CATCHING UP WITH: NARVEL FELTS
His career didn't start until he thought it was over. and then it continued long after he thought it would end. Narvel Felts is the man behind more than a dozen hits, who beat the odds, bucked the system and managed to see the world in the process.
One day in 1957, 18-year-old Narvel Felts stood behind the microphone at Sun Studios in Memphis, ready to cut his first record. He took a good look around, and still perfectly remembers what he saw.
"Roy Orbison was in the control room," he recalls. "Conway Twitty was sitting in a chair he had dragged out by my microphone. Johnny Cash was there, along with this new piano player who was yet to have a hit record, Jerry Lee Lewis. It was pretty amazing."
Heady stuff indeed for a sharecropper's son from Bernie, Mo., whose previous musical highlight had been winning a high-school talent contest. But the moment passed - his rockabilly career on Sun Records fizzled, and Narvel would spend the 1960s wondering if another shot at stardom would ever come. He wed Loretta Stanfield in 1962, and the couple had two children. Finally, Narvel came to believe that the window of opportunity had closed.
"When I turned 30, I sat around and mourned all day long," he remembers. "I thought I was an old man, a has-been, over the hill. It was too late."
All that changed in 1973, when Narvel, then 34, hit the country charts with a cover version of Dobie Gray's pop smash "Drift Away." "I had been in this business for 17 years, been on a dozen labels and had 30 records out before that first really big hit came along," he points out. "It was like the impossible dream coming true."
The dream didn't end there - the man they called "Narvel the Marvel" earned his nickname with 10 more Top 20 hits during the '70s, including "Reconsider Me," "Lonely Teardrops" and "Somebody Hold Me (Until She Passes By)."
"Stardom changes your life when it comes, no matter how prepared you think you may be or how long you've worked for it," he says. "It's not an easy thing to handle, and it's not easy on your family, either. All of a sudden your life is an open book, and everybody's looking in."
Narvel avoided some of that scrutiny by staying right where he was - in Malden, Mo., minutes from his hometown. "People were saying, 'You can't be in this business and not live in Nashville,' " he remembers. "But the kids were 10 years old at the time. Had we moved to Nashville, they would have been in a strange school and a strange city, and I would have still been on the road doing four one-nighters a week. I didn't think it was quite fair to them."
Indeed, Narvel kept up his steady touring pace. And even as his hit streak dried up in the '80s, he found excited audiences overseas. "Europe is very much into the roots of country, rockabilly and rock 'n' roll," he says. "Usually it's young audiences there that are really into it."
Narvel even employed his son, Narvel Jr., nicknamed "Bub," as his drummer on tour - until 1995, when the 31-year-old died tragically in a car wreck on a foggy highway near Campbell, Mo. "Losing him was just devastating," admits Narvel.
Narvel's family has been dealt more tragedy and heartbreak lately. Loretta's sister, Althia Mae Wheeler, was carjacked and murdered in April 2003 - and only five months later, her brother, Billy Joe Stanfield, died of cancer.
The couple takes special comfort in their daughter, Stacia, now 41 and living nearby. "We talk to her every day, and see her and the grandchildren at least once a week," says Narvel. "We've even got a great-grandchild! That's pretty strange. Looking back at my life, I never knew a great-grandparent. That seemed way in the distant past somewhere!"
Narvel has also reentered the recording studio in recent years. "People would be coming up to me and saying, 'Man, you ought to be back in the recording studio. You've still got it!'" he chuckles. "And so I decided to do another project."
The resulting album, Super Songs Narvelized, finds him covering some of his favorite songs. "I just do 'em the way I feel 'em, and try to put my own signature on the song," he says. "I try to live the song when I sing it, and put my soul and emotion into it." (The CD is available by calling  396-5816.)
Narvel is still putting his soul into his songs, after celebrating his 65th birthday in November. "That was the big one!" he laughs. "That's when everybody's supposed to retire, right?"
Don't count on it! "I may not do as many dates as I've been doing, but I'm still going to be out there," he vows. "I feel fine, and I think I probably sing as well as I ever did. As long as I have the health and the talent, and there are people out there who want to come to see me, I plan on keeping on doing it."
-- Chris Neal
Narvel Felts CD: "Super Songs NARVELIZED"
"A must have CD!" - "Great variety of music!" - "One of his best ever!" ...
Narvel Felts, Sonny Burgess and Ace Cannon
Posted October 19, 2000
Fall Festival 2000 - Van Buren, ArkansasBy Fan Club Member, Essie Shell
I was fortunate enough to spend several days with a niece in Greenwood, Arkansas during October and attended two of the many festivals being held in the state. First was the Oktober Fest in Columbus Acres outside of Ft. Smith, which benefits children who are terminally ill. Although it was a fairly small festival, attendance appeared to be very good and everyone was having a great time dancing under the pavilion.
Second was the Fall Festival in Van Buren, which started on Friday, October 13 and ended Sunday, the 15th. My niece from Greenwood took me to Van Buren on Friday and we spent the afternoon browsing in the antique shops and boutiques up and down the approximately 6 block, beautifully restored, Victorian Main Street. We stopped by the Calico Goose to buy our tickets for Saturday nights show featuring the legendary Rockabilly and Country music super star, Narvel Felts. Before going back to Greenwood, we made our way to the historic Old Frisca Train Depot to see where they were setting up the outdoor stage, seating and sound equipment for Friday and Saturday's evening entertainment.
Finally, Saturday was here and although rain was forecast for the evening, it never materialized. A light jacket or sweater was comfortable in the outdoor theater setting. Vendors were set up in tents on both sides of Main Street with arts and crafts. There were rides and games for the kids. There was an aroma of smoked turkey legs, gator on-a-stick and onion blossoms in the air. The show started at 7:00 PM with 14 year old Myranda Noelle Weese, who sang music from the Sock Hop era. Then Sonny Burgess and the Pacers took the stage, a band that was formed in 1955 at Newport, Arkansas and performs 50 's music, including Kansas City and My Bucket's Got A Hole In It. Next on stage was the legendary Ace Cannon. Among the songs he entertained us with were Cotton Fields, Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain, and Yakety Sax.
Around 9:00 PM, Narvel took the stage to a standing ovation. His program included Rockabilly songs My Babe and Great Balls Of Fire. Top hits, Funny How Time Slips Away and Drift Away brought screams and cheers from the audience. At one point, he had some of the people on their feet dancing. He introduced another of his Top hits by saying "Imagine the one you love is marrying someone else and you're at the wedding," then he swung into Somebody Hold Me (Until She Passes By). The Pacers did an outstanding job backing Narvel throughout the show and also as the Shoobie Doo Wah's when he sang Lonely Teardrops. Requests were pouring in from the audience. Most of the songs were already in the script, but someone requested Raindrops and Narvel said it wasn't in the script. There were some sighs of disappointment, but then true to form, Narvel sang it anyhow, accompanied only by himself on guitar. His voice was beautiful and the song couldn't have been any better! Narvel sang Even Now in memory of his only son, Bub, who was killed in an automobile accident 5 years ago on September 14, 1995. The words "When will I see you again....come to my arms where you belong" brought tears to many in the audience. He sang My Prayer, Pink and Black Days and ended the show with his 1975 Single of the Year, Reconsider Me, following with "May The Good Lord Bless and Keep You."
Time had gone by so fast ... surely the show wasn't over! Tonight Narvel was at his very best. The audience gave him a standing ovation, wanting an encore, and he teased them with almost putting the guitar strap back over his head until everyone was yelling, "put it on, put it on." So he did, but not before he called Sonny Burgess and Ace Cannon back on stage to help him with a lively rendition of Shake, Rattle & Roll. It was a Grande Finale to an outstanding show.
As always, Narvel promised to stay until the last person had gotten through the autograph line. It was almost 2 hours later when he joined fan club members Judy Standige and daughter Amy from Muldrow, Oklahoma, myself from Kemp, Texas and Narvel 's longtime friend and fan club member Huey P. Long from Kansas City, for snacks and autographs. Several of my nieces and a great niece joined us as well. The time Narvel spends with us after a show is always a "special bonus" and something we never take for granted ... but we always look forward to it. We all appreciate him sharing himself and his love of music with us.
As the festival was beginning its last day Sunday, the rain had started. We knew Arkansas needed the rain and we were glad to see it, but also happy that it had waited until then. Narvel and his fan club members had breakfast together, said our good-byes, then we all went our separate ways home. I'm never quiet ready to say "good-bye."
Narvel with Fan Club member Doris Dileo from New Orleans
NARVEL FELTS GOES BACK TO HIS ROOTSAs a teen, Narvel Felts and his family moved to the nearby community of Powe, Missouri, where he attended high school in Bernie, Mo." Just down the road more than 40 years ago Narvel performed with Roy Orbison and Eddie Bond during the Pink and Black days "at a drive-in theatre in Dexter, MO."" Saturday night he once again stepped onto an outdoor stage at Whippoorwill Campground, Marble Hill, MO., complete with one of nature's finest backdrops:" gently swaying trees and a crystal clear lake with a softly spraying fountain.
Dressed in black jeans and a shiny royal blue shirt, Narvel's polished show took us from his snappy show opener "Roll Over Beethoven" to his heart-wrenching 1975 smash hit "Somebody Hold Me," the story of a jilted lover who watches his bride-to-be walk down the aisle into the arms of another, the ever popular upbeat "Lonely Teardrops," and powerful "Even Now" in memory of his only son, Albert Narvel "Bub" Felts, Jr.
As the crowd clapped and stomped along with the music, Narvel went back to 1957 for an early recording of "My Babe and a "Fraulein" medley which included "I'm Thinking Tonight Of My Blue Eyes."
Joined by DJ "Cousin Carl and The Girl" from Cape Girardeau's Pure Country 106.1, we heard a rowdy version of "Rollin' In My Sweet Baby's Arms" from Narvel's LP, "When Your Good Love Was Mine."" Things kept hopping with "Great Balls Of Fire," "Funny How Time Slips Away," and "Pink and Black Days," released in January 2000 in Europe and reaching No. 1 by February in the Independent charts." Also reaching the top 10 European charts this year, another crowd pleaser, "Blue Darlin'."
"Drift Away," the beautiful "My Prayer," "I'm Headin' Home" with some fine lead guitar pickin' by Narvel and closing with the 1975 Billboard and Cashbox hit of the year "Reconsider Me" followed by "May The Good Lord Bless And Keep You" started the standing ovations which led to an unbelievably good "Crying," a repeat of "Somebody Hold Me" for Cousin Carl who missed it the first time, and a group effort of "Shake, Rattle & Roll with Cousin Carl and The Girl." DJ Cousin Carl who plays Narvel's songs every day on the radio but hasn't seen him perform live in nine years, and was amazed at the quality, range and purity of his voice, just shook his head and said, "Son, I'm telling you, you need to be back in the studio."
An hour and a half later, Crossfire, the versatile backup band, started another set. "As they began "Red Hot," the energetic Narvel excused himself from his autograph line, jumped back onto the stage and sang a verse."
Photos and Review by:
Narvel's Birthday Party Celebration Show!
Narvel appeared Saturday. November 13, 1999 (and again in Jan., 2000) at the Eddie Bond Country Club, Big Hill Pond, Tennessee.
NARVELOUS REVIEWS & PHOTOS
When I was thirteen years old we still lived in Arkansas and I traded my BB gun for a beat up Gene Autry guitar that was held together with a Prince Albert tobacco can and some bailing wire. A year later, when I was fourteen, we had moved to Missouri and I picked cotton and ordered a new one from Sears & Roebuck for $15.98. Then in early 1956, I was seventeen at the time, I entered a high school talent contest at Bernie, Missouri. I sang "Baby Let's Play House" and when they wanted an encore there was a new song I had heard a few times by Carl Perkins, called "Blue Suede Shoes." By chance there was a disk jockey in the audience that night from KDEX radio in Dexter, Missouri - his name was Weldon Grimsley, and the next day I was sitting at home listening to the radio, and they said "if Narvel Felts is listening please contact KDEX immediately". I ran outside and told my daddy what they had said on the radio. It was cold winter time and he had the water drained out of the radiator of his 1946 International truck. He put water in the truck and drove me eight miles up the gravel road to Bernie to the nearest phone, and I called KDEX and they said "bring your guitar and come on." I took J.W. Grubbs with me and they gave us a little Saturday afternoon radio show, live.
A little while after that, on March 24, 1956, I ran across Jerry Mercer one night at the Four Way Inn in Dudley, Missouri. He got me up to sing and invited me to come to Pop schmitzer's, near Malden, the next night and sit in with him some more and this led to a regular job in Jerry Mercer's band along about the spring of 1956. We played a lot of the local clubs in southeast Missouri, north-east Arkansas and some in illinois and played a package show that summer with Roy Orbison when "Ooby Dooby" was his current record and "Go Go Go" the B-side of it. Eddie Bond and The Stompers were also on the show and Eddie's record on Mercury at the time was "I Got A Woman" and "Rockin' Daddy."
3 CDs - "More Radio Rockabillies," Narvel Felts & Jerry Mercer Rockstar Records RSRCD 012, features some rare and excellent true rockabilly cuts. / "Did You Tell Me," Narvel Felts BCD 16220 AH, Bear Family CD with 34 tracks including Sun, Mercury and MGM releases. / "Drift Away: The Best of Narvel Felts 1973-1979 Bear Family CD #BCD 15690 AH, includes Narvel's #1 1975 hit "Reconsider Me."
During 1956 from the spring until about mid December I worked with Jerry Mercer and I would play the slap bass when he was singing and he would play it when I was singing. We would trade and both of us played. I would play rhythm guitar when I sang and he would play rhythm guitar when he sang. During this period of time we did that show with Roy Orbison and Eddie Bond at Dexter, Missouri, and within a couple of weeks after that show I wound up with an audition with Sun Records. Calvin Richardson, who was my manager and a Dexter music store owner at the time, told me that Roy was going to help him get an appointment at Sun for me, so Leon Barnett and I drove down in my Chevrolet to Sun. It was very hot summer-time, probably August or early September, when we auditioned for Jack Clement. Jack told us to write some more songs, bring the whole band back. However, we did not wind up doing that until early 1957. In the meantime, in December of 1956, Jerry Mercer got married and decided to quit the music business. The band now became 'Narvel Felts and the Rockets'.
On my Sun recordings Jack Clement was the producer. We went in with the band, the first time was in January 1957 when we did five songs, then we came back for another session in April. I had felt like there were three sessions but the Sun session book doesn't confirm that. They say that the following session was in early April of 1957 and it would probably have been the one that produced "My Babe." I remember at the first session Roy Orbison was in the control room with Jack Clement. Conway Twitty was still Harold Jenkins and had a chair pulled up by my microphone in the studio, listening to me. I had met Jerry Lee Lewis at Taylor's cafe next door that morning, and Johnny Cash came in at the front office and watched us for a little while that day. I remember that at the session when I recorded "My Babe", I said the line, "when she's hot, there ain't no colin', "I remember Jack Clement and Roy Orbison had their heads popping around, looking at each other kind of in surprise when I said that, like it was a sort of shocking line at that time.
After I'd finished the last session at Sun, Jack Clement said "well, I think we've got a record here. It may take about a year to get around to releasing it because we've got so many in front of you." At the session when Conway Twitty was also there, Roy Orbison called Conway and myself off in a corner, and said, "Boys, if I were you, I would look elsewhere for a label. That's what I'm going to do when my contract's up, because Sam's not interested in me, he's not interested in you, he's not even interested in Perkins. He's only interested in Cash and this new kid, Jerry Lee Lewis."
Jerry Mercer with Narvel
In early march of 1957, I was playing the Fox Theatre in St. Louis and Fred Varney, who had some connections with Mercury Records in Chicago, wanted to take us to Chicago to audition for Mercury. At that time I still was recording for Sun. We were at the Fox theatre playing, I believe it was probably three shows a day, possibly more, with the movie 'Rock Pretty Baby'. We did not go to Chicago at that time, but a little later, after we had done the other session for Sun and Jack had said, it would be a year before they could release anything. I was doing another tour of theatres in Illinois and we were playing in Lichfield, Illinois, I believe two nights off in between, Fred Varney came by again. He had had a man named Cliff Mantle book those theatres and they were kind of partners in the business. Fred had a printing company in St. Louis. He offered again to take us to Chicago and this time we took him up on it.
He took us to 35 East Wacker Drive, just walked in the Mercury offices with us and the band, so the people were saying "what are you doin', bringing a band in here like this . . .?" Anyway, they finally decided to listen to us and so we brought the equipment up and sat in the office with no microphone, and Art Talmadge walked over and stood near me where he could hear my voice over the band. I was kind of singing in his ear. We did a couple of songs and he said send them on down to Universal Studios to record. We went down that afternoon and recorded until probably midnight after taking a supper break, and wound up recording ten songs. Within a month my first record "Kiss-A-Me Baby" and "Foolish Thoughts" was on the market. I believe it was the 10th of June, 1957.
The band that I recorded with at Mercury was still the same that was on my Sun sessions. Also a piano player named Chuck Stacy worked some of the songs on the Chicago session with us. The line-up was myself doing vocals and rhythm guitar, Leon Barnett on lead guitar, J.W. Grubbs on bass, Bob Taylor on drums and Jerry Tuttle playing steel guitar and saxophone; in fact later on that year we recorded an instrumental that featured Jerry on saxophone, called "Rocket Ride." That record came out and really started getting some action, this was early '58. The story goes that art Talmadge heard a radio station in Chicago play "Rocket Ride" on a slow speed and it sounded like a stroll record to him, and they had a hit at the time with the diamonds "The Stroll", and so he slowed it down, and it was re-issued very quickly as "Rocket ride Stroll." That was actually a re-recording and I believe it was Sil Austin and the orchestra who recorded "Rocket Ride Stroll" and they issued it under my name. The original "Rocket Ride" was just us, the Rockets. We did that at RCA Studio B in Nashville in October of 1957, featuring Jerry Tuttle on saxophone.
Narvel & The Rockets, 1957. Left to right: J.W. Grubbs, Leon Barnett, Narvel, Bob Taylor and Jerry Tuttle.
In late 1958 Conway Twitty recommended me for the club circuit in Canada that he had been working prior to "It's Only Make Believe becoming a number one record. He had also recommended Ronnie Hawkins to that circuit. I had recommended both Conway and Ronnie to Pop Warner's and some other local places a little bit earlier and Conway started playing around my home area around 1957. Conway became quite successful in Canada then he recommended Ronnie Hawkins, who became quite successful. Then Conway recommended me and on January 5, 1959 we opened at the Flamingo Club in Hamilton, Ontario. We had played Pop Warner's in Malden, Missouri on the Saturday night prior to that and my voice had started breaking that night, and we left after work and drove on ice and snow all the way to Hamilton. Took us all night Saturday, all day Sunday, all night Sunday and got to Hamilton on Monday morning and by the time we got there I had laryngitis and could not even talk. Luckily I did have a good band, so all I did was play guitar the first week and by the second week I was able to sing again. We wound up doing well on that circuit and that's where we worked mostly in 1959 and '60. During that month at the Flamingo Club in Hamilton, Leon Barnett, Jerry Tuttle and myself wrote "Three Thousand Miles" in the dressing room. The same room that Conway Twitty and Jack Nance had written "It's Only Make Believe" in.
We got to London, Ontario which we played the entire month of February at the Brass Rail. When we got there two disk jockeys from CKSL in London came out to see us, one of them being Dean Hargopian. They invited us up to the studio to put down some of the new songs we had written. One afternoon we took the band and went up to CKSL Studios and sat up, and the engineer got some slap-back echo going, and we recorded "Three Thousand Miles" and three other songs, and I sent the original tape to Art Talmadge in Chicago and followed up with a phone call and David Carroll, the orchestra leader of Fascination-fame, talked to me. He was the head of A&R for Mercury at the time, and he said he thought they would pass on "Three Thousand Miles," and told me I could go elsewhere if I felt that strong about it. So when we got back home, I sent the tape to Chet Atkins in Nashville at RCA and also Hi Records had just been formed in Memphis, so I sent them a copy. Chet called me back and told me that he thought the song "Darlin' Sue" on there was the bag I needed to be in but he did not think the song was quite there. I got a call back from Hi saying that they thought "Three Thousand Miles" was a smash, and to get on down to the studio and record it. We went down to Memphis and tried to re-record it; we never could get the feel that we had on the original demo-tape that we did in the radio station in Canada, and so they wound up releasing that and it came out on Pink Records and was my first national chart hit. After it made the charts, Mercury Records sent me a magazine with "Three Thousand Miles" circled in the chart, saying "Narvel, we obviously missed on this one."
After it was obvious there was some success with "Three Thousand Miles", playing very well in Canada and making the national pop-charts in the United States, Walt Maynard, who was running Pink Records, wanted us to come back to Memphis and record again. So between dates in Canada we went to Memphis to the Royal Studio with Jack Clement engineering, with J. M. Van Eaton on the drums and the rest of us. "Honey Love" was one of the songs we did. I had always loved that song by the Drifters, so just from memory we took a few takes on it that day and then Walt decided that should be the one for the next record.
At the Terrace Lounge, East St. Louis, MO., February 1957. From left to right: J.W. Grubbs, Jerry Tuttle, Narvel, Leon Barnett and Bob Taylor.
It was also one that made the pop-charts in the United States and played very well in Canada in early 1960 - it was released in late 1959.
After the three Pink releases I had been getting calls from New York. I would up signing with Don Seat in New York City as a manager. He was also managing Conway Twitty and Joanne Campbell. Jim Vienneau was also calling me from New York and told me, "look what you're doing on that little label, think what you could do on MGM." So I signed with MGM. They took me to Nashville and recorded one session and it remained unissued until Bear Family put it on a album in 1987.
So all my Sun, Mercury, Pink and MGM masters are on this CD, demonstrating how we got started. After these recordings, I cut one single for Bob Cloud's Starline label then I embarked on a series of sessions for Roland Janes, featured on the Bear Family release 'Memphis Days' (BCD 15515). The big national hits came along in the seventies when "Drift Away" started a hit streak that lasted throughout that decade into the Eighties and Nineties, giving me hits over five decades. For this I am truly grateful. My greatest successes are featured on my other Bear Family CD 'Drift Away - The Best of Narvel Felts 1973 - 1979' (BCD 15690).
Thanks for continuing to listen.by NARVEL FELTS, with Howard Cockburn, Summer 1997
Narvel with Paul Peek and Razzy Bailey at the Golden Fiddle Awards in Atlanta in November 1997.
DEDICATION. Narvel Felts pictured with dedicated fan Faye Huffman at Hemsby 22, England. In the last year and a half Faye has seen over 40 shows and travelled over 40,000 miles to do so. Rockabilly needs more dedicated fans like this.
"I would very much like to dedicate this web page to the memory of the precious son of Loretta and myself, Narvel 'Bub' Felts Jr. - April 1st 1964 to September 14th, 1995 - A wonderful person and a great drummer. 'To know him was to love him.'" -NARVEL FELTS
"Faye's Fotos" courtesy Faye Huffman