Happy New Year everybody!
Looks like everything is crankin' up for 2011...kid's back in school, give-a-way deals at the local retail stores have fizzled out and football championships are about to be decided....here's hopin' your team wins. I hope you got to do some rockabilly pickin' with your friends also.
Here in Carolina, we had the first white Christmas since '83...man it was beautiful and, based on the forecast for the next few days, we might get a few more of those before winter is over. The kids are all fired up with high hopes.
Say, have you noticed how much more clean pickin' you're hearin' today? Stomp boxes are almost a thing of the past and more tube amps are coming onto the scene with warm sounds like we used to hear permeating the air waves. What you hear is what you get...thanks to all the "A" pickers workin' out on those Tellies and Strats. I believe Albert Lee, Brent Mason and Brad Paisley, among others, started that great sound and we are all reaping the fruits of their labors. Actually, James Burton was the fore-runner of the Telly sound...along with Mr. Haggard's lead man and Vince Gill. They are all my heroes...didn't mean to leave anyone out. There are so many GREAT ones around and you have brought us so much joy down through the years.
The other day I was riding and listening and trying to think of THE word that describes the way I feel when I hear the great ones play and I came up with JOY...there's no other way to put it, just sheer JOY.
Thanks to all the pickers, engineers and writers who formulated the sounds that you made to give us all that JOY!
We, The Sparkletones, are looking forward to April 21, 2011 for our trip to Vegas and seeing you guys again. We are grateful to Tom Ingram for making it possible.
I hope everyone is doing fine and enjoying the good things. It is starting to chill down here in Carolina...really good for sleeping. Doris and I are recording and writing some new stuff to stay busy and are having fun doing it. I am still teaching and currently preparing for a Dec. recital...some of my 10-13 year olds will scare you to death with their technique.
Rockin' Rick Dunn blew into town about a month ago...what a musician...steel and lead. Back in the 50's ol' Rick went on the road with the Tones and did a bang-up job...we have been friends a long time. I sincerely hope we can get together and enjoy a little jam session...may start with Panhandle Rag, followed by "Steelin' Home" or "Remington Ride"...Rick, I promise we are going to have that session SOON!
The Sparkletones will perform in Vegas in April at The O'rleans...hope you guys can stop by and say "Hello". .. dates and times forthcoming.
Best wishes to our favorite little Brother Sparkie Childress who has cancer but made an astounding performance at our Cowpens gig 3 weeks ago.We believe in prayer down here and know that there are thousands of people on the prayer-line for you...daily!
I hope to keep this going this time....thanks John...
Playing That Little Rig
Best wishes for a great 2010. Happy Feb. everyone.
There is some pretty hot conversation on my little ol' rig that I used to play through back in the 50's. Man, I don't know one tube from another or the difference between a rectifier and a pacifier! Some say I pushed it hard for overdrive. Well, the bigger the venue the more I stoked the burner BUT the Fender held out.
All I know about how I got my "sound " is this: On top of the Deluxe amp is an extra button (At Least the one I Had did). I believe you spelled it "Presence". At sound check I would go out around the back row and have Wayne or Sparkie hit a string and change the setting on that knob. There was definitely a change and I always thought Leo had a secret patent on that knob!
As I remember, that setting was about 3/4 of a turn and it really put the bite on that strat.. It really hit you at the back of the auditorium. Honestly, that is all I did to get set up. The toggle on the strat was used a heck-of-a-lot with "High Gear" (The twang" pickup) being the prominent one. I sure enjoyed playing that little rig.
I hope that sheds some light on the subject.
Me? I'm still recording, working on some sound tracks. My dream is to write and record a movie sound track. I have made contact with Mickey Hart and have enjoyed it. We are old AF friends and played together in The Jaguars in Madrid ... he is a Giant in the precussion field.
If any of you pass through Spartanburg, S.C., make sure and stop by or call me at 864-573-5606 ... cell 864-494-3578. Deke stopped by once a few years back and we met at Walmart parking lot for a neat visit.
I hope everyone is rocking along enjoying rockabilly up to your ears. Would it be great if we could all get together for about a 7 day jam?
See you next month.
Oct. / Nov., 2009
Keep Busy - Do-It-Yourself
The Autumn of our years is not a happy time. We look at fotos, reminisce with old friends and try to make use of our selves but, heck, todays kids don't really like our old stuff and they control the market. It is really great when someone comes up and says, "Man, I like your playing!" and you feel like giving him a big ol' hug. DON'T DO IT!
It is always nice when, at the Saturday night dance, someone says, "Hey, come on up and sit in a few." Or when someone at the restaurant someone says, "Hey, see that guy over there ... he plays bass for Mort Gage and the 4 Closures." Just act like you didn't hear him.
Then, there is the other way to act ... good example coming here ... .we're downstairs in the coffee shop at the Brill Building, New York, right? Every booth was filled for the breakfast hour and in walks a little guy who starts shaking hands with everyone in the place! "Hi, I'm Bobby Darin ... you know, Splish Splash!" ... he was a real pro.
I don't know about you, but I try to fight that negative feeling by using my lil' ol' Tascam 8 track and a few basic instruments ... I put my own band together and I have a ball .. .might even write a song. Hey guys, go ahead and crack that piggy bank and take that bankroll down to your closest dealership ... stock your mini-studio with your new equipment. Go in by the fire and study your owner's manual, tune it up, lay down your drum track (Drum machine or keyboard with drum sounds), then the bass is next then rhythm leaving a track for vocals.
My wife Doris knows how to operate that stuff better than I and she is my chief engineer and we have a good time figuring things out and recording. Heck! It is fun! OK! No more down in the dumps ... let's rock this joint!
P.S. Those little recorders (Digital) sound just like store-bought ...they are unbelieveable.
I guess we have all paid our mental and spiritual dues to the memory of Les Paul. What an amazing life. If you have a rainy day, jog on down to the library and read his life story. It is an easy read with very interesting accompanying photos.
Thanks, Les, for those fantastic sparkling runs with counterpoint and skills that you honed with Mary Ford's voice. We have all reaped the fruits of your labors.
What a privilege to have been born in your generation where we can listen to your music.
Where do we go from here? What else is left to do in the realm of music, guitars and electronics? Are there any young Les Pauls waiting to pounce on the stage and make off with the current selection of stomp boxes, outboard sound processors, etc?
Somehow, somewhere, someone has my old strat (55-56) and I really would like to see it. I traded with one of my old GI buddies ... who knew? ... I've been told that $21,000 would pretty-well cover it. I think I traded it in Spain. We had a band called The Jaguars with numerous members who came and went. Guitars, amps, reel-to-reel tape recorders were turned over as much as military personnel. If anyone knows where my old worthless guitar might be, please let me know. I just want to touch it ... a little bit!
Happy, safe Labor Day
My Old Strat
Just a little personal thing or two that you may find interesting.
First, I cut my teeth on a Fender Strat (55 or 56) and as a result, I have real trouble getting around on a Les Paul, ES335, etc, because of the bridge placement. The Strat bridge is down on the deck, my friend. It allows you to control the strings with the right-hand palm without having to get out of position. In my opinion, Leo made an ingenious move when he did that.
I am not the world's fastest anyway but the Strat lets me even mute fast passages with the palm. Perching up on that high bridge supplied on the LP's and 335's , I have problems dipping down into the string range, especially on the basses. As a matter of fact, in the old days, I would use the right-hand palm to vibrato a note or change pitch by didlin' with the floating bridge. In later years I flung that whammy bar out into the peach orchard about as far as I could get it (Whammies don't glide too well).
Want to know why? Try breaking a string (Any string) in the middle of your jam in front of about 5000 ... As you bend, turn and twist, you'll be amazed at how much you sound like a sick sackbut or dulcimer mixed with a shakin' sitar! You are welcomed to use my peach orchard. So I set out to find my old strat. I wrote and phoned ... sent messages, etc., but to no avail. Then one night as I lay there contemplating ... there it was! I remembered having Dad to send it to Torrejon Air Base, Spain! My old deluxe amp and old strat!
I used it for many jobs over at the NCO and airmen's club where we backed up Minnie Pearl, Warner Mack, George Morgan,(Lori's dad) Bennie Martin and many others and off base in Madrid.
Then I sold it or traded it to one of my old GI buds and bought a Gibson ES33 from a Major in the communications squadron ... that's where I found out that I can't play one of those things ... sure was pretty to look at, though.
Now, you ask, "How about that strat?"
Well, how was I to know it would be worth around $22,000 in the year 2008 (I'll bet HE knows by now!)? Who knew? The kid who bought it didn't know either. The neck was grooved from so much playing and the pickup covers were split on the ends (Like they all did in the early days) ... boy, if that ole strat could talk! My old piece of silver chewing gum paper was still stuck under the 3rd string (Customizing).
Adios, Amigos! Joe Bennett
Howdy!...Have a great holiday season!
One guy said," I read your blog last week"....I said," You do and you'll clean it up"...what in the heck is a blog? Sounds like a disease and I sure don't want to catch it! There are more new words floatin' around to describe something than you can shake a stick at... Why can't they just say," I read your little article last week? Are there people who sit around and make up words?
I used to be a "Ad man" who wrote jingles and ads for various companies. Yeah, we made up new words and really used the old imagination, trying to get attention of buyers for vaious commodities. It was kind of fun when we had "idea storm sessions". Sorta like writing songs with a pitch embedded there-in to get you off the couch and moving towards "Jingle-bob John's" used car lot to eyeball that red Camaro he's trying to sell. Little did he know that you have to have green to get red! That apr he's touting for financing can in no way, be called "low" unless you call the empire state building short 'n stubby!
Those old boys in the ad bidness do pretty well (I heard Barry Manilow was one before he jackpotted with commercial stuff.)
Put that guitar up and go to bed...you've got school in the mornin'!" He had bought an old worn out school bus, knocked the seats out, ran a drop chord out the back door to a bus window and tossed in a couple of chairs and my music stand..a small eclectric heater topped off the decor. someone had given me an old magnavox reel to- reel that only worked occasionally,and my packets of "Gibson Guitar Course' Where he got the idea for a school-bus-practice-room, I'll never know.
I spent many hours in that bus with the little electric heater putting out for creature comfort. These Carolina winter morns can get your teeth a clackin' in a short while especially with moisture in the air. I have had to force that iced up door open a few times in the dead of winter but for the first year or two that little heater kept it pretty warm.
Mostly, I worried about black widows...not my favorite animal and I will stomp one in a minute...killed one on the dogfood dish the other day right here in my back yard...there she sat about two inches from my right-hand index...the doggie-dish looked like a flying saucer when I flung it across the back yard.
My friend, Eddie Davis (Now deceased) and I had some great hours in that old bus. We dug out old horn likes and country licks for hours at a time. He was sure 'nuff tuff on his Gretsch White Falcon and always had a version of Les Paul and Chet's stuff.
The Fair starts here tomorrow and it hasn't changed much compared to when I was a kid...Piedmont Interstate Fair...and they always made a big deal about the "Midway"...out on the midway this and midway that...it is the same place I saw my first band play...the entire blow-by-blow description is about 10-12 months back where this series started.
I saw ' Lash" Larue there (I believe he was from Gaffney just down the road.) out on the "Midway"...they put on a pretty good fight for the crowd.
Junior Johnson, Fireball Roberts, Cotton Owens and Joe Eubanks (For a few) were racing out on the track at Fair Time. The noise from those big power cars was horrendous but GOOD! Daddy used to do some front end work for those guys.It was an honor to get to do that..Nascar was just gettin' cranked up in those days...rumor had it some of those race car drivers were haulin" liquid corn (If you know what I mean) from up in the mounains!
There is an old movie out called Thunder Road starring Robert Mitchum and son and it was a sure-fire hit down.here...some of those kids in the audience held some of those guys up for heroes.They drove 49 fords, etc. If you haven't see that movie you outta pick it up for a look..Stock car racin' is/was ¬İa big part of the rockabilly scene in this neck of the woods.
Ya'll keep it betwixt the lines til next time.
"Goin' Across The Mountain"
On Saturday morning at around 10 A.M. a broadcast goes out from a little Carolina town called Spindale. This broadfcast is solid Bluegrass til the cows come home by PRO Blugrass historians and commentators. They can tell you what color socks Lester Flatt wore when they recorded Foggy Mountain Breakdown!
The program is called "Goin' Across The Mountain" and if you haven't heard any modern Blue Grass music lately, just take a listen to the skills they have accomplished these days. Some of the licks are undeniably unbelieveable.
The new songs are very enjoyable and entertaining with fresh story lines that will draw you into the compositions and touch the old heart strings.
If you have listened to much Sparkletones music, you will hear the vocal harmonies that are straight from the Blue Grass genre. Everything we ever did that had any kind of harmony sounded like the mountain harmonies we were raised on. Sparkie's voice was the spice in the mix. We just threw ourselves into the pot and whatever came out was Carolina Rock 'n Roll with stolen horn licks and jazzy swing beats on the drums and lots of walking bass ... probably the only instrument that could not be called blue-grassy because the bass in blue grass usually plays a 1-5 swing.
Yeah, they called us "Rockabilly" (For which we are proud) but we have to admit the music had a kick and a certain feel you couldn't find anywhere else. Even now, you could put a 5 string banjo, a fiddle İor mandoline in with our old stuff and it would fit like a glove! As a matter of fact, Sparkie is a superb 5 string banjo picker these days and plays Foggy Mountain Breakdown" just like Earl!
Ya'll drop in a see us sometime!
Lookin' for Leads
For a while I have been trying to get a tune called "Up a Lazy River" by Si Zentner, one of my all-time favorite big band cuts. No way you can stay in your seat when that recording comes on. That band was like a well-oiled piece of equipment that just never fails you. You are right, the arrangement was not so complicated but the band fit the arrangement like a glove and the t-bone solo at the end was a killer. Drums were rocking along right in the rock and roll groove and the bass sound was the best possible in those days ... The bass line was just perfect.
I have often written about how we didn't have rock and roll guitarists in the 50's to copy so we had to dig out horn parts and modify them.This song is a good well to drink from for that.
Let me just say that Mr. Zentner's arranger, Mr. Florence, came up with a ton of licks on that one cut. You could copy them and and add your own ideas to them.
Well, as you well know, with home recording equipment that is available in our day we can get commercial quality in the back room and with the multi track recorders, we can make our own big band sounds using guitars and keyboards. What an age we're living in. All those years I thought I was playing in tune and then I tried a electric tuner! Good grief, what a difference!
JD's Boogie Woogie was another that supplied ideas for guitar leads.
I finally did find the place to hear ... Lazy River ... if you want to have a little joy in your life, punch it in and turn up the volume ... in the search box enter "Si Zentner Up a Lazy River".
I sure do appreciate the video feature in the Rockabillyhall.com website this month. Thanks John Hall and Bob at Rockabilly Hall.
We are trying to get a flatbed to park in a parking lot somewhere on some saturday around the end of July and have a group jam. I'll let you know how it goes ... meantime, ya'll have a great, safe summer.
Things have sure slowed down here in Carolina (South) with go-juice being so expensive and all. We have several great employers in the area: ... BMW, Donelly, Millikin , Disney and others to name a few. I don't know what we'd do without them. We have a great climate here though it is a little dry right now but still possible to grow a garden.
You know as we grow older we become more concerned about the necessities of life and worry about things. It locks down your creativity and enthoozie for music and other activities. If you LIVE the music business it is easier to to stay locked into the music mode but trying to part time that with a regular job is flat out tough! Rebuilding transmissions and playing bass in a rockabilly band mix together like oil and water, especially if you don't have one lined up to repair tomorrow!
Most of the rockabilly cats that I know are tough as a gristle and will go down swinging if you try to make them stop. It is like a fever that 2 aspirins and a cup of chicken soup won't cure. About 14 verses of "Hound Dog" with a drummer that can REALLY play those triplets would work much better!.
I teach at Roper Music here and if any of you are passing through, I am in the phone book. Just give me a call or stop by and say "hello". I have some great students and I'll have one pick for you. I have them play Little Rock Getaway, Caravan, Misty, Hold It (with bass string ripoffs), etc. and tons of other great guitar songs. We need more guitar instrumental songs that require technique to play or just simple songs that sound good like "40 Miles of Bad Road" by Duane. I believe there is a market out there for it.
Deke called one day and I met them at WalMart. I got to see a sure nuff travellin VAN! What a sight! Those boys can really play and I was thrilled to see them in Green Bay 2 or 3 years ago. Hi Deke!
Too many sour-puss faces in rockabilly nowadays! Come on Gang! This is GOODTIME music we're playing ... SMILE ! You're on rockabilly camera!
Ya'll have a good 'un!
Who influenced you?
Who did you listen to? All of these questions are ligit and very common in music circles. No doubt Les Paul, Arthur Smith and Hank Garland as far as my own background. The truth is, we all have to copy someone ... there has to be a beginning though ... right?
Well, we must confess that generally, the stage belongs to the innovators ... those who did something a little different or just flat played it their way regardless of what others think.
One of the greatest was Danny Gatton. He fooled around with that guitar and coaxed different licks out of it ... (slide with a beer bottle?) How about "remington ride" in double-stops with snaps and double-stop ripoffs?
Tommy Emmanuel is one of my current favorites. This guy is a super entertainer as well as a master musician and he uses the whole guitar ... no wasted space there ! Could be the best on the planet! He has more speed than should ever be allowed and technique variations to suit any taste. His mastery of right hand techniques are just amazing. Good for you, Tommy!
May I suggest something for all of us? Turn off all effects and see what your playing is saying ... really saying! Some of my students say," Please don't turn it off ... it won't sound good!". I really don't want them relying on effects to sell their picking. Some of the really great rock guitarists use the effects as a necessary part of their style ... ie: Van Halen, Metallica, etc. These guys are simply great players and have developed their own wild style.
So, do we copy them? ... you bet we do! Most of us don't have time to fiddle around with a guitar and figure out licks ... or try to develop a new style. These boys, previously mentioned, do it for a living and that is what it takes. So when we see Eric Johnson rip off a 120 note waterfall run without batting an eye, just smell the smoke coming off of the fingerboard and enjoy it!
I'll be kicking around doing some bookings as a a solo this year, mainly for the 50's gang. I hope I'll get a chance to meet some of you guys ... don't know who the agents are yet but hope to find out soon ... get me at email@example.com.
I hope you all have a great, safe summer!
Can you imagine a little kid about 5 with a mandolin, another kid around 8 with a 4 string tenor banjo, another with a acoustic guitar and another couple of kids who just sang not to mention a 14 year old daughter who tap-danced really great? That was the first band I was ever in called the "Jamborettes".
That little band won a lot of contests around here in the mid-forties to lower 50's.
We sang harmony as we heard it from the bluegrass bands. We did stuff like "Foggy Mountain top", "Rollin' in My Sweet Baby's Arms," Blue Moon of Kentucky", etc.
We traveled around to various schools and competed in their talent contest. Winners usually got $20 simoleans. Our band had 6 members in it so, if we won, we didn't get too much after the split.
There was one bluegrass band that was shore nuff tuff! Some kinda "Mountain Boys" (I forgot their real name) and one of them was a couple of years ahead of me in school over at Cowpens High by the name of Bobby Thompson.
I know. You think I'm lying through my socks and you're probably thinking," No way there was that much talent in one small area of South Carolina." For those of you who don't know, Bobby was one of the top staff men in Nashville. Played 5 String and developed new ways of playing - chromatically! He was in demand as a rythym player on his vintage Martin flat top. He did years on Hee-Haw ... the bearded guy in the background except when he duo'd with Roy Clark.
Just up the river over by Arcadia, lived another 5 string man who was really innovative ... Buck Trent! You know the guy with the funky little knobs as tuning keys that would de-tune his banjo a step or step down or up.
Buck was Porter Waggoner's man on banjo for years and was a great player and showman. He still plays in Branson these days, I believe.
If you listen to the old Sparkletones stuff, you'll notice it is basically a bluegrass tempo - I mean we played fast. A 5 string would have fit right into that tempo and cloggers would have felt tight at home dancin' to Black Slacks. Sparkie (The littlest one in The Band) plays really good 5 string and if we are playing in the local area, we usually can talk him into draggin' that banjo out and knockin' out a couple of Bluegrassers like Foggy Mountain Breakdown, etc.
Sadly, we lost Bobby Thomson a few short years back but his tradition and techniques are still used by banjo players everywhere.
Here is a list of Carolina Pickers you may recognize:
Smokey Reese, Bobby Thompson, Buck Trent, Wayne Arthur, Joe Bennett, Jimmy Denton, Sparkie Childress, Billy Childress, Pink Anderson, Marshall Tucker Band, (Toy Caldwell, Tommy Caldwell, Paul Riddle, George McCorkle, Joe Dean Haywood, Doug Grey, Rusty Milner. Charlie Daniels and Trottin' Sally! This is a list of just a few.
There is a book out about the Hub City Musicmakers - order it at your local Barnes-Noble Bookstore. You will be amazed!
It is always interesting to me to see how a new style of music hooks into the current or old style.. We know a guy who is a bluegrass fiddler and does a bluegrass version of "Play That Funky Music, White Boy!" Yessir, it will really malke you Hee-Haw!
Ya'll take it easy and have a great summer.
'Tis the Season
In the late 40's, my Mom took me to Spartanburg Memorial Auditorium to see Gene Autry and CHAMP in person. Ol' Gene sung all the cowboy hits and a few country ones as well. After that Gene got up on Champ and made him dance and do all the tricks cowboy horses did back then and topping it off with a pose called "The End of The Trail." Ol' Champ hung his head low as if he was tired as could be while he stood on a pretty small box and the lights turned blue.
After that it happened! Old Gene pointed Champ down a ramp and here he came prancin' right down into the audience! The announcer said,"Please don't touch the horse." Well, me having an end seat, I thought," Maybe just a small touch on the tail!" They went up and down the aisles, Gene waiving his hat to the fans and smilin'. I planted my skinny elbow as far out into the aisle as I could and ... maybe it was my imagination ... I thought I felt old Champ's tail swish across my arm! He was so big and the squeeks of the saddle and smell of horseflesh added to the excitement and then ... off he rode up that ramp and back into the sunset as the curtain closed and the band played "Back in The Saddle." ... off to see other kids over in Greenville or Who knew where. All I know is that I had a sad feeling that lasted a couple of days ...
It reminded me of another day that comes annually. About December the 1st the excitement would hit town. Red and green colors everywhere with majorettes and brass marching bands, horses, clowns...you know the routine I played trombone in the Cowpens Hi School marching band. Black and white uniforms with white buck shoes (Watch out for those horses up front! ... too late ... Squish!)
Ahh, those were the good old days ... until ... the caps ran out for your pistol, the fruitcake was all gone ... and, if you were a lone kid like me, you were left all by yourself to play with your electric train or eat nuts and apples. Man, I hated to see night time come on Christmas day ... but ... then! ... quick as a wink, the next day dawned bright and fair and you got to live that special day all over again ... well .. .almost.
We all have witnessed the let-down at times like these.
But! ... why don't we plug in the old strat, lay us down a rhythm track on the recorder and rock a little ... our way ... maybe try to write a song about Christmas or something ... maybe play a few of the good ol' songs. There is something about "When My Blue Moon Turnes to Gold Again" that can reach down into the bowels of the blues and lift you right out.
The other night my wife called me to the computer and said "Look at this." There was a young band with a girl singer playing "Maybe Baby" ... our song. Almost everybody has a "Maybe Baby" written by them. We had one too. The band had the harmony down and the lead licks were really good and ... the most encouraging thing was that the kids at the party were dancin!' When you see people dancin' to your music, that is one of the best Christmas presents of all! God bless our troops where the battle scenes are played out and give them protection.
Merry Christmas to ALL and Happy New Year!
Oxford American is a magazine calling itself the "Magazine of good writing" and I tell you what, they do have some heavyweight writers. The music issue comes with a CD with songs of the subjects included therein. Yep ... The Sparkletones are in there on page 110 and I really do appreciate the kind words and sincerity with which the article was written. Titled "They Rocked Their Little Hearts Out", Bruce Eder's presentation of "The Tones" and our history pretty well sums it up. Thanks a million, Bruce, for making us feel young again and for the great article. Please know we are all grateful.
The song "Bayou Rock" was our offering for the CD and something strange has happened on it. On the original Mundell Lowe played the lead. It was during the days when I said to myself, "No more lead guitar for me ... I just wanna sing." Jack Gold said "OK" and we brought in some heavyweight players. Anyway, that is NOT Mundell's jam on the CD ... somehow, someone has punched in someone else playing my licks ... but it ain't me! ... and it NEVER was me! I am curious as to how that could happen!
This A.M. I went down to Wayne West's Flint Hill Ranch and had breakfast with a bunch of Carolina Cowboys/Cowgirls ... complete with horses of the cutting kind, a real chuck wagon, tons of breakfast edibles, sheep dogs and sheep and got to play a little music on the side.
Mike Harper, Wayne Pugh and I played and sang Sons of the Pioneers stuff and it was purely acoustic ... I used to play that music as a kid and will always love it with the wonderful harmonies and chord progressions that influenced my writing down through the years ... how about the changes on Tumbling Tumbleweeds? ... Awesome! I also like the new groups such as Sons of the San Joaquin, Michael Martin Murphy, Riders in The Sky. I have written a pot full of cowboy songs but ... shucks! ... where you gonna sell 'em?"
I want to thank all who have given kind words of encouragement concerning this little blurb most every month. Writing words without music has been a little strange for me so I hope ya'll will excuse the goofs and I certainly don't want to offend anybody ... If I have, please excuse me ... I didn't mean to.
Ya'll hunker down by the fireplace and enjoy your families this season ... let 'em know you love 'em!
Happy Holidays ...
Well sir, there I was in my overalls with hands in pockets in the traditional farmer's pose, when I thought I saw it out of the corner of my eye!... or, was it? I couldn't hear any sound but I couldn't restrain myself and,like an idiot, I made a mad dash into the crowd and as I rounded the corner of a barn, I saw it!
No, it wasn't all shiney and bright as I remembered them. As a matter of fact, It was in pretty rough shape, sad to say. Nevertheless it was a real one from way back yonder in the 50's ... a genuine Cushman Eagle motor scooter!
I have often thought of that little Eagle that carried me over the winding hills of Carolina. Wayne and I (The Bassist for the Sparkletones) talked his mom into buying him one. They were both "used" but ran superbly. Wayne's had been souped up and had a little more pepper than mine but we conquered every hill and ridge together. Sometimes we would go to Rainbow Lake and swim, lounge and watch the scenery while listening to that giant jukebox playing mostly shag music.
I feel guilty telling ya'll this stuff because maybe you didn't ever get to ride one. You could put your sweetie on the queen seat and go putt-puttin'on a Saturday and just have a ball. They were well built and very reliable which meant a lot since we didn't have cell fones and such back then.
That scooter gave me a freedom I never had before. I used to clip on a piece of cardboard to the front fender brace of my bike so it would sound like a Cushman as it popped against the spokes. But when I got the real thing it brought lots of joy which was greater than I had imagined as we putted around.
After riding thatİ ittle scooter for a little over a year, I was riding down through Drayton in front of the mill on the way to town one day. As I motored down the hill to cross Peter's Creek bridge, the unexpected happened ... blowout on the front tire! Actually, it wasn't a big deal. I wobbled a little but held it in the road. After crossing the bridge, I pulled over into a front yard where an elderly gentleman was rocking in his chair on the porch. I asked if I could leave the scooter there til Daddy picked it up. He said that would be fine.
Well, that night at supper I was advised that the scooter would be sold. I believe that the elderly gentleman may have enhanced the story somewhat ... you know what I mean ... made it a little more colorful ... like,"Man, he was all over the highway and almost lost it. I thought he was a goner!".
Dad sold it to Lec Green whose son, John, proceeded to have a ball with it ... by the way, he is John Green Automotive of Nascar notoriety. Well, anyway, I had just got a license to drive a car and Daddy let me take our old 49 Plymouth more than enough. An unforgettable period of time came to a close with that little episode and, as a matter of fact, I might invest in a few parts here, a few parts there and ... who knows? ... a re-built Cushman Eagle is real possibility!
I used to think up songs as I motored on that little red scooter. So, you see, there is a connection to rockabilly music! And, if you never had one there are plenty available on line ...
Ya'll have a good 'un!
PS: if you have time, check in and drop a line at www.joebennettandthesparkletones.com
What is a rockabilly?
Howdy, ya'll! ... been a while but I'll try to keep it going this time for a while. Actually this is one I have been dreading but I knew it was a' comin' ... here goes.
Question: What is a rockabilly? And What is rockabilly? Well, a rockabilly is one who participates IN or listens TO rockabilly music and philosophies. Rockabilly is a genre or type of music. Performed in the rockabilly style and usually among rockabilly fans, the total sound (As would come out of Sun Studios, for example), is a sure-fire distinctive mix of rhythmic patterns with musical tones put forth by a small combo where bass slaps, guitar licks and the drummer pounding out the back-beat on two and four with the down beats on one and three, with spurts of drum breaks , make it literally impossible to keep still. It impels those listening to get on the dance floor and "Cut a rug" as the old folks used to say. When you find yourself sweating as you hold sweetie-pie's hand and feel like you're having fun, you have passed into the realm of rockabilly ... the key word being "Fun".
Back in the 50's, some columnist called us "Rockabillies" - it hurt our feelings but we got labeled that from then on. I believe it was the way we talked that put the label on us - of course, later, we were glad to be called rockabillies - but to tell you the truth I never felt like we touched on the sound of "That's alright, Mama" which, in my humble opinion was the very first real rockabilly song - it was always my measuring stick. Ricky's style was definitely rockabilly - man it was a great sound with James filling those donuts up with clean, solid licks coming off of that telly - not to mention numerous others who were fantastic musicians.
There is not much that can compare with the first lick of a rockabilly band in perfect tune as they wind up into a good ol' foot-pattin', hand-clappin' solid song that puts you shakin' on the ballroom floor.
Someone asked at work last week what the heck was wrong with the recording industry? Well, here it is in the nut-shell ... we forgot the girls. Girls like to dance - WITH BOYS!" - but boys are shy and don't know how to "Fast Dance" they call it - oh, no sweat - they can "Slow-Dance" but will they? Once the kids start dancing' again, It will open up. Now, they sit or stand at a $75 or more concert - while their pained ears ache from the watts coming off of that stage - think the girls like it, generally? I say NO!. All it would take would be a courageous major label to try to turn the tide - search for uniqueness - like the Beatles. ..play danceable music that doesn't kill your ears - come on somebody! - let's make music FUN again!
Anyway, it is obvious that rockabilly comes from hillbilly - meaning hillbilly stringed instruments, not horns or synthetic sounds - vocals are of the old gospel type with appropriate rock and roll beat. It means more. It means the music is played on stringed instruments with harmonies and simple chord progressions. Just my cup 'o tea -
Here's hoping you guys have a great summer and are kept safe. It would be great to hear from you - new web site that you might enjoy with a hot lick or two plus newer photos . Drop on in and see us - @ joebennettandthesparkletones.com ... also the sparkletones on youtube - some old videos from Nat King Cole, Sullivan. Etc.
Time for the good times - weather is great and people are friendlier. There are a few grumblers about taxes which are due on the 15th as we all know but by-and-large everything seems to be just peachy.
Many bands used the winter months to throw together a new inventory of songs or write a few. Some are hosing off the flat-beds or checking cables and plugs to make sure all the connections are solid.
As we look back over the past year we note one thing that is unwelcome. One more birthday has visited us which means we are getting older. A little at a time. Old Poppa Time waits for no man and the clock just keeps on ticking. But, know what? - we just keep on rocking and trying to enjoy our music and culture from the 50's. It is always great to hang out with some other rock-a-billies and swap stories about our experiences on the road. Some are good for a bellie-shakin', down-deep hee-haw.
Once on a cold wintry day here in Carolina we were traveling between jobs in the lower part of the state . We made a rest stop at a little place, topped off the tank and scooted back out into the traffic. Members of the band at the time were Rick Dunn, Gene Brown, Wayne Arthur and myself. My uncle Claude was traveling with us and was driving at the time.
When the cellophane paper started cracklin', I thought it was a candy bar wrapper but NO, it was the wrapper from a plug of chewing tobacco withdrawn from Rick's shirt pocket. He promptly made the announcement that the plug would be divided evenly between us band members - Unk would be left out of it.
First one to get rid of his chaw had to buy lunch for everyone. "Ready?" Rick asked. "Alright, you boys are not gonna be able to play tonite if you do that stuff." warned Unk. It was too late . Four chaws made their way into the chewing cycles of 4 dumb kids. Here it was, colder than a witche's belt buckle in the dead of winter, inside a hot car, too cold to let the windows down and no place to spit except out the car window where it blew right back into your face if you tried. No paper cups available.
As time wore on, a tiny trickle started down everyone's throat and it hit the "Gag Button" somewhere around the tonsil area near the adnoids - let's face it, the mouth can only hold so much volume then the liquid follows he path of least resistance and goes - you guessed it - DOWN! - YAAAAA!!!!! He exclaimed as he went for the door handle and missed.
The soggy chaw hit the window ricocheting into his lap. The other three of us almost strangled until finally, Unk pulled the limo over and we peeled outta the cockpit - tabakky chaw and good red spit spewing forth.
Other drivers looked at us in curiosity and probably thought we were totally nuts - they were right. I don't believe Rick could see too much anyway. How ironic! The whole thing was his idea!
Here's hoping you all have a great spring and summer and that I'll see you somewhere down the line.
A Musical Ear
Howdy everyone! I hope all is well with you and yours and that you're enjoying some good 'ol Rockabilly music these days.
A friend and student, Bruce Cannon, brought in some awesome stuff this past week by The Blasters. We had a ball just listening to that good music. I tell you, it is hard to sit still with that rockin' stuff "floatin' o'er the air waves" as they used to say! I believe that one of the biggest compliments anyone can give a musician or group is to run out onto the dance floor to claim a space to dance in when their music is played ! Let me tell you the joint was jumping at Music and Arts in Spartanburg!
Hey Blasters! - you guys are great!
Speaking of "GREAT", one of the greatest gifts God ever gave man is a musical EAR! I, for one, am tired of hearing people say,"Oh, I can't read notes - I just play by ear." Boy, it tears me up to hear that! -- Listen.
The GIFT is in THE EAR! People who can play by EAR should be some of the most grateful people on earth! Without an EAR, there would be no great licks or original pieces to hear. I read where Errol Garner who wrote "Misty" couldn't read a note of music! Yet, he wrote the most classic love song ever! It is a miracle when people can sit down and play ANYTHING they want to because they have a great ear.
One of my friends, Gary McCraw, has "perfect pitch" and reads notes like you and I read a book - yet he can play magnificently by ear! He is in charge of the music program at Wofford College here in Spartanburg and carries most of his musical inventory in his head - not a briefcase. "Can you play (So-and-so)? - well, maybe - can you hum some of it?" - then, away he goes laying in those big, fat chords of his and joy is brought to everyone who listens.
Some have poked fun at rock and roll guys for not reading notes but you may be surprised at how many CAN read notes. And so what? If you do read notes, you are playing what someone else probably created by ear FIRST and then put it down in notes! You've seen some of those old movies about old composers writing the classics. First, they try the sound out on the piano and THEN they put the notes down! - Hey! - It is the EAR, Man!
Yeah, I read notes - had to learn it from The Gibson Course when I was a kid. It was the way my teacher taught - the only game in town and I am really glad I got that training. It fed my family many times when writing arrangements for orchestras doing jingles and productions for single performers - .enough of that! But the gift I am most grateful for is the EAR - I can hear a song and write the chords as it plays or play along. It just means I am OLD! Please be proud of your ear - IT IS A GIFT FROM ABOVE!
Our WEB SITE IS FINALLY UP!. Here's hoping you like it - some music and lots of fotos. I want to say THANKS to Doris, my wife and Lindsay, my daughter for all the hours of work and support they gave me in establishing that web site - Everyone should have team members like them!
Well, you all have a great spring and just remember what the REAL gift is and WHO gave it - see you next time.
Hello everyone! Here's hoping you had a really great holiday and maybe got a new rockabilly record for a gift. Here in the Deep South we had a really neat time.
The last few days have been a real hallmark in my musical history. I met and conversed with (Albeit on line) the one and only Steve Hoffman who re-mastered, compiled, and annotated the one and only album by our group, The Sparkletones, in 1983 on the MCA label.
You should see his list of credits! ... Elvis, Beach Boys, Beatles just to name a few! He is considered a GURU among the mastering/re-mastering set and has performed his magic on so many of the old cuts from the 50's on up.
He has actually held the original masters in his hands and sat down to tweak those babies into the works of art we collect and listen to today!
If you want a tour through musical history that will amaze you, check this link out. I never knew that one person could do all that! http://www.stevehoffman.tv/discography/.
While you are at Steve's site check out his forum's discussion about the Sparkletones and the Sparkletones' debut on YOU TUBE. http://www.stevehoffman.tv/forums/showthread.php?t=103584.
Thanks to Rockabilly Hall fan, Indy Mike, who was nice enough to E-mail and tell me about Steve's forum and YOU TUBE!
Now, a word about today's younger generation. It is encouraging to see so many younger folks wanting to hear about, and learn to play, our favorite genre of music. It is surprising to see and hear so little guitar work in modern pop and rock. Many of my students want to play Skynyrd, Clapton, Stevie Ray, etc., because they feature so much guitar.
It is interesting to me the number of guitarists who play through a Fender Bassman amp these days. What a sound! That amp can handle most anything you throw at it, but you'd better have a goodly supply of lettuce on your hip if you Go shopping around! They don't come cheap. They are older amps of the tube type, I believe.
Here's hoping you have the good fortune to be able to sit down in your favorite chair, after hanging a "Do Not Disturb" on your door, with a Pepsi and bowl of fresh popcorn and listen to a Little Jimmy Dickens album with all that great guitar work. You will be glad you did!
Til next time,
It was during the years of the wars - 1943-45 ... in the deep south. I remember riding in my uncle's car and it was cold. Memories of Ernest Tubb singing "Walking The Floor Over You" and "Sugar Blues" by Clyde McCoy playing on the radio are still very strong in my file of significant Flashbacks. Second hand smoke from a freshly lit Chesterfield or Lucky Strike wafted through the cockpit of that old Ford and, for some reason, I used to like the way the switch on the steering wheel column looked ... kind of a toggle and the shiniest chrome - a real work of art. Try to imagine a combination of those 2 songs - played together - and you will hear the origin of a sound yet to be born.
It was the era of "Der Bingle" and White Christmas and one of the coldest Christmases I can remember. To a kid around 4 or 5, Old Santy was the main event and any color combination of red and white drew my immediate attention!
Truly it was very picturesque down at Glendale. No big elaborate decorations or lights but usually a well done-up cedar tree and one single blue or red light sitting alone in the corner of a lower window in a 2 story wooden mill-hill house. Many of the old folks do it the same way even today. All that white with one solitary colored light down in one corner. To me it says something of tough times and quiet memories of worse ones that had passed before.
Tenacity was a very necessary thing in those days - you had to hang on and not let anything separate you from the most important thing in your life. These ol' boys new how to do it - lots of Irish blood in the area fresh from the tater famine over there and they were rough and tough.
Christmas morning finally arrived and after seeing the gifts and cookies and stuff we were told to look outside. Man! What a White Christmas! I ran to the other windows and looked out - guess what?! Through one window at the end of the house I could see plain as day! There were reindeer hoof prints and sleigh runner prints in the snow! I summoned everyone to come and lookie, lookie! They all agreed - Old Santy had landed there by the end porch. Hot diggity dawg! Don't tell ME there is no Santy Claus!
Of course, it was only Mrs. Bagwell's cow had broken out over night and drug the chain through the snow and ice and it looked like a sleigh runner. No one ever told me until years later. I was tenacious about that story and no one could take it away from me - not even now!
I also still held on to that combination sound of Ernest and Clyde and mixed in a little hootchie cootchie from the midway at The Piedmont Interstate Fair. The swing patterns on the drums, chord progressions and bass patterns featured by Joe Bennett and The Sparkletones were all born during those years of childhood. Mother could tickle those ivories and listening to her play those 1-6-2-5- and river blues chords got branded in my mind. Daddy doing the "Hambone" to quick rhythms got caught up in my soul and that is what will come out in my riffs and jams. Thank you Penny and Mrs. Ella for giving that to me - wherever you are, please know that I have so much joy playing music that you, Ernest and Clyde laid in my heart and I will try to never keep it inside but let it out. It is true that modern music has no place for my kind of chord changes and stylings but God gave the good-time music to make people happy -
I'll take that ANYTIME
MERRY CHRISTMAS AND HAPPY NEW YEAR TO EVERYONE!
One thing that is free in this world and also in abundance is the comodity called ADVICE. Now, good, well-meaning advice is certainly welcome when given by one who has whiskers on the subject. For instance if Scotty Moore said," Man, your strings are heavy as cables! Move to a lighter gauge!" I would say what brand would you suggest? ... you get the picture.
However, being 66 years old and having written a few songs, I have some advice for songwriters. I know lots of them ... young and old and there is a procedure one may follow that will lead to a good solid piece of music, Ready? Here goes! .... FIRST...GET A TITLE! Most amatuer songwriters will just start writing ... maybe about a girl ... they will ramble on and get off on some tangent and before long ... they forgot what they wanted to say in the beginning!
As you write, keep centered on the title ... directly or indirectly. If your title is: "Possum up a gum stump NO I will not go out with you" it makes for a real effort to keep focused without going insane.
I have had more than one songwriter tell me it sure made a difference in their results. Take a shot at it and remember to write lines that are only concerned with your title.
Truck Drivin' Man
"I stopped at a roadhouse in Texas
A little place called hamburger Dan's
I dropped a nickle in the jukebox and
played that truck driving man"
Line one says this guy is a travellin' man
#2 details line #1
#3 he is a music lover
#4 He either is, or would love to be, a truck driver,
He is pointing at the title with every line ... directly or indirectly.
Don't stop writing! As you finish one song, you will have gotten an idea for another song from the one just finished.
Try very hard to find a different melody line from the one just finished...go minor or slow ballad, etc.
Chord progressions nowadays are pretty sophisticated ... but remember, don't write a symphonic progression for your country song. Tell the story in it's own habitat. Did you get that rhyming dictionary yet? It will really expand your vocabulary.
I talked via e-mail with my good friend Paul Garrett ... sax player who went on the road with the 2nd or 3rd edition of The Sparkletones. He is a flute-man, guitar-man and sax man and still playing in the Myrtle Beach/Columbia area. That means he still has his chops and sooooooo ... it is jam session time in Caroline! I hope to see Paul and lovely wife Linda real soon. She is an ex-marine! OK Paul, Hup, two-up, three-up four-up to the supper table! (Just kidding, Paul and Linda).
If you are a visitor to Myrtle Beach, you will have found out by now that the Pavilion, which is next door to the Bowery, is soon to be removed. Many of the old cats will remember the great times we all had there ... packed houses and tons of couples dancing. Hey, beach music will always have a place in my heart. We played with so many of the old doo-wop groups like The Flamingos, Lee Andrews and the Harts, The Clovers, Drifters ... and on.
Come on guys, lets figure a way to do it ONE MORE TIME!
Here is wishing everyone a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year...
Translating "Black Slacks"
Over the years, many have recorded our old song "Black Slacks" and some amusing things have arisen from the lyrics. I belileve it is because we didn't enunciate too well or the southern accents weren't comprehendable in the English language.
For example: A lady came to the stage entrance to the Royal Nevada Hotel where we played in Vegas( Now the parking lot for The Stardust) and complained about the suggestive lyrics to our song ... "Young man, I didn't like the words 'Black Slacks with the crotch hanging down to the knees"! We explained the that the words are "Black Slacks with a CAT CHAIN DOWN TO MY KNEES". She was satisfied with that.
Another problem incurred in the translation is: "Black Slacks, I wear a rainbow tie..." .... well, once on a trip to Hartford, CT we bought some red ties and derbies which were what we called a Golfers Cap back then ... now they are called "Pieback" hats I believe. At any rate, the ties were Bow Ties because of the lyrics of the song. "Black Slacks, I wear a red BOWTIE" ... not Rainbow tie. but just judging by the sound, that was an easy mistake to make.
Here is a real goodie. "Black Slacks, 'A' 14, Black Slacks, Really are keen ...", etc. Well, some of our terminology here is entirely different than that in other places. Some folks don't know how we used to carve up our slacks and sometimes, shirts. The first thing we would do after purchasing a pair of slacks was to have them narrowed at the cuff. A 15 inch cuff was kind of standard but if you were REAL cool, maybe a 14 inch cuff! Some cats even had a zipper sewn into the lower leg so they could put the pants on!
We called the process of narrowing the lower leg cuff "Pegging" .... so ...."Black Slacks, pegged 14, etc.
Please don't think we get upset about wrong lyrics some of you have recorded. It is a total HONOR to have our songs recorded by you, but I thought you might get a kick outta some of the translations!
It is all a fun thing and here's hoping you continue to enjoy your music! When you see fotos of Rockabilly Cats and those big smiles on their faces as they stand with their arms about each other and then see the "Others" with sour, mean looks on their faces, you can tell the difference that the music makes. My friend Paul Riddle of the Marshall Tucker band says, "What's everybody so MAD about?."
The City of Spartanburg is having a little party on the square in a couple of weeks and the old man is gonna get to play. Bobby Gaines (Lead guitarist for David Ball) and I are going to team up for a couple of numbers ... "Sugarfoot Rag" (a tribute to Hank Garland) and of course, Black Slacks. Ya'll come on down on Nov. 12 ... high noon!
Keep smiling and don't drop that pick in front of about 5000 like I did once!
Sounds of Music
"Well, I like it when that guitar hits them low strings...DOW, DOW, DOW". " It's pretty good but how about when he grabs those clips, "DOIT, Dew, dew! That gits my coffee to perkin! Where did he get that technique?"
You have just been allowed into a portion of some musician's conversation. I am sure you have heard them before if you have spent any time at all around them. The language ranges from ba ba ba baaaa bap to deet deet deet...and beyond. They say that music is the universal language and I believe it....especially when you are discussing romantical things.
But, us macho boys, we need to discuss "Man" things...like, did Stevie Ray use a tube screamer or a big muff?...was it a tube amp he played through?...how did he get BOW BOW BOWBOW BOW (Like SOW...Mama hawg)? Now, that is some REAL musicicans talk...CHEWEE BOW BOW...oh Yeah!
Drummers are the epitome of musicians talk...I can't even figure out how to type out that stuff they say! Get one going on double-bass licks and he will drive himself crazy trying to put the snare, toms and cymbals in to illustrate the lick! Too much going on at one time, if you ask me! Horns? Easy...VAH VAH VAH VOOM with feeling!
CHICKA CHICKA CHANG CHANG...BOW BOW...what a lick!
Our old partner Rick Dunnn was in town for a short visit last week What a pleasure to see him and talk about old times. When Sparkie quit the tones, Gene Brown came aboard to fill his shoes. Then Jimmy quit (The Drummer)...so Gene bounced over to the drums and we brought Rick on board to do rythym/lead/ vocals. He is a WEST COAST transplant who plays GREAT steel guitar and to tell the truth, was the group clown...When we had tough times on the road, Rick would come up with something to make us Hee Haw!...I mean the side-splitting type.
Well, I am what we call a "Ticket-puller" now...on social security and medicare...trying to figure a way to actually retire! I have done some background tracks for pageants and a few local albums. I have one brewing so maybe I'll get a few sessions and just MAYBE I'll be able to drop that teaching job at Music and Arts.
Dandy Don Seay gave me a Yamaha 16 track recorder (AW15 I believe) and I have a guy coming over every week to show me how use it...it is amazing the things it will do. There is just NO excuse for us Rockabillies NOT putting out a CD nowadays.
So get all the pieces plugged in, get the balances set and then let 'er rip!...CHANGA CHANGA BIM BOP...CH, CH,CH,CH!
Ya'll take care til next time...
In a ticket-line movin' down Henry St
On about a Saturday night
For the rockabilly cats and rockabilly dolls
It's a dancin' time tonight
Spartanburg town is 'a rockin' and a' rollin'
Sweethearts holdin' hands and a' strollin'
When out on the stage he walks stage center
Everybody knows THIS cat's a Winner!
(And man does he BOOGIE!)
(From "Carolina Boogie Man" by Joe Bennett)
I have tried to figure it out for years! What is it about a boogie that just pulls you up outta your seat and puts you out there on that slick floor? I mean, where did that stuff come from anyway? ... maybe some piano man playing those staggered octaves with his left hand while he drops little staccato short forms in a syncopated style ... who was that guy?
1,3,5,6,flat 7 and back-track using standard 12 bar blues format. It is so simple but yet, ....
Remember Jim Dorsey's Boogie Woogie? Man, he packed the floor! To me there is no greater compliment to a musician than to have people irresistibly charge the dance floor when you and your group start playing. How about my man Ray Benson and Asleep at The Wheel? ... how do you fight the feeling of,"Hey, Ray! ... how about letting me sit in ... just one boogie?"
By the way, I had a student who was learning to jam the blues and he went to New Orleans and he would ask the club bands if he could sit in! And THEY LET HIM! See? ... all you have to do is ask!
Arthur "Guitar boogie" Smith's biggest hit was Guitar Boogie of course and we all have our own versions of that song. The Boogies just keep on coming!
If you hear the original Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy", you will notice the drummer in the orchestra gets to kickin' that bass and slappin' that snare a little harder than usual ... I personnally believe he was getting the hang of the back-beat and just couldn't keep it under control!
But let's get back to rockabilly.
A 4 piece band playing a boogie woogie in the rockabilly style is just untouchable! With the bass playing the boogie line and every chord played a 7th, you have got yourself a winner.
So, if your little group lacks luster, and you want to soup it up a little, spend a little time on some boogie tunes. Notice they are strong either slow or fast and the club manager is going to thank you for heating up those dancers so they'll be thirsty when break time rolls around! It's the Boogie Woogie that does it!
HERE'S HOPING YOU HAVE GOOD ROCKIN' ... boogie woogie style!
Sorry for delay folks
... my Mother died a week ago today (July 24) at 94. She was a treasure and will be sorely missed by all who knew her.
I'll be leaving at noon today to go to Salt Lake ... youngest son getting married at age 21 ... folks call him Little Joe ... he is marrying the lovely Rachel Randall of Monticello, Utah on the 28th.
This area is getting pretty good crowds for the rockabilly bands coming through. Appreciation for the genre is improving. You can't cheat on rockabilly ... either the voice is good or it isn't ... the lead man is good or he isn't.
Listeners are more sophisticated than ever before ... most everyone plays SOME guitar nowadays, or their neighbor does, so familiarity with chord progressions is a fairly common thing. One must keep one's technique honed to a greater degree ... mustn't one!? If one doesn't ... someone else will!
Just got a look at our performance in Green Bay ... need to correct one thing (Several things, actually)! I made a slightly derogatory remark about my home town , Spartanburg, S.C. ... it IS a great little town and I love it ... much of the very music we love comes from here, not to mention the musicians ... sorry, Spartanburg.
Doris, my wife, jumped all over me for saying something about, "knuckle draggin' so-and-so's" in last month's blurb .. .sorry all you knuckle-draggers! .. man, this is the month for apologies!
I'll try to do better in August with some real goodies ... ya'll have a great summer!
I'll take the fifties anytime
Ol' Santy brought me a little ol' box-kinda thing that looks kinda wierd ... too small to be worth much. It had two small earplugs attached and a string so you can hang it on your neck. It has a small window that lights up with writing in it. Well, you probably guessed by now that it is a music player. You have to load it with music from your computer and just listen all you want to to music YOU like to hear ... no more force feeding that bing-bang , foghorn music that comes on the air waves these days played by some knuckle-draggin' dude with stomp boxes and a 500 watt amp. Just wait ... I'll show the kids what REAL music sounds like.
Well, my daughter showed me how to harness that mighty-mite monster to the computer, put me on the right web site with my "Shopping basket" and turned me loose to pick and choose. Man, I had a ball! ... just wait'll they hear this!
My son, little Joe, was the first one to be exposed to the real thing ... "What's that, Dad?" as he listened to Spike Jone's version of Old Black Magic ... What does he mean, what's that? Talk about something that will crack you up, make you lose your breath you laugh so much! I kept watching for a smile if not a knee-slappin' bellower! He didn't get it, my friend. "It would be better if you could see that cartoon as well as hear it." says he ... didn't crack a smile.
Let me tell you, those old songs and singers don't make it these days. I played some real Les Paul ... many of my old favorites that I just knew would knock their socks off ... "What's that?" My man, Little Jimmy, Chet, Louis Prima and Keely, even Herb A. and The TJB ... "Old stuff, Dad".
What in the world has gotten into these kids nowadays?! I mean, good is still good, isn't it?
Well, I tell you what. I'll just take my mini-jukebox. plug in both ears and fade off into the sunset with a "Do Not Disturb" sign taped on my back. Yeah, I know that one hand clapping isn't too much noise but I'll make my share, might even shag a little as I meander down that unpaved dirt road from yesterday. Oh, heck! My AAA battery just went dead and I didn't bring any extras ...
Well, guess I'll have to turn around and face THEIR world again ...
But just so you'll know. ... I'll take the fifties anytime. The generations come and go with each having it's own culture and the change is so subtle ... like from a G7 to a G9 ... it sneaks up on you and before you know it, you're diggin' some far out metal band and that is YOUR long hair you just drug through the gravy! Tell me it is just a nightmare!
Hang in there, gang.
Play By The Rules
Once in New York City, we had a session for ABC Paramount . All instruments were tuned, everything set to go EXCEPT I decided my mike was a little high ... so-o-o-o- I proceeded to lower it, ala Carolina -flatbed-truck-on saturday style. "Whoa! ... Hold it! ... DON"T TOUCH THAT MIKE !!! I don't need to tell you what I almost did! Good Grief! What in the heck was wrong with these guys? All I wanted was to adjust my mike! Their sole duty is to lower or raise the mikes or other adio equipment.
Let me tell you, if you are not a member of THAT particular union ... you are in deep kimchee (?) If you are not certified, you may NOT TOUCH THE MERCHANDISE! I knew better next time.
My favorite union story involves the fine city of Chattanooga, Tenn. I do believe. I have lots of friends in Chattanooga and some relatives, so please don't take offense at what I am going to say ... it was just one of those things.
We came into this fine town amidst all the hoopla and advertisement for our gig to be done that night. Soon after arrival, a local musician's union official came on the scene (The scene being the small narrow stage of the movie theater we were to perform in) and advised our manager, Bob Cox, that there was a 8 man minimum rule in effect for that town. Now, this means if you only have 4 guys in your group, you have to fill in the empty slots with four from the local chapter ... at going union rate. Feel sorry for the Kingston Trio! Can you believe it!?
Our manager was a very inovative cat and said, "Send down a clarinet, drummer, bass and accordion." Well, they did send and we did employ ... but they played on the sidewalk under the marque ... Bob wouldn't let them on the stage with us ... we were card carrying members of the AF of M and we got sued! We were all just kids and didn't understand about those kinda things but at any rate, we got it smoothed over and everything was OK afterward.
It was a close one...too close for me.
So, just remember that the union man is eyeballing 'round the corner! ... DON'T touch that mike or try to play with less than an octet ... wonder where they got the number 8?
Tellin' the Story
This past week I phone the Smith Offices in Charlotte to get permission to record a couple of my old songs. I talked to Clay Smith, son of the owner and then he said," Hey Joe, your hero just walked in ... you wanna talk to him?" "Man yeah," says I ... what a treat! Well, Arthur Smith, at 84, got on the phone and we talked of music, guitars, publishing and such for a while. I used to produce sessions up there in his studio for locals who wanted to put together a demo or jingles.
Arthur's "Clay Music" has published a few of my songs. We didn't have a publishing company then so as a matter of convenience, we just penned them over to him and with no regrets. He has always been so helpful to me.
I wrote some historical songs about our local area. One, "Carolina Clay" was a commissioned piece about the role played by pioneers in the Spartanburg-Cowpens area during the revolutionary War.
Another about "Trottin' Sally", who was a legendary figure around the turn of the century. He was an old black man who had a fiddle named "Rosa-lee" and ran everywhere he went . On occasion he would snort like a stud hoss. He would play that fiddle around the streets of Spartanburg or other villages in the area, hoping for pennies or nickles to be tossed to him. When work was available in the construction industry, he would work pushing a wheelbarrow. It was told to me ,by an aged man who knew, that he could outwork any 3 men on the job.
Here is the kicker ... he outran a train from Chesnee to Spartanburg after it took on coal at Chesnee. Some folks say it was from Inman to Spartanburg but ... either way, it was quite a feat!
David Pearson, a local hero they nicknamed the "Silver Fox" while driving the NASCAR circuit, was the subject of one of the songs ... it was called "Little David." It tells of his background , beginnings and successes. David had a redhot mercury (#21) owned by The Woods Brothers and together they were a real winning team. Of course, David's driving skills and sly thought processes caused him to win the World 600 his first time out ... he was Rookie Of The Year that year ... He still resides here in the area where everyone is real proud of him.
Every town or city has a story to tell. With a little research, one can find all sorts of info that may lend itself to being written about. I would encourage everyone in music to find yourself a good subject concerning an area and write a song about it ... remember,"In 1814 we took a little trip?" Tales of history, love stories or just plain strange ones like "Trottin' Sally" ... not to make fun of anyone but to tell the story. Truth is stranger than fiction they say.
Sorry for the delays but my Mom is having a struggle right now with health issues ... you may know she is 93! She is strong and hanging on ... it appears she is on the road to limited recovery at the present time. She is very special for many reasons ... piano teacher, kindergarten teacher, composer and a very extra-special Mom and wife ... on top of that, she named "The Sparkletones"! and has been one of our biggest fans.
I love you, Sweetheart!
Have a great February...
"What kind of guitars did you all use?" "Amps?" "How did you get that sound?" plus many other questions about style, equipment , age, etc. Tell you what....I really feel embarassed at times because I don't know the answers! I know that seems crazy but it's true!
For what it's worth, here goes on equipment.
In '55/56 my Dad said if I would finish the Gibson course on guitar, he would buy any guitar and amp that I wanted. Well, I did and he did and what a great day it was for both of us. It was time to go shopping!
I drooled over Arthur Smith's Stratocaster every day after school when his show was on WBT TV in Charlotte. On Sundays after church, we drove by Smith Music to let me look in the show window at Arthur's Strat's twin brother. It was a 55 or 56 Strat because in '57 we were on the road. I filed the 3rd string groove a little too deep at the nut so out came the handy-dandy silver chewing gum paper ... just a very little ... to stick underneath the string and raise it beyound the buzz. Can you tell me why "Silver" paper? Did I think it had electronic qualities or what? Who knows? Anyway, I grooved the neck on that puppy but kept on playing it.
The amp was a Fender deluxe ... NO reverb! That is how we got that sound! The reverb on the recordings came from Bell Sound Studio in NYC. The speakers were Jensens and we were very happy to have them ... Sparkie's mom and dad followed suit and we had twin-packs.
Jimmy played a set of blue-sparkle Slingerlands with hand matched hi-hats and hand-picked Ziljians with cases ... bought at the factory. After we stopped playing, Jim sold his beloved Slingerlands only to repurchase them a few years ago ... he won't tell what it cost to get them back! They were the originals ... Sullivan, Bandstand, Nat King Cole, etc!
Wayne played a fat-cat Kay bass red-brown trimmed in white. That bass is still around but we don't know where.
There you have the equipment list of The Sparkletones in the early years. The name was thought up by my mom who is now 93 and in a nursing home after a stroke. She said, "Why don't I make you a vest with a sequined treble clef over the heart and a few notes and you call yourselves The Sparkletones?" So, all the other moms did the same and there you have it ... voila!
Some of our music was written on the front porch of our house ... Black Slacks for one. We practiced there and music was written there along a few at Wayne's.
Sparkies "Cotton Pickin' Rocker" and " Late Again" were written in Clifton at his house. We practiced at the other guys houses also where cookies and coolaid were the going refreshment at the time.
Sometimes I would experiment with Gibson strings and flat wound strings ... even Black Diamond strings. They were cheap and not too bad on the tone.
I hope this has answered questions you may have ... if not ... fire me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll be glad to give you any info I may have.
Thank ya'll for reading this little monthly blurb. Have a great month!
'Tis the Season
Well, it looks like the last one of the year for this little blurb and, by George, it has been a real quickie - (Not the blurb - the year). I hope it has been a goodie for you and yours as it has been for me and mine. Sure do have a lot to be thankful for.
However, someone told me the other day that I am starting to get words mixed up. I asked what in the world he was balking atout. Se haid, "You are pronouncing wour yords backwards, clou yown! "Tomesimes I deckin I ro, but pot to the noint where I'm upsetting banyody - lat east not moo tany pomclain. I would certainly try to correct it if I did. Wonder what would make bomesody thoo dat? It could be the music ple way - bockarilly. "Just In Time To Be Too Late" - I never could hat a gindle on that one - how about "Looking Sack To Bee if You were Booking Lack to See -er" ... you've pot the gicture, right? I mean some of those titles will mow your blind. So, I say, come on boys, let's keep these sings thimple. If you're going to site a wrong, let's deep it kown on my intellectual level. Them francy phases and buckle-knustin' chords are rown-dight over my head.
The colors are practically all gone down here in Dixie so brown is the going hue. Folks are dragging out those green Christmas trees, colored lights and giant candy canes to put the color all back in.
Before long, they will drag out a ham from the smokehouse and maybe cook a turkey too. Walk down by the pond and hatchet down a pretty little cedar tree to put in the den by the fireplace and let the kids put on the lights, balls and popcorn strings. Uncle John tries to find the cider jug so a close watch has to be kept on him! We don't want him to fall!
It's nice to keep two or three ponies in the pasture for the kindred kids to ride when they come to visit. When I was a kid, many of the neighborhood kids had ponies and we'd ride til the cows came home. Just out of curiosity, I asked one of my students if he was getting a pony for Christmas. He looked totally shocked and said, "No. I am getting some video games". I said,"What!? You'd rather be sittin' on the sofa pushin' buttons and thumb-triggers than riding a pony over hill and dale and playing Lone Ranger?"
He said,"You mean you actually did that when you were a kid?" Well, one thing we do have in common with kids is music. Some of these kids can REALLY play and they have fun jamming' on a good ol' boogie rhythm. I read somewhere where John Mayer has given up those fat jazz chords for the blues on his new album. Heck, 12 bar blues is what we play - with a boppin' beat. There are probably a million ways to play the blues - some minor, some major, some slow, some quick, some happy, some sad, etc. If you check your band's song list, I'll bet you are playing a buncha blues changes.
There are 3 main kinds of changes - maybe you can use this.
Chords to use:
Straight 12 bar - G7, C7, and D7.
City blues - G7,C7, D7, Am7, Bm7, Bflat m7, Am7, Eflat9, D9, etc.
// // // //// // //
River Blues - G7, C7, D7, G7-Gflat7th -F7 -E7, A7, D7, G, etc.
// / / //// //// //// //
Not to mention Minor 7th ala "Summer Time" - Am7, Dm7, E7 with a short "Relative major" C ... thrown in.
Here's hopin' you have the very best holiday ever -
MERRY CHRISTMAS AND HAPPY NEW YEAR!
"Yodel-leedle-ladeeeee! I want my son to be a shore-nuff rockabilly picker that can fry a set of strings off of a geetar. How about this one fer $39.95 (With warranty). Shucks!... ya'll awtuh throw in about a dozen picks and a month's worth of free lessons ... thats a lotta bread tou're talkin' there!
How many hours a day should he practice? He's ten now and old enough to buckle down and git with it. Do you mind if I sit in on the lesson and eat my boiled egg? Do ya'? ... yeah I know it's a small room but we're men and can handle it, right?"
Being a guitar teacher ain't easy.
A student needs a place to practice where it is quiet and no distracting sights and sounds are present. My dad bought an old school bus, threw out the seats and set it down on the ground (No wheels) behind some bushes at our house. Many's the time they would call me from the back door and tell me to, "get in and go to bed ... school tomorrow!" A drop chord furnished the power for the light and amp. A music stand, chair and small desk were the furnishings. I painted the windows to keep it private.
Really, to practice or teach, all you need is a small space, light bulb and music stand. Anything else is distracting.
How many hours a day? First of all, allow for 2-3 weeks of sore fingers. You can't expect too much during that period. I say practice each item in your lesson 3 times daily. It's the number of reps, man! As hand-strength increases and degree of difficulty rises, more reps will be required.
After school, I would get a nanner sandwich and a glass of apple juice and head for the bus to practice. Sometimes I would stay there for 4-5 hours til I was called in to go to bed.
The guitar? ... you will be one lucky dude if you find a reasonably good playing guitar for $39 bucks! ... more like $139 ... why, Chet himself couldn't play some of those student models! Get a good sounding guitar with the strings low and close to the fret board ... not high.
Now, the teacher needs to be someone who'll get down in the trenches and hammer it out with the student ... share his experiences and keep him motivated ...n ot just string a student along for an extended period of time ... get him going QUICK! ... first lesson he gets the "Cat's in the Cradle" ... 5 chords and a short pick drill!
No, he won't be able to get much continuity but he will be able to HEAR the changes and can tell,"Hey, there is something in there!"
Then comes recital! The best time of the year when we get to show our skills and get bit by the "Showboat Bug." This year it is on Dec. 3rd and everyone around here is excited. I am really proud of all of them...for example, one 11 year old is playing "Sleigh Ride" for his solo. And I mean up to speed, leaving nothing out! They never cease to amaze me ... that's what makes it "worth it all" for the teacher.
I'll confess I do enjoy making the background tracks for each student in my little studio on my Yamaha stuff. It makes for so much more fun for them to play along with a band instead of a metronome.
So, if you have a yen to pass along what you know to someone else, brush up on your patience, go back and check your basics , and hang your shingle out in the local music store. You'll have some great experiences seeing another person recieve joy from being able to play music! What a great feeling!
Meanwhile, get that ax out and tune it up, call your buds and set up a jam session, and keep on rocking ... it is good for the soul!
On Stage Antics
In the old R&R days, choreography used to be a part of the performance. Either you did a "Leg-roll" like Ol' Elvis leading into the guitar break, or some pre-designed steps in step with each other (Group like the Rockettes)) or everybody just did their own random thang! With someone like Ol' Ricky, the band just laid back and played and HE did the fancy steps. Another scenario would be everyone just stood there and did nothing because it was too hard to keep up with the chords or bass and be Fred Astair at the same time!
Now, Ol' Sparkie, from our group, could do it all!. He could wiggle, giggle and hip-shake and never miss a lick! ... just like he'd been practicing that move for a month! I just laid back and let him carry on...just like a miniature tornado. My dad would say,"Boy, get out there and do your stuff! ... Don't hide on the back row! ... Get up there!" Well, I was just seventeen and that ain't the age for that stuff ... you know how self conscious you are that age - zits and all! No Way!
Well, Sparkie went his separate ways which left a big hole in the band - I mean BIG hole! Soooo - we added a kid from Beaumont, S.C. named Gene Brown. Gene was the most talented of all the people who were called Sparkletone - guitar, drums, sang harmony and could boogie dance all over the place - 15 years old!
After a while, Ol' Jimmy decided it was time to move on and we moved Gene to drums and brought in a kid from Boiling Springs, S.C. named Rick Dunn on Guitar and vocal support. Rick worked hard at perfecting his stage movements and guitar work - a real super sideman (16 Yrs. Old!) He was the clown of the group, keeping us in stitches with his Snuffy Smith impersonations among other things.
One fine day we drove down to Rome, Ga. For a one-nighter following Jerry Lee who had been there the week before. I don't remember the name of the theater but they had a large, rockin' crowd and along about mid-set we were all cookin' pretty good. I believe they were dancing in the aisles when all of a sudden a loud crash sounded behind us. We thought the roof was caving in!
We turned to see and were greatly shocked to not see RICK! - All we saw were a pair of white bucks sticking up over my amp and a cymbal stand laying sideways!
Yep - Ol' Rick had gotten tangled up in his ditty-boppin' routine and went you-know-what over teakettle.!
Well, he got mounted up again while we finished the song and we continued making music til everyone had rocked til they dropped.!
Did you see American Bandstand the day Paul Revere's drummer went backwards off the platform? I am sure that every group has had similar instances of embarrassment - they are to be kept in our store house of memories for giggles when things aren't going too good.
Personally, at my age, I'll leave those boogaloo steps to the Rockettes and bubble-gummers! - Say - do they dance these days?!
I just heard a dynamite CD by The Shy - that thing rocks! Good work, men!
Gotta go get my oil changed (Ouch!) and fix Mom's well pump - same well I used to draw water out of as a kid!
Time is sure flying by, guys -
See ya' next time -
"Never Give UP"
Hope your summer was good...here goes.
I feel like I'been hit below the belt by Muhammed Ali ... and him not wearing boxing gloves. I'm sure that all Americans feel that way after Katrina's demolition of the gulf coast. It is hard to smile, to be the slightest bit happy about anything, or to even want to think about rockabilly. What do you write about?
As musicians, we are constantly searching for and learning new things. Well, this week, we, as a nation,have learned many new things. For example, a guitar man checks his strings frequently. When he senses that the end is near for his high "E" string, he changes it before the next gig ... I broke one once in front of a lot of people and it was a disaster.
Maybe we learned to check the levees or to make our city structures even stronger and to have plan A and B in tune and in place at all times.
How about those places not protected by levees, like Biloxi my old stomping grounds in the 60's where I took military training? Or Gulfport where we used to go flounder fishing on the trestle at night?
Rockabillies care about people and I don't know just how many may have been affected by the storm but I did see "Fats" being assisted from a flooded house in New Orleans. Surely our hearts and prayers go out to the victims. God bless them to become re-established quickly that they will find stability in their lives once again.
As far as I know, there are no rockabilly songs about hurricanes and such ... no poems of natural tragedies. But I do know that I speak for a large portion of the rockabilly culture when I say our hearts go out to all who are suffering from the wrath of Katrina. "Never give up, never give up!", said Sir Winston Churchill during England's days of terrible destruction in WWII.
May those words be the rallying cry when hope starts to sag and darkness comes on to close out the sun for another long night. May the warm rays of friendship and charity light your paths ...
Man, you talk about a web site? I found one! It is called drummerworld.com. I don't know about you but I have real joy in witnessing a master at work. Like Chet, he made it look easy yet was awesome to watch and hear.
My all-time drum hero is Buddy Rich. There was only ONE and when he kicked in on a solo you knew you were getting his best effort - just for you. This guy played the snare drum STAND! Anything within reach was his instrument. He even played the sticks - if you don't believe it just tune in and check it out.
Mel Torme was his best friend and he wrote a neat biography on Buddy. If you want a good read on a slow day, pick it up at your local library - but best of all, home in on drummerworld.com and see a phenomenal musician at the top of his trade - the one, the only - Buddy Rich.
There are a couple of rockabilly groups making a name for themselves around here that I haven't seen yet but from all I hear, they are super musicians and showmen. The Cigar Store Indians and Southern Culture on the Skids (Hilarious comedy in their show). I, for one, am glad to see more action on the rockabilly scene from new groups.
Aside from The Sparkletones, I also perform with Boots and Saddles, a cowboy group that does old western songs - Tumbling Tumbleweeds, Ghost Riders in the Sky, etc. We do rodeos and private shindigs where something a little unique is called for. 3 guitars, drums and bass and plenty of vocal harmony are the fare of the day when we pick and grin. Wayne Pugh on drums, Big Mike Harper on bass and vocals and Don Seay, Louis Solesbee and I make up the guitar and harmony vocal section. We love doing that stuff!
The Sparkletones bassman/vocalist, Wayne Arthur, plays in a blue grass gospel group called The Campground Boys and they stay pretty busy. Jimmy Denton, Sparkletones drummer, plays in a Dixieland/Jazz band called The WindJammers. They are a crackerjack group with good musicians who play on key and know how to swing!
A wise man once told me, "There are 2 kinds of music - GOOD and BAD!" Whether it is big band, country, blue grass or whatever - the cream always rises to the top. I once recommended 2 musicians to a guy who was putting a group together. He said, "You crazy? These guys are much better than me - they'll make me look sick!" He wanted guys who were just adequate enough to get by.
That same old wise man also said, "Surround yourself with the best talent you can find and you'll succeed. That applies to business as well as music or any other field!"
I have been told that there are a few copies of "Well Dressed Man" floating around somewhere. I can't believe it. The music just won't die!
I have a new e-mail address: email@example.com and will be plum trickled to chat with anyone who wants to.
Ya'll take it easy and have a great summer!
Green Bay Fest
We shook hands with Hank Thompson and Franny Beecher along with the other comets! ... how about Glen Glenn? ... Clarence Frogman Henry? We met tons of people and saw great musicians performing or just hanging out in Green Bay. I felt totally lost not knowing who some were ... rockabilly giants actually. I found out how little I really do know about the very genre of music I am involved in! I hope you all will forgive us for the deer-in-the-headlight look. Some made us feel right at home. They knew our situation and explained the setup and introduced us to some folks.
Our special friends, The Halls (Ginny and John), were just great and helped us move around the area and were great baby-sitters for us. John and I communicate frequently on the web which helped when we got together in person. John, thanks for all the great info and snazzy pics you and Ginny made. Folks should check out your foto shots in RHOF ... good stuff!
We are really grateful that Marc Mencher invited us to come and it was a treat to meet his family and especially Shaun, his brother, who just eats up a guitar in the western swing style. You must make it a point to see and hear this man play. Yeah, I'll admit that western swing makes me weak in the knees if it is done right ... and Shaun does it right!
I was amazed at the number of new, young players who are on the scene and man, do they get the job done! Guys like Deke Dickerson...good grief! ... I have enough trouble handling one neck on a guitar much less two! To see Dave and Deke together was a special thing ... man they jell together! How about Cave katt Sammy! ... neat looking kids and play great ... I know I am leaving many out but these are just samples ... all that I saw were just flat out great.
There was this guy there who is a superb entertainer and kept us in stitches ... gasping for breath and I found out later a very gifted photographer. He played and sang a couple of rockabilly tunes and darn if he wasn't really good at that too! He has the Elvis moves PLUS a few more. He just floated from group to group, person to person with his handy-dandy little palm-sized camera...every shot was a classic, I am sure ... fella by the name of Allan Clark. He is a riot! Thanks for keeping the tension low, Allan! ... we hope to see you again soon.
I am sure all of the players feel a debt of gratitude to Bob Timmers for firing up the market for rockabilly music. Yeah, Bob, I know ... but ... someone had to have the dream and drive to follow that dream. Sure there was help along the way from others but you were the one who was tenacious as a bulldog ... not letting go and plowing straight ahead towards your goal ... apparently these festivals are popping up all over the world allowing us to market our wares and meet others from different countries.
I, for one, say "Thanks" a million. And to all who had some kind words about our little group, we say "Thanks a million" also. Here's hoping we get to see you all again real soon.
Cars ... Guitars
Dad was a front end man ... the best. Folks would drive all the way from North Carolina to get him to do their repairs and alignments. The preachers got it free. They would pile into the garage next to our house and talk as they sat around the pot-bellied stove ... talk about machinery. Cars, trucks, combines, tractors, fishing and baseball were on the on the daily menu for intellectual consumption.
When I was ten or so, Dad would take me to the midget car races at the airport track on Sunday after church. Now that was the place where us guys outta be! It was loud, dusty and smelly and lots of heroics done by the drivers. Now, mother didn't like it too much cause Sunday afternoon racing wasn't exactly keeping the sabbath holy. So, after a few "discussions" (They must have had them when I was asleep cause I never heard them argue) Dad decided we would go to the dirt track races on Saturday nights over at Cowpens. Man was it loud! ... just what us guys like! ... loud, dusty and smelly with lots of speed and heroics. Everyone had their favorite driver and they cheered for them accordingly.
Now between races there would be discussions about carburators, ball-joints, toe-end alignments, etc. I just stood there with Dad, listened and nodded my head in agreement. Of course, us eleven-year-olds weren't expected to contribute to the conversation in a verbal way ... just nodding was enough, thank you.
It may shock some of you but ... to tell the truth I was bored stiff. I didn't give a rat's about chrome headers, cut-outs or glass pacs. All I ever wanted was to be able to get from point A to point B with no problem. Our old '49 Plymouth was just fine for dating and getting around (gas 13 cents per gallon!).
I drove a school bus in high school and had to know certain mechanical things about the vehicle. I learned only what I had to know like how to gas up and do an oil check ... that's it! To this day I only know what I have to about tractors, trucks and other pieces of machinery.
Those things kind of spill over into other parts of your life ... you know. ... let's take ... GUITARS!
There are those who know everything about their axe ... I mean everything! "Humbuckers", Grover tuning keys, Seymour-Duncans, Texas specials ... you know the routine. Man, there are more boxes, pedals, gimmicks than you can shake a stick at! (I know ... never end with "at"). Some folks can cuss and DIScuss all kinds of features and nomenclatures concerning a guitar ... I mean it boggles the mind! Please know that I envy you guys that can do that! I mean, I have trouble remembering what I had for breakfast this morning! Believe me I have tried to remember certain things about guitar features but the truth is, I just want to know two things ... does it play good and does it sound good.
When we go out to play ... maybe twice a year (Too old to stroll!) guys always ask me about equipment. "I'll bet you own 20 guitars!" (One Takemine electric acoustic) or, "Do you play a Twin Reverb?" (Fender 112 ... I think I got that right! Way too many buttons for me). It is hard for some of them to believe we didn't have reverb in the old days much less all those pedals and buttons available today ... When it comes to guitars I like mine kinda simple like that old '49 Plymouth. It felt good to sit in and you could do almost anything with it when you learned how to drive it! Equipment? ... I'll take what's out there on the end of that arm to determine how good it is.
"What's in my gig bag? " you ask ...
The truth is ... a 5 year old Squire ... made in China ... belongs to the store where I work.
We had the greatest time in Rye, England with Jerry Chatabox and his crew at the Rockabilly Rave a few weeks back. We connected with Eddie Bond, Barbara Pittman, Huelyn Duvall and Billy Lee Riley. It was also great fun talking to Roy Thompson and The Royal Acadians. Everyone was so nice and they know how to rock ... let me tell you! That is one GREAT venue ... the sound and stage were awesome ... not to mention the great crowd. Lots of acquaintances from previous gigs showed up and it was a real treat seeing them again! Thanks Jerry for a wonderful experience that we will never forget! Continued best of luck to you!
We hope to see you all in Green Bay for the Rockin' 50's Fest II starting Apr. 11th. Have you seen the line-up!? We will be following Link Wray on the 16th and will be followed by The Comets ... how great it will be to meet some of our heroes! Thanks Marc for having us over for this gig! Hope to see you all there!
Hoping, Writing and Wishing
No sir ... we didn't have an appointment nor did we know to whom we were going to talk. We only knew we would be at the King Edward hotel where we usually stayed when in the Big Apple. Wayne and I had boarded the train a day earlier in Spartanburg and headed north with guitars, hopes and a few originals ... "Boys Do Cry", "What the Heck", "Bayou Rock" and a few others. We were all that was left of the original Sparkletones. I believe it was in the fall of '59. We tried to write a few more on the train and I believe we managed a couple as we smoked our Dutch Masters panatellas (Real Big Shots!) and thumped out chords and melody lines.
We didn't carry much in the way of dreams. In our late teens we were already road toughened and had some savvy in the way the REAL music business game was played. We had started on the road at the ages of 13 to 17. In those days we had a manager, legal guardian and all of the business stuff was taken care of. All we had to do was play and have fun. Man, was it different now!
When we hit New York, we got a cab down to the King Edward where the Ray Charles road car was parked by the door ... ships that pass in the night. We checked in, went to the room and promptly opened the phone book to the yellow pages ... Recording Companies. We made a short list of 3 or 4, took a well needed shower and started on our journey.
Not too keen on exact dates and times or events, I think we got turned down by a couple but when we walked into Paris Records and sang our songs for Jack Gold and Barbara (The secretary). We got excited about their reaction. They had just had a big hit with "See You in September" and were optimistic about life in general, it seemed. Soon we were in a session doing what we really loved. We got in on the tailend of a Nelson Riddle orchestra session and got to use the Anita Kerr singers on one song (Beautiful One). Mundel Lowe did the lead work on "Bayou Rock" and some others. We were walking on air.
All recording sessions start out with high hopes and optimistic attitudes. "Man, this is gonna be really something!"
Then came the waiting part ... how long tail it is out? ... months.
Br> You try to remember the details of the session and how it sounded. Of course nowadays you can get a dub of your song and take it home to listen to anytime. Not in those days! ... it was wait, wait, wait!
Well, it finally arrives and you hear it played on the local station. Folks smile at you and want to talk about your new record. It is a pretty hot topic in your home town but how about Philly or Kansas City? Wayne and had trained our way back south with a contract in hand and some cut records in the can at Paris Records. In the days that followed we had a considerable amount of action on Boys Do Cry and were hoping for good times ahead. The good news never came.
BY golly, I'll show 'em! (Sometime in '60)... I joined the Air Force! That'll fix 'em, by Ned! As I got up at 4:30 am at Lackland AFB, Texas I thought about how they were really hurtin' now! Boy, I had 'em where I wanted 'em! I'll get away from that dirty rotten bidness (That's what they call it here}. I was gettin' my licks in left and right and I could tell they were hurt by the way they didn't write! Stationed in Spain, I wrote Dad to send my Strat and Deluxe. He did and soon I was playing again down at the Airmen's Club. We took our GI band down to Madrid's Record Company "Hispavox" and cut a demo. The Engineer called the president and told him about us. They signed us up and ...
There it was all over again ... hoping, writing and wishing ... Man! You can never get away from it! I just turned 65 and just so happened to have a neat little 8-track outfit right here in my house!. I've got some fresh new stuff that just might kick a little you-know-what out there ... what goes round comes round, you know!
A Mill-Hill Boy's Musical Impact
Lawson's fork creek runs through the little village of Glendale here in the foothills of South Carolina. It used to power the cotton mill which was the reason folks lived here ... to have a job. The textile industry flourished here among the rivers and creeks where dams could be built. Mill houses dotted the lush green hillsides along the rivers and families were raised beside fireplaces and woodstoves.
My great-grandfather on my Mom's side came over from Ireland and settled in Glendale where he fell in love, got married and raised a family. The majority of jobs were either textile or farm related. Here they grew cotton, turned it into thread and milled it into cloth.
There was and still is a certain "Feeling" between the gentry and the mill-hill people who were also called "Lint-heads"...a putdown for sure. The mill workers were humble, loyal and kind people. Mother was from a mill-hill family, Dad a farmer who once worked in Glendale mill where he met my mom (Thank goodness).
In the very early years electricity and radios were not common much less telephones. I am 65 and remember when we got our first phone. The fact that these conveniences were not available caused people to talk at the table or around the fireplace ... relating stories of the old days or just "philosophizing" about the current events or ... listening to some picking and singing. People want to know why so much musical history is connected to the cotton mill culture ... well, there you have it. It was kind of a big deal if someone had a guitar, banjo or mandolin and could play it. Not many could afford private lessons on instruments so it was a tradition to teach the kids who wanted to learn in the family ... a pass-it-on thing. That is why, to this day, there are so many musicians in this area ... you can trace most of them back through the mill villages here and in other parts of the country.
Out of this background came a mill-hill boy who played hookey to stay home from school so he could practice his guitar. He bugged Mr. Fowler to show him more chords and licks. Mr. Fowler would say,"Boy! You had better get back to school." He had a knack and he knew it. In the late 40's a country band from Tennessee came through Spartanburg and this kid went to the theater looking for a job. He was 15. The band was reluctant to even listen to him play because of his age but he persisted and they let him unpack and play backstage. He blew them away and they said if his mom and dad would sign that he had their permission to go with them, it would be OK. The rest is history.
His name was Hank Garland ... one of the greatest modern guitarists ... from Jazz to Country he did it all ... raised right here in a mill village. You know those little kickin' licks on Jingle Bell Rock? Hank Garland ... How about "Little Sister" by Elvis?. Hank again and again ... he backed up the best 'cause he was the best. He could come up with hooks that would blow your hat in the river! His picking skills and speed were phenomenal.
Hank died recently in Florida after a long battle with strokes. He came by to see me about 3 years ago at the store. We sat down and I handed him my old Squire and he hit a lick or two. What a feeling to be in the presence of a living legend! You see, Hank was our idol around here in those old days and once you entered THAT arena you never got rid of that good ol' feeling ... mill-hill boy made good!
So, go ahead ... call me a lint-head with mill-hill mentality ... see if I care ... but I'll bet YOU never sat down knee-to-knee with Hank Garland!
Rockabilly was born in part from that mill-hill culture. Marriages were made, families raised and happiness inspired by the sounds of strings and harmonies wafting across the green valleys of the Carolinas at twilight ... like grandma's apple pies.
My sincere condolences and sympathies go out to Hank's family.
We hope to see ya'll n Rye, England the 2nd week in March or Green Bay in mid-April ...
Playing Outside of the Dots
Happy New Year to all ... hope the Holidays went well for everyone. Sorry 'bout December ... not enough time to spit! Eddie Davis was a friend of mine down here in the Cowpens, Glendale, Clifton, Converse, Cannon's Campground area of South Carolina. He was a jolly boy,if ever there was one, who liked a good laugh and was very creative in the humor department. He was generous in bodily proportions weighing in at well over 2oo lbs. He had a Gretsch White Falcon which was his pride and joy and played at that level ... he deserved a Gretsch White Falcon! He had that handy-dandy little gift called "Double-jointed finger-tips" which allowed him to easily make chords that we lesser mortals had to struggle with.
We practiced together each Saturday and rotated from his house to mine. Sometimes our Moms would make a cake for us to snack on and after the initial mixing was done, we each were handed a spoon to clean that bowl! ... mmm ... mmm ... mmm! But, they always left SO LITTLE! One day we decided we were tired of getting short changed in that the bowl never provided enough cake batter to suit our needs! So ... we pooled our financial resources and went shopping at Sam's store upon the hill for a box of Yellow Cake Mix. Having completed our mission, we dashed back home and proceeded to read instructions on the box and whip up a cake batter extraordinaire! I am convinced to this day that it would have been a great cake if we had only cooked it! Mom said," I wouldn't do that boys!" Why didn't we listen? Why?
We hoisted giant spoonfuls of that heavenly batter to our mouths and sat there like pigs in chairs occasionally giving a soft grunt of satisfaction not caring what was going on in the rest of the world...totally forgetting about minor pentatonics or diminished chords.
The soft grunts of delight soon changed to soft moans of misery. The "Rising" characteristic of the batter soon took effect in our stomachs and I think the term "Bloated" is appropriate when describing our condition.
Now this just goes to show how musicians are willing to experiment or play around outside of the dots. Sure, pain and misery accompany the process at times but oh, how sweet it is when you get it right. If we had settled for a couple of healthy spoonfuls and baked the rest, it would have a been a totally successful operation. But NO! Don't fence us in and limit us to a reasonable amount! We little piggie-wiggies want it all! NOW!
Did you ever find a sweet lick that you just played over and over ... maybe tried some variations on it ... and every time you jammed you played that lick just because it sounded good to you? Every time you picked up you axe you played that lick first thing. "Uh-oh! Here comes old Hot Lick (Singular) Joe." I remember when I picked up a Danny Gatton lick ... it sounded kind of jazzy and I thought it was hot ... someone said,"You played that lick at least 4 times last set!"
He, "Did Too!"
All 3 other guys."Did too!."
You get the picture.
Too much of a good thing can bloat up your jammin' ... right? We all know how hard it is to make each lead break sound different. If we know all our scales perfectly we can put the listener on a real roller-coaster ride ... low to high, change the phrasing, find new intervals. How dull it would be to ride a coaster on a level track with no ups and downs (Whole bowl of batter). That cake would have been better with a couple of spoonfuls of raw, then bake some cup cakes or a layer cake and add a little frosting! Oh, Yeah!
Same with jammin' ... take flight! ... go for the cupcakes with frosting!
The Tones are going to England to perform on Mar. 11 and then to Green Bay, Wis. on Apr. 16th ... hope ya'll can make it!
My Rockabilly Roots
Cousin Bud's radio show came on around 4:30-5:00 PM on weekdays ... he would catch the goin' home traffic ... his name was and is Grover Golightly.
Our little kid band played on his show about once or twice a month. We played those country songs as right as we knew how and I believe they were mostly correct. In those days you didn't hear too many diminished or augmented chords in country so G, C, D7 with a A7 in the bridge would usually get the job done.
Somehow the music was more melodic then ... simple tunes you could whistle or hum with simple chords and you could always tell one song from another! ... which, to tell the truth, was pretty amazing since there are only 8 notes plus accidentals in the scales! How many different combinations of these notes are there?
Those were lazy, hazy, crazy summer days of youth for us. In my personal case, that was the true rockabilly roots time when I could consider all the musical and rythmic things going on around me ... easy to do with no bills to pay ... right? My environment had lots of music in it. Mother was a pianist and teacher and at 92 can still tickle those ivories. I am so proud of her.
My Dad could "Ham-bone" up a storm ... I mean he had rythym and could convey it by the thigh-slappin', chest pattin' patterns he played when he ham-boned. I learned how by watching him and trying to immulate the syncopated beats ... something akin to a marching band drum cadence with a funky little kick to it ... dropping those bass drum beats in wierd places ... like Carver High School Band here in Spartanburg at Christmas parade time. Man, they were great! If you could keep from patting your foot when they came by you had to be dead!
Another element of my rockabilly roots was on a UNC public TV show I saw today called " Carolina Calling" ... My friend Arthur Smith and his son Clay were entertaining. I always watched his show, "Arthur Smith and The Crackerjacks",in the 50's after school every day on WBTV in Charlotte ... couldn't wait to get home ... probably age 10-11. They were super entertainers with comedy, tons of instrumentals with Arthur just taking flight on "Fingers on Fire" or "Dill Pickle Rag" and always good vocalists and harmonies ... no drums.
I once again have to mention the gospel quartets which were, and still are, very prominent in this neck of the woods ... there again you have the syncopated patterns and harmony which, when exposed to a child, paints an indelible sound-garden in his mind of happy, melodic, rythmic sounds.
When I think back over the ingredients poured into my bowl of impressions, it is as if I can almost remember the first day our Sparkletones band practiced ... my house, in winter ... sometime around '55-'56 ... Sparkie was aboiut 10 or 11, Wayne, Jim and I 15-16 ... awkward and shy about playing but in the end extremely excited about the two or three songs we worked up. I thought," Man at the stuff we can do later! ... Hank Williams with a beat ... Carver High with a country feel ... Bayou Rock with a ham-bone touch! Hey, throw in a Arthur Smith lick and just rock on out!
We all have a bowl of ingredients. So, pour it out, mix it up and serve it up YOUR way, Man!
Ol' Black Slacks.
Sharing a Secret
If you ever shake my hand it may feel a little strange ... but because I have had about 60 years practice at covering it up, you may NOT notice anything different ... the little finger on my right hand is deformed. No, it doesn't affect my playing but it has given me some interesting experiences.
The Air Force, for example.
One day while in basic training I was walking along from the BX to the barracks when around the corner came a brand new, young 2nd Louie ... bright shiney brass and all! I popped a snappy salute, bent finger and all, and he popped a snappy salute ... then I saw his eyebrows fly up into his hairline!
"Hey, airman!," spouts he ... "what kind of a salute was that?" and he chewed and chewed and chewed ... after the dissertation was over with, I says,"Sorry sir, I have a deformed finger."
Well sir, his jaw dropped like the trap door on grandpa's long johns! He was really embarrassed so he said, " At ease", said something about ... "sorry" and then walked off. I felt sorry for him too.
The kids at school knew about it. Since everfyone here had a nickname, mine was "Nubbie" because of that little finger. To this day they still say,"Hey, Nubbie! How's it going?"
My mom used to teach piano and she kind of wanted me to play one. Since we had one for me to practice on, she took me to Mrs. Hottel in Glendale for a lesson ... little red book ... "Thompson's" I believe. She felt like someone other than Mom would work better but the little finger was going to be a problem ... that ended my piano career ... I always felt like the Good Lord didn't want me to be a piano player but I can still bang out some chords ala Mr Gilley.
Once in California I was invited to join a Ouija board game but my little finger would not extend far enough for a connect ... so I was out (Thank Goodness!).
Anyway, I was crazy bout music so Mom found Uncle Lawrence's old Gibson up in Aunt Lottie's attic, tuned it up and showed my 4 chords ... G, C, D7 and A7 and that launched my musical career. I couldn't put it down. Dad said he would buy me any guitar if I finished the Gibson course for guitar taught by Mr. Fowler. I did and He did and I had a new Strat (Circa 1956) so I proceeded to copy all the Les Paul runs I could pick out and set my goal to be as fast as HE was! ... little did I know that he recorded slow and played back fast to get that effect! ... I kept on plugging away ... old dummy me! Broke my heart when I found out!
Back when I was 17-18, I could pretty well smoke a guitar, I guess.
Folks used to tell me how good I was (They had never heard any REAL good ones) and I would be tempted to start believing all that stuff ... then, I would notice my little finger. As I checked it over, it reminded me just how human I was ... it kept me from getting "Upitty".
Now, most of you aren't lucky enough to have one of these things so I have to forewarn you ... don't EVER believe your own publicity! It could be a long, slow, mind-blowing slide to the bottom. Remember, we are all JUST humans who are on this space ship together...all of equal value... Well, you could always IMAGINE you had one!
What a great treat for me this past week ... I got to swap E-mails with Albert Lee my guitar hero. We might get to hook up with him in March at Rye ... I sincerely hope so ... what a killer player he is ... thanks Albert!
Here's hopin' you have Good Rockin"...
The story ... a song for every mood
His arms were the size of a broomstick ... holes in the knees of his pants at times. At about 10 or 11 he was just the right size to be bullied by the "Big Boys" ... and some did it. His dad was killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor ... his uncles and other relatives were all he had except for his buddies. He was one of my best buddies and kind of a hero to me. You see, Ned had other ways of being big and kicking sand in the bullies faces.
He was deadly with a toy (A special marble that you used for shooting). His pants pockets were always full of marbles ... OUR marbles! He could knock your hat in the river with that "Toy" of his. Some of the big boys thought they could take him so they brought their bag of treasure down to the McKinny's house where we drew a good sized circle in the sand and everyone ante'd up ... I believe it was 10 each ... to get in the game.
One thing you should know is that "Playing for keeps" was generally forbidden by most parents in Cannons Campground ... too much like real gambling. Most all of these marble games were on the sly.
When Ned's shot came, he cleaned the circle and went home.
No one ... I repeat no one could beat Ned. Everyone wanted to be his friend because of his unusual skill shooting marbles. He was a really neat kid.
Ned grew older but, by gum, he never did put on weight ... just grew tall. He outgrew marbles and grew interested in baseball through some uncles and one day he discovered he could throw a baseball so fast it looked like the size an aspirin! He would throw it at your head, you would step in the water bucket trying to get outta the way, and the ball would curve over the plate for a strike!
"I'll bet I can hit him," said the big boys.
Well, they got their chance. Ned whiffed every last one of them! He would flat-out embarrass you, that kid ... with the skinny arms and lack of physique. He was the hero of many-a-kid ... like me.
Ned could sing a pretty mean song when he took a notion. At times he would come down to the jamboree and sing one or two with the band. I paid him to run my snowball stand.
A lot of us guys who weren't athletes took a different direction ... our strengths were in other areas ... some mechanics, musicians, artists ... one is now a recognized brain surgeon. Our life experiences form and shape the music we play. We write and sing about times of our lives ... good and bad. If we don't, we had better change. A good story is what everyone wants to hear or see. Why do folks go to movies? To see a story. Why do they read books or newspapers?. The story, man! The story!
The stories of people like Ned effects the songs I write and sing. You see, I don't know anything else, only what I've seen and experienced in my life. I believe that there is a melody for every story ... a beat to every situation. ... a riff for every scene ... a song for every mood.
True rockabilly music is genuine and raw ... full of life's experiences with a back-beat. The simpler the better.
You've got a pocket full of life's tales that you need to throw in the ring ... wear the knees outta your pants hustling up a tune created by you ... get your toy out and give it a shot!
We are looking forward to another trip to England in March then on to Green Bay for a rockin' time on April 15th ... I still can't believe us old dudes are still getting the chance to Rock and Roll with friends and fans of the fifties music. It is such a blast for us ... it should be against the law.
Thanks for kind words and sincere encouragement. Have a great September!
The producer is a VIP ... at least it sounds like he/she is ... Producer ... yep sounds mighty important. In the old days (50's) we always called them the "A&R Man" ... stands for artists and repertoire.
A good one will let you use your own ideas and creativity in a session ... he will generally sit back behind the glass and let HIS creative juices flow in a very gentle and diplomatic way ... "Let's change the hook slightly ... maybe more mid-range ... what do you think?" ... suggestions like that. And he asks for your opinion.
Not to say anything bad about any personnel involved in our old sessions, but man! ... what I would have given to have Don Costa on ALL of our sessions! ... he did "Diana" with Mr. Anka one night and our's the next over at Bell Sound in NYC. He did Goerge the 4th's stuff and I remember there was one little progression he used in "Why Don't They Understand?" ... and I would bug the daylights out of him to show me ... finally exasperated, we paused in the session and he showed me those moves. Don was the greatest. He made a couple of recordings on his own as Muvva Guitar Hubbard ... (Raunchy) ... later was the conductor for Mr. Sinatra's orchestra plus I don't know how many more great things he did.
We were goofing around in the studio while the engineer set the levels and someone blurted out ... "B-B-B-'B ... Black Slacks" and he heard it ... "Hey, what was that?" he asked and you know the rest.
He acted like one of the boys laughing and cutting up ... he knew how to put us at ease ... Of course, we, being country boys, didn't have too many concerns anyway ... we didn't feel that much pressure! We didn't know any better! I was so laid back I left my Strat at the CBS studio after the first Sullivan show! They sent it to me in S.C. on a Greyhound bus.
I heard someone say the other day that a good producer would cost in the vicinity of $50,000 just for starters ... and that doesn't come with a guarantee that it's gonna "Hit" either.
A good producer uses the strengths and minimizes the weaknesses of a group/soloist. He figures out ways to make you sound like star materiel. He looks for hooks and gimmicks, punches , licks and kicks. He is the fairy godmother and with a wave of his wand he makes the magic happen.
As Chet once said,"It is now possible to make the PERFECT recording ... a vowel from track 42, a word from track 16 patched in, the lead lick from track 26 ..." You get the picture.
Well, now, that's going too far! I mean, come on! ... let's not get so sterile that it doesn't have character! How about a little flaw here and there? We are only HUMAN you know ... we need to let that show through!
And don't load it up with violins and sopranos in the back ground! We are talking Rockabilly here! Down-home, foot-stompin', big-beat, back-beat music with a glitch or two (Human or otherwise). Come on! If you correct every little thing it is like too much sugar in your java!
Now, Old Don C. wouldn't do that ... he'd leave a little rough edge or two ... he knew that rockabilly is maverick music ... not pure bred. If you don't believe it, listen to the thumps I made on the leads in some of our old stuff ... including 'Slacks".
Rockabilly is the best! IT is good old raw, unadulterated, fun music that is nice and uncomplicated ... and it won't give you a headache to listen to it!
Hold it in the road ...
Remember those hot summer nights? ... when the days seemed like they would never end and turn to dark? ... when the mystery of the night settled in and it brought fresh courage with it ... courage to call HER up? (What you didn't know was that SHE was a shy as you were).
You did it! Finger in the spin-dial, the whirr of the phone as it gobbled up those numbers ... Man! That thing spins too fast ... I need time to think! What if her DAD answers? ... oh, man! I'm not up to this! I CAN'T DO IT! Slam! I'll do the next best thing!
In our town there was a drive-in restaurant called "The Steeple "where everyone went at night to socialize and listen to the music amidst the sounds of the city ... SH-H-H-H of airbrakes, beep-honk of horns, ba-lop, ba-lop of those muscle cars dragging through the drive-in and away in the background a DeeJay dedicating songs for the chicken-hearted big-boys ... "And here is "Dream Lover " dedicated to Norma from Billy, to Sally from Robert" ... and on and on ...
You can almost smell those hotdogs (Chili and onions we called 'all the way') and see the pegged pants and rolled-up Bobbie Sox, hair combed back with the help of Vaseline or Suave, some couples smoochin' in a car. It was a simpler time ... believe me.
On top of the Steeple's main building was a small glass booth where the DeeJay broadcast originated. You could go inside the main restaurant and make your call (for a dime) to the Deejay and make your request. What!? ME? Talk to the Deejay?!
"Could you play 'I Want You, I need You, I love you' from Danny to Joyce?" Now she'll know how I really feel!
Next day everyone says, "Heard that dedication last night ... Joyce heard it too!" ... OH NO!! How could I do such a stupid thing ... now she KNOWS!
Joyce and Danny got married, had a large family and lived happily ever after ... with a little help from THE Rockabilly.
Our sock hops were good matchmakers too. But, to tell the truth, if it weren't for Ladie's Choices, they wouldn't have been so successful. One of the greatest inventions ever was the Ladies' Choice dance. What a great feeling when your band started playing "Sleep Walk" or "One Night With You " and the crowd rushed to the dance floor and the words you sang were the words they wanted to say to each other.
Yeah, you can't disregard the powerful influence the music had/has on us all.
Want to spice up things around your house? ... how about a call to the Deejay and have him play your wife's favorite old song and dedicate it to her ... then make sure she's listening . You'll learn just how powerful lyrics set to music REALLY is!
Rockabilly has to be included in the story of marriages made by music. Even the fast movers with non-sense lyrics had an effect mostly because of the beat and familiar little hooks that went with the songs. It was like a secret code that went among the teens and fans ... a little something that tied us together as a separate family.
Hey! Don't know how to sweet talk your chick? Put on Bobby Helms' "You Are My Special Angel" and give Sweetie Pie a turn around the dining room ... he'll take care of it for you!
Keep on rockin', Cats!
John D. Brooks
John D. Brooks was home from the army and he had picked up a ton of licks ... on drums. He naturally fell in with some of his old buds and they started a group. Practice was held down on the Drayton Mill Hill at John's grandpa's house and various folks would stop by to listen.
A little red-headed boy was constantly watching' John D. When everyone else left he was still there talking to John, asking questions and maybe even getting a tap in on the snare drum. If he maneuvered himself around just right, maybe a punch on the bass drum. John D. was his hero. His name was, and is, Paul Riddle of the Marshall Tucker Band...one of the finest drummers anywhere, who came up with licks and kicks that were outta this world.
John D. moved on to various other local groups, started playing guitar and bass. He came by the store the other day and we reminisced a little about the old days. John D. is one of my all-time favorite drummers. He did a gig with us at an Old 50's thing years ago ... Bo Diddly was there ... he told me, "I want that drummer." Ol' John wouldn't go though. He had a family to raise.
He had the wildest foot I ever saw. He would put bombs in the craziest places ... I mean down-right nasty. It made you want to go take a shower. He played with authority and when he played, HE was the drummer YOU marched to. Don't get me wrong...not a loud banger but when he meant to "stick it" you knew it. He would just pull you outta your seat and give you the "Have to's" and the "Can't help its" ... you just had to dance! It is hard to get that effect from an instrument you can't play a "G" chord on!
In those days, everyone copied and played like John D. How is it that one guy can have that much influence on others? What causes us to say, "I want to be like him(Or her)." ?
John D. is a quiet man not given to loud laughter or boisterous behavior but man is he assertive behind a set of drums!
Well, I guess you know by now that here stands a real John D. Brooks fan ... dyed-in-the-wool! We guitar players have our own Clayton DeLaneys and I am sure that all instrumentalists have one who stands out to them.
There is one thing about music people which I like ... they are usually very generous with compliments and encouragement. An arm around the shoulder with, "Man, that was great!" does wonders for someone who is getting started or struggling with those times when his "Putter just isn't working today".
We are getting all geared up for summer ... new kids and adults coming in for lessons. It is always exciting to see their faces when they walk in with a acoustic guitar (Usually), a notebook and a fistful of picks. They can't believe I have pictures of Smarty Jones on my wall! "Do you bet on horses?" they ask. "Heck No" says I..."Just like horses!"...it kind of relaxes them.
I explain the guitar and how to read chord charts and we finally get through "The Cats in The Cradle" and a pick drill ... basic first lesson. Then out they go with their dreams and hopes. They are very fragile and vulnerable at that point. It sure helps to have someone like John D. in the mix to tell them that they can do it ... like John D. told that little red-headed boy.
Drop a line to: Sparkletonesjoe@yahoo.com (New)
Ya'll have a good 'un!
The once-in-a-lifetime pick
I think I found it on the floor at the music store. Someone probably dropped it while reaching for their car keys. Anyway, there it was in my hand as a gift that came from heaven. It had a small round hole in the middle with a very thin layer of cork around the hole...I'd say about a light medium...you've seen 'em.
I stuck that little booger in my pocket with the remainder of my collection and upon arrival at the homestead, I proceeded to uncase the old Strat and see how it worked. That pick almost played by it's self...I mean, it was magic! It fit better than a glove and was just perfect for pickin', strummin' and boogie-bars!
Back to the store only to find that they didn,t sell that kind...every store in town didn't have those picks!..I mean, there was only ONE in the world.
Well, sir, that pick made the rounds...for about 6 months...it never offered to split or break. The cork did start to wear off slightly but, hey!...it still was the best pick in the world. When we went on stage (Me and that pick), we had great confidence...we could do anything!...look out folks!...here comes a stream of 16th chromatics! Dig those down/up strokes...how about a couple of ruffs to enhance that run. Man! That baby could do it all! I always checked my pockets when going ANYWHERE! There it was! That little rim of cork in the middle...I could feel it in my pocket and always checked every 5 minutes or so just to make sure.
Then one morning, it happened. I reached for my little plastic security blanket, my pacifier, my Rock of Gibraltar...my special Heaven-made pick and...!!! It felt like a bowling ball in the gut!.. A low blow from Muhammad Ali!..A kick in the face from Secretariat!..Not there!...NO WHERE! Did you hear me!? It was NO WHERE to be found! Down to the car...check in the cracks!...under the seat..(What a mess there!)...down to the Chicken Shack where we played last night! Yeah! Of course it was...NOT ON THE STAGE! "No!..I am NOT crying!!
The community search and rescue team helped out that Ne'er-to-be-forgotten afternoon but to no avail. GONE! My heart was broken and I was scared to pick...I mean those other peaces of plastic weren't picks! They were medium, light or heavy GARBAGE!...scraps from some toy factory or something.
Over the years I learned to get by with other picks but by Ned, it was tough. I'll bet some kid found that thing laying on the sidewalk, took it home and just "Tore it up" on his guitar. Now it was his turn with the magic pick.
Funny thing happened the other day. I was looking through the trays at the music store and there they were!...those magnificent picks with a hole with cork around it !..Oh, Man! I couldn't believe it...grab that Takemine of the wall...here goes!...
Dogone, it feels like a piece of plywood!..I can't do ANYTHING with this pick!...Pick? Did someone call this a PICK?! Boy, they sure don't make 'em like they used to!
New E-mail: Sparkletones@msn.com...sure would like to hear from you guys...
On Stage = Medicine
Just drove in from Dallas to El Paso. The fever must have been 103 or more and and the first of 2 shows would be starting in a couple of hours. The sore throat didn't help any. It was one of those times you just wanted the world to go away and leave you alone for a while with your misery.
"Remember, son, the show must go on. Even if there is only one person there or you are feeling rough...if that guy bought a ticket he deserves to see your very best performance," said Bob Cox our manager. "You've gotta be kidding," I thought. "We have been doing one-nighters all the way across the country. I am tired, beat, worn out...lets give the money back and take a few days break!"
"Keep a stiff upper lip now! You can rest in the car on the next leg of the trip." " Ha!...I am the driver...remember?"(We carried two cars).
Well, you get to a motel (Not always...sometimes change in the car), shower, get dressed and still having chills, you drag your buns out for the trip to the theater. As you drive down the street you see banners across it with "Welcome Sparkletones" on it...or "Matineee today 2PM and 4PM" "Wait a MINUTE here! Look at all those people around that door waiting in line! Oh, Man! I can't do this. I am sick as a dog!"
You are let in through the back door, set up on stage, check the mike (belongs to the theater) then backstage as they open the front doors. "Man, my head hurts and I don't think I can focus too well...they're going to laugh at me I'll be so bad. Anybody got an aspirin?"
Peeping through the curtain you see they are piling in, full of energy and ready to rock and make lots of noise. You, on the other hand, are ready to lay your bod down and sack out for 472 days...non-stop.
A local DJ comes backstage to meet you and welcome you...you try to give a convincing smile and act really ready to rock (Ha!) He goes out on stage and gives a really big buildup in his introduction...you think," Are we really all that stuff?"(Never let yourself believe it !) All of a sudden you find you aren't thinking about being sick anymore...doggone, this is gettin' good.Those kids are screamin' and clapping in time with "We want Black Slacks". You find yourself thinking,"I'll wait til later to be sick!"
DJ shouts,"Now here they are....". Bedlam!
You run out on that small strip of stage in front of the curtain(Movie theater)and you commence to Rock and Roll...big-time!
Let me tell you something....there is no better cure for the fever than a good old shot of backbeat with a walking bass and some chunk-chunk from the guitars with a happy crowd just havin' as good time. They're dancin' in the aisles, Shakin' on the chandeliers(Did I spell that right?) Who cares with all this excitement!
What fever? What headache?
Thanks to all the Sparkletones fans who came to the show and cured our fevers and headaches over the years. We appreciate each and every one who came, wrote, phoned, sent E-mails (Sparkletones@msn.com) or shook hands not to mention the kind folks who stood in line to say "Hello" in Munich, Las Vegas and Hemsby.
Have a great summer holiday, ya'll!
I suppose his weight would have been around 75-80 lbs ... soaking wet and I'm reasonably sure he never took a dance lesson or voice lesson in his life ... he did take guitar lessons. He was an innovator in many ways and he was a "little brother" to me ... 12 years old.
We called him,"Sparkie" for various reasons ... Sparkletone ... and he was a spontaneous burst of energy waiting to bust loose and when it did bust loose, he would sling that jet-black hair around and those big blue eyes lit up and he would break into a improvisational dance move that killed everyone within eye-shot. He was just so full of himself and the music would key that ignition switch that turned the dynamo on.
He was 25% of The Sparkletones but in actuality, he was the main visual part of our program. If you can get hold of a Ted Mack Original Amatuer video from the Library of congress ... not sure of the exact date ... winter of '56, you will see him cut loose with that energy. When you saw him do that YOU became charged up also. What a phenomenon!
The high harmonies on our recordings were Sparkie. He had the gift ... the ear and that choir-boy high voice and could harmonize with a freight train! He could make anyone sound good by doing a harmony line along with them.
But somewhere down the road, around 13-15 years old, puberty arrives, the yodelling starts, the zits commence and high childrens voices (Especially boys) start to sound like the bass singer for the Jordinaires.
His family called him Howard. Howard Childress. I know the family ... all wonderful Carolina friendly people. His older brother, Billy, whom Sparkie loved dearly, was killed in truck accident in Georgia. Billy was also a guitar man. He could play Sugarfoot Rag with the best of them and had the best smile you ever saw.
But Sparkie was the One.
The first time I saw him he sang Davie Crockett at a school talent show. When Wayne, Jimmy and I started playing we were looking for another guitar player. It was so obvious who to get and was the best move we ever made. We were not aware he could sing harmony at that young age ... but he sure did!
On the road at 13, he was a typical young kid..getting into mischief ... requiring careful observance ... a typical little brother to us. He could make you so mad yet you couldn't stay mad long! "Let's go to the movies ... let's do this or that.." ... you know how it goes.
But Sparkie provided that balance that kept us from killing each other..we never really had any bad moments as a band because he could break any tension that might arise by some little thing he would say or do.
If anyone ever had a genuine love for music, it was, and is, him. He can get his guitar outta that case, tuned and playing quicker than anyone I ever saw. He is always eager to try new licks especially on harmony lead. He is a great guitarist and composer ... he wrote "Cotton-Pickin' Rocker" and other really amazing songs ... some recorded in Nashville.
Sparkie, just want you to know how I treasure all those memories of your performances and companionship.
Just think ... I had a front row seat!
Rockabilly in the Air
We used to climb those massive poplars down in MaMa's pasture. The branches were close together and the trunks were straight and very tall. When we had a good stiff wind, I would head for the trees after school, get off the pony and climb up high ... really high and sway in the breeze for long periods of time. The vista was magnificent for you could see for miles and the air was somehow fresher up there ... best air I ever tasted.
I caught some real fresh air over the past few weeks also. Rockabilly air with all the trimmings. To tell the truth, I never knew that air was out there.
The Sparkletones packed up and headed for Tom Ingram's shindig out in Vegas called, "Viva Las Vegas 2003" where we were in shock upon seeing the activities surrounding said festival!
I mean, there were ducktails and pork-chops, pegged pants and clothes shops, Oldies and goldies, not to mention pickers and kickers! What a treat to see women looking PRETTY ... I mean high heels with bows, dresses below the knees, generally the 30's-40's look ... how refreshing! It made a feller want to get up on a stage and rock and roll!
I mean, REAL rock and roll ... no distortion, phase shifters, wah-wahs ... reverb was IT ... you get the picture! ... I mean REFRESHING.
Professional that he is, Tom had everything ready to go down to the small details. We had a really tight schedule ... in on Friday, play Friday night (Sound Ck. 3 PM), sleep, get up on Sat. AM and fly back home.
Everything went near perfect ... one regret for me is that I never got to meet or see Bob Timmers. Maybe someday soon, Bob.
Well, just when I thought I had had enough great fresh air, we packed up and headed East for England and the Hemsby festival down by the sea near Great Yarmouth ... one of the niftiest little towns you ever saw! We got to meet Marvin Rainwater and wife, Johnny Allen, The Cadets, Maria Vincent and Husband (Great CD with The Millionaires)and tons of just plain great folks being friendly, courteous and kind! To all the friends we made at the Regency Dolphin Hotel, thank you so much for making it an unforgetable visit on our first trip to England.
To Mr. Willie Jeffries (The Big Enchilada!) we say thank you Willie for giving us the opportunity to come and see you guys. Willie had it all covered ... transportation,hotel, food ... I mean, all of it ... down to the settings on the guitar amps after sound check. Willie sounds like John Forsythe when he talks and is a very gracious man. Thanks again, Willie ... hope we did it right for you.
To all the reporters, photogs, editors and performers with whom we had a joyous time ... thank you for your enthusiasm for the music and very supportive comments for our little group. It should be illegal for 4 aged men to have so much fun playing the good old fifties stuff!
It was erroneously reported that the band was not the originals who did the recordings for ABC-Paramount ... oh but it was and is the original group. Sorry if we mislead anyone during interviews.
There is so much fresh air in the rockabilly genre of music, I don't think I can stand it! We have seen and witnessed it...and we think it is VERY cool!
Sparkletones Rockin' Again
Looks like spring is just around the corner and cabin fever is about to subside. Well, that means planting taters, maters and eatin' lots of nanner puddin'!
For The Sparkletones these next few months have a special meaning. We are finally going "out" as a group (First time in over 40 some years!) and will be jammin' at Viva Las Vegas on Friday, Apr.18th at the Tom Ingram venue and then on to Hemsby, England for Willie Jeffries' big bash on May 10th along with Jack Scott and others. We might be too old for that stuff!
We also have a gig here a week from this coming Tuesday at the Cannons Elentary School ... an annual thing ... everyone dresses '50ish and we play and dance til the cows come home. What great fun.
We just had new Sparkletones jackets made ... like the old ones ... we had the originals made in Las Vegas in '57.
One nite Ol' Elvis came to our show at the Royal Nevada (now the parking lot for the Stardust!). The curtain opened and as usual we were blinded for the first moment or so but came out rockin' ... then we saw Elvis ... sittin' at the foot of the stage (we could have walked onto his table) with his group of bodyguards and a cute little blonde gal. We never played a correct chord all night long I don't believe.
He was laughing and cuttin' up and keeping the beat ... he knew that made us feel good I'm sure.
After our performance, we went back to the dressing room and changed ... suddenly a knock on the door ... yep, there he stood! Ol' Elvis! We invited him in and what was the first thing he did? Walked over to the clothes rack and grabbed our uniforms. "Where did ya'll get these things, man? Well, we had a discussion about it and other things, like when he played at the Carolina theater in our home town, then made some photos.
But, the big thing of the night was our "Suits of Light."
In his later years, he wore almost the same outfit ... "Ike Jacket" cut, stand-up collar and sparkles.
So, when someone says, "Hey, I hope you guys don't show up in Elvis suits"' I just say, "Hey man! We got there first" Maybe he showed up in a Sparkletones Suit! Well, maybe we got there first but he got there with the MOST. We all loved Elvis and it is an honor just to have had him in the dressing room much less have him really dig our threads!
Rehearsals have been a joy as we get out the old songs like "Rocket", We've Had It"," Penny Loafers", "Cotton Pickin' Rocker", and rock the dust off of them. It is like meeting old friends.
Remember, this is the ORIGINAL group and we sound almost the same ... at a lower pitch! The guys can still really wail. Can't wait to try those Standell amps ... I hear they are awesome.
Thanks for focusing on these humble words for a short while. KEEP ON ROCKIN' TO THE HAPPY SOUNDS!
See ya'll next month and hope you can make Vegas for a visit..
There is a guitar show 'a comin' to my hometown! Now, according to what I'm a hearin', you bring a guitar with you and you get in at a discount price. There will be every kind of guitar under the sun on display and for sale (they say) ... you've got your acoustics, electrics, 12 strings, 7 strings, 8 strings ... one's with a fuzz-whammy-buster bolted in the bridge that will shore 'nuff make it twang (The twang's the thang!).
There's the out-draglook like they could out drag a Chevrolet! ... red flame, blue flame (Extra $175) ... vee shapes, "X" shapes ... how in the heck do you curl around one of those things?
How about them little teenie-weenie tuners built into the body? ... Teflon bridge anyone?
I found some junkers in the corner at one of these shows ... from a distance I thought, "Man, that's the place for me ... something I can afford!... there seemed to be a large group around that area and I couldn't figure that out ... probably a bunch of cheapskates like me!
Whoa, Nellie! There sits a '56 Strat scratched up somewhat and slightly grooved in the neck ... I withdraw my handkerchief to clean my glasses cause I KNOW I'm not seeing the right price on that booger! Four Thousand what? ... did you say "Dollars"?
I giggled so hard I swallered my bubble gum! This old boy was alright ... I mean, he knew how we kid and carry on with people ... he had a great sense of humor!
When he started saying, "Sir" I knew he wasn't kiddin'. I said,"Son, them old Strats from the '50s had some kind of ceramic pickup covers that always split on the ends, the electronic bowels back then were no where near as good a quality as they are nowadays and if you popped a string, everything went haywire outta tune ... I know cause I did it in front of a few thousand people once ... shoulda seen me bending and twisting during that lead jam trying to make it sound on pitch!
Boy, was that an education that day at the Guitar Show...not for him but for me.
I remember grooving the maple neck on my first one and trading it in for a new one in '59...wonder where that old ax is now.
A friend of mine saw an ad in the local newspaper.."Guitar and Amp for sale" ... he called and went to see it. A farmer took him out back to the shed and threw back an old canvas tarp revealing a Ampeg amp and a genuine Gibson Les Paul in black. My friend asked "How Much" and was told in no uncertain terms that he would not take a dollar less that $175 ... no haggling! He had traded for a coon dog.
Put me in his category. Just give me something that plays and sounds good!
Say, Aunt Bertha, isn't there an old guitar under your bed that's been there about 40 years?
Where have all the country schoolhouse gigs gone? ... playing at the downtown Rec. Center for a sock hop? Is live entertainment off the scale when it comes to affording a band for a Hop?
I remember that we could be up close to the band and watch and learn when I was a kid....you could get real close to the things you wished you could touch but couldn't ... like a real live Strat.
You may have noticed that in the past few years the venues have gotten smaller and the public is kind of liking to be able to SEE and HEAR up close and are willing to pay for it. Here in my hometown, The Spartanburg Memorial Auditorium holds 3400 upstairs and we get a few biggies coming here for $25-$50 a pop. I remember seeing Merle and Barbra Mandrell here and what a peasure it was not to have to strain.
Could this fly in the face of the "Bigger is Better" idea? Yeah ... I know it is a business but the first rule of thumb is: It must be entertaining! Seeing a group 200 yards away play and sing without binoculars is a laugh. To me it indicates a fear of the crowd. I mean ... "Let's keep a distance between me and the crowd ... they might see all my blemishes which are hidden on the publicity photos"...or,"Maybe they'll see how tall I really am NOT" ... "No autographs please! ... too darn close!"
Come on! Gimme a break! ... I mean we are all humans and have flaws. We need to get in there and mix it up with them ... it gives them AND us something to talk about when we get home. Show a kid a chord or harmonize with one of your fans when he tries to show how he can sing your song.
In the 50's we went to Fitchburg, Mass. and played a sock hop with Fabian (Forte) ... we opened and you could tell they had heard our song ... I have never heard a louder sound im my life! It was frightening. The cops were holding 'em back. Finally we finished and Fabian came on ... Good Grief! My head felt like it would collapse from all the squealing cheers ... it was a terrifying feeling ... the cops had their hands full and we were already planning our break after it was over ... now, in this case, I wouldn't recommend attempting to stop and chit-chat. Wayne lost a shoe and a sleeve from his outfit ... what a night.
Anyway, I am very much for the smaller rooms and the close association with your fans and music lovers. If you can be successful with a small crowd, it makes it real easy when the larger ones come around. So, why not check out the local high school, pass the word to friends our age, ease back on the power a little and let them see hoiw much fun our rockabilly music is. What the heck, they'll pay 5 bucks for that.
Today we started rehearsals for the coming gigs in March, April and May. We played a song called "Rocket" ... a Sparkletones original. We had more fun with that thing than the law should allow. I wish you could have been there. We practiced in Jim's back room ... kind of tight but just right! Yeah! Let's keep it small and have a ball, Ya'll!
Sincere Best Wishes For A Happy New Year!
PS: Hope to see you in Vegas in April or Hemsly in May, not to mention Sparkletones Day at Cannons Elementary School the 2nd Tuesday in March.
Before Black Slacks
Heck ... it was just a kid thing to do, dress up like an Indian and sneak up through the field on a Saturday afternoon. The object was to work my way up the ball field and see if any enemies were around that might threaten the tribe. Only the mind of a seven or eight year old boy could conjure up a scene like that at a baseball game across the road.
Keeping my head low, I crawled through the broom straw right to the ditch where I paused and, very carefully, raised my head. Our eyeballs locked on to each other! There he was ... looking straight into my eyes with a slight grin on his face.
It was Edney Reece ... they called him Smokey ... Smokey Reece, the Bass Player.
He elbowed the man standing next to him ... you could tell he was saying,"Look at that kid over there playing Indian." They both laughed.
I high-tailed it down through that broom straw as fast as my unshod feet could go to the safety of our little stucco house on Cannons Campground Road where I promptly gnawed on a nanner sandwich with a glass of apple juice.
I had seen Smokey play bass at a show at the school house featuring Hubert Chapman, a local entertainer who had Nashville dreams of scoring like Hank did. They had a steel and a lead, no drums, BUT a couple of hard-picking rhythym guitars. To me they sounded good and I was fascinated by that big ol' doghouse.
I watched him closely and observed how he slapped and fretted(?) that thing ... I made a mental note and every chance I got to see a bass player perform, I was there.
In later years it really came in handy as I worked to show Wayne how to play ... neither of us having had a formal lesson on bass. He was my first actual student and worked hard to perfect what we percieved as a really good sound.
Even now Wayne and I get together every Monday AM at my house and work on stuff. What a treasure music has been to us through the years and still is. When we harmonize in a really good way you can see that big ol' grin pop out on his face.
Before Black Slacks, when we were on the road doing summer shows at high school gyms all over the southeast, Wayne had developed blisters on his slapping hand that were quite painful. The next day we had "The" audition for Paramount pictures to tour their theaters. I didn't think Wayne would be able to play.
But, trouper that he was, he played one of the best sets of his career. At the end backstage, he showed a bloody right hand where the blisters gave way to the slaps against the wood.
We got the job for Paramount and played many one-nighters from Knoxville to L.A. Every guy in the band was transformed from a rank amateur to a pro in those 38 days of playing 2 to 3 shows daily then driving late at night to get to the next town. By the time we got to L.A. we were indeed ready to audition for the Art Mooney Show going to Vegas for 6 weeks.
We passed and went to Vegas for a total of 13 weeks and great things started to happen ... thanks to our manager, Bob Cox.
A couple of years later, after it was over, I often wondered if anyone watched us as WE used to watch others like Smokey Reece. Did we leave a feeling of wonder about music in the minds of the kids who came to see us play?
I have learned that little eyes are watching from somewhere and their minds are just like a brand new hard drive ... blank and ready for information to be put in.
God help us to never betray that innocence but that we can give them a model worthy enough for them to look up to.
What the heck is that?! ... ah! ... the way you sound when you sing in the bathroom...yeah, that's nice!...Did they make Ol' Elvis sing in the bathroom?
I told some of my students about travelling on the road with our band and the kind of equipment we used. No. We didn't have a PA...had to use what the "Venue" (Modern term for "Where we played") had ... just had to hope for the best. Most of the times it was a cheap mike and PA and if you played too loud no one could hear the vocals or bass. Sometimes it was a mike plugged into a guitar amp (Shudder).
"Well, what did you use for distortion?"
"Are you kiddin"?!
THAT was something we tried to get rid of! With those Fender amps and guitars, plus Gibsons and others, we were over-joyed to sound so clean and sharp. You've heard the story ... "We tried for forty years to get rid of distortion and now for 40 bucks you can put it all back in!"
"But listen to this Mr. Bennett," as he toed one of those little boxes. Rippity bippity, roooow, zoooom, whine, bwaaaaah! I mean he ripped off a passage that ran from the bottom of your shoes to the highest hair on your balding, rockabilly head then stands there with that impish, haughty look on that young face, expecting you to drop your jaw and shake your head ... then say,"Wow!"
Then what do you do? You drop your jaw and say "Wow!" ... mainly because his pick only hit the strings four times and yet you heard 87 notes in rapid succession! Those magical hammers, pull-offs and ripoffs make you sound like you are really getting it done.
One came into the studio some time back with amp, pedals and guitar ... wanted to know if I could "teach him something." He was Billy The Kid after Old Wyatt Earp ... had his friend with him to demonstrate his demolition of the local guitar guru to. "Where can I hook up?" says he. "Nah, not necessary," says I. "I've already got an amp hooked up, just plug in number two ..." "Well, ahh, I use my own ..."
"Nah, you can use mine ... it's got reverb ... let's make it quick, I've got a student coming. Let's see, can you play over a 1,6,2,5 progression? Can you show me where F#m7 chord is?"
"Well, maybe I'll come back when you have more time."
Now, I'm not telling this to put down kids and their music ... we were kids once and we had our own kind of music. I admire some of the techniques and sounds we hear today but I would like to see more real technique taught.
Let's face it ... it is what your upper digits do that really show your skills AT PLAYING ... NOT OPERATION OF EFFECTS BOXES.
Most of us rockabilly cats are purists but I have seen some modern rock players with about 8 of those boxes nailed to a 1X6 and I have often thought "How much rehearsal goes into dancin' on those little boxes? Which one is on or off"
Then I thinks, "How about a steel player? He has his problems too!"
By the way, have you heard the new chorus effects and digital slapback echos that are currently on the market? I am thinking about ...
Ya'll be good, now.
Labor Day, 2002, and it is another great day. With plates piled high with good ol' hash, chips and cole slaw and a big ol' RC to go with it, we make our way to the shade tree, find a likely spot (Hopefully no invisible fireants there), plop down and proceed to feast on the "fat of the land", literally!.
After gorging ourselves, we chew on a toothpick and meander around taking in the crowd with an occasional greeting to a friend or acquaintance and just generally enjoy the day.
Sounds like music down the way here ... let's go see! THe local blue grass band is playing "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" and the crowd is starting to come alive ... a few hands clapping in time with the music and a lots of feet pattin' to the rhythm.
Folks, I don't know about where you live, but what I have just described is a typical Labor Day down here ... though I could have thrown in some Nascar and a football game or two.
I will be enjoying it with you all in the same way, Good Lord willin'.
How neat it would be to hear Ricky Nelson singing "Stood Up" out on a flatbed somewhere and James Burton laying those great licks of his in there. Or Carl Perkins doing one of my all time favorites "Honey Don't" ... he was MR. Rockabilly as we all know.
Labor Day is a day of rejoicing for the working man ... a day to honor all those who have worked in a thousand different jobs and did it with honor. I believe that any honorable job is never a job to be ashamed of ... from shoe shining to factory working ... from President of The U.S. to a car wash pro, isn't it just great that we can make a living and feed our families by the sweat of our brows. And thank goodness for the rich man ... my Grandpa Herb used to say that ... without the rich man he wouldn't have had a job.
Let's all have a great time and really enjoy it!
But wait ... this year ... somehow there is a little bit of pain in our bosom...maybe an urge to shed a tear or kick some tail ... a sadness that music can't heal. I believe we all would like to stand at a podium somewhere and tell those jerks what we feel and to make a great condemnation of them for doing such a horrible thing. Well, action speaks louder than words ... and brother,you're about to get all you want ... you have finally succeeded in making America mad.
God bless the survivors and families of 9/11.
We love you and pray for you.
Good New Month!
In August flatbeds are loaded with 4 and 5 piece bands under shade trees (Hopefully), power cables strung across asphalt, threatening weather and sometimes rushes to get everything covered and in the dry, not to mention the smells of cotton candy and hotdogs.
That is in America.
How about other parts of the world? Do they get to pickup on the good times on a Saturday afternoon or night and swing their sweeties to the beat of "I Got A Woman"?
Let me tell you folks, they ain't left out! They got them Harlies, T-shirts and black leather jackets, sideburns or other wierd do's, stratocasters cookin, standup basses slappin' and Schlagzuegspielers (Drummers) kickin'. I'm sure that most of you knew this stuff, but not me ... I have been behind the moon.
My friend and promotor for "Lets Rock Concerts" in Munich, Germany is Klaus Kettner..sounds just the way it is spelled. He is a real Pro and does what he says he'll do.
He invited your's truly over for the annual "Rockabilly Rock and Roll Meeting" on July 26 and 27 which he produced. It is a 2 day festival with great rockabilly groups from Europe. They don't mess around and love the music they play.
And what a setting..at the horse-racing track with a golf course in the center. It is one of the most beautiful settings I have seen with the greenest grass you ever saw and some pretty fast horses! Yes, you can make a wager if you'd like!
My son, Little Joe, accompanied me and was a big help. He didn't want to come back so soon but alas, shool does await.
I got to perform with one of the great bands of that area called the "Black Slacks" band. What an honor to have a band named after your record! They were awesome. There was Josey on bass, Paul on guitar and Heinrich on drumms. Mike, the lead singer and rhythm guitar, laid out on my stuff and they new the Tones songs better than I did! What a joy to play with musicians of that caliber! And, don't worry my friend, they all sing in English.
A local TV station kindly sought out an interview and a couple of radio stations as well. They were all really kind and generous and helpful with the language barrier.
Rockabilly music is everywhere, folks. The degree of English fluency there is astounding and they understand the words to your songs. It is like there is virtually no boundaries. The style of raw rockabilly is on the rise once again with a greater appreciation for the work done with the fingers as opposed to fuzz pedals and distortion units.
Maybe you could plan your summer around Klaus's little get-together next year around the end of July. You will meet some great folks, hear great music and have a great time.And, those schnitzels are the best tasting things around anywhere.
Keep on rockin',
It was a hot summer night in deep Carolina. Revival was going on every night where our family attended. The preacher said the end might come tonite. He said it most convincingly with sweat, red face, and a tearful voice. It struck fear in the heart of a ten year old kid.
I hated for it to be over cause that meant I had to go home to my bed and lay there scared outta my wits. Every time a car went by down on Cannons Campground Rd., the lights would flash through the house and it scared me. I thought it was the end ... fire and brimstone. It usually took a long time for me to finally go to sleep.
The gospel music we sang was closely related to that fear of The Lord and the sincerity in the voices raised in three or four part harmony will touch anyone who hears it ... Yankee or Reb.
To ad a little variety, 3 members of the quartet would hum in harmony while the lead or tenor would sing solo. Man, it added to the sound ... who needed all those big fancy instruments in the background when you had good solid 3 part harmony coming down? We may have gotten that idea from some of the local black gospel arrangements.
Naturally it fed over into our Saturday-night music and there was, and still is, a heart-warming sound that added so much to the song. That good ol' low-down bass doing runs over the chords while the lead is doing counter-point ... a woven fabric that you can wrap your heart in and there is no doubt that Miss Molly is going to go for it.
And what an excellent backround for the instrumental!
In your little 3 piece combo, try a little O-O-O-O or A-H-h-h-h- or how about o-o-o-o-wah? in the background when the guitar takes a break...I guarantee it will hold together and you won't feel like the botton fell out when rhythym stops to play lead.
Well, the gospel "Feel" got mixed into the rockabilly but you had to use some sure enough rock-a-billy chord changes or it would just plain sound gospel.
I am sure you all know about the 1-6-2-5 changes..G, Em, Am, D7...you can sing everything from Blue Moon to Lollipop with those chords,then ... just toss in a little vocal background harmony and you have a bed of rhythm to write to or lay down some heart wrenching lead to. On a quick-beat, a little shoo-wop goes mighty good.
Any questions?..let me know @ Sparkletones@msn.com
Ya'll take it easy, here?
Black Diamond Strings
Happiness was a new set of Black Diamonds...in a little black box with gold lettering...$1.25 in those days. They were all silvery-shiney and you handled them like you would a 1 lb. nugget from California..with great respect and gentleness. And, man!..when you tuned up and hit that big old fat "E" chord...it just knocked you out!
Who you gonna share all that joy with? The neighbors don't know a thing about guitar strings and your Mama sure doesn't! (Even though she bought them for you.) She thinks you have gone totally nuts with your silly little smile and the endless playing you do over the next few days.Even your school buddies don't comprehend the thrill of strumming a new set of BD's.
There used to be one guitar player every 40 Sq. miles.
Now, it is 1 every 40 Sq. FEET!
Have you noticed that? Everybody plays guitar nowadays. Nobody goes to see the acts booked down at the local auditorium anymore cause the next door neighbor plays twice as good as the main act's lead man. There are a few that would make Ol' Brent sweat! (And that is going some).
Most of us are like a herd of sheep following some guitar Guru in the direction of "Our" music...Clapton style or Eric Johnson...you know the story. To tell the truth, I have a heck of a time playing old-time rockabilly without all those benders that we put in these days...I go to a flat-wound heavy to keep from playing benders all the time. You try to bend one of those buggers and your 3rd finger callous will say "Adios!"
So, how do we become a unique player? We have to have a different sound, different licks, maybe tune differently...how about hooking up a bull-horn to our amp head..."The Cheerleader Guitar styles of....."
Now, us rockabillies don't care too much about uniqueness...we just want it played good. Now, sometimes we get pushed into a corner and have to produce...like Scotty. No rhythym guitar...just him, bass and drumms and you-know-who slapping on a few chords. Scotty had to play a style that included rhythym chords with runs...so, he invented a unique style. If he cut loose the chords when it was time for a lead break, the bottom would fall out (At least he thought it would)...it would sound so empty. Like they say, "Necessity is the Mother of invention".
A buddy of mine, Glen Hughey, who is a retired postal worker was playing some in the music store a few months back...he is a Chet-nut and he had exchanged his low E and A for a pair of low end steel guitar strings and it sounded like a bass playing along with him. It was a great sound. I think his Gretsch wouldn't hold the tension on those fat strings so he changed back.
So let's get our heads together and try to put ourselves in a spot where we HAVE to come up with some new approach (Like Scotty).
How about a rockabilly band with an Oboe player? That ought to get it!
Have a nifty summer, you guys.
Dear Rock-a-billy Nut,
It has been a long time since we cussed and discussed Rockabilly Roots and stuff...but it looks like we will get to rap (Uh-oh, dirty word) with each other again for a while.
Some of you may know that my "Pappy", Penny Bennett, passed away on Christmas Day last Dec. ... he is the one who attended every guitar lesson I ever had with Jerome Fowler down at Clifton, S.C...he couldn't play but loved music. I Love Him. He was 89 years young.
Kind of a sad note, huh? Well, there is a thing out there nowadays called "Music Therapy".
Music therapy is a miracle.
I used to go to the nursing home when my grandma was there years ago and sometimes a musical group would come and sing for the old folks ... with a little preachin' on the side. I always thought that if I ever played for them, I would do uplifting stuff not depressing stuff. I mean I'd play a rocking version of "In The Mood" or something else with a bounce to it. How about music that they grew up with (Benny Goodman rock-a-billy style) that would bring back happy memories for them.
That is music therapy my friend! And we, as rock-a-billies, get a dose of that every day when we pick up our axes and hit a few licks at home or with our buds in the basement. Don't we feel good when we play. It is amazing how 4 0r 5 guys, all of them different, get together and make music together. Each guy is from a different background ... some are jerks and some are nice guys..but the end result is good music.
Rockabilly is fun music ... uplifting and free-wheeling.
Say! Why not check into the local nursing home and give those old rock-a-billy fans a shot of the good old music that they loved as youngsters? You will get at least as much "Therapump" out of it as they do!
Thanks for lettin' me get on the soap box for a little while.
Cave Catt Sammy came by the music store to see me about a month ago ..t hey hail from San Antone and are really nice guys with a true rock-a-billy sound. They left a CD and I really enjoyed it. Catch 'em if you get a chance! Their setup was almost identical to the old 'Tones.
Looks like we will be hitting the stage in Vegas come Apr. 18th at Viva Las Vegas...back to our old stomping grounds and we are really looking forward to it.
Ya'll keep on rockin'!
P.S. Would you believe my 16 year old daughter won the Miss Teen Spartanburg contest singing Italian Opera? Guess what her platform is ... Music Therapy. Yep, I've been brain-washed! Check out her web site at Lindsaybennett.com
For: Feb. and March. 2000
On a beat-up flat top that he found up in the attic
His Mama should him how to play a song
And tho his fingers hurt him he just kept right on a pickin'
And it started sounding good before to long
Then on weekends when the kinfolks always came down for a visit
They'd eat and then they'd sit and talk all day
The kids would go down by the creek or just go fishin'
But before they'd leave his Ma would say
"Willie play the guitar for Aunt Martha
Show her that new chord you learned today!
Come on, now,Willie please don't be a bashful little man
Mama's really proud of how you play."
Well, that is kinda typical of some of the days of my youth ... you know how it goes ... "Oh, Ma, don't make me play in front of them."..but you knew dang well you had to ... so, next time you'd better practice cause you knew what was coming ... don't want them to make fun of your pickin'!
Willie always played for her though he was shy and bashful
And he got so he could make that guitar talk
One summer when he worked so hard a sweatin' baggin' groceries
He played the new electric that he bought
Now on weekends when he tunes up for the show down at the opry
His dying Mama's words are on his mind
When she held him close and whispered one more time
"Willie play the guitar for your Mama
You know that you've got music in your soul
Come on, now, Willie, step right up
And let 'em see you shine
And I'll be watching everywhere you go!"
(From "Willie Play The Guitar" by Joe Bennett Copyright 1991)
Remember when she used to make you practice when your team had a game in 15 minutes? But, hey, we all need a slave-driver to keep us focused ... right? Or we might say, "The Babe never played music!" ... you know us guys have a different viewpoint on things!
The roots of rockabilly go way back to those days for all of us and even as kids, there was something intrinsically exciting about a "Show"...especially with a guitar and big ol doghouse bass...maybe a fiddle or banjo ... now the boys liked that but then here came the girls with "Dance With Me, Henry" or "Seven Lonely Days"..they just couldn't get the hang of the REAL music ... so .... we said," Let's mix a little of that in with some of this."
No Way! ... there will never be a saxophone in this band! ... piano is as far as I'll go, dagnabit!
We appreciated all the practice Mama made us do when it came time to 'get out there' for the first time. Nervous but confident were we...we knew we could play it so we didn't worry and just had fun.
There are a lot of ingredients ion that recipe for Rockabilly ... not the least of which is ... Mama.
For: Nov. 1999 thru Jan. 2000
"Can you teach me rockabilly?"
Hark! Is that a minute flicker of light I see way down yonder at the end of the tunnel? Is that a faint spark of hope I detect in the breasts of rockabilly fans and players?
Is it true that 2 weeks ago a young 14-15 year old kid walks in after being signed up for guitar lessons and says, "Can you teach me rockabilly?" Did the old heart leap for joy when he said that? Is there really a sub-twenty-year-old who loves Brian Setzer, Elvis and all the rest who play good-time, happy, rockin'music, alive on this planet?
The answer, my dear friends, to all the above questions is a resounding YES!!!"
He knows about Gretsch Duo-Jets, hollow-body electrics and old Showman amps!
For the sake of privacy, his first name is Chris and that's all I'll say for now. He is already working on some old Scotty Moore licks and rock scales...man, I can't wait til he gets to cookin' and we can jam together! His Pappy is happy to see him find someone interested and knowledgeable about the kind of music his son likes and he is very supportive of Chris.
What goes round comes round.
Power chords and distortion units(Fuzz boxes) are wearing a little thin these days...the music scene is dismal in my opinion...stale as Friday's bread. There are some bright spots out there, however...BR549, Brent Mason's album, Albert Lee still pickin' those rockabilly licks outta that old Telly of his and, of course, all those snare-drum backbeats in the country music we hear.
Let's face it boys and girls...if you can't rock you can't play country these days!
Maybe soon we'll be hearing some music played the way it outta be! Maybe Chris is not the only one interested in the good old raw sound of rockabilly...maybe there will be thousands of them!
Hey, I tell you what...you'd better drag that old strat out from under the bed, dust it off and put on a new set of Black Diamonds, put a little graphite on those zippers in your old pegged pants (If they still fit)and search the aisles of the drug store to see if they still sell pomade! Get those teeth fixed and have yourself some new glossies made...three-quarter view with a slight sneer....you know the routine!
Yes sir! I am excited! I am thankful for currently popular guys like Trey Anastasio who will lift the quality of playing by the youth who try to catch his licks and many others who are putting the artistry back into modern music.
Once they learn that dancing is fun and that a certain amount of athletic ability is required to do it (Rockin' style,of course), and the smaller and less noisy the combo the more you can hear EACH instrument...you know, stuff like that, they will really get into our kind of music.
That is why I am working on a new album...just plain old Rock and Roll the way we used to do it...come on Scotty and Duane Eddy...all you guys that can still give a thrill to people who GENUINELY like to rock for fun...don't change it, now...just the way you used to.
Remember, my new student Chris is just the tip of the iceberg!
Have a goodun'..
October, 1999 -
Memories Are Made of This.
About 3 weeks ago on a saturday around noon,I had just gotten my overalls good and dirty and my muscles loosened up working in the garden when it happened...my 13 year old, Lindsay, came out to tell me I had a phone call. She had brought the portable so amongst the singing of the birds and the blowing of the breeze I said, "Hello".
Well, as it happened, it was Deke Dickerson on the line stating that he was in the greater metropolitan area of Spartanburg, S.C. after having performed in Ashville, N.C. the night before, was en route to Savannah for a saturday night "Rock out" and wondered if we could meet briefly in person for a few minutes. I replied that I would love to so Lindsay and I went to the local Walmart parking lot where we became acquainted with Deke and The Ecco-phonics! What a neat bunch of guys! They were very kind and gracious and showed us around their set of wheels which was the epitome of practicality... a high-topped Dodge van with the bull fiddle strapped into the upper portion, pictures of Elvis, Buddy Holly and bunches more pasted over the cockpit area. Just the ideal rockabilly mode of transportation.
Now, we had a great short-visit and took pictures of each other. Deke had recorded some old Sparkletones stuff on an Album with Dave when they were the Dave and Deke Combo. We had talked on the phone but had never met each other in the flesh. He said Dave is playing western swing nowadays.
Deke also gave us a copy of his new CD "NUmber One Hit Record" which I have thoroughly enjoyed. It is fun and very rhythmic. I am a great fan of his guitar work...the whole group is just great If you like true Rockabilly good-time music, pick that one up...you won't be disappointed!
As we pulled outta the parking lot to go our separate ways, I felt a little sad yet a little joyfully reminiscent. I remembered the old Desoto family car we used to travel in. You must know that a family car is what the family of the deceased rides in to the funeral, therefore it was extra long with a added seat in the middle...total of 3 bench seats. They would fold down for extra room.
We really put the miles on that baby over a 2 year period. After our session in N.Y. at Bell Sound Studios where we recorded Black Slacks, among others, we went to Knoxville where we started a 42 theatre tour for Paramount. We carried a movie called "Gunfight at the OK Corral" to each theater. We played 2 shows between the movie showings in the evenings and after the theater closed, we would pick up the film, pack up and move on to the next town....42 theaters in 38 days!
Down the east coast went the Desoto, around the southern tip of Florida, over to New Orleans via Anniston, Birmingham and numerous other little towns in Alabama and Mississippi. In New Orleans, we played at the Saenger theater where on the first performance, the whold front row was teenage boys steady giving us the "Gringo Salute"...ever try to smile and be a showman under those circumstances?
We continued on through Louisianna and Texas where we played in many Paramount theaters. We finally ended up in Santa Monica, Cal. ready for a rest...talk about one nighters!
Our manager had a 55 Caddy that went with us, but the Desoto was the car that carried instruments and suitcases with the standard air mattress on top of the luggage and stuff for the #2 guy to sleep on while the #1 guy drove.
Some months later after we had played over half of creation, it seemed, we stopped at a filling station somewhere around Tucumcari, NM. Somehow, high detergent oil got put into our Old Desoto instead of regular 30 wt....and so, not too many miles down the road in the middle of nowhere, as I remember it, the old bomb gave up the ghost with no chance of repair...threw a rod and I promise that if you ever hear that sound, you will never forget it AND you will make dang sure that you put the RIGHT oil in your car next time.
That car was painted up really loud and gawdy..."The Sparkletones" in foot high white letters outlined in black. You could see it a mile away!
We dearly loved that old set of wheels....the way it looked and smelled. Years later, someone would come by and say," Hey man, I saw that Old Desoto in New Mexico from the interstate..sitting in a junkyard"...many people told us that over the years.
So, all you Rockabilly Bands out there on the road, relish these times you are spending in your wagon, whatever it is. These days won't last too long and someday it will be over. And someday you will be like me...having dreams that you are cruising down some highway with your buddies, talking music and listening to your new recording on the tape player...
They didn't make cassette tapes back then!
Didn't even make 8 tracks!
They just barely made radios!
And to top it off, you had to use the house PA!
Enjoy it, you guys!
PS. Thanks Deke and The Ecco-fonics
September, 1999 -
Where Ya' Gonna Put 'Em?
"Their music is too fast...nobody dances to that stuff...how about the wacky way they dress...Old stuff..who's gonna pay to see em?" typical phrases by John H. Promotor who doesn't understand the raw energy in Rockabilly music.
Is it true? Do the playing skills and talents not count for something? Has the world gone mad!?
I have a friend from out west named Charlie Brown (Go ahead and giggle). He is a PR man and loves Texas swing music...Asleep at The Wheel, Tommy Morrell and the Time-warp Tophands, etc. He tells me that every weekend thousands pay good money to come in and dance to a live band playing swing. It is all the rage out there and yet....radio stations won't play it. I mean top quality pickers who have worked all their life at their instruments and voices and can't get played on the old radio.
Yep' they sell CD's and tapes and do well at personal appearances but you won't hear them on the airwaves. As a matter of fact, it is hard to fine one that will even play Hank, Jr. or Possum (George Jones) any more, much less Willie and the Boys!
How about some Boogie and BeBop (My kind of stuff)..where can you hear it?
You might be interested to know that college radio staions are willing to play a wide variety of musical styles...blue grass to Rockabilly and they have a large enough audience to justify a phone call and personal visit to get your notes played. You may be surprised to find out just HOW many college stations there are...check into it, man! Start with your local area...they will have a list of all of them USA-wide.
Picture this...a 14 year old who likes Rockabilly/Boogie/Bebop! No Way!..and who controls the music market nowadays?...I think mostly 14 year old kids!
So where ya' gonna put us? At the Moose lodge?...the Armory?..even the Malls don't want Rockabilly!...
Why don't we just do our own thing!?..Have our own top forty, a syndicated radio show where these songs are played via college stations...Rockabilly is such a novelty now that I'll bet the Tonite Show would even welcome a good solid Rockabilly act...anybody try lately?
Heck no...we ain't gonna stay in the basement!
BR549 is doing well...along with....George Strait, Tracy Byrd, Tim McGraw, Junior Brown...
Don't try to tell me those guys aren't Rockabillies...got a drum in the band, don't they?!
August, 1999 -
The Other Half
"Son, if you want to have a band and do well, remember the other half and you'll do fine." What Uncle Harold was saying was to NOT forget the ladies!
Yeah, we hairy-legged rockers just want to get it on...I mean ROCK...let's hear that bass a'slappin and those drums a kickin" and that guitar a'rockin' with some wailin' vocals that are eaten up with rockin' rhythms with a little "Wella, Wella" thrown in for good measure! Good Grief! It don't get no better than that, except maybe, a ten pound bass pulling on your line!
Some of the heavy metal kids say they have a basement band...no gigs. Why? Do you think the ladies like to hear 3 guitars wide open with distorion twisted to the max and the drummer playing with baseball bats?...bass player with an amp the size of my sofa...you vibrate 2 inches left or right with every note. I mean, it would blow the ladie's berettes right outta their hair!
Let's face it guys, to be successful in this world, you have to please the ladies. You know the line, "If Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy!"
The guys who have longevity in this business are the ones who can croon...slow and pretty. Are the ladies gonna go see Metallica or Englebert?....by and large they will go for the soulful, pretty stuff.
When we make out our song list, do we make one in three a slow one? Remember when you had a case of young love and couldn't wait for a slow song to be played so you could dance with "Her."? Mostly because you couldn't dance fast?! In slow dancing, all you do is kind of sway and shuffle those feet nonchalantly as if you know what you're doing. You are sure to be liked a lot if you can slow dance good!
How about, "I Want you, I Need you, I Love you"? "Love Me Tender" or "In The Still of The Night?"...no way you're gonna top that with "Shake, Rattle and Roll!" as far as the ladies are concerned...."Oh, all they wanna do is play that old fast stuff!" is what they say.
Maybe they just don't appreciate the skill required to do the fast stuff....do you reckon? I mean, if they only knew how long you had practiced in front of a mirror to get those steps down and pick at the same time! How about that shoulder roll...did they even SEE it? I can even play those "Boogie Bar" chords just like Chuck!...do they notice? Why, heck no! They're standing there lookin' at pretty boy over by the KoolAid bowl...he can really SLOW dance! "Reckon he'll ask me next time?"
Here I am sweating myself to death and they're standing there talking about ....who knows what!
Us guys like action...not singing some draggy old slow tune that bores you stiff to sing it!
Hey! There might be something in that last statement. Once I played a party at Memorial Auditorium and during a break, a lady who was almost immobilized by too much Crown Royal grabbed my sleeve and said,"You are playing for self gratification and couldn't care less about what WE would like to..hiccup...hear!" after which I had to hold her up or she would have fallen.
Though she was a little Tipsy she hit me right where it hurts! She was totally right!...doing exactly what I was taught not to do as a youth. Bob Cox always made us play to the crowd...feel 'em out and see what makes them happy and causes them to have fun and then you home in on it...give 'em what they want.
Good Ol' rockabilly music can be mighty stimulating and exciting to play. Some of those songs can pull you right up outta your seat and put you "Shakin' on the sockhop floor"! It is great fun to dance or play to that music...HOWEVER...
If we play a soft, slow, pretty song that says something about love and kisses and a hundred other sweet things, she might just smile at you and show those dimples or pinch you on the cheek...
Shucks, I wouldn't mind being a little bored for that!...would you?
July, 1999 -
I tell you it was, and still is,just like the old west. Here comes Pistol Pete...the fastest gun around. He's ridin' on top of the world and everybody fears him and shows due respect when he walks in.
Meantime, back at the ranch, little Junior is using all that free time between plowing rows of cotton for practicing. Finally he gets real fast and steps upon old Betsy, lopes into town and calls out Pistol Pete from the local club for a lead-ball conference in the street.
A bolt of fear momentarily paralyzes Pete.."Could this kid be faster than me?...is it possible?...Na-a-ah! I'm the champ and I'll walk all over this chump! Bartender, one stiff belt for a bracer!"
Two minutes later Baker Undertaker halls him off to his shop for final measurements and a new king sits on the throne. Unseen by humans, a small guardian angel hovers over the corpse shouting," I told you so, dagnabit...I TOLD you to practice!"
Django, Eddie Lang, Arthur Smith (Guitar Boogie), Les Paul, Chet, Jimmy Bryant, Hank and other great guitarists have all fallen to younger, faster heroes.
"Have you seen so-and-so play? Man, he's quicker than greased lightnin'!" still can be heard in our town among the local pickers.."Let's have a session and invite him (The call-out)...we'll just pick some and have a good old time!"(That way we'll see what he can do).
Monday morning, about a half-a-dozen pickers can be seen in various places around town with their tails between their legs...shot down by some young upstart who had been practicing like the devil.("What the heck...I know more CHORDS than he does! How in the heck did he play over those 7th chords?").
It will ever be so. Guys just can't shake that competitive spirit..be it guitars or football.
I have often wondered, what a media event it would be to have a CBS movie about a aging guitarist who has lost his contract to some young, better and quicker player. He goes off the deep end and kidnaps the new star, hides him in a warehouse and invites a reporter to witness a guitar-lick shoot-out at midnight...no one else invited, except the camera. Maybe it would star, say, Eddie Van Halen and Eric Johnson in the leading roles.
The final 20 minutes would be uninterrupted by commercials...let 'em go at it! It would probably be too much for the human heart to stand!
I once saw Vince Gill, Albert Lee and Danny Gatton on TV..all on the same stage...on cable (No Commercials). For one solid hour thay played some of the greatest guitar music I have ever heard. They all three were awesome and I didn't for a moment wonder which was the best...... But, I'll bet THEY did
I have some 12-15 year old students who will scare you to death...chops coming outta their ears!
Ya'll better practice....someone's gaining on you!
June, 1999 -
Music and Saturday Afternoons
Saturday afternoon in 1953 in a hot little southern town...mid July and not much wind to cool you down....Some are cooling down up at Rainbow Lake with its big, colorful jukebox on the patio outside the dressing rooms by the concession stand where cats could meet chicks and maybe (If they weren't too shy) do a little shag barefooted on the sandy concrete to the music of Ruth Brown or Ivory Joe.
Some folks enjoyed a stroll through the local Woolworth's store and maybe spend a little cash or have a really good pimento & cheese sandwich with a glass of Coke at the lunch counter. The large fans rotated slowly on the ceiling and the cash register bells made some friendly music. Les Paul and Mary Ford did their thing on "The World is Waiting For The Sunrise" over at the record counter.
Another place that was quite popular was the local music store. In some circles it was considered "Sissy" to like music and you had to be careful. The "Manly" guys would stroll through the music store appearing to gaze indifferently at the activities and instruments...but deep down inside, they liked music and wished they could play a guitar or banjo, whatever.
Others didn't give a rat's what people thought and would come in and pick...man, how they would pick! You could get a whole saturday afternoon's entertainment for FREE! Crowds would gather around whoever might be playing on one end of the store or someone on the other side who might be tearing up a 5 string. Most stores wouldn't let you touch an instrument without the aid of a salesman.
One store was different. Maybe you've heard of it ... Smith Music.
Born in the 40's as an appendage to a Pawn Shop, it was a large spacious store with the typical wooden floors,fans, large glass windows and not an over abundance of light.
Mr. Abe Smith was the owner of that store in little Spartanburg, S.C. (Not so little anymore, doggone it!) He brought music into the area almost single handedly because he made it possible for the working man to own an instrument...he would wheel and deal and wouldn't gouge the customers. If the guitar's retail price was $75 you might could get it for $50 if you only asked.
He might even let you make payments on a set of drums for your son. He took trade-ins and, in my opinion, dearly enjoyed the haggling over what you should be allowed for your used instrument.
Smith Music is where I saw my very first Fender Stratocaster in about 1954-55. There it was in the large glass window...resting in it's case. That little white knob on the end of the Vibrato (Whammy) Bar was so perfect and those little teeny,shiney bridges looked so cool and the curves on that body! ... Some Sundays, after church, Dad would take me by to look at it through the window. If I could just touch it! I had a Marathon with tiger stripes on the pick guard and the strings were high ... one pickup! Oh! The difference!(Harley Hawg vs, Honda 50).
When the Nashville bands came through, they would stop at Smith's for strings and picks, etc. It was comfortable in that old store and the store was well know throughout the land.
Abe's son, Gerald took over ownership some years back and it just got better and better. He too has helped many a musician on his way by giving them a break on price or terms when they needed it. And I can't remember when Gerald wouldn't give you a smile.
Actually, Gerald is my boss now...it embarrasses him for me to say "Hey, Boss..how's it going?" Though he nor his dad ever played an instrument to my knowledge, you could tell they loved music and would enjoy it immensly when someone would sit down to play. "Want to play that one? Go ahead...see how you like it.Plug in one of those amps over there!" was commonly heard.
The building is still there with the same old floors that I walked on as a boy and the walls are still there where those awesome guitars used to hang. The large glass window still shows the wares for sale.
However, the music has stopped.
A new location a block or two to the the south houses Smith Music now. The old store is a pawn shop on Magnolia St. Gerald now runs a small financial business and owns Smith Music.
I'll bet that if you could get into that building late at night while the city is sleeping and could sit in the dark for a while you could hear music...from Hank Garland, Toy Caldwell and many other pickers, great and otherwise who have played there down through the ages....on old Gibsons and Strats.
I'll also bet you had one like it in your hometown.
The times of those kinds of stores is nearing an end.High pressure salesmen, slick finance plans and slicker advertising all come into play nowadays.It is a matter of survival, I guess. The competition is fierce. I never thought I'd see the day when a Strat would sell for $1300 plus when Dad bought my first one for $289 with case!
Thanks to Smith's and all other stores just like it around the country who have been friendly, kind and helpful to the musicians and have made it possible for them to reach their dreams, small and great, of being able to play music.
And for those great summer, Saturday afternoons.
May, 1999 -
Putting Drums in the Picture
Sometime in the late 50's our band went to Nashville to play on WSM with Johnny and Jack and a couple of other acts. It was a Saturday AM performance and I saw something there I had never seen before...nor have I seen anything like it since. The staff bass player had a stand-up doghouse with various and assorted scratches, dents and other battle scars but really sounded great.
But there was more.
Mounted on the top outside quarter on the front of the bass was a piece of corrugated cardboard. As I remember, there may have been a piece of thin foam or other materiel underneath the cardboard and it was taped in place...packaging tape? Could have been.
Now, as he played the bass, he had a drummer's brush held in his right hand in a way that didn't impede his ability to pluck the strings. He would pull the string on beat number one and play the brush against the cardboard on beat number two! This guy was indeed a super-sideman!...drums and bass at the same time and to tell the truth,it really sounded good.
You see, in those days drums were a fearsome thing in the world of country music. I had heard that a drummer was used a few times at the opry..behind the curtain using a brush on a snare drum only! PA systems were not advanced enough to mix in drums...they would over ride the vocals and acoustic instruments. everyone had the idea that drums meant BING BANG CRASH...not compatible at all with country music.
I believe Elvis went with 3 pieces to the opry...Bill Black, Scotty Moore and Elvis himself on rhythm. Many of the early blues and rockabilly bands used hard strumming guitars and slap-bass for the beat.
For me, those blazing triplets on "Hound Dog" opened the eyes and ears of rock-lovers as to the possibilities for drums being a key element in rockabilly arrangements and not just a background sound.
Soon you could hear the snare drums chattering on rockabilly records everywhere.
In our own case, when I was 13-14, we had considered adding a drum set to our country band but we actually had some fairly serious arguments concerning it. "Can't hear the mandoline" or "That brassy sound just takes away from the country feel'...that kind of stuff. But folks were starting to do the "Bop" and it was inevitable...R&B was going to merge with C&W!
Thanks to the advancement in PA technology it became possible to get a pleasing mixture and the marriage between drums, guitars and bass was successful to the joy of all of us who love the music. Ray Price used drums in his great country band and got away with it which set the pattern for the future of country music.
More instruments have invaded the country-rock sound...how about Merle Hagard with a sax or T-bone? Danny Davis and the Nashville Brass? Ole Yakitty sax Boots Randolph?
It boils down to one thing...there are 2 kinds of music...Good and Bad!...Rock, Country, Jazz, Classics all have their goods and bads.
I for one love to hear those drums cooking in my band. After all, it's that BEAT that puts 'em on the dance floor...right? I always encouraged Jimmy to do solos in the Tones programs. Our first national appearance on the Ted Mack original Amatuer Hour (Available at the library of comgress on video) shows it too. Jimmy nailed a great solo and put the spunk in our music.
I know that there are jokes going around these days about drummers being a "Special" breed...but please ignore them. Drummers are really cool!
Do you know how to tell if a drummers stool is level?....
See ya' next time...
April, 1999 -
Pickin' Up Those Licks
"Taught myself!"..."Never had a lesson in my life!"... Did you ever hear that statement? Sure you have! It is designed to show the high level of intelligence possessed by some of those who make music on an instrument...guitar, bass, keyboard or whatever. It's aim is to impress upon us,of lower degree of intellect, that THEY, by use of their sly engenuity, have mastered that instrument without ANY outside assistance whatsoever! Period.
Ha! - Let's start with Aunt Bertha who let junior bang on her old Gibson flat top and TAUGHT him how to tune it.She also knew a few chords and showed him where to put his little fingers, as well as consoling him when they got sore and assured him that they would toughen up in a few short weeks. Hey! What do you mean "Aunt Bertha doesn't count?" She TAUGHT you didn't she, Junior?
Then there was Bill in junior high who could play bar chords and a few hot licks (Wonder where HE got 'em from?)...you watched, Junior! You stood up close and even asked questions..."Hey, man...what was that you did up around fret 5?...something with your little finger...?"...Bill showed you...no, TAUGHT you how to do it.
How about those times you stood at the foot of the stage and watched some older guys play...you memorized all the licks you possibly could and couldn't wait to get home to try them out....and they worked!... No, Junior, YOU didn't make them up...you copied by observation....you were TAUGHT...
Get the point?
I don't know about you but I am really glad I had a teacher to help my when I was young. His name was Jerome.
Jerome Fowler -- He lived in Clifton, S.C...a little mill village in Spartanburg county. He had been on broadway with the big boys back in the 30's and 40's...knew such people as Eddie Lang and others who were stars in those days. An auto accident left him unable to move his left forearm out more than 45 degrees from his torso so he played mandoline instead of guitar. That did not diminish his teaching ability, though. He taught everyone in the local area...Hank Garland for one. Ever hear of him? One of the really great innovative jazz players of our time.
As he taught, he would relate some of the things that happened back in the old days...some comical, some shocking...things we never heard of that happened in big cities. His specialty was the Gibson Guitar Course. It took me 3 years to finish it. It came in 4 volumes. He laughed at my thumb pick on the first lesson..."Hard to do up strokes with that thing!"..I switched to one like he used.
Yeah, he was a note reader and insisted that you read 'em too. "Heck, I don't want to read notes," I thought. But they sure came in handy when having to write arrangements for jingles or sound tracks or even in teaching my own students. Just like he said they would.
"You're never gonna have any speed playing all down strokes with that pick, son." He was right. He knew all the things I needed to know and though I tried to absorb it all, I'll never know all that he knew. In later years, I went to see him occasionally. He would be there at his house with a group of aspiring musicians of all ages and a big smile on his face. "Come on in, son ,and pick one with us!" We would play "Bye Bye Blues", "The World Is Waiting For The Sunrise", "Alabama Jubilee" and many more. Sparky Childress also took from him and finished the course.
The licks we play now are loaded with the musical genes of Jerome Fowler.He allowed us the freedom to take flight and to create our own stuff with the tons of theory he taught. Never will your's truly say he was self taught. I am proud to sat that Jerome was a really big and important part of my life.His lessons were so interesting, my Dad attended every lesson I took from him.
We all have our Clayton Delaneys, don't we?
It happened in a thousand other towns. From Les Paul to Jimi Hendrix, those kids played their style and their music because someone had the time and patience to put that little finger on the right string and say, "Don't worry. They won't be sore for too long." It still goes on today.
Somewhere out there.....
I'll bet they would get a kick out of it if we went by sometime, put our arm around her shoulder and said, "Thanks, Aunt Bertha!"
March, 1999 -
Country boys in the Big City have always been a subject for movies, songs and just discussion in general. "How ya' gonna keep 'em down on the farm after they've seen Paree!?"
Our first trip to the Big Apple was in a vintage DC-3 (The Military name was affectionately "Gooney Bird"}and it was our first time in the air. Sparky was 13 and I was 17...Jim and Wayne were in the middle. Nervous parents watched as their little ones exceeded the 100 MPH mark and lifted off into the morning sky going north to Yankee land...southern accent and all! Fortunately no one got sick and the flight went off with out a hitch. The hitches came later.
After getting our baggage,we went to the entrance at Newark Airport where it was easy to hail a cab...they were lined up and couldn't escape! So a driver accepted out Bull Fiddle which was safely strapped on top of the car. It took two taxis for all our stuff and we were off to the Sheraton Astor Hotel just off Time Square in NYC.. Let me say right here and now that in later years we trimmed back a heck of a lot on expenses! We got wierd looks as the entourage maneuvered through the Lobby with amps on the carts and that darn bass fiddle.
At the desk we said," How ya'll today?" to the desk clerk and he looked like he'd been punched with a cattle prod. "Pardon me?" he said in an accent I'd never heard before, except maybe on television which was very new in those days. You know, it takes some getting used to! Needless to say we got lots of giggles and looks over our southern accent. We quickly learned to go along with the fun and just enjoy it. Hey! We were on THEIR turf!
Ever try to get in a slightly crowded elevator with a bass fiddle? Wherever you go with it,or amps and guitars, people KNOW. Some people think being a musician is great stuff...others have a totally different opinion! Once, a lady said to us,"The nerve of you singing Black Slacks with the crotch hanging down to the knees!" and walked off in a huff. The real line is "...with a cat chain down to the knees."
Late one rainy night,just off Broadway, we had finished a rehearsal and were tired, hungry and needed to get back to the hotel. We stood under a sheltered entrance and one guy would,upon spotting a cab, run to the curb and try to flag him down. Would they stop? No-o-o-! We couldn't figure it out! They had been anxious to help us at times. Maybe they were going to a pre-called fare. Over and over we tried...no way was there that many pre-called fares!
Then we figured it out...that dadburned Bull Fiddle! They didn't want to have to mess with it...especially in the rain! So then we put Wayne and the Bass "back in the alley"...sure enough! We got a cab! THEN Wayne came out from the alley not to the pleasure of the Cabbie! We made it back and still discuss that episode to this day.
We learned to love New York. In those days you could go down on 42nd street and see double features for an outrageously low price. We would walk back at midnight and about all we'd be confronted with would be some guy trying to sell rings and watches. Man, that papaya juice at those little fruit stands on Broadway was outstanding!
Rockabilly was hot in NYC in those days (Buddy Holly made a heck-of-a-smash) and if you ever got one of your records cooking up there you were pretty much assured of national success. Allen Freed ruled in those days as far as DJ's went. He was on WINS, I believe, and had some great live shows at places like the State Theatre in Hartford, Conn...Paramaount in NY, etc. You could see Chuck Berry, Bo Diddly, The Flamingos, Paul Anka, Connie Francis...all on the same show...try that nowadays!
One last thing...we went to Coney Island and rode that monster roller coaster. Then, we went for a hot-dog. Now, a hot dog is a very personal thing. I mean you get it the way you want it, at least down south here. "All the way" means mustard, chili and onions. "All the way" to that hot dog vendor at Coney Island meant weenee on a a bun and you put the goodies on. Did I say "Goodies?" Let's see...you had sauerkraut(Yuk), relish (Double yuk), some kinda mustard that was a liver colored yellow with little black dots in it or catsup. Now, folks...everybody knows catsup is for French Fries! Good thing we had those hotdogs AFTER we rode the coaster!
We love New York..even to this day and hope to return someday to check it out again. Someone even told me the other day that some mayor had made it so you can walk down on 42nd street now and Time Square has Disney all over the place! Sure would like to take that old Bass and our guitars to New York again.
February, 1999 -
How many times have we said to ourselves,"Man that music stuff is for the kids...think I'll go get a real job...enough is enough."(?) Then we pack up the old Strat and stash it in the closet and enter the "real" world of business, high finance, blue collar work or something.
At first we kind of like this new way of going...an income you can count on every 2 weeks...you can actually make plans for some future project like vacations, etc.! Man! What have we been missing?! New friends who have their feet on the ground. Stable individuals who are so mature and full of common sense. It gives you a firm family life. Your wife is actually able to formulate a budget that will work and you're all wearing decent clothes for a change! And what a feeling to NOT have those collectors calling or even knocking on your door!
The Boss says," We're having a little get-together for all employees at the club next saturday night...see you there." Hey! For another change, we are going to BE entertained instead of going through that high pressure stuff of getting set up and tuned, sound check and all the preparations for a performance....let someone ELSE do it! My turn to enjoy!
You are barely good company for your wife and friends and tend to ignore them as you are engrossed in the band and how they are doing things.
Then, the inevitable,"Frank, I heard you play guitar...get up there and do one!" "Oh, no, I can't man! I don't know their stuff!....I mean,...well,...if you insist!"
Before you know it you are up there nailing some hot licks as their lead man gives you the evil eye! Man, this is great!
Everyone pats you on the back and tells you how great you played "Walk This Way" and you are in heaven...?
You know, we all like to "Scratch our itch" at times, no matter how long it's been. My Dad always said," You've got it in your blood, boy. It,ll be there forever."
I tried to run from it once when I was about 20. Joined the Air Force, became an Air Traffic Controller,got sent to Madrid, Spain for 3 years and just wanted to be 'one of the boys'. Left the Strat at home with parents in South Carolina. About 3 months into my stay in Madrid, I was at the NCO club on "Sit in" night. I got up and made a fool outta myself. The wanted me to join the band. It was a few GI's who enjoyed playing. The year was 1961.
I wrote home and asked Dad to send the old strat over (With amp) which he did. I started a little group called "Joe and The Jaguars" and we landed a recording contract with Hispavox records! We also backed up some of Spain's stars like "Karina"...doing Hully Gully music.
Our drummer was a kid named Mickey Hart...first rock band he ever played in. Of course he later was one of the drummers for The Grateful Dead and has written books and done movie sound tracks. He is one of the best with sticks I have ever known.
I stayed in The Air Force for 11 years and played in bands the whole time...even in Nam. A little band called the "Country Cousins" at Nha Trang AFB. Berlin, "The Brass Door" and others I can't remember.
So you Rockabillies who want to lay it down and forget it, go ahead. Run away from it.... But I say ,"Don't sell that old Strat. You never know when you might.......need to scratch that itch!"
January, 1999 -
The Guitar on the Wall
He walked into the music store and looked up at the guitar on the wall
A man of years and yesterdays whose heroes were Chet Atkins and Les Paul
A young man said," Good evening, sir, can I help you?" And he studied the old man
"I wonder if you'd be so kind to let me hold that guitar in my hand"
The salesman hooked the guitar up and stood by as the old man tuned the strings
And then the calloused fingers hit a chord the young man knew he'd never seen
The shoppers gathered round him, this man in overalls and tattered shoes
He worked his magic on that guitar and played it all, from country, jazz to blues
"He could have picked in Nashville! How come he never made it?" said the crowd
His cold, gray eyes upon them, he laid the guitar down and stood up proud
He said," I gave it up for Alice,I'll bet that many of you can relate to that. I personally have known many who have had that problem and always felt sad for them.
She didn't like for me to play
A guitar man can't raise a family
Pickin'' nights and sleepin' days
She made me stay away from Dallas
I guess she knew I'd lose control
I'd like to play some more guitar
But she's waitin' in the car
So I guess I'd better go
Yeah, I gave it up for Alice
She said that pickin' had to go
She never understood how music
Gets a man down in his soul
She knows sometimes I get the fever
And some pickin' cures it all
And so every now and then
I let Alice bring me in
To play the guitar on the wall
Now, ladies...it works vice-versa also and I have seen that situation so please know, I am not picking on girls by any means! I wrote this around 1981 and thought you might enjoy it. It actually is a song.
I, for one, have really enjoyed the new CD from Bob at Rockabilly hall. Some super picking on there and enthusiasm that pulls you right into each song. I am glad you reminded me of how much fun rockabilly music really is. I think we all should give Bob Timmers a hand for the hustle and energy he puts into the HOF and it's associated projects. Thanks, man!
Best Wishes to all of you for success in the coming year!
December, 1998 -
A friend from Finland fired off a tape of various European rockabilly Cats to me sometime back. Impatiently I slid it into my player, pushed the PLAY button and listened up to see how far the mother-country's kids had come in playing the raw rockabilly sound.
Doggone, they were great! They covered every style of old-time rock and roll sublimely and played some new licks this ol' cat never heard or thought of! Included was a cut of Matchbox doing our "Black Slacks" better than we did. They really had fun with the B-B-B-B-B-....part! What an honor to have a group of that caliber play your stuff. Thanks you guys!
Some of the takes were live in concert or clubs and what really got my attention was the crowd reaction and participation. You could tell that they genuinely enjoyed and appreciated the skills of the musicians and the type of music. The musicians showed genuine appreciation for the audiences.
Did you ever stop to think that simplicity is the heart of rockabilly and that enables non-musician types to participate in singing along with our music and even non-pro guitar guys to hit our licks. Everyone can sing along with 'Be Bop-a-Lula" or "You ain't nothin' but a hound dog...."
Look at it this way. Do you like opera sung in Italian or a broadway play in English...a language we here in the States relate to? How about.."Start spreadin' the news, I'm leaving today...brand new start...Old New York..", etc... The Boss was successful because he sang songs in the language of the working man.
We, as writers and artists, are faced with the challenge of relating to our audiences. What do they like? What is the key to a hit recording? What are we gonna open with tonite? How can we become their buddies in the first 3 minutes of the show? Two fast and one slow...will that get it? In my opinion If we don't ask ourselves those questions, we are in the wrong business. Yeah, we may dress and act like the "Bad Boys" but in our hearts we want the acceptance and participation of the crowd. Our manager always said,"If only 3 people are in the audience, they deserve to see your very best...they paid to see you!"....he saw to it that we gave 100% every gig.
Elvis gave at least that much.
In a nutshell, you gotta love people and give 'em your best in writing, performing and any interaction we have them. Rockabilly music is a great way to show that feeling you have for your audience......
Once at The Turf restaurant of the 50's on Broadway in New York, a very solid sax player approached me and asked for some bucks for a meal. I said OK and asked if he wasn't playing some gigs...he said "No" because he wasn't going to play that "stupid" commercial stuff. I often wondered if he ever learned to play to the people so he could make a living.
What a joy to get paid for doing something you really love, like playing music and when the crowd leaves, you feel like you gave them what they came for.
Happy Holidays from all The Tones and may your New Year be a great one!
November, 1998 -
JOE DEAN (JOEY) HAYWOOD
"Round and round she goes and where she stops, no one knows!" That was always the beginning line issued by Ted Mack of The Original Amatuer Hour. It always brought a tense anticipation to the show and everyone became anxious and excited about who would perform and who would win. Just to be on that show was always a neat thing whether you won or not.
I don't know the names of all those on the show who later became pros and went on to recording contracts and stuff but there were quite a few.
We showed up in the winter of '56 after getting through an audition (There were many of those in our life). At the audition we performed with local groups from our home town.
One was Joe Dean (Joey) Haywood. This kid was awesome and could sing Sam Cook songs better than Sam himself. He was backed by a group called The Dobbs which had a couple of beat up saxes, old set of drums, no bass and an elderly lady on piano. I can't remember if they had a guitar. It really didn't make any difference...Joey was the cake and everything else was just the icing. I can still see him up there pushing that little band on and rocking that crowd. He did the best with what he had and struck fear in the hearts of all the competitors that night at the Spartanburg Memorial Auditorium. It was a very, very tight competition...we barely squeaked by. I was sorry that they couldn't win too.
We would see Joey frequently about town and I always enjoyed talking to him about the music business and how he was doing. He told me once that he was writing some stuff. Later he had a hit called "Let Me Wrap You In My Warm and Tender Love" which brought some measure of success . Joey was also a gospel performer.
About a year down the road from those days we struck a little pay dirt with Black Slacks and made it to The Sullivan show where we actually performed with The Real Sam Cook . I wondered if Joey was watching.
Rockabilly was not Joey's cup of tea, I am sure but he would always compliment us on our records and performances. I was always his biggest fan. I often wondered how much Joey's kind of music (The southern Black gospel sound) influenced my own writing.We had several unreleased tunes that had a little Cook sound with a touch of blues. Wonder if our drummer, Jim Denton, picked up any licks from The Dobbs that night? How much did Joey's vocal stylings effect Wayne, the best vocalist in our group? I believe that a little bit of all the music you hear rubs off on you.
After coming back to Carolina 6 years ago, I tried to find Joey. No one that I asked knew where he was. It turns out, I just didn't ask the right people.
Flipping through the newspaper about a year ago, I saw his picture....in the obituary section. His daughter and I had a meeting. She looks like Joey and sings like him.
One regret I have is that I never got to do a track with Joe Dean Haywood. I think that is really why I wanted to find him...maybe pen a song together and go in the studio and lay it down.
Catch you later, Joey.
October, 1998 -
There are 2 small factories in St. Louis which shared a large air conditioning unit between them. A new compressor was installed and within a few weeks some of the workers started having strange internal problems...spleen, stomach, pancreas, hemorrhaging, etc. The problem was later discovered to be a vibration that was set up by the new compressor and on a frequency that was inaudible to the workers. It was literally shaking their innards apart!
Makes you wonder about those sub-woofers in cars and trucks today...or maybe standing in front of a bass amp during a gig...could that be deadly?
But, doggone it, when you are a bass nut such as I, it sure would be hard to give up those vibes! I mean...I wouldn't play in a band without a bass player...would you? Why, heck, that's what drives those boogie licks right down to your shoes! I mean, the contrast between the bass and the high screamin' guitar notes and the rythym guitar sandwiched in between them is what makes our kinda music so tasty. It's like the hot fudge sauce over the cold vanilla ice cream...that contrast is what makes it so good.
In the beginning of rockabilly music, we had to strain to hear a smidgen of bass...that low thump with a tone...that foundation to build everything else on... The old Kay standups were what most folks played and if the screws were tight you could get a good clean sound but the real low tones were barely audible. Even in the studios, the technology had not progressed to the point where you could hear every little lick.
But you could sit back and hear some good slappin' bass that kind of made up for the lost tones. Our bass player, Wayne Arthur, could slap with the best of them and that was an added dimension to the sound. We would feature him with lots of solos in our stage shows. The best slap bass I have heard lately is on The Dimaggios Brothers album....he is awesome.
Then came a song by Gene Vincent ("Wella, Wella...") with electric bass....man, it was talking and you could hear every note...on top of that, you held it like a guitar! The Fender electric bass sound was born. I am sure others were using electrics, but that was the first one I can remember hearing.
Of course, we went into the electric bass sound with The Sparkletones and it was sheer joy to be able to hear all those notes.
I teach my students to "Chase the bass" when trying to lift a song from a CD and some of them say, "I can't hear it."...but when I take the bass out, they all say,'Hey, something is missing."...we just accept it as part of the whole sound of a band...and anyone can tell if there is no bass in the band.
You bass players, you are invaluable to all of us who enjoy rockabilly music,,,I want you to know how much I appreciate you skills and presence and you are highly valued by other musicians. If you don;'t believe it, check the bulletin board in your local music store under the "Musicians Wanted" section and see which instrument is the one in demand the most.
So, whether you wear rings to make the click, play stand-up or electric,...we love you, man!
A good bass player is always working.
September, 1998 -
AN OLD LETER TO A FRIEND - 8 Nov. 57
Hope all you guys are fine back there. I know it has been a while since I wrote but, to tell the truth, sometimes I don't even know which town we're in. Things move so fast in this business...wish I had a nickle for every hamburger I've eaten in the last 6 months.
Bob got a '55 caddy and we still use the old Desoto limo with our names painted on the side. We have a little more room now so we can blow up an air mattress, flop it on top of the instruments in the back and sack out while someone else does the driving. I hate those midnite to four shifts though. Two nites ago I was sleeping when something woke me up. I asked Wayne, "What was That?"
He said, "What?"
I Said,"That noise!"
He said, "A mailbox."
That rascal had gone to sleep...! These one-niters are rough.
I read somewhere that Fender is going to start putting reverb on some of their amps! I can't wait for that! Have you still got your Les Paul? My old Stratocaster is still going strong though it doesn't look too good...pickup covers are starting to split on the ends. Wonder what makes them do that?
We played in Belmar, New Jersey (I think that's how you spell it) last nite. Man, the PA system was awful...people in the club couldn't hear the vocals, had to turn down so low we could hardly hear ourselves. You know how club owners are...get mad if you're too loud. We never know how the PA system is going to be from one day to the next. Last week we played in Kingston, N.Y. at Pat McConnels and man they had a PA that wouldn't quit. We rocked that place! Wish you could have seen it. Toronto was good at The Edison Hotel...we always enjoy that place...good sound.
I Wish I could have been there for the Prom, Don...you know how it is...but to tell you the truth, I miss those Friday nite football games and the fun we used to have...I remember going 100 mph in that Old Pink Pontiac on the road to Lake Bowen. Scared me to death!
Our record is doing pretty good and it looks like we might be going to the west coast soon.
Gotta go change my strings and get ready for tonite...I hope we're gonna rock Rome, Georgia. Jerry Lee was here last week.
Take care, Buddy
P.S. The right rear window was on the blink. We couldn't get it up and ran into a thunderstorm on a turnpike in VA...the boys in the back dug out the old soap bars from various hotels we kept in the glove compartment, removed their shirts, and proceeded to lather up and bathe...turnpike drivers found it pretty amusing! You gotta be crazy!
August, 1998 -
PEACE IN THE VALLEY
"Well, I'm tired and so weary, but I must travel on Til the Lord comes to call me, call me away...Oh, Yeah..."
These lyrics are from a song called "Peace in The Valley"..standard southern gospel and has been around for many years and, as I remember it, Red Foley had the first big hit on it. It is still a gospel gem. The chord progression to Peace in the Valley was used in many other songs of the Rockabilly genre...G,E7,A7,D7 back to G. As a matter of fact, it is difficult to work that progression into something pop or rock.
No doubt about it, southern gospel has had a strong influence on Rockabilly and southern rock music (Skynard, Allmans, Tucker, etc.)...ever hear Elvis sing Peace in the Valley? It was made for him and he was made BY it...to me, Elvis was gospel all the way...the music we all heard down here on Sunday mornings before church and AT church came through in his stylings. All you have to do is listen to "I'll Fly Away" or "Gospel Boogie" to hear strong measures of rhythms and harmonies common to the Rockabilly music we all love. Stir in a little country feel and strengthen the back-beat a little and you've got it.
Did Rockabilly come to screechin' halt somewhere in the the 60's...did it morph into southern rock in the 70's?...what the heck happened? Naaaa! No screechin' halt...no metamorphosis...just sittin' on simmer for a while! Is it true that Rockabilly festivals are happenin' around the country nowadays? I know they are in Europe and HOW!
So what do we do?...
Look, people like to dance, Man!...just give em something to dance to....something that pulls them right up outta their seat and gets them to shakin' and havin' fun DANCIN"!... Young people have more energy than they know what to do with...even some of us old dudes can still boogie on the floor with gusto!
By the way, you can see a lot of that shakin' and dancing down here on Sunday morning in some churches!...the kind Elvis went to.
P.S. My friend Paul Riddle, who is the original drummer for the Marshall Tucker Band says, "What is everybody so mad about? Let's get happy and let our music be fun for people to hear and see!"..right on Paul!
July, 1998 -
In about '54 or '55, the neighbor kids and I had a little group called The Jamborettes...Ronnie, Jerry and Priscilla Cooksey, Jan Medley ( A Cooksey cousin) and Jimmy Lee, a school pal and I, formed the group and just for funsies, had a Saturday night Jamboree. It was situated in The Cooksey back yard beside Cannons Campground Road, a main thouroughfare in the county...we were mainly farm and cotton mill folks. We borrowed the Cannons elementary school PA system, knocked the bottom out of a couple of buckets and placed light bulbs in them for spotlights, tuned up and started playing on a Saturday night...just for funsies.
One memorable night as I opened wide to sing "Your Cheatin' Heart"...a big moth flew into my mouth and I pert near choked to death!...one of the hazards of performing outside at night in the country...
Anyway, cars started stopping for a listen and parked in the Cooksey's yard. After a tune, they would honk instead of applaud. This drew attention around the community so everyone else came to see what all the ruckus was about. It looked like a drive-in movie, cars huddled around that little stage in the Cooksey's back yard with an outhouse about 30 yards away in the background..some would walk and bring their folding chairs. I can still see it. Just kids playing for funsies.
After a few Saturday nights, parking became a problem so they parked along the highway in large numbers. The highway patrol and county sheriff' s deputies came to assist. Yes, we passed the hat at the midway point and around $20 was the average take. Eventually, other more mature and skilled musicians came to sit in with the band. We learned a lot from them.
The years unfolded and we grew to high school age and went our separate ways...marriage, school, military or whatever. When I see my old friends, The Cookseys, Jim or Jan, we speak of the good old days when some kids got together and played for funsies.
Rockabilly Roots? Funsies!
P.S.. Wish I still had that old Strat I played back then.
June, 1998 -
DREAM COME TRUE
In 1949, as I remember it, I saw my first live band in a little country schoolhouse in Cannons Campground which is in the Spartanburg, S.C. area. Edney (Smokey) Reese played a massive doghouse bass, Hubert Chapman on guitar and vocals (Mostly Hank Williams stuff) and I think there was a fiddler along with another piece or two. Smokey could slap it and make that bass talk. In real life, he was a cotton mill worker, Hubert, a carpenter. I was awestruck at the sight and sound of that band!
Later, I saw a kickin' little combo at the fair one autumn in Spartanburg. They were out in front of a tent on the midway and were playing for a Hootchie Cootchie show.... black musicians who could sure enough play and were just fantastic. I believe that was the first time I ever saw a set of drums being played up close where I could really tell what was happening with the hands and feet. It made an indelible mark in my mind.
In about 1953 or '54, I begged for and recieved permission to go see Little Jimmy Dickens at the State theater in Spartanburg. My little buddy, Howard Childress and I went and it was a turning point in my life. Good Grief!....TWO lead players' plus Buddy Emmons on steel, playing jazz and and country kickin' licks IN 3 PART HARMONY! I wish I knew the names of those other pickers...played 2 black Gretsch Duo-Jets. I believe one's name was Jimmy Wilson though I can't be sure. That experience set me on fire. Jimmy Dickens always had a GREAT band...just grab one of his old cuts like "Old Cold Tater" and feast on the musicianship. I wanted to play like that.
Little did Howard and I know that someday we would be in front of an audience like that playing the music we loved. My Dad, Penny Bennett and Mom, Mrs. Ella Bennett, were both musicians..mom a piano teacher and Dad a shower singer...mostly blue grass or country gospel tunes.
So, here were the ingredients to form a dream of having a band someday . It is amazing how they came together to form The Sparkletones...the slapping bass, drums and harmonies on vocals and, at times, lead guitar licks.
Thanks to all those great musicians who gave a little kid such joy and inspiration. I buy every Buddy Emmons tape I can get my hands on.
May, 1998 -
"GIMMIE AN 'E'"
Probably it started with a "E" chord...a deep-tone, clear, spectral "E" chord. It is most used in songs such as "One Night With You" (Elvis) or "Baby What You Want Me to Do"...there is something about that sound that people will pay to hear...that Old Ching-ching sound of an "E" chord. It seems to have the quality of an infinite ring. And, all that depth! And, man!...you put on a new set of wires (Strings) and listen to that "E" chord sing! It even sounds good on a cheap guitar! What would the world be like with it? How could we play "Honky Tonk"?...I mean, everyone plays "Honky Tonk" but it wouldn't be the same without that "E" chord, no way!
"E" chords and guitars go together like 'lasses and buttered biscuits on a cold winter morning. Then why don't piano players and Sax and trumpet players like the key of "E"? It is so easy on the guitar. As a matter of fact, on any given day, when a guitar picker walks into a music store, takes a guitar down from the wall and sits down to it, the first thing he will do is strum a good old "E" chord.
From Bayou Blues to City Rock, from Gospel to Country, and I'll bet even to old Wolfgang Amadeus, the "E" chord is a treasure to be stroked, carressed , janged or plunked at our leisure and for our pleasure. And it is the staple of Rockabilly music.
Thanks, "E"./ Joe Bennett
April, 1998 -
Not too many years ago, I ordered a video of one of my favorite guitartsts, Albert Lee. I had been a fan for may years but didn't know a lot about Albert...only that he could really play a guitar and that his styling had that true, down-home southern feel to it.
Finally, it arrived and I anxiously hit the play button on the VCR to see one of my music heroes. He came on with "Country Boy" and I mean he smoked it and it had all the spanks and accents that only a southern stylist would play...man what a picker! "Probably from Tennesee'" I thought.
When it was over he says, "'ello. 'ow ah you, I'm Albert Lee." I says,"Good Grief! A British guy! How did he copy that feel?" What a shock!
And then, I remembered my days in Europe in The USAF and all the super musicians I had seen and then I thought," Wait a minute! Who are we in America anyway?" We are transplants from all over the world! That's who!
How about the skittle bands from the British Isles and those great tapping rhythms of the Irish Jigs (Riverdance, etc)...the wonderful preciseness and demand for practice from Deutschland, not to mention the chord progressions in those classics that have influenced our modern music so much. We are familiar with the happy sounds from Austria and Norweigen folk influences and melodic sounds from The Netherlands, Denmark, sweden...how about guitar virtuosity from Spain and compelling rhythms from African drummers and the chants and phrasings from the Latin countries...put 'em all together and what do you get?...the wonderful rockabilly sounds of today.
Thank you, world, for the great ingredients that make the recipe for our favorite music!
It is truly a world music.
JOE BENNETT AND THE SPARKLETONES
737 Bethesda Rd.
Spartanburg, S.C. 29302