My first involvement with music came at the age of 12 when I learned to play the accordion. By age 13, I was playing in my fathers Joe Manuel's radio band and traveling with the band to show dates on the weekends.
When dad started the Saturday Night Jamboree, I played with the band there every Saturday night in 1953-54. It was about this time that I learned to play the guitar. Dad was also teaching me to do comedy and allowing me to sing in his backup group and harmonize with him on some songs.
After the Jamboree closed at the end of 1954, I continued playing in dad's band doing the radio shows, although we didn't go out on the road as much as we had previously. At this time I had begun to write songs. And since we weren't going out traveling as much, I formed my own band and started doing shows on my own, when I wasn't working with my dad.
My band was featuring the new sounds that were springing up in Memphis, (now called Rockabilly). The band members at that time were Bobby Stewart. Lead guitar; Claude Rose Jr., bass; and Johnny Pete, drums. I played rhythm guitar and sang. We played stage shows and clubs throughout the Mid-South region. We also took some of the songs that I had written into several recording studios, but they were never quite what the recording company owners were looking for.
By 1958 my dad had quit going out on the road and had ceased doing his radio show. He also disbanded his band. At this time, my band and I had started doing a weekly radio show on radio station KSUD to help our name recognition and possibly increase our bookings.
In 1959 dad and I began a 26 week radio broadcast on radio station KWAM, sponsored by the Synadyne corporation. Dad had become the victim of Melonoma Cancer and was not able to re-form his band, so we used my band on the radio broadcast. He felt very comfortable with this. The lead guitar player was now Stanley Neal and the bass player was Jim Sallee.
During this time I had an old friend, Eddie Bond, who was program director at KWAM. He also owned a record label (Stomper Time) that was making some good records. I approached Eddie one day about recording for Stomper Time. He said he would consider it.
About a month went by before I heard from him again about our conversation. He brought me a song and told me to learn it. I asked him why. He said it was going to be the "A" side of my new record. It was titled "Don't Try To Call Back Tomorrow." Two weeks later he brought me a ballad to learn for the "B" side. It was "So I'm Still in Love With You." Both songs were written by Marshall Ellis.
We recorded the songs at Royal Recording Studios on South Lauderdale Street. Eddie was the producer and we used Royal's session musicians which included Troy Jones on lead guitar; Marvin Peppers on bass; Gene Chrisman on drums and a back-up group called the Four Kings. Stan Kessler was the engineer.
LARRY'S STOMPER TIME 45, "Don't Try To Call Back Tomorrow" was the "A" side and received most of the air play at Radio Station WCMA, Corinth, MS. It hit #3 on the Counry, Rock & Roll and Pop Top Forty, simulatenously, the same week. Few records have achived that particular accomplishment.
When the record was released in 1959 it turned out to be a fairly commercial record that received lot of radio play and got on the Top Forty charts in some areas.
I remember taking the band to Cornith, Mississippi to do a show call "The Dixieland Jamboree" for Charles Bolton, the local promoter for that area. When we got into town we found out our record was at number three on the Country, Rock & Roll, and Pop Top Forty charts simultaneously - the same week. An accomplishment I am still proud of today.
During the summer of 1959, Eddie Bond put together a package that consisted of Warren Smith, Tommy Tucker, and myself. Since all of us had records being played on the radio, we were in demand with the promoters. We played city auditoriums, high school auditoriums, clubs - we even played a cow pasture one hot August afternoon in Mississippi. It was for political rally and all the local politicians got together and brought us down for a drawing card. They had to bring in portable generators to supply power for our equipment. We did the show on the back of a flat bed truck. Even in the afternoon heat, about twelve hundred people showed up and everyone had a good time.
JOE AND LARRY MANUEL pose with the Mysterious Ivan and his associate Bonnie, a magic act. The Mysterious Ivan was the opening act for the Joe Manuel Stage Show in the middle '50s.
In those days we didn't have the buses like the entertainers do today. We traveled to shows in cars. We also didn't have the four lane divided expressways that they have now. We traveled on two-lane highways, but we loved every minute of every day of that time in our lives.
It is the nature of the music business that change is the one constant thing. By the end of 1959 America was no longer fascinated with rocking guitar players that came blasting out of Memphis. The music business was changing. Rockabilly and Rock & Roll were fading. It was the end of an era.
THE LARRY MANUEL BAND.
Left to Right - Bobby Stewart, lead guitar; Larry Manuel; Johnny Pate, drums; Claude Rose Jr., bass.
By 1960 most of the bands were breaking up and musicians were going back to their day jobs. My band and I joined the crowd after seeing the big established stars no longer were being booked on a consistent basis.
I decided I wanted to do something useful with my life, I came a Memphis Fire Fighter. I made a career with the Fire Service retiring recently as a Captain. My wife Jo Ann and I have been married over thirty years and have a daughter, Kimberly, and a grandson, Michael.
The Era of Rockabilly and Rock & Roll was a special time in the lives of a number of Memphis musicians. It was a time that has never happened before and would never happen again. These musicians never intended to create a new form of American music. They simply developed the sounds because they were fun to play.
I feel privileged to have had a very tiny part in the Memphis Music Scene of the Fifties.
In 2002, Stomper Time Records released a compilation CD in Europe. Titled "Memphis Rockabillies, Hillbillies and Honky Tonkers." It contains four tracks on Larry Manuel. Two of the tracks caught the ear of the Rockabilly crowd and a new generation of Rockabilly fans became aware of Larry's music and his involvememt in the Memphis Music Scene of the '50s.
Related Links:Joe Manuel
"Saturday Night Jamboree" Memphis
"The 'Saturday Night Jamboree' was probably
where the first live rockabilly was performed."
Photos courtesy: University of Memphis Libraries and Larry Manuel