Crown Records was a label owned by Jules Bihari on the West Coast, which was closely affiliated to the Modern/Flair/RPM
family of labels, each belonging to different groupings of the Bihari Brothers. Kent was a subsidiary of Crown. The label issued a few 45's (including some by The Robins for example) before concentrating
almost exclusively on the album market. It became the Biharis' privileged outlet for issuing their different catalogs on LP ; besides a huge (and hugely forgettable)
'Pop' series, one could find many superb R&B albums by the likes of B.B. King, Jesse Belvin, Pee Wee Crayton, The Jacks, Joe Houston,
Jimmy Witherspoon...But Crown soon extended the scope of its activities by leasing material from record companies such as Sims, Sage & Sand (in particular), Abbott and others. Hence those classic LPs by Whitey Pullen, Doye O'Dell, Lonnie Barron...plus a big bunch
of worthy 'various artists' compilations. Many albums sported front covers adorned with paintings made by a certain 'Fazzio' but the back of the records usually only listed other releases and there were no liner notes, in typical 'budget label' fashion. 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 even if they look good pressed on red vinyl ! Even in mono, the discs had a tendency to be very hissy, suggesting the possible use of recycled vinyl. And while on the subject of recycling, Crown could have won first prize for endlessly re-issuing the same tracks with different titles, perhaps equalled only by Starday.
That said, for this very page, we will concentrate on the more 'Country & Rockabilly'-oriented side of the label. Our basis will be the 'Somebody's Rockin' CD issued by P-Vine in Japan (PCD-2467) in 1993, as part of their 'Greatest Rockabillies' series whose other offerings will be discussed on various dedicated pages on this site. The presentation and photos are very average, the sound quality is very variable (depending on whether they had access to original tapes or not) and the selection of tracks is very odd.
In reality, the 'Crown Greatest Rockabillies' sub-title is an absolute misnomer ; the music collected on this CD ranges from Hillbilly to latter-day Western Swing with some good Rock'n'Roll in between - thus, with maybe one or two exceptions, real Rockabilly you just won't find here ! Nevertheless, everything considered, the disc is in accordance with Crown's way of releasing records in the late 50's and until late in the 60's.
now take a close look at the 21 tracks on hand.
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' original : the vocal group is present but there's a much more prominent electric guitar backing and the Elvisy vocal is somewhat lazier.
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 (as Johnny rather than Johnnie) & 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) 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.
4- Billy Boyd 'Shuffle Boogie'
5- Billy Boyd 'Stompin' At The Crossroad'
6- Billy Boyd 'Oop-Shank'
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' 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].
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.
Okie Jones 'Could You, Would You'
This is the top side of Sage & Sand single #221, a pure hillbilly stomper from 1956 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'. Here's the review it was given in the September '56 issue of 'Country'n'Western Jamboree' : 'Okie Jones, last heard of working a metropolitan Detroit radio station, has an excellent side in 'Could You, Would You'. Lyric is especially catchy, one of those out-of-meter sides which made 'Don't Let The Stars Get In Your Eyes' such a hit side. Band seems very loggy. Reverse side hurts the A-side, in that the title is sooo much like the excellent A-side'. 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 'Country Music On The Go-Vol.1' (Sage C-18) and 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. Oscar Hart's real name was Oscar Vanderveer. He was born in Oklahoma and later graduated from Texas State College of Commerce. He moved to California and built his own studio in West Covina where he produced many of his recordings, including this one and others like 'Six Guitar Wail' which can be found on his 'La Mirada' LP (Sage C-12).
'Fender Bender' is on 'Country Music On The Go-Vol.1' (Sage C-18) and also on 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, all courtesy of Casey Clark's Band. 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).
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). 'Rhythm In My Baby's Walk' is titled 'Rhythm Baby Walk' in error on the CD, as it was on the original Crown LP.
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), a logical offshoot of Crown, credited to Hank Brown. One side, 'Operation Blues', was in fact the old Homer 'Zeke' 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, clearly dating from a later decade. 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 probably did when it surfaced on the stereo version of the Johnny Horton/Billy Barton Crown LP (CST 290, later reissued as CST 485). The other good news is that you can now hear thirty seconds of 'Operation Stomp' by clicking the turntable on the left !
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 at left).
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 - see my Glen Barber story).
Johnny Tyler had an impressive recording career, having also waxed for Ekko, RCA Victor, Starday, Stanchel and Specialty, among others.
20- Marvin Rainwater 'Freight
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.
© Paul VIDAL * Privas, France * Spring 2005-May 2014-May 2019