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.
Note the considerably drier sound – not to mention vastly different singing style – on Gunter’s second of three 45s for Cincinnati’s King Records “I’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, 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 doubleneckMOSRITE on 1999 Dutch 45 recorded in London
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?
Amusing to note that this vocal trio from Davis, West Virginia — Don, Ronnie & Darrell — released another 45 in 1962 on Wheeling’s Emperor label, “Honky Tonk Woman,” a song title that would recently inspire a playful sequence of pieces: 1, 2, and 3.
Neither Discogs nor 45Cat, surprisingly, have catalog records for the group’s first King 45 release “The Corner of My Eye” b/w “Tomorrow Never Comes” — recorded June 26, 1961. The following entry in Ruppli’s discography for The Vandergrift Brothers is one lonely “leased” composition entitled “You’re Gone Too Far” that remains unissued to this day, while the third and final entry is the group’s other King 45, “Who Needs Your Cold, Cold Love” b/w “Hello Again Sweet Lips” from 1962 — both songs co-written by Shorty Long and published by (Syd Nathan-affiliated) Lois Music.
Significant to note that two other songs from the final February, 1962 King recording session — “In Trouble With the Law” and “Please Don’t Run Away” — remain in Moe Lytle’s vault, wondering what on earth they ever did to deserve such treatment.
“Trouble With the Law” would live to see another day, fortunately, on the tiny and mysterious, Santa Fe label:
“Trouble With the Law” The Vandergrift Brothers 196?
The Vandergrift Brothers were among the top acts who helped The Wheeling Jamboree celebrate its 30th anniversary, as reported in Billboard’s April 27, 1963 edition, along with Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper and the Clinch Mountain Clan, Big Slim, Crazy Elmer & Buddy Durham [a.k.a., Hardrock Gunter, according to RCS — not so, says PragueFrank]. Just four months later, however, WWVA disc jockey, Lee Moore, would inform Billboard that “the ‘World Original Jamboree’ has adopted the policy of importing country music acts from Nashville to augment the ‘Jamboree’ regulars like Doc Williams, Big Slim, and the Vandergrift Brothers”!
“When I left King Records about 1956 I guess, Seymour Stein ended up interning there with Syd Nathan. He was a young kid. He must be about 10 years younger than me, must be about 75, or 80 by now.
He fell asleep at my birthday party at the table. He does a great imitation of Syd Nathan, loves to do an imitation of Syd. I became pretty friendly with him through the years. When he left King he was editor of Billboard for a while.
[L to R] George & Susan Goldner, Syd Nathan & Seymour Stein
He penned the charts for Billboard in New York. I used to go up there and see him all the time. And then I used to see him a lot when we went to Cannes, France for the music festival. Every year they have that, they still do. It’s called MIDEM. It’s a big deal. I was going there since the very beginning in the 70s. I used to go there with my TK Productions. I was a big man when I used to go there.
I had the biggest independent music company in the world, and they loved discos and dancing in Europe. I used to hang out with Seymour there and he was just one of those real terrific real record guys. He found Madonna ya know, and The Ramones, The Talking Heads, and he founded the Sire label, that was his, Sire Records. I didn’t know him back in the King days. Syd Nathan and I had already split up. Syd used to talk about that son of a bitch Henry Stone. I guess he respected me as a good record guy y’ know. Seymour Stein’s a real good record guy too.”
Seymour Stein would be the one on the right
Stein’s signings — as noted in the text that accompanies his Ahmet Ertegun Award from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame or his (abandoned) acceptance speech for CBGB’s Icon Award) — reveal a keen ear for talent in contemporary rock and pop: The Flamin’ Groovies, The Saints, The Rezillos, Richard Hell & the Voidoids, Radio Birdman, The Dead Boys, The Undertones, The Pretenders, The Replacements, The Smiths, Kid Creole & the Coconuts, Echo and the Bunnymen, The Cure, The Cult, Modern English, The English Beat, Madness, KD Lang, Depeche Mode, Aztec Camera, Everything But the Girl, Pet Shop Boys, Erasure, Ride, My Bloody Valentine, Dinosaur Jr., Barenaked Ladies, and Aphex Twin, along with the aforementioned Ramones, Talking Heads, and Madonna. Just as Cincinnati’s King Records helped give birth to 50s rock ‘n’ roll, this same scrappy indie label would then go on to play a significant supporting role in shaping modern ‘indie’ rock.
Seymour Stein’s liner notes for the original 1967 Columbia LP, sadly, exceed my grasp. Nevertheless, I can only presume that Stein points out (as with King Size Country Hits) how this other batch of King hits represents millions of sales: 1956’s “Honky Tonk” by Bill Doggett (although, “Part 2” – the better side, some assert); 1956’s “Please Please Please” by James Brown, 1961’s “Hide Away” by Freddie King, 1947’s “Good Rockin’ Tonight” by Wynonie Harris, and Lonnie Johnson’s “Tomorrow Night,” a huge ‘crossover’ hit in 1948 — massive sellers all.
Also worth pointing out the inclusion of an early Otis Redding single – “Shout Bamalama” from 1961 – that shows the influence of fellow Macon artist, Little Richard.
Also finding its way into 18 King Size Rhythm & Blues Hits is “Another Woman‘s Man” – a song from Joe Tex‘s first ever recording session, which took place in New York City for King Records in September, 1955:
“Another Woman’s Man” Joe Tex 1955
Musical personnel (according to Michael Ruppli’s The King Labels: A Discography):
Vocals: Joe Tex
Electric Guitar: Mickey Baker
Piano: Andy Gibson
Tenor Sax: Dave Van Dyke
Drums: Specs Powell
Bob Mehr’s well-researched Trouble Boys: The True Story of The Replacements provides some illuminating details about Seymour Stein’s fascinating roller coaster ride in the record business, as detailed here in this passage about the source of Sire’s seed money:
“In high school, Stein spent summers in Cincinnati apprenticing under King Records owner Syd Nathan [1957-58], whose biggest star was James Brown. Stein eventually would work for King full-time [1961-63], learning every aspect of the business at the company’s one-stop operation. Back in New York, he became an assistant to record man George Goldner in 1963, then in 1966 broke off with producer-writer Richard Gottehrer. Their label’s moniker scrambled the first two letters of their first names – SE and RI – to get Sire.
Each put up $10,000 in seed money. Stein’s funds had come from Beatlemania’s 1964 height, when Capitol Records in Canada sold a selection of Beatles singles not available in the United States. Stein had spirited a mass of the records out of the country, then offloaded them to US wholesalers, making a small fortune in a week. ‘The statute of limitations has passed,’ said Stein. ‘But that’s where my share of the money came from.'”
Q: Why do these Canadian early Beatles singles look so peculiar to the american eye?
A: Capitol US – incredible as it might seem – passed on the Beatles’ first four singles!
In May, 2015’s piece about Guitar Crusher, it was pointed out that Seymour Stein, along with fellow Sire Records co-founder, Richard Gottehrer, had done production work on a Columbia recording in 1967, having formed Sire Productions the year before. As Billboard would note in its chronology of the music industry executive who signed Madonna from his hospital bed while recovering from a heart infection, Stein had served his first music label apprenticeship at Cincinnati’s King Records for two years, beginning in 1957. Syd Nathan‘s operation would prove to be a “farm league” for a number of other industry notables, as pointed out in Jon Hartley Fox’s King of the Queen City: The Story of King Records:
“King Records was a good training ground where one could get a thorough, hands-on education in all facets of the recording industry. One of the label’s enduring legacies is the large number of producers, A&R men, and sales or marketing executives who ‘trained’ under Nathan. Among the King alumni who enjoyed successful careers at other labels are Seymour Stein (Sire, Sire-London, and Elektra), Hal Neely (Starday and Starday-King), Henry Glover (Old Town, Roulette, Starday-King), Ralph Bass (Chess), Jim Wilson (Starday and Sun), Alan Leeds (Paisley Park), Ray Pennington (Step One), and nearly a dozen others.”
As it turns out, the same year Seymour Stein produced a Guitar Crusher single for “Big Red,” Stein also organized a 12-inch release for Columbia Records (under the “Sire Productions” name) that consists entirely of country releases from the King Records vault, albeit (groan) “electronically re-channeled for stereo.” That’s right, 1967 would see the release of a Columbia album (in name only) 18 King Size Country Hits, with extensive liner notes by Stein himself that promise the LP to be “one of a projected series of albums, each containing eighteen all-time Country and Western hits spanning the past quarter century.”
Many of the songs on this LP were million sellers when first issued, according to Stein
This album, sadly, would seem to be the only one released (I can only assume Columbia felt sales to be insufficient enough to warrant future volumes). It’s not for lack of trying though, as Stein very helpfully provides some historical context on the factors that helped King succeed in the marketplace:
“Cincinnati, at the period just before America’s entrance into World War II, was the center of activities for many of the great Country and Western artists of that era, in much the same way that Nashville is today. The reason for the Queen City’s dominance over the ‘hillbilly’ world was ‘Midwestern Hayride,’ the country’s favorite C&W radio show, which was aired weekly from Cincinnati over WLW, key station in the Crosley broadcast chain. Among the show’s stars were the Delmore Brothers, Grandpa Jones, Hank Penny, Wayne Raney, and Homer and Jethro. Lloyd ‘Cowboy’ Copas had a popular Country show also over WKRC in Cincinnati. With the exception of the Delmore Brothers, none of the stars of ‘Midwestern Hayride’ had achieved any amount of success on records. Most had never recorded despite their popularity among the Midwest and South.”
King Records In the big leagues: On “Big Red” one year before Syd Nathan’s passing
NEW YORK — Columbia Records will issue two albums of all time best sellers from the catalog of King Records. One package will contain country material and the other rhythm and blues. The deal, considered unusual, was okayed by Bill Gallagher, Columbia Records vice-president, after discussions with Seymour Stein of Sire Productions. Stein, who regards the deal as a tribute to the achievement of Syd Nathan, president of King, produced the packages from masters in the King archives.
Each of the albums contains 18 performances. The country package, titled 18 King Size Country Hits, includes “Signed Sealed and Delivered” by Cowboy Copas, “Blues Stay Away From Me” by the Delmore Brothers, “Mountain Dew” by Grandpa Jones, “Money, Marbles and Chalk” by the writer Pop Eckler, and sides by the Carlisle Brothers, Jimmy Osbourne, Wayne Raney, Moon Mullican, Hawkshaw Hawkins and Reno and Smiley.
“Pop Eckler was never a famous recording artist, but as composer of one of the greatest Country ballads, this album would be incomplete without his own rendition of ‘Money, Marbles and Chalk.’ The tune was also a pop hit for Patti Page.”
Seymour Stein’s liner notes for Columbia LP ’18 King Size Country Hits’
I’ve always appreciated how They Might Be Giants respect their fanbase and labor hard to provide high value for the entertainment dollar. While their music has always had strong appeal to a younger demographic, in recent years They Might Be Giants have released albums aimed squarely at the school-age crowd, such as Here Comes the ABCs, (released as 25 tracks on CD, 39 on DVD) which has gotten a lot of airplay around our house. Note the clever lyric and accompanying animation sequence for “Alphabet Lost and Found“:
“Alphabet Lost and Found” They Might Be Giants 2005
There is a good reason why this YouTube clip was uploaded under the name of “DisneyMusic” — so says Wikipedia:
“While [the album] was produced and released by Walt Disney Records, the band was reportedly given complete creative control over the project, which at the time was very unusual for Walt Disney Records, which had until then followed a strict artist control policy. As a result, the DVD features a variety of puppetry, animation and live action supplied by personal friends of the group, including A.J. Schnack, who directed the TMBG documentary Gigantic (A Tale of Two Johns). For guest vocals on a few tracks, they turned to family: John Flansburgh’s wife Robin Goldwasser, and John Linnell’s son, Henry. The music videos that appear on the DVD were also aired (in part or whole) on the Disney Channel’s children’s programming block, Playhouse Disney.”
Sounds like Alvino Rey‘s “Sono-Vox” being employed in the phased backing vocals — or some simulation thereof, yes?
Divya Srinivasan is the artistic hand behind the animation on “Alphabet Lost and Found” — check out the rest of her work at her website, which includes an animation reel and illustration slide show.
Here Come the ABCs would be the successor to No!, their first formal children’s album.TMBG Flexi-Disc Trivia
For their April 1992 edition, Reflex Magazine would release a “split“ 331/3 RPM flexidisc: XTC b/w TMBG! Side A features “Rip Van Reuben” – a home demo of an Andy Partridge compostion – with They Might Be Giants’s “Moving to the Sun” on the flip side.
I am struck by the number of Scotty Moore–produced 45s from the late 60s/early 70s that are not available for preview on YouTube due to their relative obscurity — most especially the rare Otis Redding tribute “We’re Gonna Miss You, Otis” b/w “Macon,” whose B-side was actually written by Moore, whose spirit left us four weeks ago today.
Fortunately, that’s not the case for a memorable garage rock 45 from 1966 on tiny little label, Down Home, that bears production credits by Scotty Moore, along with session keyboardist, songwriter, publisher and producer Jerry Smith (who played piano on Dick Curless’ 1973 Live at the Wheeling Truck Driver’s Jamboree album). Check out the heavy rockabilly guitar break in the middle of “Ain’t About to Lose My Cool” by The Original Dukes:
“Ain’t About to Lose My Cool” The Original Dukes 1966
Charles Best: Organ & vocals James Hickman: Guitar James Sonday: Drums Richard Martin: Bass, Sax & Harmonica
Not much seems to be known about The Original Dukes, other than they hailed from Indianapolis. Prepare to fork over a little dough should you decide to own an original copy of this 45.
Note the (unintended?) wordplay of the song’s authorship — “Sonday/Best.”
“Ain’t About to Lose My Cool” would make the lineup for Volume 3 of the Greg Shaw-curated Pebbles series of indie garage 45s taken from his own collection of over one million records.
In the inevitable Beatles vs. Stones (straw man) debate, I intensely resent having to pick sides, since the very idea of one without the other is laughable at best. Nevertheless, this lifelong Beatles fan takes a certain fiendish thrill in devoting an entire blog post to those albums in which non-Stones groups play nothing but Rolling Stones tunes.
Kicking off this Stones-ploitation trend, appropriately enough, is their manager and svengali, Andrew Loog Oldham, who would arrange “polite” instrumental versions of early Stones songs for 1965’s The Rolling Stones Songbook under the name Andrew Oldham Orchestra. The Verve, you may recall, sampled the album’s final cut – “The Last Time” – for use in the dramatic opening strains of their huge 1997 hit “Bitter Sweet Symphony” but would not get to enjoy any of the royalties generated (sales, Nike ads, sporting event performances) due to the hardball tactics of the composition’s holder of copyright, ABKCO’s Allen Klein — as this exclusive excerpt from Fred Goodman’s new biography makes clear.
Joe Pass – as noted early in this blog’s existence – would release his seminal survey of mid-60s Stones, Stones Jazz, the following year in 1966. But a couple of other notable ‘Stones-centric’ albums would hit the marketplace that same year: (a) Baroque ‘n’ Stones by The New Renaissance Society and (b) A Tribute to The Rolling Stones by The Pupils.
Four years hence,The Winstons would record their unabashed tribute to the Rolling Stones, notable primarily for its provocative “jail bait” cover, while two years later, The Collection would issue the only album of their career — a musical salute to the Stones, naturally — with a similarly risque front cover image.
The Winstons 1970 The Collection 1972
1972 would also bear witness to one more cash-in effort, Rolling Stones Vol. 2 (unclear whether Vol. 1 was ever issued), by the confusingly-possessive Monkey’s Pop Group, whose only known LP was issued on French label, Les Tréteaux.1973 would bring five (count ’em) Rolling Stone tribute albums, including —
(1) a pair of delightfully kitschy covers from the “group” Rockery:
(5) a tribute album by a Dutch musical ensemble that departed at recording’s end with such frenzied haste, history never had a chance to record its identity:By the 1980s, unfortunately, it was clear that Stones-ploitation’s Golden Age had passed. Flash would issue Keep on Rolling in 1981 – impressively on CBS imprint, Epic – while that same year would see the release of Rolling Hits’ one and only album, Rolling Hits Medley, incredibly on major labels (Mercury, Polydor, Philips) in at least 10 countries, including Peru.
I was perhaps five when I encountered my first soundalike cash-in album in the form of a Beatle knockoff group, The Liverpools (as previously recounted), and then again not long after when I got suckered by one of those TV ads for 18 Golden Hits of 1971, as rendered by The Sound Effects (though it is possible I fell for the previous year’s 18 Golden Hits of 1970, which does not even bear the name of the artist-for-hire).
UDiscoverMusic, similarly, writes of a curious and confounding time “when cut-price soundalike recordings ruled the British charts” — 45 years ago, to be precise, when there was a brief change in the chart eligibility rules, and before you knew it, Top of the Pops 18 was dislodging The Moody Blues’ Every Good Boy Deserves Favour from the #1 spot!
Just when you thought the “Honky Tonk Woman” carcass had been picked completely clean, one more interesting thing would somehow turn up — this moving and quaintly rocking tale of a British working-class family:
“The greengrocer venture did not herald the end of Carlo’s musical career. He joined yet another band at this time: Hurricane, which was put together by producer Mal Gray, and included pianist Freddie ‘Fingers’ Lee, guitarist Dave Wendels, and on bass Stuart Colman. (Stuart and his wife Janet are Godparents to Carlo’s eldest daughter. He later had success as a producer and had many hit records with Shakin’ Stevens and others). Other musicians involved with the band included Dick Middleton and Matthew Fisher. The band were signed to Decca and recorded an album.
Although their single ‘Mama Was A Honky Tonk Woman‘ had good reviews, they did not manage to achieve further success.”
“Later that year  Stuart joined Hurricane, a band originally formed by Mal Gray (of the Wild Angels). As it turned out, Gray only briefly performed with the band, however they proved popular touring on the Northern club circuit. The other band members were established in British Rock n Roll; Dave Wendells (guitar) and Carlo Little (drums) had both been with Screaming Lord Sutch, while on piano, the incomparable Freddie Fingers Lee added further mayhem.
SC: “Freddie would take out his glass eye on stage and throw it to me to catch. Usually I caught it, but one night I missed and his eye disappeared down a hole in the stage. We had another gig to go on to, but couldn’t go until we’d found Freddie’s eye, so we went under the stage, crawling around with torches and finally found it all covered in cobwebs. Freddie put it straight back in!”
On arriving at the next gig an hour late, the promoter refused to believe their excuses and smacked Freddie in the face. SC: “We did our set, but we didn’t get paid.” The glamorous lifestyle of a touring rock n roller! The band released one single, ‘Mama Was A Honky Tonk Woman’/’Shakin’ an’ Breakin’’ (Decca F13435) which failed to make any impression on the charts despite the ‘B’ side being a strong rocker.”
Don Davis, who produced Albert King‘s King Albert album in 1977, would come up with a song title that would get appropriated lock, stock and barrel eight years later by a former blues band from London:
“Honkey Tonk Woman” (Don Davis and) The Fabulous Playboys 1961
“Honkey Tonk Woman” often commands three figures at auction, especially in the UK, where it is considered a “northern soul” or “soul mod” classic.