"Loy passed away peacefully on 2/20/11 in South Jordan, UT."
If there was a man ...
who was burning both ends of the candle it was Loy Clingmam, who was recording, writing and performing his tunes on the weekend as he supported his family on a teacher's wage in the tiny town of Arlington, west of Phoenix. He taught the sixth-grade for 27 years.
Born in Williams, Arizona, Clingman's family moved to Texas and New Mexico before returning to the Grande Canyon State for grade school in Ashfork, high school in Wickenburg and college in Tucson. He began teaching and started to develop his writing focusing on the Western lifestyle that he knew so well. Soon Lee Hazelwood signed him to Viv and later he became the owner.
Clingman recorded "Rockin' Down Mexico Way" at his tiny garage studio in 1960 after the Indian School studio closed and he assumed the meager assets of Viv Records.
He would continue to write and produce there for the next 15 years, well into the early '70s. Around this time Clingman and his wife Hassie opened a coffee house in Scottsdale on weekends, to give local performers exposure. He recorded for Liberty Bell, Dot, Four Corners and Capital as well as his own labels under a variety of different names. Very few copies of Viv 3401 were press, making this one of the most sought after desert discs by collectors.
Clingman continues to write and record at his home in Mayer, Arizona.
-by John Dixon, Tempe, AZ.
indeed had a yearning to write and sing songs about the Western lifestyle that he knew so well. He had be playing guitar (mostly self taught) since his teens. "Just chords ... nothing fancy." he says.
Through Ray Odom, Clingman met Lee Hazelwood and they talked about music. They liked each other's writing ... was kind of country-folk," Clingman recalls. "Lee was a disc jockey on KTYL radio at the time and I had my own 15-minute radio show, right after Marty Robbin's half-hour program." In late 1955, Clingman became a Viv artist. Two years later, he was the owner of the label and its publishing company,
In early 1958, Loy received a call from Buddy Wheeler and Dick Wilson with a proposition that they start a studio. Wheeler was born in Alabama and grew up in Washington D.C. There he and his brother Joe honed their skills and wound up with an 18-month gig on The Old Dominion Barn Dance Show on WRVA in Richmond, Virginia where they were featured for a year and a half. The brothers then joined The Connie B. Gay Show that brought country music to both radio and television in to national capital.
Buddy played the steel guitar and mandolin; Joe played rhythm guitar and sang. As Wheeler recalls: "After getting married in 1949, I went to the West Coast to play with Hank Penny. Nighta and I wound up in Phoenix in 1951, where I formed The Westerners and we landed our own TV show on KPHO. We were on TV for three years and Marty Robbins was with us for two of them. Then I joined Lew King for his shows for another couple of years."
The Wheelers also played on many local radio shows and recording sessions. Eventually Buddy joined Hazelwood in Ramsey's Recording Studio to help perfect "The Twang" Heard 'Round the World in 1958.
The Viv Studio...
Clingman would rent a building and refurbish it. Wheeler and Wilson would provide the equipment and recording expertise. A location was chosen, 311 E. Indian School Road, near downtown Phoenix and directly across from the Phoenix Indian School grounds. Rent was $75 per month. The space had a high ceiling and a "live sound" that Wilson and Wheeler sought. The two built a control booth and an echo chamber. "We knew we had to build an echo chamber to be successful," Wilson said. "We built the control booth above our echo chamber, 8x8x16, made with cement blocks, then plastered and shellacked the inside walls. We bought the curtain and drapes from the old Fax Theater to use as our acoustic material for the studio walls and we also used carpet padding."
Wilson had joined the National Guard and had to labor non-stop to wire the equipment and show Buddy and Loy how to operate it before leaving for basic training in Texas. "We had technical help from Jack Miller, and later Dave Oxman, who were employed at Audio Recorders, but kindly shared their knowledge with us," said Wilson.
Wilson left for his military duty in August 1958. The new studio soon filled with musicians and singers working on Wheeler's composition, Need You, that featured a young night club veteran, Donnie Owens. In what would become a regular working procedure, Wheeler directed the sessions from the control booth, above the studio while playing bass directly into the mixing board.
Who would have known then that the first session would be the most successful? Need You was published by their new company, Malapi, and leased to Jamie/Guyden Records of Philadelphia. It hit Billboard chart in October, peaking at #25, the only time that a Viv artist was in the national charts.
The studio became a hangout for the artists and their friends, Viv also managed many of the artists signed to the label, among them Mirriam Johnson. She would become Mrs. Duane Eddy and later Waylon Jennings' wife, Jessi Colter.
Another Hazelwood was involved in the early days of the studio, as Wilson recalls: "Lee's dad Gabe hung around the studio at the time and was interested in what were doing ... we didn't see much of Lee."
After his return from the military service Wilson played guitar and bass on many sessions. The music had changed from country to more of a pop-rock orientation and Wilson's favorite steel stayed in it's case. The three toiled for over two years, plowing wgat little profit materialized back into the studio.
"We seldom took any money out of the business," Wilson explains. Loy was teaching, Buddy was playing around town and I was working in an audio store to make ends meet. The income from 'Need You" went right back into the studio, we bought an Ampex 351-2 and other equipment we needed.
People sometimes would walk in to get someone to listen to their songs. If they were good enough, a session was booked on the spot. "I was the only one there full-time," Wheeler recalls, and we played lots of poker with the musicians and singers between sessions ... Sanford Clark and Mary Blythe were good players."
Clingman credits wheeler with "A great ear to hear everything that was being recorded as the tape was rolling. Sometimes there would be 20 people in the studio if we using the Ben Denton Singers (members of the North High Glee Club) and he had everything under control ... there lots of false starts and takes until Buddy was satisfied. Then we bought the 2-track recorded in 1959 and we didn't have to do everything at the same time, we could overdub."
But sadly, after more than two years, a lack of funds forced the three to close the doors on Indian School Road and amicably split up the equipment. Clingman moved his share of equipment to his new house on 51st Drive in West Phoenix, where he enclosed the carport as the new Viv studio. Buddy Wheeler continued to write and produce for many years, and now resides near Prescott, Arizona. He spends some time on the road with his country band, traveling far and wide for the U.S.O. San Francisco is now the home of Dick Wilson, who develops steel guitar control systems and MIDI computer software for musicians still plays his steel guitar on occasion.
Early in the 1960s the final phase of the Viv story began. Loy built up the new studio, while still teaching. At the same time he also was working with his folk group, The Clingman Clan, and operating a weekend coffee house in Scottsdale called The Baboquivari'. Sill & Hazelwood's first album on their Trey label was recorded at the club by "The Clan." It was also a stage where local folk singers like Henry Thome and Ronnie Ryan would work on material before recording in Viv.
The Clingman house/studio became a gathering place for singers and bands to rehearse their material in the studio before rolling tape. Loy's wife Hassie remembers, laughing, "I cooked so many hamburgers you wouldn't believe it ... everyone seemed to be there for lunch and dinner." Loy tried to do most of the recording on the weekend, but there was always exception during the week in the evenings. "I tried to keep the neighbors happy by not causing too much of a disturbance with the music and cars at my house,"he says.
Once again, an early release was the closest that Clingman would get to a national hit. The song was Scotch and Soda by Henry Thome. In 1961, Hazelwood put together a deal for Era Records to distribute the song nationally.
"We were fighting the Kingston Trio on this one," Loy says. "And we got heavy airplay in several markets, but it just wouldn't break nationally. It was a case of a small company (Era) trying to make a hit of record they didn't own," (as was the custom, the master was leased for a number of years, not purchased). "It was hard to collect money from distributors if you didn't have another hit on the label. They would just sit on the money you did have coming and it would make it really hard to play the bills." Loy spent the rest of the decade trying to in vain to find another Need You.
During the late '50s Loy had a conversation with Del-Fi Records owner Bob Keene. Keene told him of getting back more records than he had pressed of an early release, because the label was so easy to copy. Bootleggers would just manufacture copies of the popular records and sell them to distributors, some of whom were in on the scam. So when Loy started Viv on his own, Lee Hazelwood put a $2000 investment into the company to make hard-to-copy, distinctive, multi-colored labels. "He had about 1/4 of a million made and we used them until the printer burned down with all our beautiful labels," Loy recalls.
Clingman also signed new artists to recording and management contract. But most just came to Viv to get a record out quickly and cheaply. For $100 you got the studio for the day, tape, and a couple of hundred records (pressed at nearby Wakefield Manufacturing) and maybe a hamburger. At the same time he would press blank label copies that would be sent to various record companies and publishers. If you didn't have a name for your label Clingman was never at a loss for names as a glance at the Viv discography will atest. Although there were several Viv labels in other parts of the country, (no Jackie Lee Cochran on this one) there was only one Elko, Yolo, Jo-Ree, Sola, Malapi, Pyro, Lubee or Toltec. And many of them only only one release.
"I hated to gouge people, so I never really made any money on these sessions, "Loy says. "The kids would for what it cost me to record and press those records, and I would try to lease the masters.
By the middle of the '60s, the solo singers were replaced with bands all trying to sound like The Beatles, The Byrds or the Beach Boys. The prices was right. Clingman didn't use a control room, he sat in the studio with head phones and mixed on his Ampex 4-track machine. Some of the tapes found they way to national labels, but mostly the music was only available locally. By the end of the decade, garage/psychedelic sounds were the rage and the Viv studio tried to keep pace. Along with many others, The Nazz, who became Alice Cooper, recorded demos of songs in the little studio.
The Viv studio stayed in business into the early '70s when Loy and Hassie left the Valley and moved to Northern Arizona. In the '80s, they built a house. Bear Family Records purchased the iv masters in 1992.
-John P. "Let's Talk About Arizona Music" Dixon
Page posted May, 2003
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