Hardrock Gunter on (indie) Island

This recording of Hardrock Gunter‘s mesmerizing voice, with its offbeat hiccup-y rhythms bathed in slapback echo, never fails to enchant:

“Boppin’ to Grandfather’s Clock”     Hardrock (“Sidney Jo Lewis”) Gunter     1958

Birmingham, Alabama’s Sidney Louis Gunter, Jr.  would record under two other names:  Buddy Durham (as noted in the previous piece about the Vandergrift Brothers — possibly in error) and Sidney Jo Lewis, which he used in 1958 to record “Boppin’ to Grandfather’s Clock” on Cleveland indie label, Island.  Two years prior, Gunter had already put together the ingredients that would define his signature sound on “Jukebox Help Me Find My Baby,” originally recorded in Wheeling, WV for Cross Country in 1956 before the single got picked up by Sam Phillips‘ and re-released on his vaunted Sun label later that August.

1958 would also see the release of ‘SONGS THEY CENSORED IN THE HILLS‘ LP for SeecoHardrock Gunter LP-x

Note the considerably drier sound – not to mention vastly different singing style – on Gunter’s second of three 45s for Cincinnati’s King RecordsI’ll Give ’em Rhythm” (b/w “I Put My Britches on Just Like Everybody Else”), recorded in Cincinnati August 19, 1955 (interestingly enough, the same day as Herb & Kay‘s delightful “We Did“):

“I’ll Give ’em Rhythm”     Hardrock Gunter     1955

Thanks to UK-charts.com, I am able to transcribe the following information from the Hardrock Gunter “bio disc” (thanks, Randy McNutt!) for the King 45 illustrated in the audio clip above:

“When Hardrock Gunter graduated from high school, he teamed up with Happy Wilson who organized the Golden River Boys.  The original members of this group are still doing radio shows.  After World War II, Gunter again went back into radio when the Golden River Boys were re-organized.  In 1948 Hardrock started managing the unit and acted as personal manager to Happy Wilson until late 1949.”

King would issue another “bio disc” for “Turn the Other Cheek” that gives us the official explanation for Gunter’s stage name:Hardrock Gunter 45-bbHardrock Gunter, professionally speaking, would leap right out of the gate, recording his first few singles for mighty Decca, before moving on to MGM, Sun, King, Cross Country, Emperor (“Whoo!  I Mean Whee!“), Island, Seeco, Cullman, D, El Dorado, Starday (“Hillbilly Twist“), Gee Gee, Brunswick, Rival, Essgee, Longhorn, Morgun, Rollercoaster, Home Brew, and Jar — possibly others.

Hardrock Gunter rocking a doubleneck MOSRITE on 1999 Dutch 45 recorded in LondonHardrock Gunter LP

Matthew Loukes echos the call for Gunter’s “Birmingham Bounce” of 1950 – which preceded Jackie Brenston & Ike Turner’s “Rocket 88” and was the reason for Decca’s interest – as “first rock ‘n’ roll recording” in his 2013 obituary for the Guardian.

Hardrock Gunter + Hank Williams:  Twins Separated at Birth?

Check out this dead on impersonation of Hank Williams via 1951 parody of 1949’s classic “My Bucket’s Got a Hole in It” on Bullet — “Granddaddy of Nashville indie labels“:

“My Bucket’s Been Fixed”     Hardrock Gunter     1951

People are willing to pay hundreds of dollars for Gunter’s original recordings — including $1500 for “Gonna Dance All Night” on Sun.

“Lost Highway”: Hank Williams + Chet Atkins & Friends

One other prominent (and tragic) artist from country music’s early years to get the cosmetic posthumous remix is Hank Williams, whose death in 1953 in no way stopped MGM from issuing new product for the marketplace (often multiple albums per year) through 1981 and beyond.  Hank Williams, for instance, was the recipient of an added string section on at least three albums — not to mention the backing of Nashville’s finest on one key track – “Lost Highway” – that appears to have been embellished in a 1968 overdub recording session and later issued on 1977’s Hank Williams’ Greatest Hits Vol. 2:

[Pssst:  Click the triangle above to play “Lost Highway” by Hank Williams & Friends.]

Lost HighwayThanks to the Hank Williams Discography for identifying the names of the musicians who helped modernize Hank’s original recording in order to give it that “Nashville Sound” —

  • Hank Williams (vocals & guitar)
  • Chet Atkins (electric guitar)
  • Sammy Pruett (electric guitar)
  • Tommy Jackson (fiddle)
  • Jerry Rivers (fiddle)
  • Don Helms (steel guitar)
  • Eddie Hill (rhythm guitar)
  • Jack Shook (rhythm guitar)
  • Floyd Chance or Ernie Newton or Cedric Rainwater (bass)
  • Owen Bradley or Fred Rose (piano)

Date of overdub recording session:  September 26, 1968