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The Crown Japanese CD.
Here's the companion CD to the rare and acclaimed 'Sage & Sand Greatest Rockabillies' compilation ! Titled 'Somebody's Rockin' and issued  by P-Vine (PCD-2467), it's part of that same Japanese line of rockabilly CDs. Like its predecessor, it boasts nice graphics, variable sound quality and a totally odd selection of tracks.

In reality, the 'Crown Greatest Rockabillies' sub-title is an absolute misnomer. The (excellent) music collected on this CD ranges from Hillbilly to latter-day Western Swing with some good Rock'n'Roll in between - but, with maybe one exception, real Rockabilly you just won't find here !

The disc itself.
Crown Records was a budget label which was closely affiliated to the Modern/Flair/RPM family of labels but which also leased cuts from record companies such as Sims, Sage & Sand, Abbott, etc. They concentrated almost exclusively on 12" albums and had a huge (and hugely forgettable) 'Pop' series ; however, beside all that crap, many superb LPs were to be found by the likes of B.B. King, Jesse Belvin, Pee Wee Crayton, The Jacks, Joe Houston, Jimmy Witherspoon, Whitey Pullen, Harold Hensley, Doye O'Dell... plus a big bunch of worthy 'various artists' compilations. The label color was black first, then gray. Many LPs were released in both mono and stereo sound but you gotta be careful : a lot of them are in atrocious 'fake' stereo. Last, if you're lucky enough, you can find several titles pressed on red vinyl...

Let's now take a close look at the 21 tracks on the CD.

1- Bobby James 'Don't Be Cruel'
A good starter although I've never seen it listed anywhere. His version is pretty close to Elvis's original : the vocal group is present but there's a much more prominent electric guitar backing and the Elvisy vocal is somewhat lazier.

The front cover shot of JL Wills's Sims LP.2- Johnnie Lee Wills 'Milk Cow Blues'
3- Johnnie Lee Wills
'Blub Twist'
Johnnie Lee Wills, a younger brother of Bob Wills, was another very important figure in Western Swing. He sang and played tenor banjo with Bob's Texas Playboys way back in the '30s and went solo at the turn of the '40s. His RCA recordings from the early '50s are absolutely wonderful. On July 2 and August 6, 1962, he & His Boys recorded twelve sides for the Sims label which made up the 'Where There's a Wills, There's a Way' LP (Sims 101), pictured at right,
from which the above two selections are drawn.
The old favorite, 'Milk Cow Blues' (also on Sims 133), features a good vocal from Leon Rausch and an excellent guitar break from Autry Rutledge. 'Blub Twist' (also released as a single, Sims 129, with alternative B-sides) is a fast rockin' instrumental featuring some Chuck Berry guitar stylings from Rutledge midway through, followed by a brilliant trumpet solo courtesy of Harvey Gossman. Other personnel includes Glenn Rhees (tenor sax & vocal), Gene Pooler (steel), and Bobby Collins (drums), Gossman doubling on fiddle with Johnnie Lee himself. A great band indeed, maybe on a par with Leon McAuliffe's. Wills had a second LP on Sims (#108, cut live at The Tulsa Stampede) and a later compilation on Crown, which included the two tracks found here.

The super Billy BOYD LP !4- Billy Boyd 'Shuffle Boogie'
5- Billy Boyd
'Stompin' At The Crossroad'
6- Billy Boyd
Three more rockin' instros are next, taken from Billy Boyd's 'Twangy Guitars' album (Crown CLP 5170 in mono and CST 196 in fine true stereo). Just who this Billy Boyd is, I haven't got a clue but if you want an exciting Rock'n'Roll party album, that's the one to grab ! Pretty basic stuff but there's a nice variety of tempos and the guitars really rock. I should say that the twangy sound is more in the Link Wray vein than Duane Eddy's. It is believed that Jerry Cole played on some of the tracks. Of the three selected here (all in stereo), 'Oop-Shank' is the fastest and I'm sure that the tenor sax player is none other than multi-reedman Bud Shank, a Jazzman who used to do session work on the West Coast at the time. The Jazz flavor is apparent on several tunes, notably 'Jivin' At The Savoy', not included here.
Real great stuff which can be found in its entirety on another Japanese CD in the same series (PCD-2470).

7- Jenks 'Tex' Carman 'Hilo March'
8- Jenks 'Tex' Carman
'Wildwood Flower'
Now, just what Carman's offerings have to do on a rockabilly disc is unknown to me ! His acoustic slide guitar playing is raw and primitive but wonderful just the same. 'The Dixie Cowboy', as he was known, was a real oddity who first recorded at 4-Star before signing with Capitol where he cut 'Hillbilly Hula', 'Indian Polka' and 'Hilo March' among others which were compiled on a Bear Family CD. After that, he recorded for Sage & Sand. 'Wildwood Flower' features Jenks's singing which is also rather special and some tremendous electric guitar pickin', most probably from Roy Lanham who played on many of Carman's sides.
It was on Sage #272, with 'Honk, Honk, Honk' on the flip. As for 'Hilo March', it comes from LP 'Country Music On The Go-Volume 3' (Sage C-22) and is evidently an entirely different version to the one that Jenks had previously cut for Capitol [many thanks to Kent Heineman for that piece of info].

Red Rhodes & Band at The Palomino !
  9- Red Rhodes
'Country Boogie Blues'
10- Red Rhodes
'9 Pound Hammer'
11- Red Rhodes
'Steel Guitar Rag'
Another trio of instrumentals by steel guitarist Red Rhodes (famous for his E diatonic tuning) who used to have a repair shop in L.A. where Jeff Baxter once worked as a luthier. Red cut four LPs for Crown, sometimes billed as Red Rhodes & The Road Runners. One of them, #555, was titled 'Steel Guitar Rag' and issued circa 1966. It's most probably the source for track #11.
All three tunes display Red's impressive skills - a sort of circular stirring in 'Country Boogie Blues' and some kind of 'chicken pickin' in 'Steel Guitar Rag', both cleanly executed. The stereo sound here is superb. Red also recorded for other labels such as Alshire but I strongly recommend his 'Live At The Palomino' LP on Happy Tiger (HT-1003) where, backed up by Jerry Cole, Biff Adam and The Cass Brothers, he does 'Star Route', 'Mama's Hungry Eyes', 'Divorce' and seven more winners. During this period ('68-'69), Red backed up many artists including the great Gene Vincent ; Red can be heard on Gene's 'I'm Back & I'm Proud' album (Dandelion D9-102). Last, mention must be made of an album Red cut in tandem with Jimmy Bryant on Imperial, titled 'Wingin' It With Norval & Ivy' (LP-9349 in mono/12349 in stereo) and produced by Scotty Turner.

12- Hawkshaw Hawkins 'Shotgun Boogie'
Harold Hawkins was born in December 1921 and died prematurely on March 5, 1963, in the plane crash that also took the lives of Patsy Cline and Cowboy Copas. He had a long association with the King label for which he cut many classics including 'Dog House Boogie' (#720), 'I Wasted A Nickel' (#821) and 'Rattlesnakin' Daddy' (#944). He then went to RCA ('Car Hoppin' Mama', #47-6211) and Columbia, before returning to King in 1962. It is unclear (at least, to me !) if the version of 'Shotgun Boogie' heard here is the original King cut (#932). I'd tend to think it's a recut - there's a prominent electric bass in the background and the guitar break really rocks. There's also some superb steel playing. It's one of the best cuts on the entire CD.

13- Okie Jones 'Could You, Would You'
This is the top side of Sage & Sand single #221, a pure hillbilly stomper sung by Okie Jones who's backed up by The Lazy Ranch Boys - the same guys who played on Casey Clark's own great Sage & Sand '45s. The flip was 'How Could You'. Okie also had releases on the Majestic and Columbia labels as well as one under the name of Gene Jones on Gold Star. Listening to such tracks makes you understand why Country Music in those days was so exciting : the guitar player, the steel guitarist and the piano player all take a solo !
It was featured on 'Oldies & Goodies-Country'n'Western Vol.1' (Crown LP 5213).

14- Oscar Hart 'Fender Bender'
Another Sage & Sand offering. Despite a spoken intro explaining that it's all about 'a lil' ole cotton pickin' guitar' and various vocal interjections during the song, this is an excellent boogie-based country guitar instrumental with added echo and speeded up parts. Band is The Hart-Tones. Also from CLP 5213.

15- Evelyn Harlene 'I've Got The Blues'
And yet another Sage & Sand side - the flip of 'I Wanta Be Free' (Sage #243), which is real wild female rockabilly. Superb bluesy number with piano, electric guitar and brushes. Evelyn sings with confidence and gusto - somewhere between Ella Mae Morse and Wanda Jackson. There's a real downhome piano break (Evelyn herself at the 88 ?). Excellent sound, too, on this one.
It was on 'Oldies & Goodies-Country'n'Western Vol.4' (Crown LP 5243).

Click & hear 'Rhythm In My Baby's Walk' !16- Johnny Horton 'Somebody's Rockin' My Broken Heart'
17- Johnny Horton
'Rhythm In My Baby's Walk'

Taken from the Crown album 'Johnny Horton - Country Style with Billy Barton & Don Hughes' (CLP 5290 in mono and CST 290 in stereo), here's some very early Johnny Horton on the menu at present and it's a delight.
Although his style was not yet fully created, our man sings quite distinctively. In fact, both sides were recorded on February 13, 1952, for the California-based Abbott label. 'Somebody's Rockin' My Broken Heart' (Abbott 108) gave its title to the present CD but it's no rocker at all - it's a relaxed hillbilly number sung in duet with Hillbilly Barton. The lively 'Rhythm In My Baby's Walk' (Abbott 109) is, in retrospect, typical Horton - but not quite rockabilly, of course ! This time, Hillbilly Barton is absent but steel guitar legend, Speedy West, is on board, firing another memorable solo. There's a count-in at the beginning of the tune which suggests it might be an alternate take ; we'll have to listen again to the original master which appeared on the brilliant Bear Family 7-LP box set from 1991, 'Johnny Horton - The Early Years' (BFX 15289). You can hear a bit of 'Rhythm In My Baby's Walk' (titled 'Rhythm Baby Walk' in error on the CD, as it was on the original Crown LP) by clicking the rare photo of Horton with Johnny Cash here on the right.

Click & hear Hank Brown's single !

18- Unknown Artist
'Guitar Stomp'
Wrongly credited to Johnny Horton on the CD cover, this instrumental has long been a mystery. In the early '60s, a single appeared on the Royalty label (#123),
credited to Hank Brown. One side, 'Operation Blues', was in fact the old Homer Clemons song from the Modern label (#20-533, itself a reissue of a Blue Bonnet recording released in 1947). The other side, 'Operation Stomp', was a driving guitar & steel guitar instro. In reality, 'Guitar Stomp' and 'Operation Stomp' are one and the same recording. On aural evidence, I can safely say that the unknown artist is...Red Rhodes ! The tune could even have been cut at the same session as 'Country Boogie Blues'. The good news is that it appears in true stereo on this CD, as it did on the stereo version of the Johnny Horton Crown LP. The other good news is that you can now hear thirty seconds of 'Operation Stomp' by clicking the Royalty single pic on the left !
EP courtesy of Al Turner.


19- Johnny Tyler 'God's Gonna Turn Us To Dust'
Responsible for a number of wonderful sides on the Hickory label out of Nashville, Al Terry shared a Crown album with Johnny Tyler ('Country Music Stars', CLP 5321) but he's wrongly credited on the CD as the singer of 'God's Gonna Turn Us To Dust'. Noted collector/discographer Big Al Turner has confirmed that it's Johnny Tyler who sings and explains how the song appeared on two different EPs : 'I believe that 'God’s Gonna Turn Us To Dust' was originally issued on Rural Rhythm 512, and then subsequently reissued on Rural Rhythm 509, when that particular disc was reissued sometime later. The logic for suggesting this sequence is that the first copy of Rural Rhythm 509 has the original early label, whereas the repressing has a much later design, plus it has the prefix SPEC'. (See picture on the right).
The song
begins and ends with sound effects recalling the crashing of bombs - and the atomic bomb is precisely what Tyler exposes in this stompin' Hillbilly Gospel. A nice harmonica break and a classy Chet Atkins-style solo complete this song which is close in spirit to Glen Barber's own 'Atom Bomb' (first issued in England on Ace LP CH 191 and now available on Ace CD CHD 191).
Johnny Tyler had an impressive recording career, having also waxed for Ekko, RCA Victor, Starday and Specialty, among others.

20- Marvin Rainwater 'Freight Train Blues'
21- Marvin Rainwater 'Teardrops'

Marvin Rainwater is a prolific artist whose main work was on the MGM label, between 1956 and 1960. Any rockabilly lover will cite 'Hot & Cold'/'Mr. Blues' (MGM 12240) as one of their top favorite singles ! He then went to Warwick, Warner Bros. and other labels. The two tracks on this CD are taken from the Crown album 'Marvin Rainwater' (CLP 5307 in mono and CST 307 in stereo). They are magnificent slices of vintage Country music with plenty of guitar pickin' and Marvin's ample, expressive voice.

Conclusion It's a nice little CD with consistently good music but totally out of context if we refer to its title. Listening to it with headphones will reveal hiss and other defects which prove that it was mostly mastered from original vinyl, with a minimum of cleaning up and just about no equalizing ! Still, since most of these tracks had not yet appeared legally elsewhere when the CD was issued (in 1993), this disc stands as an interesting compilation and is worth a place in your collection if you haven't bought the recent Sage & Sand compilation CDs from Bear Family.                                                   

© Paul VIDAL * Privas, France * Spring 2005/May 2014

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