Hickory Records – Classic Small 60s Label Gave Voice to ‘Forgotten’ Artists

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Don Gibson,Bob Luman,Sue Thompson,Kris Jensen,Don Everly,Donovan…

HICKORY – The Little Label That Could

Back in the day when vinyl had it’s REAL heyday, it was often the little labels that produced the best stuff.  These were sometimes   subsidiaries or ‘feeder’ labels of the big boys (MGM, Columbia, RCA, etc)  – often used by their owners to record less popular,    lesser-known styles and   artists or bigger names between big labels or artists on the way down.  Whether One hit wonders like Kris Jensen (Torture) or  Sue Thompson   or Don Everly when he wasn’t recording with his brother, Phil or Don Gibson when he wasn’t having big hits with MGM/Mercury, Hickory  offered some top notch ‘countripolitan’ music,  some of which you may not have heard on the radio.  Though Hickory Records had a solid run    in the late 50s and early 60s  it was the mid 60s and 70s that  gave Hickory it’s most success , particularly with Gibson and Donovan(!). Mickey Newbury was perhaps the diamond in the rough of all, a highly regarded folk artist who somehow never found a major label, as far as we know.

HIckory was begun by famed country artist Roy Acuff in the early 1950s and later run by Roy Orbison‘s manager of the late 60s/early 70s, Wesley Rose (who also happened to be the son of one of the major country players . Orbison was closely associated with  many of these artists including his writing partner, Joe Melson and some would record his songs, those such as Kris Jensen and Bob Luman, who had quite a career as a country-rocker. Later, even a non-country act, Donovan , would have unlikely success on the small label, albeit with distribution help from MGM. Similar story for popular country artist Don Gibson   for whom Roy Orbison was a protege.  Orbison recorded many of Gibson’s songs and even did an entire LP of them.  Eventually, Orbison would leave Monument to sign with Rose, but recorded at the larger, affiliated MGM label.

In the early days, Hickory had a very identifiable   sound, much like Monument Records, where Orbison recorded his early work in the early 1960s. It featured the big  ‘Nashville’ or countripolitan sound,  with noted studio musicians, probably the same ones who were on the Monument sessions, people like Floyd Cramer on keybaords, Grady Martin on guitar, Boots Randolph on sax.

Hickory shuttered it’s doors  around 1974 with Don Gibson’s ‘Snap Your Fingers,’ it’s last notable song. Forty years later publisher Acuff-Rose would re-open the label to feature American Idol singers such as Ruben Stoddard and Elliot Yamin.

In many ways, Hickory Records was like Monument Records, a small label able to survive with only one or two main artists and a lot of lesser  yet talented  acts that couldn’t get a chance with the larger labels.  Perhaps      Fred Foster (Monument) wasn’t totally original in going after the marginal, downhill or undiscovered talent, even offering much the same ‘sound’ and musicians. It was unusual to have such small labels see success  without major distribution, though Hickory would later feel the pressure to do so and Monument, which had to close before  re-opening in 1977 as a  true CBS records affiliate.

Today, with the return of vinyl, we’re seeing not only more re-issues of such classic, little labels like Hickory(as below)  but new labels popping up again. Who knows? Maybe we’ll see some new Don Gibsons and Sue Thompsons again

Hickory Records – Classic Small Label Gave Voice to ‘Forgotten’ Artists

Hickory Records artists

Notable releases

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Hickory Records
(TOP) HICKORY COMPILATION offers a nice, if incomplete representative sampling of HIckory label-mates including Thompson’s two Hickory hits, Don Everly solo effort, Kris Jenson’s hit, Don Gibson … 1. Torture – Kris Jensen 2. Morning Girl – Neon Philharmnic 3. Playboy – Gene And Debbie 4. Bread And Butter – The Newbeats 5. Country Green – Don Gibson 6. Touch The Morning – Don Gibson 7. Sad Movies (Make Me Cry) – Sue Thompson 8. James Hold The Ladder Steady – Sue Thompson 9. Louisana Man – Rusty And Doug 10. Talk Back Trembling Lips – Ernie Ashworth 11. No Help Wanted – Bill Carlisle 12. Yesterday Just Passed My Way Again – Don Everly 13. Rings Of Gold – Don Gibson And Sue Thompson 14. The File – Bob Luman 15. Country Girl With Hot Pants On – Leona Williams 16. Don’t Worry ‘Bout The Mule – Glenn Barber 17. Wall To Wall Love – Bob Gallion 18. There’s A Big Wheel – Wilma Lee And Stoney Cooper

(THIRD) LP listed is pure country, featuring Don Gibson Ernie Ainsworth, Lorie Morgan, etc …

1. Talk Back Trembling Lips – Ernie Ashworth
  2. Everybody But Me – Ernie Ashworth
  3. Poor Old Heartsick Me – Margie Bowes
  4. Once More – Roy Acuff
  5. A Mansion On The Hill – June Webb
  6. There’s A Big Wheel – Wilma Lee, Stoney Cooper
  7. This Ole House – Wilma Lee, Stoney Cooper
  8. Country Green – Don Gibson
  9. Woman (Sensuous Woman) – Don Gibson
  10. Two People In Love – Lorrie Morgan
  11. Wall To Wall Love – Bob Gallion
  12. Yesterday Just Passed My Way Again – Don Everly
  13. I Love You Because – Don Gibson
  14. Poor Boy Blues – Bob Luman
  15. Kissed By The Rain – Glenn Barber

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REVIEW ****

Format: Audio CD

Nashville establishmentarian Roy Acuff started his independent Hickory label ‘way back in the mid-’50s, but most of its output came in the late ’60s and early ’70s, when countrypolitan was in full swing. Most longtime record hunters probably think of Hickory as the label that sheltered crooners like Don Gibson after their major label careers faltered, and generally speaking, serious collectors don’t prize those admittedly iffy albums. What might be surprising about this 18-song compilation, though, is how heavily Hickory’s producers were into straight pop material, particulary bouncy, California-styled sunshine pop. Sure, nobody today remembers acts such as Kris Jensen or the Neon Philharmonic, but their marginality is in large part what makes this collection worth checking out. Also of interest is Bill Carlisle’s jittery 1966 remake of “No Help Wanted,” made at a time when Carlisle was jumping from label to label, trying to recapture the commercial success of his early ’50s heyday… I sure wish some brilliant producer somewhere could track all this material down and compile it somewhere… in the meantime, check out Carlisle here, along with other searchers in the wilderness, such as Don Everly and Doug Kershaw, who were struggling along with their own solo careers around the same time… A nice historical sampler!

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SAMPLING OF HICKORY RECORDS

BLUE HEARTACHES by DON ARGO was pretty prototypic of the Hickory sound and very Orbison-esque. A would-be hit yet  little known of Don Argo today but the ‘memory of you and me’ lives on through this song.

‘I’D BE A LYIN’by LARRY HENLY was NOT proto-typic of the Hickory sound but a fine solo effort, nonetheless, by the late, lead of the NewBeats (Bread and Butter). Could be mistaken for Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Not sure who came up with the sound first, also Dick and Dee Dee had similar. Henley and the NewBeats were probably the most popular group to record with Hickory. Henley was a talented writer who worked with Joe Melson and Roy Orbison and would later write the hit ‘Wind Beneath My Wings’for Bette Middler

‘Come Back To Me my love’ KRIS JENSEN actually came out prior to Orbison’s move to MGM. Had hit quality but never made it nor did this fine version that WAS recorded on Hickory by Kris Jensen, under the auspices of Wesley Rose. ‘They’ (Fred Foster) say the song, written by Orbison, was too similar to his previous hit to be another hit.

‘Yesterday Just Passed My Way Again’ DON EVERLY from his solo career at Hickory , presumably 2000s.

Everly classic redone by Don Everly

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DAVID BOX STORY – Buddy Holly’s Replacement Had Everything But…

‘LITTLE LONELY SUMMER GIRL’ (Box, 1964)  (Reviewed as ‘Buddy Holly on Steroids’)
David Box, who replaced Buddy Holly in the Crickets for a time following the tragic plane crash after ‘ the Day The Music Died’ in 1959, had multiple recordings  which were likely hit material such as the this last single  released not long before Box’ tragic death in 1964-so much so that  Roy Orbison, himself, would  write two songs for Box and record him while inviting Box to stay  at Orbison’s Nashville home. Inexplicably, this final and potential breakthrough hit was pulled from the airwaves on Box’s death in an airplane crash, according to an unnamed source and arranger on the song who was at the recording session (Youtube).

 

50th Anniversary Tribute to David Box Songs

DAVID BOX STORY – Holly/Cricket Replacement Was Unsung Hero Of Rock and Roll

Box Had Everything Going Until Ironic, Untimely Death

red_and_blue_2 FLASHING GOOD

david box story 700

2 NEW CDS Pay Tribute to DAVID BOX, Out of the box tribute cd image

Unsung Hero of Rock & Roll

GOLD SPINNING STARS GOOGThe DAVID BOX STORY 32-Song CD (Roller Coaster) > rrpeeks@aol.com      SET  LIST

GOLD SPINNING STARS GOOG ‘Out of the Box’ Instrumental Tribute from Brian McCrae (played on David Box’ stratocaster) with Rita Box Peek

DAVID BOX Tribute from David’s sister, Rita Box Peek

red_and_blue_2 FLASHING GOOD

 

 

David Box was only 17 and still in high school in Lubbock, Texas,  when he learned of ‘the plane crash,’  on what would later be called  ‘the day the music died’   in Don McLean’s tribute ‘American Pie.’  According to David’s sister, Rita Box Peak, David was ‘devastated’ when he learned of Buddy Holly’s death on February 3, 1959. He had lost his musical and hometown idol. Yet, Holly’s songs continued to be a source of inspiration and it was later that year that Box would get his own Stratocaster guitar, like that of Holly.  He was already involved in a  rock and roll band called  The Rythm Teens, which had yet to find a drummer.

 

Unable to enter a local talent contest without a drummer, Box attended the contest and was impressed with Ernie Hall,  who performed solo representing a number of famous drumming styles including those of  Crickets’ Jerry Allison.  It wasn’t long before Hall joined up with David and another person to form the Ravens.

 

MEET THE CRICKETS 

Rita, five years David’s junior, remembers her brother’s strong desire to succeed, as she explains in the liner notes of the recent 32-song David Box CD (Roller Coaster)  now available through her (http://RitaBoxPeek.com) . She remembers the store owner where David bought his stratocaster telling them that David had already taught HIM a few things on the guitar.

 

Meanwhile, good fortune would have it that Ernie Hall lived just across the street from Jerry Allison, the drummer for the Crickets. Allison had recently moved with remaining Crickets to Los Angeles.  Hall had sent him an acetate of two songs Allison must have like  and Hall and Box were invited to Los Angeles to record those two songs with the Crickets (‘Don’t Cha Know’ and ‘Peggy Sue Got Married,’ the old Buddy Holly song), who , were looking for new talent after the loss of Holly.

 

Just like that, Box had made his first 45 record (with the Crickets) with the A side ‘Don’t Cha Know’ written by Box and the ‘B’ site the old Holly song ‘Peggy Sue Got Married’ ( though we’ve seen some conflicting notes on which was really the A and B sides.

David Box is not pictured in above photo but it is him singing lead on ‘Don’t Cha Know.’ We have yet to see a cover for this single with his picture on it. Certainly, poor publicity like this did not help his career. Pictured are original Crickets Jerry Allison, Joe B Mauldin and  long-time  off-and-on lead Sonny Curtis.

 

 

Still in high school, Box was already involved in a recording and with Holly’s old group no less,though he and Hall would have to return home to continue their education.  And that was the extent of  Box’ association with the Crickets, but it was a springboard for him. He would continue to hone his craft back home in Lubbock.

 

 

CRICKETS TIMELINE

Said one of his old high school classmates at a 2001 reunion,

‘David was extremely adept as a guitarist and would have been in the same league as Clapton had he lived.  His vocal range fell just short of Orbison but covered a greater span than most singers,’according to the aforementioned CD liner notes.

David was inspired by Roy as well as Buddy Holly and his delivery brought to mind both of them. He was described as a hard-working , unassuming, shy kid by other classmates.

David would later transfer to Lubbock High School where he found an ‘enlightened’ administration that encouraged his musical aspirations. He found , too, a pool of musical talent to draw from and the next incarnation  of his group would be known as The Shamrocks.

 

NEXT RECORDINGS

The Shamrocks would record ‘Some Sweet Day’ and ‘That’s All I Want From You’  at Ben Hall’s Studio. Hall had one of the few recording studios in West Texas that were equipped to record rock and roll.  Prior to the opening of his studio many artists had to travel further, such as Buddy Holly did going to Norman Petty’s famed NorVaJak studios in Clovis, New Mexico. Though Some Sweet Day and That’s All I Want From You tunes didn’t make it to vinyl, they are available on the new David Box Story CD.

 

While Box was waiting for his recording career to get into high gear, he continued to record. This time it was cover versions of a couple rhythm and blues tunes,Little Richard’s  ‘Slippin and Slidin’ and  the Fats Domino’s ‘Valley of Tears.’  Rita and former Shamrock James Shipley felt ‘Valley of Tears,’though never formally released to the public, was ‘one of Box’   finest vocal performances.’ ‘These performances  remind me of his casual style coming from his room, that would always draw me there, ‘ says Rita.  She includes ‘Some Sweet Day’ in the same category. Both these songs are also available on ‘The David Box Story’ CD.  She referred to her brother as ‘painting with music’ and said ‘artistic goals were very high and he expected to fulfill them all within a very short time.

 

BIG TIME – First Professional Recording Session

Box Makes Big Impression on Orbison

‘David’s first solo professional recording session was arranged for the 5th of April, 1962 in Nashville. By invitation, he and Ben Hall stayed at the home of Roy Orbison, a close associate of Ben’s, according to the liner notes of the ‘Box Story’ CD. ‘ David had found his next great influence (in Orbison. In the next few days before the recording session they sat around talking music, playing guitars and singing.  Record company owner Ted Groebl was also in Nashville and witnessed some of the interaction between David and Orbison. Ted remembers that Orbison was so impressed with David both as a singer and as a guitarist. Roy was amazed how David could play those Buddy Holly licks.  It was then that Orbison came up with two compositions for Box to record, at the time known as ‘Don’t Talk About Her’ and ‘Don’t Pity Me,’ but later retitled ‘If You Can’t Say Something Nice’ and ‘I’ve Had My Moments.’  The recording session took place at RCA Studios famous Studio B

 

 Only 5 Singles (10 songs) But Lots of Unreleased Tunes 22 of Which Have Been Since Released on The David Box Story CD

singles

albums

David Box only had five singles released and no albums until the 2002 David Box Story, during  his five year career. But , he recorded probably more than 50 tunes, rivaling Buddy Holly’s production.  Any number of these tunes could have been viable singles, and fortunately, tapes were saved and 22 more tunes have since been recorded on the 2002 ‘David Box Story  CD, along with these 10 previously released singles songs.  And, more good news is that we’re told by Rita that there is a Volume 2 of the David Box Story in the offing!

 

TO BE CONTINUED…

 

 

WHY BOX DIDN’T STICK WITH THE CRICKETS

David Box was only 17 and just starting out when , through a local connection,  he was introduced and asked to sing on  a Crickets single in 1960, following the passing of lead singer Buddy Holly. The single’s two songs, ‘Don’t Cha Know’ (Box) and ‘Peggy Sue Got Married’ (Holly) made it onto the album ‘In Style With The Crickets.’  Perhaps these songs were not of the caliber of the material Box would later record as he was growing as an artist or it was just intended as a one time thing. Add that to the fact that Box was to return home from Los Angeles to finish high school and that Sonny Curtis – though not of the caliber of Box as a lead singer – was now doing most of the lead singing for the Crickets .  For whatever reason, Box never returned to the Crickets after only with them  for a month or so, recording the two-song single that also appeared on a Crickets album, then touring with them briefly .  In any event, it’s no small thing to add to his resume’ that Box followed his idol, Buddy Holly, singing lead for the Crickets and on the last single the Crickets would perform on Holly’s original Coral label – even if it was only for a brief moment in time.

“Don’t Cha Know” / “Peggy Sue Got Married”  David Box, lead singer, Coral Records (1960).  However, it might not have made much difference anyway who the lead singers for the Crickets were, sans Holly, through the 1960s as they would never have another charting record   in the Top 100 with anyone other than Holly. (Holly had several posthumous minor hits in the U.S. following his death and many in the U.K.)

ORBISON CONNECTION

Box became friends with Orbison and, in 1962, recorded two excellent renditions of Orbison songs in Nashville under the auspices of Orbison .  “If You Can’t Say Something Nice” / “I’ve Had My Moments” on Candix Records rivaled Orbison’s own versions of the songs; in fact, Box’s slowed-down version of ‘Moments’ was probably better than Orbison’s (and Box’s own) uptempo version. Yet, nothing came of those, either. By then, Box had really polished his craft both as a singer, guitar player and song writer.  And, just when perhaps his biggest and best song was hitting the airwaves, late 1964, Box perished in his own plane crash, and, purportedly, his songs (‘Little Lonely Summer Girl‘ b/w ‘No One Will Ever Know’) were pulled from the airwaves for reasons we don’t  know.

 

 

CD set list

CONTACT FOR ORDERING ABOVE CD: rrpeeks@aol.com