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Bob Gallion
Square Dancin' Papa
The first time I heard of Bob Gallion was My Square Dancin' Mama (She's Done Learned To Rock 'n' Roll) and Baby, Love Me on the MGM Rockabilly Collection album. His vocals on them are pure country and despite the excitement of the backing, it was pretty much his only stab at rock 'n' roll.

His voice is country, fair and square, and though the songs sometimes veered slightly (very slightly) to the poppy sound, his voice never did. He enjoyed half a dozen or so country hits in the early sixties on Hickory records, but sadly remains an overlooked artist.

Bob Gallion was born on 22 April 1931 in Ashland, Kentucky, an area steeped in country music history and it was little surprise that he took up the guitar at an early age. The family moved to Columbus, Ohio and he continued to play, turning pro before his 20th birthday. He worked local gigs and radio programmes around the Tri-State towns of Ashland, Huntington, Ironton, Portsmouth and Columbus before joining Wilma Lee and Stoney Cooper's Clinch Mountain Clan on Wheeling's WWVA Jamboree. In 1951 he formed his own band, the Country Boys and stayed on the Jamboree until '56 when he became a regular performer on the Louisiana Hayride.

He was signed to MGM in 1955 and penned a songwriting contract with Acuff-Rose. He recorded for MGM until February 1959 and the quality of his recordings was always far better than the record sales suggested.

His first release was Your Wild Life's Gonna Get You Down, but although it failed to sell for Gallion was a number 12 hit for Kitty Wells on Decca. Other songs he got covered were Love Pains and Sweethearts Again for the Osborne Brothers.

A February 2nd 1956 MGM session in the RCA Victor studio in Nashville with Chet Atkins the axeman. A Fool In Love is typical hillbilly of the time, engaging vocals complete with hot picking and fiddle work. Trademark On What I've Found was even better with Chet unmistakable on his tasty solo. You're Wild Life's Gonna Get You Down comes from the lonesome street that Hank Williams used to walk down.

The best of the session though, and the reason for this page being in the Rockabilly Hall of Fame is the great My Square Dancin' Mama (She's Done Learned To Rock 'n' Roll). Rock 'n' roll was in it's infancy with Elvis Presley just starting to hit it nationally, and MGM started to put it's country singers in a rock 'n' roll environment. This was a prime example. Gallion sounds completely at ease without ever feeling the need to turn his collar up and wiggle his hips. It's no surprise that the teens spent their money elsewhere, but when the song was reissued during the big rockabilly revival of the '70s it sounded magic, pure rocking hillbilly with guitars and sawing fiddle.

Gallion moved to WKAB in Mobile, Alabama and became a regular performer on the Louisiana Hayride. He returned to Nashville for his second session on November 7th and again laid down four tracks. The band this time included ex-Drifting Cowboy Don helms and fiddle maestro Benny Martin. The first single chosen from the session was a strong one, but for some reason Hey Mr Bartender and You've Gotta Have A Heartache (To Know How To Love) failed to register. The follow up was equally strong but Out Of A Honky Tonk and I Want Her Blues. They were as hard country as anyone was producing at the time, but lady luck chose to overlook them. Out Of and Bartender were both co-writes with new buddy Luke McDaniel, who himself was a prolific artist who received scant rewards for his considerable talent.

It was another 16 months before recorded again, with producer Jim Vienneau at the helm. Foolish Young Heart and I Miss You were poppier than he'd sounded before. The pick of the session was undoubtedly Baby, Love Me, a prime-time slab of rockabilly. The backing is a solid drive and even the backing vocals are unobtrusive. Gallion sounds convincing in the role of rocker and the guitar work is sterling throughout.

A couple of months later he was back to cut the single That's What I Tell My Heart and Run Boy. I love the top side, his first use of the Nashville sound that was starting to dominate the noises of Music City. It became a minor hit, and should have gone higher.

The next single, cut on 6th February 1959 produced his biggest hit to date, You Take the Table (And I'll Take the Chairs). After the poppier sound of That's What I Tell My Heart, it was a surprise that Gallion and MGM to cut in a such a pure honky tonk style as Table was. It worked though, climbing to number 18 on the Billboard Country charts.

For some reason his last session at MGM was a novelty affair with Froggy Went A'Courtin' and a hayseed reading of Hey Joe. I'd love to know the logic behind this session, suggestions on a postcard please.

When his MGM contract expired, he joined WGUN Atlanta as a deejay and stayed with the Big Gun for six years. As an artist he signed for Hickory Records, an obvious choice as they were the house label of Acuff-Rose who Gallion still wrote for and did promotional work. Whilst the MGM years are readily available on the excellent Bear Family CD, Out Of A Honky Tonk (Bear Family BCD 16439), the Hickory recordings have not been subject to the same type of reissue. Picking up second hand copies of the original releases seems to be the only way.

The Hickory hits I've heard are straight ahead country with no-nonsense backing and vocals. It was typical early '60s production and this time he was justly rewarded. Loving You (Was Worth This Broken Heart) hit the top 10 immediately and was followed over the next three years by One Way Street, Sweethearts Again, Wall To Wall Love and Ain't Got time For Nothin'.

He left Hickory in 1968 and joined United Artists where he scored a minor hit with Pick A Little Happy Song. He also returned to the Wheeling Jamboree where he stayed for nigh on twenty years. He toured with songstress Patti Powell and the duo had a small hit in 1973 with Love By Appointment on Metromedia Country. According to writer Ivan Tribe, they also cut a Greatest Hits album for Starday-Gusto containing re-cuts of eight Gallion solo's and four of their duets.

Bob Gallion died on August 20th, 1999 in Wood, West Virginia. If you have any memories of him please feel free to email me. He would have been 75 this month, so keep his memory alive by giving the MGM or Hickory stuff a spin.

Shaun Mather
February 2006

Rockabilly Hall of Fame