Week Two: Smokin’ Starday INTRUMENTALS
Well, howdy there friends and neighbors! Welcome to Week Two of my music blog. As stated in the title of my first blog, I love Starday Records. I wrote a book about it. It will be released in January 2011. It has been my life and obsession for some time now. My intent for this blog is to share some information about the great old Starday recordings from years ago which are not commercially available.
There are many topics to be covered in this here blog, but for Week Two we shall focus on the magnificent instrumentalists of Starday. Don Pierce always had Nashville’s (and beyond) best instrumentalists recording in the Starday Studio. However, he always told them to hold back, to isolate and focus on the vocals tracks and to avoid all “the god-damn hot licks.” However, to feature the musician’s virtuoso talents, Pierce released numerous concept albums and EPs with the instrumentalists “cutting loose.” Most often the EPs were sent out to disc jockeys as voice-over fillers and the concept LPs were Starday shish-kebabs based on one particular instrument (i.e. steel guitar albums, fiddle albums, guitar albums, organ/guitar albums, banjo albums, etc). There were also several instrumental albums by major label artist’s backing bands (i.e. Hank Snow’s band, Jim Reeves’ band, Roy Acuff’s band, etc). The following are some of my favorite instrumentals culled from my collection of 45s, 78s, EPs and LPs on the Starday label.
1. Joe Maphis – Coffee Break
Joe Maphis is my favorite guitarist. I play a Joe Maphis Model Mosrite and worship nearly everything this man recorded. This particular track appeared on SLP 316, The King of the Strings, his first of three instrumental LPs showcasing this flat-picking master. According to the liner notes, during a session break, Joe Maphis sat down on a chair and recorded ‘Coffee Break’ in one take. The results are astonishing.
2. Buddy Dee – Country Rockin’ And Flyin’
This is one of the more interesting Starday releases because it featured Eddie Cochran (then recording for Liberty Records) on guitar. This recording comes from 45-258 (one of the aforementioned instrumental EPs which were distributed to disc jockeys for voice-overs), though it was also released as Hollywood 45-1068 (also an instrumental EP sent to disc jockeys) and credited to the Ernie Freeman Combo. Don Pierce owned Hollywood Records and operated the R&B/blues label independently from Starday (though both labels shared the same Hollywood and Nashville addresses). It also sounds as though Joe Maphis is playing guitar on this track as well.
3. Thumbs Carlille – Thumbs Guitar Boogie
Thumbs Carlille (often misspelled on the Starday labels as Thumbs Carlisle) was backing Bill Wimberly on ABC-TV’s Ozark Jubilee when this record was released in 1958 (as Starday EP 45-408). Bill Wimberly fronted the successful western swing band, self-proclaimed “America’s #1 Show Band in 1956,” and were signed to Mercury Records around 1955/6. When Mercury’s country division merged with Starday Records in 1957, Bill Wimberly’s band appeared on Mercury-Starday. After the split, several Wimberly (and affiliated gang) appeared on Starday.
4. Bill Wimberly – Missouri Drag
This is Bill Wimberly’s lone Mercury-Starday 45, 45-71089. Interestingly, the track is credited to both Bill Wimberly and Buddy Dee (not likely the same Buddy Dee as mentioned above). Don Pierce claimed that Buddy Dee (whose name appears on several Mercury-Starday 45s as writer) was actually a pseudonym for D. Kilpatrick and used to give monetary thanks to the man who created Mercury-Starday, though Kilpatrick (the former head of Mercury’s country division, who left to become the manager of the Grand Ole Opry in 1957) remembers nothing of the alter-ego. It very likely could have been used as a pseudonym for Pappy Daily instead.
5. Eddie Eddings – Country Guitar
Perhaps my favorite concept album Starday ever released was SLP 176— Tennessee Guitar, which featured 14 smokin’ guitar tracks by Nashville’s best pickers. This particular track is by Eddie Eddings. I know very little about Eddings, but he was the author and cut the original version of ‘Yearning’ (Starday 45-163), which later became a hit duet between George Jones and Jeanette Hicks (released on Starday as 45-279 and later rereleased on Mercury-Starday as 45-71061).
6. The Stanley Brothers – Fling Ding
The Stanley Brothers need little introduction. They are among the Big Three in bluegrass music and, according to the liner notes in Bear Family’s reissue set covering 1953-1958 & 1959, Ralph Stanley said the Mercury sides were some of the best sides they ever cut. I agree. This is one of them. This is one of their last Mercury sides, issued as Mercury-Starday 45-71207, and was released in 1957.
7. Shot Jackson & Buddy Emmons – Fort Worth Drag
Don Pierce released was neighbors with Roy Acuff in Nashville and the two became very good friends. Ac uff encouraged Pierce to release full-length albums by members in his band and this one, SLP 230, Singing Strings of Steel Guitar and Dobro by Shot Jackson, is one of the best. Though he is uncredited in the album title, the steel guitar and dobro duets also feature Buddy Emmons. Together these talented musicians created the now famous Sho-Bud steel guitars. This was one of Don’s favorite albums and mine.
8. Buck Ryan – Nervous Breakdown
D. Kilpatrick is a funny man. He told me that he was sent by Mercury Records, around 1955/56, to Washington D.C. to scope out up-and-coming star Jimmy Dean (now famous for his sausages). He was taken aback by the popular stars stage show and decided to sign a few of his bandmates as well. He later recalled to me, “Dean was out there playing with Patsy Cline and Roy Clark and I decided to sign Buck Ryan!” Though Ryan didn’t hit the scene as big as either of the latter, he was an incredible fiddle player and ‘Nervous Breakdown’ was his lone Mercury-Starday release, 45-71082.
9. Bill Wimberly – Springfield Guitar Social
More Bill Wimberly. Because we can; Because I love Thumbs Carlille. Though this tune isn’t an instrumental, I am a huge fan of these play-like-several-other-guitarist type songs (i.e. Eddie Hill’s ‘The Hot Guitar’ and the next track) and am working on recording my own on the Gashouse Gang’s next record. This classic track comes from one of Starday’s first LPs, SLP 109, Country Express.
10. Phil Baugh – Country Guitar
This just might be the best one of these types of songs I have ever heard. Phil Baugh can play and I highly recommend his CD out on the Sundazed label!! Though this track wasn’t originally released on Starday, Pierce leased the track in the late 1960s and included it on his album, SLP 399, The Fabulous Sounds of Those Nashville Cats. Viva la Phil Baugh!
11. The Musical-Aires – Skip Along Guitar
I know next to nothing about this group or track except that this song was included as the flip side to Buddy Dee’s ‘Country Rockin’ and Flyin’ (45-258), along with two other tunes. It’s mighty rocking. Enjoy.
12. Buzz Busby – Banjo Whiz
Despite the misleading title, Busby was actually a fantastic mandolin picker. Still, this particular tune was credited to Busby and his Bayou Boys and was released as a single (Starday 45-408) and was also included on SLP 109, Country Express. The banjo player was Bill Emerson and John Hall is on fiddle. This is a mix-up of old-time tune ‘Shady Grove’ and the laughing in the background is by Busby himself. Pretty darn fast. Pretty darn rocking!
13. Herbie Remington – Station Break
Remington was the man behind the steel guitar behind Bob Wills for many years. He was also part of the California/Texas Starday house band. After backing up George Jones and many others on their Starday sessions, he finally cut loose and recorded several instrumentals of his own. This one was released on Starday 45-332 in 1957, along with ‘Slush Pump,’ and also appeared later on SLP 109, Country Express.
14. Joe Maphis – Sweet Rosie
As mentioned, I can never get enough of Joe Maphis. This is his acoustic ode to his wife, Rose Lee, and also comes from SLP 316, The King of the Strings.
15. Jimmy Richardson – Peanut Vendor
At first, I was somewhat boggled by organ LPs on Starday by Jimmy Richardson. I guess he got his fame from playing at Tennessee walking horse championships and would play along to the horse’s gallop. He then started playing organ versions of popular country songs and he actually saw releases on Starday, the Nashville subsidiary and even Pierce’s Hollywood R&B/blues label. This song, from SLP 126— Sweet with A Beat, is particularly fun because every time I hear it I think of the movie Office Space.
16. Leon McAuliff and his Cimarron Boys – Boogie on Strings
Leon is another to get his fame as one of Bob Wills’ Texas Playboys. The phrase, “Take it away, Leon,” is etched into the minds of every western swing fan this tune doesn’t let you down. McAuliff had three LPs released under his own name on Starday and this track comes from his first, SLP 171—Mister Western Swing.
17. Hardrock Gunter – Memphis
Though he is more famous for his classic, ‘Birmingham Bounce,’ I prefer this cut from Starday SLP 176, Tennessee Guitar. Gunter also released one 45 on Starday, with Buddy Durham, and also backed the Sunshine Boys gospel quartet on their earliest Starday recordings. I remember reading a great article about Gunter in Blue Suede News a number of years ago and if you like his music, it is well worth tracking down the article.
18. Billy Byrd – Teen Age Blues
Here’s another gem from Starday SLP 176, Tennessee Guitar. This blues ditty comes to us by the much-loved Billy Byrd, Ernest Tubb’s longtime picker and Troubadour. This is my favorite of the three Byrd tracks on this LP.
19. Pete Drake – For Pete’s Sake
Pete Drake was one of Nashville’s best steel players and played on seemingly every Starday session. Drake and Tommy Hill (Starday producer extraordinaire) were good friends (later co-founded Stop Records and Window Music Publishing Co.) and Hill used Drake on most sessions he booked. Drake eventually cut a few of his own albums for Starday, which included several songs utilizing his famous “talking steel guitar.” I’m not a fan of the aforementioned talking steel, but this creepy little instro is simply amazing! This track comes from SLP 180, The Fabulous Steel Guitar Sound of Pete Drake, his first solo LP for Starday.
20. Jackie Phelps – Guitar Cannonball
Phelps was another of Roy Acuff’s Smokey Mountain Gang who recorded a solo album for Starday. Pierce was proud that his friend and neighbor, Roy Acuff, trusted him to release solo albums by the Smokey Mountain Gang, as opposed to having them released on his own Hickory label then operated by Wesley Rose. According to Pierce, Acuff said, “Let Starday and Don Pierce release the albums so they’ll be seen everywhere. Wesley doesn’t know how to do crap.” This track comes from SLP 265, The Ten Talented Fingers of Guitar Star Jackie Phelps. This is one of my favorite albums on Starday and his Fender Jazzmaster really sings on this LP! The harmonica in the background is by fellow Smokey Mountain Ganger Jimmie Riddle.
21. Ernest V. Stoneman – Orange Blossom Breakdown
The Stoneman Family, aka the Bluegrass Champs, recorded three LPs for Starday. This track, from SLP 275—The Great Old Timer at the Capitol, features the crazy-good fiddlin’ of Scotty Stoneman. I am a mighty big fan of the Stoneman Family’s music and a while back I had the privilege of interviewing the fiery Roni Stoneman. She played banjo on the family’s Starday recordings and, as I very quickly found out, she absolutely hated Starday. This is likely the most anti-Starday conversation I have heard and I was very grateful for her opinions and contributions to the Starday Story. Her issues with Starday are further dissected in the book if you are interested... As our conversation began, I mentioned to Roni that I was writing a book about Starday Records and the following is her response to that introduction. It’s a little bit lengthy, but I didn’t have room to include the whole thing in the Starday book and I found her response to be quite fascinating. Enjoy the read…
“When the depression wiped out the recording industry, a lot of the mountain people during the hard times moved into the D.C. area from Virginia. A lot of the Kentucky folks went into Detroit. You know, trying to find work. Anyway, we all played music there and we played around the Washington D.C. area and we hardly had any money. No financial help. Nobody. And daddy was a hard working man and mama was a hard working lady. And most of the people who came to the D.C. area brought their culture and their music with them. That’s all they had. Sometimes we’d play music for a dollar a night. So my older brothers formed their own band and my dad had his old band called the Little Pebbles which featured the greatest, which was Scotty on the fiddle. Scott was absolutely a natural. So he had a band himself and played around the D.C. area and played with different ones and we also played together...
“So I do not know how this came about, but we were invited to come to Nashville and record for Starday Records. And so we were staying at a little motel up on Dickerson Rd. called the Hilltop and I remember, I was very young, I guess I was about 8 ½ months pregnant. This was a very exciting time for us. Then when we came to Nashville, they took us to the Starday Studio, so we did a couple albums, two or three. It seemed like a lot because we were in there all day long. All day long! They took us out, took a picture, then took us back in. and started working again. I think we were in there for 14 hours of hard work. We featured Scotty on some fiddle tunes— ‘Orange Blossom Special’ [ed. Note: As heard in this blog]. And Scott played his heart and soul on the ‘Orange Blossom Special.’ Well, when it was released, it came out as ‘Orange Blossom Breakdown,’ arranged by York. We said, ‘who’s York?’ They said, ‘That’s Starday.’ They said, ‘That’s Don Pierce’s surname.’ I said, ‘He didn’t play no fiddle. How can he put soul into a fiddle tune?’ So here we were, Scott never read music. None of the Stoneman’s ever read music. We played our music with our every bit of soul and inner-beings because that’s all we ever knew to do. We just loved what we did. So Scott learned the fiddle from my grandfather in 1886 and then York claimed it. So I told Chet Atkins and he said, ‘It’s Don Pierce.’ Why would he want to steal our stuff? He changed the name to ‘Orange Blossom Breakdown’ and put arranged by York. So we played at some show and people would show that to us. How dare they? We should have taken some lawyers with us to Nashville.
“Then I recorded a banjo number. It was called ‘Lonesome Banjo.’ Scott said, ‘Roni, go in there and play. Make up a banjo number.’ I said, ‘I don’t know one.’ He said, ‘Go in there and make a banjo number up.’ I spent five minutes and I came out and says, ‘OK, I’m ready to play my new banjo number.’ The family all knew how I played so we all got in there and said, ‘OK, let’s go for it!’ It was called ‘Lonesome Banjo’ and it was put on Ralph Stanley’s album [ed. Note: SLP 201, The Mountain Music Sound of the Stanley Brothers] and as far as I know, my name wasn’t even mentioned [ed note: she was credited on the back cover as ‘Lonesome Banjo’ by Ronnie Stoneman]. Never received one penny for it. Never never. I’ve never received anything. Someone called me and said, ‘Roni, you’re on a Ralph Stanley album.’ I said, ‘I am?’ And so I went down there to the music store and there it was. And at first I felt proud because I think Ralph Stanley is absolutely the best – he is my hero and I love him dearly and I thought, ‘Wow, I’m on a Ralph Stanley album! But then I didn’t see my name. It just says ‘Lonesome Banjo.’ Now when I find that album.
“He (Pierce) took a lot of people and brought them into the studio and claimed their talent. I don’t go for that. If he don’t like that, to heck with him. I don’t care. That’s how I feel. Look on the album, darling. Do some research work on these albums. Now that he’s passed away I can say this, Chet Atkins is the one that taught me that there is such a thing as a blacklist. And a lot of people don’t like to give it to politically powerful people that can cause them trouble and keep them from getting anything anywhere. But I don’t have anything to lose or to gain. I’ll tell it like it is. Because I feel this way, I’m from a legendary family. I’m very thankful for that. We earned everything we got. We have honesty in our music. We worked hard. And we were cheated out of just about everything we had in our soul. For the music. But God don’t rest and he’ll take care of those who need it. And when Don Pierce got that award at ROPE, I like to fell out. I said, ‘I wonder how many people he cheated.’ And here people are braggin’ him up. But I can’t even imagine how many people he had to cheat to get there. I’ve never received one red cent from Starday and I don’t believe any of the Stonemans have. If Starday was so good, how come people didn’t stick with them? And you can read this story about Pierce in my book. Ellen Stuck from Northwestern University of Illinois is writing a book about my life. She’s been at it about two and a half years. She should be finishing it up during the latter part of March. She’s actually writing a play as well and that story is going to be in there as well.”
22. Al Petty – Steel Guitar Special
If you are prepared to be blown away, head over to http://alpettytrial.com/LifeofAlPetty.html and read about the life of Al Petty. He made some amazing recordings for Starday and backed a lot of the early Texas sessions. He later ran a pyramid scheme, had some shady church business practices and got nailed for it. He is now in prison, I believe, but recommend listening to this great track and reading his own version of his story as linked above… This track comes from Starday 45-141 and was billed as Al Petty and the Rainbow Riders.
23. George Jones – No Money In This Deal (Instrumental)
This is the instrumental version of George Jones first 45 on Starday, which he often jokes was a prophetic tune regarding his Starday contract. I’m not certain, but I believe Herbie Remington was on steel guitar for this one. It comes from 45-295, another of the early EPs sent out to DJs.
24. Allen Shelton – Bending the Strings
Allen Shelton was the banjo player for Jim Eanes and the band got together to record this one in November 1957. Though the band’s previous session songs were released on Mercury-Starday, by the time this record got into Pierce’s hands, the Mercury-Starday deal was over. Thus, Pierce released it on Starday 45-366, one of the earliest Nashville EPs filled with instrumentals for DJs. This track also appeared on several later LPs featuring bluegrass music and my recording comes from SLP 136, Banjo Jamboree Spectacular.
25. Joe Maphis – Fire On the Strings
More Joe Maphis, because I can! When his Columbia LP of the same title came out in 1957, a new sound was born! By the time he arrived at the Starday Studio, Maphis had been playing this song on California’s Town Hall Party for about five years. The tempo was significantly increased, rushed you could say, but WOW isn’t it amazing! Again, this track comes from SLP 316, The King of the Strings.
26. Link Davis – Waltz of the Jambalaya
Link Davis has many claims to fame. He recorded some amazing rockabilly tracks for Starday. He played fiddle and sax with Cliff Bruner and the Texas Wanderers. He recorded ‘Good Rockin’ Tonight’ in 1949! He played sax on the Big Bopper’s ‘Chantilly Lace.’ In addition to his great western swing and rock sides, he was also a great fiddler and recorded his share of outstanding Cajun music. This 1957 instrumental features his fantastic fiddlin’ on Starday 45-331.
27. Johnny Bondz – Remington Ride
This one here was a mystery to me to me for a long time. It comes from the Nashville subsidiary label, NV-5299. It’s a cover of the great Hank Penny side by the same title on King Records (45-902) which featured Herbie Remington. Note, this version is not by the more famous Starday artist Johnny Bond, but by Johnny Bondz. I have later discovered that this is likely Johnny Bondzinski, a Florida-based steel player and music shop owner (Bondz Music in Wildwood, FL). A photo of the man can be seen here: http://www.pbase.com/cozy123/image/34049071. Viva la Starday artists Johnny Bond and Johnny Bondz!
28. Arthur “Guitar Boogie” Smith – Boogie Battle
There were a couple Arthur Smith’s recording instrumental LPs on Starday, Arthur ‘Guitar Boogie’ Smith and Fiddlin’ Arthur Smith and his Dixieliners. This is from the former. Though most famous for his 1948 MGM recording of ‘Guitar Boogie,’ which is often cited as the first ever rock and roll song, Smith also recorded nine LPs for Starday and appeared on several singles and compilations as well. It was hard to pick just one song to feature this great fiddler, banjo, mandolin and guitar picker, but I chose ‘Boogie Battle’ because he did several great organ/guitar duet tracks and this is one of them. Though my favorite LP of his was his SLP 243— Blue Guitar, this track originates from SLP 216,Arthur "Guitar Boogie" Smith Goes To Town.