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Joyce A. Benton -
GONNA ROCK'N'ROLL TONITE
Sam Phillips' many disciples are assured
their righful place in the history of the C20th's most exciting music form.
From Adams to Yelvington, they hold a treasured place in our hearts and
record collections. They are equally revered, whether they sold by the truck
load in the 50s or waited to be rediscovered by a future generation. The
formidable early 70s reissue projects licensed from new owner Shelby Singleton
(via Phonogram, Hallmark, Charly, AVI and Bear Family) opened up Sam's copious
One name that I feel is often unfairly overlooked by some is the highly talented
son of Carroll County, Tennessee, Carl Mann. Perhaps it's because he recorded
towards the end of the "golden era", or that his Phillips 45s overworked a
"rocking the oldies" formula. However if you scratch beneath the surface you'll
appreciate the considerable talents of Sam's youngest million selling star.
The fact that Carl now works outside of the music business is a travesty.
Later on I will discuss his superb later recordings and why he should be
appearing at Vegas and Hemsby etc.
Carl was born near Huntingdon Tennessee on August 22nd, 1942. He grew up in the
backwoods, his family running a succesful timber business. The local radio
stations fed a diet of classic hillbilly and honky tonk into the family wireless
set. Carl's love of music was nurtured by his family, firstly in church,
then by listening to the mother church of country on the radio. He recalled to
Martin Hawkins (famed Sun researcher and author) in 1976, "Listening to
the Grand Ole Opry was a real big deal". Big influences on him were Lefty
Frizzel, Hank Williams, Hank Snow and Carl Smith. Young Master Mann played in
church at the age of 9 and later on the local radio stations talent shows.
By 1950 he was playing guitar, and in 1952 Jackson station WDXI gave him a regular
In 1954 Carl formed a band with fellow youngsters. When he was 13 he learned
to play the piano because there was no one else around to play it. They played
local churches, schools and the Junior Opry on WSM Nashville. Carl soon started
listening to r&b and the young Hillbilly Cat. He loved sitting in with the local
djs and playing the latest hot wax. One dj pal, Bill Haney set up a successful
audition with Jimmy Martin in Jackson. Martin had his own combo and a fledgling
record label called Jaxon.
Carl recalled "Rob Oatswell played bass on the early records, stayed with me
until I was drafted in 64. My cousin Jerry, Tony Moore and Robbie Robinson,
played in the band. Our band played the local radio station in Milan
Tennessee every Saturday. Dj Bill introduced us to Jimmy Martin in Jackson.
We were all teenagers and I was the youngest. I met Eddie Bush in the studio
there, he was from Texas. I met Carl Perkins for the first time too."
Texan Eddie Bush came there via a stint on the Louisiana Hayride show. His
superb distinctive guitar style can of course be heard on Carl's best work.
Take a listen to these young cats on the seminal 2 sided rockabilly classic 45,
Jaxon 502 Gonna Rock'n'Roll Tonite/ Rockin' Love, billed as Carl Mann and
the Kool Kats. Carl paid for the session and pressing and had 350 copies to sell
at gigs. The Stompertime label's cd listed later contains both these goodies
and other Jaxon sides cut in 57-58. There's an early demo of the song that
later changed Carl's life, Nat King Cole's Mona Lisa. Particularly fine
is the Gene Vincentish Satellite No.2, unreleased with great vocal
"Eddie Bush and I worked up an arrangement of Mona Lisa, originally
it was slow but Eddie made it rockabilly.I owe a lot of credit to his guitar
style, he would lead off on an idea and I would follow through with my
voice or piano. That was how we worked together." Eddie was now lead guitarist,
Rob on bass, Tony on drums and Carl on the 88s. Billboard picked up on Rockin'
Love and wrote in April 57 "Another side that could step out in both c&w and
pop with the right kind of exposure. Mann warbles with strong feeling on
unusual material with "a sound". They were right on both counts, there was a
distinctive new sound and it needed exposure.
Jaxon was not the key to the golden gate, like many a now regarded classic it
sold zilch. Expanding his horizons Carl went to Nashville in the hopes of
seeing Faron Young, he suffered the indignity of having his car towed away
by the cops!
In the meantime unknown to Carl, Jimmy Martin tried to place his publishing
with Sam Phillips. Knowing a good tune when he heard it , Sam expressed an
interest in Rockin' Love but Carl was kept in the dark. Their paths may never
had crossed but for W S Holland becoming Carl's drummer and manager. Mr
Holland of course had played with Carl Perkins and WS used his Memphis
contacts to arrange an audition at Sun under the care of one Cecil Scaife.
In Sun Records, An Oral History, W S "Fluke" Holland told John Floyd
"My wife Joyce and I, visited a little club south of Jackson called the
Cotton Bowl, and there was a band onstage. never met any of them except
Jimmy Martin. They had this boy who was singing and he was doing those Nat
King Cole songs like that. Jumped-up like. So I met Carl after the show
thinking "This is something different" and we became friends".
Ole Cec was the promo man there and helped break Carl Mcvoy at Hi records.
Carl really impressed at the session, especially when he unveiled
the rocking take on Mona Lisa (one of Cec's favourite songs as it happened).
However boss man Sam was underwhelmed. Inadvertently one of his old boys
Harold Jenkins lit the fuse. By now he was a big star as Conway Twitty,
and was looking for new material. He called in to see if Cec had
anything he could use at a forthcoming MGM session. The rocking Mona Lisa
demo was played, Conway knew a hit when he heard one! He left promising he
would only use it as an album cut.
Mr Twitty recorded his version in Feb. 59 and MGM duly issued it on lp and on
an ep. Fate intervened when djs started playing Conway's version. Cec's radar
picked up on this and ran hot foot to Sam with the news. Somewhat reluctantly
Sam signed Carl to a contract. Mona Lisa backed with Foolish One was
released as Phillips International 3539 in March 1959.
The trade papers quickly picked up on it in April -
"Mann offers the song which was a hit for Nat Cole, in a good rhythmic but not
immediately recognizable style. There's some liberty taken with the melody but
it's an interesting side and Mann impresses as solid country-rock talent.
Watch this boy."
"B+, Mona Lisa, the famous tale of la Giaconda, that rode high on the
charts years back via Nat Cole's version, is taken for a rippling new rock'n'roll
ride by Carl Mann. Enticing performance that could make chart news.
B, Foolish One, Mann hands in an appealing, foot stomping rockabilly reading
on the under slice."
Also trade ads were placed, and features telling teens that the 16 year
old was 5'10" tall, black hair and hazel eyes!
Sam's doubts quickly vanished, perhaps the post Myra gloom on Jerry Lee's
sales and Sam's stars leaving for bigger labels was now evaporating. Dj
Dick Biondi in Buffalo is credited with breaking the record. Cec had attended
the now legendary djs Easter convention in Miami, to promote his young protoge's
new 45. His faith and efforts were repaid when it broke into the national charts.
Sam pulled out all the stops and rode his unexpected new fortune.
Carl later recalled "WS and Perkins helped get Sam interested in me. Sam was a
good friend, good fellow to work for. He seemed to take a real interest in
our music. He started out with nothing and came out of nowhere to be a major
label with the greatest names in rock'n'roll. I met some fine musicians there".
L-R Barbara Barnes (Promo) Sam, Carl, Cecil Scaife (Promo) celebrate success
of Mon Lisa, July 59.
Let's try to put this into perspective, 16 year old Carl Mann had a record that
reached the top 30 in the summer of 1959. On June 1st Billboard had it breaking
at 82, nominated as a Star performer in the Hot 100. Other goodies in the chart
that week to tempt those pocket money coins out of teen jeans were
Sea Cruise-Frankie Ford, Pointed Toe Shoes-Carl Perkins, Tragedy-Thomas Wayne,
White Lightning-George Jones, Waterloo-Stonewall Jackson, Hushabye-The Mystics,
Since I Don't Have You- The Skyliners, Poor Jenny-Everlys,
Almost Grown-Chuck Berry, Tall Cool One-The Wailers, Along Came Jones-The
Coasters ... and that's just between 30 and 100 in the charts!
There was an intruiging chart battle about to start.
The following week Mona Lisa was at 70, whilst Carl Perkins new Columbia 45
was in the doldrums at 97. June 15th Mr Mann was 51, then 46, two weeks back
at 50, up to 41 on July 13th. Things looked bleak when it slid back to
49 on July 20th as MGM released Twitty's version (conveniently forgetting
Conway's promise to Cec not to release it on 45) and it too entered the
charts at 89. Despite stiff competition from an established name
Carl rallied to 39 and eventually got to a high of 25 on August 10th.
Then both Carl and Conway's versions were in the top 50 together. Carl
did have the satisfaction of having the higher placed hit.
Conway's overtook Carl and got to 29 before they both slid out of the
chart in September. Carl would probably have entered the top ten but for the
split sales and competing with a popular name artist. Nevertheless a million
seller and four months in the charts was something the now 17 year old pianist
could only have imagined in his wildest dreams. Carl's clear lilting voice and
Eddie's wonderful sweeping guitar licks made it an ideal summer hit. Winter was
to set in on Carl's career far too soon.
Carl went literally from timberland to teen-star land overnight. He joined the
Summer Dance party tour, eerily seeing Holly's name scratched on backstage
walls. On the tour were the Addrissi brothers, Skip and Flip, Tassels,
Jerry Keller, Jo Ann Campbell, Dicky Do and the Dont's and Tommy Sands.
There were tv shows, sessions for an lp and it all must have felt like a
tornado for the youngster. "We're not in Tennessee any more Toto," to paraphrase
Ms Garland. Jim Denny became his manager in August. Perhaps a hipper pop
manager from New York or L.A. would have been more beneficial.
Sam stuck with the succesful formula for the follow up, Phillips 3546
Pretend/ Rockin' Love.Trade reviews read -
"Many of the magic ingredients that Carl Mann whipped up in his chart riding
revival of Mona Lisa are blended into his new release. Pretend is another
few-years-back Nat Cole click that Mann contagiously rocks over.
Flip Rockin' Love is an enticing steady middle beat thumper that
breaks into a sturdy rock stanza at mid point. Can be a big two sider."
Pretend climbed to a respectable 57 in November, spending 7 weeks in the Hot
100. No Conway cover this time, he was higher up with Danny Boy (though UK
singer Alvin Stardust took Pretend into the charts in the 80s). Also in the
Nov 59 chart at the same time were El Paso-Marty Robbins, High School USA-Tommy
Facenda, Teen Beat-Sandy Nelson, Woo Hoo-Rockateens, Love Potion No.9-Clovers
and Running Bear-Johnny Preston.
In early 1960 both Some Enchanted Evening/ I Can't Forget and follow up
South of the Border failed to make any impact. The rocking the oldies formula,
originally done by Fats, Haley, Platters and Little Richard, had passed
the sell by date. The B side of Phillips 3555 I'm Coming Home had hit
written all over it, but it failed though Billboard tipped it thus -
"Memphis based rockabilly has a swinging coupling" and "flipside carries the
standard country pull and powerfully rendered." The Charlie Rich penned
tune is a great tune with a great piano lick. Former US Army Private
53310761 certainly thought so when he recorded it in 1961 for the lp
Something For Everybody. It was songwriter Charlie, not Carl, who benefitted
In June 1960 Sam issued a Carl Mann lp Like, Mann. An honour bestowed
only on his most successful stars. the sleeve notes were aimed at his
"Now, the Mann piano and vocal style is well known to record fans of all
ages but especially among the teenagers who have so much in common with
this youngster". Both WS and Eddie Bush get a mention too.
there was a falling out over money with W S, who left to join Johnny Cash.
Indeed Sam even put out an Eddie Bush 45 Baby I Don't Care/ Vanished,
Phillips 3558. The twisting fratenity ignored it though.
Billboard gave Carl's lp 4* and said "One of the more promising of the
present crop of rock styled chanters- -- pounding out rock treatments of a
number of tunes with softer histories- - - Mann has a fine touch for these tunes --
his style has the sound the kids want but there's class enough to appeal
to the older folks too -- worth programming." Can't imagine many moms and
dads moving away from the Sinatra, South Pacific or West Side Story racks to
buy this though!!!!! Another paper said "Solid sales assured from both pop
and country fields", hmmm wonder if its the same guy that gives the
racing tips in my paper?
There was plenty of fine material being cut, maybe the choices for
45s was wrong or that tastes were changing. Even Elvis was recording neo
opera. Amongst the great tunes Carl cut were Eddie Bush's great Baby
I Don't Care (not Leiber & Stoller), Ubangi Stomp, Mexicali Rose and
Look At That Moon(penned by the two Carls, Mann and Perkins). Later
there's more on these recordings. He was now recording at Sam's new
studio, whilst it was technologically advanced it did not have the same
old magic somehow. Sessions in Nashville (under the eye of Scotty Moore)
and Memphis provided no more hits. Even session men of the calibre of
Charlie Rich, Al Jackson, Buddy Harman, Bob Moore and Pig Robbins
failed to find that elusive magic ingredient.
Jerry Lee's career picked up briefly with What'd I Say becoming a small hit,
but it was a false dawn and Phillips new star was Charlie Rich swinging his
inimitable way through Lonely Weekends. Carl's Wayward Wind/ Born To Be
Bad and If I Could Change You/ Ain't Got No Home, sold like cup-final tickets
the day after the game.
Our teenage idol found it very difficult to cope with the strains of touring
and the falling sales. It must have seemed so easy back in the summer of 59.
He turned, like many before and since, to solace in the upturned bottle.
Touring and playing with the other Carl did not help, as he was fighting
the same battle.
"After Mona Lisa, one minute I was on tv and everything, then suddenly
I wasn't. I worked with Perkins, we were both on a downswing, 62/63 - both
After 7 Phillips 45s and an album he went back to playing gigs near his
home. He played on some of Mr Perkins tunes like Big Taxes. By now the
shine on the gold record was tarnishing, forlornly hanging crooked on the
wall and gathering dust. It didn't put food on the table and many of Carl's
boozy hangers on vanished. Even a romping version of Mountain Dew barely
sold 1000 copies. By now the kids were twisting, surfing and about to Hold
the Beatles Hands too, could things get any worse?
Yes, in 1964 Carl was drafted and went to Germany, but unlike that other
cat he did not return to the Sinatra tv show and new fortune and fame. later
like Conway and Jerry Lee he turned to the country market. He recorded for
Fred Foster's Monument label for Ray Stevens, but did not emulate his former
label mate Roy Orbison's soaring success. The superb Bear Family Carl Mann
Box set has all the songs from this period including 14 unissued demos from
69-70. Carl went back to saw milling. He married Cathy in 68 and had 3 kids.
He fought a long hard battle to beat the bottle and become a family man. Eddie
Bush has also fought a long hard battle with the bottle too, unfortunately not
In 1974 Carl signed to ABC and some 45s came out in the UK, particularly
noteworthy was a great version of the old Platters hit Twilight Time, I
recall hearing that on the BBC back then. Madam fate however did not give
Carl a second grasp of the brass ring. Artistic quality is one thing and
commercial sales another. Bland countrypolitan was selling like cheeseburgers,
even former label buddies the Killer and the Silver Fox found themselves drowned
out of their own discs by the serried ranks of Nashville's backing vocalists
and orchestras. Billy Sherrill and Bergen White will be held accountable for
this come the revolution!
Thanks to the rockabilly revival in Europe Carl found himself winging across
the Atlantic to record and play in Holland in 1978. Still only 36 with
voice and instumental talent intact Carl found a second home. Working
with superb musicians like Dave Travis, Stu Colman and Howard Tibble,
he cut two brilliant albums of fine rocking country on the Rockhouse
label in Holland. Finding an Eddie Bush acolyte in Eddie Jones, who could
recreate the classic Phillips era guitar stylings with knobs on, it must
have seemed like a dream come true.
Dave Travis recalled that Eddie had long hair and looked like a member of The
Band. In fact prior to the live recording he was threatened by a knife
wielding rocker affronted by Eddie's non authentic syle of hair and clothes.
Hopefully this fifties fascist was suitably embarrased when he heard Eddie's
dazzling recreation of the quintissential Bush guitar sounds.
Dave assessed Carl as a thoroughly professional artist of the highest
stature and integrity.
Both live shows and recordings earned richly deserved praise. These
recordings are covered in detail later, they are outstanding.
The album Gonna Rock 'n Roll Tonite is a Davies household favourite. One side
studio and the other live, the album had a touching and sincere
ntroductory note by old pal Carl Perkins. Another tour followed and a
second album In Rockabilly Country all studio work this time. During this
period there were reissues, compilations with unreleased Phillips tracks
released by Charly (listed later) and Jan.
Carl toured on and off for about ten years then abruptly stopped. His
religious roots took him back to church. He went back to the family
logging business and has remained there. Having tasted the upside
and downside of fickle fame that is his perogative of course, but
surely his great God given talent deserves a consistent outlet, he
would go down a storm at any US or European festival.
Eddie Bush? whereabouts unknown for a long time, rumours persist
of a drink befuddled life of vagrancy. Unsubstantiated stories of his demise
on skid row persist. If we have been robbed of one great under rated
talent in Mr Bush, it's even more sad that the other half of the partnership
choses to deprive the secular musical world of his special magic.
Carl Mann is only 58 and look how well Ronnie Dawson is doing these days.
Perhaps one day Sam's youngest star will feel the urge to dust off the guitar
and polish the piano stool once more. With Stu Colman now a highly rated
producer residing in Nashville and Messers Travis, Tibble and Jones
only a flight ticket away, I'm sure the urge to yell out GONNA R'N'R TONITE
one more time will prevail.
Until then why don't we just pretend?
PHIL DAVIES, April 1999
Acknowledgements to Colin Escott and Martin Hawkins.
John Floyd, Dave Travis, Adam Komorowski, Hank Davis and Now Dig This.
Thanks to Shaun "Anka", Tony Wilkinson and Tapio.
Carl Mann US discography
57 Jaxon 502 Gonna Rock And Roll Tonight/Rockin' Love
59 Phillips Int'l 3539 Mona Lisa/Foolish Love
59 Phillips Int'l 3546 Pretend/Rockin' Love
59 Phillips Int'l 3550 Some Enchanted Evening/Forget
59 Phillips Int'l 3555 South Of The Border/I'm Coming Home
59 Phillips Int'l 3564 Wayward Wind/Born To Be Bad
59 Phillips Int'l 3569 If I Could Change You/I Ain't Got No Home
59 Phillips Int'l 3579 When I Grow Too Old To Dream/Mountain Dew
66 Monument 974 Down To My Last "I Forgive You"/Serenade Of The Bells
68 Arcade 196 Headin' For A Heartbreak/Isn't It True
74 ABC 12035 Ballad Of Johnny Cycle/Burnin' Holes In The Eyes Of Abraham
75 ABC 12071 Just About You/Neon Lights
75 ABC 12092 Cheatin' Time/It's Not The Coffee
75 Dot 17596 Annie Over Time/Back Loving
76 Dot 17621 Belly-Rubbin' Country Soul/Twilight Time
Carl Mann UK discography
59 London HLS 8935 Mona Lisa/Foolish One
59 London HLS 9006 Pretend/Rockin' Love
60 London HLS 9170 South Of The Border/I'm Comin' Home
ABC 4120 Belly-Rubbin' Country Soul/Twilight Time
Charly CYS1013 Ubangi Stomp/Rockin' Love
Charly CYS1038 Till I Waltz Again With You/Paradise
Charly CEP114 Monal Lisa/Rockin' Love/Pretend/Born To Be Bad (EP)
MANN ON WAX AND SHINY DISC
For serious fans and lottery winners there`s a superb CD BOX "MONA LISA" on Bear
Family BCD 15713 contains the almost complete Jaxon/Sun/Monument/ABC Paramount
recordings (and more), it has an immaculate book in the B Family tradition.
If you're looking for vinyl albums, and can`t afford the original Phillips/London
original Charly reissued "Like Mann" LP Charly CRM2006, there was also one LP in
Charlys series. "The Legendary Sun Performers" CR 30130, with an art cover by
famous painter and rocker David Oxtoby.
GRT/Spotlight SPO 131 released the best of Carl's Phillips sides on their "Sun
Story Vol. 6" and the Swedish label Jan put out the rarer and unissued stuff on
"The Mona Lisa Rocker - 14 unissued sides" , well worth tracking down. There's
also a Swedish Xmas EP that contains "Today Is Christmas".
Charly released a fabulous 2lp set The Rocking Mann CDX 17, 32 tracks and detailed
notes by Martin Hawkins. Highly recommended. The Rockin Years various artist box
set contained tracks by Carl.
Holland`s Rockhouse put out my two favourite "modern" lps, firstly the excellent
Gonna Rock n Roll Tonight (also on Charly CRL 5008), 8 marvellous studio sides
recorded in Haarlem Holland in March 78 with the Uk band that backed him on his
well received European shows. Highlights, all of `em, well ok, Till I Waltz
Again With You, Red Sails In The Sunset, Look At That Moon and Why Do I Keep
Telling Lies To Me which is as good as the title itself is! Side 2 was a live
Dutch concert which you need to listen to if you`re the kind that dismiss Carl
as too lightweight on his Phillips sides. Primo rocking stuff here.
1981 saw Rockhouse release the equally tasty though slightly more country
orientated lp In Rockabilly Country, backed by Dave Travis` Bad River band
(now minus messers Colman and Tibble who were playing on Shaky`s hits then).
16 fine songs, covers and new, great sympathetic track selection like Judy,
Ain`t Got No Home and Rockin` The Boat Of Love.
Rockhouse have issued most of the tracks off these 2 lps on a cd "In
RaB Country and Live" ROCKCD 9320. 28 tracks in all but I can`t believe they
omitted Red Sails, which runs Fats close as the definitive cover of this
standard.Still a cracking release though.
Good ole uncle Dave has released a fine cd on Stompertime "Gonna RnR Tonight"
STCD 5, not the Rockhouse lp of same name by the way. 30 tracks, ranging from
a historical radio recording from 1954!, to a full live show in Belgium from
March 10th 1978. Highlights though are the songs from Carl`s first sessions
with Eddie Bush in Jackson, inc the demo of Mona lisa which got them to
Memphis and includes the fantastic rocker Satellite No 2. Brilliant stuff.
Charly deleted a cd similar to their 2lp set called Rockin Love and replaced
it with The Rockin Mann CPCD 8234(slight difference in compilation between
the cds), 28 tracks on their fine mid price cd range Stars On Sun. Essential
if you can`t afford the Box set.
US Collectables have recently issued a full price cd Mona Lisa which wins
a Phil award for the "Least original cover of all time", why its a
cartoon of Leonardo`s painting instead of a pic of our hero! Next
in series a piece of burning coal instaed of Mr Riley and perhaps some
bright footwear instead of Mr Perkins!!
UK RECORD COLLECTOR PRICE GUIDE
Prices in Pounds Sterling (£)
for UK releases
59 London HLS 8935 Mona Lisa/Foolish One £22
59 London HLS 8935 Mona Lisa/Foolish One (78) £75
59 London HLS 9006 Pretend/Rockin' Love £22
59 London HLS 9006 Pretend/Rockin' Love (78) £125
60 London HLS 9170 South Of The Border/I'm Comin' Home £18
60 London HA-S 2277 LIKE MANN - CARL MANN SINGS (LP) £150
US POP CHARTS
YEAR -- POS -- WKS -- SONG TITLE -- RECORD LABEL
1959 -- 25 -- 6 -- Mona Lisa -- Phillips 3539
Big thanks to Shaun, Tapio and Henk for their help.
© Rockabilly Hall of Fame®