Tag Archives: Elvis Presley

“I Like My Lovin’ Overtime” b/w “You’re Right” by Helen Carter. Okeh 18023. Recorded May 18, 1953 in Nashville, TN

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Helen Carter was born in Poor Valley (now Maces Spring) Virginia on September 19, 1927. That was a big year for the Carters. Six weeks before they welcomed their first child into the world, they travelled 30 miles to Bristol to audition for record producer Ralph Peer. He liked what he heard and offered them $50 a song plus half a cent royalty on each copy sold. Peer was smart enough to realize that there was a market for this music of the Appalachian hills, and he was rightly impressed with Maybelle Carter’s guitar technique—she was adept at playing the melody with her thumb on the lower strings while strumming the rhythm with her other fingers. On this song from the now-legendary Bristol sessions—a 10 day stretch that also saw Jimmie Rodgers recording his first songs—you can hear the “Carter scratch” in action, particularly when Maybelle takes a solo at the 1:10 mark.

Not only were those sessions the genesis of recorded country music, but Maybelle also managed to introduce the guitar as a lead instrument to the non-blues-listening public. The Carter Family—which also included Maybelle’s cousin Sara and her brother-in-law A.P., continued to record and tour until the group’s dissolution in 1943. Along the way, Helen was joined by sisters Anita and June, and was expected to hold down the fort while her Mom was on the road. She was also expected, just as her sisters were, to carry the musical torch. Helen had a natural affinity for music, learning the guitar, autoharp, mandolin and accordion with ease. Her father, Ezra, encouraged Helen to learn classical piano as well. When Maybelle decided to keep the music going , her daughters were ready to sing and play with her. By 1950 they were making regular appearances on The Grand Old Opry radio show, and soon after, its television show.  Here they are performing a song Helen wrote, called “Sweet Talking Man.”

Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

78: “Bullfrog Moan” b/w “A Handful of Riffs” by Lonnie Johnson and Blind Willie Dunn. Okeh 8695. Recorded in New York City, 5/15/29 & 5/08/29.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Blind Willie Dunn was actually Eddie Lang, who adopted the name because it sounded “bluesier,” or more “urban,” or, uh, “black.” Eddie was white and was making a good name for himself playing with old schoolmate Joe Venuti when this was recorded. Whether the name change was his idea or that of someone behind the scenes at Okeh Records is unclear, but what is clear is that the record-buying public, in the 1920’s, was unfamiliar—and would be uncomfortable— with black and white performers recording together. Indeed, the songs Eddie Lang and Lonnie Johnson recorded were arguably the very first.

Lang’s genius has been discussed here before, so let’s focus on Lonnie Johnson. Born into a musical family in 1899, Lonnie Johnson was adept at piano, violin, and mandolin, but early on decided to focus on the guitar. In 1919, Lonnie returned from touring England with Marion Cook’s Southern Syncopated Orchestra to find that his family—all but one brother—had been taken by the influenza epidemic of the previous year. Lonnie and his Brother James started over in St. Louis 1920. By 1925, Lonnie was married to blues singer Mary Johnson. Not only that, he also won a musical contest with a doozy of a prize: a recording contract with Okeh records

As these songs will attest, Lonnie was not a typical blues player. He didn’t think so either; Johnson entered the contest to have a chance to record, even though he thought of himself as more of a jazz player at the time. But the blues label stuck. Fortunately for all of us, Johnson apparently treated that categorical box like a playpen and did whatever he liked within it. On “Bullfrog Moan,” the structure and descending scale of the blues is sweetened with an adept use of the 12 string guitar, its low notes ably suggesting the titular amphibian.

Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

45: “Fire” b/w “If This Is Wrong” by Robert Gordon w/ Link Wray. Private Stock 45203. Recorded in New York City, 1978.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Born in 1947, Robert Gordon spent his Bethesda, Maryland childhood devoted to Elvis Presley, Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran, and other rock and roll pioneers. The sixties were spent ignoring the British Invasion bands and focusing on soul singers like James Brown and Otis Redding. After his stint in the National Guard, Robert moved to New York City.

By the mid-70’s, Robert was singing in the Tuff Darts, a punk band that, like the Ramones and Johnny Thunders, had a deep love for 50’s rock. Here’s “All For the Love of Rock and Roll.”

Producer Richard Gotterher was impressed with Robert’s voice and invited him to do a solo recording, suggesting that he work with Link Wray. Robert was probably thrilled at the idea of working with an early rock hero like Link.

You don’t know Link Wray? Sure, you do. You’ve heard his music. Listen to this.

Right? One of the most famous rock instrumentals ever.  Jimmy Page is a big fan.

Private Stock Records released Robert Gordon with Link Wray in 1977. It featured some Wray originals and some well-chosen covers, like this faithful take on Billy Lee Riley’s 1958 hit “Red Hot.”

Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

78: “Was It a Dream? Part 1” b/w “Was It a Dream? Part 2” by The Dorsey Brothers and Their Concert Orchestra. Okeh 41083. Recorded in New York City, 7/16/28.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Image courtesy of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archive of Recorded Sound.

Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey, born in 1904 and 1905, respectively, grew up in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, under the instruction of a bandleader father who was so intent on getting his sons to practice their instruments that he would hide their shoes to keep them from leaving the house. Both brothers started out on cornet but, by the time they were teenagers, had moved on to the instruments that would bring them fame: Jimmy to alto saxophone and clarinet, and Tommy to trombone. They were traveling with various bands by the age of 17, and by 1925 they had begun to find work in New York City, where the radio boom had created a big demand for musicians who could handle the pressure of playing live over the airwaves. The Dorsey brothers were reliable workers and expert sight readers, so they did well as freelancers.

By 1928, they had gained enough experience and respect to form The Dorsey Brothers Orchestra. Eddie Lang and Glenn Miller were early members, as was Smith Ballew, who takes the vocal turn on “Was It a Dream?”

“Was It A Dream?” must have been a gig hit for the songwriting team of Sam Coslow, Larry Spier and Addy Britt, because it was recorded by at least six different acts in 1928 alone. Continue reading

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,