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Charlie Feathers Speaks

In Charlie's words #1:

I was seventeen years old when I first came to Sun Records. Sam Phillips was just recording black artists. He was selling ten or fifteen thousand of some of the records. He didn't have no idea then about findin' a white man who could sing like a black man. I met Elvis way before he came to Sun. He was livin' on Alabama Street. A lot a poor people was livin' on Alabama at that time.

Elvis and I had this sorta fan club who were telephone operators. In the picture where I'm holding the guitar, Elvis was sitting right beyond the girl dancing on my left. It's funny there ain't no pictures of him there because he spent a lot of time there. But I bet you sure could find out from those telephone operators that he was there.

Elvis dyed his hair black and kept it black. He did it 'cause Tony Curtis' hair's black, and Tony Curtis was Elvis' idol. I seen him in a movie last night; had his hair just like Tony Curtis. You know the RCA Elvis wasn't the Elvis I knew. They didn't know what they got when they got 'im. They didn't believe he was being recorded with just three pieces, so they send Webb Pierce down to see him, and he blew 'em right off the stage with them three pieces. They had to sign him.

Johnny Cash is from Diaz, Arkansas. Carl Perkins come from Jackson, Tennessee. Johnny Burnette might've originally been from Arkansas or Mississippi, but he had lotsa kin folks in Memphis. Of course Elvis come from Tupelo, about 40 miles down the road in Mississippi where I'm from. Warren Smith's from Greenwood, Mississippi. Sonny Burgess is from Newport, Arkansas, Conway Twitty is from Helena, Arkansas which is practically right across the bridge. As the label (Sun) got more popular, one or two came from Louisiana. Jerry Lee come from Louisiana.

Buddy Holly came to memphis and never could get himself recorded. He used to come out to the club where I was singing, and I used to sing a song I got on this album called "Done gone." Buddy Holly heard me singing it that way, and he went back to New Mexico and cut a thing called "Peggy Sue." Oh! it's mighty fine - it's rockabilly. Elvis was the King of Rockabilly, but now, well Chuck Berry was the King of Rock and Roll. Fats Domino was pop, he wasn't really rock, 'cause anytime you cut a pianist up in there you're doin' pop. Now Little Richard - now I'm gonna tell ya - him, with that high singing - hitting stuff up there is kin to opera. Little Richard came from the opera!

Rockabilly is the only thing that ever really came outta Memphis. These guys here just happened 'cause it was great. What they were doing was so different that it was the turn of the century in music. The first rockabilly that was ever recorded was in 1949. It was called "Tongue-Tied Jill." There was a store on Chelsea Street that had a recorder in the back room. I cut the song there as a demo. Later, something like 1955, the guy asked me if I minded if he released it on his label which was called Meteor. I said alright, and the bootleggers have had it ever since.

In 1956 I cut eight songs for king Records in Cincinnati. I recorded four of those at their studio in Cincinnati. ("Bottle to the Baby." "One Hand Loose," "I Can't Hardly Stand it," and "Everybody's Loving My Baby.") I cut the other four songs for King at the RCA Victor studio in Nashville. Since Elvis was using the Jordanaires as a back-up group, I used a group that had put out a big seller on Sun called "Just Walkin' in The Rain. They were called the Prisonaires, and they were one of the finest groups to work with I have ever known. The tunes we recorded were; "When You Decide," "Nobody's Woman," "Too Much Alike," and "When You Comin' Around?"

The bootleg records are the things I did on Sun and King. I still got contracts, but the man at King is dead, and I don't know who owns it. You call and catch up with 'em and ask'em something about it, and they always tell you it's another label or something like that. I don't draw anything from 'em. I don't know how many there are. I have no idea. The Sun Museum's a fake. I mean the studio was there, but the recording equipment isn't what Elvis cut on. Sam didn't think the stuff was no good so he gave it to some friends, guys who had played on a lotta tunes for him, and he got new stuff. Now maybe some of the stuff, but not Elvis or myself, 'cause we left there and never did come back.

They got all kind of pictures on the wall - even Hank Williams and he never did record there. My picture isn't on the wall. Though I never did have a big record outta there. I did write "I Forgot To Remember To Forget" which was Elvis' first million seller. Now, no one would admit that it was a million seller in those days cause RCA wanted to have the first million seller on him. So Sam went along. He didn't mind not having to pay people as much. So "Heartbreak Hotel" is supposed to be Elvis' first million seller. "I Forgot To Remember To Forget" was at the top of the charts for 43 weeks! You mean to tell me that ain't a million seller?

You know, in the later years I didn't keep up with Elvis and them people. I think there's a lot of people that did not know Elvis, but they know him now! There's some boogie-woogie people out there making up a lotta stuff. You have to be a fan to buy something, but you do not have to be a fan to sell it. Now they got people over in front of Elvis' house trying to tell you they got a leaf that fell off a tree in his yard and he kissed it!

Part of the idea of all this is not to get bootlegged. The people that buy 'em, they are good people, but it's a rip-off the way the people is doing the selling. I've had people mail me a dollar bill and said, "I know the record was a bootleg record, but I wanna see you get your part Charlie."<

In Charlie's words #2:

I was fiddlin' with a guitar when I was nine years old. I seen Bill Monroe play once, and I really liked what I heard, but I couldn't play that type of music, cause I wasn't around that type a music. I was around the colored guys workin' on a farm. Weekends they'd play the cottonpatch blues.

The churches had an influence on my music. I used to go to colored people's, or black people's - man we called 'em colored people. . . . I'm colored, I'm white. They's black, we' colored - The churches'd have picnics on the weekends, and doin' all kinds a things; shootin' dice and one thing an' another and getting to rappin' on guitars....the cottonpatch blues. I loved what I heard.

The cottonpatch blues never did make it, nobody knows what it is. They might think its somebody jammin' on a guitar . But if you learn it....OH! it's got a message and you get ....OH MAN! It's a Damned Disease! You don't wanna get into it, it hurts you. You can't go no further in music, the other damned music jus' .... this music'll kill you. When the music hits you man, it'll do somethin' to your mind, you won't wanna hear nothing else.

Obie Patterson wouldn't even pick a guitar now. He asked God to take it away from 'im, cause he said he'd play a tune so hard he knew it was gonna wreck a person's mind when they heard it. He hasn't picked up a guitar since. Now I've played all over the world man, and the best guitar player in the world is an old black man down in Mississippi called Junior Kimball. They tried to record him here in Memphis over at Stax, but they wasn't able. The session men said it was them! They couldn't keep up with him! Do you play guitar? I guarantee you it came from Junior Kimball. Hey you got a have a teacher somewhere.

Playin' music is usin' whatever you can remember in your mind. When I'm playing I remember these old guys from where I grew up. The real basic things came from them. Some times the old black man used to come up to visit, and I'd let some of it rub off on bubba too. Man I can show my kids what to do and they understand it. They help me. I've tried to pick up other guys, and they might be better pickers, but these kids got what I can't get nowhere else....the feeling.

Now, I liked bluegrass, ya know Bill Monroe, and Hank Williams, but bein' raised up on the farm like I was, I couldn't pick bluegrass, but I added what I could, and started doing these licks, and it was my type a music. Rockabilly is got a blues about it. It's got some black in it, you can rear back an' holler WELL. It's like someone sittin' around talkin' to theirselves their minds so occupied.

I always thought that when you're recording something, you wanted to get exactly what the man is doing out there....breathing, slapping his leg, patting his feet, clapping his hands, and that you sometimes got to mic a guy in more than one place. That is true sound. That is the sound of this man. It seems awful to me you can't record someone sweatin'....if you don't get the sounds of a man's body, hell! Thats why Elvis was the best rockabilly singer, because he was the first one that ever done that.

Elvis wasn't satisfied with "Heartbreak Hotel." He hated it. I mean hey man how do you change a singer? Most studios cut in a certain way, an' so some people get cut off that way. Knowing how to set the mics is one thing, but sometimes a singer might be doin' something he is not even aware of, and its with the rhythm, and it causes some action back in the control room and make some people wonder how in hell one man can be makin' that much sound. "Don't Be Cruel," "Hound Dog," and "One Night With You" are the only things Elvis done on RCA that I liked. The rest of 'em you can have 'em. Those was natural....something we would have done at Sun.

I'm recording now, after all these years, cause there is some things that I feel, and I've always felt 'em so that they are down in a deep part a me man, and if you get the chance to do them kind of things you will do them. I think one track recording had more sound to offer than they have today with all these separate tracks. You had to play, and just be yourself. You couldn't just reach back later and pull something out or turn something down. You had to feel and know it so well that you got to capture it while it's there. You won't get the perfection you'd get if you were reading music, but they don't get the feeling, and that's what rockabilly is all about....feeling. MUSIC....I play it. If I'm not recordin' I play it. If I'm not playin' out nowhere I play it. I've enjoyed myself more sittin' in my livin' room at home playing, than I have any day.


1997 - 2003   Rockabilly Hall of Fame TM