sparkin‘” by Eddie Dean & The Plainsmen, with Murphey on steel:

Q:  Is it possible that Freddie Roulette is paying tribute to Murphey on his unusually expressive (and previously-celebrated) composition “Joaquin”?

L-to-R top row: George Bamby (accordion), Paul ‘Clem’ Smith & Earl ‘Joaquin’ Murphey.
Bottom row: Charlie Morgan (far L), Eddie Dean (black hat) & Andy Parker (white hat).

Andy Parker and the Plainsmen

Kudos to B-Westerns.com for this photo of Andy Parker & the Plainsmen

What’s in a Nickname?

Most of us have long wondered, was ‘Joaquin’ Murphey of mixed Irish-Latin descent?  Actually, no:  Murphey – according to Kienzle – earned this sobriquet from country disc jockey, Bert “Foreman” Phillips, “in honor of California’s San Joaquin Valley.”

Cherokee Cowboys: Proven Band

Thanks to the late, great Charlie Coleman for singling out Ray Price’s redoubtable backing band, The Cherokee Cowboys and their 1965 Columbia debut (and sole) solo release – check out Buddy Emmons’ hot jazz steel guitar solo on “Devil’s Dream,” the kick-off tune from Western Strings:

“Devil’s Dream”     The Cherokee Cowboys     1965

Ray Price: guitar & vocal
Grady Martin & Pete Wade:  lead guitar
Jack Pruett & Charlie Harris:  rhythm guitar
Buddy Emmons & Jimmy Day:  steel guitar
Tommy Jackson, Francis Coleman & Wade Ray:  fiddle
Floyd Cramer:  piano
Harold Bradley:  bass guitar
Pete Burke & Buddy Killen:  bass
Buddy Harman:  drums
Johnny Bush:  drums & vocal

Recorded:
Dec. 1964 – Columbia Recording Studio, Nashville
Mar. 1965 – Music City Recording, Nashville

The Cherokee Cowboys – 1965
[photo courtesy Buddy Emmons.com]

Cherokee Cowboys - 1965(Top Row) Pete Burke, Wade Ray, Buddy Emmons
(Bottom Row) Charlie Harris, Johnny Bush, Keith Coleman

Western Strings would shoot to the Top 20 of the Country charts the first week of release, according to Billboard’s July 17, 1965 edition. and remain there the following week (while Dick Curless and his Tombstone Every Mile album quietly jumped ahead two spaces during that same time period to the #17 slot – just above Western Strings).

Cherokee Cowboys LP-a

Rich Kienzle would include Price and the Cherokee Cowboys in Southwest Shuffle:  Pioneers of Honky-Tonk, Western Swing & Country Jazz:

“It was no small paradox that as Price continued weighing changes in 1964, he hired two legendary swing fiddlers.  Wade Ray had made his name on the West Coast as a bandleader and singer; Keith Coleman, one of the finest improvisers in western swing, had worked with both the Texas Playboys and Hank Thompson’s Brazos Valley Boys.  Despite the changes, Price retained a steadfast pride in the Cowboys.  With Ernest Tubb’s Texas Troubadours making their own records, Price talked Don Law into recording a Cowboys album with Grady Martin and Tommy Jackson present along with Harold Bradley.

At the first session for Western Strings album in December of ’64, this capable group of musicians, who’d worked together continually for years, were so nervous about recording on their own that, after 45 minutes of musical inhibition, a frustrated Price sent a studio handyman out to buy some Wild Turkey.  He literally ordered everyone to get drunk to loosen them up; it worked.  Emmons, Ray, and Coleman played brilliantly.  “Grady and I ended up drunk, and a lot of the other guys were in good shape, too,” Emmons laughed.  “And when I heard [the song played] back I couldn’t believe how together it was for the condition we were in.”  Because recording costs came out of Price’s royalties, the album included the original ‘Crazy Arms,’ and Price took credit for the arrangements to make back any money lost.”

1977 would see the release of a Ray Price & the Cherokee Cowboys album on ABC-Dot entitled Reunited, a Top 50 Top Country album and one that would yield a Top 30 single — “Different Kind of Flower” b/w “Don’t Let the Stars Get in Your Eyes” (as well as their take on Bob Dylan’s “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight”).  Recording the album in Nashville would be Price, along with MoisesBlondieCalderon, Buddy Emmons, Pete Wade, Tommy Jackson, Harold Bradley, and the two Buddys – Harman & Spicher.

Saving Country Music has a nice piece of history – “The Ray Price Cherokee Cowboys Proving Ground” – that pays tribute to the musical personnel that have passed through the ranks of Ray Price, who took over Hank Williams’ Drifting Cowboys before putting together his own ensemble.

Cherokee Cowboys LP promo

(Son of) Plays Guitar Like a Piano

I finally got around to learning how to convert VHS into DVD so that I could preserve a rare piece of Ameri-music-ana:  a live performance of “Tulsa Trot” by noted western swing outfit, Tex Williams and His Western Caravan, that offers a second startling peek at the unorthodox technique of Dickie Phillips who plays guitar in “lap” fashion — like a piano.

“Tulsa Trot”     Tex Williams and His Western Caravan     195?

[note:  Look for drummer, muddy berry, who pulls a great face at song’s end]

Capitol Records would pay for a full-page ad in Billboard’s February 24, 1951 edition that identified “Tulsa Trot” — first mentioned two weeks earlier as a new “folk” release — as a “hot seller.”

Tex Williams 78-bBillboard’s Country & Western (Folk) Record Reviews in the February 17, 1951 edition would include this (terse) write-up:  “Williams hands a danceable ditty his usual virile rendition while the ork maintains a fine terp tempo via swinging strings.”  Music Weird blog rightly asks:  what is aterptempo?

As it turned out, it would be Jimmy Bryant – not Phillips – who joined Dean Eacker and Smokey Rogers on guitar at the January 8, 1951 Capitol recording session, along with Fred Tavares on steel guitar, Ossie Godson on piano, Pedro DePaul on accordion & Deuce Spriggins on bass.

Smokey Rogers – a recording artist in his own right, who also co-wrote “Tulsa Trot” along with steel guitar wiz, EarlJoaquinMurphey – would release his own version soon after, as reported in the April 14, 1951 edition of Billboard.  Check out Joaquin Murphey’s hot steel guitar riffing on Rogers’ somewhat more polite version:

“Tulsa Trot”     Smokey Rogers     1951

Link to previous piece on Dickie Phillips.

THIS JUST IN:  Late-breaking news (June 16, 2017)

An electric violin that was developed by Leo Fender, in partnership with Dickie Phillips, was purchased in 2004 Ben Heaney (of DeltaViolin – deltaviolin.com) on Ebay but “took me a long time to get my head round what I’d bought.”  As it turns out, the story has taken on considerable historic significance, as this 1958 production prototype is the world’s rarest electric violin!   One of two of its kind — and “500 times more rare than a Stradivarius” according to Heaney, who adds that “the BBC just broadcast a recording of the 1958 Fender Electric Violin – no samples, no synths, no loops… – a single take divided into three sections and multi-layered.”

UK music fans will hear this electric violin for the first time, essentially, as Heaney prepares to take this instrument on tour, as well as in the recording studio, in the coming months.  The instrument can already be heard on a track called “Where’s the Fire Gone” by The August List — the first recording “to feature this particular age of Fender violin,” according to Heaney, who also enthuses to Zero to 180:

“The sound is fantastic. Totally unlike ANY electric violin on the market today … with the possible exception of a prototype I’ve helped a new maker develop…

The reason is simple, seemingly no one has used Fender’s pickup solution.  That’s why it sounds different.  Almost every other violin is using a piezo, so ultimately share a root sound” — save this prototype.

Click on this link to hear a solo recording of the world’s rarest electric violin.

Plays Guitar Like a Piano #2

It’s shocking & sad what little footage exists of “Dickie Phillips that shows his unorthodox method of playing the electric guitar.  Here is the only clip on YouTube that shows Phillips playing with Tex Williams & the Western Caravan — note how he places the guitar across his lap and presses his fingers firmly downward on the strings in the manner of a pianist:

“the Talking Boogie”     Tex Williams & His Western Caravan     195?

[Guitar solo by “Dickie” Phillips begins at the 0:45 mark in the video]

Herb Steiner chimes in via the Steel Guitar Forum on Tex Williams’ musical personnel:

The steel player in ‘Talkin’ Boogie’ is Wayne Burdick.  Singing with Tex is Deuce Spriggens on bass and Jimmy Widener on guitar.  Max Fidler is the lead violinist, Ossie Godsen on vibraphone, Warren Penniman on drums, and I don’t recognize the other players.  Really good band, y’all.

I have a (better quality) clip of this same band performing “Tulsa Trot” that features a wonderful and more intricate solo from Dicky Phillips that is really fun to watch — I regret that this performance is not yet available on YouTube.

Sorry – distracted by the vintage vegas architecture

Tex Williams LPHowever, Tex Williams did do another live performance of “The Talking Boogie” on TV’s Town Hall Ranch Party with our old friend Joe Maphis, who plays his one-of-a-kind double-neck guitar:

“The Talking Boogie”     Tex Williams with Joe Maphis & Western Ranch Party     1958

Phillips’ individualistic approach to playing the instrument, although similar to a Chapman Stick (without the “double tapping“) is somewhat unique — I challenge you to produce a video that shows another guitarist whose playing method duplicates Dickie’s. Text below is excerpt from Phillips’ obituary:

JAMES RICHARD “DICKIE” PHILLIPS, b. August 30, 1920, Beamon, Pettis County, Missouri; d. April 23, 1991, Jackson County, Missouri; m. MARTHA KILLEBREW, ca. 1940, St. Louis, Missouri.

James Richard Phillips was an accomplished musician, playing the fiddle and guitar with many well known bands, such as Spike Jones, Tex Williams and Bob Scobey.  He played with Pat Boone’s backup band and appeared on the Arthur Godfrey Show as a regular attraction for several months, both on radio and television.

When he was with the Tex Williams band, he played background music for a number of movies, including several of the Walt Disney animated films. During his youth, he played with a band which appeared in Hawaii and during this time he contracted tuberculosis.

Link to follow-up piece on Dickie Phillips.

THIS JUST IN:  Late-breaking news (June 16, 2017)

An electric violin that was developed by Leo Fender, in partnership with Dickie Phillips, was purchased on Ebay in 2004 Ben Heaney (of DeltaViolin – deltaviolin.com) but “took me a long time to get my head round what I’d bought.”  As it turns out, the story has taken on considerable historic significance, as this 1958 production prototype is the world’s rarest electric violin!   One of only two of its kind, and “500 times more rare than a Stradivarius,” Heaney adds that “the BBC just broadcast a recording of the 1958 Fender Electric Violin – no samples, no synths, no loops… – a single take divided into three sections and multi-layered.”

UK music fans will hear this electric violin for the first time, essentially, as Heaney prepares to take this instrument on tour, as well as in the recording studio, in the coming months.  The instrument can already be heard on a track called “Where’s the Fire Gone” by The August List — the first recording “to feature this particular age of Fender violin,” according to Heaney, who also enthuses to Zero to 180:

“The sound is fantastic. Totally unlike ANY electric violin on the market today … with the possible exception of a prototype I’ve helped a new maker develop…

The reason is simple, seemingly no one has used Fender’s pickup solution.  That’s why it sounds different.  Almost every other violin is using a piezo, so ultimately share a root sound” — save this prototype.

Click on this link to hear a solo recording of the world’s rarest electric violin.

“Electrified Donkey”: Western Swing on King – The Later Years

Really nice toe-tapper of a tune from Ferlin Husky during a brief period in the dawning Rocket Age when he was on Cincinnati’s King Records:

“Electrified Donkey”     Ferlin Husky      1959

“Electrified Donkey” was the album closer on Ferlin’s King LP, Ferlin Husky.

Ferlin Husky - King EP

The album was originally issued in 1959 as Country Tunes Sung From the Heart and then again, with a new cover and title, in 1961.  “Electrified Donkey” was also the A-side of a 45 released in March 1961 on King.

It needs to be pointed out, however, that Ferlin’s releases on King all appear to have been leased from another label, 4 Star, and thus not likely to have been recorded in Cincinnati.

“Twin Guitar Polka”: Western Swing on King – The Early Years

According to Michel Ruppli’s, The King Labels:  A Discography, in King Records’ first year of existence – 1943 – there was exactly one recording session that yielded two singles  (Grandpa Jones and Merle Travis using aliases, since they were under contract to WLW).  King’s first recording session took place in Dayton, and subsequent sessions were conducted at outside facilities both near and far:  New York City, Detroit, Nashville, Los Angeles, Chicago, Oklahoma City – even the Wurlitzer Music Store studios in Cincinnati.

As far as King’s own recording facilities are concerned, I can only infer from Michel Ruppli that recordings in Cincinnati had begun taking place by 1949.  When Syd Nathan’s abrasive personality got him kicked out Earl “Bucky” Herzog’s studio, Nathan had no other suitable recording facilities in Cincinnati at his avail, thus the impetus for building his own studio.  According to Jon Hartley Fox’s King of the Queen City:  The Story of King Records, “Until that studio was finished, recordings were done at Brewster Avenue, in the office of the Accounting Department – but only at night.  When the whistle blew, and the staff went home for the day, Nathan and anybody else who might  be around for the session pushed the desks and filing cabinets to one side of the room and set up microphones in the cleared space.  A small control booth sat at the end of the room, separated from the room by a glass window.”

King Studios a

Before the advent of his own recording studio – a radical idea for an independent label at that time – Syd Nathan’s search for talent sometimes took him rather far, indeed.  Nathan’s first trip to Los Angeles in 1946 resulted in a marathon recording excursion, and as Kevin Coffey writes in the liner notes to Westside’s Shuffle Town:  Western Swing on King CD anthology, when Nathan blew into Hollywood in September 1946, “Syd and his King Records hit Hollywood  with the force of an earthquake, and over the next month Nathan waxed a hundred-plus sides on Jimmy Widener, Hank Penny, Red Egner, and Tex Atchison, and others.”

Among those other artists were Ocie Stockard and his backup band, the Wanderers, whose “Twin Guitar Polka” is a sure-fire way to get the folks out onto the dance floor:

“Twin Guitar Polka”  – according to Kevin Coffey – was a hit in several markets.

Twin Guitar Polka 78Who Are the Ocie Stockard All-Stars?

Coffey says, “Stockard’s lone session for King was an all-star affair that combined musicians from several bands.  Fiddler Cecil Brower was another former Brownie    [Milton Brown’s band], an even more important and influential musician than Stockard, while steel guitarist Andy Schroder had worked with the Hi Flyers and others, and pianist Frank Reneau had recorded with the Light Crust Doughboys – as had guitarist J.B. Brinkley.  Guitarist Robert “Lefty” Perkins was then working with the reconstituted Doughboys and had previously recorded with Bill Boyd, W. Lee O’Daniel, Derwood Brown and others.  Bassist Wanna Coffman was yet another former Brownie, while drummer Homer Kinniard had worked with the Hi Flyers and the Crystal Springs Ramblers.  Stockard himself played tenor banjo, and the acoustic rhythm guitarist here might be Buster Ferguson, soon to go to Odessa with Brower, Reneau, and Schroder under Brower’s leadership.”

“Big Beaver”: Thank You, Goodnight from The Texas Troubadours

Ernest Tubb is coming into the home stretch as he prepares to let Leon Rhodes and Buddy Charleton loose on a Bob Wills instrumental – “Big Beaver” – from the live LP,   Hittin’ the Road:

Big Beaver – The Texas Troubadours

[Pssst:  Click on the triangle above to hear ”Big Beaver” by The Texas Troubadours.]

ET + Texas Troubadours LP

Thanks to Gary Olson of Home on the Range, I now know that Big Beaver is a place in Osage County, Oklahoma that once had a big dance hall frequented by Bob Wills and those fabulous Texas Playboys.

“On the Alamo”: (Inter)Twin(ed) Guitars

It is startling and sad the degree to which Jimmie Rivers is not represented in the history of recorded music.  Says AllMusic:

“Despite his obscurity, Jimmie Rivers is one of the great western swing/bop guitarists. His legacy is miniscule, consisting of a disc’s worth of live tracks with his group, the Cherokees, recorded between 1961-64, but these low-fidelity documents show a guitarist with a near-unparalleled ability to construct exciting, melodic solos in the vein of Charlie Christian.”

As Rich Kienzle points out in his liner notes to the lone Jimmie Rivers CD anthology, Vance Terry was a former teenaged steel guitar wonder who originally was “absorbed” into the Texas Playboys when his group –  a western swing outfit under the direction of Billy Jack Wills, brother of Bob – disbanded.  Vance quit the music biz in 1955 to attend Chico State College, not playing for two-and-a-half years until a three-week engagement with former sparring partner, Jimmie Rivers, ended up stretching to four-and-a-half years.

“On the Alamo” – a jazz standard composed and published in 1911 but not recorded until 1922 by bandleader, Isham Jones, with Gus Kahn – is beautifully interpreted by Jimmie Rivers and Vance Terry with their twin guitars:

Jimmie Rivers - TV studio

Rich Kienzle also notes that Jimmie Rivers’ version of “On the Alamo” was clearly inspired by Speedy West’s 1956 Capitol recording of the song – here is rare TV footage of Speedy West playing “On the Alamo” from the Lawrence Welk show, back when it was a local show based out of Los Angeles:

“Hoopaw Rag”: Mid-Century Modern Western Swing

Steel guitar prodigy, Vance Terry, gets co-songwriting credit on “Hoopaw Rag,” an adaptation of a fiddle tune – “Bob Wills Stomp” – that was recorded January 25, 1955 in     Los Angeles at the beginning of a three-year association with the Decca label for Bob Wills & the Texas Playboys:

Note:  In the 5 seconds preceding the start of the song, Bob Wills whispers instructions to his band.

Oddly, this song appears to have been kept in the can.  PragueFrank’s most excellent Country Music Discographies points out that “Hoopaw Rag” remained unissued on LP for another 16 years until included on 1971 Vocalion album, San Antonio Rose.

Vocalion VL-73922 San Antonio Rose:
San Antonio Rose; Black And Blue Rag*; My Shoes Keep Walking Back To You**; Four Or Five Times; Roll Your Own; New Dream Eyed Waltz**; Don’t Let The Deal Go Down; I’ll Allways Be In Love With You; Hoopaw Rag**, Carnations For The Memory** – 71
(*previously unissued, **previously unissued on album, reissued on Coral CB-20109).

The authoritative discography in Charles Townsend’s biography of Bob Wills – likewise titled, San Antonio Rose – confirms that “Hoopaw Rag” was only ever issued on LP, never on 78 or 45.  Until two decades later in 1992, that is, when MCA issued a CD anthology of mid-50s Decca recordings entitled, Bob Wills – Country Music Hall of Fame Series.

Bob Wills - 1955

           Bob Wills on WFAA-TV, Dallas, Texas in 1955

“Artistry in Western Swing”: Progressive Sounds in County & Western

Stan Kenton – who released a 10″ Capitol EP Artistry in Rhythm in 1947 – was a progressive voice in jazz, just as Tex Williams, who answered Kenton in 1948 with “Artistry in Western Swing,” was likewise a forward thinker within the realm of western swing and country music.

SONY DSC

Kenton had actually kicked off this whole “artistry” thing back in 1943 with the composition, “Artistry in Rhythm” – one of the year’s big hits.  The Capitol EP, curiously, does not include the actual title track but does offer “Artistry in Percussion and “Artistry in Bolero” instead.

You can compare and contrast yourself – first, here’s 1943’s “Artistry in Rhythm”:

Next, click on the triangle below to play “Artistry in Western Swing” by Tex Williams & His Western Caravan from 1948:

“Artistry in Western Swing”     Tex Williams     1948

In The Jazz of the Southwest:  An Oral History of Western Swing, Jean A. Boyd writes,

“The Western Caravan at this time included Tex Williams (bandleader, vocals, guitar); Smokey Rogers (vocals, guitar, banjo); Deuce Spriggins (vocals, bass); Pedro DePaul (accordian, arranger); Cactus Soldi (fiddle); Rex “Curly” Call (fiddle); Max “Gibby” Fidler (fiddle); Johnny Weiss (lead guitar); Ozzie Godson (piano, vibraphone); Muddy Berry (drums); Spike Featherstone (harp); Earl “Joaquin” Murphey (steel guitar).  [Guitarist] Benny Garcia was also part of the Western Caravan band that recorded the magnificent Artistry in Western Swing album, a western swing response to Stan Kenton’s monumental Artistry in Swing.  Benny recalls that he had to hire jazz flutist Ezzie Morales to play the flute parts on the Kenton arrangements.”

Artistry in Western Swing 78

Stan Kenton:  The Original Wall of Sound

As Jim Gilchrist of The Scotsman points out in his piece, “Bringing Back the Original    Wall of Sound,” Stan Kenton gained distinction for his orchestra’s famed Wall of Sound “way before Phil Spector annexed the term.”