Monday, December 9, 2013

Rock a Billy 'Sweet Nothin's'!

Hey Mickey...we love it!

Happy Holidays, blogmates and readers...Christmas is moving upon us fast and furious!  Mickey and I just can't let this one go by without remembering the cutest little pistol singer to grace the pop and rockabilly scenes in the 1950's and 1960's.

♫ ♪ "My baby whispers in my ear, Ummm, sweet nothins.
♪ He knows the things I like to hear, Ummm, sweet nothins. ♪♪
♫Things he wouldn't tell nobody else...
...Secret baby, I keep them to myself! ♪
♫♫ Sweet nothins...Ummm, sweet nothins."

That's right Mick!  It's that sweet Georgia sound of little Brenda Lee!

Brenda embarked on the music scene as a tiny tot, singing solos as a young girl, at the Baptist church she and her family attended. When her father died in 1953, Brenda pretty much became the primary source of income for her family. She was already a regular on the country music show, "TV Ranch" at WAGA-TV in Atlanta, and, at just about 4 foot nine inches, Brenda would sometimes stand on a wooden crate in order to reach the microphone to perform.

Here is Brenda in 1954, and you can see she is standing up on a platform, above the base of the microphone.  Sometimes they couldn't lower the mic enough for her height!
"What an adorable child!" exclaims my co-host, Mickey.

Brenda Lee literally blew Red Foley away with her singing voice, and, he agreed to let her sing on his touring show "Ozark Jubilee", out of Springfield, Missouri, in Augusta, Georgia.  She performed 'Jambalaya', unrehearsed on stage and Foley later said, "I still get cold chills thinking about the first time I heard that voice!"  Brenda later became a regular on the Ozark Jubilee.  'Jambalaya' became Miss Lee's first single in 1956...and, it eventually led to invites on the Perry Como show and other national TV shows.

Incidentally, Brenda Lee met Elvis Presley for the first time at the Grand Old Opry. I believe it was in December of 1957, just a few months before Elvis left for the Army.  Brenda said she, along with other hopeful recording stars, would hang around backstage of the Opry, in hopes of being invited to sing.  Elvis had come by to visit and, they became friends, and, remained so throughout the rest of Elvis' life.  Brenda said that meeting Elvis is among her fondest memories.  

~Brenda Lee and Elvis Presley

Miss Brenda Lee charted more hits than any other woman in the 1950's and 1960's.  Only Elvis, Ray Charles and The Beatles outcharted her. Although, I do believe that was debatable in view of Connie Francis' success.  Her explosive presence on stage earned her the nickname "Little Miss Dynamite', after having recorded the song 'Dynamite' in 1957.

~ Mickey takes it literally!

Some of Brenda's hits include:
'All Alone Am I'
'Fool No. 1'
'I'm Sorry' (No. 1 hit)
'Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree'
(just to name a few)

~Little Miss Dynamite!

'Little Miss Dynamite' released 'Rockin Around The Christmas Tree' in 1958, but it just didn't chart immediately.  In fact, two years later it snowballed and is now a Christmas standard, ranking 4th in the top 10, all time Christmas Songs.  This is Brenda's biggest selling record...over 5 million sold!
Man, didn't you know this little girl could rock!?!

And, it seems as though we have a Birthday girl on site this week too!  Miss Brenda's birthday is December 11.  And, in honor of her Birthday, and, all of her accomplishments, I just happen to have a copy of 'Rockin Around The Christmas Tree' for your pleasure!

OKAY...wasn't that great?  
Happy Birthday, dear Brenda Lee!

*** Dearest readers, thank you so much for coming by AGAIN!  This part time blogger is on a roll, twice within just a few weeks time, go figure!  Please, do come by anytime, and, let me know what you're up to.
 I hope you enjoyed this post.  I felt like it would be very fitting for the Christmas season.  Brenda Lee has touched the hearts of many folks with her Pop, Rock, Rockabilly and Country sounds.
  And, I'm on that list of her lifelong fans!

*** In an interview with 'Country Stars Central', Brenda was asked,
"What's the one thing in life you're absolutely sure about?"
(Brenda replied)  "That I know who I am!"

Many Thanks goes out to:
yahoo images
Country Stars Central

And a special thanks to my guest host, Mr. Mickey Mouse!
Merry Christmas Mickey and Minnie!

Thank you again, have a safe Holiday!  Stop and say hello if you get the chance! 
 Merry Christmas to you all from Rock A Billy Rock!
Think Peace, Joy and Love (well, in any order you want!)

will see you again xxoo 

*probably in 2014, lol!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Rockin' The Rails!

~photo by Suzanne * Fort Worth, TX * November 18, 2013

Greetings, readers...hope this finds you all well!
  This part time blogger is reporting back in with a new gig!

My wife Suzanne and her friend Cindy are always looking for a story, and, there's nothing like an extra pair of eyes to bring an old relic back to life!  These two ladies work together, and sometimes even Cindy veers off the interstate, and travels through town to work, like Suzanne does.

One morning as Cindy  drove under the old railroad trussel just about a mile east of downtown Fort Worth,  she saw an old 'Rock Island' logo either stamped or painted onto the concrete just at the bottom of the tracks.  It was faint, barely to be seen, but, she reported her find to Suzanne when she got to work, knowing Suzanne would jump on the chance to tell a railroad story of some kind on her blog.  Cindy recalled how she sang the song 'Rock Island Line' in school as a young girl, and, sang a quick verse of the song for Suzanne.  After she returned home that afternoon, and, upon relaying the possibility of me learning the song, I chanted out a verse of it...Suzanne was so surprised I knew the song, her mind was then set.  It so turns out, the railroad story appears on my blog!

Rock Island Depot * Bridgeport, Texas in the 1950's

Soooo...if I can get a word in, here's my story!

When I was a kid, there was a Rock Island depot in Bridgeport, Texas where I grew up.  In the late 1950's the depot was run by one Jack Waters.  Jack was a gambling man, who was mesmerized by the sound of the roll of the dice.  Sometimes at night you could see Jack and his friends rolling dice on the floor at the old Magnolia Gas Station.  And, as the evening wore on, Jack would get hot...take off first his tie, then coat, and, any other article of clothing that was appropriate to shuck.

That's me...they caught me watching them thru an open window as they gambled away their paychecks one hot, summer night...just kidding, lol!  But, I did watch them shoot craps through that window!

This is what remains of that Magnolia Gas Station
~photo by Suzanne * November 16, 2013 * Bridgeport, TX

* and this is the window, now bricked over...DRATS!!!
~photo by Suzanne

Well, folks, Rock Island had a line from Kansas across Oklahoma territory to the Red River in 1892.  Then, within a year's time, Rock Island and Texas Railway Company, with charter in hand, began construction on 92 miles of track between the Oklahoma-Texas line through Bridgeport, and on to Fort Worth.  At the time, Bridgeport was located on the banks of the Trinity River, and the line that was laid came within a mile east of Bridgeport.
~Rock Island steam engine * Bridgeport, TX

Both passenger and freight trains passed through Bridgeport, TX daily.  The depot had become a popular hot spot in town...this railroad had virtually put Bridgeport on the map.  In the early 40's, the Rock Island train acquired the nickname "The Rocket', and a husband and wife in town opened up a restaurant, naming it  the "Rocket Cafe".

  You know, 'Pappy Stevens', a Rock Island engineer & switchman, would put me up in his lap when I was 8 or 9 years old in the locomotive and we would actually ride up  and down, back and forth to Chico and to the rock crusher around the depot.  Years later, when my son Chad came along, switchman John Moody gave him rides the same as 'Pappy Stevens' did me.  Frequently, I would sit out on the porch of my folks cafe and watch the trains go by.

  Boxcars would chug by, hauling hobos, coming from other parts of the country, on a road to what they hoped would be a better life.  The hobos would wave at me as the train went by, and I would wave back.  I thought it was pretty cool.  Most of the time they just kept going on to the next city, and, sometimes the next state, looking for work of any kind.  Sometimes some of the hobos would get off the train, and come to the cafe asking if there was any work they could do for food.  My dad never turned them away, and he would find some sort of chore they could do in return for the food, such as picking up around the grounds.

And, the mail was thrown out of the train in a canvas bag every morning to be picked up and taken to the post office.  It would roll quite a ways down the tracks before stopping.

* And, to be honest...I'm sorry those days are gone-I truly miss them!

Rock Island Railroad was one of the weaker of the major railroads, but still succumbed under attempts to merge with other railroads for survival.  Consequently, in March of 1980, it ceased operations and the branch between Bridgeport and Graham was acquired by the Texas Export Railroad Company.  Sadly, the depot in Bridgeport was torn down in 1984.

OK!  Now on to something good!

If you're still with me....thanks a bunch!  You probably think I came from the 'Windy City'! ☺

There is an old American blues/folk song called 'Rock Island Line'.  Gosh, there have been quite a number of recordings of this one song by many artists, like Johnny Horton, Paul McCartney, Ramblin Jack Elliot, Lead Belly (who made it pretty popular), a couple other Beatles sang it, lol! and, Johnny Cash!

* It was a song that became popular among prisoners, beginning in the 1930's,  about the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroads. The song became well known by the 1950's in the folk culture.  It was kind of a funny story about a train operator who smuggles pig iron through a toll gate, and claims to be carrying livestock.  I'll not get into who wrote the song-as there appears to be some conflicting ideas concerning the origins of the song and its authors.

Before I close this session of Rockabilly 101, please let me thank the following:
Rock Island railroad
another one or two, I didn't write down

Thank you Cindy for your inspiration!
Thank you Suzanne!

*** Thank you wonderful folks for your visit. I hope you enjoyed the information and pictures.  As you can see, Suzanne took several of the photos herself.  Please stop by anytime, and don't be too shy to say hello!  I might even muster up the nerve to say 'hello' back to you!

OH, Hey!  I think I found a copy of it...don't go away now! You have to hear this!

Have a great week...Happy Thanksgiving!

Be safe...give love! ♫

Monday, March 11, 2013

Hillbillies With Flare!

Well, I've made my way back here from my last post.  I guess you could call me the 'quarterly' blogger...I'm not much of a writer, and, I've been fighting that cursed cold and flu lately, that I can't seem to shake just yet.  So, whilst we're waiting for my cold to subside, how's about a little Rockabilly storytellin'?   

What we know so far, is that Rockabilly is considered an early form of  'rock and roll', generating back as far as the late 1930's, with groups like Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys and, one of my favorites, Tennessee Ernie Ford!  But, I guess we can say that 'rockabilly' is a combo of rock and roll, hillbilly, blues, and country!  Sheesh!!! Sounds like a lot of fast moving, whooping and hollering, but, somehow, in the grand scheme of it all, we got ELVIS!

Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys

In the early part of the Depression, there was a family from Alabama that made their way to California, and worked as fruit and vegetable pickers, just trying to get by.  They were all musically inclined, and in 1937, they performed on the radio, sponsored by a local furniture store.  They entered a hillbilly band competition at the centennial Sacramento State Fair, won, and, after that, this family became known as California's best hillbilly band.

This group of 4 brothers and a sister, known as 'Maddox Brothers and Rose'  went on to become regulars on the Louisiana Hayride and even appeared on the Grand Ole Opry.  In the early 1940's, the brothers were drafted into World War II, leaving sister Rose to fend for herself in the 'male oriented' music industry.  Although, Rose was the voice of the group, beginning her career at the young age of 11 years, she found it very difficult to get work while her brothers were serving our country.  Rose was quoted as saying, "When my brothers get back from the war, we're gonna show you but good!"  

I guess that by 1946, the Maddox brothers had returned from war, and once again, off they went, becoming famous for their colorful costumes and their variety of gags, and even magic tricks on stage.  The group not only sang cover songs, with a style range from cowboy songs, to folk, jazz, boogie woogie, and even early rock and roll-they also recorded original songs that would be morally questionable, even today.  They did cut some records with Starday Records out of Beaumont, Texas, 4-Star Records, then Columbia Records.  One could say this group, fronted by sister Rose paved the way for outspoken female singers like Loretta Lynn.  While the brothers performed goofy songs like 'Ugly and Slouchy', Rose belted out the likes of "Just get yourself a handsome man and sue for Alimony"!  A racy, but highly entertaining group, no doubt!

~Maddox Brothers and Rose

Now, standing up on the far left of the photo above is Fred Maddox, who played the bass fiddle.  It is said that he developed the 'slap bass' technique that helped produce a faster rhythm, thus, contributing to the 'rockabilly' style.  According to Fred, "You've got to have somethin' they can tap their foot, or dance to, or to make 'em feel it."  Fred Maddox's bass is displayed at the Experience Music Project in Seattle...they believe that he may have hit the first note of rock 'n roll on it!  

Rose went on to nourish her solo career after the group disbanded in 1956.  She is quoted as saying, "People tell me that I was one of the first women to sing what I sang-country boogie.  I guess I was!  There was no rock n' roll in those early days, before 1955."  Rose covered country classics like 'Roll in My Sweet Baby's Arms' and 'Blue Moon of Kentucky', and she had several duet recordings with Buck Owens.  Johnny Cash said of Rose, "She's an American classic.  She held the audience in the palm of her hand and made them do whatever she wanted them to...there'll never be a woman who could outperform Rose Maddox."   

One guitarist, Deke Dickerson, who had, with Dave Stuckey,  backed Rose during her solo years, exclaimed, "God rest her soul, man, Rose was the meanest woman you've ever met!  I could tell she liked us, but she had this thing which probably went back to the Maddox Brothers stage shows, that centered around one person being the brunt of her hate.  And, that person was Dave. She'd walk right up to him during a guitar solo, and hit him...not joking around!  By the end of it, Dave looked like he had just gone through World War II.!"

~Rose Maddox
~August 15, 1925 * April 15, 1998

In the years that followed, Rose had even made her way to Britain, continuing to work even with her health being fragile.  She recorded for several labels like Decca and Starday, and, in 1994, her album, titled, '$35 And A Dream', was nominated for a Grammy.

Now, it seems that even though The Maddox Brothers and Rose were deemed as 'America's most colorful hillbilly band', this group was never inducted into the 'Country Music Hall of Fame'.  It is believed, and, I agree, that this group should have at least been considered for the 'Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, but, now that's an even longer shot.  I mean, these folks came from nothing, and when they hit the stage, everyone stopped to hear the songs they sang.  And, Rose continued to perform up into the mid 1990's, captivating her audiences with her unique voice and exciting performances.

Don Maddox is the only surviving member of The Maddox Brothers and Rose, and, will be featured in the Country Music Hall of Fame's 'Bakersfield Sound Exhibit' in Nashville.  Some of the focal points of this exhibit include stage costumes, outfits worn by the Maddox Brothers and Rose, and musical instruments.  It promises to be highly entertaining, taking us back in time, showing us some of the 'real' heroes of Rockabilly!  And, hey...Dwight Yoakam narrates a video that features the entertainers of that era.  There will be a concert with performances by Jean Shepherd, Don Maddox, guitarist Deke Dickerson, and others.  And, this exhibit  will run through December of 2013.  It sounds like a lot of fun for us 'folks of a certain age'!

Thank you for coming by...please stop by anytime and take a look.  
And, if you get a chance, say hello!

I picked out a song by The Maddox Brothers and Rose that I think you might enjoy. 
 It's called 'Move It On Over 1948'  

"Tonight I'm on stage, 
For my brothers it's over but for me it remains...
I'll join them tomorrow, but tonight I'm on stage."
~Rose Maddox