JACK "COWBOY" CLEMENT INTERVIEW (circa 1977)
Voice #1 - John Lomax
Voice #2 - Cowboy
Voice #3 - Bob Webster [enters conversation in Part 2]
#1 Well, let's start. First, one thing I haven't gone into at all is where did the music come from in your life - was your family involved in it and how did you first get interested in it?
#2 - I first remember
hearing it, coming in from playing when I was 3 or 4 or so, and listening to
the cowboys on the radio back in
#1- Did your dad sing then - in the church?
#2 - Yes, he directed the choir.
#1- Your mother - did she have any music in her family?
#2 - She couldn't read music, but she could play the piano. She used to help him work out stuff - choir numbers and stuff. She would rehearse with him on the piano.
#1 - Nobody ever had any professional training other than using music in the church?
#2 - Not any brothers and sisters
#1 - Did you ever try to play any instruments before the Marine tour?
#2 - Oh yeah, I got into playing when I was 11 or 12, I guess. I started off with a borrowed guitar. Unlike a lot of my fellow picker-singer types out there, I didn't start with Montgomery Ward or Sears Roebuck guitar. I didn't know what it was, but we borrowed it. It turned out to be a Martin. I didn't know what a Martin was at the time but it always sounded pretty good. And then I got one for Christmas and we returned the Martin. The one I got for Christmas didn't sound like the Martin. It was something else, but it looked a lot better. But it was a Hawaiian one - the one I started with was a Hawaiian guitar.
#1 - A steel?
#2 - Yeah, it had a high nut on it. It wasn't one of those kind you take the nut out, you know, it was a nut, a part of the thing. It was designed to be a Hawaiian guitar, but it was a Martin. I mean you know how they sound. After that I got another guitar that had a regular Spanish nut on it - I got into playing it the other way. Then I would go through cycles, I would put on the nut and play it Hawaiian for a while and take it off and play it the other way for a while, several weeks maybe. I always went back and forth. I was always trying to get up a band and there wasn't anybody around where I lived that could play anything so I would sort of teach them. Herb down there, Herb Burnette, I taught him to play the guitar.
#1 - What songs were you playing - The Marsh Brothers? What you heard on the radio?
#2 – Deep Ellum Blues, yeah, whatever we heard, mostly the old kind, hillbilly tunes, and some kind of mandolin stuff.
#1 - This would have been about the time of the war, I presume, during the war years?
#2 - Yes. I was a little too young to go to the war.
#1 - Did you
join the Marines just to get out of
#2 - Yeah, I joined the Marines to see the world, like
you're supposed to
join the marines to do, but I didn't see a whole lot of it. I saw
#1 - What was your rank?
#2 - I achieved the rank of Corporal, which was no big deal one way or the other. Some people in the Marines stay PFC for 4 years. That's the way it was back then.
#1 - That seems to be your only real contact with the rigid bureaucratic structure.
#2 - Four years
of that - enough of that is enough of that. I was in dress blues sometimes two
or three times a day, when I was in
#1 After that, did Buzz and Jack start during that period or right after?
#2 - I met Buzz - I
knew the Stonemans while I was in the Marine Corps.
They used to live out in Maryland in a place called Carmody
Hills, which was really kind of a far out place, just a couple of miles from
Washington, D.C. city limits. They had outdoor toilets and kind of a primitive
place to be so close to our nation's capitol. Anyway, they sat out in that
little house they had and picked. I was heavy into banjo back then. I was
really fascinated with Earl Scruggs and bluegrass. I never heard of that much
bluegrass growing up in
#1- Was there
any Blues? I imaging you couldn't avoid it in
#2- Mostly spiritual stuff. I got into all of that. I did like black gospel music with a boogie woogie beat. All them black people seem like they got where boogie woogie is at. I guess really my music is closer to black gospel than anything else. It's them Baptist harmonies that makes the sound something else.
#1 - Were you ever formally trained in any way? Did you ever take piano, for instance?
#2 - No, I took several guitar lessons, but not enough to remember it. I never did learn to read music. I started to learn trombone in high school but lost interest in it in a few weeks. I just got back into it recently. Now I'm learning how to read music, because now I've found a reason to learn to read music - so I can write music. I can set it down in front of these horn players and say - "play that, you blank, blank, blank, play that mother, - note for note - see how it sounds. If it sounds good we'll leave it, If it sounds wrong we'll change it. If it don't sound wrong, it’s music."
#1 - What was the high point of Buzz and Jack? Was it the Wheeling Jamboree?
#2 - I think
#1- How long did this go on with Buzz and Jack?
#2- Well, let's
see - it was me and Buzz, Scott Stoneman
and Jimmy Stoneman, that was the basic band. We travelled around some with that band trying to get on the
Grand Ole Cory or Louisiana Hayride. Then one time I got tired of bluegrass. I
#1 - So eventually -
#2 - Eventually I got tired of bluegrass, but that was much later, I was still in Washington, D. C. and playing blue¬grass. Me and Buzz and the bass player had been playing fast and bluegrass stuff for six nights a week for six months at this place called the Casa Blanca. It was a grind, you get up and do about 45 minutes on, with 15 minutes off, four times a night, six nights a week for six months you get sick of anything. So after that I went and played with this other kind of drip, we played a lot of Hawaiian music and stuff, had a steel player, Bill Badgett who liked to play Hawaiian music, taught me to play "Sweet Georgia Brown" in F. I'm glad I did too, because I still like it in F. This band I've got is playing it in A flat. I think, but I am going to get it back to F. It doesn't make too much difference to a guitar player if you can play it in F you can play it in A flat. (musical instrument sound of "Take Me Out To the Ball Game".) Just slide everything down several frets. I think I am going to be a much better trombone player than I am sort of guitar picker.
#1 - Were you writing songs in that period?.
#2 - No, I got into writing songs while I was on guard
duty in the Marine Corps. When I was sitting there 12 to 4 on the little gate there, nothing to do, I started writing lyrics first, but before I got into songs, I wrote poetry. I never tried to do it until I was 20, I guess, 19 Or 20, the last couple of years I was in the Marine Corps. I had met the Stonemans and some other people. Jimmy Dean played at the Dixie Pig, I would go out there and he would get me to sing a few songs, and you know what that gets you - free beer and stuff!
#1 - Were you already introduced to the women when you went on stage?
#2 - You meet
some nice ladies. Then I met Roy Clark, after I got out, at Buzz's house. But
anyway, I had the Saturday night gig down in
a good band. I
used to go out and see band concerts quite a bit. I was going with this girl
who was going over to
While I was in the Marine Corps I bought that Gibson guitar there. It took every bit of money I could scrape up, $341.00 that was in 1951Then when I got out of the Marine Corps, Scott Stoneman and them were going and crash the Grand Ole Opry – that was my Grand Ole Opry guitar. One thing I don't like about that guitar it’s got scratches on it and I didn't put them on it. If I had put them on it would be all right, but I didn't. I don't scratch up guitars. I never have - so if you see me
playing a guitar that is all scratched up, I don't know. That's a very good guitar for playing out loud. It's a concert guitar, it will ring right out.
#1 - Do you go
#2 - I was
playing this Hawaiian music in Washington at the College Inn, me and Bill Badgett and Jack Stoneman on the
bass and I was playing rhythm guitar and singing, not bluegrass, that's after
we played bluegrass for six months and I was just tired of it for a while, you
know - all the catfish you can eat for a dollar and a half - so I was playing -
we did a lot of Hawaiian music. Bill Badgett liked
Hawaiian songs on steel so I had to learn a lot of them. But I dug it too, they
were restful. I am glad I did that for awhile. And then this guy came through
was a dobro player that me and Buzz played with in
So I went up to
#l - You went back to
#2 - After we played in
I was getting
colder and colder, so I decided I'd go back to
#1 - Were you
working in a band when you wandered over to Sam Phillips to get this record
#2 - Well, at that time I had been going to college. After I left Arthur Murray's, well I got my fill of dancing 8 hours a day, 6 days-5 days a week, whatever it was, four or five months, you know. I got my fill. of that. I didn't lose much in dancing - I still like to dance at night. Well, by this time I had really got into dancing. The funny thing about it all, them records I made at the time weren't particularly danceable. I wasn't trying to get dance music on the records back then, now I am. And I'm a lot better dancer than I was back then. This is 20 some odd years later. I don't go out and dance in public - I just dance around in the house.
#1 - So you went over to Sam Phillips to have the record mastered?
#2 - Yeah, I
sort of decided I had had enough of college for a while - sort of thought I'd
go back and take some more courses or something, but I never did. I had gone
for 2 years, through summers and had gust about taken everything I wanted to
take I thought I might be interested in sometime; physics, trigonometry,
electricity, music appreciation (starts singing "Take Me Out to the Ball
Game"), economic, geography, European History, French, 1000 Island. On the
other hand you have four fingers and a thumb. It's nice to learn that stuff
while you're young, helps you in the process of learning, and if you ever need
it go back and learn it again, real quick. If I ever want to
take that bird apart. I go get me a screwdriver and go at it. I won't be
planning on using it in a session anytime soon. It might take me 6 months to
get it back together. Well, let's see, after
2 years of college, I decided I would like to be in the construction business,
so I got a job at Clark and Fay. I was going to be a trainee to learn how to be
an estimator. But they started me in the hardware department and I didn't like
that at all - that wasn't what I came there to do. In the mean¬time,
I had been planning to supplement my income. I had been playing steel guitar
and doing a little singing and stuff with Slim Wallace, who was a sort of rich
truck driver friend of mine and we had built a little studio in his garage. lie put up the money, and we bought this Magna recorder from
Sleepy Eyed John the disc jockey for $450. Slim was the financier in this
operation. We would start a record company "Fernwood
Records", and I'd build this little studio; onto
his garage, he put up the money and 1 done the carpentry work. But we didn't
have it ready to make records there, we had it ready to rehearse- lay things
down, so we rehearsed for weeks on this thing with Billy Lee Riley and then we
booked WMPS and had Gordon Simmons, engineer for it and we made this master
called "Trouble Hound" and "Rock with Me Baby' which to this day
still has a Fernwood stamper
number on it. Anyway Slim and I were going
to manufacture it, put it out on Fernwood, we had the
logo. Heck down here Penwheel was in
#1- What is the first thing you worked on?
#2 - Sound! Oh it was Roy Orbison. He sort of turned Roy Orbison over to me.
The closest thing we got was something called "Rockhouse" which had a lot of echo in it. I was fascinated with echo. I was into the machines, you know, but it was a good way to be. It's a good way to be when you're making records if you're not singing, pay attention to the machines. The singers are something to make the machines sound good. If the singer sounds good, it must be right. I tell people I don't listen to lyrics and I don't think they believe me. It's not that I don't want to, I just sort of learned how not to do it, because it's the best way to cut records for me anyway, to keep a fresh ear. Somebody to keep a fresh ear to the whole thing. It doesn't matter how good the lyrics are if you don't have the proper musical setting - they are not effective. But if the setting is effective I've found that most of the time when I like the song and when I do, sit and actually listen to the lyrics, they're usually good. That was one thing about Simon & Garfunkel, I loved the things from the first time I hear it, but it was several years later that I actually listened to the lyrics.
#1 The sound of songs? I don't remember which one it was, probably most of them.
#2 - I think words ought to be used, there is a difference
between poetry and music. You use a word in a song without it being the right word musically. It’s got to rhyme and it’s got to have the right meaning, instead of, - it's got to have the right word, but it's got to have the right sound. I hear sounds more than songs. That's what I'm sort of trained to do. Just react to it - for people you hear on the radio, don't listen to the lyrics necessarily, they just react to it. I'm talking about the first time. I'm talking about somebody going to hear a song once - they may catch the lyrics or they may not. They may hear it a bunch of times without ever catching the lyrics. I think those are the best kind, the kind where the lyrics don't grab you right off, the sound of it grabs you. Later on you have the pleasure of discovering a good song, good lyrics, good poem, a good tone poem. I ain't never read a Shakespeare play all the way through, so I still got that to look forward to, reading Shakespeare. I've read a lot in my time. I read a lot in high school. I didn't read stuff they were teaching, but I read a lot of other books, out of the library.
#1 - I never listen to the words to rock n' roll. It's always just the beat and the melody.
#2 - Yeah
#1 - If you hear it enough, sooner or later then I'll pay attention to the lyrics. Country is different to me. Country and Folk are both so heavily oriented toward the words and toward lyrics. To me all other music is oriented around the melody.
#2 - I think basically it's orchestrated. As an orchestrator the voice ought to be an instrument and if you are saying the wrong words it would be like the saxophone player not phrasing it properly or whatever. The words have got to be musical dynamics as well as poetical meaning. But I do admire good lyrics. If I'm looking for material, I don't base my decision on the lyrics. I don't think it's necessary because I think the music ought to grab you first. If the music is good enough, the lyrics don't have to be very good. But the lyrics make the melody better. (Sings "A Pretty Girl (song) is Like A Melody".)
#1 - Well after
#2 - Well, during that time I was doing some more stuff for Billy Lee Riley because he had a record album then and it did fairly well. It wasn't a big hit but it did fairly well.
#1 - That was one of Fernwood?
#2 - That was the one that was going to be on Fernwood.
#1 - How many copies did that wind up selling?
#2 - About 25,000, mostly around that area. A lot of those records didn't get much exposure outside
of the area at that time. If we had of put it out on Fernwood
- we didn't have a big investment in it. I think the studio cost there at WMPS
was $40. I don't know, I don't know, I might still be with Fernwood
and that logo might still lap over the hole, but I doubt it. Well, anyway,
after I had left Slim with the little studio in his garage, all it needed was
an Ampex, and I introduced him to Scotty Moore who
was in town a lot. He travelled with Elvis, but he
was in town a lot, with time on his hands, and he was into the machines. He
wanted to learn how to work them. I loaned him this book I had, Principles of Recording
and I introduced him to this lawyer named Bob Buckaleu.
So they started Fernwood Records. And they rented Hi
studios and cut this thing called "Tragedy" with Thomas Wayne who was
Luther Perkin's brother. Luther was Johnny Cash's
guitar player. It didn't have anything on it but a rented guitar and bass. Hi
didn't have but one tape machine at that time so they couldn't put echo on, so
Slim and Scotty brought the tape by Sun and I put some echo on it for them and
they pressed it up and it sold a million. Slim paid off his mortgage on his
house and they bought an Ampex and put it in the
garage there and cut records. But Slim never did quit his truck driving job,
even after he built a three track studio down on
#1- I remember that song well. It was probably one of the most doleful songs recorded ever.
#2 - Yeah, it was a hit record. Slim was still driving
the truck. He was chairman of the board. They'd have to wait for Slim to come in off the run in the afternoon before they could give all the answers. Slim had that sort of country boy wisdom about him - it came in handy. They collected their money and everything, you know, they were Independent distributors.
#1- Was Rockhouse very successful?
#2 - No, Oh, it
was fairly successful. It wasn't nearly as big as "Ooby
Dooby". He wanted to be a little more serious
than "Ooby Dooby"
(singing). I was working with a bunch of people there and, before I knew it, we
would come in every morning and people would show up and we'd make tapes. Then
certain pickers I used to know would drop by and other people would drop by and
pretty soon I had guys hanging around wanting to strike up the band, sort of,
round up the boys over at
#1 - Did you work with any of the orchestras - Sam recorded at one time or other?
#2 - No, I never did. They were all sort of gone when I got there. Now back then I was trying, I would talk about it, trying to find a colored guy with a band to sing country, teach him how to sing country. So I looked for such a person and I had one guy that was close. I had him make some tapes (sang) sounded something like that. Well, Justis thought it was funny. There's a tape floating around there somewhere, it was sort of funny. I thought I would have to find such a person and sort of teach him how to sing country. Well, as it turned out, Charley Pride came along and he already knew how to sing country. He grew up listening to the Grand Old Opry, like the rest of us hillbillies. He had a Montgomery Ward guitar, and everything. But he tuned it different. He learned to play the guitar in open tuning, kind of like I got started on a steel. He tuned it up to an E chord, he could hear that end with that tuning you can just strike the thing across the frets there and you get an A chord on the fifth fret, end the B chord on the seventh fret. Charley Pride never was that much of a guitar picker. Now Johnny Cash has to be a pretty good guitar picker by now, but he don't play it on records much. He used to play it when he was bad - make hits.
#1 - Waylon Jennings was an exceptional player?
#2 - Yeah
#1 - The sessions that you and Johnny Cash and Waylon were working on never did develop. Some unbelievable stuff was put down.
#2 - I get that out and listen to it sometimes. I don't know for what purpose. I thought they were great.
#1 - Don't you think that with what they've got out now - they'd be great?
#2 - They're still on tape. I doubt if anybody erased them. If they're good enough, they'll find their way out sometime. That thing that they have now. I don't like it. I don't like the songs, I don't like the singing.
#1 - Did you work with Charlie Rich or Jerry Lee first, or which one of them came along?
#2 - Jerry Lee came along first.
#1 - He just kind of popped out of nowhere didn't he?
#2 - Well, back
during that time there was a lot of people coming in there from a lot of places,
because the place was pretty famous by then, in Memphis, and it was the only
place in Memphis. A lot of people came by there. Jerry Lee came there rather than
#1- All that stuff eventually got released.
#2 - He sang the shit out of "Seasons of My Heart".
#1 - And that's a hard song to sing.
#2 - He didn't
sing it like George Jones sings it. It was a separate but equal reality, the
way he did it. But Jerry Lee didn't know whether he was rock or country, he was
just whatever - At the time he first came to Sun, he had a job playing
somewhere, I think it was in
#1 you got into tinkering with the room any in terms of carpeting, baffles?
#2 - We never did any, no we never tinkered with it. Sam thought it was right. It was, it was live. You could put a mic at one end of the room, the drums at the other and it was all you could do to keep the drums from drowning out the voice. But they didn't have the kind of microphones back then that they have now. They had shitty microphones back then. But we didn't use any baffles or anything, I mean the sound sold the records. If I was there now, knowing then what I know now, I could have made a couple of very small changes in the place. And it would have been a lot easier to work with, it would have probably changed the way it sounded though. It was a successful sound. I think the main thing I did as far as my involvement with the sound thing was probably to get some more equipment. I came in there looking for some extra echo and stuff, and it wasn't long before we had it where we could have echo on all five mics, varying the amount with a separate little red five mic pats over here rotary style, and a corresponding five over here. Now if you wanted echo you've got to ride 'em both at the same time. You bring up to main volume you got to bring up the volume on the echo accordingly. So, it was a two handed job when I was mixing as you had to do everything at once. What we didn't have on the board was equalization. If we'd had that, we'd never have got anything cut. We didn't need equalization - still don't. I don't use it yet. Except when we go to the laquer channel, we used it then, still do. But everything was flat coming out of the microphone, run on the tone flat and we put on the echo in it and that's all. It would make greater sound if you depend on what the rules are, you know. It's a fine sound. I think the main thing that made it work was the substance there more than the quality of the sound. It was something about the room that let people get loose, perform, sounded good to them and the spirit of it got on the tape, the spirit of it, the feeling, is what sold it. Because, technically, it wasn't all that great a studio, technically it was a pretty good studio for various commercials and stuff like that. What we could have done if we'd put a little carpet around - well actually, the walls were pretty live, they were plaster walls, the side walls. The ceiling and one of the end walls were V-shaped. That part of it was fine. All we really needed was some stuff on the walls to absorb and tone it down a little bit, the side walls. If we'd had some pressed fiberglass or something - it was just a little too live, that's all. Otherwise it was a good studio, but if we had toned it down a little bit we'd have been able to do more things - it wasn't as versatile as I was looking for, like in the case of Roy Orbison. It was almost impossible to do the kind of stuff in there at that time that he was trying to do. He was ahead of himself at that point.
#1 - Jerry Lee came back then with some Rock and Roll?
#2 - Yeah, about three weeks - well anyway, I got to playing that tape around, I played it for Sam and he kind of chewed me out for not going ahead and cutting records immediately with him.
#1 - Sam chewed you out for not -
#2 - He sort of
chewed me out. He knew not to chew me out too much,
because that's the first time anybody made any mention of me being empowered to
go around making any kind of deals with these people. I was there to listen and
put them on tape if I thought they had any kind of potential and let Sam hear
them. Well, I thought Jerry Lee had potential when I first heard him, so I put
him on tape. Got his name and phone number on the back of the tape. We could
call him at any point, see. Then it wasn't any big deal. Sam didn't really chew
me out. He just said, you know, when anything like that walks in, sign it. So, after
that when somebody walked in, if I thought they could cut hit records, I'd
start making tapes, hire musicians and stuff. Anyhow, we'd get some tapes cut,
then sign some contracts and Sam would put them out. But he had the say - he
was the only one who had the say about what was released. I talked him into a
few little things - not a whole lot. We pretty much agreed on the stuff. We
just cut tapes all the time and once in a while we'd go through them and pick
out the best stuff and put out some records. And when we had like 6 singles out
with Johnny Cash - make up an album - 12 sides - never cut an album with Johnny
Cash - it wasn't the thing to do in those days. Albums were only about 10% of
the market at that point, I think, something like that. "But now, anyway,
with Jerry Lee, we sat around listening to that tape for two or three weeks and
I was going to call him but he walked in one day, him, and let's see, his cousin,
J. Brown. Jerry Lee had started a little goatee. I told him to shave it off. I
said "I been meaning to call you, I want to cut some tapes - Sam likes the
stuff we've got", but he said he'd learned some rock and roll songs. Said
he'd written one, written a song. So we went back there - Now, I don't think we
heard anything that day. That's right, it was on a
Monday or Tuesday. But I remember we set it up for Thursday when he would come
back and I would have three or four musicians there and we would cut some
tapes. So he came back - Sam hadn't seen Jerry Lee at this point, Sam went to
the disc jockey convention that week over here in Nashville, that's the reason
I remember it was on Thursday. Also, I remember the heat kept going off. It was
as cold as shit. And I had these - it was a heat sound, that's what it was, had
these electric heaters in the control room to keep warm and they kept blowing
the circuit breaker, you know, tripping the circuit breaker, cutting off the
board. So I remember it was kind of cold and on a Thursday. I had Billy Lee
Riley and Roland Janes and J. M. Van Eaton on the
drums and we taped "End of the Road", that was the song he had
written, his first one we taped. We worked on that a whole lot and cut it and
then we did, he had learned it, "You're the Only Star in My Blue
Heaven", remember that Gene Autry thing, it was a waltz, well he had put
it in 4/4 time. Instead of [sings the song as waltz] Jerry went [sings the song
in 4/4 time], playing the piano. That was my favorite at that point. Well, anyway,
"End of the Road," and we did "You're the Only Star in My Blue
Heaven" and I think some other song. Then I asked him - "Crazy
Arms" at this time had already been a big hit, by Ray Price. It had been a
hit for six months and then it had been covered by the Andrews Sisters and they
did a big pop hit. At this point it was on its way down by the Andrews sisters.
It had been a big hit twice - it had been a hit for six months. I said, you know “Crazy Arms”? He said, “I know most of it."
I said, "Let's do it now" or something like that. So he did it, and
he didn't know some of the words, sort of made up some of the words and it was
a one take, and on that particular take, Billy Riley had gone into the head. He
was playing the guitar and the bass player was off somewhere. So all we really
had on that record was the piano and the drum - set of drums, no bass. But we
had a mic on the bass drum, so it had a good bottom.
At the very end of it the bass player walked in - I think Riley was playing the
bass. He didn't think we were cutting for real. We sort of weren't. But at the very end of "Crazy Arms." Riley picked
up the electric guitar, or the bass player, somebody
picked it up and hit a wrong chord, a bad chord and it is still on the record,
just because they didn't think - accidental chord he found. It was on the B, I
think, the wrong chord, but it didn't bother us too much. So I made the tape
and then we listed to it all day. I loved "You Are The
Only Star in My Blue Heaven" and "Crazy Arms" - we kept drifting
back to "Crazy Arms". So when Sam came back from
tape and the instrument, he took it off on the piano, ta, ta, to dum, ta, ta, ta - something, before the voice ever came in Sam stopped the machine and said, "I can sell that", then we wound it back and started again. And then the singing started and he just flipped. And it was a good record. We made a dub right then and there on the lathe - we had two lathes - a lathe on the left and a lathe on the right. The left was for 45's and 33. The one on the right was for 78. So we just played the tape a few times, "Crazy Arms" and loved it more and more and played it over and over. Then Sam said, "Let's cut a dub and I'll take it down to Dewey tonight." So we put a disc on there and cut a dub and Sam took it down to Dewey that night. In the meantime, we cut a master and we were having it pressed, it took about a week to get the record. But Sam took the dub down to Dewey. I think we got records in about five days actually. Took it down to Dewey and Dewey put it on the air and the phones light up and before the night's over we knew we had a hit. Dewey got 120 calls, or something. So, by the time the record was at Popular Tunes, there was a demand for it. Now that record wound up selling about 120,000 which was a good sale considering the thing had been a hit already and was on its way down. It still is one of my favorite records that I ever did with him.
Jerry Lee wanted to hang around
#l - Well, that was not a commercial move.
#2 - But I
loved Jerry Lee's piano playing and we had a lot of fun, he was a lot of fun in
those sessions back then. And so was Johnny Cash. They had a sense of humor.
And when, you know, we'd come in and make tapes and we'd cut - one time, when Jerry
Lee was hanging around for that 10 days or so, I felt like he was going to be a
hot thing, so I got him in the studio as much as I could and cut a lot of
tapes. One day we cut 13 sides going into the night.
#1 - Was "Shaking Going On" a one take?
#2 - Yeah, that was a one take. It was a one-take with no run down. I had the mike set up for 5 mics. We had been working on "It'll Be Me" and I didn't like to stay on one - you know, it gets redundant after a while, you've got to stop and resume it later. So I needed some diversion, so I walked out in the control room and said "Why don't we get on something else for a while, Jerry, and come back to this?" And J. W. Brown pipes up and says "Jerry, why don't you do that thing we've been doing out on the road that everybody likes so much?" He said, "All right." I said, "Well, let me go in there and turn on the tape machine?" So I went in there and he would play and record, sit down and he did "A Whole Lot of Shaking Going On" and I did a little touch-up mixing, whatever - as we were rolling. And that was the record. I don't think we played it back at that point. Played it back later - in a day. Of course, once we got to playing it back, we loved it. So we played it over and over and over. Sam came in, we played it over and over and over. And we put it out.
#1 - And you knew it would be a hit?
#2 - We thought it was the best thing we'd had. We'd cut a lot of stuff with him, too. That was the one we thought had the best chance, so it was out and doing pretty good, but it wasn't selling like huge quantities until Jed Phillips went up to New York and got Jerry Lee on the Steve Allen Show. And he did "A Whole Lot of Shaking Going On". It went from 100,000 sales to a million in a couple of months. And I was happy about it because I was earning my first free ride with "It'll Be Me," which originally was going to be the "A" side. But, there again, we made a dub and took it down to Dewey, while we were waiting on the - well, I don't know whether we had records then or not, but we took the thing down to Dewey, it was probably a record by that time, and Dewey played both sides and "A Whole Lot of Shaking" was the one that got the calls, so that was the record. But Sam liked "It'll Be Me.". That was his pick for the "A" side. I was sort of, I had to try and be a little bit objective about it. If it'd been the "A" side I'd have made more money, but I think I kind of thought "A Whole Lot of Shakin' " was the one. But they played, those records got pretty good, they got heard anyway, pretty good, by the end. Sam had a lot going there as far as reception by then. You know, he'd had Elvis and "Blue Suede Shoes," and Johnny Cash. I never worked with Elvis in the studio.
#1- How about running over that story you told one time about when you had the band in the top of the hotel and Elvis would come sit in?
#2 - No, it was
- when Elvis first started, I had just got back from
# 1 - I don't think anybody has followed him since?
#2 - Well he
was the rage, even then. He was, from the time they played his first record on
the air in
#1 - Did you ever sit around and play with Elvis casually?
#2 - Well, my
biggest association with Elvis was because he would come back and sign records,
like everybody always goes back to certain places. He would come by and hang
around fairly often, you know, and it would be like, like I drop by Jack's Tracks.
And most of the time we didn't make any big deal of it. Most of the times it
would be just me in the control room and J. M. or somebody sitting around or
Riley and he'd drop by and sit around an hour or two and then drift off. Or
maybe we'd go to
#1 - Are those
the ones RCA sued
#2 - Un-huh. That's something else entirely. Oh, that dialogue stuff, I don't know where that stuff is. Some of them must have got lost. There was one tape there that Elvis did a lot of talking, they were asking him questions, and I was asking him a few questions. But I don't know where those tapes are. Well, when I left Sun Records everything was in the control room. And I made a bunch of safety tapes one time for Sam to take home. But I don't know what he did with them.
#1- Was Johnny Cash before Jerry Lee or after or during?
#2 - Well, when
I went to work at Sun Records, Johnny Cash had already had "I Walk the
Line", that was his latest record and it was already a hit and Sam, he
didn't let me work with Johnny Cash for a while, or Carl Perkins. He let me
work with Roy Orbison and Sonny Burgess,
there was a bunch of people around there. The first thing I ever did with
Johnny Cash was a thing called "Home of the Blues", and it was a fair
hit but it wasn't a powerhouse. The first time I really worked with Johnny Cash
was on "Ballad of Teen Age Queen." I'd been trying to cut that myself
and I'd made a tape and he liked the sound of it and he wanted ME to play the
guitar with him. So I played guitar on that and Sam ran the board. And I
counted it off - it started with - "Go Now" (sings part of the song),
well, we cut the rhythm track with me playing the guitar and Luther playing the
guitar, electric guitar, and bass and drums. I guess we had a piano. Anyway,
Sam cut the first track while I was playing the guitar, then I got these voices
in there - over dubbed (sang) all that stuff, all them answers and everything.
And the record was a big hit, a big hit. So then Sam let me work with him some
more and we did "Guess Things Happen That Way". I played the guitar
and it was the same kind of deal. I taught some of those guitar players how to
run the board so I could play the guitar sometimes. I played "
#1 - So?
#2 - Yeah. So I got to work with Cash more and more and Riley and Sonny Burgess. I spent a lot of time with him. But we just made tapes all the time. And Jerry Lee would come into town for a week or two and we'd cut a bunch of stuff with him. Pick out the best and release them. Same with Johnny Cash, he'd come in with his songs, that he had learned and everything and listen to whatever I had there, what I had being getting up, and he'd learn some of them and we'd cut tapes.
#1 - What's the run down on "Ring of Fire"?
#2 - Well, this
was years later after he was with
#1 - What did you, Did you ever get involved with Bill Justis back then?
#2 - Uh-huh.
Well, I think Justis was involved at that point with
"Teen Age Queen". We wanted vocal groups by then. We decided we
needed vocal groups on some of them records and Bill Justis
was a local orchestra leader, fairly well known around
#1 - Was there actually a different producer and engineer at all sessions back then?
#2 - No. When I was producing, like with Jerry Lee, they didn't have a producer function then. That started with RCA when Steve Sholes started putting Chet Atkin's name on records as producer. Up to that point it was know as A & R, the guy who worked for Record Label - he's there at the sessions. Well, at Sun, most of the time it would be me in the control room and the band out in the studio and we'd be making tapes. Well, whatever we wanted to make and Sam would come in and listen to them and ever so often we'd press no several.. It had no form to it, no routine, no schedule - we'd just cut records and every once in a while it'd be time to put out a single or two or three.
#1 - There was never any pressure?
#2 - No, not much. Now, when Jerry Lee got real big and we needed "Great Balls of Fire" we wound up cutting "Great Balls of Fire" several times and decided we wanted to cut it over and waited for Jerry Lee to get back to town, and stuff like that, but there was never and pressure and we got "Great Balls of Fire" in pretty good order. You know, that was a follow up to "A Whole Lot of Shaking."
#1 - Did you work on "High School Confidential " too?
#2 - Well, Justis was, by his own admission a mechanical idiot, so he couldn't get that bit of operating the board and being a musical sort of person. But it was kind of like, you know, we just worked together.
#1 - Did you work on "Raunchy"?
#2- Yeah. That was, we did that about three o'clock in the morning. We'd been working on this thing. It was kind of like "A Whole Lot of Shaking" in that he'd been performing it out live and people had been digging it. But we had been working on something else - we'd been working on "College Man' and we'd been doing some calypso sort of stuff, all kinds of different things, trying to come up with a hit sound. And it was about 3 o'clock in the morning and we were still going and tired of working on that and Bill said "Want you to hear this thing we been playing around these dances and people just love it". It's a thing that Sid Anchor wrote. So Sid was there and we cut "Raunchy". Then later, we overdubbed horns.
#1 - How did that rhythm come about?
#2 - (Strummed) - simple. I mean it's something any guitar player could do. It just sounded right. I loved it. I loved it that night. We played it over and over. 1 don't know if we played it that night. You know, we'd cut these tapes and all these people would drop by and we'd play them for them and put them out - the ones they liked best. Everybody loved “Raunchy”. The ones that were big hits, everybody loved them. "Whole Lot of Shaking Going On," “Crazy Arms” But before "Crazy Arms" was actually on the market, people were dropping by there just wanting to hear it. And about the second day Sam made the statement, "I'm going to start charging them by the dollar to hear this record." It was great, I could sit back and listen to it a hundred times, you know, that's the nice thing about making records - you get it right once and then you can listen to it forever.
#1 - That way you get to hear it before anyone else
#2 - Yeah.
#1 - What did you do with Charlie Rich?
#2 - Mostly with him I ran the board. On the way, we hung out a bit - tried to write some songs. All them guys - well, I got to using him as a piano player, too. And he was the piano player on a lot of the Johnny Cash stuff. And I got to cutting his songs with different people, Jerry Lee and - in fact he played the piano on that song Jerry Lee sung, I doubt if very many people know that.
#1 - "Crazy Arms"?
#2 - No, it was (Sang "I'm Blue, So blue") And Jerry Lee played the piano on "Match Box", I think by Carl Perkins. I believe, I know he played on something and I think that was the one. Then it was within a week or so that I had him as my side man piano player. That was my big excitement about Jerry Lee, right then I was without a piano player. I didn't know he was going to be a star in ten days on the road. I was with a lot of musicians but they all drifted off you know most of them drift back. Here lately, I think I'm still trying to get up a band, same thing I was trying to do when I was about 14. It's fun though trying to do it, you know, I may actually do it one of these days. But now, I want five horns - so I, because I want to play the trombone. I want to be one of the two trombone players. If I can only have two horns, I want two trombones. If I have three, I want a tenor sax.
#1 - OK
#2 - I would like to
have a couple of trumpets for one song, but most of the time I just want one
trumpet. Just this one song you need two trumpets on, just this one little
place. It's been a big source in keeping me confused. I could get a band where I
could play "
#1 - Did you ever run into Bobby Bland back in those days?
#2 - He would
drop over in
#l - That was one of my favorite records - still is - that "Two Steps From the Blues."
#2 - I remember he cut some records during that period of time that I liked a whole lot. Had some really good horn sounds on it, Boogie Woogie, beat.
#1 - He played
at our Senior Prom in
#2 - I cut a bunch of records with Cookie and the Cup Cakes, I think.
#1 - They used to Play "Matilda", that was their hit.
#2 - Yeah.
#1 - They used to play at our parties when I was 17 or 18 and I figured this has got to be heaven and - all these other kids - Johnnie and the Jerk-offs playing and I was sitting up there watching with my mouth hanging open. It was well known if you would take a bottle of tequila to Cookie and the Cup Cakes they would put on quite a show. More than they'd put on if you didn't bring a bottle of tequila.
#2 - I'm trying to
remember if I cut a bunch of record with Cookie and the Cup Cakes, or not. I
think I did, in
#1 - Which stuff did you cut on Albert?
#2 - Oh, a bunch of
stuff - all that stuff, Yeah I ran the board. That was done in the studio in
#1 - I've watched him play a lot. He's got this guitar -
#2 - Well, actually, I kind of, he came in one time and did some tapes and I liked him and liked the stuff he was doing and I played the tapes for Bill and he had a label at that time and he agreed to pay for this thing and we cut Albert Collins. So I've done a lot of things with Albert Collins, a couple or three albums.
#1 - I've got a
couple of those albums floating around. "Deep Freeze" and
"Frosty" and - I don't remember all those titles. They all have something to do with ice - I
watched him. My dad got along pretty well with him. We used to go over to
#2 - That
studio I had in
#1 - This was
after you were fired from Sam's employ and then did you go right down to
#2 - Well, after I left Sun, I started Summer Records on the monies I had coming in from songs I had written for Sam's publishing companies, which was a fairly good amount. I made more money the year after I left Sun than I did the year I worked for Sun. I started off at $60 a week and when I left I was making $90. Me and Bill Justis were both making $90 a week - but we were both writing songs and I had two or three: "I Guess Things Happen That Way" and "Ballad of Teenage Queen", and back side of "A Whole Lot of Shakin’" and a whole lot of other stuff there, as a writer. That was the first time I had made a sizable amount of money. You know, Sam paid sort of low royalty rates. Adds up.
#1 - Did Summer records have many releases?
#2 - "Motorcycle Michael” was the first one. Me and Don Robertson hung out a lot. He is one of my favorite piano players.
#1 - What've we
#2 - I don't
remember. “Patches” is one of the first things we did actually. Well, let's
see, we were in
Bill had a
little studio there, a couple Magnacorder tape
recorders, a board and stuff, and I had some equipment in
#1 - Had you
done anything with them before in
#2 - I'd cut several records with Dickey on Sun and Allen was one of his backup singers. Then after I left Sun I had worked with him some. I cut one record with Allen with RCA.
One time while
I was over here, I was working with Chet, he played me
this dub of Patches as possible material for Allen. So, I played it for Allen
and he thought it was all right but he thought it was kind of hokey, Dickey
liked it, and then months later, after 1 had moved into
#1 - Was that ever recorded before?
#2 - No, I don't think so.
#1 - I can't hardly remember, but - #2 - No. Cynthia Wheel, and ...
#1 - Berryman Wheel.
#2 - Berryman, yeah. But it was after I left RCA and moved to
#1 - Allen was right it was hokey, Dickey was right, it was hit.
#2 - And I had the back side of that too
#1 - What was that?
#2 - A song called "More or Less". It was more or less a song.
#1. - What was "I Saw Laura Yesterday" did that follow?
#2 - "Linda", yeah. That was the next one. We cut it in
album like that, you
know, splicing and all, would be a little too tedious and nobody else did. So
we came to
#1 - When did you first hear Dickey sing "She Thinks I Still Care”?
#2 - That was
while, - I remember coming up to
a trip from
Beaumont when I was building the studio, or it was either that or shortly
before I went to Beaumont - it was during the early period and I liked that
song a lot and nobody else seemed to be interested in it, but I kept having
Dickey sing it or kept singing it myself. I just thought it was a hit. Dickey
didn't think much about it one way or another. He had kind of written it for
#1 - If you needed anything, you never had to leave the block.
#2 - And
catty-cornered across the next block up was the City Auditorium. It was kind
of easy to lure Johnny Cash and - well, I had him come down one time. I had,
but that is another story. But all the People came to the studio when they came
#1 Did [unintelligible] come along to sing. Did you have anything to do with that?
#2 - I cut "Colinda" with him - that was the first time I worked with him. Bill had been working, with him. Yeah, he'd had several records out, some of which were hits in the Cajun belt.
#1 - We had them in
#2 - That's the Cajun Belt.
#1 - Who else drifted through there, anybody else?
#2 - Jiving Reeve -
#1 - Jiving Jeeves and the Jokers?
#2 - I think so. Benny Barnes, Autrey Inman, actually Charlie Rich came down there one time and stayed several days.
#1 - talking to me about moving to
#2 - I was
prepared to go out on a limb. I was going to come with some sort of monthly
thing for him to write for me and come down here and we were going to work
together but I didn't want to do it unless he could be right there. So then he
didn't want to leave
#1 - Did you
have anything to do with Dale and Grace in
#2 - No, that
was done in
#1 - Did you work with Carl Perkins at all?
#2 - I did just a few
sides with him. I just started working with him when he left the label. I never
#1 - After
#2 - I went
#1 - When you came here, you got a deal with RCA right away?
#2 - No, I never had a deal with RCA other than producing individual artist. What did I do when I first got here? I cut some stuff with Johnny Cash, everybody loved the "Night Owl" and I had about five songs in that and “The One on the Left” was a hit.
#1 - That cross over?
#2 - Yeah. I kind of got
lucky. I'll tell you what I had when I came to
#1 - You hit town with 30 songs?
#2 - Yeah, 30 new ones and I got most of them cut. A bunch of them were hits. One of them was Charley Pride's first record - first hit record - first chart record. "Just Between You and Me" it was his third release cut, the #4 in the charts. He got the #2 in one of them. His first two records didn't chart. They got a good bit of play though. His third record went to No. 4 in one paper and No. 2 in another. Then his next record, I wrote his first two or three hits. "Just Between You and Me" was the first one - that's one of those things I had written in Beaumont and made a piano and voice and guitar demo, with an arrangement basically like a Charley Pride record, And the “One on the Right, on the Left”, was one of them 30 songs and "Flushed from the Bathroom of your Heart", "Daddy Old Legs," "Egg-Sucking Dog"
#1 - "
#2 - No, I
wrote that in
#1 - "Katie" too
#2 - No, that
was after "California Girl". I was trying to think of some more of
those 30 songs. Most of them you'd recognize. You know, it was a time that I
didn't seem to be doing much. I wasn't cutting any records, but just writing
songs. Because I knew I was going to
#1 - You did run into the Winters! [Edgar and Johnny Winters – ed.] What did you think about them?
#2 - That they were pretty talented. I wouldn't, I felt like they, you know, I felt like I
wouldn't be surprised if they made it. And I wasn't. Edgar was the one - Johnny
was the guitar player, that's about all he did, but Edgar played the saxophone and
piano and wrote music. I had him write me some fiddle charts one time and he
brought in some kids that he worked with and they were not bad. Not good enough
for a record, but they were good for a 14 or 15 year old kid. He was the one
who seemed more serious about music in general. Johnny was a kind of
happy-go-lucky guitar picker. Ken Ritter was producing him. Ken is the mayor of
#1 - Ever run into [unintelligible] in
around in honky-tonks in
#2 - Well, Ken
had this label and he'd bring the Winters. Johnny was
his artist - Edgar was an assistant to Johnny sort of, Johnny, more or less was
the boss. That was when Ken Ritter was producing. And he'd come in and rent the
studio, and cut these records and put them out under his label - Frolic, I
think, and sell a few around the area. Never made any money
out of it. Ken, you know, just liked being in the record business. It
was fashionable being in the record business and Hughey,
when I first got to Beaumont, Hughey was still
cutting hair. But he'd had a few hits. Hughey cut my
hair when I drove over to Winning, about 20 miles away from
#1 - I would love to get an interview with you, Hughey, Shelby, Chet and Sam, all five of you in the same room.
#2 - Sam don't know
these other people. Well
#1. - Did you have Chips back with you?
#2 - Just barely, he was around, he'd drop by once in a while. He was a guitar picker.
#1 - He was telling me how they used to over-dub when they didn't have equipment, put a lead tape over half the tape. Tape it to play it back then, when they would come to that part, put a new part on and peel the tape off.
#2 - I never did that one.
END OF PART 1 GO TO PART 2