The first “purple rain” musical reference, researchers at Zero to 180 assert, comes from Stevie Wonder — though to be fair, from the pen of Ted Hull. Most intriguingly of all: “Purple Rain Drops” would spend its entire adult life as a B-side, never to be included on a 12-inch long-playing record album:
“Purple Rain Drops” Stevie Wonder 1965
Produced by Clarence Paul (brother of Lowman Pauling from The “5” Royales), “Purple Rain Drops” graced the flip side of Wonder’s early hit, “Uptight (Everything’s Alright),” released exactly two years after President Kennedy’s assassination.
My favorite, and most evocative, of three European picture sleeves – from the Netherlands:
Picture sleeve for French 45 in which “Purple Rain Drops” is final of four tracks:
Picture sleeve for Norwegian 45:
30 years later, “Purple Rain Drops” would appear on an “unofficial” Belgian CD release – Rare Tracks from Detroit, Vol. 4, issued in 1996 – fittingly, as the last song on the disc.
Bob Newman: bass & lead vocal Henry Glover: drums Al Meyers: lead guitar Louie Innis: rhythm guitar Tommy Jackson: fiddle Shorty Long: piano
“Phfft! You Were Gone” would include Newman on bass & vocals, Shorty Long on piano, and Al Meyers on lead guitar, plus “sound effect” provided by Howdy Kempf, with an unnamed drummer and rhythm guitarist rounding out the sound. Thanks to Scott Kempf, Howdy’s son, for not only correcting my previous spelling error with regard to his father’s name but also for providing Zero to 180 with this exclusive bit of background information:
“Howdy Kempf was my Dad. He passed in 1997.
My Dad and Bob Newman were friends and both artists for King Records at that time. My Dad also performed with the Georgia Crackers which was Bob’s group.
On that session day during the car trip from Columbus to Cincinnati, my Dad wrote down the words to the song as Bob dictated. And then provided the Phfft on the original session. My Dad had a unique way of making that sound. If you listen to the Hee Haw versions, not too many could duplicate that sound without spitting on someone. Lol.
P.S. On some of my Dad’s recordings over the years, the F was left off of my Dad’s last name. That may have lead to some confusion.”
“‘Phfft! You Were Gone,’ another novelty, was sold by Bob (alias Lee Roberts) and he didn’t get a dime when about twenty years later the song became a hook on the Hee Haw TV show. Bob, according to Hank’s widow, was a big spender: he would sell a song for, say, $ 1,500, then throw away $ 2,000. He sold ‘Shut Up And Drink Your Beer’ to Merle Travis, and ‘Crying Steel Guitar Waltz’ to Jean Shepard. That’s why he never made a living of his songs. Al Myers explained that Bob Newman didn’t know how to pursue his career, and that’s the main reason why King didn’t renew his contract in August 1952.”
“For years, the television series Hee Haw used a song on the show called ‘Phfft! You Were Gone,’ often credited to Buck Owens. Earlier appearances of the song on record attributed writer’s credit to Lee Roberts, Susan Heather, or Marian B. Yarneall. Bob Newman’s son Bob Jr. recently wrote to us to untangle the mystery of authorship of this classic. It was first recorded by Bob Newman July 3, 1952, at King Studios in Cincinnati. It was released on King 45-1131 shortly thereafter, with writer credits to Lee Roberts. Bob Newman actually wrote the song under the name Lee Roberts, which was his usual pen name (he had over 80 songwriting credits for both ASCAP and BMI under that name), and was the first to record it. Newman sold the song to Bix Reichner in 1958. Reichner, who wrote many songs including ‘Papa Loves Mambo’ for Perry Como and ‘I Need Your Love Tonight’ for Elvis Presley, assigned the song to his wife’s name — Marian B. Yarneall, aka Susan Heather. By the time the Audio Lab album came out in 1959, the writer credit had changed to Susan Heather. The original version of the song made its first (only?) LP appearance on his Audio Lab album.”
Two decades or so later, television writers would enjoy endless lyrical possibilities:
“Phfft! You Were/Was Gone” Hee Haw
Note, however, that Bopping assumes — as I did, until very recently — that King merely “reissued” those two truck driving songs in 1959, “Haulin’ Freight” and “Lonesome Truck Driver’s Blues.” Sorry, Bopping, but we discovered in the previous Zero to 180 piece that those two songs were given a re-boot to make them sound more contemporary.
King Record Innovation: “Bio Discs“
Independent record producer and music writer, Randy McNutt, has authored two books about Cincinnati’s post-WWII music history and its role in giving birth to rock & roll.
“The 78 RPM record pictured here, Newman’s ‘Quarantined Love’ , shows another of Nathan’s innovations, the bio disc. He printed brief biographies of artists on promotional records and sent them to disc jockeys and decision makers in the music business. The idea must have worked, for King Records continued to issue bio discs into the 1960s.”
An Ebay sales listing from January, 2016 validates my hunch that truck driving classic “Haulin’ Freight” by Bob Newman was recorded twice — first, in 1951, and then again in 1959 with some of the rough “barrelhouse” edges smoothed out via overdubs. The more contemporary version would be issued again in 1963, according to PragueFrank.
Michel Ruppli’s 2-volume reference – The King Labels: A Discography – lists a recording session from October 9, 1951 that includes “Haulin’ Freight.” However, in parentheses next to the song title, Ruppli directs you to K4264, which is an undated entry sometime in 1959 that lists 2 truck driving songs – “Lonesome Truck Driver’s Blues” & “Haulin’ Freight” – and simply says “dubbed from King masters.”
But listen for yourself – here’s the original 1951 version:
“Haulin’ Freight” Bob Newman 1951
[eagerly awaiting the return of streaming audio]
Now listen to what King Records fabricated in 1959 using the original version “dubbed from the masters” and augmented by – what I can only assume to be – a new rhythm section and lead guitar (excerpt from Charlie Coleman‘s classic country radio show):
[Pssst: Click on the triangle above to play “Haulin’ Freight” by Bob Newman]
But how they’d do it? Is that the original vocal? It sounds like they might have kept the original piano track, but I’m not even certain about that. Would love to know who played on the 1959 version, my favorite of the two, despite the great guitar lines on the original. Funny how I’ve been wrestling with this issue for years (and with Charlie Coleman above), but only just now did I figure out the deeper meaning behind “dubbed from the masters.”
Just for fun, go ahead and play both versions at the same time and note how dissimilar they sound.
Love the deep twang of the Fender Telecaster that opens and closes “At the Truck Stop” – a prime ingredient in achieving that classic truck driving sound:
“At the Truck Stop” Buddy Allen Rick 1972?
Music Blogs I’d Like to Read would surely include anything written by Tom Avazian, gifted record collector who slipped me a copy of this 45 on the Princess label. Lo and behold, no entries for Buddy Allen Rick on 45Cat or Discogs — or the internet, for that matter.
Conspiracy-minded individuals might discern a government plot to erase Rick’s existence, but Zero to 180 is having none of it. Billboard’s May 22, 1971 edition, for instance, contains a small item entitled “Jim Richards to Accents Artists on Princess Label“:
“ROANOKE, VA. — Jim Richards Enterprises, a parent firm which includes recording, publishing, booking, and promotion, has announced a concentration on artists on its label, Princess Records.
Richards, presidents of the parent company and its subsidiaries, has just concluded a promotional trip which took him to Nashville, Memphis, Little Rock, Houston, Dallas, Albuquerque, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Reno, Lake Tahoe, and Seattle, handles his own distribution and has a tape arrangement with GRT for 8-tracks.
On his Princess Records label, he has country artists Buford Kegley, Irma J. Ford, Jesse Hall, The Highlanders, and Bert Barber. The Highlanders are a fiddle group, while Barber is a fiddle instrumentalist.
Another group, Earl Carter and the Fantastic Six, is in the soul category. Richards’ booking firm is Top Ten, Inc., and his publishing company is Misty (BMI). Richards said he would move shortly into a new, massive building here, which will house all his enterprises, and will have office space as well. He records his artists, who he produces, at Major Recording Co., a studio at Waynesboro, Va.”
“Born in Ohio, Coe spent part of his youth in reform school and, in the 1960s, served time in the Ohio State Penitentiary. Here was a man to whom the term outlaw meant more than a music rebel. In 1967, Coe arrived in Nashville, and to gain attention from the country music establishment, he lived in a hearse that was parked in front of the Ryman Auditorium, the home of the Grand Old Opry. Even though the country traditionalists ignored him, he soon signed a contract with an independent label, Plantation Records, and released an album in 1968.
Coe began to perform in a rhinestone suit and sometimes wore a Lone Ranger mask or covered his face in heavy makeup. He called himself the Mysterious Rhinestone Cowboy. He hung out with motorcycle gangs and would sometimes begin his concerts by driving a Harley onto the stage with a wrench tucked under his belt before singing. He dared anyone who thought him less than tough, told reporters that he had killed a man while in the penitentiary, and laced his commentary on stage and in print with expletives. His long hair and tattooed body completed his outlaw persona.”
Photo courtesy of DavidAllanCoe.com
Did Coe’s pal in the penitentiary – the musically macabre, Screaming Jay Hawkins – inspire the use of the hearse?
Produced by Pete Drake
Two 45s from 1973 — “Keep Them Big Wheels Hummin‘” b/w “Memphis in My Blood” and “How High’s the Watergate Martha” b/w “Tricky Dicky the Only Son of Kung Fu” — would be David Allan Coe’s final singles on Plantation before making the big jump to almighty Columbia.
“Keep Them Big Wheels Hummin'” David Allan Coe 1973
When you think of truck-driving country classics, the names of four artists should come readily to mind: Dave Dudley, Red Sovine, Red Simpson … and The Willis Brothers! Brotherly harmonies + offbeat humor + trucker tales = a winning sound and track record.
“Give Me Forty Acres (To Turn This Rig Around)” would put The Willis Brothers on the musical map in 1964 with a Top 10 Country hit that would go all the way to #1 in Canada.
An album of the same name with a pronounced truck-driving theme would follow in 1965, as well as another in 1967 Travelin’ & Truck Driver Hits (recycled + new tracks) plus one last stellar effort Hey Mister Truck Driver! in 1968.
“[Suzanne] Mathis [graphic designer co-responsible for Starday truck driving covers], like many others, got her job at Starday through her neighbor and accordionist, Vic Willis. The youngest of the Grand Ole Opry’s Willis Brothers trio, John ‘Vic’ Willis was both a recording artist and a song scout for Starday throughout the mid-sixties. He was also a career counselor on the side. He convinced [Starday head, Don] Pierce to employ several of his friends and at one point he even had Shot Jackson’s daughter, Arlene, and three of the Willis Brothers’ wives working at Starday.
The Willis Brothers — Charles ‘Skeeter,’ James ‘Guy’ and John ‘Viv’ — began playing professionally in 1932 and already had an impressive resume before joining Starday in 1960. Aside from making their own recordings for Mercury, Coral, Sterling, and RCA Victor (as the Oklahoma Wranglers), they also backed the immortal Hank Williams on his first recordings for the Sterling label (as the Original Drifting Cowboys), as well as Eddy Arnold for eight years at the peak of his career (1948-57). By the time they joined the Opry in 1960, they were again known as the Willis Brothers and that same year began a relationship with Starday.”
The Willis Brothers would release an impressive number of classic truck-driving 45s on Starday going all the way back to 1961 (i.e., pre-“Six Days on the Road”):
Note: B-side “When I Come Driving Through” not yet available for preview on YouTube
[Pssst: Click on the triangle to hear “When I Come Driving Through” by The Willis Bros.]
check out the Peter Max-inspired cover for 1973 MGM single “Truck Stop”
Thanks to “outlaw” voices in country music on “renegade” labels, such as Starday and Shelby Singleton’s Plantation Records, the “new social awareness” would begin to inform the country rockin’ scene by the late 1960s. 1970 would see the release of wry 45 “Women’s Liberation”:
Surprise! Live rendition of “Women’s Liberation” on TV’s Porter Wagoner Show – 1974:
Remember “Tulsa Trot” by Tex Williams and his top-notch western swing ensemble? Zero to 180 just discovered that ol’ Tex had a #30 country hit in 1965 with a trucker tune that was penned by Kenny (‘Round Mound of Sound’) Price and released on Kentucky indie label, Boone:
“Big Tennessee” Tex Williams 1965
In appreciation for the commercial success of its previous release “Too Many Tigers” (#26), Boone Records would place an announcement in the September 4, 1965 edition of Billboard that heralded the arrival of its next hot single – “Big Tennessee” – while still riding the adrenaline of a Top 40 country hit:
“Boone Booms! We would like to thank you for one Hit and introduce you to another – ‘Big Tennessee’ c/w ‘My Last Two Tens’ – picked in all three trades:
Billboard Spotlight: ‘A definite top-of-the-chart contender is this hot rhythm follow-up to his recent hit, “Too Many Tigers.” Rich plaintive Williams vocal can’t miss.’
Single Reviews: ‘Tale of a powerful trucker and his heroic last deed. Will thrill country listeners. A good ‘un.’
The Cashbox Bullseye: ‘Following up his recent “Too Many Tigers” success, Tex Williams should have a real biggie with this twin-market powerhouse called “Big Tennessee.” The tune is a barrelin’, stormin’ single-talkie saga about a big truck-drivin’ man who gave up his life in a heroic gesture.’
Featuring the inimitable styling of Tex Williams. This record is pop! This record is country! This record is a hit!
Great sales action. There’s a Boone Record distributor in your area. Contact them today. Boone Record Co. U.S. Route 42, Union, Ky.”
1965: Truck Driving County’s Crowning Year?
1968 was a particularly powerful year for diesel-driving music, as previously discussed, but 1965 – Zero to 180 researchers are discovering – shows the first flowering of the genre resulting from the runaway (trucker term, get it?) success of Dave Dudley‘s Top 40 hit, “Six Days on the Road“:
Zero to 180’s previous piece about a surprisingly decent truck driving song by The Archies – “Truck Driver” – makes a pretty persuasive case for 1968 being pop’s peak for the dieselbilly artform. 1971 might be no match for 1968, however, yesterday’s featured song – “I’ve Come Awful Close” – along with today’s spotlight track, Barbara Mandrell‘s “Tonight My Baby’s Coming Home, also from 1971, demonstrates neither is it a slouch:
“Tonight My Baby’s Coming Home” Barbara Mandrell 1971
“Tonight My Baby’s Coming Home” – a #10 country chart hit – was one of five Top 40 country hits included on 1973’s The Midnight Oil — a #8 country album.
Album Recording Credits
Guitar: Jerry Kennedy, Grady Martin, Billy Sanford, Harold Bradley & Bobby Thompson Steel/Dobro: Lloyd Green & Pete Drake Fiddle: Buddy Spicher & Johnny Gimble Piano: Hargus ‘Pig’ Robbins Bass: Junior Huskey Drums: Willie Ackerman Recorded: *September, 1971 Columbia Recording Studio – Nashville
(Majority of album tracks recorded in 1973*)
One of Zero to 180’s earliest pieces from 2013 makes light of Hank Thompson‘s famously well-enunciated vocals, as featured on “Squaws Along the Yukon” – a Capitol A-side from 1958. Hank, whose recording career spanned five decades, would wax a classic piece of toe-tapping truck-driving country in 1971 with “I’ve Come Awful Close“:
“I’ve Come Awful Close” Hank Thompson 1971
“I’ve Come Awful Close” would reach #27 in Billboard’s Country charts for the week of Christmas, 1971. Billboard already had the song in its line of sight, having identified it the previous month as a “Spotlight Single: Top 20 Country” (i.e., “spotlights predicted to reach the top 20 of the Hot Country Singles Chart”) in its November 13, 1971 edition:
“Thompson follows his ‘Mark of a Heel‘ hit with this easy beat material (2:49) that will continue his string of Top 20 country singles. Flip ‘Teardrop on the Rocks’ (2:39).”
“I’ve Come Awful Close” is a 45-only track that would be included on Hank’s 1971 2-LP retrospective 25th Anniversary Album, as well as following year’s Greatest Hits Vol. 1. Written by Ann J. Morton, the song would chart as high as #11 in the US (#19 in Canada) and spend a total of 14 weeks on the charts..
IMDB, the Internet Movie Database, recognizes these nicknames for Merle Haggard, who – in poetic fashion – left us this week on the exact date of his 79th birthday:
– Mighty Merle – Okie from Muskogee – Hag – Poet of the Common Man
Mighty Merle would enjoy the backing of The Strangers, one of country music’s greatest bands (who once recorded this charming radio ad for Ford Trucks), but the Hag began his recording career as a solo artist. I am sorry to learn that Merle’s second single did not enjoy the same chart success as his inaugural release “Sing a Sad Song” which was a Top 20 national hit despite being released on Tally, an indie label with minimal distribution. Perhaps it’s time then to reintroduce this quirky little tune “Sam Hill” to the rest of the world in honor of Merle’s passing:
“Sam Hill” Merle Haggard 1964
Haggard projects such a serious and soulful presence that casual fans may be surprised to learn of his gift for musical mimicry, as evidenced by this hilarious clip from The Glen Campbell Show in which he not only impersonates but also embodies four other legends of country music — Marty Robbins, Hank Snow, Buck Owens, and Johnny Cash:
Thanks to Deke Dickerson for putting together this moving tribute to Merle on the day his spirit left us:
“If you’re a true believer, then you already know, but for the uninitiated, one of the last true giants of country music has left the building. Rest in Peace to the great Merle Haggard, who passed away today, on his 79th birthday. It’s hard to put into words the immense influence and style and legacy of the man who was the best selling country music artist of the 1970’s, who started recording in the early 1960’s and was still recording and touring and incredibly active up until his death. Suffice to say, Merle Haggard was one of the greatest of all time, a Country Music Hall Of Famer, a Mount Rushmore-like figure who wrote epic songs like ‘Mama Tried’ and ‘Okie From Muskogee’ and ‘White Line Fever’ and ‘Tulare Dust’ and ‘Ramblin’ Fever’ and ‘Fightin’ Side Of Me’ and ‘Workin’ Man Blues’ and ‘If We Make It Through December’ and literally a thousand others. He sang the living [dung] out of those songs, too, with the conviction that a million wannabes who followed in his footsteps have never been able to emulate. He picked guitar, he played the fiddle, he made tribute albums to his heroes, and he kept playing and singing and playing and singing. He worked like a dog, like a man possessed, and inspired more fans and musicians than almost anybody in the history of the country music genre.
I was lucky enough to write two box set books for Bear Family Records on Merle Haggard’s Capitol Recordings from 1968-1976. I also wrote a box set book on Merle’s ex-wife and longtime harmony singer Bonnie Owens. It was because of his desire to see a good Bonnie Owens collection that he agreed to let me interview him. I wasn’t promised anything more than a cursory 15 to 30 minute phone interview, but minutes into the first phone call, we started talking about Roswell aliens and Lefty Frizzell and Emmett Miller and Bob Wills and then the floodgates were opened. I wound up interviewing Merle for a total of ten hours. He was a fascinating character, and one that gave endless great and usable quotes. He was not educated, but he was highly intelligent. I admired his ability to admit that he was wrong, and how he learned from experience. He explained to me for nearly an hour how ‘dumb as a rock’ he was when he wrote the right-wing anthems ‘Okie from Muskogee’ and ‘Fightin’ Side Of Me:’
Merle: “I was dumb as a rock, you know, I thought that the government told us the truth, and I thought that marijuana made you walk around with your mouth open. So when you write a song from that limited understanding, and have it become a hit, I was really in a whirlwind of change in America, and in my own way of thinking. ‘Okie from Muskogee’ came off the wall, written in about ten minutes, and it came off the back side of my brain, and my heart. Because I was disturbed about young America.
“See, I was easing into my thirties, at that time, so I was pretty much out of here as far as the young people were concerned, and they were young kids that I was irritated with, and they were doing things that I thought were un-American. Well, it wasn’t un-American, they were smarter than me! Kids are always smarter than the old folks….they see through our bigotry, and our hypocrisy. And I had a great lesson in life to learn, that they were already aware of. I believe history has proven them right. The Vietnam War was a hoax, the reason we went to war was a lie…maybe communism was a threat, but that wasn’t why we were there.
“What went on in the evolution of America and the evolution of Merle Haggard is not what people would have expected.” (Merle Haggard interview by Deke Dickerson, 2007)
I was really impressed at how much Merle had achieved, in the rigid music business system that preferred to market an artist in terms of saleable product, singles and albums of same sounding pop-based music, one right after the other. Merle was able to pick projects (and convince Capitol to release them) that had little commercial appeal except for the fact that Merle Haggard would be doing them–a tribute to Jimmie Rodgers; a tribute to Bob Wills (both done at a time when nobody remembered or cared about Rodgers or Wills); a double album of gospel music, recorded on location in rural churches and homeless shelters; live albums recorded in Muskogee, Oklahoma, Philadelphia and New Orleans; instrumental albums by his excellent band, The Strangers….it was overwhelming then, and it still is today, examining it all in retrospect. How did he achieve SO much in that amount of time? It boggles the mind.
I’ll always be grateful for the time that Merle gave me, and I know that at any given time, he had a thousand other people vying for his attention. It was a life that had to be exhausting. He lived it to the fullest and brought the real, honest Merle Haggard to the people every single time. There was no other Merle Haggard, it was just the way he was, and that’s one of the big reasons why people loved him. He was absolutely 100% genuine, no [BS], and they just don’t make country music stars like that anymore.
I saw Merle recently at what might have been his last show (can anyone confirm this?), back in February at the Saban Theater in Beverly Hills. It was an odd audience mix of rich folks, entertainment industry [butt]holes, rednecks, alternative rockers, aging hippies and hipsters. The minute that Merle hit the stage, despite his frail voice, the entire room was in the palm of his hand. Grown men kept yelling at the top of their lungs, “WE LOVE YOU MERLE!” It was, simply, to be in the presence of greatness. It wasn’t the greatest Merle Haggard performance he ever gave, but he gave all he had, sang his famous songs and walked off stage, as he did, without an encore. The audience, myself included, felt grateful to be seeing something that we all knew we probably wouldn’t be seeing many more times. Nobody there knew the end would be coming so damn fast.”
Merle Haggard & the Strangers – Annapolis, MD – April 16, 2012