Saturday, October 30, 2010

Anton Karas

I love that the stock photo used for this Austrian LP cover shows a group of people eating, drinking, and smoking, all at the same time. It reminds me that Anton Karas’s zither makes wonderful dining music, not just a brilliant soundtrack to a great film. I salvaged this album from a local thrift store and had no idea the sleeve was signed until I pulled the record out when I got it home. It’s not the most attractive item, but it’s certainly worth the one dollar price tag.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Dink Embry

And now for something totally obscure. I've noticed that the lesser known an artist is, the more likely someone will stumble upon this website when searching for that artist.

Dink Embry was a country music entertainer and personality who spent most of his career in the radio business. He worked as a disc jockey at WHOP in Hopkinsville, Kentucky for over 50 years, serving as their farm director and hosting the "Early Bird Show." He was much loved in the community, receiving all sorts of awards and honors, including the title Kentucky Colonel. His only musical contribution to the Happy Day Combo album pictured above is the humorous recitation "Just Looking," but he also deserves credit for promoting his son Drury in several different places on the back cover (click to enlarge picture).

I don't know anything about The Happy Day Combo, other than what I read on the back of this LP. They worked The Kentucky Lake Amphitheater in Aurora, Kentucky in the early 1970s and their record made its way to a thrift store in Athens, Georgia where a friend of mine found it 12 years ago. The Embrys (Dink and Drury) and The Moseleys (Jim and Gayle) comprised the core of the band and were led by vocalist Ross Sisk. The guitar player Gayle Moseley is surprisingly talented, adeptly playing in the difficult styles of Chet Atkins ("Black Mountain Rag") and Joe Maphis ("Chicken Leg"), and I'm sure he was highly regarded in the Aurora area and anywhere else he played. I'm not sure if and how Gayle is related to harmonica player Jim Moseley, who is also quite skilled at his instrument.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Charley Pride

I sent this 1966 LP to Charley Pride’s post office box in Dallas earlier this year and got it back in the mail, signed, about a month later. The comment "my first album" leads me to believe he may not sign this one that often. This record features Charley’s first single, "Snakes Crawl at Night," as well as the great "Atlantic Coastal Line," both written by Mel Tillis and Fred Burch. I like the uncluttered, simple cover design, which is typical of late 60s RCA country LPs.

It’s worth noting that Charley’s early singles were distributed to country radio stations throughout the South without any pictures of Charley, for fear that racism might keep them from receiving airplay. At the time this LP came out, many folks assumed Charley Pride was white, and, consequently, this perfectly ordinary album cover likely surprised a few people.

Charley Pride still keeps a busy touring schedule, but he doesn’t play the Mid-Atlantic States very often. If he ever makes his way out here again, I’ll be sure to be in the audience.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Hank Snow

In May of 1994, some friends and I took a road-trip from Atlanta to Nashville, with the express purpose of meeting the venerable and relatively inaccessible country music legend, Hank Snow. Though Hank was still performing weekly on the Grand Ole Opry, he was not known for welcoming visitors. When we arrived in Nashville, we checked into a fleabag motel, hit a few used record stores, and then caught a Friday evening performance of the Grand Ole Opry, which was still regularly featuring Hank Snow in the final time-slot. Looking over the Opry program now, I see that Hank Snow, Porter Wagoner, Grandpa Jones, Skeeter Davis, Jean Shepard, Charlie Walker, Jimmy Dickens, and Connie Smith were all part of the same show. Not bad for an evening's entertainment, even if the Opry hasn't really been the Opry since it moved from the Ryman Auditorium in downtown Nashville to the suburbs of Opryland in 1974.

Hank's performance that night was rather unmemorable, as age had considerably slowed him down. I remember him playing a slow Hawaiian song and having some difficulty reading the cue cards for whatever announcements he was supposed to make. He was dressed impeccably in one of his trademark Nudie Suits and just seeing him on stage was enough to make the trip to Nashville worthwhile for me. The following day, my friends and I drove out to Hank's modest but well-guarded estate in Madison, and rang the buzzer at the foot of the gated driveway. A woman answered through the speaker and courteously but firmly told us that Hank was not (and would not be) available to meet us and sign our records. This unceremoniously ended our attempt to meet Mr. Snow, so I had to resort to eBay to acquire the signed Hank Snow record pictured above.

This Award Winners LP popped up on eBay earlier this year with a "Buy it Now" price of $6.00 and it is one of the few prominently signed Hank Snow albums I have seen on eBay -- most are signed on the back cover with a faded ballpoint pen. Interestingly, this record once belonged to United Shows of America carnival operator Ed Gregory, who owned the rights to Jim Reeves and Faron Young before he filed for bankruptcy in 2002. I can only guess that Hank signed it for Gregory while he was performing at a United Shows of America carnival. A decade or two later, Gregory and his wife were convicted of bank fraud in Alabama and soon to be (controversially) pardoned by President Clinton in 2000. A report by the U.S. House Committee on Government Reform concluded that United Shows paid Clinton's brother-in-law Rodham $240,000 for undocumented consulting services before Gregory received the pardon.

It seems very fitting that, out of all of Hank Snow's LPs, and he has over 100 of them, I would end up with a signed copy of this relatively obscure 1971 LP called Award Winners. Believe it or not, Award Winners was the only LP I was carrying under my arm that day in 1994 when I showed up at the Rainbow Ranch and tried to meet Hank Snow.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Red Simpson

During that same trip to Bakersfield where John and I saw Buck Owens at the Crystal Palace (see previous entry), we caught one of Red Simpson's regular Monday night gigs at Trout's in a town called Oildale, which is a few miles north of downtown Bakersfield. The 73 year old nightclub is the last remaining authentic honkytonk in the Bakersfield area.

Monday evenings are advertised as "SENIORS & SINGLES MIXER - LIVE MUSIC Featuring RED SIMPSON & LARRY PETREE!" and the music is really meant as accompaniment for dancing, the way it is at most of the best honkytonks in the country. On the warm September evening that we were there, the dance floor was packed, and most of folks dancing were over the age of 60.

Red and steel player Larry Petree played mostly country standards that night and surprisingly few truck driving songs, the style of country music Red is famous for singing. We had been in contact with Larry the previous week and he knew we were going to be in the audience that night. Shortly after we arrived, he introduced us to Red and Red asked me what song I wanted to hear, to which I responded "Roll, Truck, Roll," without thinking that there's not much room for Larry to play on that song--not that that really mattered. They played "Roll, Truck, Roll" early in the set and they played "Hello, I’m a Truck" shortly after and I don't remember them playing any other truck-driving songs. They mostly played music that was more suitable for dancing. This was definitely entertainment for locals, while Buck's show was geared more toward out-of-towners.

Red and Larry were very friendly with us and we all had a beer together after the show, where Red introduced us to his wife Joyce and signed our records. The entire place--the management, the wait staff, the bartender, the performers--were unusually welcoming and friendly, and this evening is my fondest memory of the Bakersfield trip.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Buck Owens

In September of 2003, my friend John and I took a weekend trip to Bakersfield to see Buck Owens at his Crystal Palace establishment. We weren’t able to meet Buck, but we were able to get a couple of LPs signed, thanks to our waitress who took our records backstage before the show started. Buck’s performance was decent, but I felt that he gave a little too much time to other (non-Buckaroo) members of his band, such as the backup singer pictured above. Even when Buck was in the spotlight, he wasn't exactly doing the things you expected to see him do. I distinctly recall him playing "Steel Guitar Rag" on the resonator guitar, which I would have gladly traded for a performance of "Streets of Bakersfield." In fact, the evening's entertainment was more akin to a variety show than a Buck Owens concert. Fortunately, I was able to catch a much more engaging Buck Owens performance at Bimbo’s 365 Club in San Francisco about a month later.

When John and I got our signed LPs back after the show, our waitress examined the signatures, confirming that Buck himself had, indeed, signed them. Earlier that evening, she had told us that other people sometimes sign for Buck, but that one could tell an authentic Buck Owens signature by examining the "B."