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, leaped 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.

Now I Wanna Mosrite 45 Record

I love the Mosrite ‘guitarslinger’ tradition that links Joe Maphis, Larry Collins, The Ventures, Johnny Ramone, and Kurt Cobain.

Mosrite Guitar-aaMosrite Guitar-bbMosrite Guitar-ccMosrite Guitar-ddKurt Cobain playing concert

Zero to 180 recently stumbled upon the fact that Mosrite had a short-lived record label — Mosrite Records – for which Joe & Rose Lee Maphis would record a couple singles, including “Tunin Up for the Blues” in 1967 (most likely):

“Tunin’ Up for the Blues”     Joe & Rose Lee Maphis     1967

Joe & Rose Lee had preceded this 45 with debut Mosrite release “Write Him a Letter” b/w “Send Me Your Love A.P.O.”   Mosrite would issue one more 45 – albeit a promo – featuring one track by Rose Lee, “Country Girl Courtship,” and one by Joe suitably titled, “Pickin’ & Guitin’.”

She gets the A-side                                 He gets the B-side

Mosrite Records-aMosrite Records-b

Mosrite Corrects the Record (so to speak)

Billboard – in its September 3, 1966 edition – would run a correction for Mosrite Records that reads as follows:

A Correction:  Mosrite Records Full Page Ad in Buyer’s Guide should have read ‘Music Capital of the West’ rather than ‘Music Capital of the World’  Mosrite Records – Bakersfield, California.”

Joe & Larry-aJoe & Larry-b

Twin Doubleneck Mosrite Guitars:  Joe Maphis & Larry Collins – Live!

“Flying Fingers”     Joe Maphis & Larry Collins     195?

Bachelors of Art: Married to Music

The dissolution of Cincinnati’s The Ferns by 1985 would find Rick Mosher in common cause with keyboardist Tim Miller (ex-Dog Pound).  Rick & Tim’s new musical unit would play out live around town – but eventually grow weary of Cincinnati’s fairly provincial views with regard to modern sounds in popular music.  The situation would come to a head.

Mosher in a candid moment – early 1980sRick Mosher - early 1980s

As Mosher recounts:

“We left Cincy in 87 and never returned.  We could not afford to live in MA, so we
lived in NH and commuted in for gigs.  The scene was way different than Cincy;
you played one 45-minute set, usually with three other bands.  You started on
Tuesday nights and had to work your way up to weekends by drawing crowds.
No one got paid until you made the weekend rotation, and then you were lucky if
you got $50.  It was a blast playing in front of strangers in a big city!  We made it to
the weekends within a year or so, headlined occasionally.”

Before leaving town, however, the band (possibly Mosher) came up with a brilliant name: Bachelors of Art.

(L to R) Rick Mosher, Mark Richards, Jim Faris, Tim Miller

Bachelors of Art-1989

The unmarried musicians, with Mosher as principal songwriter, would set to work on recording songs for their debut album, Bag.

“I wrote all of the songs on Bag, and we recorded the whole thing on a ½ inch Tascam reel to reel.  We dedicated one track to SMPTE [timecode] so we did not have to record keys to tape.  The drums were mixed to stereo and the vocals got two tracks.”

“‘No Reaction‘ was written about girls and not getting recognition as a band.  I am
sure you can hear the lead section is directly ripped off from [Bram Tchaikovsky’s] ‘Girl of my Dreams‘!  I was pretty happy about how that song came out given our limitations.  I think it has one of the best drum sounds on the record.”

[Pssst:  Click on triangle above to play “No Reaction” by Bachelors of Art]

“‘Safe to Be Alone‘ was written after I read a book [1987’s And the Band Played On] by Randy Shilts about the AIDS crisis.  I was pretty moved by the story, which documented how the disease made its way to the US and how it spread throughout our continent.”

[Pssst:  Click on triangle above to play “Safe to Be Alone” by Bachelors of Art]

The Bachelors played gigs in the Boston and NYC areas primarily over the next 7 years – even playing at storied CBGB’s, as Mosher’s ReverbNation bio notes.  “We had been in Boston for a couple of years when Bag came out,” says Mosher, “It opened some doors for us.  We found a lawyer who worked pro-bono and eventually recorded a second project [1992’s G] in a real recording studio.”

Bachelors of Art’s 1992 follow-up, GBachelors of Art-1992aa

*

1994 Bachelors of Art cassette EPBachelors of Art-1994aa

Mosher and Miller, moreover, “put together an exceptional recording studio, Binery Studio, and recorded many bands through 2006,” as reports ReverbNation.

The Bachelors – alas and alack – would part ways in 1994.

Unfinished Business:
Zero to 180’s Interview with Rick Mosher

Q:  At any point in the group’s history did band members ruin the story line by getting married?
A:  Tim got married first!  There were three bachelors in the group still, so we did not take issue.  When we finished pursuing the original scene, the final members of the band learned 60 covers and got a regular gig in VT playing ski lodges, very lucrative.  We changed our name then to “the good timin’, hot-doggin’, ski party band!”

Q:  Your joining The Max brought a modern pop aesthetic to what had been a power trio “jamming” approach.  The Max’s evolution into The Ferns would allow you to embrace a more structured, modern rock path.  How you describe the change in artistic direction from The Ferns to the Bachelors of Art?
A:  Well, The Raisins had a huge influence on everyone, especially me.  Going to music school for college also opened up the world of theory to me, which had a big influence on my writing.  I am still convinced that some day I will be able to craft a 12-tone pop song!  I was always a big fan of groups like the Eagles and The Who etc, which also influenced my writing and playing style.

Mosher, 1981, in the studio with The MaxMax & Bluegills - Rick Mosher(photo by Leslie Spitz-Edson)

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Q:  Looking back, what are your jazz impressions of the Boston music scene in the late 1980, early 1990s when the Bachelors were plying their art?  What favorite covers did the band enjoy playing?
A:  We played some 80s classics given our instrumentation – The Cure, Blue Nile – and our drummer at the time was a big fan of Canadian music, so we played stuff that I had never hear, Blue Rodeo for one.  We always played one cover in our one set just to get a read on the crowd.

Q:  With regard to your latest work, how long did it take for you to write and record these songs?
A:  I did “release” something new two years ago — the album was released under the name Dean and was called “Closer” after the title track.  I feel very good about the recording, though it took too long to complete – two years!   I feel overall it represents some of my best songwriting and playing.  Tim [Miller] is on it somewhat, and I played with a solid drummer [Tom Evans] and excellent bass player [Clayton Young].  Unfortunately, scheduling became difficult, so after awhile, I ended up doing most of the vocals.  Tim played keys, me on guitars, keys, harmonica, and dobro.  It was a lot of fun to make and reflected my transition from marriage to being single and the changes in the structure with the kids, who were pretty young at the time.

ReverbNation adds a little more to the story:

Dean was formed in 1999 as a solo project.  The first release was more of an EP, with 7 songs, and Rick played pretty much everything.  After working through some major life transitions, death and divorce to name a few, Rick wrote a batch of songs, which were finally recorded and mixed this year.”

Link to Rick Mosher’s Dean – courtesy of ReverbNation

Rick Mosher & friend — DOUBLENECK GUITARS on Zero to 180

Rick Mosher and friend

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 doubleneck 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.

Joe Maphis Also Had a Doubleneck

Joe Maphis – “The King of the Strings” – was the ace picker of the top-notch house band at the Town Hall Party, a radio and television show filmed in Compton and broadcast over the West Coast airwaves in the 1950s.  The success of the Friday and Saturday night broadcasts led to a Sunday afternoon program, Town Hall Ranch Party, hosted by Tex Ritter.

Joe Maphis [who, you might recall, once witnessed Dave Bunker’s Duo-Lectar up close] really demonstrates his facility for playing stringed instruments on a song that can only be found here – as Tex Ritter points out in his introduction – on the Town Hall Ranch Party:

“Town Hall Boogie”     Joe Maphis & the Ranch Party Gang     1958

What a pleasant surprise to see such a talented steel guitarist with great stage moves, who also happens to be a woman – Marian Hall – as well as a thread on the The Steel Guitar Forum dedicated to “Marian Hall on Joe Maphis’ ‘Town Hall Boogie’.”

In addition to Joe Maphis and Marian Hall, the 10-piece Town Hall Party band would also include Merle Travis (guitar), Billy Hill & Fiddlin’ Kate (violins), Pee Wee Adams (drums), Buddy Dooley (bass), Ray Cline (accordion), and Jimmy Pruett on piano.

“Joe Maphis Guitar” by Ellen – originally posted to Flickr

Joe Maphis doubleneckAs Billboard would report in its July 30, 1955 edition:

“Town Hall Party (NBC and KTTV), Los Angeles, recently opened a new park operation in the Santa Monica Mountains just outside of L.A.  Known as Town Hall Ranch Party, the venture has been getting a big play on Sundays and holidays.  This is in addition to the unit’s regular Friday and Saturday night operations out of Town Hall, Compton, Calif.  The cast includes Tex Ritter, Lefty Frizzell, Merle Travis, Wesley & Marilyn Tuttle, Johnny Bond, Joe & Rose Lee Maphis, Skeets McDonald, The Collins Kids, Mary Jane Johnson, Bonnie Sloan, Mary Lou, Tex Carman, Bobby Charles, Gary Williams, Les (Carrot-Top) Anderson, and Freddie Hart.”

Maphis would also write “Town Hall Rag” and “Town Hall Shuffle,” but alas, “Town Hall Boogie” appears to exist outside of his official recorded canon.

Photo of Marian Hall that accompanied Cindy Cashdollar’s interview

Vintage Guitar Magazine — September 2004 issue

Marian HallMarian Hall:  A Tribute to “The First Lady of the Steel Guitar”

“Marian deserves to be better known for her many accomplishments as a live television pioneer, resourceful and innovative steel guitar soloist, vocalist and songwriter.  Marian became a familiar face on live TV in Los Angeles in the 1950s as part of the Town Hall Party cast along with “superpickers”, Joe Maphis and Merle Travis.  Marian spent time gigging with Tex Ritter’s Ranch Party, Tex Williams band, and even Spade Cooley’s all-girl orchestra.

She was a neighbor and close friend of Paul Bigsby and was one of the few for whom PA would gladly do the chore of changing strings.  Marian played while seated on a high stool with her Bigsby pedal steel raised up on its leg extensions giving the illusion that she was playing while standing.  She had a wonderful, self-deprecating sense of humor and roared with laughter when she told me how the stool once collapsed on live television yet she somehow finished her solo while lying on her side on the stage.  And play she could: red-hot, yet always tasteful steel runs and bell-like harmonics tumbled out of her amp while she flashed that girl-next-door-smile to the camera.  That she was respected by musicians of the caliber of Travis and Maphis speaks volumes of her abilities.

I’ll remember her as a whip-smart, gracious lady who was modest about her abilities yet quietly proud of her accomplishments and her rightful place in the history of California Country and Western Swing music.  No doubt feeling the same way, last year, the Seattle Western Swing Society inducted Marian into its Hall of Fame.  Not bad for a career that began on live TV at age twelve as one half of the sister duo, The Saddle Sweethearts.  I join Cindy Cashdollar and all who knew her in remembering a great lady. R.I.P. Marian.”

Written by Andy Volk Posted on Steel Guitar Forum in 2006

Photo of Marian Hall courtesy of Dave Schroeder

Freddie Roulette’s Sweet, Funky Steel

Freddie Roulette coaxes all manner of sweet, funky feeling out of his doubleneck lap steel guitar on the track “Joaquin” from his debut solo album:

“Joaquin”     Freddie Roulette     1973

Steel Guitar:  Freddie Roulette
Bass, Acoustic Guitar:  Victor Conte
Drums:  Paul Lagos
Guitar:  Coleman Head
Saxophone:  Richard Aplanap
Mixed by Fred Breitberg
Produced by Harvey Mandel
Recorded by Baker Bigsby

Prior to Sweet Funky Steel, Roulette had played with Charlie Musselwhite and the Chicago Blue Stars, whose 1969 debut LP kicks off with the “Fred Roulette” composition, “I Need Your Loving.”

Freddie Roulette

Billboard included this album as an “Also Recommended” pick (under ‘jazz’) in its September 29, 1973 issue with these words of praise:

Title is a perfect description of a truly charming, contemporary jazz-blues session on talking steel guitar.  Best cut:  “Smoked Fish

How fascinating (and sad) that Freddie Roulette would release his groundbreaking album Sweet Funky Steel in 1973 — and then issue no other recordings for over 20 years.  One gets the sense that this album may have been a bit ahead of its time and had to wait for the rest of the world to catch up.

With the release of Psychedelic Guitar Circus (1994), Back in Chicago (1996), Spirit of Steel (1999), Man of Steel (2006) and Jamming with Friends (2012), it would seem that the artist and his audience have, at last, found each other.

Photos of esteemed “guitar client” Freddie Roulette can be found at Berkeley’s renowned Subway Guitars.

Sweet Funky Steel LP

It’s True: Noel Boggs Once Played on a King Record

Hank Penny‘s first recording session for King Records took place at the Wurlitzer Music Company in Cincinnati sometime mid-1944.  Roy Lanham – pioneering guitarist who was too “hillbilly” for the jazz crowd and too “jazzy” for country fans – would play on this session, as well as Louis Innis, it’s worth noting.  Penny’s next session for King would be recorded in Hollywood a year later and yield five songs – including “Steel Guitar Stomp:

“Steel Guitar Stomp”     Hank Penny (featuring Noel Boggs & Merle Travis)    1945

Penny’s steel guitarist, Noel Boggs would soon get the call up from legendary bandleader, Bob Wills and then later, Spade Cooley.  This “Dean of the Steel Guitar,” according to Brad’s Pages of Steel, “appeared on some 2,000 recordings as a soloist, with Bob Wills, Spade Cooley, Jimmy Wakely, Hank Penny, Bill Boyd, Sheb Wooley, Les Anderson, Merle Travis and the Cass County Boys.”  Boggs, backed by the Day Sleepers, would go on to release a couple singles on almighty Columbia under his own name, as well as a couple recordings as “The Noel Boggs Quintet” on the Shasta label.

Noel Boggs singleNoel Boggs album

Check out all the cool sounds that Noel Boggs coaxes out of his (pre-pedal) steel guitar in this driving version of “Alabamy Bound:

Extra Credit:  Name That Guitar

Q:  What guitar is Noel Boggs playing in this clip of Bob Wills & the Texas Playboys ‘performing’ the song “Ida Red” in the 1945 western talkie, Blazing the Western Trail — that’s the question posed a few years back on the Steel Guitar Forum.

Answer:  Epiphone “Rocco” 7/8-string doubleneck steel guitar – thanks to Jody Carver (of Hot Club of America fame) for providing an autographed photo of this impressive and stylish guitar being held by its namesake, Anthony Rocco, about which too little is known.  Says Mark Heller, “Rocco was one of the earliest electric steel guitar players, and he carved out a career for himself in the New York City area, playing Hawaiian-style steel guitar with big bands and orchestras around the city.  In addition, Rocco befriended Epi Stathopoulo, who manufactured Epiphone guitars, and Rocco came on board as advisor to the company.  Based on Rocco’s designs and inventions, Epiphone began manufacturing a whole line of Rocco devices in 1937, including a Rocco double-neck steel guitar, a Rocco signature steel bar, and the innovative Rocco Tonexpressor, a combination volume and tone pedal.”

Anthony Rocco

1954: An Explosive Year for Music

We all know that 1954 was the year of Elvis Presley’s famous and influential Sun recordings, but 1954 was also highly noteworthy for the combined impact of these 3 particular tunes — all instrumentals:

1.  “Stratosphere Boogie” by Speedy West & Jimmy Bryant:  phenomenal, blazing twin guitar work – rock and roll by any other name (although some might call it “hillbilly jazz“).  Recorded September 2, 1954.  Bryant is using a “Stratosphere Twin” double-neck guitar with 6-string and 12-string necks.  The 12-string neck, curiously, is tuned in thirds, thus sounding like twin lead guitars playing lines in harmony.

Stratosphere Twin - Jimmy Bryant

“Stratosphere Boogie”     Speedy West & Jimmy Bryant     1954

2.  “Space Guitar” by JohnnyGuitarWatson:  unhinged guitar paired with playful production (and unpredictable reverb) – as Larry Nager so adroitly dubbed it, “punk blues.”  Recorded as ‘Young John Watson’ in Los Angeles on February 1, 1954 and released on Syd Nathan‘s Federal Records.

“Space Guitar”     Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson     1954

Space Guitar 453.  “Pork Chop Stomp” by Grady Martin and His WinginStrings – crisp production,       great chops (so to speak) and a little humor go a long way.  That’s Bud Isaacs on pedal steel, with Grady Martin and Hank Garland both playing lead on this spirited piece of western swing – recorded January 13, 1954.

“Pork Chop Stomp”     Grady Martin & His Wingin’ Strings     1954

Grady Martin doubleneck guitarApproximately 12 Years Later:

Johnny Echols of seminal Los Angeles folk-punk band, Love, would be seen playing one of those rare Stratosphere double-necks originally made famous by Jimmy Bryant:

Johnny-Echols-with-Stratosphere