Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Tribute to Rudy "Tutti" Grayzell (1933-2019)

It is with great sadness that I report that we’ve lost another Starday legend. My friend Rudy "Tutti" Grayzell passed away last week after a day of romping around with family and chasing his granddaughter around the house. Rudy recorded for several influential record labels in the ‘50s and ‘60s such as Abbott, Capitol, Sun, Award, and Dexter, but it was his Starday recordings that he loved the most and that earned him a touring spot with Elvis Presley for a year and a half in the mid-50s.

Growing up in San Antonio, he frequently performed alongside Johnny Cash, Charlie Walker, Roy Orbison, Link Davis, Doug Sahm, and many others and he made his first recordings for Abbott Records with Jim Reeves’ band in 1953. He was randomly seated next to Starday president Don Pierce on a flight to Texas in 1956 and was immediately offered a contract with Starday Records. He went on to have one of the most storied careers in show business and was one of the leading lights of the European rockabilly revival (and eventually became a Rockabilly Hall of Famer). After a spell in Vegas, Rudy moved to Portland, OR and kept active in music, theater, and film in the Pacific Northwest, as well as becoming the national spokesman for Pine Bros. cough drops.

I first met Rudy in August of 2005 when I was working on The Starday Story and his stories about the early Texas honky-tonk and rockabilly days were both hilarious and wild. We kept in contact throughout the project and when the book finally came out, Rudy became one of its biggest promoters. Later, I recorded a tribute to Starday Records for Pete Hakonen’s Goofin’ label and included a cover of Rudy’s Starday tune ‘Jig-Ga-Lee-Ga.’ Rudy loved it and offered to write the liner notes for the record and they were perfect. In 2013, Carlos Diaz invited both of us to Spain to perform at his Screamin’ Festival and I consider it among my life’s highlights to sing ‘Jig-Ga-Lee-Ga’ with Rudy on his 80th birthday in Calella (many thanks also to Chris Wilkinson, Lynette and Phil Morgan, Willy Briggs, and the amazing Tennessee Rhythm Riders band!).

When I began working on the Stars of Starday project in May of 2017, Rudy was among the first artists I talked to about it and he enthusiastically accepted my invitation. We recorded two tracks together, ‘Let’s Get Wild’ and ‘Duck Tail,’ and I think our banter at the end of each song shows how much we loved being around each other (and, of course, many thanks to Jerry Miller, Tim Moore, and Carl Sonny Leyland for backing us!). Rudy was hilarious as always and I can’t thank Roy Kay and Ramona Cachinero enough for making the recordings and taking the photos! I think listening to those recordings (with many thanks to Nico and Bear Family Records for making them available!) gives you a pretty good idea of Rudy’s high energy, but he was also among my kindest and most thoughtful friends. I kept all of his voicemails from the past year or so because repeated listenings always cheered me up. I won’t share the main content of them of course, but for those who loved Rudy, you might enjoy hearing his laugh, which was how he began nearly every phone call or message. And every time Rudy called me he also had an idea for some kind of project we could do together. He was always creative, always positive, always inspiring, always lifting me up, and always laughing along the way. The guy was just downright funny and a tornado of positivity. I’ll really miss ya, Rudy, but I'm grateful for the times we had. Rest in peace, and in your own words, may the good Lord take a likin’ to ya!