The Memphis Sound
Tue November 1, 2011
Hi Time Someone New Had A Hit
In its mission statement, the United States Department of Defense accepts responsibility “for providing the military forces needed to deter war and protect the security of our country.” In the 1958 to ‘60 era, the US had a small contingent of “advisors” in Vietnam. The only actual armed deployments were Marines to the Lebanon Crisis in 1958, military aid to “Papa Doc” in Haiti in ‘59, and Marine protection for US nationals following the Cuban revolution in ‘59 and ‘60. So, while Elvis Presley served his country in training and stationed in Germany, he not only fulfilled his duty of deterrence, but also managed to achieve two number one records, five top-tens, and assorted charting b-sides. Presley’s Colonel, not Colonel Tom, but his real army Colonel Taylor, said “Aside from the fact that our battalion could have gone to war with the Soviets at any time, there are risks every single day in a combat unit. [Elvis] pulled his weight. He used his head and did his job well. He was one of us. He cared about us. And he got back the respect and friendship he gave everyone else."
Back stateside, Elvis got the respect and admiration of topping the charts for the final time in the 50’s with “A Big Hunk O’ Love,” in August, 1959. This song was recorded in Nashville a little over a year earlier, while Elvis was on furlough from basic training. It would be the first of four number ones written by Aaron Schroeder.
Bill Black didn’t play bass on that session. At that time laying the foundation for launching a new group, the Bill Black Combo.
After a couple of years of struggle, Bill put Hi Records on the chart with his first single. At this point, Bill Black was on bass, of course; Jerry Arnold (singer Eddy Arnold’s nephew) on drums, Reggie Young on guitar, and on sax, Marty Willis. The song they recorded was Smokie Part 2, and in early 1960, the 18th single from Hi hit number 17 on the pop chart, and number one R&B. According to author Roben Jones in the book The Memphis Boys, the guitar sound was achieved by Reggie Young hitting the strings with a pencil. This was a throwback to the bebop days, when a drummer would tap a rhythm on the stand-up bass strings, as Ray Bauduc and Bob Haggart did on Bob Crosby’s “Big Noise From Winnetka.” Hi Records had a low checkbook balance, so in lieu of big session bucks, the players were offered stock according to one source, and royalties according to another, to cover their performances on the song.
By the time the Combo’s follow up single was recorded, Ace Cannon had sauntered in to replace Willis on sax, and Carl McVoy, cousin of Jerry Lee Lewis, joined on keyboards. “White Silver Sands” was a cover of the song Don Rondo took to number seven in the summer of ‘57, and the Bill Black Combo rolled it to the number seven spot again, and number one R&B, to score the biggest selling single of their career. The draft would take its toll again, with Reggie Young heading for the service. To add insult to induction, as Reggie rode the bus to boot camp, he was passed by a Caddy with “The Bill Black Combo” emblazoned on the back, and his replacement riding in his seat.
Phillips International, an imprint of Sun Records, launched another career with the 1960 top 30 hit “Lonely Weekends” by Charlie Rich. Charlie had been a session plinker for Judd records, owned by Sam Phillips’ brother, then did session work for Sam. His solo demos were deemed too slick and jazzy to fit the Sun sound, so Sam gave Charlie a stack of Jerry Lee Lewis records to study with the instructions, “Come back when you get that bad.” “Lonely Weekends” would be his biggest Sun hit, but obviously wouldn’t be the last we heard from the Silver Fox.
There are a great number of honorees on the Beale Street Brass Note Walk of Fame who made their mark long before Elvis showed up to record a song for his mama. And there are a great number who rang in New Year’s 1960 relatively unknown, but who would become household names by the end of the decade.