The Saturday Night Jamboree was a local stage show held every Saturday night at the Goodwyn Institute Auditorium in downtown Memphis, Tennessee in 1953-54. It was founded by Joe Manuel, a popular Hillbilly Radio Star of the 1930's and 40's.
A lot of young musicians around Memphis grew up listening to Manuel's radio broadcasts and as young adults would congregate around him during their off time. Manuel recognized the talent in a lot of these young people. He realized that they they might succeed in the music business if given the opportunity. What they needed was a forum to show their talents to the public. He conceived the idea the idea of a stage show similar to the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. From this idea came the Saturday Night Jamboree.
The First show consisted of Joe Manuel and his band and Marcus Van Story and his band. (Joe and Marcus were old friends). Marcus would open the show, then, after intermission, He would come back on stage (hat turned around backward, front teeth blackend, tattered clothes,etc.), Joe would play straight man, and they would do a comedy routine. Then Joe and his band would close the show
After a few weeks several of the young singers and musicians from the area started coming on the show. They were rapidly joined by others. Even entire bands began coming on the show. Soon the audience began to fill the Goodwyn Institute Auditorium. K.W.E.M. radio began broadcasting the jamboree. The show took off far beyond anything Joe Manuel expected.
Some of the Memphis area musicians who later became major artists, made some of their first public appearances on the Jamboree. Johnny and Dorsey Burnette were early performers before joining Paul Burlison to form the Rock N Roll Trio. Eddie Bond and his band came on the show. Charlie Feathers was a weekly performer. Johnny Cash was a regular the second year. He sang gospel at the time. This was before he signed with Sun Records.
Lee Adkins, Bud Deckleman, Harmonica Frank Floyd, Barbara Pittman, The Lezenby Twins, Lefty Ray Sexton, Lloyd (Arnold) McCoulough, Tommy Smith, Major Pruitt, Johnny Harrison and Larry Manuel (Joe's son), were all regulars on the jamboree.
A very young and totally unknown Elvis Presley performed on several of the early shows in 1953.
But of more historical significance was something that was going on backstage in the dressing rooms. Every Saturday night in 1953, this was a gathering place where musicians would come together and experiment with new sounds - mixing fast country, gospel, blues and boogie woogie. Guys were bringing in new "licks" that they had developed and were teaching them to other musicians and were learning new "licks" from yet other musicians backstage. Soon these new sounds began to make their way out onto the stage of the Jamboree where they found a very receptive audience.
Within a year these musicians were going into the recording studios around town and recording these sounds. A couple of years later these sounds were given a name: "rockabilly." The Saturday Night Jamboree was probably where the first live rockabilly was performed.
THE BUSINESS END
As the show became a success, Joe Manuel knew he would need help in the business end. Joe was a highly talent entertainer, but he was not a businessman. He approached an old and close friend, M.E. Ellis to ask his help running the business. Ellis had experience in business matters, owning a barber shop, half interest in another, and at one time was involved in the automobile business. He was both a fan and a friend of Joe's, and had been trying for some time to become Manuel's manager. After several discussions, the men reached a handshake agreement. Ellis would become Manuel's manager and in return would step in and help with the business needs of the Jamboree. M.E. Ellis played a valuable role in the success of the Saturday Night Jamboree.
CLOSING DOWN THE SHOW
The shoe lasted for two years. At the end of 1954 the Goodwyn Institute owners informed Joe Manuel that they were closing the auditorium for a year for remodeling. Also, by the end of 1954, many of the performers had signed recording contracts, were having hit records played on the radio, and were going out on the road on Saturday nights. With no other appropriate location available to hold the Jamboree and the talent dwindling, Joe decided to close it down.
The Saturday Night Jamboree was never intended to play an important role in the launching of the Memphis rockabilly movement, but it did. It was an event that was in the right place at the time. Not only did many performers become major rockabilly recording artists, many members of the various bands became session musicians at different recording studios around the Memhis area. Many of the sounds that were born in the dressing rooms backstage at the Jamboree were making their way into the studios and would soon be heard around the world.
After closing the, Joe Manuel began a slow withdrawal from doing stage shows on the road, but continued doing radio broadcasts. He and M.E. Ellis dissolved their management agreement but maintained their close friendship until Joe's death in 1959 (from melanoma cancer).
Joe Manuel died, never realizing the unique role he had played in the conception of rockabilly music. He did, however, know that he had proven his point, that these young musicians that he saw around Memphis, could succeed in the music business if given the opportunity.
CASES IN POINT
LEE ADKINS - Became a SUN recording artist.
JOHNNY and DORSEY BURNETTE - Teamed with Paul Burlison to from the Rock N Roll Trio, winning Ted Mack's Amateur Hour 3 times, then becoming the Grand National Champions. They signed with CORAL Records and had a hit called, "Tear It Up."
EDDIE BOND - Signed with MERCURY Records and had a huge hit, "Rockin' Daddy." Eddie became a major rockabilly recording artist of the middle and late '50s.
JOHNNY CASH - became an American music institution.
BUD DECKLEMAN - Signed with METEOR Records and had a big country hit with "Day Dreaming." This song gave Bud the opportunity to became a star on the Louisiana Hayride radio show.
M.E. ELLIS - Became an independent record producer, owning both the RIVERFRONT and the ERWIN labels. He produced a hit record on Kimball Coburn, "Dooby Oby Pretty Baby." He Also produced "It's a Little More Like Heaven Where You Are," by an unknown singer-songwriter Hoyt Axton. The song was such a country hit in the middle '50s that M.E. Ellis' estate still receives royalties on it over 40 years later.
CHARLIE FEATHERS - Signed with METEOR Records and had am early rockabilly hit called "Tongue Tied Jill." Charlie is not only regarded as a pioneer of rockabilly music, he is considered a music legend in many countries.
HARMONICA FRANK FLOYD - Although a drifter as his legend suggests, Frank made several records for SUN including "Rockin' Chair Daddy," which was released released three weeks before Elvis' "That's All Right Mama." He is considered a legend in several countries.
JOHNNY HARRISON - Moved to Nashville and became a songwriter. He wrote the B side of several Louvin Brothers hit records.
ROBERT "DROOPY" HOWARD - Comedian in Joe Manuel's band. Went on to be a comedian in Eddie Bond's band and became comic relief for western movie star Sunset Carson.
THE LAZENBY TWINS - Signed with PEPPER Records and had a top forty record, "Ooh Ooh La La I Fooled You."
LARRY MANUEL - Continued to work in the music scene around Memphis in the late '50s. In 1959 Larry made a record for STOMPER TIME Records, "Don't Try to Call Back Tomorrow." It was a fairly commercial record receiving a lot of radio play and getting on the Top Forty in some areas. Larry became Memphis' last new artist of the '50s to actually make a record and take their band out out on the road doing shows.
LLOYD McCOULOUGH - Changed his name to Lloyd Arnold and became a big recording star in Canada, middle 1950's.
BARBARA PITTMAN - Signed with SUN Records and had a huge hit with "Two Young Fools in Love."
ELVIS PRESLEY - Became the most famous recording star of the second half of the Twentieth Century.
MAJOR PRUITT - Worked the music scene around Memphis and became a Disc Jockey.
LEFT RAY SEXTON - Continued to work in the music scene in Memphis with his band throughout the '50s.
TOMMY SMITH - Signed with DACCA Records and had a big hit in the middle '50s with a song he wrote, "I'm a Fool."
MARCUS VAN STORY - Switched from playing guitar to bass fiddle and became a session musician at SUN Records. He played on my of their hit records. In later years, he toured the world as a member of the SUN RHYTHM SECTION.
LEFT to RIGHT: Major Pruitt, Charlie Feathers and Larry Manuel. This 1953 double exposure photo shows Charlie Feathers performing on the Jamboree. The man and young girl in double exposure are not identified.
LARRY MANUEL, Joe's son, (PAGE COMING SOON)