ABOUT A PARTY'
THE CREST RECORDS STORY
RockStar RSRCD 017 (UK)
Tom Tall Stack-A-Records * Bobby & Terry Caraway Ballin' Keen * Tom Reeves Primitive Love * Tom Wilson Can You Bop * Desert Stars Ridin' The Frets * Eddie Cochran Skinny Jim * Norm Skylar Rock'n'Roll Blues * Glen Garrison Lovin' Lorene * Tony Casanova Yea! Yea! Come Another Day * Bo Davis Let's Coast Awhile * Hank Sanders Been Gone A Long Time * Bill Skidmore III Date Bait * Frank & Ernie Spotlight * Johnny Donn What Happened Last Night * Don Carson Three Carburetors * The Gee Cees Buzzsaw * Dick Bills Rockin' & A Rollin' * Four Young Men Don't Be Bashful Little Girl * Glen Campbell Turn Around & Look At Me * Bobby Edwards You're The Reason * Jay Chevalier Check Out Time * Vern Stovall Long Black Limousine * Tommy Dee Three Stars * Hal Jackson-The Chromatics Wild Man Wild * Smoki Whitfield Function At The Junction * Tommy Law Cool Juice * Freddi & Al Love Bug On The Loose * Roscoe Scully How Come My Dog Don't Bark * Prince Patridge Get Back * Boogaloo & The Gallant Crew Clothes Line (Wrap It Up) * Talk About A Party * Big Fat Lie * Cops & Robbers * The Ebb Tones That's All
all agree with the fact that independent labels have always been the creative
force behind rock and roll : well, with this CD release from 1999, RockStar
Records spotlighted one such record company called Crest Records, whose offices
were located at 9109 Sunset Blvd in Hollywood, California and whose first releases
appeared in 1955. At right is a picture of 9109 Sunset as it was in...1987,
when my wife & I went to the States for the first time. No more music but
the myth was still in the air.
RockStar had issued three compilation LPs of Crest material in the past, all deleted : 'The Best Of Crest-Vol.1' (RSR LP 1002), 'The Best Of Crest-Vol.2' (#1003) and 'Spotlight On Crest Records' (#1011). They tried to cull the best sides from those albums for the CD pictured at left.
An offshoot of the famous American Music publishing firm, Crest Records recorded a long list of artists in a wide variety of styles and were more of a pop label, similar to Liberty Records for instance. In fact, another major similarity between those two labels lies in Eddie Cochran's involvement. Eddie had been signed to American Music as a songwriter by Sylvester Cross and cut his first solo record there, in July 1956 : 'Skinny Jim' (Crest 1026) is one of the highlights on this compilation. The original Crest '45, with 'Half Loved' on the flip, had been legally reissued for the first time by RockStar on a 1979 single (RSR SP 3002).
rock and roll and rockabilly numbers abound and are featured on the first half
of that 79-minute disc. At the same session as Eddie's, a certain
'Bo' Davis cut two wild sides with Cochran
on lead guitar, Connie 'Guybo' Smith on upright bass and black drummer, Jesse
Sailes, a veteran player who had backed up Joe Turner, Jay Mc Shann and Ike
Carpenter among others : 'Let's Coast Awhile' (#1027) has been selected here.
The other, 'Drowning All My Sorrows', should have been included too because
rockabilly cannot get any better. Of course, both Davis tracks previously appeared
on a number of Rockstar EPs, LPs and CDs. The big discovery is that Bo Davis
was NOT Hank Cochran in disguise but local singer, Gene Davis, who later went
on to cut more good rockers like 'Curfew' (R-Dell 107, backed with 'No Rockin'
& Rollin' incidentally !) and 'I've Had It, I'm Through' (Rosco 404). He
also had 'Facts Of Life' b/w 'My Only Prayer' on Challenge 59091.
The completely zany but superlative Tom Reeves single (#1029) may have been cut at that same Cochran-Davis split session. 'Primitive Love', with its sound & vocal effects, plucked guitar backing and maraccas beat, is one of the few novelty records you can't tire of. Its flip, 'Baby, I'm A Lonesome Cowboy', with slap bass, piano and maraccas but minus the vocal effects, was just as good. It appeared on both RSR LP 1002 and RSR LP 1011.
Tom Tall cut a number of '45s on the Fabor, Abbott (all reissued by Bear Family years ago) and Sage labels before the two he had on Crest. He was deeply influenced by his good friend, Eddie Cochran. When I met him in Las Vegas in 1993, he told me that he used to play a Gretsch guitar, the same as Eddie's. His 'Stack-A-Records' (#1038), with Tom himself on lead guitar, is an undisputed classic as well as a fitting opener for the CD. Again, Tom's original first Crest '45, with 'Mary Jo' on the flip, had been legally reissued for the first time by RockStar in 1979 (RSR SP 3003). You probably guessed it : 'Mary Jo' was Tom's girlfriend at the time of the record, in 1957. As you can see from the photo at left, taken in '93 by my wife, the years had been good to Tom : he looked fabulous. Another gem is Hank Sanders' wonderful slapper, 'Been Gone A Long Time' (#1039), an old Tommy Scott song later revived with gusto by Mac Curtis (Rollin' Rock LP 007). Its flip, a steady bopper titled 'How Much-How Much (I Love You)' and written by Hank himself, had been included on RSR LP 1002. Norm Skylar's 'Rock'n'Roll Blues' (#1044) is another sought-after item on this label - and has no connection with any other such titled song. Following a 'Shortnin' Bread'-type intro, it rocks steadily until the end over a guitar/tinkling piano/slap bass backing. The original B-side, 'Night Shift', another rocker and yet another Norm Skylar composition, displayed clever changes in tempo ; it was featured on RSR LP 1002 and RSR LP 1011. Norm, who turned 83 in August 2011, recently gave me the following info : 'I was born in Pomeroy, Ohio. The name 'Skylar' came from my middle name,'Schuyler'. Crest Records happened when I was working on my Masters Degree in Administration at University of Southern California. I did no more recording after Crest. Yes, I remember Dale Fitzsimmons. In fact, he played the piano on the recordings. I spent the next 30 years in the field of Education and am now retired. I have a son, Norman D., and he has been playing and writing some songs just for his own enjoyment and has talked me into playing with him sometimes and singing, but I am VERY rusty ! Oh, yes, the record passed the promo stage.'
Curiously, Marty Cooper's 'Can't Walk'Em Off' (#1043), most probably cut at Skylar's session with Rene Hall on guitar and Plas Johnson on sax, was omitted ; it truly deserved inclusion on that Crest retrospective. You can find it on RSR LP 1003.
Glen Garrison had a long career ; one may remember his two Country albums on Imperial in the latter part of the '60s. However, his debut single was on Crest. The hard rocking 'Lovin' Lorene' (#1047) is the real deal : double-tracked vocal, a hammerin' piano solo followed by a harsh guitar break, it's all here ! The flip, the bluesy 'You're My Darlin', features a stinging guitar intro and more nice piano in the background. It appeared on RSR LP 1003 ; in the liner notes, Stu Colman was right to point out that it sounded more like a competent demo rather than a finished recording. Bobby & Terry Caraway's 'Ballin' Keen' (#1065) is great rockabilly, with both Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash influences. The original flip, 'Sweet Lies', was pure Everly Brothers, down to the tremoloed guitar solo. It was on RSR LP 1002. Serious collectors know that 'Ballin' Keen' was nicely covered by Sandy Lee on the Santa Fe label (#104).
Tony Casanova had a good cut in 'Yea! Yea! Come Another Day' (#1053), a noisy '58 rocker with wild vocal and growlin' guitar. He then recorded more good stuff for Dore (#535, 'Showdown b/w 'Boogie Woogie Feeling'). Always in the rocking category, let's not forget Frank & Ernie's frantic 'Spotlight' (#1056). But why on earth didn't they include Buddy Lowe's sax/piano backed 'Ummm, Kiss Me Goodnight' (#1049) ? It was on RSR LP 1002 while its original teen ballad flip, 'Loie', was on RSR LP 1003 (under the title 'Lori'). Lowe went on to record a superb double sider for Imperial (#5680), coupling a very nice ballad, 'A Teenager Feels It Too', with a splendid rocker, 'It Happened To Me'. Long thought to feature Eddie Cochran on lead guitar, it didn't : the songs had been cut on June 22, 1960, more than two months after Eddie's tragic death. Says Buddy Lowe's son : 'It actually sounds like my Dad's style. He was a very good guitar player. That man had a huge amount of talent'.
''It Happened To Me' was nevertheless included in the 1988 Eddie Cochran Box Set, and in stunning stereo sound. It simply goes to show the enormous influence Cochran exerted on most rock'n'roll guitarists from the West Coast in the late '50s and early '60s.
Before trying to cash in on rock and roll, label owner Sylvester Cross released a bunch of urban blues and vocal group records by the likes of Freddi & Al ('Love On The Loose', #1015, retitled 'Love Bug On The Loose' here), The Chromatics ('Wild Man Wild!', #1011, backed up by Hal Jackson's Tornadoes - the title says it all but the flip, 'Devil Blues', was every bit as good), The Ebb-Tones (a cover of Merle Travis' 'That's All', #1016 - coupled with 'I Want You Only', it was their best Crest '45 although 'Baby', Crest #1024, with its bluesy harmonica intro, should be included if a second volume appears one day) and the legendary Oklahoma-born Kent Harris who appears here under the name Boogaloo & His Gallant Crew. His two Crest '45s are included. The first, 'Talk About A Party' c/w 'Big Fat Lie' (#1014), was in a jumping Louis Jordan vein ; the second (#1030) coupled two hilarious talking blues tracks : 'Clothes Line' (later reworked by Leiber & Stoller for the Coasters as 'Shoppin' For Clothes') and 'Cops And Robbers' which Bo Diddley immediately covered in 1956 (Checker 850). Dimples Harris, who had a fabulous R'n'B outing with vocal group backing on Crest ('This I Do Believe', #1013, never reissued so far), was one of Kent Harris's sisters (another, Betty, married Red Foxx and yet a third one, Beverly, joined The Platters. My thanks to Steve Propes for setting the record straight). Another important figure in that field was Prince Patridge whose 'Get Back' (#1009) has been resurrected here ; he also did 'Don't Talk Back To Me' (#1022) and had the original of 'How Come My Dog Don't Bark' (#1006), magnificently covered by Roscoe Scully (#1077) over a sharp guitar-based arrangement (the guitar being much more mixed 'upfront' on this CD than on the original '45). Prince Patridge had the last known release on the label (#1114, a reissue of two early cuts including 'How Come...').
Most of the poppier artists have been avoided - and quite rightly so, because there was a fair amount of dross in the label's catalogue - but mention should be made of Jack Lewis, Lynn Marshall and Ray Stanley (as writer and piano player) who all contributed decently to the label, especially during its first few years, and usually thanks to Eddie Cochran's involvement. Ray Stanley went on to become a much more important writer than one might think. Their best sides had already been reproduced by RockStar on a variety of singles, EPs, LPs and CDs, therefore I'll run special pieces on each of them in my 'Eddie Cochran's Back Up Sessions' pages. Tommy Dee's tribute to Buddy Holly, Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens does appear : 'Three Stars' (#1057), sung with Carol Kay. Eddie Cochran's version of 'Three Stars' was shelved for several years, appearing for the first time on a (now pretty scarce) 1966 UK single (Liberty LIB 10249). The biggest hit on Crest came in 1961 with a pop-country crossover song : 'You're The Reason' (#1075) by Bobby Edwards, with vocal accompaniment by The Four Young Men. This pleasant, slightly Buddy Holly-flavored item, part written by Terry Fell who himself had one minor Crest release, reached #11 in late '61. It was originally coupled with 'I'm A Fool For Loving You', available on RSR LP 1002. As for The Four Young Men, they had three Crest singles in their own right - teen ballads on the first, #1076, and sounding like The 4 Seasons on the second, #1083. Their best effort, the uptempo 'Don't Be Bashful Little Girl' (#1109, from 1962), is presented here. Some collectors may recall a bootleg LP on Rave On Records (#5001) that made the rounds in 1977 ; several Four Young Men tracks were included with the mention 'Eddie Cochran, lead guitar' : of course, it was only hype !
A few country sides had been cut in
1955-56, notably 'Can You Bop' by Tom 'Red' Wilson &
His Country Music (#1007), which more than likely features the legendary
Speedy West on steel guitar performing wailing
riffs resembling those on his Capitol side, 'Pushin' The Blues'. Loosely based
on 'Hey Ba Ba Re Bop', 'Can You Bop' also offers a boogying piano solo, a real
rockin' guitar break and attractive female vocal interjections ! The under deck,
'Hillbilly Parade', was a sort of uptempo waltz which mentioned many contemporary
Artists such as Bill Carlisle, Johnnie & Jack, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Webb
Pierce and Merle Travis who could be responsible for the excellent finger-picked
solo in the middle. It was included on RSR LP 1003 and RSR LP 1011. Wilson's
second Crest '45 (#1020) pales in comparison : it was a straight, undistinguished
Country coupling. The obscure instrumental, 'Ridin' The Frets', by The
Desert Stars (#1012) is a very creditable reworking of Speedy West &
Jimmy Bryant's 'Speedin' West'. Very rare, too : it's probably one of the toughest
Crest singles to be found. The reverse side was by Don Thompson - I've never
heard it. The steel guitar player on those tracks was Norman
Hamlet, who went on to spend 37 years as Merle
Haggard's steeler and band leader ; he kindly provided me with the following
info : 'I wrote that instrumental when I was 18 years
old in 1953. We recorded it around 1955. The band members were : me on pedal
steel guitar, Gene Breeden on lead guitar, Richard Stokes on drums, Bud Mills
on bass and Don Thompson on rhythm guitar. We were asked to put a vocal on the
other side of the record instead of having a double sided instrumental. Don
Thompson had a song that he had written ; we recorded it for the other side
: it was titled 'What I Like Most of All'. 'Ridin
The Frets' was revived on the Barbara Mandrell Television Show when she invited
me to play the instrumental with her on her show. It was also played in the
movie 'The Barbara Mandrell Story'. I had taught Barbara to play the pedal steel
guitar when she was 9.
On occasion I still get to play 'Ridin The Frets''.
Whatever happened to his fellow Desert Stars ? 'Only one
has passed away-Bud Mills. He was a great musician who also played trumpet and
violin. He died from complications from diabetis. Gene Breeden owns a recording
studio in Nashville and works with a lot of steel players. Richard Stokes, who
is living around Visalia, California, had a limousine service for years. And
Don Thompson lives in Arkansas ; he has worked as a Butcher in a large supermarket'.
Thanks to Greg Parsons, from California, you can now enjoy a terrific early shot of the band, with Norm Hamlet and his double-neck Bigsby steel at far left.
More country songs were waxed in the early sixties, a very good example being Jay Chevalier's 'Check Out Time' (#1097).
ceasing operations around 1963, Crest was responsible for putting young Glen
Campbell on the map. Written by Campbell but credited to and produced
by Jerry Capehart, his 'Turn Around, Look At Me'
(#1087) was a minor hit. The guitar virtuoso had already cut a few solo records
and his playing had graced many sessions (i.e. Weldon Rogers, The Champs) :
hundreds more were soon to come his way (The Beach Boys, Bruce & Terry,
Jan & Dean ...) before he hit the big time in the late sixties with his
watered-down brand of Country Music. Now, if you want to hear some of Glen's
most biting guitar sounds, don't miss 'Rockin' And A Rollin' by his uncle, Dick
Bills (#1089) ; this 1961 rocker is one of the very best cuts on the
label. The original flip, 'From Here To Nowhere', is a Country song more in
keeping with Bill's roots (he had released records early in the previous decade
on small labels like Morgan and Vicki). Glen is also heard to good advantage
on the tough, brassy instrumental, 'Buzzsaw' (#1088), released as by The
Gee Cees (obviously, Glen Campbell's initials). Interestingly, the original
flip had nothing to do with Campbell since it was 'Annie Had A Party'
(note the past tense), the same track as 'Annie Has A Party' on Silver
1006 by The Kelly Four (featuring Eddie Cochran on guitar). It was part of RSR
LP 1003. A speeded-up version of the song was released under the name of 'Big
Daddy Deerfield & The Kelly Four' on Candix (#325). Last, an intriguing
cover of 'Annie Had A Party' appeared on a single by Dave Kinzie & The Woodymen
on Sting-Ray (#1, c/w 'Beach Party') : any info on that one ?
Jerry Capehart also produced a nice, soulful single by Jewel Akens (#1098) and, never one to miss an opportunity, released a disc under his name, containing two instrumentals - notably Eddie Cochran's 'Fourth Man Theme' which became 'Song Of New Orleans' in this instance. Many of the later Crest records were produced by either Capehart or Dale Fitzsimmons.
The sound is quite good, bearing in mind that most of the master tapes were
not available and many tracks had to be dubbed from disc. The booklet is very
informative (courtesy of Rob Finnis) and the inside tray displays a few rare
label shots - collectors, take note : there were several Crest label variations,
not to mention many early pressings on red wax !!
A second volume could bring to front another bunch of goodies like the Bob Denton disc (already reissued on RSRCD 009), ace guitarist Phil Baugh's 'Bumble Bee Twist' (it was on RSRLP 011), Ronnie Blair's 'Twenty One', a Ricky Nelson-type rocker with excellent guitar or the Kelly Four-sounding instro, 'Tokyo Stomp', by the obscure Chuck Fayne. Chuck, who now lives in Australia, is a talented musician and songwriter who co-penned 'Stand Tall' for The O'Jays (on Imperial) and 'In My Dreams' for Rick Nelson (on Decca). He plays piano on 'Tokyo Stomp' and told me on the phone (in 2007) that he wrote the tune with Floyd Cramer in mind.
But clearly, the very best of Crest Records has been anthologized on this enjoyable set.
<-- Click the pic at left (it was the sleeve of Rock Star LP 1011) to access a complete & detailed Crest Records discography !
This piece is an extension of an article I had the pleasure to write for US mag, GOLDMINE (Feb. 25, 2000 issue)
© Paul VIDAL * Privas, France * March 2003/April 2014