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Jack Clement and Slim Wallace formed Fernwood Records in 1956. Billy Lee Riley
was the first recording artist on the Fernwood label, cutting "Think Before You
Go" and "Trouble Bound." Jack took the tapes to Sun Records to cut the
masters. Sam Phillips bought the masters and gave Billy Lee Riley a contract to
record at Sun.
Jack and Slim were joined by Scotty Moore (Elvis's guitarist) early in 1958
when Elvis was drafted. Scotty began working at Fernwood in production and got a big
national hit with Thomas Wayne's "Tragedy" in 1959. Thomas Wayne (Perkins), Scotty's
former paperboy and brother of Johnny Cash's guitarist, Luther Perkins, felt he had a
connection once Scotty joined Fernwood. His first single, "Saturday Night," was a
flop until some disc jockey decided to play the flip side, "Tragedy," which caught
on and peaked at number eight on the national charts.
Fernwood cut 42 records over the years. Among its notable recordings were Travis Wammack's
"Scratchy," his national hit which was cut when he was only 17. Some of the artists who
recorded at Fernwood were Ace Cannon, Nick Charles, Joe Lee (who also was the A&R man),
and Dewey Phillips. Among the Fernwood subsidiaries were Mid-South Records, Pure Gold,
Photos and above text courtesy of Mark Wallace, grandson of Slim Wallace
See many Fernwood "45" label graphics here
In 1955, Memphis was buzzing with the fresh and exciting sounds emanating from
Sam Phillips' Sun Record Company with artists as diverse as Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley,
Carl Perkins, Billy Emerson, Rosco Gordon, Slim Rhodes and Little Milton. In those days,
Memphis was a Music Centre that generated those great rarities--Excitement, Feeling and
Excellence--and there were plenty of other entrepreneurs standing in the wings hoping to
pick up a piece of Sam Phillips' action.
One of those entrepreneurs was Ronald 'Slim' Wallace, truck driver and musician, who ran
Slim Wallace's Dixie Ramblers, a hot Western Swing outfit, based in Memphis and resident
at Slim's club, 90 miles outside Memphis in Arkansas. Around this time, the highly
talented Billy Lee Riley, moved from Arkansas to Memphis and became a vocalist in Slim's
Band, at almost the same point, as when Jack Clement left the Boston area to return home
also joining Slim's band as vocalist and multi-instrumentalist. Born in Whitehaven,
Memphis on April 5th 1931, Jack's musical pedigree first reared it's head, after he had
been discharged from the Marines in 1952, when he joined up with Buzz Busby as Buzz and
Jack--The Bayou Boys, playing Bluegrass around the Boston area. Jack was featured
playing Acoustic Guitar, Mandolin and Steel. Jack returned to Memphis, joined Slim's
band and, having observed the success of Sun records, formed a partnership with Slim to
create Fernwood Records, operating out of Slim's garage on Fernwood Drive. Noticing Billy
Riley's obvious talent, Slim & Jack elected to cut their first single with Riley in
Slim's garage on an old Magnacord tape recorder that had been bought from Memphis D.J.
Sleepy-eyed John. Things did not go so well initially, so they rented WMPS Studio to
achieve the desired sound on 'Trouble Bound/Rock with me baby', destined to be Fernwood 101. The
unissued title 'Think before you go' was recorded at the same session. Jack
took the tape to be mastered at Sam Phillips Studio, where Sam liked the tape so much that he
offered Riley a Sun recording contract and Jack Clement a job at the Studio. The result was the
exit of Riley and Clement to Sun leaving Slim Wallace to soldier on.
So Slim turned to another one of his band vocalists--Ramon Maupin to record Fernwood 101 'No
Chance/Love Gone'. Maupin was a Memphis based singer, songwriter and musician, who worked for
several years in Slim's band and was also to become associated musically with Charlie Feathers.
While Fernwood 101 had Strident Hillbilly overtones, which excited Slim enough into pressing a rare
78 of the release, sales were not rewarding and it would be 2 years before Ramon would appear again
on Fernwood 105 with the riotous 'Rocking' Rufus/What's the Use' by which time Scotty Moore and his
'crew' had taken over studio production. Ramon remained active until the early 1970's, but sadly
died in the 1980's, his considerable talent, mostly unrewarded.
Slim was surprised by the lack of sales on his first release and sat back a while to 'recharge his
batteries', returning with quite some potential clout in the shape of Scotty Moore, who had left
Elvis Presley along with Bill Black and D.J. Fontana. Scotty was made Vice-President of Fernwood
and studio producer, as it was felt that Scotty was more attuned to recording Rock 'n' Roll and
general 'Pop' of the time. The first production was the very unusual Fernwood 102 of 'Knock Down,
Drag Out' by Buford Peek, who was the main vocalist of that moment with Jimmy Haggett's Band. The
fusion of Rockabilly with Western Swing continued on the 'B' side 'Wishing', where Buford almost
croons over the Western Swing feel, which then breaks into a fine Hillbilly guitar solo.
The highly talented Travis Wammack, all of 13 years old, made his recording debut at this point on
Fernwood 103. With his unbroken voice, he roars through 'Rock 'n' Roll Blues/I'm Leavin' Today'
very ably supported by Eddie Bond's Stompers with notable contributions from another guitar
prodigy--Reggie Young--and Joe Baugh on piano. Unknown until now is the fact that it was Eddie
Bond, who was instrumental in arranging that first Wammack recording contract with Slim Wallace and
it was Eddie again, who would use Travis on Shows to give him his first taste of working in front of
an audience. Travis Wammack would later develop into a fine guitarist and vocalist, who would
scratch the charts a little later, with his fine record of 'Scratchy'.
Clyde Leoppard ran one of the most consistently popular bands in the Memphis area and it was in 1958
that he was featuring a local singer called Eddie Collins. Collins had the classic Memphis locale
hillbilly voice, which he used to great effect on Fernwood 104 'Patience Baby/Can't Face Life
Alone'. At the same session, Collins recorded his most commercial effort in 'I've been around too
long', which was to be issued on El-Rio 414 using 'Patience Baby' as the 'B' side.
Thomas Wayne Perkins, brother of Luther Perkins, Johnny Cash's famous understated lead guitarist was
born in Batesville, Mississippi on July 22nd 1940 and duly attended Humes High School, where he
formed a vocal group with three girls-Nancy Reed, Sandra Brown and Carol Moss--to play High School
Hops with a very young Lincoln 'Chips' Moman on guitar.
'Chips' Moman wrote the classic 'This Time', later to be a Hit for Troy Shondell, but the original
was put together by Thomas, 'Chips' & the Girls, now called, the De-Lons. With the blistering
'You're the one that done it', written by Ray Scott of 'Flying Saucer Rock 'n' Roll' Fame, on the
other side, Fernwood 106 had all the making of a 'Hit', to the extent that, Mercury Records licensed
the master from Fernwood and tried their luck with it, as well, sadly to no avail. Thomas Wayne
would eventually produce Fernwood's biggest and only 'Hit' with the Teen angst balled 'Tragedy',
which will be included on the next Fernwood CD along with the rest of the Thomas Wayne story.
At this point, with Duane Eddy riding high in the Charts, Scotty Moore produced his only Fernwood
single 'Have Guitar Will Travel/Rest' on Fernwood 107. This excellent instrumental had the benefit
of some beefy back-up form Bill Black & D. J. Fontana, but sadly did not crack the Charts. Books
have been written about Scotty Moore, Bill Black & D. J. Fontana on their time with Elvis Presley
and their subsequent importance in the World of Rock 'n' Roll, but here Scotty was firmly ensconced
as Vice-President of Fernwood and hitting his stride as an excellent producer with Bill & D. J.
helping out with session work. The 'King's' Band had much to do with those early Fernwood
It was around this time that a Musical Lawyer named Bob Buckalew was brought in to strengthen the
team. Fernwood was certainly releasing some great singles and a legal mind was felt necessary to
add weight to the team. As Fernwood was only a few months away from the massive 'Hit' 'Tragedy',
this turned out to be a wise move.
Fernwood 121 boasted the talents of Bill Reeder, another native of Memphis, with his excellent
single 'You're My Baby/Where Were You Last Night'. With a definite nod in the direction of Buddy
Knox and the Rhythm Orchids, 'You're my Baby' almost captures that easy rolling Texas feel. Reeder
later recorded for Vol=Para out of Paragould, Arkansas & then 4 sides for Hi including tasty
versions of the Teddy Redell song 'Judy' and 'Till I Waltz Again With You'. Reeder was still
playing clubs into the 1980's, but, when I met him at his home in Collierville, near Memphis, about
10 years ago, he had opted for the more profitable and comfortable life of selling insurance. Sadly
he died from a heart attack earlier this year.
Fernwood 124 produced that rare single in Rockabilly/Rock 'n' Roll, a Novelty single that works.
About Alvin Holland and Bill Bennett nothing seems to be known, but their one-off single is truly a
gem with Piano and drumstick working together to crate the typewriter effect of 'Typing
Slim Wallace was quite an entrepreneur and, along, one suspects, with some advice from Bob Buckalew,
tried his hand at releasing singles on various Fernwood subsidiary labels such as Pure
Gold/Bootheel/El Rio/Mid South/S. & W./Whirl A Way, the latter being controlled by Slim's Wife.
Some stunning singles were released, but, sadly again without any real chart success.
El Rio 413 by Eldon Rice has to be one of the best double siders from those far off Rockin' Days
with both 'Don't Let Love Break Your Heart/Our Love Won't Die' steaming along helped by some truly
blistering guitar work from Roland Janes. Both Titles were written by Mary Louise Black, who would
later become Mary Louise Rice. In 1963, Eldon and Mary were living in Carrier mills, Illinois,
where Mary landed a new songwriting contract with Santo Music.
Another One-Off artist was Doug Clayton, who breezed into Memphis in 1963 to make his classic single
'Saturday Night Twist/Sally Ann', which Slim released on Pure Gold 300. Despite it's 'Twist' title,
this was simply a good old fashioned Memphis Rocker with some more excellent guitar work. Nothing
is known about Doug, except that he probably rode off into the Memphis Sunset clutching his piece of
Pure Gold, which it certainly is.
Probably in 1964, Slim set up Whirl A Way Records, apparently as some form of Tax Haven for his
wife. The records were pressed and there seems to have been no promotion for any of them. Indeed,
at the time of writing only 4 singles have so far been discovered, while the catalogue numbering
indicates at least nine. Paul Sullivan's 'Juke Joint Boogie' is one of the Whirl A Way rarities,
which has become a Club favourite over the Years. Incredibly, it was released as late as December
1965, sounding like it had been made in 1957. It seems safe to say that 'Beatlemania' and the
British Invasion never touched Fernwood or it's Satellites!
Although, by 1959, Fernwood was clearly making every attempt to be a commercial label, it seems that
Slim Wallace could not resist releasing a couple of superb, yet wonderfully outdated, Country
singles on a very short lived Fernwood Country series. Both singles were by Willie Phelps and both
were excellent. Featured here are 'D.J's Jamboree/Yes Siree, Yes Siree' from Fernwood FW-45-1 and
45-2 respectively. 'Yes Siree' is notable for some fine guitar work. Sadly Willie's wonderful
warbling seems to have attracted little attention and the Country series seems to have quietly faded
away along with Willie. Interestingly, Slim appears to have set up a Fernwood Music subsidary in
Norfolk, Virginia, where the first Willie Phelps Fernwood single was re-issued utilising the
original matrix with a new label.
This Fernwood Music satellite was also to provide a home for 'Grandpa's Rock' by the Trail Blazers
and the incredible 45 by Gene Criss 'Hep Cat Baby/I Don't Know'. Cees Klop of Collector Records
spoke to Gene Criss at least 25 years ago and it seems that this classic was a home recording made
in a Kitchen with an extremely limited pressing run. Gene apparently only performed locally for a
very short time in a bar and then retired to become a Gardener. Properly mastered for the first
time, this has to be one of the greatest Rockabilly 45's ever released.
Slim, Scotty and Bob were also aware of the lucrative market for Custom Pressings and featured here
are a handful of some of the finest that were recorded at Fernwood and then pressed on a single
according to the artists's requirements. Thus we have the immensely likeable Shelby Smith with his
most popular Rockabilly outings 'Rockin' Mama/What's on your Mind/Rosalie' all released on the
Smitty label surprisingly as late as 1960 & 1962. For years, most people assumed that the Smitty
45's were released in the 1950's, a fact that Shelby appeared to agree with. However, the original
contracts clearly tell a different story, although, of course, this does not alter the fact that
they are still wonderful records of the time (or perhaps I should say 'Out of Time'). 'Rockin'
Mama' and 'What's on your Mind' are two outstanding rockers with some classic instrumental breaks,
while Rosalie' is very unusual in that Shelby is almost 'Crooning' the lyrics interspersed with some
tough and very lengthy guitar breaks.
Another fine Smitty 45 came courtesy of Virgle Baker with 'Disatisfied (Sic)/That's all you do'.
This excellent double sider turned up in the Fernwood Files and I believe this must be it's first
release since the original 45--in 1960. Virgle recorded a number of sides for various Memphis
labels, notably for Marshall Ellis of Erwin and Zone records.
Jimmy & James and the Tempos appear to have committed themselves to wax on just one occasion
sometime in 1960 with the very tasty 'No kisses have I/The Moon will Shine', which they had pressed
on Dora 123. This well produced double sided Rocker came courtesy of Cees Klop, who raved about if
for a long time, before the Fernwood deal was cemented.
Thomas Mitchell also seems to have recorded his marvellous 'I'm a Wise Old cat' sometime in 1960.
Immensely popular on the European Club Scene, this track has been 'Bootlegged' on a number of
occasions. It's a steaming 'Rocker' in the best Memphis tradition with great instrumental breaks.
Issued on Flash records, Thomas Mitchell seems to have been just that--a flash in time, Two Minutes
and Fifteen Seconds of Rockabilly Heaven and gone! We do know that Thomas came from Shreveport,
Louisiana, played the Hayride & made one tasty 45 for Mercury 'Little Mama/Jukebox help me find my
Finally we come to a couple of riotous 'Rockers' previously unreleased that turned up on some tapes
provided by Robert Louers. As noted Jack Clement had spent time playing Bluegrass music with Buzz
Busby, but it seems that Buzz had a notion to move in on the burgeoning Rock 'n' Roll scene and
persuaded Jack to record him on a gasping and breathless 'Rocker' called 'Rock 'n' Roll Fever'.
Buzz sounds like certainly has fever, as he howls his way through this amazing piece of of
Nostalgia. Buzz never quite made it in Rock 'n' Roll and soon returned to Bluegrass, although he
did work with his brother Wayne recording the wonderful 'Live your life with Care' for Empire
Records. Shown as being by Little Louis Robertson, the wonderfully high spirited 'I'm Gonna Rock'
has to be an unreleased recording by Travis Wammack from that 1958 Fernwood session. No
question--Travis means the Title and delivers with Gusto.
Fernwood Records operated on and off until 1968, when a flood destroyed tapes and stock at their
headquarters on North Main Street. The following year,... the same Wayne McGinnis, who had recorded
one startlingly good single for Meteor in 1956. A serious young student of Memphis Music--JIm
Cole--found Wayne and thanks to Jim, I was finally able to meet Wayne and arrange to acquire both
Fernwood and Santo Records. For many years now, Sun, Meteor & Hi have been regarded as the main
Rock 'n' Roll/Rockabilly/R 'n' B labels in Memphis, but hopefully with this and other releases being
planned, Fernwood will come to be regarded in the same way, in the future.
Courtesy of David Travis - July, 1998
Page Posted September 17, 2006
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