THE SAMMY MASTERS STORY
Posted June 16, 2003
A friend sent me all kinds of "stuff" on Sammy Masters, and I thought I'd write you because of the handy click-on
to the RHOF. I am Jimmy Bryant's sister, Lorene Bryant Epps and anything with my
brother Jimmy's name in it perks up my interest. You know Jimmy's music was referred to many times as
rockabilly style, although we all know he was known as playing mostly country jazz.
The friend I'm refering to lives in Estonia, Europe and the reason he contacted me was about the Biography
I wrote about my brother: Jimmy Bryant, Fastest Guitar In The Country. He heard about my book word of mouth
and looked up my website. I've been shipping the books out to many countries. (They're selling well over here
too.) The GMHOF and The CMHOF both are selling them, plus others like JK Lutherie. I thought you may be
interested in spreading the word about Sammy Masters and also Jimmy Bryant. Great subjects.
The Fender Co. is building a Jimmy Bryant Signature Telecaster that will be unveiled and presented to Jimmy's
son in July at the NAMM Show, Nashville, in July this year. During that same period of time the CMHOF is
having a book signing for me. Another thing that's being done this year is Sundazed Music Co out of NY is reissuing a
three CD set that will be out in November this year. Jimmy's son is doing a CD featuring stuff that Jimmy never
recorded. So much since my book came out. It seemed to start a landslide! I'm so glad because I've promoted Jimmy
in many ways since he died in 1980. Thanks for "listening." All my addresses are below. Lorene
Lorene Bryant Epps
R.N., Author, Publisher: LBE Books
9050 Coffee Road Hahira, GA 31632 USA
229-794-3547, 229-560-6863 - email@example.com - http://www.lorenebryantepps.com
UPDATE: December 19, 1999
AN INTERVIEW WITH SAMMY MASTERS
UPDATE: June 22, 1999
ROD PYKE e-mailed Sammy re the questions people were asking yesterday and
Sammy was only too pleased to provide the answers.
Sammy is very keen to do a tour of Europe and if anybody is interested in
booking him please e-mail me and I will forward your e-mail address to him.
SAMMY'S REPLY: Hi Rod,
I would like for you to forward my answer re Pink Cadillac.
I wrote Pink Cadillac in 1955 and recorded it for 4-Star records in early
1956. During that same period I wrote and recorded on 4-Star, Some Like It Hot,
Whop-T-Bop, Flat Feet, 2-Rock-a-4, Angel, My Heart Is a Hobo, Jodie, If I could See The
World Through The Eyes Of A Child, and Tall Grow The Sycamore.
Prior to 4-Star I wrote and recorded on 78rpm, Lost Little Nickel In The Big Jukebox,
May I Call You Darling, Crazy River, and Aint Got You.
After 4-Star I wrote Rockin' Redwing, Lonely Weekend, Charlotte In Her Pink
Corvette. I recorded these songs plus Never written by Terry Fell who owned Lode
Records. Johnny Todd was an alias the record company wanted to use because of
contractual concerns. Sammy Masters and Johnny Todd are one and the same.
I am still playing and writing and have new recordings of songs I wrote in
the 50's and early 60's.I hope to be able to tell you when they will be
released in the near future.I am purging my garage files filled with many
tapes and acetates from the 50's.I believe you will find them very
interesting.Keep on Rockin' and keep on asking questions.. the answers you
get may be good for your soul and great for rock'n roll (rockabilly that is).
Best Regards, Sammy Masters
Ian Wallis recounts the career of one of the great unknowns of rockabilly
and country music who made his first visit to the UK in October 1998 to
perform at the Hemsby Rock 'n' Roll Weekender.
Apart from one medium chart hit in the 50s, Patsy Cline fans may recognise
his name as the writer of If I Could See The World (Through The Eyes Of A
Child) and Who Can I Count On.
Over the last twenty years or so we have been fortunate to enjoy appearances
in Europe by many of the original American rockabilly singers. However, one
man who has remained elusive until now is Sammy Masters, one of the Great
Unknowns, who is best remembered for one medium sized hit on the US charts
and a fistful of red hot rockabilly tracks cut in the mid-Fifties for a
small California label.
Sammy travelled to England for the first time in October 1998 to participate
in the Hemsby Rock'n'Roll Weekender. As more information about his career
becomes available to us, we find him to be a talented singer and songwriter.
His story should prove of interest to rockabilly and country fans alike.
Born in Sasakawa, Oklahoma where his father was an oilfield worker, Sammy
Masters was something of a child prodigy. Although the only member of his
immediate family with any musical background was his grandfather, a violin
teacher, he performed his first live radio show from the Cains Academy in
Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1942 at the age of 12, along with the legendary Bob Wills
and his Texas Playboys.
The Masters family moved to California while Sammy was still in high school
but he was soon singing with bands in the Los Angeles area. Around 1950 he
recorded for the first time for Connac Records of Santa Ana. This resulted
in a 78 rpm release, The Last Little Nickel In The Big Juke Box, an uptempo
novelty that secured quite a lot of local radio play at the time. Both this
and the follow-up, a country swing number titled Crazy River, are now almost
impossible to locate, and it is unlikely that any copies ever found their
way over to Britain.
By 1953 Sammy had started making demos for Bill McCall's Four Star label in
Pasadena and was also becoming a most proficient songwriter. One of his
compositions, Turn The Cards Slowly, became a minor hit for Patsy Cline on
Coral. Around this time he also joined Spade Cooley's western swing
orchestra for a spell but, as Arnerica's musical tastes were starting to
change, he adapted his style to perform the new rockabilly music which was
catching on fast right across the nation.
In 1956 Sammy Masters and his Rocking Rhythm, comprising Ralph Roe (lead
guitar), Jerry Miller (steel) and Jimmy Randal (drums) cut at least five
rockabilly tracks for Four Star. At this time, Sammy had a day job working
as a used car salesman in Los Angeles, and he wrote Pink Cadillac about one
of his customers. This was a primitive piece of rockabilly with sparse
backing and a driving beat. Coupled with the equally good Some Like It Hot,
Pink Cadillac became Sammy's first release on Four Star.
The label was well established in California with a roster of country
artists that included Hank Locklin, Carl Belew and The Maddox Brothers, and
this excursion away from mainstream country proved to be moderately
successful for it.
Pink Cadillac showed up in Cash Box regional charts where for a time it was
running neck and neck with Roy Orbison's Ooby Dooby. It became sufficiently
well known to attract a rather weak cover version by Rusty Draper on
Mercury. Strangely, although neither version of Pink Cadillac charted
nationally, Masters' track was leased to Modern Records a year later and
re-launched with his name changed to Johnny Todd. The follow-up single, Whop
T Bop, stayed with the rockabilly style. It was launched twice by Four Star,
first coupled with Flat Feet, and then with 2 Rocks 4, maintaining the same
high quality although possibly not commercial enough for serious chart
Sammy was working regularly on the West Coast. He recalls playing the Town
Hall Party with The Collins Kids, the prestigious Jack Benny Show, and a lot
of club work performing both rockabilly and country. His band, the Rocking
Rhythm, shifted personnel but at different times included both James Burton
and, later, Glen Campbell on guitar.
Having failed to hit the jackpot with his rockabilly recordings, Four Star
tried a ballad, Angel, and then a novelty rocker, Jodie, without success,
although the flipside of the latter, If I Could See The World (Through The
Eyes Of A Child), was recorded by Patsy Cline in December 1957.
The last years of the Fifties found Masters working as a staff writer for
American Music until Terry Fell, owner of Lode Records in Norwalk,
California, took him back into the studio where they re-worked an old folk
song which, with new rocking lyrics, became Rockin' Redwing.
This time Sammy had found that elusive hit and when the record was picked up
by Warner Brothers and gained the benefit of national distribution it
climbed into the Billboard charts and, by May 1960, had reached a peak of
#64. Rockin' Redwing fell short of being a major hit but nevertheless sent
Sammy Masters on the road right across the States playing sock hops and
dances as far as Delaware, and to Philadelphia for the Dick Clark Show,
along with Bobby Rydell and Chubby Checker. The record itself was a novelty
rocker, very bouncy, with teen lyrics and some dirty sax work, every bit
worthy of hit status and superior to much of the watered down pop rock that
was being released that year. Ernie Freeman made an instrumental cover
version. Unfortunately, it was to he only fifteen minutes of chart fame for
Sammy Masters. His follow-up, Golden Slippers, was again leased to a major
label, Dot, but neither this nor another novelty, Pierre The Poodle, made
One day in 1961 Sammy was backstage at the Huntingdon Park Ballroom after a
Sunday afternoon television show that also featured Johnny Cash and Ray
Price. Willie Nelson was relaxing and picking his guitar. He had a new song,
which was being offered to Patsy Cline, She badly needed something good to
follow her biggie, I Fall To Pieces. Sammy took the opportunity to pitch one
of his songs, Who Can I Count On. A few weeks later, Patsy's classic
recording of Nelson's Crazy came out with Who Can I Count On as the B-side.
It is estimated to have sold more than 5 million copies to date. Who Can I
Count On was not a new song when Patsy recorded it. It had first come out on
Silver Records by Jewel and Eddie a few years earlier, with Eddie Cochran
It was later recorded by such as Bobby Darin and Wayne Newton.
Over the next two decades Masters continued playing music in southern
California. Records appeared during the Sixties on Kapp, Dot and his own
Galahad label, including an album, May The Good Lord Bless And Keep You. One
single on Kapp, A Big Man Cries, scored well enough to justify a British
release on London - his only other UK record was Rockin' Redwing.
During the Sixties and Seventies, however, Sammy concentrated mainly on TV
production work. At one time he was producing as many as six different
programmes in a week, including the popular shows, jukebox Saturday Night
and Country Music Time. He has cut back on his television commitments in
recent years but still plays eighty dates a year, including an increasing
number of rockabilly gigs.
A brand new CD, Everybody Digs Sammy Masters, has just been released by
Dionysus Records of Burbank, California featuring an interesting selection
of tracks including Sag Drag And Fall, Four Walls and Werly Fairburn's
Telephone Baby. The musicians include Deke Dickerson on acoustic guitar and
Ray Campi on bass.
Accompanying Sammy for his first British show was his longtime guitarist
Carl Walden with whom he has worked for a staggering 37 years. Walden has
also played with The Collins Kids and written songs with Larry Collins.
It is always a pleasure to welcome rockabilly legends on their first trip to
the UK. A lot of people looked forward to seeing Sammy Masters on stage
after a wait of more than 40 years. It turned out to be a night to
With kind permission by
© Rockabilly Hall of Fame ®