TOMMY CASSEL IS GONE
We had just learnt about the passing of Tommy Gordon Cassel on February 4, 2013. He is survived by his wife Mary Vergalie and his daughter Lillian Diann Dubree. Tommy was member of Shreveport‘s AFM local 116 and was not in good health since a couple of years. Tommy was a great guy and had a long history with the Louisiana Hayride and the music from that era. I know from John Howe, President of the AFM local 116, about Tommy having some terrific stories. Let's hope some should be collected through friends and family to enjoy all those among us who had a special interest for Louisiana country music and want to pay a decent farewell to that musician who rubbed shoulders with Hank Williams sr, Faron Young, The Carlisles, Kitty Wells, Johnny Horton, Larry Bamburg, James Burton, Buddy Attaway, Tillman Franks, Jimmy and Johnny and many others.
Tommy, well know for its two releases on its own "Cassel" label in 1958 was born May 16, 1924 in Converse, near Noble, Louisiana, growing up on the family farm. His father, Perry Eli Cassel, being a country dance fiddle player, young Tommy tried to play his fiddle but soon gave up. His dad was able to buy him a harmonica for Christmas and that soon became the instrument he learned to play following the step of Wayne Raney. After graduating from Converse High School in 1943, Tommy moved to Shreveport from Converse, Louisiana, to work for Libbey-Owens-Ford Company and started looking for other musicians. After playing with in small local groups, he formed its own little band playing in Cedar Grove, in Mansfield and an old abandoned school auditorium (Alliance School) in Sabine Parish. On March 10, 1950, Tommy married Mary Vergalie Cobb for a long blessed union that lasted almost 63 years.
In 1957, an attorney in Shreveport wanted to back him in a recording company and formed a corporation. The lawyer, owned of a local Investment company, never put one dime in the pot and Tommy had to spend its own money, which was very little, plus $200.00 his sister invested, to produce a session at KWKH and have two singles issued on its won Cassel record label. The same year he became a member of the American Federation of Musicians, Local 116, in Shreveport and served on the Board of Directors for six years with the first four years being served as business agent, spending many Saturday nights back stage at the "Hayride".
That recording session was done in radio station KWKH studios, then located in the Commercial Building on the corner of the 200 block of Texas Street and Market Street in downtown Shreveport. For the session that produced "Go Ahead On"/"run Along Little Girl" (Cassel X58-1/2) issued in August 1958 and "Rockin' Rock And A Rollin' Stone"/"It Ain't What You Got" (Cassel X58-3/4) issued in October 1958, the session artists were "Coach" Floyd on bass, Leon Post on piano, James Burton on lead guitar, D.J. Fontana on drums and Tommy on vocal and rhythm guitar. That gang of great musicians who worked with Bob Luman, Elvis Presley, Dale Hawkins and many others cut that day, under the sound expertise of engineer Bob Sullivan, four of the best rockin' sides from the era making these two singles much sought after items in original pressing. These two records, offering four sides written by Tommy himself, challenge these recorded by Jimmy Wilson & The Jimmie Cats (Ram 15551), Gene Wyatt (Ebb 1223), Pat Cupp ( RPM 461), The Lonesome Drifter ( K 5812) and Roy Wayne (Clif 101) as the hottest and rarest rock-a-billy sides coming from Shreveport. All these records are still being played in foreign countries being seen as classic sides, and even if heavily bootleged since decades, once or twice each year some payment for the writers part and the publishers part from legal re-issues or broadcasting. "Go Ahead On" and "Rockin' Rock And A Rollin' Stone" came for the first time on a LP format on a release from Holland in 1974. Since Tommy's sides had been issued in Australia, France, Germany, England, Norway and, few months ago, "It Ain't What You Got" was issued on a Spanish EP with sides by Rocket Morgan and Maylon Humphries. Tommy's sides were published by its own Delta Publishing, a BMI affiliate, but went nowhere then by lack of distribution and promotion. By the late 60's when famous French records collector Charlie Barbat meet him in Shreveport, Tommy still had several boxes of unsold 45 rpm and was offering them for sale to wealthy collectors mostly from Europe. Charlie, always tight in money, passed the offer and keeps hunting in warehouses and jukeboxes operator depot from Louisiana, Tennessee or Mississippi like did Breathless Dan O'Coffey and few others early rockin' pilgrims.
In a private interview done for me, Mister Bob Sullivan remembered the time like this: "I think you're probably a fan of rock-a-billy and you would know who started it. Elvis, Scotty, Bill and D J Fontana. I guess you could say " Suzie Q" (here comes the James Burton connection). "Move It on Over" before Bill Haley is the absolute first rock ‘n roll record. Rock ‘n Roll probably started with Hank. I recorded a lot of country music, some rock-a-billy stuff by Bob Luman (James' connection again) and Tommy Cassel".
In February 1959, Tommy was a guest of Carl Logan on KCUL, Fort Worth, for its "Fabulous 15-40" program. Maybe he comes here in Texas with its band The Sunset Riders. In May 1958, Horace Logan who had moved from Shreveport to California became KCUL‘s program director for that radio station that produced the "Cowtown Hoedown", from the Majestic Theater, and had a regular Tuesday night audition. During its short time in Fort Worth/Dallas, Horace was also emcee for the Big D Jamboree broadcasted on KRLD radio. When Tommy Cassel went to Fort Worth, Horace had left the area.
In 1980, Tommy became a founding member of the Shreveport Southern Songwriters Guild and served in several different offices. He was elected to the local AFM board again the same year and in 1984, he was appointed as Assistant to the President.
In early 1989, he joined with "Red" Springer and created a monthly country show called "The Ark-La-Tex Roundup". In 1991, he was asked by Special Promotions of Nashville, Tennessee,
producers of the nationwide "Country Showdown", to serve as state
judge in Louisiana and was invited by the president to attend the annual finals held in the
Grand Ole Opry House.
Tommy also produced four annual amateur shows for the Shreveport Regional Arts Council from 1997 to 2000 broadcast over KEEL AM Radio and, for the fourth, by KYLA FM Radio. In 1999, he was asked to form "Friends of Rebel State Historic Site" and was elected to the Board of Directors. He was later elected to vice-president and served as entertainment chairman for the organization and was elected president in January, 2003.
Tommy Cassel returned to the recording arena by adding his vocal talent to the "Dandy" Don Logan song called "Hillbilly", that is included in the "Dreamland" CD, released in 2006 on CAL Discs 1240. The song is a tribute to the early pioneer country singers who stayed the course, but never made it to super-stardom.
Tommy Cassel was one of these foot soldiers who made Shreveport's music so rich and attractive. Near the Red River you've got it all from the blues sung at the Blue Goose to the Hillbilly recorded by night at KWKH, from the hot sides cut by Mira Smith on her tiny professional recording location and to the rock-a-billy music played on stage at The Shreveport's Municipal Auditorium. Shreveport may have been overshadowed by Nashville, Memphis or Dallas … But here were cut some definitive musical gems cut here like these Tommy Cassel's sides! On "Go Ahead On", Tommy make a great description of a little hang out were we all would like to boogie, to jump. A place where everybody jivin' and that wasn't no ordinary ball. A place with the cats in the corner yellin' "go ahead on".
That little friendly tribute was build on info given by Tommy Cassel himself, his daughter Lillian Diann, John Howe , The R.W Norton Art Gallery and Joe "Red Man" Watson.
Dominique "Imperial" ANGLARES
February 12, 2013.
Page Created March, 2010